We’ve been at it for some time now, utilizing granular exit-speed and launch-angle data to evaluate 2016 contact management (for ERA title-qualifying pitchers) and contact quality (for regular hitters) performances on a position-by-position, league-by-league basis. To wrap up this series of posts, we’ll next look at additional pitchers and hitters who didn’t meet the playing time thresholds to be covered previously.
The first time around, as previously stated, we reviewed only those pitchers who’d recorded 162 innings or more. In this day and age, that isn’t very many. In order to bring the respective sample sizes of pitchers and hitters into some sort of equilibrium — i.e. close to the overall MLB player population breakdown — we need an awful lot more pitchers. Hence, the next two articles and the mammoth tables of additional pitchers they contain. Today, the AL is on tap. Here goes:
|NAME||AVG MPH||FB MPH||LD MPH||GB MPH||POP%||FLY%||LD%||GB%||ADJ C||K%||BB%||ERA-||FIP-||TRU-|
Most of the column headers are self-explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, and traditional ERA-, FIP-, and “tru” ERA-, which incorporates the exit-speed and -angle data. Each pitcher’s Adjusted Contact Score (ADJ C) is also listed. Adjusted Contact Score applies league-average production to each pitcher’s individual actual BIP type and velocity mix, and compares it to league average of 100. The pitchers are listed in overall Adjusted Contact Score order.
Cells are also color-coded. If a pitcher’s value is two standard deviations or more higher than average, the field is shaded red. If it’s one to two STD higher than average, it’s shaded orange. If it’s one-half to one STD higher than average, it’s shaded dark yellow. If it’s one-half to one STD less than average, it’s shaded blue. If it’s over one STD less than average, it’s shaded black. Ran out of colors at that point. On the rare occasions that a value is over two STD lower than average, we’ll mention it if necessary in the text.
Before we get to the pitchers, a couple words regarding year-to-year correlation of pitchers’ plate-appearance frequencies and BIP authority allowed. From 2013 to -15, ERA qualifiers’ K and BB rates and all BIP frequencies except for liner rate (.14 correlation coefficient) correlated very closely from year to year. The correlation coefficients for K% (.81), BB% (.66), and pop-up (.53), fly-ball (.76) and grounder (.86) rates are extremely high. While BIP authority correlates somewhat from year to year — FLY/LD authority is .37, grounder authority is .25 — it doesn’t correlate nearly as closely as frequency. Keep these relationships in mind as we move on to some player comments.
Obviously, we’re not going to discuss each and every pitcher on this list; that wouldn’t make for a very readable article. There are some relievers listed, and I’m going to steer clear of all of them. We’ll stick to the most notable starters among the group, many of whom can be expected to rank among 2017’x ERA qualifiers.
Before missing a few starts late in the season, Steven Wright was making a stealth run at AL Contact Manager of the Year honors. Since his evolution into a knuckleballer, Wright has shown an aptitude for the avoidance of squared-up contact; in 2015, he posted the lowest liner rate allowed in the AL. Last year, he thwarted contact authority across the board: his fly-ball exit-speed allowed was over two standard deviations below league, giving him an exceptional 51 Adjusted Contact Score in that category. That’s of particular value in Fenway, which inflates scoring on fly balls more than any park outside of Coors.
Wright will battle fellow injury rehabber Drew Pomeranz and others for the fifth-starter job in Boston this spring. Whether he lands that spot or not, Wright figures to have a key role on the Sox’ 2017 staff. He’s not a fluke, and can be used in a number of roles.
Rich Hill sure is an amazing story, and there are many chapters left to write. Of all the pitchers on this list, Hill was the only to excel equally at bat-missing and contact management. Only Yu Darvish, a solid contact manager in his own right, posted a higher K rate. Though Hill was a bit fortunate on both fly balls (51 Unadjusted vs. 86 Adjusted Contact Score) and liners (67 vs. 94), in large part due to the extreme pitcher-friendly state of his primary 2016 home park in Oakland, both his overall Unadjusted (62) and Adjusted (78) Contact Scores were exemplary.
Volume remains the big question. At age 37, he finally has his first real MLB payday, but it remains to be seen whether he can qualify for an ERA title for the first time since 2007. That could spell the difference between a good and great investment for the Dodgers.
Miguel Gonzalez very quietly posted a solid season as a starter for the White Sox. He’s not a strikeout guy, so he needs to mute contact to have a chance to survive, especially in his hitter-friendly home park. Interestingly, Gonzalez has allowed a higher-than-average liner rate in each of the last five seasons, making his margin for error quite thin authority-wise. He quashed fly-ball authority last season, posting a very strong 57 Adjusted Contact Score, keying his overall mark of 80. There is very little additional ceiling for Gonzalez, but he projects as a very useful back-of-the-rotation option in the intermediate term.
Yu Darvish is a true ace who showed signs of taking his game to another level after his return from Tommy John surgery last season. His stuff is all the way back, as he posted a sterling K rate and an improved BB rate, increasing his margin for error with regard to contact management. He didn’t need it, as it turned out: his overall authority allowed was over two full STD better than the AL average. Both his Adjusted Fly Ball (86) and Grounder (79) Contact Scores were well better than average. There really is no escape for hitters. He’s a hyper-elite bat-misser and well better-than-average contact manager; this is what Cy Young winners are made of.
For a long time, it appeared that Dylan Bundy might never deliver on the extreme promise he exhibited as an amateur and low-level minor leaguer. Last season changed all that. Bundy’s traditional 2016 numbers didn’t do him justice. Hitters batted an outlandish .809 AVG-1.015 SLG (142 Unadjusted Contact Score) on liners, while his underlying data supported a much lower 96 mark. He has a go-to pop-up tendency, which, combined with his ability to limit authority in the air (79 Adjusted Contact Score), bodes well for his future as a contact manager. Over time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see improvement in both his K and BB rates. In Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the O’s still could have true No. 1-2 starters, the only thing they’ve been missing in their recent run of contention.
Rays’ fans got their first look at Blake Snell last season, and it was an impressive one. When your ERA-, FIP- and TRU- are all better than league average despite a ridiculously high 27.3% liner rate, you’re pretty good. Snell totally suffocated fly-ball authority, posting a very strong 55 Adjusted Contact Score, and was very unlucky on the ground (.297 AVG-.297 SLG, 144 Unadjusted Contact Score, despite underlying speed/angle data supporting a much lower 93 mark). With a league-average liner-rate allowed, Snell has the potential to be an elite contact manager. As he matures and gets that BB rate in check, watch out: he has No. 1 starter upside.
One of the most amazing aspects of the Indians’ wild 2016 ride was that they got so far without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in their postseason rotation. Carrasco is the better contact manager of the two, though he profiles in the average range in that discipline. He has always allowed harder-than-average authority, and his pop-up rate has been near the bottom of the scale, even lower than you would expect given his low (but not overly so) fly-ball rate. He’s a reliable grounder generator, though not an extreme one. When your K-BB spread is as wide as Carrasco’s, however, average contact management gets you a very long way. At this point, as we’ll see later, this is something to which Salazar can only aspire.
Potential star alert: keep a very close eye on Eduardo Rodriguez. There weren’t enough colors in the above table to properly reflect Rodriguez’ ability to muffle contact authority; his overall, fly-ball and grounder-authority levels were all over two STD below AL average. There are clear areas to mark for improvement: his BB rate remains high, and he has allowed higher than average liner rates in both of the last two seasons. He’ll also need to modify his extreme fly-ball rate somewhat, though he might be the rare fly-ball guy who can survive and even thrive in Fenway.
I like Michael Fulmer and believe that he has a bright future, but the role of Comerica Park in his 2016 success cannot be ignored. His line item in the above table just might be the most neutral: he’s within or very close to the average range in most categories. This suggests a very high floor but a limited ceiling. He was very fortunate in all BIP categories (76 Unadjusted vs. 97 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score, 64 vs. 96 Liner, 79 vs. 100 Grounder, 75 vs. 99 Overall). His home park drove the fly-ball number, random chance drove the others. I wouldn’t call 2016 a fluke, but I do believe it will go down as Fulmer’s career year.
Oh, if James Paxton could stay healthy for a full season. This is a sentiment that extends way back into his minor-league career, and even into his college years. He’s always had the big K rate, and his BB rate now rates as above average, as well. He once allowed a ton of squared-up contact, but has even made some strides in that area. He held fly-ball authority in check (71 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) but was a grounder generator yielding very loud grounder authority (135 Adjusted Contact Score) last season. That latter mark was the third highest among the large group above. There remains work to be done, and it’s tough to do it in 100-inning annual increments. It must be said that 200 innings of James Paxton as an average contact manager is a scary prospect for AL hitters, and that is becoming a real, potentially imminent possibility.
The Giants don’t make many big trades, but the ones they do make have tended to work out very well in recent years. Matt Moore, on paper, looks like their ideal acquisition. Moore’s fly-balling ways might be a big negative in many parks, but not so in his new home. He outperformed his speed/angle fundamentals on fly balls (68 Unadjusted vs. 101 Adjusted Contact Score) but is a strong bet to post a number closer to the former level at AT&T. One item to watch: he posted high pop-up rates in tandem with his fly-ball levels prior to 2016, but fell off last season. A rebound there would work wonders for his overall numbers. More problematic is his perennially high BB rate; conquering that would be the final frontier between his current No. 3 starter status and stardom.
There might not be a bigger Felix Hernandez fan than myself. I would like nothing more than to see the King again dominate AL hitters on a regular basis. I was worried about him (and James Shields) entering 2016 due to their excessive pitch counts over the previous seven seasons, and both pitchers did in fact hit the wall. Hernandez’ season was even worse than it seemed. After eight straight years with K rates in the 80th percentile or higher, he plunged to the 40th percentile in 2016, while his BB rate leapt from the 15th to the 90th percentile over just two seasons. Incredibly good fortune on both liners (70 Unadjusted vs. 93 Adjusted) and grounders (47 vs. 101) kept him afloat. I’m not ruling out at least a partial rebound; better health should partially address his command issues, and an average K rate guy with a strong grounder tendency retains reasonable upside, but I’m afraid the days of pure dominance are over. Perhaps there will be some justice, and he’ll harvest better traditional numbers in front of a better club in the latter stages of his career.
Taijuan Walker heads south to the Valley of the Sun in 2017. The young righty hasn’t pitched up to his stuff throughout his relatively brief career thanks to, you guessed it, subpar contact management. His low 2016 liner rate masked those problems somewhat, but Walker still allowed well harder-than-average contact in the air and on the ground last season. He now heads to a staff that experienced historically poor contact management performance almost to a man last season. The good news is that new management is in place, which should at least be able to diagnose the problem, if not immediately solve it. As with Paxton, I’d set average contact management levels as an attainable goal; if reached, the D-backs will have a good one in Walker.
It wasn’t pretty watching an obviously impaired Sonny Gray pitch last season. Gray was never as good as his reputation of a couple seasons ago (well, maybe he was as a high schooler, when he was truly amazing), but as an average K/BB guy with an extreme grounder (with better than league-average authority) tendency, he was a borderline All-Star talent. It was a fairly fragile package, especially given his small stature. He allowed loud contact across the board (139, 104, 112 and 111 Fly Ball, Liner, Grounder and Overall Adjusted Contact Scores, respectively) in 2016 and wasn’t helped much by his cozy home park. The A’s should have sold high.
Danny Salazar is at an earlier developmental stage than Carlos Carrasco. To this point in his career, he has been content to attempt to blow hitters away, contact be damned. He was very fortunate on fly balls (62 Unadjusted vs. 109 Adjusted Contact Score) last season, masking the problem. While his high 2016 walk rate was likely a temporary blip due to injury, the contact-management deficiency is real. He’s good enough to be a league-average pitcher with a 115-ish Adjusted Contact Score figure, but he and the Indians should expect better than that. The 2017 season is a pivotal one for Salazar.
Sean Manaea showed quality stuff in his first MLB tour last season, but his numbers were way better than they “should have” been according to the granular data. He was aided greatly by his pitcher-friendly home park; with his Unadjusted Fly Ball (88) and Liner (67) Contact Scores well lower than his Adjusted marks (144 and 97). His upside remains quite high, but he has much further to go to reach them than his traditional numbers might suggest.
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