Author Archive

The Unique Power-Speed Combos of Braun, Pence and Jones

Of the positive events for hitters, home runs and infield hits are polar opposites, and not just in terms of impact. The home run is the realm of the beefed-up slugger, the lumberers. The infield hit is reserved for the wisps, the sprinters, the scrawny slap hitters. Unsurprisingly, there is a weak negative correlation between home runs and infield hits on a per-plate appearance basis — I found a minus-0.45 correlation coefficient between the two for all hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances between 2008 and 2012.

Hitters who are able to both beat out dribblers and blast fly balls out of the park, then, are quite rare. Looking at the last five years, three players stand out from the pack:

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With over 100 home runs and infield hits since 2008 — 20 per season of each — Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Hunter Pence find themselves in a class of their own.

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The Rockies Want Josh Fogg, And It Makes Sense

As Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week, the Rockies are looking to add a starting pitcher. This should surprise nobody — the club was an easy last place in the majors in both ERA and FIP last season, and even adjusting for Coors Field leaves them 28th and 26th (last and second-to-last in the NL) respectively in ERA- and FIP-.

What did surprise me was who their target should resemble:

The team wants to add one more capable starting pitcher, major-league sources say — someone who could throw 150 to 175 innings and produce a ERA in the 4.50-4.75 range. Someone like right-hander Josh Fogg, who pitched for the Rockies in 2006-07.

Huh? Him?

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The Remains of Walk-offs

On the surface, Brett Myers seemed to handle his 2012 transition from the rotation to the bullpen pretty well. He notched 19 saves and eight holds between stints with the Astros and White Sox against just two blown saves. He posted a sharp 3.31 ERA, good for an 81 ERA-.

But it wasn’t all happiness for Myers, as he was on the unfortunate end of four walk-offs. Hunter Pence hit a solo home run off Myers with one out on May 15th. The other three times, Myers’s game ended with runners still on base in threatening situations: a runner on third and one out after a Dexter Fowler walk-off triple on May 28th, runners on first and second and nobody out after a Hector Sanchez walk-off single on July 14th, and a runner on second and two outs after a Jamey Caroll sacrifice fly on July 28th.

Those four situations — the runners he stranded (all allowed on by him, although one reached on an error) and the outs at the time — resulted in a combined run expectancy of 3.25. Myers pitched just 65.1 innings in 2012. Even accounting for the nine outs Myers would have needed to record to finish those four innings (and therefore realize the full run expectancy), these 3.25 runs would increase his ERA to 3.59 — a significant difference.

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The Baltimore Orioles and Fleeting Bullpen Greatness

Over-Under Day — the day the first sportsbooks release their win-loss over-under totals for all 30 MLB teams — is one of my favorite days of the lead-in to baseball season. I’m not much of a gambler — I stick to risking my money on fantasy sports, personally — but Las Vegas is as good a projection system as we have, and although the numbers here will likely be revised between now and Opening Day, they provide as good a barometer for current team strength as you’ll find anywhere.

The Orioles, unsurprisingly, have the biggest drop-off from last year’s win total to this year’s over-under — 93 wins in 2012 to just a 76.5 over-under for 2013. Should Baltimore perform to Vegas’s projection, it will be just another example of the fleeting greatness of particularly clutch units, like the Orioles’ 2012 bullpen.

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Doug Clark Finds His Spotlight

The name Doug Clark shouldn’t mean much to fans of Major League Baseball. His name is in the record book — he appeared in eight games for San Francisco in 2005 and six for Oakland the next year. He went 1-for-11 with a walk and five strikeouts in his 12 plate appearances. On June 29th, 2006, Clark pinch hit for Dan Haren in the top of the seventh inning. Brian Sikorski struck him out, and his MLB career was over.

Most Americans never knew Doug Clark as a baseball player, and those who did likely forgot him quickly. But Clark’s baseball life was far from over.

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Jemile Weeks Gets Buried

In case you needed another reminder to never believe what a front office lets the public hear, here’s what Billy Beane told Jane Lee of MLB.com just six days ago:

The talent is still there, insists Billy Beane. That’s why the A’s general manager was so patient with a struggling Jemile Weeks last year.

That’s why the second baseman, hitting just .220 over 113 games, wasn’t demoted until August. And that’s why Weeks, who turned 26 last week, will be considered very much a part of what manager Bob Melvin deemed the “open competition” for the second-base position this spring.

Three days later, the Athletics acquired Jed Lowrie in exchange for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. Now Weeks is buried on the depth chart — either Lowrie or Scott Sizemore is likely to start at second base (with the other starting at third base). Adam Rosales, Josh Donaldson and Eric Sogard all have MLB experience at one if not both of the positions in question, all with the potential to keep him off the roster. Weeks, therefore, has an uphill battle to climb if he is to break camp with Oakland instead of Triple-A Sacramento.

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Adrian Beltre on the Hall of Fame Path

After a third consecutive All-Star season, Adrian Beltre‘s Hall of Fame path is becoming clear. Over those three All-Star campaigns, Beltre has added 96 home runs, 309 RBI and 1,820 plate appearances of an astounding .314/.353/.558 (138 wRC+) line. His 19.0 WAR over those three seasons pushed his career total up to 62.5; he’s already a borderline Hall of Famer purely by WAR (or JAWS, which already rates him the 12th-best third baseman of all time).

But I don’t think Beltre is in quite yet — it is the Hall of Fame, after all, and perception matters. His entire career in Seattle was a dud at the plate — he hit just .266/.317/.442 in his five years as a Mariner, and they came in what should have been peak seasons (ages 26 through 30). Overall, he only has four truly standout offensive seasons — his last three and his Bonds-esque 48 home run campaign in his walk year as a Dodger in 2004. Beltre’s consistently exceptional defense is what pushes him into the Hall of Fame conversation, so he would need the Brooks Robinson (just a 105 wRC+ but the unassailable glove) treatment to gain entry if his career were already finished.

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Ken Caminiti’s Goody Bag

Ken Caminiti calls it his goody bag. The black and green duffel accompanies him on every road trip, along with his bats and the black mitt that helped him win his second Gold Glove award last season.

“I take it everywhere,” the San Diego Padres third baseman says, pulling it out of his locker stall before a game in Atlanta recently. “It’s part of my routine.”

Caminiti unzips the bag and reveals bottles and zip-locked bags of pills, vitamins and nutritional supplements. He opens one packet and shoves a handful of capsules into his mouth viking-style, all but swallowing the plastic.”

The above is the lede to Pete Williams’s 1997 USA TODAY story titled “Lifting the game: Creatine is baseball’s new gunpowder.” It’s not the only incredible part of the story when viewed through the lens of what we now know about performance enhancing drugs. The entire story is required reading, but a few snippets demand extra attention.

Hat tip to Bomani Jones for digging this story up early Wednesday morning.

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Park Effects Through the Edinson Volquez Lens

More than any other pitcher in 2012, Edinson Volquez captured why park effects matter. The Padres’ righty exhibited a similar profile at home and on the road — lots of strikeouts (8.9 K/9 home, 8.5 away), walks (5.0 BB/9 home, 5.4 BB/9 away) and ground balls (53 percent home, 48 percent away). All marks were slightly better at home, as expected, but there’s nothing in the basics to suggest a significant home/road split.

Except, of course, he pitched for San Diego. Volquez posted a 2.95 ERA behind just three home runs allowed (0.3 HR/9) at Petco Park but was ravaged on the road to the tune of a 5.60 ERA and 11 home runs allowed (1.2 HR/9).

The aggregate Volquez was a below average but still useful pitcher — he posted a 114 ERA- and 113 FIP-, numbers typical of a fourth or (more likely) fifth starter. A mediocre pitcher finding acehood within the Petco Park walls is nothing new, but it does raise a question: does the pitcher change his style to fit his surroundings when his home park is extreme?

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Kevin Towers’s Strikeout Lowering Crusade Proceeds

“Personally, I like contact hitters. I like guys that have good pitch recognition. Strikeouts are part of the game, but if you have four or five or six guys in your lineup, it’s hard to sustain any sort of rally.”

Those were among Kevin Towers’s first official words as Arizona’s general manager. His actions have, more or less, backed up the philosophy espoused therein. He inherited a team that finished with an atrocious 24.7 percent strikeout rate in 2010. His first moves saw Mark Reynolds traded and Adam LaRoche dismissed to free agency. As 2011 progressed, Kelly Johnson and his 27 percent strikeout rate was dealt to the Blue Jays for Aaron Hill and his 13 percent strikeout rate.

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Kyle Farnsworth Shows Worth With Sinker

Kyle Farnsworth‘s free agent decision is expected to come soon, with the big right-hander having narrowed his decision down to the Tampa Bay Rays and the ever-present Mystery Team. Farnsworth lost his closer’s spot in Tampa Bay to the phenomenon that was Fernando Rodney, and his injury-limited 2012 season was somewhat of a disappointment: in 27 innings, Farnsworth allowed a 4.00 ERA and a 3.39 FIP; his 4.67 BB/9 was his highest since 2001.

A ballooning walk rate and decreasing velocity — his average fastball velocity fell from 96.7 MPH to 95.4 MPH* — gives ample reason for pessimism and has likely limited Farnsworth’s options in free agency. But, at least by the numbers, there’s still reason to believe The Professor can be a sharp contributor to a bullpen in 2013.

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Mat Gamel’s Last Last Chance

Brewers first baseman Corey Hart will miss the next three to four months — or about six weeks of the regular season — as the former outfielder requires surgery to repair a meniscal tear on his right knee. Hart thrived through a transition from right field to first base after Mat Gamel suffered a torn ACL attempting to run down a foul ball last year. Now, presumably, Gamel will get to take a turn as the injury replacement at first base in Milwaukee.

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Texas Extends Matt Harrison

Yu Darvish has his partner at the top of the Rangers’ rotation for the next few years. Matt Harrison and the Rangers agreed Wednesday night to a five-year, $55 million dollar contract, making the 27-year-old an official piece of the Rangers’ ever-impressive core.

However, where Darvish has the ideal profile for a hitters’ heaven like Texas — swing-and-miss stuff with every pitch, giving him the ability to keep the ball off bats, much less out of the air — Harrison’s profile is nearly the opposite. Over the past two years, the lefty has sat near or even below the starter averages in both strikeout rate and contact rate, and he isn’t an extreme groundballer either.

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Jeff Karstens and Imperfect Information

Jeff Karstens‘s free agent case was, to me, one of the most intriguing of the offseason. I covered it multiple times at multiple outlets. I thought the Pirates’ decision to non-tender Karstens was curious — the club has little starter depth beyond A.J. Burnett, James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez; Phil Irwin was the fifth best starter in the organization according to ZiPS, including minors-bound first overall pick Gerrit Cole. Things only looked worse following the Francisco Liriano debacle — his two-year, $14 million contract remains on hold, in the same limbo as Mike Napoli‘s would-be deal with Boston.

Although I understood why Pittsburgh might not want to take the risk on Karstens — he has dealt with regular injuries and has never thrown more than 162.2 innings in a season. Given a likely budget crunch, it’s easy to see how Pittsburgh might be better served with a sure thing. But I thought Karstens and his 3.59 ERA and 3.94 FIP since 2010 (49 appearances, 41 starts) could be an intriguing value play for which a team would pay at least $5 million — meaning, considering the non-tender, Karstens wouldn’t return to Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, Karstens reportedly signed a $2.5 million contract with the Pirates. I was wrong on both counts of my prediction, a good reminder of the imperfect information available to those of us who try to foresee these things from outside MLB organizations.

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Do You Trust HGH Tests?

Major League Baseball announced expansion of its drug testing program Thursday, as the league and the players union have modified the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to provide for unannounced, random blood testing for HGH (human growth hormone) during the regular season. From the league’s press release:

Today’s announcement marks another significant step in the progression of Baseball’s HGH testing policy, which continues to be the strongest in American professional sports. Since July 2010, Major League Baseball has conducted random blood testing for the detection of hGH among Minor League players. As a part of the 2012-2016 Basic Agreement, the parties agreed to blood testing for hGH during 2012 Spring Training, during the off-season, and for reasonable cause, making Baseball the first sport to deploy this kind of testing at its highest level. Under the new agreement, all of those aspects of the Program will continue, and there will be in-season, unannounced, random blood testing.

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Jake McGee Drops Arm Slot, Elevates Game

After Aroldis Chapman, it’s easy to argue Tampa Bay’s Jake McGee was the league’s best left-handed relief pitcher last season. He recorded a 1.95 ERA (third behind Chapman and Eric O’Flaherty) and a 1.81 FIP (second behind Chapman) over 55.1 innings for the Rays. He racked up 73 strikeouts against just 11 walks (6.6 K/BB) in the always-tough AL East, and he did so with mastery of hitters from both sides of the plate. McGee held 90 lefties to a .256/.289/.376 (.289 wOBA) line and dominated 122 righties to the tune of a .097/.157/.134 (.120 wOBA) line. Remarkably, this comes just a year after right-handers torched McGee with a .487 wOBA (59 TBF).

Now, with the Rays searching for a bat and the Nationals searching for a left-handed reliever and a suitor for Mike Morse, McGee could become the subject of trade rumors. The pertinent questions: How much of McGee’s improvement was real? Can he continue be a legitimate threat against both lefties and righties?

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Pitcher Hitting Through the Lens of Competition

Two arguments favoring the designated hitter popped up around the internet Wednesday, first from Anna Hiatt of The Week (published at Yahoo!) and then from Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk. Naturally, the posts galvanized debate in all the typical corners — comments sections and particularly Twitter — as to which style of baseball is morally superior.

Personally, my general position is ambivalence — baseball is baseball no matter who takes the ninth spot on the lineup card. A more interesting question, from the perspective of how teams compete and win win, is what National League teams do with their pitchers at the plate (and on the bases). Are certain teams consistently good at getting their pitchers to hit? Are some consistently bad?

To put it bluntly, is there any indication pitcher hitting is a team-level skill at all?

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Grilli’s Fastball Keys Resurgence

Jason Grilli was just a guy Neal Huntington plucked out of the Phillies’ minor league system back in 2011, yet another nebulous asset added in the Pirates’ attempts to rebuild on the cheap. Two years later, a 34-year-old once with little but gas and a prayer could be Pittsburgh’s opening day closer. He turned 2011’s resurgence into a full breakout relief season in 2012 — although his ERA fell from 2.48 to a still sharp 2.91, Grilli’s strikeout and walk rates improved greatly; his FIP fell from 3.30 to 2.80 bolstered by an incredible 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Joel Hanrahan has been shipped out to Boston. Grilli, rewarded with a two year, $6.75 million contract, is the heir to Pirates’ closer position. Can the new Jason Grilli hold up in the ninth inning?

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Can Carlos Villanueva Start Effectively?

The Cubs agreed to terms with 29-year-old career swingman Carlos Villanueva on Wednesday. With Scott Baker‘s early season availability in question as he rehabs from April Tommy John surgery, Villanueva should have a chance at making the club’s opening day rotation.

Villanueva showed promise in the rotation as myriad Blue Jays injuries opened a spot for him in Toronto. In his first 11 starts, spanning 65.1 innings, Villanueva held opponents to just a 3.03 ERA as he notched 65 strikeouts against 17 walks (3.8 K/BB). But questions about Villanueva as a starter lingered even in early September. Alex Anthopolous hardly gave his player a vote of confidence when asked about his starting chops on September 12th, according to John Lott of the National Post:

“I don’t want to use a term that’s derogatory to the player,” he said. “I don’t want to doubt him. But I have to also be objective and realistic too.”

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Astros Take On Jose Veras Experiment

Jose Veras spent last season as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers, but in retrospect he was also something more: a year-long experiment on the value of those relievers a fan observes day-in and day-out. On the whole, the newest member of the Astros’ bullpen was decent in Milwaukee — he posted a 92 ERA- and a 92 FIP- as well as a sharp 1.39 WPA — but I wager he will not be remembered as such.

Why? Inconsistency.

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