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Explaining Miley For NL ROY

Season-ending awards routinely evoke differing passionate opinions amongst baseball fans, writers, and players. A perfect example of that is the debate as to whether Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera should win the American League MVP, which has continuously raged for the better part of September.

With that in mind, I was surprised to see the overwhelming majority of the FanGraphs staff vote for Bryce Harper as the NL Rookie of the Year over left-hander Wade Miley. While arguments can certainly be made for Harper, I thought Miley had a slightly better resume to be crowned the best rookie in the National League this season.

And, I suppose, that definition is where some of the confusion lies in my part. The Rookie of the Year is defined as the best rookie, not the most valuable rookie. That difference in terminology has always led me to vote for the rookie who compiled the best numbers without giving extra consideration to a position player because they largely play every day, and thus, often provide more value to their respective teams — which is why pitchers rarely win MVP awards.

Perhaps I’m alone in interpreting the award in that fashion. It was surprising, however, to see Wade Miley and Bryce Harper so far apart in the voting, despite identical +4.8 WAR seasons. Miley has the fourth-highest WAR of any pitcher in the National League, while Harper owns the third-highest WAR of any NL center fielder. The numbers are so close. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut decision.

Miley played a huge part in salvaging the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. The team’s two stalwarts from last season — Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson — failed to reproduce their success, due both to ineffectiveness and injury. Kennedy  was nothing more than league-league average. He soaked up 200-plus innings, but merely posted a 98 FIP- and a 96 ERA-. Hudson, on the other hand, only made nine starts and saw his season end with Tommy John surgery.

With that in mind, the Diamondbacks needed someone to step up and anchor the rotation. Miley was not only the starter who experienced the most success on the mound, but he averaged 6.4 innings per start. Working consistently deep into games helped save the bullpen from overwork. It’s hard to imagine the Diamondbacks’ bullpen compiling the fourth-best FIP in all of baseball without Miley stepping into the rotation with such a high level of success.

The Diamondbacks’ left-hander also has the advantage in playing time. He spent the entire season in the big leagues, while Harper joined in the last week in April. That is a month’s more value Miley provided his team.

Harper evens the scales, however, with his his defensive value — in which he compiled an +8.9 UZR and one of the best arm numbers (+6.6 ARM) in the league. He’s more than a than just a bat. He augmented the Nationals’ production on both offense and defense, which negates much of the advantage Miley has with stabilizing a rotation in potential crisis and overall playing time.

The tipping point for me comes on a razor-thin point, in which Miley performed better compared to his position than did Harper. Miley’s 76 FIP- means he performed 24% better than the league-average pitcher. Harper, on the other hand, posted an impressive 122 wRC+, meaning he performed 22% better than the league-average hitter. Both statistics are park-adjusted, as well, which helps cut out the background noise of Chase Field being more hitter-friendly than Nationals Park.

In terms of which performance is more objectively impressive, Bryce Harper wins in a landslide. He was essentially a five-win player as a 19-year-old, while Wade Miley did so at 25 years old. Perhaps that comes into play for some people, which is fine. That simply did not affect my evaluation of which player had a statistically better rookie season.

When it came down to it, the race was so close that an extremely minor point swung my favor to Miley. He performed a little better compared to the league average than did Harper. That’s why he got my vote.


Davis Chasing Consecutive-Game Home Run History

On Tuesday evening, Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis launched a 445-foot home run to center field off Tampa Bay’s James Shields to place himself in elite company. It marked his sixth-consecutive game in which he hit at least one home run, making him the 19th player in Major League history to accomplish that feat.

In the American League, the last player to hit a home run in at least six-consecutive games was Kevin Mench in April 2006, but some of the other names include Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, Jim Thome, and Reggie Jackson (the only other Baltimore Orioles player). The longest stretch of consecutive games with at least one home run is eight games, which is held by three players — Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, and Dale Long.

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Josh Reddick Hates Fastballs

“Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.” — Pedro Cerrano

The archetype of power hitters feasting on fastballs and whiffing on offspeed pitches has long floated within baseball circles. The quotation featured above from the movie Major League highlights how pervasive the idea that “power hitters are fastball hitters” has become in baseball.

Alfonso Soriano has long found success by smashing fastballs, and he now receives a heavy diet of sliders and curveballs to counter that strength. Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Garrett Jones also serve as fruitful examples of sluggers who have experienced the vast majority of their success against fastballs.

The stereotype often proves true, so you’ll have to excuse me for jumping to conclusions when assuming that Oakland Athetics’ outfielder Josh Reddick would fall into that same broad category. After all, his 29 home runs, .216 ISO, and .242 batting average all suggest on the surface that he’s merely another power-hitting, fastball-feasting slugger who needs to adjust to big league breaking pitches to become more consistent at the plate.

That’s not just a misleading statement, though. It’s blatantly wrong. In fact, amongst qualified batters this season, Josh Reddick has the worst batting average against fastballs in all of baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
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White Sox Expected To Decline Peavy’s Option

This upcoming offseason was poised to be one filled with excitement surrounding the starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Teams were poised to open up their wallets in hopes of signing Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, or Cole Hamels — but the market quickly dried up once Cain and Hamels signed contract extensions with their current teams.

An intriguing name should join the market this winter, however, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported last week that the Chicago White Sox are not expected to exercise Jake Peavy’s 2013 option worth $22M. Instead, they are expected to pay a $4M buyout and allow Peavy to sign elsewhere.

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Padres Could Contend In 2013

When the San Diego Padres extended both Huston Street and Carlos Quentin this summer, they effectively signaled an intent to contend in the NL West in the near future. The organization felt that future was imminent enough to forego acquiring additional young talent via the trade market and instead committed valuable resources to injury-prone (though productive) assets who play non-premium positions.

All this from a team who owned a 34-53 record at the All-Star Break this season. Needless to say, the moves ruffled a few feathers and caused some to question whether the organization was truly intent on building a World Series contender or simply staving off an inevitable attendance decrease that normally accompanies mid-season fire sales.

If the Padres’ recent performance proves to be a believable measuring stick for its future, though, the front office in San Diego understood something that the vast majority of baseball fans did not. Their team was ready to start winning ballgames much earlier than expected.

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Samuel Deduno and Throwing Strikes

“I love his upside. If he can harness his fastball, throw a few more strikes, he’s got a chance to be pretty good. Guys have a tough time squaring up balls against him; it’s tough to make solid contact. When you see some of the reaction of some of the hitters, I don’t think there’s any fluke about it.” — Ryan Doumit on Samuel Deduno

Few things are inevitable in baseball. Preseason favorites fail to deliver postseason destinies, future Hall of Famers go through prolonged slumps both at the plate and on the mound, and under-the-radar prospects burst onto the big league stage and become household names in a matter of weeks. It’s one of the main reasons we so passionately follow the game.

As of mid-August, though, perhaps nothing seemed so inevitable as the downfall of right-hander Samuel Deduno.

The 29-year-old journeyman began his season in Triple-A Rochester for the Minnesota Twins — his third team over the past three years — and eventually worked his way into the big league rotation. He took advantage of the opportunity by only allowing eight earned runs in his first 29 innings, winning three of his first five decisions and posting a 2.48 ERA. Given the state of the Twins’ starting staff, that type of production secured him a permanent place in the rotation for the remainder of the season.

Plenty of reasons for concern existed, however. Our very own Mike Podhorzer outlined why Deduno was unlikely to continue his early success on the mound, which largely centered around his lack of command. He has historically struggled to command his pitches — particularly his fastball — and that resulted in an astronomical walk rate. Even today, his walk rate currently stands at 5.45 BB/9. Far too high for a guy who possesses a below-average strikeout rate.

Almost a month later, Deduno’s statistics continue to defy common sense. His 1.12 K/BB ratio currently ranks seventh-worst in the league amongst starting pitchers who have thrown at least fifty pitches this season. He owns a 5.06 FIP and 4.93 SIERA. His 80.3% strand rate continues to beg for a regression.

Yet, instead of experiencing a tremendous regression of his skills on the mound, Samuel Deduno has shown marked improvement in recent starts. He has only surrendered four earned runs in his last three starts (spanning 20 innings), while striking out 19 and only walking six. And as his catcher Ryan Doumit said in the quotation above, success for the right-hander begins with throwing more strikes.

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Don’t Forget About The ’02 Draft

If pressed to name which year featured the best amateur draft class in recent baseball history, the vast majority would immediately gravitate toward the 2005 Draft.

(Side Note: In fact, I originally began researching this article in an attempt to prove just how good the 2005 Draft was in comparison to other recent drafts.)

It’s certainly not an unreasonable position to take. The 2005 Draft enjoyed copious amounts of hype prior to draft day, and the star power atop the draft is mind-blowing. Players such as Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Alex Gordon were all drafted in the first twelve selections. Those six players combined for an impressive +35.6 WAR last season.

The 2005 Draft has the big names early in the first round, to be sure, but the 2002 Draft could actually be the better all-around draft. The reason the 2002 Draft doesn’t make headlines is that the early picks did not produce All-Star caliber players.

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Should Angels Pick Up Haren’s Option?

Coming into the season, the Angels picking up Dan Haren‘s $15.5M option for the 2013 was a foregone conclusion. He had been a workhorse in recent years, throwing 1581.1 innings between 2005 and 2011 and compiling an 81 ERA- and 82 FIP- over that stretch. A $15.5M option was a no-brainer for a five-or-six win player.

Now, sitting with a disappointing 4.82 ERA in late August and concerns lingering about his health, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff must determine whether Haren is a smart investment for the organization.

The questions about his health started in early July, when Haren spent 19 days on the disabled list with a back injury — one that has reportedly been an issue since spring training. It marked his first stint on the disabled list as a professional. It also helped explain his uncharacteristic struggles on the mound.

More specifically, the injury accounted for his significant velocity decrease from 2011 to 2012. Our own Wendy Thurm examined the effects of less velocity on every one of his pitches this year. The real problem, however, reared its head when Haren’s velocity didn’t improve after his stint on the disabled list. If anything, his velocity decreased even more:

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Brewers Starting Rotation: Strikeout Machine

The Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2012 season, underperforming expectations that had them contending for back-to-back divisional crowns in the mediocre NL Central. The bullpen imploded in spectacular fashion, Alex Gonzalez suffered a season-ending knee injury early on, Zack Greinke is now pitching in Los Angeles, and Shaun Marcum threw for the first time in more than two months on Saturday.

Despite all of those misfortunes, the Brewers’ starting rotation has not been part of the problem — well, other than the recently-released Randy Wolf — and owned a combined 3.78 FIP coming into Sunday’s games.  That’s only ticks above their 3.75 FIP from last year, when they reached the NLCS.

The unit as a whole has improved in some aspects, though. Coming into Sunday, Milwaukee’s starting rotation has compiled the best strikeout rate in all of baseball.

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Ichiro’s Sudden Selectivity In Pinstripes

When Seattle traded Ichiro Suzuki to New York in mid-July, the 38-year-old outfielder owned a mere .281 wOBA and was largely assumed to be on his last legs as a major-league baseball player. He still provided value with his glove, but his 77 wRC+ was simply too unproductive to pencil in as a right fielder every night.

As a New York Yankee, however, Ichiro has enjoyed far greater success and has people dreaming of his six-win years in Seattle.

After last night’s two-home-run outburst against Josh Beckett and the Boston Red Sox, the former MVP has hit .322/.344/.506 with the Bronx Bombers, and his .364 wOBA as a Yankee is well above average in relation to the remainder of American League right fielders.

The overall statistics should obviously be taken with a massive grain of salt due to the standard small sample size concerns. Not to mention he still has only drawn one walk since joining New York, and he also has seen his BABIP increase almost 40-points in that time frame. Plenty of reasons exist as to why we should not trot onto the field at Yankee Stadium and celebrate his re-coronation.

At the same time, Ichiro’s selectivity at the plate has drastically changed since donning pinstripes.

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Are Chapman and Kimbrel Cy Young Contenders?

Last night, on the Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, announcer Dan Shulman facilitated a discussion surrounding relievers and the Cy Young Award.

Quite simply, should Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel be considered legitimate candidates for the NL Cy Young Award this season?

Relievers possess a difficult time making noise in the Cy Young Award voting because they do not throw nearly as many innings as starting pitchers. Fewer innings equal fewer opportunities to make an impact and provide value to one’s baseball team. This sentiment was largely echoed by Orel Hershiser and Buster Olney on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.

The topic of relievers and the Cy Young Award seems to surface annually. This season, however, the conversation has become more earnest because Chapman and Kimbrel are compiling video game numbers on the mound. Just look at how dominant both have been for their respective teams, prior to Sunday’s games:

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Bartolo Colon’s Streak Without An Earned Run

On Tuesday evening, 39-year-old Bartolo Colon handcuffed the Los Angeles Angels for seven innings, only surrendering a single unearned run in his final inning of work.

Although that unearned run ended his consecutive scoreless inning streak at 22.1 innings, he does currently maintain a streak of 22.2 innings without surrendering an earned run. The last earned run given up by the right-hander came on a solo home run by the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson on July 22 in Oakland. Since that home run … nothing.

Extended stints without allowing an earned run are not uncommon in Major League Baseball. After all, Ryan Dempster threw 33-consecutive innings without surrendering an earned or unearned run in July.

Instead, the intriguing aspect of Colon’s streak lies in his pitch selection and how he is finding success on the mound.

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Rickie Weeks’ Quiet Turnaround

After a tremendous +6.5 win season in 2010, the Milwaukee Brewers signed second baseman Rickie Weeks to a four-year, $38.5M contract extension in February 2011.

He followed up his breakout campaign with a +3.7 win season in an injury-shortened 2011, in which he proved 2010 was not a fluke by hitting .269/.350/.468 with 20 home runs and a .358 wOBA. Expectations were sky-high coming into 2012, and the Brewers were relying upon his bat to soften the impact of losing Prince Fielder to Detroit over the offseason.

Instead, Weeks imploded to begin the 2012 season and has essentially been a replacement-level player on the year. He hit below the Mendoza Line from April 29 to July 13 and has the fifth-highest strikeout percentage amongst qualified hitters in the National League at 27.0%. His current .314 wOBA is almost 50-points lower than his wOBA from last season.

Though it’s difficult to categorize 2012 as anything other than a disappointment for Weeks, the 29-year-old has quietly turned his season around this summer and looks a lot more like the Rickie Weeks the baseball community has become accustomed to seeing at the plate.

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Pirates Push For Postseason, Acquire Wandy

Prior to the trade deadline, many expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to leverage their talented farm system to acquire an impact bat. After all, their offense has a combined .302 wOBA, and they penciled in a batting order on Tuesday evening that featured five players (not including the pitcher) with an on-base percentage below .300.

That big bat may still be in the cards this week, but the Pirates temporarily shifted their focus to the starting rotation and acquired southpaw Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in return for three minor league players — outfielder Robbie Grossman and lefties Colton Cain and Rudy Owens.

The starting rotation for the Pirates was not necessarily a pain-point for the organization, as the group had compiled a 3.95 ERA and 3.92 FIP on the season thus far. Room for improvement existed, however, as right-hander Kevin Correia still took the mound every fifth day with a 4.31 ERA and 4.95 FIP. His ZiPS projection throughout the remainder of the season only forecasts pain, too, as it predicts him to post a 5.40 ERA and 4.83 FIP from here on out.

Trading for Wandy Rodriguez allows the Pirates to remove Correia from the starting rotation and replace him with a more consistent, more effective pitcher.

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Myers Traded To Windy City

As the trade deadline approached this month, the Chicago White Sox desperately needed to upgrade their bullpen. Their cumulative 4.17 FIP ranks second worst in the American League, and their 3.99 ERA ranks only marginally better.

GM Kenny Williams looked to perhaps the only self-identified “seller” on the current market, the Houston Astros, for help. The White Sox acquired right-hander Brett Myers for minor-league pitchers Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters, as well as a player to be named later.

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Ben Sheets, Changeup Artist?

Like many teams across Major League Baseball this season, the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation got bitten by the injury bug. The ace of their rotation, right-hander Brandon Beachy, underwent Tommy John surgery — as did prized prospect Arodys Vizcaino. Both will not return before the end of the season.

The pitching depth that Atlanta had accumulated was supposed to help weather the storm, but the results have been underwhelming. That has forced Atlanta to look elsewhere for a starting pitcher. Preferring the least-expensive route, the organization did not turn to the trade market and instead signed former All-Star Ben Sheets to a minor-league deal.

On Sunday afternoon, Sheets made his first major-league start since 2010 and dominated the New York Mets over six scoreless innings. He struck out five and only walked one, generating ten whiffs over an 88-pitch outing. In many ways, it was like watching the old Ben Sheets on the mound.

In one particular aspect, though, it was very much a different Ben Sheets.

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The Home Run Derby Curse

We’ve all heard it: the Home Run Derby can ruin a player’s swing and single-handedly cause the player to tank in the second half of the season.

The theory has been utilized to explain the decline of Brandon Inge in 2009, Dan Uggla in 2008, and Justin Morneau in 2007. Perhaps more famously, though, the Home Run Derby has routinely been identified as the culprit for Bobby Abreu’s disappointing second half in 2005 — in which he connected with 18 home runs in the first half and only six in the second half.

Most people within the baseball industry — players, coaches, and writers — now dismiss the theory’s validity. Some players may alter their swings in the event, but as third baseman Brandon Inge said in this article by Jim Caple:

“We’re professionals. As Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard said, you can make adjustments. It won’t stick with you anyway. Someone once told me it takes 30 days for muscle memory to become habit. I wouldn’t think that few swings in one night would affect you.”

Ironically, Inge said that prior participating in the 2009 Home Run Derby and subsequently taking a nosedive in the second half of the season. He became Exhibit A for those providing evidence in favor of the theory.

So, does the Home Run Derby legitimately affect player performance in the second half of the season?

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Quality vs. Quantity: The Blue Jays’ Draft Strategy

Ever since the new collective bargaining agreement was announced in November 2011, people speculated as to how the newly-formulated signing bonus budgets for the MLB Draft would affect draft strategy.

Signability became extremely important. Teams could not afford to fail to sign a pick because it caused them to forfeit their pick and the bonus money allotted for that pick, ultimately lessening their overall spending pool. That focus on signability resulted in an influx of college seniors getting drafted in earlier rounds than their talent would have otherwise dictated.

Drafting college seniors in the top ten rounds allowed organizations to sign those players — who lack negotiating leverage due to their inability to return to college — well under the prescribed slot value and bank money to utilize elsewhere.

Most teams drafted a college senior or two in the first ten rounds, but the Toronto Blue Jays took the strategy to a whole different level. In rounds four through ten, Toronto drafted seven-consecutive college seniors, and not one of those players has signed for more than $5,000 — including outfielder Alex Azor out of the United States Naval Academy, who signed for a mere $1,000 in the tenth round. Azor saved the Blue Jays $124,000 against their overall signing bonus allotment.

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Rule Changes In The International Market

With the July 2 implementation of the new international spending budgets that were agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement beginning today, much of the baseball world is attempting to wrap their heads around the potential impact the new rules may have in terms of spending and disbursement of players.

Until today, organizations across Major League Baseball were free to open their wallets and spend whatever they felt was necessary to lure top international talent into their farm system. Some organizations have jumped into the deep end in the past, while other teams have largely chosen to barely dip their toes into the water and have spent frugally on international talent. The Texas Rangers doled out $12.83 million on international bonuses in 2011, the most in all of baseball. On the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Dodgers spent $177,000 on the international market last year.

With that massive range in expenditures in mind, teams will no longer be able to spend wildly without repercussions. Each team will have a $2.9 million budget in international signing bonuses for the 2012-13 signing period. If the budget is exceeded, various penalties would be assessed:

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Cuban OF Yasiel Puig Declared Free Agent

Cuban outfielders have been a hot commodity over the past year, and another young Cuban defector was declared a free agent on Tuesday evening and is now able to sign with any major league team, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.

Twenty-one-year-old Yasiel Puig has long attempted to make his way to the United States. In fact, he was suspended from playing in the Cuban Serie Nacional this past season due to attempting to defect. He successfully did so this summer, establishing temporary residency in Mexico, and is expected to agree to terms rather quickly in hopes of signing prior to July 2, when the new CBA regulations  will severely limit international spending.

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