Author Archive

The Reds’ Bright Spot

Say what you will about the Cincinnati Reds, as a team they play air-tight defense. I don’t think much has been made of it, but the Redlegs led the National League in UZR with 52 runs saved last season. Just looking at the team’s current depth chart, they might possibly improve on last year’s mark. This isn’t to say their squeaky clean glovework is going to somehow launch them into contention next year, but hey, when you can find a bright spot for a languishing franchise such as the Reds, it needs to be highlighted.

There are a couple nifty new sets of defensive projections that have recently come out. Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond the Boxscore has cooked some up, and Steve Sommer has some projections that go the extra mile and regresses UZR to a population based on the Fan’s Scouting Report.

                   Jeff  Steve
Joey Votto         2      3
Brandon Phillips   7      7
Scott Rolen        7      8
Paul Janish        4      7
Chris Dickerson    1      8
Jay Bruce          1      4

Be sure to click on the links if you would like to read up on their methods.

There’s not a weak link on this chain. I’m assuming Drew Stubbs will be their center fielder after Willy Taveras‘ replacement level season, but we can’t put anything past Dusty Baker. Stubbs gets glowing reviews from scouts, and his Total Zone stats (found at agree: the numbers have him at +58 in 423 minor league games, including 19 runs in 107 games in AAA last season.

UZR had Stubbs at 8 runs in just 42 games in the big leagues, for what it’s worth. The bottom line is he can go get ’em.

Paul Janish may be Adam Everett-light, and I mean that as a compliment. I think. He hit for a paltry .275 wOBA and is projected to do the same next year, but in just less than 600 innings on the field he was good for 12 runs as measured by UZR. Small sample, yes, but the fans like him and the Reds like him enough to start him next season.

The Scott-Rolen-for-Edwin-Encarnacion-plus-prospects trade is still a head scratcher to me, but he was consistently -10 on defense where Scott Rolen is still mostly Scott Rolen.

Things might get ugly yet again this summer in Cincinnati, but it won’t be for a lack of fielding.

Running the Bases – Part 3: The Laggards

Yesterday we looked at the best baserunners of the 2009 season; now let’s finish up by looking at the laggards. Again, these numbers are taken from Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metric (EQBRR), which was created by Dan Fox. Stolen bases/caught stealing are already factored in FanGraphs’ version of wOBA, so I’ve just subtracted the steals (EQBRR-EQSBR).

We’ve found out that only a handful of players have had major impacts on the diamond with their baserunning, and these players are the ones who really dragged down their WAR by their plodding and/or boneheaded play on the basepaths.

Melvin Mora     -8
Jorge Posada    -8
Carlos Lee      -6
Yadier Molina   -5
Pedro Feliz     -5
Josh Bard       -5
Billy Butler    -5
Michael Young   -5
Bengie Molina   -5
Jim Thome       -5

To no great surprise, we have a couple of Super Molina Brothers and a few “pleasantly plump” non-catchers such as Billy Butler and Carlos Lee.

Is Melvin Mora’s career over? Yep, probably. He’s going to be 38, he hit the skids offensively and now factoring in his awful baserunning, he was replacement level for 2009. He’s now a free agent, and it’s hard for me to envision him receiving a contract.

We’re filling in the holes in some player’s WAR looking at baserunning, and our own Matt Klaassen has done some hole-filling of his own with his version of quantifying catcher defense. Bookmark it folks: it’s an awesome reference on catchers. Using his run totals on some of these catchers and the baserunning numbers, the picture gets even clearer.

Yadier Molina’s gun-slinging ways have firmly established his defensive reputation. Matt has him at +7 runs — not as high as one might’ve imagined, but still very good. While Yadi’s defensive giveth, unfortunately his lack of ability on the basepaths taketh away, or at least a good bit.

The eldest and most hack-tastic Molina brother isn’t quite the hitter or the defender he once was. The d_f’s catcher metric has him at -3. For the Giants, Molina’s WAR was 1.8 but this drops him to 1 WAR. Bengie’s now a 34-year-old free agent. Given his rep as a steady backstop, I’m sure he’ll find a starting gig somewhere, whether he’s deserves it or not.

Jorge Posada stunk at both defense and baserunning. We have him at 4 WAR, which is obviously great, but when factoring Matt’s defensive numbers (-6) and his horrid baserunning, JP’s WAR goes down to 2.6, which is still good, but not quite as lofty. If you look into the scout’s dictionary and find the word “baseclogger,” you’ll see a picture of Jorge Posada.

Running the Bases – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at team baserunning; now let’s take a gander at the individual leaders for the 2009 season. Again, this is taken from Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metrics (Hip-hip hooray for Dan Fox), sans the stolen bases, which are already figured in a player’s WAR total. These are the players who were the best at taking that extra base and not getting caught doing it.

Feel free to add these numbers in to a player’s total WAR to get a better picture of what these individuals were worth on the diamond.

Michael Bourn	   8
Chone Figgins	   7
Emilio Bonifacio   6
Cristian Guzman	   6
Dexter Fowler	   6
Chase Utley	   5
Ryan Zimmerman	   5
Rajai Davis	   5
Colby Rasmus	   5
Ichiro Suzuki	   5
Brandon Phillips   5

Baserunning matters, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot — at least not for the vast majority of players. Only 18 players contributed 4 or more runs, and only 13 players hurt their teams by 4 or more runs. Perhaps not surprisingly, we see a lot of speedsters on this list and…Ryan Zimmerman?

Bourn’s +8 lifts him up to the rarified air of 5 WAR, which is actually sort of mind-boggling when you think when you consider his awful 2008 season.

The Legend of Chone Figgins continues to grow. From 2007-2009, Figgins has been good for 19 runs of non-steals baserunning and 21 runs worth of fielding. It will be fascinating to see what sort of contract he gets on the free agent market.

Colby Rasmus may not have had the type of rookie campaign at the plate that was putting him in pre-season discussions for the NL ROY, but he was one of the best defensive fielders in the game (+9 UZR) and also added value with his legs. 2.8 WAR for a rookie is nothing to sneeze at; I humbly submit to you that Colby was a more deserving ROY than Chris Coghlan.

Oh, and is there anything Ichiro and Utley can’t do?

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow by throwing rocks at the biffs of the basepaths.

Running the Bases – Part 1

Our expectation is that anyone who reads this site on a regular basis has been given a strong education in the ways of WAR. But there’s a missing facet that you should not forget when putting together a player’s total value of what he does on the diamond, and that is baserunning. Sky Kalkman has visited this subject a time or two, and since he’s ridden off into the sunset for the time being, and I’m recently riding back into the picture, I’ll just pick up where he left off and give you an update on 2009 non-stolen bases baserunning.

Baseball Prospectus has a remarkable metric measuring baserunning. Here at FanGraphs we already include stolen bases/caught stealing in a player’s wOBA, but any educated baseball fan knows that there is more to baserunning than just steals. There is the art of taking extra bases on ground balls, fly balls, hits while not getting caught doing it. God-given speed has its place, but it takes brains and instincts on knowing when to be the aggressor and when not to.

The numbers presented are EQBRR – EQSBR (total baserunning runs minus stolen base runs.)

First let’s take a look at the best baserunning teams of 2009.

Team        Runs
Rockies       14
Marlins       12
Cardinals     10
Angels         8
Athletics      8
Rays           8
Giants         7
Twins          6
Blue Jays      6
Diamdonbacks   3
Tigers         3
Dodgers        2
Astros         1
Mariners       1
Red Sox        0
Indians        0
Brewers        0
Padres         0
Reds          -1
Phillies      -1
Mets          -2
Nationals     -3
White Sox     -4
Cubs          -5
Yankees       -6
Rangers       -6
Royals        -7
Braves       -10
Pirates      -13
Orioles      -15

The Rockies, Marlins and Cardinals all helped themselves to the tune of a full win thanks to their heady base-running. That’s a feather in their caps. The Cardinals and Marlins do not steal a lot of bases, but they know when to be aggressive on the basepaths and wreak havoc on opposing teams. How the Cardinals can put up a full win of baserunning with Yadier Molina on their team is a feat within itself.

The Braves, Buccos and O’s on the other hand put together quite a comedy show on the basepaths.

The major take away here is that for the best and worst teams, the difference was just a +/- a win (roughly).

Next up, we’ll look at the individual leaders and laggards.

NLDS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Why are they here?

Back in the days when we all were fighting the winter doldrums and eagerly anticipating those magical words of “pitchers and catchers report”, various projection systems were forecasting mediocrity from the Cardinals. CHONE projected the Cardinals to win all of 83 games. PECOTA pegged them from 80. THT had them down for 85. Marcel, 83. All of them projected the Cubs to win the division in back to back years, but the Cardinals ended up with the flag. The reason is pretty simple. The Cardinals were the benefactors of unanticipated and terrific seasons from several players while making a key addition mid-season in Matt Holliday. The Cubs were hit with some key injuries, but more so, they just flat underachieved, no thanks to the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and others.

Chris Carpenter went from the shelf to Cy Young contender (5.6 WAR), Adam Wainwright is also in Cy discussions (5.7 WAR), and Joel Pineiro (!) magically morphed into a strike-throwing sinker-baller (4.8 WAR).

Yadier Molina continued his surprising progress as a hitter while continuing to be the best defensive catcher in the NL (3.4 WAR, not factoring his defense) and former scrub Brendan Ryan blossomed into one of the best fielding shortstops in the majors (12.2 UZR, 3.3 WAR). Ryan Franklin even joined the act, proving to be an effective closer for most of the season. Oh, and they got a broken-down Hall of Famer in John Smoltz for nothing, and it took Dave Duncan and the Cardinal staff all of five seconds to fix him.

Matt Holliday largely is credited for turning around the Cardinals, and while his presence was definitely felt (2.6 WAR), he was just one of the many reasons the Cardinals vaulted their way to 91 wins. And of course, there was this guy named Albert Pujols, who had just another MVP caliber, nay, numinous type of season (8.5 WAR). Ho-hum.

That was the good, now the bad

At the all-star break, Ryan Franklin had a 27-7 K/BB ratio over 34 innings, and had held batters to a .217 on-base percentage. Then he suddenly remembered he was Ryan Franklin again, posting a 17-17 K/BB ratio, allowed a .380 on-base percentage over 27 innings. It’s also a little more than disconcerting to Cardinal fans that Jason Motte (4.81 FIP) and Kyle McClellan (3.97 FIP) are the two pitchers who are supposed to be setting Franklin up, and neither have done anything to distinguish themselves as pitchers their manager can trust in leveraged situations. I would not be surprised to see LaRussa go with Smoltz in crucial situations while using Kyle Lohse as the team’s fourth starter, who has fallen off after a career year, and has spent time on the DL with forearm tightness and a groin injury.

The Cardinals will also have to run the lefty gauntlet, something they failed at during the regular season, mustering a .233/.312/.362 line against lefties for the year. They will face Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw in games one and two. If the Cardinals are fortunate to beat L.A., they could face an even nastier group of southpaws in Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and JA Happ should the reigning champs make it past Colorado.

LaRussa will be counting heavily on his big three at the top of the rotation to go deep into games, and Pujols-Holliday and Co. to do enough damage so that he doesn’t have to fear when turning to an unstable bullpen. Also, because of the Cardinals surged so far ahead of their competition, they took to playing on auto-pilot for the month of September. It will be interesting to see whether or not they can ‘flip the switch’.

The Tale of Three Overpaid Closers

Last off-season K-Rod, Kerry Wood and Brian Fuentes were considered to be the cream of the free agent crop for closers. Wood signed for $20.5 M with an $11M vesting option if he finishes 55 games for the Tribe next year. Fuentes signed a two-year, $17.5 million contract w/2011 option. Francisco Rodriguez signed the richest deal of the three, with a 3-year, $37M contract. Other than all three pitchers becoming very rich men last winter, what else do they have in common?

They have all been, by varying degrees, free agent landmines. K-Rod’s peripherals have continued their downward decline. While his ERA looks acceptable enough at 3.36, his FIP has gone up from 2.70 to 3.22 to 3.79 this season over 65 innings pitched. That’s good for 0.6 wins above replacement, worth $2.6 million, a mere fraction of his actual salary.

Kerry Wood has thrown 51 innings and his FIP has nearly doubled from last year, from 2.32 to 4.08. His strikeout rate is still good at 10 K’s per nine innings, but his walk rate from has doubled and he’s suffered some severe bouts of gopheritis. Wood has been worth a measly .5 WAR. At least for this season, the rebuilding Indians are paying him 5 times his actual value. Chris Perez, who came over in the Mark DeRosa trade, has better peripherals and the stuff to close.

Brian Fuentes has all but lost his job for the Angels to youngster Kevin Jepsen. Fuentes has 43 saves but an awful 4.48 FIP, meaning he’s more deserving of mop-up duty than high leverage innings. He’s been worth just .3 WAR.

Meanwhile, the best relievers in the game have either been homegrown, as in the case with Brian Wilson, Andrew Bailey and Jonathan Broxton, or they have basically been freely available talent like Heath Bell or David Aardsma.

Paying a high price for a “proven” closer just isn’t always the greatest idea.

They Call Him Boog

Quick, who is the best defensive shortstop in the National League? Jimmy Rollins? Troy Tulowitzki? Alcides Escobar? Rollins won the Gold Glove last year and is having a fine but unspectacular year, as measured by UZR. He’s been worth 6 runs. Troy Tulowitzki has a terrific defensive reputation, but UZR isn’t a huge fan this year at 2 runs. Jack Wilson is right there at +11 runs, but he’s since taken his act to the American League. Escobar has only been up for a short while. There’s still a whole lot of wait-and-see with him.

I humbly submit to you that the best defensive shortstop in the Senior Circuit has been Brendan Ryan. After riding the Memphis-St. Louis shuttle much of last year, Ryan has been thrust into full-time duties because of Khalil Greene’s struggles and battles with an anxiety disorder. His spasmodic behavior has formerly turned off to his conservative manager; Ryan has toned down the jumpiness a bit and turned up his game. According to the early returns on the Scouting Report by the Fans, Ryan’s defensive skills are drawing rave reviews across the board. He’s scoring 4.5 out of 5, and is right up there with Rollins and Tulo. He’s also leading NL shortstops in UZR with +13 runs.

In his brief career (161 games), Ryan has a UZR/150 of 14.3. While it’s better to have at least three years of data before we start making assumptions on a player’s defense, the eyes also really like him. Having personally watched him play for quite a while now, I would not be shocked if he was a +1 win defender every year. He has a flair for making the spectacular almost look routine.

He’ll never wow anyone with his bat. His career wOBA is .313, this season it’s .317. That’s close enough to average to make him a valuable player when you factor in his defense. From utility player to becoming a 3-win shortstop, Brendan Ryan is overshadowed by some of the stars on the Cardinals, but he’s been a big part of the team’s success.

The Life of Brian’s Fastball Part 2

Illustrated edition.

Yesterday I talked about San Francisco’s closer Brian Wilson and his breakthrough season. I mostly attributed his recent success to an increase in horizontal movement on his fastball. Since I don’t have my own Pitch F/x database and am to lazy to learn MySQL, I asked our own Dave Allen if he could give me a hand with some Pitch F/x graphs. Dave was suffering with some internet issues and wasn’t able to oblige me until the post had already published, but I thought it would be a shame to not put the graphs to good use. They really bring out the dramatic change in the movement of Wilson’s fastball, and more.



Wilson’s 2008 fastball had the speed of a normal 4-seam fastball, but almost cutter-like movement. This year’s edition is much more 4-seamer’ish. What also stands out his his breaking pitches are a little ‘sharper’, for a lack of a better term.

According to the Pitch F/x data available here at FanGraphs, Wilson’s slider had five and a half inches of horizontal movement last season, and .8 inches of vertical movement. This year’s slider averages 3 inches of horizontal movement and 1.2 inches of vertical movement. I take it that Dave has his own smarter pitch categorization system that differs from straight Pitch F/x, which is why you see more cutters than sliders in Wilson’s 2009 graph.

Whether you want to classify the pitch as a hard slider, cutter or ‘slutter’ or what have you, it’s plain to see Wilson is a bit of a different animal this season.

Thank you Dave.

The Life of Brian’s Fastball

The Giant’s Brian Wilson is a fun player. He looks more rock star than ballplayer, what with his mop hair, tattoos and tight pants. He even brings his own brand pyrotechnics to the mound with a blazing fastball that at times has been clocked in the triple-digits. While Wilson accumulated 41 saves for the Giants last year, those saves came with a bloated 4.62 ERA. His 3.93 FIP indicates that he pitched a little better than his ERA, but that is not what you would by and large hope for from your closer.

This year, Wilson has emerged from being a .6 win player to a 2.3 win relief ace. 2+ wins represents the upper echelon for relievers. So why the improvement?

Wilson’s heater has long been his meal ticket. His average velocity has seen a nice bump from this year to last, from 95.7 to 96.5 MPH.


Not only has he been able to crank up the heat, but perhaps more importantly the pitch also has considerably more movement than before. Looking at his Pitch F/x numbers, Wilson’s fastball used to be straight as an arrow, averaging just less than half an inch of horizontal movement. This season, Wilson’s fastball has much more tail, with -3.5 inches of horizontal movement. It’s probably no coincidence that batters went from slugging .390 against Wilson in 2008 to just .301 this season.

What’s more, Wilson has improved upon his control. Last season he walked a little over 4 batters per nine innings, this season he’s down to about 3.4 per nine.

With an enhancement in ‘life’ to his fastball and increased control of the pitch, “B-Weez” has blossomed into one of the game’s best closers. Giant fans haven’t enjoyed this kind of “Smoke on the Water” in quite some time.

Fun with zMLE

Dan Szymborski, the brain behind the popular ZiPS projections found here at FanGraphs, has put together three decades of MLE’s available for download at the click of a mouse. Talk about a fun way to kill some time while chilling in your mom’s basement. Where have you gone, Adam Hyzdu?

Perhaps at another time we’ll dig up some of the Ken Phelpses That Never Were, but for right now I want to focus in on some interesting seasons of current minor league players. Like for instance, did you know Ruben Gotay has 102 walks this season in Triple-A? This is same Ruben Gotay that has walked 60 times in 811 big league PA’s. Instead of getting a September call-up from the Arizona Diamonbacks, a team who is probably in need of a second baseman for 2010, Gotay is playing for Puerto Rico in the Baseball World Cup in Barcelona. His MLE line for 2009 was .258/.390/.402.

Shelley Duncan, the brother of Chris Duncan and son of Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan, has already experienced his Kevin Maas-like day in the sun a couple of summers ago, but he may deserve another look. That shot may not come with the Yankees again, but he has a nifty looking MLE: .262/.346/.508 with 28 homers in 461 at-bats.

–The Cardinals’ suffered through months of Joe Thurston with an injured Troy Glaus on the shelf. They also traded away their third baseman of the future (Brett Wallace) and traded for Mark DeRosa. DeRosa’s production has been down since coming over the NL, no thanks to a wrist injury – .240/.314/.417. 25-year old Allen Craig, who has played extensively at third base throughout his career. has an MLE line of .277/.327/.455. DeRosa and Holliday are both free agents at the end of the season. Craig just might be the Cardinals’ 2010 starting 3B or LF.

–The Rays got much more than a throw in for a PTBNL in the Scott Kazmir deal. Sean Rodriguez, a middle infielder by trade, put together a solid season in the power department, with an MLE slugging % of .456. The Rays already have a pretty solid core of infielders, but Rodriguez could provide a nice power boost off the bench for next year.

John Bowker is a mystery. For Triple-A Fresno, Bowker not only tearing the cover off of the ball, but was also walking in 18% of his plate appearances. Since being called up to the Bay, he’s doing his best Bengie Molina impersonation, drawing just one walk once in 42 plate appearances. His MLE line is .283/.385/.460. That production beats the heck out of everyone else in the Giants’ lineup save Sandoval, it’s too bad he wasn’t called up earlier, and it’s also too bad he’s not really shown much in the little playing time he has received.

Download the files for some fun, and please consider giving Dan some gratuity for his efforts.

A Dose of Reality for Prospect Watchers

All of the minor league regular seasons are officially over, and it will soon be one of my favorite seasons of the year — prospect evaluation and ranking time. I personally love reading the various scouting reports and rankings; I devour it as much of it as I can stand. Now excuse me while I become a wet blanket.

I think as we look at minor league stats and read scouting reports, if we are not careful we can get rose-colored glasses when it comes to our outlook of the future of these players. The truth is most of these players we find ourselves pulling for simply won’t ever make it.

Victor Wang has done some tremendous research about prospects and their value. In determining their value he had to find the rate of which players bust in each category he divided them into. This is a healthy dose of realism to keep in mind when we’re looking at the any one club’s farm system.

* 10% of top 10 hitting prospects bust.
* 31% of top 10 pitching prospects bust.
* 21% of top 11-25 hitting prospects bust.
* 32% of top 11-25 pitching prospects bust.
* 35% of top 26-50 hitting prospects bust.
* 33% of top 26-50 pitching prospects bust.
* 45% of top 51-75 hitting prospects bust.
* 39% of top 51-75 pitching prospects bust.
* 43% of top 76-100 hitting prospects bust.
* 43% of top 76-100 pitching prospects bust.
* 59% of ‘B grade’ hitting prospects bust.
* 52% of ‘B grade’ pitching prospects bust.
* 83% of ‘C grade’ hitting prospects bust.
* Around 75% of all ‘C grade’ pitching prospects bust.

Top 100 prospects are Baseball America’s. B and C grades are as ranked by prospect wonk John Sickels.

Top ten hitting prospects are just about can’t miss. Not all of them reach the level of stardom, but they seldom fail to bring value to a team. Going on down the line, the rates of attrition obviously get higher and higher. I find the failure rates among top pitchers to be striking, and it’s interesting to see how things even out between hitters and pitchers as you go down the grades.

This isn’t anything really new, but it is something to keep in mind when reading these rankings. Reading some reports you would be almost led to believe that even the majority of C grade hitting or pitching prospects will end up being at least a major league utility players or a middle relievers, but that’s simply not the case.

Feel free to soak up all the prospect hype you can find, but always take it with a grain of salt.

Define Pretty Good

Padres’ general manager Kevin Towers says the Padres can be “pretty good” next year. I’d like to know what Towers means by pretty good. Surveying the team – wearing Petco adjusted glasses, of course – I have a tough time seeing it.

Unless you just don’t pay attention to baseball at all, you already know about the greatness of Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres entertained offers this deadline before ruling to keep their star slugger. What sort of talent do they have to compliment him in order to contend in a strong division next year? Getting a full season of Kyle Blanks should help. His power is the real deal – evidenced in part by a .202 ISO in Triple-A, .264 in the majors this season. While his bat could be something special, he’s been forced to the outfield because of Gonzalez’s presence. Blanks looks more like a defensive lineman than a first baseman, let alone an outfielder. In a small sampling, Blanks’ UZR is -9 per 150 games. Having seen him play a few times, he looks faster than I expected a 285 pounder to be, but he’s not going to be confused with Nyjer Morgan anytime soon.

Everth Cabrera looks like a Rule 5 steal. He draws walks at a decent clip – 11% of his plate appearances this year – and he’s one of the fastest players in baseball. While in small samples his UZR numbers are not great, scouts believe he is a solid defender.

So there we have two cost-controlled players that should be above average contributors, or thereabouts. Kevin Kouzmanoff is having a fine season (2.4 WAR) and Tony Gwynn Jr. has been surpisingly good since coming over from Milwaukee (1.9 WAR). On the downside, former top prospect Chase Headley has not lived up to expecations (.320 wOBA, -10 in LF), and there’s little seperating Nick Hundley and David Eckstein from replacement players.

As for their rotation, the Padres look like they will have a crew of Chris Young, Tim Stauffer, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda. Latos and Poreda both have high ceilings, but it would be a lot to expect either to blossom into top-shelf starters by next season. Stauffer and Richard are both solid-ish, and who knows what to expect from Chris Young going forward?

Their bullpen looks to be a strength, with Heath Bell blossoming into one of the more dominant closers in the game, and San Diego has no trouble finding diamonds in the rough when filling out a ‘pen. Take for instance Luke Gregerson (2.44 FIP), who was just in Double-A last year and came over from St. Louis in the Khalil Greene deal.

The Padres dumped a lot of salary by getting rid of Peavy, and by my estimates they only have about $30 million committed to next year’s roster, which should give them some money to play with this winter. But who knows what the new ownership group will be willing to shell out in free agency? And even if they do add through free agency, I can’t see that putting them into contention next year.

I think Towers is a bright guy, but I don’t quite get his optimism. I do think the Padres will improve. How couldn’t they? But unless pretty good means 77 wins, I just don’t see it.

Give Chase His Due

In all likelihood, the National League MVP is going to Albert Pujols for the second consecutive season, and probably rightly so. He’s at or near the top in many of the traditional and non-traditional stats and is 2nd behind Tim Lincecum in wins above replacement with 7.5.

But right there with Pujols and Lincecum is Chase Utley, with 7.2 WAR. Last year, Utley was 2nd in WAR with 8.1 and yet somehow managed to finish just 14th in the MVP voting. What will the voters do with Chase this year?

I knew Chase Utley has been underrated by the mainstream media, but I’m not sure I realized by how much. Consider this: In the past five years (including this season), Utley has been worth 37.5 wins above replacement, 2nd only to Albert Pujols, who has 39.5. That’s just freakishly impressive, and yet Utley has never finished above 7th in the MVP voting in his career. It is also worth noting that Utley has been good for a whopping 72.2 runs in UZR in the last five years, and yet has never won a Gold Glove.

While I know it’s too premature to start lumping Utley together with Hall of Famers, writers and fans have no qualms about doing the same with Pujols, so please just indulge me for a moment. Utley clearly is playing at his peak right now, and will certainly face some decline later on in his career. But if Utley were to retire after this season, he would have about 40 WAR. It took Hall of Famer second baseman Red Schoendienst 19 seasons to get to do the same. Utley has done it in eight. Alright, so that’s a little cherry-picking on my part, as we know Red was helped into the Hall by his managerial record, but Tom Tango recently looked at all position players born between 1874 and 1958 and found that 34% of players with a career WAR in the 40’s made it into the Hall of Fame. Those are some fair odds.

Looking at it from a different angle, Utley is averaging 6.9 WAR per 150 games. For a frame of reference, Jackie Robinson averaged 6.8 WAR per 150 games, the second highest among 2nd baseman in the Hall of Fame behind Rogers Hornsby, who was worth an astonishing 8.5. The great Eddie Collins is next with 6.7.

I’m not nuts enough to say that Utley is going to go on and have a career anything quite like Robinson’s or Collins’; my point is that casual fans have failed to realize just how good Utley really has been. He has been consistently brilliant now for quite a stretch.

Watch him and appreciate him, folks. I believe he’s the type of player you’ll one day be telling your grandchildren about.

Desmond Jennings is Good at Baseball

Last night for Triple-A Durham, Desmond Jennings tied an International League record by going 7-for-7 in a single game. That’s pretty good. Desmond Jennings is pretty good.

This season Jennings has already put the Southern League MVP under his belt. There, in Double-A, he posted a .316/.395/.486 line with 37 bases in 42 tries. As some extra icing on the cake, coaches and managers rated him the best defensive outfielder in the league. He also displayed tremendous plate discipline, drawing 48 walks against 52 strikeouts in 440 plate appearances. Jennings was doing a little bit of everything. He has not slowed down a bit since being called up to Triple-A.

For Durham Jennings has a downright tasty .420 wOBA over 116 plate appearances, including 14 more steals in 16 tries. He’s also walking more (18 BB) than he’s striking out (14 K).

Because of his tools, performance and football background, Jennings has been drawn a few comparisons to his future teammate, Carl Crawford. While Crawford was up in the majors by the time he was 20, Jennings, 22, has shown more patience and extra base pop throughout his minor league career. The only major question mark is his durability.

With B.J. Upton, Crawford and Jennings in the outfield in 2010, the Rays will boast just a freakishly athletic and rangy outfield.

Atlanta’s Embarrassment of Pitching Riches

Tim Hudson made his long awaited return from Tommy John surgery late Monday night. While he showed some rust, he performed OK over all — allowing two earned runs over 5.1 innings with 6 hits allowed and three walks, while striking out five.

Here’s his movement graph. Pitch F/x apparently forgot the scouting report on Huddy, so rather than then taking the time to manually reclassify his pitches, I just broke them down by velocity.


Still a very nice sinker, splitter, cutter and curve for Hudson. He averaged about 89 MPH with his fastball and hit up to 92, so the early returns are encouraging. Thank goodness for Dr. Jobe’s miraculous invention. But now what do the Braves do with their rotation? With Hudson’s return, the Braves now have six good starting pitchers in their rotation, an embarrassment of riches. Something has to give.

Javier Vazquez 181.1 IP – 3.18 ERA – 2.83 FIP – 48.4 RAR – 5.4 WAR
Jair Jurrjens 171 IP – 2.89 ERA – 3.75 FIP – 29.3 RAR – 3.1 WAR
Derek Lowe 164.1 IP – 4.38 ERA – 3.73 FIP – 28.6 RAR – 3 WAR
Thomas Hanson 89.2 IP – 3.15 ERA – 3.98 FIP – 13.1 RAR – 1.4 WAR
Kenshin Kawakami 142.2 IP – 3.97 ERA – 4.30 FIP – 16.3 RAR – 1.7 WAR

The odd man out is reportedly Kenshin Kawakami, who was signed as a free agent from Japan over the winter and has proven to be about what the Braves had hoped: a little better than league average. Teams would be blessed to have him as their 4th starter, he’s now the Braves’ 6th starter, making him the best swing-man in the biz.

So what do the Braves do with this wonderful problem that they have in the offseason? I know the saying goes that you never have too much pitching, but Hudson has a $12M option for next season. While that’s somewhat tempting given the fact that Huddy may now be as good as new, if the Braves decide to pick it up, that would mean they would be allocating $45M to four pitchers in their rotation. Lowe is guaranteed $15M next year. Vasquez, $11.5M. Kawakami, around $7M. With the presence of two terrific cost-controlled options of Thomas Hanson and Jair Jurrjens and the Braves in desperate need of some offense, Hudson is probably headed for free agency this year. Millions of dollars are on the line for Hudson, with just a few starts remaining.

Geovany Soto’s Sophomore Jinx

Geovany Soto is struggling and he doesn’t know why. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has scraped together a measly .212/.318/.371 line and is now losing playing time to his illustrious backup, Koyie Hill. Lining up this season’s stats to his ROY campaign, I can see why he’s baffled.

First let’s take a look at his batted ball types.


(Blue is fly balls)

Uh-huh. No major changes, really. He’s hitting just a few more fly balls, but less are leaving the yard – down to 10.2% compared to 14.7% last year. That says something about why his power production is down, but it doesn’t explain why his batting average is hanging around the Mendoza line. Consider also his plate discipline numbers. Soto’s walks are up and his strikeouts are slightly down. He’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone – 20.1% last year, down to 18.1% this season – and he is making more contact when he does swing –74.7% last year, 77.4% this year. So he’s being more selective and making more contact when he does pull the trigger. It’s just as if he is almost always hitting the ball right at someone.

Soto has had some issues with his shoulder and oblique this year, which could be the culprit at least in part, but listening to Soto talk, he doesn’t seem to think that’s the case. Soto seems to attribute his woes to good old fashioned bad luck, and I’m not quite sure I can blame him.


Playing around with THT’s xBABIP calculator, Soto’s expected BABIP is .314. His actual BABIP: .245. Last year Soto was playing a bit over his head. This year he appears to be suffering some sort of horrid luck that Billy Sianis wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy.

There may be more to it than luck, of course. Feel free to fill me in, someone.

Other Fish

No, this isn’t a post about the Marlins.

Fans of the Kansas City Royals, it’s time to move on. It is one thing for your GM to routinely make shockingly bad decisions and then tell you to “trust the process”. But when ownership becomes even more haphazard about handing out stupid contracts, then it’s time to find a new drug. The glory days are long gone and aren’t coming back. The only joy Royals’ fans now have is being able to watch Zack Greinke take the mound every fifth day. It’s time to end this unhealthy relationship and move on. There are plenty of good suitors out there, and face it, you deserve better than this.

I’m not going to suggest that Royal fans jump on the Yankees or Red Sox bandwagon, or any large market team for that matter. Nor will I be discourteous enough to suggest that Royal fans look across the state. Here are just a few smaller market teams I’d submit for your consideration —

Tampa Bay Rays

General Manager Andrew Friedman has taken a perennial basement dweller and made them into a fit contender, while adhering to a strict budget. In other words, Friedman has been everything Royals fans hoped Dayton Moore would be. Unlike the Royals, the Rays draft extremely well; their farm system depth is enviable. Also unlike the Royals: the Rays are adept at developing their own players. *Cough* Alex Gordon… Friedman and his crew evaluate players correctly and are second to none and when it comes to finding freely available talent and making it work. Friedman is the anti-Dayton. There’s still plenty of room on this bandwagon.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers were expected to contend in 2010, not this year. They have a solid nucleus of young talent in Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz and Julio Borbon. The Rangers have also got the most out of an inexperienced pitching staff by complimenting them with one of the finest defenses in the league. The Rangers should continue to improve from within, as they boast one of the better farm systems in baseball even after graduating many of their system’s best talents this year. GM Jon Daniels has had his share of biffs when it comes to making trades (Adrian Gonzalez, anyone?), but he’s also had some major coups, like take for instance the Teixeira deal.

Seattle Mariners

Yes, I know it would be a bitter pill to swallow, rooting for the team that dumped Yuniesky Betancourt on you, but it is moves like that should encourage you to pull for the Mariners. They show they know how to properly evaluate their own players and dump bad contracts from the previous regime. (See also: Washburn, Jarrod) Mariner fans can feel your pain after having to deal with years of Bill Bavasi. As one of big contributors to the homegrown talent in the Brewers organization, Jack Zduriencik has an eye for talent. He’s also been a master at acquiring undervalued talent and spinning them into gold, as demonstrated in picking up players like Franklin Gutierrez, David Aardsma or Russell Branyan either via trade or free agency. Looking at some of his other under-the-radar moves, it’s obvious that he values defense. With his dealings, in just one year the Mariners went from a 37% winning percentage to a team above .500. He has Tom Tango on his payroll, and if you needed a couple of other reasons to hop on the Seattle bandwagon, there’s Ichiro and Felix Hernandez.

There are plenty of other fish in the sea, Royals fans. Why stay?

Damon’s New Digs

At 35 years young, Johnny Damon is hitting for more power than he ever has before. While Damon has always been a player with a little pop, his game has long been about hitting for average and making things happen with his legs. His career isolated power is .151, this season he’s up to a robust .237. I think it’s safe to say that there is at least one Yankee that really enjoys his new digs.


It should come as no great surprise that 17 of Damon’s 24 homers have come at the New Yankee Stadium, which in it’s inaugural season has proven to be quite the hitter’s park. With the help of the ever-resourceful site HitTracker, we can further examine Damon’s ‘power spike’.


Talk about a dead pull hitter. The average true distance of a major league homer is 399 feet and the calculated speed of the ball as it left the bat is 103.6 MPH. Damon’s average distance is 380 feet per homer and his speed off the bat is 101.7 MPH. Does that mean a lot of cheapies for Damon? Hit Tracker actually helps us classify homers further, putting all big flies in four self-explanatory different bins: “Just Enoughs”, “Plentys”, “No Doubts” and “Luckys”.

Using those classifications, Damon has had one lucky homer at the New Yankee Stadium, four homers that had just enough on them to leave the yard, eight homers that were out by plenty and four no-doubters. The average distance on the no-doubter and ‘plenty’ homers was 378 feet; not tape measure shots by any stretch, but they had plenty enough on them to give some Yankee fan sitting in some overpriced right field seats a souvenir.

The Yankees currently have nine players with double-digit homeruns, and it’s conceivable that they could have eight players with 20 homers or more this season, making them the first team do ever accomplish such a feat. While the Yankee lineup very, very good, when you look up down the lineup, it doesn’t quite strike you as Murderer’s Row. We’ve talked about the “Coors Effect” in years gone by. I don’t think the New Yankee Stadium is quite that extreme, but it’ll be interesting to see if the park continues to play this way over the next few seasons.

Harden Claimed

With the Cardinals up nine games and just a little over month to left to play, the Cubs are punting. Per reports, Rich Harden was put on waivers and claimed by a contending team. That team is rumored to be the Minnesota Twins.

Believe it or not, there’s still some hope for the Twins. gives them a 14% probability of making the playoffs; PECOTA gives them 15%. The Tigers haven’t run away with things yet, and the Twins are scheduled to play the White Sox six more times and Detroit seven times this season. Their September schedule also includes some feeble opponents – six games apiece with inter-division rivals Cleveland and Kansas City, as well as four games on the road against Toronto and a three game home stand with Oakland. So yeah, it’s feasible they could make up some ground and pull this thing out, with some luck.

With an uninspiring rotation of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and essentially a couple of replacement players, the Twinkies are also believed to be in on the Brad Penny derby. Harden clearly is the better option than Penny, but the more expensive one — he’s going to be a Type A free agent. Optimistically the Twins could squeeze six, maybe seven more starts out of Harden. Harden has been pitching as well as anyone in the second half with a 1.80 ERA and a 3.30 FIP. His ZiPS projects a 3.56 FIP for the rest of the season. If they can get that sort of performance out of seven starts, that would be good for about an extra win over replacement.

Harden is owed about $1.4 M left in salary, but should be worth anywhere between $3.2-4.4M in performance, and then there’s the matter of the two high draft picks. All this means Harden should fetch a very good return, potentially two solid B prospects.

For the Twins, it’s a worthy gamble. October baseball remains in the realm of possible, and Harden would certainly help their chances. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Twins can make it up in next year’s draft if they don’t/can’t bring Harden back. Picks aren’t as valuable as top prospects in the same way the proverbial bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, but Minnesota has had a decent enough success rate when it comes to drafting first rounders. As long as the Cubs aren’t asking for Aaron Hicks or some crazy multi-player package, I think I’d pull the trigger if I were the Twins’ GM. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Harden between now and Monday.

Wild Marmol

Carlos Marmol is a fun pitcher to watch. He whips the ball out from a sidearm motion from the stretch in such a way that it makes his 94 MPH fastball appear to rise as it approaches home plate. The pitch also has a considerable amount of tail. To compliment his fastball, Marmol throws a ‘slurvy’ slider that features some serious sweep. Marmol also hides the ball very well, which gives him some deception. This deadly combination makes him extremely tough to hit, as evidenced by his career hit per nine innings rate of 5.8.

The problem with Marmol is that he is his own worst enemy. For his career, his BB/9 rate is 4.76, but Marmol has now entered into “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams territory this season. Last night was classic Marmol. He entered into the game in the 9th inning with a seven run lead. He walked the first three batters he faced, allowed a run on a force out, struck out the next batter, gave up a double and then struck out the next batter to end the game.


The off the charts walk rate is probably an over the top illustration. Marmol has 55 walks in 59.1 innings pitch, to go along with a 11 hit batters. A quarter of the batters Marmol has faced this season, Marmol has put on base via either the walk or the hit by pitch. As often as Marmol’s putting batters on, he’s striking them out. 26% of the batters he’s faced this season have gone down on strikes. The young Dominican has recently assumed the role as the Cubs closer, as Kevin Gregg has suffered with the long ball this season, and the Cubs don’t feel rookie Angel Guzman is quite ready yet.

So what kind of rarefied territory is Marmol walking in? Pretty rare, definitely Mitch Williams type of stuff. There have been five seasons, including Marmol’s, where a reliever has struck out at least an average of a batter per inning, walked 7 per nine and hit at least five batters in a season.

With the help of Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we find those seasons are:

1987 Mitch Williams 108.2 IP, 10.7 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, 7 HBP,ERA+ 140
2008 Dennis Sarfate 79.2 IP, 9.7 K/9, 7 BB/9, 7 HBP, ERA+ 95
1962 Ryne Duren 71.1 IP, 9.3 K/9, 7.2 BB/9, 6 HBP, ERA+ 87
2009 Carlos Marmol 59.1 IP, 10.8 K/9, 8.3 BB/9, 11 HBP, ERA+ 121
1960 Ryne Duren 49 IP, 12.3 K/9, 9 BB/9, 7 HBP, ERA+ 72

I encourage you to read up on the life and times of Ryne Duren, who basically was Rick Vaughn. His wildness knew no bounds, stories have it that in the minors he hit a batter while he was on deck. His control was that rough. With a 95 MPH fastball and coke-bottle glasses, Duren would take a long time squinting in order to read signs from the catcher, and that would make batters just about wet themselves. Duren’s also known for overcoming a tough bout with alcoholism.

Anyway, it’s interesting and sort of amusing that only Williams and Marmol managed to have above average ERA’s with these sort of rates. Carlos Marmol, Algo Salvaje.