Author Archive

Braun Improving As Franchise Player

A few weeks ago, I took Ryan Braun with the 10th pick in FanGraphs franchise player draft. Truth be told, I was set to pick Miguel Cabrera before Niv Shah grabbed him with the pick right before mine. I briefly considered an ace like Felix Hernandez or a top prospect, but “settled” on one of the best hitters in baseball who also runs the bases well despite his defense being an all-around negative.

In addition to his durability (150-plus games in each of the past three seasons) and past production (.307/.364/.554 from 2007-2010 with an average of over 70 extra-base hits), I also considered Braun’s improvements at the plate in 2011. His current .417 wOBA is the fourth-best in the National League and would be the highest-single season mark for him since his smashing 2007 debut (.422 wOBA in 113 games).

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Jose Lopez Finds Work With Marlins

It was not too long ago when Jose Lopez was a perfectly capable starter on a major-league team. Sure, he was far from a star, but was league-average bat with passable defense at several positions along the infield. In early 2007, he signed a modest four-year extension with the Seattle Mariners worth around $6 million.

Lopez, 27, went on to produce 2.5 wins over the course of the deal, making it a decent endeavor for the Mariners. Meanwhile, his production dropped from average to replacement level as the deal expired last season. In his final season with the Mariners, Lopez hit .239/.270/.339 in 150 games. He continued to show little plate discipline and actually increased his O-Swing to a career-high 37%. Although he had some room for positive regression in both BABIP and HR/FB, the potential for a mediocre rebound was not enough to justify picking up the $4.5 million option the club held for the 2011 season.

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Price Even Better in 2011

A check of the traditional metrics suggests that American League Cy Young Award runner-up David Price has regressed this season. After just six losses last season, he has already taken the loss in five of his 13 starts. His 3.35 ERA is still good, but up more than a half run over his 2010 mark of 2.72.

Price has been roughed up a few times this season. Most notably on 4/29 against the Los Angeles Angels when  he gave up five runs on 12 hits in 4.1 innings. In May, he allowed five runs in back to back starts (5/16 v. Yankees, 5/21 v. Marlins). Those brief showings of mortality actually had some in the Tampa Bay area asking the question – what is wrong with David Price?

The answer is nothing. In fact, Price is a better pitcher than he was a season ago. While he was great last season, his peripheral stats were not in line with his win/loss record or ERA. His 3.42 FIP and 3.83 xFIP were both good, but not second-best pitcher in the league good. His “luck” categories, meanwhile, showed some favorable results, although nothing to suggest fluke or steep regression.

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Is The Danks Theory Catching On?

During the summer of 2010, I coined the phrase “The Danks Theory” for a lineup strategy employed by Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon. After having little success against changeup artists like Dallas Braden, Shaun Marcum, and of course, John Danks, Maddon went against the natural platoon split and began starting more like-handed batters against these types of pitchers. The intention behind this method appeared to be neutralizing his opponent’s best weapon, which was thrown more to batters of the opposite hand. The strategy actually dates back to 2008 when Maddon started six naturally right-handed batters and had two switch-hitters bat from the right side against Mike Mussina.

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Jo-Jo Reyes Wins

Jo-Jo Reyes will not go down in history as the starting pitcher with the longest winless streak. As it stands, his 28 starts in between victories is tied for the longest stretch in MLB History. After last tasting victory on June 13, 2008, Reyes was a winner last night.

In addition to getting his first win since 2008, Reyes tossed a complete game for the first time in his big league career. The lefty scattered eight hits over nine innings against the Cleveland Indians, allowing a run on a solo-blast by Shelley Duncan. He struck out four batters while walking an equal amount, but induced 13 groundballs – including three double-play balls. While Reyes earned the victory against the Indians, it was not his best game of the season.

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Buente Can’t Beat Rays, Joins Them

On Sunday, Jay Buente was the starting pitcher who ended up on the losing end of James Shields’ masterpiece against the Marlins. Now, Buente will have his check issued by the same organization as Shields. Buente, 27, made his starting debut this past weekend against the Rays. Following his poor outing (3IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1K, 18 BF) he was designated for assignment by Florida and claimed by the same Tampa Bay team that roughed him up three days earlier.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Buente as a possible alternative to Javier Vazquez in the Marlins’ rotation. Instead of replacing Vazquez, Buente followed him in the spot that opened up as a result Josh Johnson’s injury. Although the Marlins said he would take another turn through the rotation, he was quickly replaced on the roster by reliever Steve Cishek. With Johnson on track to return on June 1, Buente’s time appeared limited in any event.

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Vogelsong Resurfaces in San Francisco

Bartolo Colon has taken the early lead for American League Comeback Player of the Year. Over in the National League, Ryan Vogelsong is in the middle of a nice comeback story of his own along the San Francisco Bay. Once upon a time, Vogelsong was a prospect in the Giants system after he was selected in the 5th round of the 1998 draft. He jockeyed for position in the organization before he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 as part of the Jason Schmidt deal. From 2001-2006, he appeared in 103 games for Pittsburgh with mostly replacement level results.

The right-hander spent a few seasons in Japan before returning to the United States in 2010. He pitched in the Philadelphia organization last season, but did not appear in a big league game. More than a decade after his selection in the draft, Vogelsong has returned to the Giants and is contributing on the major league level.

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The Padres Eight-Run Eighth

Coming into the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the San Diego Padres, the Milwaukee Brewers held a 6-5 lead. With just six outs remaining, it seemed like a safe bet that the Padres were done scoring, considering San Diego entered the game averaging just over three runs a game; then the eighth inning happened. Facing a three-game sweep, the mighty Padres’ scored eight runs on nine hits to take a 13-6 lead over the Brewers.

The frame started with Mitch Stetter versus Brad Hawpe in a lefty-on-lefty matchup. Hawpe — who entered the game as a pinch-hitter – pulled a slider into right field for a lead-off single. With the right-handed bats of Chris Denorfia, Jason Bartlett, and Jorge Cantu due up, Ron Roenicke made a move to the bullpen for Kameron Loe. Roenicke’s choice was rooted in sound process especially since Loe has earned a 3.07 FIP/3.17xFIP against right-handed batters since he joined the Brewers’ bullpen in 2010. On the other hand, the results were disastrous.

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Time to Give Up on Vazquez?

When Javier Vazquez signed with the Florida Marlins there was hope that the National League East would once again be a safe haven for his right arm. After posting a 2.77 FIP and an identical 2.77 xFIP as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2009, Vazquez failed in his second tour of duty with the New York Yankees. His struggles in New York were well documented (5.56 FIP/4.69 xFIP) and even more concerning than the results was a steep drop in velocity. Vazquez never threw much harder than the low-90s to begin with, but was struggling to top out in the high-80s in 2010.

Despite the loss of velocity, a move back to the National League seemed like a wise choice for Vazquez. But whatever plagued him in the Bronx has followed him to South Beach. Coming into his Monday night start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Vazquez had a 5.61 FIP with an xFIP above 6.0. He had more walks (21) than strikeouts (16), and allowed 35 hits in 31 innings despite a .290 BABIP.

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Astros Add Aneury to Rotation

In the spring of 2009, the Tampa Bay Rays had to make a decision between two out-of-option starters: Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann. The Rays decided on Niemann and shipped Hammel off to the Colorado Rockies. In hindsight, Hammel has become the better pitcher, but who knows if he has the same success in the American League East. In return for him, Tampa Bay received 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.

Pitching at the Advanced-A level, Rodriguez posted a 3.74 ERA/3.38 FIP in 2008. Upon his arrival to the organization, the Rays promoted him to Double-A. He struggled in the early parts of the 2009 season, but finished strong enough to earn a promotion despite his 4.69 FIP. As a swingman for the Triple-A Durham Bulls (17 starts, 10 relief appearance) in 2010, he posted a solid 3.80 ERA/4.04 FIP in 113 innings.

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What’s Wrong with Carlos Pena?

This week, our staff is going to run a series of posts entitled “What’s Wrong With…”, where we explore the reasons why so many notable players are off to horrific starts in 2011. We understand that one month of data constitutes a small sample size, and that patience will be rewarded in several of these instances, but there are so many high profile players who are struggling that we felt it was worthwhile to explore the reasons why. Today, we start things off with the Cubs new first baseman, who isn’t exactly introducing himself to Chicago the way he would have liked.

The left-handed power bat of Carlos Pena and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field seemed like a perfect marriage on paper. From 2007 to 2010, Pena averaged 36 home runs per season. His 144 bombs over that time frame ranked second in the American League to Alex Rodriguez (149). Moving to Wrigley Field — a stadium that has been a home run haven for left-handed batters — seemed like a great place for Pena to rebound after hitting .196/.325/.407 in 2010.

Although Pena’s slash line was rather ugly, he still displayed some good power. He hit 28 home runs as part of his 46 extra-base hits. His .211 ISO was the lowest of any season he spent with Tampa Bay, but still above the league average of .145.

You could argue the case for some bad mojo in his batting average. His .222 BABIP was the second lowest in the majors behind Aaron Hill (.196). According to Eno Sarris’ calculations, Pena’s xBABIP was .301. I’m sure, however, there was some bad luck involved along the way, but the slow-footed Pena did not help himself with a 44.5% GB rate either. In addition to the groundball rate, opposing managers continue to over-shift on Pena which takes away some base hits.

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Same Masterson, Different Results

Based on traditional metrics like wins, losses, and ERA, Justin Masterson has been a below-average starting pitcher during the past two seasons. With a 10-23 record, and an ERA above 4.50, the former prospect looked like a superficial candidate for the label of “bust”. But defensive independent metrics suggested Masterson was a quality starter — who struggled shaking the luck dragons known as left-on base percentage (LOB%) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

In 2009 and 2010, the right-hander’s average on balls in play was roughly 25% more than the league average, which came despite a fantastic groundball rate. It certainly did not help that most of those groundballs came in front of the second worst defense in the league during the same period. With an increased amount of balls finding holes, his strand rate fell about 6% below the average of his peers.

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Call Him Complete Game James

For the second straight game, James Shields was able to finish what he started. Following a four-hit, one-run complete game victory against the Chicago White Sox earlier in the week, Shields threw a four-hit shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. In his second complete game, he used just 95 pitches to get the required 27 outs.

On the surface, James Shields had a bad season in 2010. His 5.18 ERA was the highest single-season mark of his career and he showed up in the loss column on 15 different occasions. Meanwhile, beneath the surface it might have been his best performance to date. His xFIP of 3.55 was the seventh best in the American League among starting pitchers (min. 180 innings).

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Crawford Will Be Okay in Boston

A lot of ink and keystrokes have been used over the awful start by Carl Crawford in a Red Sox uniform. After signing a massive seven-year contract worth $142 million, Crawford is being booed by the Fenway faithful less than three weeks into the season. Coming into Tuesday night’s games, the leftfielder was hitting just .133/.175/.167 in his first 63 plate appearances. A year after topping 60 extra base-hits and 40 stolen bases, he had just two of each through 14 contests.

Thus far, Terry Francona has moved Crawford around in the lineup and given him a day off to try and jumpstart his new toy; however, nothing has worked. Truth be told, no change in lineup or day off will cure what ails Crawford. As Jonah Keri would say, only time will.

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Bartolo Colon Returns to Rotation

It has been 633 days since Bartolo Colon last took the mound as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. With Phil Hughes suffering from dead arm, Colon will once again toe the rubber as a major league starter. A low-risk, non-roster invitee, who looked like a long-shot to make the roster this spring, Colon was impressive in the month of March and has continued that in three relief appearances with the Yankees.

As Phil Hughes’ shadow over the first few weeks of the season, Colon has tossed 11. 1 innings out of the bullpen. His ERA and defensive independent metrics look good and his peripheral statistics look even better. The right hander has struck out 13 batters while walking just three and allowing one ball to leave the yard. After giving up four runs in his first appearance, he has allowed one earned run over his last two appearances while striking out eight and walking two.

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Matsuzaka Off To Rough Start

Thus far, 2011 has not been kind to the Boston Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Through two turns in the rotation, Matsuzaka has given up more earned runs than innings pitched. After allowing three runs on six hits in five innings during his first start, he lasted just two innings last night; surrendering seven runs on eight hits and two walks.

Full small sample size disclosure, but in seven innings of work, opposing lineups have 10 earned runs on 14 hits, and five walks against Matsuzaka. He has just four strikeouts and served up three home runs – including one to Sam Fuld. In addition to some rather alarming results, the process at which he’s going about it also leaves something to be desired.

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Ogando’s Impressive First Start

Since the last time we spoke about Alexi Ogando a few things have changed. The biggest concern about Ogando in the rotation is and was durability. The outfielder-turned-fireballer pitched a career-high 72.1 innings last season between the minors and major leagues. With that in mind, it seems unlikely he could handle a workload over 150+ innings in 2011.

In the original Ogando article, I briefly mentioned the Rangers might start Ogando in the rotation with the intention of moving him back to the bullpen once Brandon Webb or Tommy Hunter was able to take his turn. Soon after we went live on FanGraphs, the Rangers announced that the move was indeed a temporary one. Even though the long-term durability issues were erased, there were concerns about how much endurance the righty would have on a start-to-start basis.

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A Look at Drabek’s 2011 Debut

In a division that is filled with talented, young starters, Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays has flown a bit under the radar. That has more to do with the multitude of talent that surrounds him in the division than it does Drabek, who was considered a top-15 prospect by some. Nonetheless, the key piece of the Roy Halladay return and the organization’s top prospect according to Marc Hulet, quietly entered the season as member of Toronto’s rotation.

The son of a former Cy Young award winner (obligatory Doug Drabek mention) made his major-league debut last season. In the small sample size of three starts, he posted decent results; however, we’re talking about 17 innings of work. Looking past the results, his fastball which was consistently in mid-90’s fastball and his plus curveball both matched scouting reports from the minors. While his strikeout rate was around average, he showed the ability to miss bats at an above-average rate. Following him from his time as a minor leaguer was the ability to induce ground balls in bunches.

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Rays Extend Wade Davis

Following the blueprint they used to sign a pre-arbitration eligible James Shields prior to the 2008 season, the Tampa Bay Rays signed 25-year-old Wade Davis to a contract extension on the eve of opening day 2011. The guaranteed portion of the deal is four years worth $12.6 million. From there, the team holds three club options that could max the deal out at seven years and $36.1 million.

Anytime you sign a player to a long-term deal there are risks involved. Signing a pitcher is a bit more risky than a position player given the attrition rate of arms. Guaranteeing four years to a starting pitcher with 35 career starts – not to mention five years of team control remaining – is even riskier; however, the Rays are willing to take the risk in exchange for cost certainty. There is also risk on the side of Davis, who could be leaving millions on the table should fulfill his potential as a former top prospect. On the other hand, Davis is hedging his bets by making himself a multi-millionaire at age 25.

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2011 Organizational Rankings: #4 – Tampa Bay

Already ranking near the bottom in terms of financial ability, the Tampa Bay Rays took a hit on the field with the loss of several key players this offseason. On the other hand, having a smart baseball operations department, a talented major league roster, and a loaded farm system will go a long way in offsetting the mass exodus from Tampa Bay this winter.

Present Talent – 89.17 (4th)

Rays Season Preview

Future Talent – 95.00 (T-1st)

Rays Top 30 Prospects

Financial Resources – 72.69 (T-22nd)
Baseball Operations -91.67 (1st)

Overall Ranking – 85.72 (4th)

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