Archive for May, 2010

More on the Rays’ Offense

A few weeks have passed since Dave Cameron wrote about the Rays’ offense and its affinity for hitting with runners on. They’re now hitting .284/.357/.435 with men on – which gives them the seventh best OPS in that predicament – and .236/.316/.390 without anyone on – seventeenth best. Most of the success with runners on has been locally attributed to new hitting coach Derek Shelton’s “GTMI” mantra; standing for Get The [Man] In. Yes, a mantra.

Steve Slowinski recently looked at the difference in results and there’s some interesting tidbits that come out from all of this if you dig deep enough. For instance, while researching this post I found out that the Rays have the second lowest percentage of double plays batted into given their numerous opportunities – behind only San Diego — but I think one thing is missing from the numerous analyses out there and that’s a focus on the batting average on balls in play.

The team’s BABIP is .308, but the individual breakdowns shed more light on why the Rays are struggling without men on. Below is a look at the BABIP and the projected rest of season BABIP for the regulars, excluding those with fewer than a full season’s worth of plate appearances for obvious reasons (namely, complete regression to league average without taking minor league track record into account skews the numbers):

 
Player	To Date	RoS	Delta
Pena	0.207	0.263	0.056
Navarro	0.213	0.263	0.05
Aybar	0.242	0.272	0.03
Barty	0.266	0.314	0.048
Upton	0.272	0.318	0.046
Kapler	0.291	0.274	-0.017
Zobrist	0.363	0.305	-0.058
Craw	0.366	0.335	-0.031
Longo	0.373	0.318	-0.055

The Rays have had a few batters outperforming their expectations by quite a bit, but they also have four players expected to gain BABIP success from here on out compared to their first two months of the season. Revivals by Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton* in particular would be a much welcomed sight to the lineup. Both have become increasingly aggressive under Shelton, with Pena swinging at 43% of first pitches seen and Upton at 42% (good for third and fifth most in the American League with Crawford at seventh). Jason Bartlett’s struggles are notable too, since he was the fulltime leadoff hitter until just days ago, with manager Joe Maddon inserting Zobrist into the leadoff spot versus righties.

Nevertheless, the talk about needing to acquire more bats may be premature. For one, there’s potential BABIP regression on the way. But more importantly, outfielder Matt Joyce should be in the majors at some point in June and catcher Kelly Shoppach isn’t too far behind. Joyce figures to take a roster spot from either Sean Rodriguez (who would go to Triple-A) or Hank Blalock (who would go wherever bad baseball players go) meanwhile Shoppach should spell the end for Dioner Navarro. Navarro and Rodriguez are the only two Rays with wOBA below .290, so it’s not like Joyce nor Shoppach have to be world-beaters in order to mark improvement either.

If the Rays do pursue another bat, it would presumably be someone on the Luke Scott side of the spectrum rather than Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder.
Read the rest of this entry »


The As and the AL West

Before the 2010 season began, many thought that the American League West was the tightest division in baseball. Everyone had their favorite, of course: the Rangers had taken a step forward in 2009 and have the best young talent, the Mariners had made many high-profile moves in the off-season, and the Angels still retained their core talent and, frankly, seemed to win every season whether people thought they would or not. While the As were acknowledged to be on the upswing, I don’t think I read a single “expert” who thought they would win the division. I thought the As had a good shot, maybe a better shot than others, but I can’t say I was overly confident in their chances.

The As haven’t won anything yet. But through Sunday’s games, they are in the lead in the West, if only by half a game over the Rangers. Yes, the As have outplayed their Pythagorean record by three games so far (although no team in the West is currently over .500 according their run differential), but those wins are “in the bank.” Can they keep it up going forward?

On offense, the As as a team haven’t been particularly “lucky,” as they’ve scored 201 runs, while creating 200 according to “absolute” linear weights runs (wRC). I doubt anyone expected the As to hit much this season, and with a .310 team wOBA, they’ve fulfilled that expectation and then some. However, 2010 is no more a constant than is 2009. A quick look at the As’ hitters and the ZiPS RoS projections indicates that some offensive improvement in 2010 is to be expected. Some hitters are a bit over their head at the moment: Daric Barton is finally fulfilling expectations with a .363 wOBA, although ZiPS RoS doesn’t expect too much regression. Second basemen Mark Ellis and Adam Rosales (who filled in while Ellis was injured) are clearly due to fall back to earth. Kurt Suzuki is back from injury and should hit better, and Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney should, as well. CoCo Crisp’s return from injury should shore up the outfield on both sides of the ball. Kevin Kouzmanoff isn’t a good hitter, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll finish the season with a .274 wOBA. Unlike the Mariners, the As seem to have realized that the DH is still legal in the AL West, and even a fraction of Jack Cust is better than Zombie Eric Chavez. This isn’t a good offense by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that should be better going forward, and that’s without taking into account the possible call-ups of Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.

Oakland isn’t getting especially “lucky,” in relation to run prevention, either. The team 4.38 ERA is right in line with a 4.18 FIP and 4.25 xFIP. Of course, their starting staff’s biggest upgrade will be young ace Brett Anderson’s return fro injury, even if he (or anyone, for that matter) isn’t quite as good as he’s been so far in 2010. While neither Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden aren’t quite as good as they’ve pitched so far this season, they’re both starting to look like average or above-average starters. Big off-season acquisition Ben Sheets hasn’t worked wonders, but he’s not killing the team, either. Trevor Cahill has been very lucky so far, so that is something to watch.

It’s too early to get much from the fielding statistics. While according to UZR, Oakland is +2.7 runs (16th in the majors), according to Plus/Minus +23 runs (7th in the majors, but 3rd in the AL behind the Rays and Seattle). Kouzmanoff is doing well so far at 3B according to both systems. Dewan’s loves Barton, UZR not so much this year, although history is with him. Cliff Pennington is holding his own as shortstop, and Mark Ellis should improve the situation at second base. Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis aren’t at their usual standards, but can be expected to come around.

Overall, while the As run prevention should probably be expected to fall back a bit (although the fielding should mitigate the regression of the pitching), they should also be expected to hit better. The AL West is still a very tight race, with the Rangers and Angels right there, and a full analysis would need to include all four teams. As for the As, they haven’t played far above their talent so far, and, contrary to the pre-season expectations of many, Oakland has a good chance to remain in the divisional race for the rest of the season.


Top 10s Revisited: AL East

With clubs set to infuse more talent into their systems next week, and with being two months into the minor league season, it’s a great time to take a quick look at how the Top 10 prospects are doing in each system. Today, we’ll take a look at the American League East.

*The Top 10 lists originally appeared in FanGraphs’ Second Opinion fantasy guide published in March.

Tampa Bay Rays

Top prospect Jennings has been slowed by injuries but he appears to be healthy now but he’s struggled with the bat. The same can be said for Beckham, who hit just .145 in April but is hitting .366 in his last 10 games. While the hitters have struggled so far this year, most of the Top 10 pitchers have seen their values increase, including Hellickson, Davis, Barnese, and Colome. Moore, a lefty, has struggled mightily against left-handed hitters (.348 average). Overall, the top prospects in the system are having a successful 2010 season.

New York Yankees

Top prospect Montero has struggled in triple-A but no one is really worried given the level of competition and his age (20). The emergence of fellow catching prospect Romine one level below Montero has also helped to ease any concerns. If the top prospect does have to move away from catching, a continued strong showing from Romine will make the move more palatable. Heathcott, Sanchez, and De Leon have yet to start their seasons. Murphy was just recently assigned to low-A ball after opening the year in extended spring training.

Boston Red Sox

The club’s Top 10 list was dealt a big blow with the serious health concerns with both Westmoreland and Tazawa. Kelly has done OK in double-A but he’s still very young in terms of pitching. Anderson has regained much of his prospect status this season after a lousy ’09. A couple of outfielders – Kalish and Fuentes – are quickly improving their value with strong starts to the year.

Toronto Blue Jays

The system is certainly benefiting from the addition of Wallace, Drabek, and d’Arnaud. All three were acquired during last off-season’s trade of Roy ‘Mr. Perfect’ Halladay. d’Arnaud has battled back problems but he’s impressed people within the organization with both his offense and his leadership on the field. Two players have yet to begin their 2010 seasons: Sierra (leg stress fracture) and Marisnick (extended spring).

Baltimore Orioles

Matusz has struggled a bit in the Majors this season but he’s also shown some flashes of brilliance. Erbe, Snyder, and Mickolio have disappointed but Arrieta and Britton are certainly headed in the right direction. Bell had a slow start at triple-A but he seems to be pulling himself out of the hole.

Up Next: The NL East


What Should the Pirates Do at #2?

We’re just one week away from one of my favorite events of the year, the 2010 MLB amateur draft. By now we know that the sure fire #1 pick is the über-hyped catcher Bryce Harper. The big question now is what the Pittsburgh Pirates will do with the 2nd pick of the draft. They have plenty of good options to choose from. Most prospect rankings have shortstop Manny Machado, lefty college pitcher Drew Pomeranz and high school righty Jameson Tallion at the top of the board after Harper.

My colleague Bryan Smith recently discussed Machado in his post about the next first round shortstops. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but in a nutshell, Machado will be a big leaguer, and he will probably be a very good big leaguer for a long time. Scouts have drawn several comparisons between Machado and Alex Rodriguez, although some of that has to do with Machado being a super prep star of Dominican descent playing in the Miami area.

Tallion is a big, flame throwing prep pitcher from the great state of Texas. He throws in the mid-to-upper nineties with relative ease, and has a hammer of a curveball. We’ve seen this story before, and it’s called the Josh Beckett story, or at least that’s the comparison scouts are making with Tallion.

Pomeranz is a college lefty with a 90-94 MPH fastball and a big time curve-piece (to borrow a phrase from Cistulli’s vocab) that has helped him rack up massive strikeout totals at Ole Miss. It’s easy to foresee Pomeranz making a difference in a big league rotation in short order.

Neal Huntington’s rebuilding Buccos really cannot go wrong here, but if I were to pick, I’d go for Machado, and it’s not just because of the lofty comparisons he’s drawn. When we look at the history of the draft, first round picks that are position players do considerably better than pitchers, whether they come from high school or college.

The stats are from the historical WAR data now available on the site. I’m looking at the first rounders from ’90-’99. We’re paying attention to the WAR numbers per season while the player is under team control, or in other words their first six seasons in the majors. Here’s the averages per grouping:

College Hitters 0.9
College Pitchers 0.6
HS Hitters 0.8
HS Pitchers 0.4

Hitters have proven to be a much safer bet. Narrowing down the field to the top 2-6 picks, hitters outperformed pitchers 1.1 WAR per season, compared to .8 WAR for pitchers.

The Pirates definitely are in an enviable position with such talent to choose from, but because TINSTAAPP is the ruthless beast that it is, the smart thing to do for Neal Huntington and Co. is to bet on the hitter.


Comparing Perfection

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this weekend, chances are that you’ve heard that Phillies ace Roy Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday. It was the 20th such performance in Major League Baseball history. Remarkably, it was the second this season, the first year in which two perfect games have occurred since 1880. The first of 2010, of course, was Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays on May 9th.

Let’s compare how the two pitchers recorded their 27 consecutive outs:

Braden: 109 pitches, 77 strikes, 6 K, 7 GB, 10 FB (3 IFFB), 4 LD, +.355 WPA
Halladay: 115 pitches, 72 strikes, 11 K, 8 GB, 8 FB (2 IFFB), 0 LD, +.888 WPA

It seems to me that Halladay was unquestionably the more dominant pitcher in his perfect game, which makes sense, given the difference in skill between the two pitchers. Halladay didn’t allow a single line drive and struck out five more batters.

Most remarkably, Halladay performed his perfect game in a situation that nearly required perfection, as the Phillies only managed to plate one run against Marlins ace Josh Johnson. Because of the tight score, Halladay accrued a fantastic +.888 WPA. That mark is the highest for any pitcher since June 26th, 2005, when A.J Burnett and the Florida Marlins defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1-0.

The point of this post certainly isn’t to belittle Dallas Braden’s perfect game in any way. It was a spectacular achievement and will go down in baseball history as such. Roy Halladay simply increased his own position in the history books with one of the most dominant pitching performances of all time.


Max Scherzer’s Unprecedented Strikeout Rate

In his first eight starts of the year, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer faced many problems. In 2009 with the Diamondbacks he struck out 9.19 batters per nine innings, which ranked eighth among NL starters. This year, in a move to the AL, he struck out just 5.57 per nine. That, along with an inflated home run rate and very low strand rate, boosted his ERA to 7.29, well above his 6.01 FIP and 5.04 xFIP. Still, those numbers aren’t good, hence Scherzer’s demotion to AAA. After a pair of absolutely dominant starts there he returned to the Tigers on Sunday. It was quite the outing.

Scherzer faced 24 batters in 5.2 innings, only five of whom made contact. Kevin Kouzmanoff fouled out in the first, Ryan Sweeney grounded out in the third, Kouzmanoff lined out, Jack Cust doubled in the same inning, and Landon Powell singled in the fifth. Other than that, everyone else either walked, got hit by a pitch, or struck out. Scherzer’s day ended after he plunked Mark Ellis in the sixth, before which he struck out 14 Athletics. Even more impressively, 11 of those strikeouts came on swings and misses, including all three batters in the second. His four walks and one HBP topped off a mostly contactless day.

With the performance Scherzer becomes the 209th pitcher in the past 30 years who has recorded at least 14 strikeouts in a game. Yet he separates himself a bit from the pack. Of the 98 pitchers with 14 strikeouts, only five have done it in six innings. None have done it in fewer, meaning Scherzer has the quickest 14 strikeouts in the past 30 years. In fact, no pitcher in baseball history has struck out as many as 14 in 5.2 innings. In 1994 Kevin Appier struck out 13 in 5.2 innings. Only A.J. Burnett did it with Scherzer’s wildness. He walked four and struck out 14 in six innings for the Marlins in 2005.

Final fun fact: Since 1920 there have been 87 pitchers who have struck out at least 14 and walked at least four in a start. Twenty-five of them did it in greater than nine innings. The real fun fact is that only 30 have done it without allowing a run. The shortest such appearance was 8 IP, by Jason Bere of the White Sox in 1994. Scherzer held the A’s scoreless, and Phil Coke cleaned up his bequeathed runners.


Riding the D-Train Out of Motown

In a bit of dark hilarity, the Detroit Tigers’ official Twitter feed just announced that Dontrelle Willis will be designated for assignment tomorrow in order to make room for Detroit to recall Max Scherzer.

It’s an oddly forward thinking move given that Willis’ baseball card numbers aren’t horrific this season, Max Scherzer’s are and the Tigers are in second place of the AL Central. Of course, what matters is going forward and ZiPS gives us a great comparison there. It has Willis with a 5.48 FIP for the remainder of 2010 and Scherzer at just 4.19.

Still, that would seem to be the end of Dontrelle Willis, the Detroit Tiger. Acquired from the Florida Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera mega deal, Willis was eligible for arbitration but the Tigers instead elected to ink him to a three-year, $29 million contract to cover the 2008 through 2010 seasons.

Things went belly up immediately for Willis and Detroit and never got better with multiple injuries, the pitching version of the yips and anxiety problems. Combined over the three seasons, Willis has pitched just 101 innings and been credited with 0.3 wins below replacement.

I don’t have to spell out how that is a poor return for the money. The question I am more interested in at the moment is what’s next for Willis. There’s no indication that he’s found anything that would bring back his successes with Florida, but he is still just 28 years old and his 2010 isn’t as disastrous as his 2008 and 2009 were. Assuming the Tigers do not find a trade partner within the next ten days and Willis hits the free agent market with no financial incentive, he could make a mildly intriguing pick up.

I would be surprised if he didn’t flee back to the National League. The odds that he starts putting up mid-3 FIPs again are remote, but I can envision some roughly league average performances in the NL and for the league minimum, Willis might shift from being one of the biggest sunk costs in baseball to actually a valuable investment.


Dempster’s Deferred Money

Lou Piniella’s little buddy Ken Rosenthal reported today over his twitter that Cubs SP Ryan Dempster has agreed to defer three million dollars of his $12.5M 2010 salary at little or no interest, in order to allow the Cubs the financial flexibility necessary to make a deadline deal.

This has some similarities to the restructuring of Scott Rolen’s contract last December. In that case, the upside of the money lost due to inflation was a contract extension. In this case, the only upside for Dempster appears to be a Cubs team that is improved through a trade. This story is still in its infancy, so we may see some details change before all is said and done. The MLBPA may attempt to oppose this, as players aren’t simply allowed to take pay cuts, and given inflation, this is simply a loophole around that rule.

After today’s loss, the Cubs are now 23-26 and five games out of a playoff spot. They’re certainly not dead, although they are running out of time. With Aramis Ramirez ineffective and possibly injured, they could need a third baseman. Mike Fontenot has performed well this season, but much of that is based on a .352 BABIP, and so second base may also be a point of upgrade. The bullpen has been the main issue for the Cubs, as their relievers have allowed a 4.80 ERA. Both FIP and xFIP suggest that the group has been much better, but John Grabow has been remarkably ineffective and Carlos Zambrano will return to the rotation soon, so the most likely trade target for the Cubs would appear to be for a reliever to pick up the 8th inning behind Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs already had a 144 million dollar payroll entering this season, so it appears that, at this point, they are either unwilling to go over that amount or the option that they are targeting is expensive enough as to push them over a higher hypothetical limit. If the Cubs do acquire an important piece and end up making the playoffs as a result, Cubs fans will owe Ryan Dempster many thanks.


Historical WAR & WAR Graphs

Full historical WAR for all position players has been added to the site! It’s available in the career leaderboards and on the individual player pages currently and will work its way to some other sections of the site pretty soon. We’ll do full WAR for pitchers eventually, but right now that’s still only 2002 onward.

The other new feature are the WAR graphs where you can compare up to 4 players at a time in various ways:

Just a quick note that these two graphs in particular were inspired by work done over at Beyond the Box Score.

Some additional notes about our historical WAR:

– We’re using the best fielding metric publicly available at the time, so for anything 2002 onward, we’re using Mitchel Lichtman’s UZR and anything pre-2002, we’re using Sean Smith’s Total Zone. Total Zone prior to 2010 is also available in the fielding section of the site which has replaced Range Factors.

– The batting component is based on wRAA (based off wOBA / linear weights) and uses 5 year regressed park factors going all the way back to 1871.

– Positional adjustments prior to 2000 are based off Sean Smith’s positional adjustments by decade. 2000 onward are based on Tangotiger’s positional adjustments.

– Replacement levels are adjusted slightly by season. They’re all right around 20 runs with the exception of a few years and a couple leagues.

– The run to win converter is also adjusted by season, but it’s generally going to be right around 10.

If you want to know more about how WAR is calculated for position players, read the 7 part series.


One Night Only: Your Entire Weekend, Planned

You know what’s the worst? Thinking! And you know what’s doubly the worst? Having to think even for a second about what games to watch over the weekend.

Well, now — thanks to cutting-edge research (that, and the internet) — you don’t have to.

Hail, nerds! These are your games of the weekend.

Texas at Minnesota | Friday, May 28 | 8:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Rangers: Colby Lewis
57.1 IP, 9.10 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, .263 BABIP, 38.4% GB, 7.9% HR/FB 3.98 xFIP

Twins: Kevin Slowey
49.2 IP, 6.89 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, .350 BABIP, 28.1% GB, 9.6% HR/FB, 4.63xFIP

Watch For
• Colby Lewis. Duh.
• Of 113 qualified pitchers, Kevin Slowey has the absolute lowest groundball rate in the majors. Here are some people who’re happy about that: Ian Kinsler and Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz and Justin Smoak.
• Smoak is currently sporting a slash line of .173/.287/.317, but here’s what nerds know: he’s not that bad! Smoak’s BABIP is a paltry .171. StatCorner places his regressed wOBA (wOBAr) at .367.

The Other Reason I’ll Be Watching This
Because my friend Dan, a Twins fan, invited me to.

What You’re Saying to Me
What is that my business?

What I’m Replying Back
Sorry, guy. I just thought it’d be possible to reach out and forge a real human connection. Like in that one movie where two people from totally different worlds — he’s a ruthless entrepreneur, she’s a small-town librarian — forge a real human connection.

If I Had My Druthers
• Americans would stand up and take notice of Justin Smoak.
• Americans, while standing up and noticing Justin Smoak, would resist the urge to call him the Smoak Monster.
• Americans would start being polite, and stop being real.

Houston at Cincinnati | Saturday, May 29 | 7:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Astros: Bud Norris*
43.2 IP, 11.13 K/9, 5.36 BB/9, .400 BABIP, 36.8% GB, 11.4% HR/FB, 3.99 xFIP

Reds: Aaron Harang
58.2 IP, 7.36 K/9, 1.99 BB/9, .353 BABIP, 41.4% GB, 16.9% HR/FB, 3.79 xFIP

Watch For
• Norris and Harang. The pair are currently two of the least lucky pitchers (per ERA-xFIP) in the majors. Norris has a 6.80 ERA; Harang, a 5.98 ERA. Impress your friends and/or standers-by with this knowledge!
• The Reds! They’re good. Offensive Rank (per WAR), 2009: 15th in the NL. Offensive Rank (per WAR), 2010: 5th!
Jay Bruce regressing real hard back to (and then above) the mean. Bruce, 2009: .221 BABIP, 97 wRC+. Bruce, 2010: .348 BABIP, 127 wRC+.

If I Had My Druthers
• Aaron Harang would stop getting dumped on by Fortune.
Miguel Cairo would not both start at first base and occupy the most important spot in the batting order.
• The part of the game where Houston’s supposed to bat wouldn’t exist.

*As reader Jason notes in the comments sections, Norris has actually been sent to the DL recently. In his place will be Gustavo Chacin. That’s less interesting than Norris. Sorry, dogggz.

Los Angeles (NL) at Colorado | Sunday, May 30 | 3:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
59.0 IP, 9.61 K/9, 5.03 BB/9, .284 BABIP, 40.1% GB, 4.8% HR/FB, 4.25 xFIP

Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
32.0 IP, 8.44 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, .249 BABIP, 41.9% GB, 6.7% HR/FB, 3.81 xFIP

Watch For
• Clayton Kershaw. Of starters with more than 20 IP, Kershaw is fourth — behind Tim Lincecum (13.5%), Brandon Morrow (13.0%), and Dan Haren (12.8%) — in swinging strike percentage (11.9%). His fastball, a pitch that league-wide gets swing-and-misses only about 7 percent of the time, is getting whiffs 11.8 percent of the time.
• Jhoulys Chacin can throw the frig out of a baseball and is only 22 years old.
Chris Iannetta’s back in the majors after hitting .349/.447/.698 in his 70-something Triple-A plate appearances.

More on Kershaw
Matthew Carruth does these cool things for Lookout Landing where he looks at each pitcher’s basic repertoire and then grades it on the 20-80 scouting scale. The grades are determined by league percentiles in swinging strikes (K), strike rate (BB) and ground balls (GB) for each pitch.

Here’s what Kershaw’s looks like:

Pitch 	%	Sp 	K 	BB 	GB
FB 	71% 	94 	80 	60 	60
CB 	18% 	73 	45 	20 	60
SL 	6% 	82 	65 	35 	20
Overall	--	--	75	35	50

If I Had My Druthers
• Kershaw would just throw all those fastballs.
• The world would wake up and smell the Chris Iannetta.
• Actually, that’s gross.


Should the Phillies Platoon Raul Ibanez?

The three-year deal given to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season was puzzling at the time given the length of contract weighted against the veteran’s age (He’s about to turn 38 at the mid-point of the contract). Ibanez, though, laid those concerns to rest with an outstanding ’09 season in which he posted a 3.9 WAR and slugged 34 homers.

This season has been a different story. He’s currently hitting .253/.356/.404 in 177 plate appearances. Ibanez’ wOBA has slipped from .379 last season to .325 in ’10. He’s currently being paid $11.5 million and will receive the same amount in 2011. He also has a full no-trade clause in his contract.

The good news for Phillies fans is that the veteran is currently hitting much better in May than he did in April; his wOBA has increased from .308 to .341. However, Ibanez has a .640 OPS against left-handed pitching. His OPS, in comparison, is .805 against righties. Like many left-handed hitters, Ibanez has hit right-handers much better over the course of his career.

At this point, it might make sense for the club to consider platooning the former Mariner. With turning 38 soon, Ibanez’ body would probably benefit from the added rest. Unfortunately, neither back-up outfielder – Ben Francisco nor Ross Gload – has been overly effective this season. Francisco is currently hitting .219/.265/.281, while Gload is batting .241/.241/.448 in an almost strictly pinch-hitting role.

The best solution can found down in triple-A in the form of former No. 1 draft pick John Mayberry Jr. who, at the age of 26, has never been given a fair shot to stick on a MLB roster. The 6’6” 235 lbs outfielder is currently hitting .288/.354/.494 in 160 at-bats. Against left-handers, though, he’s hitting .333/.383/.500. The Stanford alum also has a track record of success against left-handed pitching, as seen by his career line of .283/.355/.495. Mayberry could also potentially spell Ryan Howard from time-to-time, as the big first baseman has also been struggling against southpaws (.696 vs .880 OPS).

At the cost of just Francisco or Gload, it’s really not a big risk for the organization to give Mayberry a chance. Adding his prowess against left-handers could help the club when facing some of the tougher left-handers in the league. With the Phillies club in first place in the National League East, the instinct may be to leave things well enough alone. However, it’s a long season and the club’s hold on first place is anything but secure. This move has the potential to make the team stronger with little downside.


Things You Might Not Have Known About Charlie Morton

This season hasn’t gone too well for the two main components of the Braves-Pirates trade from last season. Nate McLouth’s production declined a bit last season after his move to Atlanta, and he has completely fallen off this year. Pittsburgh got three players in return, though the most major league ready was Charlie Morton. He broke camp in the Pirates’ rotation this year, and has been one of the more notable 2010 disasters. It’s hard to ignore some of Morton’s crazy stats.

He has the NL-worst ERA, though you might not know it

If you go to the NL pitchers leaderboard and sort by ERA, you’ll see Edwin Jackson’s name atop the list. That’s strange, because Morton’s ERA is over three runs worse than Jackson’s. That’s because Morton doesn’t have enough innings to qualify. He has made 10 starts, which puts him in a massive tie for second in the NL, but has thrown only 43.1 innings. Four and a third innings per start will not get the job done.

xFIP might like him a bit much

Not only is Morton’s ERA 9.35, but his FIP sits at 6.46, which is one of the worse ones I can remember. Yet his xFIP sits at just 4.38. This might lead some to think that he’s getting unlucky on fly balls, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Morton has a 30 percent fly ball rate and a 25 percent HR/FB ratio. Yet he also has a 24.4 percent line drive rate. I wonder how many 12 home runs he has allowed have come on line drives. That number could certainly alter a perception of ill luck.

His strand rate is crazy low, but…

Morton currently has a 49.1 percent strand rate, which at some point should change. It has already, really, as it has been 60 percent in May after 38 percent in April. On the road, though, he has a 38.5 percent strand rate. That’s pretty insanely low.

It’s not just his strand rate

The road hasn’t been a kind place for Morton. He’s striking out more hitters there and walking fewer, but everything else is worse. And by everything I mean his home run rate is off the charts. Of the 12 he has surrendered 10 have come on the road. His WHIP sits at 2.05, his BABIP is 4.18, his LD% is 28.6, and his HR/FB is 33.3.

When the going gets tough, the tough get Morton

Morton has faced only 12 batters in high leverage situations — when you average 4.1 IP per start you tend to miss out on those dramatics. Of those 12 hitters, six have picked up hits, producing eight runs, seven earned. All 12 have put the ball in play, and five have hit the ball on a line. Another five have hit it on the ground, though, so he has that going for him. Which is nice.

GAB didn’t help

Morton faced the Reds last night at the Great American Ballpark, and it went about as poorly as possible. In two innings he allowed eight hits, including two homers, and walked three. Yet he did strike out two, keeping up his 8.88 K/9 rate on the road.

Randy at Pittsburgh Lumber Co. thinks they should send Morton to Indy. His next start comes against the Cubs at home, so maybe the Pirates will give him one more shot before going with Jeff Karstens or Daniel McCutchen. But man, his numbers are really something else this year.


Closer Usage in the AL East

A few weeks ago I toyed around with a metric for comparing bullpen usage between teams. In that same post I highlighted a couple of relievers by plotting their pLI by appearance. Jeff Zimmerman took those second set of graphs and created a within-team usage comparison pair of charts (with some input from Tango) at Royal’s Review. Since then I’ve been pondering ways to quickly and graphically compare usage between teams. For a first attempt I narrowed the scope to just closer usage. My methodology was to bin each gmLI into one of four bins as specified by the below table

I then simply counted up the instances in each bin and charted the results. Here is the graph for the AL East, first with just raw totals

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And then broken down by percentage

Read the rest of this entry »


Community Blog

Two weeks ago, David announced a new feature here at FanGraphs, aimed at giving you guys an opportunity to show off your capabilities. Our community blog has surpassed our expectations so far, as you guys have really stepped up and submitted some great stuff. Since there’s a a lot of content going up on FanGraphs on a daily basis, I wanted to highlight some of the community blog posts from the first couple of weeks, in case you missed them.

The first submission we published was from Daniel Moroz, and looked at Nick Markakis’ lack of power this year. Daniel did a great job of diving into the issue, using both data and images to help explain why Markakis has suddenly lost his ability to hit the ball over the wall. He followed this entry up with a later look at Adam Jones’ plate discipline, which was also very well done. Both articles came from his blog, Camden Crazies, which is clearly a must-read for any Orioles fan.

In a different vein than player analysis, “lincolndude” responded to a Tom Verducci article with a piece called Saving Baseball’s Charm. He looked at the way the game has changed over the years, looking at how different styles of baseball provide different value. It’s different than what normally goes up on FanGraphs, and that was one of the reasons I liked it.

A few days ago, “badenjr” took a stab at an always fun topic – Dusty Baker and pitch counts. He looked at how hard the Reds starters have been worked relative to the rest of the league, and showed that Baker may be at least somewhat reformed, as he’s not slagging his pitchers like he used to. The article gets extra points for use of pretty graphs.

Finally, yesterday’s submission from Mike Lee featured an interview with Padres GM Jed Hoyer, which touched on a variety of subjects and led to some pretty interesting answers. Based on the comments, this one was a winner as well. I will point out that any interviews, or articles containing a quote from any person, will be verified before they run.

These are just a few of the terrific posts that have gone up over at the community blog in the last two weeks. Keep them coming, and we’ll continue to feature the best ones here on the site. If your submission didn’t get approved, don’t get discouraged, and feel free to write something else up and submit it. If you’d like feedback on a piece you submitted that didn’t make the cut, you can email community@fangraphs.com, and we’ll do our best to explain why it didn’t get published.

Keep up the great work, everyone, and keep the great submissions rolling in.


The Next First Round Shortstops

This is the final part in a three part series on first round shortstops. On Wednesday, I looked at a 15-year history. On Thursday, I looked at the shortstop prospects still in the minors. Today: the 2010 draftees.

If the last two days have proven anything, it’s that scouting directors often use their first pick on a shortstop, but that it doesn’t-so-often result in a future big league regular entering the organization. In 22 years, we have, I think, eight players that I think will go down as elite draft picks: Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Chuck Knoblauch, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton and Mike Moustakas. The latter is me going out on a ledge, and you might be able to add 2-3 more guys to the list, but we’re talking about eight stars in 98 attempts. Today, I’ll run through the three consensus first rounders that will try to join that list, before hitting on four that might slip into the first round in the honorable mention section. (Note: These rankings are not my own, but what seems to be the consensus in the industry. You’ll get a feeling on whether or not I agree in my write-up.)

1. Manny Machado, Brito Miami Private School

As best I can tell, Machado is about 10 days from becoming the 22nd player drafted as a high school shortstop in the top five picks. Since he’s from Miami, people always have to mention Alex Rodriguez, but never seem to bring up failed 1979 fifth overall pick Juan Bustabad. Of that group, only the Upton Brothers, Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Josh Booty were Machado’s size, so he’s in solid company in that regard. I also think his hit tool is probably better than everyone’s except Moustakas and Justin Upton since A-Rod was drafted. He’s going to be a big leaguer.

In watching him on videos, there is no denying his bat speed. Also, the MLB.com draft video has two different triples on the highlight reel, and Machado makes it from home-to-third in more time than I would have expected. Like Bryce Harper, I do wonder if the desire to keep him at his position will prolong his development: you have to think Machado would move quicker if he was thrown into right field and told to just worry about his hitting. The best compromise is probably third base, where he still gets a positive positional adjustment, can still show off his big arm, and has a chance to be plus defensively.

2. Nick Castellanos, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.)

There are a lot of iffy things in Castellanos’ scouting report that make me worry he might become a bust. At 6-foot-4, there is a chance he isn’t even announced as a shortstop on draft day — he’s a third baseman, realistically. But with the downgrade on the defensive spectrum comes heightened offensive expectations, and I’m not sure Castellanos can deliver. No one seems convinced about either hit tool, and specifically if his raw power will ever develop with a wood bat. We’ve been down this road with prospects in the past, and it doesn’t work out well.

And yet, Castellanos is also fairly unique. There aren’t a lot of players that were drafted as shortstops listed at 6-foot-4, and if you see Castellanos, there is no doubt he has room to fill out. In looking back, maybe he’ll be a bit like Sergio Santos, or a bit like Brandon Wood. Hopefully he avoids the fate suffered by Matt Halloran or Mark Farris, or maybe the team that drafts him tries to make him a catcher, a la Joe Lawrence or Michael Barrett. We can wish for him the minor league success of Kevin Witt and Kevin Orie, the best comps as far as body type go, but better big league success would be nice. I don’t really see it, though.

3. Christian Colon, Cal State Fullerton

I don’t think we can ignore that Colon’s last summer, with Team USA, was one of the best national team performances we’ve seen. He was slow out of the gate this season, but really came back, and continued to show his contact abiliy. In over 700 at-bats at Fullerton, Colon now has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 73-64, and also has a habit of getting plunked. Defensively, he’s probably a tweener; a below-average shortstop, a solid-average second baseman. I’m guessing his lack of speed will get him moved to second eventually.

Like a right-handed Adrian Cardenas, Colon’s biggest praise comes from his hit tool, and the rest of the praise comes from his work ethic. He showed last summer how good he can be with wood, and I have no question he’ll be able to hit for a high average, and walk enough to post a good OBP. A career path resembling Cliff Pennington’s wouldn’t shock me, so ultimately, I think a team needs to decide if that is the value they want from their first rounder. Could be.

Honorable Mention

I wrote about Derek Dietrich a couple weeks ago, and he could slide into the supplemental first round if a team thinks he could play second base. The most encouraging thing about his All-American season was the drastic slash in strikeouts … Some people really like Utah high school product Marcus Littlewood, a 6-foot-3 switch-hitter. But to me, his left-handed swing is a mess, and he swings through a lot of pitches. I almost think you let him go to college and check back in three years … I do like Yordy Cabrera, another big “shortstop” that will eventually move to third or the outfield. One look at a video of Cabrera and you see his power, which seems more present than his peers. He seems to be someone that is worth the seven figure risk … Finally, I think we’ll see Indiana shortstop Justin O’Connor in the first round, as he has real believers in a lot of his tools: plus-plus arm strength, a good-looking swing, some power projection. His ultimate position is in question, and while he looks very raw behind the plate, it might be worth it for a team to dedicate development time to that endeavor.


Welcome Back, Joel Zumaya

Perhaps more than any other pitcher in the game, Joel Zumaya is associated with radar gun readings. After every fastball that the Detroit righty throws, flames literally shooting down his tattooed arms, fans turn to see if Zumaya cracked the triple digits.

The Tigers’ 11th round pick in the 2002 draft was developed as a starting pitcher, but he was shifted to the ‘pen upon reaching the majors. His rookie season back in 2006 was excellent — averaging 98.6 MPH with his vaunted fastball, Zumaya had 10.48 K/9, 4.54 BB/9 and a 3.93 xFIP. His control wasn’t great, but he garnered swinging strikes 13.4 percent of the time (9.3 percent MLB average for relievers) and compiled 1.9 WAR in 83.1 innings pitched. Zumaya’s heater wasn’t just a high-velocity novelty act — it was worth +1.43 runs per 100 pitches thrown.

After dominating hitters in ’06, Zumaya spent the better part of the next three seasons on the surgeon’s table or on the rehab trail. Joel’s injury woes actually began during the 2006 postseason, as he missed part of the ALCS with forearm and wrist inflammation suffered by rocking a little too hard on “Guitar Hero.” He then ruptured a tendon in his right middle finger in May of 2007, requiring surgery that sidelined him until August.

That off-season, Zumaya injured his shoulder moving boxes in his father’s attic as a California wildfire approached. He went under the knife again to repair his separated shoulder. Zumaya didn’t pitch in the majors until June of 2008, but he was shut down with a stress fracture in his shoulder in September. Last year, he began the season on the DL with shoulder soreness and then had yet another procedure on his shoulder in August.

When Zumaya did take the mound from 2007-2009, he wasn’t effective. He struck out 8.07 batters per nine frames, issued 6.24 BB/9 and had a 5.40 xFIP in 88 combined frames. After looking like a shut-down reliever during his rookie year, an ailing Zumaya contributed all of -0.2 WAR from ’07 to ’09. He still threw hard, averaging 97.5 MPH in 2007 and 2008 and 99.3 MPH in 2009, but hitters didn’t tremble at the prospect of getting a Zumaya fastball. The pitch had a +0.71 runs/100 value in ’07, but declined to -0.86 in ’08 and -0.94 last year.

In 2010, however, Zumaya again looks like a relief ace. In 26.2 innings, he has 9.79 K/9, 1.69 BB/9 and a 2.97 xFIP. With 1.1 WAR, the 25-year-old trails just Jonathan Broxton among relievers. Chucking his fastball (averaging 98.4 MPH) a career-high 84.2 percent of the time, Zumaya has a +2.48 runs/100 value with the heat. Joel is getting first pitch strikes 66.7 percent, and batters are chasing plenty of pitches — his outside swing percentage is 31.5, compared to a career 24.4 percent average and the 25.7 percent big league average for relievers.

I have no idea if Zumaya can remain healthy. Given his lengthy injury history and the stress that he puts on his shoulder with each searing fastball, he could be a ticking time bomb. But whatever the future holds, Zumaya’s pitching like one of the best relievers in the bigs right now.


Checking In On Baseball Oddity Pat Venditte

In case you’re not familiar, Pat Venditte is a pitcher in the New York Yankees minor league system who has made some waves for his remakarkable talent: he’s a switch pitcher. Venditte pitches proficiently with both arms. His story made some national waves last year when an at-bat against a switch hitter led to a bit of a debacle (link includes video).

Not only was Venditte’s season a point of interest for those into baseball trivia and oddities, he actually performed quite well. Although his age (23) was advanced for A and A+, it was only his second professional season, and so his 2.07 cumulative FIP and 2.24 FIP at A+ Tampa certainly piqued the interest of some, although others aren’t exactly convinced yet.

Venditte has remained at Tampa for the beginning of the 2010 season, and he’s picked up right where he left off. Venditte is currently running an FIP of 2.52 in 26.1 innings, thanks to a 30:7 K:BB ratio and a spectacular HR/9 rate of only 0.34. His walk rate is actually slightly up from last season, when he only walked only 12 batters in 76.3 innings. To compensate, Venditte has seen a massive increase in his ground ball rate against both hands of hitters – his GB rate against both hitters has increased to 54.5%, up from only 34.2% against lefties and 49.2% against righties.

At the age of 24 – 25 in June – Venditte is about a year and a half older than the average Florida State League player. Between this season and the end of 2009, Venditte has put up about 70 innings of sub-3.00 FIP pitching in the FSL. In the Eastern League, where the AA Trenton Thunder play, the average age is 25. It seems that now (or at least soon) would be a good opportunity to see Venditte perform against players closer to his age level.

Especially given Venditte’s high K-rates and his increased ability to induce the ground ball, I think Venditte warrants more than just a passing look as a prospect. Having a reliever that has the platoon advantage in every situation is very intriguing, as it could potentially reduce the amount of relievers that a manager would need to carry. More importantly, Venditte has quite simply produced at every opportunity. The jump to AA is a big one, and it’s not obvious that Venditte has what it takes to handle the increased talent level, but after over 135 very successful innings in the lower minors, it may be time to get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

The oddity of Venditte also inspired me to think about what other interesting combinations of skills would be useful in a player. Personally, I would be interested in seeing a high platoon split reliever who also had the ability to play a strong (or even roughly average) defensive outfield. That way, that reliever could pitch to a same handed batter, move into the outfield for an opposite handed batter, and then return to the mound for any other same handed batters. Given the way benches are constructed, especially in the National League, the idea may be completely implausible, but given how important platoon splits can be late in games, I still think the idea could work. Feel free to post your concoctions in the comments section.


A Comparison

Offense
Seattle: .238/.311/.348, 1.6% PA/HR, 9.3% BB/PA, 29% XBH/H
San Diego: .241/.321/.360, 1.8% PA/HR, 9.7% BB/PA, 30% XBH/H

Defense
Seattle: 27 DRS, 7.6 UZR
San Diego: 35 DRS, 19.9 UZR

Rotation
Seattle: 3.78 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 4.39 xFIP
San Diego: 2.88 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 4.08 xFIP

Bullpen
Seattle: 3.70 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 4.27 xFIP
San Diego: 2.91 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 3.19 xFIP

Record
Seattle: 18-28
San Diego: 28-18

Okay, to the commentary.

No, I’m not saying Seattle and San Diego are equals. I do think Seattle will play better than they’ve played so far – which is to say better than one of the worst teams in baseball – and I think San Diego will play worse than they have so far – which is to say worse than one of the best teams in baseball – and I think most people would agree with that.

Seattle and San Diego are basically playing with the same blueprint: good-to-great defense, above-average pitching, and an offense that chronically struggles to scrap out a few runs per game. And it’s working beautifully for one and horribly for the other. Obviously, the comparison using raw statistics is imperfect. Safeco is tough on batters, but Petco is tougher. The Padres are without access to a designated hitter and that has the tendency to affect offensive statistics.

My point is, though, that Seattle’s paltry offensive efforts are well-publicized and mocked. San Diego’s efforts aren’t much better, and would do little to inspire that certain poultry staple of the area. Seattle has a number of struggling batters right now that seem unlikely to be this bad going forward. Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Casey Kotchman, and Chone Figgins, for starters, and maybe not all of them come around like we’d expect, but by the end of the year, Seattle should end up outhitting San Diego. That’s largely irrelevant though, since both are below average offenses.

Teams can compete without hitting for a lot of power or hitting a lot in general. Ask San Diego. They’re just doing what a lot of folks thought Seattle would do.


Turning the Dial to Ridiculous

Carlos Marmol has great stuff. Carlos Marmol effectively uses that great stuff to strike out a lot of hitters. Neither of those two statements is shocking or relatively unknown, even to casual fans. Carlos Marmol has been a big component of the Chicago Cubs bullpen for the past few years and he’s consistently racked up impressive strikeout totals.

In 2007, it was 96 strikeouts in 69.1 innings or 33.7% of all batters faced. In 2008, Marmol punched out 114 over 87.1 innings with what was actually a slightly lower rate at 32.8% of all batters faced. 2009 seemed like a bad omen as the strikeouts slipped to 93 in 74 innings and just 27.8% of hitters.

I think we can put that bad omen to rest. Marmol finished today having faced 103 batters on the season. He’s sent 49 of them back to the dugout with a strikeout. That’s an absurd 47.6% strikeout rate. Given that he’s recorded 24.2 innings pitched, the strikeout rate on the more well known K/9 scale registers a you-have-to-be-kidding-me 17.9.

For every inning that Carlos Marmol has pitched, he’s averaged two strikeouts. Do I even need to put that in perspective for you or can you intuitively grasp how insanely dominant that is?

Of course, Marmol is also a bit wild, yielding about 5.5 walks per nine innings as well. For out of this world comedy when it comes to skewed pitching lines, take a gander at Jonathan Broxton’s 30 strikeouts, two walks and zero home runs allowed over 20.1 innings. Broxton’s resulting FIP of 0.45 and xFIP of 1.59 are both league leaders as is his 15.0 strikeout to walk ratio.

Broxton has been more valuable, but I’m not sure that what he’s accomplished thus far is more impressive than Carlos Marmol’s strikeout rate.


Prospect Watch: Alex Gordon

The Kansas City Royals have a very interesting player currently learning how to play left field for their AAA affiliate in Omaha. At 26, he might be a little old for the league, but there’s no denying his production. Alex Gordon, the Royals former third baseman, has put together a .377/.515/.688 line in about 100 plate appearances with the O-Royals.

We’ve already chronicled the demotion of Alex Gordon to AAA early this season. It seemed ridiculous at the time – Gordon was clearly deserving of a spot on the roster, as he is just simply better than both Chris Getz, and Alberto Callaspo’s defense is extremely suspect. Apparently the Royals felt that they weren’t going to contend this season and that their best course of action, for the long term, would be to try Alex Gordon in left field and let Callaspo’s bat play at third. It is almost certainly better for Gordon to be receiving the at bats that he has at AAA than to be stagnating on the Royals’ bench at the Major League level, but the Royals almost certainly cost themselves some wins on the season.

As we look at the standings, the Royals are pretty clearly finished. They sit at 19-28, 7.5 games behind the Twins for the Central and 9.5 behind the Yankees for the Wild Card. Given the talent disparity between the Royals and those two teams, we can safely say the Royals will not catch them. Still, there is reason to believe that winning now is valuable, and so the Royals should try and make the most of their current season while building for the long term.

They have the perfect player to bring up to the major leagues right now in Gordon. Learning left field clearly hasn’t impacted his offense in the minor leagues. Scott Podsednik has a .234/.281/.328 line in May. Mitch Maier and Rick Ankiel have wOBAs below .320. Willie Bloomquist has played well so far, but he’s Willie Bloomquist. The only truly talented player in the Royals’ outfield right now is David DeJesus, and he’s a 3-4 WAR player at best.

The Royals should have room in their outfield. Podsednik, Bloomquist, Maier, and Ankiel are all expendable players, and DeJesus could bring in some prospects in a potential trade. Alex Gordon does not have anything left to learn in the minors – if there are still any kinks in his outfield defense, he can work them out in the majors. Gordon was a good enough player to make the roster in April. At the plate, he has nothing left to learn in the minors. There’s no excuse if he’s not back in Kansas City by June.