Author Archive

Roberto Hernandez: New Name, New Team, New Pitcher?

Not long ago, Roberto Hernandez was considered to be an up-and-coming starter for the Cleveland Indians. He was also known as Fausto Carmona. But regardless of what it said across his back, his 3.06 ERA (3.94 FIP), 1.21 WHIP, and his 64% ground ball rate produced 19 wins for the Indians in 2007, and his value was almost four wins above replacement level. He even garnered votes for the American League Cy Young award, finishing fourth overall.

Hernandez battled injuries and serious control problems the following two seasons, put together a solid 2010 campaign, then the wheels kind of fell off. And the axle broke.

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Chris Young Is Not A Minor League Pitcher

A victim of what amounts to one of the deeper stables of starting pitching, Chris Young opted out of his contract with the Washington Nationals with the hopes that he could find a major league role in another city. The Nationals could ostensibly retain Young’s services should he fail in that pursuit, but it’s plausible that there will be several organizations interested.

Young, 33, is not so young anymore. The hulking 6-foot-10 right hander has had two shoulder surgeries in the last four seasons, limiting his major league innings from 2009 through 2011 to just 120. His 2012 comeback was a mixed bag, as he posted a 4.50 FIP, a 16.2% strikeout rate, and the characteristic high fly ball rate, flirting with 60%. His fastball has been in steady decline since he broke into the league in 2004, averaging just 84.6 mph in 2012 and almost all reports out of Spring suggested he was sitting in the 80-82 mph range frequently.

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2013 Positional Power Rankings: Left Field

Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.

If for some reason you have been under a rock for the past week or perhaps you’ve been closing your eyes, plugging your ears, and hollering “I can’t hear you” until the Left Field Positional Power Rankings were unveiled, be sure to acquaint yourself with the methodology of the following. The quick and dirty is that the projections are a hybrid of Steamer and ZiPS, it takes into account expected playing time and players at multiple positions.

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Finding Jon Garland

It’s safe to say there’s general acceptance that using a small sample in data sets has the potential to result in spurious correlations or unreliable conclusions. Yet every Spring, there’s a long list of reclamation projects who will no doubt be judged on a very small sample size of data. Just ask Kelvim Escobar who found himself looking for a new team after two-thirds of a Spring inning, perhaps setting a new standard for small sample size decisions. There’s just not a lot of time for pitchers to demonstrate they can rediscover their velocity, recapture their control, or that they have discovered the fountain of youth. I’m sure Jon Garland can relate.

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Kevin Millwood Tips His Cap

When I think of expectations, I think of a line an old college buddy used to say regarding just about any undertaking: “Aim low and miss.” Olympian, he was not.

But that line came back to me when I was thinking about Kevin Millwood, not because Kevin Millwood aimed low, but because I think many observers had unreasonable expectations for his career. Millwood, as you probably are aware, decided to hang it up and do the spend-more-time-with-the-family deal. And from what I’ve read about him across electronic and print pages, he “failed to meet expectations” during his 16 seasons in the majors. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

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Change You Can Believe In

Back in High School, my pitching coach used to sit down all of the starting pitchers (all three of us) from the varsity squad to have a chat about pitching philosophy. Coach was a former minor league pitcher who flamed out after injury and ineffectiveness, but his love of pitching was obvious, if not a little obsessive. He used to preach about a lot of things, controlling your emotions, mechanics, pacing, etc. But it was always the video I looked forward to.

He’d roll out the rickety old metal stand with a crummy 18 inch TV and antiquated betamax player. Not only had we seen it before, but we would never really understand the usefulness of the demonstration. But it was still fun to watch.

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Complete Game, Interrupted

Similar to my post earlier in the summer on what a beautifully morbid season Cliff Lee was having, I tend to have a fascination with the way baseball sometimes refuses to be fair. I blame Tom Paciorek.

When I was 5 years old, I wrote Paciorek and asked him if he had any advice about how to get to the big leagues. After checking my mail obsessively over the next four months, I got an envelope with a Seattle Mariner trident on it. I tore it open. “Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek!” I hollered, sprinting through through the house, waving the letter in the air.

And what sage advice did I receive? “Kid,” Paciorek wrote, “in baseball, you’re either the hero or the goat. – Tom.”

From those few words, my passion was born.

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Examining Gio Gonzalez

Lost in the improbable and rather infatuating season from R.A. Dickey and yet another commanding performance by Clayton Kershaw sits Gio Gonzalez and his measly 5.4 WAR season.

Gonzalez went 21-8 for the Washington Nationals with a 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, and 25.2% strikeout rate and yet garnered only one first place vote in the Cy Young balloting. It’s not that Gonzalez so much deserved more attention from the Baseball Writers Association, but his season might have been as surprising as Dickey’s yet few seem to be talking about it outside of the Capital.

When Gonzalez came over from Oakland for Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris, reactions were mixed. If you could boil all the sentiments down into a prognosticator sludge, the general consensus was probably that Oakland did well to get highly regarded A.J. Cole and ready to nearly-ready prospects for what was likely a middle of the rotation kind of arm. To be sure, some were much higher on Gonzalez, but there were just as many that expected him to underwhelm the senior circuit.

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The Market for Dan Haren

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have until Friday to decide what they’re going to do with Dan Haren. The team has a $15.5 million dollar option for 2013 or it can choose a $3.5 million buyout, which would make Haren a free agent. There’s no doubt there will be suitors for Haren — should he hit the free-agent market — but the question the Angels are probably trying to figure out is if there’s a market for him at $12 million.

If the Angels can find a trade partner, it’s likely they’d pick up the $15.5 million option and send $3.5 million in cash with Haren for whatever parts would be acceptable in return. This is obviously preferable than absolutely nothing for $3.5 million, and it’s not out of the question that the Angels might find a middling prospect or perhaps a useful bullpen piece. Or, another option would be to simply pay the man with the hope he can regain the form that saw him average better than 5 WAR in the past seven seasons. Given their recent dangling of Haren on the trade front seems to suggest the team thinks such a hope is foolhardy.

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Matt Cain’s Slider and Release Point

The playoff version of Matt Cain hasn’t much resembled the regular season Matt Cain.

For the fourth straight season, Cain browbeat opposing National League batters and is a very big reason why the San Francisco Giants are back in the playoffs. In fact, you could argue that 2012 was his very best performance of his eight year career.

Cain posted a career low ERA and WHIP at 2.79 and 1.04, respectively. His 22% strikeout rate was the highest of his career and his 5.8% walk rate the lowest of his career. Despite Cain continuing to be the poster boy for pitchers that confound FIP (highest NL FDP, in fact), it appeared that he had taken a measurable step forward in a number of critical areas and at least made a questionable off-season contract extension not look so bad.

But so far in the postseason, Cain has had underwhelming results. It might have a lot to do with his slider.

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Cliff Lee Stands Alone

I’m not exactly sure how Major League Baseball players feel about fame, but you can probably guess what they think about infamy. You want to leave your mark because of your greatness, not because of some asterisk or fluke or memorable gaffe.

Cliff Lee is a fine pitcher. Fine like diamonds, not like, say, a Subaru Justy. He’s been among the elite starting pitchers going on five straight seasons. And he’s is making history this season. But probably not the way he wants to.

I doubt that the recording of the win and reliance on ERA were the genesis of sabermetrics. But a lot of what exists here — both in the statistic and narrative format — is because of a disdain for traditional measures of what supposedly makes a pitcher good.

But allow me to depart from that for a moment, because Lee is accomplishing something that’s rarely seen: He’s been a dominant pitcher without earning many wins this year. It’s not that I like the win any more than anyone else, I just like the significance of the anomaly that we’re seeing.

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Stop Throwing That: Rick Porcello’s Slider

Rick Porcello throws a slider. He doesn’t throw it very often, but when he does, the results are typically disastrous. You might be able to work in a not-very-great pitch if everything else you had in your repertoire was overwhelming, but for the ground-balling Porcello, that’s just not the case.

But let me step back a moment. Rick Porcello is having a very Rick Porcello-like season, which, objectively, is just a wee bit better than your average starter. His 4.57 ERA is spot on with his career 4.55, his 3.82 FIP is the lowest of his career, and he’s striking out more batters than he has in his career with a 13.6% strikeout rate. Peachy.

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Ervin Santana Making Meatball History

Within the drama of the pennant races and playoff chases exists a more morbid pursuit. Towards the end of the season, I always like to rummage through our vast chasm of data to see if there are players that have a chance to be historically bad in any particular category. Maybe it’s because I typically root for teams that play below .500 baseball, but I have an appreciation for the uniqueness of the ugly.

To that end, I looked at starting pitchers. Specifically, pitchers that had a penchant for allowing home runs. And that turned up Ervin Santana. (honorable mention to Phil Hughes). Suddenly, I have a new outcome to root for.

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Wade Miley: Wonderfully Average

If you knew exactly what pitch was coming, it would probably be easier to hit. Somehow, Wade Miley is an exception.

Miley’s season has been quite a pleasant surprise for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s amassed 14 wins and a shiny 2.80 ERA, corroborated by a 3.09 FIP. He’s given up fewer hits than innings pitched and he’s been almost as stingy as Cliff Lee with his walks. He’s probably the leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year right now, or at least one of the co-favorites along with Todd Frazier.

And yet, Miley is getting it done by throwing almost 75% fastballs. If they were really special fastballs, that’s one thing – but the league average fastball velocity is 91.1 mph and Miley’s is, yep, 91.1 mph. So how is he finding success throwing average fastballs perpetually in the strike zone?

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The Jon Lester Reclamation Project

On Sunday, Jon Lester took the hill as a pitcher who had been beaten up over the last month. In his previous six starts, Jon Lester had an 0-5 record with a 8.73 ERA, allowing a .321/.385/.588 slash line to opposing hitters. He had given up 42 hits in these six starts and almost half of them were for extra bases. The vultures were swarming above Fenway, and many observers were simply waiting for the inevitable announcement that he was hurt. After establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the American League, Lester was having his worst season as a major league pitcher, and it was only getting uglier as the season wore on.

And then on Sunday, Lester went and struck out 12 Cleveland Indians over six innings pitched. He gave up just three hits, all singles. He likely could have gone deeper in this one, but the Red Sox were already up 14-1 at that point. After weeks of getting beaten around like a Triple-A reject, he was nearly unhittable. Did Lester do anything fundamentally different in this outing, or was this just the old adage of sun on a dogs backside?

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Chad Billingsley Gets Friendly With Strike Zone

I had the opportunity to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers game on Saturday, which saw Chad Billingsley face off with Barry Zito. While I knew Billingsley was having a resurgence of sorts, his stellar outing versus the San Francisco Giants on this day sent me to the Fangraphs leader board where you can see him currently at 2.3 wins above replacement — hanging out with the likes of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Madison Bumgarner. Despite posting just six wins thus far, it turns out that Chad Billingsley is having a rather superb season, and I’m not too sure that many saw it coming after a disappointing 2011.

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Honoring Ichiro

For his first ten seasons, Ichiro Suzuki frustrated opposing pitchers as much as any other hitter in Major League Baseball. He was impossible to strike out, he could turn ugly slap-hits into singles, and despite (or because of) his disinterest in walking, he would still take a ball off his shoelaces and gap it for a double. He possessed a Rod Carew-like uncanny ability to square up un-hittable pitches coupled with a rock star identity and a rather elegant stoicism. What’s more, Ichiro was putting backsides in seats when the Seattle Mariners sorely needed something to boast about.

From 2001-2010, Ichiro amassed 53 wins above replacement, second only to Barry Bonds for qualified outfielders. He was in every way a superstar. But the decline in the last two seasons has been swift. For the last two seasons, Ichiro has hit a combined .268/.302/.341. Among the 58 qualified outfielders over the last two years, Ichiro is 58th in wOBA at .286 and 58th in wRC+ with 80. Go ahead and look beyond the stat sheet — your eyes can clearly see that he’s lost more than a step on the base paths, and his offensive skills have diminished to a level where he rarely makes much of an offensive contribution anymore.

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2012: Year of Reliever Whiffs

With due respect to landing a quad, it is believed that one of the hardest things to do in organized professional sports is hit a baseball. Relief pitchers across Major League Baseball are taking that to a new level in 2012.

Since 1961, there have been exactly twelve instances of players registering a strikeout rate above 40%. Five of them are from 2012. While the season is clearly not over yet and we could see declines in strikeout rates, this could be considered the greatest group of relievers, relative to strikeouts, in MLB history.

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Jeff Samardzija’s Seesaw Season

Back in March, there were still questions about whether Jeff Samardzija could successfully transition into a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. The lanky right-hander served mostly as a long-duty reliever in 2011 and while he found a good deal of success in that role, his considerable talent wasn’t being fully utilized.

His 2012 Spring Training results were good, though not spectacular. He won three of his five appearances, but he also gave up ten earned runs over 20 innings pitched. Most importantly, however, Samardzija only walked one batter to 16 strikeouts. This progress, along with the sizable Spring eggs that both Alberto Cabrera and Travis Wood laid helped manager Dale Sveum and staff to give Samardzija the nod.

And Samardzija did his part to make them look pretty smart. April was a bit of a mixed bag with a couple of stinkers book-ended by a pair of gems, but in May he really settled in, holding batters to just a .218/.282/.380 line. Over his first ten starts, Samardzija had a 3.09 ERA, 9.14 K/9, a 2.67 BB/9 rate, and although he had only five wins, the Cubs had won seven of those ten starts. Samardzija had pitched seven innings or more in five of his ten starts and he was beginning to emerge as a legitimate pitcher to fear in the National League.

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The Atlanta Braves Suddenly Need A Starter

I think it was Earl Wilson who said baseball is a nervous breakdown, divided into nine innings, or something to that effect. I imagine the Atlanta Braves are starting to relate to that sentiment.

On May 20, the Braves beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 in rather classic Braves style — with a win, a hold and a save from Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. They were 25-15 and stood atop the National League East by a game-and-a-half and appeared to be a serious playoff contender — if not the likely NL East champs. Since then, they’ve gone 9-16, they’re 4.5 games back of the Washington Nationals and they’re fighting to stay in contention for a wild card spot.

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