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The Roy Oswalt Decision

In a tight playoff game that could be the tipping point in Charlie Manuel’s season, the veteran skipper decided to go to starter Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the ninth to face the heart of the Giants order. Oswalt, who was scheduled to pitch Game 6 (if there were to be one), was going on two days rest. Oswalt wound up only getting two outs, one of which came at the expense of the winning sacrifice fly. Playing Monday Morning Quarterback, we can now approach the question of whether the move to Oswalt was the “correct” decision.

I think the answer to this problem can be both misleading and tricky. This was undoubtedly the most important game of the series for the Phillies; if they were to win, they would tie the series at 2-2 rather than being down 3-1, and with Roy Halladay on the mound in the next game would have a fantastic chance at going up 3-2 and only having to win one of the final two games to advance to the World Series. What does this mean? That Charlie Manuel was probably justified in bringing in any non-Halladay pitcher if it were necessary. The game, and specifically the moment in the game, was just too important to leave up to a pitcher who was less than the best available.

However, that begs the question: Was Roy Oswalt the best option for Charlie Manuel in the ninth inning yesterday? The other options left were starter/long reliever Kyle Kendrick, closer Brad Lidge, and lefty J.C. Romero. Oswalt was without a doubt the most valuable pitcher left, but whether he was the best one at the moment is a different story. Oswalt had just thrown eight innings (111 pitches) two days before and has little-to-no experience on that short of rest. Besides being tired, a pitcher who has just thrown a ton a few days earlier may have a tougher time getting ready to come in as a reliever, especially when that pitcher is a starter completely alien to the situation.

Moreover, it’s questionable why Manuel went to Oswalt before he went to his closer and best left-handed reliever. Going to Oswalt is not something you want to do, and he was not the last option available. Manuel could have easily gone to his closer, the guy who is supposed to be made for these late, tight situations. If Lidge got into trouble, he had the option of going to Romero for a lefty or even bringing in Oswalt to bail him out. Still, the logic applies both ways. To go to Oswalt, Manuel really had to have a ton more faith in Oswalt in that situation over Lidge.

Finally, the question of Oswalt’s availability for Game 6 comes into play. Of course, if you lose that game there may be no Game 6, but with Roy Halladay on the hill for Game 5 you have a pretty good shot of seeing the series go at least six games. Oswalt only wound up throwing eighteen pitches, and Manuel said that he does not believe that is enough to hinder Oswalt’s next start, but Manuel didn’t know how much Roy would throw at the start of the inning. Also, regardless of exactly how many pitches Oswalt threw, his entrance may mess him up in some way for his Game 6 start.

Still, as said earlier, if Oswalt was the best pitcher available for the ninth inning yesterday, it was probably the right move by Manuel. But Oswalt’s long start two days prior, along with the other options left in the pen, makes it less likely that he was correctly pinned as Option A. However, I said earlier this problem is tricky, and there might not be a truly “correct” answer.

The Old Guy Discount

Earlier in the year, I did a retrospective piece on Dave Cameron’s theory that older players were becoming undervalued in the market. Here’s what Dave wrote at the time:

Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.

Last time, I looked at players at the end of June. The analysis may have been a bit premature, so let’s use the entire season’s worth of data at the same group of veterans.

LF Johnny Damon
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Detroit Tigers to 1 year, $8 million deal
2009 WAR: 3.3
2010 WAR: 1.9

Damon took a huge hit in value this year by DHing a majority of the time and only playing centerfield in four games. UZR thought he was above average for the limited time he played in the outfield, but the decline in offense couldn’t be overcome. Damon went from a .376 wOBA last year to just a .340 mark this year, and a miserable August in which Johnny had a .266 wOBA was damning. Still, a 1.9 WAR translated to $7.5 million in value, so the Tigers didn’t suffer that much in the deal.

2B Orlando Hudson
Free agent age: 32
Signed by Minnesota Twins to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 2.9
2010 WAR: 3.1

Nobody ever believes this guy is going to be good, but the O-Dog always has the ability to put up solid numbers and play good defense. The Twins got a steal for signing Hudson to a cheap deal which he’d equal in value easily by the All-Star break. Hudson’s .320 wOBA was low for him, but UZR and DRS both loved his defense.

OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero
Free agent age: 35
Signed by Texas Rangers to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 2.6

If you put Vladimir Guerrero in the Ballpark in Arlington during the hot Texas summer, good things will happen. Although Vlad teetered after an insanely hot start, he still finished with a very solid .360 wOBA, primarily playing DH. His value via WAR translates to $10.3 million, so the Rangers got more than 2:1 on their money for Guerrero.

1B Aubrey Huff
Free agent age: 33
Signed by San Francisco Giants to 1 year, $3 million deal
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 5.7

What more can be said? A 7.1 swing in WAR from one season to another is just downright scary for a multitude of reasons. However, while Orioles and Tigers fans may be shouting ‘What gives,’ Giants fans are just happy that the rejuvenation came by the bay area. Huff put up a .388 wOBA while playing in 157 games this year, pacing the San Fran offense. Also, he had a good year defensively with a 6.7 UZR, his first year with a positive UZR since 2004.

3B Miguel Tejada
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Baltimore Orioles to 1 year deal worth $6 million
2009 WAR: 2.7 WAR
2010 WAR: 1.3 WAR

Just like with Huff it seems that only the Orioles can complain about this deal. Tejada was terrible in Baltimore, putting up a .295 wOBA and a UZR of -6.5, adding up to only -0.1 WAR thanks to the favorable positional adjustment because he’s at shortstop. However, Tejada was much better when traded to San Diego. He put up 1.4 WAR in just 59 games due to a .268/.317/.413 slash line and a UZR much closer to zero. His value for the year translated to $5.3 million, so this was another slight loss.

1B Russell Branyan
Free agent age: 34
Signed by Cleveland Indians to 1 year deal worth $2 million
2009 WAR: 2.8
2010 WAR: 2.0

It was pretty obvious that the Indians were getting a steal for signing Branyan for only $2 million after he hit thirty-one homers last season, and a steal it was. Branyan put up 1.1 WAR for Cleveland in just 52 games before Mark Shapiro was able to swap him for some Seattle prospects. Branyan hit .215/.319/.483 for the Mariners, giving the lineup some much-needed pop, but not enough on-base ability. Branyan finished at just 0.9 WAR in Seattle in 57 games.

Some More Risers and Fallers

Over the last few days we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest risers and fallers from 2009 to this season in terms of WAR. Today we’ll check out four players who could have made one of the respective lists but weren’t included.

OF Andres Torres
2009 WAR: 2.0
2010 WAR: 5.7

I was initially reluctant to include Torres because his wOBA has actually dropped from last season and he was on pace for 4 WAR over 150 games in ’09. However, the small sample size last year gave light to critics doubting if the former Puerto Rican track star could ever truly break out over a full season at age thirty-two and with literally no major league success before 2009. Well, Torres has certainly proven the doubters wrong with a fantastic 2010 in which he’s produced 5.7 WAR for the Giants, thanks to a .377 wOBA and an extraordinary defensive effort; UZR says he’s saved 18.1 runs this year while DRS has him at 12. Torres never really knew how to hit upon being drafted in the fourth round out of community college in 1998, but once he tuned his mechanics he was able to utilize his bat speed and began to smack line drives.

1B Daric Barton
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 3.9

Daric Barton was young coming into the 2010 season at just twenty-four, but there were still many who were doubting if he’d ever put it all together. After the former top prospect burst onto the scene in 2007 with the A’s at twenty-one and put up a .452 wOBA in eighty-four plate appearances, people were ready for more. However, the big lefty couldn’t produce similarly the next few years, putting up a .302 wOBA in 140 games in 2008 and a more respectable .343 last year in fifty-four games. Thankfully for A’s fans, Barton’s increased patience has made up for his relative lack of power this year; he’s hitting .284/.401/.419 thanks to a 15.8 BB% despite a rather poor .135 ISO. Still, his defense at first base has been solid (UZR says 6.1 runs saved) and his eye at the dish is outstanding. With his peak years ahead, Barton’s power may develop more and he could become Jason Giambi Lite. Now if he’d only stop bunting

OF Franklin Gutierrez
2009 WAR: 6.1
2010 WAR: 2.2

After Franklin Gutierrez’s remarkable 2009, fans were excited to see what the former throw-in from a three-way trade would do this season. Last year, Guti was solid at the bat and outstanding in the field. His .337 wOBA (108 wRC+) was driven by a .425 SLG (not too bad for a center fielder) and a .333 BABIP. He was also insanely clutch last year and had a 3.72 WPA. However, it was his defense that gave him the big value. UZR liked him for 31 runs above replacement. Yup, make him a league-average fielder and his value drops over 50% to just 3 WAR. Still, UZR wasn’t alone; DRS said he was even better, at 32 runs saved, and Total Zone liked him for 27 runs. It was truly an incredible year for Guti.

Sadly, the tide has turned in 2010. At twenty-seven, Gutierrez should be approaching his peak offensively, but his wOBA has dropped to a measly .304 this year as he’s caught whatever offensive-thwarting bug has gone around the Seattle clubhouse. Despite increasing his walk rate a percentage point (7.3% to 8.3%), his .304 BABIP has produced a .251/.311/.367 slash line, nothing to write home about. Finally, the glove hasn’t played like it did last year. UZR still thinks he’s been good for 7.5 runs, while DRS is even more bullish with 16 runs, but it hasn’t been enough to replicate, or even approach, his 2009 WAR.

OF Nyjer Morgan
2009 WAR: 4.9
2010 WAR: 0.3

I think we’ve heard this story before. Center fielder has a career offensive and defensive season which drives his value up crazy, but then regresses significantly the following year because of a much lower BABIP and worse defense. Nyjer Morgan (aka DJ Nij-Nnn-Nnn-Nnn-Nice) had a fantastic 2009 both at the plate and in the field. Morgan, who split time between Pittsburgh and Washington, hit .307/.369/.388, good for a .340 wOBA (108 wRC+). However, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Morgan had put up a .340 wOBA in 2007 and a .320 wOBA in 2008. Still, the consistent offense over a full season was surprising. What was more surprising was his defense, as Morgan saved 27.6 runs according to UZR (DRS said 15 while Total Zone said just 9).

In 2010, everything has fallen apart for Morgan. He has a .288 wOBA thanks to a .257/.317/.318 line, has a negative UZR, and is getting clotheslined by big first basemen. ZiPS still likes him for a .305 wOBA the rest of the way, but Morgan is not the solid everyday center fielder many thought he could turn out to be.

Biggest WAR Risers From 2009

Yesterday we took a look at some of the players who have seen dramatic declines from last year to this one. Today we’ll do a similar perspective on guys who have had a great 2010 compared to their relatively worse 2009.

1B Aubrey Huff
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 4.9

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty big swing. In 2009, Huff was just about as bad as you can be while splitting time between the Orioles and Tigers. In forty games with Detroit, Huff mustered a .257 wOBA thanks to a pathetic .189/.265/.302 slash line. He was better in 110 games in Baltimore with a .307 wOBA, but his time DHing and poor defensive performance hurt him badly. He lost 4.9 runs in the field, 15.9 at the plate, and 12.2 due to position. For Aubrey, it was a year to forget. Luckily, 2010 has been a year to celebrate for the Huff family and Giants fans alike. At thirty-three, Huff could have continued into the doldrums of baseball aging, but his rejuvenation has been integral for San Fran; his .394 wOBA as the everyday first baseman on the bay has been a huge lift for the team. As our own R.J. Anderson put it as follows back in June:

The Giants signed Huff for $3 million on a one-year basis- meaning that just getting a combination of those projected figures probably would have made Huff worth it. Instead they have received one of the best hitters in baseball to date. It’s like a karmic refund for the Edgar Renteria deal turning into a mess.

2B Rickie Weeks
2009 WAR: 1.4
2010 WAR: 4.5

Rickie is one of those guys that you just can’t wait to play good baseball; when he’s playing well, he’s easily one of the best second baseman in the game. After posting a .235/.374/.433 line in 2007 as a twenty-four year old (15.4 BB% at that age is something else), Weeks struggled more at the plate in ’08 with only a .334 wOBA. In 2009, Rickie posted an identical wOBA as in 2007, this time with less patience and more power (.272/.340/.517), but only got 162 plate appearances due to injury. In 2010, Weeks is outplaying even his 2007 season with a .370 wOBA. After some pretty big fluctuation over his career, his walk rate is steady right now at 9.4%, right around his career average. 2010 has been a good year for Weeks.

2B Kelly Johnson
2009 WAR: 0.6
2010 WAR: 4.4

The tale of Kelly Johnson has been told many times. The former Atlanta youngin’ became an everyday player when he posted a .363 wOBA in 2007 at twenty-five years old. However, after a solid but less successful 2008, Johnson’s poor 2009 lead to the end of his days with the Braves. His .306 wOBA could be partially explained by a .246 BABIP, well below his career mark of .316; it wasn’t good enough for Bobby Cox and Frank Wren. Johnson moved on to Arizona this year and has crushed the ball, hitting .278/.368/.485, a .372 wOBA, in 125 games thus far. His UZR and DRS numbers are also the best this season out of the past three years. Patience and power can be a game of high highs and low lows, and Atlanta’s loss has certainly been the Diamondbacks’ gain.

OF Jose Bautista
2009 WAR: 1.9
2010 WAR: 5.4

If I were to have asked you during this past off season Jose Bautista’s odds of leading all of baseball in homers in 2010, what odds would you have given me? 100:1? 250:1? If you were a betting man, you could have made or lost a lot of money. Bautista, who had a .408 SLG last year and career high of .420 in 2006, has an outstanding 42 home runs this year thanks apparently to a new swing that appears to be working. At twenty-nine, Bautista is hitting .266/.382/.620 (.423 wOBA, 169 wRC+), an insane line for someone who had a career high wOBA of .339 in 2009. As Dave Cameron put it last week:

Bautista will likely never have a year like this again, but there’s no reason to think he’s going to revert back to the version we saw before last September. He has made changes that can stick, even if not quite to this degree, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bautista hit 30 to 40 home runs each of the next several years.

For Thursday, I’ll do a split fallers/risers article on some of the guys that could have been on one of the lists.

Biggest WAR Fallers from 2009

With September fast approaching, it’s incredible to think the season is almost over. I say the same thing every year, but it really does seem like Opening Day was yesterday. As we get closer to the big 1-6-2, I wanted to take a look at some of the biggest decliners in WAR (not primarily due to injury) from 2009 to 2010 and do a little analysis as to why the drop occured.

UT Ben Zobrist
2009 WAR: 8.3
2010 WAR: 2.7

Zobrist was the name around sabermetric circles last year, putting up awesome offensive numbers while playing a variety of positions. Unfortunately for Ben and Rays fans alike, that prowess at the plate has not carried over to 2010. The 29-year-old’s wOBA dropped from .406 last year to just .330 this year, a combination of an 11.9% drop in home runs per fly ball and concurrent drops in BABIP and BB%. Meanwhile, here’s Zobrist’s defensive games started in 2009 versus 2010:

1B: 2/7
2B: 81/27
3B: 1/0
SS: 6/0
LF: 2/0
CF: 5/8
RF: 37/71

Due to Tampa Bay’s roster construction, Zobrist is playing a lot more of right field and less of premium positions that require a lower offensive performance to beat replacement level standards.

SS Derek Jeter
2009 WAR: 7.4
2010 WAR: 2.2

Jeter’s 2009 was truly remarkable, putting up the fourth highest wOBA of his career (and best since 2006) while also accumulating the most fielding runs of his career. In 2010, everything has come apart for the captain from the Bronx. Jeter’s on pace to have the worst offensive year of his career by a pretty decent margin with a .323 wOBA (102 wRC+); he’s walking 2.3% less of the time while also hitting grounders at a Tim Hudson-esque 65.8% rate. With a BABIP .63 lower than last year, there isn’t much saving Derek at the plate. On defense, UZR has him for -4.3 runs with DRS saying he’s been at -11. Either way, Jeter has disappointed given his 2009 and contract.

INF Chone Figgins
2009 WAR: 6.1
2010 WAR: 0.2

The most dramatic decrease of all, Figgins has gone from one of the best third basemen in baseball last year to one of the worst second basemen this year. In his first year in Seattle, Figgins has hit a measly .248/.336/.292 despite a modest .306 BABIP; after a .358 wOBA with the Angels last season, Figgins is at .298 this year, well below league average. Despite moving to second base, the positional advantage hasn’t mitigated enough to put Figgins where he should be. After a UZR/150 of 17.9 at third base in 2009, Chone is at -13.8 at second this season. Simply put, Jack Z can’t be pleased.

OF Matt Kemp
2009 WAR: 5.1
2010 WAR: 0.6

At the start of the season, Kemp was the big name throughout baseball. He was dating Rihanna and coming off of a stellar 2009 in which he put up a .367 wOBA while playing solid defense in center field. But everything has fallen apart since then. Kemp just hasn’t been the same player he once was with a UZR/150 of -15.6, nowhere near where he was last year. Moreover, Kemp’s .323 wOBA has been due primarily to a BABIP .49 points below his career average. Here are his peripherals for the the past two seasons:

BB%: 7.8/7.9
K%: 22.9/27.9
LD%: 21.3/20.2
GB%: 40.4/40.9
FB%: 38.3/39

Not much different. Still, Kemp’s production has been seriously disappointing, but at twenty five years old he has a lot of time to go back to his better days.

Nelson Figueroa Is Still Good

We know Ed Wade loves his former Phillies. The Astros rotation currently contains three former Phillies pitchers (J.A. Happ, Brett Myers, and Nelson Figueroa), with Figueroa being the latest to get a shot at starting down in Houston. While there have been a good amount of criticisms thrown Wade’s way over the past season, picking up journeyman right-hander Figueroa was a low cost move that will help the Astros win ballgames.

This past off season, I wrote an article entitled, simply enough, Why Nelson Figueroa is Good, hoping to draw some attention his way. The conclusion was also pretty straight forward:

What can we expect from Figueroa in 2010? Well, considering that four out of the Mets five current starting pitchers took a trip to the DL last year, we may get to see him start once again. Or, more likely, he’ll spot start here and there and split time between Triple-A and the bullpen. Hopefully, however, he gets a chance to pitch, because Nelson Figueroa is good.

The forecasters all predicted a FIP in the low to mid 4.00’s before the season, and Figueroa has beaten that this year, no doubt thanks to pitching mostly from the bullpen. The Mets put him on waivers during Spring Training (and have gone on to watch Fernando Nieve and Pat Misch start games in 2010, let alone Oliver Perez do it seven times) where he was quickly snagged up by the Phillies.

He pitched well in Philadelphia with a 3.46 ERA and 3.49 FIP (4.51 xFIP) in twenty-six innings. Considering the lack of serious depth in the Phillies bullpen, why he was put on waivers again is troubling (I guess Danys Baez’s near identical walk and strikeout numbers were just too appealing). The Astros claimed him on July 21st, where he continued to pitch out of the pen, again succeeding. He was moved into the Houston rotation last week, and thus far has pitched well. The coolest part is that he volunteered himself to become a starter when the Astros lost some pitchers to injuries. For the 2010 season, here are Figueroa’s total numbers:

IP: 48.1
ERA: 2.98
FIP: 3.37
xFIP: 3.79
tERA: 3.38
K/9: 7.26
BB/9: 2.42

For the rest of the season, ZiPS thinks he’s good for a 4.23 FIP, a solid improvement on his preseason projection from ZiPS (4.54). That’s not bad for a pitcher that seems to go on waivers more than he starts games. Fortunately for the Figueroa family, I think he’s found a home in Houston this time.

Derrek Lee to the Braves

According to multiple sources, the Braves are very close to acquiring Derrek Lee from the Chicago Cubs for a handful of prospects. For the Braves, who made a few deals at the deadline that netted them Rick Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez, this could be a move that makes them a serious threat in the playoffs.

In an article just eight days ago I detailed Derrek Lee’s poor season, ultimately concluding:

While it may be obvious to notice a lack of fly balls by Lee this year, which seems to be dangerous for a first baseman playing at Wrigley, the loss has been mitigated by an increase in line drives and a decrease in infield flies. Take those into account and Lee is actually doing better than he was last year in that regard. His HR/FB rate has been a huge problem, which is a career low for Lee. If we use the wisdom behind xFIP on Lee and adjust his HR/FB rate to his career average (16.4%), then he’d be at ~19.7 homers this year rather than just the twelve at which he currently sits. But we know that for hitters, unlike (generally) pitchers, HR/FB is not just a matter of luck but is deeply rooted in skill….Lee is “underperforming” on his BABIP on each batted ball type with the worst offender being line drives. Sure, it’s nice that Lee is hitting more of them, but if they’re not going for hits, and especially extra bases, then it’s not as important.

Lee’s HR/FB rate has jumped up to 12.9% in that time, with his wOBA up to a more respectable .330. It seems as though Lee is beginning to snap out of his season-long funk, and if the Braves can strike while the iron is hot, they’ll certainly be happy.

In terms of the logistics of bringing Lee aboard, the Braves have some maneuvering to do. It seems as though the odd man out will be Troy Glaus, who has looked brutal since the All-Star break. Glaus, who was killing the ball in May and June, is now down to a line of just .239/.343/.406, very poor numbers for a first baseman with below average defense. ZiPS does think he’s good for a .342 wOBA for the rest of the season, but the bat isn’t good enough, nor the defense strong enough, to warrant a spot at third base in the absence of Chipper Jones, who is out for the season. It seems as though the Braves lineup the rest of the way will look like this:

2B Omar Infante/ 3B Martin Prado
RF Jason Heyward
1B Derrek Lee
C Brian McCann
3B Martin Prado/ 2B Omar Infante
CF Rick Ankiel
SS Alex Gonzalez
LF Melky Cabrera/ Matt Diaz/ Eric Hinske

The Braves also have Nate McLouth coming back from his injury, but he just hasn’t shown he’s ready to be play very competitively just yet. Brooks Conrad should also see some time playing around the diamond, although his defensive gaffes at third base the other night may force Bobby Cox to use him primarily as a pinch-hitter.

Without knowing exactly what’s going back to Chicago just yet, this seems to be a solid trade for the Braves. With Lee’s contract up at the end of the year they can use Lee not only to stopgap for Freddie Freeman in 2011, but also seriously compete for a World Series title.

This Isn’t Barry’s Lineup Anymore

Remember the days when Barry Bonds would be the lone bright spot in a San Francisco lineup? Sure, he had Jeff Kent for a while, but toward the end would have to hit in front of the likes of Bengie Molina. It’s a different story today. The Giants currently sit four games behind the Padres in the NL West, a difference that can’t make the Friars all that comfortable. The Ginats, meanwhile, are tied for first in the NL Wild Card race. With a rotation that includes Lincecum and Cain, a hot offense could allow them to rack off a bunch of wins consecutively and quickly.

The biggest shot in the arm for the Giants offense has clearly been Aubrey Huff. After a miserable 2009, Huff has put up a .395 wOBA this season, providing the team with a legitimate power threat in the middle of the order. But the guy Huff has been knocking in, Andres Torres, has done more than hold his own: Torres has a .382 wOBA (139 wRC+); a slash line of .288/.370/.496 from your leadoff hitter and speedy centerfielder can do wonders for your club.

Don’t forget the new guys, either. Well, the newer new guys. Since being called up, Buster Posey has been everything advertised and then some. The rookie catcher is hitting .338/.386/.516, good for a .387 wOBA and 2.8 WAR in just 68 games. His performance has sent Bengie Molina, who was hitting .257/.312/.332, to Texas. ZiPS likes Posey for a .345 wOBA the rest of the way, although that may be a conservative estimate given his season thus far. Another new guy has been Pat Burrell, who apparently just needed to come back to the good ol’ National League. Since being released by the Rays after struggling for far too long, Pat the Bat has found his stroke by the bay, hitting .285/.378/.527 as a Giant. His power presence in the lineup shakes everything up and provides another threat to opposing teams.

Finally, there are the role players. Juan Uribe’s .327 wOBA has been solid for a middle infielder, and has made things easier with Edgar Renteria (.316 wOBA) struggling. Freddy Sanchez, meanwhile, still isn’t right since coming back from injury, and ZiPS’ projection of a .314 wOBA for the rest of the season isn’t all too promising. Still, he is capable of hitting .320 for the rest of the season. Oh yeah, and remember when Pablo Sandoval was the only dangerous bat in the lineup? The big guy is having a really rough year with a .312 wOBA after a .396 mark last season; his BABIP, however, is .55 points lower than last year, and he, like Sanchez, could turn it up real quick. Finally, the addition of guys like Mike Fontenot and Jose Guillen give the bench some depth.

If you were to ask what the Giants lineup for 2010 would look like at the start of 2009, I doubt many people would throw names like Huff, Burrell, and Torres your way. But these guys are getting it done, and it hasn’t been a fluke either. The Giants can hit.

Getting Ahead

For those of you that visit Fangraphs, wOBA has become a favorite stat of not only this website, but many other sabermetrically-inclined sites as well. The theory behind it is simple: assign value to individual offensive events via linear weights and then apply those numbers to a player’s performance. We go ahead and adjust the formula so that it looks like OBP, meaning that league average usually falls ~.333 and is properly distributed along the curve.

But there has recently been more research done into linear weights so that we can see the value of not only a single or a double, but of certain pitches. While this has been mostly popular in the domain of Pitchf/x, we can also use this information to further our understanding about hitters. For example, let’s say Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez come up to the plate consecutively. Miguel Cabrera works a 3-1 count and then lines a fastball into the right field gap for a stand up triple. Next, Magglio Ordonez hits a ball in the exact same spot on an 0-2 count and slides in safely at third. Back-to-back triples. For our purposes of wOBA, we would assign both Cabrera and Ordonez equally with ~1.56 runs, the linear weight value of a triple relative to an out.

But was that all we could gauge from those at-bats? With count-based linear weights, we can actually do more. Miguel Cabrera worked a 3-1 count before his triple; there’s value in knowing that information. Since we can say that a 3-1 count is worth somewhere around .14 runs, why not credit Cabrera in some capacity for getting into that count? Likewise, we know (based on the same run value charts linked last sentence) that an 0-2 count is worth roughly -.104 runs. Why not also take that into account? The moral here is that those triples were not made equally.

But we do have to be somewhat careful we don’t double count. A player is more likely to hit a triple (or for our purposes, get a higher run value) if he gets to a 3-1 count, and the oppposite is true for an 0-2 count. Those count-based linear weights are based on how many runs are likely to proceed from that count, so we would probably have to regress the run values somewhat so we don’t double credit a hitter. Maybe the most interesting experiment would be to just take a batter’s count-based linear weights for an entire season and compare players, or even apply their batted ball linear weights for if/when they put the ball in play to their count-based run total.

This is a thought experiment, so I’d like to see what people think. The next step may be crunching the numbers.

Derrek Lee’s Down Year

If I told you coming into this season that Derrek Lee was going to have the worst season of his career offensively aside from one half season stint as a twenty-three year old, you probably wouldn’t be shocked to hear that the Cubs were in the lower percentile of runs scored in Major League Baseball. But the Cubs have gotten steady production from a bunch of regular players this year. Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Tyler Colvin all have wOBA’s of over .350, with Kosuke Fukudome and Starlin Castro not too far behind. Unfortunately for those who bleed Cub blue, this hasn’t been enough to keep them competitive, and the down years of Lee and Aramis Ramirez are large contributors.

Lee, in 2009, was coming off of his second-best offensive season in the majors when he put up a .412 wOBA (153 wRC+), and his impending free agency led many to believe this would be another huge season for the thirty-four year old slugger. Let’s dig deeper into some of the peripherals behind Lee’s struggles with last year’s corresponding number in parentheses:

BB%: 11.2% (12.4%)
K%: 23.8% (20.5%)
GB%: 39.0% (35.1%)
FB%: 38.3% (45.7%)
IIFB%: 1.7% (4.6%)
LD%: 22.7% (19.2%)
HR/FB%: 10.0% (17.9%)

Some interesting stuff. While it may be obvious to notice a lack of fly balls by Lee this year, which seems to be dangerous for a first baseman playing at Wrigley, the loss has been mitigated by an increase in line drives and a decrease in infield flies. Take those into account and Lee is actually doing better than he was last year in that regard. His HR/FB rate has been a huge problem, which is a career low for Lee. If we use the wisdom behind xFIP on Lee and adjust his HR/FB rate to his career average (16.4%), then he’d be at ~19.7 homers this year rather than just the twelve at which he currently sits. But we know that for hitters, unlike (generally) pitchers, HR/FB is not just a matter of luck but is deeply rooted in skill.

Also, Lee’s BABIP is currently at .292, almost forty points below his career average and with an even wider margin than that for any year he has had since 2005. The disparity is particularly odd considering his LD rate is higher while his infield-fly rate is lower. Here are the breakdown’s of Lee’s BABIPs on batted ball types this season with last year and career averages following:

Grounders: .246, .267, .252
Fly balls: .120, .163, .134
Line Drives: .634, .756, .759

So Lee is “underperforming” on his BABIP on each batted ball type with the worst offender being line drives. Sure, it’s nice that Lee is hitting more of them, but if they’re not going for hits, and especially extra bases, then it’s not as important. I wish we had some Hitf/x to see if Lee is just hitting the ball less hard as of late, but he’s still probably been unlucky to a certain extent. How much of that decrease in batted ball performance is due to bad luck, and how much is due to skill, is a question that well have to wait for more data to roll in to answer.

Jim Edmonds for Chris Dickerson

The Cincinnati Reds attempted to strengthen their postseason chances by acquiring OF Jim Edmonds from the Brewers today for OF Chris Dickerson. Edmonds was apparently a decently hot commodity on the waiver wire with the lack of big bats available at the trade deadline, but the first place Reds were able to snag away a potential future Hall of Famer (*fingers crossed*) in hopes to bolster their outfield.

Cincinnati has an eclectic mix of outfielders that makes the addition of Edmonds all the more interesting. Jonny Gomes actually has a wOBA of .335, but his below average defense (-10.0 UZR, -10 DRS, generally poor scouting reports) and inability to play centerfield hurts his value tremendously. Second in wOBA is Laynce Nix, who, at .328 (100 wRC+), will probably see time reduced due to this trade. Last is Jay Bruce, whom R.J. Anderson wrote about at length a few weeks ago. Bruce is just at a .322 wOBA, and has never cracked the .330 wOBA mark throughout his three-year major league career. The best Reds outfielder this season has been rookie Chris Heisey, who has put up a .397 wIBA (147 wRC+) while playing solid defense. His bat is real, and hopefully Edmonds doesn’t cut into his playing time significantly. Drew Stubbs has played a bunch of centerfield this season, but his modest .316 wOBA doesn’t impress ZiPS; it projects him for .302 from here on out.

Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds is having a fantastic year all around. He’s played great defense in both center and right field, as well as shown his ability to play first base (although I doubt Joey Votto has anything to worry about). His .369 wOBA is generated by a .286/.350/.493 slash line, his highest slugging since 2005. However, he is walking at just 8.5%, but this may be due to pitchers being reluctant to pitch around him early on given that he missed the entire 2009 season. His walk rate has steadied around ~9.7% over the past two months, which is closer (but still significantly far away) from his career average of 12.5%. Edmonds is hitting right-handed pitchers this year to the tune of a .373 wOBA, but his peripherals all show an ability to hit lefties extremely well; most of the difference in production between facing righties and lefties has been due to an inflated BABIP versus righties. His .344 overall BABIP is well above his career average, especially his last few seasons. However, his LD rate is at an absurdly high 28.5%, a number that may be due slightly to scoring bias, but either way will probably regress. Still, even a regressed/adjusted LD rate will be generally favorable. Either way, the ZiPS projection likes Edmonds for a .340 wOBA going forward.

Going to Milwaukee in the deal is outfielder Chris Dickerson, who is a real nice grab for the Brewers for a few months of Jim Edmonds. Dickerson put up 3.2 WAR in 128 games from 2008-09, playing good defense in centerfield with an ability to play the corners well also. However, after a .339 wOBA last year, Dickerson struggled mightily in 2010 with a .205/.222/.273 line. Since being sent to Triple-A Louisville, Dickerson has raked; he’s hitting .442/.528/.767 in fifty-five plate appearances. Dickerson has MLB-ready talent both at the plate and in the field. He’ll have opportunities to teach his old team a lesson in the NL Central. ZiPS thinks he’s good for a .322 wOBA for the rest of the season, and at twenty-eight years old could be close to his offensive peak.

Overall, this wasn’t that poor of a trade for either team, although Cincinnati may have slightly overpaid for an outfielder who could see serious regression while giving up a much younger outfielder who could be useful in the future, maybe even now. They’re clearly going all out in the NL Central race, which they should, but I wonder if this move was necessary for them, or if the asking price for Edmonds was really as high as Dickerson. Milwaukee comes away with a big plus, acquiring a solid outfielder just because they offered a Spring Training invite to an older outfielder who hadn’t played pro ball in over a year.

Cole’s Cutter

During the off-season, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels made an effort to become a new type of pitcher, opening his arsenal to more weapons in hopes of sustaining long-term success. He decided to incorporate a steady serving of curveballs and cutters into his healthy diet of fastballs and changeups, and so far the relatively superficial stats seem to be generally supportive of the process:

2008: 3.72 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 4.26 tERA, 7.76 K/9, 2.10 BB/9
2009: 3.72 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, 4.15 tERA, 7.81 K/9, 2.00 BB/9
2010: 4.21 FIP, 3.66 xFIP , 4.38 tERA, 8.94 K/9, 2.98 BB/9

After a career-low walk rate last year, Cole has dropped to a walk rate worse than as any season since his rookie year by a significant margin. Still, his strikeouts are way up and it seems that his biggest issue in terms of performance has been the quality of his balls in play. His HR/FB rate is at a career-high 14.6%, as Cole has given up more homers per fly than the average pitcher each year in the big leagues. His groundball rate, however, is a career-high at 44.1%, but that may have more to do with a LD rate of 18.1%, which is as low as it has been since 2006.

But our run value charts show that Hamels’ cutter has been a bad pitch for him, coming in at -4.3 RAA, compared to 5.3 for his fastball and 3.1 for this changeup. His curveball has been basically an average pitch at -0.1. Pitchf/x guru Harry Pavlidis at The Hardball Times discussed Hamels’ new repetoire and did a fantastic job breaking down the lefty’s performance in a two-part series using his rvERAa and rvERAe stats, eventually concluding:

-An increased rate of flies and liners turning into home runs is observed when Hamels adds a fourth pitch heavily to the mix. Coincidence?

-While the fastball and sinker may or may not have been compatible, the cutter and the fastball may be

-The jury is still out on the cutter, but the sinker is welcome to stay away

-His change-up is very good, it’s a shame it’s used less and less

-His curveball I can take or leave. As a commentor noted in part one, it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything

My vote: keep working on the cutter, but have some more faith in the change-up.

Using the Bloomberg Sports Pro Tool, I wanted to take a look specifically at Hamels’ cutter, which Harry suggests he should tune up even though the metrics say it has stunk. Here’s a look at the forty-seven cutters Hamels has thrown to lefties this season along with their corresponding location in play if they were hit for an out/base:

As you can see, Hamels has thrown his cutters mostly away to lefties in the limited time he has tried it, and so far the results are good. Lefties have yet to get a hit against the pitch, either grounding out or flying out each time. But here are the images for right-handed hitters:

Righties are simply crushing Hamels’ cutter this season. He’s thrown it 120 times against them in 2010, and thus far they’re hitting .412/.429/.882, which simply will not get the job done. His cutter has also averaged 88.8 MPH to righties while only 88.1 MPH to lefties, so it may just look and act like a flat fastball to righties, who have taken advantage of it. As you can tell from the last image, his HR/FB rate on the year has clearly taken a hit due to his cutter versus right-handers.

I agree with Harry’s ultimate conclusion that Hamels should continue to work on his cutter. But until Hamels has a firm grasp of it, he should toy with it versus lefties and only versus righties in games with an extremely low leverage index (i.e. big leads). Until then, it will continue to get hit far.

Why Not Understanding Marginal Utility Is a Circular Problem

Let’s say you are building a dam, and you want to make sure this is the best dam that’s ever been built. You gather your logs, get some help from friendly beavers, and in two weeks have put together a pretty fine dam if you can say so yourself.

Then, when the river starts to actually run strong, you begin to see that some pieces of wood aren’t that great. But you know those holes are there; they’re always going to be there. Not every piece of wood can be equal. The foundation, the best pieces of wood, the core of your dam, is what makes it a great dam. The other logs are just inevitable imperfections that, even if they are mended, won’t ever make that big of a difference.

So, needing to strengthen your dam somehow, you push the strong logs of your dam. And you push them and push them until you can’t take it anymore; but you’re dam still isn’t as good as you want it to be. You give it a serious look-over. No, it’s not the minor logs that are serving their purpose. It’s not your building skills. It’s the damn supposed “best logs” not living up to their expectations. So you rip them out and try to get even stronger pieces of wood. Before you know it, you’re out of the logging business and trying to get a senior scouting job with some National League club.

By now, you get my drift. Unfortunately, not everyone does, and the problem isn’t as minor as it seems. When executives of any trade, but for our purposes baseball, refuse to improve on the margins, they are not only hurting their overall utility but creating future problems.

The best example I can give here is the Mets, although I’m sure you can think of examples with your own favorite team. The Mets started this season with the following lineup:

C Rod Barajas
1B Mike Jacobs
2B Luis Castillo
3B David Wright
SS Jose Reyes
LF Jason Bay
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
RF Jeff Francoeur

Do you see the weak logs? It shouldn’t be that hard. Mike Jacobs is now a Triple-A player for the Jays after proving he can’t hit major league pitching during his brief stay with the Mets. Gary Matthews Jr. had a .234 wOBA for the Mets, striking out in 41% of this plate appearances. Rod Barajas is currently on the DL, but has been below average with a .292 wOBA and 0.5 WAR on the season. Jeff Francoeur honestly doesn’t deserve to play baseball at any level professionally, despite how affable he may be. His .284 wOBA is made even worse by his tendency (or just self-afflicted rule) to swing at everything often and early. I won’t even mention Alex Cora.

Many of those players have been replaced. Josh Thole has been very good during his limited time at catcher, Angel Pagan has been one of the best players in baseball this season, and Ike Davis is having a nice rookie year at first base. Still, this unsurprisingly hasn’t been enough for the medicore Mets. When you see that it took months for R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi to replace Oliver Perez and John Maine in the rotation, nobody should be surprised at the record of the Mets.

When James Kannengeiser of Amazin Avenue gave some wise ways the Mets could improve their ballclub, it was met with this reply from Matt Cerrone at the ever popular MetsBlog:

Sure, releasing Oliver Perez, Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora might help, and it would sure get the attention of fans, but, at the end of the day, Mike Pelfrey, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay and others are still on the roster and still need to get their collective act together.

Matt saw that the weak logs were hurting the dam, and simply decided that the bigger logs had to get their “act together.” I guess it didn’t matter that Mike Pelfrey has a better ERA/FIP/xFIP/tERA than last year, or that K-Rod has been flat-out great, or that Jose Reyes has been incredible after a slow start thanks to coming back from an injury (and is still on pace for a 3-WAR year per 150 games), or that Carlos Beltran got back from serious knee surgery after the All-Star break. The strong logs were not strong enough.

I wish I could say that this is a problem that is just relayed via talk radio and blogs, but it’s not. General Managers consistently choose to ignore minor holes on their roster, and this comes from a lack of understanding the true value of stats like Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Solid roster management is one of the most valuable traits that any sports executive can have. Unfortunately, those strong logs can only take so much pressure until they break.

Adam Dunn: What Now?

So the trade deadline came and went this past weekend, and in that time Adam Dunn remained a Washington National. The discussion about whether or not this move in and of itself was wise has been had at length, with most people comparing it to when the Nats didn’t trade Alfonso Soriano during the 2006 season. With Soriano, this move seems to have worked out. Washington used the draft picks from the Cubs, who signed Soriano to a long-term deal, to select pitchers Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who is coming off an injury that has prevented him from pitching thus far in 2010, was great in his rookie ’09 season with a 3.39 xFIP in ~91 innings. At twenty-one years old, Josh Smoker has stagnated with a rough season in A-ball. Still, that’s probably around what you’d expect to get from a few months of Soriano at the trade deadline.

However, the results don’t justify the process, and Adam Dunn isn’t Alfonso Soriano. The trade market was hugely underwhelming this year, and Dunn seemed to be the sexiest name on the block. Our own Matt Klaassen looked at Dunn’s value a few weeks ago:

ZiPS Rest-of-Season projections see Dunn as about a +18 hitter over the remainder of the season; let’s call him 2 WAR overall for the rest of 2010. He is probably owed between five and six million dollars for the rest of his contract, so unless Washington eats a substantial portion of his contract, there’s probably only three million dollars worth of projected surplus here — not bad, but probably not worth much more than a decent “C” prospect or two with some upside. However, because Dunn will likely be a Type A free agent in the offseason, draft pick compensation for the team offering him arbitration (assuming he turns it down) bumps the total projected surplus up to around nine million dollars, which means “B” prospects (plus filler) should definitely be in play.

According to Mike Rizzo, the offers for Dunn were just entirely below what they perceived his value to be. So there are a few outcomes that could come out of Washington’s passivity:

1) Dunn gets through waivers and gets traded to a contender (most likely San Francisco)

This one is possible, and Buster Olney thinks it can happen, but why would Mike Rizzo limit his trading pool, essentially lowering his expected returned value, by doing this? Also, the Nationals seemed to have made a strong PR move by keeping their franchise position player, making a potential waiver deal more unlikely.

2) The Nationals offer Dunn arbitration and he accepts it

This one would be bad. Baseball arbitrators like homers, RBI, and hometown guys a lot more than they like WAR, positional scarcity, or anything else of the ilk. Dunn could be looking at a big payday if he goes to arbitration, and Washington would probably be looking at getting a negative ROI via the contract.

3) The Nationals offer Dunn arbitration and he rejects it, signing elsewhere

This seems to be what the Nationals are hoping for (again similar to the Soriano situation). With Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats are poised to build a strong team in the near future, and good prospects can either surround those guys later on or become trade bait for MLB-ready players. Still, a late first round draft pick can fizzle out before you can say “Harrisburg.”

4) The Nationals re-sign Dunn either during the rest of the season or during the offseason

If this happens during the latter timeframe then the Nats will be competing with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, ballclubs with much bigger payrolls. If it happens during the season, then Washington is probably overpaying considering people have said Dunn will not give a home discount and wants to test the free agent waters.

Mike Rizzo made a strong stand for the Nationals franchise by not trading Adam Dunn. However, the question still remains if Washington is better off for it.

Dotel to the Dodgers

Ned Colletti looked to be done after acquiring Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, and Ted Lilly, but with minutes to go before the deadline bell rang, the Dodgers GM pulled off a deal that will send Pittsburgh closer Octavio Dotel to Los Angeles for RHP James McDonald and OF Andrew Lambo. The Dodgers will reportedly receive cash from the Pirates as well, as Dotel has $3.5 million left on his contract.

Dotel will certainly help the Dodgers bullpen, but as was discussed in the Lilly deal, the question is how much. He has a 3.84 FIP/4.06 xFIP/3.50 tERA on the season, pretty much right around where he was in 2009. ZiPS thinks he’ll have a 3.50 FIP for the rest of the season (as well as a 3.86 ERA). He’s a solid upgrade to the bullpen, but I’m still not sold that this is what puts the Dodgers over the top. There’s a lot of baseball left to play and they’re pretty far back (seven back of San Diego, four and a half back of San Francisco), having to climb over two good teams.

What did they give up? Well, too much. McDonald is still a young, live arm who has had MLB success and is doing very well in Triple-A this season. Meanwhile Andrew Lambo was rated as the Dodgers #3 prospect this off-season by our own Marc Hulet. He currently is hitting .271/.325/.420 as a twenty-one year old in Double-A, and is highly regarded among prospect enthusiasts.

The Dodgers bullpen has had some serious struggles, and it doesn’t look like Jeff Weaver or any of the other guys recently used by manager Joe Torre were going to become saviors any time soon. However, the question isn’t whether or not Dotel upgrades the pen (he definitely does). It is still whether or not these deals will be the tipping point in LA’s hopes of making the playoffs. If they are not, then Ned Colletti just paid a whole lot in cash and prospects for marginal help than won’t have any real impact.

Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers

Word is coming out that the long-awaited rumor of Ted Lilly to the Dodgers is happening, and the Boys in Blue will also be receiving infielder Ryan Theriot when the dust settles. However, for a Dodgers team that is currently seven games out of the race in the NL West, this move is a bit puzzling.

Ted Lilly is not having that good of a season, despite what the shiny 3.63 ERA will lead you to believe. His 4.50 FIP (4.49 xFIP) means he actually is having a pretty medicore year, especially since he’s coming off a solid 2009. In a post detailing Sell High Candidates on July 12th, I wrote the following of Lilly:

Lilly is comimg off of a huge 2009 where he posted a 3.65 FIP and 3.98 xFIP, good for 3.7 WAR. His K and BB rates, however, have been disturbingly poor this season, as his K/BB went from 4.19 last year to 2.71 this year. But for teams that aren’t looking too deeply at those numbers, Lilly’s 4.08 ERA may be appealing. Teams will envision him as a 3-4 starter in a good rotation, when really he’s just not pitching well right now. If the Cubs could pry away outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets, it would be a steal.

I’d say Lilly’s BABIP hasn’t fully regress at .261, but he may be a pitcher who is able to get low BABIPs against (stress the “may”), as his career BABIP is .285. Here are his marks over the latter part of his career:

2002: .241
2003: .303
2004: .272
2005: .301
2006: .300
2007: .272
2008: .283
2009: .270
2010: .261

Still, Lilly’s peripherals are not holding up, as the lefty is striking out less batters and walking more. Still, ZiPS thinks he’s good for a 4.19 FIP for the rest of the season, and he’s a free agent after the year. The Dodgers currently have Carlos Monasterios starting games, but the usual reliever has a 5.14 xFIP and ZiPS thinks he’d have a 5.68 FIP the rest of the way. While that’s an upgrade of about ~1 run per game, the Dodgers probably could’ve found a replacement pitcher for Monasterios that didn’t cost as much as they gave up (prospects Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit).

Is Lilly the tipping point in the Dodgers’ playoff run? Probably not, and neither is Ryan Theriot, also acquired in the deal. Jamey Carroll, the current Dodgers second baseman, has a .322 wOBA thanks to a .374 OBP. ZiPS thinks he’s good for a .311 mark for the rest of the season. Theriot currently has a .291 wOBA and ZiPS likes him for .310 for the rest of the season. Not much of an upgrade; in fact, probably not an upgrade at all. However, Theriot is gritty, and looks like a younger version of the Janitor from the show Scrubs (who, ironically, played the first baseman for the Cubs in the movie Rookie of the Year, an all-time classic). Moreover, the Dodgers are trading Blake DeWitt in the deal, who has a .319 wOBA and is predicted to go .323 the rest of the way via ZiPS. So the Dodgers trade for one second baseman for a worse one while probably cutting playing time for another good one. That doesn’t help you make the playoffs.

Cristian Guzman to the Rangers

With Ian Kinsler being placed on the Disabled List yesterday with a strained groin, the recently free-wheeling Jon Daniels wasted no time finding a temporary replacement, trading currently unknown prospects for veteran middle infielder Cristian Guzman according to’s Bill Ladson. While the Kinsler move to the DL was more precautionary than potentially serious, the Rangers are taking no chances.

Guzman will also give the Rangers needed insurance up the middle, as backup infielders Andres Blanco and Joaquin Arias are not very slick with the bat. ZiPS projects Arias for a .292 wOBA going forward and a .295 mark for Blanco. Although Guzman only has a .304 wOBA on the season, ZiPS likes him for a .319 rate the rest of the way. The main issue for Guzman this season has been his power; after slugging .440, and .390 over the past two seasons, he has dropped down to .361 in 2010, his lowest total since his horrendously terrible 2005. The combination of summer and Arlington may give Guzman a little power boost.

Defensively, Guzman has adjusted decently to second base this season according to UZR (although Baseball Info Solution’s Defensive Runs Saved does not think as highly). Guzman shouldn’t be called on to spell Elvis Andrus very often, as the former’s range at shortstop is well below average.

For Washington, they’re capitalizing on an aggressive market that is lacking in the available stars of recent years. After snagging Wilson Ramos from Minnesota for Matt Capps, the prospects they get back from Texas could be pretty good considering that the Rangers are overpaying in farm talent for salary relief in lieu of their recent bankruptcy. However, we’ll wait and see if the bigger dominoes (Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham) fall before tomorrow’s deadline.

Juan Uribe Bounces Back

For most baseball players, having Juan Uribe’s recent track record after the 2008 season meant you had a nice little career and could either retire or play independent league ball somewhere. Uribe, who also got into trouble when he was alleged to have been involved in a 2006 shooting in the Dominican Republic (his name was cleared in 2007), simply was not producing on the field. Here are Uribe’s respective AVG/OBP/SLG lines and WAR from 2006-2008, which were his Age 27-29 years (when hitters normally peak):

2006: .235/.257/.441, 1.2
2007: .234/.284/.394, 0.3
2008: .247/.296/.386, 0.2

Not pretty. Uribe was simply refusing to take a base on balls during that timespan, with a BB% of 2.6% in 2006 and 6.0% and 6.2% from 2007-08. With the drop in power, Uribe’s lack of patience was frustrating to say the least. His five-year career with the White Sox, which included a World Series Championship in 2005, ended after the 2008 season; he latched on with the Giants for 2009.

Despite his pathetic walk totals, there were some reasons to think that Uribe may be able to be a useful bench player. He could play shortstop, second base, and third base, and was solid defensively according to UZR. His BABIPs were brutally low during those years, and he had a HR/FB% in 2008 that was less than half of what it was in 2006. Brian Sabean knew the Giants’ offense wasn’t guaranteed for anything last year, and gave Uribe a chance. Uribe signed a Minor League contract, but made the team’s final roster out of Spring Training.

Since his arrival in San Francisco, Uribe has been an important part of the lineup, contributing 4.6 WAR in 215 games. Last season, his wOBA was .351 thanks in part to a rejuvinated .325 BABIP. The power also came back, as Uribe slugged .495, the best mark of his career since 2004. His walk rate decreased to 5.8%, but with the extra bases coming, nobody complained.

This season, Uribe’s BABIP has turned Mr. Hyde to 2009’s Dr. Jekyll. Aat .268, one would think a drop that dramatic would cripple Uribe like it did from ’06-’08. However, the infielder currently has a .328 wOBA, solid stuff from a guy playing premium positions. But how has he been able to relatively maintain his offensive value? He’s walking more. A lot more. He’s walking in 8.4% of his plate appearances in 2010, the single highest rate of his career. He does have three intentional walks this season to last year’s two, but that hardly makes up a significant chunk of his newfound patience. ZiPS thinks he’s good for a .330 wOBA for the rest of the year. Simply put, Uribe has adjusted his game this season in light of a depressed BABIP. As has been said before, staying afloat in Major League Baseball requires Darwinian-like adaptation. Juan Uribe has learned how to survive.

The 2004 Phillies and Fly Balls

Batted balls are a funny thing. I previously looked at the 2009 Yankees’ propensity to hit fly balls and came to the conclusion that it must have something to do with the New Yankee Stadium being characterized as a huge hitter’s park. I figured that the Yankees players thought they could get more bang for their buck by hitting balls in the air at home, prompting them to attempt to lift the ball more in New York. However, this was before we had Home/Road batted ball data here at Fangraphs. I went over my analysis after the introduction of the splits and came to the following conclusion:

The short moral of the story? More data is always a good thing. While a few players saw leaps in their overall Fly Ball %, this was ironically due mostly to their road numbers as opposed to an air-driven frenzy at the new Yankee Stadium. The only real guys you can say were trying to get under the ball were Teixeira, Matsui, and Molina. Considering Teixeira’s 2008 was not with the Yankees and Jose Molina didn’t have that many at-bats, the conclusion has to be changed. It would appear that the 2009 Yankees did not have a conscious effort to hit more fly balls, apart from Hideki Matsui, who saw a staggering 14.3% increase in his fly balls at home from 2008 to 2009.

However, shortly after the original Yankees piece I looked at the 2004 Phillies, who similarly were opening up at a new ballpark that was well-known to be hitter-friendly, and found similar results. Almost all of the Phillies players had increased their fly ball percentage from 2003. I’ve gone back and looked at the Home and Road fly ball numbers from the team.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Closer Look at Gregerson’s Slider

Since his arrival in the big leagues, the best way to describe Luke Gregerson is simply “unhittable.” Last season, Gregerson posted a 3.24 ERA/2.50 FIP/3.11 xFIP in seventy-five innings with a K/9 of a whopping 11.16. This year, he’s walking two batters less per nine innings, and with some BABIP help is down to a line of 2.66 ERA/2.43 FIP/2.60 xFIP. However, he’s also decreased his tERA from 2.56 to 2.13. The groundballs are down while the flyballs have increased, which isn’t usually a good sign, but it is partially due to the decrease in line drives (which is most likely going to regress a bit). Gregerson has also begun to throw his slider a bunch more this year, up to 61.4% from 49.6% last season. Joe Pawlikowski wrote about about Gregerson’s nasty slider in early June:

The Padres’ bullpen has benefitted greatly from Gregerson and his slider. The unit claims the NL trifecta of fewest walks, most strikeouts, and lowest batting average against. They’re getting help from everywhere, but Gregerson has been a particular bright spot this season. The high slider frequency does cause a little concern, but for right now it’s his nearly unhittable weapon. I can’t imagine being an opposing hitter and standing in to face him.

Using the Bloomberg Sports Pro Tool, I wanted to take a closer look at Gregerson’s slider:

The top image shows all sliders thrown by Gregerson in 2010 to right-handed batters, while the bottom image shows the batted ball location of all those pitches. The highlighted balls in the top image correspond to the highlighted balls in play in the bottom image. As you can see, when Gregerson leaves his slider up and in/over the plate to right-handed hitters, it tends to get hit relatively far compared to all of his balls in play. Still, there’s only one homer there and a bunch of flyouts and a few groundouts, so even Gregerson’s hung slider isn’t all that bad. Here are the pitches from the lower-right quadrant of the batter’s box:

When Gregerson is able to locate his slider, batters don’t stand a chance. This also only includes batted balls. Look at Gregerson’s swings-and-misses generated by his sliders versus righties in 2010:

Gregerson’s slider has been worth 12 runs above average this season (from our own numbers here at Fangraphs) after an outstanding 18.7 mark last year. You can see why.