Archive for Busting Out

Rated Rookies: Week One

One of the great subplots of every Major League season is the rookies that come up and show a glimpse of baseball’s future. It’s what had us enthralled by Jackie Bradley Jr. all spring, what has us dutifully analyzing Julio Teheran appearances, and what has us so eagerly waiting for Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers. This season, we will track rookies, both the prospects and suspects, as they make adjustments to playing in the bigs. This bi-weekly list will highlight rookies who have accomplished the most in 2013, regardless of future projection (though that will always be discussed). These are the players whose week one performances deserve recognition.

1. Dan Straily, RH SP, Athletics

If we’ve learned anything from Yu Darvish this season, it’s that success pitching against the Astros is not exactly analogous to pitching against baseball’s other 29 teams. The Athletics know this, why is probably why just one day after an 11 strikeout, 0 walk performance (a start worth an unofficial 0.6 WAR by our metrics), the A’s were comfortable sending Straily back to Triple-A. As sixth starters go, Straily is an excellent one, with a fastball at 90-93 mph, 83-86 mph slider, and 82-85 mph change (let’s agree to ignore that low 70s curveball, please). He showed great command against the Astros, the best he’s had in all 8 starts at the Major League level.

But, I don’t want to get too wrapped up in Straily’s success. The Astros, as we’re finding out, are a historically swing-and-miss team. All 11 of Straily’s strikeouts were of the swinging variety, and amazingly, nine were against left-handed hitters. Brett Wallace and Rick Ankiel struck out a combined 6 times, all on Straily fastballs. While Baseball America’s scouting report of him, as the A’s #6 prospect, reads “[His] slider and change up are his two best offerings and account for the bulk of his strikeouts,” that wasn’t true against Houston. Eight of the 11 strikeouts were from the fastball, and a remarkable number of them looked like this to Jason Castro — right down the heart of the plate. If you want to see why we simply can’t get too excited about Straily yet, consider the caliber of competition:

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How Mat Latos Saved His Season

It is easy to forget that Mat Latos is still just 24-years-old. It is also easy, apparently, to overlook how impressive he has been since the second half of June.

Latos started off his tenure in Cincinnati pretty miserably, with a 5.20 ERA in 14 starts. He was getting hit rather hard, and his home run rate escalated. He allowed 16 homers in less than a half season’s worth of starts. The jump was expected, since moving from homer-depressing Petco Park to Great American Ballpark would likely cause any pitcher to give up more home runs. But I imagine there were at least a few people who wondered if Latos was simply a Petco creation.
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Addison Reed: Shutdown Numbers, Meltdown Stuff

In 2011, White Sox reliever Addison Reed faced 293 minor league hitters and struck out 111 while walking only 14 of them. It was a good year for Reed. He went from A-Ball, to High-A, to Double-A, to Triple-A in 3 months and 15 days.

In 2012, Reed has faced 229 major league hitters and struck out 52 while walking 18. He has also allowed two more home runs than in his time in the minors while facing 64 fewer hitters.

Despite all this, the AL Central-leading, supposedly rebuilding Chicago White Sox have called on the rookie Reed to perform as the team’s closer. And even with his his 4.82 ERA, the White Sox have stuck with him and have been rewarded with the 9th most net shutdowns in the American League (28 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns, 19 net SD) and a total of 28 saves.

So have the White Sox done it? Have they finally found the heir to the ghost of Bobby Jenks? Or have his recent struggles been a portent of pending trouble?

Well, Reed has a few oddities on his stats sheet, and depending on which items we consider aberration and which we consider omens, it can alter the way we see the 23-year-old relief ace.
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Madison Bumgarner’s Slider is Awfully Impressive

Through just two and half seasons, Madison Bumgarner has already accumulated 11.0 WAR, which is an even more impressive number when you consider that this is just his age-22 season. Bumgarner has followed a breakout 2011 campaign with a season of similar quality, with an increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate despite a rather large uptick in home runs allowed. Even with the increased home run total – 20 allowed this season compared to 25 in his previous 325.2 innings pitched – he has gotten away from the “hittable” label and has seen his BABIP drop to .265, putting his career mark at a standard .299 mark compared to the rather high .317 prior to this season.

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Zach McAllister, Cleveland’s Best Starter

The Indians have had serious starting pitching issues throughout the entire year. Ubaldo Jimenez has been worth negative WAR over 18 starts, Josh Tomlin has been both bad and unfortunate, and Derek Lowe’s ERA over his past nine starts is 7.16 after posting a 2.15 ERA in his first nine. Justin Masterson has been the most effective starter throughout the season, and even he has a 4.14 ERA. Despite the rotation issues, the Indians they still sit just four games out of first place in the A.L. Central and are just a half game back of the second wildcard.

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Matt Harrison’s Two-Seam Fastball Makes Him an All-Star

Here are the stats for Matt Harrison and David Price over the past two seasons:

Harrison: 291 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.86 xFIP, 6.8 WAR
Price: 329 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.7 WAR

Those are pretty similar numbers, which are even more impressive when you consider that Harrison pitches in Arlington while Price throws in Tampa Bay. Needless to say, Harrison has been an underrated pitcher over the past few years. He has the 16th highest WAR since the start of 2011, but what is he doing so well that makes him one of the top pitchers in the game over the past two seasons?

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Jeff Samardzija Is the Real Deal

On Sunday night against the Washington Nationals, Jeff Samardzija pitched the game of his career. Not the game of his MLB career, but his professional baseball career. After coming to the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, the former wide receiver prospect has never quite lived up to his substantial rookie contract (substantial for a rookie, that is).

But on Sunday night, in a season already treading down the expected and all-too-familiar road of disappointment, Samardzija gave Cubs fans an unfamiliar feeling of great hope. The long-locked, mustachioed twirler stymied hitters and did something few fans thought possible: He pitched 8.2 innings without walking a batter.

Is one start enough to know if a player has turned around his career? No. But there’s more evidence out there, and the signs are pointing up for Chicago’s 27-year-old bust.
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Sale Shows The Goods as Starter

Chris Sale was among the elite relief pitchers last season with the White Sox, throwing 71 tremendous innings in just his second professional season. But the White Sox never saw Sale’s long-term future in the bullpen. The Sale-as-starter project got it’s first MLB regular season test Monday night against the Indians, and the 23-year-old lefty passed with flying colors. Sale breezed through 6.2 innings against the Indians, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks in leading the Sox to a 4-2 victory.

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The Yankees Got Hiroryuki Nakajima, Got Him Cheap

Last week, we heard the official word that the New York Yankees had acquired negotiation rights to Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima. In order for teams to win rights to negotiate with players leaving Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, they must participate in a silent auction called the posting system. The winning bid goes to the NPB team currently in control of the player’s rights, unless the team cannot sign a major or minor league contract in 30 days.

The Nakajima posting seemed to go by with little fanfare. The Yankees won the rights to negotiate with Nakajima, bidding a paltry $2.5M, and promptly announced their intentions to make him their second utility infielder.

To me, it seems pretty clear the Yankees had no expectations of actually winning the bid. Not only do they lack a position for Nakajima, they have already been rumored to be seeking a trade partner. On top of that, their bid was low. I mean: Seriously low:

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Sergio Romo? More Like: Strikeouts Relievo

A pitcher even finer than even these two upstanding gents!

Quick! There’s no time to waste!

Name the five best FIP- seasons in the history of MLB. (Minimum, a scant 20 IP.)

I’d imagine your list includes Eric Gagne’s crazy 2003 and Pedro Martinez’s nutso 1999 season. And you’d be correct. But there’s another modern-day pitcher you’d have only guessed if you had cleverly looked at the title of this post:

1) Ed Cushman, 10 FIP- (1884, year of our lord)
2) Henry Porter, 13 FIP- (1884)
3) Eric Gagne, 20 FIP- (2003)
4) Sergio Romo, 25 FIP- (2011)
5) Pedro Martinez, 30 FIP- (1999)

I imagine there are a number of baseball fans who, like myself, had not even heard of Sergio Romo until they made him their setup man while playing Baseball Mogul 2008.

We’ll learn his name because he might be one of the greatest late-blooming relievers in the history of the game.
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Craig a Dangerous Weapon for Cardinals

On the same day he took home the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, Lance Berkman was given the day off in favor of Allen Craig. This raised a few eyebrows, as Berkman had started and hit in the middle of the order in each of the Cardinals’ first eight postseason games. But in Craig, the Cardinals had an apt replacement, and perhaps the best bench player in this year’s postseason.

Craig displayed the light tower power that he is capable of in his second trip to the plate last night, unloading on a Randy Wolf pitch and taking it to out deep to right field. There was talk of the wind blowing out to right field last night, but while the home run from Matt Holliday may have qualified as wind-aided, Craig’s blast probably gets out on any day. It’s nothing to new to Craig.

The quintessential player without a position, St. Louis has seemingly not known what to do with Craig throughout his professional career. Drafted in the eighth round in 2006 out of the University of California, Berkeley, Craig saw time at shortstop, second and third base in his pro debut that summer. In 2007, he consolidated to third base, but saw time at first base as well. He carried both of those over into 2008, but also added 17 games in left field to the mix. In 2009, he made his Triple-A debut and for the first time his primary position was left field rather than third, though he saw time at all four corner spots. In 2010, the Cardinals could no longer deny his bat — his wOBA’s from stop to stop from 2007-2009 read .400, .450, .386 and .400 — and he made the Opening Day roster. But after garnering only 20 plate appearances in the RedBirds’ first 17 games — all as an outfielder or pinch-hitter — he was sent back to Memphis. There, for the first time ever, he didn’t play even one inning at third base, though his blurb in this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook said he was still taking grounders at third. This year, the experimentation continued, as Craig was thrown back into the keystone mix. He started once at second in Memphis, and started eight times at second for the big Birds in May. Ultimately, he moved back to the outfield, spelling Berkman, Holliday and Jon Jay during the second half.

The lack of a true position has conspired to turn Craig into a late bloomer. But blooming he is. He sowed the seeds in the second half last year, as he put up a respectable but not flashy .284/.330/.484 in 103 plate appearances. The total was low, because while he started 24 games, he only finished seven of them, as the ever-tinkering Tony La Russa was nearly always on hand with a defensive replacement. This season, that ratio more or less persisted, as Craig finished only 20 of the 62 games he started. But he keeps turning up in the lineup, and his bat is why.

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Jeremy Hellickson: Strikeouts Cometh

Join me! The rabbit hole is suspiciously warm.

The Tampa Bay Rays are now down 1-2 in the ALDS, placing their hopes for a Rangers rout on the shoulders of rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. The so-called Hellboy takes the mound at 2:07 p.m. ET today, facing Rangers lefty Matt Harrison.

The match-up, to say the least, favors the Rangers. Not only does Harrison have the edge in FIP (3.52), xFIP (3.85), and SIERA (3.94), he has the added bonus of a seemingly normal BABIP (.290) and LOB% (72.3%). Hellickson has only an ERA edge (2.95); the rest suggests impending doom: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.63 SIERA, .223 BABIP, and 82.0% LOB%.

Well, Hellickson does have at least one major thing going for him: A serious and unusual strikeout regression.
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NPB Stats: Looking for Japan’s Next Great Import

The MLB season is drawing to a close, which means it’s about time for rampant speculation about next year’s free agents. One of my favorite off-season storylines is that of the east Asian baseball markets both giving and absorbing talent.

This past off season, we witnessed the likes of Chad Tracy, Wladimir Balentien, and Micah Hoffpauer head west to the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league while Japan sent Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Ryan Vogelsong Minnesota and California’s way.

Let’s look at the present NPB league statistics, so we can start writing our wishlists and dreaming about next year’s rosters.

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ISO Risers and Droppers

Every season some players have a power breakout (Granderson) or meltdown (Dunn). I decided to look at the players with the highest and lowest ISO increases this season and the reasons behind the changes for a few of the players.

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Stephen Strasburg Returns: A Pitch FX Review

Tonight, Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery to make his season debut for the Nationals. Here is a look at his Pitch FX speeds from tonight compared to one of his starts from last season. Read the rest of this entry »

Starlin Castro Shining Bright

It’s funny how quickly we – and by we, I mean us fans – can shift our attention from one top prospect to the next. I like to call this phenomenon the “Shiny New Toy Syndrome”, as we become enamored with the Next Big Thing coming up from the minors and slowly forget the prospects we were falling for a week earlier. Prospects are showered with attention when they reach the majors and their performance is analyzed from 10 different angles. But once those players become established, they fall off the radar — and our attention shifts to the next big prospect. In many ways, prospects are like Christmas presents: anticipation builds until Christmas morning arrives; but within two weeks, the presents are forgotten and tossed in the toy bucket with everything else.

While Michael Pineda is currently dominating the prospect chatter, I want to shift our attention back to a top prospect who made his debut a little less than a year ago: Starlin Castro.

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For Once, Fortune Smiles on Cleveland

Cleveland fans have a rough life. It seems like all their sports success is tainted with pain: the Cavs were good in the 2000s, but then LeBron James dissed them on national television; the Browns were good in the 1980s, but they consistently lost in heart-breaking fashion in the playoffs and have only had three winning seasons since; and the Indians were great in the late 1990s, but haven’t won a World Series since 1948. There are many markets in the running for the title of “most miserable fans,” and while I won’t go so far as to crown a winner, I think Cleveland has a case to be considered among the best (worst?) of them.

So it should come as no surprise that after the Indians’ hot start, which has included an eight-game winning streak and a sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home, some Cleveland fans are already talking about being buyers at the trade deadline and making a run for the playoffs. While obviously it’s waaay too early in the season to be making such pronouncements, is there reason for hope in Cleveland this season?

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Evan Meek’s Maturation

Since the Minnesota Twins signed him for $180,000 as a product of the now defunct draft-and-follow system back in 2002, Evan Meek has both tantalized and frustrated his employers. But now, with his fourth organization, Meek may soon inherit a prominent role in the ‘pen.

A stocky 6-0, 220 pound right-hander known for touching the mid-90’s with his fastball, Meek was nevertheless released by the Twins in 2005 after he walked 36 batters in 18 innings in the Low-A Midwest League. The San Diego Padres picked up the Bellevue (Wash.) Community College product, stuck him in the starting rotation and watched him whiff (8.7 K/9) and walk (4.8 BB/9) the yard in the High-A California League in 2006. In August of ’06, Tampa Bay acquired Meek as the PTBNL in a deal for Russell Branyan. Shifted to relief in 2007, he punched out 9.3 batters per nine frames in the Double-A Southern League, but walked 4.6 per nine as well.

Tampa didn’t place Meek on the 40-man roster after the season, leaving him subject to the Rule V Draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates, impressed with Meek’s work in the Arizona Fall League, snagged him with the second overall pick in the Rule V proceedings.

For the first month of the 2008 season, Meek flailed to the tune of seven K’s, 12 walks and three wild pitches in 13 innings for Pittsburgh. He was behind in the count before you could say “Marmol”–Meek’s first pitch strike percentage was 44.3, compared to the 58 percent major league average.

Still, the Pirates were intrigued enough to work out a trade with the Rays so that Meek could be sent down to the minors. In 57.1 combined frames between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, he punched out eight hitters per nine innings and induced a ground ball 60 percent of the time. Most importantly, Meek issued just 2.7 walks per nine innings.

Last season, Meek began the year back at Indy but got the big league call in late April. When he took the mound, the outcome of the game was already largely determined–Meek’s Leverage Index was 0.63, lowest among regular Pirates relievers. Showcasing 93 MPH heat, a hard 90 MPH cutter and low-80’s breaking stuff, Meek had 8.04 K/9 in 47 IP, burning worms at a 52.1% rate. But alas, control remained elusive. He walked 5.55 per nine frames, posting a 4.18 expected FIP (xFIP). A left oblique strain shut Meek down in mid-August.

In 2010, the 27-year-old has been a revelation. Sure, he has been lucky to post a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings pitched–he’s eventually going to surrender a home run, and he isn’t likely to strand 85.2 percent of base runners all season. But Meek has legitimately been one of the best ‘pen arms in the majors. With his fastball up a tick in velocity, he has 9.35 K/9, 2.42 BB/9 and a 52.2 GB%, owning a 2.83 xFIP that ranks within shouting distance of San Francisco’s Brian Wilson (2.77 xFIP) and Kansas City’s Joakim Soria (2.71 xFIP). That’s not to suggest that he’s suddenly on the same plane as the Giants’ mohawked stopper or the Mexicutioner, but Meek is pitching marvelously.

While he’s doing a slightly better job of locating this season, raising his percentage of pitches within the strike zone from 51.9 percent in ’09 to 53.1 percent in 2010, the big difference is that Meek is getting batters to chase his stuff off the plate for the first time. As a Rule V selection, Meek garnered outside swings just 13.2 percent of the time. Last year, his O-Swing was still below average, at 22.1 percent. But in 2010, he’s getting hitters to hack at 28.2 percent of his out-of-zone offerings.

As Meek continues to mow down hitters, he’s earning the trust of Pirates manager John Russell. In April, Meek’s Leverage Index was a custodian-level 0.66. But in May, his 1.66 LI trails only closer Octavio Dotel. He’s also being deployed often for multi-inning stints, with seven of his 19 appearances lasting a full two frames. It took a while, but Pittsburgh’s patience with Meek is paying dividends.

Brett Cecil Shows Flash of Perfection

It hasn’t been a great season for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the club keeps tantalizing fans with glimpses of the future promise. Sophomore southpaw Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning last night against the Cleveland Indians. It was the fourth time this season (in 27 games) that a Toronto starter has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a game; Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Cecil have all flirted with brilliance this season, and Marcum is the oldest of the quartet at 28.

For Cecil, the perfect game ended in the seventh inning with one out. He experienced a rare lack of control and walked both Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. He then retired Austin Kearns before giving up a single into left field off the bat of veteran Jhonny Peralta.

In just his third MLB start of the year, Cecil pitched eight innings, allowed one hit, walked two batters and struck out 10, which was a career high (in 21 MLB appearances). He mixed his four-pitch repertoire effectively and dials his fastball up to 93 mph, when needed.

On the season, he has positive pitch-type values on his slider, change-up, and curveball. He’s struggled with his fastball command in his previous two starts but it was much better on Monday night. The lefty struck out batters with the fastball (four), change-up (three), and slider (three). Veteran catcher John Buck was impressed with Cecil’s performance.

“The operative word here is ‘pitched,'” Buck said to “He was locating his fastball in and out. He was aggressive with a whole array of pitches, and makes it tough for hitters to sit on one pitch or on one location. He’s able to spread the plate.”

The 23-year-old pitcher was rushed to the Majors in ’09 when injuries depleted the Jays’ starting rotation and minor league depth. He made 17 starts and posted a 4.68 xFIP in 93.1 innings. Cecil was sent to triple-A to begin the 2010 season after he was slowed by a cut on his throwing hand in spring training.

An injury to veteran Brian Tallet brought him back up to the Majors in late April. Through three starts, he has a 3.30 xFIP, as well as a walk rate of 1.74 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.15 K/9. His MLB numbers don’t agree right now but Cecil is a solid ground-ball pitcher with a worm-burning rate in the minors just shy of 60%. Last night, he induced nine ground-ball outs compared to four fly-ball outs.

Perhaps due, in part, to his late start to the season, Cecil has tired early in games. According to the Sportsnet broadcast last night, he has allowed a .118 batting average during his first 75 pitches in each of his three starts but an average of more than .500 from pitch 76 and upward.

Cecil was a supplemental first round selection (38th overall) during the 2007 draft. The left-hander was a closer at the University of Maryland before he was moved to the starting rotation by the Jays organization. The club has also had success with converting college closers David Bush (now with Milwaukee) of Wake Forest University and Marcum of Southwest Missouri State U.

One thing Cecil might want to watch in future starts, though, is his work from the stretch. He pitched out of the stretch just once in the game – during the seventh inning – and his pitching grips were fully visible in his glove, which was open to the base runner at second base.

FanGraphs Scouting: Ian Kennedy

Yeah, it’s only been one start, but I want to talk up Ian Kennedy… something I’ve actually been doing since he was traded from the New York Yankees to the Arizona Diamondbacks this past off-season.

The right-handed Kennedy made his National League debut on Wednesday night against the San Diego Padres in Arizona. He gave up three runs (all in the second inning on a three-run homer to Scott Hairston) and six hits but showed big-league stuff by striking out eight batters. The key for Kennedy is clear: command the fastball. With a fastball in the 86-91 mph range, it sat right around 87-89 mph on Wednesday night. The majority of his eight strikeouts came on change-ups (four), followed by fastballs (three) and a curveball (one). This is encouraging because it shows that Kennedy had two out-pitches going on the night, which will really help him given his average fastball velocity.

The bulk of his six hits allowed came on the fastball (four). Kennedy has thrown a slider in the past but I did not see much of one against the Padres; he utilized a fourth pitch, but it looked to be more of a cutter, which caused a number of lazy fly balls. In this game, his control looked better than his command and he was consistently around the strike zone.

There are certainly some things to work on for his next start, which will likely come against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ powerful, yet youthful, lineup. Along with improving his fastball command, it would be nice to see Kennedy induce some more ground balls, and also be more economical with his pitches; He had thrown 82 (68% for strikes) after just four innings and finished with 94 pitches thrown. Fittingly, his final out of the game came on a strikeout of another promising, young player in Kyle Blanks.

Kennedy was removed for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning with the D-Backs trailing 3-1 in the game. It turned out to be a smart move, as pinch-hitter Rusty Ryal singled for Kennedy and later scored in the inning. The D-Backs tied the game up in the fifth and stormed back to win the game 5-3. FYI: Ryal hit was an opposite-field single, and the rookie had an impressive pinch-hit at-bat.