Archive for February, 2014

Comparing the Captain: Jeter vs. Trammell

On Wednesday, February 12th, Derek Jeter announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2014 season. This has taken over baseball headlines, and rightfully so. Jeter, a lifetime New York Yankee, is their captain and has been their starting shortstop since 1996. He is a 13 time All Star, 5 time Silver Slugger award winner, 5 time Gold Glove winner, and a 5 time World Series champion. On top of all that, Jeter has long been considered one of the true class acts of the game. In 2020 when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he will almost certainly be elected to it with close to a unanimous vote. Derek Jeter’s playing career was nothing short of spectacular.

On the other side of the comparison we have Alan Trammell, who played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. Manning shortstop from 1977 to 1996, Trammell is a 6 time All Star, a 4 time Gold Glove winner, a 3 time Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. He is not in the Hall of Fame and is barely holding onto a spot on the ballot. His career was also spectacular.

When you compare the accolades that each earned, Jeter easily beats out Trammell. Funny thing about all of those awards mentioned above is that they are either voted on by a committee or earned with 24 other guys on the roster. The only way to truly compare their careers is to delve into their individual advanced statistics, so let’s do exactly that!

Let’s start with with the offensive side of the stats. Through 11,986 plate appearances, Derek Jeter has a career OPS of .828, a wOBA of .365, and an average wRC+ of 121. Jeter is also a member of the 3,000 hit club. In 9,375 career plate appearances, Tram has an OPS of .767, a wOBA of .343, and an average wRC+ of 111. Alan Trammell does not have 3,000 hits, coming up short with 2,365.

Shortstops are generally considered to have the least amount of offensive production among position players. Based off of the numbers from Scoresheetwiz, the average shortstop OPS is around .749. According to FanGraphs, in 2011 the average wOBA for shortstops was .303. The average wRC+ for shortstops during Trammell’s career fluctuated between 68 and 93, and 80 and 97 during Jeter’s career according to SABR. Among shortstops, all of Jeter and Trammell’s numbers are considered well above average, but the Captain clearly has the edge.

For Hall of Fame shortstops, both of their numbers stack up quite well. Among Hall of Famers, OPS fluctuates between .653 and .859, wOBA between .296 and .409, and wRC+ between 83 and 147. Jeter will be near the top in all three of those hitting categories when he enters the Hall, while Trammell would be more towards the lower middle. Needless to say, both have earned their spots among the all time greats based off of their performances at the plate.

Comparing Derek Jeter’s defense to Alan Trammell’s is where this article gets tricky. Defensive metrics have come a long way since Trammell’s day. Today, sabermatricians use advanced metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR). I’ll mention Jeter’s UZR, but I won’t use it to compare him to Trammell. The statistic I will use, which is widely considered to be the most accurate way of measuring defensive ability from 1954-2001, is Total Zone (TZ).

Alan Trammell’s TZ for his entire career at shortstop was 80, while Derek Jeter’s is -129. Total Zone isn’t as accurate as a defensive metric such as UZR, but when you have a 209 run difference, I think it’s fairly easy to distinguish the better fielder. Trammell only had a negative TZ in 5 seasons out of his 20. The only years that Jeter posted a positive TZ rating were 98′, 04′, and 09′.

The metric that I used to compare both of these players to other Hall of Famers was Defensive WAR. The lowest career Def in the Hall of Fame is 27.3, held by Robin Yount. The high Def is 375.3, which is from Ozzie Smith. Alan Trammell would actually be tied with Honus Wagner for 13th on the list of Def with 184.4, while Derek Jeter would be in last place with a Def of -25.7.

I am well aware of some of the seemingly spectacular plays that Derek Jeter made in the field. Unlike Trammell, I grew up watching Jeter. Yes, Jeter made some eye popping plays throughout his career, but people fail to acknowledge that there were numerous plays that he didn’t make. Judging by Jeter’s UZR, he cost the Yankees -67.8 runs throughout the more recent bulk of his career. He may have made some big plays along the way that will be remembered, but he cost the Yankees way more runs that theoretically could have made it so the big plays weren’t even necessary.

Bottom line, Alan Trammell was a much better defensive shortstop than Derek Jeter despite having fewer Gold Glove awards. Judging by Jeter’s advanced metrics, he really wasn’t that good of a fielder at all.

Total Value
Oh no, this is where I bring out that WAR mumbo jumbo. If you’ve read anything from me before, you probably know that I am an advocate of using Wins Above Replacement to analyze a player’s total value. While it shouldn’t be the end all, be all statistic, it is great to use when comparing two players’ total contributions on the field.

Derek Jeter has a career WAR of 73.7, and Alan Trammell has a career WAR of 63.7. Despite Jeter’s poor defense throughout his career, he hit well enough to still prove more valuable than Trammell. I think that’s a testament to how truly great of a hitter Jeter was. When compared to other Hall of Famers, both WARs fit in nicely. Honus Wagner holds a large lead for WAR at 138.1, while John Ward is in last with a 39.8 WAR. When Jeter enters the Hall, he will be 4th on the list, and if Tram was in the Hall, he would be 11th.

Overall, Derek Jeter had a better career than Alan Trammell, but both are much deserving of spots in the Hall of Fame. To almost any baseball fan, Jeter is considered a first ballot Hall of Famer. Why then, is Allan Trammell being completely overlooked? The voters in the BBWAA need to sit down and reexamine Trammell’s career. Trammell didn’t have the New York media following that Jeter has gotten to experience throughout his legendary career, but media coverage shouldn’t be what decides who goes into the Hall and who doesn’t. Allan Trammell deserves justice, and when you compare his numbers to the greatest players to ever play his position, you will see that he ranks right up there with them.

2014 Detroit Tigers

Who is Nick Castellanos?

The Detroit Tigers made some serious adjustments to a team that was in the World Series in 2012 and on the verge of the World Series in 2013. Each of those will be analyzed below, but first it is important to look at what the Tigers did add this season in the way of Nick Castellanos. The first round pick for the Tigers in 2010 has progressed very rapidly through the minors and the soon to be 22 year old was already planned to be a part of the major league roster for the Tigers in 2014, but the transactions of the offseason accelerated the game plan for Castellanos with the Tigers.

The original plan for Castellanos was for him to make the team and potentially play left field, rather than third base which is his position of choice where he is a pretty good fielder; blocked by two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera at third base with Prince Fielder at first. The lack of potential for the future of Fielder sent him to Texas, Cabrera to first, and now the Tigers are ready to see if Castellanos is worth the lofty prospect rankings and the potential future at third.

So what can the Tigers get from Castellanos? First off, they get a much better defensive third baseman. Now the Tigers will not be getting the next Brooks Robinson at third, but his above average arm and range is a marked improvement over Miguel Cabrera’s balky third base defense over the past two seasons. In fact, Cabrera is a somewhat decent first baseman and that will help the Tigers as well. The real calling card for Castellanos, though, is his hitting. It would be foolish to believe that Castellanos will be as good in 2014 or even 2015 as Fielder is at the plate, but the upside is absolutely there and the Tigers are wise to look into it.

During the 2012 season, Castellanos had a fantastic statistical season at High-A Lakeland but he had a lot of hidden statistics that may have shown that it was a bit of a fluke, chiefly that a lot of his stats went down while in Double-A Erie and that his BABIP was absolutely ridiculously high (.486). Although his numbers plateaued a bit in Triple-A Toledo in 2013, when combined with his numbers in Erie in 2012, he showed that the double power that he had in Lakeland could translate to home runs, as he hit 18 last year. Also, he bettered his strikeout and walk rates from High-A while rising his isolated power. The difference between the .405 average in Florida and the .276 average in Ohio was the BABIP, which was at .307 last year.

The easiest conclusion to derive from this data is that Castellanos may be a bit dependent on BABIP to be an elite hitter, but the Tigers have to like a hitter than has been in the 35 double, 15 home run range in the minors over the past two years. As he continues to lower his strikeout rate, Castellanos should be able to be trusted in the Tigers lineup as a .280-.290 hitter that frequently challenges for the doubles crown in the AL and gives the Tigers a solid middle of the order contributor. For the 2014 season, he will be one of the key competitors for the Rookie of the Year title.

When will the Tigers realize that they made a mistake in trading Doug Fister?

The Tigers had a very solid rotation last year that could lead the team into 2014 and the future when they decided to make a the second of their major moves, trading Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals. Before we can analyze what the Tigers have lost, we must look at who they are going to fill the void left by Fister with. Drew Smyly was a starter in the major leagues and came up with the Tigers in 2012 as a starter as well and he actually did a pretty good job as a starter in the 18 starts that he had. The Tigers were a competing team, though, and the team added Anibal Sanchez to the rotation, put Smyly in the bullpen and he led the team to the World Series as a shut down lefty out of the bullpen. His versatility was huge for the team and could have continued to be a great tool for the team going into the future, but the team decided that there was more value out of Smyly than that of a late inning reliever and a swing man starter.

The Tigers found a better use for Smyly in the rotation and added a couple more prospects in trading Doug Fister to the Nationals. Fister was a price controlled innings eater with a fantastic ground ball rate that would have played up more with the much improved infield defense. He was arbitration eligible in 2015 but for a 30 year old pitcher that stood to make $7.2 million, the Tigers would have gotten a lot of production out of Fister for a very respectable price in 2014.

What the Tigers got in the trade will make the difference. The Tigers traded for flexibility and a change of pace. Steve Lombardozzi may not be a great player, but he can play all over the infield and outfield, is young, and is a cheap movable piece if need be. Every winning team has a super utility player that can fill in the gaps that occur throughout the season; Lomardozzi may not be a big contributor with his bat or glove during the 2014 season, but his ability to play almost anywhere on the diamond will allow other players to take a night off and keep them fresh. Ian Krol will now fill the role that Drew Smyly once had in the bullpen, albeit without the ability that Smyly has. Krol was solid in his first 9 appearances of his big league career with the Nationals, only allowing 3 hits and striking out 12, but once the league had seen him a bit his final appearances drove his ERA up to 3.95. He can also provide length, as he was a starter in the minors, so yet again the Tigers opted for versatility rather than filling a void.

The crown jewel of the trade was Robbie Ray, a top 10 left handed prospect in baseball. After a rough go at the Carolina League with High-A Potomac in 2012, Ray righted the ship in between Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg this past year, lowering his ERA back into the mid-3 range while boosting his strikeout rate in Potomac. There was a bit of a dip in strikeout rate and a slight uptick in ERA while in Harrisburg, but he lowered his walk rate, a good sign for a pitcher with a walk rate in the 4’s. He could join the Tigers during this season if needed, but he is a good insurance policy for the future.

This is where it gets a bit curious for the Tigers; it is a bad omen for the future of Rick Porcello in Detroit, that’s obvious, but what if this means that the Tigers do not feel good about signing Max Scherzer? The Tigers would have been in a good place in 2014 as they were constituted before the trades of Fielder and Fister, but the Tigers may be scared for the future. The trade of Fielder will be dissected below, but the trade of Fister was really just a way for the Tigers to have insurance for if they lose one of their aces. The Tigers would prefer a rotation that includes both Scherzer and Ray in the future, but the lack of high level minor league pitching talent made it necessary to get a young arm for Fister this offseason before they were left trying to pick up the pieces in the future. Yes, Scherzer is not a free agent until 2015 and the Tigers may have been able to win a World Series with Fister in tow this season, but the Tigers needed to get something for the future and Robbie Ray could be a very solid pitcher.

The important thing for the Tigers to do this season is to not get caught up in the potential success of Fister, but rather remember the larger plan. To sufficiently analyze this trade, we need to look at the future. This trade was a shrewd decision by the Tigers to create a bit more viability for the future and a rotation with Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Smyly, and Ray in 2016 would be outstanding. In 2014, the Tigers are relying on their other advantages (lineup, top 3 pitchers in the rotation) and hoping that the playoffs would be a certainty even without Fister. This is risky business, but if it works out, the Tigers could be very happy with this trade.

How will Brad Ausmus impact the 2014 Tigers?

Amongst all of the the changes that the Tigers made, the most interesting one may be is that they no longer have the steady hand of Jim Leyland and now have Brad Ausmus at the helm. Conventional wisdom in baseball is that former catchers may extremely good managers and throughout his career, Brad Ausmus was the type of catcher that was a game manager and was very cognitive in the way he called a game. This cognitive approach will be brought on to the Tigers and it may be considerable addition to the team.

The Tigers as a team may be moving in a different direction all together, as they had previously been a slow, clunky power hitting team. When you look down the lineup and see Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Austin Jackson, and Andy Dirks or Rajai Davis, you see guys that are not prototypical power hitters, but rather hitters that can affect the game on the bases and with small ball. Brad Ausmus may be able to help change the team for the better and make them more pliable in the future. Ausmus was seen as an elite catcher in intellect and in playing small and he will be able to bring that to the Tigers.

Where this is made even better is that there is the MVP of baseball in Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the lineup. Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter must buy into Ausmus’ philosophies in front of Cabrera and there may be even more opportunities for run production in the lineup. The analysis of the Tigers has looked into a lot of the trades that the Tigers have made and each of the two trades made by the team, as well as the signing of Rajai Davis, were to cater to Ausmus’ style. Defense and base running will be more important and the a utility player like Steve Lomardozzi should also open up opportunities for Ausmus to use his bench more often. This team will look a lot different during the 2014 season and if they are able to adhere to the new philosophies of Ausmus it will continue to breed success in Detroit.

What were the Tigers thinking when they traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler?

In 2012, the Tigers made a bold move, signing Prince Fielder for $200+ million with the vision of making a playoff team even better. A World Series appearance and ALCS appearance later, Fielder’s lack of production led the team to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. It is critical to look first at what the Tigers traded. Prince Fielder is a monster of a man and his power numbers and durability were the key reasons that the Tigers were ready to ink him to the $214 million, 9 year contract that they signed him to right before Spring Training 2012. His two seasons in Detroit were insignificant if not unspectacular. Both years he played 162 games and knocked in over 100 runs, but the 50 home run seasons looked very much a thing of the past, as he hit 30 home runs in 2012 and only 25 in 2013.

In 2012, Fielder was a .300 hitter for the first time and did have more walks than strikeouts, but after a bad year at the plate, a lack of power, and continued poor defensive play, the Tigers cashed in their chips with Fielder and walked away from the table. Most of Fielder’s contract will be covered by the Rangers and the power alleys at the Ballpark in Arlington should help Fielder greatly. As for what the Tigers got in return for Fielder, Ian Kinsler, albeit a great player in his own right, might not even be the best asset received in the trade. As alluded to earlier in the Fister and Ausmus pieces, the Tigers are all about flexibility this year; this trait will also be held by the front office. Joe Nathan may have been a bit of a luxury grab for the team, even though the Tigers desperately needed a closer and their bullpen is a bit of a mess, but other than that the Tigers wanted to be able to keep the team that they have.

Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are locked up and the Tigers wanted to be able to do the same with Max Scherzer, something that could only happen with a trade of Prince Fielder. Internally, and wisely at that, the Tigers decided that keeping Scherzer was more important than keeping Fielder so they moved Fielder. If financial flexibility were the only thing that the Tigers got in the trade, that would have been a win. The fact that they were also able to get an All-Star at a premium position is even better. Ian Kinsler may be a very streaky hitter and may not have that high of an average for a hitter at the top of the lineup, but he does bring a power-speed combination to a position that normally does not produce power. A two-time 30 home run/30 steal player, Kinsler will bring a different element to the Tigers from the top of the lineup.

The Tigers should be excited to have a versatile power hitter at the top of the lineup. Over the past five years, he has been above a league average power hitter and has had nearly as many walks as strikeouts a season. Kinsler may be a bit of a downgrade on Fielder, but when you evaluate the fact that the Tigers were able to get Fielder’s massive contract off of the books, the Tigers have to be happy with the trade.

Why are the Tigers going to win 89 games?

The lineup is not very deep other than Miguel Cabrera and the bullpen is not very deep other than Joe Nathan. It is as simple as this. If Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon can play big parts in their new respective roles and if the Tigers make me VERY wrong and come out ok in the Kinsler-Fielder trade, then this is a team well on its way to 95 wins. At this point in time, those are huge ifs, so much so that huge expectations for the 2014 Tigers should be tempered.

This is not reason to fear for the future of the Tigers. As this preview has gone over many times, the Tigers made some serious organizational moves this year and there will be some growing pains. This is the type of team that just needs to make it to the playoffs, where in a short series the strength of the upper third of the rotation and the antics of Miguel Cabrera can make them extremely dangerous.

This is a team that needed to prepare itself for the future rather than win 100 games in 2014 and then hope that everything would be ok. Doug Fister would have been a free agent right after Scherzer and if he continued to pitch well, he would have asked for big time money, especially if the Tigers had paid Scherzer nine figures in 2015. Prince Fielder was also an albatross of a contract and the Tigers needed to dump that to correctly function. These were the fact of business and the Tigers may have set themselves up better for the future with the trades that they made, even if it hurts the 2014 season.

5 You Know:

1. Miguel Cabrera

2. Justin Verlander

3. Prince Fielder

4. Torii Hunter

5. Victor Martinez


5 You Will Know:

1. Bruce Rondon

2. Nick Castellanos

3. Drew Smyly

4. James McCann

5. Corey Knebel


5 You Should Remember:

1. Jake Thompson

2. Jonathan Crawford

3. Robbie Ray

4. Devon Travis

5. Steven Moya

Better Stat Awareness Through Acronyms

Advanced statistics in baseball have an image problem. A romance problem, if you will. Specifically: the idea of a grizzled scout looking out onto the battlefield and seeing the kind of gritty player who wins ballgames, well, that has romance. A dude plugging wOBA and wRC+ into a spreadsheet? In the words of ESPN, “We’re all gonna go dateless!

A point must be made: the opacity of the acronyms themselves is a major factor in the perceived complexity of the statistics. Imagine integrating them into regular conversations, if you don’t already do so (and still have friends). “He’s above average as a hitter. You can tell from his double-you are see plus.” “Whoa, dude, that sounds too damn complicated.” “The guy’s got terrible range at shortstop, though. That’s why he can make highlight-reel plays with a terrible UZR.” “Oozer? I hardly know ‘er!” And so forth.

We statheads, cocooning ourselves in things like RA-9 WAR and expecting our friends to catch up, might make it easier on them by explaining what we measure in plain English. There are FanGraphs writers who are very good at this; it’s why they get paid money for what they do. Some other folks need a little help.

My modest proposal is to revise the acronyms we use to signify some of our favorite statistics. With a little luck, a little savvy, and a medium-height English literature graduate, we can create new terms which both summarize the needed statistic and are catchy to say aloud. For example:

isolated power (ISO). ISO is used to show a hitter’s raw power. Batting average is hits divided by chances for hits; ISO is extra bases taken divided by chances for hits. And we can make that even more clear by calling it Hitting Ultra Long, Knowledgeable Statistic Measuring Ability to Stroke Homers (HULKSMASH).

EXAMPLE: “Jose Bautista was a pretty unremarkable hitter for most of his career, until September 2009, when he came out of nowhere with an amazing HULKSMASH.”

weighted runs created plus (wRC+). What lies behind this dorky name? Well, we first measure roughly how many runs a player creates with his bat, using hits, walks, and so on. Then we create a putative average and set that at 100. Then everything’s scaled so that, for instance, 120 means you’re 20% better and 5 means you’re 95% worse than average.

Wouldn’t it be useful if the name wRC+ explained itself in plain English? For instance, we might explain that we’re comparing runs added by a player to a putative average. In other words, Comparing Runs Added to Putative Mean of All Players (CRAPMAP).

EXAMPLE: “The New York Mets lineup is all over the CRAPMAP. Last year David Wright’s CRAPMAP coordinate was 155 but Kirk Nieuwenhuis was way down at 72.”

In light of the negative connotation of “crap,” we might consider reversing the scale so that higher numbers mean more crappiness.

ultimate zone rating (UZR). This measures how good you are at defense, but I don’t know how it works. The proposed replacement acronym reflects this central mystery, but it also describes the statistic much better than UZR, which for all I know could measure how “in the zone” somebody is. Let’s change it to Fielding: Official Numerical Descriptive Utility of Excellence (FONDUE).

EXAMPLE: “Last year, with all his throwing issues, Ryan Zimmerman was one of the worst defenders in baseball as measured by FONDUE.”

baserunning (BsR). Okay, this one’s pretty simple, so simple I don’t even know why we gave it such a silly abbreviation. Was BSR taken? Or just BR? Anyway, we don’t need to worry about it anymore, because now we’re checking on Hitters Effectively Running Bases, Assessed Logically (HERBAL).

EXAMPLE: “The Colorado Rockies are hoping that outfielder Charlie Blackmon will supply them with a lot of HERBAL this year.”

batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Simple, you think. But more descriptive yet is Batting Average Regarding Fair Contact Only if Playable (BARFCOP).

EXAMPLE: “I don’t think he can sustain that success going forward. No hitter, no matter how good, can escape the consequences of having such an erratic BARFCOP.”

weighted on-base average (wOBA). First of all, what’s with the lowercase W? Is wOBA the iPad of stats? Second, this is another term whose meaning is unclear. We could explain to readers that wOBA weighs various outcomes (single vs. home run) and makes the more important outcomes a more important part of the equation.

Or we could go with the coolest acronym and call it Weighted Hitting Assessment Measuring Meaningful Outcomes (WHAMMO).

EXAMPLE: “Joey Votto is a great guy. He’s always going to have his WHAMMO sitting among the very best.”

And finally, the most important stat of all:

wins above replacement (WAR) or victories over replacement player (VORP). To the average baseball fan, WAR is a bit of a nebulous concept. “Mike Trout is worth ten wins.” “Uh, whaddya mean?” Now, if you explain it for twenty more seconds, they’ll understand just fine. But wouldn’t you rather we had something everyone can understand and get behind? Wouldn’t you rather have it that nobody would dare speak an ill word about WAR?

Well, that’s possible. We just call it Baseball Excellence Exceeding Replacements (BEER). Same concept. Same math. Same powerful analysis. Just measured in BEER.

“Well, it’s like this. Imagine if the average AAA guy was worth zero BEERs, and the average major leaguer was worth, say, two BEERs.”
“Mike Trout is worth ten BEERs.”
“I’ll be damned.”

Before you know it, everyone in baseball will be talking the language of statistical analysis. And we won’t all be going dateless. We’re the ones with the BEER.

2014 Toronto Blue Jays

Who else will give stability in the rotation other than RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle?
The Blue Jays had a lot of issues last year — many of them stemming from the lack of consistent pitching. The aforementioned Dickey and Buerhle were supposed to be joined in the rotation by Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow to make a very formidable quartet; unfortunately this was not the case, as Johnson and Morrow combined to make 26 unsuccessful starts for the 2012 Jays. This is probably where one could start when trying to see why the Jays only won 74 games. Even though Dickey and Buehrle were both reliable options for the Jays in 2013, they were not the picture of consistency and were not the true aces that would be needed to get through the logjam that is the AL East.

With Johnson now gone for San Diego, the Jays have to figure out who is going to hold the middle of the rotation. Brandon Morrow is a very talented pitcher, but health and inconsistency have hurt his assent to being a good pitcher. A former top 5 pick out of Cal by the Mariners, Morrow has seen his K rate diminish from almost 11 to 7 per 9 innings in his 4 years with the Jays. During the 2012 wherein Morrow had a sub-3 ERA, his K rate was a bit under 8, but he also focused heavily on his ground ball rate and, quite frankly, was a bit more lucky with his BABIP. 2013 was a lost season for Morrow in many ways and for the Jays to be competitive at all during the 2014 season, Morrow needs to give the Jays more stability for the team to be successful.

In fact, considering that Buehrle is more of a work horse than a staff ace and that Dickey is both getting older and loses a bit from his knuckle ball when he is inside of a dome, Morrow may need to be relied upon to be the top pitcher for a winning Jays team. Considering that during his 4 years in Toronto Morrow has only averaged 19 games started, this is would be seen as a reach for even the most optimistic Jays fan.

As for the back end of the rotation, both JA Happ and Kyle Drabek, the projected 4 and 5 starters, have shown spurts of success in the big leagues, but neither are the answer for the Jays. Happ would fit very well in a rotation with pitchers that have pedigree and not in one where he is relied upon heavily, although some in depth analysis of Happ shows promise. He strikes out enough of hitters and is able to pitch himself out of bad situations. On the other hand, Kyle Drabek has been a huge disappointment for the Jays since they received him in the Roy Halladay trade from the Phillies. Drabek has regressed since being called up to the majors in 2010 and has seen drastic issues with his control leading to frequent demotions. A positive experience in the minors in 2013, and a severe cut in walk rate while in the minors, has given Drabek another chance in the big leagues, but patience may be wearing thin in Toronto for the 26 year old.

When will Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman be in Toronto to help the team?
The minor league system for the Blue Jays is not very deep, but there are silver linings in that both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are top 100 prospects in baseball and might both be able to help in Toronto this season. Marcus Stroman was taken with the 22nd pick of the 2012 Draft out of Duke and the Jays did not know if he would start or prepare to be the closer of the future for the Jays when the team drafted him and he started his minor league career as a reliever. After a PED suspension, Stroman moved up to AA and moved into the starting role and became a much better pitcher in every statistic.

While with New Hampshire, Stroman solidified himself as a power pitcher with very good control and considering that Stroman was a college pitcher, he is probably not very far from the big leagues. His height at 5’9 may be an issue but with a fastball, cutter/slider, curveball, changeup mix and velocity in the mid-90s, Stroman should not have a problem in the big leagues. If he does not have an issues in AAA, Stroman may even make a very early debut in the majors. There is still a chance that Stroman may break camp on the Jays roster, but that might not be the best of decisions. It is not that his talent should be questioned, in fact he may be a top rookie of the year candidate if he is in the starting five, but the Jays need to see what they have with the pitchers that are already in the projected rotation before they move onto Stroman. If Kyle Drabek is not doing too well or if there is an injury in the rotation or bullpen, the versitility of Stroman would be a huge boost to the team.

In the case of Aaron Sanchez, the 21 year old may need a bit more polish but his upside is much higher than any player in the Jays organization. As with most younger players, Sanchez has had his issues with control, but in his season at High-A Dunedin, he cut his walk rate by one per 9, exhibiting that he has put in the effort to work on his control issues. The Jays would look to get his walk rate into the mid-2s before they see him in the big leagues and he does need to build a bit more command of his pitches, but it would not be farfetched to see Sanchez in the big leagues during the 2015 season. Sean Nolin may also be able to help the Jays from the minors this year as well, but fans of the Jays should look to see both the promising Stroman and Sanchez in the big leagues by 2015.

How can the Blue Jays get the most out of Jose Bautista?
The Blue Jays have two truly elite players on there team, one of which is pretty much a certainty in position in the order and role on the team and the other with the opportunity for versatility that could lead to the team becoming better. Edwin Encarnacion is going to be right in the middle of the lineup and that is a good spot for a player that has developed into a very patient hitter, but, even with the improved approach, he still does not work the count as much. Conversely, Jose Bautista works the count very well and in the five years that he has been with the Jays he has exhibited a proficiency in getting the count in his favor and making the pitchers work. For a team that was middle of the road in on base percentage in 2013, it would be great for the Blue Jays to have a hitter like Bautista to not only work the count but to get on base via walks.

What would be the downside for the Jays is if Bautista loses some of the elite power exhibited throughout his time in Toronto. If Baustista’s focus moves from power statistics to getting on base, this may be a counter-intuitive venture for the team. Although the logic for the Jays to move Bautista to the second spot in the lineup is a sound one, the drop in power may be an issue. When looking at his numbers, there is also a negative trend on his plate discipline and even though this was over a shorter amount of time in the past two seasons because of injury, Bautista might be press a bit too much in the second spot of the lineup and sap the power that he utilized so well.

Essentially this comes down to what the Jays have other than Bautista in the lineup and answering the question of if it better for the team to employ Bautista to drive in runs or for the team to be able to get him on base, and in tandem get the pitchers to have to throw more pitches, and then have enough talent to produce runs from players other than Bautista. This is why guys like Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind need to continue to progress so that the team can thrive. Putting Melky Cabrera or Brett Lawrie ahead of Bautista and Encarnacion in the lineup is not a great idea either, as both hitters are extremely impatient and will not get ahead of the count.

Bautista should be the second hitter in the Jays lineup and be able to maintain his power numbers from the past and the rest of the team should be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by the change in the lineup. Both Bautista and Encarnacion may be able to knock runs in, but it was shown last year that there were not enough opportunities created in front of them to create the big innings that Toronto was looking to capitalize on. With Bautista near the top of the lineup, and with the continued production of Rasmus and Lind, the Jays lineup may be considerably more potent this season.

What will the Blue Jays do about the bullpen?
This may be an odd question considering that the Jays actually had a good bullpen for extended periods of last year. Steve Delabar was an All-Star, Casey Janssen had an ERA in the 2.50s, Brett Cecil was very solid, and Sergio Santos even came off of the DL to look very impressive. So why is there a question about the Jays bullpen?

The issue begins with the fact that the elite relievers in April, May, and June became duds for the remainder of the season. All-Star Delabar and the elite lefty Cecil had ERAs in the 1.50 up until July and, respectively, had a 6.41 and a 5.49 ERA from the month of July on, so the elite relievers from the beginning of the season were not there as the season ended. Even the steady Janssen saw his ERA rise as the season grew longer. Fortunately for the Jays, Sergio Santos was getting healthy at this time and pitching at an elite level so that mitigated some of the issues that the other pitchers were having. Even in the case of Santos, though, there is a long injury history that must be observed before the Jays can rely on him to be a consistent option out of the bullpen.

This question should not only be looked at in a negative light, though. The beginning of this answer should be examined further; the Jays did have a very good bullpen for long stretches throughout the season. The Jays could have a very deep bullpen and they have a huge luxury in their bullpen as well — two left-handed pitchers that they can trust, as Aaron Loup has also been a huge contributor to the Jays cause in the bullpen. Where the Jays’ depth in the bullpen could be useful is if Brett Cecil needs to move back into the rotation for any reason or if any of the younger pitchers discussed earlier would be a part of the bullpen. The Jays have a lot of opportunity to have a truly elite bullpen but they need to make it through an entire season and not tire during the stretch run.

Why are the Blue Jays going to win 81 games?
The Blue Jays will be able to hit the ball and that will make them a tough team to play. There is no way to work around it: any lineup with two hitters that have hit more than 40 home runs in a season, a former batting and steals champion, and a mix of players throughout the lineup that are poised to break out will score a lot of runs. The change in the lineup will also help; with Jose Bautista on base more often and working the pitch totals moreso at the beginning of the lineup, the remainder of the lineup will have greater opportunity to thrive.

The issue is the pitching. The starting pitching is in a rough place right now and, judging by the second half of last season, the bullpen may not be as solid as it looked early in 2013. The 81 wins for the Blue Jays may be very gracious by the end of the season, but there are opportunities that the Jays need to take advantage of. There is the chance that Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman may be all that they are advertised as and they might be able to help the big league team this year. Brandon Morrow’s health is always a question, but if he stays healthy, he will be a great addition to the team. There is no way to say that the team will be 7 wins better than last year, but the injuries did mount up last year and, if the team stays healthy, this year’s team should have a much better outcome.

5 You Know:
1. RA Dickey
2. Jose Bautista
3. Edwin Encarnacion
4. Mark Buehrle
5. Jose Reyes

5 You Will Know:
1. Marcus Stroman
2. Aaron Sanchez
3. Sean Nolin
4. Anthony Gose
5. AJ Jimenez

5 You Should Remember:
1. DJ Davis
2. Daniel Norris
3. Alberto Tirado
4. Roberto Osuna
5. Franklin Barreto

When is 27 Old?

What do Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Jay Bruce, and 12 other players have in common? They will all be in their age 27 season for 2014 and so we should expect that as a group their wOBAs will decline by 3 points on average. That may not sound like a lot, but it is the start of what will likely be the slow, steady offensive decline phase of their careers. Some will defy those odds, but which ones, and what might be signs of imminent decline?

To begin to answer these questions, I examined how hitters’ aging trends would be affected if certain skills did not decline with age. For example, how would a hitter age if his BABIP was consistently league average? I used wOBA as the measure of performance. The two age profiles in Figure 1 show this story. The solid line shows how players typically age, peaking at age 26, and declining steadily from there (see below for technical details on how this figure was constructed). The dashed line draws out a hypothetical age curve that assumes players’ BABIP is constant over time. Because players under age 30 tend to have above average BABIP, the dashed line is below the solid line for these young players. Conversely, older players would benefit from having their actual BABIP replaced by an average BABIP. The overall consequence of adjusting for BABIP is an age profile that is flatter—meaning that the effect of aging on wOBA is reduced.

Figure 1. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for BABIP

Figure 1. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for BABIP

The effect is reduced, but not eliminated. What other skills decline with age and how important are they to the decline in wOBA with age? Although swinging strike percentage, K rate, BB/K, and fly ball percentage all have important relationships with wOBA, these factors have little impact on the aging of wOBA. The wOBA age profile adjusted for these factors in Figure 2 is just slightly flatter than the unadjusted profile. This is because swinging strike percentage and K rate typically peak before age 26 and show little decline with age. To the extent that the adjusted curve in Figure 2 is flatter, trends with age in BB/K are most responsible.

Figure 2. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for Swinging Strike Percentage, K%, BB/K, and Fly Ball Percentage

Figure 2. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for Swinging Strike Percentage, K%, BB/K, and Fly Ball Percentage

Figure 1 demonstrated that BABIP plays an important role in the aging of wOBA. Adding both BABIP and HR/FB skills to the others from Figure 2 explains the entire decline in wOBA after age 26. Indeed, if a player’s BABIP and HR/FB skills (along with the others I’ve mentioned) remained average throughout his career, he would actually show continuous improvement through at least age 30. Figure 3 shows this result. The flatness of the adjusted line indicates that the full set of statistics used in the adjustment does a very good job of accounting for trends in wOBA with age.

Figure 3. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for All of the Above and HR/FB

Figure 3. Change in wOBA Age Profile when Adjusting for All of the Above and HR/FB

So what does this mean for McCutchen and the others in our list? We may learn the most about how they will age based on observing trends in their BABIP and HR/FB rates from here on out. Doing so will be challenging because these are also among the least reliable measures of performance in a single season. Even so, a decline in these skills could indicate substantial performance losses to come. Additionally, players whose value derives from high walk or contact rates may age less precipitously than others.

A productive avenue for future analysis might be to assess whether there is a relationship between the amount of improvement in BABIP or HR/FB skills a player experiences before age 26 and the amount of decline in those skills after age 26. If so, then we might be able to better predict how a player’s offensive skills will age. However, we can learn a lot about averages, and our long-run projection for any particular player’s performance might improve, but it will always remain uncertain.

Technical Details

The age profiles adjust for what is often referred to as survivor bias—the fact that not all of the players in the sample at age 20 are also in the sample at age 35. To do this I used a technique commonly used by economists and others called fixed effects regression (see Jonah Rockoff’s work on changes in teachers’ performance with experience for one example). I run a regression that includes individual player fixed effects, ensuring that the relationship between wOBA and age is calculated using within-player variation in wOBA over time, rather than variation in performance across players. Consequently, the results are not affected by changes in the composition of MLB players by age. To calculate the adjusted profiles, I account for the other statistics as additional controls. Doing so means that when I adjust for BABIP, I am also adjusting for skills that are related to BABIP. Therefore my results do not depend on any particular model of how BABIP is related to performance. The above results are based on the 1,346 players who played in the majors for at least two seasons between 2002 and 2013. An alternative sample that is restricted to just the 304 players who played at least eight seasons during this period produces similar results, although the average wOBA levels are higher and the curves are less precisely estimated.


About the Author: Elias Walsh spends too much of his free time working with baseball data and trying to win his fantasy baseball league (or so his lovely wife informs him). His day job is a research economist at Mathematica Policy Research, where he conducts research to inform education policy decisions.

Top Five Organizations

This is a list of the top five organizations in baseball. The teams and order were determined by the organization’s overall success and how economically they got there.

1) St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are easily the best organization in baseball. They are a model of consistency, as they have made 10 playoff appearances since 2000, including four World Series appearances and two World Series Championships. The Cardinals have been able to have such prolonged success due to their ability to develop their own talent. They have never been constrained by a large contract eating up too much of their salary, and even let Albert Pujols walk rather than commit too much money to one player. 2013 was an excellent example of this club’s ability to develop its own talent, especially pitchers. In 2013, the Redbirds turned to 12 rookie pitchers, who threw a combined 553 2/3 innings with a 3.17 ERA. The organization’s commitment to build through the draft, rather than Free Agency, has contributed to its sustained success and ranking as the top organization in baseball.

2) Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have appeared in the Postseason seven times since 2000. More importantly, they have reached the World Series three times in that span, culminating in three World Series Championships. While the Red Sox have quite a financial advantage over other organizations, the Red Sox have still built up their core through the draft. They have developed their own stars, like Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox farm system is still stocked with talent, including Xander Bogaerts, Henry Owens and Allen Webster. Like the Cardinals, the Red Sox are often able to fill holes with internal candidates, such as Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over for Jacoby Ellsbury. While the Red Sox have had their share of bad contracts, especially Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 Million deal, they are able to survive such poor decisions. In the case of Crawford, the Red Sox pulled off a miracle trade to the Dodgers to dump his salary and still acquire talent in return. As long as the Red Sox continue to focus on developing their own talent, they will hold their position as one of the top organizations in baseball.

3) Tampa Bay Rays

Ever since Stuart Sternberg took over as owner of the Rays in 2006, they have been one of the best-run organizations in baseball. Operating with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, the Rays quickly turned it around under new ownership, as they reach the playoffs and World Series for the first time in the organization’s history in 2008. Since 2008, the Rays have had five seasons of at least 90 wins in six total seasons. Their success, despite being located in one of the smallest markets of any MLB team, can be attributed to their shrewd personnel decisions and reliance on young Major Leaguers under team control. The Rays have not drafted particularly well, since 2007 when they landed David Price and Matt Moore. Despite little success in recent drafts, the Rays have acquired young, controllable talent by trading veteran players, who were nearing Free Agency. The two best examples of this strategy are when the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs and landed Chris Archer, among others, and when the Rays traded James Shields for Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. Their ability to remain competitive, despite being located in one of the smallest markets in baseball, earns them the designation as one of the top organizations in baseball.

4) San Francisco Giants

The Giants are not exactly a model of consistency, as they’ve only made the Postseason five times since 2000, but they have reached the World Series three times in that span, including two Championships since 2010. The Giants have not made the Postseason in consecutive seasons since 2002-2003. However, despite their inconsistencies, the Giants should certainly be commended for their success in the amateur draft. Through the draft, they have built a strong core of talent, including Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner. They have also had a lot of success by acquiring many failed prospects, such as Ryan Vogelsong, Joaquin Arias and Angel Pagan. In order to remain among the top organizations in baseball, the Giants must continue to be successful through the draft and avoid bad contracts like the one they gave to Barry Zito.

5) Oakland Athletics

The A’s are best known as the first team to fully embrace advanced metrics, but also as an organization that has not had much success once it reaches the Postseason. Since 2000, the A’s have reached the Postseason seven times; yet have only reached the ALCS just once. After a five year period between 2007-2011, in which the A’s never reached the Postseason, the A’s have now reached the playoffs for two straight seasons. Much of their recent success has been due to some incredibly savvy trades. This is exemplified by the fact that the Athletics initially acquired 23 of all 44 players that appeared in a game for them last season via trade. The Athletics have never had an advantage financially, as they have always been located among the bottom 3rd of teams in payroll and player in one of the smallest markets in baseball. This fact has forced the Athletics to search for cheap talent through the waiver wire. Also, like the Rays, they have had to trade more expensive players nearing Free Agency in order to supplant their roster with younger and cheaper talent. With one of the best front offices in baseball, the A’s seem poised for sustained success.

Platoon-Split All-Star Team

The 2013 All-Star Game has already been played, and the result was decided. The AL defeated the NL in a 3-0 effort in a game  that was filled with players of all different types. The aging veterans who want a last hurrah. The rising stars who are getting their first taste of what it is like to play among the elite in baseball. The overpaid superstars and the underpaid superstars. However, I thought it would be interesting to assemble an all-star team of players with large platoon split.

Call it an Island of misfit toys or misfit all-stars, if you’re feeling Moneyball-esque.


Vs. RHP Jason Castro: PA’s 380, wOBA .371, wRC+ 137

Vs. LHP Derek Norris: PA’s 173, wOBA .426, wRC+ 177

Combined: PA 553, wOBA .387, wRC+ 149

Castro doesn’t actually lead all catchers against RHP. That honor belongs to Joe Mauer. However, Mauer ranks within the top three catchers against left-handed pitching, which makes him not really have a huge platoon split. Therefore I rendered him ineligible as a platoon partner. It makes sense that the Athletics would have a catcher who is so effective in hitting left-handers, because they also have John Jaso who is known to mash righties (.363 wOBA vs RHP). If there is anything an Astro fan should be happy about  — which there isn’t much — it’s the fact that Jason Castro eats right- handed pitching for lunch and he also is one of the better catchers in the league.

First Base

Vs RHP Chris Davis: PA’s 434  wOBA .473, wRC+ 203

Vs. LHP Nick Swisher: PA’s 224 wOBA .398 wRC+ 158

Combined: PA’s 658, wOBA 447 wOBA, wRC+ 187

Davis was considered the best first baseman, as he led the league in dingers and compiled a WAR of 6.8. While Davis was performing at near-immortal levels against right-handed pitching, he was also very vulnerable against left-handed pitching with wRC+ of 104 against LHP. Nick Swisher is an interesting case because he is a switch hitter, but really struggles against right-handed pitching with a wRC+ of 93. This makes me wonder if Swisher should consider going the Shane Victorino route, and drop batting lefty to focus solely on batting right-handed. We don’t know if this strategy works for everyone — it’s probably a case-by-case situation — but it’s something to keep in mind.

Second Base

Vs RHP Robinson Cano: PA’s 420, wOBA .410, wRC+ 160

Vs LHP Brian Dozier: PA’s 148, wOBA .421, wRC+ 171

Combined: PA’s 568, wOBA .408, wRC+ 161

I had a hard time picking Cano simply because while Cano is definitely better at hitting righties than lefties, he’s not that bad at hitting lefties. Last season, Cano had a wOBA of .343 and wRC+ of 114 against LHP. That’s not a bad mark, however it is a sizable enough difference to create a platoon split. On the other hand, this points out that Dozier is a little underrated, and if he is used in the right roles, he could be a very valuable player. I find this platoon an interesting dichotomy: an overpaid superstar in Cano and a cost-effective role player in Dozier.


Vs. RHP Ian Desmond: PA’s 507, wOBA .344, wRC+ 118

Vs. LHP Jhonny Peralta: PA’s 136, wOBA .414, wRC+ 164

Combined: PA’s 643, wOBA .344, wRC+ 126

Shortstop was by far the hardest position for which to make a platoon. The LHP side was easy with Peralta because he led all shortstops when it came to facing lefties. The problem came with the right-handed side because the guys who could hit righties well — such as Tulowitzki and Lowrie — could also hit lefties pretty well. I settled with Desmond because even though he is well balanced against LHP and RHP, he wasn’t as balanced as Tulo or Lowrie.

Third Base

Vs. RHP Adrian Beltre: PA’s 516, wOBA .370, wRC+ 129

Vs. LHP David Wright: PA’s 150, wOBA .454 wRC+ 199

Combined: PA’s 666, wOBA .397, wRC+ 143

There were a lot of good-hitting third baseman last year. Miguel Cabrera led all third baseman in hitting against right handers and left handers. Wright and Beltre are number two to Cabrera. They also both have large platoon splits. Wright can hit RHP, it’s just that the split between PA’s against RHP versus his PA’s against LHP is huge. Beltre, on the other hand, is somewhat insignificant against lefties.

Right Field

RHP Daniel Nava: PA’s 397, wOBA .392, wRC+ 146

LHP Hunter Pence: PA’s 178, wOBA .415, wRC+ 174

Combined: PA’s 575, wOBA .399, wRC+ 154

This is where things can get a little arbitrary because there are a lot of corner outfielders, and therefore a lot of corner outfielders who have platoon splits. You could sub out both outfielders for a combination of Michael Cuddyer and Giancarlo Stanton. However, I thought that it would be more fun to point out how undervalued Nava is. Nava had a breakout year in Boston, and he did so by destroying right handers. Pence actually isn’t all that bad against RHP, wRC+ of 119 against RHP, which is kind of surprising considering he’s a lefty with a long swing. Bruce Bochy should probably take more advantage of Pence’s ability to hit left handers well. I think that both players are underrated.

Center Field

Vs. RHP Shin-Soo Choo: PA’s 491 wOBA .438, wRC+ 183

Vs. LHP Carlos Gomez: PA’s 140, wOBA .421, wRC+ 171

Combined: PA’s 631, wOBA .430, wRC+ 179

Choo is easily one of the worst defensive center fielders in the game, and he probably should shift over to a corner outfield spot in Texas. A lot of people express concern over the Choo contact because of the poor defensive play combined with a massive platoon split. Choo is godly against RHP, but below average against LHP (wRC+ of 81). The three-year, $24 million contract extension that the Brewers gave Gomez looks like it was a steal. Not only did they get a guy who punished left handers, but they also got a guy who led the NL in WAR, had great defense, and even some decent pop.

Left Field

Vs. RHP Dominic Brown: PA’s 381, wOBA .366, wRC+ 133

Vs. LHP Justin Upton: PA’s 164  wOBA .422, wRC+ 174

Combined: PA’s 545, wOBA .382, wRC+ 145

There isn’t anything interesting about why I picked these two, other than the fact that I did consider Matt Holliday instead of Brown. However,  Holliday’s split wasn’t as large as Brown’s. I wouldn’t expect Dominic Brown to perform as well against righties again; he’s in for some serious regression to the mean.

If these platoons were put into practice you could probably get as good or better production than the elite hitters in baseball. This list, just like the actual all-star game roster, is diverse. You have players who are considered elite — such as Choo, Cano, Wright, and Beltre — and then the undervalued guys such as Dozier, Nava, Norris and Castro. It’s surprising that most teams don’t take more advantage of platoons since they could get elite production from two players for a fraction of the cost.

Tanner Roark’s Z-Swing%, and Related Observations

Although the Nationals had a disappointing 2013 season overall, Tanner Roark (RHP) was one of their more pleasant surprises. The Nats brought him up in August, as injuries and performance problems created openings for several pitchers in their minor league system.

While Taylor Jordan also performed well, I think it’s fair to say that Roark had the most impressive and intriguing debut for the big-league team. Roark accumulated excellent “traditional” stats, and he did so at least in part by exploiting an unusual but highly effective talent: making batters not swing at good pitches. This post explores Roark’s story, and opens up the question of how his distinctive forte, zone-swing rate, contributes to effective pitching.

To recap, Roark finished 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings. He allowed only 1 home run in total, or 0.17 home runs per 9 innings; and the league batted .197 against him (– “batting average against” or “BAA”). The Nationals’ ace, Stephen Strasburg, allowed 0.79 home runs per 9 innings, with a BAA of .205. Roark was comparable in BAA to Strasburg, and much, much better at preventing home runs.

Of course, Strasburg reached his figures in 183 innings of pitching as compared to Roark’s 53 innings of pitching. This is what is sometimes described as a smaller sample. But we should not discount Roark’s performance too quickly. His 53 innings involved five starts and nine relief appearances, and a total of 12 appearances with at least two innings pitched. This is considerably more than, say, one start and no relief appearances. Roark played for the Nationals for the last two months of the season. His stint in the majors last year was substantial enough, I think, to merit serious interest.

Roark’s 2013 performance was surprising in part because of his pedigree. In 2012 Roark was 6-17 as a starter in Triple-A, pitching for the Nationals. His 2012 ERA in Triple-A was 4.39 (although his FIP [Fielding Independent Pitching rating] of 3.85 was better). Providing more background, Adam Kilgore wrote in September 2013 that

Roark has never been regarded as a star or a significant prospect. In 2008, the Rangers drafted him in the 25th round. The Nationals acquired him and another minor league pitcher for Cristian Guzman at the 2010 trade deadline. Last winter, the Nationals left Roark unprotected from the Rule 5 draft for the second straight year. They invited him to major league spring training this year, and shipped him out in the first round of cuts.

(Washington Post, Nationals Journal, 9/17/2013;

Roark’s 2013 performance was also surprising because, with a fastball averaging 92.6 mph, he had good but not overwhelming velocity.

Going back to FIP and similar topics, another reason why Roark’s 2013 performance was surprising was because of some relationships between his statistics. For instance, although his 2012 Triple-A ERA (4.39) was higher than his 2012 Triple-A FIP (3.85), this relationship reversed itself last year in the majors, with Roark posting a 1.51 ERA and a 2.41 FIP. In addition, his xFIP (“expected Fielding Independent Pitching”) was 3.14, significantly higher than the FIP.

“ERA < FIP < xFIP” spreads of this size are not unheard of, but they are rare, especially when your ERA is less than 2.00. In fact, ERA < FIP < xFIP distributions of this type suggest that you are identical to Clayton Kershaw (1.83 ERA / 2.39 FIP / 2.88 xFIP) and that you have just signed a contract worth 215 million dollars!

These observations about Tanner Roark’s performance and pedigree raise several questions:

How did he perform so well in 2013?

What is going on with his ERA<FIP<xFIP distribution?

What can we say about his future performance?

Taking a quick initial look at the ERA<FIP<xFIP distribution, a “negative” delta between ERA and FIP is often attributable to the pitcher having a low Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). Roark’s BABIP was indeed very low, at .243. (Kershaw’s was .251).

Also, although this might sound odd, Roark’s extremely low HR rate (0.17 per 9 innings) pushed his ERA below his FIP, even though home runs are a fielding-independent matter. Roark was fine (league average or better) on the other FIP elements — walks, K’s, HBP’s. But combining these normal-range statistics with his homer rate produces a compromise number and some information loss.

Turning to xFIP, this calculation substitutes out the pitcher’s own homer rate for the league average homer rate. As we might expect, the league average homer-rate was much higher than Roark’s, and this explains the FIP < xFIP delta, while also contributing to the delta between his ERA and his xFIP.

These observations tend to intimate that some of Roark’s statistics are not likely to repeat themselves. Before turning to the “future performance” question identified above, I want to look more at the first question of trying to understand Roark’s 2013 success. There are aspects of Roark’s pitching last year which suggest that his strong performance numbers were not an accident, and that his apparent prowess is not simply overmagnified by the small prism of his innings total.

The first statistic of interest is that Roark was seriously good at throwing pitches in the strike zone which batters did not swing at. This is the Z-Swing% statistic recorded on FanGraphs and other places. Roark’s Z-Swing rate in 2013 was 54.8% (per Baseball Info Solutions [BIS]), or 55.9% per PITCHf/x. This means that batters only swung at Roark’s pitches in the strike zone about 55% of the time.

(BIS and PITCHf/x converge around 55% for Roark’s Z-Swing%. These systems actually diverge, or report different percentages, for some other stats which are not independent of Z-Swing%. Although this is interesting, the differences do not materially affect our evaluative questions. I will cite the BIS plate discipline statistics throughout and compare them to PITCHf/x at various points below).

The complement of Z-Swing% is what I will call “Z-pass” — the phenomenon of non-swings on pitches in the strike zone. Tanner Roark’s Z-pass rate last year was 45% — batters passed on about 45% of his pitches in the strike zone.

This was a very high Z-pass rate. In fact,

  • It was the highest Z-pass rate on the Washington Nationals, by about 5 percentage points, among Nationals pitchers with at least 50 innings.
  • It also was more or less the highest Z-pass rate in all of major league baseball, again among pitchers with at least 50 innings. Roark came in first in Z-pass rate according to BIS. According to PITCHf/x, Roark was tied for sixth-best in Z-pass rate, behind Sonny Gray with a 47% Z-pass rate.

A high Z-pass rate is indicative of several good pitching qualities. Z-passes are good because they mean that batters are laying off a higher number of pitches which damage their cause and advance the pitcher’s cause. A high Z-pass rate indicates that the pitcher is accumulating strikes while maintaining an atypically lower risk of allowing a hit. (This is true if the pitcher is hitting the strike zone at a reasonable rate. More on this below). Tactically speaking, the Z-pass is the best outcome on the swing v. strike zone matrix below.

In Zone

Out of Zone




No Swing



Swings on pitches in the zone and out of the zone can lead to hits, and worse. By contrast, if we assume that non-swings in the zone lead to strikes, the Z-pass simply constitutes a good outcome for the pitcher.

How often did Roark throw strikes? In 2013 Roark hit the strike zone 47.7% (BIS) of the time. This was about 3 percentage points ahead of major league average (44.9%). 3 percentage points comes out to about one standard deviation above average. (PITCHf/x reports a higher league-wide strike-zone rate — 49.4% — and a higher strike-zone rate for Roark as well, at 53.8%. PITCHf/x appears to have a larger strike zone than BIS).

It therefore appears Roark was exploiting his elite Z-pass rate often enough for it to be useful, and indeed for him to have an advantage over hitters. Roark accumulated strikes at a good rate; and, by strongly suppressing swings at pitches in the zone, he lowered the risk of allowing a hit. It appears this dynamic was a main factor in Roark’s success in 2013. That’s part of the answer to our “How did he perform so well” question.

Another factor which stands out from Roark’s strike-zone data is that he threw first-pitch strikes 70.6% of the time. This tied for third in major-league pitchers with at least 50 innings in 2013. Consistently gaining an initial advantage over hitters, and doing so at an elite rate, was another main factor in Roark’s success.

Other discussions of Roark have cited his command, his aggression, and an improved mental approach. Going back to Adam Kilgore, he writes:

Roark’s ascension began last season, when he told himself he would not allow his temper to control him on the mound. He would not the things out of his control – fluky hits, errors, whatever – distract him. He would throw strikes. He would be confident. He would attack, above all else.

“I feel that last year is when I had my, I guess, mental turnaround,” Roark said. “That was the biggest thing for me.”

(Washington Post, Nationals Journal, 9/17/2013;

We can certainly see command at work in Roark’s low homer rate, and his low walk rate (5.4%). We can see both command and aggression at work in his first-pitch strike rate. Roark’s league-leading Z-pass rate substantiates the command/aggression understanding of his performance, and also adds to this understanding.

A pitcher who suppresses swings on pitches within the zone is presumably hitting unattractive parts of the zone, but he may also be throwing in-zone pitches which do not present to hitters as strikes. This sounds like a pitcher on whom it is difficult to make good contact. This is a third idea, beyond Z-pass rate and first-pitch strike rate. One way, however, to be averse to good contact is to be a high Z-pass pitcher.

Being a high Z-pass pitcher does not entail being a high strikeout pitcher. Roark’s strikeout rate was only one percent below major-league average (again, among pitchers with 50 innings and up). Of course, on other measures, like ERA, Roark was much better than league average. I think that connecting Z-pass rate with suppression of good contact can help us understand why.

Z-passes represent hittable pitches – pitches in the zone – which were not hittable enough to induce a swing. Poetically speaking, Z-passes involve real visual ambiguity: since they end up in the strike zone, they can’t look that bad; but they do not look good enough to induce a swing.

How well does this characterization actually apply to Roark’s pitches? On this question, we have the following from the Atlanta Braves:

“He wasn’t missing with any pitches over the plate, it seemed like,” said Braves catcher Gerald Laird. “When he was going away, he was throwing that little two-seamer back door, when he was coming in he was running that two-seamer in on your hands, and he had that little slider working.

“Tonight it seemed like he was hitting his spots and wasn’t making any mistakes. I know (Freddie Freeman) was saying he was starting it at him and running it back over. When he’s doing that it’s hard to pull the trigger.”


Of course, these descriptions of visual ambiguity — or of evidence which shifts within a fraction of a second — presumably apply to all or most of a high Z-pass pitcher’s offerings, not just to his pitches in the strike zone which do not elicit a swing. The image that emerges is of a player whose whole volume of pitches is tough to react to in a manner that creates good contact.

Roark was actually pretty good at inhibiting contact of any kind, especially on pitches within the strike zone. However, a look at his contact numbers does not immediately confirm this interesting and important point. As we see in the table below (from BIS by way of FanGraphs, again looking at 50+ IP), many of Roark’s contact rates were actually above league average, sometimes by more than one standard deviation.




















MLB (50+ IP)










std dev










Before turning to contact rates, you will have noticed that this table also gives us a look at how Roark’s Z-swing rate compared to the rest of baseball. According to BIS, Roark was 3 standard deviations above average on a positive pitching statistic which is completely independent of fielding. He was two standard deviations (56% Z-Swing%, as opposed to 63% league average) ahead according to PITCHf/x — this is still pretty good for a former 25th-round pick! Some other observations:

  • O-contact. Here Roark was much higher than average, but this may not be a bad thing, since contact outside the zone is less likely to be productive for the hitter.
  • Z-contact. Roark again was higher than average. But this somewhat unsettling number should not be digested outside of its relevant context, which is helpfully provided by Roark’s Z-swing rate. Looking at Z-contact multiplied by Z-swing yields the interesting result that Roark allowed contact on 51 percent of his strike zone pitches, as opposed to a league average of 57 percent, with a standard deviation of 3 percent.

(PITCHf/x condenses this gap, in much the same way that it condenses the gap between Roark and MLB on Z-pass. PITCHf/x reports Roark at 52.2% contact on all pitches within the zone, and MLB at 54.6%. Thus, if we switch from BIS to PITCHf/x, Roark’s contact rate goes up, and MLB’s goes down.

However, as noted above, PITCHf/x appears to be working with a larger strike zone than BIS (MLB-average Zone% of 49.3 vs. MLB-average Zone% of 44.9). This point complicates Roark’s apparent movement back towards league average. In brief, the fact that Roark’s swing rates go up — while the MLB average goes down — on larger renditions of the strike zone may be a testament to his effectiveness, rather than a knock against it.

  • SwStr (swinging strikes/total pitches). Since Roark did a good job suppressing contact within the zone, Roark’s low swinging-strike number does not seem to be an especially important piece in his overall puzzle.

The standard contact rates reported by BIS and PITCHf/x do not do a good job of communicating how well a pitcher actually prevents contact, because these contact rates only look at swings. Since you can suppress contact by suppressing swings, multiplying the contact rate by the swing rate provides a better view of how a pitcher is actually doing along this dimension. Despite a “zone-contact” rate which was higher than league average, Roark was very good to excellent at suppressing contact within the strike zone.

We are exploring a clue provided by Roark’s excellent Z-pass rate that Roark was good at inhibiting solid contact. This clue was supported by our look at Roark’s contact rates, which indicate that he was pretty good at suppressing contact flat out. The idea that Roark’s pitches were visually ambiguous enough to limit good contact receives further confirmation from his batted-ball statistics. In addition, looking at these statistics (2013, 50+ IP) will bring us around nicely to the question of how well Roark might sustain his performance in future seasons.
















MLB (50+ IP)








Std dev








Roark’s ground-ball, fly-ball, and infield-fly rates combine to indicate a strong bias against good contact. Roark had a somewhat high line drive rate, and, admittedly, line drives are a form of good contact. For instance, I suspect it’s unusual to have a somewhat high line-drive rate and a markedly low BABIP. Roark’s line-drive rate provides one specific indication that his BABIP is due to increase. However, a low line-drive rate is not entirely at odds with the idea that a pitcher is suppressing good contact — especially if we are thinking about home runs. Since most line drives are not home runs, a slight tendency towards line drives is a small but genuine homer-prevention measure.

In this way, Roark’s line drive rate coheres with his ground-ball, fly-ball, and infield-fly rate statistics. All of these rates, and especially their combination, suggest a low-homer pitcher. Why didn’t Roark give up a lot of home runs? Well, he got a lot of grounders and infield flies, while limiting his fly balls overall, and he gave up a somewhat high proportion of line drives. It is very plausible to suppose that Roark’s extremely low HR/FB rate overshoots the anti-homer bias suggested by his other batted-ball rates. Equally, however, the other rates tell a clear enough story that a low homer rate is not at all a surprise. Roark was very good at inhibiting good contact.

How will he do in the future? A nice way to frame this question is in terms of Roark’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP numbers mentioned earlier. And, leading up to that, I think it’s helpful to assess the respective importance of two things: (1): the overall coherence of Roark’s 2013 statistics; and (2) the sample sizes in which they were achieved.

In terms of coherence, Roark’s statistics tell a consistent story:

  • Looking at Z-pass, Roark was very good at limiting swings on good pitches
  • Looking at Z-swing * Zone%, Roark was very good at limiting contact within the zone
  • Looking at his batted ball rates, Roark was very good at limiting good contact

I could be wrong about this, but I do not see relationships among Roark’s 2013 statistics which point to trouble looking ahead. These statistics tell a consistent story of effectiveness. You can focus on his low swinging-strike rate if you like, but this rate was consistent with Roark being at least one standard deviation (two sd’s according to BIS) better than average on limiting contact within the zone.

In addition, there are pockets within Roark’s portfolio where some stats are very good and others are even better, like the HR/FB rate relative to Roarks other batted-ball statistics. However, this type of overshooting is a good problem to have. To the extent that the non-harmonic components of Roark’s statistical portfolio are extremely good statistics, this relates to the issue of our expectations for future years. A version of Tanner Roark based on 2013, but without the extra anti-homer overshooting, would still be above MLB-average.

As noted above, Roark only pitched 53 innings, and that’s a much lower total than what a starting pitcher would typically accumulate over a full year. Although we intuitively regard this as a small sample, it does not follow that Roark’s performance is without predictive value. As is often pointed out on the pages of FanGraphs, statistics stabilize, or acquire predictive value, at different thresholds ( Generally speaking, fielding-independent stats stabilize more quickly for pitchers than fielding dependent stats; this is a helpful point in assessing the forward relevance of Roark’s 53 innings.

Some of Roark’s relevant statistics are above their stabilization thresholds. Roark allowed 153 balls in play (BIP), which puts him above the stabilization points for groundball rate and flyball rate:

70 BIP: GB rate

70 BIP: FB rate

Roark faced 204 batters, which is above the stabilization points for walks and strikeouts:

70 BF: Strikeout rate

170 BF: Walk rate

However, Roark was league-average in K’s and was “only” one standard deviation above average in walks; these numbers are not as good as Roark’s plate discipline statistics like Z-pass and suppression of contact within the zone. So it’s not clear whether Roark reached the stabilization points for key parts of his performance.

But this is more or less where I will have to leave it. Figuring out the stabilization point for Z-pass is beyond the scope of the present study. Indeed, my post has probably pushed us to near overload regarding things that we ever wanted to know about Tanner Roark! By the same token, it’s not clear that learning more about Roark’s statistical profile would shift our opinion much about his prospects for future performance. This is what I think we have to consider:

In an intuitively small sample size, Roark put up a consistent portfolio of excellent fielding-independent stats: on limiting zone-swings, limiting contact in the zone, and limiting good contact. Very broadly, the size of a sample has to be balanced with the consistency of the evidence within it. Just imagine watching a one-round boxing match in which one competitor knocks the other one down three times. This is a small sample which tells a very compelling story about the respective abilities of the boxers. Roark’s sample size is larger, of course, and his performance was not as dominant. Nonetheless, his limited 2013 season is packed with a lot of positive indicators.

Here are a few final comments about what Roark might do in the future, framed in terms of his ERA, FIP, and xFIP:








MLB average (50+IP)




standard deviation




As we discussed above, the delta between Roark’s ERA and FIP is primarily a matter of his low BABIP and his very low homer rate. Although Roark’s BABIP will probably go up, there are signs he may be better than average at suppressing hits: he showed a tendency to induce ground balls and infield flies; the latter especially inhibit BABIP.

Roark’s very low homer rate pulls down both his ERA and his FIP. Although his .17 homers per 9 innings will almost certainly go up, there are signs he may be better than average at suppressing home runs…signs which are distinct, that is, from his one homer allowed in 53 2/3 major league innings!! Roark’s tendencies toward ground balls, infield flies, and line drives are all anti-homer measures. These tendencies flow, by hypothesis, from his ability to inhibit good contact by throwing visually ambiguous pitches.

The most eligible view by far is that Roark will regress towards league average in future years. But accepting this view should not deprive us of optimism. Roark could go back at least one standard deviation on each of the ERA-like measures and still be at league average or better than league average. That’s a good position for any pitcher. It’s a great position, albeit a paradoxical one, for a pitcher who is currently slated to compete for no better than the 5th spot in the Washington Nationals’ 2014 starting rotation!! Suffice to say I think that Roark ought to receive full consideration for the opportunities available to him.

2014 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Who can the Orioles rely on in their bullpen?
The Orioles bullpen was the lynch pin of their success during the 2012 playoff season and the normalized regression of the bullpen was the difference in the 2013 Orioles season. Coming into 2014, the Orioles are working on a bullpen without a proven closer which may cause even bigger issues than those from 2013. This offseason, the Orioles tried to save some money and traded away their closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics and then were on the verge of signing Grant Balfour, only for a physical to go awry. This may not be a great thing for the Orioles, but when you look back at the teams that have made the playoffs in the past, there are a lot of good examples of teams that have had lackluster closer experience.

Where those teams were successful was in correctly platooning relievers and making sure that the right pitchers were pitching in the right scenarios. This is where the Orioles may have some issues; the Orioles may be a bit light in their bullpen. Darren O’Day is an above average middle reliever but he has no closer experience and his stuff may not translate to the ninth inning. Ryan Webb and Brad Brach are nice additions, but they may not be able to make the difference of the Orioles competing or not.

At the end of the day, all analysis of the Orioles bullpen depends on Tommy Hunter. The former starter for the Texas Rangers has transitioned into a bullpen role for the Orioles since the middle part of the 2012 season and has been a solid contributor. Hunter has struck out more and walked less since moving to the bullpen and has focused more on working the zone with his fastball, which has gained more than 4 mph since moving to the bullpen. What the Orioles bullpen comes down to is if Hunter can make that jump from the 7th and 8th inning to the 9th. He has a lot of things that work in his advantage, but there is also the fact that he just moved to the bullpen over the past couple years and that he has changed his approach to pitching a bit. This is not to say that either of those are bad things, but it may be a big jump for Hunter considering that he does not have a lot of experience to begin with.

It is a comfortable assumption that the Orioles will not have a very long leash with Hunter, especially if the AL East gets off to a good start, but he should be able to get by his hiccups and be the Orioles closer throughout the season.

When does Adam Jones get the respect that he deserves?
Adam Jones might be one of the most underappreciated stars in the major leagues. His lack of appreciation may be from his nonchalant attitude in the outfield with blowing bubbles with his bubble gum while trying to catch a ball; it may be that he does not hit a ton of home runs or that he is not very flashy; or it may just be that he is not that interested in the limelight. Chris Davis’ huge 2013 season did not do very much to help Jones either, as Jones was seen as the sidekick to the titanic efforts of Davis. Adam Jones is a star and should be treated as such.

When you look at Jones, the issue with him is what makes him so great; that he is very solid at almost everything while not being truly elite at anything. His streaky nature of hitting and mental lapses may also be detractors, but he is very valuable in the fact that he can do almost everything that the Orioles ask of him. Over the past five years, Jones is basically the poor man’s version of Ryan Braun: combining speed, power, and durability. Unlike Braun, Jones plays a premier defensive position and adds value to the team. There are not very many center fielders in baseball that have 30 home run power, in fact, there is only one other center fielder with multiple 30 home run seasons in the last five years and that is Curtis Granderson who played in the home run haven of Yankee Stadium. Jones was properly respected by the Orioles with the $85 million deal he inked in 2012 and soon the whole baseball world will see the value of the Orioles’ star.

How do the Orioles fill the void of Manny Machado?
Manny Machado is everything that the Orioles could ask out of a 21 year old shortstop. He is versatile enough to play third base, in fact at a Gold Glove caliber, and has even become a better hitter since he started professional ball. His arm strength is elite and the 51 doubles that he turned in last year will quickly turn into home runs as his swing matures. Unfortunately, this season may be a wipe out for Machado because of the gruesome leg injury he got running down the first base line in a September game against the Rays. Machado is going to try to play and is cleared to hit down in Sarasota, but has yet to be cleared to run.

Given this, Orioles fans should get used to Ryan Flaherty at third, which in turn makes Jemile Weeks the starting second baseman. Neither of these are good things for the impending future of the Orioles. Both Weeks and Flaherty are subpar offensively and the advantage of Flaherty’s defensive skill at second will probably be lost at third while he is filling in for the rehabbing Machado.

For the Orioles, they should not rush Machado as his better years are to come and if a leg injury like his is not properly rehabbed, he may lose some of that elite range. There are a lot more Gold Gloves in Machado’s future and it is important for the Orioles to be patient than rush him back. Although the Orioles would be much better off with Machado at third for the duration of the season, they may be able to patch up the infield with a combination of Weeks, Flaherty, and Jonathan Schoop to fill the void left by Machado.

The most optimistic view of the situation would be that Machado is able to take the field by the middle to end of April, but a more realistic view would have him being a designated hitter for a bit and taking over at third by mid May. This may be optimistic for the Orioles considering how bad the injury looked at first glance, but his being cleared for baseball activities is a good sign.

What will the Orioles do with Dylan Bundy this year?
Dylan Bundy was all the rage during the 2012 season, making it from Single A to a September call up in Baltimore. There were still big questions about his workouts and labor throughout high school and the Orioles took it very slowly with him, as he only was allowed to go once through the lineups and was instructed to not throw breaking balls as to not harm his arm and to work on his control. All of the talent was there; the Orioles just wanted to preserve the 19 year old prospect that they drafted 4th in 2011.

In the beginning of the 2013 season, Bundy was having arm trouble that shut him down. By the summer, Bundy had undergone Tommy John surgery and the Orioles were trying to figure out what to do with their prized possession. There is a long history of pitchers coming back stronger from Tommy John, but Bundy is not a normal case. It is common knowledge that Bundy is a fan of long toss to warm up (like Trevor Bauer with the Indians) and he was used to pitching 100+ pitches from a very young age in Oklahoma, throwing hundreds of pitches a weekend even. Given all of this, there was not normal wear and tear on Bundy’s arm as to what you would expect from a 20 year old.

The issue now is for the Orioles not to be scared to let Bundy pitch. The fear for every major league team is that a pitcher gets injured and then they lose him forever because they wanted to stretch those extra 15 pitches out of him; this should not be the case for Bundy and the Orioles did him a disservice in the minor leagues in 2012. The team should not run him out there for 85 pitches, especially not during his rehab, but they need to let him pitch. Bundy’s numbers were outstanding during the 2012 season, but most of them were accumulated while he was only facing the lineup in one turn. The hitters were not getting a chance to adjust to what he was throwing and there was very little to show for Bundy’s stamina in a high pressure situation. In fact, once Bundy did get the opportunity to go a bit deeper, there were a few times when he allowed runs when the pressure was there.

It is best for the Orioles to let Bundy recover from this surgery and not let him pitch until the end of the season, but when they let him pitch again, give him the opportunity to stretch his arm a bit and let him work his whole arsenal of pitches. In the long run that will be best for the Orioles and for Bundy. For the 2014 season, it would be best to keep Bundy in the minor leagues and let him work on extending his arm and arsenal against minor league talent.

Why are the Orioles going to win 84 games?
This team is very strong and has a bright future, but the way that the 2014 season lays out does not look very good for the Orioles. Sadly, teams may only get little opportunities to be competitive and hopefully this is not one of the better chances for the Orioles being lost, but there are too many big questions left unanswered. Who is going to close? Will we see first half of 2013 Chris Davis or second half of 2013 Chris Davis? Will Nick Markakis stay healthy? Will the Orioles add another starter? All of these are massive questions that could not have even been touched on in this article because they are very fluid.

The injuries of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy do not help either. Judging by the talent level of each of these players, the Orioles had to have hoped that they would be key contributors for the 2014 season and, quite frankly, the team is quite barren and two positions that these talented young players would be outstanding fits for. There is a lot of room for improvement with this team and, fortunately for them, it can be made from inside of the organization but until the team is a whole rather than a bunch of incongruent pieces, the playoffs are not in the near future for the Orioles.

5 You Know:
1. Adam Jones
2. Chris Davis
3. Chris Tillman
4. Nick Markakis
5. Matt Wieters

5 You Will Know:
1. Dylan Bundy
2. Kevin Gausman
3. Eduardo Rodriguez
4. Jonathan Schoop
5. Henry Urrutia

5 You Should Remember:
1. Hunter Harvey
2. Tim Berry
3. Zach Davis
4. Chance Sisco
5. Josh Hart

Believing that Starlin Castro Will Rebound in 2014

Earlier today, I was looking at trends and projections for some Cubs prospects and looked up Starlin Castro.  A trend immediately struck me: his 2010 batted ball statistics are nearly identical to his 2013 peripherals.

Stat:      ISO         LD%        GB%       FB%      IFFB%

2010:   .108      19.5%      51.3%     29.2%     7.0%

2013:   .102      19.9%      50.7%     29.4%     7.6%

These two seasons are closer than any of his other seasons in batted ball numbers.  A key difference?  2010 BABIP was .346, 2013 BABIP was .290.  His career BABIP is .323.  So is it we assume some good luck in 2010 and bad luck in 2013?

It should be noted that his BB% in 2013 was his career low, and his K% was his career high mark.  So can we expect some regression in those numbers as well?

I think the answer is yes to both questions.  In 2012, his BABIP was .315.  Even if Castro could return to that level (right around his career average), he looks much better than the .245 hitter we saw in 2013.

Additionally, his K% in 2013 was 3.8% higher than his previous career high, so I tend to expect a slightly lower rate in 2014 (though his contact rate in 2013 was also the lowest in his career, so if that is a trend, it is possible the K% could stay).

I’m still a firm believer in the idea that the past management, while trying to teach Castro to be selective and patient, actually taught him to take pitches for the sake of, well, taking pitches.  This could also potentially explain the low contact rate.  The numbers indicate that he didn’t learn to distinguish balls from strikes any better, and that maybe for him, the best approach is to swing at whatever looks good.

Given the striking similarities between his rookie season in which he hit .300 and garnered national attention as an upcoming star and 2013, it’s easy to dream about a bounceback 2014 season.  Only time will tell if that’s a reality, but I believe that Cubs fans have reason to be optimistic.

(I posted this earlier at  For more Cubs news and analysis, feel free to check out the blog.)