Archive for March, 2006

Daily Graphing – Brandon Watson & Ryan Church

After winning the starting center fielding job from Endy Chavez last season in spring training, Ryan Church did a credible job, hitting .287 with 9 home runs in just over 250 at-bats in between various injuries. Unfortunately for Church, his sophomore year and batting .200 this spring apparently wasn’t enough for him to keep the job and was sent back down to the minors in favor of Brandon Watson.

Watson on the other hand was quite horrible in his major league debut, batting .175 with 1 home run in 40 at-bats, which oddly enough, was nearly identical to Church’s rookie season who hit .175 with 1 home run in 63 at-bats. Watson seems to have turned things around this spring by batting .306 with 7 stolen bases in 62 at-bats. Let’s take a closer look at the two and see if the Nationals make the right choice.


In Church, you have a player with not the best plate discipline. He struck out in 26% of his at-bats in 2005 and as you can see, he really just got worse as the season went on which could very well have been injury related. Additionally, he chases pitches out of the strikes 25% of the time which is about 5% above the league average. He did show some decent power even while playing in R.F.K. Stadium, arguably the worst hitters’ park in baseball. Then again he was better at home than on the road, which does seem a bit odd, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see him hitting 20 home runs one of these days.

ISO Split

Watson’s plate discipline in the majors has actually been a little better than Church’s as he struck out in 20% of his at-bats and chased pitches outside the strike zone only 17% of the time. Watson is obviously much more of a contact hitter and his strikeouts are actually quite high considering he makes contact when he swings the bat 86% of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his strikeout percentage drop a good 5 points if he can adjust to major league pitching.

Baseball America named Watson the “Fastest Baserunner” in the Nationals farm system and if spring training is any indication, it looks like they’re going to let Watson run. He stole 31 bases last season in AAA, and it would seem extremely silly to trade in Church for Watson if you’re not going to utilize his speed. It’s also worth noting that in his short stint in the majors, Watson really beat the ball into the ground with a 53% ground ball percentage. That puts him in Ichiro’s territory, so he’ll really need to run like the wind to beat out those plays at first.


It seems like the Nationals essentially made a tradeoff of power for speed and are assuming that Watson will be able to get on base as much as Church did. This seems unlikely to me and while it will be fun to watch him steal, it seems like an overall poor decision to dismiss Church despite his poor spring. I find this move extremely short sighted and it’s right inline with just about everything that’s happened with the Nationals this off-season.

Daily Graphing – Rich Harden

Between a strained oblique muscle and a season ending strained lat muscle, Rich Harden was excellent in 2005 going 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 128 innings. In the off-season he elected to have shoulder surgery on his non throwing arm in order to alleviate many of the minor injuries which were believed to be caused by overcompensation due to his injured left shoulder. So far, the shoulder surgery has been a success since this spring, Harden has pitched 14 innings with a 1.29 ERA while striking out a whopping 19 batters! Let’s take a closer look and see if he’s ready to be a perennial Cy Young contender.


Looking at his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), you’ll see that he just falls within the top 20% of all pitchers and actually had the 12th highest K/9 of any starting pitcher for the 2005 season. He has an easy delivery, resulting in a deceptively speedy fastball which topped out at 102 mph last season. His fastball is accompanied by a splitter and slider which batters will chase out of the strike zone a combined 40% of the time. Throw in the fact that batters only make contact with his pitches 75% of the time and when they actually do make contact only put the ball in play 50% of the time and you’ve got yourself one of the most un-hittable pitchers in baseball.


When Harden first entered the league he struggled with his control, but he’s managed to get his walks per 9 innings (BB/9) down to acceptable levels the past two years. There’s still a bit of room for improvement here, but if can continue to strike out batters the way he’s been doing it this spring (K/9 over 12), he’ll do just fine with his current BB/9.


To add to the good news, he’s also a groundball pitcher which is a little rare to find in a pitcher that makes batters struggle to make clean contact with the ball. Obviously this (and playing in McAfee Coliseum) really helps keep his home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) well below the league average.


There’s really nothing not to like about Harden. I may as well be doing a Daily Graphing on Johan Santana (his would be even more glowing). The only thing that could possibly hold him back at this point is injury and hopefully the off-season surgery has helped minimize the chances that his 2005 injuries will re-occur. If all goes well, I’d be surprised not to see him in contention for the A.L. Cy Young award.

Hit by Pitch & Other Stats

As promised, I’ve added HBP, SF, SH, WP, BK, and GDP to the stats pages. HBP and SF has also been added to the OBP formula and HBP has also been added to the LOB% formula. We’ll probably look into using a more complicated version of RC/G too. This was a rather annoying fix, hopefully nothing broke in the process. If you find any errors please let us know. Also, all the graphs have been wiped (200,000 graphs was taking up a lot of disk space).

Quick reminder to all bloggers and anyone wishing to use the graphs in their work. If you want the graphs to be permanent you must save the graph and host it yourself.

Fliners and Things to Come

I was informed today by Baseball Info Solutions that they will now be tracking “Fliners” which are a new categorization of batted balls. They’ll be breaking down these “Fliners” into two categories for us: Fliner-Fly and Fliner-Liner (that sounds kind of funny). I really like the fact that they are breaking down Fliners into Fly Balls and Line Drives so we’ll still be able to look at Fly Ball/Ground Ball/Line Drive data without Fliners if desired.

So, while I’m here, I may as well give a quick update on what’s coming to FanGraphs this season.

1. Hit by Pitch (HBP) data is on its way. This was an initial oversight, but it should be up this weekend and included in all the stats and graphs where it wasn’t previously included. We’re also going to add SH, SF, WP and BK data (and maybe some other stuff) to the stats pages. This should be available when the Hit by Pitch data goes live.

2. We have made arrangements with Baseball Info Solutions to display raw “pitch data” for retired players! This is currently a work in progress on the programming side of things, but I hope to have the raw data available for each retired player sometime in the next month. We currently only have the 2005 season, but we’ll be receiving 2006 data and are considering the 2004 data.

3. We’ll be trying out a new column called “Speed Plot” which will essentially go through the previous day’s games and point out various performances in an abbreviated Daily Graphing style. Consider it the Daily Graphing lightning round so we can hit on more than one player a day. I’m not sure how it will work out, but we’re going to give it a shot anyway and see what happens.

4. I’ve been slacking a bit on the Daily Graphing column but it should resume being pretty much daily when the regular season starts. We’ll be doing some preliminary Fliner analysis as the 2006 data starts to become significant. Obviously we’ll have to until 2007 to see year-to-year trends.

5. Nightly stat updates will occur between 2am and 5am each night of the regular season. Hopefully everything will go smoothly on the first night, but incase of unforeseen events, we’ll be working round the clock until FanGraphs is working properly with the 2006 data!

We’re very excited about our first full major league season. (I think if FanGraphs were a baseball player, it’d still have rookie status). Hope everyone will find our 2006 offerings useful and insightful, and of course, FanGraphs will remain 100% free.

Daily Graphing – Jeremy Reed

After hanging around Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list for a couple years, Jeremy Reed, at only 24 years of age played his first full major league season in 2005. Compared to the small preview he gave in his 2004 big league debut where he batted .397 in 58 at-bats, his 2005 season was, to put it nicely, sobering. In just under 500 at-bats he batted only .254 with 3 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Let’s see if there’s any chance an improved 2006 on the horizon.


Looking at his walk to strikeout ratio (BB/K), he actually has very solid plate discipline, especially for someone so young. He swings at pitches outside the strike zone around 17% of the time which is better than the average major league player and makes contact when he swings about 86% of the time. He’s particularly aggressive with curveballs inside the strike zone.


While most everything seems to be in order in terms of plate discipline, his Isolated Power (ISO) leaves much to be desired. It’s a little odd because typically players that have similar plate discipline will hit on average 14 or so home runs which is a far cry from the 3 he actually hit. Playing at SAFECO Field is going to suppress his home runs a bit and his 33 doubles are encouraging, but that still doesn’t explain the discrepancy.


Remember when I said he was aggressive with curveballs inside the strike zone? His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with those same curveballs was an awful .209 which is part of the reason for his mediocre batting average. Furthermore, his line drive percentage was a mere 18.9% where he struggled not only with breaking pitches but also slightly with fastballs.

I wouldn’t make too much of Jeremy Reed’s batting average and low home run totals in his first full major league season. His plate discipline is solid and I’d venture he improves his power numbers by hitting around 10 home runs next season. Unfortunately, his ground ball tendencies will limit his home run ceiling but hopefully he’ll make the necessary adjustments against breaking balls which would give his batting average a much needed boost.

Daily Graphing – Brandon Webb

Remember back in 2003 when Dontrelle Willis won the National League Rookie of the Year award? If it weren’t for a few extra wins, perhaps Brandon Webb would have won the award instead, since his 2.84 ERA, 180 innings, 172 strikeouts and 1.15 WHIP were all better than Willis. Since then, Webb has been quite consistent throwing over 200 innings in his past two seasons with an ERA just under 3.60. He only has 21 wins to show for his effort, but he’s only received an average of 3 runs per start from his offense, so it hardly seems fair to put the blame on Webb’s shoulders.

So far this spring, Webb has been spectacular, going 3-0 while allowing only 1 hit and no runs in 9 innings of work. It’s not exactly a sample size you can hang your hat on (and it’s spring training), but it is a little impressive. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look and see if he’s capable of becoming one of the elite pitchers in the National League.


His strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) decreased for the second year in a row, falling to an adequate 6.7. That’s nearly a two point drop since his rookie season. In 2005, batters swung at his pitches outside the strike zone 21% of the time, which is slightly above average. Fortunately, his walks per 9 innings (BB/9) plummeted nearly three points to a good 2.3 which easily offset any decrease in strikeouts.


While neither his strikeouts nor walks are off the chart, he induces far and away the most ground balls of any starting pitcher in baseball. He’s led the league in groundball to fly ball ratio the past two seasons and his rookie year he was second only to Derek Lowe. The most successfully pitcher that’s even close to being in the same league as him in terms of ground balls is Roy Halladay who also has a K/9 in the high 6’s. Webb however, has lacked Halladay’s pinpoint control.


It’s also worth mentioning that while Webb’s home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) have always been pretty good due to his extreme groundball tendencies, he has a very high home runs-per-fly ball (HR/FB) of 18.9%. While it’s not unusual for groundball pitchers to have a higher HR/FB, I’d consider 18.9% freakishly high, so expect there to be some improvement in the home runs department.


It’s rare to find an extreme groundball pitcher that can also strike batters out and Webb definitely falls into that category. Sure his strikeouts may have dipped a bit, but his control is much improved and he’s apparently added a cut fastball which is supposed to make him a bit less predictable with his sinker. If that helps him strike out a few more batters, he should be primed for an excellent year.

Daily Graphing – Jason LaRue & Javier Valentin

Back in December, the Reds signed Jason LaRue to a 2 year, 9.1 million dollar contract and then in January signed Javier Valentin to a one year 1.15 million dollar contract assuring that the surprising catcher tandem would stay intact for the 2006 season. The two combined for 28 home runs and batted .268 with 110 RBI’s which made them offensively, the most productive catchers in the National League. It’s really too bad they aren’t one person. Let’s take a closer look and see if they’ll continue to be the dynamo combination that they were in 2005.

LaRue will be entering his 8th major league season and for the past 5 years has been pretty consistent hitting no less than 12 home runs and no more than 16. Last year he had a career high batting average of .260, which dipped as low as .230 back in 2003.


His real problem is making contact with pitches and only does so 68% of the time when he swings the bat. That puts him among the 20 worst in baseball for the 2005 season. Naturally, his strikeout percentage (K%) sits at an ugly 28%. He did however show consistent signs of improvement after striking out a horrible 37% of the time during the first two months of the season; he managed to consistently stay around 24% the rest of the season. Still not great, but it is improvement.


With his decreasing strikeout rate, perhaps he’ll be able to keep his batting average near the .260 mark, but you pretty much know what you’re going to get with LaRue and I wouldn’t expect 2006 to be any different. Valentin on the other hand is a completely different case.

Last season, Valentin exploded with 14 home runs in 221 at-bats after hitting just 6 the previous season. He also had a career high .281 batting average along with career highs in just about everything else. He’s always been a part-time player at the major league level and the last time he played a full season was back in 2002 for AAA-Edmonton where he hit 21 home runs in 455 at-bats.

His plate discipline is actually quite similar to LaRue’s since they both swing at pitches outside the strike zone about 20% of the time and they both see a similar percentage of pitches inside the strike zone, but there is one major difference. Valentin can actually make contact with the ball and does so around 81% of the time which makes his strikeout percentage (K%) more than 10 points lower than LaRue’s.


His one big problem is left-handed pitchers. He bat .186 against lefties last season compared to the .301 he bat against righties. In 2004 he bat just .109 against lefties. Actually, in 2004 he was the worst and in 2005, he was in the bottom 20 against left-handed pitchers. Despite his inability to hit lefties, his on-base-percentage splits look pretty good and he’s actually better against both righties and lefties than LaRue.


Bottom line with Valentin is he hasn’t been given much of a chance in the majors and often Catchers are considered late bloomers offensively so it seems to me that his breakout season was indeed for real. He’s also a better batter than LaRue, but it’s doubtful he’ll be able to avoid the platoon at catcher unless LaRue is injured or performs horribly (which seems unlikely considering his consistency). That being the case, the two of them should once again give the Reds top offensive production from the catcher position. If Valentin does get a chance at 400 at bats, look for him to improve on his 2005 season.

Daily Graphing – Jose Valverde

Since Byung-Hyun Kim in 2003 decided he wanted to fulfill his life long dream of being a starting pitcher, the Arizona Diamondbacks have gone through five different closers. Matt Mantei took over for Kim in 2003 and managed to keep the job the whole year. He entered the 2004 season as the closer but after a rocky start (11.81 ERA) he ended up spending the rest of the year on the disabled list. Jose Valverde was next in line and after saving 8 games in 10 chances, he too was forced to go on the disabled list for the remainder of the season.

In steps Greg Aquino who converted 16 of 19 save opportunities to finish the 2004 season, but a combination of injury and being out pitched by Brandon Lyon lost him the closers job to start the 2005 season. Lyon converted 13 of 14 saves but was derailed by an elbow injury that cost him nearly the rest of the season. Brian Bruney was asked to fill in and two months later with an ERA over 9 and Bob Melvin had seen enough, opening the door for a healthy Valverde.

Valverde pitched masterfully after taking over the closers job in August and converted all 13 of his save chances with an incredibly low ERA of 1.37. For the entire month of September he gave up zero runs and allowed only 6 hits and 2 walks in 16 innings of work. Let’s see if he really is the answer to the Diamondbacks closer woes.


Taking a look at a closer’s most important stat, strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), he’s has never had a problem striking anyone out. His career K/9 is the 6th highest among all active pitchers. Batters have a lot of trouble making clean contact with his pitches in the strike zone, fouling them off 56% of the time which is nearly the most in baseball.


One of his main pitfalls in the past has been his lack of control as he walked over 5 batters per 9 innings (BB/9) in 2004. In 2005 he almost cut that number in half bringing his BB/9 down to a career low 2.17. His other problem in 2004 was his off the charts home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) which resulted in an incredibly high home runs-per-fly ball of 25%! He managed to bring that back down to an excellent 6.9% in 2005. Talk about your extremes.


Valverde’s strikeouts and walks look like they’re just about everything you’ve ever wanted in a closer. Health is really the key here since he’s been on the disabled list for long periods of time twice in his three year career. He’s apparently improved his delivery which should make him less injury prone. Assuming he stays injury free next year, it looks like the Diamondbacks have potentially found one of the better closers in baseball.

Daily Graphing – John Lackey

After winning game 7 of the World Series in 2002, John Lackey had two very mediocre seasons for the Angels. It was looking like 2005 might not be any different as he had an 8.27 ERA after his first three starts, but he managed to do a complete 180 and went 13-4 with 3.06 ERA the rest of the season. Despite his great season, not everyone seems to be in agreement on what the future holds for Lackey. Let’s take a closer look and see if there’s any reason to think he’ll revert to his pre-2005 form.


Starting with his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), you’ll see that he was already laying the groundwork for a breakout season back in 2004 when his strikeouts slowly climbed towards elite territory. In 2005 he picked up right where he left off and by mid-season he had reached some pretty insane strikeout levels. It’s worth noting he did slow down a bit towards the end of the season, but overall he had the 5th highest K/9 of any starting pitching in the American League.


His control has always been decent as his walks per 9 innings (BB/9) have remained pretty flat his entire career. However, his home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) are a completely different story. In 2005 he allowed only 13 home runs which made for an extremely low home run-per-fly ball of 6.6%. Typically the league average is near 11% and it’s almost a certainty he’ll regress back towards the average. On the other hand, he did have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .333 which was a bit high, so chances are that will also regress a bit back towards the league average.


When you take everything into account, it seems clear that Lackey’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. I could see his home runs being more of a problem if he didn’t pitch in Anaheim and if he wasn’t a ground ball pitcher. Hopefully any decrease in BABIP will counter any increase in home runs. His late season decline in strikeouts will be something to keep an eye on, but I honestly don’t think there’s much to be alarmed about here. I fully expect him to repeat his 2005 season.

Daily Graphing – Kelvim Escobar

Last year at this same time I was trying to snag Kelvim Escobar in as many fantasy leagues as possible due to his solid run at the end of the 2004 season. In the final two months he went 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and had a tantalizing 79 strikeouts in 78 plus innings of work. Two months into the season, Escobar was looking like a fine selection at 2-2 with an ERA just under 3, but he elected to have surgery on bone spurs in his elbow that kept him out until September. When he finally returned he was limited to bullpen duty, but he’ll be back in the starting rotation for the 2006 season. Let’s see if he’s worth taking a chance on again.


Looking at his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), he has absolutely no problem striking batters out. In his one month back from surgery he continued to mow batters down with a K/9 just over 8. In 2005, swinging batters failed to make contact with his pitches a whopping 28% of the time which was the second highest in baseball among starting pitchers. Batters clearly have problems with his five pitch repertoire.


Back in 2002 and early 2003 when he was closing for the Blue Jays, he struggled mightily with his control, but since then he’s been able to bring his walks per 9 innings (BB/9) down to a career low of 3.17. Furthermore, he’s never had much of a problem in the home run department, keeping his home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) below the league average in all but 2 of his 9 seasons. His ground ball tendencies certainly help him out.


When you get right down to it, Escobar strikes out a ton of batters, has a declining walk rate, doesn’t give up many home runs, and oh yeah… he’s a ground ball pitcher too. Seriously, what’s not to like about this guy? Sure he may be a bit of an injury risk, but who isn’t these days and if he wasn’t 100%, he wouldn’t be pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. I for one will certainly be looking to snag him again this year and he should pick up right where he left off before undergoing the knife.