Archive for September, 2008

Pitching Under September’s Radar

This morning we took a look at some of the hitters who performed extremely well over the final month of the season, but went largely unnoticed for a variety of factors. Now, let’s take a similar look at the best under the radar pitchers. Again, we are using WPA/LI as our barometer. For starters, Roy Oswalt and Derek Lowe dominated the season’s final month, posting a 1.64 and 1.27 mark, respectively. In six starts, Oswalt pitched 44.1 innings, surrendering 24 hits, walking just six hitters, while striking out 30 of them. He allowed baserunners to the tune of a 0.68 WHIP, and allowed just 1.42 runs per nine innings. Lowe allowed even less hits and runs. In five starts and 30.1 innings, he managed a 0.59 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. Other than these two, who performed well on the mound?

Jesse Litsch did, for sure. Formerly an intern for the Tampa Bay Rays (I honestly didn’t write Devil!) Litsch found himself a key component of baseball’s best rotation and he definitely had a September to remember. In six starts, he compiled a 1.13 WPA/LI thanks to a 2.18 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and just 27 hits surrendered in 41.1 innings. For the season, Litsch recorded a 3.58 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and a 2.54 K/BB. He may be one of the least intimidating pitchers, based on mound presence and appearance, but he throws all of his pitches at least 10% of the time and looks to have great control over his controllable skills.

I never thought I would ever get the chance to write anything positive about Kyle Davies, a guy I used to wish would face the Phillies when on the Braves, but he… wasn’t… that… bad… this year. His overall season saw him make 21 starts with a 4.05 ERA and 4.22 FIP. His K/BB was the highest it has ever been at just 1.65, but hey, at least it is some type of an improvement. In September he was 1.10 wins above average, with a 2.27 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP, walking 7 and fanning 24 in 31.2 innings.

Mark Buehrle seems to do the same thing every year. He isn’t a Cy Young Award contender, and he is above average, but he is in that area between being slightly above average and being well above average. This year was a typical Buehrle line with a 3.79 ERA and a 3.94 FIP. In September, he produced a 0.94 WPA/LI, posting a 2.29 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, while striking out 30 and walking ten.

Lastly, another Royal found his way into this article. Zack Greinke had a great September, posting a 2.18 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, resulting in a 0.92 WPA/LI. He walked just 7 while fanning 32 in his 33 innings of work. On the whole, he produced a 3.47 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and 3.27 K/BB. Zack also experienced the highest frequency of groundballs in his entire, but short, career. With a .318 BABIP I would normally call for some type of regression, but Zack has posted BABIPs of .318, .316, and .318 over the last three seasons, so perhaps this should be expected.

The headlines were dominated by Sabathia, Lee, Halladay, Lincecum, and Santana, but Oswalt and Lowe staked claim as September’s best, and the five players mentioned above were decent surprises.

Path To Victory: Philadelphia Phillies

When the Mets were surging early while Ryan Howard was doing his best impression of Pedro Cerrano impression, it was hard to imagine the Phillies repeating as NL East champions. However, they got enough good performances, especially on the pitching staff, to carry them back into the playoffs. What do they need to do to make Eric a happy, happy man?

Don’t overreact to Burrell’s struggles

He’s been pretty horrible the last couple of months of the season, but if Charlie Manuel decides that represents a real change in talent and limits his October playing time, he’ll be taking a right-handed power bat out of a line-up that needs right-handed power. Burrell’s not as good as he was early or as bad as he was late, and they can’t just react to the recent performance – it’s not more predictive than his body of work overall. Taking Burrell out of the line-up makes the Phillies worse, slump or no slump.

Don’t trust J.C. Romero

You can’t evaluate relievers by using ERA, and with a guy like Romero, that’s even more true. He had a shiny 2.75 ERA this year, but his command is so dreadful that he’s a very risky option as a high leverage reliever. He gets enough groundballs that he probably won’t kill you by giving up the big home run, but you can’t afford to let him walk the bases loaded while trying to find his release point. If ever there was a guy who needed to be on a much shorter leash in the playoffs than he was given in the regular season, it’s Romero.

Ride the big four

There’s a significant talent gap between Hamels/Myers/Moyer/Lidge and the rest of the pitching staff. As much as possible, the Phillies need to maximize the number of innings that quartet throws. The more innings they give to Joe Blanton or the middle relievers, the less likely they are to win. With a wide open National League, Philly has a real chance to reach the World Series this year, but they’ll have to lean on their best pitchers to get them there – the role players aren’t good enough.

Revisiting the Sabathia Deal from Cleveland’s Perspective

Given the recent impact that the C.C. Sabathia trade has had on the playoffs, let’s revisit the move that brought the burly left-hander to the National League and the Milwaukee Brewers. We all know what Sabathia has done for the Brewers in the second half of the season, so let’s look at how the prospects received by Cleveland did this past season.

Outfielder Matt LaPorta was the prospect with the highest profile, as a former first round pick who has put up impressive minor league numbers. He struggled, though, after coming over from Milwaukee and hit just .233/.281/.350 in 17 Double-A games before heading to the Olympics where he was beaned by a pitch and sat out the remainder of the season as a precaution.

In a small sample size, LaPorta’s walk rate plummeted after the trade from 13.0 percent to 6.3 percent, while his strikeout rate remained roughly the same around 20 percent. His power stroke also disappeared as his ISO dropped from .288 to .117, and his OPS went from .957 to .631. He’s likely earned a ticket back to Akron in 2009 to begin the season.

Zach Jackson is a former supplemental first round pick (32nd overall in 2004 by Toronto). He is a soft-tossing lefty who projects as more of a middle or long reliever than a starter. Jackson, 25, appeared in 11 Major League games (nine starts) combined between Cleveland and Milwaukee in 2008. He posted a 5.55 ERA (4.61 FIP) in 58.1 innings. He allowed 69 hits and 16 walks to go along with 31 strikeouts (4.78 K/9). He’ll have to battle for a roster spot in 2009.

Rob Bryson was a name that wasn’t known by many people before the big trade. The 20-year-old, who has split time between the starting rotation and bullpen, spent the season in A-ball. He appeared in just seven games after coming over from Milwaukee after suffering from shoulder inflammation and possibly a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He has the ability to hit the mid-90s when healthy.

When the Brewers secured the playoff berth, it allowed Cleveland to pick a fourth prospect, as a player to be named later. That player is expected to be named today and should be either outfielder Michael Brantley or infielder Taylor Green.

Both prospects are interesting but they project as bench or platoon players. Neither player has much power but they are both versatile. Brantley has a slightly better chance of being a regular, at least for a few seasons, due to his amazing strike zone judgment and speed (28 stolen bases in 36 attempts). He hit .319/.391/.398 in 420 Double-A at-bats. He walked 50 times (10.6 BB%) with just 27 strikeouts (6.4 K%). His ISO is a paltry .079. Green hit .289/.380/.443 in 418 High-A at-bats. He walked 61 times (12.7 BB%) with 59 strikeouts (14.1 K%). His ISO was a more respectable .153.

Obviously, none of the players above have impacted Cleveland like Sabathia has affected Milwaukee, but 2009 could be a whole different story, especially if Milwaukee is bounced from the 2008 playoffs early on and Sabathia walks for a larger free agent payday. Until then, though, Milwaukee has definitely won this deal.

Other Than Howard..

Ryan Howard had a scorchingly hot month of September, as he hit .352/.422/.852, with 11 home runs. Producing a 1.68 WPA/LI in the month put the slugging first baseman ahead of all other hitters in the season’s final month and likely earned him plenty of undeserving MVP votes. There were several other hitters, however, that had performed extremely well in September, yet whose work in that span will likely go unnoticed by the larger fanbase of major league baseball. A couple of these players have been covered here before, but at least two will surprise or shock you.

First, Andre Ethier finished just one-tenth of a win behind Howard, as his final month resulted in a 1.57 WPA/LI. Dave mentioned here that the talk of Manny Ramirez as MVP was a bit odd considering that Ethier was arguably better than Manny since his arrival. In September, Ethier hit .462/.557/.692, with 12 extra base hits. His batting order compadre, Ramirez, hit .370/.465/.753. There is no doubt that Manny is a big reason that the Dodgers were able to win the division, but nobody should sell Ethier short. His performance over the last few months has been just as important.

Felipe Lopez is quite the interesting case. He was solid for the Reds a few years back, went to the Nationals as part of that odd Austin KearnsGary Majewski trade, and was deemed to be so ineffective this year that the Nationals–yes, the Nationals–let him go. After all, in 100 games, he was hitting a measly .234/.305/.314. The Cardinals were quick to snatch him up and he did not disappoint. In 43 games, he hit .385/.426/.538, numbers you may expect from Cardinals-teammate Albert Pujols, but not the light-hitting Lopez. This past month, he hit .414/.443/.596, with 6 doubles and 4 home runs. For those keeping score, that means he hit 2/3 of his total number of home runs over the final month.

Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians had a tremendous more-than-half-season with the Indians. In the final month, he hit .400/.464/.659, with 5 doubles and 5 home runs. He was not this hot during the entire season, but his overall numbers and very impressive: .309/.387/.549, 28 doubles and 14 home runs in 94 games. His teammate, Asdrubal Cabrera, started off alarmingly slow, but finished very strong, with a .416/.455/.571 in September, complete with 6 doubles and 2 home runs. It didn’t bring his seasonal line to that of Choo’s, but he did manage to “up” it to .259/.346/.366.

Lastly, Joey Votto of the Reds had a great rookie season, hitting .297/.368/.506 in his first year of big league action. His 32 doubles and 24 home runs are equally impressive and his continued development will be a big part of the Reds’ success moving forward. Over the final month, though, his batting average rose just slightly to .309, but his OBP rose to .400 and his SLG jumped to .723. One fourth of those doubles came in September, and 9 of those 24 home runs did as well. He also showed he could be fleet of foot, adding 2 triples.

The regular season is just about over, so you would think the performances of these players would be fresh in our minds, but unfortunately they are not covered too often. Tonight we will take a look at pitchers who flew under the radar in September. This would basically be anyone not named Sabathia, Lee, Halladay, or Lincecum.

Path To Victory: Milwaukee Brewers

On the left arm of CC Sabathia, the Brewers made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. It wasn’t an easy season by any means, but their survival resulted in a playoff berth via the wild card, and with that, a first round NLDS matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies. What will they need to do in order to go from Wild Card to World Champion?

Get on Sabathia’s back

The big southpaw has been ridiculously great since coming over from Cleveland, and with their season in jeopardy the last few weeks, he’s repeatedly answered the call on short rest. He’s made three starts on three days of rest and has given up six runs with a nifty 4/21 K/BB, averaging over 7 innings per start on short rest.

Well, he’ll have a chance to do it again in Game 2, as he went Sunday to get them in, but they can’t give up their chance to get him two starts in this series. With Ben Sheets likely on the shelf for at least for the first round, the Brewers need Sabathia to throw as many innings as he possibly can, and that means keeping him on his three day rest schedule. The odds of them beating the Phillies if CC only makes one start are not good, and if CC’s willing to keep pitching with abbreviated rest, the Brewers have to take him up on it.

Swing For The Fences

The Brewers hit 198 home runs as a team, and the middle of their order features some fearsome power – they even get longballs from unusual sources such as SS and CF. They play big baseball, and if they buy into cliches about bunting and making productive outs to win October, they’ll be cutting their offense off at the knees. They have a lot of guys who can hit the ball a long way, and they need to let them try. The less often they bunt, the better off they’ll be. Swing away boys.

McGough: My First Day in Pinstripes

This is a few weeks old but I just caught Matthew McGough telling the hilarious story of his first day as the Yankees bat boy on The Moth podcast. It’s definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re a fan of one of the 21 teams already looking forward to opening day 2009.

Season in Review: Boston Red Sox

Today will kick off a series of retrospectives now that the regular season is over and done with. These will concern themselves only with the regular season and how the teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula, which I feel is the best overall measurement of a team’s actual talent level for the season.

Number One: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox occupied the top spot according to BaseRuns and by a fair margin to boot, 35 runs better than the second place team. The Red Sox were 2nd best on offense at a projected 884 runs scored and 7th at run prevention with 699 runs allowed.

Boston’s pitching was well balanced between the rotation and the bullpen. The rotation was anchored by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and saw a solid, if curious and likely unsustainable, performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka as well. The bullpen was built on the backs of another outstanding season from Jonathan Papelbon and a breakout year for Manny Delcarmen.

On the hitting side there were many people to spread the credit around to. J.D. Drew rebounded from a vilified first season in Boston to post fantastic numbers both at the plate and in the field. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz provided much less value than before but were still helpful contributors. The breakouts though came from Dustin Pedroia (a fine, but nowhere near MVP performance) and Kevin Youkilis, who busted out a never before seen slugging power.

While the catcher and center field positions did what they could to drag down the offense, the rest of the lineup made up for it and with Boston’s immense financial resources they should be in prime position to patch what few holes they have and continue being a dominant force in 2009.

Bookending With Burrell

In my very first post here at Fangraphs, back on April 14, I took a look at Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell, and how his numbers had been very consistent over the last few years. They had also been consistently better than his reputation would suggest; his reputation was seemingly spawned from a very poor 2003 season following his 6 yr-50 mil extension. His batting average will only be high thanks to very high BABIPs, but based on his 2005-07 numbers, he was as much of a sure thing in the OBP, SLG, OPS, and BB department as you can find. He might not have been atop the leaderboards for each of these metrics, but you knew exactly the type of production he would provide. And, to top it off, he cut back on his strikeouts.

He started out scorchingly hot, hitting 8 home runs with a 1.126 OPS in 28 April games, before cooling in May. June and July saw “the bat” range from .956-.973 in OPS, before his much documented slide in August and September. Even when he struggled, however, he seemed capable of stepping up in crunchtime, and his 1.15 clutch score, ninth highest in baseball this year, seems to agree. On the whole, Pat hit .250/.367/.507 this year, an .875 OPS, with 33 doubles, 33 home runs, and 102 walks. Using win based metrics, he was worth about 2.5 wins above an average hitter via WPA/LI, and his 3.78 WPA ranked 12th in the sport.

As I did back in April, let’s compare his last few seasons:

2005: .389 OBP, .504 SLG, 27 2B, 32 HR, 99 BB
2006: .388 OBP, .502 SLG, 24 2B, 29 HR, 98 BB
2007: .400 OBP, .502 SLG, 26 2B, 30 HR, 114 BB
2008: .367 OBP, .507 SLG, 33 2B, 33 HR, 102 BB

His OBP was down from the previous three years but his SLG outranked his marks in 2005-07, even if by the slightest of margins. His home runs and doubles increased, evidenced by his .257 ISO, his highest in this span. Pat’s BABIP, which went from .341 to .298 to .283 from 2005-07, fell to .275 this year. The Phillies won the NL East for the second straight season, thanks in part to his hot early season performance, which made up for the slow start of Ryan Howard. Howard returned the favor over the last month of the season, but if the Phillies want to avoid a repeat of last year’s division series, both sluggers will need to be at the top of their games.

Pat will be a free agent at the end of this season, and while he has expressed a strong desire to remain in Philadelphia, it just does not seem like a viable option. His fielding has deteriorated to the point that some teams in the senior circuit may seriously shy away from him. It would appear that he would fit best in the American League, where he could work as a designated hitter, but we will have to wait and see. He has been one of the top offensive leftfielders over the last four years and it is a shame that so many in Philadelphia could not get over his very poor 2003 campaign. Burrell is not a hall of famer, and he has never even been named to the all star team, but there are many teams out there, including the Phillies, that could continue to benefit from his bat for the next few years.

Path To Victory: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers had an up-and-down season, coming from behind to overtake the Diamondbacks and win the N.L. West after Manny Ramirez breathed some much needed life into their offense following his acquisition at the deadline. For the final two months, Manny swung the bat like the best hitter in baseball and offset some of the other problems the team was having. But Manny can’t win a title by himself, so what do the Dodgers need to do to take out the Cubs and march towards a World Series title?

Heal Rafael Furcal

Furcal was the team’s best player for the first five weeks of the season, but then missed all but the last four games with a serious back injury. The Dodgers struggled to replace him, finally settling on Angel Berroa for most of their September playoff push. The only problem is that Berroa is horrible – he hit .230/.304/.310 in 226 at-bats and that might have been playing over his head. He racked up a -1.57 WPA/LI in just over a third of a season, a truly horrible offensive performance. Even if Furcal isn’t completely healthy, he’s almost certainly an upgrade over what they’ve had at the position. The more often they put him in the line-up, the better their chances of winning.

Use Juan Pierre as a pinch-runner only

Despite the fact that he pales in comparison the both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, Juan Pierre has still started five of the last 15 games the Dodgers have played. Joe Torre likes putting him in the line-up despite the fact that Pierre can’t hit. He has value as a baserunner, and high leverage steals can make a big difference in a single game (Dave Roberts, anyone?), but there’s just no reason to write Pierre’s name on the line-up card. He shouldn’t start a single playoff game, and if Torre can’t resist the urge to keep him on the bench, the Dodgers will suffer for it.

Don’t be afraid to use Clayton Kershaw

While I advised the Cubs to keep their talented young pitcher to low leverage situations, I’d suggest the opposite for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw is significantly ahead of Samardzija as a pitcher, putting together a solid season as an above average starting pitcher at the age of 20. If he’s unleashed as a reliever who can throw max effort for 20-30 pitches a night, he could sit comfortably in the high-90s with a devastating breaking ball to boot. He’s good enough to be used in tight situations, and Torre should ignore the fact that he can’t legally drink yet.

Spoiler Alert: It’s Garcia Time

Well, the regular season is not entirely over, as the White Sox and Tigers play at 2 PM EST today. The south side bunch trails the Twins by one half game in the AL Central, meaning the best they could do is force a tie with a win, leading to a one game playoff. The White Sox are putting the season in the hands of Gavin Floyd, who has definitely exceeded expectations this season. Jim Leyland is handing the ball to Freddy Garcia, former Mariners and White Sox great, who won a ring with the White Sox in 2005.

Garcia spent last season with the Phillies, though most of it was not actually spent with the Phillies, as he missed a large portion of the season due to injury. And, as a Phillies fan, I can attest to the fact that while he did look great in spurts in the several starts he did make, he was more than largely ineffective. He spent the last year and a half or so rehabbing and getting back in shape, hoping to audition for, and impress, a team willing to give him a chance this season.

The White Sox were one of these teams, but Ozzie Guillen felt that Freddy just was not ready yet, and likely would not return this season. Garcia used these words as a motivational tool, driving him to prove he was definitely ready for big league action. Sportscenter hinted that Garcia held some ill will towards Guillen for the comments; I am sincerely hoping this was more of a literary technique by the anchor as opposed to the truth, since Guillen’s comments (for once) were pretty harmless in this case.

He has made two previous starts, compiling 10 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 3 BB, 9 K. I will refrain from discussing, in detail, his 4.50 ERA, 6.43 FIP, or 8.10 K/9, since he has made just two appearances, but a solid performance from Garcia, against his old team, could knock the White Sox out of the playoffs. Let’s hope this does not happen, however, or else we will be one step closer to dozens of mainstream newspapers discussing how the Mets with Johan Santana did not get in but the Twins sans-Santana are still alive in October.