Archive for May, 2010

More on the Rays’ Offense

A few weeks have passed since Dave Cameron wrote about the Rays’ offense and its affinity for hitting with runners on. They’re now hitting .284/.357/.435 with men on – which gives them the seventh best OPS in that predicament – and .236/.316/.390 without anyone on – seventeenth best. Most of the success with runners on has been locally attributed to new hitting coach Derek Shelton’s “GTMI” mantra; standing for Get The [Man] In. Yes, a mantra.

Steve Slowinski recently looked at the difference in results and there’s some interesting tidbits that come out from all of this if you dig deep enough. For instance, while researching this post I found out that the Rays have the second lowest percentage of double plays batted into given their numerous opportunities – behind only San Diego — but I think one thing is missing from the numerous analyses out there and that’s a focus on the batting average on balls in play.

The team’s BABIP is .308, but the individual breakdowns shed more light on why the Rays are struggling without men on. Below is a look at the BABIP and the projected rest of season BABIP for the regulars, excluding those with fewer than a full season’s worth of plate appearances for obvious reasons (namely, complete regression to league average without taking minor league track record into account skews the numbers):

Player	To Date	RoS	Delta
Pena	0.207	0.263	0.056
Navarro	0.213	0.263	0.05
Aybar	0.242	0.272	0.03
Barty	0.266	0.314	0.048
Upton	0.272	0.318	0.046
Kapler	0.291	0.274	-0.017
Zobrist	0.363	0.305	-0.058
Craw	0.366	0.335	-0.031
Longo	0.373	0.318	-0.055

The Rays have had a few batters outperforming their expectations by quite a bit, but they also have four players expected to gain BABIP success from here on out compared to their first two months of the season. Revivals by Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton* in particular would be a much welcomed sight to the lineup. Both have become increasingly aggressive under Shelton, with Pena swinging at 43% of first pitches seen and Upton at 42% (good for third and fifth most in the American League with Crawford at seventh). Jason Bartlett’s struggles are notable too, since he was the fulltime leadoff hitter until just days ago, with manager Joe Maddon inserting Zobrist into the leadoff spot versus righties.

Nevertheless, the talk about needing to acquire more bats may be premature. For one, there’s potential BABIP regression on the way. But more importantly, outfielder Matt Joyce should be in the majors at some point in June and catcher Kelly Shoppach isn’t too far behind. Joyce figures to take a roster spot from either Sean Rodriguez (who would go to Triple-A) or Hank Blalock (who would go wherever bad baseball players go) meanwhile Shoppach should spell the end for Dioner Navarro. Navarro and Rodriguez are the only two Rays with wOBA below .290, so it’s not like Joyce nor Shoppach have to be world-beaters in order to mark improvement either.

If the Rays do pursue another bat, it would presumably be someone on the Luke Scott side of the spectrum rather than Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder.
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The As and the AL West

Before the 2010 season began, many thought that the American League West was the tightest division in baseball. Everyone had their favorite, of course: the Rangers had taken a step forward in 2009 and have the best young talent, the Mariners had made many high-profile moves in the off-season, and the Angels still retained their core talent and, frankly, seemed to win every season whether people thought they would or not. While the As were acknowledged to be on the upswing, I don’t think I read a single “expert” who thought they would win the division. I thought the As had a good shot, maybe a better shot than others, but I can’t say I was overly confident in their chances.

The As haven’t won anything yet. But through Sunday’s games, they are in the lead in the West, if only by half a game over the Rangers. Yes, the As have outplayed their Pythagorean record by three games so far (although no team in the West is currently over .500 according their run differential), but those wins are “in the bank.” Can they keep it up going forward?

On offense, the As as a team haven’t been particularly “lucky,” as they’ve scored 201 runs, while creating 200 according to “absolute” linear weights runs (wRC). I doubt anyone expected the As to hit much this season, and with a .310 team wOBA, they’ve fulfilled that expectation and then some. However, 2010 is no more a constant than is 2009. A quick look at the As’ hitters and the ZiPS RoS projections indicates that some offensive improvement in 2010 is to be expected. Some hitters are a bit over their head at the moment: Daric Barton is finally fulfilling expectations with a .363 wOBA, although ZiPS RoS doesn’t expect too much regression. Second basemen Mark Ellis and Adam Rosales (who filled in while Ellis was injured) are clearly due to fall back to earth. Kurt Suzuki is back from injury and should hit better, and Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney should, as well. CoCo Crisp’s return from injury should shore up the outfield on both sides of the ball. Kevin Kouzmanoff isn’t a good hitter, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll finish the season with a .274 wOBA. Unlike the Mariners, the As seem to have realized that the DH is still legal in the AL West, and even a fraction of Jack Cust is better than Zombie Eric Chavez. This isn’t a good offense by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that should be better going forward, and that’s without taking into account the possible call-ups of Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.

Oakland isn’t getting especially “lucky,” in relation to run prevention, either. The team 4.38 ERA is right in line with a 4.18 FIP and 4.25 xFIP. Of course, their starting staff’s biggest upgrade will be young ace Brett Anderson’s return fro injury, even if he (or anyone, for that matter) isn’t quite as good as he’s been so far in 2010. While neither Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden aren’t quite as good as they’ve pitched so far this season, they’re both starting to look like average or above-average starters. Big off-season acquisition Ben Sheets hasn’t worked wonders, but he’s not killing the team, either. Trevor Cahill has been very lucky so far, so that is something to watch.

It’s too early to get much from the fielding statistics. While according to UZR, Oakland is +2.7 runs (16th in the majors), according to Plus/Minus +23 runs (7th in the majors, but 3rd in the AL behind the Rays and Seattle). Kouzmanoff is doing well so far at 3B according to both systems. Dewan’s loves Barton, UZR not so much this year, although history is with him. Cliff Pennington is holding his own as shortstop, and Mark Ellis should improve the situation at second base. Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis aren’t at their usual standards, but can be expected to come around.

Overall, while the As run prevention should probably be expected to fall back a bit (although the fielding should mitigate the regression of the pitching), they should also be expected to hit better. The AL West is still a very tight race, with the Rangers and Angels right there, and a full analysis would need to include all four teams. As for the As, they haven’t played far above their talent so far, and, contrary to the pre-season expectations of many, Oakland has a good chance to remain in the divisional race for the rest of the season.

Top 10s Revisited: AL East

With clubs set to infuse more talent into their systems next week, and with being two months into the minor league season, it’s a great time to take a quick look at how the Top 10 prospects are doing in each system. Today, we’ll take a look at the American League East.

*The Top 10 lists originally appeared in FanGraphs’ Second Opinion fantasy guide published in March.

Tampa Bay Rays

Top prospect Jennings has been slowed by injuries but he appears to be healthy now but he’s struggled with the bat. The same can be said for Beckham, who hit just .145 in April but is hitting .366 in his last 10 games. While the hitters have struggled so far this year, most of the Top 10 pitchers have seen their values increase, including Hellickson, Davis, Barnese, and Colome. Moore, a lefty, has struggled mightily against left-handed hitters (.348 average). Overall, the top prospects in the system are having a successful 2010 season.

New York Yankees

Top prospect Montero has struggled in triple-A but no one is really worried given the level of competition and his age (20). The emergence of fellow catching prospect Romine one level below Montero has also helped to ease any concerns. If the top prospect does have to move away from catching, a continued strong showing from Romine will make the move more palatable. Heathcott, Sanchez, and De Leon have yet to start their seasons. Murphy was just recently assigned to low-A ball after opening the year in extended spring training.

Boston Red Sox

The club’s Top 10 list was dealt a big blow with the serious health concerns with both Westmoreland and Tazawa. Kelly has done OK in double-A but he’s still very young in terms of pitching. Anderson has regained much of his prospect status this season after a lousy ’09. A couple of outfielders – Kalish and Fuentes – are quickly improving their value with strong starts to the year.

Toronto Blue Jays

The system is certainly benefiting from the addition of Wallace, Drabek, and d’Arnaud. All three were acquired during last off-season’s trade of Roy ‘Mr. Perfect’ Halladay. d’Arnaud has battled back problems but he’s impressed people within the organization with both his offense and his leadership on the field. Two players have yet to begin their 2010 seasons: Sierra (leg stress fracture) and Marisnick (extended spring).

Baltimore Orioles

Matusz has struggled a bit in the Majors this season but he’s also shown some flashes of brilliance. Erbe, Snyder, and Mickolio have disappointed but Arrieta and Britton are certainly headed in the right direction. Bell had a slow start at triple-A but he seems to be pulling himself out of the hole.

Up Next: The NL East

What Should the Pirates Do at #2?

We’re just one week away from one of my favorite events of the year, the 2010 MLB amateur draft. By now we know that the sure fire #1 pick is the über-hyped catcher Bryce Harper. The big question now is what the Pittsburgh Pirates will do with the 2nd pick of the draft. They have plenty of good options to choose from. Most prospect rankings have shortstop Manny Machado, lefty college pitcher Drew Pomeranz and high school righty Jameson Tallion at the top of the board after Harper.

My colleague Bryan Smith recently discussed Machado in his post about the next first round shortstops. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but in a nutshell, Machado will be a big leaguer, and he will probably be a very good big leaguer for a long time. Scouts have drawn several comparisons between Machado and Alex Rodriguez, although some of that has to do with Machado being a super prep star of Dominican descent playing in the Miami area.

Tallion is a big, flame throwing prep pitcher from the great state of Texas. He throws in the mid-to-upper nineties with relative ease, and has a hammer of a curveball. We’ve seen this story before, and it’s called the Josh Beckett story, or at least that’s the comparison scouts are making with Tallion.

Pomeranz is a college lefty with a 90-94 MPH fastball and a big time curve-piece (to borrow a phrase from Cistulli’s vocab) that has helped him rack up massive strikeout totals at Ole Miss. It’s easy to foresee Pomeranz making a difference in a big league rotation in short order.

Neal Huntington’s rebuilding Buccos really cannot go wrong here, but if I were to pick, I’d go for Machado, and it’s not just because of the lofty comparisons he’s drawn. When we look at the history of the draft, first round picks that are position players do considerably better than pitchers, whether they come from high school or college.

The stats are from the historical WAR data now available on the site. I’m looking at the first rounders from ’90-’99. We’re paying attention to the WAR numbers per season while the player is under team control, or in other words their first six seasons in the majors. Here’s the averages per grouping:

College Hitters 0.9
College Pitchers 0.6
HS Hitters 0.8
HS Pitchers 0.4

Hitters have proven to be a much safer bet. Narrowing down the field to the top 2-6 picks, hitters outperformed pitchers 1.1 WAR per season, compared to .8 WAR for pitchers.

The Pirates definitely are in an enviable position with such talent to choose from, but because TINSTAAPP is the ruthless beast that it is, the smart thing to do for Neal Huntington and Co. is to bet on the hitter.

Comparing Perfection

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this weekend, chances are that you’ve heard that Phillies ace Roy Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday. It was the 20th such performance in Major League Baseball history. Remarkably, it was the second this season, the first year in which two perfect games have occurred since 1880. The first of 2010, of course, was Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays on May 9th.

Let’s compare how the two pitchers recorded their 27 consecutive outs:

Braden: 109 pitches, 77 strikes, 6 K, 7 GB, 10 FB (3 IFFB), 4 LD, +.355 WPA
Halladay: 115 pitches, 72 strikes, 11 K, 8 GB, 8 FB (2 IFFB), 0 LD, +.888 WPA

It seems to me that Halladay was unquestionably the more dominant pitcher in his perfect game, which makes sense, given the difference in skill between the two pitchers. Halladay didn’t allow a single line drive and struck out five more batters.

Most remarkably, Halladay performed his perfect game in a situation that nearly required perfection, as the Phillies only managed to plate one run against Marlins ace Josh Johnson. Because of the tight score, Halladay accrued a fantastic +.888 WPA. That mark is the highest for any pitcher since June 26th, 2005, when A.J Burnett and the Florida Marlins defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1-0.

The point of this post certainly isn’t to belittle Dallas Braden’s perfect game in any way. It was a spectacular achievement and will go down in baseball history as such. Roy Halladay simply increased his own position in the history books with one of the most dominant pitching performances of all time.

Max Scherzer’s Unprecedented Strikeout Rate

In his first eight starts of the year, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer faced many problems. In 2009 with the Diamondbacks he struck out 9.19 batters per nine innings, which ranked eighth among NL starters. This year, in a move to the AL, he struck out just 5.57 per nine. That, along with an inflated home run rate and very low strand rate, boosted his ERA to 7.29, well above his 6.01 FIP and 5.04 xFIP. Still, those numbers aren’t good, hence Scherzer’s demotion to AAA. After a pair of absolutely dominant starts there he returned to the Tigers on Sunday. It was quite the outing.

Scherzer faced 24 batters in 5.2 innings, only five of whom made contact. Kevin Kouzmanoff fouled out in the first, Ryan Sweeney grounded out in the third, Kouzmanoff lined out, Jack Cust doubled in the same inning, and Landon Powell singled in the fifth. Other than that, everyone else either walked, got hit by a pitch, or struck out. Scherzer’s day ended after he plunked Mark Ellis in the sixth, before which he struck out 14 Athletics. Even more impressively, 11 of those strikeouts came on swings and misses, including all three batters in the second. His four walks and one HBP topped off a mostly contactless day.

With the performance Scherzer becomes the 209th pitcher in the past 30 years who has recorded at least 14 strikeouts in a game. Yet he separates himself a bit from the pack. Of the 98 pitchers with 14 strikeouts, only five have done it in six innings. None have done it in fewer, meaning Scherzer has the quickest 14 strikeouts in the past 30 years. In fact, no pitcher in baseball history has struck out as many as 14 in 5.2 innings. In 1994 Kevin Appier struck out 13 in 5.2 innings. Only A.J. Burnett did it with Scherzer’s wildness. He walked four and struck out 14 in six innings for the Marlins in 2005.

Final fun fact: Since 1920 there have been 87 pitchers who have struck out at least 14 and walked at least four in a start. Twenty-five of them did it in greater than nine innings. The real fun fact is that only 30 have done it without allowing a run. The shortest such appearance was 8 IP, by Jason Bere of the White Sox in 1994. Scherzer held the A’s scoreless, and Phil Coke cleaned up his bequeathed runners.

Riding the D-Train Out of Motown

In a bit of dark hilarity, the Detroit Tigers’ official Twitter feed just announced that Dontrelle Willis will be designated for assignment tomorrow in order to make room for Detroit to recall Max Scherzer.

It’s an oddly forward thinking move given that Willis’ baseball card numbers aren’t horrific this season, Max Scherzer’s are and the Tigers are in second place of the AL Central. Of course, what matters is going forward and ZiPS gives us a great comparison there. It has Willis with a 5.48 FIP for the remainder of 2010 and Scherzer at just 4.19.

Still, that would seem to be the end of Dontrelle Willis, the Detroit Tiger. Acquired from the Florida Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera mega deal, Willis was eligible for arbitration but the Tigers instead elected to ink him to a three-year, $29 million contract to cover the 2008 through 2010 seasons.

Things went belly up immediately for Willis and Detroit and never got better with multiple injuries, the pitching version of the yips and anxiety problems. Combined over the three seasons, Willis has pitched just 101 innings and been credited with 0.3 wins below replacement.

I don’t have to spell out how that is a poor return for the money. The question I am more interested in at the moment is what’s next for Willis. There’s no indication that he’s found anything that would bring back his successes with Florida, but he is still just 28 years old and his 2010 isn’t as disastrous as his 2008 and 2009 were. Assuming the Tigers do not find a trade partner within the next ten days and Willis hits the free agent market with no financial incentive, he could make a mildly intriguing pick up.

I would be surprised if he didn’t flee back to the National League. The odds that he starts putting up mid-3 FIPs again are remote, but I can envision some roughly league average performances in the NL and for the league minimum, Willis might shift from being one of the biggest sunk costs in baseball to actually a valuable investment.

Dempster’s Deferred Money

Lou Piniella’s little buddy Ken Rosenthal reported today over his twitter that Cubs SP Ryan Dempster has agreed to defer three million dollars of his $12.5M 2010 salary at little or no interest, in order to allow the Cubs the financial flexibility necessary to make a deadline deal.

This has some similarities to the restructuring of Scott Rolen’s contract last December. In that case, the upside of the money lost due to inflation was a contract extension. In this case, the only upside for Dempster appears to be a Cubs team that is improved through a trade. This story is still in its infancy, so we may see some details change before all is said and done. The MLBPA may attempt to oppose this, as players aren’t simply allowed to take pay cuts, and given inflation, this is simply a loophole around that rule.

After today’s loss, the Cubs are now 23-26 and five games out of a playoff spot. They’re certainly not dead, although they are running out of time. With Aramis Ramirez ineffective and possibly injured, they could need a third baseman. Mike Fontenot has performed well this season, but much of that is based on a .352 BABIP, and so second base may also be a point of upgrade. The bullpen has been the main issue for the Cubs, as their relievers have allowed a 4.80 ERA. Both FIP and xFIP suggest that the group has been much better, but John Grabow has been remarkably ineffective and Carlos Zambrano will return to the rotation soon, so the most likely trade target for the Cubs would appear to be for a reliever to pick up the 8th inning behind Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs already had a 144 million dollar payroll entering this season, so it appears that, at this point, they are either unwilling to go over that amount or the option that they are targeting is expensive enough as to push them over a higher hypothetical limit. If the Cubs do acquire an important piece and end up making the playoffs as a result, Cubs fans will owe Ryan Dempster many thanks.

Historical WAR & WAR Graphs

Full historical WAR for all position players has been added to the site! It’s available in the career leaderboards and on the individual player pages currently and will work its way to some other sections of the site pretty soon. We’ll do full WAR for pitchers eventually, but right now that’s still only 2002 onward.

The other new feature are the WAR graphs where you can compare up to 4 players at a time in various ways:

Just a quick note that these two graphs in particular were inspired by work done over at Beyond the Box Score.

Some additional notes about our historical WAR:

– We’re using the best fielding metric publicly available at the time, so for anything 2002 onward, we’re using Mitchel Lichtman’s UZR and anything pre-2002, we’re using Sean Smith’s Total Zone. Total Zone prior to 2010 is also available in the fielding section of the site which has replaced Range Factors.

– The batting component is based on wRAA (based off wOBA / linear weights) and uses 5 year regressed park factors going all the way back to 1871.

– Positional adjustments prior to 2000 are based off Sean Smith’s positional adjustments by decade. 2000 onward are based on Tangotiger’s positional adjustments.

– Replacement levels are adjusted slightly by season. They’re all right around 20 runs with the exception of a few years and a couple leagues.

– The run to win converter is also adjusted by season, but it’s generally going to be right around 10.

If you want to know more about how WAR is calculated for position players, read the 7 part series.

One Night Only: Your Entire Weekend, Planned

You know what’s the worst? Thinking! And you know what’s doubly the worst? Having to think even for a second about what games to watch over the weekend.

Well, now — thanks to cutting-edge research (that, and the internet) — you don’t have to.

Hail, nerds! These are your games of the weekend.

Texas at Minnesota | Friday, May 28 | 8:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Rangers: Colby Lewis
57.1 IP, 9.10 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, .263 BABIP, 38.4% GB, 7.9% HR/FB 3.98 xFIP

Twins: Kevin Slowey
49.2 IP, 6.89 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, .350 BABIP, 28.1% GB, 9.6% HR/FB, 4.63xFIP

Watch For
• Colby Lewis. Duh.
• Of 113 qualified pitchers, Kevin Slowey has the absolute lowest groundball rate in the majors. Here are some people who’re happy about that: Ian Kinsler and Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz and Justin Smoak.
• Smoak is currently sporting a slash line of .173/.287/.317, but here’s what nerds know: he’s not that bad! Smoak’s BABIP is a paltry .171. StatCorner places his regressed wOBA (wOBAr) at .367.

The Other Reason I’ll Be Watching This
Because my friend Dan, a Twins fan, invited me to.

What You’re Saying to Me
What is that my business?

What I’m Replying Back
Sorry, guy. I just thought it’d be possible to reach out and forge a real human connection. Like in that one movie where two people from totally different worlds — he’s a ruthless entrepreneur, she’s a small-town librarian — forge a real human connection.

If I Had My Druthers
• Americans would stand up and take notice of Justin Smoak.
• Americans, while standing up and noticing Justin Smoak, would resist the urge to call him the Smoak Monster.
• Americans would start being polite, and stop being real.

Houston at Cincinnati | Saturday, May 29 | 7:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Astros: Bud Norris*
43.2 IP, 11.13 K/9, 5.36 BB/9, .400 BABIP, 36.8% GB, 11.4% HR/FB, 3.99 xFIP

Reds: Aaron Harang
58.2 IP, 7.36 K/9, 1.99 BB/9, .353 BABIP, 41.4% GB, 16.9% HR/FB, 3.79 xFIP

Watch For
• Norris and Harang. The pair are currently two of the least lucky pitchers (per ERA-xFIP) in the majors. Norris has a 6.80 ERA; Harang, a 5.98 ERA. Impress your friends and/or standers-by with this knowledge!
• The Reds! They’re good. Offensive Rank (per WAR), 2009: 15th in the NL. Offensive Rank (per WAR), 2010: 5th!
Jay Bruce regressing real hard back to (and then above) the mean. Bruce, 2009: .221 BABIP, 97 wRC+. Bruce, 2010: .348 BABIP, 127 wRC+.

If I Had My Druthers
• Aaron Harang would stop getting dumped on by Fortune.
Miguel Cairo would not both start at first base and occupy the most important spot in the batting order.
• The part of the game where Houston’s supposed to bat wouldn’t exist.

*As reader Jason notes in the comments sections, Norris has actually been sent to the DL recently. In his place will be Gustavo Chacin. That’s less interesting than Norris. Sorry, dogggz.

Los Angeles (NL) at Colorado | Sunday, May 30 | 3:10 pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
59.0 IP, 9.61 K/9, 5.03 BB/9, .284 BABIP, 40.1% GB, 4.8% HR/FB, 4.25 xFIP

Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
32.0 IP, 8.44 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, .249 BABIP, 41.9% GB, 6.7% HR/FB, 3.81 xFIP

Watch For
• Clayton Kershaw. Of starters with more than 20 IP, Kershaw is fourth — behind Tim Lincecum (13.5%), Brandon Morrow (13.0%), and Dan Haren (12.8%) — in swinging strike percentage (11.9%). His fastball, a pitch that league-wide gets swing-and-misses only about 7 percent of the time, is getting whiffs 11.8 percent of the time.
• Jhoulys Chacin can throw the frig out of a baseball and is only 22 years old.
Chris Iannetta’s back in the majors after hitting .349/.447/.698 in his 70-something Triple-A plate appearances.

More on Kershaw
Matthew Carruth does these cool things for Lookout Landing where he looks at each pitcher’s basic repertoire and then grades it on the 20-80 scouting scale. The grades are determined by league percentiles in swinging strikes (K), strike rate (BB) and ground balls (GB) for each pitch.

Here’s what Kershaw’s looks like:

Pitch 	%	Sp 	K 	BB 	GB
FB 	71% 	94 	80 	60 	60
CB 	18% 	73 	45 	20 	60
SL 	6% 	82 	65 	35 	20
Overall	--	--	75	35	50

If I Had My Druthers
• Kershaw would just throw all those fastballs.
• The world would wake up and smell the Chris Iannetta.
• Actually, that’s gross.