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College Baseball Opening Weekend Notes (Batters)

On Monday, we recapped some highlights from top college pitching prospects who are going to be in the 2012 MLB draft (and potentially, on your favorite baseball-ling team!). A reminder to give @KendallRogersPG and @aaronfitt a follow on Twitter for live updates of top college prospects.

Today, we’ll take a look at the notable batting performances from the past week, ranked approximately by 2012 batting prospect you most need to know about. Each performance is accompanied by a quick scouting report of the batter’s profile, courtesy of FanGraphs’ own Mark Anderson (you can read more of his work at Baseball Prospect Nation as well as his post from yesterday):

C Mike Zunino, Florida (6-2, 215 lbs)
.474/.565/.895 in 23 PAs with 2 HRs
Zunino had a great first week to the season and could be the second college hitter picked in the draft. He has a good catcher’s build and is a plus defender as well. Zunino also credited a shortened stride in his swing that helped him hit two home runs against Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday. And after hitting .371/.442/.674 with 19 home runs last season, he is expecting that teams will pitch him outside of the strike zone more. “I know I’m going to get pitched there most of the year,” Zunino said. “I just got too antsy this weekend and was able to sit back in my stance [Tuesday] and get a couple pitches I can drive.”

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College Baseball Opening Weekend Notes (Pitchers)

Pitchers and catchers reported this past weekend, but what’s also exciting is that college baseball opened as well. It’s never too early to start reading about 2012 MLB draft prospects, and we’d like to start bringing you some coverage for the draft as well. Before we go on though, give @KendallRogersPG and @aaronfitt a follow on Twitter for live-updates of college prospects — they give you so much more than just line scores in their commentary.

Today, we’ll take a look at the notable pitching performances from the weekend, ranked approximately by 2012 pitching prospect you most need to know about:

RHP Mark Appel, Stanford (6-5, 195 lbs)
7.0IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 5K
While the stat line looks decent, reports out of Palo Alto were expecting more out of the early projected #1 overall pick. He touched 97 in the 1st, but remained in the low-90s the rest of the game. His changeup was not impressive, and he didn’t show a good breaking ball until the 5th. Keith Law ($) was not particularly impressed either with Appel’s continued lack of missed bats.

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The Best Pitches of 2011: Changeup

As a continuation of this week’s Best Pitches of 2011 series, we’ll look at the best changeups from 2011 today. The best sliders (by Chris Cwik) and the best curveballs (coming tomorrow by Paul Swydan) ssummarize the most effective breaking balls in baseball, but changeups are a distinctly different animal. Changeups comprise the majority of an entire subset of pitch types in offspeed pitches, and they are used differently from breaking balls too.

An offspeed pitch is normally intended to fool the batter by coming out of the pitcher’s hand appearing like a fastball, and then — with a Chris Berman WHOOP — it decelerates and drops dead towards the plate. Some changeups have armside fade, others are straight and run 10-15 mph slower than the pitcher’s fastball, and still others hit the floor with combinations of all of the above.

Carson talked earlier in the week about some of the numbers and points of context we considered in this series, and some of what he says about fastballs applies to changeups too, particularly when you consider changeups in the context of pitchers’ repertoires.

So without further ado, here are the best changeups of 2011.

Note: the average movement for a changeup in 2011 was -1.4 X-move and +4.3 Y-move.

Also note: I’ve added another pitch result stat, Whiff%, which is the number of misses per swing (as opposed to SwStr%, which is the number of misses per pitch)

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Josh Johnson’s Curveball

We’re happy to welcome Albert Lyu back to the FanGraphs team. His work will again appear regularly here on the site.

Before Josh Johnson was lost for the season with shoulder injuries in May, he was ready to dominate the National League yet again as an early 2011 Cy Young Award candidate. He flashed a 1.64 ERA and a 2.64 FIP — and he was whiffing 8.35 batters per nine innings, while allowing 2.98 BB/9 and 0.30 HR/9. While much of his hot start through April and May last year wasn’t sustainable because of  a .239 BABIP and an 82.2% strand rate (LOB%), he did add a curveball to his arsenal that should keep NL hitters on their toes in 2012. Johnson was five outs from a no-hitter against the Braves in April, which left Chipper Jones to comment that Johnson had a new pitch to toy with.

Johnson had shown a curveball during his rookie season in 2005, but he dropped it early on. He thrived as an starter for several seasons with just three pitches: a mid-90s fastball, a high-80s hard slider and a mid-to-high-80s changeup. Mixing and matching three pitches at different speeds brought success — but adding the new curveball now forces Johnson’s opponents to change their approach against him even more. While his power slider can range anywhere between 85 mph and 91 mph, his curveball was in the high-70s.

Here’s an video of Johnson’s 12-6 curveball, which appears on the first two pitches (later pitches in the video showcase his high-80s hard slider and his mid-90s fastball):

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Will FIELDf/x Go Public? Should It?

For those among you out there who read FanGraphs regularly, chances are you have a copy of the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011. If so, pace around your mother’s basement, take your dog-eared copy off that book shelf, and flip to page eleventy-one with me (or do yourself a favor and purchase a copy here). Take a couple of minutes to (re)read Rob Neyer’s article documenting his giddiness of the potential of FIELDf/x, a new player-tracking system by Sportvision. Fully operational FIELDf/x camera systems will be installed in five stadiums by the end of this season and hopefully all 30 by 2012. Here’s an excerpt from Rob’s article describing FIELDf/x:

FIELDf/x will manifestly and forever revolutionize the evaluation of defense. In fact, I will venture that the defensive metrics in use today, whether by John Dewan or Sean Smith or David Pinto or Mickey Lichtman or anyone else, will in five years seem nearly as primitive as range factor does today. Because with FIELDf/x, we’ll know not just (approximately) where the baseball went and whether it was caught and who caught it (or didn’t). We’ll know exactly where the ball went and exactly how long it took a fielder to arrive and exactly how he got there. All the talk about range and getting a good jump and taking a good route — it won’t be just talk anymore. There will be cold, hard data for every bit of it.

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Axford Axes Save Opportunity

The defending NL Central champions played like it yesterday afternoon as a four-run 9th inning led the Cincinnati Reds to a walk-off win against the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day. When Jay Bruce stepped to the plate down three runs with the bases loaded, memories of the division title-clinching walk-off home run by Bruce last season were immediately conjured up.

John Axford, Milwaukee’s newly respected closer who usurped Trevor Hoffman‘s closer duties last season, had allowed a long single to Brandon Phillips, walked Joey Votto on five pitches, and allowed Scott Rolen to reach base thanks to Casey McGehee’s non-error fielding gaffe. McGehee tried to tag Phillips out as the second baseman was going from second to third, but missed the tag and took a second too long to attempt the force out at first. Boom, bases loaded.

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Opening Day Notes: Kershaw vs. Lincecum

Opening Day’s most anticipated matchup is that of the Kershaw vs. that of the Lincecum. How anticipated you ask? The latest issue of Dodgers Magazine was appropriately dubbed “explosive openings” and will only be on sale at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day. And it features both Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum on its front cover much to the ire of many (or a very few) Dodgers fans.

To help you out when you watch the game tonight, let’s take a look at the pitch selection of both aces, as Kershaw and Lincecum mix their repertoires very differently. Kershaw relies heavily on his low-to-mid 90s four-seam fastball, hurling it on at least 70% of pitches throughout his Major League career. His 12-6 low-70s curve ball was the talk of Tinseltown a few years ago, but Kershaw has since developed a low-80s slider. It has become his favorite secondary pitch, used almost 20% of the time in 2010. His straight changeup hovers in the mid-80s range.

By contrast, Lincecum’s out pitch is his sinking changeup, which he adds a split-fingered grip to. Combined with his mid-80s hard slider and high-70s curve, Lincecum’s repertoire also consists of fastballs that cut, break, and rise in all sorts of directions. Timmy breaks out the fastball on 55% of pitches with varying speeds and movement, anywhere between 87 and 95 mph, then throws the changeup, curve, and slider in that order of frequency.

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Jonathan Papelbon’s Slutter

Jonathan Papelbon recently announced that he will use his slider more this upcoming season and that he feels it will be a ‘difference-maker’ to rebounding from a down 2010 year. As reported by WEEI, here is how Papelbon came to decide to committing to this pitch:

“I remember being in Yankee Stadium, throwing a few of them to [Mark] Teixeira and one to [Derek] Jeter,” the Red Sox closer said. “I remember throwing one to Jeter and he check-swung. He got the call – even though it was a strike – but I remember him specifically looking at me and looking like he was thinking, ‘Where did that come from?’ From then on I said I am going to start using this pitch any time, all the time.”

“This is the most confident I’ve felt about a breaking pitch,” he said. “It’s right where I want it to be. I’m going to throw it as much as my split. I’ll have three pitches I can throw from 0-0, to 3-2.”

What this quote portends is that Papelbon will use his slider more this season — this much is true. Having three pitches to throw in all counts, as he claims, is more of a trite remark than an analytical one, but it does lead me to want to investigate how Papelbon’s three pitches and each of A) their usage and distribution based on the count, and B) their performance and pitch results.

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Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds

After being ousted by the recent NL powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies in three NLDS games, Reds fans may be left wondering “what if?”. But 15 postseason-less and nine losing seasons later, the city of Cincinnati should be proud of their ballclub and can be assured that the organization is in good hands. The future has finally arrived at the Great American Ball Park while years of whiffing on player development appear to be over. GM Walt Jocketty has been able to anchor both the homegrown talent he inherited in 2008 and the talent the team drafted and acquired under his rule. Manager Dusty Baker received a two-year extension and will lead a team of seasoned veterans and promising young players, favorites for another NL Central crown.

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Garret Anderson Retires

Today, Garret Anderson announced his retirement, ending a long 17-year career, the verdict of which depends on which L.A. team you root for. Anderson hit .293/.324/.461 for his career with 287 home runs and 1365 RBIs. His peak years came in and around the Angels’ 2002 World Series run, averaging 3.2 WAR seasons between 1999 and 2003 and placing fourth in AL MVP voting during the Halos’ championship year. He ends his career as the Angels’ franchise leader in total games played, hits, doubles, total bases, runs, extra-base hits, and RBIs.

Drafted out of the 4th round in 1990 and spurning Division-I basketball offers, he batted .321/.352/.505 with 2.8 WAR in his 1995 rookie season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. For 13 seasons after that, Anderson was a fixture in the lineup, always hitting and always healthy. One highlight during his career was winning both the 2003 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game MVP honors by almost hitting for the cycle, the first All-Star at the time to win both awards in the same year since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1991.

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