Author Archive

Don’t Sleep on Prince Fielder’s Speed

At two different points in yesterday’s Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit, it appeared the game could hinge on, of all things, Prince Fielder’s speed. The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the first after Fielder beat out what looked like a sure double play ball. Later, with a two-run lead in the sixth, Fielder legged out an infield single to give the Tigers two on with two outs and a chance to blow the game open.

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Welcome to the Rotation, Garrett Richards

The Angels will be leaning on Garrett Richards to fill the starting rotation opening left by the broken elbow Jered Weaver sustained Monday. Projections are bleak for the 24-year-old — updated ZiPS forecasts a 5.46 ERA and 5.00 FIP; Steamer sees a brighter future but still one near replacement level (4.38 ERA, 4.33 FIP).

There is room for excitement here, however. Richards, the 42nd-overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft, has stuff to make scouts drool. His fastball has averaged 94.7 MPH out of the bullpen in 4.1 innings this year and was a blazing 95.6 MPH out of the rotation in eight starts in June and July of 2012. His slider was rated as the best breaking pitch in the Texas League in 2011 and has induced a whiff on 34.7 percent of swings in the majors, a significantly better mark than Weaver (28.2 percent) and noted slider artists Madison Bumgarner (24.1 percent) and Matt Cain (24.9 percent).

So far, though, there has been a disconnect between Richards’s stuff and results. Due to struggles with control and home runs — a disastrous combination — Richards owns a 4.74 ERA and 4.94 FIP through his first 89.1 innings (12 starts, 29 relief appearances). In his 12 starts, Richards has struck out just 5.2 batters per nine innings and has a 4.66 ERA and a 5.41 FIP.

Richards has handled right-handed hitters — they’ve hit .225/.297/.402 against Richards in 195 plate appearances. Lefties, however, have a .318/.412/.514 mark against him. Little in Richards’s statistical profile against lefties induces confidence — a 6.5 K/9 is mediocre; a 5.7 BB/9 is dreadful as is a .196 ISO. He has served up a 26.4 percent line drive rate and a 15.2 HR/FB rate — hallmarks of hard contact.

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Chris Davis Is Hitting Everything

The Orioles scored 20 runs in their 2-1 series victory over the Rays this week. Chris Davis drove in 11 himself and scored four more. His .971 wOBA — 7-for-11, three home runs, three doubles, a walk and a hit by pitch in 13 plate appearances — through the season’s first three games gives him the league lead (Tyler Flowers’s .816 checks in at second place).

Davis now has 10 home runs through his last 10 regular season games — he hit seven home runs in games 156 through 161 last season before an oh-fer in the finale. Davis has kept his fire burning strong by mashing more than just mistake pitches. The Rays attacked the one point in the strike zone he doesn’t mash — the lower-outside corner. And that’s the most impressive part of Davis’s series — even when Rays pitchers hit their spots, Davis was able to not just make contact, but blast those pitches for doubles and home runs.

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Yu Darvish Picks Up Where He Left Off

Marwin Gonzalez earned his hit to break up Yu Darvish’s perfect game last night. Darvish left a 90 MPH four-seam fastball out over the plate, and Gonzalez hit it hard back up the middle, just under Darvish’s glove. It was a mistake pitch. It was the only one from the 26-year-old Darvish last night in Houston.

For 26 batters, Darvish carved through the Astros lineup in his best start since his much-anticipated MLB debut last season. The 6-foot-5 righty struck out 14 of those 26 before Gonzalez finally managed to reach base safely. Darvish created lofty expectations with a tremendous run in his last eight starts of 2012 — 57.1 innings with a 2.35 ERA and 67-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and the adjustments he made late last year were present in his masterpiece last night.

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Andrew McCutchen’s Controlled Aggression

Patience has been a big part of Andrew McCutchen’s game since his arrival in Pittsburgh in 2009. The two-time All-Star walked in at least 10 percent of his plate appearances in all four of his MLB seasons.

For McCutchen, consistency has come with patience. His first three seasons saw wOBAs of .363, .359 and .360 respectively. The jump from All-Star to MVP candidate came in 2012, as McCutchen hit .327/.400/.553 and set career highs in all three slash-line stats as well as ISO (.226), home runs (31) and RBI. And it also came with an added bit of aggression at the plate — controlled agression, but aggression nonetheless.

McCutchen set another career high in 2012: he swung at 45.2 percent of pitches, an increase from 40.9 percent in 2011 and 40.8 percent career. But it was controlled aggression: his zone swing rate went up six percent against just a two percent rise in out-of-zone rate, and according to Baseball Prospectus, most of the extra swings were on pitches over the middle third of the plate (see career and 2012 swing rates). More swings in this zone can only be a good thing; more swings means more contact, and McCutchen has a .640 slugging percentage on contact over the middle third of the plate.

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Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#16-30)

For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. The data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been going position by position around the sport. We finish up the series with bullpens today, but it’s worth noting that these projections follow a slightly different structure than the rest.

For one, projecting specific innings totals for relievers is a taller task than projecting playing time for position players or even innings totals for starters. There are numerous outside factors impacting bullpen usage, including things that we can’t really predict like the distribution of runs scored and allowed by each team. One team might play in a bunch of blowouts and rarely need their closer, while another could end up in a continuous stream of one run games and ask their best few arms to carry a lion’s share of the workload. Beyond that, the health of a team’s rotation is going to be a factor, as some relievers are also reserve starters who might be pressed into duty mid-season. And the depth charts are continually evolving, as injuries and acquisitions move guys into differing roles that come with different usage patterns.

So, for the relievers, we’ve simply assigned IP totals to each slot on a depth chart. Closers and primary setup men get 65 innings each, with the 3rd/4th relievers getting 55 innings each, and then the rest have their innings allocated in descending order according to their placement on the depth chart. And, in order to make each team’s total number of innings pitched (both starters and relievers) equal out to 1,458, we’ve added in a set for each team that makes up the missing innings in the projections. The performance projection is the same for each team, and is set to be around -0.1 WAR per 100 innings, on the assumption that the 10th or 11th reliever a team uses throughout the season is probably a little bit below replacement level. The statline in the table is just there as a placeholder – those numbers aren’t actually affecting the calculation beyond just setting innings equal and being included in the WAR sum.

Also, since we don’t have separate ZIPS/Steamer projections for guys as starters and relievers, guys who were projected as starters but are going to pitch in relief will likely be under-forecast. Aroldis Chapman, for instance, is getting his starter projections prorated to reliever innings totals, and he’ll almost certainly pitch better in relief than he was projected to do as a starter. There aren’t a lot of those types, but for guys like that, adjust their numbers upwards accordingly.

Oh, and we’ve mentioned this on the other lists, but it is worth emphasizing here – the gap between many teams is so slim that you shouldn’t read too much into a team’s placement in the ordinal rank. The gap between #12 and #22 is +0.7 WAR. That’s no difference at all, really. There are good bullpens, okay bullpens, and a couple of bad bullpens, but don’t get too caught up in whether one team is a few spots ahead of another team. With margins this small, the specific placement on the list is mostly irrelevant.

On to the list.

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Positional Power Rankings: Second Base

What’s all this, then? For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.

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The Tigers and Successful Setup to Closer Conversions

Barring a late-spring signing of Jose Valverde, the Tigers will be turning to a pitcher new to the closer’s role (or, in the case of Octavio Dotel, many years removed from his last closing opportunity). Things have been rough in the bullpen in spring training, particularly for the assumed front-runner Bruce Rondon, who has allowed five hits (including a home run) and five walks in just four appearances to date.

The competition appears now to be a bit more wide open. Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel join Rondon as options for the ninth inning in Detroit. Who fits best? To help answer that question, I took a look at what characterized the most successful pitchers to move from a setup role (or other bullpen role) into a closer role the next season.

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Running The Numbers on the WBC’s Extra Inning Plan

The World Baseball Classic — which starts tonight! — tweeted out a fun fact about their extra innings procedure. Your mileage may vary:

This fact’s fun factor can be debated; in a game as based in tradition as baseball, I think many would prefer as little messing with the rules as possible. But with MLB (and foreign professional leagues, most likely) worried about the health of their players, it’s in the WBC’s best interest to avoid 20-inning marathon games, as much as we may want to see them. Does their policy at least succeed in that respect?

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Kyle Lohse and Other Pillow Contract Players

Players choose the services of Scott Boras for a simple reason. The simplest reason, even: he gets money.

But not even Boras can truly command the invisible hand of the market. See Kyle Lohse. Despite many seeing him as one of the best pitchers available in this year’s free agent class, Lohse remains unsigned into march — a far cry from the four-year, $40 million deal or higher many saw him attaining.

Of course, for all of Boras’s success, Lohse isn’t his first high-profile client whose market has dropped out from under him. The safe play given the age of most of these players (over 30) and MLB’s guaranteed contract system would be to take a multi-year contract at a depressed average annual value. Quite often, however, Boras has eschewed the long term deal for the “pillow contract,” a one-year contract so-called because it lets the player land softly from their bottomed-out market and get up and try again next season.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

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