Locational Run Values
In the last couple of weeks there have been several great articles written about the run value of different pitches. These articles have explored how much every pitch in baseball is worth on a per-pitch basis, and while some of the math behind the scenes might be slightly different from article to article, the general idea is the same. You need to find out how much every event is worth in a given environment (based on the count, pitcher, stadium, or any other type of environment you're working with), and then multiply those weights by the number of events caused by a given pitch to find the total number of runs above average that the pitch saved. One thing that none of these articles have discussed is exactly how location impacts the value of a pitch. Clearly the location of a pitch matters in determining it's value, but how big is the impact?
I split up the strike zone (and the surrounding area) into bins, and in each bin, I found the number of runs above average that were saved per pitch thrown to that area. Below is a chart showing the value of different regions for right-handed pitchers throwing fastballs against left-handed hitters. My calculations are based on the hitter's perspective, so negative values are saving runs compared to an "average location" and are good for the pitcher, while positive ones are the opposite.
The most obvious thing I noticed on the graph is the value of the strike zone. Eight of the nine regions prevent runs from being scored compared to an average location, which initially seems high. This actually makes sense though, if you think about how often batters get out and the fact that when a batter doesn't swing at a pitch in the strike zone, it always puts him in a less advantageous position to hit from. In this chart, which is from the pitcher's perspective, you can see regions where, as a group, left-handed hitters are more vulnerable to a right-handed pitcher's fastball. The idea that left-handed hitters like the ball low and inside seems to be backed up a little bit, as the bins in that region of the strike zone have a higher value than the rest of the zone. Using rigid bins isn't the best method for looking at the strike zone because you run into problems with deciding where to put the edges of bins, and a continuous approach is probably the ideal way to do this in the future.
Even with this limitation, what else can we learn from this chart? One thing to notice is that left-handed batters are either swinging at pitches low and outside, or umpires are calling this pitch a strike against lefties. Either way, it appears to be an area that pitchers can possibly exploit. Looking at all fastballs thrown by a pitcher-batter grouping is interesting, but exploring how the count and location impact an at-bat is more interesting. The chart below has the same group of batters and pitchers, but is now showing the linear weights per pitch of each section in an 0&2 count (this includes all pitches, not just fastballs).
When reading this chart, you need to remember that the weights used to calculate the value of each region are based on an 0&2 count. The middle region being .154 runs means that compared to an "average" location on an 0&2 count, that area allows .154 runs per pitch more. This isn't saying that overall, a pitch down the middle is worth .154 more runs than an average pitch, just on an 0&2 count. With this in mind, the chart makes a ton of sense. You can see the expansion of the strike zone, as virtually all the regions around the strike zone now allow fewer runs than average.
The increased ability for a pitcher to work outside the strike zone makes any miss into the strike zone hurt that much more. Using the same logic that a hit in a 0&2 count hurts the pitcher more than giving up the same hit in an 0&0 count, throwing a pitch right down the middle in an 0&2 count is a worse idea than doing the same thing in an 0&0 count. The idea is reversed on a 3&0 pitch, which is plotted below. A pitch outside the strike zone is now a tremendous advantage for the hitter, so the pitcher is forced to throw a strike. Somewhat counter intuitively, even though hitters "know" a strike is coming, pitches thrown in the strike zone in 3&0 counts still favor pitchers. This just speaks to how hard hitting actually is.
One other point I wanted to mention is the magnitudes of the impact of location. Using 50 pitches to a type of batter as a rough cutoff point, I found that the best and worst pitches range from roughly -.07 runs/pitch for the best to .07 runs/pitch for the worst. The spread between the best and worse locations varies, and depends on the count, but it can be as large as almost 1 run/pitch. Obviously this will have a huge impact on the value of a pitch, and potentially could negate any value a pitch has. You could have the best pitch in baseball, but if you can't locate it very well, it won't do you any good. Creating these plots for every pitcher could give a good indication of how much location actually helps and hurts a pitcher, depending on the situation.
Facing the Facts on Clemens
A lot has changed since I started writing my first book, “Facing Clemens.” What was meant to be a fairly cut and dry baseball book about what it’s like for a hitter to try and ply their craft against the Rocket over the course of his career has obviously turned into much, much more. That being said, I still maintain the book has relevance. Regardless of where you stand on the current news surrounding Roger Clemens, the challenge of trying to hit him hasn’t changed. Perhaps his career has been forever tainted, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the toughest pitchers of all-time for a hitter to try to make a living off of.
The numbers, of course, more than back it up. He finished the 2007 season – now certainly his last – eighth on the all-time list in wins. Only one pitcher whose career was after 1940 is ahead of him: Warren Spahn. You’ve seen the other victory numbers. He’s first all-time on the active list and he reached 350 wins with the second fewest losses in the game’s history, behind only the guy who’s name is on the pitching award.
Now, before all the sabermetricians click elsewhere or write me off as an old fogey who knows nothing, I’ll go further. Wins, of course, can be misleading because they are so often not within a pitcher’s control. Clemens is second all-time in strikeouts and his name can be found on career leaderboards in a host of categories from things that show off his longevity, like games started or innings pitched, to his dominance, like shutouts, or to “new-fangled” stats like adjusted ERA+, which measures a pitcher’s ERA against the league average with ballpark effects taken into account (he’s ninth all-time, in case you were curious). Something like that helps bridge the generational divide for a “greatest pitcher of all time debate.” When stacked against his contemporaries, it almost isn’t fair. He leads just about every active career statistical list.
Then, of course, there’s the hardware and honors. With the seven Cy Youngs, the MVP Award, the 11 All-Star appearances, the World Series rings and total appearances, he’s off the charts on the Black Ink and Gray Ink Tests. The scores, 100 (fifth all-time) and 314 (eighth), speak for themselves. So does his Hall of Fame Monitor mark (336, second only behind Walter Johnson) and the Hall of Fame Standards Test score (73, eighth all-time behind Grover Cleveland Alexander). Now these numbers may be a bit meaningless now in terms of Hall of Fame chances, but it does give a more complete picture of just how dominant this guy was for 24 years.
In trying to determine who would be the best subjects for the book, I dug deeply into the numbers behind Clemens’ career (a quick thanks to the folks at retrosheet.org is essential at this point). I was quick to find who had faced Clemens the most (Cal Ripken Jr.), who had had some level of prolonged success against the Rocket (Ken Griffey Jr., especially in their AL days) and who really hadn’t had any luck at all (Torii Hunter and his 0-for-28).
Of course, numbers in baseball are like layers of an onion. Once you start peeling, you find more. How many realized that in Roger Clemens’ two 20-strikeout games, 10 years apart, he walked a grand total of zero? That’s right, no walks and 40 strikeouts over 18 innings (As an aside, I also learned Clemens wasn’t supposed to pitch against the Mariners that fateful night in 1986. He was slated to go the game prior, but it had been rained out.).
In researching for the Ripken chapter, I discovered that the Hall of Fame Oriole never once struck out more than 100 times in a season. In fact, the only two times he was over 90 were the first two seasons of his career when he was redefining what a shortstop could and should be. He struck out a grand total of 1305 times in 11,551 at-bats, or once every 8.85 AB. He whiffed 17 times in 109 at-bats against Clemens for a 6.41 per AB average.
A lot of fuss was made about the controversial time, in 1998, about how Clemens was scuffling in the first half, then “miraculously” turned it around in the second. Clemens had a 3.55 ERA in that first half and 120 strikeouts in 119 IP. I’m not saying this exonerates the man, but that first-half figure alone would have put him right near the top 10 for the year in ERA. The league ERA, by the way, was 4.61. Even in 1996, his last with the Red Sox when he was supposedly finished, he was sixth in the league with a 3.63 ERA while topping the league in K/9 and overall strikeouts.
Where does that leave us now in trying to figure out his legacy? It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. I’m not one who usually does everything by numbers – one of the things I appreciated about doing this book is how the stats were backed up by experiences, recollections from actual human beings. But sometimes, numbers can be the most impartial.
So let's say we completely believe the Mitchell Report and the ensuing testimony and Clemens started taking performance enhancers in 1998. Let's take a look at his career at that point. He had won four Cy Young Awards and gone to seven All-Star Games (I’m counting the 1998 Midsummer Classic because he earned that one pre-injections, according to the report). He’d earned five ERA titles, an MVP Award, gone to a World Series and led the league in those dreaded wins three times. He also took home four strikeout crowns and a pitching Triple Crown in 1997.
He had 213 wins at the end of the 1997 season. He had a 2.97 ERA. There wasn’t a league average ERA during that span under 4.00. Is that enough for a Hall of Fame career? Maybe not quite – though the Sandy Koufax argument could be made – but it’s not far off.
Even the biggest detractors of Clemens wouldn’t argue that he would’ve had to hang ‘em up in 1998 if it weren’t for Brian McNamee. The odds of him pitching another nine years are slim, but an argument could be made that he would’ve been done by, say, 2003, the year he “retired” for the first time in the World Series against the Marlins. Go ahead and take away the Cy Youngs in 1998 and 2001, if you must. Truth be told, his Yankee numbers aren’t all that overwhelming and his ERA, at best, hovered around where that 1998 first-half figure was. You have to figure he falls into about 13 wins per year as a Yankee, rough estimate. That’s another 65 victories to bring him to 278, all the previous hardware and a career ERA probably not too far off from his current mark of 3.12 (Again, league average in his career: 4.46).
What’s my point in all of this? To be honest, I’m still not sure. Like many fans, albeit one with a vested interest, I’m trying to figure all of this out. I’ve been covering the game long enough for nothing to shock me one way or the other. One thing is certain: Clemens’ image is forever tarnished, regardless of what happens in the future. I can’t foresee the Baseball Writers Association of America voting him into the Hall of Fame any time soon, assuming he actually is retired.
What I would ask is for those voters, as well as fans trying to make up their minds as well, to take a closer look at the numbers, even deeper than I’ve delved here. I think you might find, beneath the scandal, the congressional hearings, the “he said, he said” of the past few months, there’s still a pretty damn good pitcher under all of it, warts and all, who made it extremely difficult for hitters for a really long time.
Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com. He joined Major League Baseball’s official website in April 1999 and has covered three World Series, seven All-Star Games, the Opening Series in Japan and Puerto Rico, the Caribbean World Series in Mexico, and the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. More recently, Jonathan has focused his efforts on covering minor league baseball, the baseball draft, the Arizona Fall League, and baseball’s winter meetings. You can learn more about him and his first book on his website.
Two on Two: NL West Preview
A tradition of sorts has developed here at Baseball Analysts. Each season, two outsiders and two of our own preview the six divisions. We kick off this season with what may be the very finest division in all of baseball, the National League West. We are thrilled to have Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts joining us once again this year. In the minds of baseball blog readers, Jon is as closely associated to the Dodgers as any blogger is to any other team.
Also joining us this season is Russ Oates of Purple Row, one of the more popular Colorado Rockies blogs out there.
Sully: This division is one of the very best in baseball. San Francisco is more or less irrelevant at this point. As I heard someone say (I can't remember who), the Giants biggest problem this season is that they have 162 games to play. That leaves the other four teams and really, it's anyone's division.
Rich: The young players in the NL West have finally come of age. The division is arguably the strongest in the league and one of the best in the majors. As you said, a strong case could be made for as many as four teams to win the West. Arizona, Colorado, and San Diego were three of the four most efficient teams in baseball last season in terms of wins vs. payroll. San Francisco, on the other hand, was one of the least efficient. Los Angeles was more like the Giants in 2007 but figures to be more like the other three in 2008.
Russ: It might be hard for this year's NL West to outdo the 2007 version, certainly not the way it concluded. Still, as has been mentioned, the division will have four teams with a chance to capture the NL West crown. Also, I think Sully is being a bit unfair to the Giants. They won't compete for the division but won't be a complete black hole either. A couple of young pitchers there should make fans occasionally forget the long summer it'll be for the team.
Jon: The NL West had three teams play past the 162-game mark last season, and a fourth, Los Angeles, is a legitimate contender to do the same this year. I can't remember a year when four NL West teams were legitimate picks to win the NL pennant. It's gonna be like the climax from John Wayne's last movie,
Russ: Coming off a season in which they set a major league record for fielding percentage and tied the NL record for fewest errors committed by a team, the Rockies enter 2008 with a defense that is largely unchanged. The only change will be at second base for the departed Kazuo Matsui. Jayson Nix offers the best defense among the candidates for the job, and Tulowitzki is known to be a fan of his.
The Rockies' rotation is one filled with potential but also uncertainty. Francis established himself as the team's ace last season, fulfilling the expectations given to him in the extension he signed during the '06-'07 off-season. Cook, though, will carry heavy expectations after signing a four-year contract in December. Cook has yet to put back-to-back complete seasons together since becoming a member of the rotation. The potential and excitement comes in youngsters Jimenez, slated to be the third pitcher, and Morales, competing for the fifth spot. Both are hard throwers, though Morales is less refined than Jimenez. If they catch on, this rotation won't be forgotten among the rest of the talented NL West rotations. Jason Hirsh gets lost among the rest of the starters, but should he rediscover his use of the fastball, he'll be a decent fourth starter.
Jon: Elmer Dessens made five starts for Colorado last season, lasting a total of 19 innings. In the other 158 games, Colorado's worst starting pitcher was Josh Fogg, who finished with an
Sully: I think Jon makes good points in talking about how the starting pitching was really just solid over a long stretch but rarely spectacular. That was enough to get it done with the run support of their potent offense. But really, we are talking about a club with aspirations to get back to and win the World Series. Francis to me seems to be the only guy on the team you can depend on for reliable performance in 2008. The bullpen, on the other hand, once again looks formidable.
Russ: Brian Fuentes will be an expensive setup guy, but he'll also be necessary insurance should closer Manny Corpas struggle. The Rockies and Yankees swapped relievers through free agency when LaTroy Hawkins signed with the Yankees and Luis Vizcaino moved out west to Denver. Vizcaino will take over Hawkins' role as the right-handed reliever during late-inning situations.
Jon: The most significant offensive change for the defending NL champion Rockies is at second base, where Matsui is being replaced. But Matsui was hardly the straw that stirred this drink. There's a core - Matt Holliday, Garret Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki - that's productive and under 30, and Todd Helton walked 116 times last year en route to a VORP of 51.9. The main problem with Colorado's lineup is that it doesn't scare you from the top to the bottom ... but oh, that middle.
Rich: The Rockies can hit. Sure, with Coors Field as its home ballpark, part of the team's offensive success is illusory. But the club still finished fifth in runs scored on the road. Atkins, Hawpe and Holliday are all 28 and at their peaks while the 34-year-old Helton should still be good for another .300/.400/.500-type season and the 23-year-old Tulowitzki may be the best-hitting shortstop in the league whose last name doesn't start with an "R".
Hawpe has struggled with lefties his entire career and will sit often in favor of a player such as Ryan Spilborghs when a southpaw opposes the Rockies. Yorvit Torrealba is a below-average offensive catcher, but with Clint Hurdle unlikely to give Chris Iannetta a chance to unseat Torrealba for the starting position there won't be much change from 2007's offensive output there.
Sully: As good as the core is, it seems as though they will have four holes in their lineup. That's a lot of dead weight to lug around. Jon alluded to the great core but lacking depth and I suppose I see this as a potential Achilles heel for this team. Helton figures to come back a bit and even if Holliday, Atkins, Tulo and Hawpe replicate their 2007 output, I think Torrealba, Nix and Taveras figure to offset a lot of the productivity. The Rox are a nice team, but there's a little too much hamburg on this roster for me to be convinced they will win 90 games once again. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, look awfully tough to me.
Jon: I won't be provocative here: Thanks to the pickup of Danny Haren, Arizona gave itself arguably the best rotation in the division, at least in April. The presence of Haren and Brandon Webb up front will grab the headlines, but Doug Davis (111 ERA+) and Micah Owings (109 ERA+) also pitched passably last year. A comeback season from Randy Johnson would give them a game pitcher every day of the week, but even if Johnson's health gives way, the Diamondbacks have some prospects who could step in.
Rich: Arizona, which was second in the league in ERA+ last year, figures to be equally good this season. With respect to the starting rotation, it's a combination of addition and subtraction. Haren (3.07 ERA, third best in the AL) joins Webb to give the Diamondbacks arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league while Livan Hernandez takes his nearly 5.00 ERA to Minnesota. The bullpen, however, is a somewhat different story. I'm skeptical as to whether Brandon Lyon can step up and replace Jose Valverde as the club's closer, and it will be interesting to see if Tony Pena and Juan Cruz can repeat their fine performances in their set-up roles.
Sully: I agree on Lyon, Rich, but it is not like they didn't get bullpen help back from Houston. Chad Qualls figures to be a nice addition to a bullpen already teeming with live arms.
Russ: As Rich said, the D'Backs will have a great 1-2 combo with Webb and Haren, and if Randy Johnson, 44, returns healthy it could be lights out for the rest of the NL West. Beware the Unit's back, though. Given his experience in the role, I happen to think Lyon will transition back into closer duties with few problems. Add in Qualls, acquired in the deal that sent Valverde to the Astros during the offseason, and Pena, late innings against the D'Backs will be tough for opposing hitters.
Sully: I am sure Drew is a major priority for Bob Melvin this season.
Jon: Speaking of Melvin, the Diamondbacks rather famously won the division despite allowing more runs than they scored. The analyst consensus pointed to effective bullpen management as the cause: Melvin didn't waste his good pitchers in blowouts. If this is a true skill of the Arizona manager, what a nice one to have. And don't forget how nice it would be for Arizona to have Hudson healthy down the stretch, unlike in 2007.
Sully: We know Josh Byrnes is excited about his young offense, but what's the consensus around these parts about the Snakes' bats?
Jon: Seven returning Diamondback starters, plus Miguel Montero, homered in double-figures last season. Chris Young, now 24, led the way with 32 homers, despite a .295 on-base percentage. In a sense, just like Los Angeles with Andruw Jones, Arizona is hoping that their top power hitter can be even more productive. Arizona's is not a dominant lineup, but it is a mostly young and capable one - especially when Owings is batting ninth.
Russ: Will the D'Backs be able to avoid the criticism they received last year for having a negative run differential? Stephen Drew will need to hit a few more home runs and improve his OBP to help the offense out. A quick start for Conor Jackson will also go a long way for this team, since April '07 (.217/.351/..267) was his worst month. Young could cut down on the strikeouts and reach base a bit more often, as could Upton. It's not a question of if the D'Backs offense will improve, it's how much.
Sully: With that last statement, it sounds like you agree with Byrnes here, Russ. I think I do too. The Snakes will make strides this season, with the potential to put together a very good offense should they be fortunate to have a number of their youngsters blossom simultaneously. It could well happen.
Russ: One of the major questions facing the Padres is what they'll get out of Mark Prior and Randy Wolf. It's a big if, but if Prior can come back and perform anywhere close to his 2003 season, the Padres will have the rotation to beat in the West. If he doesn't, it's not a big loss for the Padres since Prior signed a cheap contract and the team wasn't pinning their season's hopes on him. Wolf, coming off shoulder surgery, will benefit pitching at Petco. Maddux keeps chugging along, but you have to wonder how much longer he'll be able to do that. Peavy is one of the best and Chris Young is a great counterpart for him at the top of the rotation.
Jon: The Padres have the Cy Young winner and Young (129 ERA+ in 30 starts), but there is a problematic lack of depth to their rotation. Their No. 3 and No. 4 starters, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and comebacking Randy Wolf, will struggle just to be average. There's rarely reason to fear blowout losses in San Diego, but will the Padres be able to hold their opponents to three runs instead of four when they need to, or four runs instead of five? At Petco, that run or two can be a big deal.
Sully: It sounds like folks think the Padres offense will have to pick up some of the slack, and I think it is very much capable of doing so. Kevin Towers added to his young infield of Kevin Kouzmanoff, Khalil Greene and Adrian Gonzalez, the steady bat of Tadahito Iguchi. This may not seem like much but consider what San Diego got out of their second basemen last season; a line of .247/.320/.342. Iguchi does not have to do much to constitute a marked improvement.
Russ: In 2007, Gonzalez clouted 30 homers and had a team-leading OPS of .849. It's likely he'll lead the team again in that category. As Sully mentions, Iguchi also offers better offense at second than Marcus Giles did, who received more at-bats than he should have in 2007. Overall, this is a quiet offense that will need Greene and Kouzmanoff to continue to improve at the plate. And maybe the surgery Brian Giles had on his knee will help him gain back a little more of the power he once had. It might be hard to do at 37, however.
Jon: Continuing a division-wide theme, there are some nice young players manning up for the Padres: Adrian Gonzalez, Khalil Greene and even Kevin Kouzmanoff, who OPSed .890 in the second half of 2007. Chase Headley (24 in May), who OPSed 1.017 in AA ball last year as a third baseman, could be a godsend if he can make the leap while filling a hole in left field. But I wouldn't say it's a knockout offense, even taking Petco Park's environment into account.
Sully: Switching gears, what do we make of the Los Angeles Dodgers? The run prevention side does not seem to be a problem given the team's bevy of young, durable arms. The Dodgers had an ERA+ of 109 last season and it is hard to see them falling off too far from there (if not improving).
Jon: Chad Billingsley (138 ERA+) could become a staff ace as early as this season. That would be a huge help to a team that doesn't know exactly who its fifth starter will be if Jason Schmidt or Hong-Chih Kuo aren't up to snuff in April (though quality candidates like James McDonald and Clatyon Kershaw are lurking in the minors). There's a lot of mystery centered on Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, but another question is whether Brad Penny can maintain his high-flying performance (151 ERA+) despite a tumbling strikeout rate. If the Dodger starters can give quality starts, Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton form a great one-two combo in the bullpen. On the downside, Dodger defense can be spotty, depending who's in the lineup.
Rich: The Dodgers have a fab four (Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley, and newcomer Hideki Kuroda) at the top of the rotation and a fifth (Jason Schmidt) who could be a pleasant surprise if he can begin to earn a fraction of the more than $15 million per season that he is pulling down. Saito and Broxton, who make about $2.5M between them, have given the McCourts a much better return on their investment, combining to strike out 32% of the batters they faced in 2006 and 2007.
Russ: Penny finished an honorable third in the NL Cy Young voting last year and there's as good a chance as any that he'll repeat that finish for another year. Lowe was the victim of poor run support in many games last season, so an improvement in his W-L record isn't out of the question. Hiroki Kuroda isn't on the level of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he should fit in nicely behind the previous two pitchers and Chad Billingsley. If Jason Schmidt bounces back from his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, it could be a good season for the Dodgers.
How Joe Torre uses his bullpen will be interesting since he was questioned numerous times in New York for how he managed it there. As Jon and Rich said, Broxton and closer Takashi Saito are a lights-out combination.
Sully: Jon is our Dodgers guy here, so I am interested in his take. What do we think about this offense? It seems like there is talent all over the place on this roster. Can they make it work in 2008?
Jon: Don't laugh, but this is potentially the most dangerous group in the division. If Andy LaRoche and
Russ: Signing Jones could be a huge boon for the Dodgers, but is it likely for him to rediscover his power with the Dodgers? Having a competition between Ethier and Pierre should hopefully improve the Dodgers. Russell Martin offers the best offense out of all the starting catchers in the division, but Joe Torre could give him a few more games off after catching 145 games last season. The competition at third between LaRoche and Garciaparra will be good for the younger LaRoche.
Sully: This seems like the team in Major League Baseball whose Manager could make the biggest impact. The personnel is there. The question is whether Joe Torre can optimally deploy the resources at hand. What about LA's rivals to the north?
Rich: Too bad pitching isn't 75% or more of the game as some people think. If it were, the Giants would be in fine shape. As is, San Fran stands to lose a lot of low-scoring games. By season's end, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Noah Lowry, and Barry Zito will be awfully frustrated.
Russ: Cain and Lincecum carry the future of the Giants on their shoulders, but for now they'll need to wait until management makes a few more smart decisions. Though they'll both only be 24 at some point in 2008, Cain and Lincecum will be one of the top 1-2 punches in the majors. Zito has already been named the Opening Day starter, whatever that's worth, but Cain would have a better claim if it wasn't for Zito's contract.
Jon: Gosh, you could hardly ask for much more than a rotation whose worst pitcher might be Barry Zito. For a team that's perhaps universally picked to finish last, they're gonna keep the score close all too often.
Sully: At the risk of sounding hyperbolic or even snarky, I have to say that I cannot remember an offense that looked as inept as this Giants one does heading into a season. You guys are right; the pitching is there. But this offense is going to be atrocious.
Russ: Is there any hope here? With Barry Bonds gone, this team will need to find a new face for the offense. Rowand is hardly a world-beater, and he'll be hitting fifth behind Bengie Molina. That's not a situation any team should have. Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham, and Vizquel are still with the team; maybe Kevin Frandsen will successfully supplant Durham at second. The Giants could probably do worse than Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, but they also could do better.
Jon: Well, there's a reason the team is perhaps universally picked to finish last. Randy Winn is the Giants only returning starter
Sully: Very diplomatically handled, Russ and Jon. What about surprises from the NL West in 2008? Mine? I think Colorado is going to disappoint. I think injuries and unfulfilled promise from Jimenez and Morales in the rotation combined with some real holes in their offense will drop the Rockies a few games below .500.
Jon: I'm sincerely not trying to make any enemies down south, but I certainly won't make any friends with my inkling that San Diego is going to have a rougher time than most people expect this year. Even with Peavy, the Padres might have the division's weakest overall starting pitching. I know they won 89 games with much the same staff last year, but I see some signs that things could get worse before they get better. Certainly, I don't think any team in the NL West is more dependent on a single player than San Diego is on Peavy.
Russ: Despite all the gloom surrounding them, the Giants will actually finish closer to .500 than most projections have them.
What about awards candidates in this division? After a huge season in 2007, I doubt whether Holliday can improve upon his AVG/OBP/SLG as he has every year since he broke into the big leagues in 2004. If Holliday does, he will run away with the MVP award in 2008, especially if the Rockies win the division as I suspect. I don't see any other viable candidates outside of perhaps Russell Martin or a couple of starting pitchers like Peavy and Webb, both of whom should be the co-favorites along with Johan Santana to win the Cy Young award. As for Rookie of the Year, I would offer up LaRoche and Morales, since neither Jimenez nor Upton qualify. Oh, and I guess I shouldn't forget Kuroda even if he is 33 years old.
Jon: As a catcher, Martin probably can't get the numbers needed to win an MVP, but with the Dodgers fielding a contending team on the 20th anniversary of
Russ: Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb should compete for the Cy Young award again this season. Don't discount Matt Cain or Brad Penny, either. Matt Holliday's about the only real candidate for MVP. Some candidates for ROY would include Jayson Nix, Franklin Morales, Chase Headley (if he winds up as more than a backup), and Hiroki Kuroda.
Sully: If the voters can understand park effects, then Kouzmanoff and Greene could well merit MVP consideration. I am not sure I have others to offer over and above those already mentioned. As for my predicted order of finish, I am going with the D-Backs (their offense comes alive this season), then LA, San Diego, Colorado and (big, big gap) San Francisco.
Jon: I don't think Colorado or Arizona got lucky last year. despite what others might say. There's no reason either of the two couldn't win. But thanks to their addition of Haren to a rising young team, I think the Diamondbacks deserved to be slotted first right now. And given what full seasons from Kemp, Loney, Jones, Billingsley (in the rotation) and maybe Ethier and LaRoche could mean for the Dodgers, I'm gonna put them close behind in second. (Maybe this year, Martin blocks the plate against Holliday in a one-game playoff with the Rockies.) San Diego follows in fourth place, with San Francisco fifth.
Russ: Same as 2007: 1. Arizona 2. Colorado 3. San Diego 4. Los Angeles 5. San Francisco
Sully: Thanks, everyone. This was good fun.
Young Guns: NL East
After breaking down the American League for the past three weeks, we now head into the National League to see what rookies may have significant impacts in the majors in 2008. Unfortunately, the NL East looks less than inspiring, although there are a few interesting names.
National League East
If you are a pitcher in the Nationals’ system, you pretty much know you have a shot at pitching in the majors… as long as you have a little experience above A-Ball and a pulse. Last year’s club saw journeymen like Joel Hanrahan, Mike Bacsik and Jason Simontacchi get significant playing time. Even the most diehard Nationals’ fan probably had not heard of John Lannan before his call-up but he should be more successful in his second taste of major league life. He could be joined by fellow rookies Tyler Clippard and Collin Balester, which is good news for Washington fans because all three have higher upsides than the trio mentioned earlier.
Collin Balester RHP
The surfer dude from California is primed to finally make a major league impact for the pitching-starved Nationals. Despite allowing fewer than nine hits per game in a half season of Triple-A in 2007, Balester still has some work to do. He needs to sharpen up his secondary pitches (curve and change) to go along with his fastball, which touches 95 mph, and he needs to cut down on walks. His control was excellent in Double-A (2.28 BB/9) but it jumped significantly in Triple-A (4.01 BB/9). Balester struggled a bit against lefties in Triple-A and Double-A, allowing batting averages of .291 and .282, compared to .239 and .244 against righties. To be successful at the major league level as a starter, he also needs to improve on his conditioning and stamina. At Triple-A in 2007, opponents hit just .038/.242/.077 against him in the first inning, followed by .258/.359/.387 in the second, and .281/.324/.344 in the third. The numbers then jump significantly to .342/.405/.553 in the fourth, .296/.345/.481 in the fifth and .353/.429/.529 in the sixth.
Tyler Clippard RHP
A trade from the New York Yankees to the Washington Nationals was probably the best thing that could have happened for Clippard’s career. Not only did he escape from behind the logjam of talented starting prospects including Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Philip Hughes and Alan Horne, but he also heads to a league where his average fastball will be less of a detriment (God bless pitchers batting). Unfortunately, Triple-A hitters also gave Clippard troubles last season and he was demoted to Double-A. Looking at his minor league career as a whole, though, you have to be encouraged by his 3.52 ERA, fewer than nine hits per game (7.91 H/9) and more than nine strikeouts per game (9.46 K/9). A high BABIP (.352) may have negatively and unfairly affected Clippard’s Triple-A numbers to a degree but 82 hits in 67.2 innings is not good no matter how you slice it. Even so, Clippard could be as good or better than some of the pitchers who made starts for the Nationals in 2007.
John Lannan LHP
Lannan was one of those few prospects who slipped by unnoticed by most prospect evaluators before the 2007 season. The 6-5 lefty from Siena College (where?), who was taken in the 11th round in 2005, rocketed through the minors in only his second full season and made six starts for Washington, holding his own although showing his command needs work. All in all, Nationals’ fans cannot complain, though, considering 2005 first round college pitcher picks Ricky Romero, Wade Townsend, Cesar Carrillo, Brian Bogusevic, and Jacob Marceaux have yet to make one major league appearance between them. At the major league level, Lannan managed to get batters to beat the ball into the ground more than 50 percent of the time. Unfortunately, during five stops over the past two years, Lannan’s K/9 ratio has dropped each time: 7.43 in A-Ball, 6.22 in High A-Ball, 5.00 in Double-A, 4.50 in Triple-A and only 2.60 in the majors. Lannan won’t win the Cy Young award in 2008, but he’s a big, tall lefty with average stuff and a respectable track record.
An optimistic person would look at the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade and say, “Wow, we just turned two players we couldn’t afford to keep past free agency into six promising prospects.” A pessimist (or realist) would say, “Wow, we gave away one Superstar and another solid left-handed starter and received two good young players, who we can keep for three to four years before they become too expensive in arbitration.” Those two players are, of course, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who is no longer rookie eligible. After debuting a number of young players the past two years, the Marlins will only give significant playing time to one rookie in 2008: Maybin.
Cameron Maybin OF
Maybin has the potential to make the blockbuster off-season trade with the Tigers hurt a little less. But as the Tigers learned, he’s probably not quite ready for the majors. Regardless, management has to show that the trade was not a complete loss, so he will likely be rushed to the majors in 2008 and should experience a number of growing pains. With only six games above A-Ball, the Tigers brought Maybin up to the majors last year and he struggled with 21 strikeouts in 49 at-bats. Strikeouts were also a problem in the minors as Maybin’s percentages were 30.1% in A-Ball, 28.0 in High A-Ball and 30.0 in his brief time at Double-A. He also hit line drives only 3.6 percent of the time during his time with the big club. On the positive side, the Marlins – with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jeremy Hermida in the line-up - should be able to survive Maybin’s offensive shortcomings. You just have to hope the struggles won’t affect his game long-term.
With the Mets favored to run away with the NL East title in 2008, many expect the remaining clubs to take aim at the wildcard spot. The Braves, still getting used to no longer being the favorites in the east, have the potential to welcome some young players onto the 25-man roster in 2008, including Jair Jurrjens into the starting rotation. With the reliability of left fielder Matt Diaz and the health of center fielder Mark Kotsay up in the air, Brandon Jones could see significant playing time.
Jair Jurrjens RHP
Acquired from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria deal, Jurrjens will battle the perennially injured Mike Hampton for a position in the starting rotation. Even if he doesn’t break camp with the club, Jurrjens should be the first pitcher recalled when Hampton does inevitably go down. During his last three stops dating back to 2006, Jurrjens posted consistent strikeout ratios of 7.21, 7.12 and 7.51 K/9. However, that number dropped to 3.82 during his major league trial last season. In the majors, Jurrjens was able to fool hitters and allowed only 24 hits in 30.2 innings, but he walked too many (11, or 3.23 BB/9) and struck out too far few (13, or 3.82). As a flyball pitcher (44.3 flyball percentage versus 38.1 groundball percentage), Jurrjens will need to get a few more swings and misses to make a solid impact.
Brandon Jones LF
Jones appears to be ready to play everyday in the majors, but Diaz’ solid 2007 probably means that Jones will start the year on the bench or playing regularly in Triple-A. The good news for Jones is that Diaz might be better off as a bench player, which means the youngster could be playing left field for Atlanta sooner rather than later. The real knock on Jones is that he does everything well, but nothing really well. He doesn’t really possess enough power for an elite corner outfielder, but his defence is not strong enough for center field. He hits for a respectable average, but he doesn’t walk enough and he strikes out too much for his modest power production. During his brief MLB trial in 2007, Jones’ flyball ratio was remarkably low at only 25 percent.
With the recent addition of starting pitcher Kris Benson to a minor league contract, the Phillies have about six starters to choose from, assuming everyone is healthy by the end of spring training – a big if with Benson. However, if top prospect Carlos Carrasco can show some consistency at Double-A in the first few months, he could see significant time in the rotation during the remainder of the season. Catcher Jason Jaramillo could also be in position to wrestle playing time away from both incumbent catchers Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, both of whom are really complimentary players.
Carlos Carrasco RHP
As mentioned above, the need to hurry Carrasco has been lessened, but the likes of Benson and Adam Eaton won’t keep him down for long. Carrasco has been moved through the system aggressively and has responded well, although his numbers did dip noticeably in Double-A. The biggest warning sign was the increase in his walk ratio (5.89 BB/9). That obviously has to improve. Although Carrasco handles lefties almost as well as righties in terms of batting average allowed (.252 vs LH, .248 vs RH at Double-A), lefties are much more successful at getting on base and hitting the ball hard .855 OPS vs .690 OPS at Double-A), which is something the soon-to-be 21 year old will have to work on. If Carrasco can show improvements in the first half of 2008, don’t be surprise to see him recalled in July or August to add fuel to the Phillies’ playoff run.
Jason Jaramillo C
Since both Ruiz and Coste bat right-handed, Jaramillo’s switch-hitting ways could come in handy, especially considering the youngster hit .295/.361/.374 against southpaws at Triple-A in 2007. Ruiz, who should receive more playing time behind the dish than the more versatile Coste, hit only .189/.265/.311 versus lefties in 2007. Aside from a terrible May (.143/.233/.198 in 91 at-bats), Jaramillo showed consistency throughout the season.
New York Mets
The Mets are beginning to look a lot like the Yankees… by clubbing the rest of the organizations in their division with their checkbook. Mind you, the Mets are arguably more talented on the field at this point with the Yankees aging and a number of young players unproven. As a result of recent acquisitions, such as that minor trade that netted one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Mets do not appear as though they will entrust significant playing time to any rookies in 2008, barring a run on catastrophic injuries.
More Run Values
In the time I've been looking at the pitch f/x data I've occasionally stumbled onto something I thought was so interesting and so cool that I couldn't wait to share it with someone. The run value of different pitches is one of these things and whatever enjoyment you've gained from reading and discussing these articles, you can probably double it for me. The research I did for last week's article was some of the most interesting work I've done with the pitch f/x data, and without any more introduction, here's this week's article.
In the comments on last week's article and elsewhere, there were some questions about the methods I employed for calculating the run value of each pitch. There were some suggestions made and while I'm not here to talk about the past and explain how I made the calculations last week, in the interest of transparency, here's what I did this week and will be doing in the future. Starting with the wOBA for every ball-strike count, I subtracted the league average wOBA (.332) from each count to determine how much above or below average each count was for wOBA.
Using those wOBA values, I then determined how many runs were added in every count if the pitcher threw a ball or strike. This is the same process I used last week, but now instead of averaging the run values of a ball and strike, this time I kept the data separate, so that a strike thrown in an 0&2 count has a different value than a strike thrown in an 0&1 count. I repeated the same process for balls in play as well, which is something I didn't do last week, and kept them separated by count as well. This way, if the batter is up 2&0, but grounds out, the pitch that created the groundout gets more credit than if he had grounded out in an 0&0 count.
When I was done this process I had the value of almost anything that could happen to a pitch after it left the pitcher's hand, and if you're interested, a table with the data is presented below.
Count wOBA Runs/PA ValB ValS Val1B Val2B Val3B ValHR ValOut 3&0 0.570 0.207 0.131 -0.070 0.287 0.583 0.861 1.200 -0.496 3&1 0.490 0.137 0.201 -0.076 0.356 0.652 0.930 1.269 -0.426 2&0 0.443 0.097 0.110 -0.062 0.397 0.693 0.971 1.310 -0.385 3&2 0.403 0.062 0.276 -0.351 0.432 0.728 1.006 1.345 -0.350 2&1 0.372 0.035 0.103 -0.071 0.459 0.755 1.033 1.372 -0.323 1&0 0.371 0.034 0.063 -0.050 0.460 0.756 1.034 1.373 -0.323 0&0 0.332 0.000 0.034 -0.043 0.494 0.790 1.068 1.407 -0.289 1&1 0.314 -0.016 0.050 -0.067 0.510 0.805 1.083 1.423 -0.273 2&2 0.290 -0.037 0.098 -0.252 0.530 0.826 1.104 1.443 -0.252 0&1 0.283 -0.043 0.027 -0.062 0.537 0.832 1.110 1.450 -0.246 1&2 0.237 -0.083 0.046 -0.206 0.577 0.872 1.150 1.490 -0.206 0&2 0.212 -0.104 0.022 -0.184 0.598 0.894 1.172 1.511 -0.184
Once I knew the values of events by count, I just counted the number of events that each pitch created and multiplied them by their value to get the overall value of the pitch. One huge benefit to finding the value of pitches using this 'by count' method is that it automatically accounts for the usage of every pitch. Scott Kazmir's fastball (to righties) does very well in this analysis, but last week, when I looked at which pitches had prevented the most runs overall (which is slightly deceptive because certain pitchers had more games in pitch f/x enabled ballparks), Kazmir's fastball prevented 5.47 runs compared to an average pitch. However, this week, when I factored in the count, Kazmir's fastball to righties prevented 9.99 runs over an average pitch. Without thinking too hard, factoring in the count helps Kazmir's fastball because it's a pitch he uses to get swings-and-misses when he needs them. Other pitches, like Brandon Webb's sinker (13.28 RAA last week vs. 13.36 RAA this week) or Kason Gabbard's changeup (7.72 RAA last week vs. 7.67 RAA this week) were unaffected by the calculation change. Overall, the changes were not that big, but using the value by count is the correct way to account for situational pitching.
One thing I neglected to include in the article last week was any information about global averages. There's no such thing as an overall 'average' pitch, but I found the averages for all the different subgroups of pitches I had. Now, when comparing pitches, there's a handy reference for what an average pitch thrown by a certain type of pitcher to a certain type of hitter is worth. The table below has identifying information about the pitch, the frequency that the given group of pitchers threw it to the given group of batters, and the average run value for each type of pitch. The way to read the first line of the table is that of all pitches thrown to LHH by LHP, 14% were curveballs. A LHP to LHH curveball prevents .0117 runs more than an 'average' pitch, and given 100 pitches from a LHP to a LHH, distributed via the frequencies for his pitches, the curveball would prevent .20 runs more than an average pitch.
Pitcher Pitch Batter Freq. Avg. Per 100 L CB L 0.14 -0.0117 -0.18 L CH L 0.09 0.0000 -0.01 L CT L 0.03 -0.0081 -0.02 L FB L 0.55 0.0018 0.02 L SL L 0.17 -0.0033 -0.08 --------------------------------------------- L CB R 0.11 -0.0035 -0.05 L CH R 0.21 0.0062 0.11 L CT R 0.03 0.0143 0.04 L FB R 0.55 0.0072 0.31 L SL R 0.10 0.0076 0.07 --------------------------------------------- R CB L 0.10 -0.0022 -0.03 R CH L 0.16 0.0001 -0.02 R CT L 0.06 0.0006 0.00 R FB L 0.56 0.0056 0.23 R SL L 0.11 -0.0008 -0.02 --------------------------------------------- R CB R 0.10 -0.0032 -0.04 R CH R 0.07 0.0012 0.00 R CT R 0.06 -0.0051 -0.03 R FB R 0.56 -0.0017 -0.18 R SL R 0.20 -0.0049 -0.12
Not surprisingly, a curveball thrown by a LHP to a LHH has the saves the most runs compared to an average pitch. However, when examining Barry Zito's curve to LHH, I'm not interested in an 'average' pitch, I'm interested in other curveballs thrown by LHP to LHH. These averages let me make that comparison, and compare pitches to the baseline of an 'average' pitch of that type (RHP CB to RHH, RHP CB to LHH, etc.), rather than to an 'average' pitch. For the most part, the adjustments are small, but, again, its the right way to make the calculations, and gives a better indication of the actual value of the pitch.
However, without knowing how often Zito actually throws curveballs to left-handed hitters, it's impossible to get a feel for how effective the pitch truly is. It could be a really nasty pitch, but if part of the effectiveness is due to the infrequency that it's thrown, it won't be a great deal of help to the pitcher in preventing runs overall. The Per 100 field incorporates the pitcher's usage of every pitch to gauge how good the pitch is at preventing runs. To calculate this value, I multiplied the frequency a pitch was thrown by it's average value. Multiplying that number by a constant, in this case 100, gives the total number of runs the pitch would have saved compared to an average pitch of that type, for 100 pitches split up by the pitcher's normal pitch selection. I used 100 as the constant to have some internal consistency with Rich's work on strikeouts/100 pitches. 100 is fairly easy to calculate in your head too.
Last week I mentioned that collectively, Brandon Webb's pitches were 18 runs better than average and wondered if this sum would correspond to his wins above average. In my calculations last week I accidentally compared Webb to a replacement-level starting pitcher as opposed to an average pitcher, and got an answer that didn't make sense. I have 113 innings of pitch f/x data for Webb, and in that time he posted an ERA of 2.55. That works out to 2.8 wins above average, while Webb's pitches collectively were 26.9 runs better than average. Assuming roughly 10 runs/win, that's a pretty close match. I threatened to write a full article on this subject last week and I'm going to follow through on that threat once I get a better handle on the full data-set, but I just wanted to make this correction this week.
The next step with this type of analysis lies in refining the linear weights value of every event. Adjusting for park is probably the next easiest adjustment to make, and after that, the next adjustment would be for individual pitchers so that every pitcher is his own universe. I think some of those adjustments are overkill based on the amount of data that are in my database right now, but over the course of the 2008 season its something to look for. Properly regressing the pitch values and finding out how much of the value is based on skill and how much is based on luck is another very important adjustment to make. I've roughly regressed the LWTS/pitch values to account for different sample sizes, but actually determining how many of the runs that Kazmir's fastball prevents are due to qualities of the pitch and how many are due to luck is important.
Young Guns: AL West
We’re back with the third installment of Baseball Analysts’ look at the rookies most likely to have an impact in the majors in 2008. The American League West will continue to feature mostly veteran teams in 2008, with one notable exception – the Oakland Athletics organization, which has jumped feet-first into a rebuilding mode. Oakland could have as many as six rookie play key roles on the club for the majority of the season.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels club, in recent years, has been a veteran team that has always made room for talented youngsters, such as Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick and Jered Weaver. This year will be no different as the club needs to finally find room for slugging prospect Brandon Wood, who could play either shortstop or third base.
Brandon Wood SS
Worst case scenario, Wood could be the next Mark Bellhorn. Best case scenario, he could play adequate defence while providing 30 homers annually. First things first, though, as Wood will have to beat out fellow youngster Erick Aybar for the position vacated by Orlando Cabrera, who is now in the Windy City. Wood certainly offers more offensive potential than Aybar, who is more of a defensive-minded gap-hitter that relies on speed. Some caution is obviously due, as Wood struck out 32.9 percent of the time at Double-A in 2006 and 27.5 percent of the time in Triple-A in 2007. As well, during his 13-game MLB stint in 2007, he had a low line-drive rate at only 9.5 percent and hit groundballs 52.4 percent of the time, with neither number being impressive for a power hitter.
As mentioned above, the A's have a plethora of talent ready to solidify themselves as major league players. The club received an impressive haul of talent prospects this past off-season, at the expense of veterans Nick Swisher, Dan Haren and Mark Kotsay. The club also received a number of interesting prospects not mentioned below, who are a few years away from reaching their potential in the majors. The rookies most likely to impact the big league club in 2008 are: Dan Meyer, Joey Devine, Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Gonzalez, and Gio Gonzalez.
Dan Meyer LHP
A significant drop in velocity plagued Meyer in 2006 during his debut with the Oakland organization after being a top prospect in the Braves’ system before coming over in the Tim Hudson trade. He rebounded somewhat in 2007, has learned to pitch without his peak velocity and has positioned himself to win one of the vacant rotation spots created by Oakland’s fire sale. Meyer’s high walk ratios and diminishing strikeout numbers suggest he won’t be an impact starter, but he could eat 170-180 innings as a fourth or fifth starter. Yes, there are more promising starters in the system, such as the hurlers obtained for Swisher, but Meyer is the closest to making an impact.
Joey Devine RHP
Devine was drafted in the first round by the Braves in 2005 with the thought he was almost major league ready. But like a number of other “advanced college relievers” such as Ryan Wagner, Bill Bray and Craig Hansen, Devine has found pro ball a little more challenging than expected. The big concern with Devine is his command. If Devine could face right-handed batters all the time, he would be a very dominating reliever, as they hit only .169/.235/.221 against him in 77 Double-A at-bats this year and .140/.159/.256 in 43 Triple-A at-bats. His BB/9 against left-handed batters in Double-A was 6.97 (compared to 1.66 against righties) and at Triple-A it was 5.9 (compared to 0.69 against righties).
Daric Barton 1B
Barton doesn’t have the air of a perennial All-Star (it’s too bad he couldn’t stick as a catcher), but he should be a solid, dependable regular - and perhaps a little better than some expect. The biggest knock on Barton is his lack of 30-homer power as a first baseman and he certainly isn’t going to slug .639 as he did in his 18-game MLB trial in 2007. Throughout his minor league career, Barton has shown that he will hit for a good average, drive in runs and get on base. The left-handed batter can also handle southpaws respectably so he should be able to take the field on an everyday basis.
Ryan Sweeney CF
Sweeney, a former top prospect of the White Sox, has fallen on hard times and fell out of favor with his former club after stalling in Triple-A. His swing got messed up in 2007 and he was having difficulty making consistent, hard contact. A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered, though. Sweeney could also find himself as a platoon outfielder, having hit just .237/.322/.281 against Triple-A lefties last year. His line against righties - .281/.351/.449 – was respectable. On the positive side, he did handle lefties better earlier in his career. During his two brief MLB trials, Sweeney hit the ball on the ground 55.9 percent of the time, which is an encouraging sign given his lack of usable power.
Carlos Gonzalez CF
The trade from Arizona to Oakland likely did wonders for Gonzalez, who goes from an organization with a glut of outfielders to a club with a wide-open battle for outfield playing time. In a perfect world, Gonzalez could use some more minor league seasoning since he has only 42 at-bats above Double-A. And his numbers at Double-A (.286/.333/.476) can be described as good, but not great. The All-Star potential is there, but he walked only 6.5 percent of the time at Double-A to go along with a strikeout rate of 22.5 percent. The left-handed batter also struggled against southpaws to the tune of .213/.247/.331. Gonzalez did make adjustments as the year progressed, though. After hitting .210/.250/.346 in April and .267/.273/.362 in May, he slugged .344/.410/.622 in July and .338/.395/.494 in August before a late-season promotion to Triple-A.
Gio Gonzalez LHP
Gonzalez’ head might still be spinning. Initially signed by the White Sox, he was then traded to Philadelphia, then back to Chicago and then most recently to Oakland. On the plus side, it shows he’s a wanted commodity, which isn’t surprising given he’s left-handed with above-average stuff. He repeated Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2007 and dominated, leading the minors in strikeouts with 185 in 150 innings. Gonzalez, like his outfielder namesake (although no relation), would likely be best suited by spending some time in Triple-A but the starting rotation cupboard is nearly bare in Oakland. His walk ratios have been too high in Double-A the last two seasons (4.71, 3.42 BB/9), which could create some growing pains in the majors. Gonzalez has performed well against both right-handed and left-handed batters in his career. In 2007, left-handed batters hit .217/.277/.309 and right-handed batters hit .213/.294/.316.
Like Los Angeles, the Mariners are traditionally a veteran club. The club traded away its top young player recently in Adam Jones. The club's top rookie, though, is still in the fold: Jeff Clement, and he could very well be in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Jeff Clement C/DH
The Mariners were somewhat criticized for paying through the nose recently for Canadian left-hander Erik Bedard but the club managed to hold on to its No. 1 prospect. The issue with Clement, though, is that he has nowhere to play with Kenji Johjima entrenched behind the dish in Seattle. As a result, Clement’s value could take a bit of a hit in 2008 as he seeks at-bats at first base and designated hitter. Although he has more than enough bat to play at either spot, there is some danger of his catching skills getting rusty. Clement showed improved plate discipline in 2007 at Triple-A, walking 15.8 percent of the time. Clement held his own against right-handed pitching, but he creamed lefties to the tune of .317/.427/.675 in 126 at-bats.
Traditionally, Texas' starting pitching prospects burn brightly in the minors for a year or two and then quickly fade into obscurity. The organization can only hope the same cannot be said for top pitching prospect Eric Hurley, who is poised to make an impact in the starting rotation in 2008.
Eric Hurley RHP
The Rangers’ biggest Achilles heel in recent years has been pitching. Hurley could be a homegrown solution to that problem, which is something the Rangers don’t currently have. While the Rangers have done a nice job developing relievers (C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe), the projected rotation features three free agent signees (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Jason Jennings) and two pitchers obtained via trades (Kason Gabbard, Brandon McCarthy). And worse yet, all five pitchers’ numbers dipped significantly after becoming Rangers. As a result, it won’t be a surprise to see Hurley in Texas sooner rather than later. He handled left-handed batters in Triple-A well: .176/.286/.380. It could be a bumpy first year in the majors, though, as he allowed a few too many homers in Triple-A in 2007 (13 in 73.1 innings) and his BB/9 was a little high (3.44). Batters also hit below .300 against Hurley in the first four innings of the game, but batted more than .350 from the fifth innings on. The talent, though, is there to weather the storm.
Next up: National League East
Up in the Air: Personnel Uncertainties Facing Contenders - The American League
Each year teams arrive at Spring Training with question marks. Some personnel decisions will have marginal impact but for a number of teams with post-season aspirations, making the right choice in March and April will go a long way in determining their fate. What follows is a quick look at some of the more interesting spots that seem to be up in the air (or at least should be) coming into Spring Training.
For each position, I will present the player's AVG/OBP/SLG from 2007. It will be their MLB totals unless specified. Moreover, I will include their 2008 PECOTA and ZIPS projections. As far as I could tell, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians and Mariners - teams I do not focus on here but ones I would consider "contenders" - have their position spots more or less locked up.
Here are the key position player question marks coming into 2008.
Crisp Ellsbury 2007 .268/.330/.382 .353/.394/.509 2008 (Pecota) .278/.338/.407 .287/.346/.395 2008 (Zips) .271/.333/.410 .297/.349/.392
This one will be interesting. With Curt Schilling likely out for an extended period of time (if not the entire season), it would not be surprising to see Crisp dealt for starting pitching depth before Opening Day. Barring such a deal, however, Francona will be tested. Crisp is an appalingly frustrating hitter to watch and the vocal Boston fanbase is ready for a change. Not helping his cause is that his fielding prowess is not necessarily discernible to the naked eye. He is one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball. Furthermore, Ellsbury dazzled in last year's playoffs, and Red Sox fans are chomping at the bit to see the kid get a fulltime shot.
But have a look at the numbers above. Given his superior glovework, Crisp looks like he is the better option. If Theo and the Boston brass stand pat and head into the season with both players on the roster, Francona's resolve will be tested.
I am going to forego the above format on this one. Here are the respective outfielders' numbers from 2005 to 2007 against right-handed and left-handed pitching.
Vs. Right Vs. Left Jones .285/.346/.465 .233/.275/.396 Thames .231/.287/.501 .261/.332/.526
So long as Jim Leyland sticks to it, this should be no positional battle at all but a very, very nice platoon for Detroit. A quick scan of the Tigers lineup would reveal either catcher or left field to be the clear weak spots. Dave Dombrowski has shown how thoughtful, strategic roster tinkering can easily mitigate such a weakness.
Gomez Monroe 2007 .232/.288/.304 .219/.268/.370 2008 (P) .249/.302/.358 .245/.300/.412 2008 (Z) .241/.299/.346 .236/.286/.402
There is no right answer here for Rod Gardenhire. Monroe is probably not a passable defensive center fielder and his bat, though better than Gomez's, will not make up for his defensive ineptitude. Gomez can sure shag 'em but it is hard to imagine him being much more than an automatic out this year.
Morales Anderson 2007 .294/.333/.479 .297/.336/.492 2008 (P) .274/.321/.424 .279/.321/.440 2008 (Z) .274/.317/.424 .268/.312/.424
Given the combined love the Orange County fanbase and Mike Scioscia have for "G.A." I have a hard time believing Morales has much of a chance in this battle. That said, there are a few factors that should give Scioscia pause, or at least pursuade him to loosen Anderson's stranglehold on fulltime DH duties for the Halos.
Anderson is 36, Morales 25. At the age of 35, Anderson had his best season since 2003 last year. This outlier campaign followed successive seasons of atrocious output for a corner outfielder, much less his new position of Designated Hitter. The Angels would be well served to treat a slow start by Anderson as a serious red flag.
As part of Baseball Analysts comprehensive coverage leading up to the start of the 2008 MLB season, I will follow this up with a look at key personnel choices in the National League and on pitching staffs in the coming weeks.
Now Batting, Number 73. . .
While the big names and hot prospects are subjected to the intense media scrutiny and fan adulation of spring training, dozens of players from former All-Stars to obscure minor league lifers are scratching and clawing for one more shot at the majors or the consolation prize of another year in AAA.
Tim Raines Jr. is in camp with the Diamondbacks. The switch-hitter's strong 2007 performance at Round Rock (.333, 11 HR, 49 RBI in 285 at-bats, 21 for 23 in SB) wasn't rewarded with a call-up to Houston. Raines last appeared in the majors in 2004. He is a .213 hitter (34 for 160 in 75 games) over parts of three seasons with the Orioles.
Catcher Ben Davis hasn't appeared in the majors since 2004. Former Twins backstop Chris Heintz will compete with Davis for a job with the Orioles. Keith Ginter, Joe Thurston and Bobby Kielty may be ticketed for Rhode Island (Pawtucket), but they are aiming for Fenway Park.
Johan Santana's changeup has been on my mind for the past week. Ever since I learned that if right-handed hitters make contact with the pitch, which doesn't happen very often, they tend to drive it, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Santana's changeup is said to be one of the best pitches in baseball, so I thought that in addition to creating a lot of swings and misses, this pitch wouldn't be beaten like a mule when it was put in play. I wasn't sure how the relationship between the swings and misses he got and the hits he allowed impacted the perception of the pitch but some comments on the article offered different ways to look at the changeup. One suggestion was to find the run value of every pitch to see which pitches are most beneficial, so thanks to Renè's idea, I did just that.
Finding the run value of a pitch is not as hard as I initially thought it might be. Using Tango's linear weights generator I found the run value of a single, double, triple, home-run and out. Using those values, I was easily able to find the value of each pitch for balls that were put in play, but I also needed to account for pitches that weren't put into play. To find the value of an average ball and strike, I converted the wOBA for each count into runs for that count, and then found out how much adding one ball changed those values for every count. I did the same thing for strikes, with the end result being that a ball is worth about .097 runs and a strike is worth about -.124 runs. There's a huge difference in the value of a ball or strike depending on what the count is, but I used these average values for my analysis because I didn't want to slice my already somewhat small sample of pitches into 12 smalled samples. As I continue to sift through this topic, I'm going to have to account for the different counts.
Below are the 10 pitches that saved the most runs in the 2007 season. In addition to the run value of each pitch, the Sw% (swings and misses/total swings) and SLGBIP (includes home runs) are also shown. I broke the pitches up by batter hand to give a more accurate portrayal of exactly who is impacted by a pitch.
Name Pitch N Batter LWTS Sw% SLGBIP Brandon Webb FB 460 R -13.28 0.12 0.270 Jake Peavy FB 456 R -9.16 0.22 0.288 Chris Young FB 363 R -7.91 0.22 0.328 Kason Gabbard CH 147 R -7.72 0.36 0.182 Roy Halladay FB 224 L -7.36 0.07 0.250 Felix Hernandez CH 124 L -7.27 0.23 0.069 Greg Maddux FB 443 R -6.89 0.05 0.430 Brian Bannister FB 289 R -6.86 0.14 0.333 Dan Haren CB 264 R -6.81 0.26 0.309 Cole Hamels CH 176 R -6.70 0.37 0.308
Brandon Webb's sinker was most valuable pitch in terms of preventing runs last year, coming in at 13 runs saved vs. a league-average pitch. Other stud pitches fill this list, which was actually made up of more fastballs than I would have anticipated. However, since this is just total runs saved and fastballs are thrown so frequently, the results really aren't surprising. Finding the raw number of runs saved is going to highlight quality pitches, but it also is impacted by the number of times the pitch is thrown. If I want to look at the quality of a pitch, independent of how often it's thrown, LWTS per pitch is going to be much more informative. Here is a list of the best pitches by LWTS/pitch, for pitches that were thrown a minimum of 50 times.
Name Pitch N Batter LWTS LWTS/pitch Matt Herges CH 67 L -5.95 -0.09 David Weathers SL 50 R -3.95 -0.08 Jon Rauch FB 52 L -3.78 -0.07 Ruddy Lugo CB 59 L -4.03 -0.07 Matt Capps FB 68 R -4.67 -0.07 Brandon Webb CH 68 R -4.23 -0.06 Felix Hernandez CH 124 L -7.27 -0.06 Kason Gabbard CH 147 R -7.72 -0.05 J.C. Romero CH 71 R -3.36 -0.05 Brett Myers FB 71 L -3.11 -0.04
This list has some crossover from the first list, and the new list confirms that King Felix has a great changeup (vs. LHH), especially compared to other changeups thrown by right-handed pitchers to left-handed hitters. Kason Gabbard's changeup (vs. RHH) also makes an repeat appearance on the list, which is a bit of a surprise because I had no idea his changeup was that good. Changeups thrown to an opposite handed batter generally cost a pitcher .01 runs per pitch, but Gabbard, Hernandez and Matt Herges were all able to buck that trend last year. Webb is also on this list, but for his changeup, not his fastball. Webb actually has a higher ground ball percentage on his changeup than on his fastball, which helps to explain the inclusion of his changeup on this list, but it's interesting that while Webb's sinker is considered his money pitch, his changeup might actually be a more effective pitch.
Looking a little closer at Webb's pitch repertoire you can see the effectiveness of each of his pitches. He's tougher on right-handed hitters overall, although lefties have a tough time hitting his curveball. Against righties, his changeup is twice as effective as his sinker, although that could be because he throws it infrequently relative to the sinker.
Pitch N Batter LWTS LWTS/pitch FB 460 R -13.28 -0.03 FB 517 L 2.15 0.00 ----------------------------------------- CH 68 R -4.23 -0.06 CH 89 L 0.90 0.01 ----------------------------------------- CB 77 R 0.28 0.00 CB 112 L -2.17 -0.02 ----------------------------------------- CT 67 R -1.32 -0.02 CT 97 L -0.77 -0.01 ========================================= Total 1487 - -18.42 -0.01
One thing that piqued my curiosity when looking at this list of pitches was if the 18 runs that Webb's pitches prevented could be something larger. Was Webb 2 wins above average in the starts that he made in Gameday parks? Could those wins be directly attributed to his pitches? Webb's pitches prevented 18 runs over what a set of average pitches would have done, so his pitches could be said to be responsible for 1.8 wins more than an average pitcher. Counting the playoffs, Webb made 16 starts in stadiums with the pitch f/x system in place, pitching 113 innings and posting an ERA of 2.55. 113 innings with a 2.55 ERA in the NL makes a pitcher 5 wins above average in his starts at enhanced parks. Perhaps fielding made up the 3 win difference over this time period, or perhaps Webb leveraged his pitches effectively, throwing strikes when it was important and throwing outside the strikezone when it wouldn't hurt him too much. Exploring this topic in more detail probably deserves a whole column at some point.
Getting back to all pitchers, I wasn't very happy with the list of LWTS/pitch that I showed earlier. There were a lot pitches that had great rates but had only been thrown a handful of times, making me wonder if the pitcher had just gotten lucky throwing them. I'm sure Rudy Lugo has a great curveball, but he's only thrown it 59 times. I could have raised the minimum number of pitches, but that would eliminate the interesting pitches. The solution in this case is to regress the LWTS/pitch values toward the mean. Using the average value of every subset of pitch (fastballs thrown by LHP to LHH and fastballs thrown by LHP to RHH are examples of subsets) I did a rough regression which gave results that matched the general perception of pitches.
Name Pitch N Batter LWTS/pitch (regressed) Kason Gabbard CH 147 R -0.04 Roy Halladay FB 224 L -0.04 Felix Hernandez CH 124 L -0.04 Matt Herges CH 67 L -0.04 Cole Hamels CH 176 R -0.04 Scott Kazmir FB 288 R -0.03 Aaron Laffey CT 226 R -0.03 Bobby Jenks FB 107 R -0.03 Jonathan Papelbon FB 148 L -0.03 Jonathan Papelbon FB 127 R -0.03 Mariano Rivera FB 187 L -0.03
This list makes much more sense. Gabbard's changeup (vs. RHH) remains at the top, which is something that bears watching in 2008. The rest of the list is filled with most of the usual suspects, Cole Hamels' changeup (vs. RHH) lives up to the hype, Kazmir's fastball is up where you would expect it and Jonathan Papelbon's fastball is amazing. It's equally effective against both lefties and righties, which is impressive by itself, but its even more amazing that it's so effective against both types of hitters. The last pitch on this list is Mariano Rivera's cutter (vs. LHH), which is another pitch that has been on my mind recently. This pitch showing up is no surprise, and I wish we could have seen where it ranked when Rivera was on the top of his game. If you're wondering, Jared Burton's cutter, the closest thing Rivera's pitch has to a modern-dayclone, was the 12th most effective pitch in baseball, falling just outside of this list. He's someone else to to watch in 2008. Also, after doing the regression, Webb's sinker (vs. RHH) is slightly more effective than his changeup (vs. RHH).
So where does all this leave us with Santana's changeup against right-handed hitters? Compared to other left-handed changeups thrown to right-handed hitters, Santana's changeup is exactly average, with a regressed LWTS/pitch of 0. Last year, the swings and misses the pitch created were counterbalanced by the pounding the ball took when it was put in play. Against righties the pitch Santana was most effective with was his fastball, which was worth -.03 runs every time he threw it (it also fell just outside the top-10). There are a ton of factors that impact how effective a pitch is, and maybe right-handed batters have started to sit on Santana's changeup more at the expense of hitting his fastball, but for last year at least, his changeup was pedestrian while his fastball was tremendous.
My Son-in-Law the Ballplayer
The list actually started back when I arranged for Derek Jeter to take my then-4-year-old daughter to her senior prom.
List? What list?
Okay, I guess a bit of backtracking is probably in order here, yes?
I first met Jeter when he was a Yankees minor league prospect. Over the course of his breakthrough 1994 season, when he fast-tracked from Class A Tampa to Double-A Albany to Triple-A Columbus, and his 1995 campaign at Columbus before he made it to the big leagues, I got to know not only Jeter but his family as well, his parents and sister and grandmother and aunt.
There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a mega-superstar. He had all the tools but beyond that he had poise, he was smart, he was sweet and to top it all off he looked like one of those statues of a Greek or Roman god you see in the first chapters of the Art History 101 books.
I was the minor league editor at USA Today's Baseball Weekly at the time and at the end of 1994, we (okay I) named him our Minor League Player of the Year.
We'd never had a minor league player on the cover of the paper, and though I left prior to the 2006 season I don't believe that with the exception of Michael Jordan there has ever been a minor leaguer on the cover of the publication to this day, in its 17 years of its existence. But it looked for awhile like that might change.
We had a portrait of him in Yankee pinstripes (though he had yet to make his major league debut), with those sea-green eyes and that half smile which, as I wrote to open the feature, "makes the Mona Lisa look like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown." And as luck would have it, we didn't have any other major player features running that week so until the last minute, it appeared that Derek Jeter would become the first minor leaguer to grace the cover of Baseball Weekly.
Until, that is, about a day before we went to press, when a power-that-be decided that we couldn't possibly put a no-name minor leaguer on the cover because no one would know who "that Jeter guy" was. So instead it was hastily replaced by a stock action picture of Frank Thomas which had absolutely no connection whatsoever to anything in the paper. (Oh and just for the record, in case you're wondering, no, that power that be was NOT Paul White, who has always been as big a proponent of getting minor leaguers their due as I was).
Imagine what a collector's item that paper would be now had it been the first national cover of Derek Jeter, two years before he took New York by storm and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
So anyway, before I digress too much (oops, too late!) … fast-forward to the end of 1995. Jeter has been called up to the big leagues but is obviously nowhere near the superstar status that he will reach in a year or so.
I get a phone call from a former colleague who now worked for a luxury car dealership in the New York area, a company that apparently worked with the Yankees when it came to leasing cars for their players. They were looking for a personal reference for the new kid and remembered that I knew him. Could I tell them a little bit about him?
I am not kidding. They were asking ME for a personal reference for Derek Jeter. And this is what I told them:
"The best way I can describe Derek Jeter is that this is the guy you want to show up at your front door the night of your daughter's senior prom."
And that became the genesis for my "Players You'd Want to Take Your Daughter To The Prom" list. Which eventually morphed into the "Players You'd Want Your Daughter To Marry" list, which was more elite.
It's something I've bandied about with co-workers, with front office executives, even with other players (about half of whom say "I'd NEVER let my daughter marry a baseball player").
Maybe it's a girl thing, but my husband totally doesn't get it. He is convinced that my "Players I'd Want My Daughter To Marry" list is really just a euphemism for a "Players I'd Want to Date If I Were 25 Years Younger And Single And Didn't Work in Baseball Where It Would Be Totally Unprofessional Not To Mention A Conflict Of Interest" list.
Totally not true. This list is totally about character. In short, it's all about heart (cue the chorus of "Damn Yankees" or the 1969 New York Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show).
And yes, you skeptics, there are players who fit the bill. And for the sake of brevity (obviously not my strong point) I am going to narrow this down to my top three on my "Current Major Leaguers I'd Want My Daughter To Marry If She Were Older And They Weren't Already Happily Married" list.
Disclaimer: I have been covering baseball for almost 20 years now. And despite the sometimes prevailing thought by the general public that most professional baseball players are complete asses, the truth is my list of Complete Asses That I Would Rather Chew On Tinfoil Than Ever Let Breathe The Same Air As My Daughter list is much shorter than the other one (maybe I'll do that for next year's DH).
With that in mind, I worry about hurting the feelings of some great guys I've gotten to know over the years. But I don't think any of them would argue the three I'm writing about: Dave Roberts, Sean Casey and Kevin Millar.
The trio may corner the Major League market on niceness, kindness and heart. All three go above and beyond when it comes to being active in their communities and charitable foundations, and not just for show and not just when the cameras are clicking.
Dave Roberts, outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, is not only one of the nicest guys in baseball, he is quite simply one of the nicest people I've ever met, period.
Originally drafted out of UCLA by the Tigers back in 1994, he's been the proverbial journeyman, with the Giants being his seventh organization. But it was in his very brief tenure with the Boston Red Sox that "Doc" reached that nirvana of baseball immortality.
It's the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, the Sox trailing 4-3 and an inning away from elimination. Roberts, who was in to pinch run, ironically, for Millar, steals second against Mariano Rivera. The Sox rally, Roberts scores the tying run and, well, you know the rest. And as I watched the game from a hotel room in Arizona, on the road for Arizona Fall League, I knew that Roberts had just ensured himself fame forever and a head full of cheap champagne.
And all I could think was "this couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
Born in Okinawa, Japan, Roberts enjoys dual citizenship as the son of an American-born Marine dad and a Japanese mom, and has always been a proud ambassador for all of his cultural roots. As a member of the 1999 Team USA squad that earned the United States the berth in the 2000 Summer Olympics where they won their last gold medal, he was both a team leader and its leadoff-hitting sparkplug.
It's funny that there is this "connect" among the three guys on my list. On the one hand, Roberts and Millar were teammates on that historic world champion 2004 Boston Red Sox team.
But one of my favorite Roberts stories is one that Sean Casey himself told me. When Roberts was traded by Detroit to the Cleveland Indians in June 1998 for outfielder Geronimo Berroa, he joined the Double-A Akron Aeros. The guy who lost the most playing time with the acquisition of Roberts was outfielder Mark Budzinski, a teammate of Casey's at the University of Richmond and one of his best friends.
Casey, himself originally an Indians prospect, had been traded the previous off-season to Cincinnati but stayed in close touch with Budzinski. When he commiserated with his friend on his decreased playing time, he told me later, Budzinski's response was something along the lines of: "The thing is, Dave Roberts is such a great guy I can't even get upset about losing time to him."
It is the newly inked Boston Red Sox first baseman Casey himself, though, who is most widely acknowledged to be, officially, the Friendliest Guy In Baseball. A recent poll in Sports Illustrated, conducted among Major Leaguers themselves, saw a whopping 46 percent of the respondents name Casey (let the record show that Roberts ranked fourth and Millar sixth so I am not alone in my opinion here).
I had the great good fortune of first getting to know him well before he made it to the big leagues, back when I covered the Indians' first winter development program in Cleveland in January 1996, just a few months after he was drafted. From the "small world" department, one of his best friends from college happened to live in my town, just down the block from my own daughter's best friend.
It says something about how friendly he was that this fact would even come up, no less the tidbit I learned about his having worked making bagels at the local Stop N Shop when he was playing Cape Cod League baseball.
It was easy to see how Casey had earned the nickname "The Mayor" for his incredible natural chatty ease with everyone he meets, not just the players who pass through his first base watch over the course of a game. And it certainly didn't surprise me to learn that then-farm director Mark Shapiro literally cried two years later when his team dealt Casey to Cincinnati for pitcher Dave Burba.
Now, I realize that Millar may seem to be the "one of these things is not like the others" name on this list to the uninitiated. I mean, this is Rally Karaoke Guy whose 18-year-old self got down and dirty to "Born In The U.S.A." on a nightly basis on the Fenway Park scoreboard. The guy who made taking ceremonial shots of Jack Daniels before a big game a team tradition. A guy known for his bizarre facial hair, his passion for Harley Davidson motorcycles and tattoos.
Is this really the kind of guy I'd want my daughter to marry?
Bet your ass it is.
If Dave Roberts is the nicest guy in baseball and Sean Casey is the friendliest, then it is Kevin Millar who has the game's biggest heart.
A non-drafted free agent who made his way to the big leagues through the independent Northern League and by all accounts Against All Odds (which he has tattooed on his arm), he brings his unbridled passion and enthusiasm and love for the game to every aspect of his life. And to other people's lives as well.
Back in 1997, when he was earning Eastern League MVP honors with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, Millar got to know a young fan named Morgan Grant and her family who hailed from nearby Pownal, Maine.
Morgan was terminally ill with brain cancer, but she and her family rarely missed a Sea Dogs game and not surprisingly it wasn't long before the scrappy Millar was her favorite player. The two forged a friendship over that summer that resulted in his helping to grant one of her last wishes – to come with her family to visit him that winter in southern California.
When Morgan was too weak to change out of her pajamas, Millar simply got into his own jammies and the families had a pajama party. It was there in California that Morgan took a turn for the worse and passed away, having spent her final days with the people she loved the most.
How can you not love a guy like this?
So Derek, you're off the hook. But in case you were wondering, Dana's senior prom is May 2. Time flies, doesn't it? I realize you probably can't make it, but if you feel like sending a corsage, you know where to find her.
Lisa Winston writes for MiLB.com, where you can read about any Minor League player she would ever consider getting for her roto team.
Young Guns: AL Central
Last week we took a look at the key rookies expected to make significant impacts at the major league level in 2008 in the American League East. This week, we continue with the AL Central where the young players are just as plentiful but, overall, lack the ceilings of their counterparts in the east.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Despite losing a good chunk of major league talent from 2007, the Twins do not have a lot of impact rookies ready to help the club battle for a playoff position in 2008. However, both Philip Humber and Carlos Gomez figure to get long looks in spring training. There are some interesting players at lower rungs in the system and a good number of sleepers who could take big steps forward in 2008.
Philip Humber RHP
Yes the Twins lost perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this past off-season in Johan Santana but they did receive some talented rookies who should be poised to contribute at the beginning of 2008. Humber is a former top college starting pitcher who has lost some of his luster due to injuries. No longer a projected No. 1 starter, Humber falls more comfortable in the No. 3 or 4 starter mold. The flyball pitcher should be aided by his home ballpark and his minor league numbers have always been solid. At Triple-A in 2007 Humber posted 7.77 K/9 innings and 2.85 BB/9, both of which are respectable… and that is the exact type of performance fans should expect in 2008: Respectable, albeit unspectacular. Nick Blackburn has a shot to beat out Humber for the fifth spot in the rotation but Minnesota might feel the need to show fans that they did in fact receive some value for Santana, so Humber has the edge.
Carlos Gomez CF
Oddly the Twins traded away one of the best pitchers in baseball but did not get back a proven major league regular OR an organization’s top prospect, which would have been the Mets’ Fernando Martinez. But Gomez is a close second and is loaded with potential. The problem is that he is still rather raw – but probably advanced enough to win one of the Twins’ starting outfield roles. The biggest problem with Gomez right now is that as someone who needs to use his speed to succeed, he strikes out too much (22.6 percent in Double-A in 2006, and 21.6 percent in the majors in 2007) and fails to walk enough for a top-of-the-order player (5.9 percent, 6.0 percent). On the plus side, during his MLB debut in 2007, Gomez hit the ball on the ground 45.5 percent of the time, which is good to see for a player who does not rely on power.
Chicago White Sox
According to numerous experts in minor league baseball, including Baseball America, the White Sox have one of the worst systems in baseball so it should come as no surprise that there is little help on the way from the farm system. General manager Kenny Williams certainly has his work cut out for him if and when injuries begin to crop up. Despite being a former first round pick, Lance Broadway is not a prospect you want to rely on too heavily.
Lance Broadway RHP
Labeled as a “safe first-round pick” in 2005, Broadway’s stuff has always been a little lacking to be an impact starter at the major league level, despite his gaudy major league numbers in September 2007. Regardless, he should comfortable slide in as the White Sox’ No. 5 starter in 2008 – or he could possibly be shifted to the role of long reliever. There are a number of warnings signs associated with Broadway though, which cloud his 2008 potential. Firstly, his minor league numbers are average and he has allowed more than a hit per inning in his career (9.44 H/9 to be exact). He has also averaged only 6.88 K/9 as a soft-tossing righty who rarely breaks 90 mph. That wouldn’t be so bad if he were a groundball pitcher, but that hasn’t been the case. During his September call-up, Broadway induced groundballs only 36.4 percent of the time, and gave up a disturbingly high number of line drives (27.3 percent) suggesting he wasn’t fooling a lot of batters. He also had a low BABIP at .248.
The Indians will see some youth among its pitching staff in 2008 as a number of youngsters look for a regular major league paycheck. The presence of pitchers such as C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook mean that the Indians can ease the rookies in without fear of overexposure. Pitching continues to be the Tribe's strength with Jensen Lewis, Adam Miller and Aaron Laffey likely playing large roles with the club in 2008.
Jensen Lewis RHP
A starter prior to 2007, Lewis found his niche in the bullpen last year. As a starter, Lewis was far more hittable and averaged more than a hit per inning in two minor league seasons. Then in 2007, at three different levels including the majors, Lewis averaged 6.43 hits per nine innings. Even with his success at the major league level in 2007, Lewis still allowed a BABIP of .339, which suggests there is still room for improvement on his numbers. He could evolve into an excellent set-up man, especially if he can induce a few more groundball outs (32.5 percent in 2007).
Adam Miller RHP
The former first round pick and perennially No. 1 prospect has had his ascent to the majors slowed by a variety of injuries. However, if he is deemed healthy in 2008, he is expected to win a major league bullpen role. In his last two minor league seasons (at Double-A in 2006 and Triple-A in 2007), Miller has averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings and walked fewer than three batters per nine innings. Batters also beat the ball into the ground against Miller, as he induced grounders 53 percent of the time in 2007 at Triple-A and 55 percent at Double-A in 2006. Strikeout pitchers who keep the ball on the ground are always a good bet for success.
Aaron Laffey LHP
Laffey could be the player keeping the No. 5 starter role warm for Miller in 2008. Long term, Laffey does not look like an impact starter, as he has only once averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine innings in a full minor league season. One very encouraging sign for the soft-tossing lefty, though, is that he induced groundballs 62.4 percent of the time during his 2007 major league trial. If he can continue that trend, as well as keep the walks down as he did in 2007 (2.19 BB/9) then Laffey could be laughin’ in 2008.
Kansas City Royals
No longer satisfied to save money and languish at the bottom of the division, the Royals have begun to infuse the roster with veteran talent such as Gil Meche, Ron Mahay and Jose Guillen. That is probably good for fans, although it means fewer opportunities for young players in the system, which has recently graduated studs such as Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.
Luke Hochevar RHP
Hochevar’s minor league numbers have been good… but not quite what you’d expect from the No. 1 overall pick from 2006. It’s possible that he might be one of those rare players who plays better under constant scrutiny and glare of the spotlight (like Florida’s Hanley Ramirez) or perhaps he was just a little overrated. Hochevar’s Triple-A numbers in 2007 left a strange taste in many talent evaluators’ mouths. His K/9 ratio was only 6.83 and he allowed 11 homers in only 58 innings. His strikeout ratio continued to drop at the major league level and bottomed out at 3.55. However, his other numbers improved in The Show and he induced grounders at a rate of 63.4 percent. He also allowed line drives less than 10 percent of the time suggesting hitters were not squaring up the ball overly well. So basically, what does all this mean? Going into 2008, I’d suggest the nickname The Enigma. But Kansas City sorely needs Hochevar to rise to the occasion and seize a rotation spot.
One of the busiest teams this past off-season, the Tigers organization has transformed its roster into a veteran powerhouse club. No rookie projects to make a major impact on the team early on in the season, although there are ample opportunities in the bullpen.
Next up: The American League West
Best Young Players in Baseball by Age: Part Three (21- and 20-Year Olds)
We continue and conclude our three-part series on the Best Young Players in Baseball. Unlike most prospect lists, players are categorized by age and major leaguers are also eligible for inclusion.
All told, we ranked 75 players and gave honorable mentions to another 75. Of those ranked, 26 were pitchers or roughly 35% of the total (which is about pitching's proper proportional weighting with defense accounting for about 15% and offense the other 50%). Approximately two-thirds of the pitchers were righthanded and one-third lefthanded. There were 13 center fielders included, partly due to the fact – as you will read below – that the 21-year-old crop is overloaded with talent at that position (including seven of the top eight players). But it's also important to point out that many center fielders will end up in right or left field. Conversely, only three left fielders and four first basemen were chosen. It's nothing more than Bill James' Defensive Spectrum at work.
Interestingly, the National League had 38 players and the American League had 37. In both cases, that works out to about 2.5 players per team. The Milwaukee Brewers led all clubs with seven, including five players expected to be in this year's starting lineup and rotation. The Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays had six each, while the Los Angeles Dodgers had five. Oakland brought up the rear with zero although it led the pack with eight honorable mentions, thanks to a couple of offseason trades that bolstered the club's pipeline of prospects. Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, Toronto, and the Chicago Cubs and White Sox had one each.
The Rays and Dodgers each had ten of the 150 ranked players and honorable mentions, followed by the Angels, Red Sox, and A's (all with 8). The Blue Jays (1) had the fewest and would get my vote as the worst collection of young talent in the game, follwed by the Astros, Cubs, and Giants (all with 2).
All in all, I believe the 25-and-under group is special by historical standards, albeit not up to the class of 1956 when Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson were all at a similar age.
1. Jay Bruce | CIN | CF
A+/AA/AAA | 576 PA | .319/.375/.587 | OPS .962
Bruce was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007. Over three levels, the lefthanded-hitting center fielder combined for 46 doubles, 8 triples, and 26 home runs. His 80 XBH and 306 TB ranked second in the minors. He also struck out 135 times or nearly once every four trips to the plate.
2. Cameron Maybin | FLA | CF
R/A+/AA | 385 PA | .316/.409/.523 | OPS .932
Maybin spent most of the year drilling High-A pitchers but failed miserably in his MLB debut (.143/.208/.265 with 21 SO in 53 PA) when he was rushed to Detroit in August. He was traded to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera package this winter. Maybin is a big, strong, athletic type who will succeed in the big leagues in due time. Of note, he was the second-highest drafted high schooler in 2005 at #10, ahead of fellow center fielders McCutchen (11), Bruce (12), and Rasmus (28).
3. Colby Rasmus | STL | CF
AA | 556 PA | .275/.381/.551 | OPS .932
Rasmus led the Texas League in home runs (29), extra-base hits (69), and runs scored (93), while hitting .312/.429/.624 in the second half. He also drew 70 walks and stole 18 bases. A bona fide five-tool player, Colby led off for Team USA at the World Cup in November. His spring will determine whether he starts the season in St. Louis or Triple-A Memphis.
4. Andrew McCutchen | PIT | CF
AA/AAA | 570 PA | .265/.329/.388 | OPS .717
McCutchen had a poor April and his season-long stats suffered accordingly. At 5-11, 170, McCutchen isn't nearly as big as Bruce, Maybin, and Rasmus. His game relies less on power and more on speed and defense. He stands a decent chance of getting his first look in the majors this summer.
5. Nick Adenhart | LAA | RHP
AA | 153 IP | 1.46 WHIP | 6.82 K/9 | ERA 3.65
A highly regarded high school pitcher, Adenhart suffered a major elbow injury during his senior year and fell all the way to the 14th round of the 2004 draft. He received a $710,000 bonus despite the need for Tommy John surgery that same summer. In three seasons of minor league ball, the 6-foot-4 righthander has allowed only 10 HR in 361 innings. He should be a fixture in a big league rotation in 2009 and could see some action in the majors during the second half this year if injuries dictate his call-up.
6. Jordan Schafer | ATL | CF
A/A+ | 626 PA | .312/.374/.513 | OPS .887
Although Schafer had a breakout minor league season last year, it wasn't totally out of the blue. Baseball America was on him eight years ago, naming him the nation's top 13-year-old in 2000. At worst, he should be a poor man's Grady Sizemore, a lefthanded center fielder who could be a 20 HR, 20 SB, Gold Glove-type in the majors.
7. Desmond Jennings | TB | CF
A | 448 PA | .315/.401/.465 | OPS .866
Jennings hasn't played at the same levels of his counterparts and his ranking is based in large part on tools and projection. He has plus-plus speed (77 SB in 97 attempts in 155 MiL games) and above-average power. Jennings has come a long way from 2000 when he was drafted in the 10th round and signed for just $150,000. He should arrive in the majors about a year after most of his fellow 21-year-old center fielders.
8. Austin Jackson | NYY | CF
A/A+/AAA | 555 PA | .304/.370/.476 | OPS .846
Jackson is interesting in that he hit .260/.336/.374 in the Sally League (A) and .345/.398/.566 in the Florida State League (High-A). An outstanding athlete, he can run, hit for power, and should be able to handle the defensive demands of center field at the big league level.
9. Jake McGee | TB | LHP
A+/AA | 140 IP | 1.12 WHIP | 11.25 K/9 | ERA 3.15
McGee has progressed as expected from Rookie ball in 2004 to short-season A in 2005 to Single-A in 2006 to High-A and Double-A in 2007. He has excelled at every stop along the way, striking out more than one batter per inning in each of the last four leagues. The southpaw has a plus fastball but still needs to develop a better breaking pitch and changeup to continue his ascension to the majors.
10. Aaron Poreda | CWS | LHP
R | 46.1 IP | 0.84 WHIP | 9.33 K/9 | ERA 1.17
A first round draft pick last June, Poreda had a terrific professional debut season. However, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound southpaw dominated Rookie ball as a 20-year-old and needs to show that he can handle players his age and above before gaining any more respect. Poreda has been known to light up radar guns as high as the upper-90s so he just may be the real deal. Stay tuned.
11. Bryan Anderson | STL | C
AA | 431 PA | .298/.350/.388 | OPS .738
Anderson bypassed High-A en route to Double-A as a 20-year-old all-star catcher just two years out of high school. His body of work includes Team USA and the Futures Game.
Honorable Mention: Michael Bowden, Carlos Carrasco, Daniel Cortes, Will Inman, Beau Mills, Cole Rohrbough, Ryan Tucker, and Chris Volstad.
1. Justin Upton | ARI | RF
MLB | 152 PA | .221/.283/.364 | OPS+ 62
Ranking #1 is nothing new for Upton. He was the first pick in the 2005 draft and was playing in the big leagues 19 months after signing with the Diamondbacks. An easy pick as the top 20-year-old, Upton is a couple of years ahead of the competition. He went 5-for-14 with two extra-base hits as Arizona's starting right fielder in the postseason despite being 15 months younger than any other player in the big leagues.
2. Clayton Kershaw | LAD | LHP
A/AA | 122 IP | 1.28 WHIP | 12.02 K/9 | ERA 2.95
Kershaw has been on the fast track since being drafted with the 7th pick in 2006. Considered by many as the best LHP in the minors, Clayton has outstanding stuff, including a low- to mid-90s fastball and a hammer curve. He still needs to work on his command and control but projects as a big league starter in a year and a potential ace shortly thereafter.
3. Travis Snider | TOR | RF
A | 517 PA | .313/.377/.525 | OPS .902
Snider led the pitcher-friendly Midwest League with a .525 slugging average, 35 doubles, 58 extra-base hits, and 93 RBI. He could be the best pure hitter in the minors this season. The only rap against him is his body (5-11, 245) although he is an average runner at this point and his arm is good enough to play in right field.
4. Lars Anderson | BOS | 1B
A/A+ | 580 PA | .292/.393/.446 | OPS .839
A high school draftee in 2006, Anderson began his professional career in 2007 at Single-A and was promoted to High-A before the season concluded. At 6-4, 215, the lefthanded hitter has the frame to hit for power as well as the approach to work counts and draw walks. He is easier to project than any 20-year-old hitter not named Snider.
5. Jordan Walden | LAA | RHP
R | 64.1 IP | 1.03 WHIP | 8.82 K/9 | ERA 3.08
According to Baseball America, Walden was the #1 high school prospect entering his senior season in 2006. The Angels nabbed him in the 12th round after his velocity fell into the 80s, signing him for $1 million as a draft-and-follow out of Grayson County Community College in Texas. His fastball has since returned, touching 100-mph in a championship game at Orem last season.
6. Matt Latos | SD | RHP
A- | 56.1 IP | 1.42 WHIP | 11.83 K/9 | ERA 3.83
Like Walden, Latos was signed as a draft-and-follow (Broward Community College in Florida). The Padres locked him up for $1.25 million hours before the signing deadline. His talent is on the raw side but his upside is evidenced by a powerful fastball that has been known to eclipse 95 on the gun. Latos K'd 74 batters in 56 1/3 innings in the short-season Northwest League.
7. Hank Conger | LAA | C
R/A | 335 PA | .289/.333/.466 | OPS .799
Conger posted a .290/.336/.472 line as a 19-year-old switch-hitting catcher in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. There is little question that the kid can hit. Still needs to prove that he can handle the defensive chores behind the plate.
8. Jeremy Jeffress | MIL | RHP
A | 86.1 IP | 1.23 WHIP | 9.91 K/9 | ERA 3.13
Poster child for the million-dollar arm, ten-cent head. Milwaukee's #1 draft pick in 2006, Jeffress may have the best arm in the system but has tested positive for marijuana four times and will begin the 2008 season serving the bulk of the 50-game suspension levied against him last year.
9. Gorkys Hernandez | ATL | CF
A | 533 PA | .293/.344/.391| OPS .735
The Braves acquired Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens from the Detroit Tigers for Edgar Renteria. Hernandez, who played in the Futures Game last summer, won the Gulf Coast League's batting title in 2006 and the Midwest League's MVP in 2007 (even though he was thoroughly outplayed by Snider).
10. Nick Weglarz | CLE | LF
A/A+ | 540 PA | .274/.393/.498 | OPS .891
Defensively challenged, Weglarz will have to hit his way onto a big league roster. He has been compared to Justin Morneau for his size, handedness, and power potential. Like his fellow Canadian, Weglarz may wind up at first base.
Honorable Mention: Brett Anderson, Adrian Cardenas, Kasey Kiker, Chris Parmelee, and Chris Tillman.
Best Young Players in Baseball by Age: Part Two (23- and 22-Year Olds)
We continue our three-part series on the Best Young Players in Baseball. Unlike most prospect lists, players are categorized by age and major leaguers are also eligible for inclusion.
As pointed out in Part One, "the rankings are heavily weighted toward stats, age vs. level of play, and position. Tools and upside also played a part, as did opinions by Baseball America, Keith Law, and Kevin Goldstein, especially among younger prospects. Ultimately, the rankings are based on a discounted present value of the future returns (like they do in the financial world) of each player's career. The closer the expected returns, the higher the value."
A player's age is based on June 30th. MLB stats are shown for those players with at least 150 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched. Minor League combined totals are listed for all others.
Yesterday, we covered 15 25-year-olds and 14 24-year-olds. Today, we will focus on ranking 13 23-year-olds and 12 22-year-olds. Tomorrow, we will conclude the series with 11 21-year-olds and 10 20-year olds.
1. Troy Tulowitzki | COL | SS
MLB | 682 PA | .291/.359/.479 | OPS+ 108
Tulowitzki earned the starting job in spring training and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He surpassed all expectations, cranking 33 doubles, 5 triples, and 24 home runs while scoring 104 runs and driving in 99. Moreover, Tulo led all shortstops in most fielding categories and was the plus/minus leader, earning a Fielding Bible Award. He was rewarded with a six-year, $31 million contract, the most money ever given to a player with less than two years of experience.
2. Ryan Zimmerman | WAS | 3B
MLB | 722 PA | .266/.330/.458 | OPS+ 107
Zimmerman is quickly becoming the face of the Washington franchise. He didn't miss a game last season and accumulated impressive counting stats, including 43 doubles, 5 triples, and 24 homers with more than 90 runs and RBI. His numbers may get a boost by playing home games this season at Nationals Park rather than pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium. He can pick it with the best at the hot corner.
3. Matt Cain | SF | RHP
MLB | 200 IP | 1.26 WHIP | 7.33 K/9 | ERA+ 122
How did Cain go 7-16 with a 3.65 ERA? Easy. He had the worst bullpen support and the second-worst run support of any qualified pitcher last season. One would think that the law of averages would be on his side this year except for one small thing: the bullpen and offense should be the same or worse in 2008. Last April, Cain gave up 12 hits and 6 runs in 35 innings and had a record of 1-1 in five starts. 'Nuff said.
4. Chad Billingsley | LAD | RHP
MLB | 147 IP | 1.33 WHIP | 8.63 K/9 | ERA+ 138
Billingsley didn't join the starting rotation until June. He had an ERA of 3.22 in July, 3.19 in August, and 2.59 in September. Unbeknown to most, Dodger Stadium hasn't played as a pitcher's park the past two seasons. Case in point: Billingsley had an ERA of 4.24 at home and 2.59 on the road. The righthander will do well by improving his command and keeping his pitch counts down.
5. Clay Buchholz | BOS | RHP
AA/AAA | 125.1 IP | 0.97 WHIP | 12.28 K/9 | ERA 2.44
After dominating Double-A and Triple-A batters, Buchholz was promoted to the majors and threw a no-hitter against the Orioles on September 1 in just his second start. In an interview a year ago, Assistant GM Jed Hoyer told us that Buchholz possessed the best slider and changeup in the system. You can call his breaking ball a slider or a curve. Either way, it is flat out wicked, especially when combined with his low-90s fastball and plus-plus change.
6. B.J. Upton | TB | CF
MLB | 548 PA | .300/.386/.508 | OPS+ 136
The second pick in the 2002 draft, Upton flew through the minors and made his MLB debut in 2004 at the age of 19. His defense at shortstop and third base was horrific and he didn't make it back to the bigs until 2006. Switched to second base and then center field in 2007, Upton finally broke out on the offensive side, hitting .300 and slugging 24 home runs. His BABIP was .447 during the first half, regressing to .356 during the second half when he hit .285/.379/.482.
7. Matt Kemp | LAD | RF
MLB | 311 PA | .342/.373/.521 | OPS+ 125
Kemp put up consistently strong numbers vs. LHP and RHP, at home and away, and in both halves. However, a cynic would point to his 17.5% line drive rate and suggest that an overall BABIP of .411 isn't sustainable. A more normal BABIP, in fact, would have reduced Kemp's rate line to .257/.293/.435. He will do well by splitting the difference between his actual and theoretical stats.
8. Lastings Milledge | WAS | CF
MLB | 206 PA | .272/.341/.446 | OPS+ 105
Blocked by Carlos Beltran in New York, Milledge was traded to Washington during the off-season and will be the everyday center fielder for the Nationals. Milledge has been highly regarded in baseball circles since being drafted in the first round in 2003. His bat is as quick as his temper and should win out as Milledge matures.
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia | TEX | C-1B
MLB | 329 PA | .266/.310/.422 | OPS+ 91
Traded for Mark Teixeira right before the deadline, Saltalamacchia split time between Atlanta and Texas as well as catcher and first base. A switch-hitter, Salty has plenty of bat for a catcher but still needs to improve his defensive skills behind the plate. His value will drop if he winds up at first base.
10. Brandon Wood | LAA | 3B
AAA | 488 PA | .272/.338/.497 | OPS .835
Wood was one of the top five prospects in baseball after clubbing 58 HR in the minors, AFL, and Team USA as a 20-year-old in 2005. However, his star potential has waned a bit the past two seasons, primarily owing to the fact that he is no longer playing shortstop and is whiffing nearly once every four plate appearances. The raw power is still there and will play at third base if Brandon can show that he can handle breaking balls and lay off pitches outside the strike zone.
11. Andrew Miller | FLA | LHP
MLB | 64 IP | 1.75 WHIP | 7.88 K/9 | ERA+ 81
Detroit was pleased when Miller fell to them in the sixth spot in the 2006 draft. The former Tar Heel was brought up in late August that year and pitched eight games out of the bullpen during the stretch drive. The tall southpaw started 13 times last season but got rocked, allowing 73 hits and 39 walks in 64 innings. Traded to the Marlins during the off-season as part of the Miguel Cabrera package, Miller figures to land a spot in Florida's starting rotation this spring.
12. Felix Pie | CHC | CF
MLB | 194 PA | .215/.271/.333 | OPS+ 53
Pie had a forgettable rookie season with the Cubs but hit .362/.410/.563 in Triple-A Iowa. He should break camp as the team's everyday center fielder and has the potential of hitting .280 with 15-20 HR and a dozen or more triples.
13. Matt LaPorta | MIL | LF
R/A | 130 PA | .304/.369/.696 | OPS 1.065
A former NCAA home run champ at the University of Florida, LaPorta jacked 10 four baggers in 102 plate appearances in the South Atlantic League. He is expected to start the season at Double-A Huntsville and would probably see action in the big leagues as early as the second half of 2008 if not for one thing: LaPorta is blocked in left field by Ryan Braun, in right field by Corey Hart, and at first base by Prince Fielder. Absent an injury or a trade and with no DH in the NL, there may be little or no opportunity for LaPorta in Milwaukee this season.
Honorable Mention: Tony Abreu, Matt Antonelli, Melky Cabrera, John Danks, Ian Kennedy, Justin Masterson, James McDonald, Adam Miller, Brandon Morrow, and Max Scherzer.
1. Felix Hernandez | SEA | RHP
MLB | 190.3 IP | 1.38 WHIP | 7.80 K/9 | ERA+ 110
Hard to believe but Hernandez doesn't even turn 22 until April. The three-year veteran has already tossed 465 innings in the majors. Call him a disappointment if you must but King Felix was the youngest player in the big leagues in 2005 and 2006 and the sixth-youngest in 2007.
2. Yovani Gallardo | MIL | RHP
MLB | 110.3 IP | 1.27 WHIP | 8.24 K/9 | ERA+ 122
In 17 starts with Milwaukee, Gallardo pitched six innings or more and allowed ZERO runs five times, including three in a row in September. Subtract a start at Colorado in August (2 2/3 IP and 11 ER) and Yovani's ERA would fall to 2.84. Gallardo has the pitches and the pitchability to rank among the best starters in either league as long as he stays healthy.
3. Phil Hughes | NYY | RHP
MLB | 72.7 IP | 1.28 WHIP | 7.18 K/9 | ERA+ 100
Hughes almost pulled a Clay Buchholz last year, tossing a no-hitter in his second start in the big leagues. Almost. The big righthander threw a no-no for 6 1/3 innings before injuring his hamstring and exiting stage left. Phil sat out three months when he also suffered a severe ankle sprain during his rehab. Hughes was 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA in his final four starts and hurled 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief to earn a win over Cleveland in Game 3 of the ALDS.
4. Joba Chamberlain | NYY | RHP
A+/AA/AAA | 88.3 IP | 1.01 WHIP | 13.76 K/9 | ERA 2.45
Chamberlain blew away minor and major league hitters last season as a starting pitcher in the former and as a late-season set-up man with the Yankees. He struck out 169 batters in 112 1/3 combined innings, ranging from High-A to MLB. His future could be as a #1 starter or as a dominant closer. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and his slider is a devastating out pitch. He also throws a curve and a change, both of which could develop into plus pitches as a starter.
5. Evan Longoria | TB | 3B
AA/AAA | 575 PA | .299/.402/.520 | OPS .922
Despite what many prospect analysts have claimed, Longoria was a third baseman in college, not a shortstop. He played SS in junior college and filled in at that position for a stretch during his junior season at Long Beach State when Troy Tulowitzki was injured. Otherwise, he was a third baseman – and an excellent one at that. The MVP of the Southern League, Longoria should be Tampa Bay's starting 3B on Opening Day.
6. Delmon Young | MIN | RF
MLB | 681 PA | .288/.316/.408 | OPS+ 91
The #1 overall draft pick in 2003, Young was the favorite among almost all prospect analysts for the next few years. His plate discipline is notoriously bad and his power hasn't developed as expected. However, it's easy to forget that he played last season as a 21-year-old. He will get a fresh start in Minnesota. Delmon is the brother of Dmitri Young.
7. Adam Jones | BAL | CF
AAA | 469 PA | .314/.382/.586 | OPS .968
Jones was the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard trade. A supplemental first round draft pick in 2003, Jones played 73 games for Seattle in 2006 and 2007. The production hasn't been there as yet but there is no disputing the raw talent and power. A former high school pitcher who dialed it up to the mid-90s and a minor league shortstop for three seasons, Jones has the arm and the speed to become a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder in the majors.
8. Billy Butler | KC | DH
MLB | 360 PA | .292/.347/.447 | OPS+ 105
Reminds me of Greg Luzinski. The Royals will be happy if he hits as well as the Bull.
9. Homer Bailey | CIN | RHP
A+/AAA | 75.1 IP | 1.34 WHIP | 7.89 K/9 | ERA 3.82
Two years after Bailey was named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year and drafted with the seventh overall pick by the Reds, the young Texan did little to hurt his national standing when he lit up radar guns and everyone's eyes at the Futures Game in 2006. Homer didn't progress as expected last season but still has the potential to become a legitimate ace in the big leagues once he adds a bit of polish to his outstanding repertoire of stuff.
10. Franklin Morales | COL | LHP
AA/AAA | 112.2 IP | 1.38 WHIP | 7.43 K/9 | ERA 3.51
Morales earned a promotion to Colorado in August and his team won six of his eight starts, including three straight in September when he threw 17 innings and allowed 7 hits and 0 runs. He also made two starts in the postseason and two relief appearances in the World Series at the tender age of 21. His minor league totals say everything you need to know about Morales: 428 IP, 462 SO, and 234 BB. His command and control will dictate his ceiling.
11. Matt Wieters | BAL | C
The fifth pick overall in the draft last June, Wieters received a $6 million signing bonus with the Orioles. A switch-hitter, he batted .358 with 10 homers during his junior season at Georgia Tech. At 6-foot-5, the only question is whether Wieters, who has plus arm strength, is too tall to stay behind the plate longer term.
12. David Price | TB | LHP
The first pick of the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt, Price signed a major league contract with the Devil Rays last August for $8.5 million. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound lefty went 11-0 with a 2.59 ERA in 133 innings at Vandy during his junior season. With a plus fastball and slider, he projects as a future ace in the big leagues.
Honorable Mention: Daric Barton, Reid Brignac, Asdrubal Cabrera, Johnny Cueto, Chris Davis, Wade Davis, Fautino de los Santos, Ross Detwiler, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Eric Hurley, Jair Jurrjens, Chuck Lofgren, Troy Patton, and Neil Walker.
Best Young Players in Baseball by Age: Part One (25- and 24-Year Olds)
In a three-part series, Baseball Analysts is unveiling its Best Young Players in Baseball. In contrast to prospect lists, we are categorizing the players by age and basing our rankings on minor and major leaguers.
The rankings are heavily weighted toward stats, age vs. level of play, and position. Tools and upside also played a part, as did opinions by Baseball America, Keith Law, and Kevin Goldstein, especially among younger prospects. Ultimately, the rankings are based on a discounted present value of the future returns (like they do in the financial world) of each player's career. The closer the expected returns, the higher the value.
In order to come up with a total of 75 players, we have also added an unusual twist by ranking 15 25-year-olds, 14 24-year-olds, 13 23-year-olds, 12 22-year-olds, 11 21-year-olds, and 10 20-year-olds. The reasoning for this methodology is to give "older" players their due because they are more of a sure thing, whereas the younger prospects are a bit more speculative by nature.
A player's age is based on June 30th. MLB stats are shown for those players with at least 150 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched. Minor League combined totals are listed for all others.
We begin the series by focusing on the 25-year-old and 24-year-old players. We will rank the 23- and 22-year-olds on Tuesday, and the 21- and 20-year olds on Wednesday.
1. David Wright | NYM | 3B
MLB | 711 PA | .325/.416/.546 | OPS+ 150
Wright should have been the NL MVP in 2007 but was overlooked by voters because the Mets faltered down the stretch. Nonetheless, he did his part, hitting .352/.432/.602 during the final month of the season. Get this, Wright hit .364/.465/.596 in the second half with 53 BB and 42 SO, a huge improvement over his 41-73 clip in the first half.
2. Miguel Cabrera | DET | 3B
MLB | 680 PA | .320/.401/.565 | OPS+ 150
Cabrera won't turn 25 until after the season opens, yet already has more than 4 1/2 years of major league service under his belt. Now that he is entering his prime, Cabrera may well be the best hitter in the game over the next five seasons. He has hit .320 or better and slugged in the .560s in each of the last three campaigns. The sky is the limit if he can keep his weight down.
3. Jose Reyes | NYM | SS
MLB | 765 PA | .280/.354/.421 | OPS+ 103
Like Cabrera, Reyes has been playing in the majors since he turned 20 in 2003. He can be a game changer at the plate, on the bases, or in the field. Reyes and Wright form the best young left side of the infield in baseball and may challenge their New York counterparts for that title over the next season or two.
4. Grady Sizemore | CLE | CF
MLB | 748 PA | .277/.390/.462 | OPS+ 122
Young or old, Sizemore is one of the best players in the game. He has averaged 41 doubles, 9 triples, and 25 home runs over the past three seasons. Furthermore, the Gold Glove center fielder has improved his walk rate and on-base percentage every year, drawing more than 100 BB and lifting his OBP to .390 in 2007.
5. Joe Mauer | MIN | C
MLB | 471 PA | .293/.382/.426 | OPS+ 117
Mauer could have been the MVP in 2006 when he led the AL with a .347 batting average and slugged over .500 while giving his club strong defense at the most demanding position on the field. More than anything, Mauer just needs to stay healthy to earn his place as one of the best two-way players in either league.
6. Russell Martin | LAD | C
MLB | 620 PA | .293/.374/.469 | OPS+ 113
Martin caught 145 games last season and earned a Gold Glove for his sterling play behind the plate and a Silver Slugger as the best-hitting catcher in the league. He hit 32 doubles, 3 triples, and 19 home runs, while drawing 67 walks and stealing 21 bases.
7. Justin Verlander | DET | RHP
MLB | 201.7 IP | 1.23 WHIP | 8.17 K/9 | ERA+ 125
As the second overall pick of the 2004 draft, Verlander has held up his end of the bargain in his first two full seasons in the big leagues. He improved his strikeout rate per batter faced from 16.0% to 21.1% last year and seems poised to add a Cy Young to his trophy case one of these years.
8. Robinson Cano | NYY | 2B
MLB | 669 PA | .306/.353/.488 | OPS+ 120
Cano has put back-to-back 120 or better OPS+ seasons at the age of 23 and 24. His walk rate (5.8%), while low, improved in 2006 and 2007. Cano could rate as one of the top players in baseball if he can get his walk rate up to 10%.
9. Rickie Weeks | MIL | 2B
MLB | 506 PA | .235/.374/.433 | OPS+ 108
In stark contrast to Cano, Weeks walked in 15.4% of his plate appearances. Rickie thrived in the lead-off spot (.252/.385/.477 vs. .139/.279/.222 when batting 8th) and showed remarkable power during the final month of the season when he slugged 9 HR.
10. Jeremy Bonderman | DET | RHP
MLB | 174.3 IP | 1.38 WHIP | 7.49 K/9 | ERA+ 91
A five-year veteran, Bonderman's win-loss record (56-62) and ERA (4.78) have disappointed his most ardent supporters, yet his stuff and strikeout/groundball rates lead scouts and statheads to believe he can still become a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. His results last season may have been hampered by an elbow injury that wasn't disclosed until late last year.
11. Jered Weaver | LAA | RHP
MLB | 161 IP | 1.38 WHIP | 6.43 K/9 | ERA+ 117
After a terrific rookie season, Weaver's 2007 start was delayed by shoulder tendinitis. He regressed as expected but still had a productive season, going 13-7 with an ERA of 3.91. Keep an eye on his K/9 as it dipped 1.25 last year. As an extreme flyball pitcher, Weaver needs to maintain an above-average strikeout rate to succeed in the big leagues.
12. Hunter Pence | HOU | RF
MLB | 484 PA | .322/.360/.539 | OPS+ 130
Pence exploded onto the major league scene last season, hitting .342/.367/.589 during the first half. He suffered a mid-season injury but ended the year on a high note, going .333/.372/.590 over his final 10 games. His BABIP of .377 is unlikely to be sustained so look for what many will term a "sophomore slump" in 2008. His walk rate (5.4%) leaves a lot to be desired and will be the key to his longer-term productivity.
13. Casey Kotchman | LAA | 1B
MLB | 508 PA | .296/.372/.467 | OPS+ 119
Kotchman was enjoying a breakout season (.333/.411/.556) when he suffered a concussion on a thrown ball against the Dodgers on June 16. He returned to the lineup nine days later but was never the same, hitting .263/.338/.390 the rest of the way.
14. J.J. Hardy | MIL | SS
MLB | 638 PA | .277/.323/.463 | OPS+ 100
Hardy, not teammate Prince Fielder, was leading the NL in homers early last season. He slugged 15 HR in April and May, then slumped to 0 in July, before rebounding with 8 in the final two months. He is more solid than spectacular.
15. Stephen Drew | ARI | SS
MLB | 619 PA | .238/.313/.370 | OPS+ 72
Drew isn't as good as he showed during his rookie season in 2006 (.316/.357/.517) or as bad as he appeared to be in 2007. He should put up numbers this year that are equal to or better than his career totals (.259/.325/.411) with more upside potential than downside risk at this point.
Honorable Mention: Manuel Corpas, Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar, Josh Fields, Tom Gorzelanny, Yadier Molina, Micah Owings, Ervin Santana, Andy Sonnanstine, and Geovany Soto.
1. Hanley Ramirez | FLA | SS
MLB | 706 PA | .332/.386/.562 | OPS+ 145
Supremely gifted, Ramirez made a big splash in 2006 when he hit .292/.353/.480 with 46 doubles, 11 triples, 17 home runs, and 51 stolen bases en route to NL ROY honors. He then turned it up a couple of notches by improving his rate stats across the board and slugging 29 HR. While his bat can play anywhere, his defense will determine if he can remain at shortstop.
2. Prince Fielder | MIL | 1B
MLB | 681 PA | .288/.395/.618 | OPS+ 156
Fielder led the NL in HR last season with 50. Not bad for a 23-year-old. He could be one of the rare .300/.400/.600 type hitters for the next several seasons.
3. Ryan Braun | MIL | LF
MLB | 492 PA | .324/.370/.634 | OPS+ 153
Braun had a rookie season for the ages when he put up an OPS over 1.000. He was named NL ROY despite giving away a lot of runs at third base. He will move to left field this year and should be able to concentrate even more on his hitting. Braun and Fielder form one of the top 1-2 punches in all of baseball.
4. Cole Hamels | PHI | LHP
MLB | 183.3 IP | 1.12 WHIP | 8.69 K/9 | ERA+ 136
Possessing power and polish, Hamels ranks among the elite starting pitchers in baseball. He has a solid-to-plus fastball and curve, and a plus-plus changeup. Hamels spent time on the DL with an elbow injury during the second half but should begin the upcoming season in tip-top health.
5. Scott Kazmir | TB | LHP
MLB | 206.7 IP | 1.38 WHIP | 10.41 K/9 | ERA+ 130
Kazmir led the AL in strikeouts with 239 and ranked second in K/9 (behind Erik Bedard). The southpaw has K'd 617 batters in 570 2/3 innings over three-plus seasons.
6. Fausto Carmona | CLE | RHP
MLB | 215 IP | 1.21 WHIP | 5.73 K/9 | ERA+ 151
Carmona finished second in the AL in wins (19) and ERA (3.06). He and C.C. Sabathia, who won the Cy Young Award, were clearly the best righthanded and lefthanded tandem in the majors last season. A groundball pitcher, Carmona improved his strikeout rate from 5.10 K/9 in the first half to 6.37 in the second half.
7. Francisco Liriano | MIN | LHP
MLB | DNP
Hard to evaluate coming off a major arm injury. Could be as high as #1 if he returns to his former self.
8. Tim Lincecum | SF | RHP
MLB | 146.3 IP | 1.28 WHIP | 9.23 K/9 | ERA+ 111
Lincecum earned a promotion to the majors in May after going 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 31 innings over five starts at Triple-A Fresno. The smallish righthander possesses a blazing fastball and a hammer curve. Endurance and command will determine his ceiling.
9. Nick Markakis | BAL | RF
MLB | 710 PA | .300/.362/.485 | OPS+ 121
One of the least-talked-about young stars in the game, Markakis improved his AVG, OBP, and SLG from already lofty levels during his sophomore season. He hit .325/.389/.550 during the second half, including 14 HR in 73 games.
10. Brian McCann | ATL | C
MLB | 552 PA | .270/.320/.452 | OPS+ 100
McCann had a fine season for a 23-year-old catcher by any measure other than his previous campaign when he hit .333/.388/.572 with an OPS+ of 143. His production may be range bound between his last two seasons, which means he should be anywhere from good to great in 2008.
11. Alex Gordon | KC | 3B
MLB | 600 PA | .247/.314/.411 | OPS+ 87
Favored to be the AL Rookie of the Year when the season began, Gordon failed to live up to expectations despite accumulating 36 doubles, 4 triples, and 15 home runs. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts (137) to reach his full potential. His power numbers improved during the second half but his walk rate plummeted to 5.2%, raising concerns about his patience and plate discipline.
12. Jeff Francoeur | ATL | RF
MLB | 696 PA | .293/.338/.444 | OPS+ 103
Francoeur doubled his walk rate while holding his strikeout rate steady. He could be on the verge of a big season this year or next.
13. Dustin Pedroia | BOS | 2B
MLB | 581 PA | .317/.380/.442 | OPS+ 112
Upside is limited but is already plenty high based on his outstanding rookie season in 2007. More steady and solid than anything else. His approach at the plate and in the field are superb.
14. James Loney | LAD | 1B
MLB | 375 PA | .331/.381/.538 | OPS+ 131
Over the course of Loney's first two seasons, he has hit .321/.372/.543 (OPS+ 130) with 24 doubles, 9 triples, and 19 home runs in 144 games, 446 at-bats, and 486 plate appearances.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Broxton, Travis Buck, Jeff Clement, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Zack Greinke, Chase Headley, Jeremy Hermida, Luke Hochevar, Chin Lung Hu, Ubaldo Jimenez, Howie Kendrick, Andy LaRoche, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Olsen, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Slowey, Joakim Soria, Houston Street, Kurt Suzuki, J.R. Towles, Joey Votto, and Chris Young.
Splitsville: Take 2
Last week I looked at different splits, and found some interesting things about Mariano Rivera's cutter and Takashi Saito's fastball. This week I'm going to continue looking at the splits and see what else I can find.
Rivera's cutter is ridiculously effective, especially against left-handed hitters. Nearly every single pitch he throws to a LHH is a cutter, yet they still swing and miss at the pitch. After writing about Rivera's cutter, I wondered if there were other pitchers who approached left-handed and right-handed hitters with only one specific pitch. Somewhat surprisingly, there were other pitchers who, perhaps unwittingly, were going after certain hitters with only one pitch. The table below shows these pitchers and how often they throw that pitch to LHH and RHH. The two columns labeled Freq. show the frequency that a particular pitch is thrown and Diff is just the Freq. LHH column subtracted from the Freq. RHH column.
Name Pitch Freq. to RHH Freq. to LHH Diff. Mariano Rivera FB 0.72 0.99 -0.28 Brian Fuentes FB 0.70 0.99 -0.29 Trever Miller FB 0.68 0.95 -0.27 Macay McBride FB 0.87 0.95 -0.08 Kevin Cameron FB 0.80 0.89 -0.09 Alan Embree FB 0.89 0.72 0.17 Chris Young FB 0.63 0.88 -0.26 Bartolo Colon FB 0.67 0.85 -0.17 Jonathan Papelbon FB 0.85 0.74 0.10 David Riske FB 0.85 0.81 0.04
All of the pitchers on the list would be considered fastball pitchers, but one thing to keep in mind when looking at the table is the different pitches each pitcher has and how that impacts pitch frequency. Macay McBride doesn't appear to have have a very extensive repertoire of pitches he feels comfortable with, so he throws mostly fastballs to both groups of batters. Every batter has a great chance of seeing a fastball from McBride, so there's really no secret about it. The more interesting cases are where batters from one side see a lot more fastballs than batters on the other side, like with Rivera, Fuentes, Miller, and Young. In these cases, knowing how the pitcher approaches different handed hitters is much more interesting and important than knowing how he approaches hitters overall.
In Brian Fuentes' case, the reason he throws so many more fastballs to LHH is because of his arm angle. He slings the ball from an arm slot between sidearm and three-quarters, which initially causes the ball to appear behind a LHH. If you check out Fuentes' career splits, the difference shows up there as well. Overall, LHH have hit him much worse than RHH, even though LHH should only be looking for fastballs.
I mentioned earlier that I thought it was interesting to look at cases where pitchers drastically altered their pitching style to different handed hitters, and the next step in examining those cases is to look at which pitches had the biggest differential.
Name Pitch FreqR FreqL Diff. J.J. Putz CT 0.71 0.27 0.43 J.C. Romero FB 0.43 0.79 -0.36 Huston Street SL 0.62 0.27 0.35 Joe Beimel CT 0.76 0.42 0.34 Lance Cormier CT 0.65 0.31 0.33 Justin Hampson SL 0.30 0.61 -0.32 Kenny Rogers CH 0.65 0.34 0.31 Edwin Jackson SL 0.42 0.12 0.30 Todd Jones FB 0.70 0.41 0.29 Brian Fuentes FB 0.70 0.99 -0.29
These pitches all have different reasons for being thrown so much to hitters on one side. Putz's cutter/2-seam fastball gets a lot of swinging strikes when he throws it against both RHH and LHH, but his regular fastball and changeup aren't as effective against RHH as they are against LHH, which could be causing him to use more cutters at the expense of his changeup and 4-seamer vs. RHH. JC Romero's fastball is very hittable, but his arm angle is a slightly lower than normal, which lets him get away with frequently throwing the pitch to lefties. Even though both left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters posted identical SLGBIP and BABIP values on Romero's fastball(both of which count homers), when left-handed hitters swung at the pitch, they missed 26% of the time, while right-handed hitters swung and missed on only 6% of their swings.
Huston Street's slider also appears on this list. Street's slider is a great pitch against RHH, getting more swings and misses than an average slider (34% of swings against Street are misses vs. 24% overall) and when batters do put the ball in play, it is with far less authority than for an average slider (.296 SLGBIP vs. .502 SLGBIP). Street is pretty safe when he throws his slider to righties, because when they swing at it, there's a good chance they'll miss it and if they put it in play, there's a good chance it will turn into an out. That combination made me think about pitches that carried different amounts of risk for the pitcher throwing them, specifically pitches that not only posed a high risk (a high SLGBIP) but also had a high reward (high swing and miss percentage).
I created the list below by eyeballing my list of pitches and picking the ones that had both a high swing and miss rate and a high SLGBIP. The pitches are based on the handedness split, so for the line with Haren's changeup, you would read it as, against right-handed hitters, he threw a total of 819 pitches, 22% of which were changeups. When batters swung, they missed 47% of the time and when the ball was put in play, the slugging percentage was .652. For some perspective, the average amount of misses when the batter swings at a changeup or slider is 25% and the average SLGBIP for those pitches is right around .500.
Name Pitch Batter Tot. Freq Sw% SLGBIP Dan Haren CH R 819 0.22 0.47 0.652 Chad Gaudin SL R 710 0.39 0.43 0.750 Jeremy Bonderman SL R 353 0.42 0.42 0.852 Rudy Seanez SL R 329 0.30 0.42 0.737 Shaun Marcum SL R 443 0.21 0.42 0.737 Jake Peavy SL R 820 0.21 0.41 0.630 Johan Santana CH R 456 0.34 0.41 0.897 Jonathan Broxton SL L 288 0.36 0.39 0.684
Wow, there are some good pitches and pitchers on that list. This is partly because half of the criteria to be included is to have a high swing and miss rate on a certain pitch. However, the other criteria is that the pitch is hit hard when it is put in play, so it's somewhat surprising that I have multiple Cy Young winners on the list. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but the advantage of getting swings and misses must partially offset the high SLGBIP. Johan Santana'schangeup is the pitch whose appearance on the list surprised me most. His changeup is thought to be one of the best pitches in baseball, but when RHH put the ball in play, the SLG is on par with Bob Wickman's fastball to LHH. I'm almost as confused as I was last week when I found that lefties know Rivera's cutter is coming and still can't hit it.
Young Guns: AL East
Every season Major League Baseball teams receive contributions from some likely and not-so-likely minor league sources. The 2008 season stands to be no different, although baseball fans are not likely to see as large an influx of immediate-impact talent as was seen last season with top prospects making their debuts, such as Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence.
Regardless, according to an article by Dave Studenmund in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 (If you haven't already ordered a copy, go do so), the average age of major league baseball players is taking a dip for the first time in about 40 years, which suggests teams are relying more heavily on younger players.
The big question heading into 2008 is: Which rookies will have the biggest impacts this season?
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
With the winter winding down, the Orioles have already cast off some key 2007 contributors, including ace pitcher Erik Bedard who technically has not been traded yet, key offensive cog Miguel Tejada and sometime-sparkplug Corey Patterson. Waiting in the wings to replace those players are left-handed starter Troy Patton, shortstop Luis Hernandez and centerfielder Adam Jones, who is rumored to be on the way from Seattle.
Troy Patton LHP
Patton was obtained from the Houston Astros in the Tejada trade this past winter. He doesn’t project to be an ace like the man he is more or less replacing, but Patton has the ceiling of a No. 3 – possibly a No. 2 – starter. Although Patton faired well in 12.2 innings with Houston in 2007, some of his career numbers suggest that 2008 might be a bumpy time for the young hurler. In each of his last three promotions – from High-A ball to Triple-A – Patton’s strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) ratio has dipped each time from 9.06 to 7.35 to 6.07 to 4.59. Over the span of a 200-inning season, using his Triple-A ratio, Patton would strike out only 111 batters. Add in the fact that he was a flyball pitcher in Triple-A (GB% = 39%) and the majors (GB% = 27%), and he had low BABIPs (Triple-A = .262, MLB = .194) and you have the potential for a combustible rookie season.
Luis Hernandez SS
The slick-fielding Hernandez was claimed off waivers by the Orioles from the Atlanta Braves previous to the 2007 season. He certainly won’t resemble Tejada with the bat but he should improve upon Tejada’s dwindling defensive prowess. Unfortunately, Hernandez’ defence is unlikely to make up for his lack of offensive talent. With a career minor league line of .250/.299/.325, the shortstop has a long way to go to be league average. The switch hitter also struggles when batting left-handed, which he will do the majority of the time, and managed only a .218 average in 261 Double-A at-bats in 2007.
Adam Jones CF
Allegedly soon to be acquired as the centerpiece in the upcoming Erik Bedard deal, Jones (who is nine at-bats over technically being a rookie, but what the heck he's topical) will take over centerfield for departed free agent Patterson. A right-handed batter, Jones hit both right-handed (0.955 OPS) and left-handed pitchers (1.003 OPS) equally well in 2007 at the Triple-A level. His power is developing and the athletic Jones has taken well to the outfield after being drafted as a shortstop. The biggest weakness in his game, offensively, appears to be his plate discipline as he walked only 7.9 percent of the time, while striking out 25.2 percent of the time. He also had a high BABIP at .370. Jones should be able to duplicate or better Patterson’s 2007 line of .269/.304/.386 but he won’t be as explosive on the base paths.
Boston Red Sox
The powerhouse Boston Red Sox chose to stand pat – for the most part – during the off-season, making minor alterations rather than retooling altogether. The reason for that partially comes from the fact the club has a nice wave of young talent bubbling to the major league surface. 2007 AL Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia should be joined by fellow youngsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz, as Boston commits regular playing time to a number of unproven , but talented, players.
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
If you didn’t know the former first-round pick’s name before the 2007 season, you do now. Not only was Ellsbury a force to be reckon with as the season wore down but his name surfaced in every Johan Santana trade article written this past off-season. Ellsbury received regular playing time late in 2007 and hit .353/.394/.509 in 116 at-bats. He then parlayed that success into a .360/.429/.520 line, including .438/.500/.688 in the World Series, showing he is one young player that will not wilt under pressure. Ellsbury is easily a Rookie of the Year favorite due in equally parts to his natural talent and the knowledge of his own strengths and weaknesses. He is not a power hitter and Ellsbury accepts that. In his 33 major league trial, 52.5 percent of Ellsbury’s batted balls were groundballs, while only 28.7 were flyballs. That allowed him to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed, something a lot of young players are reluctant to do. In the future, a top of the lineup featuring Ellsbury and Pedroia could be a nightmare for opposing managers and pitchers.
Clay Buchholz RHP
Buchholz obviously has a lot a talent. Not many young players throw a no-hitter in their second big league appearance, which is exactly what Buchholz did against Baltimore on Sept. 1, 2007. Buchholz has also posted stellar minor league numbers throughout his pro career since being drafted 42nd overall in 2005. He has averaged about 12 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career and walked fewer than three batters per nine innings, which is impressive for a power pitcher. In his brief major league trial, Buchholz also showed that he can induce both flyball and groundball outs with regularity, although he is traditionally more of a flyball pitcher. Of the rookie pitchers likely to be handed full-time gigs at the beginning of 2008, Buchholz appears set to have the most immediate success.
New York Yankees
Even more shocking than Boston committing regular playing time to a number of rookies is the perennially veteran-laden Yankees relying heavily on young players. The 2008 Yankees will very likely have two key contributors to the pitching staff who are also Rookie of the Year eligible: Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. Second-year player Philip Hughes has only 72.2 big league innings under his belt and will join the duo as a regular contributor to the pitching staff.
Like Ellsbury in Boston, Chamberlain has already made a name for himself thanks to an impressive late-2007 performance, including a 0.38 ERA in 19 games. The 12 hits allowed and 34 strikeouts (12.75 K/9) in 24 innings are also impressive. The problem with projecting Chamberlain, though, is lack of a track record. The prospect was so impressive that he dominated at the major league level in his first pro season, which alone says something. And if you’ve watched him pitch, you know the ‘stuff’ is there. Two minor warning signs about Chamberlain: he was a flyball pitcher in the majors (at the rare times opponents managed to make contact against him) and the BABIP was very low at .246. That said, if Chamberlain remains in the bullpen this season, he could put up some ridiculous numbers similar to Brad Lidge in 2004 (minus the saves) and J.J. Putz in 2006 (again minus the saves thanks to the presence of Mariano Rivera).
Kennedy does not come anywhere close to having the stuff of Hughes or Chamberlain but he has the pedigree of being a top prospect coming out of both high school and college, and he has amazing pitching instincts and abilities rarely seen in young players. With an offensive as potent as the Yankees’, young players like Kennedy can get away with a little less than on other teams where one mistake can sink you. One of the things that is most worrisome about Kennedy is that he is not likely to strike out a ton of batters at the major league level and he is also an extreme flyball pitcher. Albeit in only 19 major league innings, batted balls against Kennedy went into the air 50.9 percent of the time and another 22.6 percent were line drives. The BABIP against Kennedy have always been on the low end, including .265 at Triple-A and .237 in the majors.
Tampa Bay Rays
With a plethora of young talent gushing through the pipelines in recent years the Rays appear set to hand a full-time job to only one rookie at the beginning of 2008: Evan Longoria. Don’t dismay though, others including shortstop Reid Brignac, outfielder Justin Ruggiano and starting pitcher Wade Davis could appear before the All-Star break.
The third overall pick in 2006 has a wide-open shot at the third base job for the Rays in 2008. However there are two warning signs for Longoria: He has only 104 at-bats above Double-A and he has always posted relatively high BABIP numbers, including .344 in 381 Double-A at-bats last year. Regardless, Longoria has done nothing but hit well since joining the ranks of professional baseball players and there is no reason why his success should not continue at the major league level. His debut season should fall somewhere in between those of fellow rookie third basemen Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays do not appear as though they will be relying on any rookies at the beginning of 2008 and there do not seem to be many young players waiting in the wings for full-time assignments. The club’s best prospect Travis Snider is about two years away from joining the big league outfield.
Next up: American League Central
A Giant Mess
So the Hall of Fame vote has come and gone, the top-prospects lists are out and have been discussed over and over again and it's a bit too early to launch into previews of any meaningful sort. There were two items that caught my attention this week, however. Dayn Perry wrote up a position-by-position look at the very worst in Major League Baseball. In it he says:
...it's challenging to impart just how bad the San Francisco offense is going to be in 2008.
After reading this I stumbled upon Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory, who had realeased the first build of his 2008 Zips Projections. After noting that three San Francisco Giants had made their way onto Perry's list, I decided I would simply lay it out for you right here, in all its glory. Leaning on ESPN's listed depth chart for the Giants, here is the club's position-by-position Zips projection (AVG/OBP/SLG).
Catcher: Benjie Molina - .267/.300/.403
First Base: Dan Ortmeier - .255/.306/.407
Second Base: Ray Durham - .242/.319/.382
Third Base: Rich Aurilia - .262/.314/.398
Shortstop: Omar Vizquel - .249/.314/.308
Left Field: Dave Roberts - .266/.339/.372
Center Field: Aaron Rowand - .278/.340/.429
Right Field: Randy Winn - .282/.338/.429
Dayn's right. There really are no words. The Giants will feature an offense that figures to be one of the very worst in recent memory.
Explaining Batter Outcomes in Percentage Terms
In the comments thread to Patrick Sullivan's thoughtful article on "Out" With The Old: A Better Way to Look at OBP, Mark Armour made the following observations and statements:
I think Sully is absolutely right here, especially because the denominator is plate appearances, not "at bats".
Mark's comments really hit home with me. More than anything, I like the idea of using plate appearances as the denominator to determine how often a player gets a hit, walk, hit by pitch, or makes an out. In this way, we can measure everything in percentage terms and the beauty of it all is that the four outcomes total 1 if expressed in decimal fractions (as Mark said) or 100% when stated in percentages.
All of these stats would be viewed on the same scale. Therefore, they would be more descriptive and easier to understand. Walks, hit by pitches, and outs would be put in their proper perspective, and each would be accounted for more than ever before.
For example, Ichiro Suzuki's batter outcomes could be expressed in decimal fractions or percentages, as follows:
HIT BB HBP OUT Ichiro Suzuki .323 .067 .004 .606
HIT % BB % HBP % OUT % Ichiro Suzuki 32.34% 6.66% 0.41% 60.60%
To make things even simpler, we could round these outcomes to their closest whole number. Imagine Dave Niehaus, the play-by-play announcer for the Seattle Mariners, describing Suzuki when the lefthanded hitter approaches the plate. "Suzuki produces a hit 32%, a walk or hit by pitch 7%, and an out 61% of the time." Or "Ichiro gets on base in 39% of his plate appearances and makes an out the other 61%."
Let's take a look at last year's leaders in hitting, walk, on-base, and out percentages (minimum of 502 total plate appearances).
TOP 20 IN HITTING PERCENTAGE (H/TPA)
HIT % BB % HBP % OUT % Ichiro Suzuki 32.34% 6.66% 0.41% 60.60% Magglio Ordonez 31.81% 11.19% 0.29% 56.70% Placido Polanco 31.20% 5.77% 1.72% 61.31% Matt Holliday 30.29% 8.84% 1.40% 59.47% Edgar Renteria 30.20% 8.47% 0.18% 61.14% Hanley Ramirez 30.03% 7.37% 0.99% 61.61% Carl Crawford 29.35% 5.10% 0.80% 64.75% Mike Lowell 29.25% 8.12% 0.46% 62.17% Michael Young 29.05% 6.79% 0.72% 63.44% Jorge Posada 29.03% 12.56% 1.02% 57.39% Chone Figgins 29.03% 10.14% 0.00% 60.83% Dmitri Young 28.94% 8.66% 0.20% 62.20% Derek Jeter 28.85% 7.84% 1.96% 61.34% Chipper Jones 28.83% 13.67% 0.00% 57.50% Chase Utley 28.71% 8.16% 4.08% 59.05% Dustin Pedroia 28.40% 8.09% 1.20% 62.31% Robinson Cano 28.25% 5.83% 1.20% 64.72% Vladimir Guerrero 28.18% 10.76% 1.36% 59.70% Aramis Ramirez 28.14% 7.71% 0.72% 63.44% Alfonso Soriano 28.04% 5.02% 0.65% 66.29%
TOP 20 IN WALK PERCENTAGE (BB/TPA)
HIT % BB % HBP % OUT % Jack Cust 19.92% 20.71% 0.20% 59.17% Pat Burrell 20.23% 19.06% 0.67% 60.03% Jim Thome 22.20% 17.72% 1.12% 58.96% Todd Helton 26.10% 17.01% 0.29% 56.60% Carlos Pena 22.55% 16.83% 1.63% 58.99% David Ortiz 27.29% 16.64% 0.60% 55.47% Ryan Howard 21.91% 16.51% 0.77% 60.80% Adam Dunn 21.84% 15.98% 0.79% 61.39% Travis Hafner 21.94% 15.43% 1.06% 61.57% Rickie Weeks 18.97% 15.42% 2.77% 62.85% Nick Swisher 21.40% 15.17% 1.52% 61.91% Albert Pujols 27.25% 14.58% 1.03% 57.14% J.D. Drew 22.83% 14.31% 0.18% 62.68% Gary Sheffield 22.09% 14.17% 1.52% 62.23% Lance Berkman 23.35% 14.07% 1.20% 61.38% Jason Varitek 21.43% 13.71% 1.54% 63.32% Chipper Jones 28.83% 13.67% 0.00% 57.50% Ken Griffey 23.43% 13.64% 0.16% 62.76% Kevin Millar 21.53% 13.52% 1.42% 63.52% Grady Sizemore 23.26% 13.50% 2.27% 60.96%
TOP 20 IN OBP/LOWEST OUT PERCENTAGE
OBP % OUT % David Ortiz 44.53% 55.47% Todd Helton 43.40% 56.60% Magglio Ordonez 43.30% 56.70% Albert Pujols 42.86% 57.14% Jorge Posada 42.61% 57.39% Chipper Jones 42.50% 57.50% Alex Rodriguez 42.23% 57.77% David Wright 41.63% 58.37% Jim Thome 41.04% 58.96% Carlos Pena 41.01% 58.99% Chase Utley 40.95% 59.05% Jack Cust 40.83% 59.17% Matt Holliday 40.53% 59.47% Vladimir Guerrero 40.30% 59.70% Miguel Cabrera 40.00% 60.00% Derrek Lee 40.00% 60.00% Mark Teixeira 40.00% 60.00% Pat Burrell 39.97% 60.03% Prince Fielder 39.50% 60.50% Ichiro Suzuki 39.40% 60.60%
Total plate appearances, as provided by ESPN's stats, consist of every outcome, including sacrifice flies, sacrifice hits, and catcher's interferences. The latter should be factored into OBP but has not for this exercise. One could argue over the inclusion of SH because a player many times is asked to "give himself up" by the manager. However, in my book, the batter created an out, albeit one that would be more productive than a strikeout or infield flyout. By the same token, I have not counted grounded into double plays as two outs. Doing so would result in the batter outcomes not adding up to 1 in decimal fractions or 100% in percentages. Besides, I believe GIDP, like RBI, should be viewed in the context of opportunities.
We can also look at total bases as a percentage of plate appearances. Rather than calling it slugging average (which is TB/AB), Branch Rickey termed total bases as a percentage of plate appearances as "advancement percentage." This one might be best expressed as a decimal fraction.
TOP 20 IN SLUGGING OR ADVANCEMENT PERCENTAGE
SLG Matt Holliday .541 Alex Rodriguez .531 Alfonso Soriano .525 Magglio Ordonez .521 Prince Fielder .520 Chipper Jones .517 David Ortiz .511 Hanley Ramirez .508 Carlos Pena .502 Curtis Granderson .500 Aramis Ramirez .498 Chase Utley .489 Jimmy Rollins .488 Miguel Cabrera .488 Mark Teixeira .483 Corey Hart .481 Ryan Howard .477 Vladimir Guerrero .476 Carlos Lee .475 Albert Pujols .473
Taking slugging or advancement percentage one step further, we can calculate bases per plate appearance (or BPA), defined as [TB+BB+HBP]/TPA. I have excluded SB, CS, GIDP from this formula. BPA may also be best expressed as a decimal fraction.
TOP 20 IN BASES PER PLATE APPEARANCE
BPA Alex Rodriguez .695 Carlos Pena .686 David Ortiz .684 Prince Fielder .673 Chipper Jones .653 Ryan Howard .650 Matt Holliday .644 Jim Thome .642 Magglio Ordonez .636 Albert Pujols .629 Adam Dunn .625 Mark Teixeira .621 Miguel Cabrera .612 Chase Utley .612 David Wright .605 Jorge Posada .603 Jack Cust .602 Brad Hawpe .597 Vladimir Guerrero .597 Pat Burrell .594
I realize that all bases are not created equally. A single is worth more than a walk, two singles are worth more than a double, and two doubles are worth more than a home run. Linear weights captures these finer points, but the differences are minor in the scope of the bigger picture.
In any event, I'm getting far afield from the original idea of expressing batter outcomes as a percentage of plate appearances. I believe this approach would serve to de-emphasize batting average while raising the awareness and value of walks, outs, and on-base percentage. If nothing else, it would be a good first step in highlighting what is and what isn't important when it comes to batting statistics.
Taking Route 19 to Obscurity
How can a pitcher do an excellent job and avoid being noticed? Just have a 19-win season.
The Value of Johan Santana?
I know, I know. Santana had just a year remaining before unrestricted free agency and demanded an extension in order to sign off on any deal. That matters, so I do not want to make this come off as an apples to apples comparison.
With that out of the way, let me now comment on something that I think is just astounding. The Twins may have yielded less for Santana than any of the other high profile deals involving youngsters/prospects this off-season. As far as I can tell, there have been five deals this off-season in which significant prospects (or at least good, very young MLB'ers) changed hands. Below is a summary of the deals, with Top 100 rankings by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law of ESPN and John Sickels.
Johan Santana to the Mets. Mets return to Minnesota:
Age Pos KG KL JS C. Gomez 22 OF 65 35 52 P. Humber 26 RHP NR NR NR D. Guerra 19 RHP 79 80 36 K. Mulvey 23 RHP NR NR 37
Nick Swisher to the White Sox. White Sox return to Oakland:
Age Pos KG KL JS G. Gonzalez 22 LHP 56 NR 29 De Los Santos 22 RHP 46 57 57 Ryan Sweeney OF (MLB in 2007)
Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks. Snakes return to Oakland:
Age Pos KG KL JS B. Anderson 20 LHP 50 NR 48 A. Cunningham 22 OF NR NR NR Dana Eveland 24 RHP NR NR NR Greg Smith 24 LHP NR NR NR C. Gonzalez 22 OF 26 42 39
Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to the Rays. Rays return to Minnesota:
Age Pos KG KL JS Delmon Young 22 OF .288/.316/.408 (MLB) J. Pridie 24 OF NR NR NR B. Harris 27 2B .286/.343/.434 (MLB)
Ryan Church, Brian Schneider to the Mets. Mets return to Washington:
Age Pos KG KL JS L. Milledge 23 OF .272/.341/.446 (MLB)
Have a look at those packages and tell me, did the Twins get the best one? I am not sure they did. In fact, I think they may have received more for Garza and I think the Mets may have gave up more for two middling players from Washington. I know there are many variables that enter into a deal of this nature but I remain astounded that in this market, one in which top prospects have been changing hands for solid, established talent, Minnesota could not get more in return.
Patrick Sullivan, 2/3/08, 4:21 PM EST
Takashi Saito has a very unique fastball. When batters swing at an average fastball, they miss 13% of the time, but with Saito's fastball, they miss 42% of the time. Only Chris Ray and Chris Schroder generated a higher percentage of swings-and-misses with their fastballs, although they threw their fastball much less than Saito did. This week I'm going to look at pitches that move similarly, and see if their results are similar.
Several weeks ago, I used similarity scores to compare the movement on pitches. Using those scores, here are the most similar fastballs to Saito's, along with how often the pitches are swung and missed at.
Name Speed Pfx Pfz Sw% Takashi Saito 93.2 -6.70 10.55 0.42 Roberto Hernandez 93.1 -6.63 10.09 0.09 Robinson Tejeda 93.8 -6.85 10.86 0.20 Santiago Casilla 93.8 -6.12 10.83 0.15 Joaquin Benoit 93.5 -7.45 10.17 0.23 Brandon Lyon 92.6 -7.32 10.09 0.13
All those pitches look similar, both in terms of speed and movement, but batters miss when they swing (Sw%) at Saito's fastball more often than at the similar pitches. The similar pitches mostly have an above average Sw% (the league average Sw% is 13%), but nobody is close to Saito. Moving outside the top-5 most similar pitches, there still aren't any pitches that can compare to the results that Saito gets with his fastball. The different results that come about from pitches that move almost identically further highlights the importance of the "hidden" aspects of pitching that are slightly harder to quantify, like deception, arm angle and pitch selection.
Anyways, lets look closer at Saito, especially his fastball, and how left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters fared against him. The table below shows Saito's splits for his different pitches. For the most part the column headings are self explanatory, but as a reminder, Sw% is swings and misses/total swings, SLGBIP includes home runs, and Tot. is the total number of pitches against that side hitter.
Name Class Hand Tot. Freq TB BIP Sw% SLGBIP Takashi Saito FB L 189 0.62 5 18 0.29 0.278 Takashi Saito FB R 185 0.55 1 7 0.60 0.143 Takashi Saito CB L 189 0.24 2 8 0.28 0.250 Takashi Saito CB R 185 0.04 0 0 -.-- -.--- Takashi Saito CT L 189 0.05 0 1 0.00 0.000 Takashi Saito CT R 185 0.09 1 2 0.30 0.500 Takashi Saito SL L 189 0.09 4 6 0.11 0.667 Takashi Saito SL R 185 0.31 3 10 0.46 0.300
The thing that really stands out here is how effective Saito's fastball is against right-handed hitters. 60% of the time, when a RHH swings against Saito's fastball, he misses it, which is an amazingly high amount of misses, for any type of pitch. Saito's fastball is still really good against LHH, but it's unbelievable (twice as good) against RHH. You can also see how Saito approaches LHH vs. RHH in this chart and it's interesting that while his fastball is so effective against RHH, due to the relative inefficiency of his off-speed pitches against lefties, he actually throws it more often against LHH.
Saito's split is cool, but what about other cases where splits are involved. One of my favorite splits to look at is Mariano Rivera's reverse split. Rivera is much harder on LHH than RHH, which is explained by his cut fastball, which moves in on LHH and is nearly impossible to hit with power. The chart below shows how Rivera approaches each type of hitter.
Name Class Hand Tot. Freq TB BIP Sw% SLGBIP Mariano Rivera FB L 188 0.99 10 30 0.23 0.333 Mariano Rivera FB R 146 0.72 10 17 0.23 0.588 Mariano Rivera SL L 188 0.01 0 0 -.-- -.--- Mariano Rivera SL R 146 0.23 3 6 0.21 0.500 Mariano Rivera CH R 146 0.05 0 0 -.-- -.---
The thing to notice here is that Rivera throws only cut-fastballs when facing LHH. Of the 188 pitches he threw to LHH, 187 were cutters. Wow. Up in the count, down in the count, with runners on, or with the bases empty, LHH know with almost total certainty that Rivera is coming with a cutter. There is no other pitch in the back of their mind that they might see...yet they still can't hit it. They miss 23% of the time they swing and even when the ball is put in play, it isn't hit with any type of authority. I'm completely mystified at how Rivera is able to be a one pitch pitcher to lefties. I'm open to suggestions, but I think Rivera's cutter to a left-handed hitter is the best pitch in baseball.
I'm going to close with Rivera's reverse split because my head is still spinning with how bizarre it is. I think this type of analysis could be extended to examine if pitchers get different types of movement of pitches depending on the batter and different pitching patterns as well. Certain types of pitchers are able to survive with a suspect fastball by replacing fastballs with sliders depending on the hand of the batter. Examining the splits, based on pitch type, is another huge avenue for potential research with the pitch f/x data.