Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giants Lead the Way in Fewest Homers Allowed

The San Francisco Giants did not repeat as champions in 2011. In fact, they didn't even make the playoffs. But you can't blame the pitching staff. Giants' hurlers led the league in fewest hits allowed and were second in earned runs (and runs) and ERA. They were also second in the National League in strikeouts. But what the Giants do better than any other team is minimize damage due to the home run. As a staff, the Giants allowed only 96 homers all season. They were the only team in the majors to give up less than a hundred dingers for the season. And it's not like this is some kind of fluke. They've finished in the top five in this category since 2008. How do they do it?

Well obviously a part of their success is in striking people out. The Giants have finished either first or second in the majors in strikeouts every year since 2008. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the less batters that hit the ball leaves fewer that can hit homers. But that's only part of the story. The Atlanta Braves led all of the majors in strikeouts in 2011 (just ahead of the Giants) but gave up 31 more homers. The Philadelphia Phillies struck out only seventeen less batters than the 2011 Giants but gave up 24 more homers.

Certainly a part of their success is that hitting a homer in AT&T Park isn't easy, especially for left-handed batters. And the Giants play a lot of road games in Los Angeles and San Diego--two other difficult homer parks. But the Giants' success at limiting homers isn't limited to their home park and those other two parks. Here is a rundown of their HR/9 in all the parks they played in for 2011:

  • AT&T Park - 0.465 (!)
  • Turner Field - 0.495
  • Wrigley Field - 1.016
  • Great America Ballpark - 0.635
  • Coors Field - 0.807
  • Comerica Park - 1.038
  • Minute Maid Park - 1.000
  • Dodger Stadium - 0.710
  • Sun Life Stadium - 0.346
  • Miller Park - .710
  • Citi Field - 1.000 
  • Oakland Coliseum - 0.375
  • Citizens Bank Park - 1.384
  • Chase Field - 0.673
  • PNC Park - 0.333
  • Petco Park - 0.650
  • Busch Stadium 3 - 0.730
  • Nationals Park - 0.272
You can easily notice that the Giants only had problems in four of the eighteen stadiums they played in. The extremely high rate in Citizens Bank Park (Philidelphia) can in part be explained by small sample size and part of that small sample being a three-homer outing by Barry Zito who was by far the worst Giants pitcher at giving up homers (1.7 per nine). The major league average of homers allowed per nine innings was 0.941 (National League alone, 0.900). The Giants beat that rate in fourteen of eighteen stadiums, most of them by a significant margin.

Of the seventeen pitchers that pitched for the Giants in 2011, only Barry Zito, long reliever, Guillermo Mota and seldom used reliever, Steve Edlefsen had homer rates above 1.0 per nine innings. Matt Cain was amazing at 0.4 per nine, Tim Lincecum finished at 0.6, Madison Bumgarner at 0.5 and Ryan Vogelsong and Jonathan Sanchez finished at 0.8. The most oft used relievers were all terrific at preventing homers as well.

After several years in the top five in the majors in this category, you have to credit long-time pitching coach, Dave Righetti. Home run prevention has been one of the centerpieces of Righetti's tenure and it's probably no fluke that "Rags" finished his own career with a 0.6 homers per nine. In his own Rookie of the Year season in 1981, Righetti only gave up one homer in 105.1 innings of work. That's pretty astounding. Whatever Righetti was taught, he has passed on to his pitchers and it sure works. If this was a one year thing, you could call it a fluke. When it's been a pattern for five years or more, then it's something Righetti does really well.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking Beyond Bobby Valentine's Shock Value

The managerial process of the Boston Red Sox has been a bit odd, has it not? Even venerable observers such as Keith Law tweeted so. They interviewed several and Dale Sveum twice. All indications pointed to Sveum getting the job. But then Sveum joined the Cubs instead in what looks like a Theo Epstein triumph over his old team. The Red Sox then indicated they were starting over. And now the name being bandied about is Bobby Valentine. Bobby Valentine?

Even Valentine's name provoked strong reactions. A Twitter buddy who covers Boston sports typed out an, "No, no, Noooooo!" in response. Why does Bobby Valentine provoke such a shock value? It would be an interesting study to figure out his persona and how he is perceived by the public at large. With Billy Martin dead, Tommy Lasorda old and Lou Piniella sizzled and crispy fried, Valentine is one of the last of the big time managers who has a larger than life persona. It's no surprise that Valentine is a Lasorda acolyte.

Perhaps it was all those years as the manager of the New York Mets. He was the last Mets' manager to take that team to the World Series in 2000. He was the manager who wore the funny disguise in the dugout after getting thrown out of a game. New York is a big town and Bobby Valentine made the Mets relevant and occasionally got his team on the back page of the New York Daily News.

The Mets faltered after the 2000 World Series loss. And after two more years there, Bobby Valentine was dismissed. He ended up going to Japan to manage, his second stint over there. Supposedly, Valentine speaks fluent Japanese. When he returned, he found his way to ESPN as a baseball analyst and eventually to the Sunday Night telecast where again, his work has provoked strong responses both in the positive and the negative. Valentine is a lightening rod.

But would he be a good manager for the Boston Red Sox? It's obvious that he wants another shot at managing. He famously flew down to the Marlins after Edwin Rodriguez quit, saw the mess that franchise was in and got the heck out of there. Obviously, he still has the desire. At the age of 61, he's not too old to be relevant. But is he a good fit for the Red Sox?

On the one hand, he seems an awkward fit. Valentine seems as old school as they get. And the Red Sox jumped early on the analytic wave sweeping baseball. Heck, they even hired guru, Bill James. So would they want an old school guy? And secondly, can Valentine adapt to the new world? Judging Valentine from his persona (which is dangerous), it seems the man could adapt if he had to.

Could Bobby Valentine handle the Boston media. Well, geez, he handled the New York media for all those years, so that's a moot point. Bobby Valentine can handle the scrutiny of a million eyes on him the entire time. Like Lasorda, he would even thrive in such a pressure cooker. So no worries there.

But is he any good at managing? His record is mixed. His overall managing record is 1117-1072. A .510 mark isn't overly impressive. Though the Mets did get to the World Series, they did so as a wild card team and never did win the division in the seven years Valentine was there. The Mets also made the wild card in 1999 and lost to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. But the thing to remember is that Valentine managed the Mets during the Braves incredible run during the 1990s. They were a pretty impossible team to beat in the regular season. In the two years that Valentine got his team to the post season, he won three of the five series his team played. That's pretty darned good.

The longer that this writer thinks about Valentine back in the dugout, the more smiles the thought induces. It would be kind of fun to have him back in the game. He would lend a new and fresh dynamic to the Yankees - Red Sox rivalry. If nothing else, Valentine has always projected a positive energy and that's something quite lacking in the Red Sox universe right now. The Red Sox could make worse choices and it's unsure they could make better ones.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Astros Deal is Done And it Stinks

Major League Baseball has announced that Jim Crane has been approved as the new owner of the Houston Astros. That's not the bad part. It is a good thing for the Astros future to be finalized so they can move on with the rest of their lives. The bad news is that the announcement coincides with an Astros move to the American League West in 2013 to join the Rangers. It's the first realignment in baseball since the Brewers switched from the American League to the National League.

This decision stinks for several reasons. First, the Astros have a fifty year history in the National League. When the Brewers moved to the NL, they were a relatively new franchise that didn't have as much vested in history. That's not the case with the Astros. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are both newer franchises than the Astros and would have had a better case for making the switch, not to mention that both of those franchises are already in a western division. The goal of any realignment plan should be to at least make geographically correct divisions. This move does not do that at all.

The Rangers were already out of place. All you have to do is look at this time zone map to see what this author means:

With the new alignment two-thirds of the Astros and Rangers away games will start two hours later than their time zone. That's not only stupid, but bad for the teams' fans and bad for the players' logistics. Comments on the linked post above also seem to indicate the change might go against the Astros lease agreement with their stadium.

So now we have two teams badly placed in divisions. We wrench the Astros away from a league they have played in for fifty years and the equal but uneven number of teams in each league will mean constant interleague play, a feature not exactly in this Fan's happy spot.

It's a poor plan that is poorly executed and no change would have been better than this change. Golly...

BBA Link Fest - General Foods for Thought

Welcome to another Thursday. Thursdays around here mean another trip around the Baseball Bloggers Alliance General Chapter and more links from this great group of colleagues. So get your mouse (or clicker or whatever) ready and off we go!

We'll start over at The Baseball Index where we find a post about the Houston Astros. The Astros have been in the news a lot lately. Unfortunately, the news is never about the actual team on the field. You get some here.

Over at Diamond Hoggers, TheNaturalMevs (will have to ask someday what that stands for) gives us a fine update on the pending MLB labor agreement.

The Golden Sombrero has been a great place to go lately with all their prospect breakdowns which are really well done. But in between those, this Fan really liked their slow motion breakdown of Tim Lincecum's delivery.

Old Time Family Baseball has been busy and their latest post concerns the next Brewers' utility player. OTFB is Zelous about baseball!

It's not a baseball post, but Left Field gives us the post of the week from the perspective of a Penn State alumni. It's a must read.

Sully of Sully Baseball doesn't thinks that Robin O'Connor was the biggest thief in San Francisco Giant history. Oh, that Sully.

When The Platoon Advantage has four great writers, it's always hard to pick a favorite post of the week. But this Fan loves nostalgia and Bill's new post about Tony Cloninger hit all the right notes.

Pro Sports Wrap is thrilled about the Dodgers tying up their center fielder.

Daniel over at The Ball Caps Blog has to be in hog heaven with all the uniform changes we've been seeing. He has his opinion of the Marlins' new cap this week.

For Baseball Junkies gives us the tale of two relief pitchers and keeps us hanging for the answer. Argh!

The Padres get far too little ink in national headlines. Through the Fence Baseball rectifies that some with a trade proposal in this great post.

The Hall of Very Good talks about the Cubs new manager. And proposes the next great blog name.

You need to read both halves of Grubby Glove's "What's Wrong With This Card" series. You really do.

Baseballism rings in with their opinion of the Jonathan Papelbon signing. The Fan's only question is whether the Fan will hate him as much on the Phillies.

Matt Whitener ponders the Cardinals' new manager. As usual, we get the Cheap.Seats.Please.

There is no big surprise in the AL Cy Young Award winner for Eugene Tierney over at 85% Sports. Nor should there be.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball is impressed with how wealthy Matt Kemp is going to be.

One of this Fan's favorite pieces of the week was posted the other day at Replacement Level Baseball Blog. Terrific read.

As the award start to roll out from MLB, Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor gives us his rational explanations for his picks. Good stuff.

MLB Dirt's heart and soul, Jonathan Mitchell, debates this Fan on Jeremy Hellickson. He's wrong of course.

Peter Stein over at MLB Reports wrote the ultimate Fantasy Baseball article on stolen bases. Wow!

This baseball Fan has certainly loved Blaine Blontz's Arizona Fall League Recaps over at Call to the Pen.

Ken over at The Baseball Hall of Shame has a great take on the Cardinals new manager.

Ryan Sendek is certainly impressive. Love his stuff. Of course it doesn't hurt that he supports some of the ideas this author has about what the Cardinals should do. Check out his post on Analysis Around the Horn.

Christopher Carelli is just as impressive as Sendek! What great new additions these guys are to the General Chapter. Carelli's latest over at The Baseball Stance is terrific.

Mario Salvini over at Che Palle! cheers the return of the cartoon Oriole. The Fan agrees.

Dugout 24, our other overseas baseball blog gives us a coaching drill on pitching effectively with a fastball.

Chris Papas of Number One Baseball gives us some off season notes.

That's a wrap! See you next time for the BBA Link Fest and have a good week.

Vlad is Dethroned

Free swingers roam the earth despite the earth shift toward working the count and raising your on base percentage. The fact is that such players always existed and always will. For every Mickey Mantle, there was an Andre Dawson. For years, the free swinging champion was Vladimir Guerrero. Everyone knows that Vlad will swing at anything. He had his competitors. Ivan Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Olivo and A.J. Pierzynski come to mind as challengers and as expected, for the last three years, all of these players are in the top ten for the highest O-Swing in baseball. Vlad is on top, of course. But he was beaten in 2011. Who dethroned the Impaler? Pablo Sandoval.

Leave it to someone with just as much of a cool nickname as the Impaler to finally beat the great Vladimir. Well, a Panda is quite a bit more warm and fuzzy as an Impaler is. But anyway, the Panda beat the old man and it wasn't as if the old man wasn't trying. Vlad swung at 47.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. It was the "best" mark of his career. Guerrero's always been known as a free swinger. But he's gotten freer the older he has gotten. Heck, when he was younger, his rates were in the mid-thirties for a percentage. But age apparently has made Vlad even less patient than his younger years.

And so Vlad had his most impatient season ever. But he was defeated by Pablo Sandoval. The Panda swung at a mind-numbing 47.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Well, sure, it's only two small percentage points different than Vlad's, but still. You have to celebrate what you can in baseball.

Despite all the swings, Sandoval had a very good year. In 117 games (he had a large stint on the DL) he compiled an OPS of .909. The slimmed-down dude also had his best year with the glove at third and compiled the highest WAR of his career. He hit over .300 for the third time in his four year career. So somehow, Sandoval makes it work.

And perhaps that's a point to be taken here. Guerrero is a borderline Hall of Fame player. He's compiled a lifetime OPS of .931 despite being a free swinger his entire career. Now that he is older, it works less for him of course and anyone who continues to employ him is probably a little daft for doing so. But for the most part, Guerrero has made his free swinging lifestyle work. Sandoval seems to be his heir. It's not a lifestyle that pleases the analysts, but those swings deliver contact that more often than not, find a safe haven among or over the fielders.

Tomorrow we'll have part two of the free swinging life (sounds kinky doesn't it?) as we examine free swingers and post season success.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Montero Please

The enlightened male is a myth. Try as this thinking man might, the sight of a pretty girl changes breathing patterns and messes up normal ways of thinking. Is there anything less wholesome than a man around a comely female? It does little to soothe the ego that scientists have confirmed that female attractiveness changes physiologically in men on sight. It's a DNA thing. To somehow get this post back on track for its intended purpose, the opening sets up what it's like hoping for a prospect to break into the line up or rotation. 

The metaphor goes like this: You are waiting in line behind twenty people for service. Handling the service are three guys, an old woman and a comely female. All the while the line in front of you is getting shorter and you are doing mental calculations on your odds of getting waited on by the fab female. Finally, your turn is next and both a male and the pretty girl are just wrapping up their last transactions. You start to fidget and the nerves are kicking in to see if who you will get. The girl finishes first and you do this inward huzzah kind of thing. And then...and then...she puts her "on break" sign, smiles at her coworkers and heads away from the counter. Nooooooo!!!

Yes, that's the metaphor of waiting for a prospect to get his chance. No, he's not as pretty as the girl. But the anticipation is just the same. Especially if he is Jesus Montero, the hottest Yankee prospect in a gazillion years. Montero came to Spring Training last season. Russell Martin had been signed, which was a surprise. Jorge Posada was told he was done catching. That wasn't a surprise. But Martin had trouble with his knees following an off season surgery and Francisco Cervelli was hurt too. Montero got lots of playing time along with Austin Romine. Joe Girardi said nice things about Montero. Could it be? Can we get the pretty girl in the line? Nope. The season broke and Martin and Cervelli went north and Jesus Montero headed to the minor league camp.

Montero said all the right things. He needed to work on some things and would wait his turn. Except that it didn't appear that his actions held up what he was saying. He started slowly in Triple A. He looked like he was regressing. There were whispers that he was bored. His normal good patience at the plate evaporated. Crap. The pretty girl went on break.

Thankfully, about mid-year, Jesus Montero started looking like a prospect again and came out of his funk. He did enough to warrant a September call up. We all salivated. No more freakin' Cervelli, we thought. The problem was (and is) that Joe Girardi and his bench coach, Tony Pena, are old school catchers. They were the prototypical, "good defense, little offense" type of catchers. What matters is calling games and receiving the ball properly behind the plate. It was more than ironic that Jorge Posada's career came to an end under Girardi after Posada won the job over his manager as a great hitting, weak defense catcher back in the glory days of Yankee championships. By the fourth championship in 2000, it was Girardi who was out and Posada who was it. So that makes it doubly hard for a weak defensive catcher to crack the line up no matter how good he hit.

And make no mistake about it. Jesus Montero can hit! His September was amazing. In 69 plate appearances, Montero put up a .328/.406/.590 slash line. But he didn't catch. Well, he caught three games and he DHed the other fourteen. Austin Romine, on the other hand, caught eight games in September. He's more of an old school catcher like Girardi and Pena. He could be trusted. Not Montero. But at least we got a taste. Then we hoped he would get on the post season roster. He was. Super! But then he didn't play. Well, he did get two at bats...and got two hits. Meanwhile, Russell Martin went 3 for 17 in the series against the Tigers. You can't fault the decision to DH Posada. The old catcher had a fabulous last hurrah. But it wasn't enough because Montero wasn't to be trusted. The Yankees scored nine runs in their three losses. And as good as Martin might be behind the plate, he didn't really help C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova in those last two losses, did he?

So now we head into 2012. Martin will be resigned before he's offered arbitration or perhaps after. But he will be the starting catcher. Posada is gone to either retirement or banishment. God love him, Cervelli will probably be back though shouldn't be. And what of Montero? Well, the Yankees need a DH. And when Girardi wants fifty games to rest regulars, Montero will probably sit. It won't matter if he's hitting like .350 or something know...he ain't that good a catcher.

In this author's perfect world, that girl would not have gone on break. Jesus Montero would catch two days a week and DH the other five. He would bat in 162 games and put up a .900 OPS and hit his fair share of opposite field homers into the right field bleachers.  But this perfect world will never happen because his team is managed by a no-hit, good glove catcher who has a no-hit, good glove bench coach. Montero might get 300 plate appearances. Or he might be traded once the Yankees panic when they are six games behind the Bay Rays. When it comes to Montero, this author becomes some kind of Dickens character: "May I have some more please?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cards Need to Find Allen Craig an Every Day Home

The St. Louis Cardinals were robbed a bit of their glory. They won the World Series for crying out loud, but soon after Tony LaRussa retired and speculation about a new manager and the ever present story of what Albert Pujols will do have all taken over the spotlight. Baseball readers never really got to sit in the gravis of what we just witnessed. Certainly, the managerial situation and Pujols are huge stories. And now that Mike Methaney has been hired as manager, that story has been magnified. But again, wasn't the post season run of the Cardinals somehow forgotten in the wake?

History will remember the 2011 World Series for David Freese and rightly so. His heroics in Game Six of the World Series will be rightly featured for years to come. But it was just as much a post season for other heroes like Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols (for one game anyway), Chris Carpenter and Allen Craig. The two biggest surprise stars of Freese and Craig should only be one surprise. Freese is a very good player when healthy (which hasn't been often) but we know what he's about. There is a certain sample size to his career. So the way he came up big was a surprise. But the Allen Craig display shouldn't be a surprise at all. He's been playing like that for quite a long while.

A long while? Why yes. Though he just burst on the major league scene, Craig is going to be 27 in 2012. Only an eighth round draft choice in 2006, Craig put in 517 games over six seasons in the minor leagues. To this writer's mind, that was 150 games too many. Craig was a killer in the minors. After ripping up Double A, Craig played 219 games in Triple A and put together this slash line: .320/.379/.545.

Craig was given a limited chance in 2010. He did manage to get into 44 big league games good for 124 plate appearances. But it really wasn't much of a shot. And so he was given more time in Triple A to start the 2011 season. Once he got the call back to the majors in 2011, he showed what he can do. He got into 75 games in 2011 good for 219 plate appearances and put up the following slash line: .315/.362/.555. Look familiar? Look at the last paragraph. So it really was no surprise that he put up a 1.005 OPS during the entire post season.

But he's still a player without a position. One of this author's favorite writers, Daniel Shoptaw, over at C70 Baseball indicates that Daniel Descalso is going to be given the second base position. So where does that leave Craig? The Cardinals already have Clank and Clank (Berkman and Holliday) starting at the outfield corners. You swallow hard when the ball is hit to them, but they are such good offensive players and are making so much money that you have to play them there (assuming Pujols is resigned). Allen Craig has shown some versatility in his playing positions, but he's not a center fielder. Besides, John Jay has shown he can handle that position and can hold his own offensively. Freese is established at third. So what about Craig?

May this author suggest that one of two scenarios works quite well. Craig held his own in brief appearances at second base. Well, at least thought he did. Fangraphs disagrees. Craig's numbers in brief appearances in center are fine but he lacks range and with those two corner positions already manned by sloths, you have to have a center fielder with range in the middle of them. But if the Cardinals could live for years with Skip Schumaker at second, can't they with Craig?

So what's the second scenario? Um...dare the Fan say it? Sure, why not. Let Pujols walk, put Berkman at first and Craig in right field. There. There, the Fan said it. What was Albert Pujols' fWAR in 2011? 5.1. What was Craig's in less than half the playing time? 2.6. Wouldn't it be reasonable for Craig to project over five in WAR over a full season? His splits are fine, so that's not a problem. And he'd be just a bit cheaper. It certainly possible for Pujols to come back with another monster year. But it's just as possible for Craig to do so too. The most it could cost the Cardinals is two wins. Plus, without having to pay Pujols, you could get Jimmy Rollins to play short. Wouldn't that be cool?

All this writer knows is that Allen Craig needs to be in the Cardinal line up every day. Somehow. His time has come and he is a unique talent that needs to be showcased...every single day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Aaron Hill And Predictability

After a player has put in seven years of service encompassing 908 games, you have a pretty good gauge on what kind of player he is. Things like luck can cause minor spikes and contrasts, but normally a baseline can be reached. You can forget all about that with Aaron Hill. His career reads like a stock market chart. He started his career as a low strikeout, low power kind of guy. Then suddenly he's hitting 62 homers in two years. Then he goes back to no power again. What the heck? Take a look at just two statistics, his ISO and his wOBA over the course of his career. The following charts give you a visual representation.

How are you supposed to get a feel for what kind of player Hill is by looking at that mess? And those aren't the only statistics that drive you crazy with Aaron Hill. Take his line drive percentage. Here is a list of his line drive percentages during his career: 23.1, 19.2, 20.8, 17.3, 19.6, 10.6 and 21.2. See any pattern there? No, not here either. 

There are a couple of trends you can see though. When he first came up, he hit more ground balls than fly balls. His first three years, his ratio of ground balls to fly balls were 1.5, 1.33 and 1.04. Since 2008, that trend disappeared and he's become a batter who hits more balls in the air. That same ratio since 2008 looks like this: 0.74, 0.96, 0.65 and 0.87. At the same time, after three years of single digits in infield fly pops his rate exploded starting in 2008 and has been in double digits every year since. Perhaps he figured out that chicks dig the long ball. Well, the long ball is fine as long as all the other numbers look pretty along with the homers.

But that's not the case after his breakout year in 2009. He did still hit 26 homers in 2010, but everything else tanked. You would think that the longer Hill plays in the majors that his plate discipline would get better and better. But it's just the opposite with Hill. When he first came up, his O-swing rates (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) were excellent at 15.4 and 18.7 percent his first two season. In his last two seasons, that has ballooned to 31.3 and 29.5 percent--easily the highest of his career. 

You can't even get a read on Hill by looking at his pitch type values. Those are valuations against various pitch types as compiled by Fangraphs (among others). Some years he's good against fastballs. Other years, he's terrible. Some years, he's good against curves. Other years he isn't and so on with every pitch type. Over the years, it seems he's had more success with the curve than against any other pitch type. Strange.

All these thoughts came about because this author was trying to decide if the Arizona Diamondbacks did a smart thing by signing Hill for two years at just above $10 million. The answer really becomes, "We'll have to wait and see." It could pay off big as Hill has compiled a value (per Fangraphs) of $58.4 million in seven years or an average of $8.4 million a season. That means that Hill has a lot of upside on making a little over $5 million a season. But it also seems a crap shoot because Hill's valuation through those years has been all over the place. 

Completely Confused Concerning Jeremy Hellickson

Two and a half hours from now, MLB will announce the winners of the Rookie of the Year Awards for 2011. Many big time writers predict the AL winner will be Jeremy Hellickson. That projection is confusing this writer. Two of the major stat sites don't help either. Fangraphs pegs Hellickson's 2011 fWAR at 1.4. offers their opinion via their rWAR which pegs Hellickson at 4.2. That's a pretty wide swing of valuation opinion, is it not?  Baseball Prospectus is a little higher than Fangraphs but still much lower than B-R and give Hellickson 1.9 WARP. If these sites can't all agree, what are we supposed to make of it all?

Casually looking at Hellickson's 2011 season at face value, we can make the following easy judgments. His WHIP, Hits per nine innings and ERA were all good. His homers per nine, walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, strikeout to walk ratio and SIERA were all less than good. Digging a little deeper, his BABIP of .223 and his strand rate of 82 percent are unsustainable. The low BABIP, high strand rate, low strikeout rate take his actual ERA and translate into a SIERA of 4.63 or a differential of -1.68.

Hellickson's strikeout rate of 5.7 is confusing all by itself. The rate is so far lower than his 2010 rate and his rate all through the minors that this observer is left scratching his head. To make it more confusing, Hellickson was in the top 25 for all qualifying pitchers on swinging strikes percentage. His 9.7 percent rate in that statistic is not that far below the leaders either who came in just above 11 percent. So why did that not translate into more strikeouts? The one thing that seems to stand out for Hellickson on that leaderboard is that among pitchers in the top 25 in swinging strike percentage, only Hellickson and Gio Gonzalez had an O-Swing percentage under 30 percent. O-Swing percentage is the amount of pitches swung at when the pitcher throws the pitch out of the strike zone. Does that tell us anything?

It does separate Hellickson in this writer's mind from Wade Davis. Davis also lost his ability to strike out batters after his first year in the majors. The difference is that Wade Davis was in the bottom 25 of qualified starters in swinging strike percentage at 5.9. But it is a head-scratcher that both pitchers have seemingly lost their historic ability to strike batters out. Does this come from a different pitching strategy at the major league level (coaching staff, manager) than at the minor league level?

Also confusing to this writer is Hellickson homer rate. He gave up a homer per nine innings, which isn't all that great considering he pitches half his games in a pitcher's park (Tropicana). And yet, he limited batters overall to a slugging percentage against of .373. Part of that is from giving up so few hits overall. Hellickson is a fly ball pitcher. His fly ball percentage is much higher than his ground ball percentage. His home run to fly ball percentage is not bad at 8.8 percent, but with a greater rate of fly balls in general, that rate will lead to a high home run per nine innings rate.

So what's to make of Jeremy Hellickson? This writer simply does not agree that he should be the Rookie of the Year. But going forward, what can we expect? With his swinging strike percentage, his strikeouts should rebound (unlike Davis). His extremely low BABIP should result in some ERA regression. But if he continues with a high infield fly rate (16.2 percent), perhaps his BABIP isn't all luck (plus, he has a great defense behind him). Hellickson's success in the majors isn't guaranteed, but he does still appear to be a candidate for one of the top starters in baseball. With only one full season in the books, we'll have to look closely as his body of work builds to see which of his 2011 stats were flukish and which are long term trends going forward.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fourth Annual David Ortiz Pondering

This off season will mark the fourth straight this writer (and a billion others) will be pondering what the Red Sox should do with David Ortiz.  In the first annual pondering, the Red Sox were encouraged to break ties with Ortiz. That was after his 1.9 ($8.4 million) fWAR season 2008. The second annual version was the same as Ortiz was even worse and had a 0.3 ($1.2 million) fWAR season in 2009. The third annual edition changed its tune after Ortiz posted a 2.6 ($10.4 million) fWAR season in 2010. That edition said that the Red Sox should pick up his option for 2011 but not sign him to a new long-term contract. That's exactly what the Red Sox did. Now, in this fourth annual edition, Ortiz is coming off his best season in quite a long while where he was worth $18.8 million with a 4.6 fWAR season. So what should the Red Sox do?

Ortiz could again hit a fastball again in 2011. He could hit lefties again and he led the league off of them. That was after three straight seasons of being fairly pathetic against southpaws. You could no longer pound him inside to get him out. He had his best line drive percentage since 2005. He had sixty-two less strikeouts than the year before. Unlike the previous four seasons, David Ortiz had positive runs over average against every pitch type thrown at him. So again, what should the Red Sox do?

Ortiz has made $13 million or so the past several seasons. That doesn't seem like a lot of money for the threat that David Ortiz gives a line up. If you add up his last four seasons and divide them by four, Ortiz has earned an average of $9.7 million of this $13 million salary. Do you go by that or go solely by his last year's production worth $18.8 million? You have to go with the four year average, right? And you have to consider that David Ortiz will turn 36 five days from now. Clearly, you have to figure his best days are behind him rather than in front of him.

And as good as his season was a year ago, it didn't end well. He hit all of one homer the entire month of September and drove in only eight runs. That has to figure into the equation doesn't it? Ortiz reversed his recent trend of starting terribly and finishing strong to starting well and finishing with a dud of a month. A month which we all know what happened to the Boston Red Sox.

Ben Cherington, Boston's new GM says that a lot of their off season strategy will depend on if David Ortiz "is here" or not "here."  In other words, after last year's post season splurge, there are limited funds and if the Red Sox give a big chunk of change to Ortiz, there is less to do other things. Ortiz is a big part of the Red Sox mystique. He has the persona as a professional assassin, especially in the clutch. How does that figure into Cherington's plans or does it at all? Frankly, that's all a bunch of talk and the only relevant facts here are the numbers, which you have already been given.

Okay, it's time to get to the bottom line. Last year, this observer said the Red Sox should pick up the last year of Ortiz's option. It was a good investement, earning more than $5 million more than his paychecks. The recommendation here is a one year deal only with perhaps an option year for no more than $12 million. That is higher than his four year average, but gives him the benefit of the doubt based on last year. The one year does not tie the Red Sox up for years to come.

That's what the Red Sox should do. It's unclear as to what they will do. Ortiz will ultimately feel slapped in the face with such an offer. Ball players aren't very realistic about their own worth. Perhaps he'll grumble and take it to stay in Boston for another year. If he stupidly gets a higher offer somewhere else, be sure he will take it. But that doesn't mean that the Red Sox should try to match a higher offer if some sort of bidding war develops. His future is not long, nor bright--not when he's 36 and can't play a position in the field. Cherington seems somewhat ambivalent or perhaps he is simply not optimistic that Ortiz will take a reasonable offer. The Red Sox would love to have David Ortiz back. But it should only be on their terms no matter how good he was in 2011.