Friday, November 02, 2012

Kevin Youkilis - The Greek god of what?

If you go to Kevin Youkilis''s player page, one of the nicknames given there is the, "Greek God of Walks." The moniker, of course, goes back to the Moneyball story and Billy Beane who had his eye on Youkilis back in his minor league days. And then Youkilis burst on the scene for the Boston Red Sox in 2006 and was a major part of that team's glory year of 2007. But his star has faded in the past two seasons and this once darling of the analytic set is at a crossroads in his career. Where will he go from here? He is now the Greek god of what?

The first question to ask is the one that Bobby Valentine famously raised in 2012's Spring Training. Valentine's mistake, of course, was to pose the question to the media. But despite the hoopla surrounding the incident, was Valentine's question a valid one? He was witnessing Youkilis first hand last spring. Something he saw led to the question. Did Youkilis get complacent? Did his fire go out? And it is an important question because that fire was so much a part of the game of Kevin Youkilis.

Witnessing those epic battles against the Yankees, what stood out about Youkilis in his salad days was the way he played the game. He was as intense as any player in the game. He played like he was trying to prove the entire world wrong about something.

But then Valentine posed that question. Had nagging injuries taken the fire out of Youkilis? Had some nice paydays taken away the urgency of his game? Perhaps all of this speculation is hooey. The fact remains that Youkilis' game has disappeared in the last couple of years. And you have to wonder if it will return at this stage of his career.

Working in Youkilis' favor as he became a free agent this fall is the market for third baseman is Mother Hubbard cupboard-like. The White Sox have strongly intimated that they would like to have him back. Other teams will be in play if the White Sox do not satisfy what Youkilis wants. After all, this is most likely the player's last chance for a nice contract.

And teams will want him because of what he did from 2006 until 2010. We are talking about a guy who averaged a .384 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage in the .480 range or higher. We are talking about a guy who produced a wOBA over .400 for two straight seasons in 2009 and 2010 and a guy who has a career .894 OPS in high leverage situations.

But his last two years are quite daunting to those who hope there is still some magic in there. He only played 102 games in 2011 and his OPS fell to .833. That OPS still sounds rather productive and yes, he did drive in 80 runs. But that OPS was over a hundred points less than the OPS he put up in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

And then his 2012 season started dismally for the Boston Red Sox. After 42 games, his OPS was sitting at .692. He was batting .233. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox. After after a big game and a big first week with his new team, his season settled back in to the same sort of mediocrity. In 80 games with the White Sox, his triple slash line was .236/.346/.425. His combined OPS for both teams was .745 in 502 plate appearances and for the first time for a full season, his OPS+ fell under 100.

And even further indication of his loss of game was his doubles total. Youkilis, if nothing else, has been a doubles machine in his career. In the six years between 2006 and 2011, he averaged 35.66 doubles a season. In fact, his average per 162 games is 39. In 2012, he ht fifteen of them. This is not your normal Kevin Youkilis.

Digging deeper into his numbers, just about everything in his approach and results are the same as it always was. His plate discipline remains outstanding. His swing and miss rate was right in line with his career average. His home run per fly ball ratio was nearly identical. He produced similar line drive rates. His walks and strikeout percentages were normal for him.

There are only two statistical measures that have changed, and they go hand in hand. One is his BABIP.  For his career, Kevin Youkilis has averaged .322 on balls he put in play. In 2011, that figure fell to .296 and this past year, fell dramatically to .268. One of the reasons is that he is hitting far more ground balls than ever before in his career.

For his career, Youkilis has hit 36 percent of his batted balls on the ground. His career ground ball to fly ball ratio is 0.84. But in 2011, his ground ball percentage jumped to 41.8 percent and in 2012, that rate jumped again to 42.9 percent. His ground ball to fly ball ratio for the past two seasons have been 1.09 and 1.18 respectively.

And this seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the pitchers who face him. The number of two-seam fastballs thrown to him increased from 9.3 percent in 2010 to 12.3 percent in 2011 to 15.3 percent in 2012. With the improvements to the batted ball data teams now produce for themselves, fielders are positioning themselves better and Youkilis' ground balls turned into outs. He batted only .208 on grounders this past season.

It seems obvious that at this stage of the career of Kevin Youkilis, he is going to have to make adjustments. Perhaps it is time to simplify that preposterous batting stance of his so he can get to the ball quicker. Perhaps he will need to improve his off-season training program so that he can stay on the field more often.

Kevin Youkilis is going to be sought after this off-season. He will get a nice deal from either the White Sox or somebody else. Third baseman are scarce. His past performance is tantalizing and attractive. Youkilis will get a job with somebody. The question is whether he can get back to some semblance of the player he used to be to make whatever contract he is offered worth the investment. He was fun to watch and it would be a shame if he cannot get to some semblance of that kind of player.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Was Brendan Ryan robbed of the Gold Glove Award?

J.J. Hardy won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award for his play at shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles this season. The selection left many wondering why Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners did not win the award. Seattle Mariner fans who got to watch Ryan's wizardry at short are screaming the loudest, naturally. But many others are also crying foul. While the awards themselves have been considered flawed for most of its existence, it is the opinion here that Hardy's selection was correct. Let's take a look.

First, Ryan's case is built on the many highlight reels he filled this season. And there is no doubt the guy is a wizard at his position. Others look at the new fielding metrics that try to put an overall fielding number next to a guy's stats to quantify his fielding season. Ryan led all shortstops according to with a fielding score of 14.4 runs above average. Hardy finished at a very good 11.4 or three runs less than Ryan.

But has it the other way around. That site gives Hardy 21 total zone total fielding runs above average compared to Ryan's nine. In the pursuit of fairness, B-R does give Ryan the most BIS defensive runs saved among shortstops at 27 compared to Hardy's 18. So here we have two sites with two different fielding metric methods flip-flopping on who the best shortstop was. Whenever you have that kind of thing happening, you have to go deeper into the numbers.

And there is where Hardy takes it over Ryan. Here is a comparison of the two:

  • Innings - Hardy (1,439), Ryan (1,170.2)
  • Chances - Hardy (779), Ryan (601)
  • Putouts - Hardy (244), Ryan (199)
  • Assists - Hardy (529), Ryan (396)
  • Errors - Hardy (6), Ryan (9)
  • Fielding percentage - Hardy (.992), Ryan (985)
  • Double plays - Hardy (113), Ryan (108)
  • Range Factor/9 - Hardy (4.83), Ryan (4.55)
  • Range Factor/G - Hardy (4.85), Ryan (4.29)

Hardy led all American League shortstops in chances, putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage and was tied for second in range factor.

Hardy looks rather odd at short. His throwing delivery is odd compared to other shortstops. Ryan makes pretty much everything look terrific. But the numbers say that Hardy had the better season in the field. It has nothing to do with offense. It has nothing to do relative to how the two teams played this season. Hardy has the numbers to justify his award. That does not take away from how good Ryan is. But the award got it right this time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Joe Girardi and Alex Rodriguez's conversation

Joe Girardi called Alex Rodriguez and according to sources, the conversation went well. As an exercise in fiction, yours truly imagined what that conversation sounded like. Click here to read the account.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Intangibles and x-factors

Players of the World Series Champion, San Francisco Giants, were celebrating last night after the sweep was completed. Such celebrations are always fun to watch, even if it is not your favorite team. These are, after all, human beings and watching any human beings that are extremely happy brings a measure of joy intrinsically. The media would pull some players out of the melee for individual interviews. One that stood out was Barry Zito's. Zito, one of the unlikeliest of post season heroes, then said the magic words. Zito said that his team had intangibles and that x-factor to get the job done. Okay, here we go again.

Zito would go on to relate how during Game Five of the NLCS, Hunter Pence gave a speech that left the team speechless and the team took off from there. That moment was watched in this living room up here in Maine. Two things were noticed at the time. First, Pence looked like a crazy man and froth was fully expected to be seen coming from his mouth. The second thing noticed at the time was that shortstop, Brandon Crawford, went around the frenzy in the dugout to get to the other side of the dugout and the look on his face suggested that he thought Pence was crazy too and gave the entire proceedings a skunk-eye.

But that was the moment Barry Zito was mentioning. Another interview of manager, Bruce Bochy, also led the manager to talk about how his players were selfless and loved each other and that this team spirit led to the victory.

The first response here is skepticism. But then again, you have to understand that this observer never watches college sports because the whole rah-rah thing seems so otherworldly. After all, the core of the Yankees' team from 2009 was still in place in the playoffs for 2010, 2011 and 2012. With nearly sixty percent of that team the same from that World Series run to today, why would that "intangible" or "x-factor" disappear? 

And to take that a step further, the Yankees seemed to have it during the ALDS as Captain Intangible, Raul Ibanez, took that mantle from Hideki Matsui from 2009. But that "x-factor" dried up during the ALCS with the Tigers, who seemed to have found it themselves only to lose it during the World Series.

The thought here is that teams pull together as they strive to get as far as they can get into the season. Those feelings of hope and adrenaline lead to a certain level of shared experience among teammates. Those feelings have an edge on them as doubts about the final outcome linger. It is only in retrospect and after that letdown never comes that those feelings lead those players, managers and coaches to turn to a winning euphoria. Only in retrospect does this euphoric feeling transfer into thoughts of something special experienced and the logical conclusion to be that it was intangibles and special team chemistry.

The other thought here is that so much of this is random occurrences. A bunt stays fair, a ground ball hits the third base bag. Pitchers long-ineffective execute perfectly. Things just happen. And yet, this skepticism brings some personal doubts.

After all, so many players, coaches, managers, etc. believe in it and these thoughts get repeated so often all across the spectrum of sports that perhaps this skepticism is misplaced. Who knows.  

The bottom line here, from this seat, is that fans of the San Francisco Giants got a wild ride this fall and fans of the Detroit Tigers had a thrill ride that ended in disappointment during the World Series. The performance of Prince Fielder does not detract from the season he had or the talent he possesses. It just did not work out this time. Perhaps next year, the Tigers can get back to this place and win it next time. And perhaps if that happens, interviews from players will say that it was a magical team that pulled together and made it happen together. Whatever.  

Game Picks - End of the season wrap up

Alas, the baseball season is over as the San Francisco Giants stand alone on the top of the baseball world. They swept the Tigers in the World Series. The sweep not only ends the season, but ends another season of the Game Picks here at the FanDome. This is the third straight full season for the Game Picks and the feature is now three and a half years old. Not a single day of the baseball season was missed for the second straight season, making this game picker the Cal Ripken of game pickers.

Somewhere along the way, the season totals got messed up. By adding up each month, the correct season tally was attained and the success rate was slightly less than last season. The post season picks were much, much worse than last season, but the World Series picks were three correct out of four. What follows is a chart showing the picking activity for each month and there is even a pictorial representation to make this picker the sabermetrician of game pickers.

It has been fun, folks, and picking games has given each day a little bit of a purpose to start each day. A solid core of you came each day to either see how stupid the picks were or to gasp and their wonder and beauty. Heh. But you are appreciated and thank you so much for coming. The picks will start up again as the season starts in the spring.

But don't think this site will go cold during the off season. Hundreds of posts were created last season after the season and there is always plenty here to talk about.

May your team improve itself over the off season and if you are in the mid-Atlantic region of the country today, please take care and we will be thinking about you and hoping for the best.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Game Picks - Sunday: October 28, 2012

Yesterday's pick was a case of this game picker outsmarting himself. The logic was right there in the form of the ALCS in which the Tigers did to the Yankees what is now being done to them. If you read last night's post, you'll see how similar this World Series performance by the Tigers was to the Yankees' in the ALCS. Heck, the team OPS in the two series is remarkably similar for the team being swamped. In the end, as the Tigers' fans sat in stunned silence at the end of the game--their first chance to cheer the hometown Tigers on in the World series--the result seemed so inevitable that no other outcome seemed possible.

The gut said to pick the Giants yesterday. The gut was ignored. Why? Because two straight series couldn't happen like that in a row, right? Lightening does strike twice and yet an old saw says it does not. The old saw was believed instead of the logic that was right there.

And so the pick was wrong. But what of today? Is the end just as inevitable? Will the Tigers at least make a show of it? Will they at least give their home fans one win? It's time to pick the game:

  • The Giants over the Tigers: If this pick is correct, it will be the last of the baseball season. How sad is that? And yet, as inevitable as the pick seems, the pick is troubling. Matt Cain is the Giants' ace. But he is not an ace that doesn't bend. He does bend. He usually gives up a run or two. Well...except when he throws perfect games. But the fact that he does bend is what makes the pick troublesome because Max Scherzer, when he is on, can be harder to hit than Verlander. If Max Scherzer has his best stuff, batters are helpless. Despite their ace at the top of the rotation, Scherzer gives the Tigers their best chance to win. But that would be picking against the tide. Such a pick would be to deceive what we've already witnessed. And what we have witnessed is indeed lightening striking twice.

Yesterday: 0-1
World Series: 2-1
Post Season: 16-20
Season: 1,349-1,037

The Tigers have become the Yankees and yet they're not

After the first three games of the 2012 World Series, the Detroit Tigers have become a parallel universe from what happened to the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS against this same Tigers' team. After tonight's 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants, the Tigers now have scored just three runs in three games. How closely do they parallel what the Yankees did in the ALCS? The Tigers' OPS in the World Series now stands at .486. The Yankees' OPS in the ALCS was .488. How does this happen?

The best way to answer the question is to define what it is not. The first thing the narratives will say is that both teams lived by the long ball and died by the long ball. The so-called one-dimensionable aspect of the Yankees and the Tigers will be ballyhooed as the trumpet call for what went wrong in the post season. Of course, that is so bogus that we shouldn't even have to talk about it. What we are looking at is a short series and a random series of events that happen when such a short stretch of time is measured.

The teams didn't have speed, the pundits will say. But when both teams tried to add speed, it fell completely flat. Brett Gardner did nothing for the Yankees in those last two games of the ALCS and Quintin Berry has done nothing for the Tigers.

The next big narrative is that the bats just went cold. If you have a four game stretch in the middle of the season where the team does not hit, nobody notices because it is just four games in the middle of 162 and things tend to even out according to the ability of the players. But these four games (three for the Tigers) are in the most public spotlight of the entire baseball world. And so the explanation is the blanket cold bats idea.

Another narrative is that the Giants were just awesome on the mound and executed their pitches perfectly. Well, yeah, they did most of the time, just like the Tigers did against the Yankees. But the Yankees had some chances and the Tigers have had some chances and it just did not work out. Credit has to go to the Giants' pitching staff for executing a plan that is working. Just like you have to credit the Tigers' staff against the Yankees. But again, it's just a random series of events that turned into brilliant pitching for a four game series. If these pitchers were this good, they would have better records during the season, right?

But there is one major difference between what is happening to the Tigers and what happened to the Yankees. When it happened to the Yankees, the roar became deafening concerning Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. It was so much so that the Yankees caved in or bought in to the outrage and started messing with their core team the last two games. The results were exactly the same.

The Tigers will stay with the guys who got them to this dance. Prince Fielder is one for ten with no extra base hits. He struck out twice tonight and hit into a big double play. Nobody is going to scream for him to get benched and Jim Leyland will never even think about such a scenario. Jhonny Peralta is one for eleven. Better get him out of there. No chance!

There are two things to remember about what happened to the Yankees and what is happening to the Tigers. The first is that this fluke of circumstances does not negate what the two teams did during the season or mean that their teams were too flawed to win their series. The second is that it does not mean that the two teams' players were choke artists or forgot how to hit during a short series. All it means is that when all the stars aligned just so, the Giants were able to eke out a few runs while keeping the Tigers from scoring hardly any.

And barring the biggest miracle in the history of the World Series, the Tigers and its players will be remembered fondly by its fans for the 2012 season and the Yankees will have fans and radio talk shows (and some media members) calling for the team to get blown up because they suck.

On this big a stage and in such a setting with only four games needed to win or lose a season, stuff happens. It's not fun when it happens to your team or your players. But that's what it is...stuff that happened.