Saturday, January 12, 2013

Six reasons why Adam LaRoche was a good signing

There were some raised eyebrows when the Washington Nationals signed Adam LaRoche to a two year deal with an option on the third. The Nationals were praised for waiting LaRoche out to get the right price, but still, not too many people get all excited when considering LaRoche as a player. After all, his closest comps at his age according to are Geoff Jenkins, Tony Clark and Jason Bay. But as we will see, LaRoche is getting better with age and has become a much more consistent producer in his last two full seasons than when he was younger. So here goes, six reasons why Adam LaRoche was a good signing.

1. The cost. LaRoche will be paid $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. If he continues to produce and both sides pick up the options in 2015, the cost goes up to $15. This is a very modest salary considering that his play was worth $17 million in 2012. Granted, it was LaRoche's best season ever, but as we shall see, there are signs that he has found consistent ways to produce. According to Fangraphs' Leaderboard, LaRoche was the fifth best first baseman in baseball in 2012.

2. LaRoche is not a liability against left-handed pitching. It is granted that his lifetime split against left-handed and right-handed pitchers has a pretty big swing. His career OPS is 93 points higher against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. But in his last two full seasons (he missed most of 2011), those splits are not nearly as nasty. While his split was 44 points different in OPS in 2010, his batting average and slugging percentage were right in the same ballpark. The entire difference was basically in his on-base percentage as LaRoche only walked eight times against lefties that season (which is pretty incredible). In 2012, LaRoche put together an .825 OPS against lefties. That was still 39 points different and again the difference was in the OBP.

3. Adam LaRoche has shown consistency in his last two full seasons. In 2012, his OPS was .836 in the first half and .869 in the second. His OPS was .871 at home and .836 on the road. In 2010, his OPS was .787 in the first half and .788 in the second half. His OPS was .803 at home and .773 on the road.

4. LaRoche has improved his play at first base. Adam LaRoche's defense was not always a good part of his game. And again, while he is not the best, his fielding was rated as fifth best for his position by Fangraphs which has given him him high marks in all three of his past seasons. does not rate his fielding as highly. That site has always rated LaRoche in negative territory. But at least that site rated him as league average in 2012, their best rating for him in his career.

5. LaRoche can hit all types of pitches. He was equally adept at hitting finesse pitchers (.826 OPS), average pitchers (.818) and power pitchers (.935), fly ball pitchers (1.050) and ground ball pitchers (.844). He is much better at hitting the slider and curve than he was earlier in his career and even rated 1.5 runs above average against the knuckleball. It looks like he might be one of the few players in the National League to miss Dickey.

6. And finally, as the figures in Number 5 show, LaRoche hits a good amount of fly balls. And since 17% of those go over the fence, that is a good thing for him. LaRoche's ground ball percentage of 33.6% was the sixth lowest in baseball in 2012. That means that everything else was either a line drive (22.3%) or a fly ball (44.1%). Once again, major league batters do their most damage on line drives and 22.3% is a very good rate and as mentioned, when you have a double-digit chance of hitting a fly ball over the wall, those fly balls are a good thing too.

Adam LaRoche hit 33 homers in 2012, which was tied with Cano for tenth best in the league. Since power has become a new premium now in the pendulum swing that is baseball, having a guy like LaRoche is a good thing. LaRoche also added 35 doubles. While it isn't really smart to predict LaRoche will improve over his 2012 season, he doesn't have to. All he has to do is put up two more similar seasons (even a little less maybe) to make his contract worth what the Nationals are paying. With his fielding and consistency, the Nationals made their bets on LaRoche over Mike Morse and that seems to be the right call here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Six fielders who should be DHs

Last night on Twitter, Dave Cameron responded to a statement made by Michael Morse that he was vehemently against being used in the designated hitter role: "My suggestion to all these guys that don't want to DH - Don't suck at fielding, then." That quote leads to today's post which is: Six fielders who should be DHs. Why six? Who knows. All posts in the last week have started with six. Just humor me.

The problem identifying the top six worst defensive players is that Fangraphs and do not always agree on defensive statistics. So the criteria becomes, then, who do both sites agree on as woeful fielders? Three years of data was used in the criteria and then players who are playing out of position are taken out. For example, nobody has lost more runs to average for his fielding than Shawn Kemp. Well, that is because he should not be playing center field. Should we punish Kemp for playing out of position? Perhaps so. But it did not seem fair here because he might actually be good in left or right fields.

So, without further ado, here are six fielders that should be DH's

1. Mark Reynolds - Reynolds has been just about the worst third baseman that baseball has seen in the last twenty years. The Orioles finally got a hint and moved him to first base halfway through last season. And from what was seen of Reynolds there on television, the move seemed to work pretty well. Except the numbers do not agree. According to the fielding metrics, Reynolds was just as bad at first base for his time there (-8). Reynolds has now lost 38 runs for his teams over the last three seasons which is about three and a half wins. In five seasons, he has lost 61 runs for his teams. Ugh. Hey, at least he did not strike out so much.

2. Chris Johnson - Johnson might be one of those guys who is out of position at third base. The Astros did have him play first base for six games last season. And there is a reason why people lump these players into the 1B/DH category like they are the same thing. I do not agree and think first base is a highly underrated important position on the infield. But either way, Johnson should not wear a glove. He has cost his team 32 runs in the field in the last three seasons.

3. Ryan Doumit - This catcher turned outfielder is heading quickly into a DH for the Twins and that is a very good thing. Doumit can hit but he was just about the worst fielding catcher in baseball and him plodding around the outfield is downright scary. His affectionate name here is "DumbMitt." As a catcher, he allowed nine passed balls in two out of three seasons. One of those seasons led the league. He can't throw anyone out either. The Twins used him 48 times as the DH last season. Keep him there, Twinkies.

4. Wilson Betemit - It has always confused me that teams have constantly desired Betemit as a player. Oh, he is versatile and can play all four infield positions...poorly. In fact, his last name is an oxymoron. He is certainly not a bettemitt. He is a worse mitt. Betemit has cost his teams 29 runs in just about the fewest games played on our list for the three years (281). He is a DH and a DH only. He is not versatile but simply can play awful defense in more positions than most people.

5. Mike Morse - Morse is built like a Greek god or something. The guy is a stud. Perhaps he should have been a tight end in football. Or perhaps the women think he has a tight end. But he is more the Johnny Five kind of muscular guy than anything else. There is a reason Morse is fighting the DH role...because he is one. He is not a good first baseman. He is not a good right fielder. He is not a good left fielder. He is a handsome devil of a DH if there ever was one.

6. Carlos Quentin / Ty Wigginton - Quentin has had some injury problems to his wheels over the years, so perhaps this is unfair. But the facts are the facts. Quentin has played parts of six seasons, all in the outfield, and yet has 24 errors. That is a lot for an outfielder. He improved to terrible from really really bad with the Padres last season. He only cost them 8 runs this past season after having double digit types of bad seasons before that. But B-R somewhat disagrees with Fangraphs how bad he has been Wigginton has played for a bunch of teams at a bunch of positions and is really not that good at any of them. According to B-R, he has cost his teams 118 runs in his career. Yeesh. He has played five different positions and all were played poorly.

So there you have it. Those are six players (seven really) who have been so bad on defense that they should be DHs. What other thing do they all have in common? They are all bad base runners too. Slow and fielding do not usually go together well. But speed, or lack of it, does sort of define the DH position.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Defense a big difference between 2011 and 2012 Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks have had two seasons that pretty much defy their actual run differential. That defiance was good in 2011 and not so good in 2012. The similarities between the offense was minimal. The Diamondbacks scored 734 runs in 2012 and 731 in 2011. The pitching was not that far off either. The pitching allowed 688 runs in 2012 compared to 662 in 2011. And yet in 2011, the Diamondbacks should have won 88 games and won 94 and should have won 86 games in 2012 and won only 81. Was the team lucky in 2011 and unlucky in 2012? Perhaps. But from what I can see, the difference was the defense.

Circumstantial evidence

Before we look closely at the difference in the two years from a defensive standpoint, let's look at some circumstantial evidence. The real striking Exhibit A is how the team fared in one-run games. The two seasons are a mirror image. In 2011, the team went 28-16 in one run games and 9-4 in extra inning games. In 2012, the team went 15-27 in one-run games and 3-4 in extra inning games. Again, you can chalk that up to luck and the bounce of the ball. But this, to me, is circumstantial evidence of a deeper problem.

Harder evidence

The Diamondbacks as a whole team had a +30 score overall for total zone runs saved over average in 2011 ( That figure fell to -6 in 2012. The glaring difference was the outfield. Many Diamondback fans dislike Chris Young and cheered when he left the team this off season. But he was spectacular in 2011 and by missing much of 2012, the center field defense suffered. But the biggest difference was in left field. Gerardo Parra played 128 games in left field in 2011 and left field in total had a fielding score of +11 over the course of that season.

Enter Jason Kubel in 2012 and the outfield defense crumbled. Kubel scored a -12 all by himself. Parra played about eight percent of the innings in left and at least pulled the total up to a -6. But that is a twelve run swing from one year to the next.

The injury to Stephen Drew hurt too. Drew has been an underrated defensive player in a league dominated by Tulowitzki and Rollins. But the shortstop play in 2011 was rated at zero. In other words, based on an average, the D-back shortstops did not cost their pitchers any runs nor saved them any against the league average. In 2012, that figure fell to -6.

Can we see a difference in outfield play in the record? Again, this isn't a one to one cause and effect, but when Arizona pitchers allowed a fly ball in 2012, the opposing batters batted .238 with an OPS of .882. On line drives, the OPS against was 1.730. In 2011, opposing batters batted .209 with an OPS of .770 on fly balls and had an OPS of 1.676 on line drives. Clearly, outfield defense had to have some effect on those numbers.

Keep in mind that the team's workhorse, Ian Kennedy, is a fly ball pitcher. Was the difference in his pitching from 2011 to 2012 the defense? I think a case can be made. The team's other young pitcher, Daniel Hudson, was also a fly ball pitcher before he went down with his elbow. And Josh Collmenter? He is one of the most dramatic fly ball pitchers in baseball and his outfield defense could not have helped him during his disappointing 2012 season.

Losing Young to injury last season probably cost the Diamondbacks two to three wins. Losing Parra's full time defense and adequate offense to Jason Kubel's bad defense cost the Diamondbacks another two wins. That kind of stuff goes a long way in telling a story about how a team can beat its run differential so well in 2011 and then lose to its differential the following season.

As of right now, Kubel is still the projected left fielder for 2013. Cody Ross takes over in center and he isn't bad out there and has had some decent seasons. But even Ross's best season does not add up to Young's two best seasons. It seems the Diamondbacks had a winning formula in 2011 and should have stuck with it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Six things you might not know about Lance Berkman

There have been a lot of mixed feelings out in the blogging world on what the Texas Rangers have done by signing Lance Berkman. There is a palpable risk for the Rangers since Berkman only played 32 games in 2012 due to continued problems with his knees. But what if Berkman could play a hundred games in 2013? If that could happen or more, then Lance Berkman will be worth every penny of that $10 million the Rangers will be paying him. At times quietly (most of his seasons in Houston) and at other times noisily (Cardinals in 2011), Lance Berkman has been one of the best offensive players of his generation. Don't think so? Check out these six things you may not know about him.

1. Lance Berkman has a career on-base average over .400 (.409). That is 38th all time. He has walked more than 90 times in a season in ten of his fourteen seasons and three of those were over a hundred times. Only ten players in history have walked more than 90 times in a season in more seasons than Berkman. And they list like the Who's Who of baseball history. Since 2009, which includes some injury-riddled seasons, he is tied with Jose Bautista for the highest walk percentage at 16.2%. If you go back as far as 2004, Lance Berkman is fourth in the majors in walk percentage (min 3,000 plate appearances) behind only Thome, Dunn and Giambi. And this is despite not being in the top 30 in plate discipline as far as swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Berkman has been an on-base machine.

2. Since 2004 (the post Bonds era), Lance Berkman has the seventh highest wOBA in baseball among players with more than 3,000 plate appearances. Those ahead of him?  It's a pretty good list: Pujols, Votto, Manny, Miggy, Big Papi and Braun. So getting on base is not his only strength. Berkman also has a career Slugging Percentage of .544 and his rank since 2004 with the same criteria as before is 12th. If you go by OPS+, Berkman is fifth in baseball since 2004 behind only Pujols, Votto, Cabrera and Manny. In other words, one of the best offensive players of his generation.

3. Can we dare say that Lance Berkman is as clutch a player as there has been in baseball? Yeah, people hate that word. But consider these facts. First, since 2004, Berkman is third in all of baseball (position players) in WPA behind only Pujols and Cabrera. For his career, Berkman has an OPS of .984 with two outs and runners in scoring position. In tie games, his OPS is .969. In high leverage situations, his career OPS is .970.  For his career, he has a .954 OPS in the ninth inning. That's a pretty good argument, is it not?

4. Lance Berkman is remarkably consistent. He has a career OPS of .914 or higher in every month of the season. His career OPS at home is .955. On the road it is .950. He's had a .909 OPS at every position he's played except as a pinch hitter. His OPS with no outs in an inning is .978. His OPS with one out is .946. His OPS with two outs is .936.

5. There is one exception to Berkman's consistency. He is no where near as good a hitter when batting from the right side against left-handed pitching as he is from the left side against right-handed pitching. His career OPS on the former is .777. His OPS in the latter situation is 1.007. That is a 230 point difference. It is a little better against left-handed starters where his career OPS is .833. But still, this is a huge difference.

6. If the Rangers are going to the post season, Berkman is a great guy to have along for that ride. Berkman has been as good or better in the post-season as he has been in the regular season. In 233 post season plate appearances, Berkman's triple slash line is: ..317/.417/.532. Yeah, that will do, eh?

Hopefully, the case has been made here of Berkman being among the best offensive players of his generation. Hence the Rangers' risky move here. If Berkman can slot into the DH and get 350 to 400 plate appearances, he should reward the Rangers' risk. And of course, he has always been highly rated for those clubhouse intangibles. But if his wheels are as toasted as they were for the Cardinals last season, then the Rangers' risky move will blow up big time. Health will be the key.