Saturday, December 28, 2013
Did you know that Paul Blair, the great center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, played in the infield for the Yankees in 1978? Did you also know that he played a pivotal part in two post season wins for the Yankees? Read all about it here: http://itsaboutthemoney.net/archives/2013/12/28/paul-blair-yankee-infielder-and-post-season-hero/
Friday, December 27, 2013
Curiosity is a wonderful thing. This time of year, like everyone else, I spend a lot of time looking at mlbtraderumors.com to see what is going on in the baseball world. A little blip about Brad Peacock in a recent post caught my eye and made me curious. The little blip said the following:
"Jason Collette of Fangraphs examined the transformation that Astros righty Brad Peacock made after being sent down to the minors midway through the 2013 campaign. Peacock adopted a slider that made a world of difference for his repertoire, and as Collette notes, the changes were obvious to GM Jeff Luhnow, manager Bo Porter and catcher Jason Castro."
I took my curiosity and went and poured over Peacock's numbers, particularly in the second half and found some pretty surprising things. I then read Jason' Collette's piece and came away with the conclusion that the Astros just may have gotten some value after all in Peacock as part of the trade with the Astros for Jed Lowrie.
When you first arrive at Brad Peacock's player page at baseball-reference.com, 2013 was not a pretty sight. He made 18 appearances and 14 starts and it all led to zero rWAR, an ERA of 5.18, a WHIP of 1.380 and 1.6 homers per nine innings. There is no way to slant those numbers to make them pretty. According to Fangraphs.com, his RA9-WAR was -0.2. Ugh.
It is only by going to the splits that you see what Collette, Luhnow, Porter and Castro were talking about. But let's go a little bit further back than last year and take a broader look at Peacock's history.
Brad Peacock was born in Palm Beach, Florida, which is pretty cool because that is where my mom lives. He must not have been that highly touted a high school prospect because he ended up going to a community college in that same community. Scouts could not have rated him that highly there either because he was not drafted until the 41st round (by the Nationals) in the 2006 draft.
Peacock then spent four years trudging through the low minors in unspectacular fashion. And then he suddenly had this magical year in 2011 that saw him combine a 15-3 record with a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He got called up to the Nationals at the end of 2011 and went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings that included three appearances and two starts. A 17-3 season with those ERA numbers were impressive enough to rank him as the 37th top prospect before the 2012 season by Baseball America.
He was then traded to the Oakland A's as part of the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. And his 2012 was not good at all. He spent the entire year in Triple-A in the PCL, a difficult place to pitch and everything fell apart. His ERA for the season topped six. His WHIP went over 1.5, his strikeouts dipped slightly and his walk rate rose.
Despite his bad season, the Astros, probably influenced by Kevin Goldstein, who was always high on him as Collette mentions, asked for him in the trade that sent Lowrie to the A's. Despite his poor Triple-A season, the Astros invited Peacock to Spring Training and he made the opening roster for 2013.
It could not have gone worse for Peacock in the early part of the 2013 season. He made five straight starts to open the season and lost three out of four decisions. His games scores for those starts (with 50 being average) were 51, 49, 47, 17, 26. He then was banished to the bullpen and made four outings more out there.
By the time he was sent down to the minors at the end of that run, his ERA was 8.07. His WHIP was 1.759. His strikeout to walk ratio was only 1.32. And he was getting hammered by homers. All batters combined to have an OPS against him of .998. Oy! It now seems obvious in hindsight that he was a pitch short of being a Major League pitcher.
The Astros did the right thing and sent him back down to the minors. And he was a pitch short, which he admitted as Collette mentioned in his article. The evidence is in his swing and miss rate. Even in his brief time with the Nationals in 2011, he only had eight swinging strikes in those twelve innings he pitched. And he only missed 26 bats in his first 138 batters he faced in 2013.
According to Collette, Peacock discovered a slider down in the minors and he must have done so fairly quickly upon turning up there. He made fourteen appearances for Oklahoma City in the PCL and thirteen of those were starts. He went 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA. His WHIP was very good at 1.101 and his strikeout to walk ratio was 3.85. Something obvious had changed.
The Astros brought him back in early August and he came back with a bang (granted, it was against the Twins) and struck out ten batters in his first start back. His missed 13 bats in the outing. He had never before topped eight swinging strikes in his brief career.
August ended up a pretty good month for him. His ERA was still a bit high at 3.94. But his OPS against was a much better at .673.
What I really want to focus on is September. Brad Peacock was really good in September. His OPS against in four September starts was .622. His ERA in that month was 3.28 with a FIP of 2.80. His strikeout to walk ratio was 4.17 and his home run rate plummeted. Most impressively, his strike rate was over 64% in the month of September.
If you look at his pitch type and at his PitchF/X totals, he did not throw a slider in the Majors until he returned from the minors in August. And yet that pitch was valued at 2.6 runs above average. He has found a real weapon to miss bats. As Collette mentions, he was more aggressive in the strike zone which allowed him to put away batters at a rate he had not achieved before (25%).
Brad Peacock came back in August as a different pitcher. Now, two months do not make a career. I understand that. And we will have to see how he builds on it from here. But Brad Peacock is not getting any love from projections like Oliver and Steamer. But he could be a real sleeper and, if he stays healthy and does what he did at the end of 2013, could be a real good pitcher for the Astros in 2014. Remember his name because Brad Peacock could show bright colors in 2014.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Freddie Freeman's first two years in the Major Leagues were remarkably similar. He finished his rookie season of 2011 with an OPS of .795. He then finished his second full season with an OPS of .796. Since Freeman was a first baseman which is supposed to be an offensive position, the two finishes seemed to indicate the kind of player Freeman was and it was not quite good enough. For example, he was the thirteenth best first baseman in 2012. But then 2013 happened and Freeman's OPS jumped a hundred points to .897 and suddenly he was the fifth best first baseman in baseball. Which is the real Freeman?
The two projection systems checked for this piece--Oliver and Steamer--both predict Freeman to be better than he was the first two years but not as good as he was in 2013. Do you buy that? Should we buy that? Projections are simply computer calculations based on historical data used to project future performance. Success of those projections are certainly better than flipping a coin, but certainly not in the 100% category of a biblical prophet.
So what should we expect from Freddie Freeman then? I literally poured over his numbers and devoured them like Christmas dinner and came up enthusiastic. There are two outstanding things that jumped out at me. The first was his age. Entering his fourth full time season, Freeman is only 24 years old. The second is that Freddie Freeman is a line drive machine.
The age thing really surprised me and it probably should not have if I was paying attention. I really had no idea he was that young. His next three to five years should be peak and he is learning on the job and adjusting well as he goes. Some recent studies have questioned the regression cycles that have long maintained that after the age of 28 or 29, regression is inevitable. The new studies seem to suggest that the age of regression starts younger. So perhaps Freeman is as good as he is going to get. But if that means his 2013 numbers, we'll take it.
Anyway, the line drive thing. If you have looked at batted ball data, line drives are the bomb. The Major League average BABIP on line drives was .664 in 2013. In other words, if you hit a hundred line drives over the course of a season, sixty-six of those will fall in safely. The problem is, very few hitters hit a hundred line drives over the course of a season.
Freddie Freeman hit 132 line drives in 2013! The average player in the Majors hits between eighteen and nineteen percent of his batted balls as line drives. Freeman's line drive percentages over the last three years? Try 23%, 26% and 26.7%. His prodigious line drive percentage rivals Votto's.
What has happened to those line drives over his past three seasons have been the major factor in his overall BABIP and thus his batting average. Remember I said that the average BABIP on line drives is .664. In 2011, when Freeman batted .285, his line drive BABIP was an incredible .795--way over average. In 2012, when his batting average fell to .259, his BABIP on line drives went down to just above league average to .667. In 2013, it rose again to .765. A remarkable 100 of Freeman's 2013 hits came on line drives in 2013!
Those numbers can be looked at two ways. First, you could figure that 2012 was a more realistic line drive BABIP since it was league average. But then again, two of his three seasons have been amazingly higher than league average and the fact that his spray chart shows his line drives going all over the field, lead me to think that the two high years are his norm and not 2012.
Freeman's fluctuating total BABIPs over the three years are probably one of the things that dampens his projections a bit. They were respectively: .339, .295 and .371. His BABIPs on ground balls and fly balls have been stable so the difference has been the line drives. If his spray charts were more mundane, I would tend to go with a dampened projection as well. But I don't think that will be the case.
The other thing to notice about Freeman is his consistent power numbers. His home run per fly ball rate has only risen slightly in three years. They were: 14.0%, 14.8% and 15% respectively. Thus, his home run total has been like a metronome with seasons of 21, 23 and 23. His overall OPS then would seem to continue with similar slugging and ISO numbers. Oliver projections, which does a five year projection, has his home run total pegged at 23 every year of the five years, which is somewhat comical.
It would seem natural that his power numbers would go up as he matures as a hitter. If that is the case, even if his line drive BABIP, that we talked about so much already, falls to league average, his slugging percentage should rise to make up the difference. I do not see any reason why he cannot raise his home run total to 30 in the coming years.
What else is there to like about Freeman? Well, there is also his splits, which improved greatly in 2013. His OPS against left-handed pitching in 2011 and 2012 were rugged with 2012 being slightly higher at just above .700. But that went up to a respectable .764 in 2013 and if he can maintain that or get even better against southpaws, then he will continue to improve as a hitter.
Another thing that I noticed was his success in 2013 in high leverage situations and with men in scoring position. Freeman was pretty abysmal in both of those situations in his first two full years. Last year, he was fantastic in both and perhaps that is another indication of his growth and maturity as a hitter.
One of the largest amount of negative feedback this site has ever seen was last year when I mentioned that Freeman was not much of a fielder at first base. Braves fans accused me of all kinds of boorish behaviors. Heh. The truth is that he has scored negatively at first base on both Fangraphs.com and on Baseball-reference.com. The two sites have not agreed at the level of that negativity. Fangraphs has been much harder on him than B-R.
But both sites showed great improvement in 2013. B-R has come to use BIS defensive runs above average for their WAR calculations and Freeman had a +7 in BIS for 2013. Fangraphs still has him at a -3, but that is a vast improvement over where they rated him before.
In either case, the bottom line is that he is improving his defense and either he is as good as Braves' fans suggest, or he is on his way to getting there. That much is sure at least. The bottom line on his fielding is that along with his hitting, Freddie Freeman has improved his net worth to the Braves and looks to continue doing so.
My only real worry about Freddie Freeman is the offense around him. In successive years, the Braves have lost Chipper Jones and now Brian McCann. The lineup does not look improved thus far in this off season and unless guys like Heyward, Uggla and the two Upton brothers get over their funks of recent years, Freeman might struggle to get pitches to hit. That combined with his relative impatience at the plate (he swung at 35% of pitches out of the strike zone in 2013) might hurt him.
But overall, I am bullish on Freddie Freeman. I think he has arrived as a star in the league and will continue to improve in the coming three or four years. I am falling on the Fabulous Freddie Freeman category and am calling his 2012 the fluke. We shall see in the coming years how correct I am...or not.