Saturday, July 20, 2013

The very strange season of Mike Napoli

After one great year with the Rangers and one successful, but disappointing season, Mike Napoli was going to be one of the Red Sox' big free agent signings. And then a physical detected a chronic hip ailment despite Napoli feeling just fine. Instead of a three year deal for big bucks, Mike Napoli still signed with the Red Sox for only $5 million, which has been a bargain. Despite the health concerns, Napoli has still managed a .344 wOBA and a 113 wRC+. The strange thing about Napoli's season is how he has arrived there.

Everything about Napoli's season is weird. All his peripherals seem out of whack with what he has traditionally done before. The most obvious statistic, of course, is the strikeouts. Mike Napoli has become a strikeout machine. His 123 whiffs lead the American League. Napoli has always been prone to the strikeout, but it was generally in the mid-20% range. His career strikeout percentage is 26.4%, a number that has gone up with a big uptick in K's the last two seasons.

Napoli has good plate discipline. He does not swing at pitches out of the strike zone with regularity. And that has remained constant. But his strikeout percentage has still risen over the past two years. Last year, he finished with a whiff rate of 30%. This year, he is at a career high of 33.5%. His swing and miss rate of 13.1% is also a career high. And pitchers are pitching him differently. They have thrown first pitch strikes 60% of the time on Napoli, also a career high for him.

So the strikeouts are up...way up. And his walk percentage is down. During Napoli's two seasons in Texas, his walk percentage was exactly the same in both seasons at 13.4%. That seems like a pretty constant and would thus be predictable this season. But instead, his walk rate is down to 10.4%, a number that is below his career average too.

So his strikeouts are way up. His walks are down. And yet, he has nearly the same exact on-base percentage as last year at .343. Very strange. How can his on-base percentage stay the same when he strikes out more and walks less? His batting average is higher...32 points higher than last season. 

And why is his batting average higher? The answer lies in his BABIP, which is sitting at an incredibly high .382. Why is his BABIP so high? Luck? Perhaps some. But his BABIP is high because his line drive percentage has gone all Willy Wonka. 

Mike Napoli has a career line drive percentage of 19.4%. His highest line drive total was in 2010 at 19.7%. This season, Napoli has gone all Votto on us and his line drive percentage is at 26.7%!

So let's review what we have so far. Mike Napoli is striking out more, walking less and yet hitting ropes when he does make contact. Is that weird enough for one article? Wait, there is more.

For his career, 19.7% of Mike Napoli's fly balls have gone over the fence for homers. That figure was over 25% in both seasons for Texas. In his season with the Angels, that figure was at 19.5%. That is a pretty consistent homer to fly ball rate and one you can count on, right? Wrong. His homer to fly ball rate this season sits at 14.5%.

And because of his lower homer to fly ball rate, Mike Napoli's slugging percentage is his lowest since his second season in 2007 and his OPS currently is the lowest of his career. Add in another head scratching statistic. 

I will add in one more final one to finish out my point that Napoli is having a strange season. Napoli is playing more first base. In fact, he has nearly tripled his innings at first over any other season. The experience may in part explain why his UZR at first was -1.2 and -2.1 over the last two seasons, only to jump up to a plus six this season. Suddenly, he has become a first base whiz?

So how do you predict the rest of the season based on that hot mess? Well, here is my take. He will walk slightly more, strike out just as often, hit less line drives, but hit much more homers in the second half. All that said, his batting average will go down, his OPS will remain the same and his slugging percentage will go up. In other words, if some of his peripherals go back to his normal ranges, he will still improve slightly in OPS and wOBA and will be more than worth the $5 million the Red Sox paid for him.

MLB Game Picks - Saturday: July 20, 2013

Last night's picks were like Julio Teheran's season. I would "win" one pick and then "lose" one. And that pattern kept up all night until near the end, I finally got two in a row to finish just one pick over .500. It was not a great start to the post-All Star Break. And the Game of the Day pick was wrong too, which has been rare lately as the Twins beat the Indians.

And how unexplainable is baseball when the Royals and Ervin Santana shut out the Tigers, 1-0, on two hits?

Oh well, back to the drawing board. Here are Saturday's picks:

  • The Phillies over the Mets: Jeremy Hefner let me down yesterday. Here I go writing a glowing article about him and he gets crushed. With that painful memory in mind, I am not going to pick Zack Wheeler and will instead go with Cole Hamels, who is finally starting to win some games.
  • The White Sox over the Braves: The White Sox will have a nice day off of Paul Maholm and Jake Peavy is back in the rotation to shut down the Braves.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Now Almonte is hurt. The Yankees have had lots of luck, but it has been all bad. And yet Fox is still broadcasting the game because it is, "The Rivalry." The news is, Fox, that the Yankees have become the least entertaining club on the planet. Have fun making this one shine. John Lackey over Hiroki Kuroda.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: Oh dear, here we go. Pirate angst will start to build. When is the last time A.J. Burnett won a game? It seems like forever. Mat Latos hasn't had any trouble winning at all. This one is all Reds.
  • The Dodgers over the Nationals: It is time to face facts. The Nats are not going to come back, are they? They just cannot put it together. Meanwhile, the Dodgers cannot seem to lose lately. Zack Greinke over Gio Gonzalez.
  • The Indians over the Twins: The Indians sure are confusing. Are they a good team? Can they contend? One day you say yes and the next you say no. Corey Kluber is just as perplexing. There are times he looks unbeatable and others where he gets knocked silly. I still think he is a better pick than Kevin Correia.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Will Justin Verlander look anything like Justin Verlander? If so, will the Tigers score off of Jeremy Guthrie? The questions abound. The Tigers should win. But that is what I said yesterday.
  • The Brewers over the Marlins: Nathan Eovaldi has pitched really well thus far for the Marlins. But can you believe in it? I cannot. He still seems like a 4-A pitcher to me. Yovani Gallardo is solid at home and the only question is whether he will be traded.
  • The Mariners over the Astros: Bud Norris sure made a case for himself yesterday to get traded. Not. Erik Bedard will not be coveted by anyone. Perhaps the rest has been good for Hisashi Iwakuma who had a rough patch there for a while.
  • The Cardinals over the Padres: The Cards' bullpen was awful yesterday and they still won easily. Lance Lynn is better than Jake Westbrook, who won. So you should figure on Lynn winning too. Edinson Volquez has been better this year though.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: This is the same way I picked the game yesterday and the Cubs won. But Jeff Samardzija is capable of a shutdown game and he had one. I am not so sure Carlos Villanueva can do the same. Juan Nicasio goes for the Rockies.
  • The Orioles over the Rangers: Picking against the Orioles like I did yesterday is not a good way to have success. The Orioles are a good team all around and it is okay if Chris Davis strikes out three times in four at bats. There are others that can pick him up. Miguel Gonzalez over Ross Wolf.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: The Giants' pitching is rounding into form finally and Matt Cain should keep that going today. Wade Miley can have a good game, but he is nowhere near where he was last year.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: Josh Hamilton is slowing putting it together. This pick totally depends on C.J. Wilson having a good game. That is not comforting. Dan Straily sure has been good for a guy who cannot stick in the A's rotation for very long.

And the Game of the Day:
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: I thought the Jays were going to win yesterday. But then the Rays hit four solo homers to tie and then pull away to win. Jeremy Hellickson has been solid for a month and a half now and should win this one unless Mark Buehrle has a good BABIP game.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 16-15
Month: 127-86
Season: 804-622
Games of the Day: 63-41

Friday, July 19, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Friday: July 19, 2013

And on the fifth day, he said, "Let there be baseball," and then there was baseball. The All Star Break is finally over and once again, the grand game of baseball gets back into the swing of things on a relentless pace that will not end until the end of October.

I kept a four year tradition of picking the All Star Game incorrectly. Hey, if you are only going to have one game to pick in a four day span, you might as well get it wrong. Home field advantage in the World Series can make a huge difference though, so the American League gets the nod this year.

Just to make sure today is not like some opening day like feel, every team is in action and they are all night games. I am back in the saddle and these are your Friday picks:

  • The Nationals over the Dodgers: This is a big game for both teams. Both would like to make a charge in the second half and get where they were predicted to get by the end. Ricky Nolasco has been good for the Dodgers. And I am sure he feels like he has a new life. Stephen Strasburg will need to come up big in the second half for the Nats. Going with the home team.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: Another round in the battle of the Ays. The Blue Jays will have a big say in who is going to win the AL East and wild cards. And they are not going to be easy to beat at home. But on any given day, you have to pick David Price over Esmil Rogers.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Why do the Yankees have to wait until Monday to get A-Rod back? I will never understand how long these rehab things take. Will Jeter be back tonight? No word on that yet. With those questions unanswered, the fact remains that lefties are fatal for the current Yankees. Felix Doubront over Andy Pettitte.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: The Phillies still think they have playoff aspirations. I will believe it when I see it. Other than Domenic Brown, what is there? Jeremy Hefner over Kyle Kendrick.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: A very interesting match-up. Mike Leake is unpredictable but has been more good than bad. Francisco Liriano has been very good but the memories of his meltdowns are hard to forget. I am going with the Reds at home.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: Wei-Yin Chen came back from the disabled list with a very effective game last time out. So this pick might end up paying for it if the Rangers cannot score. But Derek Holland is also capable of shutting down the Orioles too. Another interesting game.
  • The Braves over the White Sox: The Braves get an extra hitter (is Gattis back?) and have Tim Hudson on the mound. John Danks has looked pretty good since coming back, but his mates have to score. Hudson is the deciding factor.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: I would normally always pick Anibal Sanchez over Ervin Santana. But if this game stays close, the Royals have the better bullpen. It probably won't stay close.
  • The Brewers over the Marlins: Jacob Turner has been very good for the Marlins and looks like he might be on his way to fulfilling his promise. But I like the old pro, Kyle Lohse at home in Milwaukee too much to pick against him.
  • The Astros over the Mariners: The last two times I have picked against Joe Saunders, I have paid for it. But I am a stubborn coot. Not that I like Bud Norris that much better, but at home, he has a chance and Houston has a bigger right-field porch than left.
  • The Cardinals over the Padres: Jason Marquis has not won a game in a month and four days. But the Cardinals' old friend has not pitched badly. His team has not scored for him. Jake Westbrook at least gives the Padres a fighting chance. But I still like the Cardinals at home.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Jeff Samardzija did not look good at all in his last start. He got rocked in fact. Following up that performance at Coors Field does not make me feel at all like that will go well either. Jorge De La Rosa knows how to pitch at Coors.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: A.J. Griffin, like the A's has been on a bit of a roll. But I would have to think twice or three times before picking against Jered Weaver at home. The Angels' ace has been awfully quiet this summer. I think he will be loud in the second half.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Chad Gaudin. I am picking Chad Gaudin? Oy. But he is at home and the Diamondbacks are pitching Ian Kennedy who has not looked good at all. Kennedy does have a bit of a history having big second halves though.

And the Game of the Day:
  • The Indians over the Twins: I went with Scott Kazmir in his last outing and he rewarded me for the pick. So I am sticking with him this outing too. The Twins counter with Mike Pelfrey who needs a whole lot of "at em" balls to succeed.

The All Star Game: 0-1
Week: 8-8
Month: 119-79
Season: 796-615
Games of the Day: 63-40

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Tuesday: July 16, 2013

The All Star Game is tonight and I supposed I should pick who is going to win. After all, the road to October starts here. That was only slightly sarcastic. Home field advantage in the World Series is sort of a big deal. We could debate whether something so important should be decided by an exhibition game. I would be against the idea. But there it is. Despite having to get most of the players in the game, the managers also have to try to win it. Good luck with all of that.

Most of these games are decided early. Whichever starter is not effective will lose the game. The NL has jumped into an early lead in recent years and that lead has held up. The addition in recent years of lots of relief specialists has greatly changed the nature of the game. Having a starter warm up in a position he is unaccustomed is totally different than a pitcher who does it for a living. Frankly, only one or two relievers should be allowed on each team and that is it. But that is not the way it is.

The All Star Game pick:

  • The National League over the American League: My gut feeling here is that Matt Harvey will come out smoking in his home park and blitz the AL hitters. Meanwhile, like his teammate, Justin Verlander, before him, Max Scherzer gets beat up early by NL hitters who build a lead they will not relinquish.

Sunday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 119-78
Season: 796-624
Games of the Day: 63-40

Sunday, July 14, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Sunday: July 14, 2013

Today is the last day of the supposed first half. The first half actually ended just a little while ago. But just about everyone separates the season into before the All Star Break and after. The "before" part ends today and the only night game is at Wrigley Field, which is ironic if you think about it.

As for me, I will get a few days of a break from game picking (I will pick the All Star Game) and perhaps I can sleep an extra hour in the mornings for a few days. That will be nice. Today and yesterday I had to get up extra early because of a golf tournament I am playing this weekend. The first day did not go well and today is just one of those going through the motion days. Oh well.

And the picks sort of just went through the motions yesterday. In sixteen games, I only finished two games over the .500 mark. Here are Sunday's picks:

  • The Indians over the Royals: The Royals will be glad that the first half is over as it did not go as well as hoped. One of the reasons it did not has been James Shields who pitches today. I think Swisher and Santana will get to him. The pick could go to pieces if Ubaldo Jimenez does not do well.
  • The Yankees over the Twins: This pick did not go well yesterday as Phil Hughes did what Phil Hughes does at Yankee Stadium (give up homers). Today should feature a good game from CC Sabathia and even though the Yankees will make Kyle Gibson look better than he is, they should win.
  • The Tigers over the Rangers: This pick is another that did not go well yesterday. Scherzer finally lost. But Justin Verlander should have a good day at home and Martin Perez cannot be as good as he has been pitching.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: I do not believe in either pitcher this game. Henderson Alvarez goes for the Fish and Taylor Jordan for the Nats. It will be a BABIP game and whichever pitcher finds more gloves with his batted balls wins.
  • The Phillies over the White Sox: The left-handed Cole Hamels should be tougher on the White Sox than yesterday's two starters. Jose Quintana is not that bad a pitcher, but will have no run support.
  • The Reds over the Braves: Sometimes you have to go with a pattern even if it is not logical. Julio Teheran has not won back to back games all season. He won his last start, so the pattern says he should not win today. That is good enough for me. Tony Cingrani for the win.
  • The Pirates over the Mets: Dillon Gee will keep the Mets in the game and give them a chance to win. Gerrit Cole has lost two straight, but that is because of poor run support and not a lack of good pitching. Cole will come out on top today.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Scott Feldman has had a decent season. But if you look at his game log, all of his bad outings have come against good offenses like the Cardinals, Reds and Rangers. So that doesn't give me confidence to pick him today against the Blue Jays. I think Josh Johnson will fare better against the Orioles.
  • The Rays over the Astros: I think Chris Archer and Erik Bedard are about equal as pitchers. Archer is much younger and now has the better arm. I am going with the home team, which is also the better team.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: And yet another Brandon makes the Majors as Brandon Workman has already gotten his MLB debut in a relief appearances. He has a good arm, but his first outing did not go well. He will do better preparing for a start. The biggest reason for this pick is that, even though Bartolo Colon has been fantastic, leave it to the Red Sox to give him his first clunker of a start.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: The M's might as well finish off the sweep and end the Angels' first half on a fitting note. Hisashi Iwakuma has not had an effective start in a while. That will happen today. Joe Blanton will find some bats to hit.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers will finish the first half with notice that they will be the team to beat in the second half. Ricky Nolasco basks again in the California sun and Jhoulys Chacin, who has had a good season, gets the hard luck loss.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Brewers: My crystal ball says that Ian Kennedy will hit Ryan Braun, Braun will charge the mound and get suspended before he gets suspended. That would be silly, no? Anyway, Wily Peralta has not pitched well except, perhaps, for his last start.
  • The Giants over the Padres: Barry Zito will not no-hit the Padres like yesterday's Lincecum start, but he should win the game. Eric Stults is finally getting in my radar with his win-loss timing.

And the Game of the Day!
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: Adam Wainwright pitching today means that he will probably not pitch in the All Star Game, which is kind of a shame as he has been the NL's best pitcher. But he should win his thirteenth game tonight against the Cubs despite a very good Travis Wood pitching for the Cubbies.

Yesterday: 9-7
Last week: 61-39
Month: 111-71
Season: 788-617
Games of the Day: 62-40