Saturday, March 01, 2014

Getting the job done in baseball

There are many passions in my life. I obviously love baseball. But there is also history, genealogy, gardening, golfing, the origin of words, etc. Since there did not seem like anything better to do on the freezing cold March Saturday, I thought I would combine a couple of my passions for this post. This one is about names and where they came from.
The origin of names has always been a passion of mine. Surnames did not just spring up out of nowhere. They often described where a person was from, what he did, who his clan was, who his father was and many more. For example, in Swedish culture, Eric Pederson was Peder's son and his son would be Ericson.
I have watched a lot of baseball in my time and read a million box scores. Those surnames confront me on a daily basis. So I figured I would channel my inner @dianagram and list them out for you. Who knows, this could either bore you to tears or be mildly interesting. I will go alphabetically because it is easier.
Jeff Ballard - a ballard master was in charge of arranging the ballast in the holds of ships. Jeff, one of the most popular Orioles ever, was a ballast that held steady the Orioles' rotation in 1989.
Len Barker - A barker was originally a tanner since tanning leather used the bark of trees to do the job. Later it became a word for a pitchman and barkers can still be found at fairs around the country. Not too many people tanned Len Barker fastballs.
Trevor Bauer - A bauer was a farmer and Trevor keeps getting sent to the farm club. Maybe someday the former #1 draft pick will put it together and reap a harvest from his pitching.
Mike Baxter - A baxter was a baker. So Mike scored 26 runs in 2012, or two baker's dozens.
Chief Bender - A bender cut leather or was a bent wooder, a guy who made wood parts. Bender, a Hall of Fame pitcher from the dead ball era sort of fits those descriptions.
Emilio Bonifacio - A boniface was an innkeeper. And I'm sure Bonifacio has stayed at his share of inns during his career.
John Bowker - a bowker bleached yarn for a living. Alternatively, in some parts of a old England, a bowker was a butcher. John Bowker spent most of his short career on the bench, so he heard his share of yarns.
Smokey Burgess - A burgess represented a borough at official functions. Smokey, who had a long, eighteen-year career, usually represented the pitcher when he pinch hit for him.
Gary Carter / Carter Capps - A carter carted things around in his cart. A carman was similar and we'll let Don Carman do that for us. A cartwright made carts, but certainly did not invent baseball.
Yurendell de Caster - A caster made small bottles. Yurendell made just two small Major League at bats in 2006, but is still playing in the Mexican and independent leagues.
Joba Chamberlain - A chamberlain was a steward for royalty. Mariano Rivera could be considered royalty, could he not?
Happy Chandler - A chandler was a dealer or a trader, which suits Happy to a tee since he was voted into the Hall of Fame as a baseball executive.
Aroldis Chapman - A chapman was a peddler. Aroldis peddled himself after he defected from Cuba.
Lou Collier / Zach Collier - A collier worked on a coal barge, which could not have been too pleasant. Zach Collier has been a disappointment for the Phillies since they drafted him in the first round several years ago. He ended up hitting in the minors like Lou did in the Majors.
Dexter Fowler - A dexter was a dyer and a fowler was a keeper or catcher of birds. We have a jackpot here with two occupation names in one guy. And Fowler has caught his share of fly balls hit by Cardinals.
Bob Feller - A feller cut wood. Mr. Feller broke more than his share of bats with his fastball.
Darrin Fletcher - A fletcher made arrows. There have been nine Fletchers in the Major Leagues. Darrin, who had a long career, is the most recent. The Royals have a minor league player named Brian Fletcher.
Vern Fuller / Larry Walker / Michael Tucker - Fullers, walkers and tuckers were all occupations involving cloth. Tucker has become popular as a first name and there are six such first named players in the minor leagues right now.
Jeff Granger / Wayne Granger - A granger was another word for farmer.
Ben Grieve - A grieve or greave would have been a bailiff, foreman or a sheriff.
Eric Hacker - A hacker made hoes.
Bryce Harper - A harper played the harp, something  I cannot imagine Bryce ever doing.
Bob Horner - A horner made cutlery, handles or combs, mostly from horns as you can imagine.
Wally Joyner - A joyner or joiner were skilled carpenters.
Wee Willie Keeler - A keeler was a barge man or worked on coal riverboats.
Braden Looper - A looper operated a looping machine to close the opening in the toe of seamless hose or to join knitted garment parts. Braden Looper was a closer, so that works.
Sean Marshall or Brett Marshall - A marshall was a horse doctor or shoesmith.
Jordy Mercer - A mercer was a seller of cloth.
John Milner - A milner worked in a mill.
Paul Molitor - A molitor was a miller by trade.
Al Nipper - A nipper was a boy who assisted a wagoner by delivering or picking up goods.
Jarrod Parker - A parker was a park keeper.  Jarrod tries to keep things in the park.
Scott Proctor - A proctor was a university official.
Mark Redman - A redman maintained passages in mines.
Bob Skinner - A skinner was a mule driver or delivered hides. Bob wasn't mule-headed.
Joe Tinker - A tinker was a pots and pans dealer or a knife sharpener. Or he finished with Evers and Chance.
Bill Travers - A travers was a toll collector on bridges. He was rarely popular.
Jacob Turner / Justin Turner - A turner was a lathe worker.
Adam Wainwright - A wainwright was a master builder of wagons or wains. Adam now often carts the Cardinals on his back.
There you have it. By the way, a tasker was a common farm laborer and when I did the family genealogy, that is what my ancestors did generation after generation. How boring!
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

If wishes were fishes, Brian Dozier

A happy employee is always a good thing and the employee wanting to continue to stay where he enjoys working is refreshing for a team like the Twins whose teams have not exactly been in the hunt in recent seasons. So it is good that Brian Dozier is happy and having a good time. Yet, despite his exciting and unexpected first full season, there is no incentive for the Twins club to get too far ahead of itself despite Dozier's wish for a extended contract.
Whether you believe or's valuation systems--which differ on Dozier's value in 2013 by a win--Dozier did have a very good year. Depending on the site, Dozier was a 2.8 or a 3.8 WAR player worth either $14 or $19 million. Based on a season like that, it might be tempting to think that locking him up long-term would be a good idea.
But we are not talking Trout here. These are the cheap seasons teams count on long before a player becomes even arbitration eligible and the Twins will be just fine in paying $550,000 for that kind of value. And who could blame them? That is the system in place: Maximize value in the controllable years and then try not to overpay when the player gets the leverage.
Besides, no one saw this coming from Brian Dozier. Yeah, he had a .779 career OPS in the minors, so .726 in 2013 should not be that shocking. The average was stunted from his minor league days at .244, but the 18 homers were a big surprise. He was a good, all-around solid player at a skill position. He ran the bases well, fielded surprisingly well for moving from his natural position of shortstop to second base. And he hit for pop. What's not to like?
And as good as it was, his season still feels a bit unlucky. His batting average on balls in play was only .278, far below the league average despite having a decent 20.8% line drive percentage. Dozier's BABIP on line drives was .604, well below the league average of .674. He also pops up to the infield more than you would like to see happen.
If you normalize Dozier's BABIP for 2013, he would have hit .262 instead of .246 and his on-base percentage would be .325 instead of the .312 that it was.
Despite those observations, the projection systems are low on Brian Dozier. Only one predict him to hit above .250. Only one predict an OBP as high as 2013 and only two expect his slugging percentage to stay above .400. I expect Dozier to beat those numbers and to repeat or better his value in 2014.
Part of the reason is that I see the growth in his game. In his 81 games in 2012, Dozier swung at 33% of pitches thrown to him out of the strike zone. That same statistic was 23.1% last season. That is quite an improvement.  And while 10 of his 18 homers were on the road, he still had a slugging percentage over .400 at home, which is pretty impressive for a second baseman considering his home park.
Despite my optimism for Dozier in 2014, I still do not think the Twins have any compelling reason to even talk about an extension at this point. By the time Dozier gets any leverage, he will be pushing 30-years-old and we'll see how he is doing then. The system is set up for the teams to get a great rate on value in a player's controllable years so even if Brian Dozier has enough wishes to fill the sea with fishes, he should continue to build his case for his leverage years.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is Will Venable vulnerable to regression?

Being an East Coast writer sometimes makes it difficult to appreciate or notice players from the other coast. After all, most of their games are starting just when I am thinking about going to bed. I would like to think that I keep track of what's going on pretty well still. But I question that when looking at Will Venable's 2013 season and being surprised at the numbers I saw there. Once discovered, the obvious question is whether he can repeat those numbers.
First off, let me say that I have always rooted for Will Venable. I have a soft spot for the offspring of players that I have watched in the past. I saw Max Venable, Will's dad, play and that automatically makes me interested in Will. More on Max in a second.
J. Baumann of has already written a fairly comprehensive piece on Venable and strongly believes in regression for 2014. I wish I had not read it because I like to make up my own mind. But many of you might be like me and will be surprised by Venable's 2013 season, so let's look at some of the numbers.
So what were the surprises I found with Will Venable's season? The first thing I noticed were the stolen bases. I had no idea he was so good at doing that. Venable has stolen more than twenty bases in a season for four straight years. Not only that, he is very good at it.
Venable's success rate of stealing bases for his career is 81.8%. That is fantastic. What I love is that his father was good at stealing bases too. Despite Max being more of a utility player, he stole at a 78% success rate. Combine them both and they, as a family, have been successful for 80.5% of the time stealing bases. I wondered if that was some kind of record (minimum 200 attempts).
My first look was at the two Tim Raines. And stopped dead there as that family's combined percentage was like 84.5% or something. But still, the Venables have done alright stealing bases.
The other thing to look at with Will Venable was his sudden power surge in 2013. In Venable's first five years, he hit 45 homers in 1,582 plate appearances or 2.8%. He hit 22 in just 481 plate appearances in 2013 or  4.6%. That's quite a jump.
The jump is also reflected in his home run to fly ball rate. For his first five years combined, his rate was 10.7%. That figure jumped to 19.8%. Baumann explains part of that (at least) by the change in the dimensions of Petco Field where the right field fences were brought in before the 2013 season. All but one of Venable's homers were pulled to right field.
Baumann also focuses on Venable's success against left-handed pitchers in 2013, something he was abysmal at for most of his career as a left-handed batter. In that piece, Baumann buys somewhat Venable's account of his new stance and the work he had done with hitting coach, Phil Plantier. But you have to wonder if that new found success was the fluke or what the five years before of futility against left-handers more indicative of what to expect moving forward.
The thing about Venable is the contradictions. For the past three seasons, Venable has had a high line drive rate, so you would think his batting average would be higher than his high of in the .260s range. He also has a moderately high BABIP rate for the last three years as you would expect from those line drives. But why isn't the average higher?
You would think that, since he pulls the ball so often, his ground ball BABIP would be low, but it is fairly healthy at .242.
The low average, then, must be in part because he swings at a lot of balls out of the strike zone (37% in 2013) and his high strikeout rate (22.9%). If he was more selective, he would have a better chance at more quality contact.
I can see why Will Venable would be excited about what occurred last year. From appearances, something clicked for him in July and after a putrid first half, he had an wOBA of .388 in the second half good for an OPS in that half of over .900.
But a lot of the fluctuation seemed to be tied to his BABIP, which was extremely high (even for him) at .375 for the half. And he regressed in September after BABIPs through the roof in July and August. Much of the rest of his numbers were similar. He hit eleven homers in the first half and eleven again in the second. He struck out just as much in the first as in the second.
Venable is a nice player overall. He is a good base runner and plays center field very well. He will give you a wins above replacement somewhere between two and three wins. But his lack of plate discipline will not change much and even seems to be heading in the wrong direction. I root for him for the reasons stated above. But I don't see 2014 being as good for him as 2013. But that's why they play the games.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Billy Hamilton better hit .280 or higher

Billy Hamilton played thirteen games at the Big League level in 2013. And yet the accumulated 19.4% of the Cincinnati Reds' stolen bases for the season. So I get why the Reds are excited about having the rookie leading off and creating havoc for the other teams. The question is whether he will get on base enough to make that big of an impact.
Shin-Soo Choo got on base an incredible 300 times last season (162 hits, 112 walks and 26 HBPs). And while I believe Choo had a career year (read: outlier), of all the projections for Hamilton I have looked at, the highest projected number of times on base for Billy Hamilton was by ZiPS at 192 times.
And even with ZiPS being the most generous of the systems with times on base, that system only gave him an on-base percentage of .319. Such a low on-base percentage simply is not high enough.
Let's look at it another way. Of all the times the Reds got on base last season, 34.4% of those base runners scored. Choo's rate was higher at 35.7%. If we apply even Choo's higher rate (by the quality of the hitters behind him), then if Hamilton gets on base 192 times, he will score roughly 69 times, or 38 times less than Choo did a year ago.
The cast around Hamilton for the Reds is pretty much the same as what was in their lineup a year ago. Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips might have better years. Or they might not. Even if they do, it will be difficult to make up for 38 less runs scored from the top of your lineup.
Billy Hamilton played 502 games in the minor leagues. For the sum total of those games, he batted .280 which gave him a .350 OBP. That would definitely work for the Reds if he could do that. The one problem is that he stumbled at the highest level of Triple-A. In 504 plate appearances in Triple-A, his OBP was .308. That definitely will not cut it for the Reds. I believe that is what troubled the projection systems the most. Well...computers are not troubled, they just spit out stuff based on past history.
Of course, baseball is not just about hitting and scoring runs. There is also preventing runs scored by the other teams. The news is much better there concerning Billy Hamilton. Everyone acknowledges that Choo was miscast as a center fielder last season and his defensive numbers showed the problem.
According to the defensive numbers, Choo cost his team between 1.5 and 1.9 wins last season. Hamilton could go as high as the positive number above replacement. In other words, his defensive could mean a three-win swing over Choo just by chasing down outs in the outfield.
Comparing Hamilton to Choo of last season is probably not fair. Choo had such a good year that most lead-off batters would pale in comparison. Choo was worth 4.2 rWAR or 5.2 fWAR (whichever your preference) while the most generous projection for Hamilton is a 2.5 WAR. In other words, his defense will not make up for the lack of offense.
Billy Hamilton will make things exciting on the base paths. He will have spectacular moments there and in the field. The question here is not any of those things. The question is whether he will get on base enough times to be the lead-off batter.
The problem for the Reds is that there is no one else to bat at the top of the order. The team's best on-base guys are Joey Votto, and to a lesser extent, Jay Bruce. You want those two guys batting third and fourth. Nobody else on the team gets on base nearly enough.
Projections are often wrong and Billy Hamilton could be a break-out star. But for that to happen, he needs to bat .280 and get on base at a .340 clip at least. Either way, it will be one of the most fascinating things to watch this season.