Saturday, July 19, 2014

MLB Game Picks - Saturday: July 19, 2014

Did you soak it in last night when baseball finally got back to our living rooms or at the ballpark? I know I did. And it was a fairly good day. Heck, any day of a baseball season where I am in the black is a good day. I needed a walk-off by Josh Donaldson and a bullpen meltdown by the Orioles, but I'll take it.
That's the one problem with doing this and also by playing fantasy baseball: You end up happy when you know the heartbreak the fans for those teams are feeling. Oh well, it goes with the job description I suppose.
Saturday's picks:
  • The Yankees over the RedsBrandon McCarthy will make his presence felt and the Yankees will score enough on Alfredo Simon to make it work out. Simon is due for a loss and the Yankees are going to start playing better at home.
  • The Blue Jays over the Rangers: The Rangers probably got the only win they will get this series. It is not safe for children when Colby Lewis pitches and Marcus Stroman will take care of what little offense the Rangers have.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: These two teams are playing two games today. In the first game, the Tigers will give Drew VerHagen his MLB debut. His MiLB numbers are not overpowering and he is not considered a top prospect. So Corey Kluber is the pick.
  • The Dodgers over the CardinalsJoe Kelly wasn't great his first game back from the DL. I am a little worried about Zack Greinke getting Cardinals out, but his pitch count should stay in control since the Cards are a bit swing-happy.
  • The Pirates over the Rockies: While I am not a big fan of Charlie Morton, I am going to pick him because nothing good ever happens when Brett Anderson pitches.
  • The Nationals over the Brewers: Strasburg got me again last night. But Tanner Roark has been good to me this season. So I am going with him over Matt Garza. The Brewers look better after the break. They were a bit moribund before it.
  • The Astros over the White SoxDallas Keuchel has given up at least four runs in his last four starts. But being lefty, he does pose a problem for Dunn and Adam Eaton. I think the Astros' young hitters will star in this game against Hector Noesi.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: The Red Sox will force Danny Duffy's pitch count up early and then feast on the middle relievers. Rubby De La Rosa needs to have a good game or this pick blows up. Until the Royals get a new manager, I will always find it hard to pick them.
  • The Braves over the PhilliesCole Hamels is 11-19 in his last 49 starts for the Phillies despite pitching well. So 38 of his last 49 games have either been losses or no decisions. Poor blighter. I'm going with the Braves and Aaron Harang.
  • The Marlins over the GiantsHenderson Alvarez is always a good choice at home. He does have to face Tim Hudson though. Hudson has been shaky in his last few starts, but he is one of the best of his generation.
  • The Rays over the Twins: Everything in this game points to a Rays' win. That's what scares me. David Price is on the mound and he has been terrific. Phil Hughes might run into a few bats, particularly Ben Zobrist or Matt Joyce.
  • The Diamondbacks over the CubsWade Miley has been on a nice run and seems back from the dead. Travis Wood is only throwing 88 MPH fastballs these days and hasn't had a great game in a while.
  • The Mets over the Padres: In all the years I have been doing this, Dillon Gee has been my lucky charm. Picking him hardly ever goes against me. Of course, I probably just jinxed myself. Tyson Ross goes for the Padres.
  • The Athletics over the OriolesWei-Yin Chen has done nothing but win games this season. But I like Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris against him today. Jason Hammel has to pitch well.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: This one will be fun to watch! Felix Hernandez versus Garrett Richards. Both pitchers are 11-2. Both have been dominant. I'm going with the Angels because The King has been mostly just so-so against the Angels in his career. Huston Street closes the game?
And the Game of the Day:
  • The Tigers over the Indians: The Tigers take the second game behind Max Scherzer who gets Zach McAllister for an opponent. Scherzer has been on a roll.
Yesterday: 9-6, July: 115-86, Games of the Day: 56-44, Season: 798-661

Friday, July 18, 2014

Waiting for the regression of Matt Adams

After the 2013 season, it seemed impossible that Allen Craig would be an afterthought this season as Matt Adams has taken over the darling position as the Cardinals favorite flavor on offense. And rightly so. While Craig has had a hard time getting going this season, Adams has taken the world by storm by batting .325 with .532 slugging percentage and an impressive .376 wOBA. But there are things about some of Adams' underlying stats that make one feel uneasy that he can maintain that kind of production.
First, the admission has to be made that Adams has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, the opposite has been true. Every month of his season thus far has been outstanding. So this isn't some kind of hot streak come lately. He has been the team's most consistent offensive presence all season. But again, things don't look right behind his success.
The first problem to be had with his statistics is his plate discipline. He has none. Adams has walked nine times all season for a paltry 2.8% walk rate. He is tied for second of all qualified players as having the lowest walk percentage. And it has come natural as his O-swing rate of 43.7% ranks him third among all qualified players for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.
It would seem likely that as the season goes on, pitchers would exploit his swing tendency and get him to chase more and more of their pitches instead of his. Why any pitcher would throw him a strike is beyond imagining. In fact, this is Adams' third season and he has never been as swing happy as he has been this year.
Secondly, he leads all of baseball (qualified batters) in BABIP. So more of his batted balls are falling in for hits than anyone else in baseball. His .376 figure with that statistic is not in line with what he did his first two seasons but it should be stated that he is one of those guys whose BABIP rates have always been above the norm.
Part of what is fueling his high average on batted balls is his line drive rate. So that accounts for part of his success. His 24.9% line drive rate is 19th in baseball. If he keeps that up--and it is much higher than his career average--then he can maintain his high average. But his .280 BABIP on ground balls and .214 batting average on fly balls are much higher than the league average.
Two more things bug me a bit about his success rate. Matt Adams still doesn't handle left-handed pitching very well. As he has more success, he will face more lefties. His .598 OPS against lefties this season is only two points higher than his career average of .596. Should the Cardinals continue to run him out there against southpaws?
Lastly, Adams has a huge home/road split difference. The big first baseman has a .980 OPS at home this season and only .773 on the road. While that is consistent with what he has done for his career, you would think, since St. Louis is not in the Rocky Mountains, such a split would level off after a while.
Matt Adams has been a huge plus for the Cardinals thus far this season. He has taken over from Craig as the most talked about member of his team as an offensive player. The belief here is still that Craig is the better bet moving forward for the team in years to come and in the second half.

MLB Game Picks - Friday: July 18, 2014

Yay! Baseball is back! Ever since the All Star Break went to four days, the time in between meaningful games seems like forever. I'm glad the players, umpires and officials get a break. Everyone deserves one. And, in reality, it gave a guy like me who does a daily column like this, a break from getting up early to complete the task. But still, it was a long week pining for the game.
The last we met for this feature was on Sunday and the picks went really well that day with eleven out of fifteen correct. Let's see if the break kept my focus sharp with Friday's picks:
  • The Yankees over the Reds: The Yankees open the post-break with ten straight games at home. In the past that would be a great thing. But this year is odd because the Yankees are losing at home more than on the road. You have to think that trend will reverse eventually. David Phelps has pitched good ball for the last few weeks and all Girardi's bullpen arms will be rested. Mike Leake is pitching fairly well too, but I am predicting two Yankee homers off him.
  • The Rockies over the PiratesFrancisco Liriano has been a mess this season and his first game back from the DL did not show his healing helped any. I'll go instead with Jorge De La Rosa.
  • The Nationals over the Brewers: I never get a 'win' when Stephen Strasburg pitches. And Kyle Lohse is a dependable starter. My thinking here is that the Nats' offense is finally healthy and in place and they will have a big offensive day.
  • The Rangers over the Blue Jays: The key to picking games Yu Darvish pitches is figuring out when outing he has that is going to be dominant. If he walks a lot of guys early, then he usually loses. And his team is really bad this season. I'm thinking he comes up big today and the Rangers score three runs off of R.A. Dickey to win.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: The Tigers have taken over the AL Central and have swatted all pretenders in the last three weeks. Anibal Sanchez is a big reason for that. Trevor Bauer has pitched well, but I think the Tigers will get to him early and fairly often.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Despite the owner's belief that his GM and manager are dreamy as he reiterated during the break, the Royals need new leadership on the field. I have always believed that. James Shields could have a big game, but I doubt it. Clay Buchholz has been really good since he returned from the DL.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: The break might have come at a good time for Nathan Eovaldi as he is in uncharted territory for innings pitched. But I still think that Madison Bumgarner will be better.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: The Phillies got hot at the wrong time right before the break, which will give the team the false hope they can compete instead of blowing it all up. The Braves had a good stretch before the break too. Ervin Santana over A.J. Burnett.
  • The Rays over the TwinsAlex Cobb is a good pitcher with a good strikeout rate. Kyle Gibson is a good pitcher without a good strikeout rate. I trust the former rather than the latter.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: I still have this belief that the Cardinals are going to take off one of these days and take over the NL Central. That's why I pick them most of the time. Lance Lynn has had a very good season. Dan Haren is good too, but the Cards can get to him I think.
  • The Cubs over the DiamondbacksEdwin Jackson was awful in his last outing and said he was embarrassed. Yeah, he is, all the way to the bank. But he'll have one of his once-in-a-while brilliant starts today to beat Trevor Cahill and the D-backs.
  • The Athletics over the Orioles: I am one that doesn't believe that Jeff Samardzija will shine as much for the A's as people think. He can be had and the Orioles have the lineup to get him. But the A's can get to Chris Tillman just as much and are at home.
  • The Mariners over the AngelsHisashi Iwakuma has been brilliant his last three starts and the break had to have been good for his back. The Mariners' offense is still not great, but I think they can get to Jered Weaver enough to support Iwakuma here.
  • The Padres over the Mets: The Padres desperately want Ian Kennedy to have a couple of good starts so they can trade him for some prospects to a contender. So maybe they will get their wish here. Bartolo Colon hasn't been as good lately and face it, he is 41-years-old. Seth Smith has a good game today.
And the Game of the Day:
  • The White Sox over the Astros: I have been singing the praises of Jose Quintana for quite a while now. He is the best 5-7 pitcher in baseball. Scott Feldman hasn't pitched well enough for even the Astros to use him for trade bait.
Sunday: 11-4, July: 106-80, Games of the Day: 55-44, Season: 789-655

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Aaron Hill in the deep valley

Not a whole lot of good things have happened for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. Currently, the team is in last place in the National League West behind the equally disappointing Rockies by a half a game. While there have been many reasons for the stumbling of the Diamondbacks this season, Aaron Hill seems to have become one of the real symbols of a team's fall from respectability. This Hill is in a deep valley.
Aaron Hill has had a weird career, hasn't he? His offense over the years, if plotted on a graph would be up and down in nearly every season he has played. He is one guy where you cannot seem to pin a baseline. His career averages have nothing in common with what he achieves from year to year.
He went from a star with the Blue Jays with an .829 OPS and a .212 ISO in 2009 to a .665 OPS the following season. And just two years ago with the Diamondbacks, Hill put together an .882 OPS with a .220 ISO. His 2012 season is just a dream now that Hill's OPS in 2014 is .639 with an ISO of .122.
While Hill's results went up and down through the years, some of his peripherals remained fairly constant including his walk and strikeout rates and batted ball rates (except for 2010 when he couldn't hit a line drive to save himself). But this year, even some of those constants are off. The bottom line is that at the age of 32, Aaron Hill has really bottomed out and is having a negative season.
Let's look at some of those underlying peripherals to see where Hill has fallen. The first striking example is Aaron Hill's walk rate. Hill has never been a patient hitter. His walk rates have hovered between a 6-8% range with his career average being 6.7%. That is a weakness to his game that has been a constant.
However, this year, this weakness has turned to a lifeblood sucking low. His current walk rate is only 4.7%. Last season, when Hill was injured for much of the season, he compiled 29 walks in 327 plate appearances. This year so far, Hill has walked only 15 times in 344 plate appearances.
Because of his lack of walks, his disappointing .241 batting average is compounded into a .275 on-based percentage this season after finishing last year at .356. The Diamondbacks are 11th of 15 NLteams in team on-base percentage. Hill again is a major symbol of that team failure.
While Hill's walk rate is historically low for him, his strikeout rate is historically high. Hill's strikeout rate has ranged between 10.1% his first season to a high of 15.5% his second season. His average is 13.4%. This season, Hill's strikeout rate is 18.3%, easily the highest of his career.
If you were to look at his success rate against certain pitches over the years, you can see that Hill had success against the fastball in his career and he has always hit the curve ball well.  His success against all other pitches varies from year to year. This season, Aaron Hill does not have a positive value against any pitch type. That's not a good thing at all.
The troubling part of Hill's season (other than all the other reasons mentioned) is that each month has gotten progressively worse. His monthly OPS totals starting in April were: .722, .700, .549 and .472 so far this month. His BABIP had remained fairly static in the mid-.270 range but has fallen to .206 his month, so some bad luck could be involved in July.
Is Aaron Hill the latest of a list of second basemen who seem to hit the 32 age and lose it? Or can he bounce back again to be a productive player? Hill's defense has also deteriorated and his WAR is at -0.7 at Fangraphs and -0.9 for
Those valuations are not good news to an Arizona team that has $24 million combined invested in Hill's 2015 and 2015 seasons. His current results and relatively high salary would make it difficult for the Diamondbacks to trade him for any kind of value, if at all.
The Diamondbacks have had a really tough season and the bloom is off the rose for a team that made the post season just two seasons ago. And one of the big symbols of the woes this team has faced in 2014 is Aaron Hill. It will remain to be seen if the player or the team can bounce back from such a season.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The two luckiest pitchers of 2014?

We reside in a numbers-driven baseball world where players are no longer measured by wins, losses, runs batted in or batting average. Instead we measure batters by wOBA and WAR and pitchers by FIP and WAR (among others). As such, players who buck the trends and are considered successful in the old way of looking at things compared to the new way end up being considered lucky. Alfredo Simon and Chris Young are the luckiest of this year's pitchers by those standards.
I find some discomfort with that bottom line. Pitchers can have amazingly successful seasons and still not be considered worth very much by today's standards. I should qualify that a little bit and state that and rate pitchers differently. Fangraphs bases their pitching WAR calculations on FIP. B-R does not.
For example, despite amazing success on the field with a 12-3 record and a 2.70 ERA, Fangraphs rates Simon's season thus far as only worth 0.6 fWAR, only the sixth most valuable member of the Reds' pitching staff, while B-R gives him 2.2 rWAR, the second most valuable member of his pitching staff. With each win above replacement worth about $5 million, one system would rate Simon as worth $3.2 million this season while another at $11 million. That's quite a swing. Which is correct?
I wanted to see how rare Simon's and Young's seasons have been thus far. And so I did a search going back to the year 2000 and looking for starting pitchers with more than 100 innings in a season with an ERA less than or equal to a 3.40 ERA while compiling a FIP of 4.30 or higher.
With Simon and Young both in those categories for 2014 (with quite a bit of the season left to go), such seasons have only occurred twelve other times. So we are looking at something quite rare here. Of the twelve (fourteen if you included Young and Simon), only Jeremy Hellickson has done it more than once.
Of all the new statistics--and to reiterate for the thousandth time: I love them!--The devaluation of the win stat for starters does not sit right with me. FIP is a calculation that measures things a pitcher can control such as walks, hit by pitches, strikeouts and homers allowed. A pitcher with high strikeout rates, low walk, homer and HBP rates will score well. A guy with low strikeout rates combined with league average walk and homer rates will score much worse.
But the thing here for me is that I believe that a pitcher can control other things like weak contact instead of strong contact by keeping a batter off balance and getting less than ideal swings.
And so, on the one hand, you have a pitcher who seems to be succeeding despite substandard peripheral stats balanced by the fact that few of these pitchers mentioned in my search can repeat their success. There is a bit of a fluky element to both Young and Simon's seasons. But does that take away the fact that in the majority of their 18 or so starts each, they pitched well enough to win the game?
The interesting thing about Alfredo Simon is that he scored similarly last year when he pitched entirely in relief. He pitched 87+ innings in 63 relief appearances and had an ERA of 2.87 with a FIP of 3.96. He has found a way to get MLB hitters out for two seasons in such a way that makes him the non-darling of places like Fangraphs. Last year's season netted Simon a fWAR evaluation of -0.1. A negative worth for 87+ innings of 2.87 ERA?
Let's look at the two pitchers a little more closely. Let's start with Chris Young. As my buddy, Brandon Warne mentioned on Twitter, the guy really has a huge discrepancy between his ERA and FIP.  His ERA is 3.12 and his FIP is 4.95! Whoa.
Young has had several things going for him. First, the greater part of his success has come at home where his fly ball tendencies are a bit forgiven. His BABIP of .206 seems like something that cannot be sustained. Plus, a guy who only has a 1.66 strikeout to walk ratio still has managed to strand 82.7% of the base runners he has allowed. Neither look good for long term success.
But then again, Young has a .248 career BABIP against. That is amazingly low for the amount he has pitched over the years. I would lean on his second half being a bit rockier than his first half. I think we have already seen some of that happening in his last few starts.
Let's go back to Alfredo Simon. His BABIP against has been .232 after a career mark of .277. Both are lower than average, but much lower this year. His strand rate is even more remarkable than Young's at 85.1%. Simon's K/BB ratio is better too at 2.68, but still not amazing.  Simon is a remarkable 12-3 thus far. It may be lucky, but that is still twelve times that he has pitched better than his opponent has.
The season is not yet over and over a third of the games remain to be played. But as of right now, of those fourteen pitcher seasons I spoke of earlier, Young and Simon have the lowest OPS against of any of the other twelve. Simon's is .637 while Young's is .659. Fluke or not, that is dealing.
Here is something else to think about. Seattle and Cincinnati or one and two respectively out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency. For two pitchers that allow a lot of contact, great fielders support them in both cases and that has to remove some of the fluke factor.
Alfredo Simon and Chris Young might be having very fortunate seasons and perhaps you can say statistically--or at least make the argument--that the results they have achieved have been better than they have pitched. Or you can say, "Man, they have 2o wins between them at the half and that sure has helped their teams stay in the race." I'll leave it up to you and smarter people to decide.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

MLB Game Picks - Sunday: July 13, 2014

After a terrific picking day on Friday, much was expected on Saturday. But the day went downhill fast and never recovered. Paul Maholm!? Are you serious? The Padres must be really, really bad. I knew Wade Miley was hot and chose not to pick him. I should have. Shane Greene of the Yankees really surprised me. The Red Sox loss surprised me. Miami's bullpen should not surprise me. Tom Koehler deserved better. But this picker didn't. Lots of stupid picks too.
Sadly, this will be the last game picks post until Friday as this All Star Break thing now extends four days. I'll miss it. Sunday's picks:
  • The Indians over the White Sox: I'm confused about which is the better team here. I think psychologically, I still view the White Sox through last year's prism. The Indians have fallen back to the point where the two teams are probably even. Still, the Indians are a good home team. Trevor Bauer over John Danks.
  • The Mets over the Marlins: The Mets do have problems against lefties, but Brad Hand isn't one of the really good ones. Plus, the team has been on a roll. I'll go with Jacob deGrom over Hand to win.
  • The Reds over the PiratesJohnny Cueto hasn't been the lock that he was earlier in the season. But I do think he will prevail today. Francisco Liriano returns for the Pirates. We'll find out if that is a good thing for them or bad.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: I like Tanner Roark. He is not consistent. But you can see the potential there. Kyle Kendrick is a decent starter for the back end of a rotation--nothing more, nothing less.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: The battle of the Ays continues with each team winning a game this series so far. David Price was supposed to go yesterday but was sick. He's not going to be sick today? We'll see. If he is not, he has been terrific lately. R.A. Dickey has been steady.
  • The Red Sox over the Astros: With the team's first loss after the Pierzynski Era ended, the Red Sox should win today behind Clay Buchholz, who seems poised for a good second half. Brad Peacock should not pose problems for the Red Sox.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Yes, Bruce Chen is getting a rare start and yes, he has always been full of strange magic at home his entire career in Kansas City. But Justin Verlander will win this game and then have four days to play with his model. It must be a tough life for him.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: The Brewers are reeling. They are now missing their shortstop after a very sad tragedy. This All Star Break could not come at a better time for them. The Cardinals will prevail as Carlos Martinez is making the most of his chance and will beat Wily Peralta.
  • The Cubs over the BravesTravis Wood just hasn't been as good this year as I expected. He's much better than he has shown. Maybe today he throws a gem. Maybe this pick is because Julio Teheran was so bad his last time out. I shouldn't go by that, but there it is.
  • The Angels over the Rangers: Once upon a time, Scott Baker was a very good pitcher. Once upon a time, the Texas Rangers were a very good team. Once upon a time can be a harsh reality. Tyler Skaggs will win this game.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: The Giants could not be shutout again, could they? Not against Vidal Nuno, who was somehow brilliant his last time out. So the possibility exists. Madison Bumgarner confuses me a little bit. He's great, but he never seems to be a lock to win.
  • The Rockies over the TwinsBrett Anderson is back for the first time since April. Is that a good thing? I have no idea. He threw well in rehab. Phil Hughes in Coors seems frightening to me. But I think I overplay that Coors thing a lot.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: The Padres need some offense to support Tyson Ross, a pitcher who has been consistently good. They won't get it today against Hyun-jin Ryu.
  • The Orioles over the Yankees: Do we really need an eight o'clock game for ESPN tonight? Why should these two teams' players get to start their vacation a half a day after the rest of their peers. It's not right. Kevin Gausman should be in the O's rotation for the rest of the year and left alone. But they never seem to trust the guy. He will beat Chase Whitley, whose magic bubble burst three starts ago.
And the Game of the Day:
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: The M's have had their way with the A's for the last two days, but I believe Chris Young's luck will run out today and the A's will pound the ball. Either way, Sonny Gray is going to win.
Yesterday: 6-9, July: 95-76, Games of the Day: 54-44, Season: 778-651