Analyzing Some of Baseball’s Breakout Stars Part I

Michael Brantley (.324/.384/.904), 17 home runs

Of all the players on this list, few have enjoyed the kind of career year that Michael Brantley is having. The slash line is excellent, but his numbers go far deeper than that. According to Fangraphs, Brantley has contributed about 35 runs to the Indians’ offense, behind only 2 other players (Trout and McCutchen), and in front of (gasp!) Troy Tulowitzki. Brantley’s WAR is 4.8, third in the Major Leagues. In other words, we knew Brantley was good, but elite? The overarching question is this: is this guy for real? Throughout his career, Brantley has been a solid contact hitter, so a high average isn’t too much of a surprise. The power (17 home runs) is. His batted ball output has remained relatively constant this year from last year, pointing perhaps to some luck being the factor behind the power surge. Than again, Brantley is 27, which is generally the time when guys tend to improve and see a spike in their power numbers. His BABIP is .325 on the year, up from his .304 mark last year.

Bottom line: Brantley seems to be coming into his own at the beginning of his prime. I wouldn’t expect 20-25 home runs from him annually, and it’s too soon to be putting him in the same category and Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, but the ability is for real.

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At 5’5″, Jose Altuve stands tall among AL second basemen.

Jose Altuve (.336/.373/.817)

In Altuve, the Astros have a great little player and the perfect face of a lowly franchise. Is he really the star that Houston can trust? Altuve’s BABIP (one of the easiest ways of determining if a player is lucky or good) is .358, one of the highest in the league. That might regress some, but numbers are rarely that simple. One thing to note is that Altuve has majorly slashed his strikeout rate, from 12% in 2013 down to 8% in 2014, and he’s making more contact this year: 90% contact this year, up from 87% last year. That may seem marginal, but when you consider Altuve’s speed, it becomes vital for him to make consistent contact. As long as he does that, the batting average should be fine.

Bottom line: Even if Altuve doesn’t hit .336, he has other skills that make him a valuable asset to Houston: his speed and his glove. Still, there’s no reason to believe that Altuve’s numbers are fluky, because he does two things extremely well: hit the ball and run like heck.

Jose Abreu (.304/.362/.972), 30 home runs

Because this is Abreu’s first major league season, we’re unable to compare his current stats from his past stats. Still, there are some reasonable assessments we can make about Abreu’s rookie season, and how he sets up for 2015.

1. He swings too much. 42.2% of pitches he sees he swings at, 5th in the majors. That might be a recipe for success for some guys, but as major league pitchers start to figure you out, you’d better learn how to take bad pitches.

2. His fly ball rate is extremely low for a power hitter. He hits fly balls 32% of the time, good for 90th in the major leagues. That’s not conducive to sustained power.

3. He’s not an above average defender.

Bottom line: Abreu is exciting for White Sox fans, but he is riddled with caution signals. He has benefited greatly from his unfamiliarity with Major League pitchers, which he won’t have the longer he plays here.

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One of my new favorite players, Anthony Rizzo has the perfect swing and a great baby face.

Anthony Rizzo (.278/.378/.873), 25 home runs

Get ready, baseball fans. Anthony Rizzo has arrived.

It doesn’t take long to see that this guy is for real. He sports a healthy 40.5% fly ball rate, and a relatively low .302 BABIP, a good sign that he hasn’t been aided by a lot of good fortune. He swings a lot: 44%, but he makes good contact: 90% of all pitches swung at, a far cry from Jose Abreu’s paltry 70%.

Bottom line: Get ready.

Anthony Rendon (.277/.333/.798), 15 home runs

Anthony Rendon’s emergence might be one of the most unforeseen events for the 2014 season. He hit 7 home runs in 2013, and his power surge this year has probably been a result of his fly ball percentage spike (40%). His BABIP is the same from last year, and his average is 12 points higher. I’m not sure what to make of Rendon offensively, but he has been stellar defensively, worth 5.8 runs to the tune of an overall 4.3 wins above replacement (WAR).

Bottom line: Inconclusive, but still a nice player.

Lucas Duda (.258/.352/.843), 21 home runs

Lucas who?

Slowly and surely, Lucas Duda has really put together a solid year. He might not yet be elite, but according to Fangraphs has created over 15 runs for the Mets offense. How? his power. Duda’s fly ball rate is a ridiculous 48.7%, good for 3rd in baseball. However, he does strikes out a ton, thanks to a 70% contact rate.

Bottom line: Lucas Duda’s career appears to be following the general trajectory of Adam Dunn; big lumbering first baseman/DH, 200 strikeouts and 40 home runs annually, a guy whom I would never consider a star.

 

 

 

Non-Waiver Trade Deadline Excitement

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Dave Dombrowski’s Tigers are going for it all in 2014.

Who knew that July could hold one of the most intriguing events in all of baseball? The 48 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline is such a swirl of reported trades, rumors, and frantic GMs, it’s enough to interest even the most casual fan. This is when every General Manager in baseball uses all the minutes on his phone, scouts are traveling from city to city watching rival teams’ prospects, and when no player on any given team can feel a sense of job security. The fact is, the future of every franchise is invariably changed within these 48 hours, and who are the lucky guys that makes these decisions? Yep, it’s the General Managers of baseball. Humans, who, if anything, can tend to be a bit unpredictable.

Cardinals Acquire Justin Masterson from the Indians, Send James Ramsey to Cleveland

Since the Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak regime, the Cardinals have established themselves as very conservative strategists in the trade market, but this year has been different. Ever since pitching become a need, the Cardinals have been linked to the Rays’ David Price and Boston’s Jon Lester, but given Mozeliak’s conservative ways, a Bartolo Colon or perhaps a guy like San Diego’s Ian Kennedy was the much more likely option. Instead, Mozeliak grabbed Masterson, who sports a 5.51 ERA and an astronomical 1.65 WHIP in 98 painful innings. What was he thinking, right? On the bright side, Masterson does give the Cardinals more depth in the rotation, an arm that is accustomed to pitching out of the bullpen if necessary, all for relatively little cost. Stuff wise, Masterson is a ground-ball machine, who should benefit from a great infield defense like St. Louis’s playing behind him. Overall, this is a really nice fit.

Oakland A’s Acquire Pitcher Jon Lester and Outfielder Jonny Gomes from Boston in Exchange for Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes

Wow. Has Billy Beane officially gone off the deep end? Actually no. The A’s did just acquire two solid starters from Chicago, but after yesterdays implosion from Jason Hammel it became pretty evident that Oakland could use another starter. Jesse Chavez has good numbers, but in a must-win situation I wouldn’t feel confident throwing him out there. With Lester, Samardzija, Kazmir, Gray, and Hammel/Chavez, the A’s instantly have the best rotation in baseball (if they didn’t already) and should be a handful for the teams they face in the playoffs. Forget about Hudson/Mulder/Zito from 2002, this A’s team might be the best in team history. They did lose Cespedes, but other than the occasional lightning rod throws and the annual home run derby title, he should not be considered a star. Jonny Gomes is a suitable replacement; he gets on base, and is a proven winner.

Giants Acquire Jake Peavy from Boston

Jake Peavy: Perennially mediocre, injury-prone, overpaid, overrated pitcher. With a 1-10 record.

Cardinals Trade Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for Pitcher John Lackey

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A productive player for many years with the Cardinals, Allen Craig should thrive in the small confines of Fenway.

This trade might challenge this Lester deal as the wildest, most unexpected deal on deadline day. Normally you see the buyer giving up prospects in return for major league ready players, but in this deal Boston was able to pry away two major league players, one very accomplished in his own right. It was only a year ago that Allen Craig was driving in runs for the Cardinals at a monumental rate, and people (including John Mozeliak) were calling him a cornerstone piece of this franchise. He was drafted and developed by the Cardinals, practically won the 2011 World Series (with some help from David Freese), and we have him to thank for being able to forget about Albert Pujols. Sentiment aside, Craig simply wasn’t hitting enough this year to justify sitting Oscar Taveras, so a trade makes sense for us and for Craig, who should benefit from having a change of scenery. Kelly, however, is a bit more of a head-scratcher. His numbers aren’t too great on the surface- a 4.37 ERA in 37 innings- but he has been hurt by two very bad starts that somewhat skewed his ERA. He endured a hamstring injury and was out for two months, and he has struggled to regain his command since coming off the DL. When healthy, there’s no doubting that Kelly is a huge asset. He slid in and out of the Cardinals rotation last season, posting a miniscule 2.69 ERA in 124 innings, and helped keep the Cardinals afloat in the NL Central race in late August win his stellar pitching. Best of all, Kelly could not become a free agent until 2019.

We’ll see how things play out, but Mozeliak is putting himself in a position to regret this trade for a long time.

And lastly….

In a Three-team Trade, Detroit Acquires Ace David Price From Tampa Bay for Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson to Seattle

A couple thoughts:

1. This doesn’t make a lot of sense for Tampa Bay. If I’m a Rays fan, I’m upset that we gave up on a year that had so much promise and with the returns on Price. They shouldn’t gotten more than Smyly and Franklin.

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Drew Smyly’s performance is the key to the David Price trade.

2. This trade doesn’t improve the Tigers that much. Sure, it’s nice to have the title “best rotation in the history of mankind” in your back pocket, but come on. Before the deal, the Tigers had Rick Porcello in the 4th slot in the rotation, and because of the trade, Porcello would potentially be the odd man out if the Tigers made the playoffs and went with a 4 man rotation, which happens a lot. Porcello has 12 wins and a 3.24 ERA. Again, sure they have Price, but people need to stop gushing about the Tigers.

3. Seattle, not Detroit, wins this trade. Austin Jackson should help them out, and they gave up very little in return. Franklin has huge upside, but was essentially blocked on the depth chart by Brad Miller and some guy named Cano.

Other Interesting Deals…

1. Stephen Drew to Yankees for Kelly Johnson

2. Martin Prado to Yankees for prospects

3. Asdrubal Cabrera to Nationals for Zach Walters

4. Gerardo Parra to Brewers for prospects

5. Jarred Cosart to Marlins for prospects

 

And the Big Winner is……

Twins Acquire P Tommy Milone from A’s for Sam Fuld

Earlier this year, the A’s designated Sam Fuld for assignment. A few months later, they’re trading an extremely successful pitcher to get him back. Granted, the A’s didn’t have much of a choice here, given that Milone requested a trade, but it’s funny how these things work out sometimes. For Minnesota, however, great, great deal. Best of the day.

 

The Big Loser is……..

The Whole Philadelphia Phillies Organization

For not being able to deal a single player this deadline. Do they really think they can compete, or does having Rollins, Utley, Lee, Howard, and Byrd on the same roster make GM Ruben Amaro feel young?

 

 

My List of All-Star Snubs that Nobody Talks About

Alvarez after his no-hitter. He had thrown 9 no-hit innings and was on deck when the winning run was scored in the bottom of the ninth.

There’s no such thing as the perfect All-Star roster, especially with the way pitchers have dominated baseball recently, but some players have just not gotten the recognition they deserve. We all know about the injustice done to Buster Posey and Chris Sale, but here’s my list of All-Star snubs that aren’t getting talked about.  There are more than you might think.

1. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins (2.26 ERA, 115 IP)

The only pitcher in baseball history to celebrate a no-hitter while wearing his batting gloves (it happened last season), Alvarez has made the injury to Jose Fernandez a little easier to bear and kept the Marlins in the thick of the NL East race at the halfway point. His ERA is 4th lowest in the NL, and he’s shown an ability to go deep into games, tossing three shutouts in 18 starts.

2. Tim Hudson, Giants (2.53 ERA, 113 IP, 7 wins)

Tim Hudson, not Madison Bumgarner, has been the best pitcher for the NL west leading Giants in 2014. If you take away one terribly bad outing that he suffered, Hudson’s ERA would sit 2.06, and his WHIP at 0.95. Not bad for a guy pushing 39 years old and in his 15th professional season. He’s got the track record, so there’s no reason why Hudson should be left off the all-star roster.

3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (41 IP, 1.30 ERA, 18-19 save opportunities)

John Farrell announced that there’s a good chance that Uehara will make it to the all-star game if one of the AL pitchers gives up his spot. I don’t have a problem with other relievers like Perkins or Doolittle, but the dominant closer for the defending national champion Red Sox has to get the outright nod. Stuff wise, Uehara is likely the most dominant closer in the game, strikeout over 11 batters per 9 innings while walking only 1. Wow.

4. Adam Laroche, Nationals (.294 AVG, .401 OBP, 148 WRC+)

Who leads all major league first basemen in OBP? Not Goldschmidt, not Freeman, but Adam Laroche, with a .401 mark. You can’t carry five first basemen, but I like Laroche’s case for inclusion as much as Freeman’s.

He doesn’t make the big bucks yet, but Seager has been just as deserving as his teammate Cano.

5. Kyle Seager, Mariners (.274 AVG, 13 HR, 3.2 WAR)

He still made the roster thanks to an injury to Edwin Encarnacion, but Seager should’ve been voted in. 2nd among AL 3rd basemen in WAR, Seager has really carried the Mariners on his shoulders since May. Tough to see the million dollar bat, Robbie Cano, get recognized by the fans like that while Seager doesn’t.

6. Alfredo Simon, Reds (11 wins, 2.78 ERA)

All Simon has done this year is win. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys (only 5 1/2 per nine innings), he’s not as exciting as Chris Sale or Garret Richards (he’s 33), but he’s been just as effective. The all-star game isn’t about who can throw the hardest.

7. Josh Beckett, Dodgers (2.26 ERA, 103 IP) 

I’m not really a big Josh Beckett fan, but it’s tough to see a guy post a 2.26 ERA, throw a no-hitter, and still get left off the roster.

8. Rafael Soriano, Nationals (1.03 ERA 21-23 save opportunities)

21-23 in save opportunities, a 1.03 ERA, and not an all-star? Ouch. Those numbers are better than K-Rod’s and Chapman’s.

 

Not Everyone Can be Billy Beane

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Jeff Samardzija aims to lead the A’s to their first World Series since 1989.

Since it was first introduced in 2002 and made into a book a year later by Michael Lewis, much has been made about Billy Beane’s general managerial style, appropriately dubbed “Moneball” for it’s ability to effectively maximize a team’s payroll and turn it into wins. Moneyball is all about exploiting market inefficiencies, like the value of walks and minor league power hitters. Its about putting an appropriate price tag on everything on the baseball field so that teams pay players for exactly what they’re worth. This approach works for the A’s, and more and more GMs have tried to replicate Beane’s efforts over the years, some very successfully (see Theo Epstein and the 2004 Red Sox and the most recent Sports Illustrated edition on Jeff Luhnow and the Astros).

As much as he’s admired around the game, Beane showed off another aspect of his game on July 4th, eliciting a collective wow from analysts, fans, and everyone familiar with the everyday rumors. The A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for top prospect Addison Russell, top pick Billy McKinney, and starter Dan Straily. That Samardzija would be traded is not all that unexpected, given that he has only a year and half of team control left in his contract and that he plays for the Cubs, but the real kicker was that the A’s allowed Russell to be included in the deal, and for anyone other than David Price. Quite simply, this was a fearless move by Billy Beane, because you just don’t see teams give up two of their top prospects in one trade anymore, especially for two guys who will only be Oakland Athletics for a year in Samardzija and Hammel.

Obviously, we can’t rightly form judgements on this trade for at least a year, or even until we see how McKinney and Russell fare in their Major league careers, but I like Billy Beane’s aggressive mentality. The A’s were already the best team in baseball, in the middle of a relatively weak AL west, and rivaled really by only the Tigers who have their fair share of holes; why not take a chance and improve their chances to play for a World Series? Take your best shot at a World Series while still have a shot. We’ve seen countless instances where teams took their success for granted, didn’t win that year, and haven’t been back since (see the 2012 Nationals and Stephen Strasburg). That doesn’t make the A’s-Cubs trade a good decision for Beane, because obviously there is a counterargument, but aggression like this is rarely seen nowadays in big league GMs.

More on this topic later.

 

Pythagorean Regression

In baseball, everything that goes up must eventually come down. That holds true over careers, over seasons, and often over games. That’s why only the best players hit .400, why only the truly great teams win in October, and why teams that strand 15 runners in a game usually win. Everything that goes up comes down. Sabermetricians express this idea with the term Regression to the mean. This term was introduced by Bill James, one of the founding fathers of sabermetrics. Regression to the mean isn’t an earth shattering idea; it’s simply an observation that inflated things must return to their original state, in this instance stats. For example, Charlie Blackmon was hitting .400 through the month of April, a decent sample size, but not nearly enough to put him in the same category as Ted Williams. There’s no doubt that Blackmon is a solid hitter, but the rules still apply for him; he is now hitting .307 with a much heftier sample size of 277 at bats. Of course, regression to the mean is relative; it changes for every hitter based on his skill level. Blackmon is a decent hitter, so it’s reasonable to expect he’s sit around .300 for the rest of the year. Troy Tulowitzki, on the other hand, is a far better hitter, so it’s also reasonable to expect that he won’t regress as much as Blackmon. Regression to the mean can also work backwards; if a player of high skill level is hitting .200 in April, he can reasonably be expected to have a good a May or June. Now that we are in June, regression has already taken affect on all the players to a certain extent, so that the numbers that the players sit at now can be expected to be near their end of season numbers.

Of course, regression to the mean applies to team performance too. One of the ways we can measure team performance is by using the Pythagorean expectation stat, developed by (guess who!) Bill James, who named the stat because of its likeness to Pythagoras’ geometric theorem. The equation is this: win% = runs scored (squared)/runs scored (squared) times runs allowed (squared). This stat basically measures what a team’s winning percentage should be based on the their number of runs scored and runs allowed. As we said above, team records are subject to regression, and the mean can be seen as the Pythagorean record. Lets look at how we can reasonably expect teams to perform in the second half using Pythagorean expectation.

Team         Pythag. W-L   Actual W-L

Toronto 40-31 41-30
Yankees 31-37 35-33
Baltimore 33-35 35-33
Boston 33-36 31-38
Tampa Bay 29-41 27-43
Detroit 33-32 36-29
Kansas City 35-33 36-32
Cleveland 34-36 35-35
Minnesota 32-35 32-35
White Sox 32-38 33-37
Oakland 49-20 42-27
Angels 37-31 37-31
Seattle 38-31 35-34
Texas 30-39 34-35
Houston 31-40 32-39
Atlanta 34-34 36-32
Washington 38-30 35-33
Miami 36-32 35-33
NY Mets 34-35 31-38
Philadelphia 29-38 29-38
Milwaukee 37-33 41-29
St. Louis 37-32 37-32
Pittsburgh 33-36 34-35
Cincinnati 33-35 33-35
Cubs 32-35 28-39
SF Giants 41-29 43-27
Dodgers 38-33 37-34
Colorado 36-33 34-35
San Diego 27-42 29-40
Arizona 31-41 30-42

Several things stand out in the table to the right. Here are some simple deductions we can make:

1) The A’s are the best team in baseball, not even close. When you see a team’s Pythagorean W-L record better than their actual record by seven games, you know that that team is clobbering their opponents. If they weren’t already, make the A’s your World Series favorites. They can do everything and do everything well.

2) The Yankees are in trouble. They’re pitching is running on fumes and their bats: Beltran, Jeter, Roberts, and Teixeira are looking their age. McCann hasn’t hit at all, and the only thing keeping them above .500 is a guy named Yangervis Solarte. Their Pythagorean W-L reflects their problems.

3) Pay attention to Seattle and Miami. Seattle has pitched a lot and hit just enough. They appear to be just floating around .500, but you should expect better things to come. For a young team, the Marlins do a lot of things well. They hit .260 as a team, and they have a 3.86 team ERA. Stay tuned.

4) The Cubs are better than you think. According to their Pythagorean W-L record, they should be about 32-35, which is as good as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Maybe all they need is a visit from Kris Bryant.

5) The Cardinals, Braves,  and Tigers have underperformed. All three of these teams were expected to be at the top of their respective divisions (two of them are), but so far they have performed worse than their records indicate (except the Cardinals). Not a major cause for concern here, but Royals, Nationals, and Brewers are all playing well next to them and are hungry for the division title.

Don’t forget, this method of evaluation hardly tells the whole story: some teams might function better by winning close games and then getting blown out, which affects their Pythagorean record. The Pythagorean record is only concerned with how many runs teams score and allow, so it is extremely important that you continue to search for another perspective. Still, terms like regression to the mean and Pythagorean expectation are worth keeping in mind.

Why the Jon Singleton Contract Makes Sense

http://www.ksbw.com/image/view/-/26323816/medRes/2/-/maxh/480/maxw/640/-/b1ouekz/-/Jon-Singleton-first-game--Houston-Astros-jpg.jpgWhy was the Jon Singleton 5 year, $10 million contract extension historic? It was the first deal ever to be handed out to a player yet to see a major league pitch. What were the Astros thinking, right? True, Major League baseball and Minor League baseball are about as different as facing Tom Glavine and Gavin Floyd every night, but before you form any opinions on the subject, consider:

1. Jeff Luhnow

If you like the Cardinals then you need to know that name. He is the current Astros General Manager, but prior to that worked in the Cardinals’ scouting department. Luhnow was instrumental in drafting guys like Allen Craig, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, and many other guys who have since come through the minor league system to make a huge impact at the big league level. Basically, he knows what he’s doing. Now with the Astros, Luhnow has been working hard to identify some core players like he did with the Cardinals, and he’s been pretty successful: Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, and now Jon Singleton are all guys who have come through the minor league ranks and have been identified as core players. In Singleton, Luhnow saw a guy that he liked enough to call a core player, and Luhnow is pretty good at what he does.

2. Singleton can hit a ton

Yes, he can. Keep in mind, this is the guy the Astros liked so much that they agreed to part with Hunter Pence back in 2011. Singleton has drawn comparisons to Ryan Howard, both in positive and negative ways: he has great pop, but you’ll have to live with some strikeouts. Singleton’s swings appears to be built for Minute Maid park with the short porch out there, so expect some serious power numbers in the future. Power aside, Singleton has posted a high OBP at every minor league level, so he’s more than an all or nothing kind of guy.

3. This contract is very team-friendly

Even if Singleton struggles to do anything and ends up hurting the Astros’s record, at least he won’t be hurting their wallets. 2 million a year is extremely affordable, especially considering all the outrageous contracts the Astros dished out to guys like Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee years ago during the Ed Wade era, each of whom failed to hit their weight. If Singleton does great, the team can always pick up the options that will keep him around Houston for a few more years, while he will be far from destitute if you count in all the incentives he could potentially reach. In fact, the incentives and options hold as much as $35 million, so this contract isn’t just team friendly, but is also very favorable to Singleton. The Astros keep getting smarter and smarter, once again demonstrating the importance of a strong, functional front office to success on the field.

Concerning the Cardinals’ Outfield Dilemma

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For how much longer will Jay, Holliday, and Craig roam the Cardinals’ outfield?

Oscar Taveras made his major league debut on Saturday, belting a solo home run that ended up being one of only two runs that Cardinals could muster against the Giants. Everyone seems to be excited about Taveras’s ability to impact this team right now, but I wonder exactly how thrilled Cards GM John Mozeliak is to see Taveras in a big league uniform. With Taveras’s arrival comes questions, questions that Mo can no longer put aside. Taveras is obviously ready to play Major League baseball, and he’s too good a talent to sit on the bench, meaning that the Cards now have five players (Taveras, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Randal Grichuk, and Peter Bourjos) to shuffle between two spots, right field and center field. Who gets the playing time?

Allen Craig’s struggles in 2014 have been well documented; he’s batting only .252 with 6 home runs and 30 RBI’s, but Craig’s dominance in ’12 and ’13 seems to have escaped everyone’s memory. Simply put, he was the most productive hitter in the Cardinals lineup and one of the best in the league. Things haven’t been going as smoothly in 2014, but Craig had a great May, batting over .300 and retaking the RBI lead on the team. Craig may not hit for the same power that he showed earlier in his career, but there is no reason to believe that Craig won’t hit for a very high average and continue to drive in runs like he did last year, when he very well could have been NL MVP were it not for an ankle injury.

Jon Jay entered 2014 second on the depth chart in center field. He had a difficult year in ’13, batting “only” .276 with 7 homers. Offensively he was average, defensively he was not. Posting a -7.3 Ultimate Zone rating, Jay frequently misplayed routine balls and saw his outfield range cut considerably. Bourjos was brought in during the offseason expected to be the starting center fielder, but Jay has been the hot hand most of the year, batting .281 compared to Bourjos’s .202. Ultimately, I believe that Jay will be traded, but I wonder if he is not the best center fielder on the team.

Bottom line: Taveras must play. He’s ready to play, and he’s too good to be in Memphis. A move must be made. Given the Cardinals’s historical conservatism, Jay will most likely be traded and the other 4 guys (Bourjos, Grichuk, Taveras, and Craig) will continue to shuffle between right and center, with Taveras and Grichuk being shuttled back and forth from Memphis a half a dozen times. That will most likely happen, but I believe the best option would be to deal Matt Adams, the big, lumbering first baseman. A trade involving Adams would open up an outfield spot, as Craig could slide to first. Adams would likely get a good haul in return: He’s only 25 and is under team control through 2018. His numbers look good on the surface, but Adams has only a .339 OBP, walking only at a 2.5% clip, while he has also disappointed power-wise; he’s knocked half as many home runs as Craig and driven in half as many runs, despite hitting .325.

Overall, this is a great problem to have and one that everyone would love to have, but let me just say that I’m glad that I’m not Mo.

 

The Indians’ Strange, Strange Season

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Last season, a lot of thing went right for the Cleveland Indians. They won 92 games, appearing in the wild card game against Tampa Bay. Justin Masterson assumed ace status, winning 14 games and posting a 3.45 ERA; Corey Kluber enjoyed a breakout year with 11 wins and a 3.85 ERA; and Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir returned to their old forms in the relatively low-pressure environment at Cleveland. Jimenez and Kazmir were both allowed to walk over the offseason due to the presumption that flamethrowers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco could step in and contribute. However, things have not gone quite as planned. The Indians currently sit at 24-30, dead last in the American League central division. The record may not be all that bad, but it’s been the performance of some key pieces that has been most distressing for Indians fans.

Instead of thriving as the ace of the staff, Justin Masterson has gotten hammered for a 5.21 ERA in 67 innings, with an alarmingly high 1.54 WHIP. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco have been about as bad as they can be, with a combined record of 1-7 in 76 innings. Instead of carving up batters with an electric fastball, Salazar has gotten hit for 5.53 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP, while opposing batters have hit an eye-popping .301 against him. Tired of seeing batters tee off against him, the Indians front office sent Salazar down to AAA in mid May. Carrasco’s numbers were very similar to Salazar’s before he was delegated to a bullpen role, where he’s enjoyed some success. In light of the above, the one might say that Indians are very fortunate to have a 24-30 record. On the bright side, Corey Kluber has established himself as a very reliable starter, and perhaps even an All-Star. Also, significant contributions have been made by some unlikely sources: Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Scott Atchison, and Josh Outman, keeping the team ERA at only 4.06. The question is: can the Indians still compete?

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Danny Salazar

The Indians have been pretty middle of the pack offensively, which is a plus considering they’ve had almost zero contributions from Jason Kipnis (whom they expected to be a 30-30 kind of hitter), Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Nick Swisher (pictured at the top). Expect Kipnis to bounce back; he has dealt with injuries and has still contributed more runs than league average. Cabrera’s days as an offensive threat appear to be over, while Swisher and Santana are the wild cards. Across the board, Swisher’s contact numbers are virtually identical to last year’s: his line drive/fly ball/ground ball rates are the same as well as his swing rates. The main difference; his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is down to .263, mainly accounting for the discrepancy in batting average. BABIP is one of the most unpredictable stats in baseball, so it very well could jump back up and take batting average with it. Santana has a .171 BABIP, so it’s no wonder that Santana’s average is so low. The alarming thing about Santana is that he’s not hitting with any authority at all; his line drive rate is a meager 11%, while he’s hitting ground balls 50% of the time.

Despite the very low numbers of some of the premier players on the team, the Indians can still contend. The offense will be just fine, but the pitching will have to improve to match the arms of the Tigers and the Royals. Danny Salazar is the X factor; if he pitches well the Indians should have at least 3 very solid starters: Kluber, Masterson (I’m trusting his experience in predicting that he will bounce back) and Salazar. The stem of Salazar’s problems is his velocity; last year his average velocity was a blazing 96 mph, while it has dropped all the way down to 93 this year. Without possessing a great secondary pitch, Salazar is seeing his fastball get annihilated by profession hitters. Indians fans can hope that the diminished velocity was a product of the still relatively cold weather, but we won’t know for sure until he gets called back up.

Can Sabermetricians and Scouts Get Along?

Where do advanced statistics belong in the game of baseball? This is the question that has, for the most part, consumed baseball discussions for the past 10+ years. By and large, the Sabermetrics community (the term coined by the pioneer of advanced statistics, Bill James) has gained ground over the traditional scouting community during these discussions, causing it be more and more tolerated, and even adopted by major league front offices. Billy Beane (General Manager for the Oakland Athletics organization) is the poster-boy for Sabermetrics among baseball executives, but he is hardly alone in his adoption of advanced stats. The Rays, similar to the A’s in terms of market size, have used advanced stats very effectively over the past few season, appearing in one World Series and winning multiple AL East titles. Theo Epstein was fresh out of college when Moneyball caused a stir in 2002, and he has since led the Red Sox to two World Series titles, while openly admitting his use of advanced stats. In addition, many organizations in baseball even now have an entire staff of statisticians crunching numbers, analyzing players, and looking for any deficiency in the market to exploit. Terms like on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and walks + hits per 9 innings pitched (WHIP) are now known by the average fan and quickly referenced in baseball discussions. Most people get it, some still don’t.

The first GM to openly adopt advanced statistics, Billy Beane has since led his A's to seven playoff appearances.

The first GM to openly adopt advanced statistics, Billy Beane has since led his A’s to seven playoff appearances.

Movies have been filmed on this topic: “Moneyball” chronicles the unique ideals that turned the 2002 Oakland A’s into a 90 win team, a year in which they lost Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen, and Jason Giambi to free agency, simply because they couldn’t afford to pay them. On the other side, “Trouble with the Curve” is about an old scout in the Braves organization who is caught in the transitional period from old scouting techniques to the recent statistical analysis. In the end, the statistician basically wastes the 1st pick of the draft, while the old scout turns out to be correct in his estimations. Undoubtedly there will be more movies to come on this subject.

Very outspoken in his disdain for Sabermetrics (and Moneyball in particular) is Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame 2nd baseman. Morgan’s main argument is this: how can a bunch of scientists know anything about a game they’ve never played? Morgan would argue that he knows more about the game of baseball than any stathead could possibly know, simply by having played the game. Morgan has some legitimate points; statisticians don’t know the odds and ends of how to play baseball, or even how to manage baseball, despite all our equations for certain situations. However, that fact doesn’t negate the validity to sabermetrics at all. Sabermetrics is, most simply, a tool. It can be used to predict future performance and to evaluate and compare past performance. That is why advanced stats and old-school scouting can coexist. Statisticians have definitively proved that teams should draft college players who are more seasoned than high school players, but how did Albert Pujols get drafted? By a midwest region Cardinals scout, surveying the area for an outstanding talent. No computer needed to tell that scout that Pujols was special; the ball sounded different coming off his bat and went a whole lot farther. There are countless other examples of scouts who found can’t miss prospects in some unlikely places, prospects who went on to change the future of their organization.

Theo Epstein is rebuilding the Cubs using both scouts and stats.

Theo Epstein is rebuilding the Cubs using both scouts and stats.

Back to statistics. One of the longest debates inside the grand debate is the value of wins.  Adam Wainwright voiced his thoughts in one interview only two weeks ago. In This piece by Jesse Spector of the Sporting News, Wainwright says,

“I think there is, let me say, some validity to Sabermetrics, but I do think there needs to be more open-mindedness from those sabermetricians as well, as well, the Brian Kennys out there that will disregard all old-school baseball stats. Wins do mean something. There is an art to winning baseball games.”

The value of the win can be debated all day, but Wainwright’s overall point is absolutely correct. There needs to be more open-mindedness from the sabermetricians out there, many of whom would see the win completely tossed from the back of a baseball card, as well as losses, RBI and errors. These stats may not be as effective in measuring player performance as many other advanced stats, but does that mean they should be altogether disregarded? I like sabermetrics, enjoy learning about new ways of analyzing players, but I’m willing to admit that there are some aspects of the game that can never be fully captured in a number. That is why I believe that the sabermetricians are often at fault in this discussion; though their points are valid.

There probably won’t be complete harmony between two sides of this discussion, but when there is, success is sure to follow. Perhaps Theo Epstein has put the relationship between stats and scouts most acutely:

“Performance analysis is one lense, and scouting observation is the other lens, and the GM needs both lenses to see.”

Don’t Trust Charlie Blackmon

ClickHandler-1Charlie Blackmon has gotten off to a roaring start in 2014, batting .323 for the 3rd place Rockies, including one particular 6 for 6 hitting performance in early April. His power numbers, his speed numbers, and even his defensive numbers have climbed up the MLB ranks, putting him in a good position to be an NL All-Star. Because of his position in the Rockies’ batting order, Blackmon should score a boatload of runs and have a plenty of protection. However, it’s still early to be putting his name in the same category as Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Blackmon is a guy who never hit more than 11 home runs at any level in the minor leagues, but was more of a gap to gap kind of hitter, posting at least 4 triples at every level in the minors. This year, Blackmon’s line drive rate has dropped 8%, increasing his fly ball rate by 7%. That might be all fine and dandy, but his home run pace appears to be unsustainable. Here’s why: Blackmon is currently homering on nearly 1/6 of his fly balls, while he’s only averaging a batted ball distance of about 270 feet. Of course, Coors Field aside, the simple law of averages won’t allow Blackmon’s power surge to continue. 20 home runs is very manageable, but if you’re expecting Blackmon to crank 30 homers, you’re going to be disappointed.

Blackmon’s batting average is currently at .323, a far cry from the .40o mark he had going through April. Granted, Blackmon was not going to finish the year at .400, but he is only batting .260 in May so far with only 6 extra base hits. And given the strength of the Rockies outfield, Blackmon can’t afford any prolonged slumps. Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson are both hitting for higher averages and higher on-base percentages, not to mention that Stubbs is batting .404 in May, Dickerson .357. Unless he gets hot quickly, Blackmon could quickly go from being a potential All-Star to a bench warmer.

Blackmon has a lot of strengths: an above average batting eye; good speed; good defense; and he should score plenty of runs, but he might be a great sell-high candidate for fantasy owners.

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