Archive for ‘Analysis’

Tuesday: 02.5.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 17 Days – Alex Gordon

Only 17 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

Just under the wire! It’s still Tuesday for me. I went to dinner with my podcast co-host and long-time friend Jason Collette and I was pumping out SP Guide work all afternoon so the Countdown got short shrift until after dinner.

Stupid sidenote: the last four Countdown entrants have first names that start with “A”. Isn’t your life better now?

ALEX GORDON

Drafted with the second overall pick in 2005, Alex Gordon was tabbed as the savior of the franchise almost immediately. He was a mix of George Brett, Ryan Gosling (not yet a mega-star, but he’d done The Notebook so throwing him into the mix was betting on the come back then), and a unicorn. He started his pro career in Double-A and obliterated the league in 2006 vaulting himself to the top of the prospect heap heading into 2007 according to Kevin Goldstein and #2 overall according to Baseball America.

He wasn’t even Gosling circa “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” posting an uninspired .247/.314/.411 line in 601 plate appearances. It got better in 2008, but only because he had set the bar so low. Things actually got worse in 2009-2010 resulting in trips back to the minors in each season where he ended playing 30 and 75 games, respectively, split across a few levels. A hip injury in 2009 cost him three months and that was sandwiched by quadriceps and thumb injuries in 2008 and 2010 that both required time on the disabled list. He was not only failing to live up to the lofty expectations, but through 2010 it was hard not to see him as a bust. He’d had a career 95 OPS+ in 1642 PA.

It all turned around in 2011. He finally stayed healthy again and not only had his best season yet (not a difficult feat given what he’d done to date), but also had a legitimate star-level season. He registered a 7.1 bWAR and 6.9 fWAR in his first full season as a leftfielder, having switched over from third base. He proved to be not only adequate out in left, but exemplary as his 12 kills doubled the next best from a leftfielder (Gerardo Parra, 6) and led all of baseball as he narrowly edged teammate Jeff Francoeur by one.

Finally.

Last year’s follow was a bit off the pace, about a full win at both sites, but still a star level offering. Gordon has hit .298/.372/.478 the past two years in 1411 PA with 37 home runs and 96 doubles, including an MLB-best 51 last year. Are his 37 home runs a disappointment? When he was expected to become Georygos Brettunicornling, I think many were looking at 30 bombs a year. Brett only averaged 17 during his career with a 162-game average of 20, but he never struck out (career 7.8% K rate) so Gordon was supposed to trade those Ks for more homers. It took Brett 9196 PA to strikeout out 634 times; Gordon has fanned 641 times in 3053 PA. Different eras and Gordon isn’t Brett so I’m not holding him to that standard, just showing the incredible gap.

In the midst of his prime at age-29 with back-to-back seasons of 45 and 51 doubles, some are still expecting a home outburst as there is an adage that believes a player with a ton of doubles could start translating some of them into home runs with some added strength and/or a bit of good fortune. The thinking being that with 45+ doubles, several are banging off the wall and just missing their exit from the yard. It’s not a terrible notion, but it’s not a birthright if you are a big doubles hitter, either.

Looking at Gordon’s 2011 with 45 doubles and 23 home runs, there are 79 players with seasons of 45+ and 23 or fewer, but only 12 others including Gordon to have pulled off the feat more than once.

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Hey, it’s George Brett! Gordon is fulfilling the expectation after all! What does this group of players have in common? They never really translated the doubles into an abundance of home runs. Brett’s 30 in 1985 are highest of anyone in that group and he didn’t do it after either of his 45 double seasons. The second name on that list is the one that rings truest when I think about Gordon.

In fact, when I was making my list of which players I wanted to cover for the countdown, I was thinking about Gordon and trying to come up with who he reminded me of after his two big seasons in a row and I kept coming back to Nick Markakis and Shin-Soo Choo. There is nothing with that as both as high quality MLB players. Markakis had run off six straight full season of well above average play (117 OPS+) before being limited to just 104 games last year.

The bottom is that the home runs aren’t coming, not at the quantity that was expected of him as a prospect. He’s going to live in the 15-20 range and may have another season or two where he pushed 25, but barring a major change in his approach, 30 just isn’t happening. He is the prototypical line drive hitter with gap-to-gap power. His line drive rate hit a career-high at 25 percent last year and has lived at or north of 20 for his entire career save that 2009 washout. His flyball rate is on a four year decline hitting a nadir of 32.7 percent a year ago, a far cry from his career-best 47.6 back in 2008.

After spending 172 of his last 312 games as a leadoff hitter, he is currently slated to hit third again with Lorenzo Cain leading off. Hopefully this switch doesn’t prompt Gordon to unnecessarily change his approach thinking he has to be “the man” and go for power in that spot. His work in the 3-hole has been 101 points worse from an OPS standpoint than his leadoff work (883 to 782) and 64 points worse in slugging percentage (.501 to .437).

He needs to stick with his approach from 2011-2012. The move to third in the batting order puts 100+ RBIs into play even if he only hits 14 home runs again. That would be a career high by 13 RBI (2011). Meanwhile he could still score 100 as he did in 2011 (101) provided he maintains or improves his 10 percent walk rate. I think he still viewed as an overall disappointment by some which depresses his fantasy price. Current NFBC draft data has him as the 94th guy off the board, inexplicably behind teammate Eric Hosmer. Don’t be afraid to pay for Gordon, especially at this current discounted rate, but even for a little more should your league price him higher. What he lacks in home run power, he makes up in batting average and runs scored, the two most underrated categories in standard 5×5 leagues.

Monday: 02.4.2013

Chris Carter Addendum

Earlier today after he was dealt to Houston, I did a piece on Chris Carter and how his power should spike with his new home ballpark. I used the Katron.org balls in play information to outline three batted balls from Carter that would’ve been home runs in Minute Maid Park. It was meant to accentuate the point regarding his likely power improvements in his much friendly environs, but it was greatly flawed. You see, the Katron dots are where the ball is fielded not where it landed. I knew this in the recesses of my mind, but I never gave full thought to the notion and what it means when analyzing this kind of data.

Here is the legend for the Katron data:

katronkey

The problem comes in that we don’t know the hit type of singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. So I absent-mindedly assumed (never assume, kids) that the doubles were hit in the air either as line drives or flies. They were not. After getting some education about Katron and the potential flaws with using the data as I did, I went back to the video and found out that my particular examples show just how dangerous using the data as I did can be when the dots represent where the ball is fielded and not where it first hits the ground.

First, let’s look at the doubles:

ccarter1a

ccarter2a

See the problem now? I apologize for that, I simply didn’t put together the inherent flaws of using the data like that. It’s 100% my fault, though, so I’m not crapping on the folks over at Katron.org as it’s even there in bold below the charts:

Every location is where the ball was fielded by a player, not where it landed. You better read this Paul Sporer you stupid dummy. 

That may not be a fully accurate quote from their site.

Perhaps if I had been reading my now-BP-colleague Sam Miller a year ago when he was writing at the OC Register, this all could’ve been prevented.

Hey, at least the flyball I highlighted doesn’t have the same issues. There is no guarantee it would’ve been out in Minute Maid, but we see the 367 sign behind Josh Hamilton when he catches it and we know that Minute Maid is 315 for a large portion of leftfield known as the Crawford Boxes.

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click for huge picture

click for huge picture

Monday: 02.4.2013

Chris Carter Benefits from Trade to Houston

The Astros have a front office that understands how to rebuild. The best way to do it is to truly burn it to the ground and start over. In their latest such move, they traded Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi. A 29-year old shortstop who is on the team until at least 2015 isn’t a bad asset for a rebuilding team like Houston, but a 26-year old slugger (who is probably a DH, but ostensibly can play first base or maybe leftfield which is where MLB Depth Charts has him as of now) and a 24-year old prospect arm who are under team control until 2019 are much better. This move is perfect for Carter.

Carter got his first real shot last year and popped 16 homers along with a .239/.350/.514 line in 260 plate appearances. He did strikeout 32 percent of the time, but also carried a strong 15 percent walk rate. He’s a classic three true outcome player and his new home is tailor-made for his game. His power plays anywhere so even in his cavernous home ballpark with Oakland he still had a .458 slugging percentage (the A’s as a team had a .392 slugging percentage at home) and five home runs despite the 89 home run park factor for right-handers. His move to Houston brings a major improvement to home venue as Minute Maid Park yields a 109 park factor to righties on home runs.

Plus, with Houston’s move to the AL West, Carter’s favorite venue from 2012 is still in play as he hit three of his 11 road homers in Texas in just six games. When you are dealing with a 260 plate appearance season, any parsing of that data is going to be subject to small sample size issues as the whole is already just a half season so keep that in mind, but it’s not like this power appeared out of nowhere for Carter. It’s always been his calling card so even with the scant samples, I’m confident in projecting that this move is a huge benefit for him. Consider also that his 182 home runs in 3647 plate appearances as a minor leaguer translate to about 30 per 600 plate appearances (29.9 to be exact). He hit 65 of those home runs in 1277 PAs in Triple-A which actually tops that overall rate checking in at 30.5 per 600 PA.

Thanks to Katron.org’s balls in play project, we can get a sense of how Carter might fare in Houston, or at least how he would’ve fared in Houston with last year’s batted ball distribution. The following is a mapping of Carter’s batted balls in Oakland on a Minute Maid Park overlay. You will see three leftfield batted ball outcomes labeled for what they were in Oakland, which would’ve likely gone for home runs in Houston. There is also a handful of warning track shots in left centerfield that might’ve gotten out in Houston depending on various circumstances. Meanwhile the five home runs were all no doubters on the Minute Maid overlay. Be mindful that this is all academic as he won’t have the exact same batted ball distribution in 2013, but it gives some sense of how his power production can improve with his new club.

CarterinMMP

By the way, Jed Lowrie was my Houston pick for the Countdown to Spring Training so don’t be surprised if this re-runs for the Houston CtST entry down the road. If I can find someone else I’m interested in, I’ll definitely go another way, but Carter is someone I really like so this fits pretty well, too. I didn’t really want to hold this analysis until Houston’s day, either. Meanwhile, Lowrie is unlikely to hold a spot in the Countdown as I had my eye on someone else for Oakland and don’t know if I want to switch it up.

Please be sure to check out the addendum to this piece.

Monday: 02.4.2013

2013 Starting Pitcher Guide Sample

As we turn the calendar over to February, baseball season is right around the corner. Many football fans close the book on that sport with the end of the Super Bowl and turn their attention back to baseball. Two weeks ago, I began taking pre-orders on the 2013 Starting Pitcher Guide and that will continue for another 10 days through Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you’re on the fence about the purchase and a trip down memory lane through the previous guides isn’t what you looking for to get you over the proverbial hump. Well how about a sample of what you will be getting in this year’s guide? Yeah, that does sound nice, doesn’t it?

I had Doug send over his report card on Oakland youngster Jarrod Parker and paired it with my profile on him to give you a taste of the 2013 guide in the PDF found below.

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(left-click to view in browser;
right-click to save file to desktop)

Notice how robust the coverage is for the 24-year old Parker. Nearly 500 words went into it. I mentioned this in the SP Guide Announcement, but I’ll reiterate here that the effort expended in the guide will be spent on those who can move the needle forward on your 2013 season. There will still be prospect coverage without question, but there were instances in last year’s guide of a Low-A prospect with no shot of contributing in 2012 getting a 200-plus word write up when 75-100 would’ve been sufficient and that surplus could’ve been better spent elsewhere.

This is especially important because not the majority of folks do no play in dynasty leagues or leagues with a minor league taxi roster of three to five guys. Don’t worry, dynasty leaguers, I’m not leaving you out in the cold. The top prospects and those are on the rise will still get their due, but I can tell who to chase down in a more efficient way than I did last year.

Finally, for those unfamiliar with 20-80 scale used in Doug’s Mechanics Report Card, don’t fret as it will be explained in an essay from him in the guide. In the meantime, understand that a 50 grade is average and not at all an indictment of talent.

Questions & comments can be directed to thespguide@gmail.com

Order now to save 25%!!!

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Monday: 02.4.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 18 Days – Allen Craig

Only 18 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ALLEN CRAIG

You had to know this was coming.

I mean seriously, who else would I choose for St. Louis? I basically already wrote his Countdown piece back in December, I just didn’t know it yet. So I’m going to rely heavily on that for today’s entry as I don’t need to simply regurgitate what I said there or what I’ve said on Twitter (and elsewhere) since November. Allen Craig is my player in 2013. That much is clear. The wagon is hitched. Next stop: promised land.

I’ve taken him just about everywhere in mocks (missed getting him in just one) so far this winter though it appears I’m driving a relatively full bandwagon. Looking at this ADP data from NFBC provided by Baseball HQ we see that Craig is slotted 53rd overall and while I’ve been taking him higher–I’m actually the 21 that qualifies as Craig’s earliest pick which I did here (Team 10) in a November draft during the Arizona Fall League event by Baseball HQ–usually in the 30s, others have are seeing the upside within The Wrench.

Since I did this write up about two months ago and some of you have likely already read it, I made something for you to still get your daily baseball fix on the day we* officially turn the page from football to baseball.

*I never closed the book personally, I just had both open.

Enjoy:

Sunday: 02.3.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 19 Days – Adam Jones

Only 19 days until live game action… and many folks officially turn their attention back to baseball tonight after the Super Bowl (Go Niners!)

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ADAM JONES

I talk often about how we can’t expect linear growth (and I’m hardly the only one) from young players. As exciting as it is to see a big age-22 season as a 380 PA/100 game call-up, we can’t just assume that they’ll take the experience and expound on it the following year as a full-time player. Hell, even if they log 500+ playing 140-something games as a full-time player in that age-22 season, there are still no guarantees that, even with good base skills, they’ll improve the following year.

It just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes it does and it’s magical, but often we see players experience a series of ups and downs in the early 20s as they amble about like a baby goat trying to establish themselves on firm ground. Regardless of their pedigree coming up, they may bounce around statistically for multiple seasons before finally becoming what we saw in the minors. And of course, they might not ever reach those minor league expectations. Adam Jones fits the former description.

Jones, a supplemental first round pick of the Mariners back in 2003, was a well-regarded prospect landing in the Baseball America Top 100 in both 2006 (64) and 2007 (28). He had a few cups of coffee with the Mariners, but was eventually traded to Baltimore in that huge Erik Bedard trade. His 2008 Oriole debut wasn’t particularly special as he showed just a bit of the power and speed that we’ve now come to expect from him yearly. He’s now headed into what he hopes will be his sixth straight *full* season (500+ PA) and fifth straight of better than league average performance.

ajones1

He surged forward in his second full season adding 10 home runs and improving his strikeout and walk rates, all in virtually the same amount of playing time. Despite adding 102 plate appearances the following year his production was essentially static in the counting number while his walk rate plummeted while the strikeout rate ticked back up. He rebounded at age 25 and then took another step forward last year for his best year yet. And depending on how you delineate it, he either just entered his prime or has yet to do so, either way the future is bright.

Is 2012’s power jump for real? The 18.8 percent HR/FB rate isn’t outlandish given his 2009 and 2011 rates. He did a lot of his home run damage in May hitting 10 with a 31.3 percent HR/FB rate, but at the other end of the outlier spectrum he had just a 9.1 HR/FB rate in August when he hit just two home runs so they cancel each other out a bit, though it’s reasonable to say May’s outburst contributed a good bit to his surplus over 2011. Nothing within his profile loudly screams that the 32 home runs were a fluke, though I’d probably land in 25-28 range for a projection. He didn’t hit a ton of flyballs (32.6 percent), but his 21.5 line drive rate offset that a bit.

Jones now has three straight seasons of established performance averaging a .284 batting average, 25 HRs, and 12 SBs, with the latter two categories on the rise year over year. The 2012 season may be the best of his career, but there is legitimate room for improvement given his skills and age especially since we’ve seen him do better with the walk rate in the past. I happen to think he can take another step forward with his batting average and put together a handful of .300+ seasons. It’s not much of a jump from the .280s anyway so I’m not exactly going out on a limb, just outlining something that is a reasonable expectation in the near future. Taking it a step further, a .320 or better season where he contends for a batting title in the near future wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Bet on a big batting average jump before another 32 HR season.

Saturday: 02.2.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 20 Days – Anthony Rizzo

Only 20 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ANTHONY RIZZO

One of the winter’s rising sleepers (which of course cuts into his sleeper value) is Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He had a brief, but ugly debut in 2011 that saw him hit just .141 with a 523 OPS in 153 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres. Jed Hoyer, formerly of the Padres, joined forces with Theo Epstein to run the Cubs that offseason so they wanted to get their prized prospect, whom they’d discovered as part of the Boston Red Sox organization when they drafted him in 2007. He was traded for that offseason and instantly became part of their future foundation with Starlin Castro.

Rizzo ripped through the PCL in 2011 with 26 home runs, 101 RBIS, and a 1056 OPS in 413 plate appearances and yet he somehow topped that in his follow-up as a Cub farmhand hitting 23 home runs, driving in 62, and posting an 1101 OPS in just 284 plate appearances. He’d have been called up earlier, but Bryan LaHair was having an unexpected great start to the season. Once he reached the majors again on June 26th, he showed that his 2011 flop was merely a blip. He hit .285 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs, and an 805 OPS in 368 plate appearances. His seven percent walk rate was below average, but the 17 percent strikeout rate was very good (3% better than league average for the position).

A lot of outlets are looking for a big breakout in 2013 now that he will have a full season of playing time. The Bill James projection at Fangraphs has him down for a .283-33-109 season. Yes, really. The “Fans”, which consists of 41 Fangraph reader projections, weren’t far from James at .285-28-103. Those are definitely… optimistic… to say the least. I can’t help but wonder if we, the baseball community, learned nothing from last year. Doesn’t Rizzo fit the mold of some heavily favored sleepers from 2012? Namely guys like Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Desmond Jennings?

They were the shiny new toys of 2011 with various levels of kick-assery and they became the object of many fantasy managers’ affection leading into the March draft season for 2012. Hosmer had more or less a full season logging 128 games and 563 plate appearances while Lawrie and Jennings merely gave a taste at 43 and 63 games played, respectively. And how did that all work out?

rizzo1

Hosmer is least like Rizzo from an experience standpoint, but most like him in every other avenue as the pair are both 23-year old left-handed first basemen. Hosmer had the relatively full season of success in 2011, but that second time around the league was brutal as the struggles against lefties continued and he couldn’t stay great against righties. His 886 OPS against righties dropped to 700 in 2012 while his performance against lefties improved just six points to a still-meager 591 OPS.

Rizzo posted an 892 OPS against righties in 2012 compared to just 599 against lefties. As lefties with groundballs tendencies, they are going to be more susceptible to the infield shift. I don’t know how much either Hosmer or Rizzo faced the shift in 2012, but I do know they hit .091 and .161, respectively, on grounders to the pull field against lefties. It’s a thin slice of data as they had just 44 and 31 such plate appearances, but still worth noting especially if either or both weren’t facing the shift often.

League average for lefties in those situations was .174 so Rizzo wasn’t too far off, but his margin for error is scant if he is to have the breakout season projected at Fangraphs as he can’t give anything back against righties (and probably needs to jump up some) and needs massively improve against lefties. He was great in a half of 2012, but it is a lot different going through the grind of all six months in the big leagues. Even hitting the extrapolation of his 2012 numbers would be a major achievement.

Taking his 2012 rates over 630 plate appearances yields a 26 homer/82 RBI season which would be fantastic for the 23-year old and I still think that should be on the outer end of his projection. After all, look what another sweet-swinging first baseman did in 2012 compared to his 2011 extrapolation. Paul Goldschmidt skipped Triple-A in 2011 coming up to the bigs for a 177-plate appearance carafe of coffee during which he crushed eight bombs with 26 RBIs and a .250/.333/.474 line. Extrapolating that out would’ve been a 28/93 season yet he was far from a disappointment when he “only” went 20/82 last year. (Sidenote: I’ve got more on him coming up soon. Big fan. Big, big fan.)

The extrapolation game with youngsters is dangerous, and frankly kind of stupid. We already know that they aren’t guaranteed to progress in a linear fashion thus expecting someone like Rizzo to essentially just double his 2012 production in his first full season at such a young age is foolhardy. In order to hit any of these home run projections, he’s either going to have to maintain his 18 percent HR/FB rate or add some flyballs to the 30 percent he hit last year. He wasn’t struggling to hit the ball hard with an awesome 24.4 percent line drive rate, but sustaining that over a full season won’t be easy, either.

Just 10 percent (14-of-143) of qualified hitters were at or above his 24.4 LD rate meanwhile only four of those players were at or below his 30 percent flyball rate. So it’s basically one or the other. Two of them were Buster Posey and Robinson Cano, so there is precedent for Rizzo… as long as he’s an all-world player. And only six players maintained an 18.1 HR/FB rate or better with a flyball rate south of 30 percent. Posey and Cano were two of them along with David Freese, Kendrys Morales, Billy Butler, and Carlos Gonzalez. Note that none of those players were both 23 years old and entering their first full year in the majors.

Despite the negative slant to this piece, I’m not down on Rizzo’s long-term prospects at all. I’m simply preaching caution with him for 2013. Last year wasn’t the first year that prospects failed to live up to their billing, but rather the most recent examples thus they’re still fresh in our memories. We should learn from last year’s mistakes, not make them again. Sure there is going to be some under-25 stud who tears the league apart, but betting a significant amount of your auction budget or a high round draft pick that you found the needle is a good way to finish sixth.

One final note is that obviously all bets are off in keeper and dynasty leagues as you’re going to have to pay a little more on the front-end to enjoy the future. In current keeper & dynasty leagues, he is already cheap and likely not for sale, but in new leagues he will have a bit of an elevated price based on his hot 2013, age, and overall prospects. If you are the type who likes to build the future juggernaut in those leagues, he’s definitely one to target.

 

Saturday: 02.2.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 21 Days – Jason Heyward

Only 21* days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

*Sorry for missing Friday’s entry, but I’m doubling up today so technically there are 20 days until live game action, but we’ll get to that later today!

JASON HEYWARD

On the heels of a brilliant 2009 campaign at age 19, Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward entered the 2010 season as the #1 prospect in all of baseball. You’d have thought it was a full season when you saw his numbers with a .323/.408/.555 line including 17 HRs, 63 RBIs, 10 SBs, and 25 2Bs, but injuries limited him to just 99 games which he split pretty evenly between High-A (49) and Double-A (47) tacking on three more at Triple-A to close the season out. Despite the hype there was no guarantee he’d start the 2010 season with the Braves, but then a big Spring Training during which he hit .305 with five extra-base hits, four stolen bases, and a near1:1 K:BB ratio (11 K/10 BB) sealed his fate as the starting rightfielder for good in Atlanta.

Well, for good so far.

You know what happened next. He hit a three-run home in his first major league at-bat and went on to have an excellent, near-Rookie of the Year campaign falling short to Buster Posey by just 22 points.  Unfortunately that was followed by the fabled sophomore slump in which he dropped 50 points from his batting average, saw his walk rate & OBP tumble in concert, and he missed 34 games due to injury including right shoulder injury that sent him to the disabled list in late May. He first missed time with the shoulder on May 11, but looking at the numbers suggests it was plaguing him throughout the month before finally hitting the DL on May 22nd:

heywardmay2011

Ouch. And that doesn’t even show the fact that he managed one line drive all month. He had 12 groundballs, nine flyballs, four popups, and the one line drive. So while it is speculation on my part that the shoulder was ailing him all month, I think the evidence is strong. He rebounded a bit when he returned on June 15th finishing out the month relatively, but then fell back into a deep slump that last all of July and August. In the two months he hit just .212/.281/.394 with 6 HRs, 20 RBIs, and 2 SBs. Perhaps most alarming was that his usually solid walk plummeted to seven percent.

He was lost.

A major problem facing Heyward in his dismal 2011 season was an inability to hit anything with a wrinkle. This is not a new problem facing youngsters and he didn’t exactly crush off-speed in 2010, but his 2011 work against the pitches especially awful and the 2012 rebound no doubt aided his resurgence:

heywardoffspeed

He didn’t exactly pound the ball against off-speed stuff last year, either, but the bar was so low that just returning to 2010 levels was enough to really help his overall numbers. Isolating his work against curveballs specifically shows that to have been his problem pitch above all in that 2011 season. Though his .143 batting average against the changeup in 54 plate appearances wasn’t carrying him to any batting titles, either.

heywardcurveball

He still has to get better to become the superstar that many see him becoming (myself included). His 35 percent strikeout rate against off-speed stuff in 2012 was the 13th-highest in baseball. That put him in the company of new teammate B.J. Upton (36.4%) and Colby Rasmus (36%), a pair of supremely talented, highly touted prospects (Upton peaked as the #2 overall prospect in ’04; Rasmus at #3 in ’09) who have never quite lived up to their expectations. Look at their numbers against off-speed since 2009 (as far as back as the data goes):

prospectOFvoffspeed

Heyward is the “best” of the three, but the lead is marginal and entirely tied to his extra plate discipline with a walk rate that is nearly two times that of the other two guys. It might worth noting that within the 2012 season, Heyward did show some improvement against non-fastballs from half to half posting a 689 OPS against the pitches through the All-Star break and followed it up with a 761 OPS from mid-July to the end of the season. The splits were small samples of about 115 plate appearances apiece, but maybe he adjusted something in-season to improve.

One thing that stuck out was that he killed changeups in the first half hitting .346 with a 991 OPS against them albeit in just 30 plate appearances before falling back to a .174 average and 513 OPS against them in the second half, again in a scant 24 plate appearances. Perhaps his luck was just evening out and the split in halves has no real significance.

The bottom line is that pitchers are beating him with off-speed pitches on a consistent basis and he will need to adjust if he is to become a superstar, face of the franchise-type who will take the torch from the now-retired Chipper Jones. For those wondering how he fares against fastballs, he has an 867 career OPS against them with single season marks of 903 in 2010, 827 in 2011, and 860 last year. He does have one particular trend that has been going in his favor year-over-year: his groundball rate is shrinking while his flyball rate climbs. He started with 55 percent groundball and 27 flyball rates in 2010, moving to 55 and 33 percent in 2011, and finally 44 and 37 percent a year ago. He was very close to the league average batted ball profile of 45 groundball, 34 flyball, and 21 percent line drive.

I hope y’all realize how much restraint I showed by not once referencing that Heyward has Trouble with the Curve.

You’re welcome.

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 RF – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Rightfielders Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host Eric Byrnes, and special guest to the series Bill James. In the LF review I mentioned my issue with MLB Network lists including guys who weren’t slated to play the particular position next year and we have a few of those on in rightfield with Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist.

I included Upton in left and Hamilton in right because that’s where they are going to play and the change for Upton was known when they presented the show because they discussed Upton’s trade to Atlanta. And I listed Zobrist at second base because that’s where he was slated to play this year before the Rays brought Kelly Johnson aboard. For those unaware, Johnson wasn’t a Ray when the 2B lists were unveiled.

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10RFlists

I told ya Andre Ethier was going to be on all most of these lists.

The Shredder

Apart from our three known differences that occur on every list as outlined above, Ethier is the split between lists. It was tough leaving him off. In the end, I went with Jayson Werth because of his all-around game and how good he looked upon returning from injury. Jay Bruce was a bit underrated at 10, though had I included Upton and Zobrist, he’d have been at least seventh for me so the difference between The Shredder and me looks bigger than it would’ve been with Bruce.

My inclusions they didn’t list: Werth, Josh Reddick, and Josh Hamilton

Eric Byrnes

If given the option, I’d have bet all of my money on Byrnes listing Hunter Pence. Pretty easy bet, though, right? It’s not a terrible listing, especially at 10. Overall, I really like his list to be honest as I did with his leftfield list. He gets a lot of crap from the baseball community, especially on Twitter, but I don’t think he’s so bad. My friends over at Productive Outs cannot stand him. Perhaps it’s the Spiccoli-esque way he speaks and that dialect is often viewed as just generally stupid, especially in California where both live. That’s just speculation on my part. I just think that Byrnes is actually one of the better player-analysts on the network, even if you think the bar is really low.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Bill James

Bill, Bill, Bill. Jeez. I mentioned in the LF review that James’ lists have really puzzled me and this one was no different. Stanton at 6???? Sheesh. I was so focused on that ranking that I barely paid attention to the Alex Rios and Nick Markakis inclusions, neither of which I like that much. My fanboydom aside, how is Stanton sixth?

My inclusions he didn’t list: Werth, Swisher, Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Brian Kenny

In fairness, I chastised Kenny in the LF review for including Carlos Quentin, who played just 86 games a year ago, only to then include Werth on my list in his 81-game season. The difference as I see it is that Werth played half a season after three straight 150+ game seasons where Quentin has rarely even been within 20 games of 150. We both had Werth on our lists, a move I obviously support. I don’t have any major quibbles with Kenny’s list this time around outside of Markakis and that’s not even a major quibble. He had consideration, but the position was just too deep to find room for him. In fact, he’d be third behind Ethier and Norichika Aoki on the honorable mentions.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hunter, Reddick, and Hamilton

Coming up this evening: my first base and catcher lists!

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 LF – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Leftfielders Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host Eric Byrnes, and special guest to the series Bill James. There is no real consistency with these lists and that part has been a bit annoying. I’m specifically referring to deciding where to list guys. Why are they listing Martin Prado and Josh Hamilton as leftfielders and Justin Upton as a rightfielder when they will not be playing those positions in 2013?

By their own admission, these lists are also supposed to be projecting the 2013 season so it makes zero sense to do this, especially since they set that precedent with their first episode and listed Shin-Soo Choo in center. I know these lists are for s’s & g’s and despite how it may read, I’m not getting that worked up over it, I’m just trying to have some fun as we move closer toward real baseball.

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10LFlists

The Shredder

Technically, I only had one difference with The Shredder because had I know they were counting Hamilton and Bryce Harper as leftfielders I’d have done the same. I talked about them in the centerfielder list with Harper actually making the top 10. Since I hadn’t ranked Hamilton in the CF list and realized that the lists were supposed to be a ranking of where they were slated to play, I included him with the rightfielders. With that out of the way, I don’t really have any major problems with The Shredder’s list. I obviously like Carlos Gonzalez quite a bit more, but it seems The Shredder dings him hard for his road stats, as does Brian Kenny which is pretty silly because he still plays in Colorado. If the list is supposed to be about who they are right now and how they’ll do in 2013, how does his poor road work matter when he more than makes up for it at home?

My inclusions they didn’t list: Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, and Justin Upton

Eric Byrnes

Similarly to The Shredder, if you remove the Harper/Hamilton issue then I’m almost in lock-step with Byrnes. In fact, apart from a major difference on Alex Gordon, we about matched on every pick. He seriously underrated Gordon’s defense, but also made a big point out of the fact that Gordon isn’t a 30-home run guy. Neither was Byrnesie in his best year, 2007, during which played left predominantly. Another point he stressed repeatedly was that he felt Cargo was definitely the best defensive leftfielder in the game. It’s Gordon for me, but his claim isn’t outlandish. Oh, and Byrnes seemed to have played WITH EVERYBODY ON EVERY LIST IN THE SHOW.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, and Upton

Bill James

More of the same as we only have one disagreement beyond his ranking guys who aren’t actually leftfielders anymore and Harper. I was really surprised with his ranking of Harper and Hamilton, but I guess he was leaning heavily on the track record differential between the pair. Some of James’ lists during this series have really surprised whether it was a shocking inclusion or questionable positioning of a player. David Murphy had his first 500 PA season last year in what was easily his best season and now he’s a top 10 LF? I don’t see it, Bill.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, Upton, and Melky Cabrera

Brian Kenny

Kenny’s lists have really shocked me, too. I watch Clubhouse Confidential daily so I think I’m pretty well versed in Kenny’s mindset about the game, but then he goes and drops Carlos Quentin seventh on his list after an 86-game season. In fact, Quentin has never topped 131 games and he’s now four years removed from his best season.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, Upton, and Cabrera

 

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