Archive for May, 2012

Wednesday: 05.30.2012

Matt Moore’s Big Memorial Day

Lost in the shuffle of celebrating Chris Sale’s incredible 15 strikeout performance from Memorial Day is the fact that heralded prospect Matt Moore had far and away his best start of the season in the same game.  Moore, a top three prospect anywhere you looked this preseason, has been consistently overshadowed by the opposing pitcher in his starts this season and while Monday was no different in that respect, it finally wasn’t because of Moore’s shortcomings.

Moore parlayed a pair of late season starts, one in the Bronx and one in Arlington during the playoffs, along with an exquisite minor league track record into a lofty preseason ranking on prospect lists everywhere.  In many instances he out-ranked either Mike Trout or Bryce Harper including topping both at Baseball Prospectus as Kevin Goldstein slotted him atop the list.  He never landed lower than third in the lists I saw.

The polished lefty had 497 minor league innings under his belt posting a 2.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 12.7 K/9 and 3.3 K/BB.  That said, just 53 of the innings came in AAA and his MLB experience amounted to all of 19 innings.

I am not pointing any fingers when it comes to preseason praise as I went against my own code and heaped plenty of praise on the rookie myself.  Despite pointing out the pitfalls of teammates of David Price and Jeremy Hellickson during their rookie seasons, both uber-prospects like Moore, I still slotted him 10th in the American League projecting some Strasburgian success right out of the gate.

The control issues that plagued him early in his minor league career have been present in many of his starts this year resulting in a 4.4 BB/9 and preventing him from even seeing an eighth inning as high pitch counts have limited him to an average of 5.7 innings per start.   He was in control on Monday and while he still didn’t see the eighth inning, he finish the seventh for the first time all year.

He was pulled after 104 pitches which just so happens to be exactly how many pitches he has averaged per start topping out at 109 and falling below 100 just once (97 in his May 22nd start).  He threw a season-high 73 strikes, 18 of which were swinging, also a high watermark for the season.  Strikeouts haven’t been an issue this year as his 9.2 K/9 is 10th-best in baseball, but Monday’s 10 were due in large part to Moore being in control of the hitters as opposed to neither Moore nor batter knowing exactly where the ball is going from pitch-to-pitch.

Great stuff can generate strikeouts at an elite clip whether it is paired with command and control or not, just ask Nolan Ryan among many others.  That’s why it is important to make the distinction between Moore’s previous nine starts and the Memorial Day gem.  While everything was working for him, it was the secondary stuff that really stood out, specifically his 70-grade curveball.

Baseball America rated the pitch as such on the 20-80 scale in their 2012 prospect guide, but he hasn’t thrown the 70-grade version too often this year.  On Monday, it might’ve been 80-grade.  He threw 15 benders, eight of which were swung (flailed?) at and four of which resulted in punch outs.  That doubled his season total for strikeouts on the curveball.  Meanwhile he got four more strikeouts out of his 21 changeups boosting his season total to 13 on the pitch.

Here are the four curveball strikeouts as well as an additional strong curveball that he threw in the seventh inning at-bat to Alexei Ramirez that resulted in one of the foursome:

How does he build on this game and enjoy more success as he continues through his rookie season?  He still needs to be more pitch efficient.  In the first inning alone he threw 15 pitches in two strike counts.  He had Alejandro De Aza and Paul Konerko 0-2 and Gordon Beckham 1-2.  He threw seven more pitches and eventually hit De Aza.  He eventually fanned Konerko and Beckham, but Konerko drew him full from 0-2 while Beckham fouled a pair of extra pitches off before going down.

It appears as though he is going to get about 105 pitches per outing so if he wants to go deep into games, he is going to have to average about 13-15 pitches per inning (that would give him seven-eight innings).  He is currently averaging 18.3 per inning.  His 4.14 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) is the third highest amongst qualified starters just behind Felix Doubront (4.20) and Neftali Feliz (4.19).  Coincidentally enough, Sale is just behind Moore at 4.13 in his 57.7 innings.

Strikeout pitchers are naturally going to have a high P/PA than other pitchers, but consider that Moore’s 62% first strike percentage is highest by an average of 7% among those in the top 10 of P/PA meaning he isn’t taking advantage of his ability to get out ahead of hitters.  By getting ahead of hitters at that clip, he should still be able to generate strikeouts without expiring so much of allotted pitch count.

He will get it and there will be more and more glimpses of greatness on par with or better than Monday’s outing.  I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him get better as the season wore on.  In fact, I expect it.  While his in-game pitch count appears to be capped around the 105-mark, his innings for 2012 shouldn’t have any sort of cap that would leave him short of a full season’s allotment.

He threw 174 innings between the minors and majors (postseason included) last year so even if the Rays conservatively allotted an extra 25 this year, he could throw 199.  At his current pace of 32 starts with 5.7 innings per outing, he would throw about 182 innings.  That would still leave him plenty for a playoff run should the Rays win the division or secure one of the two wildcards.

In keeper leagues, he is no doubt coveted as one of the best in the game as he is still contributing this year and has an excellent long term outlook, but you might be able to get a discount in redraft leagues.  I would definitely explore the option and do so immediately as Monday might have cut into that discount already.  It may take still another month before we see some consistency out of him from start-to-start, but the second half of the season should yield more positive results than what we have seen thus far.

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Tuesday: 05.29.2012

Roy Oswalt in 2012

It is being reported that the Texas Rangers have won the Roy Oswalt Sweepstakes, a not-too-shocking result on the heels of the Neftali Feliz injury, the ineffectiveness of Scott Feldman in his stead and the reticence of the Rangers to put Alexi Ogando back into the rotation in light of how excellent he has been as a bullpen asset.

The Rangers were always a frontrunner for Oswalt and while the Feliz injury may have expedited the process to get him signed, the Roy Halladay injury and subsequent DL’ing may have been the final push to get something done officially.  I don’t necessarily believe the Phillies would’ve made a big push for Oswalt, though.  Their staff can withstand a two month absence of Halladay as it is their abysmal hitting that leaves them tied for last in the division, four games behind the Washington Nationals.

What should the Rangers expect in an abbreviated season from the 34-year old righty making his foray into the American League?

They are getting a pitcher coming off of his worst season in a lot of respects: ERA, WHIP, fastball velocity, strikeout rate and innings pitched.  His xFIP of 3.95 was just 0.02 better than his career-worst mark set in 2007.  From 2002-2008, Oswalt was one of the most reliable starters in the game averaging 32 starts and 211 innings per season with 2003 standing as the only season that saw him throw fewer than 209 innings or make fewer than 32 starts (127 IP in 21 starts losing time to a recurring groin injury).

The 2009 season was the first time that back issues cropped up costing him some time and snapping his streak of five straight 200+ inning seasons (181 in 30 starts).  He bounced back with a vengeance in 2010 splitting time between Houston and Philly and posting his best ERA (2.76) and strikeout rate (8.2 K/9) since his rookie season (2.73 ERA & 9.1 K/9 in 142 IP).

Then last year he was limited to just 139 innings as the lower back issues returned and put him on the disabled list two separate times.  It clearly hampered his production as pointed earlier with the diminished velocity and suppressed production compared to his career marks.  He was still above average, but definitely vintage Oswalt.

A 34-year old Oswalt returning from back issues and trying his hand in the American League for the first time isn’t likely to be vintage Oswalt, either.  Having pitched in Houston for so many years, he was guaranteed interleague time against the Rangers so he has a sizeable in that ballpark.  The obvious caveat is that he had to face the Texas lineup which has seemingly always been good even when they were a third or fourth place team in their division.

A snapshot of his stats in Texas, against the AL as a whole, for his career and in the last three years shows the disparity in production in that ballpark.

Oswalt has always been a groundball pitcher with career 1.5 GB/FB and 47% groundball rates, however there has been a shift in recent years as his flyball rate has crept up a bit.  He still has a discernible groundball lean, but more flyballs than ever, too.  After ranging above 32% with his flyball rate just once from 2002-2008, Oswalt has been at 36% each of the last three years.  Meanwhile his groundball rate, which used to sit high-40s/low-50s, has been between 43-46% the last three years.

It is hard to even foster a guess what kind of peripherals we will see from Oswalt given the wide range of his recent track record and the great unknown of his back issues. Last year’s 6.0 K/9, if a new level for aged Oswalt, will likely erode some transitioning to the AL leaving him only marginally better than Feldman.  His 2.1 BB/9 from last year is significantly better than anything Feldman has ever posted, though, and the limiting of free passes has long been a calling card of Oswalt’s.

It will come down the command of his stuff.  With last year’s walk rate as good as ever, but the strikeout and hits allowed rates at their nadir, Oswalt was clearly displaying plenty of control but not much command as he pounded the zone with too many hittable pitches.  This isn’t Andy Pettitte/Roger Clemens hired gun stuff, rather it is a pitcher who likely knew he couldn’t make it through an entire season so he sat out the first two months in order to save some bullets.

Keep that in mind as your rush to place your FAAB bid or pick up Oswalt off of your waiver wire.  His name alone will draw attention and likely has him scooped off of any fastest-finger waiver wires, but I would be cautious in my expectations, especially in weekly transaction leagues.

Is he really more than a spot starter at best in 10 and 12 team mixed leagues?  How much of his struggles in Texas were the lineup and how much were the ballpark?  Getting starts in Oakland and Seattle helps mitigate the Texas starts, but I think we need to see something from him before trusting him fully.  I realize that will take you out of the running for him in most leagues as the FAAB bids will come long before he suits up, but that might not be such a bad thing if you can’t get him at a price commensurate with a 34-year old coming off of an injury-addled 2011.

In a 12 team mixed league where I could’ve scooped him on the open wire, I passed as I didn’t feel he was any better than my current staff that includes Dan Haren, James Shields, Matt Garza, Jordan Zimmermann, Jake Peavy, Max Scherzer, Derek Holland, Erik Bedard and some closers.  With names like Ervin Santana, Daniel Hudson, Tim Hudson and Brandon McCarthy on the wire, Oswalt doesn’t stand out as a “must have”.  If he doesn’t regain his velocity and thus his strikeout rate, can he really be expected to be anything other than Paul Maholm/Mike Leake circa 2011?  A solid performer likely to have some gems, but not a season saver for your fantasy team.

Monday: 05.28.2012

Trolling the Wire Notes: Week 10

Early games made it difficult to get any Monday picks in with the holiday, but the rest are updated in the sidebar.  Some of the picks are thinning out, but the TTW All-Stars include Felipe PaulinoAJ BurnettErik Bedard and of course, Edwin Jackson.  Jackson’s becoming less available, but he is still on enough wires to fit into the threshold.  I still like Anthony Bass despite a hiccup last week.  Meanwhile, JA Happ looks like he might be emerging as a solid option to rely on going forward for those who stream starters.  I was surprised to see Trevor Cahill down at 15% at ESPN, but I guess his peripherals have been pretty weak thanks in large part to his elevated walk rate after walking 3 in each of his last three starts.

Last week saw 12 of the 23 recommendations pick up a win.  That has to be an all-time high for TTW.  The ERA was nice at 3.53, but the WHIP was high at 1.40 thanks in large part to the aforementioned Bass as well as Ross Detwiler and Juan Nicasio getting smoked.  Detwiler lost his rotation spot to Chien-Ming Wang.  Not sure how I missed RA Dickey‘s second start against San Diego on Sunday.  I feel like that wasn’t listed when I checked the list last week because I had him for his May 22nd start in Pittsburgh.  Maybe it was an oversight on my part or a schedule change later on.  He was amazing in both, but now he’s on too many rosters too qualify.  And finally, Mike Minor has a lot to prove before reappearing on a TTW slate.

Last Wk: 12 W in 23 starts, 3.53 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 in 133 IP

Sunday: 05.27.2012

BP Work This Week

A quick look at my work available over at Baseball Prospectus this week.

  • First up was the Starting Pitcher Value Picks piece in which I looked at A.J. Burnett, whose meltdown against the St. Louis Cardinals has scared everyone off of him despite the fact that he has been excellent in every other start.  Since the May 2nd disaster, Burnett is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 22 K in 27 innings.  He has chiseled his ERA (at 8.04 after the implosion start) down to 4.19, too.  I also took a look at J.A. Happ and his surging strikeout rate.

 

  • Next up was the Weekly Planner piece which takes a look at the all the two-start pitchers for next week and decides who you should go with and who you should probably avoid.  Aces are light this week meaning you will have to look at some lesser options if you want to load up on two start starters in H2H leagues.  James McDonald and Trevor Cahill are among my favorites in that group.  I also added a feature that ranks all the pitchers across both leagues.

 

  • I also appeared in the Lineup Card for the first time since joining Baseball Prospectus.  The week’s topic was “Mr. Almosts” and I discussed how Mickey Mantle and  Barry Bonds both hit .298 for their career.

 

  • And finally, episode 5 came out for the The Towers of Power Fantasy Hour, a BP Fantasy Podcast.  We discussed a ton of players of varying import ranging from stars to lower tier “only” league options.  In lieu of specific segments like most weeks, the meat of the show were these in depth breakdowns on players.  We also read plenty of your emails.  Send your emails to fantasyhour@baseballprospectus.com.  We record on Thursdays.  We also have a Facebook Group that you should definitely join.
Tuesday: 05.22.2012

Take Notice: Anthony Bass

Anthony Bass made his major league debut in June of 2011 as a second-tier organizational prospect (#22 for the Padres according to Baseball America before the season) making the jump from AA in order to make a spot start.  He went five solid innings allowing five hits and just one run though he walked four and struck out just one en route to a win.  Considering that the start came in Colorado and he allowed 12 flyballs to just seven groundballs, things could have gone much worse especially with the four free passes.

He was sent to AAA where he spent the rest of June before re-joining the big league club.  He spent July, August and most of September as a reliever who Bud Black wasn’t afraid to use for more than an inning.  In 12 of his 24 outings, he went at least an inning and a third.  He went two-plus innings in eight of them.  I don’t think it is out of bounds to say he was run-of-the-mill during the stretch other than the fact that he could go multiple innings, an eroding trait of relievers or perhaps it is an eroding desire of managers to use relievers for one-plus.

He had a 1.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 5.4 K/9 and 1.4 K/BB in his 33.3 innings with 4 holds.  The work earned him a pair of starts to close out the season.  The first: in Colorado.  He was even better this time around once again going five but allowing just two hits and one walk with a strikeout while holding the Rockies scoreless and earning his second win.  He ended his season with another five inning start, this time at home, during which he allowed a run on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts taking a no-decision for the effort.

The composite numbers yielded a solid 48.3 innings by ERA (1.68), but the other numbers told a different story as his 1.28 WHIP, 4.5 K/9 and 1.1 K/BB pointed toward a 4.62 xFIP.  He left 92% of his runners on base which is an excellent way to depress your ERA.  Less because of his performance and more because the Padres strengthened their system, Bass fell to #28 coming into 2012 according to Baseball America.  They worried his lack of consistent command would relegate him to the pen for the foreseeable future.

During Spring Training he threw 15 innings, but only got two starts.  Though it was a tiny sample, he walked just one batter while striking out nine.  I tend to put virtually zero stock into Spring Training numbers, but I don’t make decisions for the Padres and they obviously saw something they liked as he made the Opening Day roster and soon became the front-runner to take the injured Tim Stauffer’s rotation spot and be the fifth starter in the rotation.

He won the job outright and after a pair of two-inning outings to start the season, he made his first start on April 12th.  We have seen a new Bass so far.  He has six or more strikeouts in six of his eight starts and one of the other two was his debut during which he was limited to just 4.3 innings but still fanned five.  All told he has 51 strikeouts in 49 innings as a starter (he didn’t strike out or walk anyone in his four relief innings).

He has gone away from relying so much on his fastball shifting the mix over to his changeup and still seldom used sinker.  He has kept the majority of his 2011 fastball velocity and his mid-90s max isn’t much different, either, which is impressive considering the majority of his 2011 work came out of the bullpen where virtually everyone throws with more velocity knowing the workload will be shorter.

His command, the facet of his game that Baseball America thought might leave him a reliever permanently without massive development, have seen a sharp improvement leading to many more strikeouts.  He has seen a 6% rise in called strikes with his fastball and 8% with his changeup.  He is throwing the slider, his strikeout pitch, in the zone 4% more often and generating 3% more whiffs so while he has thrown 50 fewer sliders at this point than he did all of last year, he has just four fewer whiffs.

With two strikes last year, he was getting a lot of swings, but not many misses.  Fastballs were put into play 33% of the time, changeups were at 50% and the slider was at 17%.  All three are down significantly in 2012 with the fastball at 26%, the changeup at 32% and the slider at 15%.  Last year in two strike counts, he got a called third with the fastball just 8% of the time and the changeup just 5% of the time.

Control is putting the ball in the zone, command is putting the ball where you want it in the zone.  In 2012, his called strike percentage in two strike counts is up to 11% with the fastball and 18% with the changeup.  I didn’t include the slider because he doesn’t get called strikes with it (1 in ’11; 0 this year) and doesn’t really need to since it is his swing-and-miss pitch.  Look at the heat maps of his two strike pitches to get an even better idea of the difference between command and control.

Courtesy of ESPNTruMedia.com

Those pictures are all of his pitches skewing things a bit with this point about command since we’re focusing on the fastball and changeup.  Furthering the point another way, last year he populated the middle of the zone with his fastball and changeup in those two strike counts hitting it 42% of the time.  This year he is down to 28% in those middle three squares if you think of the strikezone as a nine square box.  Meanwhile he is pounding the bottom of the zone with those two pitches 36% of the time, up from just 17% last year.

We are seeing the emergence of Bass right before our eyes.  He has a three pitch mix (with a few sinkers sprinkled in) built on a solid low-to-mid 90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider.  The changeup has a nice 9-11 MPH split from his fastball and continues to improve.  It is his least used pitch by a significant margin, but it is also more than a show me pitch already, too.  The 24-year old righty isn’t a PETCO product either, as his ERA at home is 3.09 compared to 2.57 on the road.  His skills improve away from PETCO Park as well suggesting he knows he can’t rely on a spacious field to cover his mistakes.

The 53-inning sample is a short one, I’ll grant that, but there are some real changes in Bass’s approach that suggest he is plenty real.  The fantasy community hasn’t exactly bought in en masse just yet, though.  He is on just 18% of rosters at ESPN, 29% at Yahoo! and 54% at CBS.  He has a real shot at becoming this year’s Cory Luebke which is an easy comp as they are teammates, though Luebke is lost for the season with an injury.

They both had similar pedigrees in the minors statistically, though Luebke found himself much higher on the prospect ranking at Baseball America checking in at #6 before last year’s breakout.  They both transitioned through the bullpen.  They are both displaying strikeout stuff that wasn’t present in the minors thanks in large part to wipeout sliders.  Luebke’s arsenal is a bit deeper, but I am making a general comparison, not a dead on 1:1.

Check your wire, there is a good chance that Bass is available.

Monday: 05.21.2012

Trolling the Wire Notes: Week 9

Lost some guys this past week as their availability rates shrunk taking them out of consideration for Trolling.  The causalities include:

Max Scherzer – knew that wouldn’t last long and 15 Ks will accelerate the process.

Ervin Santana – another one I knew wouldn’t last and a strong 2-start week sopped up his remaining availability.

Jeff Samardzija – he has really transformed himself this season as he has K’d just fewer than 6 twice in his 8 starts.

Chris Capuano – took his first loss in San Diego last week, but that hasn’t stopped him from being on 100% of ESPN league rosters.

Bud Norris – surprised and bummed about this one as he usually floats under the radar because of the Astros, but impossible to ignore his three win stretch during which he has a 0.47 ERA in 19 innings.

Check the sidebar for this week’s picks.

Last Wk: 8 W in 29 starts, 4.23 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 in 164 IP

Wednesday: 05.16.2012

On Ross Detwiler

I am chronically a year early on players.  As the 2012 seasons unfolds, we get a chance to see who I was early on last year.  One such case has been Washington Nationals starter Ross Detwiler: see here and here.  I’m not exactly sure why I’m so often early, but Detwiler is hardly the first example (I was all over Matt Kemp for 2010 to name another, and thankfully I stayed the course for 2011).  OK, enough semi-humblebragging.  Better to be early than late, right?

The 26-year old southpaw was 6th overall pick in the 2007 out of Missouri State University.  He actually made his major league debut that September throwing a clean inning against the Atlanta Braves.  He spent all of 2008 in the minors, but then spent the next two years split between the minors and majors, though his 2010 season was cut short due to a busted hip.  He struggled to bring his minor league success (2.78 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 2.8 K/BB in 120 IP) to majors putting together a modest 105 innings with a 4.78 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.1 K/9 and 1.3 K/BB primarily as a starter with some bullpen work sprinkled in, too.

Part of the issue was that his 2.78 ERA in the minors during those two years likely skewed expectations toward the high side since his FIP outputs were significantly higher at each stop.  Even the peripherals likely raised expectations for Detwiler since the composite was pretty strong, but his work in AAA was a good bit below the total with a 7.3 K/9 and 2.1 K/BB.  Lefties as a whole can often take a bit longer to develop than their right-handed counterparts, though, so I kept faith in Detwiler heading into last year.  He showed some signs in 2011 finally cutting into his hit rate at 8.6 H/9, a career-best for any season whether in the minors or majors.

He has accumulated another 105 innings since the start of 2011 posting a 2.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 5.9 K/9 and 2.3 K/BB with this year’s strikeout and walk rates improving again to 6.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 (2.8 K/BB).  What has spurred the emergence of the promising 26-year old and more importantly, can he sustain it?

PITCH MIX

Detwiler is a four-pitch pitcher relying predominantly on his sinker and four-seamer and balancing them out with a curveball and changeup.  For his career, he has used the sinker 42% of the time, the four-seamer 29%, the curveball 15% and the changeup 14%.

That general split has held relatively firm every year save 2010 when he was throwing the four-seamer at 38% and the sinker just 26% while both secondary pitches were up at 18%.  This year he has shifted a bit taking 5% from the changeup and dispensing it to the four-seamer (now 32%) and curveball (17%), which is his best secondary pitch.  This shift has played a role in his success and based on what we have seen, even more curveball usage going forward would likely be a good thing for Detwiler.

VELOCITY

From 2009-2010, Detwiler was an 89-92 MPH guy with his fastballs with the ability to touch 93-94 MPH every now and then.  His sinker was 88-91 MPH while the four-seamer was 91-92 MPH.  In 2010 when he was using the four-seamer more than ever, it was actually at its slowest, registering a 90.7 MPH average.  His changeup sat 83-84 MPH for those two seasons while his curveball was a slow curve sitting 76-77 MPH.

Since 2011 he has seen a rise in velocity with all of his pitches.  The four-seamer now operates 93-95 MPH with 96+ in his back pocket when he needs it.  The sinker is up to 91-93 MPH now, too.  Meanwhile the slow curve has become more of a power curve elevating from 76-77 MPH in 2009-2010 to 79-81 MPH the last two years.

His changeup sat 83-84 MPH previously, but now resides 84-86 MPH.  He has always had about an 8.5 MPH split between the fastball and changeup except for 2010 when his four-seamer velocity dipped.  That year showed just a 7.7 MPH split.

STRIKEOUTS

The uptick in velocity since 2011 has no doubt been a contributing factor to his improved performance across the board including this year’s career-high 6.4 K/9 through 39 innings.  No one is going to confuse someone with a 6.4 K/9 for Nolan Ryan, but it’s nearly a strikeout higher than last year’s 5.6 K/9 and it is his first season over 6.0 after spending most of his minor league career at 8.0 K/9 or better.

He had a 6.8 K/9 in 142 innings at AAA so this newfound level might be his peak or close to it, but he would hardly be the first pitcher to add strikeouts as a major leaguer.  Minor league numbers can help give you an idea of how someone will perform, but they aren’t locked in stone indicators.  Madison Bumgarner spent two years on the wrong side of 6.5 K/9 before reaching the majors where he has a 7.6 K/9 career mark including an 8.4 K/9 in 205 innings last year.

The curveball has long been his strikeout pitch and the faster version of 2011-2012 is generating even more strikeouts.  In 2009-2010, he got a strikeout on 27% of the plate appearances that ended with a curve, but the last two years he is up at 40%.  When looking at why he has enjoyed a rise in Ks this year specifically, it is actually his fastball and changeup that are accounting for the jump.  The pair of pitches yielded a strikeout on just 10% of plate appearances that ended on one of them last year, but this year that mark is up to 13% spurred mostly by the changeup going up 5% to 14% in 2012.

GROUNDBALLS

The sharpest improvement for Detwiler in the early part of 2012 is the amount of groundballs he is inducing.  His sinker is the most effective it has ever been, inducing groundballs left and right en route to a career-best 54% rate (career 43% mark coming into 2012).

He has always been a groundball guy with a better than 1.0 groundball-to-flyball ratio, but this year’s contact against him has been overwhelmingly weak as the rise in groundball rate has come right out of his line drive rate which is down to 10%.  From 2009-2011, he carried an astronomically high line drive rate between 20% and 25%.

His line drive rate is going to see an uptick as the season progresses as 10% just isn’t sustainable.  The lowest line drive rate for an ERA qualifier going back to when that kind of data is available (2002) is 13.3% for Derek Lowe in 2002.  There have only been 12 seasons (spread among 11 pitchers as fake Fausto Carmona has two of them) under 15%.

The fact that it will rise and likely cut into his BABIP and subsequently his ERA isn’t a problem, though. I don’t think anyone expects him to finish the year with a 2.75 ERA and 1.09 WHIP anyway so some regression doesn’t make him a fraud.  How much regression is obviously the real question.

RUNNERS ON

Even if he adds 5-6% to the line drive rate (most of which will go for hits as I believe the league BABIP on LDs is something like .700), his BABIP should remain on the right side of .300 as BABIP has never really been an issue with him as you saw from the chart above.  The problem is that not enough men who get on are left there.  Last year he enjoyed a 79% LOB rate, easily his highest rate ever and the first time in his career that he topped 67%.

Though off to his best start ever, he is still allowing 35% of his base runners to reach home.  League average is around 72% left on base.  He can cancel out most, if not all of his line drive rate regression by leaving more runners on base.  He doesn’t even need to push as high as league average to do so, either.  Of course, just because league average is 72% doesn’t mean pitchers are magically entitled to the mark.

Sometimes it is a matter of focus with runners on that ends up as the missing link for pitchers, while others have markedly different wind ups and stretch positions.  For Detwiler, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between his wind up with the bases empty and his stretch with runners on so perhaps it is mental for him.

This GIF isn’t great, but my computer was being wonky as hell and this was like my 12th attempt so we’re going with it.  (I definitely need a new computer now that I’m a full-fledged GIFer… or is it GIFist… jeez, could anyone possibly care less about this last sentence?).

Detwiler has allowed a career .693 OPS with the bases empty as opposed to a .751 OPS with runners on.  Last year his split was .691 to .721, but this year he’s at an impressive .480 with the bases cleared compared to .730 with men on.  He showed last year that he can leave men on at an above average clip.  If he can even get to average this year, he will mitigate the pending regression in that line drive rate.

OUTLOOK

Though we are just 39 innings into the season, there are reasons to be excited about what Detwiler has shown especially if you extend it back to last year which is really when he started to show signs of being worth the 6th overall pick.

Any pitcher who can miss some bats and keep the ball down is likely to be successful on some level.  He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but he misses enough at this current rate and I think there is the potential for a few more (perhaps pushing as high as 7.0 per game) if he continues to rely more on that curveball as a finisher.  Meanwhile his groundball rate is elite at 54% and allows him to carry a mid-6.0s strikeout rate yet remain very successful.

There haven’t been any wholesale changes to his approach this year (velocity, pitch mix, stance on mound, new pitch, etc…) that you would point to and say “this is why he is excelling”.  Rather it has been a maturation process that started back in 2011 when he began displaying more control as well as improved command.  The command has taken another step forward this year as continues to pound the zone, but leaves far fewer pitches “fat” where hitters can destroy them which is evidenced by the lowered line drive and elevated groundball rates.

He is becoming a better pitcher with more room to improve, too.  He just crossed the 200-inning threshold as a major leaguer this year, though, so temper expectations as he is still learning on the job.  From a fantasy perspective, trading Detwiler isn’t a bad idea if you get a nice offer, but don’t think that just because his numbers are excellent you can “sell high”.

Or at least sell high in the traditional sense.  A lot of fantasy managers probably didn’t even know who he was coming into the season so I doubt they are going to be ready to trade off a mint to acquire him after 39 big innings.  That doesn’t mean you can’t move him and get value in return.  Just don’t expect something commensurate with a 2.75 ERA and 1.09 WHIP if it were coming from someone like Zack Greinke or Cliff Lee.

Keep in mind that Detwiler was a last round pick or waiver pickup which play into his valuation.  That means if you can get some 16th-18th round guy, that is a pretty hefty return.  You might just want to hang on to your gem who is actually paying off, though, as so few ever do.  Even if he ends the season with a 3.75 ERA in 175 innings, it’s not like he will be getting slaughtered from here on out to get to that level.  He would post a 4.05 in 135 innings the rest of the way.

Tuesday: 05.15.2012

The Best Pitches of April – Relief Edition

Earlier this month, I brought you the Best Pitches of April for starting pitchers.  That was back on May 2nd.  I wanted to share the same for relievers.  Ideally going forward, I will present both the starters and relievers early in month as opposed to one iteration in the middle of the month.

To determine the “best” pitches of the month, I will be using FanGraphs Pitch Values and then supplying GIF-based examples of those of pitches.  FanGraphs offers pitch values on fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup, split-finger and knuckleball pitches, but for this exercise, we will be looking at the first six as no reliever throws a knuckleball.

I’ll list the top overall value for each pitch, the top value in the other league (so if 1st place is from an NL guy, I’ll list the top AL guy even if he’s further down the list) and also the top surprise listing which is of course arbitrary to my own tastes.  GIFs will be included for the Top Overall in each pitch only.

FASTBALL

  • Top Overall – Matt Thornton (Value 4.7, Usage 78%, Velocity 95.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Josh Lindblom (4.0 [3rd-best], 67%, 92.5 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Duane Below (4.2 [2nd-best], 54%, 90.4 MPH)

Thornton has long had a great fastball registering pitch values of 17 and 19 in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  In fact it was the emergence of his fastball in 2008 that took him from a solid reliever to an elite one resulting in a 2010 All-Star bid.  His fastball helped him to a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings in April with 10 strikeouts.

Here is a series of fastballs from Thornton to Oakland’s Cliff Pennington on April 25th in the bottom of the 10th inning.

SLIDER

  • Top Overall – Alexi Ogando (Value 3.5, Usage 38%, Velocity 84.7 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Jon Rauch (3.4 [2nd-best], 43%, 82.8 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Craig Stammen (2.5 [5th-best], 31%, 84.6 MPH)

Ogando would be a mid-rotation starter on most teams and no worse than a closer on many others.  On the insanely deep Texas Rangers, he is a bridge reliever pitching crucial innings to get to Mike Adams and Joe Nathan.  There is a ton of value in his role as managers often save their closer, ostensibly their best reliever, for save situations only.

With Ogando, manager Ron Washington gets to use his best reliever when it actually matters most: those especially sticky 6th, 7th and 8th inning situations.  Perhaps the best part is that Ogando can give you more than three outs without incident, in fact the best deployment of him should include more than an inning of work.

Here are some sliders from Ogando to both Brent Morel of the White Sox on April 6th and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers on April 22nd.  The White Sox game is in the bottom of the 7th and the Tigers game is in the bottom of the 8th.

CUTTER

  • Top Overall – Mike Adams (Value 3.5, Usage 57%, Velocity 87.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Josh Roenicke (1.6 [4th-best], 32%, 83.9 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Jason Isringhausen (2.4 [3rd-best], 35%, 88.4 MPH)

Of course Texas relievers had two of the best pitches in April.  This team is just so ridiculously stocked top to bottom.  I remember when the Rangers were talking trade with the Padres and everyone assumed they would go for Heath Bell.  When it turned out they “only” got Adams, some thought they settled.  Even before this year’s implosion with Bell, it was obvious they got the much better reliever.  That said, they paid a premium in Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland so they deserved to get the better reliever.

Here is some of Adams’ work with the cutter against Ben Zobrist of Tampa Bay in the top of the 8th inning of an April 28th meeting.

CURVEBALL

  • Top Overall – Kris Medlen (Value 3.4, Usage 11%, Velocity 78.5 MPH)
  • Top Other League – J.P. Howell (3.0 [2nd-best], 39%, 79.0 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Tom Wilhelmsen (2.1 [t5th-best], 31%, 78.7 MPH)

Medlen doesn’t quite reach Ogandian levels, but he is another favorite of mine who shows the embarrassment of riches that the Braves have on their staff.  He would definitely be starting on a lot of teams, but the Braves have the luxury of using him as a multi-inning middle reliever.

Hopefully manager Freddie Gonzalez lets Medlen absorb a substantial workload so he doesn’t run Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters into the ground again this year.  Medlen had outings of 2.0, 2.7 and 3.0 IP in April giving up just two runs in 13 innings of work.

Here is his curveball working against Justin Turner in an Opening Day (April 5th) meeting with the New York Mets in the bottom of the 7th inning.

CHANGEUP

  • Top Overall – Kris Medlen (Value 2.2, Usage 20%, Velocity 82.1 MPH, Split from FB 10.0 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Craig Breslow (1.6 [2nd-best], 15%, 78.6 MPH, 12.5 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Matt Maloney (1.8 [3rd-best], 20%, 81.2 MPH, 7.8 MPH)

See why I think this guy could be starting?  He had two of the best pitches among relievers in the month of April.  He hasn’t been getting strikeouts at the level we are used to seeing from him (career 7.5 K/9, just 2.8 K/9 in April), but he has the capability and I think they will come as the season  progresses.  He notched 4 Ks in his 2.7 inning outing against the Mets on April 17th.

Here is his changeup against a pair of Pirates, Alex Presley and Garrett Jones, from an April 27th meeting in Turner Field during the top of the 8th and 9th innings.

SPLIT-FINGER

  • Top Overall – Jose Arredondo (Value 3.6, Usage 46%, Velocity 84.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Joel Peralta (1.2 [4th-best], 15%, 78.6 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Ryan Mattheus (1.7 [2nd-best], 20%, 81.2 MPH)

Remember when Arredondo was awesome?  OK, awesome might be a stretch, but his rookie year saw him throw 61 innings with a 1.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a 10-2 record.  That is all awesome, but the 8.1 K/9 and 2.5 K/BB don’t necessarily marry up with the performance which is why that season probably falls just short of awesome.  He followed it up with a 6.00 ERA in 45 innings.  He missed all of 2010 to injury before resurfacing with Cincinnati last year.

He has become a useful entity in the bullpen again notching a 10.1 K/9 in April, the highest of his career (which he has continued through May thus far).  He only allowed runs in one of his 10 April outings, too, yielding a 2.53 ERA in 10.7 innings.

Here is his splitter

Monday: 05.14.2012

Trolling the Wire Notes

I just wanted to post a quick message letting you know that you can now find the Trolling the Wire picks in the sidebar before an accompanying post is put out.  In fact, there won’t always be an accompanying article outlining the reasoning behind the picks (like these two last week), but  I will at the very least post the picks in list form similar to how it appears in the sidebar since the sidebar isn’t always easily accessible in mobile formats.

If you have questions about someone I would urge you to comment on that post, tweet me @sporer or email me.  The reason that there won’t usually be an article anymore is because I want to dedicate more time to the other content like the pitcher breakdowns or “best pitches of the month” stuff you have seen this year.  By no means did I want to sacrifice Trolling as it is very popular and I think very useful, too, so this is the best way to still distribute it in my opinion.  Not to mention, I utilize a lot of the same guys and it gets a bit repetitive finding ways to tell you that Edwin Jackson should be on your team.

The picks are listed in order of confidence so if you have a choice between the 1st and 4th listed on your waiver wire, I like the 1st listed more.  I’ll include a guy if he’s 30% or more available at a primary outlet (ESPN, Y!, CBS) when I post.  For example, Max Scherzer might seem crazy, but he’s only 70% owned at ESPN and 65% at Yahoo! so he makes the cut.  I don’t suspect we’ll see him available too much longer, but for now he should be plucked.

Monday: 05.14.2012

BP Chat: Tuesday 12 PM Central

I’ll be moderating my first Baseball Prospectus Chat this week on Tuesday at noon central.  Submit your question ahead of time if you’d like!  It’s a great afternoon for a chat as we’ll have tons of day baseball going on too, including Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee and Jason Marquis all pitching.