Posts tagged ‘American League’

Tuesday: 01.29.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 24 Days – Jose Bautista

Only 24 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.

JOSE BAUTISTA

It will be a quicker countdown entry today which actually works out quite well because Bautista isn’t someone in dire need of a deep-dive analysis. We know he is a power stud coming off of his two amazing full seasons of MLB-leading home run totals in 2010-2011 plus another 27 in 92 games during an injury-shortened 2012. The common analysis after 2010’s insane breakout was that his HR/FB was aberrational to his career levels so he was sure to come down. The problem with analysis isn’t projecting regression after an amazing season, it’s the certainty with which it’s done.

Granted this is easier to do in hindsight, but I’ve always had an issue with guaranteeing regression on a new level of performance. Again, it is a safe bet gravity being what it is and all, but speaking in absolutes has no real upside. He was “sure” to regress in 2011 and while he gave back 11 home runs, he added 42 points of batting average up to .302 and 68 points of on-base percentage up to .447 while actually improving his HR/FB rate from 21.7 to 22.5 percent. What changed to yield the performance is the first question you should ask before instantly declaring it will regress and moving on.

For example, his 2011 batting average stood out almost as much as his 2010 home run surge. After all, his flyball-heavy batted ball profile isn’t exactly conducive .300 batting averages. Of the 74 players to hit .300 or better since 2010, only Bautista did it with a flyball rate north of 45 percent. Only three others were at 44 percent. The average of the set was about 35 percent and 60 players were on the other side of 40 percent.

His .260 in 2010 was just above league average (.257) and his .241 last year wasn’t too far from league average (.255) so what happened in 2011? First off, he shifted the mix on his batted balls a bit taking from the flyballs and adding to both the line drive and groundballs. Secondly, he just smacked the ever-living-piss out of the ball year long, especially compared to league average.

bautista2011bbavg

His .309 BABIP compared to the league mark of .295, but given his batted ball profile compared to league average, it isn’t out of bounds to suggest he also had some good fortune. But when you barrel up the ball and smack rockets all over the place, you’re bound to create some of your good luck.

His dip back down to .241 last year wasn’t terribly surprising as he took a bit from 2011’s line drives and padded his flyball rate again back up to 49 percent. His batted ball profile as it stands over the last three years is far more conducive to .250 batting averages than .300 ones so prepare yourself for that and take anything else as an added bonus.

The worst part about last year’s left wrist injury that effectively ended his season in mid-July is that he had just ripped off nine and 14 home run months in May and June after a mere three in April. While he’d only had one in 12 July games, I was really eager to see what he had in store for us during the dog days of summer.

Over his three year explosion into superstardom, Bautista has posted a composite HR/FB of 21.6 percent, fourth in baseball behind Giancarlo Stanton (25.8), Mike Napoli (23.1), and Ryan Howard (22.3), but his 50.6 flyball percent and 15 percent infield flyball rate are the highest among anyone in the top 30 of HR/FB rate. What that tells me is that he’s selling out for power all day, every day. The 15 percent infield flies are likely a lot of “just missed” missed pitches that fall harmlessly into the shortstops glove on the back of the infield and contribute to his .256 BABIP during that time which is second-lowest among the top 10 in HR/FB (Andruw Jones .244) and third-lowest overall (Carlos Pena .251).

That is the long way of say that all the data suggests that 2011’s .302 really was an aberration and likely one of epic proportions. To repeat the feat, he will likely need to dramatically shift his hit profile or find the double rainbow for a second time. I have seen Bautista go as high as the late-first round. I’m not vehemently opposed to the idea as long as you realize you’re investing in a pure power source and not trying to rationalize the pick by saying, “well, he’s only a year removed from a .302 average so I have that upside, too.”

Sure, technically you do as one a skill is displayed it is owned (Shandlerism!), but you also have to understand the probability of said skill returning once gone and with Bautista, as his skills are currently constructed, chances are scant. There have been just 10 seasons of 40+ homers the last three years and he owns two including the best (54) and third-best (43) and he was on pace for a third which would’ve extended his 12 home run lead over Miguel Cabrera (124 to 112) for the most in the majors during that span. So if you are drafting him for that bankable power and understand his deficiency with batting average, then by all means proceed with your pick.

Monday: 01.28.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 25 Days – Kyle Seager

Only 25 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.

KYLE SEAGER

When you look at Kyle Seager’s 2012 line of .259/.316/.423, you jaw will most certainly stay firmly in place. There is nothing particularly special about those rate stats and while they were above average (110 OPS+, 108 wRC+), they don’t lead many to identify Seager as a hot fantasy commodity. Shifting over to his counting stats changes the equation a bit as his 20 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases were all top 10 at the position (note: he was tied for 10th in home runs with David Freese and Mike Moustakas). All of a sudden he is a bit more appealing.

Now imagine if he weren’t stuck in the anti-Coors? Though Seager bats left-handed and southpaws generally fare better at Safeco, he couldn’t wait to leave town. He was an All-Star on the road as his 126 wRC+ outside of Seattle was just a tick behind Adrian Beltre’s 127 and sixth-best among third basemen. He was essentially an American League Chase Headley. Headley finally found a way to do some damage in Petco Park this year en route to an amazing season, but he still led all third basemen with a 154 wRC+ on the road and he has a career 695 home OPS compared to 836 on the road.

Seagerhm-aw

Ouch, that is rough. He gets 75 percent of his home runs and 70 percent of runs batted in on the road. He does his best to bring something to the table at home by walking twice as often and steal more than three times as often, but that can hardly paper over his incredible home struggles. I’m 89 percent certain that Seager was on site, hard hat in tow, helping the construction crews bring in the fences at Safeco.

For those wondering, this isn’t a one-year thing, either. He only had 201 plate appearances in 2011, but 91 of them were in Safeco and they were terrible: .188/.256/.263 with zero home runs. Meanwhile in his 110 on the road he posted a .314/.358/.471 with three home runs. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Safeco Field doesn’t kill lefties on home runs nearly as much as righties? For those who didn’t click, it’s a 91 HR park factor for lefties compared to a 70 for righties.

That is borne out in Seager’s numbers as well. All five of his Safeco home runs (which all came in 2012) were pulled. In fact, to right and right center fields Seager is excellent at Safeco over his career with a .339 average, 901 OPS, and those five bombs. His .565 slugging percentage also includes 13 doubles. If he is doing that well to the pull field, can you imagine how bad it is when he goes opposite field? You may want a barf bag nearby.

When going to leftfield in Safeco, Seager’s line is an abysmal .195/.191/.248 in 117 plate appearances. He actually improved in 2012. After a 312 OPS–yes OPS, that would be a horrible on-base percentage–in 2011, he jumped all the way up to 482 a season ago. He is being especially obliterated when he tries to “go with the pitch” on the outer third of the zone and just outside the strike zone hitting just .152 (9-for-59) in those instances.

seageroppo

(click to enlarge)

Now we ask the obvious next question as we did when discussing Yonder Alonso: how much might the moved in fences help this issue? Thanks to SportsPressNW.com, we can look at a very nice picture of the new dimensions and we see a 10-foot move in the leftfield corner, a big jump of about 12-15 feet in that leftfield power alley, and some minor moves in center and right centerfield.

safeco-dimensions

(click to enlarge)

Using the Katron.org spray chart from 2012 for Seager and comparing it against the new Safeco, it doesn’t look like his current batted ball profile is set to gain massively from the move. The dots are his flyouts (lighter orange) and lineouts (darker orange). None of his doubles were anywhere near the edge of the wall so they weren’t included.

seagerspraycomp

(click to enlarge)

But as I mentioned with Alonso, this is also assumes he will have the same batted ball distribution again in 2013 and that isn’t happening. It is worth looking at though because if we saw that Seager was dotting the warning track time and time again to leftfield, we would have reason to be quite optimistic with these moved fences because even if he didn’t have the same exact distribution, he would likely hit at least a few out that way again and they’d be more likely to sail over and into the stands.

Seager, like many young left-handed batters, also struggles against lefties. Those problems, as you might guess, are you really exacerbated at home. He has a 646 OPS against lefties as a whole for his career (compared to 766 against righties), but that drops to 545 at home while sitting at a formidable 748 on the road. Another hallmark of youth is struggling with off-speed stuff and that is mostly how lefties handle him at home.

We’re slicing the data pretty thin at this point, but this is at home versus lefties by pitch:

  • Fastball: .253 AVG, .333 SLG, 14% K, 10% BB in 89 PA
  • Curveball: .176 AVG, .353 SLG, 37% K, 11% BB in 19 PA
  • Slider: .130 AVG, .130 SLG, 21% K, 0% BB in 24 PA

None of these samples are big enough to mean a ton, but it’s all we have to work with right now. These thin slices of the data won’t stabilize for some time, but there is no denying from his larger samples that Seager struggles in Safeco, with lefties, and in Safeco with lefties. The moved in fences will likely add more relief via placebo effect than in improved numbers, but Seager is just 25 years old so he still learning. If he focuses on improving against lefties regardless of venue, that will drive his biggest net positive.

As long as he continues to steal bases, his fantasy value will remain substantial aided by his 81 road games where he does his best work. Given his age, above average composite work in 2012, and the fact that the M’s just don’t have a viable backup worth sitting Seager for, he should hold the job for the duration of 2013 giving him a chance to tackle those lefty issues. He is currently slotted in the 3-hole of their lineup which is always a good thing, even in a down lineup like Seattle’s.

I love Seager as a corner infielder in a mixed league especially if you end up with a superstar 3B early on. His price could be on the rise by the time draft season hits in AL-only leagues as it thins out quickly after the superstars (Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Evan Longoria) and moves into the youth bracket with Seager, Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, and Will Middlebrooks.

Tuesday: 10.2.2012

Down Ballot MVPs: Yoenis Cespedes

Let’s talk AL MVP.

No, not that MVP battle.  I am talking about the next tier, the down ballot candidates.  I realize that most people probably don’t care about the also-rans in an MVP race, but I actually do care because I like seeing guys recognized for their big seasons even if they weren’t quite the best.  There is no financial benefit (that I’m aware of) and no one but the encyclopedic fans with incredible memories will remember the 7th-place finisher in a given year, but I’m sure it is special for the player to be given consideration for such a prestigious award.

Top 5 or top 10 finishes in the MVP do get thrown around when it comes to Hall of Fame discussion, too, so it is important that the “right” guys get their due.  I put right in quotes obviously because there is no single right answer.  For one, fans really only care that the writers get the winner right.  After that, most couldn’t care less.  There were 22 players who got votes in the American League last year and 23 for the National League so the ballot runs deep.  For this series, I am pointing out guys I want to see in that upper range, say top 5-7.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll profile some of my favorite down ballot candidates in each league.  In the American League, these guys are fighting for third place and beyond.  I can’t envision any scenario where Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera aren’t first and second in some order.

Let’s start out west:

Yoenis Cespedes (OAK, OF) – How great has he been this year?  In just about any other year he is a walkaway Rookie of the Year, but he picked the Year of Trout for his debut.  Not only did he deliver the power and speed that was expected from him based on his elite athleticism (23 HR; 16 SB), but he also hit .291 with a .353 on-base percentage, both higher than anticipated by a significant margin.  He was expected to be among the freest swingers, but his 19% strikeout rate was 31st in the AL among those with 500+ plate appearances.  Adam Dunn paced the league at 34%, easily taking the MLB title, too.  Cespedes was nowhere near the 25%-30% range that made up the rest of the top 10.

When you talk about value, there is a desire to get the heart of how a singular player impacted his team.  Now that is difficult to quantify, but the methods in place look kindly upon Cespedes.  First off, the A’s were 80-47 when he was in the lineup (an incredible .630 win percentage) and just 12-21 (.364) when he was sidelined.  Obviously crediting one of 25 as the sole reason for those splits in record is a bit outlandish on par with pitchers and quarterbacks getting far too much credit for wins and taking too large a hit for losses.  It does at least begin to show how important he is to that team, though.

If you lean more into the sabermetric sect, you might be interested to know that he has a 3.81 Win Probability Added (defined here) in his 127 games.  That is good for 7th in the American League (for the record, Trout had a massive lead at 5.61 and he has played just 10 more games than Cespedes).  These two have squished a lot of WPA into smaller sample sets than the others in the top 10.  On that definition page, it defines a 3.0 or better as great which coincidentally covers the entire top 10 in the AL as Adam Jones rounds it out at 3.04, just ahead of 11th place Billy Butler’s 2.85 mark.

Fangraphs also has a Clutch statistic (defined here) in which Cespedes also grades out nicely with a 0.75 mark (where 0.5 is above average and 1.0 is great).  He actually kills Trout here who is at -0.53 which is below average by their scale.  Of those top seven in WPA, Cespedes is the 3rd-most clutch by that statistic.  Looking at his statistics in various states of leverage (defined by Baseball-Reference here), his quality clutch rating isn’t a huge surprise as he does his best work in High Leverage situations with a .349/.432/.651 line including six home runs, 28 RBIs, and six stolen bases in 74 plate appearances.  He also has eight walks against 11 strikeouts.  The strikeout tick upward to 49, but he also fares quite well in Medium Leverage situations with a .327/.388/.567 line with 10 homers, 34 RBIs, and seven stolen bases in 240 plate appearances.  He has a meager .682 OPS and .230 batting average in Low Leverage situations across 216 plate appearances.

He wasn’t the top WAR guys on the A’s thanks in large part to Josh Reddick’s incredible defense (though he was hardly a slouch with the bat), but I do think Cespedes was easily their best offensive player overall (combinations of Chris Carter, Brandon Moss and Johnny Gomes were better in various stats like OPS, OPS+, wRC+, and wOBA, but none of them played close to as much as Cespedes) while being a capable defender in centerfield (a premium position) and leftfield.  He essentially split his time down the middle between the two positions when looking at the innings.  He is older than most rookies (26), but he still exceeded expectations in his first year as a major leaguer and he is a major reason why the A’s are now playoff bound.

Monday: 01.25.2010

Is Markakis Overrated? Not So Fast.

There was a piece yesterday at AOL Fanhouse by an RJ White suggesting that Nick Markakis is overrated based on his average draft position (ADP) of 49th overall and 12th amongst outfielders. He’s surrounded by Adam Lind (43rd) ahead of him and a group including Josh Hamilton (51st), Curtis Granderson (53rd), Adam Dunn (54th) and BJ Upton (58th) shortly after him. His career highs are .306, 106 R, 23 HR, 112 RBI and 18 SB. All but the runs and average came in 2007 while the other two were in 2008. Last year was his worst in the last three, but he still managed a .293-94-18-101-6 line.

I used to be driving the bandwagon that this guy was overvalued and I’d tell anyone who would listen. My biggest issue was that I didn’t see him (and still don’t) getting back to that 18-stolen base level anytime soon and yet many of his profiles on websites and in magazines kept hearkening back to that 2007 total implying it was bound to come back that season. I came around on him when I noticed something this fall. I plugged Markakis’ lows from AVG-R-HR-RBI into Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index looking for occurrences of players reaching each of those thresholds in the last three years. The line, by the way, is .293-94-18-87. A line I don’t think many would consider AMAZING by any stretch but recognize as solid.

The results are what brought me back to Markakis’ side. In addition to Markakis, only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have hit those numbers or better in each of the last three seasons. Only David Wright and Alex Rodriguez have done so twice while 21 others have done it once. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of consistency, especially in this game we play let alone on the field for the Orioles. In Mr. White’s article he touts the merits of Carlos Lee (68th) and Andre Ethier (71st), two fine outfielders, as markedly better picks than Markakis. How do they stack up to Markakis? For Lee, he discusses how he is just as capable of hitting .300 as Markakis while maintaining more power (though he recognizes the 4-year decline for Lee). What he misses is that Lee is 33 and likely to continue that decline or plateau for a year or two more while Markakis is 26 years old and entering his prime. It’s not at all unreasonable to believe that Markakis will return to the low 20s or even begin to set new career highs. Another miss from Mr. White is the runs scored column. In 2008, Lee scored just 61 runs but could be given a pass having played just 115 games, but in 160 games last year he managed just 65. I’ll grant that the category is more of a team-dependent one than individual, but it still counts and a 30-run split is significant. I’d bet on the Baltimore lineup before the Houston one if for no other reason than the growth of Matt Wieters thus giving the edge to Markakis in runs scored again.

Ethier is a different matter whereby he matches up better with Markakis statistically, but he also proves my point about Markakis’ power totals likely jumping up in the coming season. To wit, Ethier hit 11, 13, 20 in his first three seasons (spanning ages 24-26) before exploding for 31 last year. His AB/HR in that period was 31.1 and then 19.2 in 2009. Markakis has hit 16, 23, 20 and 18 in his first four seasons (spanning ages 22-25) with an AB/HR of 30.7. With Ethier’s power boost came a sizeable drop in batting average. He averaged .299 for three years before hitting .272, a total of 17 hits based on his 2009 at-bat total. Markakis has hit .298 the last four seasons, but it’s not out of the realm that a power boost would also come at the cost of some batting average. The two were neck-and-neck in runs and RBIs last year, but it was Ethier’s first season topping 90 in both. This is where Markakis’ consistency comes into play again as he’s scored 90+ each of the past three seasons and been below 100 RBIs just once with 87 in 2008.

I think Ethier stands up vs. Markakis, especially 22 picks later. But that brings up one of my least favorite things about ADP comparison articles: lack of context. Twenty-two picks seems like a lot, but Markakis at 49 is the beginning of the 5th round while Ethier at 71 is the end of the 6th. If you have that 49th pick, you drafted first overall giving you 1, 24, 25, 48, 49, 72, 73. Your only chance at Markakis, Ethier and even Lee is that 49th pick based on ADP so the ADPs of Lee and Ethier are irrelevant at that point. When judging the three on their statistical merit alone, I think Lee gets removed from contention based on age-induced decline. Now you’re comparing an ultra-consistent 26 year old entering his prime with an in-his-prime 27 year old who just showed the excellence he is capable of with a career year in 2009. It’s a pick ‘em at that point. The important thing to note is that draft trends suggest that a pick in the top of the 5th is likely your only chance at one of these guys. The other may fall to you with the last pick of the 6th, but it’s a risky bet.

Markakis definitely isn’t being overrated at this juncture in the mock draft season so much as he has been the preferential pick to a host of other comparable outfielders. I’d certainly recommend against Mr. White’s recommendation of taking Lee or Manny Ramirez (62nd) for age-related reasons while Ethier is a coinflip and a reasonable case can be made for either. Among the other in proximity not mentioned by Mr. White, I’d take Markakis over Hamilton and Michael Bourn (64th) without question, I’d take Granderson before Markakis and Dunn, Upton and Nelson Cruz (67th) would depend on my team makeup at that point in the draft. Markakis doesn’t have a standout category like Dunn’s power, Upton’s speed or Cruz’s healthy mix of both, but he also doesn’t have a gaping deficiency like Dunn’s average, Upton’s average and RBIs and Cruz’s runs scored and batted in totals. I think it is that lack of a standout category that causes some to believe Markakis is overrated as evidenced by the fact that Mr. White only looks at his power as compared to Lee and Ethier.

This game is about the balance between accumulating value and mitigating risk whenever possible making a guy like Markakis a strong, but unheralded and often underrated pickup on a team. Not only does his consistent track record alleviate risk, but there is also a viable upside that could come to fruition this season and increase the value of the pick thereby covering for some of the risk that will invariably reside on your roster. Not every pick, in fact not many picks will draw the oohs and ahhs from your leaguemates and make you feel like the smartest person in the room, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad picks or reaches.