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Entries in Baltimore Orioles (38)

Friday
Jun072013

Hello, Chris Davis

There's this guy, in Baltimore, named Chris Davis. Maybe you have heard of him. If you haven't, let me be the first to welcome you out from under your rock.

Chris Davis has always shown potential to be a prodigious power hitter in the middle of a major league lineup, thanks in part to his career minor league SLG% of .597. But after busting onto the scene in 2008 with a triple slash line of .285/.331/.549, Davis (and the Rangers) watched the young man from Longview, TX quickly become lost at the plate. 

A Brandon Wood-esque slow start in 2010, led to Davis being sent down to AAA. Ditto in 2011.

So what does a team do with a player that has huge power upside, but has a K% regularly near 30%?

Why, you trade him, of course.

For bullpen depth (Koji Uehara), because that makes sense, and because, why not entrust a position to Mitch Moreland?

At this point, it is safe to assume that Chris Davis was broken. His free-swinging ways were simply too much to overcome, and now his limitless power potential would be relegated to minor league folklore. Another story about a failed prospect, blah blah blah. Or is it?

The "Broken Prospect Fixer Upper" machine

After Davis was traded to Baltimore, something happened (my friend thinks that the Orioles have some kind of "Broken Prospect Fixer Upper" machine. I am inclined to agree with him).

He started hitting again, and with power...again.

He still struck out too damn much, but a triple slash line of .270/.326/.501?

Yes, please.

Chris Davis was fixed. He wasn't hitting at a superstar level, but he did hit at an above average clip. Plenty good enough to be a consistent producer in the five-hole for the Orioles.

But then Baltimore added some magic to their Fixer Upper machine and not only did Davis improve his contact rates, thus lowering his K%, but it also allowed him to hit for even more power than everyone already knew he was capable of.

Cue the colorful charts...

So pretty, right?

A spackle of blue here and there on the heat map with a ridiculous amount of red on anything that is middle-in. And his contact rates show, well, exactly what you would expect from a power hitter that is doing exactly what he should be expected to do. When a pitch is in his zone, he is making contact, and he's doing a good job of not missing pitches that are thrown over the plate in general.

He still misses a lot on pitches low and out of the strike zone, but, give him a break. The man is 6'3", and has a career K% north of 30%. The fact that he has that number down to 23.8% so far in 2013, is a victory all on it's own.

What does this mean for pitchers?

It means death for pitchers facing Davis, that's what it means. For someone with "easy power" like Chris Davis (Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs pointed out just how easy, here), the scales were at least balanced by his propensity to strikeout. But since he has been cutting down on those, well...

Back to the charts...

Oh, my.

Davis has a .700 SLG% on pitches that are off of the plate and away. He has a 1.524 SLG% on pitches on the outside corner.

This is ridiculous. This is preposterous. This is fantastic.

Since the "Steroid Era" "ended," baseball has had it's share of power hitters with slugging percentages above the .600 mark, there are pages of players who have slugged that high in a season on Baseball-Reference. Chris Davis' current slash line is .350/.429/.719. .719!!! 

Do you know how many times, since 1901 a player has slugged over .700 for a season?

36.

Nine of those seasons belong to Babe Ruth, four of those seasons belong to Barry Bonds.

From 1958 through 1993, nobody (who qualified for a batting title) had a slugging percentage that high. And, speaking of Bonds, he was the last hitter to have slugging percentage over .700. And that was in 2004.

What does this mean?

It means that Chris Davis doesn't just have "crazy power." It means that Chris Davis has "special power," or, dare I say, "generational power."

Or, Chris Davis is just having a career year. But that's no fun.

With how easy it is for Davis to hit the ball very hard, and very far, it's not too much of a stretch to think that he could join both Bonds and Ruth as the only players to slug over .800 for a season. And, if you want to get technical, he could be the only player since Ruth to do it without "help."

Could you imagine if he had figured it out while still with Texas? In that bandbox? With that jet stream to right-center field?!?

Most writers are zeroing in on the Miguel Cabrera, or Mike Trout, or Bryce Harper. All of who are fantastic players who are a part of the bridge of "generational" players that connect one era to another.

Chris Davis doesn't have five tools like Trout and Harper, and he doesn't yet have the track record of Cabrera. But, if Chris Davis continues to smash baseballs, an argument could be made that he should be included in the conversation with those aforementioned players, unless his power goes the way of Al Simmons. In that case, forget I said anything. 

Friday
May242013

Manny Machado: a Quick Study

Manny Machado was able to keep his head above water at the plate during his rookie season, posting a 98 OPS+ in 2012 despite barely being out of his teens and getting minimal at-bats above the A-Ball level. This year, Machado is crushing it. He's got a 136 OPS+, putting him in the same neighborhood as Andrew McCutchen, Robinson Cano and Pablo Sandoval. If he keeps raking like that, he'll hold the best OPS+ by a third-baseman during his age-20 season since Jimmie Foxx, who dabbled at the hot corner before settling in at first base.

How has Machado done it? Here's a closer look at his marked offensive improvement.

  • Machado's going after fewer junk pitches off the plate, lowering his chase rate from 31% as a rookie to 23% in 2013. That's well below the 27% big league average this season. Manny has cut his chase rate against low pitches in half, from 32% to 16%.

Machado's swing rate by pitch location, 2012

 

Machado's swing rate by pitch location, 2013

 

  • Machado hasn't just shortened his strike zone -- he has also connected much more often. As a rookie, his miss rate (25%) was higher than the MLB average (22%). But this season, he has whiffed just 17%. His biggest gain has come on inside pitches, with his miss rate falling from 24% to just 10%.

Machado's contact rate by pitch location, 2012

 

Machado's contact rate by pitch location, 2013

 

  • That extra contact on inside pitches has been loud. Machado has clubbed five homers and slugged .645 against inner-third offerings, which is 230 points above the MLB average (.415). Last year, he hit  two homers and slugged .406.
Tuesday
May212013

Jim Johnson is out of control

It's bad enough for closer Jim Johnson that his Orioles had dropped six straight contests, prior to last night's victory over the Yankees, but Johnson has now blown three consecutive 9th inning saves.

Johnson was the beneficiary of Nate McLouth's 10th inning walkoff homer last night and earned the win with a perfect top of the 10th retiring the Yanks on line out, fly out, and pop out to get the victory. 

The question is, "what is going on with Johnson in saves situations?"

Nine to Know

Since the start of the 2008 season, nine relievers have had streaks of at least three blown saves

Rk   Strk Start End Games W L GF IP H R ER BB SO HR Tm
1 Matt Thornton 2011-04-06 2011-04-13 4 0 2 0 4.0 10 10 4 3 3 1 CHW
2 Tyler Clippard 2010-05-06 2010-05-11 4 3 1 1 4.1 8 4 4 3 5 1 WSN
                               
3 Jim Johnson 2013-05-14 2013-05-20 3 0 2 1 2.1 9 8 8 2 1 2 BAL
4 Jordan Walden 2011-06-22 2011-06-27 3 1 1 1 3.1 3 3 3 2 0 1 LAA
5 Brandon League 2011-05-10 2011-05-13 3 0 3 3 1.2 9 7 7 0 1 1 SEA
6 Ryan Webb 2011-04-25 2011-04-30 3 0 0 0 1.1 4 1 1 1 0 0 FLA
7 Nick Masset 2011-04-10 2011-04-13 3 0 2 2 3.1 7 6 6 4 1 1 CIN
8 Billy Wagner 2008-06-08 2008-06-12 3 0 1 1 2.1 6 6 6 2 4 2 NYM
9 Hideki Okajima 2008-04-22 2008-04-30 3 0 0 0 3.2 5 1 1 1 5 1 BOS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2013.

As you can see, not only has Johnson blown three straight saves but has given up more runs than any of the other relievers

This blown save streak was particularly surprising in light of the fact that Johnson had been running a streak of 35 straight converted save opportunities going back to last July 30.

From July 30, 2012 to May 10, 2013

  • Johnson appeared in 45 games, throwing 44 innings.
  • He earned 35 saves, had no blown saves and had a record of 2-2.
  • He allowed three runs on 30 hits including just one homer and three doubles.
  • He walked eight and whiffed 34.
  • He held batters to a .196 batting avg., a .241 OBP and a .241 slugging pct.
  • Of the 645 pitches thrown, approximately 50% of them were in the strike zone, with 74.3% fastballs (477) with an average velocity of 93.8 mph.
  • Batters put 119 balls in play with 64 (53.8%) grounders

The blown save streak May 14 to May 20, 2013 (still active)

  • Johnson appeared in three games, throwing 2.1 innings.
  • He earned no saves, has had three blown saves and a record of 0-2.
  • He has allowed eight runs on nine hits including two homers and one double.
  • He has walked two and whiffed one.
  • Batters are battering him with a .643 batting avg., a .706 OBP and a 1.143 slugging pct.
  • Of the 69 pitches thrown, approximately 35.3% of them were in the strike zone, with 70.6% fastballs (48) with an average velocity of 93.9 mph.
  • Batters put 13 balls in play with six (46.1%) grounders, three which went for hits.

The problem seems to be Johnson's control in and out of the strike zone.

Of Johnson's 69 pitches, only 24 have been in the zone.

Batters have chased 11 pitches and Johnson has picked up just seven called strikes and five swings-and-misses.

Johnson's been all over the place

Johnson has thrown 48 fastballs over the last three games and batters are sitting on the pitch going 8-for-11 knowing Johnson has trouble locating it as you can see in the heat map below.

Johnson is a good reliever who was pitching over his head and is now in a saves slump. Perhaps last night's game will straighten him out. However, you want your reliever throwing strikeouts and ground outs, not allowing balls in the air.

Look at Johnson's 2012 numbers:

  • 15.2% strikeouts
  • 12.3% ground balls
  • 3.6% line drives
  • 3.8% fly balls
  • 0.8% pop-ups 

Look at Johnson's 2013 numbers:

  • 19.8% strikeouts
  • 8.4% ground balls
  • 3.9% line drives
  • 4.5% fly balls
  • 1.4% pop-ups

Yes, his strikeouts are up this season but his balls in the air are also up. This is probably why his BAbip is up from .252 to .306.

There are few better baseball minds than Orioles pitching coordinator Rick Peterson and pitching coach Rick Adair. Unless there is something physical bothering Johnson, I expect to see a Johnson recovery coming shortly.

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