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Entries in Chicago Cubs (33)

Wednesday
Aug212013

Can Anthony Rizzo Handle the Heat?

The Chicago Cubs committed at least $41 million and potentially up to $73 million in Anthony Rizzo this past May, ensuring the 24-year-old would slug his way to the upper echelon of first basemen at Wrigley Field. At least, that was the plan. While he hasn't totally collapsed like fellow franchise cornerstone Starlin Castro, Rizzo has stalled out instead out breaking out.

Rizzo established himself as an extension-worthy hitter in 2012 after Chicago acquired him from San Diego for Andrew Cashner in a rare young player challenge trade, posting an on-base-plus-slugging percentage that was 17 percent above average (117 OPS+) once adjusting for league and park factors. This year, Rizzo's 103 OPS+ tops that of just Lyle Overbay and Mitch Moreland (99 OPS+) among first basemen qualified for the batting title.

To stop getting heat from fans, the media and his manager, Rizzo has to start crushing heat at the plate. The Cubs' would-be bopper isn't making loud contact against fastballs this season, manager Dale Sveum told ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg:

"An every-day player gets 600 at-bats, averaging one major [fastball about groin-high] an at-bat; that's four a day," Sveum said. "What you do with those four balls that you can drive out of the ballpark dictates your whole day. The difference is the guys that are the elite center about three or four of those. What centering is, I don't care if they pop it up to the catcher, it's on the four inches of the barrel."

Sveum's right -- Rizzo isn't centering fastballs like he did last season. While Rizzo is hitting more fastballs in the air in 2013 (42 percent of balls put in play) than in 2012 (36 percent), many of those fly balls are of the can-of-corn variety. Last year, Rizzo drove fastballs an average of 277 feet when he hit one skyward, above the 270 foot MLB average and the same distance as Nelson Cruz and Carlos Gonzalez. In 2013, Rizzo's fly ball distance on fastballs has dropped to 254 feet -- about the same average distance as Michael Brantley and Brett Gardner.

It's hard to say why the 6-foot-3, 240 pound Rizzo is hitting fastballs more like a top-of-the-lineup water bug. He's swinging at fewer heaters thrown out of the strike zone (his chase rate has declined from about 29 percent in 2012 to 21 percent in 2013), and he's actually pulling fastballs more often (28 percent of balls put in play in 2012, 30 percent in 2013). Whatever the cause, Rizzo's 20-plus foot drop in fastball fly ball distance has contributed to a near 150-point fall in his fastball slugging percentage.

Rizzo slugged .532 versus fastballs in 2012, easily besting the MLB average (.433). In 2013, however, he's slugging just .383 when pitchers challenge him. The difference is especially glaring on low pitches: he slugged .571 against stuff thrown at the knees in 2012, but a mere .226 in 2013.

Rizzo's fastball slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012

 

Rizzo's fastball slugging percentage by pitch location, 2013

 

Rizzo's fastball woes apparently come as a surprise to the hitter himself. "Look at my numbers," Rizzo told ESPN Chicago's Greenberg. "My fastball numbers are the best there are." Hopefully, Rizzo can start taking out his frustration on those heaters. Right now, his numbers aren't the best there are -- they're merely better than Lyle Overbay's.

Friday
Aug022013

Red Sox getting less than expected from Ryan Dempster

From 2009-13, Ryan Dempster has had one half of one good season.

That's it.

Which is why, Red Sox Nation should not have expected very much from him.

Yet even with these low expectations, they are getting less.

Ryan Dempster 2009-13
 ERAWHIPWLIP/GGSAVGSLUGOBPHRHR/9
2009-13 4.02 1.346 54 51 6.16 149 .254 .412 .325 110 1.08
2013 4.54 1.496 6 8 5.77 22 .259 .441 .343 21 1.49

There are only 10 starters with an ERA over 4.50 and WHIP over 1.450

Dempster's 2013 Cohorts
 ERAWHIPHRHR/9GSIPIP/GAVG
Ryan Dempster 4.54 1.496 21 1.49 22 127.0 5.77 .259
Edinson Volquez 5.56 1.591 11 0.78 23 126.0 5.49 .281
Joe Blanton 5.52 1.563 24 1.82 20 119.0 5.41 .313
Scott Diamond 5.52 1.551 16 1.34 20 107.1 5.38 .311
Lucas Harrell 5.24 1.645 16 1.20 20 120.0 5.01 .281
Jason Hammel 5.20 1.512 20 1.46 21 123.0 5.86 .290
Barry Zito 5.09 1.680 12 0.97 21 111.0 5.30 .313
Yovani Gallardo 4.91 1.481 13 0.91 23 128.1 5.58 .276
Joe Saunders 4.65 1.496 16 1.11 22 129.1 5.89 .298
Wily Peralta 4.57 1.462 13 0.90 23 130.0 5.65 .271

Obviously, this is not great company.

But it wasn't like this last season.

Ryan Dempster started off great for the Cubs last season

Dempster was a Cubs hero last season.

  • Batters were hitting .210 against him. 
  • His ERA was 2.25 and his WHIP was 1.038.
  • In 104 innings he allowed nine homers, a rate of 0.78 HR/9. 

He was so good that at the trade deadline on July 31, 2012, Dempster was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers for Christian Villanueva (minors) and Kyle Hendricks (minors).

Briefly, the 23-year old Hendricks this season pitching for Double A Tennessee is 10-3 with a 1.85 ERA and a 1.053 WHIP and Villanueva, playing on the same team, has 14 homers.

The Cubs couldn't ask for anything more.

Unfortunately, the Rangers could

Dempster was 7-3 with Texas after the deal, but there is a reason why more and more people are ignoring W-L records as a measure of pitching efficacy.

Dempster had a 5.09 ERA and a 1.435 WHIP.

So when the Red Sox offered the now 36-year old pitcher a two-year, $26.5M contract, I'm sure the Rangers responded with a hearty handshake.

When he signed with Boston last December, Boston Globe national baseball writer Nick Cafardo wrote:

One National League GM cautioned about Dempster’s ability to handle strong AL lineups. He had a 11.20 ERA in three starts against the Angels last season, and he was hit hard by the Yankees and A’s.

“If he’s your fifth starter you can be a little bit more picky who he pitches against,” said the GM. “Obviously, Texas didn’t re-sign him feeling he was more suited for the National League. But if you’re careful and pick your spots, he’ll do a great job. He’s a competitor.”

Cafardo's source was correct.

Since the deal

  • Batters are hitting .265 against him. 
  • His ERA is 4.73 and his WHIP is 1.474.
  • In 196 innings he has allowed 31 homers, a rate of 1.42 HR/9.

No magic

On a team that has been producing miracle games, there has been no magic for the Red Sox from Dempster.

So as the Red Sox wait for the prodigal son Clay Buchholz to return. And hope that Jon Lester has regained his mojo. And hope that John Lackey has something left in the tank (in his last three starts he has a 5.49 ERA, a 1.475 WHIP, and a .333 BAA). And hope that Felix Doubront continues to thrive (in his last eight starts he's allowed as many as three runs only once). And hope that Jake Peavy has something left in the tank.

In the meantime, Dempster remains in the rotation, probably a littled dinged, but then again we're getting to the time of the season where many pitchers may be hurting.

But in all honesty what you see is what you get from Dempster.

And probably a little less.

Monday
Jul292013

Soriano Slugging, Hacking Way to History

(All stats through Friday's games)

The injury-ravaged New York Yankees have hit the fewest right-handed home runs (24) in the majors this season, and they rank just 25th in on-base percentage (.306). Well, the Bombers at least addressed one of those issues by throwing lots of cash ($17.7 million of the $24.5 million he's owed through 2014) at the Cubs to acquire Alfonso Soriano. The 37-year-old is still slugging, but he's drawing walks at his lowest clip in over a decade and is well on his way to making power-hitting, out-making history.

Soriano, who began his career in pinstripes from 1999-2003, has clubbed 17 home runs this season. That's now second best in the clubhouse, behind Robinson Cano's 21. But Soriano has also drawn just 15 free passes. While he has always been a free swinger, Soriano's walk rate (3.9% of his plate appearances) is his lowest since 2002 and his .284 on-base percentage is a career low.

If Soriano keeps going deep (he's on pace for 27 homers) and drawing walks at this pace, he'll join an infamous list of high-slugging, low-OBP hitters that includes the likes of Dave Kingman, Joe Pepitone and teammate Vernon Wells. Should Soriano hit 25 homers while remaining such a prodigious out-maker, he'll post one of the 20 lowest on-base percentages ever among hitters reaching that big fly milestone.

Lowest OBP during 25+ home run season

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Soriano's has an ultra-low OBP for two main reasons. He's even more of a hacker this season, with his chase rate climbing from 36% in 2012 to 41% in 2013 -- only San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval has been jumpier against pitches thrown out of the strike zone. Soriano also doesn't seem to instill as much fear in pitchers these days. He is seeing more pitches thrown over the plate (46%) than he ever has during the Pitch F/X era (2008-2013).

With power but also a paltry OBP, Soriano has essentially been a league-average hitter this season (99 OPS+). That might beat playing Wells every day, but Soriano's Kingman-esque production is a far cry from his early glory days in the Bronx.