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Entries in Chicago White Sox (34)

Wednesday
Dec072011

Santos Returns to Toronto

Four years ago, Sergio Santos was flailing to the tune of a .183 average for the Toronto Blue Jays' then-Triple-A Affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs. The 6-foot-2, 230 pound Santos, a former first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, was too slow for shortstop and clearly wasn't going to hit his way to the majors. His big league window appeared closed.

Yesterday, Santos returned to the Jays -- to close. The converted infielder, who has established himself as one of the game's great strikeout artists out of the 'pen, was traded from the White Sox to Toronto for another infield convert, Nestor Molina.

For Chicago, the Santos trade may signify the beginning of a painful rebuilding process that could also put the likes of Carlos Quentin, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez on the market (no one's touching Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy or Alex Rios). A fastball/splitter righty with sublime control (he had a 148-to-16 K-to-BB ratio in 130.1 innings between High-A and AA), Molina was recently graded as a B+ prospect by John Sickels. The soon-to-be 23-year-old doesn't have a great breaking ball, but he could be a nice mid-rotation starter. It's a start.

On the other side, credit Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and company for landing an elite reliever without paying the Papelbon premium in free agency -- Santos is signed through 2014 for a total of $8.25 million, and he has team options for the three seasons after that for a combined $22.75 million.  While Santos' control isn't great (4.3 BB/9 over the past two years), his power slider might be the nastiest pitch in the sport.

Santos has thrown the mid-to-high-80s breaker slightly less than a quarter of the time over the past two seasons. Hitters have whiffed at the pitch 60 percent of the time they have swung, trailing just the Angels' Jordan Walden and Atlanta's Jonny Venters in slider miss percentage. Santos buries the pitch out of the zone to his glove side...

Santos' slider location, 2010-2011

...And hitters don't have a prayer against those below-the-knees pitches. Check out opponents' contact rate by pitch location vs. Santos' slider, versus the league average:

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Santos' slider, 2010-2011

Average contact rate by pitch location vs. sliders, 2010-2011

Santos' slider makes MLB athletes with Jedi-like coordination look like, well, Santos did as a hitter. Opponents have batted .101 against the pitch, with a .131 OBP and a .187 slugging percentage. By the way, pitchers hit a collective .141/.175/.182 this past year.

The 28-year-old loves to go to the slider with two strikes, throwing it half the time in such situations, and he has racked up 99 of his 148 Ks with the pitch. Santos couldn't hit the slider. Luckily for him, no one can hit his, either.

Thursday
Nov102011

Gavin Floyd With Ducks on the Pond

The 2011 Chicago White Sox were a $128 million disaster, slogging to a 79-83 record and a third-place finish in the AL Central. Sans Ozzie and possessing perhaps the worst farm system in baseball, Chicago could take advantage of a lukewarm market for free agent starters by shopping John Danks and/or Gavin Floyd. Both are drawing interest, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Floyd, 29 in January, is under contract for $7 million in 2012 and also has a $9.5 million club option for 2013. The reasonable financial commitment and the flexibility afforded in not having to lock into a three or four-year deal mean that the ChiSox should fetch a decent prospect if they decide to trade Floyd. But just how good of a prospect Chicago gets could come down to whether teams value Floyd by his peripheral stats or his ERA.

Over the past three seasons, Floyd has a 3.66 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). That's 27th among qualified starting pitchers. Based on that, you could say that Floyd is a number one on a pitching-starved squad or a solid number two starter. The righty's ERA, however, is a half-run higher at 4.16. That's 55th among qualified starters, and makes him look more like a mid-rotation arm.

So, why the disconnect between FIP and ERA? The answer is his rate of leaving runners on base. Floyd has a 69.2 percent strand rate since '09, while the big league average for starters has sat around 71-72 percent. You might be inclined to write that off as a product of bad luck, and you might be right. But let's dig deeper into Floyd's performance from the stretch.

Generally speaking, pitchers perform worse with ducks on the pond. Since 2009, starting pitchers have struck out 18.4 percent of hitters faced and walked 7.1 percent with the bases empty. With men on, they have punched out 16.8 percent of hitters and walked 8.7 percent. So, strikeout rate declines by nine percent with men on, and walk rate increases by 24 percent.

But Floyd? He has struck out 20.8 percent of hitters and walked 6.1 percent with the bases clean. Once a runner reaches, he has a 17.3 K% and a 7.8 BB%. His strikeout rate declines by 17 percent with men on, and his walk rate increases by 28 percent. Also likely not helping matters: Floyd has a slow move to the plate, and runners are often successful when they take off (82 percent of the time against him since '09). Those steals put runners in scoring position more often.

The big difference between Floyd with the bases empty and Floyd with men on is his fastball. Floyd has thrown his fastball in the zone 53 percent of the time with the bases empty, and 46 percent of the time with men on. Aside from missing the zone more often to the arm side, he also elevates the fastball more with runners on base. Check out his heater location with the bases empty, compared to when a runner reaches:

 Floyd's fastball location with bases empty, 2009-2011

Floyd's fastball location with men on, 2009-2011

He has thrown 37 percent of his fastballs high in the zone with no one on, and 42 percent with runners on base. Whether Floyd is missing his spots and leaving the ball up or he's intentionally trying to blow the ball by hitters, it's not working. Batters do pretty well against Floyd's fastball when no one's on base (.290/.349/.434), but they're hitting .340/.386/.487 against the pitch with men on.

While Floyd's K and walk rates with men on base decline more than most when compared to performance with the bases empty, they're still better than those of the average starter (i.e. he strikes out more hitters and walks fewer with men on than the average starter, despite his larger-than average decline in those categories between bases empty/men on situations). The main reason for his low strand rate is a .285 batting average on balls in play with no one on, and a .316 BABIP when runners reach. That's an 11 percent increase, compared to less than a half-percent increase for the average starter.

Are Floyd's woes with runners on base merely bad luck, the product more hitter's counts, poor pitch location or a mix of all of the above? Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer. But how teams answer that question will determine whether they view Floyd as a well above-average starter or just a serviceable rotation piece.

 

 

Thursday
Aug182011

Jonny Venters' Dominant Slider

Jonny Venters has thrown 191 sliders this season, and opposing hitters have swung at 103 of those sliders.  Yet, of those 103 swings, they have hit nothing but air 70.9% of the time.  That leads all major league pitchers throwing sliders.  Sergei Santos of the Chicago White Sox comes in second with 64.9%, and there are only five other pitchers who have produced a Miss% rate on sliders greater than 50% this season.

(Click image to enlarge)

You can see that he keeps the slider away from lefties, missing the strike zone the majority of the time, while keeping it on the bottom of the zone to righties.  Venters has gotten opposing hitters to swing at his sliders located out of the zone 51.5% of the time.  In fact, Lefties have chased 61% of sliders he's thrown out of the zone, which ranks 3rd best in the league behind Jaime Garcia and Joel Hanrahan.

Last season, Venters was getting hitters to swing and miss at 63.7% of his sliders and chase 41.5%.  While both are still excellent overall (his Miss% also led the league in 2010), his current slider has gone above and beyond.  Lefties are hitting just .115 against, while righties have yet to get a hit in 35 plate appearances decided on a slider.  In fact, in the 61 PA in which a Jonny Venters slider was the deciding pitch, 51 have been strike outs (47 swinging, 4 looking).  The fact that he can throw his slider effectively to both righties and lefties is a major reason he hasn't allowed an earned run since June 29th.

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