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Entries in contract extension (12)

Wednesday
Feb262014

Mike Minor: President of the Andrelton Simmons Fan Club

The Atlanta Braves continue to follow the John Hart model of locking up pre-arbitration talent, inking Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million contract extension last week. The 24-year-old Simmons must be thrilled with the deal, which makes him the most handsomely compensated domestic player in history with less than two years of major league service time. But those cheers you hear emanating from Atlanta's Disney World Resort spring training complex? It's Braves pitchers celebrating that fact that the dean of shortstop defense will have their backs through the 2020 season.

Simmons is absolute death to grounders hit deep into the hole. In 2013, Atlanta pitchers had a collective .103 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) when opponents hit a ground ball to the left-center portion of the infield. That was over 30 points lower than the next closest club, the Colorado Rockies. Since the advent of Pitch F/X, only the 2008 Rockies (.101) had a lower team BABIP on grounders hit to left-center.

Lowest team BABIP on ground balls hit to left-center, 2013

 

Pretty much all Braves hurlers got a boost from Simmons' mound-worthy arm and exquisite range (the highest BABIP on grounders hit to left-center belonged to Tim Hudson, at .167), but Mike Minor must be giddy that his shortstop is locked up. The lefty enjoyed a .054 BABIP on grounders hit to left-center, lowest among all MLB pitchers who put at least 50 balls in play to that location on the diamond. The since-departed Paul Maholm (.084 BABIP) owes Simmons a debt of gratitude, while Kris Medlen (.154 BABIP) and fellow new millionaire Julio Teheran (.154) will benefit from pitching in front of this generation's Ozzie Smith for years to come.

Monday
Feb172014

Teheran Gets Paid; Can He Tame Lefties Next?

The Atlanta Braves have locked up another franchise cornerstone, signing Julio Teheran to a six-year, $32.4 million deal that includes a $12 million option for the 2020 season. The 23-year-old righty was arguably the best of the Braves' home-grown rotation as a rookie. Teheran compiled the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.78) among qualified rookie starters and posted a park-and-league-adjusted ERA that was 21 percent above average, trailing just Miami's Jose Fernandez.

While Teheran has already established himself as one of the better young arms in the game, he could enter elite territory by limiting hard contact against left-handed hiters. He's not Charlie Morton Jr. or anything, but Teheran showed a sizable platoon split in 2013. He shut down righties, striking out 26 percent of batters faced and limiting them to a .317 slugging percentage. Against lefties, however, Teheran whiffed only 17 percent of hitters and allowed a .483 slugging percentage. To become platoon-proof, Teheran must miss bats with his fastball and better locate his breaking stuff.

Teheran isn't really a power pitcher, with an average fastball velocity (91.4 MPH) slightly below the big league average for right-handers (91.7 MPH). Don't tell that to righty hitters, though -- they swung and missed 24.4 percent of the time against Teheran's modest heat, the highest clip for an NL starter in righty-vs.-righty confrontations and fourth in the majors, behind Yu Darvish (28.4%), Hisashi Iwakuma (26.4%) and Anibal Sanchez (25.6%). Lefty hitters, by contrast, didn't have near as much trouble connecting against Teheran's fastball.

Righties' contact rate by pitch location vs. Teheran's fastball, 2013

 

Lefties' contact rate by pitch location vs. Teheran's fastball, 2013

Lefties swung through Teheran's fastball 13.3% of the time, below the 15.5% MLB average for righty starters against opposite-handed hitters and barely above the likes of punchout-challenged arms like Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Correia. Righty hitters barely made a peep against Teheran's fastball (.339 slugging percentage), but lefties routinely reached the gaps (.490 slugging percentage).

Teheran's low-80s slider and slurvy, low-70s' curveball were also much more effective versus same-handed batters than lefties. Though he generated an equal number of whiffs with his breaking pitches (hitters on both sides of the plate swung and missed a third of the time), Teheran stifled righties (.315 slugging percentage) and got lit up by left-handers (.490).

Why the big difference? Command. Teheran threw 23.7% of his sliders and curves to the horizontal middle of the plate versus righties (under the 24.2% average), but 27.7% against lefties. Pitchers get pummeled when they leave breaking pitches over the middle of the plate -- hitters slugged a collective .451 last season -- and that's especially they case with Teheran. When he left a breaker over the middle, left-handers took him deep five times and slugged .765.

Teheran is remarkably polished for such a young pitcher, and he's already an asset despite a big platoon split. If Teheran starts deceiving lefties with his heat and spotting his breaking stuff, GM Frank Wren will look like a genius for buying out his potentially pricey arbitration years and a season or two of free agency.   

Monday
Jan202014

Clayton Kershaw's $215 Million Curveball

There are myriad reasons why Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw just earned a seven-year, $215 million contract extension, becoming the first player in history to pull in more than $30 million a season. Kershaw, 26 in March, boasts the fifth-best park-and-league-adjusted ERA (46 percent above average) ever for a starting pitcher during his first six seasons in the majors, trailing only Walter Johnson (164 ERA+), Mordecai Brown (158 ERA+), Smoky Joe Wood (152 ERA+) and Christy Mathewson (150 ERA+). He's a workhorse, having topped 200 innings pitched in each of the past four seasons, and he has fooled hitters like no other lefty (9.2 strikeouts per nine frames) this side of Randy Johnson (9.4 K/9) to start his career.

Yet for all of the breathtaking stats that Kershaw has compiled since making his debut at Chavez Ravine back in May of 2008, this one may be the most remarkable: he has thrown a total of 2,155 curveballs during the regular season, according to our Pitch F/X data, and exactly zero of those hooks have landed in the cheap seats. That's right -- Kershaw has never surrendered a regular-season homer on the pitch that earns him comparisons to Sandy Koufax. Batters have launched 1,945 home runs off curveballs dating back to '08, but nobody has gone deep against Public Enemy Number One.

What in the name of Vin Scully is going on here? How has Kershaw been so thoroughly dominant with his curveball, which has smothered hitters to the tune of a major league low .145 opponent slugging percentage from 2008-13? Here are three reasons why Kershaw's curve seemingly can't be taken deep.

Batters can't tell whether it's a ball or a strike -- or just don't think they can hit it

To go deep, you obviously have to swing the bat -- and opponents rarely do when Kershaw unleashes a curve. Batters have swung at just one-third of curveballs seen from Kershaw since '08, compared to the 40 percent major league average. Even when the pitch ends up being thrown in the strike zone, hitters pull the trigger less than half of the time (47 percent, compared to the 55 percent MLB average). Either batters can't discern whether it's over the plate in time to swing, or they figure it's futile to even try.

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location versus Kershaw's curveball, 2008-13

Kershaw's curve induces weak contact

When hitters do swing at Kershaw's curve, they often just pound the pitch into the infield grass or hit a weak fly ball. Kershaw has generated grounders 55.2 percent of the time that batters have put his curve in play, north of the 52 percent MLB average. Those who manage to loft the pitch into the air have won a moral victory, but little else. Batters have hit fly balls off Kershaw's curve an average of 244 feet -- second-lowest among all qualified starters dating back to 2008.

Lowest Average fly ball distance on curve balls put in play, 2008-2013 (min. 800 curveballs thrown)  

Kershaw can add and subtract with his curve

L.A.'s ace has thrown his curveball at an average of 73.4 MPH during his career. But he can dial it way up (topping 82 MPH on the gun) or way, way down (he threw a 49 MPH yakker to Yasmani Grandal on September 9, 2012 -- Grandal didn't swing, of course). That might be part of the reason why hitters so rarely swing at Kershaw's curve -- it could be a power pitch, or it might arrive at home plate slower than a Prius traveling on Interstate 5.

Kershaw was wild with curveball when he first arrived in the bigs, throwing it for a strike less than half of the time, but he has gradually learned to control the pitch (57 percent strike rate last year) while adding precision to his power arsenal. His curve, like the rest of his game, has only gotten better. That's a scary proposition any hitter dreaming of finally going yard off the pitch.