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Entries in contract extension (12)

Friday
Nov082013

Newly-Extended Perez Must Improve Breaking Stuff to Take Next Step

The Texas Rangers have locked up yet another young left-handed starter, signing Martin Perez to a four-year, $12.5 million extension with three club options that could extend Perez's stay in the Lone Star State to 2020 and pad his pockets to the tune of $32.5 million.

A perennial top prospect, Perez erased memories of his rough big league stint in 2012 by posting a park-and-league-adjusted ERA that was 14 percent above average (114 ERA+). The 22-year-old enjoyed arguably the best rookie season ever for a Texas lefty, as only Mike Mason (114 ERA+ in 1984) matched him while throwing 120+ innings. Perez displayed sharp control (2.7 walks per nine innings) and racked up ground balls (47.9 percent of pitches put in play), both of which bode well for his future. But he also punched out just 6.1 batters per nine frames, far below the 7.2 average for starting pitchers in this strikeout-saturated era. To get more swings and misses, Perez will have to improve his pitch location with his breaking stuff.

Perez already has an out pitch in his changeup, which generated far more whiffs (39.7% of the time batters swing) than the league average (29.4%) and limited hard contact (.307 opponent slugging percentage, 90 points below the MLB average). His curveball and slider, on the other hand, induced swings and misses just 19% of the time (29.9% average for breaking pitches) and were frequently laced into the gaps (.437 slugging percentage, 92 points above the MLB average).

Why did hitters square up Perez's breaking pitches? The young lefty struggled to command his slider and curve, too often leaving breaking balls over the heart of the plate:

Perez's pitch location with his slider and curveball, 2013

Perez threw 29% of his sliders and curves to the vertical middle of the strike zone, third-highest among lefty starting pitchers in 2013. Belt-high breaking stuff tends to get clobbered, with hitters swinging through just 12.9% of sliders and curves thrown over the middle of the plate and slugging a collective .461. Perez was no exception, getting whiffs 13.8% of the time and allowing a .556 slugging percentage when tossing a belt-high breaking pitch.

The recent history of low-strikeout lefties who nonetheless posted quality ERAs during their rookie season is mixed. On the wildly positive side, Andy Pettitte pitched into his forties and cobbled together a career that may get him some Cooperstown consideration. However, the list of low-K lefties (six or fewer strikeouts per nine) with an ERA similiar to Perez (10-20 percent better than the league average) also includes the likes of Gustavo Chacin, John Lannan and John Halama. To be more like Pettitte and less like Halama, Perez needs to complement his knockout changeup with better-located breaking pitches.

Tuesday
May142013

Newly-Extended Rizzo Crushing Upper-Half Pitches

Anthony Rizzo is just 23 years old, but he has already beaten cancer and been traded twice. Learning to handle middle and high pitches, then, has been a cakewalk by comparison. Rizzo's staggering improvement against stuff thrown above the belt is a major reason why the Cubs felt comfortable locking him up with a seven-year, $41 contract extension, with two club options that could make it a nine-year, $73 million pact.

During his rookie year with the Padres in 2011, Rizzo's long, uppercut swing produced little more than wind power against pitches thrown in the upper half of the strike zone. The 6-foot-3, 240 pound prospect hit like a banjo-strumming middle infielder, with an upper-half slugging percentage (.217) that was over 200 points below the major league average (.425).

Rizzo's slugging percentage vs. upper-half pitches, 2011

In 2012, Rizzo made significant progress in solving his above-the-belt troubles. He cut his miss rate against upper-half pitches from about 32% to 13%, and he raised his slugging percentage to right around the league average (.415).

Rizzo's slugging percentage vs. upper-half pitches, 2012

Rizzo is making plenty of contact again on upper-half pitches this season (14% miss rate), but it's much louder contact. He's slugging .661 versus above-the-belt pitches, and his six homers on upper-half pitches already triples his 2012 total (two).

Rizzo's slugging percentage vs. upper-half pitches, 2013

Just two years after ranking in the bottom 20 among MLB hitters in upper-half slugging percentage, Anthony Rizzo now keeps company with the likes of Bryce Harper, Carlos Santana and Chris Davis in the top 20:

Highest slugging percentage vs. upper-half pitches, 2013

Rizzo's progress against middle and high pitches suggests that his new deal could be a bargain for the Cubs, and so do his career comps. Rizzo has a 122 OPS+ in 532 plate appearances during his age 22-23 seasons, a mark similar to those posted by first basemen like Willie McCovey, Keith Hernandez and Kent Hrbek at the same age.

It remains to be seen if Rizzo can match Stretch's feats of strength or get on base like Hernandez (to say nothing of growing such an awesome 'stache), but he's off to a great start.

Thursday
Mar142013

Carlos Gomez Finds Power Stroke, Cashes In

Carlos Gomez is now a threat at the plate, too, thanks to improvements against breaking pitches.At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Carlos Gomez has always looked like a power hitter. Yet the former Mets prospect, the centerpiece of the 2008 Johan Santana swap, slugged under .400 in the minor leagues and rarely punched the ball out of the infield during his early twenties with New York, Minnesota and Milwaukee. Gomez finally added power to his Gold Glove-caliber defense last season, and the Brewers have now rewarded him with a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension. GM Doug Melvin thinks the 27-year-old Gomez is just getting started:

"He has always had the physical skills, and his recent performance has given us the confidence that he will take the next step in becoming one of the top center fielders in the game," Melvin said. "His energy, speed and aggressive style of play is a perfect fit for Ron Roenicke's style of managing." (Associated Press)

Gomez's home run total has spiked from just five in 2010 to eight in 2011 and 19 last year. His slugging percentage has climbed 100-plus points over the same time frame, from .357 to .463. With those 19 bombs and 37 stolen bases, Gomez joined Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, B.J. Upton and Jimmy Rollins in the 15 homer, 30 SB club.

Gomez has emerged as a power threat by making huge strides against curveballs and sliders. Once a liability when pitchers tossed him a breaking ball, Gomez now makes them pay.

Back in 2010, Gomez was a banjo hitter versus curves and sliders. He often chopped breaking pitches into the turf (his 57% ground ball rate on curves and sliders was way above the 45% MLB average), and he had all of two extra-base knocks the entire year:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2010

Gomez slugged .200 against breaking balls, about 150 points below the MLB average and the sixth-worst mark among hitters seeing at least 300 curves and sliders that season. In 2011, Gomez made some strides. He put the ball in the air more often (47% ground ball rate vs. breaking pitches) and made louder contact, particularly on the edges of the strike zone:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2011

 

Gomez slugged .385 vs. curves and sliders. Last year, he progressed from a so-so breaking ball hitter to a slugger. Gomez's ground ball rate dropped another tick (46%) and he pulverized curves and sliders thrown down and inside:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2012

 

With a .461 slugging percentage against curves and sliders, Gomez ranked third behind Josh Hamilton (.563) and Mike Trout (.521) among center fielders, and his nine homers trailed just Hamilton (18) and Adam Jones (10).

Gomez's power surge has transformed him from an easy out (76 OPS+ in 2010) into a quality MLB hitter (102 OPS+ in 2012), free-swinging style be damned. His new deal could turn out to be a bargain for Milwaukee, now that he's got pop to go along with his base running and fielding prowess.