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Entries in free agency (6)

Wednesday
Jan022013

Edwin Jackson, Slider Specialist

At long last, Edwin Jackson can unpack -- we think. While his four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs doesn't include a no-trade clause, Jackson should at least call Wrigley Field home for the next couple of years. Considering that the 29-year-old righty was on pace to obliterate Octavio Dotel's record for most teams played for in a career -- Jackson has been a Dodger, Devil Ray, Tiger, Diamondback, White Sock, Cardinal and National, and was technically a Blue Jay for a brief moment (though he never suited up) -- that's a step in the right direction.

It's surprising that it has taken Jackson this long to settle down in one city. He might not be the Cy Young contender that people envisioned when he celebrated his 20th birthday by outdueling Randy Johnson during his MLB debut, but Jackson has been above-average since he reached Detroit (106 ERA+ from 2009-12) while tossing slightly over 200 innings pitched per season. That combination of quality and quantity has made Jackson the 29th-most valuable starter over that time frame, judging by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement.

Jackson's slider is the main reason that he has evolved from a perceived bust to a solid starter making serious bank. Here's a closer look at his mid-to-high-80s breaker, which ranks among the game's best out pitches.

  • Jackson threw his slider 29.3% of the time in 2012, the ninth-highest clip among MLB starters. Ryan Dempster (39.5%), Madison Bumgarner (35.6%), Bud Norris (36.3%), Ervin Santana (36.3%), Francisco Liriano (32.5%), Jason Marquis (32.1%), CC Sabathia (31.8%) and Bruce Chen (29.9%) were the only starters to rely on the slide-piece more often.
  • With a miss rate approaching 50%, Jackson got swings and misses with his slider more frequently than any other starter in the game:

Highest slider whiff rate among MLB starters, 2012 (minimum 300 thrown)

PitcherMiss Pct.
Edwin Jackson 48.5%
Zack Greinke 44.7%
Yu Darvish 44.2%
James McDonald 43.9%
Francisco Liriano 43.3%
CC Sabathia 43.0%
Colby Lewis 42.5%
Clayton Kershaw 42.3%
Derek Holland 41.8%
Max Scherzer 41.7%
MLB Avg. for SP 30.9%

 

  • Jackson uses his slider as a chase pitch, placing just 37.3% of them within the strike zone. The average for starters, by contrast, is about 47%. Hitters can't seem to lay off those off-the-plate-sliders. Check out Jackson's swing rate by pitch location with his slider, and then the league average for right-handed starting pitchers:

        Jackson's slider swing rate             Avg. slider swing rate for SP

 

Jackson boasted the highest slider chase rate (44.1%) among NL starters last year. In the AL, only Colby Lewis (50.7% slider chase rate), Brian Matusz (48.3%), Yu Darvish (44.6%) and Liriano (44.6%) made batters hack at more would-be balls.

  • Fanning 111 hitters with his out pitch, Jackson led NL starters in slider strikeouts and trailed just Sabathia (138 slider Ks) among all starters.
  • While the slider is usually more effective against same-handed hitters, Jackson actually got better results with the pitch against lefties. He held left-handers to a .299 slugging percentage against his slider, compared to .361 against righties. For comparison's sake, righty starters surrendered a collective .386 slugging percentage with sliders against lefty batters last season, and a .350 slugging percentage against righties.
Monday
Nov262012

Monster Mash: Red Sox Land New Corner Outfielder in Jonny Gomes

Throughout the offseason, the Red Sox have been working on a deal with free agent outfielder Cody Ross to keep him in a Red Sox uniform for the foreseeable future. With the chance that they could lose out on a bidding war for his services, the Red Sox acquired a right handed hitting force in Jonny Gomes for 2 years and $10 million. With the way the market is playing out, this could turn into a steal for the team, as there is slim picking for quality corner outfielders.

The Red Sox need to return to playing better in Fenway Park this season. After many seasons of success at home, Boston lost more contests at home than it won, which did not please the Fenway Faithful. Gomes has had an incredible power stroke for his career, albeit low AVG numbers. Boston is trying to return to its roots and the strategy that won them a championship: seeing pitches and getting on base. Gomes had a .377 OBP last season, which was significantly higher than Cody Ross (.326). Considering the difference in price there could be between these two contracts, Boston may have made the correct call. This will not stop them from attempting to bring in Ross to man the other corner position, but having the powerful bat of Gomes next year certainly will not hurt them.

Take a look at his hit chart below:

Jonny Gomes hit spread for 2012 with the Oakland AthleticsGomes was quite clearly a dead-pull hitter; all eighteen of his home runs and eight of his ten doubles went to left field. This is the kind of hitter the Red Sox would love to have hitting balls in Fenway, considering the looming wall in left field. 

Gomes has also had excellent career splits versus left-handed pitching, something that has been lacking in Boston over the last few years. He joins the Red Sox after a season in which he compiled a .974 OPS against lefties including eleven of his eighteen home runs. That number would have made him third on the team behind David Ortiz and Ross.

Gomes SLUG versus left-handed pitching in 2012

Gomes will be a great fit as a hitter at Fenway Park, and if he manages to learn the wall in left field, his limited fielding ability may not hurt the Red Sox all that much. Pending other moves that the team makes, he could be in a platoon role with other players, serving primarily as a player when the team faces lefties. He is also well known as an excellent clubhouse presence, something the Sox need in spades. 

In limited time during the 2012 season (97 games, 333 PA), Gomes put up a stat line of .262/.377/.491/.868/18/47 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS/HR/RBI). If given an opportunity, Gomes could provide very similar numbers to Jason Bay circa 2009 during his brief tenure with the team (.267/.384/.537/.921/36/119). This would be a welcome addition and at $5 million per year, it could be one of the biggest steals of the offseason. 

Thursday
Nov082012

Bay Done in By Fastballs

"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level...I’m excited to keep playing and have no intention of just walking away."  -- Jason Bay

The last time Jason Bay hit the free agent market, he parlayed a 36-homer season with the Red Sox in 2009 into a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets. Bay is back on the market after parting ways with New York, but he'll only get 66 this time around if that's the uni number he's assigned as a non-roster invitee this spring.

The 34-year-old, felled by post-concussion symptoms and cracked ribs during his time in Queens, is coming off a 2012 season in which he batted .165, got on base at a .237 clip and slugged .299 in 215 plate appearances. His 47 OPS+ was the worst by a Mets hitter getting 200+ plate appearances in a season since Joe McEwing (44 OPS+) in 2002. For Bay to be even a shadow of the stealth star he was with the Pirates and Red Sox, he'll need to start turning on some fastballs.

Check out Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location against fastballs since 2009. He was a monster against heaters in 2009, slugging .598...

Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2009

 

During his first year with the Mets, Bay clubbed fastballs left over the heart of the plate and also did damage on pitches thrown at the knees. Even so, his fastball slugging percentage dipped to .477...

Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2010

 

Save for the occasional high fastball, he wasn't much of a threat against fastballs in 2011 while slugging .444...

Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2011

 

This past year, Bay's heat map was an ocean of blue. Bay slugged just .323 against fastballs:

Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2012

 

As Bay became an easy out on fastballs, pitchers pounced. Pitchers threw Bay a fastball over the plate 49.8% of the time in 2009, 53.2% in 2010, 53.5% in 2011 and 55.7% in 2012 (the MLB average is 51.3% over that time frame). There's no need to be timid when the most Bay can do with a fastball most days is hit an occasional single.

Hopefully, Bay can overcome his ailments and re-establish himself as a major leaguer. If not, he can proudly walk away with over $80 million in career earnings and the highest career value (21.8 Wins Above Replacement) of any 22nd-round draft pick this side of John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte.

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