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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)

Wednesday
Dec072011

Transaction Roundup: Slowey to Coors, Harang a Dodger

Rockies acquire RHP Kevin Slowey from the Twins for a PTBNL

The union of Slowey, an extreme fly ball pitcher, and Coors has the potential to produce many a Bitter Beer Face for Jim Tracy and the Rockies. On the positive side, the 27-year-old has exceptional control. Slowey's 1.4 BB/9 since his big league debut in 2007 ranks behind only Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay among starting pitchers tossing 350+ innings. Colorado could also control the righty for two more seasons through arbitration if they so choose, and Slowey was quite effective for Minnesota in 2008 (three Wins Above Replacement) and 2010 (2.2 WAR). Plus, he does have a minor league option remaining, so he could open 2012 at Colorado Springs if he fails to beat out the likes of Tyler Chatwood, Esmil Rogers and Alex White for a back-of-the-rotation slot.

But there are reasons why the Twins would have likely non-tendered Slowey later this month instead of pay him a projected $2.7 million in arbitration. He's hardly a picture of perfect health, having missed a big chunk of the 2009 season due to wrist surgery and being limited 59.1 frames this past year due to DL stints for shoulder inflammation and a strained abdomen. And Slowey's ultra-aggressive approach comes with a price: lots of fly balls, and lots of slow trots around the bases for opposing batters. Dating back to 2008 (the first year for which there's Pitch F/X data), Slowey has the ninth-highest fly ball rate (48.5 percent) among starters, and he has coughed up 1.4 homers per nine during his career.

Slowey's stuff -- an upper-80s four-seamer and two-seamer, a sweeping mid-70s curve, a low-80s slider and an occasional low-80s changeup -- sits higher in the zone than is the case for most pitchers:

Slowey's pitch location, 2008-2011

MLB average pitch location, 2008-2011Since '08, 36 percent of Slowey's pitches have been located in the upper third of the zone, 37 percent have hit the middle of the zone, and 27 percent have been spotted low in the zone. The averages for starters over that time frame are 28 percent for high pitches, 33 percent for middle-zone pitches, and 39 percent for low-zone offerings.

Coors might not quite be the pinball machine it once was, but it still increases home runs by 13 percent for left-handed hitters compared to a neutral park, and 17 percent for right-handed batters, according to StatCorner. Slowey has given up a homer 10 percent of the time that opponents have hit a fly ball during his career. Righties pitching at Coors gave up homers 11 percent of the time in 2011. Let's say he pitches 150 innings next year, half on the road and half at home, while maintaining his fly ball rate since '08. We'd expect him to give up about 25 homers, or 1.5 HR/9. Superb control or not, it's hard to be more than competent while allowing that many taters.

Assuming the PTBNL isn't significant, the Rockies didn't risk much to see if Slowey can stay healthy and return to his league-average dart-throwing act. But it's hardly a great match of pitcher profile and park effects.

Dodgers sign RHP Aaron Harang to a two-year, $12 million contract

Superficially, the erstwhile Reds ace appeared to rebound in a big way in 2011. After posting a 5.32 ERA and pitching just 111.2 innings while battling an achy back in his last year in Cincy in 2010, Harang pared his ERA to 3.64 in 170.2 IP for the Padres. Truth be told, precious little changed in the 6-foot-7, 260 pounder's more skill-based metrics. He was an acceptable, if unexciting, starter both years, and his fly ball-heavy ways resulted in a lower home run per fly ball rate in Petco than in Great American Ballpark:

2010: 16.3 K%, 7.5 BB%, 10.9 HR/FB%, 113 FIP-*

2011: 17.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 9.1 HR/FB%, 119 FIP-

* FIP- is Fielding Independent ERA relative to the league average; 100 is average, and anything above 100 means a pitcher was worse than average

Stripping away more luck-based metrics like strand rate and batting average on balls in play, Harang was 4.20 to 4.50ish ERA pitcher both years, OK for a back-end type but certainly not to be confused with his 2005-2007 zenith with the Reds.

Harang's deal seems to be market-value, as the going rate for projected 1-2 WAR pitchers like Freddy Garcia, Bruce Chen, Chien-Ming Wang and Chris Capuano has been about $4-6 million per year. But at some point, you have to question the sheer amount of green the men in blue have doled out on low-upside vets: Harang, Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy and Matt Treanor are guaranteed a combined $43 million between 2012 and 2013. With that cash, the Dodgers could have made a big down payment on landing an elite bat or a mega-extension for Clayton Kershaw.

Friday
Dec022011

Dodgers Get Bargain with Capuano

The Dodgers added a starter coming off a deceptively good 2011 season, signing left-hander Chris Capuano to a two-year, $10 million deal. While Capuano had a  4.55 ERA in 186 innings pitched with the Mets, his peripheral stats (8.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 4.04 Fielding Independent ERA) suggest L.A. just got an average to above-average arm for their rotation at a Black Friday price. 

After two Tommy John procedures that wiped out his 2008 and 2009 seasons, the 33-year-old needs the Santa Ana winds at his back to reach 90 on a radar gun. But he's adept at getting ahead in the count with his modest fastball and inducing whiffs with a fade-away changeup. Capuano's "heater" averaged 87.6 mph in 2011, which ranked in the eighth percentile among big league starters. He wasn't bashful with the pitch, however, throwing many more fastballs in the strike zone (56.5 percent) than the average starter (51.8 percent). He got a strike a little over two-thirds of the time that he threw a fastball, which ranked in the 76th percentile among starters.

After getting the advantage in the count, Capuano went to his changeup (thrown about 10 mph slower than his fastball) often. He threw the offering 28 percent of the time overall, and 36 percent of the time in pitcher's counts. Capuano got a boatload of chases with the changeup at and below the knees:

Opponent swing rate by pitch location vs. Capuano's changeup, 2011

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. changeups, 2011

Hitters chased Capuano's changeup 44 percent of the time, compared to the 36 percent average. And they rarely connected, either. Check out his opponent contact rate by pitch location with the changeup, and then the league average:

Opponent contact rate vs. Capuano's changeup, 2011

Average contact rate vs. changeups, 2011

With a 40 percent miss rate, Capuano's change of pace easily bested the 28-29 percent average and ranked among the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander.

Capuano certainly isn't a top-tier arm, but he throws strikes, misses more bats than his finesse stuff would suggest and he stayed healthy in 2011 while making 31 starts. Dodger Stadium is a pretty good landing spot for a soft-tossing lefty, decreasing offense by five percent overall for right-handed hitters by smothering triples and homers. Capuano's contract values him as a 1 Win Above Replacement level pitcher over each of the next two years, and there's a good chance he exceeds that so long as his elbow doesn't start barking. It's hardly a pennant-altering move, but there are far worse ways to spend $10 million in free agency.

Tuesday
Nov152011

Matt Kemp's BABIP

The Los Angeles Dodgers are up for sale, but Matt Kemp isn't going anywhere. The 27-year-old center fielder, who would have been arbitration-eligible for the last time this winter, signed an eight-year, $160 million deal that keeps him in L.A. through 2019. Kemp is a prime NL MVP candidate, coming off a season in which he batted .324 and set new career highs in on-base percentage (.399), slugging percentage (.586) and home runs (39).

Kemp's career year was driven by his power surge and pitchers treading cautiously against him (he was intentionally walked 24 times, behind only Prince Fielder), but he also got a boost from a .380 batting average on balls in play. While that's an extreme number for any hitter -- just 47 players have posted a .380+ BABIP during a season in which they qualified for the batting title during the Expansion Era -- high BABIP totals are nothing new for Kemp.

Speedy players who avoid pop-ups typically post higher BABIP figures, and Kemp fits both criteria. Despite standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 220 pounds, he missed a 40/40 season by one homer in 2011 and he has a career Speed Score of 6.5 (five is average). Plus, his infield/fly ball rate is just 3.1 percent, less than a third of the roughly 10 percent MLB average. Through his age-26 season, Kemp has a whopping .352 BABIP. That's fifth-highest among Expansion Era hitters:

 Highest BABIP Through Age-26 Season During Expansion ERA (1961-Present, min. 2,500 PA)

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

So, how has Kemp done it? Let's take a closer look at his high-BABIP hitting.

Kemp has posted higher-than-average BABIP figures against all pitch types, but that's especially the case on fastballs/sinkers and curveballs:

 

 

In terms of pitch location, Kemp has gotten hits on balls in play like Ted Williams unless the pitcher spots one low-and-away. Check out his in-play average by location over the past three seasons, compared to the league average for right-handed hitters. This does include homers, but it still gives us a good idea of Kemp's across-the-plate BABIP prowess:

 Kemp's in-play average by pitch location, 2009-2011

MLB in-play average by pitch location for right-handed batters, 2009-2011

The farther inside the pitch is, the higher Kemp's BABIP: he's got a .325 BABIP on outside pitches, a .333 BABIP on pitches down the middle, and a .358 BABIP on inside pitches. Perhaps that's why opponents stay away from him, throwing lots of pitches off the outside corner:

Opponent pitch location vs. Kemp, 2009-2011

At age 27, Kemp is in the prime of his career and shouldn't have a problem posting well above-average BABIP totals during the bulk of his new mega contract. No one should expect a .380 BABIP again (the new Bill James projections on Fangraphs show a .351 BABIP for Kemp in 2012, a near-perfect match for his career mark), but he has done this for too long for it to be considered a fluke. Kemp has the skills -- speed, few pop-ups, a powerful line-drive stroke -- to keep up his high-BABIP hitting for a long time.