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Entries in mlb (25)

Monday
Jan202014

Homer Bailey's Strikeout Development Legitimizes Contract Extension

In an offseason where contract extensions for starting pitchers have become in vogue, multiple reports suggest that the Cincinnati Reds aren't far away from extending Homer Bailey, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next winter. According to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is "optimistic" that a multi-year deal will get done despite Bailey rejecting the team's arbitration offer last Thursday. In the final year of his arbitration eligibility, Bailey had vouched for a $11.6 million 2014 salary that was significantly higher than repoted $8.7 million Jocketty was willing to pay for him at that juncture.

Whether or not this stark difference in value will affect Bailey's willingness to re-sign with the Reds remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Homer Bailey is (finally) transforming into the 'ace' type starter Cincinnati recognized when its front office staff drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2004.

It wasn't always like that, though. From his first true season in 2009 to the end of 2012, Bailey was nothing more than an average starter -- at best. In 94 outings (all starts) over that span, the La Grange (TX) High School product held true to a 4.18 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.4 K/9 ratio and 2.8 BB/9 ratio compared to the league-average starter's 4.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 ratio and 2.8 BB/9 ratio. In most cases, Bailey would have been considered a decent back-end starter. But for a former top prospect in a system that housed Joey VottoJay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, numbers like this were largely disappointing.

Then 2013 rolled around, and several things changed. Aside from setting career-best marks in ERA (3.49), WHIP (1.12), ground-ball rate (46.1%), opponents' OPS (.660), Bailey increased his strikeout ratio (K/9) to 8.6  -- a year after punching out a near league-average ratio of 7.3. For those keeping tabs, that's nearly a five percent increase (19.2% in 2012, 23.1% in 2013) in strikeouts per 100 plate appearances, which last season was on par with Justin Verlander's 23.5% strikeout rate.

How was he able to accomplish this?

Comparing Bailey's Strikeout Pitch Frequencies, 2009-2013

Looking at Bailey's strikeout locations over the past five seasons, we notice that his strikeouts have progressively shifted away from the middle portion of the plate toward the "edge" of the strike zone, particularly in 2013. This observation is a correct one, as Bailey's strikeout zone% (pitches thrown in the strike zone) has decreased steadily, beginning at 53% in 2009 and finishing at a career-low (keep this in mind) 43.2% last season. The same can be said about his overall zone%, which started at 51.2% in 2009 and shrunk to a career-low 49.6% in 2013.

What's the Correlation?

How has Bailey's exodus to the outer-portion of the strike zone affected his total number of strikeouts? As we can see, there is a clear correlation between the two: As Bailey has thrown fewer pitches in the zone (see 'overall zone%' data trend), his strikeout rate has increased, albeit not in perfect progression. Simultaneously, his chase, miss and called strike rate have increased on a steady incline, and his strikeout zone% has, as already noted, decreased over the last five seasons. Normally, you'd think throwing less pitches in the zone equates to fewer called strikes, and thus, batters would be less willing to chase those offerings.

What's the trend?

Comparing starting pitchers' zone% and strikeout rate since 2009

If you thought that, you were correct. Since 2009, the trend suggests that as a pitcher's zone% decreases, his strikeout rate should follow suit. But this is not the case with Bailey, as we've discussed -- he's drifting outside the zone, yet his strikeout rate has increased. Throwing any more pitches out of the zone would really be pushing his luck with home plate umpires, at least in my mind.

Whatever the case may be, it seems Bailey has discovered the key to increasing his strikeouts: Throwing away from the middle of the plate and working the edges of the zone -- even if that means throwing less pitches in the zone. Whether or not Bailey can get away with throwing progressively fewer pitches in the zone while increasing his strikeout rate remains to be seen, but for right now, it seems this strategy has transformed him into one of the more lethal right-handed starters in the game.

Sunday
Jul142013

Peter Gammons' Sunday Baseball Notes

Billy Beane has long maintained that the season is played out in three acts:the first two months are spent figuring out what each team has, the next two months are spent trying to get what they need and the last two months are the race to play in October.

So while the All-Star Break is a traditional midpoint, it is actually the far turn in Act II, the respite before the two week push to the trading deadline which completes the two-month search for what is needed.

It is also the point where the seasonal storylines are essentially validated: the rise of Manny Machado, Chris Davis and the Orioles is established; the Biogenesis War is set to be waged, and we have found our new MannyLand L.A. Theme Park in Yasiel Puig.

National League West general managers unanimously appreciate that the Dodgers are going to be a major factor the remainder of the season, even if Matt Kemp continues to be slowed by his left shoulder.

To surround Clayton Kershaw they have gone the way of the free agent market to sign Zack Greinke, gone the international route to sign Hyun-jin Ryu and the trade market to get Ricky Nolasco, and one divisional GM says “I wouldn’t be surprised if they still got Matt Garza and another reliever.”

That same GM actually thought they might be able to take on the $2.5-$3M on Matt Thornton, but the Red Sox beat them to the 36-year old lefthander who has held lefthanded hitters to a .173 average and .232 on base percentage.

The All-Star Game is a showcase

Enjoy.

We all get the fascination with Puig’s spectacular tools. We all get why most baseball people ask to wait and see what he’s going to be, someone akin to Yoenis Cespedes or somewhere between Bo Jackson and Mike Tyson in Dodger Blue? But the vote for the final All-Star roster spot, which has turned out to be a spectacularly successful marketing ploy, reached levels of vitriol that at times were unseemly.

Freddie Freeman belongs on the All-Star team, the Braves MVP from April on to Citi Field, but this vote isn’t about the right of a May callup to be on the team, it was about the fun Puig has brought to Dodger Stadium and the excitement he has created.

Asking Yasiel Puig to be Freddie Freeman runs counter-intuitive to Puig’s culture.

Years from now, will we go to Baseball Reference and calculate that he was a better player than Freeman? No one knows. But it didn’t have to get nasty. It’s about who gets one at-bat in a showcase.

There are many around the Dodgers who are wary of how the Puig phenomenon plays out, how he converts to the American baseball culture, whether he listens to the voices around him.

Look at two important contributors to the Rays’ run at their fifth 90 win season in six years, Yunel Escobar and James Loney. When Escobar got to Atlanta in 2009, he put up 4.0 WAR, bettered by only two National League shortstops, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. He fell out of favor with the Braves, and did not exactly invoke Tony Fernandez comparisons in Toronto. But when Tampa Bay took the chance on the 29-year old, he got to the right people at the right time, Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, Stuart Sternberg.

“I understand that Yunel can be a little demonstrative on the field, I get that,” says Maddon. “But he’s from a different baseball culture. That’s all right. He can be reminded of certain things, but he’s fine with it. This isn’t 1910. It’s all right to have fun, it’s all right to play with some flair.”

Maddon has never been to a La Isla-Industriales playoff game in Havana, but if he goes, he will see baseball played at a beat that might rile “purists,” even in a time when Major League Baseball touts its internationalism and every year presents its World Baseball Classic that showcases a myriad of different baseball cultures. Maddon gets it. The game isn’t the way it looked in the grainy black-and-white footage in the movie “Cobb.” It isn’t played the way it’s talked in press rooms.

Loney is another example. This is a guy who in 2006 batted .380 in the minors and was a Baseball America Prospects kid, even with eight homers. He did hit .331 with 15 homers as a 2007 Dodger rookie, but the power was never enough. While Don Mattingly patiently reminded folks that Loney was simply a good hitter and productive in situations, one Dodger official says “there was such an obsession with him hitting for power he veered away from being who he is.”

Loney was thrown out with the bath water in the $262M deal with the Red Sox, walked on in Tampa as a free agent, and is headed to the break with a .316 average and an .837 OPS and a significant role with the Rays.

“Trying to get James to hit for power and speed up is counter-intuitive to his nature,” says Maddon(somehow I don’t remember Herman Franks using the expression “counter-intuitive to his nature”).

“What impresses me so much about James is how calm he is at the plate and in the field, in whatever situation arises,” says Maddon. “He is a great thrower at first base because of that calmness. He’s never rushing to stay away from hitting with two strikes.”

Joe Maddon is different in a fascinating way. He does things that sometimes makes opposing managers cringe. Yeah, like Yunel Escobar. “But I’m fortunate,” he says, “because Andrew (Friedman) and Stu (Sternberg) look at the game and the people in the game as I do, and give me the latitude to be who I am.”

In the heat of the last month, there have been some umpire-player-manager confrontations that seemingly exceeded bounds. Several managers have complained about the umpires brought up to fill in during the well-earned comp time for veteran umpires, and there are legitimate concerns about the development of umpires.

All you have to really know about umpire development can be found in “As They See Them,” the book about minor league umpires and their lives by Bruce Weber. If an umpire is breaking into short-season or low A leagues, their pay and conditions are abysmal, brutalized by penny-pinching league officials, and MLB has done a poor job taking the initiatives to spend the necessary money to teach and develop good officials.

Like it or not, replay has to come, because there are so many television angles that the credibility of the sport takes hits during the season. But Buck Showalter has an interesting idea about bringing solid baseball people into the umpiring world. “Each major league team should be required to find a player—a Triple-A veteran, whomever—who knows he’s at the end of his quest to be a big leaguer and sponsor him to be an umpire. Pay for him to go to umpiring school. Help fund him through the minors. We need guys who understand the game, understand situations and how and why things happen. I’ll guarantee you, those guys will shoot through the minors. It’s part of making the game better.” And while owners make hordes of money, they do have a responsibility to spend some of that profit for the overall good of the game.

The limits on international signing bonuses have produced a system full of holes, not to mention allow 23-year olds from Cuba or Taiwan to get far great bonuses than the top players from the United States because of the new draft cap system.

The Rays did it last year, the Cubs this year: they exceeded their bonus limits, which means they cannot sign a player the next year for more than $250,000, but still allows them a slot bonus that instead of going to players can be used to trade for major league talent. Then because any Cuban player can get signed for whatever the market bears once they turn 23, there has aleady been one instance of a player being suspended by the Cuban Federation for faking papers claiming that he is 23 before his time. The incentive is to lie about their ages, that is until it is time to start drawing the MLB pension.

On All-Star break eve...

Of course, Jim Leyland should name Justin Verlander to the game; he’s been a face not only of the sport, but of the spirit the Tigers have brought to a city that has to fight back against decades of decay, a man who beat the A’s in the ALDS Game Five to eventually get the World Series back to downtown Detroit. WAR or no WAR.

Did you think the Cubs would have a better run differential than the Dodgers, Nationals or Giants?

Or that Chris Davis, Carlos Gomez, Matt Carpenter, Kyle Seager and John Donaldson would comprise a third of the top 15 in Wins Above Replacement?

Amidst the morass of leaks, threats and grievances that will storm over the Biogenisis suspensions, a question: where is the emerging leadership among ownership or the Players Association?

Where is a Jerry Reinsdorf or Joe Girardi going to emerge?

Bud Selig’s uncanny ability to build consensus and manage the industry has brought unpredecented wealth and stability, but beginning this week, when suspensions are announced and the lawyers begin counting their hours, the issue of the next generation of leadership is going to be fascinating to watch.

Sunday
Jul072013

Fun With Baseball-Reference's Neutralized Stats

If you are a regular reader of this site, then you are no doubt, a regular visitor to Baseball-Reference. Which means you also know about Baseball-Reference's neutralized batting and pitching stat tables. If you don't, here's a rundown.

Baseball-Reference took the time to create a special, interactive-like, table where you can adjust a players stats to reflect what they could have been like had the player put up his stats in a different season. Want to change Babe Ruth's 1927 hitting line? See what it would have looked like had he played for the Montreal Expos in 1987? Go for it. Want to see what Jimmie Foxx's 1932 would have looked like had he and his back pocket flask been a member of the Miracle Mets in 1969? You can do that too. See? Fun.

This is fun.

So I was sitting around, doing what people normally do when they live in a town of 1,900 people (which is nothing), and said to myself: "Self. Let's go play around with Neutralized Batting on Baseball-Reference for a few hours. It's not like we are doing anything else today." Then I took my meds, and the voice stopped. But it had already given me a good idea.

And now, here we are.

So let's start with the aforementioned Babe Ruth and his 60 home run 1927 season. The original home run record. A year where the Bambino hit an astounding .356/.486/.772. Now, let's jump into our Dalorean with it's flux capacitor and take this season ahead in time. Add some extra competition. Ruth played in an eight-team American League in 1927 and without interleague play, had the chance to face each team 19 times.

The major league average for runs scored by a team during the 1927 season was a healthy 4.75. Thanks largely to a Yankees team that was stacked from top to bottom, and anchored in the middle by Ruth and fellow slugger, Lou Gehrig.

Now, let's take Ruth out of that season, and put him on the, oh, I don't know, the 1988 Dodgers. Ruth still gets a ring (even though Kirk Gibson reportedly blows up on him in Spring Training for his eating habits), but he now has to face 11 other teams. And the National league average for runs scored is nearly a full run lower at 3.881. What happens?

Ruth is still a monster, but is not as historically monstrous.

He hits 53 home runs instead of 60. Drives in 135 runs instead of 164. And his slash line takes a hit as he now hits .321/.448/.692. If Ruth played his entire career under the circumstances only playing in Dodgers Stadium, and every year the league average for runs scored during a game was at 3.881, he wouldn't hit 714 home runs. He wouldn't hit 700 home runs. He actually falls below Willie Mays and finishes his career with 652.

Which speaks more to the testament of how otherwordly talented Ruth was as a hitter.

Even if you place him in an enviroment where he faces more competition, and where less runs are being scored, and all of his games are being played in a pitchers park. Babe Ruth is still a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Amazing. 

Let's go contemporary.

In Baltimore, Chris Davis is having a season for the ages. He has already matched his career highs for home runs and RBI, and the Orioles haven't even reached the 90 game mark. But what if we took Chris Davis into that same Dalorean, maybe this time with Michael J. Fox driving (I get tired from driving. I'm sure you understand), and place him in an even more favorable hitting environment? Like, oh, I don't know, pre-humidor Colorado in the year 2000.

The 2000 Colorado Rockies scored 968 runs. Baseball-Reference's much-better-at-the-math-than-me stat heads figured out that if they only played games in Colorado, they would have score 1,013 runs. But how would the 2013 version of Chris Davis fare in the middle of a lineup that sported a breakout season from a young Todd Helton?

He would already have 42 home runs and 127 RBI to go along with a slash line of .381/.459/.846. Or roughly Todd Helton's entire 2000 campaign. That's how neutralized batting says he would fare.

So, in summation...

Congratulations to every era of baseball that didn't include Babe Ruth. No matter when he played, there stands a good chance he would have owned that time in baseball history.

And congratulations to the 2000 National League. You didn't have to face what Chris Davis has turned into. A ferocious lefty with power for days weeks months eons. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Check back in next time when I play around with Neutralized Pitching. We'll do some flip-flopping of Christy Mathewson and Pedro Martinez.

We'll have all kinds of fun.

I'll even bring some dip.