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Entries in offense (3)

Tuesday
Jan212014

Andrelton Simmons: Two-Way Threat?

Everyone knows that Andrelton Simmons can pick it. The Atlanta Braves shortstop and 2013 Gold Glove Award winner, possesing range that makes trotting out a third baseman optional and gun-you-out-from-the-seat-of-his-pants arm strength, has saved more runs through his first two major league seasons (60) than any player in history, according to Baseball-Reference. But don't sell Simmons' bat short, either -- the 24-year-old excelled offensively during the second half of the 2013 season, crushing fastballs with a more polished plate approach. Is he about to emerge as a two-way terror?

Simmons fit the all-gove, no-hit archetype during the first half, batting just .243 while getting on base at a .282 clip and slugging .348. That's lousy, even by banjo-strumming standards of the position (shortstops batted a collective .254/.308/.372 last year). After the All-Star break, however, Simmons morphed into a slugger (.255/.316/.472). His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) more than doubled, from .105 to .217, and he hit fly balls over 20 feet farther on average (240 before the break, 262 after). As the season progressed, the potential heir to Ozzie Smith as the game's greatest defensive shortstop started lashing fastballs into the gaps and over the fence.

Simmons' slugging percentage vs. fastballs before the All-Star break, 2013

Simmons' slugging percentage vs. fastballs after the All-Star break, 2013

Simmons slugged a paltry .309 versus fastballs during the first half, which was 120 points below the MLB average and fifth lowest among qualified batters. But after the Midsummer Classic, he boosted that mark by nearly 200 points (.508 slugging percentage). A better grasp of the strike zone played a part in Simmons' improvement: he swung at 64.6 percent of fastballs thrown over the plate in the second half, up from 60.1 percent before the break and above the 64 percent big league average. That change benefited him in two ways: he fell behind in the count less often by taking fewer called strikes, and he took a cut on the sort of pitches that hitters tend to pummel (MLB batters slugged .502 when swinging at fastballs thrown in the strike zone in 2013).

As a junior college product who was originally drafted as a pitcher and barely took 1,000 trips to the plate in the minors, Simmons might just be scratching the surface of his offensive abilities. His Baseball-Reference comps through age 23 indicate that potential for two-way stardom, with Barry Larkin featuring prominently on the list. It's easy to forget that the first-ballot Hall of Famer actually scuffled offensively during his first two years in Cincinnati (81 OPS+ in 1986-87) before evolving into one of the better hitting shortstops in recent memory (116 career OPS+). J.J. Hardy isn't as sexy a name, but he has been quite valuable by playing vacuum cleaner D and routinely clearing the fences.

With sublime, perhaps even unprecedented defensive skill, Simmons merely needs to avoid being an automatic out at the plate to be one of the more valuable shortstops in the game. But if even a portion of his second-half gains carry over into 2014 and beyond, Atlanta could have its first MVP since Chipper Jones 15 years ago.

Tuesday
Aug132013

The Dodgers Turnaround Part 1: Offense

On June 21st, the Dodgers lost to the Padres dropping their record to 30-42 and leaving them 9.5 games behind the NL West leading Diamondbacks. Their team record $223 million payroll was buying the team nothing but a spot at the bottom of their weak division. And it wasn't just one part of the team that was performing below expectations, this was a team effort.

Since that date, the Dodgers have gone 39-8. Good enough for a winning percentage of .826 during that span. 

It took the entire team to fail. And it has taken the entire team to push itself back into contention.

Offense first

After play concluded on 6/21, the Dodgers offense was among the worst in the National League. The team's .696 OPS (11th in the NL at the time), was dragged sown by a team slugging percentage of .375. Which was good for 13th in the NL. Right ahead of the Mets and the Marlins.

Although the entire offense was offensive, none drew more ire than three-hole hitter, Matt Kemp.

Through 51 games, Kemp had two, TWO home runs.

This was the same player who two seasons ago was nearly a 40-40 player. And here he was struggling through 51 games with a slash line of .251/.305/.335. That .335 SLG percentage was only 11 points better than his 2011 batting average. And if the pitch wasn't right down the middle, Matt Kemp was getting weak contact.

Kemp wasn't the only offender. His target was just the biggest.

Andre Ethier was disappointing as well through the third week in June. His slash line of .254/.335/.377 was well below his career numbers: .288/.361/.468.

The Dodgers tried to inject some life into the lineup with a June 3rd callup of Yasiel Puig (you may have heard of him) who got off to a kind of OK start with a .455/.478/.773 slash line in the 17 games he played in leading up to 6/21. 

So, how have the Dodgers performed since getting hot?

What's the opposite of terrible?

First things first, the Dodgers brought back the thunder to the lineup.

Since 6/21, their team slugging percentage has been .427. That's the best in the NL for that time period.

Ditto for batting average (.287) and OPS (.773). They may be getting a smidge lucky with a team BABIP of .336 (NL average is .296), but with a team-wide line drive rate of 23.8% since 6/21, the higher BABIP should be expected.

Remember how terrible Matt Kemp was earlier?

Yeah, he's been almost a non-factor since then. But in the 37 at bats he has had since 6/21 (AKA, a super-duper small sample size), he is hitting a robust .324/.390/.622. I give credit where it is due, but Kemp hasn't been the one pulling this train.

That would be Hanley Ramirez.

Although currently dealing with a sore shoulder after crashing into the wall while playing in Wrigley Field last week, Hanley has been crushing pitchers to the tune of a .356/.415/.651 slash line since late June. And with runners in scoring position, Ramirez is literally the last Dodger an opposing pitcher wants to see at the plate with a .412/.524/.824 slash line with RISP during this run of success for the Dodgers. 

But it takes more than one man to win in baseball.

Just ask the Angels and Mike Trout.

Other offensive stars during that time frame include Puig (.341/.421/.518) and Adrian Gonzalez (.289/.325/.463). Even Zack Grienke has gotten into the act of hitting with a .450/.542/.550 slash line in 28 PA. Which was good enough for manager, Don Mattingly, to name him as an option to pinch hit.

The Dodgers are averaging 4.85 runs per game during this stretch of dominance, which, well, with the pitching staff that they have, that should be plenty.

We'll talk about the Dodgers pitching next.

Friday
Jul122013

Josh Hamilton is Finally Looking like Like Last May

The Josh Hamilton story need not be repeated here. Eventually the movie that is being directed by Casey Affleck will come out, and we can all relive Josh's harrowing experience as he climbed from the gutters of drug addiction to the highest peaks of baseball stardom. What can be repeated, is that in December of last year, there was more than a quiet buzz on Katella Ave. in the city of Anaheim. After Arte Moreno had gone and had one of the most expensive free-agent shopping sprees ever prior to the 2012 season with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, he went and did it again. 

Luxury tax be damned. Payroll be damned. Signing a player on the wrong side of 30...again...damn.

Welcome to the Angels

After having a solid spring training, when nothing mattered at all, Hamilton stormed out of the gates in April to the tune of a .204/.252/.296 slash line. It was the only month in Hamilton's career that he has ever had an OPS under .600. May was better OPS-wise, as he put up .237/.315/.495 slash line, good for an .810 OPS. But then he cratered again in June with a .231/.284/.396 line.

This was going to be a long season.

Even eternally optimistic fans were starting to dread not just this season, but the four years left on that $125MM deal. 

With brown paper sacks in hand, Halo fans prepared for the absolute worst.

But then, Josh hurt his wrist during an aggressive hitting drill during a late-June series against the Pirates. He sat out the series. Upon coming back in the next series against the Tigers, he got a hit in his first game back.

Then another one in the next game.

Then another. 

Before you knew it, 12 games later, Hamilton had a nice little hitting streak going ending the other night in Chicago, but then he followed that up with two home runs in the following game.

It's only two weeks into July, but currently, he is sporting a .290/.353/.710 line. A line that, in some ways, is very similar to the .344/.405/.781 month of May that Josh had in 2012.

Did I lose you with that connection?

Yeah, I thought so. It's a pretty big leap to join those two months together. 

May 2012 and July 2013

Josh hit 12 home runs last May (he has 14 in all of 2013).

Yeah, that is a ton of red. It is also a lot of space that is being taken up pitches being swung at. 

Last May, Josh swung at an astounding 57.7% of pitches thrown his way. Yet he still managed to strike out in less than 20% of his plate appearances (barely, 19.8%) and walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances (again, barely with a 10.8 BB%). How? I don't know. If you had thrown the rosin bag towards the plate, he would have swung. It was just one of those months.

But this is where Josh's recent surge over the last two weeks actually looks better than the one he had last May. 

Josh's upper cut-type swing is made for pitches low in the zone. And he has done a good job of going after those pitches so far this month. But what has made July 2013 nearly as good as May 2012, is not how much or how hard he is hitting the ball, but rather, how much he is not swinging at the ball.

If you go by the last two weeks, instead of "just games played within the month of July," Josh has a well-above-what-Angels-fans-have-come-to-expect, 13% walk rate. By adding in those last few days in June (which was a three-game series against the Astros), Hamilton's slash line explodes. If you recall, his July line is .290/.353/.710, add in those three games and it is .333/.435/.744.

An identical ISO (Isolated Slugging) of .410 for both time frames, and a better walk rate so far this month. Angels fans have been waiting for this kind of outburst from Hamilton, and now that it is happening, they are afraid to breathe on it for fear of it vanishing like a whisper in the breeze.

The month is only half over, and there is also that silly All-Star break next week that could have who-knows-what kind of effect on the run that Hamilton is currently on. But for the time being, Angels fans have put away the head covers, and are donning their team swag. Even bringing their Josh Hamilton jerseys out of the closet for some sunlight.

Of course, now that I have written something about Josh's streak, he'll more than likely turn back into a pumpkin, and slump through the rest of the season.

But what if he doesn't?

As awful as the the Angels have played, they are only 6.5 games back in the wild card race and that's nothing when you have a hot Josh Hamilton.