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Entries in San Francisco Giants (49)

Wednesday
Jan152014

Bumgarner or Sale: Who's the Best Young Southpaw after Kersh?

No one will argue that Clayton Kershaw isn't the best pitcher in Major League Baseball at 25 years old or under, and I doubt many will refute the idea that he's well on his way to being the best pitcher of my generation. Heck, he just signed a seven-year, $215 million deal with the Dodgers -- giving him the largest average annual salary for a player in baseball history -- and has led all qualified starters in ERA in each of the past three seasons. Based on these facts alone, we can conclude that Kershaw takes the cake when it comes to dominant pitchers (both young and old).

But who's the next-best 25-or-under southpaw in baseball right now? This is a difficult question to answer, if only because there aren't many elite lefties. While Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez are the obvious leaders of an insanely talented crop of young right-handed pitchers, the same cannot be said for young southpaws outside of Kershaw. Two names stand out above the rest, however, and that's Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.

Both are 24 years old. Both are entering their fifth full season in the majors. Both own career ERA marks around 3.00 (3.08 for Bumgarner, 2.97 for Sale). Both finished in the top 10 for their respective league's Cy Young Award voting last season. Both are exceptionally towering in stature (Bumgarner is 6'5", 235; Sale 6'6", 180) and both played for teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2013. The similarities are almost uncanny, am I right?

Unnaturally similar resumes aside, though, these two have clearly established themselves as the top 25-or-under southpaws in baseball after Kershaw. Which one is "better", you ask? Let's find out by evaluating the two in these areas: Command, ability to generate strikeouts and batted ball results.

Command/Control

Though Sale and Bumgarner boast similar pitch frequency heat maps over the past two seaons, one holds a distinct advantage in respect to command and control -- an aspect that is crucial to consider when evaluating starting pitchers. You can pump upper-90s fastballs around the plate all day long, but if you can't hit the mit where you need to, you won't last long in the majors.

  • Pounding the zone: Since 2012, Sale owns a 52.9% zone rate compared to Bumgarner's 49.9% mark. Yes, throwing more pitches in the zone doesn't always lead to success, but in this case it does: Sale's 37.9% called strike rate (third best among LHP since 2012) trumps Bumgarner's 32.5%.
  • Restricting free bases: Given his ability to pound the strike zone and paint the corners at a high rate, a lower walk rate has followed suit. Sale owns a 5.9% walk rate over the past two seasons while Bumgarner retains a slightly higher 6.7% walk rate, which is nearly at the 7.2% league average mark.

Command Advantage: Sale.

Strikeout Ability

If command is the most important means by which to evaluate a starter, then strikeout capacity and ability is an easy second, at least for me. Fortuitously, this is an area in which both Sale and Bumgarner have excelled to this point in their respective careers.

But the way in which the two go about punching out opponents is different; a whopping 49.8% of Sale's strikeouts occur in the strikezone (third-highest among qualified lefties since 2012) while Bumgarner uses his deception to expand opponents zones, as 59.4% of his strikeouts transpire outside the zone.

  • Expanding the zone: Since 2012, Sale owns a 30.4% chase rate juxtaposed to Bumgarner's 29.1%, so Sale gets the slight nod here. Neither are dominant in this area, though, as the league average mark in the last two seasons is 28.5%. We should consider that opponents swing more frequently at Bumgarner's stuff (47.7%) than Sale's (45.4%), however.
  • Swing and a miss: Sale separates himself from Bumgarner a bit more in generating swings-and-misses, however, as he owns a 25.2% miss rate opposed to Bumgarner's 23.6% miss rate. Neither are exceptional in this respect, again, as the league mark is 21.2% and league lead is owned by Francisco Liriano at 30.7%. The two are nearly identical when it comes to swinging strikes, with Sale boasting an 11.5% swinging strike rate and Bumgarner an 11.2% rate.
  • Simple Strikeouts: Then there's the generic strikeout rate. Sale reigns supreme here again, holding true to a 25.5% strikeout rate (sixth-best since 2012) compared to Bumgarner's 23.6%.

Strikeout ability advantage: Sale.

Batted Ball Results

Though I'm not the biggest proponent of evaluating pitchers strictly off opponents' numbers against them, they do maintain at least some merit. Looking at how batters fare against a pitcher statistically (i.e. SLG% against) can sometimes shed light on how effective (or uneffective) a pitcher's stuff is from a broad perspective.

  • Limiting XBH: While Sale maintains an advantage in command and strikeouts, Bumgarner gets the nod for holding opponents to lower success rates. Over the last two seasons, he's held batters to a .348 SLG% (ninth lowest among qualified starters) while Sale is just percentage points behind at .362 compared to the .402 league average.
  • More grounders: The ability to generate ground balls is an elite (and frankly unteachable) attribute for any pitcher, and Bumgarner again outperforms Sale in this regard. With a 47.5% ground ball rate since 2012, he outmatches the 44.7% league mark and trumps Sale, as well, whose 45% ground ball rate is essentially average.
  • In play or no? When it comes right down to it, pitchers are considered effective when they limit the amount of pitches that opponents put in play -- less pitches put in play generally leads to less hits. It's really that simple. For Bumgarner, this is another edge over Sale, as he owns a 36.9% in-play rate (fifth-best among lefty starters last season) compared to Sale's 38.8% mark.

Batted ball results advantage: Bumgarner.

So, Who's (Second) Best?

Considering everything we've just discussed, it seems as though Sale is the "better" pitcher, holding advantages in command and strikeouts. However, this is more of a question of preference; do you want a pitcher whose command is slightly better and who strikes out more batters (Sale), or do more ground balls and fewer pitches placed in-play tickle your fancy?

I'll take Sale, but we all know Kershaw is the most elite arm in the game.

Friday
Nov292013

Fastball Velocity Dip, Location Concerning for Vogelsong

After declining to exercise Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5 million salary for next season, the San Francisco Giants came to terms with the 36-year-old left-handed starter Friday afternoon on a one-year contract worth $5 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Missing a handful of starts in the middle of 2013 with a broken hand, Vogelsong finished with a 5.73 ERA in Bruce Bochy's rotation, each of which were elevated marks compared to his 2011 campaign in which he posted a 2.71 ERA en route to his first All-Star appearance.

What's contributed to this increase in earned runs allowed? For starters, Vogelsong struck out nearly two less batters per nine innings in 2013 (5.8) than he did in 2011 (7.6). He also conceded nearly three more hits per nine last season (10.8) than two years ago (8.1), coupled with the fact that those hits went for extra bases more often in his latest campaign (.477 SLG%) than prior (.361 SLG%). However, it was Vogelsong's decrease in fastball velocity over the past two seasons that most contributed.

  Vel MxVel MnVel League Vel Avg.
2013 89.1 92.5 81.1 91.3
2011 91.4 94.2 87.9 91

Comparing the velocity of Vogelsong's fastball between the two seasons, we see the pitch has regressed. In 2011 -- Vogelsong's best season as a professional (3.2 bWAR) -- the pitch's velocity ranged from 94.2 MPH to 87.9 MPH for an average of 91.4, which was slightly above the 91 MPH league average fastball velocity for starters. That average dipped to 89.1 MPH last season, however, and was more than two miles per hour slower than before while dipping below last season's league average fastball velocity mark of 91.3 MPH. What's important to understand is that this decrease in velocity has hampered Vogelsong's ability to attack right-handed hitters on the inside portion of the plate.

Batting average vs. Vogelsong's inner-half fastball, 2011

Batting average vs. Vogelsong's inner-half fastball, 2013

While Vogelsong's fastball velocity was only slightly above league average in 2011, he challenged right-handed batters with it by throwing it on the inner-half of the plate at a 39.3% clip, which was nearly five points higher than the 34.0% league average for southpaw fastballs against right-handed batters. And to his credit, he found success. Right-handers posted a .219 batting average against the offering in 2011 (excessively low for the .281 league mark) while placing 40.8% of those pitches in play (compared to the 44.1% league average).

As the second image indicates with clarity, opponents improved significantly against Vogelsong's fastball when located on the inner-half of the plate compared to two seasons ago. Challenging right-handers on the inner half at a 41% rate, elevated from 39.3% in 2011, Vogelsong's fastball was chewed up and spit out by right-handers, who garnered a .417 average (juxtaposed to the .276 league average) to go with a 53.7% in-play rate -- nearly 13% higher than in 2011 and well above the 46.7% league average mark.

Considering everything we've just discovered, what we're seeing is that A.) that Vogelsong's average fastball velocity is dwindling, and B.) that he should not longer challenge right-handed batters inside with the offering, due to the fact that opponents are making quality contact against it in that region. Locating it on the outer half of the plate, where he held righties to a .244 average last season, gives him a better chance to live up to his $5 million salary in 2014.

Saturday
Sep072013

Petit Nearly Perfect vs. D-Backs

Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit just missed becoming the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game last night, as Eric Chavez's two-out, two-strike looper to right field in the ninth inning dropped mere inches in front of a sprawling Hunter Pence. Instead, Petit joined a lonely hearts club of hurlers -- Yu Darvish, Armando Galarraga, Mike Mussina and Dave Stieb among them -- who lost their bid for perfection with two outs in the ninth frame.

Petit, 28, might have gone down as the most improbable pitcher to sit down 27 consecutive batters, aside from maybe Philip Humber. Once a Mets prospect who puzzled talent evaluators by dominating minor league hitters with dime-a-dozen stuff, the squat righty has been battered for a five-plus ERA in the majors while passing through Florida, Arizona, Seattle and now San Francisco. Any team could have grabbed him as recently as late July, when the Giants designated him for assignment to make room on the roster for Guillermo Moscoso.

How did Petit go from disposable to nearly immortal (for one night, anyway)? Here's a breakdown of his nearly perfect outing.

  • Petit was content to paint the outside corner against the D-Backs, throwing 67 of his 95 total pitches (70.5 percent) away to Arizona's batters. He stretched the strike zone horizontally, getting hitters to chase 45 percent of his pitches thrown away outside of the strike zone. Overall, MLB hitters have chased about 24 percent of pitches thrown away this season.

Petit's pitch location vs. Arizona's lefty hitters, 9-6-13 

  

Petit's pitch location vs. Arizona's righty hitters, 9-6-13 

  • He averaged a modest 88.5 MPH with his fastball, reaching 90 on the radar gun just seven times. Petit threw a nearly equal amount of "heaters" and off-speed stuff: 52% fastballs, 21% curveballs, 11 percent sliders, nine percent cutters, and seven percent changeups.
  • Petit's curveball was his main strikeout pitch, as he got Aaron Hill, Martin Prado and Chris Owings to swing and miss at the sweeping, mid-to-high 70s offering. D-Backs hitters whiffed on eight of the 10 Petit curveballs that they swung at.
  • Petit threw a first-pitch strike to 21 of the 28 batters that he faced (75%). He fell behind in the count in just five of those 28 plate appearances.