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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Tuesday
Sep042012

Pena Loses Distance During Tampa Homecoming

The one-year, $7.25 million contract that Carlos Pena signed with the Tampa Bay Rays during the offseason seemed like the rare kind of deal could be described as both sentimental and savvy. Pena, the top prospect-turned-transaction-pinball who finally busted out in his late twenties, returned to the city where he slugged .516 and had a 135 OPS+ from 2007-2010. The Rays got a relatively cheap power bat to patch a position that produced a .388 slugging percentage and an 89 OPS+ in 2011. Everybody wins, right?

No exactly. While Pena's second stint as a Ray began with a walk-off blast against the Yankees on opening day, the clouts that once frequently followed his vicious upper-cut swing have been in short supply. Pena has career lows in slugging (.347) and OPS+ (91), besting only the bitterly disappointing Eric Hosmer, Casey Kotchman and Justin Smoak in the latter category among first basemen. The lefty hitter has long had platoon issues, but he's not drilling right-handers either (.363 slugging) and has lost most of his playing time to Jeff Keppinger.

Pena has lost some serious loft since his 2011 campaign with the Chicago Cubs. Take a look at his average fly ball distance by pitch location last year, and then in 2012:

Pena's Fly Ball Distance by Pitch Location, 2011

 

Pena's Fly Ball Distance by Pitch Location, 2012

 

Pena's fly balls traveled an average of 284 feet in 2011, topping the MLB average by 17 feet. This year, Pena's flys are averaging a mere 257 feet -- that's one foot farther than former teammate Darwin Barney. Talk about power-hitting devolution.

Monday
Sep032012

Bill Chuck's Nine to Know: AL Edition

  1. With the Orioles 8-3 win over the Yankees yesterday, the O's now have 74 wins (74-59) their most wins since 2005 when they went 74-88.
  2. No AL team has hit more homers on the road this season than the LA Angels who have slammed 94.
  3. Since the All-Star break, the Angels have the highest AL team batting average at .283.
  4. The Angels lead the AL with a .286 average leading off an inning.
  5. The A's have the worst average in the AL with runners on base (.245).
  6. The Rays have the best team ERA in the AL away from home with 3.65.
  7. The Rays pitchers have the best batting average against batters leading off an inning in the majors at just .229.
  8. No AL team has allowed fewer 1st inning runs than the A's starters who have permitted just 49.
  9. No AL staff has allowed fewer two-out runs than the Mariners who have permitted just 188.

 

Monday
Aug132012

David Price Waging a Ground War

Rays lefty David Price has made marked progress since he was a 23-year-old rookie flinging mid-90s heat and hoping for the best. Price has gradually punched out more batters, honed his control and in 2012, he has kept the ball on the ground like never before. Price has increased his ground ball rate from 44.4% last season to 53.4%, which ranks in the top 20 among qualified MLB starters. He's waging a ground war by keeping his fastball at hitters' knees.

Last year, Price lived mostly in the upper and middle portions of the zone with his fastball:

Price's fastball location, 2011

Price threw 35% of his fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone last season, slightly above the 34% average for starting pitchers, and placed 26.6% of his pitches in the bottom third (30.9% average). Climbing the ladder a little more than most and rarely pounding the bottom third, Price's 41.1% fastball ground ball rate was below the 43% average for starters.

But this season, Price is keeping the ball down much more often:

Price's fastball location, 2012

He has thrown just 28.3% of his pitches to the upper third of the zone, trading high heat for more low gas (33.4% of his pitches have been thrown down). The result? A big boost in Price's fastball grounder rate:

Price's fastball ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011

 

Price's fastball ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

 

Price has induced a ground ball 55.2% of the time hitters have put his fastball in play this season. That's the seventh-highest mark among qualified starters:

Highest ground ball rate on fastballs among SP, 2012

PitcherGround Ball Pct.
Scott Diamond 61.2%
Henderson Alvarez 60.2%
Rick Porcello 59.0%
Lucas Harrell 58.3%
Jason Hammel 56.5%
Luis Mendoza 56.2%
Zack Greinke 55.9%
David Price 55.2%
Ricky Romero 54.5%
Doug Fister 54.5%

 

Keeping his fastball low has allowed Price to serve up fewer home runs with the pitch (eight so far in 2012, compared to 15 last year) and fewer extra-base hits overall (a .312 slugging percentage, down from .364 last season).

Now that he's got the holy trinity of pitcher skills -- Ks, control and grounders -- Price has a career-low 3.18 xFIP that's bested by only Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright and R.A. Dickey among starters. It's hard to see how Price can get much better on the mound at this point. Maybe he can work on ways to fill the Trop or find a hard-hitting catcher in between innings.

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