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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Friday
Aug032012

Soft Stuff Vexing B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton looked like a Carlos-Beltran-In-Training back in his early twenties. Power, speed, plate discipline and plus defense in center field -- Upton had all of those attributes in spades. Since then, however, we've been left waiting for him to put all of those tools to use at once and turn in another monster season. Upton is channeling his inner Corey Patterson in 2012 instead, seemingly unable to tell balls from strikes when pitchers snap off a breaking ball or pull the string.

It's not really fair to call him a disappointment (second overall picks in the draft produce an average of 12.4 career Wins Above Replacement, while Upton already has 11.2 before his 28th birthday), but Upton's bat is backsliding as he heads for free agency this winter. Upton's OBP is just .302 (lowest since he was a scuffling 21-year-old in 2006), and his OPS+ is just 89. He's still hitting at or near the top of Tampa's lineup, but Upton's strike-zone judgment against "soft" stuff (curveballs, sliders and changeups) has cost him walks during his walk year.

Take a look at Upton's swing rate by pitch location against soft stuff in 2011, and then the league average:

Upton in 2011

 

League Average

 

Upton swung at a lot of breaking balls and changeups last season, but they were good swings on pitches thrown over the plate. When pitchers tried to expand the zone, he didn't bite. Upton took a cut at about 70% of soft pitches thrown in the strike zone, above the 65% MLB average, but chased just 28% of soft pitches thrown out of the zone (32% average). That quality plate approach allowed Upton to slug .398 against soft stuff. While not elite, that beat the league average by over 30 points.

In 2012, though, Upton looks confused against curves, sliders and changeups:

Upton in 2012

 

His in-zone swing rate against soft pitches has declined to 61%. Upton's chase rate, meanwhile, has climbed to 34%. With such poor pitch recognition, Upton's slugging just .238 against soft stuff. Jordan Schafer, Michael Bourn, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Pena and Brandon Crawford are the only qualified batters to show less punch against breaking and off-speed offerings.

Maybe it's time to stop doting upon the player we thought Upton would become and accept him for who he is: a swift fielder and baserunner who likely won't do more than keep his head above water at the plate. Upton is still plenty valuable when he complements his range and wheels with occasional power and a good number of free passes. But his Patterson-esque approach so far in 2012 won't cut it.

 

Tuesday
Jul172012

Matt Moore's Not Fooling Lefties

Matt Moore's 2012 season hasn't gone as scripted. Instead of vying for Rookie of the Year honors and pairing with David Price to give the Rays two of the game's most dominant lefty starters, Moore has lasted less than six innings per outing and has an ERA that's 16 percent below average when you account for league and park factors. That's some serious underachievement from a guy possessing mid-to-upper-90s gas who eviscerated minor league competition and shut down the Rangers in the ALDS last fall.

Moore has issued too many walks to batters on both sides of the plate, but he's having serious trouble putting away fellow lefty hitters. He's got a big reverse platoon split in 2012:

Batter SideBAOBPSLGK%BB%
Vs. RHB .244 .331 .403 24.1 11.6
Vs. LHB .280 .381 .451 15.3 11.2

 

Moore's miss rate against right-handed batters is 28.1 percent, the seventh-highest rate among all major league starters and third among left-handers, behind Francisco Liriano and Cole Hamels. Against lefties, however, Moore gets a miss just 15.2 percent of the time. That ranks 82nd out of 96 qualified starters and is dead last among lefties. Think about that: A lefty who can dial it up to 98 can't miss bats against lefties.

Pitch selection appears to be a big reason for Moore's lack of lefty whiffs. He has an effective fastball-changeup combo against right-handers, with both offerings missing lots of lumber. But the changeup, typically used against opposite-handed hitters, disappears against lefties and is replaced by more fastballs and sliders that aren't garnering swings and misses.

Moore's miss rate with the slider against lefties isn't anything special. But his fastball miss rate against same-handed batters is downright paltry. They're not fooled by his heat, thrown three-quarters of the time:

Vs. RHBPct. UsedMiss RateAvg. for LHP vs. RHB
Fastball 67 27 14.1
Changeup 21 36.4 28.8
Slider 12 16.9 27.1
Vs. LHBPct. UsedMiss RateAvg. for LHP vs. LHB
Fastball 75 12.4 17.6
Slider 22 30 35.6
Changeup 3 20 31.8

 

Moore may be going to his fastball so often because he lacks confidence in his breaking ball, described by Baseball America this past winter as a plus-plus pitch and the best in Tampa's system. Moore has left his slider over the fat part of the plate far too often, throwing 32 percent of them to the middle of the plate. The league average, by contrast, is 22 percent:

Moore's slider location in 2012

Moore's poor command of the slider hasn't buried him against righties, as he rarely uses the breaking ball against them and attacks them with his fastball and changeup. But the ineffective slider leaves Moore with little more than his fastball against lefties. And even if you've got 98 MPH heat in your back pocket, hitters can connect if they know it's coming.

Wednesday
Jun272012

My All Star Starters: AL 3B

While voting for the All-Star game ends tomorrow, I will still be producing these articles to discuss who I believe should have the starting nod and who should be on the team. Up tonight is the American League hot corner. This is a position that requires great reflexes coupled with a great arm, and, being a corner infield position, it is expected that this will be a position of hitting strength. All of the men being considered here are exceptional at their position and are all deserving of being in the conversation. Voting numbers can be found here.

#1. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers 3,073,541

Beltre leapt into first place since the last update, leading by almost 400,000 votes, and it has been well deserved. Since Beltre signed a one year deal with the Red Sox in 2010, he has been one of the most consistent third basemen in the game, showcasing unbelievable glovework coupled with an ability to hit for average and power. His power numbers really spiked after a down year in '09 where he only managed to put 8 out of the park. Since then he has gone deep 73 times. Below is a picture of how Beltre has adjusted an begun hitting more pitches for power.

Beltre is well known for his ability to go down on one knee and muscle balls out of the park. If you haven't seen it before, here is a link to see one from his Red Sox days. 

Beltre is not without fault though, as he sports a much higher groundball rate versus left handed pitching than righties, which has hurt his average versus southpaws.

Left (versus Righties) - Right (versus Lefties)This has not been too much of a problem, but if he can increase his flyball rate versus lefties, especially on the outside part of the zone, he may find that his average could increase even further. Now on to the stats.

71 G, 274 AB, 42 R, 90 H, 17 2b, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 1 SB, 16 BB, 34 SO, .328 AVG, .361 OBP, .533 SLG

Beltre could also afford to be a little more patient and draw some walks to boost the on-base percentage, but if he continues to get hits when he puts the ball in play, I can't really blame him for being a free swinger. Beltre continues to be an all-star on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and I wholeheartedly believe that he should have a place on that team when all is said and done.

 

#2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers 2,692,047 

Something has to be said for Cabrera's durability after the move back to third. He has played in 74 games, even after taking a hard hopper to the eye in spring training, which happened to leave a nice battle scar. The move back to third also hasn't hurt his ability to rake. Cabrera is one of those unique hitters that has power to all fields, and he is showcasing that this season. He has hit seven home runs to left, four to center, and four to right field, totaling up to fifteen big flies. Below is a chart of the spread of his hits throughout the season.

Cabrera has taken advantage of pitches left up in the zone and driven the ball all over ballparks, including a mammoth 514 ft Home Run to left field off of Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox. Cabrera has also managed to get hits off the hard stuff, averaging .350 against pitches with a velocity of at least 91 mph. If the velocity drops down below that, he tapers off, hitting only .273.

 

As long as pitchers continue to throw him the hard stuff, Cabrera will remain an all-star caliber hitter. Lets look at his stats.

74 G, 299 AB, 43 R, 91 H, 22 2b, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 3 SB, 26 BB, 46 SO, .304 AVG, .363 OBP, .528 SLG

Cabrera has Beltre beat in overall power numbers, but that could be a 25 at bat factor that has allowed the Tigers' third basemen more opportunity to hit the long ball. Cabrera is mashing the ball this season, but I do not believe that he should be considered the started over Beltre.

 

#3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees 1,748,534

Compared to the first two guys on this list, the rest have been underwhelming. ARod hasn't been awful, but he also hasn't been able to live up to the performance of Cabrera and Beltre. Strangely enough, ARod has seen a concentration of pitches located dead in the strike zone, but he hasn't been able to capitalize to boost his average. 

ARod has been excellent in one strike counts this season, with an ISO rate of .323.

 

71 G, 264 AB, 40 R, 70 H, 6 2b, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB, 32 BB, 63 SO, .265 AVG, .355 OBP, .436 SLG

Comparing his stats to the vote leaders, he is matching them well in the HR numbers, but he lacks in the total extra base hit department. He is drawing walks at a higher rate, which has put his OBP in the same range, but the SLG is down 100 points. ARod has had an amazing career, but this is not an all star year for the third baseman.

 

#4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays 1,688,509

Before a major injury sidelined his season before the thirty game mark, Longo was on pace to be better than any third baseman in the league. He had drawn one less walk in that time than Beltre has all season and he had more doubles than ARod has compiled. His AVG, OBP, and SLG would be at the top of the list for AL third basemen, but he hasn't played in over a month and probably will not be ready for the all-star game either way. His BABIP was way up, so it is conceivable he may have tailed off a bit. Here is a look at that heat map.

23 G, 82 AB, 15 R,  27 H, 7 2b, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 2 SB, 15 BB, 17 SO, .329 AVG, .433 OBP, .561 SLG

I'm a huge Longoria fan, and I hope he tears it up in the second half.

 

Wild Card: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

Readers must understand that he is not the everyday third baseman and has played more of a DH role, but I believe he is worthy of consideration here. He has 21 HRs! That ranks him near the top of the league, nevermind among 3rd basemen. Also, his .572 SLG ranks him fifth in the American League. His power numbers versus southpaws has been unreal, with a .371 ISO.

It's almost as if anything in the zone is getting hit for extra bases with this guy. If you don't believe it, look at the numbers:

71 G, 269 PA, 44 R, 77 H, 14 2b, 21 HR, 52 RBI, 6 SB, 28 BB, 53 SO, .286 BA, .361 OBP, .572 SLG

This guy has been revitalized. If he can continue this pace throughout the year, the Blue Jays will have quite a formidable lineup with Encarnacion hitting behind Bautista.

 

Results

1. Adrian Beltre

2. Miguel Cabrera

3. Edwin Encarnacion (due to less starts at 3b)

4. ARod

5. Brett Lawrie (Encarnacion's teammate and starting Blue Jays Third Baseman is having a good year)

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