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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Saturday
Jan282012

Reid Brignac on the Outside

Not so long ago, Reid Brignac looked like Tampa Bay's sure-fire shortstop of the future. As a lefty hitter capable of driving the ball and covering serious ground in the field, Brignac ranked near the top of the prospect lists in the Rays' ridiculously deep farm system. He held his own upon getting meaningful big league playing time in 2010 (a 92 OPS+ in 326 plate appearances), shifting between second base and short. Once Tampa traded Jason Bartlett to San Diego after the season, the shortstop job was Brignac's to lose.

And he did. Brignac bombed in 2011, batting .193/.227/.221 in 264 PA. While he didn't have the worst adjusted OPS among horrid hitters who somehow got 200+ plate appearances (thanks, Drew Butera!), Brignac nonetheless was one of the five lousiest over the last decade:

Worst OPS+ among hitters with 200+ PA, 2002-2011

RkPlayerOPS+PAYearTm
1 Brandon Wood 6 243 2010 LAA
2 Tony Pena 7 235 2008 KCR
3 Drew Butera 24 254 2011 MIN
4 Reid Brignac 29 264 2011 TBR
5 Tomas Perez 32 254 2006 TBD
6 Wily Mo Pena 35 206 2008 WSN
7 Andruw Jones 35 238 2008 LAD
8 Andy LaRoche 36 252 2008 TOT
9 Jeff Mathis 37 281 2011 LAA
10 Jeff Mathis 37 218 2010 LAA

 

Source: Baseball-Reference

Brignac fell behind the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson on the depth chart, and even found himself back at Triple-A Durham for a brief time in July and August. That's where Brignac could open 2012, too, after the Rays signed free agent Jeff Keppinger. Long-term, he's going to have to contend with former number one pick Tim Beckham and especially Hak-Ju Lee, the big trade chip in the Matt Garza deal with the Cubs.

If Brignac is to avoid joining the Brandon Woods, Wily Mo Penas, Andy LaRoches and Jeff Mathiss of the world in the failed prospect graveyard, he'll have to stop going after so many junk pitches. Brignac has chased 39 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone during his MLB career, way above the 28 percent average since 2008. In particular, Brignac's hacking off the outside corner is what has him on the outside looking in for 2012.

Pitchers rarely throw inside stuff to Brignac, preferring to hit the outside corner...

Pitch location to Brignac, 2008-2011

Fifty-seven percent of the pitches that Brignac has seen have been thrown on the outer third of the plate, above the 53 percent average for lefty batters. And there's good reason for opponents to go outside against Brignac: he just can't resist extending his strike zone. Check out Brignac's swing rate by pitch location, compared to the average for lefty hitters:

Brignac's swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

Average swing rate by pitch location for lefty hitters, 2008-2011Brignac has the fifth-highest chase rate on outer-third pitches in the majors since 2008 (minimum 500 plate appearances). Only Corey Patterson, Laynce Nix, Greg Dobbs and A.J. Pierzynski have tried to poke more out-of-zone offerings thrown off the outer third of the plate.

At this point, Brignac has three options. He can start swinging a boat oar instead of a bat, he can stop bring so chase-happy on outer-third pitches, or he can sink. Pitchers know his weakness. Now, it's up to him to adjust.

Monday
Nov282011

Jaso, Olivo Polar Opposites

The Seattle Mariners couldn't buy a walk in 2011. The M's had the second-lowest rate of free passes taken (7.3 percent) among AL clubs and, in a related note, placed dead last in on-base percentage (.292) and runs scored (556). Seattle's newest acquisition, John Jaso, should provide the M's with some much-needed plate discipline. The lefty hitter, picked up from Tampa Bay for reliever Josh Lueke, couldn't be more different than the man he'll now platoon with, Miguel Olivo.

During his major league career, Jaso has swung at just 34 percent of the pitches seen. Only Luis Castillo, Nick Johnson, Bobby Abreu and Brett Gardner have pulled the trigger less often among hitters with 500+ plate appearances from 2008-2011. He has chased 20 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, one of the lowest 20 rates among MLB hitters. Check out Jaso's swing rate by pitch location, compared to the league average. Unless it's high and tight, he's probably keeping the bat glued to his shoulder:

Jaso's swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

Average swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

The exception to Jaso's ultra-passive approach is two-strike situations. When the pitcher has him down to his last strike, he swings about 57 percent of the time. That's still below the 61 percent average in such situations, but not by a whole lot. And when he swings, he rarely comes up empty: Jaso has a 12 percent miss rate both in two-strike counts and overall, compared to the 20-21 percent MLB average in both situations.

By working deep counts and avoiding strikeouts, Jaso has walked more than he has whiffed (12.1 BB%, 11.4 K%). That has allowed him to get on base at a .340 clip and be a league-average hitter (101 wRC+) despite possessing little pop and posting a mid-.260s batting average on balls in play indicative of a slow-footed backstop. If you're holding off a bathroom stop or a beer run for a Jaso at-bat, you might be a while.

With Olivo, on the other hand, you'll be at the stall or sipping a Coors in no time. The righty batter has swung at about 57 percent of pitches seen since 2008. Pablo Sandoval, Delmon Young, Jake Fox, Vladimir Guerrero and Humberto Quintero are the only 500+ PA hitters to take a cut more often. And Olivo's 41 percent chase rate is surpassed by that of only Fox, Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pierzynski, Sandoval, Guerrero and Quintero. If it's anywhere near the dish, Olivo starts salivating:

Olivo's swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

With two strikes, Olivo has swung 68 percent of the time over the past four seasons. While Jaso avoids the Ks, Olivo has swung and missed 35 percent of the time in two-strike counts and 36 percent of the time overall.

With such a hack-happy approach, Olivo has struck out over six times as often as he has walked in recent years (4.4 BB%, 27.9 K%) and has a .283 OBP. His only redeeming feature at the plate is that he'll hit some moon shots in between all of those outs, making him a passable bat for the position (86 wRC+).

Assuming Jaso gets the bulk of the ABs, the trade with Tampa should work out pretty well. Jaso gives the M's a hitter with a with a clue at the plate and limits Olivo to a lefty-lashing role he's best suited for (he's got a career .277/.311/.487 line in 1,030 PA against lefties, compared to .229/.265/.395 in 2,535 PA against right-handers). Just don't expect Jaso and Olivo to share too many batting tips with each other.

Tuesday
Nov152011

Hell Boy's K Rate

Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson was named the AL Rookie of the Year yesterday. Hellickson had the traditional stats -- a winning 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA -- that voters typically go for. But Hellickson's fielding-independent numbers weren't as shiny: his 4.44 FIP was actually well above the 4.00 average for starting pitchers in 2011.

While few doubt that the 24-year-old Hellickson has the skills to improve that FIP moving forward, there was a curious disconnect between the number of whiffs and the number of Ks that he recorded during his rookie season. Hellickson got hitters to miss 22 percent of the time that they swung, comfortably above the 19.8 percent average for starters. But, despite that solid miss rate, Hell Boy struck out just 14.9 percent of the batters that he faced, well below the 17.7 percent average for starters.

The cause of that low K% appears to be Hellickson's difficulty in getting called strikes in two-strike counts. In fact, no starting pitcher got a lower percentage of called strikes when the batter didn't have another one to spare:

Lowest Called Strike% on Pitches Taken in 2-Strike Counts, 2011

Check out Hellickson's called strike rate by location on taken two-strike pitches, and then the league average for righties. He didn't get many (any?) calls on pitches on the corners, and he very rarely got a called strike on a pitch thrown in the zone.

Hellickson's called strike rate on taken 2-strike pitches

Average called strike rate on taken 2-strike pitches for RHP

On taken two-strike pitches thrown in the strike zone, Hellickson's called strike rate was about 41 percent. The big league average was about 61 percent. Looks to me like Hellickson got squeezed pretty badly.

Why hasn't Hellickson gotten more called strikes on taken two-strike pitches? Two factors appear to be working against him. One, as you have have noticed from the list of low called strike pitchers above, is that handedness plays a role. Overall in 2011, right-handers had an 11 percent called strike rate on taken two-strike pitches, and left-handers had an 12.2 percent called strike rate in such situations.

Two, as you also may have noticed from the aforementioned list, changeups get fewer called strikes than other pitches in these situations. Hellickson adores his changeup, and he threw it over a third of the time in two-strike counts. Unfortunately, pitchers don't seem to get their due when they locate a two-strike changeup in the zone and the batter takes it. Look at the called strike rate on taken-two strike pitches located within the strike zone, by pitch type:

Fastball: 62.7 percent

Curveball: 62.6 percent

Slider: 57.8 percent

Changeup: 46 percent

It's hard to say what this means for Hellickson in 2012. On one hand, we'd expect him to strike out more batters because he does a pretty good job of getting hitters to miss when they swing. But, on the other, righties get fewer called strikes than lefties, and Hellickson's go-to pitch in two-strike counts doesn't garner called strikes at near the same rate as fastballs and breaking balls. Hellickson's changeup is a plus pitch -- hitters batted just .188 and slugged .308 against it -- but he might want to go to his fastball or curve more often when he wants to catch a batter looking with two strikes.

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