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Entries in Texas Rangers (77)

Wednesday
Feb262014

Prince Fielder Losing His Edge Against Righties

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is preparing well in advance for his team's opening day series against Philadelphia, telling Drew Davidson of the Star-Telegram last week that he "already has a set lineup." According to the report, Washington's batting order will look similar to this: Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, Mitch Moreland, Geovany Soto, Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin. If anything looks a bit out of place in his batting order, it undoubtedly is the placement of Fielder in the No. 3 hole -- a position that has occupied just 12% of his plate appearances to this juncture of this career compared to the 80% that have transpired out of the cleanup spot with Milwaukee and Detroit.

“Hitting in front of Beltre — that’s not a bad thing,” Fielder told Davidson. “That’s fine with me. I don’t have any problems with it. I’m excited. The top two guys [Choo and Andrus] have speed, and they can hit as well. I think it’s going to set the table for the rest of us, which is going to be a lot of fun.”

While I can say that hitting in front of Beltre will at least somewhat help Fielder's cause this season, and a hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark to boot, his offensive regressions last season are concerning. Posting a .279/.362/.457 line and 120 OPS+ that are each well below his career .286/.389/.527 and 141 OPS+ marks, Fielder took significant steps back with the Tigers in 2013, mainly when we see his .071 point decrease in slugging percentage from 2012 to last season. Where did Fielder's power go last season? We need not look further then his lefty-righty platoon splits.

Comparing Fielder's results and averages versus LHP

Against same-handed (lefty) pitching last season, Fielder took steps forward in several respects compared to his numbers from 2008 through 2012, including (but not limited to) batting average, OPS and HR/FB rate even though he wasn't able to place better contact against those pitchers (.217 WHAV last season compared to .256 prior). Now let's see his splits versus righties...

Comparing Fielder's results and averages versus RHP

Fielder's success rate against right-handed pitchers went in the opposite direction last season, however. A .302 hitter from 2008-'12, Fielder's average dropped to .271 against them last season and his OPS plummeted by nearly .200 points. His HR/FB rate was essentially cut in half to a career-low 13.2% last season and his WHAV against righties dropped in similar fashion to that against lefties. Now that we understand the primary reason behind Fielder's drop-off last season, we need to figure out what contributed to his relapse.

Fielder's in-play rate vs. RHP relative to pitch location, 2012

Fielder's in-play rate vs. RHP relative to pitch location, 2013

As we can see, Fielder's in-play rates against right-handed pitchers have fluctuated significantly with respect to pitch location. In 2012, the majority of the offerings he put in play were located low-and-away, evidenced by a 51.3% in play rate to the lower and outer portion of the strike zone. Last season, however, his strength in that regard turned into a weakness, posting a 44% in play rate in that region of the zone. Conversely, the biggest chunk of Fielder's in-plays last season were in the upper-and-inner location of the zone.

So Fielder is putting different balls in play. Who cares, right? Wrong. The fact that Fielder is putting significantly fewer low-and-away pitches in play is particularly concerning because opposing right-handers are attacking this area of the zone more often, locating 39% of their pitches to this region of the zone last season compared to 36% in 2012 (and 33% in 2011). Now that right-handers are recognizing and attacking this weakness, it may only get worse if left unaddressed this spring.

Monday
Feb242014

Cruz to the O's: More Comp Pick Hijinx, or Sign of a Rational Market?

Nelson Cruz reportedly entered the offseason seeking a four-year, $75 million contract. Over the weekend, he settled for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Cruz's agent might take a page out of Scott Boras' playbook and label this a "pillow" contract designed to re-establish the 33-year-old, Biogenesis-linked slugger's value. If so, it's gotta be the world's lumpiest, hard-as-concrete pillow.

Some will point to Cruz's new deal as further proof that Major League Baseball's free agent draft pick compensation system is broken. In broad strokes, there's plenty to complain about. Free agents who receive and turn down a qualifying offer essentially have a tax levied on their next contract, with interested teams needing to consider not just the monetary value of the player's on-field production, but also the value of the pick they'd lose to sign him (Baltimore had less to lose than most, having already surrendered its first-rounder to ink Ubaldo Jimenez and its Competitive Balance Lottery pick to acquire Bud Norris; they'll lose the 55th overall selection to get Cruz). It's not fair, really.

And yet, you can make a pretty sound argument that in this particular case, Cruz is being paid what he's worth. He launches majestic homers with the best of them, but there's not much else to his game at this point. Consider:

  • Cruz's .319 on-base percentage over the past three seasons is a dead ringer for the overall MLB average, and south of the standards set by corner outfielders (.328) and designated hitters (.323). Once you adjust for park and league factors, his three-year OPS is 12 percent better than the MLB average -- good, but hardly the stuff of fat free agent deals.
  • He has a history of hamstring/quadriceps injuries, which have made him a plodding base runner and fielder. Cruz has taken an extra base between 22% and 30% of the time over the past three years, compared to the 40% big league average. He has been several runs worse than an average major leaguer on the bases each season, according to Fangraphs, and has cost his club about five runs per year in the field as judged by advanced metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Cruz may DH in Baltimore, but he's been DH-worthy for a while now.
  • Players with Cruz's profile -- lots of power, little defensive or base running value, frequently banged up -- tend to age poorly. His Baseball-Reference player comps include Henry Rodriguez (done as a productive major leaguer by age 32), Brad Hawpe (cooked at 31) and Jay Gibbons (last effective at 29). His number one comp according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system is Juan Gonzalez. These guys had lots of injury issues (I pulled a hammy just writing this paragraph), but that's kind of the point. Cruz hasn't been a beacon of durability, either. He's not the sort of player you want to sign to a long-term deal, much less the four or five-year pact Cruz initially wanted.

Let's be clear: There's nothing wrong with the O's signing Cruz at this price. It's a short-term commitment, and he's a definite upgrade over the likes of Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia. But put it all together, and Cruz projects to be about 1-2 wins better in 2014 than the sort of talent you can pull from Triple-A or the waiver wire. If the cost of a win is around $6 million, it's hard to say that he really got jobbed by the pick attached to his name. The qualifying offer system may well be broken, but Cruz's deal seems to be more a case of sanity prevailing in the C-suite.

Monday
Feb032014

Regressing Power Leads To Michael Young's Retirement

Michael Young officially closed the book on his storied 14-year career last Thursday, choosing to “spend time with his family” rather than pursue a free-agent contract with a major league team any further this winter, according to a report by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. The 37-year-old utility infielder had received offers from several teams – including the Dodgers, who were heavily interested in bringing him back after he posted a .314/.321/.392 slash line and 102 OPS+ over 21 games with the franchise to finish out 2013. If he remains retired, Young will own a career slash line of .300/.346/.441 to go with a 102 OPS+ in 1,970 games.

As a young baseball fan who watched ESPN's Baseball Tonight religiously, I remember taking in a lot of Young's big-time hits with the Rangers. Many of those hits featured a common theme: Young's ability to go generate ridiculous power on "inside" pitches -- often taking those pitches to right field with ease.

Here's a perfect example of what I'm referring to. In an at-bat against Seattle's Jason Vargas in 2012, Young took a pitch located on the inner portion of the plate and drove it to right center with a flick of his wrists for a home run. For me, this home run embodies what Young did so exceptionally well during his 14-year career: Dominate the inner-half of the plate. Ironically, this may well be a reason for his retirement.

Diminishing Inner-Half Power

From 2008 to 2011 -- his age 31 through 34 seasons -- Young dominated the inner-half of the plate to the tune of a .345/.374/.544 slash line and .392 weighted on-base average. The driving forces behind those gaudy numbers were his 26.3% line-drive rate (best among batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances in that span) and .401 well-hit average, which was trumped only by Miguel Cabrera (.418) and Albert Pujols (.404) among qualified batters. His best season in this strech was perhaps in 2011, when he led baseball with 213 hits (as a 34-year-old, no less), posted an insane .368/.385/.548 line and mustered up a .428 WHAV against inner-half pitches.

But from that point on, things changed. Young's age 35 season (his last with Texas) in 2012 and last season (where he spent time with Philadelphia and Los Angeles) garnered a still respectable .299/.320/.424 line and .323 wOBA against inner-half stuff, but his line drive rate fell to 23.4% (compared to 26.3% from 2008-2011) and WHAV dropped to .266 -- a decrease of .135 from where it had been previously.

When a hitter's best asset regresses with time, his statistical output tends to follow. In this case, Young's innate ability to place quality contact on inner-half stuff regressed, which was probably a key reason for why he decided to call it quits.