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Entries in trade (12)

Thursday
Dec122013

Drew Pomeranz Has a Split Personality

The A's and Rockies exchanged lefty lottery tickets at the winter meetings, with Brett Anderson (and $2 million cash) headed to Colorado for Drew Pomeranz (and minor leaguer Chris Jensen). From Oakland's perspective, trading the oft-injured Anderson saves at least $7.5 million (his $8 million salary in 2014 minus the cash sent to the Rockies, and a $1.5 million buyout on a 2015 club option) and gives the A's team control over a former top-five draft pick through the 2018 season.

GM Billy Beane said the deal allows Oakland to "turn back the clock a little with another very talented left-hander," letting the club's development staff tinker with Pomeranz' herky-jerky delivery in hopes of unlocking the talent that made him a top-25 prospect and the key player acquired by Colorado in the 2011 Ubaldo Jimenez deal. The problem is, the 25-year-old's development clock is frozen in time -- he's still a fastball-first pitcher with unreliable secondary stuff, leading to gargantuan platoon splits.

During his major league career, Pomeranz has suffocated fellow left-handed hitters to the tune of a .457 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. No lefty starter in the game has a lower OPS against same-handed batters over the past three seasons (minimum 100 lefties faced). Against righties, though? Pomeranz has been pummeled for an .888 OPS, topping only the now- unemployed Jonathan Sanchez (minimum 400 righties faced). Basically, Pomeranz turns lefties into Felix Pie and righties into Matt Holliday. That's a problem when about 56 percent of the major league population swings from the right side.

Here's a closer look at what makes Oakland's new reclamation project deadly versus lefties, and dead in the water against right-handers.

Lefty Killer

Among left-handed starting pitchers facing at least 100 lefties over the 2011-13 seasons, only David Price and Tony Cingrani (80 percent each) threw fastballs more often than Pomeranz (79 percent). Pomeranz pounded the outside corner versus left-handers, throwing far more heaters to the outside corner (61 percent) than the MLB average (48 percent). Pomeranz's simple approach -- play keep-away with the fastball, and mix in an occasional curve -- paid off handsomely.

  • Pomeranz has eviscerated fellow lefties with his fastball, inducing whiffs at an elite level. Left-handers have missed 34 percent of the time they have swung at Pomeranz' heat, highest among all lefty starting pitchers throwing at least 400 fastballs to same-handed hitters over the past three seasons. His fastball miss rate is nearly double the MLB average for lefty-on-lefty matchups (18 percent).

Pomeranz's fastball contact rate vs. lefties, 2011-13

  • Many of those whiffs from lefties are coming on pitches thrown off the plate. Batters have chased 34 percent of Pomeranz's fastballs located outside of the strike zone, also the highest among lefty starters taking on same-handed hitters. The MLB average? just 24 percent.
  • By generating so many whiffs and chases, Pomeranz boasts the highest fastball strike percentage against lefties (70.6) this side of Cliff Lee (73.3).
  • Pomeranz has also spotted his curveball against same-side batters, throwing a strike 59 percent of the time (58 percent average for lefty vs. lefty confrontations).

Righty Punching Bag

Lacking a reliable changeup, Pomeranz threw the highest percentage of fastballs to righties (77) among all lefty starters taking on at least 400 opposite-handed hitters from 2011-13. He tried to bust right-handers in on the hands with his fastball, throwing inside 42 percent of the time (34 percent average for lefty pitchers). Clayton Kershaw (47 percent) was the only lefty to challenge right-handers inside more frequently. Kershaw, possessing 93-97 MPH gas and a pair of wicked breaking pitches, can get away with that. Not so much with Pomeranz, who complements his low-90s fastball with spotty secondary stuff.

  • Batters swung through Pomeranz's fastball 15 percent of the time -- a dead ringer for the MLB average in lefty versus righty matchups. He has actually managed to garner more chases with his fastball (30 percent) than the MLB average for lefties against righties (24 percent).

Pomeranz's fastball contact rate vs. righties, 2011-13

  • While his fastball is modestly effective versus opposite-handed batters, the same can't be said for his curveball (thrown 15 percent of the time) and changeup (8 percent). Over the past three seasons, Pomeranz has the lowest strike rate with his curveball (47 percent) among all lefties throwing at least 250 benders to right-handed hitters.
  • His changeup strike rate is even lower (43 percent). Cingrani is the only lefty to miss the mark more often with his changeup against righties (minimum 100 thrown).

The A's have a full rotation, with newly-signed Scott Kazmir joining Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily, so Pomeranz figures to start 2014 attempting to conjure up breaking and off-speed stuff at Triple-A Sacramento. Short of accomplishing that, this former bonus baby could be headed for a career as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.

Tuesday
Dec032013

Fister Takes Impeccable Command to D.C. 

Judging from the trade package the Tigers received from the Nationals in exchange for Doug Fister, you might think he's just some back-of-the-rotation schlub. Instead, it appears that Washington GM Mike Rizzo just landed one of the game's best starters, still two years away from free agency, for a good-not-great pitching prospect (Robbie Ray), a potential lefty specialist (Ian Krol), and a versatile bench bat (Steve Lombardozzi).

Fister doesn't look like an ace, lobbing 89 MPH fastballs and a cornucopia of breaking and offspeed stuff toward home plate. But don't mistake a lack of velocity for a lack of talent. Over the past three seasons, Fister ranks eighth among all starting pitchers in Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (12.6), and his park-and-league-adjusted ERA (24 percent above average) places tenth. Fister bested now former teammate and newly crowned AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in both categories.

The 29-year-old righty produces elite results with pedestrian stuff thanks to a nearly unparalleled ability to throw strikes. Fister has issued a mere 1.8 walks per nine innings pitched since 2011, tying him with new rotation mate Jordan Zimmermann for seventh among starters tossing at least 500 frames over that time frame. He doesn't just flood the strike zone, though -- he avoids the fat part of the plate like few others. Take a look at Fister's pitch location over the past three seasons:

Fister's pitch location, 2011-2013

 

From 2011-13, MLB starters threw an average of 23.6 percent of their pitches to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. Fister, by contrast, threw just 20.8 percent of his pitches down the middle. Among AL starters throwing at least 6,000 pitches since 2011, only Mark Buehrle (20.3 percent) and Jon Lester (20.7) offered hitters fewer cookies.

Why does that matter? Pitches thrown over the middle of the plate get hammered, with hitters slugging a collective .484 against those offerings from 2011-13. Pitchers fare far better when they bust hitters inside (.412 slugging percentage) or paint the outside corner (.330).

The Mariners might be absolved for not fully appreciating Fister's then-burgeoning talents, shipping him to Detroit for a gaggle of so-so-prospects during a 2011 season in which the club lost 95 games. But the Tigers, still equipped to make a World Series run with Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and an in-his-prime Miguel Cabrera, get no such benefit of the doubt. While Drew Smyly appears ready for a rotation spot, Detroit surrendered one of the game's top arms, making far less than he would garner on the open market, for three none-elite youngsters. Fister might be a soft tosser, but his superb command makes him every bit as valuable as more heralded fire ballers.

Tuesday
Nov262013

To Justify Prospect Hype, Profar Must Solve Breaking Stuff 

The Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder mega deal clears the way for Jurickson Profar to take over the keystone spot in Texas. The switch-hitter from Curacao, still a few months shy of his 21st birthday, ranked as the top prospect in the game according to both Baseball America and MLB.com prior to the 2013 season, showcasing plate discipline (a career .367 on-base percentage in the minors) and power (.449 slugging percentage) beyond his years at a premium position on the diamond.

Profar's tools and polish didn't immediately translate to the majors, however. The trendy preseason pick for American League Rookie of the Year posted a park-and-league-adjusted OPS that was 24 percent below average, ranking 20th out of 24 newcomers logging at least 300 plate appearances. Profar's struggles against curveballs and sliders are a major reason why he was outhit by fellow rookie middle infielders like Brad Miller, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Rendon, Nick Franklin and Didi Gregoroius. To start doing damage versus breaking stuff, the uber-patient Profar will first have to take the bat off his shoulder.

Profar did an excellent job of taking curves and sliders thrown outside of the strike zone, chasing those pitches less than half as often (14.3 percent) as the major league average (30.8 percent). Unfortunately, his "just looking, thanks" approach extended to breaking balls thrown over the heart of the plate.

Profar's swing rate by pitch location vs. curveballs and sliders, 2013

He swung at a mere 54.3 percent of curves and sliders thrown within the strike zone, well below the 61.6 percent major league average. Profar was particularly gun-shy when a pitcher missed his target: He swung at 47.4 percent of breaking stuff thrown to the middle of the plate. Typically, pitchers pay the price when they throw belt-high curveballs and sliders (hitters slugged a collective .459 last year). Against Profar, however, those mistakes still produced strikes.

By taking juicy curves and sliders so often, Profar rarely made loud contact when he did decide to swing. He slugged just .256 versus breaking pitches, nearly 80 points below the MLB average, and hit a grounder 68.2 percent of the time he put the ball in play.

Despite Profar's rough introduction to the big leagues, Rangers fans shouldn't despair. Other young middle infielders eventually became stars after flailing at the plate as rookies, including Hall of Famer Robin Yount (79 OPS+ as a teenager in 1974), Gary Sheffield (82 OPS+ at age 20 in 1989) and Alan Trammell (89 OPS+ as a 20-year-old in 1978). And, like Trammell, Profar has the defensive chops to play an up-the-middle position throughout his career (he'd be a standout at shortstop if not for the presence of Elvis Andrus).

Many rookies must learn to tone down their plate approach, limiting overzealous swings at junk pitches thrown in the dirt. But in Profar's case, he needs to be more aggressive. When pitchers hang a breaking ball over the middle of the dish, he has to make them pay.