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Entries in trade (12)

Thursday
Jul052012

Gaby Sanchez on the Outside

The Miami Marlins, trying to stay in the Wild Card chase as a run at the NL East title looks about as likely as Ozzie Guillen giving up cursing, added Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros in exchange for prospects Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. While the 36-year-old Lee is no longer the hard-hitting El Caballo of years past (he's got a 103 OPS+ this year), the Marlins at least hope he can avoid turning in the sort of utterly disastrous performance that is Gaby Sanchez's 2012 season.

Sanchez posted a combined 111 OPS+ during his first two years as a starter in the majors, but the 28-year-old has tanked to the tune of a 49 OPS+ in a little less than 200 plate appearances this year. If the former Miami Hurricane now on the outs with the club that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft is going to re-establish himself as a big leaguer, he'll have to start making louder contact on the outer half of the plate.

Sanchez has never been a big slugger on outer-half pitches, but he at least avoided getting the bat knocked out of his hands when pitchers threw outside in 2010-11:

Sanchez's slugging percentage by pitch location, 2010-11

He slugged .393 against pitches thrown on the outer half, slightly above the .384 big league average. But in 2012, the newest and least happy member of the New Orleans Zephyrs has made next to no hard contact on the outer half:

Sanchez's slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012

Sanchez is slugging .171 on the outer half this season. That's the worst mark in the game among batters with at least 150 plate appearances and nearly 40 points lower than the next-worst hitter, Minnesota's Alexi Casilla. Opponents have keyed in on Sanchez's outside slugging woes, locating 58 percent of their pitches on the outer half and doing so 53 percent of the time in 2010-11.

Is Lee a real upgrade over Sanchez? Maybe. ZiPS projects Lee to top Sanchez in OPS slightly during the rest of the 2012 season (.761 for Lee, .735 for Sanchez). If you think Sanchez's issues on the outer half will persist, the trade is a decent stopgap that comes with cash to pay Lee's salary and no premium farm talent surrendered. If you think Sanchez's work in 2010-11 is more indicative of his talent level, it's more a case of adding a big name than a big upgrade at first base.

Monday
Jun252012

Greek God of...Grounders?

With rookie Will Middlebrooks increasingly bumping Kevin Youkilis to the bench and the Chicago White Sox getting such paltry production from the hot corner that manager Robin Ventrua had to think about unretiring (a combined .467 OPS at third base), Sunday's trade that sent Youk and cash to the South Side for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart makes sense for both clubs.

It's impossible for Youkilis not to be an upgrade over the likes of Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson. But Youkilis, who raked to the tune of a 142 OPS+ from 2008-2011, is having a miserable year himself. The 33-year-old has a career-low walk rate (8.5 percent), is punching out more than ever (23.6 percent) and hasn't shown much power, with four home runs in 165 plate appearances. The result? an 87 OPS+.

Youkilis' power outage can be traced to his soaring ground ball rate, particularly against inside pitches. He hit few grounders during a 2010 season in which he slugged a robust .544. Youk's grounder rate increased significantly in 2011 as he was slowed by back, hip and sports hernia injuries and he slugged .459. This year, while again battling back problems, he's slugging just .377 and his ground ball rate is way above the league average:

YearGround Ball Pct.
2010 36.5
2011 41.6
2012 50
MLB Avg., 2010-12 44.6

 

While Youkilis once crushed inside pitches and rarely rolled over on the ball, he has become a ground ball machine against inside stuff lately. Check out his ground ball rate by pitch location over the past three years:

2010

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010

 2011

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011

 2012

Youkilis' ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

Youkilis hit a ground ball against inside pitches about 30 percent of the time in 2010, well below the 41 percent MLB average. That increased to 34 percent in 2011 and has shot up to 53 percent in 2012. Not coincidentally, Youk's slugging percentage versus inside pitches has nosedived: .560 in 2010, .455 in 2011 and .244 this season (.424 average).

If Youkilis can hit anything near his ZiPS projection for the rest of the year (.262/.364/.466), he'll be a gargantuan upgrade for the White Sox and well worth the price of a couple million dollars, a utility player and a so-so swingman. But that's predicated on Youkilis being both healthy and able to handle inside pitches. If he keeps chopping so many inside offerings into the grass, a change in nickname might be in order. "Greek God of Grounders" isn't nearly as catchy, though.

Saturday
Jun092012

Lowrie Deadly with Two Strikes

New Astros GM Jeff Luhnow made an upside play this past offseason by trading incumbent closer Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for shortstop Jed Lowrie (and Kyle Weiland). Lowrie, while waylaid by mono and wrist and shoulder injuries in Boston, nevertheless represented a switch-hitting, up-the-middle-player under team control through 2014. The move has paid off handsomely for Houston, as Lowrie leads all shortstops in OPS+ (143) and is tied with J.J. Hardy for the lead in homers (11) while Melancon hopes to return to the majors after a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Lowrie's big year is a result of his two-strike slugging. Most hitters are helpless with their backs against the wall, but Lowrie is thriving in such situations. He has the highest two-strike slugging percentage among qualified batters, and it's not even close:

Highest slugging percentage with two strikes in 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Jed Lowrie .637
Adam Jones .543
David Ortiz .536
Martin Prado .508
Prince Fielder .495
Paul Konerko .478
Ryan Braun .470
Josh Reddick .458
Andrew McCutchen .444
Joey Votto .438
MLB Avg. .274

 

Jed has jacked a major league-leading nine home runs in two-strike counts. Whether a result of the 'Stros lacking many other potent hitters or a belief that the ultra-patient Lowrie won't chase off the plate, pitchers are giving him more offerings in the strike zone with two strikes (45 percent) than the average hitter (41 percent). If Lowrie keeps making opponents pay, that may well change.

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