Monday, November 23, 2009

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce was one of the hottest prospects in all of baseball, but in two chances, he hasn't been very good, with the exception of power, where he's been decent. 21 and 22 homers in two partial seasons is pretty good, but his average and on-base percentage have been so low he hasn't been very helpful to real life owners or in fantasy. He also displayed good speed in triple-A which hasn't lead to steals on the big stage.

Sabremetrically, he's ok in plate discipline, good if you factor his age into it. The biggest negative is what happens to the ball after he puts it in play. 2008 was a fairly normal, .298 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2009, he struck out less and put more balls in play, but got less hits out of them with a .222 BABIP. Some would call this bad luck, others would just call it bad hitting. In either case, it will almost certainly go up by leaps and bounds, either he will make better contact or get luckier. Bill James projects his batting average to be .274 next year, which would make him quite useful with that power.

It's very common for rookies struggling with the bat not to steal. They don't get on base much and they don't want to chance it when they do. He's not a speed demon, but he will also grab some steals if he gets on base more.

I want to go beyond his stats for a moment, beyond his sabremetrics, and even beyond luck. I want to talk about some factors that make no sense, but are usually true nonetheless. People, especially hitters, under a seemingly magical age of 23 rarely do much. Next year, April, Bruce will turn 23. I have some other rules like this, but I'm not going to try to work them in for Bruce.

In addition to the huge batting average gains, Bill James projects Bruce to hit 38 homers. I'm more inclined to believe his present home run rate will continue, that is, 22 homers in 101 games, or about 34 homers in a full season. In general, I agree that 2010 will be a breakout year for Jay Bruce, at age 23.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ian Kinsler

What If: Ian Kinsler

Let’s talk about what went wrong with this season. After a torrid start Ian Kinsler went crap. What went wrong.

In most area’s Ian Kinsler improved. He swung at less pitches out of the zone, more pitches in the zone, and made contact with more of the pitches he swung at. Clearly nothing wrong in that. He struck out at a slightly higher but still very good rate, and improved his walk rate.

Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) went from .339 to .245, and became one of the worst in the league. That means every ball that wasn’t a homer or strike out had a 24.5% chance to be a hit. This stat is supposed to be mostly luck based, BUT, there seems to be a big reason for Kinsler’s titanic slide.

In 2009 he hit 25.2% line drives (negating homers), which is spanktastic. With that, he hit 33.8% ground balls and 40.7% fly balls. Line drives usually result in hits. Flyballs usually don’t, but that’s where homers come from, so they’re still good. Groundballs get more hits than flyballs. With league average BABIP on each of those hit types, he’d have an xBABIP (expected BABIP) of .318. So his .339 was either slightly lucky or he’d hit balls harder than average making them harder to field.

In 2009 his flyball percentage (including homers) went from 43.3 to 54. It’s clear that he’s developed a huge uppercut, so it’s not surprising that he produced more homers and less overall hits. The result is his xBABIP became a much lower .270. So his 245 is unlucky looking, but he still deserved a lower batting average than last year. It’s also possible that he deserved more homers than he got. I could attempt to justify that claim, which would also result in a slightly higher average than 270, but I’m not going to.

Overall I like the 2008 Kinsler better, but I’ll take the benefit of 2009’s plate discipline improvement. So I’m hoping for a line drive hitter who occasionally knocks one out, with a batting average of 300+, with around 20-25 homers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Luke Hochevar

What if: Luke Hochevar.

In 2008 Hochevar had an ERA of 5.51 and a whip of 1.47. In 2009, he solidified himself as one of the worst ever #1 picks by getting even worse with a 6.55 ERA and a 1.49 whip. But Since I’ve gone this far, I might as well finish the article.

For starters, let’s simply compare 09 and 08. You already know about the ERA and whip. Additionally, he walked less, 2.9 batters per 9 innings, and struck out more, 6.67 batters per 9 innings. He pitched a little over 10% more innings, but his homers allowed nearly doubled. Despite more strikeouts, the batting average against when from a high .280, to an even higher .290.

Let’s look even closer at this season.

In the first half, he barely got more strikouts than walks, but put up better numbers than in the second half, when up put up a very impressive 8.4 K/9 innings, and 2.73 walks. His K/BB ratio would have been among the best pitchers in the game second half.

The Royals ranked dead last in “zone rating,” a defensive stat that not only takes into account errors, but also range of fielders. David Dejesus was decent defensively, and so were Alex Gordon and Coco Crisp, but they missed most of the year. The rest range from very bad to atrocious. This makes Greinke’s year look even more impressive, but that’s another story. The result of this is, against a ground ball pitcher like Hochevar, lots of ground ball singles that might have been outs against most teams. Considering defense is cheap to buy compared to offense, the Royals GM is a miserable failure, getting neither. That’s another story also.

What if, Hochevar had an average defense behind him? An average BABIP is .290, vs. his second half mark of .370. That means he was lucky in the first half, and monstrously unlucky in the second half.

Over the first half, lucky BABIP saved him 7 hits in the first half, and his bad luck later cost him 21 hits in the second half, overall costing him 14 extra hits. Let’s apply this to the second half alone to get the second half numbers he deserved.

In the second half he threw most of his innings, 85.2. Over that span he had 111 hits and 26 walks for a whip of 1.6. Now take away the 20 hits that he didn’t deserve, and his whip shrinks all the way to 1.37, which brings his ERA to the 4s. So without even improving, he’s a lot better.

So far it doesn’t look like he’s going to be overly good or even fantasy relevant. However there is more room for optimism still without him needing to improve as a pitcher. He won’t find himself in as many high pressure situations, he’ll get in grooves, get confidence, pitch from the windup more often, etc. There’s no formula for the effect these things have, but for a rookie it’s probably considerable. I'll close by saying pitchers with his second half walk and K rates are seldom bad.

Garrett Mock

What if: Garrett Mock

Garrett Mock was atrocious in 2009 with a 5.62 ERA and a 1.73 whip. Clearly he is beyond hope, but since I already typed his name out, I might as well give him an analysis.

Some “bad” pitchers are a few walks away from having a good year. Let’s see if Garrett Mock fits that mold. Garrett Mock has a minor league history of a very low walk rate, so he’s a good candidate for this analysis.

In about one full season’s worth of triple-A work over the last two seasons, his BB/9 rate was about 2.2. This year in mlb, 4.34. Additionally, it was 2 in a partial season in 08. Let’s work with 2.7 for 2010. That saves him .18 BB/IP, bringing his whip down to 1.55, not that good.

What else is there? His K rate was around average, 7.09/9. But historically, in Triple A he was 8.25-8.47. What’s more, he was at 10.1 last year in 41 innings. If we boost him to 7.5, that amounts to .41K/9 extra, about 1.5 outs/27 outs. That gives him .06% more innings pitched, lowering his whip down to 1.46.

But wait, there’s more. Despite an xbabip (that’s an expected batting average of balls in play) of about .290 Mock posted a disastrously unlucky .361. What does that mean? It means bad defense turned the 91 hits he should have allowed, to the 114 he got credit for. That’s 23 hits. When it’s all said and done, achievable improvement plus neutral luck puts his whip at 1.24, in the range of a very effective pitcher. His ERA would be well below 4.00 with that whip and his ground ball tendancies.

Additionally, there should be a mental benefit from not thinking you suck.

Jeff Niemann

What if Jeff Niemann

Rookie of the year candidate Jeff Niemann put together a good rookie campaign with an ERA of 3.94, a 1.35 whip and a 13-6 record over 180.2 innings.

The first thing I want to do for Jeff Niemann is soften his first start. Before he recorded his first out, he allowed 5 runs and 4 hits with 1 walk. The 5 walks+hits only lower his whip .03, but the 5 ER knock his ERA down a quarter point to 3.69.

Now let’s compare Jeff Niemann to a similar pitcher, who will temporarily be denoted X.
Niemann: 6.23 K/9, 2.94 BB/9 1.35 whip
Pitcher X: 7.38 K/9, 2.12 BB/9 1.3 whip

I’m fairly confident Niemann can match Pitcher X, because in fact, Pitcher X is Jeff Niemann over the second half of the season.

One thing that’s very clear, despite those 5 ER before he got his first out of the season, Niemann was much luckier in the first half than the second half. Overall his luck was fairly balanced, but individually each half was not. Despite more K and a few less innings, he gave up five more hits in the second half. I suspect with neutral luck, his first half whip would have been over 1.4, and his second half under 1.3, with the same overall season number. I suspect Niemann will have a great 2010 if he picks up where he left off in 09.

Of course this is no guarantee. Bronson Arroyo has been a great second half pitcher with lousy first halves and a marginal overall season for 3 years in a row. I’m more inclined to believe in Niemann, being that he is a rookie.

David Price

What if: David Price

David Price finished 2009 with a 1.35 whip, and a 4.42 ERA. Certainly not bad for a rookie, but for Price, he didn’t live up to the hype.

I’m going to start by saying, without going into details, he’s not Mark Prior, he’s David Price. He didn’t have a 3.8 K/BB rate in his rookie season, and it won’t be 4.9 next year. Now, what does David Price need to be a legitimate ace starter?

Unfortunately I can’t say less bad luck. He had a .282 babip and an 11.1% HR/FB.

There are three areas where Price is barely above average or below. 7.15 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, and 41.5% GB%. These numbers fall between his mlb and minor league numbers. So how much difference can a reasonable improvement in these three categories make? I’m more inclined to expect a rise in K’s than a fall in BBs. In the minor leagues he posted fairly good GB rates so I think he can improve here too.

I’ll give him 2010 numbers of 3 BB/9, 8K/9 and 44% GB rate and 36% FB rate. Where will his numbers be if all else stays the same? For the sake of calculations, I’ll keep his IP the same, since I’m working in rates instead of totals, it won’t matter.

He’ll have 11 less walks and 12 more strikeouts. For simplicity, I’ll say his 11 walks will become 11 strikeouts, and ignore the remainder. That will add 3.2 IP. With 11 less walks in a few more innings, his whip goes from 1.35 to a very impressive 1.23. Earlier I said 8K/9, with the extra innings, and ignoring that 1 K, this is actually only 7.7K/9. The effect on ERA? I don’t believe an accurate ERA calculator exists, so I’m more inclined to work with rough estimates, not to mention how much easier it is this way. This knocks off at least a point off the ERA and puts him at 3.42 (50ER in 132IP).

The flyball total gets reduced by 17, which is 1.6 Homers. Take off another 2 ER and the final ERA is 3.27. I won’t deduct the hits here, since a ground ball is more likely to result in a hit than a flyball. So the 1.6 HR become singles, and those singles would already be included in the whip above. Now we have an ace starter.

What I do: One player at a time.

I find people having what I call "stand out" seasons, not necessarily in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. I analyze that season using various sabremetrics, and make an estimate for next year.

I will probably look most at young players, as they are less of a known commodity.
I will also look into players having a down year, or a breakout year, and determine if it is legit.
I will examine how lucky or unlucky a player has been and produce luck-normalized statistics.

I will look at "what if" scenerios. I don't make up these scenerios at random, I make realistic expectations of players, and explain what their season will look like if they meet these expectations.

If you really want to get into what this blog is about, just read the posts!

Also, feel free to shoot me a request if for a specific player. If you click on the ads I'll be more likely to make it a priority :)