Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

Archive for September 2010

Free Geovany Soto

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After 87 major league plate appearances from 2005 to 2007, the Cubs made Geovany Soto their starting catcher prior to the 2008 season.  He answered the call by hitting 0.285/0.364/0.504 in 141 games (and 563 plate appearances), which contributed to a 0.371 wOBA, a 4.1 WAR season, and the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year Award.

In 2009, Soto missed 26 games in July and August and played in only 102 games.  At the time he was hitting 0.230/0.336/0.396, making him roughly a league average hitter.  When he came back, he wasn’t any better and finished at 0.218/0.321/0.381.

In 2010, Soto missed 16 games in mid-August and will miss the final 14 games of the season; as a result, he has played in just 105 games (starting only 97 at catcher).  Most of the other games Soto missed were in a month-long stretch in late May and early June when he started only 15 of 27 games.  At the time of his “benching,” Soto was hitting 0.256/0.408/0.393.  He had only four home runs and four doubles through 147 plate appearances, but he was still a much better than his backup, who had produced this line through the same time period: 0.209/0.227/0.256.  One of those is much better than the other.

Soto will finish the 2010 season with a 0.280/0.393/0.497 line on way to producing a 3.5 WAR season.  Over 600 plate appearances, that projects to a 5.4 WAR season.  Looking at Soto’s time in the big leagues, it’s not hard to see what happened in 2008:

Season G PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG GB/FB
2008 141 563 23 11.0% 24.5% 0.285 0.364 0.504 0.91
2009 102 389 11 12.9% 23.3% 0.218 0.321 0.381 0.98
2010 105 387 17 16.0% 25.8% 0.280 0.393 0.497 0.91

Season G LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
2008 141 21.0% 37.7% 41.4% 6.4% 14.7% 0.332 0.219 0.371 124 4.1
2009 102 18.1% 40.5% 41.3% 6.5% 10.3% 0.246 0.163 0.310 84 1.3
2010 105 24.4% 36.0% 39.7% 8.3% 17.7% 0.324 0.217 0.385 139 3.5

Soto was terribly unlucky in 2009.  His batted ball profile stayed the same; the slight shift from line drives to ground balls is not enough to explain an 86 point drop in BABIP.  His home run per fly ball dropped slightly, but not significantly.  He saw and continues to see the same set of pitches and, if anything, his plate discipline has improved since 2008.

Soto is one of the best hitting catchers in the major leagues; despite playing only 105 games, he ranks fourth among catchers in batting runs above average.

He’s only 27 years old and about to enter his prime; he needs to play as much as his body will allow.  Lou Piniella was making the Cubs a worse team in May and June by not having Soto in the lineup as much as he could.  Hopefully the new manager won’t make that same mistake.

*Sorry for all of those who are Koyie Hill fans.  Koyie Hill’s mom, if you read this, I really am sorry.  Your son is in the 0.1% of o.1% of terrific baseball players who make it to the major leagues.  You should be proud.

**Sorry for everyone who hasn’t yet forgotten the Eric Wedge Era.  Very insensitive to remind you as we approach October.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

September 28, 2010 at 11:22 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Most Underrated Player in Baseball

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He plays for a terrible team (that, to be fair, might be getting better).  He crushes baseballs, walks a lot, and doesn’t strike out too much.  He’s among the best defenders at his position every year.  He plays a premium position.  Fun fact, he turns 26 today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANONYMOUS PLAYER X!!!!!!!!!).  And I think at the end of the week he’ll finish second on my (self-given) National League MVP ballot.  That got your attention? Well, Ryan Zimmerman deserves it too.

The fact that I’m going to start by talking about his defense should also say something.  He’s been an above average defender every year of his career.  With the uncertainty surrounding the UZR data (typically about three years of data are needed to find a defender’s true talent level), it’s amazing that Zimmerman has never given back runs in the field.  Three of the last four years, he’s been otherworldly; excluding 2008, he ranked 2nd, 4th, and and 1st at third base and 9th, 8th, and 3rd in the major leagues.

He’s a career 0.288/0.355/0.484 hitter, but over the past two seasons (his age 24 and 25 seasons) those numbers are 0.299/0.375/0.518.  His walk rate has increased the last two seasons without a change in his strikeout rate.  He’s hit 69 doubles, 3 triples, and 58 home runs over the past two seasons, showing increasing power as he enters his prime.  Offensively, he’s only one of the best 20 or so hitters in baseball (which, by the way, is pretty good on its own).

When that’s packaged with his defensive abilities at a premium position (not to mention his contract*, which is already paid for), he quickly becomes one of the most valuable players in baseball.  He shouldn’t have to live in anonymity  because no one cares about Nationals’ baseball, nor should he be penalized by MVP voters next week for having bad teammates.  There was a lot of talk this summer about Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper saving the franchise, but the Nationals already have a franchise player that more of the country needs to watch play.

*Ryan Zimmerman 3b

  • 5 years/$45M (2009-13)
    • 2009:$3,325,000
    • 2010:$6,250,000
    • 2011:$8,925,000
    • 2012:$12,000,000
    • 2013:$14,000,000
  • 2008: $465,000
  • 2007:$400,000
  • 2006:$327,000

Written by Dan Hennessey

September 27, 2010 at 11:18 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Cain Eliminates Rockies

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I was going to write about Matt Cain’s big day yesterday, but it was done better here and here.  Still, I thought it would be worthwhile to post a couple of parts from Albert’s and Jack’s pieces.  First, Jack:

Cain had some help, particularly from home runs by Freddy Sanchez and Cody Ross, but Cain’s fantastic performance stands tallest for the Giants. Over a complete game, Cain only allowed two runs – a Melvin Mora pinch hit home run in the 8th inning. The Rockies could only muster two more hits and a walk off Cain while striking out eight times.Not only was Cain brilliant, but he was brilliant in the context of a close game. He took the 2-0 lead staked to him by the Sanchez home run and ran with it. The Rockies were within three until the 7th inning, and then after the Mora home run, Cain had to shut the door on a potent Rockies offense in the 8th and 9th. Overall, Cain earned a whopping +.469 win probability added in the start – as a total of +.500 is required for the team to win the game, you can almost say that Cain won the game by himself.

And now Albert, and I’m going to snip it almost to death, so read the whole thing:

Cain has been able to keep the HR/FB ratio down from 8.4% last season to 6.4% this season, reducing his HR/9 from 0.91 to 0.77. Dropping to 7.06 K/9 from 8.45 K/9 in his first full season (back in 2006) may be a concern, but overall, Matt Cain is enjoying the best season of his career in terms of FIP, with a career low mark of 3.54. Yesterday, Cain was able to induce 13 swinging strikes using all four of his pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup.

All effective pitchers will avoid the three ball count as much as possible, and Cain has thrown 38 3-0 pitches all season in 210.1 IP.

It’s interesting to note that Cain rarely uses his changeup against LHH on the first pitch (12.5%), but uses it more frequently in every other count (up to 33.7% with a 1-1 count) except when there are three balls.

Cain flies under the radar every year (not helping is this guy), but in almost 1100 career innings, he’s got an ERA of 3.41; he’s also pitched at least 190 innings and made at least 31 starts in each of his first five full seasons.  Matt Cain is the real deal, with talent to do things like lock down really good lineups.  If the Giants can find a way into the playoffs, facing Lincecum and Cain four times in a series (and Jonathan Sanchez) will not be fun for the opposing lineup.

Written by Dan Hennessey

September 27, 2010 at 9:41 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Removing Votto from the Lineup

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Here’s a game log (with hitter, pitcher, and play event removed), courtesy of FanGraphs, for one of Saturday’s games:

Inning Outs Runners Score LI RE WE WPA RE24
T9 0 ___ 3-3 2.18 0.41 41.8% 0.082 0.36
T9 0 1__ 3-3 3.51 0.77 43.6% -0.018 -0.16
T9 1 _2_ 3-3 3.27 0.6 41.7% 0.019 0.21
T9 1 12_ 3-3 4.62 0.81 49.2% -0.075 -0.37
T9 2 1_3 3-3 4.81 0.44 48.2% 0.01 0.1
T9 2 _23 3-3 4.93 0.54 61.7% -0.135 -0.54

The top of the 9th inning starts with each team having a 50% of chance of winning.  The win expectancy shown is from the perspective of the home team.  Therefore, the first event is a good thing for the team hitting.  The second event did not help them.  The third play helped a little.  The fourth play did not help, despite the runner on second advancing.  The fifth play helped a lot; without the game log, you can still see what happened.  The runner from first moved to second without the score or outs changing and the same runner on third – a stolen base/wild pitch/passed ball.  In this case, the speed demon on first stole second.  The inning ends with the sixth event.

So from the perspective of the team hitting, plays 1, 3, and 5 were good.  Plays 2, 4, and 6 did not help them.  Now here’s the context:

Pitcher Hitter Outs Runners Game Event
H Bell D Stubbs 0 ___ Drew Stubbs singled to center.
H Bell O Cabrera 0 1__ Orlando Cabrera sacrificed to first. Drew Stubbs advanced to
2B.
H Bell J Votto 1 _2_ Joey Votto was intentionally walked.
H Bell S Rolen 1 12_ Scott Rolen flied out to right. Drew Stubbs advanced to 3B.
H Bell J Votto 2 1_3 Joey Votto advanced on a stolen base to 2B.
H Bell J Gomes 2 _23 Jonny Gomes flied out to left.

Drew Stubbs led off with a single.  He’s a fast man:

Fast people on base is a good thing.  Next up is Orlando Cabrera, who sucks (most of his 1.4 WAR this year has come from showing up).

Letting him hit in this situation probably isn’t a great idea.  With almost the entire 40-man roster available, there had to be someone available to pinch-hit.  But that doesn’t even bother me that much; what happened instead is even worse.  The worst case scenario for the Reds would be a double play, which would remove all runners from the bases and give the Padres two outs.  Also bad would be giving the Padres an out and removing the bat from the hands of the best hitter in the National League.  Which of course is what happened.

Cabrera bunted to move Stubbs to second with Joey Votto coming up.  With first base open, Votto is walked intentionally and Scott Rolen becomes the hitter.  So not only have the Reds given away an out, but they’ve also removed their best hitter from the lineup in order to put a man on second base.  For this, they got two chances with Rolen and Jonny Gomes instead of three chances with Votto, Rolen, and Gomes.  In all likelihood, Votto doesn’t get walked (intentionally) with one out and a man on first.  But with one man out and a man on second, it’s an easier decision (particularly when one run makes such a huge difference).  Usually, with a hitter of Votto’s quality, it’s a good decision to put
him on with first base open behind a runner on second.

It didn’t work out for the Reds, and I was almost screaming at the television watching it.  It’s things like “taking the bat out of your best player’s hands” that helps lose games, and games can’t be given away come a week from now.

Pitcher Hitter Inning Outs Runners Score Game Event LI RE WE WPA RE24
H Bell D Stubbs 9 0 ___ 3-3 Drew Stubbs singled to center. 2.18 0.41 41.8% 0.082 0.36
H Bell O Cabrera 9 0 1__ 3-3 Orlando Cabrera sacrificed to first. Drew Stubbs advanced to 2B. 3.51 0.77 43.6% -0.018 -0.16
H Bell J Votto 9 1 _2_ 3-3 Joey Votto was intentionally walked. 3.27 0.6 41.7% 0.019 0.21
H Bell S Rolen 9 1 12_ 3-3 Scott Rolen flied out to right. Drew Stubbs advanced to 3B. 4.62 0.81 49.2% -0.075 -0.37
H Bell J Votto 9 2 1_3 3-3 Joey Votto advanced on a stolen base to 2B. 4.81 0.44 48.2% 0.01 0.1
H Bell J Gomes 9 2 _23 3-3 Jonny Gomes flied out to left. 4.93 0.54 61.7% -0.135 -0.54

Written by Dan Hennessey

September 26, 2010 at 6:43 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Brett Myers

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8th in the league in ERA, between Jaime Garcia and David Price, is Brett Myers.  This is the same Brett Myers who has never posted an ERA below 3.72 (currently 2.76).  Then there’s this crazy stat:

Brett Myers’ career-year continued last night with seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Brewers and he also made some history by becoming just the seventh pitcher since 1920 to throw six or more innings in each of his first 30 starts.

The previous six: Bob Gibson (1968 and 1969), Fergie Jenkins (1972), Tom Seaver (1974), Steve Carlton (1980), Jack McDowell (1993), Curt Schilling (2002).

If there ever was a “one of these things is not like the others” situation, this is it.  So the question is easy: who is this imposter and what did he do to Brett Myers what, if anything, is Myers doing differently?

Here are a couple of tables to show his numbers over his career:

Season Team W L ERA G GS SV IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG
2002 Phillies 4 5 4.25 12 12 0 72 4.25 3.63 1.38 0.264
2003 Phillies 14 9 4.43 32 32 0 193 6.67 3.54 0.93 0.274
2004 Phillies 11 11 5.52 32 31 0 176 5.93 3.17 1.59 0.283
2005 Phillies 13 8 3.72 34 34 0 215.1 8.69 2.84 1.30 0.241
2006 Phillies 12 7 3.91 31 31 0 198 8.59 2.86 1.32 0.258
2007 Phillies 5 7 4.33 51 3 21 68.2 10.88 3.54 1.18 0.240
2008 Phillies 10 13 4.55 30 30 0 190 7.72 3.08 1.37 0.269
2009 Phillies 4 3 4.84 18 10 0 70.2 6.37 2.93 2.29 0.271
2010 Astros 13 7 2.76 31 31 0 212 7.30 2.46 0.68 0.247

Season Team BABIP LOB% FIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB xFIP
2002 Phillies 0.268 75.6% 5.46 1.61 19.6% 49.6% 30.9% 14.1% 15.5% 4.82
2003 Phillies 0.316 72.9% 4.22 1.81 22.5% 49.9% 27.6% 10.1% 11.9% 4.06
2004 Phillies 0.303 68.5% 5.18 1.4 19.3% 47.1% 33.6% 12.8% 15.9% 4.40
2005 Phillies 0.289 77.9% 4.06 1.51 23.1% 46.3% 30.6% 11.4% 16.8% 3.36
2006 Phillies 0.309 76.1% 4.14 1.26 18.3% 45.6% 36.1% 9.4% 14.3% 3.64
2007 Phillies 0.320 73.3% 3.75 1.31 19.2% 45.8% 35.0% 8.1% 14.5% 3.28
2008 Phillies 0.311 72.6% 4.52 1.45 20.4% 47.1% 32.5% 11.3% 15.6% 3.87
2009 Phillies 0.273 83.1% 6.14 1.36 18.4% 47.1% 34.5% 11.7% 23.4% 4.32
2010 Astros 0.297 78.0% 3.31 1.44 16.8% 49.1% 34.1% 7.0% 7.4% 3.72

Not much has changed.  He’s stranding a few more runners than we might expect, and his walks have gone down to a career-low, so that helps.  His line drive rate is down slightly, and he’s converting those to ground balls.  But the big change is in his home run rates, which currently sit at 0.68 home runs per nine innings and 7.4% fly balls becoming home runs.  That’s the entire difference; those rates are half of his career numbers and one-third of what they were in 2009.  Even stranger, he’s given up only 4 home runs at home while allowing 12 on the road.

So we’ve figured out why’s he better, now let’s see if there’s a how.  Here’s a table of his pitch selection over his career:

Season Team FB SL CT CB CH SF
2002 Phillies 63.3% (90.9) 26.9% (78.6) 9.7% (83.8)
2003 Phillies 56.4% (90.9) 0.1% (82.0) 29.8% (78.6) 13.7% (82.8)
2004 Phillies 60.4% (91.0) 0.2% (83.0) 26.6% (78.8) 12.8% (83.1)
2005 Phillies 58.2% (91.4) 4.7% (85.4) 8.7% (87.3) 20.6% (79.5) 7.8% (83.9) 0.0% (87.0)
2006 Phillies 50.5% (91.4) 15.5% (83.8) 5.8% (87.1) 21.2% (79.1) 6.7% (83.9) 0.4% (85.4)
2007 Phillies 47.5% (92.1) 12.5% (84.9) 0.4% (87.4) 26.6% (78.9) 12.5% (85.4) 0.4% (87.8)
2008 Phillies 48.2% (90.1) 18.4% (84.5) 0.7% (87.5) 23.3% (77.5) 9.2% (83.6) 0.2% (86.9)
2009 Phillies 52.0% (89.3) 18.2% (84.5) 24.3% (77.6) 5.1% (83.5) 0.4% (85.8)
2010 Astros 44.0% (89.4) 27.9% (83.5) 20.4% (76.4) 7.7% (82.7)

It appears that he’s been slider-heavy, which is good choice because it’s been really hard to hit.  His curveball hasn’t been too bad either.  His two breaking pitches, thrown more than 48 percent of the time, are 28 runs better than average.  I looked to see if he had changed when in the count he’s throwing these pitches, but it looks like in every count, he’s throwing more sliders.

Count Career 2010 Career 2010 Career 2010 Career 2010
FB% FB% SL% SL% CB% CB% CH% CH%
0 – 0 67% 57% 8% 24% 19% 15% 5% 4%
1 – 0 55% 46% 10% 28% 19% 14% 14% 12%
2 – 0 78% 64% 9% 29% 5% 3% 7% 4%
3 – 0 94% 89% 2% 11% 0% 3%
0 – 1 43% 37% 15% 33% 24% 21% 14% 10%
1 – 1 38% 33% 16% 36% 27% 19% 15% 12%
2 – 1 59% 51% 12% 30% 16% 7% 12% 11%
3 – 1 79% 63% 8% 25% 7% 4% 5% 8%
0 – 2 37% 34% 10% 18% 39% 41% 10% 6%
1 – 2 37% 26% 11% 25% 40% 44% 9% 6%
2 – 2 36% 27% 12% 28% 41% 37% 8% 8%
3 – 2 61% 38% 13% 38% 20% 16% 6% 8%

Starting to get a little frustrated because I don’t have an explanation other than “he might have better command of his slider and is throwing it a lot more as a result.”  Checking the Pitchf/x data from TexasLeaguers, there’s almost no difference in any of the analyses available from the 2008-2009 seasons and 2010.  To see if hitters are helping him, I looked at the plate discipline numbers:

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2002 Phillies 13.0% 69.4% 45.7% 39.7% 88.6% 82.8% 58.0% 60.6% 7.7%
2003 Phillies 25.1% 65.8% 46.9% 53.9% 88.9% 80.2% 53.6% 61.2% 9.1%
2004 Phillies 17.0% 69.9% 47.7% 55.2% 87.0% 82.3% 58.2% 63.5% 8.2%
2005 Phillies 18.6% 65.3% 44.9% 43.8% 86.7% 78.9% 56.3% 60.7% 9.4%
2006 Phillies 23.8% 63.0% 44.6% 51.6% 87.8% 78.7% 53.2% 61.7% 9.4%
2007 Phillies 24.7% 59.6% 42.4% 54.2% 86.6% 77.3% 50.7% 61.4% 9.6%
2008 Phillies 23.3% 61.4% 44.1% 53.8% 88.8% 80.4% 54.5% 61.0% 8.5%
2009 Phillies 21.2% 63.3% 41.7% 65.0% 91.3% 84.4% 48.6% 53.3% 6.5%
2010 Astros 30.4% 61.5% 44.4% 65.7% 88.5% 80.0% 45.2% 58.7% 8.8%

Now we have some confirmation.  He’s getting more swings outside of the zone and more contact on those pitches.  Pitches that aren’t strikes are difficult to hit hard.  If he’s throwing more sliders and curveballs (down in the zone one would think), it would make sense that he’s getting more ground balls and giving up fewer home runs.

One more thing I wanted to check; what were the expectations for Myers coming into the season?  Houston signed him to a one-year contract for 3.1 million dollar contract before this season, so it’s safe to say teams didn’t expect too much from him.  Here are what several reputable projection systems saw from Myers, along with his 2010 stat line.

W L ERA IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Bill James 9 10 4.37 171 7.74 3.11 1.42
CHONE 5 9 4.79 126 7.57 3.07 1.50
Marcel 6 6 4.55 99 7.55 3.27 1.45
Fans (18) 8 8 4.44 148 7.54 2.98 1.40
ZiPS 6 8 4.83 117.3 7.98 3.07 1.61
2010 13 7 2.76 212 7.30 2.46 0.68

All of the projection systems are very similar, and they all indicate that the big difference is the home run rate.  This type of change from a pitcher nine years into his career is almost unheard-of, but it has happened.  2011 will be a real test whether or not this is a fluke.  I have to be honest and say that I haven’t the slightest idea; I want to believe Myers is doing something to stop allowing home runs, but my head says a significant portion of it is completely random.

Lastly, from Aaron’s post linked earlier:

Myers put himself in position to potentially make a lot of money back on the open market, but opted against another crack at free agency by signing a two-year, $23 million extension with the Astros last month. He’ll make $7 million next season and $11 million in 2012, with the Astros giving him a $2 million signing bonus and holding a $10 million option or $3 million buyout for 2013.

Which would be great if the Astros were going to be anywhere close to good in the next 3 years.  But they won’t.  And who knows if Myers will repeat this season’s performance?  In my opinion, when teams were calling this summer about Oswalt, the Astros should have been throwing Myers’ name in every discussion.  Even when the Astros find a diamond in the rough…well, they suck.

Written by Dan Hennessey

September 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Mauer’s 2009 Power Surge, Revisited

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Again looking at leaderboards, I noticed that only one of the top 10 hitters by batting average had fewer than 10 home runs; that would be your 2009 American League MVP, Joe Mauer.

Mauer is hitting 0.324 through 127 games and, barring a disaster to end the season, will finish as a 5-WAR player.  It’s a far cry from his 8-win 2009 season (which no one could reasonably expect him to repeat), and just looking at his lines across the two seasons, it’s not hard to see where the difference is.

Season G H 2B HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
2009 138 191 30 28 12.5% 12.0% 0.222 0.373 0.365 0.444 0.587 0.438 8
2010 127 155 41 8 11.3% 10.6% 0.140 0.345 0.324 0.400 0.463 0.370 4.8

The BABIP change almost entirely explains the batting average and OBP drop, but a lot of Mauer’s value in 2009 came from the 28 home runs.  He was 3rd in slugging percentage in 2009 (behind only Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder), but this year is just 54th, between Victor Martinez and Gaby Sanchez.

Mauer hit 9 home runs in the minor leagues (294 games), then hit 6, 9, 13, 7, and 9 home runs in his first five big league seasons, for a total of 44 home runs in 561 games.  Heading into 2009, the projection system PECOTA pegged Mauer for a 10 home run season with a 0.436 slugging percentage*.  Going into 2010, PECOTA predicted 19 home runs for Mauer and a 0.491 slugging percentage.  The 5 projection systems provided on FanGraphs had Mauer hitting 22, 18, 16, 21, and 19 home runs with slugging percentages between 0.498 and 0.536.  So what happened?

*Here are the 2009 and 2010 write-ups in Baseball Prospectus for Mauer, provided because they’re funny:


2009: Last season, Mauer joined Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi on the very short list of catchers to win two batting titles.  In most regards, the year was a welcome return to form after the multiple injuries of 2007, although Mauer’s power dropped again.  In 2007, the outage was seen as a function of lack of leverage due to various leg problems, but at this state, it seems more likely that unless Mauer radically alters a grounder-generating approach, he’s never going to develop into a big-time home-run – or even doubles – producer.  That’s not a problem as long as he maintains his patience and doesn’t have his footspeed completely eroded by catching.  His defense speaks for itself, so he should have a long career as a backstop, even if his offense fades.  Speaking of which, want to see something really scary?  Through his just-completed age-25 season, Mauer has hit .317/.399/.457.  Through his age-25 season, Jason Kendall batted .312/.399/.451.  Just sayin’.

2010:  In 284 career minor-league games, Joe Mauer hit a grand total of nine home runs.  yes, every scout you could find would tell you that one day, he’d hit 25 to 30 a year.  He averaged less than 10 per year in his first four full seasons for the Twins, but scouts insisted that he was the ultimate example of why there is the cliché about power being the last tool to develop.  In 2009, it finally showed up.  Nobody thinks it’s a fluke, and now he’s easily in the argument for most valuable future career in baseball based on his production, age, and position, a franchise player at a position that has seen only one hitter of his caliber in 50 years – and Mike Piazza lacked Mauer’s gifts behind the plate.

Mauer’s plate discipline numbers remain virtually unchanged from 2009 to 2010, and only one number in his batted ball profile sticks out:

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2009 20.4% 56.1% 37.0% 79.1% 91.1% 87.6% 46.5% 51.7% 4.3%
2010 24.4% 56.0% 39.4% 80.2% 96.2% 91.0% 47.6% 55.3% 3.3%

Season GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB
2009 1.62 22.6% 47.8% 29.5% 1.5% 20.4%
2010 1.56 24.2% 46.2% 29.6% 2.3% 6.3%

So he didn’t hit any more fly balls; he just hit more of those over the fence.  Since, for this study, I’m only really interested in the home run power, I checked Greg Rybarczyk’s HitTracker to get the details of Mauer’s 2009 and 2010 home runs.  From the website, here’s how it works:

Hit Tracker is a spreadsheet tool that takes as inputs atmospheric information and observation data, and gives as an output the true distance that the home run traveled, along with the initial speed of the hit off the bat and the precise angles at which the ball left the bat. It does this by creating as a starting point an initial “best-guess” three dimensional trajectory for the home run, and then modifying that trajectory, a little bit at a time, until the trajectory matches the observed data from the actual home run event.

With these data, Rybarczyk has categorized the home runs based on how far they go over the fence and, with the estimated trajectory, can determine how many parks that particular hit would have been a home run in.  He also categorizes home runs at “Just Enough,” “No Doubt,” and “Plenty.”  Again, Greg’s explanations:

“Just Enough” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.

“No Doubt” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.

“Plenty” home run – Everything else, except for the 2 above Homerun types

Lucky Homer – A home run that would not have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day.

With that in mind, here’s Mauer’s 2009 home run list:

Date Pitcher Team Ballpark Type/Luck True Distance # Park
9/19/2009 Verlander, Justin DET Metrodome ND 422 30
9/13/2009 Gonzalez, Carlos OAK Metrodome PL 382 30
8/31/2009 Floyd, Gavin CWS Metrodome ND 409 30
8/18/2009 Feldman, Scott TEX Ameriquest Field PL 433 30
8/18/2009 Feldman, Scott TEX Ameriquest Field PL 433 28
8/17/2009 Hunter, Tommy TEX Ameriquest Field JE 372 26
8/15/2009 Sipp, Tony CLE Metrodome JE 417 24
8/13/2009 Meche, Gil KC Metrodome PL 414 29
8/8/2009 Verlander, Justin DET Comerica Park PL 366 27
8/7/2009 Galarraga, Armando DET Comerica Park JE 381 26
7/31/2009 Santana, Ervin LAA Metrodome JE 407 18
7/24/2009 Lackey, John LAA Angels Stadium PL 420 29
7/24/2009 Lackey, John LAA Angels Stadium JE 416 21
7/8/2009 Coke, Phil NYY Metrodome JE 369 16
6/20/2009 Moehler, Brian HOU Metrodome PL 420 30
6/12/2009 Wells, Randy CHC Wrigley Field PL 388 12
6/2/2009 Huff, David CLE Metrodome JE 358 13
5/25/2009 Papelbon, Jonathan BOS Metrodome PL 417 24
5/24/2009 Bush, Dave MIL Metrodome ND 421 30
5/23/2009 Looper, Braden MIL Metrodome JE 361 21
5/21/2009 Gobble, Jimmy CWS U.S. Cellular Field ND 385 22
5/19/2009 Buehrle, Mark CWS U.S. Cellular Field PL 378 22
5/16/2009 Chamberlain, Joba NYY New Yankee Stadium JE 418 22
5/15/2009 Coke, Phil NYY New Yankee Stadium PL 426 27
5/12/2009 Galarraga, Armando DET Metrodome JE 360 9
5/9/2009 Hernandez, Felix SEA Metrodome PL 392 29
5/8/2009 Jakubauskas, Chris SEA Metrodome JE 381 20
5/1/2009 Ponson, Sidney KC Metrodome PL 390 27

Of Mauer’s four home runs, only 4 were “No Doubts;” 13 were “Plenties” and 11 were “Just Enoughs.”  3 of the 4 “No Doubts” would have made it out of all 30 parks.  Only 3 of the “Plenties” and none of the “Just Enoughs” had enough to get out of all 30.  The average for each type was 28, 26, and 20 for “No Doubts,” “Plenties,” and “Just Enoughs,” respectively.  Now for 2010:

Date Pitcher Team Ballpark Type/Luck True Distance # Park
8/18/2010 Floyd, Gavin CWS Target Field JE 367 11
8/10/2010 Garcia, Freddy CWS U.S. Cellular Field PL 412 27
7/26/2010 Marte, Victor KC Kauffman Stadium JE 384 30
7/23/2010 Guthrie, Jeremy BAL Camden Yards PL 411 5
7/6/2010 Tallet, Brian TOR Rogers Centre JE 415 25
6/19/2010 Lidge, Brad PHI Citizens Bank Park JE 419 24
5/14/2010 Burnett, A.J. NYY New Yankee Stadium JE 402 30
4/6/2010 Saunders, Joe LAA Angels Stadium JE/L 409 4

A different story.  No “No Doubts,” only 2 “Plenties” and 6 “Just Enoughs,” including 3 that would have made it out of less than a dozen ballparks.  There was only home run that would have made it out of so few ballparks in 2009.  Thanks to this great tool, we can also see where Mauer’s home runs ended up in each season.

2009

2010

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Written by Dan Hennessey

September 14, 2010 at 10:13 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Thominator

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Yesterday I got a little wistful talking about the Indians of my youth.  My favorite player was always Manny Ramirez, but Jim Thome wasn’t far behind.  And after he crushed his 23rd homer Saturday night to beat the Indians, which gave him 587 in his career and now places him 8th all-time, I started thinking: Jim Thome is really, really good.

I’m going to just list some of his accomplishments, then I’ll try to put them in perspective.

  • As I said, Thome now is 8th all-time with 587 home runs.  The names in front of him: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez.  That’s good.
  • Thome is 30th on the all-time RBI list, with 1,618.  I know the stat is meaningless, but that doesn’t happen without being a good hitter for a long time.
  • Thome has the 9th-most walks in baseball history, with 1,672.  Again, in front of him are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Mickey Mantle, and Mel Ott.
  • His career OPS is 0.963, placing him 17th.  His career OPS+ is 147, tying him for 39th with Edgar Martinez, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Stargell.
  • According to Baseball-Reference.com, he’s accumulated 70 Wins Above Replacement, which is 54th all-time among position players.  FanGraphs has Thome at 73.3 WAR.

Now, to be fair, Thome has played in 2,381 games, which is 82nd all-time, meaning that the great counting stats he’s accumulated are partly because of how many games he’s played.  But that’s part of the deal with counting stats; to have all-time great numbers, you have to play a lot (usually at a very high level), which Thome has done.  The OPS numbers show that it’s not just time that’s aided Thome; however, he is also 2nd on the all-time strikeout list, just 207 behind Reggie Jackson.

So here’s what we know: Thome has played a lot, and he’s been pretty good.  But how good?  To get more of a career retrospective, I looked at each season of Thome’s to see what the notion of him was at the time.  Was he an All-Star?  Where’d he finish in the MVP voting?  I’m not worried about “was he feared?” as much as “what did we think of Thome’s seasons as they were happening?”

Thome was drafted by the Indians in the 13th round of 1989 draft at age 18 and spent about two years in the minor leagues before debuting with the big league team.

1991: Thome made his major league début just after his 21st birthday.  In just over 100 plate appearance, he hit 0.255 with a home run, four doubles, and two triples.  He looked something like this:


1992: Again, Thome spent most of the season in the minors, but did play 40 games in the majors.  He hit just 0.205 this time with only 2 home runs in 117 at-bats.

1993: Thome’s last cup of coffee.  He played 47 games with the Indians, hitting 0.266 with 7 home runs and 11 doubles in 154 at-bats.  More importantly, Thome began to show his patient approach at the plate, drawing 29 walks in 192 plate appearances (15.1% walk rate).

1994: Thome made the big league team out of spring training and was the Opening Day starter at third base.  In 98 games before the strike, Thome went for 0.268/0.359/0.523 for an OPS+ of 126.  He was still just 23 for most of the season and still fairly scant.  Important philosophy change though: he has, at this point, begun grabbing his crotch a lot as an “F U” to pitchers (completely untrue).

1995: Thome broke out.  137 games. 25 home runs. 29 doubles. 97 walks.  0.314/0.438/0.558.  157 OPS+.  Of course on that team, those numbers were good enough to hit 6th.  Better than Manny Ramirez, who was hitting 7th.  At this point though it became apparent that Jimmy wasn’t a third baseman long-term.

1996: Thome took another step forward.  0.311/0.450/0.612 with 38 home runs.  He finished 15th in the MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger at third base, his only one.

1997: The Indians traded for Matt Williams in the offseason, so Thome shifted to first base.  For his age 26 season, Thome did what he did, with an OPS+ of 156, 40 home runs, and a league-leading 120 walks.  It was his first All-Star appearance and he finished 6th in the MVP voting.  Thome played in his second World Series (both losses) and third postseason; in 35 career postseason games, he has25 hits in 114 at-bats (0.219) and 6 home runs, including 3 in the World Series.

1998: Thome made his second All-Star team with a 0.293/0.413/0.584 season.  He finished 21st in the MVP voting, hitting 30 home runs but walking just 86 times, something he wouldn’t do again until an injury-plagued 2005 season with the Phillies (where Ryan Howard promptly took his job and never gave it back).

1999:  Thome made his third All-Star team, but the strikeouts really began to take off.  He whiffed 171 times, leading the league for the first time (his previous high was 146).  He also ledthe league in walks with 127 and puts up a 0.277/0.426/0.540 line, good for an OPS+ of 141, his lowest since his first full season in 1994.

2000: 1999 a second time.  Almost exactly the same season, and his OPS+ dips to 132.

2001: THOME REBORN!  Thome struck out 185 times (leading the league for the second time in three years), but hit 0.291/0.416/0.624(!) with 49 home runs.  It’s also the 5th time in 6 seasons that he finished with 110+ walks.  He’s not an All-Star but finished 7th in the MVP voting, behind two of own teammates (Roberto Alomar, 4th, and Juan Gonzalez, 5th).

2002:  Jimmy’s last in Cleveland, and a good one.  At age 31, he hit 52 home runs and led the league in walks (122), slugging percentage (0.677),  and OPS (1.112).  Again he did not make the All-Star team but finished 7th in the MVP voting; this time though, no other Indian garnered a single MVP vote and the team traded ace Bartolo Colon in late June.  In the off-season, the Tribe offered Thome a 5-year/60-million dollar contract, and Thome asked for a sixth year.  Unable to get the contract he desired and not seeing the talent around him he saw through his peak, he signed a 6-year/85-million dollar deal with the Phillies.  Thome’s time in Cleveland ends with 334 home runs, an OPS+ of 152, almost 1,000 walks, and six playoff appearances.  On the other side, he only stole 18 bases in his time as an Indian, being caught 14 times, so there were obvious reasons not re-sign him.

2003:  Thome hits 47 bombs in his début season in Philadelphia (leading the league), but he also leads the league in strikeouts and his walk rate falls to its lowest point since his rookie season.  His OPS+ is 154, the sixth highest of his career to this point, but he finishes 4th in the MVP voting anyway (again not making the All-Star team).  The Phillies go 86-76, finishing 3rd in the NL East.  (Sidebar: In that 2003 NL MVP vote, Juan Pierre finished 10th.  Nothing else, that’s the joke.)

2004: Thome made the All-Star team but finished 19th in the MVP voting.  He hit 42 home runs and had an OPS+ of 144.  The Phillies again go 86-76, finishing 2nd in the NL East.

2005: Uh oh.  Thome had issues with his right elbow and his back, and just by looking at the numbers, even the time he spent playing was obviously hampered by the injuries.  He played in just 58 games, hitting 0.207 with only 7 home runs.  He had more walks than hits, and his OBP (0.360) was higher than his slugging percentage (0.352).

2006: Thome was traded in the offseason to the White Sox, which is about the worst thing that could have happened as an Indians’ fan (hey, at least…they’re not from Canada).  Thome is 35 at this point, and responds with a 42 home run, 155 OPS+ season.  He made the All-Star team (his fifth and final) and finished 12th in the MVP voting.  Also, Jimmy filled out a little more of his uniform.

2007:  Same season as 2006, no accolades to go with it.

2008:  He hit 34 home runs at age 37 and had an OPS+ of 123.

2009:  Playing the first five months for the White Sox, he hit 23 home runs in 107 games.  He’s traded to the Dodgers through waivers at the end of August and hits only 17 times in the season’s final month.  He plays 17 games and has 17 plate appearances, used only as a pinch hitter.

2010:  The Twins sign him near the end of January to a 1-year, 1.5 million dollar contract.  Good decision.  Thome has hit 23 home runs in 98 games as the Twins’ DH.  Doing it at age 39 is very rare.

To summarize:

Year Age Team Home Runs Walks Strikeouts OPS+ All-Star? MVP
1991 20 CLE 1 5 16 83
1992 21 CLE 2 10 34 62
1993 22 CLE 7 29 36 131
1994 23 CLE 20 46 84 126
1995 24 CLE 25 97 113 157
1996 25 CLE 38 123 141 167 15
1997 26 CLE 40 120 146 156 X 6
1998 27 CLE 30 89 141 153 X 21
1999 28 CLE 33 127 171 141 X
2000 29 CLE 37 118 171 132
2001 30 CLE 49 111 185 170 7
2002 31 CLE 52 122 139 197 7
2003 32 PHI 47 111 182 154 4
2004 33 PHI 42 104 144 144 X 19
2005 34 PHI 7 45 59 85
2006 35 CHW 42 107 147 155 X 12
2007 36 CHW 35 95 134 150
2008 37 CHW 34 91 147 123
2009 38 CHW/LAD 23 69 123 118
2010 39 MIN 23 53 78 178
587 1672 2391 147

So we finish with 5 All-Star games, 2 Top-5 MVP finishes, 4 Top-10 MVP finishes, 1 Silver Slugger, and 587 home runs and counting.  His 2,207 hits aren’t going to help him make a Hall of Fame case, but I don’t think he’s going to need it.  Jim Thome has been one of the premier power hitters of the last 15 years. and has been immensely valuable to the teams he’s played for.  The walks and home runs are insanely valuable, as seen in his WAR numbers (notice that I didn’t have to talk about Jimmy and the Gold Glove too much).  He never, at least from my perspective, was considered one of the great players of the generation, but the numbers he’s put up say that he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer.  I agree, and I look forward to the day he’s enshrined as a Cleveland Indian.

Written by Dan Hennessey

September 13, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Posted in Uncategorized