At THT: a look at how Prince Fielder might age in Detroit. You may recall Fielder signed a whopping nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers earlier this offseason.
We’ve noted many times over the years that relief pitchers are a fickle bunch. We only get 60 or 70 innings to evaluate each season, making the effort of predicting their future performance an at times futile one. Luke Gregerson was dominant in his first two seasons in San Diego, but despite a drop in ERA, he struggled in 2011. The numbers:
Gregerson struck out nearly 30 percent of batters in his first two seasons. Last year, his strikeout percentage fell to 14.1. That’s an alarming drop.
Using the new PITCHf/x tool created by Brooks Baseball and The Hardball Times, we can take a quick look inside the numbers. Gregerson relies heavily on the slider and below are some of his numbers for that pitch:
Gregerson is still getting batters to swing at his slider, however, when they do swing they are much less likely to miss, as evidenced by the decline in Whiffs/Swings from 46.7 percent in 2009 to just 33.5 percent last season.
It’s also important to note that while Gregerson’s slider velocity has actually increased, his fastball and sinker velocity have decreased over the past three seasons, perhaps making his slider less deceptive and/or allowing batters to wait that much longer to recognize the slider.
Can Gregerson remain successful striking out only 14 percent of batters? It’s unlikely. While his home run rate was excellent in 2011, as he allowed just two home runs all year, that’s almost certainly going to increase in 2012. Only 3.8 percent of his fly balls traveled over the fence last year and that number tends to regress heavily toward the league average (~11 percent).
A sub-two strikeout-walk-ratio and a more normal HR/FB rate will likely lead to an ERA well into the threes. Out of the bullpen and in Petco Park, there just isn’t a lot of value there.
It’s impossible to tell if Gregerson will regain his swing-and-miss ways, but the over-reliance on the slider is worrisome. He missed a month in 2011 with a strained left oblique, and you have to be concerned that further injuries and/or decline in velocity could continue due to the high slider percentage.
Gregerson is a personal favorite and I’m certainly hoping he can regain his 2009-2010 form. Keep a close eye on his early season strikeout percentage and whiff rates for an indicator as to how his 2012 campaign might unfold.
Owings — 8-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 33 games (four starts) for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season — signed a split contract with the Padres, according to a team source, which means he could begin the 2012 season in the minors.
General manager Josh Byrnes said in a team release Owings will vie for either a spot in the starting rotation or in the bullpen. But if Owings starts in the minors — he has two minor-league options left — he will be paid an increased minor-league salary instead of the major-league deal. The deal also doesn’t allow Owings to opt out of his contract if he doesn’t break camp with the Padres.
After a solid rookie season on the mound in 2007, Owings struggled from 2008-2010, posting a 5.59 ERA, 1.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.2 HR/9. Last year, however, in 63 innings primarily out of the Arizona bullpen, he increased the SO/BB ratio to 1.91 and lowered his ERA to 3.57.
Interesting, looking at the pitch data, Owings velocity didn’t increase upon moving to the pen. Actually, it went down, and that appears to be thanks to an increased reliance on the cut-fastball. According to BIS, Owings relied on a cutter 77.3 percent of the time last season, and had previously never thrown the pitch. According to PITCHf/x, however, he only threw the cutter 32.6 percent last season, and had relied on it heavily before (notably in 2009).
Naturally, Petco will help the big right hander.
If he makes the major league roster or comes up later in the season, Owings will probably take on the swing man role — coming in for long relief, getting some emergency starts, and occasionally pitching a high-leverage inning or two — and he’s adequately suited to do just that.
Owings real value, though, is in his versatility. Not just versatility on the mound, but his well-above average hitting skills for a pitcher. In fact, his career batting numbers are actually above-average for a position player. In 217 career plate appearances, he’s hit .286/.313/.507 with nine home runs. In 88 career minor league PAs, Owings hit .325/.353/.475. He isn’t refined with the bat, striking out often and rarely taking a walk, but the power is obviously there.
Most of that damage at the major league level was done way back in ’07 while in the starting rotation. Further, Owings has only received 33 PAs over the last two seasons, working primarily out of the bullpen. Still, the two-way college player at Georgia Tech and Tulane possesses hitting ability that few pitcher’s can match. The Padres won’t be forced to take him out of the game in the long man/relief role if he comes up in a semi-crucial situation. Further, on days when he’s not expected to hit, Owings could make for a viable pinch hitter.
While signing Owings exclusively as pitching depth is okay, his real value comes in his offensive game and overall versatility.
Over the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about San Diego Padres prospects. In fact, we’ve always spent a lot of time covering prospects here at Friar Forecast. There’s arguably no better time than right now, though, as the Padres have a consensus top five farm system and one of the deepest in baseball.
Scouting is obviously important in the minor leagues, especially at the lower levels. No matter how sophisticated we get, in terms of advanced stats and technology, scouting young baseball players isn’t going anywhere.
With that in mind, baseball is still a game of numbers, and at some point we need to evaluate prospects in terms of performance. One of the difficulties working with minor league numbers is that they are attained in a variety of different environments. You’ve got hitter’s parks in hitter’s leagues, pitcher’s parks in pitcher’s leagues, and everywhere in between.
With that in mind, I thought we would first take a look at each minor league’s run scoring environment, from Low-A through Triple-A.
data from Baseball-Reference
The above chart shows runs per game in each league since 2009, with a three year average in the far right column. The bold-faced leagues are ones that house Padres affiliates.
First off, you might notice an interesting trend across the minor leagues in general. Run scoring is going up. The total average for all leagues was 4.54 run per game in 2009. It’s jumped up to 4.7 in 2011.
The Padres play in three leagues that are relatively normal, based on the three year averages: the Double-A Texas League, the Single-A Midwest League, and the Low-A Northwest League. The other two, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and the High-A California League, are the two highest minor league run scoring environments (at least from Low-A up).
The Padres actually have affiliates in the four highest run scoring leagues, as the Northwest League and Texas League are next in line after the PCL and Cal League. It’s a bit concerning that Padres prospects will be accustomed to high-scoring environments in the minor leagues and then have to adjust to the major league’s worst hitter’s park upon reaching the show.
While leagues impact scoring throughout the minors, parks impact scoring within each league. At some point, we’ll take a look at how each Padres affiliate is effected by its home park.
Anyway, this chart should provide a quick reference when you compare a player’s stats across leagues or even years.