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.
Check out Brooks Baseball for a ridiculously awesome PITCHf/x tool released by Dan Brooks, Harry Pavlidis, and Lucas Apostoleris (among others, I’m sure). Now stop drooling. Here’s the introduction article.
Also, be sure to check out The Hardball Times newly unveiled Dispatch section, where THTers analyze the game using PITCHf/x data.
On the subject, I’m hoping to add more PITCHf/x analysis here at Friar Forecast.
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.
Over at the U-T, Bill Center has an article on Yonder Alonso, with a lot of quotes from the new San Diego Padres first basemen:
“A lot of left-handed hitters and first basemen are thinking home runs,” Alonso continued. “That’s not the type of left-handed hitter I am.
“When I look at Petco Park, I don’t see how far away the fences are. I see a lot of grass. I feel like this ballpark likes the kind of hitter I am.”
It’s certainly refreshing to see Alonso embracing his new digs, regardless of how he’ll feel come June. He goes on:
“The fences are closer in Cincinnati,” reasoned Alonso. “The outfielders are packed into a smaller space. A lot of balls in the gaps get caught. There isn’t nearly as much grass in Cincinnati as there is here.”
He’s right, there’s more green in Petco’s outfield than Great American Ballpark’s. However, it’s unclear whether line-drive hitter’s can neutralize (even to a degree) Petco’s ability to suppress offense.
Sure, a screaming liner that barely gets off the ground will play anywhere. The real question, though, is the gap line-drive that should fall for a double in most parks. In Petco, that ball has a tendency to hang up in the air and gently fall into the glove of a waiting outfielder. Think marine layer.
Petco always ranks at (or near) the bottom of the league in its ability to prevent not only runs, but also doubles. According to research at Beyond the Boxscore, here are the five toughest hitter’s parks from 2006-2010:
Note that these PFs include away games, so to truly isolate the Petco effect you would double these figures (Petco suppresses doubles by 20 percent, for example).
You can see that Petco is clearly the best all-around pitcher’s park in the league. Interestingly, though, there’s a larger discrepancy between Petco and the other pitcher’s parks for doubles per ball in play than HR/BIP. In fact, no team’s home park comes close to Petco in stifling doubles, which while not as devastating as a home run are certainly a more frequent event.
Further, Petco actually increases strikeouts more than any other park. It’s a deadly combination that’s earned Petco its deserved reputation as Killer of All Things Offense. It’s important to note, however, that it doesn’t just eat up home runs.
Alonso may still be a better fit for Petco than Rizzo, but he won’t be able to escape its overall negative impact on offense.
By now, you probably know I write a bi-weekly article for The Hardball Times. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a great opportunity to write for a site with a rich history of producing awesome content.
This year I have a chance to write the San Diego Padres player comments for THT Forecasts, which you should probably buy. I’m taking over the duties from the venerable Geoff Young, so I have my work cut out for me.
It’s a bit of a challenge distilling a player’s future outlook down to a paragraph or two, but it’s a challenge I wouldn’t dare pass up. I should have comments for a good 40 players or so, including a number of prospects. The player comments won’t be available until closer to spring training, but the 2012 projections are already updated and certainly worth the price. The comments are just an added bonus.
Along with the 2012 projections, you also get a long-term (six year) forecast for every player, various leaderboards and options to sort the projections, comments from past seasons, and updated in-season projections. If you’re a fantasy player, these are right up your alley.
Generally, I’m hesitant to compare prospects to established major leaguers. There are so many subtle differences in player skill-sets that, without exhaustive research, I’m never all that comfortable with the comparisons.
Yonder Alonso = Erubiel Durazo
After watching some video of Yonder Alonso, though, (notably the embedded one below from Scouting the Sally) I can’t help but think Erubiel Durazo.
At first, you might think that comparing a highly-touted first base prospect to Erubiel Durazo is my way of saying that I’m not overly high on Alonso, but that isn’t necessarily true. Upon reaching the majors at age 25, Durazo raked, and he didn’t stop until his major league career was over seven years later.
Note Durazo’s debut 1999 and Alonso’s 2011 in Cincinnati:
Pretty similar starts, though I certainly don’t mean to imply that I’m comparing these two players based on such a small amount of performance data. As mentioned, Alonso’s swing and movements simply remind me of Durazo, and it conveniently fits the narrative that the numbers are very similar.
Physically, they are similar too. Durazo is listed at 6’3’’, 240 on Baseball-Reference. Alonso: 6’2’’, 240. Both left-handed hitters. Durazo ended up hitting .281/.381/.487 in his major league career, split between Arizona and Oakland. Alonso has posted inferior numbers so far in his career (.292/.370/.466) – and that’s in the minor leagues.
Durazo played in Mexico prior to the majors and only spent part of one season in the minors before debuting in Arizona, so we can’t really compare minor league stats. He hit .404/.489/.703 that year in Double-A and Triple-A.
In the field, Durazo provided limited defensive value at first (he was traded to Oakland and became a DH) and he wasn’t particularly fast or athletic. The scouting reports on Alonso are similar. He’s not out there for his defense or base running.
Scouting or performance
Let’s face it, Alonso’s scouting reputation far exceeds his actual performance thus far. Based on the numbers, Clay Davenport* projects Alonso as a .260/.335/.400 hitter in his prime. That isn’t bad, especially in Petco, but it isn’t really what we are expecting out of the Padres new first basemen.
*Davenport adjusts raw minor league statistics for league, age, park effects, and various other factors to get a better estimate of the player’s major league potential.
Yonder Alonso = Adrian Gonzalez
Finishing where we started, PECOTA currently lists Adrian Gonzalez as Alonso’s number one comparable player. Number two: Jeff Clement.
Interestingly enough, there might be something to the Alonso-Gonzalez comp. Though Gonzalez was always young(er) for his league, both players put up underwhelming minor league statistics (but were highly-rated amongst scouts). Gonzalez, of course, blossomed into the player we had the pleasure of watching in San Diego for five seasons.
Then again, there is probably something to the Alonso-Clement comp, too.
As you know, there’s a large degree of uncertainty in player evaluation, especially prospects. Here’s hoping Alonso turns out more like Gonzalez than Clement. But I’ll settle for Durazo.
Scutaro will make a more-than-reasonable $6 million in 2012 before becoming a free agent in 2013.
He’ll slide over to second in Colorado, with Troy Tulowitzki entrenched at short, and offer an immediate upgrade over Chris Nelson. Over the last three seasons with Toronto and Boston, Scutaro has hit .284/.356/.404 (102 OPS+). Defensively, he’s probably a little below average at short, but should project right around average at second base.
He just turned 36, but he’s a nice short-term pick-up for Colorado. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged 3.3 rWAR and 3.2 fWAR.
The curious part of the deal is that the Red Sox don’t really have a legitimate replacement at shortstop and they got back only Mortensen for Scutaro and his favorable contract. Mortensen isn’t anything more than roster-filler, at this point, as neither his major or minor league track records inspire much confidence.
In 95 major league innings, Mortensen’s posted a 5.12 ERA, a 1.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.5 HR/9. It’s hard to project anything better than replacement level production out of Mortensen at the major league level.
The Red Sox will likely use Scutaro’s money to sign a pitcher, perhaps Roy Oswalt, but it’s strange to see them working on a tight budget.
It’s the weekend — a good time for a little blog-promotion.
Many of you already follow us, but if not consider following @FriarForecast on Twitter.
We don’t get too carried away with tweeting, but you’ll find links to our content here, links to notable stuff around the interwebs, and some good ol’ Padres/baseball/sabermetric discussion. That’s a combination you cannot resist.