Posts Tagged ‘K Rate’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I love the very beginning of baseball season for a multitude of reasons. Small sample sizes make for fun numbers, like guys with OBP’s lower than their AVG’s, players with more home runs than entire teams, guys who haven’t walked or struck out all year, the dudes that are on pace for 300 RBI’s, it’s great for nonsensical stuff like that. It’s also fun for identifying who actually watches baseball vs. who is a football fan and is just killing time complaining about things that don’t matter. To be clear for all you football fans, the MLB season is a 6  month (7 if your team is good) long odyssey that begins as nature wakes up from it’s slumber, thrives as the world around it gets greener and warmer, and finishes when the outside world dies. It’s cyclical, natural, and takes a long fucking time to complete. They play 162 games in a season. Some teams are gunning to win this year, some teams are caught in the middle of rebuilding and competing, and others are instituting a plan that revolves around youth and smart spending.

I’m talking to my fellow Cub fans. Yes, yes, Theo was hired this year, but as some ignorant White Sox fans are quick to remind me, he doesn’t play a position (BTW, White Sox fans, I’m aware of this. He doesn’t swing a bat nor throw a ball for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t need to be reminded of this). The team this year is awful. They told you they were going to be awful all off-season. They made no major moves, they acquired no impact talent, they did not change anything from last years squad that was also awful, really. So why are you so surprised about their struggles? Is it hard to watch? Yeah, nobody likes blown leads or bad fielding or an anemic offense.

“DEN WHAT DA FUCK AM I GONNA WATCH FOR TREE FUCKING MONTS UNTIL DA FOOTBALL COMES BACK AND DA MIDWAY MONSTERS OF HALAS HALL COME CRASHING BACK WIT DA VENGEANCE OF A TOUSAND MINI DITKAS?!?!?!?!?!”

I have no idea. I can’t help you.

“Good sir, if I may inquire, what shall I remain vigilant for this season on the North Side?”

Soccer, go back to Europe. Try again.

“Dude, they suck, is there anything that I can look for as a reasonable Cubs fan with realistic expectations for this year and the next three years?”

On the Major League roster there are a few players you should be watching for a myriad of reasons. I’ll be doing my best to update you guys on them as the season drags on, but for now, here’s my list.

  1. Starlin Castro – Nobody makes me say “That’s a great play,” and “That’s a dumbass play,” in the same game quite like Starlin.
  2. Marlon Byrd – If he manages to get his average up he will be a valuable piece to a team that’s in contention. Players with solid contact skills and good defense don’t fall out of trees these days. Could bring back an ok haul of prospects if a team decides to buy high at the deadline.
  3. Matt Garza – The goal is to either extend him because of the thin crop of FA starters in the coming years, or to bring back a better haul than you gave up to acquire him. I still think he ends up a Tiger.
  4. Darwin Barney – It’s debatable, but I think he might be on the Cubs the next time they are ready to compete. TheoCo (thanks Short-E) values defense a lot, and I think his bat might stick as a 2-hitter.
  5. Bryan LaHair – If his bat is legit, he can play in left and then you can have a 3-4 of Rizzo and LaHair. That’s awesome to think about.

Which brings us to who I think is the most intriguing Cub, Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs did the right thing and stuck Shark (Jeff’s rather unfortunate nickname) in the rotation. He had some interesting gains last year as a reliever, but if he was going to be worth anything to the organization, it was going to be in the rotation. As I stated before, I love small sample sizes, they’re fun, and when we talk about Shark’s numbers it’s in the tiniest of sample sizes, but dating back to last year he’s gained something valuable; the ability to miss bats.

See, dating back to his minor league days, Shark was always a bit of a mystery. He had good-great stuff, and a 98 MPH heater, but he never consistently posted legit prospect K/9 numbers.

His fastball was described as fast and straight, which is an issue. Major League hitters will time up fast if it’s straight, just ask Armando Benitez. Since 2011 however, his K rate jumped to 8+ and it looks like it’ll stay there. Begs the question, what’s different?

Well, this year he’s walking less people. His BB/9 rate is dramatically slashed so far this year, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The difference is that his stuff is just, better. Let’s look at his PitchF/X data for a second.

PitchFx tracks the movement and speed of pitches thrown. In this case it’s illustrating Shark’s improved movement on all of his pitches. SL=Slider, CH=Changeup, and FT=Two Seamer, something that is a relatively new classification and can be misleading. Before ’11, Shark’s slider wasn’t moving across the plate much, it was simply spinning and dropping with gravity. In 2011 however, that pitch improved, and it’s clear when you watch him. I don’t know for a fact if he improved his grip on the slider or if he just has a better feel for it, but it’s a real pitch now. It’s become a wipeout pitch. The Changeup has also greatly improved, even if he limited his use of it in 2011. This year it has legitimate drop  to it and it looks like it comes out of the same slot, with similar arm action, as his fastball. The Two-Seamer is a bit of a mystery, PitchFx did mis-classify this pitch as a regular fastball until around 2010, but it has live action and is a few ticks slower than his 4 seamer. All of his pitches have good movement on them, with his two fastballs being his best pitches. The slider is now a legit weapon and the changeup is coming along. That alone explains the uptick in strikeouts, but there’s also one more trend that appeared during spring training and has some people (myself included) optimistic about his future as a starter.

He’s walking less people.

Let’s go back to his Baseball Reference card

During Spring Training Shark walked 1 batter and struck out 16 in 20 innings of work. Spring Training stats are misleading sometimes, but I don’t think they were with Samardzija this year. His command has dramatically improved this year in limited innings. To properly illustrate that:

That’s shark in a nutshell. Drop in ERA, rise in K/9, cliff dive in BB/9 and a rocket trip in K/BB ratio.

Conclusion

He’ll probably have some missteps over the course of a long season, but the improved control and the improvement on the movement of his pitches are all reasons to be optimistic. Shark’s change in approach will raise his ceiling, the questions for the remainder of the year revolve around the durability of his arm, I think. Can he throw 150+ innings? Can he retain the gains he’s made in control? Can he be a dependable starter? I don’t know for sure, but I’m finally optimistic about Samardzija.

I’ve been there before, down that path, feeling that same sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s the feeling you get deep within your being when you have so completely failed to live up to the expectations of people that support you. The sensation is truly nauseating. You begin to realize that people put their faith in your ability to perform a task, or to get a job, or to be special.

Yes, I’ve failed miserably before, odds are that I will again.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Adam Dunn. He is the type of slugger that I appreciate nowadays. Low average, walks a lot, hits monster home runs, strikes out quite a bit as well. I’ve drafted him to every fantasy team I’ve owned since 2006. There are three true outcomes when it comes to Adam Dunn, and I can appreciate that.

Last year was painful for me as well.

When you fail, when you fall down, it’s usually not in front of 20,000 people. To watch Adam Dunn last year was to watch the slow death of a confused animal. One who is not completely sure why it is dying, but one that is certain of it’s fate. Dunn knew he was going to fail towards the second half of last season. He looked lost in a mire of his own personal doubts and the pressures to perform a duty that used to come so easy to him before.

Perhaps that is the issue, it was easy before. There were little to no expectations for Dunn in his previous stops. Cincy was never in contention with him, Arizona had a brief stint as a contender when he was traded there, and the Nationals weren’t ready to contend when he landed there. His destiny as Sox DH was predestined, it’s a home run happy park, one where Dunn could exercise his prowess and become something more. He was traded to a team that was supposed to contend.

And then 2011 happened.

Historically, there has never been a full season collapse like this in baseball history. Think about that, baseball records have been reliably kept since 1885. Since then, no one has fallen on their face harder than Adam Dunn.

Dunn’s bat looked slower, and statistical evidence seems to back that claim up. From 2007 through 2010 Dun averaged 536 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 87 times pers season. In 2011, Dunn had 411 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 100 times. Pitchers threw fastballs to Dunn 62% of the time from 2007-2011, but in 2011 Dunn saw fastballs 69% of the time.

Pitchers aren’t afraid of Dunn, and that’s an issue. Adam Dunn needs to figure out if he truly loves baseball, because he didn’t just fail to live up to expectations, he set a record for failing.

There is one silver lining in his numbers.

Despite being historically bad, Dunn saw an uptick in his BB ratio. You can take this as a sign that his patience could help in 2012, or that he is too afraid to swing at anything and he lucked into a few walks. Either way, it’s something positive that he did.

Dunn wasn’t alone in failure on the south side. Rios and Beckham were supposed to be two very good hitters for the Sox. Rios was claimed off waivers by Kenny Williams in 2009 and had a respectable 2010 year. Beckham was a first round pick with a hitting pedigree from Georgia. He was a College World Series hero and many argued that he should have been the rookie of the year in 2009.

Both players were expected to have good years for a contending team in 2011, and both failed to meet expectations. Here is a graph of the trio’s wOBA

Or if you want more traditional stats:

Those three players had 1623 combined PA’s and severely under performed last year.

Rios looks like a gifted athlete. He patrols centerfield with grace and speed, he makes it all look so easy. His tools are apparent and that’s what makes his struggles so infuriating. He can be a good baseball player, but there is this odd mental block with him that is impossible to describe. He should be a 30 home run guy, but he isn’t. He should hit .300, but he doesn’t. He should be a gold glove centerfielder, but he never will be. Perhaps it is lapses in concentration that leads to his poor play, but he needs to play better.

Beckham looks like a lost cause. He was a stellar fielder at second base in the first half, but his fielding dipped as his bat never really got on track. He has regressed every year he’s been in the league, and that’s a terrible sign for a rookie phenom. Beckham collapsed in the second half last year, but the dip wasn’t as visible because he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in the first half. He struggled to hit .213 after the All-Star break as his K-rate shot through the roof.

Beckham will never be an OBP machine, he doesn’t walk enough and his swing looks lost, but he can be somewhat valuable since his glove could theoretically justify his bat. He needs to be around .270-.280 for that to happen.

The White Sox have an outside chance at competing in 2012. The Tigers IF defense will be awful and there is a slight chance the the Sox will pitch enough to stay in the race. The mitigating factor will be the bats. 3 of the 4 times the Sox have made the playoffs in New Comiskey the team has belted 200+ home runs. That’s the magic number, if the Sox can hit, the pitching might hold up enough to stay relevant into September. For that to happen, these three players will have to play well.

Dunn is the wild card, if he can return to form, the Sox will do well. The question with him will always be about his love for the game. Picking up a bat this offseason was a healthy start, but he’s going to have to mash for the Sox to compete.