Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pitching Performances You Might Have Missed

With the AA debut of David Price came a lot of hype that may have overshadowed some very impressive performances from other minor league pitchers. I think Price is a great prospect, and his 7 strike outs in 6 innings was nice, but in case you missed the other stellar outings from this week, here they are...

Brett Anderson (AA Debut)
6 IP, 12 K, 0 BB, 3 H, 2 ER

Jaime Garcia
6.2 IP, 10 K, 0 BB, 7 H, 3 ER

Madison Bumgarner
7 IP, 10 K, 1 BB, 5 H, 0 ER

Jeremy Jeffress
7 IP, 8 K, 2 BB, 3 H, 0 ER

As always, there were other players out there putting up good numbers, but I thought these 4 were the most impressive.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Chris Davis Call-Up

For all those Ranger fans out there and other prospect junkies like myself, the news of the day yesterday was the long-awaited call-up of first baseman Chris Davis. The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Davis will platoon with Max Ramirez while Hank Blalock is on the DL, with Davis getting the start against right handed pitchers and Ramirez starting against lefties. I don't expect Davis to maintain the same numbers he had at AAA, but I do think that he'll see a lot of fastballs the first week or so, resulting in some long home runs and pitchers will quickly learn to take him seriously. If he gets 300 at-bats this year in the majors, I'd expect a line like this...

.275 average with 19 home runs, .360 OBP/.550 SLG/ .910 OPS

That's pretty good for a 22 year old. He probably won't get 300 at-bats platooning, but with the way the Rangers offense has been performing this year, I think he'll see plenty of pitches to hit and he could very easily play his way into a full time role on the team.

In Davis' first 5 plate appearances, he went 2 for 5, with an infield single, an opposite field home run and 3 strike outs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A.L. R.O.Y. Candidates

We've still got a lot of baseball to play, and there's really no way to say if the 2008 ROY is even in the majors right now, but here are a few popular (and maybe not so popular) candidates in the A.L. and how they're doing...

  1. Evan Longoria -- He's only hitting .248 on the year, but with 12 home runs in 272 plate appearances, it's hard to count Longoria out. For the year his BABIP is .288, so I could see the logic in arguing that his average will probably end up closer to .270, but even with 25+ home runs he may not finish with the most impressive numbers, and I don't see the '08 R.O.Y. in his future.
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury -- June has been a little rough on Ellsbury's numbers, especially the 20.7% K%. However, he is on pace for somewhere around 80 stolen bases, and playing for the Boston Red Sox means he'll get plenty of popularity votes regardless of his numbers. I'd give him a 50/50 chance right now.
  3. Armando Galarraga -- One of the biggest problems I have with the R.O.Y. award is the fact that age is never given any consideration. While Galarraga's 3.03 ERA looks nice, I can't justify a 26 year old "rookie" getting the award when there are plenty of pitchers under 25 years old having better years. Age aside, Galarraga is benefiting from a .204 BABIP which suggests that his ERA will likely end up closer to 4.00 once that BABIP bounces back to normal, and the R.O.Y. will go to someone else.
  4. Joba Chamberlain -- It's hard to believe Chamberlain is still considered a rookie, but he probably has the best chance of winning ROY for 2 reasons: 1)He has the stats, and 2) he plays for the Yankees. With an ERA of 2.36 and a K/9 rate over 11, there's plenty to like about Chamberlain, and now that he's starting on a regular basis he should pile up quite a few wins with the help of a decent Yankees offense. Mix in the popularity vote, and you have all the makings of the '08 R.O.Y.
  5. Clay Buchholz -- I don't really think Buchholz has more than a 20% chance of winning the ROY, but I guess it's possible. His rough start with Boston resulted in a 5.53 ERA and a 2-3 record, but he's getting it back together at AAA and the second half could be a lot better for Buchholz. Like I said, the odds are against him, but don't count him out just yet.
  6. Aaron Laffey -- Laffey is the sleeper in the group, but he's been superb in all but 1 of his starts and his ERA of 2.83 looks very legit when you factor in his peripheral stats. In fact, his GB% and K% are both down from his career averages, meaning that the best for Laffey is probably yet to come. Unfortunately, the Indians offense is still M.I.A., so the win column may not reflect Laffey's true success, and ROY voters often go for the easy to interpret shiny numbers like wins and home runs while overlooking more meaningful stats. Right now, I think Laffey is just behind Chamberlain in the ROY race.
There are probably a few other candidates, but these are the players I think have the best shot at winning ROY. If you have any others, let me know.

-Adam G.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some Thoughts on a Tuesday

Just a few things I've been thinking about the last few days...

  • Brian McCann is having an amazing season, but isn't getting much attention thanks to Geovany Soto. What most people don't realize is that McCann is a year younger than Soto, and is outperforming him is almost every significant category, including average, OBP, slugging, OPS, home runs, doubles, hits, and strikeout rate. Soto is definitely one of the best hitting catchers in the majors, but McCann is better.
  • If you're one of the few people that still doubts Chris Davis, now might be a good time to reconsider your position. After 90 plate appearances at AAA, the 22 year old Davis is hitting .350/.411/.688 with 7 home runs, 6 doubles, and an ISOP of .338. In his last 8 games, Davis is 13 for 28, with 5 home runs, 2 doubles, and a walk to strikeout ratio of 4:2. That comes out to a home run to plate appearance rate of about 1:6. When Ryan Braun was called up last year at 23 years of age, he was averaging 1 home run per 13 plate appearances. As we all know, Braun went on to hit 34 home runs with the Brewers and won Rookie of the Year.
  • After a 50 game suspension for substance abuse, Jeremy Jeffress is back with a vengeance, posting a 34.6% K%, and a GB% over 50%. His numbers last year suggest that he might be over performing at the moment, but he still looks very impressive, and his 7.5% BB% suggests that this might be a breakout year for him.
  • If you thought Chris Davis was posting nice numbers, check out Billy Butler's stats at AAA since being sent down in May: .403/.481/.642 in 77 plate appearances. Unfortunately for Butler, he only has 1 home run, but his 11 doubles and 10:3 BB:SO ratio are great indicators that he doesn't have a lot left to fix before he can head back up to the majors.
  • Here's how I rank some of the young arms in the minors: 1. Madison Burmgarner, 2. Trevor Cahill, 3. Brett Anderson, 4. Rick Porcell, 5. Jarrod Parker.
That's all I've got for now.

-Adam G.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Matt LaPorta vs. Mat Gamel vs. Chris Davis

Of the up-and-coming prospects, there aren't many crushing the ball like Matt LaPorta, Mat Gamel, and Chris Davis. Before Davis moved up to AAA in May, the 3 sluggers took turns obliterating AA pitchers, each posting slugging percentages well over .600, and combining to hit 48 home runs. The similarities between Davis, Gamel, and LaPorta make it hard to declare one superior to the other 2, but I think there is enough data to compare them, make some conservative projections, and establish some kind of 1-2-3 ranking.

For starters, let's just compare basic AA numbers from this year.

At first glance, the obvious winner here is Mat Gamel. He's having a disgustingly sick and nasty season so far, and his peripheral stats are decidedly drool-worthy. Without hesitation, Gamel gets the top spot for his overall plate discipline and contact rates, while LaPorta probably gets the early number 2 spot, and Davis gets the final, yet respectable number 3 spot due to an elevated K% and unpolished BB%.

However, the stats are only as good as the analysis, so let's dig deeper.

Looking at these numbers, there are 2 very important points to make. The first point is that Chris Davis is about 6 months younger than Gamel, and over a year younger than LaPorta, so we have to adjust our analysis to compensate for the age difference. The second point I want to make is that LaPorta's power numbers are significantly higher than Gamel or Davis, which seems a bit odd since Gamel actually has a much higher slugging percentage.

Based strictly on these power numbers, LaPorta gets the number 1 spot, while Davis and Gamel share the number 2 spot. If we take the age difference into consideration, Gamel drops to the number 3 position, and Davis easily takes the number 2 spot.

So, based off of a simple side-by-side comparison from 2008 stats, LaPorta and Gamel rank just ahead of Davis, but there's a problem with these stats and we need to recognize this problem if we're going to be accurate. In 2007, Chris Davis had 126 plate appearances at AA and posted an OPS of 1.067 as a 21 year old, with an ISOP of .391 due largely to a HR/PA rate of 1/10.5. To give you an idea of where Davis' 2007 stats fit in with LaPorta's and Gamel's 2008 stats, here's another quick comparison chart.

Even if we consider that 126 plate appearances is a bit short of an ideal sample size, the sheer power numbers Davis posted last year completely obliterate everything Gamel and Laporta have done this year, and the fact that he did it at an age 2 years younger makes any comparison seem like a joke. If we combine Davis' 2007 numbers with his 2008 stats, he makes a convincing case for the number 1 spot.

I think Davis' power numbers are impossible to ignore, even if he's not the best on-base guy, and his 2007 numbers put him above LaPorta. Unfortunately for us, that makes ranking these 3 hitters almost impossible, unless we make 2 separate lists to rank them according to contact and power.

  1. Gamel
  2. LaPorta
  3. Davis
  1. Davis
  2. LaPorta
  3. Gamel
In terms or ranking each hitter, that's about as far as I'm going to go, even if it doesn't clear things up much. I think the more appropriate thing to do would be to make some basic projections and provide comparable players.

Matt LaPorta
Comparable Player: Lance Berkman
Early Projection: .285/.370/.540, 35 HR
Prime Projection: .315/.420/.625, 49 HR
What to watch for: While the Berkman comparison is legitimate, he also compares well to Travis Lee, who never really seemed to put it all together and retired with just 115 career home runs. I think LaPorta has a better chance of being a Berkman (or maybe Pat Burrell with more power) type hitter, but his strikeout rates could dictate how successful he is.

Mat Gamel
Comparable Player: Corey Hart, Chase Utley
Early Projection: .290/.340/.480, 24 HR
Prime Projection: .330/.400/.550, 34 HR
What to watch for: Gamel's power numbers have usually been low, with lots of doubles, mixed with a good OBP. His slugging percentage in 2008 seems abnormally high, and his top-end home run potential will probably sit in the mid-30's. His recent power surge could be a sign of a sustained improvement in the power department, but I think it's mostly a product of his age combined with a good surrounding cast at AA.

Chris Davis
Comparable Player: David Ortiz, Mark Reynolds
Early Projection: .275/.355/.478, 38 HR
Prime Projection: .318/.420/.645, 55 HR
What to watch for: Davis has all the power necessary to be a successful major league player, and the Rangers seem eager to get him through their system. He has demonstrated that he can adjust to higher levels of play quickly, and his adjustments at the plate have helped him keep his K% steady at every level. His increasing LD% has helped keep his average up near .300 and there's no reason he can't do the same in the MLB.

If I had to go with an early success pick, I'd have to say LaPorta simply because he is older and more advanced than Gamel and Davis. However, Davis and Gamel both have serious potential, and I think that Davis will have the most impressive prime years. Gamel will be above average, but might take a few years to fully develop into an eye-opening player.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The (David) Price is Right

Disclaimer: The following analysis of David Price is not based off of a deep and revealing study of college pitchers making the transition to professional ball. I don't get paid enough to do that kind of stuff -- in fact I don't get paid at all, so what you see is what you get.

When David Price was drafted with the #1 pick last year, I felt fairly confident that I knew what to expect from him in statistical terms, even if projecting college players can be a bit problematic at times. With the recent rise of other college pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Luke Hochevar, there are a large number of players to compare with Price, so basic early estimations of his K/9 and BB/9 stats seemed pretty straight forward. However, no matter how hard I tried, and no matter where I looked, I couldn't find a single source that could provide me with a ground ball rate for Price, or any other college pitcher for that matter.

Without knowing Price's ground ball tendencies, it was hard to say how dominant he would be, so it was with much anticipation that I waited for his first few starts at A+ ball. And though we still only have a total of 18 innings to go by, the sample size is finally large enough to allow us to begin to make some solid projections for the young left hander.

With only 18 innings to go by, I'm really only interested in the GB%. The K/9 and BB/9 stats are subject to fluctuation, and if you go by trends we've seen with other college pitchers, those two stats probably won't become constant until about the 50 inning mark. However, the GB% stat can be established fairly quickly with little variation in its value. Before I get too far into discussing Price's stats, I'd like to validate the trend in establishing early GB% values.

Of course, there's always a chance that Price is an exception to the rule, but I'm going to conservatively base my analysis of him on a GB% that sits somewhere in the mid-50% range.

Now that we have a legitimate GB% to go by, what about the K/9 and BB/9 stats? Judging by the success (or lack of success) of other college pitchers, Price's BB/9 stat is likely to match his college rate, while the K/9 stat will most likely approach his college rate until he reaches AAA. At that point, it's difficult to say what will happen, as some pitchers see a significant drop while others experience very little change at all, so the real question becomes how can we determine what will happen to Price once he reaches AAA.

The following pitchers all averaged a K/9 rate higher than 12.0 in their final year of college.

As you can see, determining which pitchers will excel at AAA and which ones will struggle is hard to determine based solely on their college K/9 rates. However, we know that Price has the type of stuff to get major league hitters out, as evidenced by his two strike out performance against Alex Rodriguez in March during an extended Spring Training start. Also, in terms of velocity and pure stuff, Price compares well to Lincecum and Weaver, which leads me to believe that a drop of 10-20% in his K/9 rate seems probable. I don't think it will exceed 20% and will most likely end up in the high 9.0 range or the low 10.0 range given the fact that his college stats were posted in a highly competitive conference.

So, with a bit of projection, we end up with a probable AAA stat line for David Price that includes a GB% between 55-60%, a K/9 of about 10.0, and a BB/9 of 2.0-2.5. If we compare that stat line to Weaver and Lincecum, it seems that Price will fall somewhere in between the two pitchers.

My gut instinct tells me that Price is capable of posting a K/9 rate closer to 12.0, but I can't really justify it, so I'll stick with the above stat line. Given that stat line and the success of Lincecum and Weaver, it seems that if Price gets called up later this season, an ERA of 3.5o at the major league level isn't out of the question, and he certainly shouldn't have a problem maintaining the Rays current team average of 3.77.

Liriano Update

Francisco Liriano made another encouraging start last night, going 6 innings while striking out 7 and walking 4. This marks the second start in a row that Liriano had a K/9 rate greater than 9.0, and even more exciting than the strikeout total is the 57% GB% he posted.

Both the K/9 rate and the GB% are significantly better than they were at the beginning of the year, and despite the 4 walks in yesterday's start, Liriano showed throughout the month of May that his walk rate is not a major concern. If he keeps up his current rate of improvement, we might see him put up some significant stats after the All-Star break.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Francisco Liriano Back on Track?

It's been a long, painful journey for Francisco Liriano, but his numbers are getting better by the start, and I think his location and "stuff" is finally getting close to what it was before his Tommy John Surgery. He finished out the month of May with a K% of 18%, along with a BB% of 7%. The BB% is in line with his pre-Tommy John stats, but the K% is still well below the 32% he posted as a 21 year old in AAA, suggesting that he while his command has improved, he still needs some work on locating his "out" pitches, or something else of that nature.

During Liriano's most recent start he went 6.1 innings, striking out 7 while only walking 2 (one of which was an HBP). Of the 24 batters he faced, he gave up 3 line drives, and 2 fly balls to the outfield, while forcing 6 ground balls and 4 infield flies. Including strike outs, ground outs and infield flies, Liriano effectivley neutralized 70.8% of the batters he faced, compared to the 50% he averaged in 10.1 innings with the Twins earlier this year. In 2006, Liriano's K% plus GB% averaged around 90%, so he is essentially halfway back to where he left off.

Since April, Liriano has boosted his GB% from 32% to 41%. However, to reach his pre-Tommy John GB% rate that would often hover around 60%, Liriano will need to continue to improve his command, work on keeping the ball down, and throwing strikes early. Though this single start gives us only a small sample size, it marks the first time that Liriano has reached a K/9 rate over 9.0 in a start, and the low fly ball number suggests that he might soon return to being a dominant ground ball pitcher with lights out stuff. If you see his sustained GB% creep up over 50% and his K% breaks the 25% barrier, expect to see the Liriano of old in a major league start soon.

Brett Anderson Update

After my most recent analysis covering the struggles of Brett Anderson, I was interested to see how he would bounce back in his next start. Here was his line from May 30th against High Desert:

4 IP
4 H
0 R

I'd call that a solid start, and much more in line with the peripheral stats he's been posting throughout May.