Monday, June 29, 2009

Quick Hits: Tommy Hanson

Yesterday, Tommy Hanson took it to the Red Sox despite fighting off the flu, and pitching in temperatures that reached well beyond anyone's comfort zone. He's now got a record of 4-0, with an ERA of 2.48. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 3 starts, and looks to be dominating every team he faces.

It would seem that Hanson -- at the ripe old age of 22 -- is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the Brave's premier starters, and perhaps one of the best in the league. But let me throw out a few numbers at you and let's see what really lies below the surface.

Hanson's current K/BB ratio is 1.06, his groundball rate of 31%, he has a WHIP of 1.41, and a home run rate of 5%. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures the number of runs a pitcher is likely to allow in 9 innings given his other stats) is 5.10. National League pitchers with similar stats include Ian Snell, who was recently demoted to AAA after posting an ERA of 5.36, Micah Owings, Jeff Karstens, John Maine, and Shairon Martis. Not exactly a who's who list of ace pitchers.

So, if Hanson's peripheral stats put him in such poor company, why the 4-0 record and stellar ERA? The missing link here is probably the fact that opposing hitters have posted a BABIP of just .239 against Hanson this year at the major league level. That means, that for every ball put into play against Hanson, only 23% of them are finding a gap in the defense.

It's possible that hitters are having a difficult time making solid contact with Hanson's pitches, and the .239 BABIP will prove to be the deciding factor in his future dominance. But if we consider that Hanson has posted a BABIP generally between .260 and .290 in the minors, it is only appropriate to assume that pitching in the majors will result in a BABIP of at least .260 or more. As an example, take Tim Lincecum, perhaps the most dominant young pitcher in the nation. Throughout the minors, Lincecum held batters to a BABIP between .220 and .250, 40 points below Hanson's minor league record. Since reaching the majors, Lincecum has allowed a BABIP between .296 and .336, essentially 60 to 90 points above Hanson's current pace.

If we measure Hanson's BABIP success against other Brave's pitchers, the picture doesn't get much better. Jair Jurrjens has a BABIP of .298 for the year, Javier Vazquez currently sits at .305, and Derek Lowe has a BABIP of .309 despite posting a ground ball rate of 54%.

The most likely explanation for Hanson's current success is probably a bit of luck, limited exposure to opposing hitters, and a small sample size. Given enough time (say 6 to 8 more weeks), there's about a 80-90% chance that Hanson's BABIP reverts back to somewhere around .300, and his ERA drifts upwards of 4.00. It's not absolutely set in stone, but the evidence suggests that Hanson isn't as good as he looks, and sooner or later the results will prove to be less than stellar. As a Brave's fan, I hope he keeps it up, but as a realistic stats fan, I don't see it happening. If I were Frank Wren, I'd sell high and trade Hanson for a big time bat (Adrian Gonzalez would look great in a Brave's uni).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quick Hits from the Minors and Elsewhere

Hey folks, it's been a while since I posted, and it looks like my summer load at school is only going to get worse. But, I thought I'd take a second and throw out some names from the minors and the majors.

P.S. I take my national board exam August 11th, so after that I should have a lot more time to post.

David Price -- Not as bad as he has looked lately, but the expectations were too high, even after underwhelming performances in the minors. I'm glad I had him as the #5 pitching prospect going into 2009, and not #1 like every other prospect site.

Pablo Sandoval -- If his doubles start to clear the fence, he could be the best hitter on the west coast not named Manny.

Jordan Lyles -- Anyone else watching this guy?

Trevor Cahill -- Looking very good since adding a Greg Maddux sinker.

Matt Wieters -- Give him about 10 more games, and then I think the numbers will begin to match the hype.

Chris Davis -- Ugh. For the benefit of Davis and the Rangers, he needs to work this all out in AAA.

Matt LaPorta -- The Indians really did him a disservice with the way they handled his call-up. Minimal playing time, and then back to AAA. Good job, Cleveland.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Draft Day Tips for Major League Teams

It's draft day for the MLB, which means Stephen Strasburg is soon to be a very rich dude, and a bunch of major league teams are about to drop a ton of money on a handful of kids that -- according to history -- will probably flame out in the minors 5 or 6 years from now. However, there are several teams out there that have shown an increased capacity to make the most of their picks, often out performing teams with considerably more picks in early rounds. How do they do it? Here's a few basic principles the best drafting teams have in common.

1. Draft college hitters based off of their stats at the age of 20. By 21 or 22 years of age, just about any college hitter should be dominating, but it takes a really good hitter to do it at 20. However, beware big freshman numbers at the age of 19. Opposing pitchers might be caught off guard the first time around, so the second year stats are a better reflection of how well a hitter is truly capable of adjusting against a savvy opponent.

2. When it comes to college pitchers, stick to the basics. Strikeouts, walks, and ground ball rates (comment: college level ground ball rates are usually very hard to come by, so teams will need very dedicated scouts to assess this particular stat).

3. To expand on college pitcher stats, keep rule #1 in mind. If a pitcher is blowing away the competition at the age of 20 (David Price had a 13.9 K/9, Tim Lincecum a 12.9 K/9, and Mark Prior a 13.2 K/9 at the age of 20), it's a good sign there's more to come. If he is 21 or 22 when he puts up eye popping stats, chances are the ceiling is pretty low. Also be sure to give proper consideration to injury rates, which sideline a very significant number of young pitching careers.

4. Avoid college hitters with poor K/BB ratios. Seems like a very basic concept, but the Pirates sure weren't aware of it when they drafted Pedro Alvarez last year (20% K% at 20 years old versus a 12.4% walk rate) and paid him somewhere around $6 million dollars to post a .800 OPS at A+ ball.

5. Good luck with high school players. It seems like every team is hit-or-miss when it comes to 18 year olds.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Prospects

Hey guys, just thought I'd let everyone know that I'm still here. I've been studying a lot for my national board exam and putting in a lot of hours seeing patients and doing lab work, so I haven't had much time to focus on baseball or write about prospects. I wish I had more time right now because as many of you know, there is a lot to talk about and analyze in the world of prospects these days.

Anyways, I thought I'd throw a few opinions and see if anyone has additional input.

1. If I were putting out a top 10 prospects list right now, Michael Stanton would be my absolute #1 pick, no questions asked.

2. If I had to choose a catcher under the age of 21, I would probably lean towards Jesus Montero, but Derek Norris is quietly making a very good case for himself. Keep an eye on Norris' strikeout rate once he reaches advanced A ball. If it stays below 18-20% and the power is still there, he could be a top 10 prospect very soon after that.

3. My #1 pitcher right now would probably be Madison Bumgarner (not counting Stephen Strasburg). There are very few players that can do what he's doing at the age of 19. I realize his breaking stuff isn't great yet, but when he's on, there's no one better right now.

4. I never saw much in Pedro Alvarez and never really was convinced about Lars Anderson.

5. Is Josh Vitters for real, or was May just a fluke? His walk rate is going to be a big problem, but he's got time.

6. Obviously, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson haven't been dominant during every start, but at 21 years old, the both have better ERAs than Fausto Carmona, Francisco Liriano, Randy Johnson, Ian Snell, Joe Blanton, and Jon Lester. Keep in mind that Greg Maddux posted an ERA of 5.61 at 21 years old, with a K/9 of 5.8 and a BB/9 of 4.3 (Brett Anderson is currently at 5.17 and 2.5 in those categories respectively).

7. Speaking of young pitchers, Rick Porcello has been amazing, and he's only 20 years old.

8. Pablo Sandoval and Billy Butler have almost identical stats right now, including walk rates, strikeout rates, BABIP, GB%, and LD%.

Anyways, that's all the time I have for now. Later y'all.