CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (05/02)
<< Previous Column
Painting the Black: Si... (04/29)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: Ri... (05/07)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Raising Aces: Too Earl... (05/02)

May 2, 2014

Painting the Black

A Trip Through the NL West

by R.J. Anderson

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

A lot happens in baseball every night, and neither man nor Daniel Rathman can keep up with it all. So every few weeks we'll look at some stories within a division that would have otherwise slipped through the cracks. Let's start with the National League West.

Colorado Rockies
Walt Weiss might be the most unknown manager in baseball. The second-year skipper has more tenure than some of his peers, including rookies Matt Williams, Brad Ausmus, Bryan Price, and Rick Renteria, but Williams and Ausmus enjoyed longer, more distinguished careers, Renteria benefits from a larger media contingency, and Price is known as the guy who replaced Dusty Baker. Mike Redmond, also in his sophomore season on the bench, deserves consideration for most unconsidered, though Miami's tendency to change manager is a reasonable explanation for his anonymity. Weiss has no such defense.

In fact, the Rockies have fared well when hiring skippers. As Chris Jaffe wrote in Weiss' Baseball Prospectus 2014 comment, four of the five Colorado managers have won the Manager of the Year award during their careers, and the other finished in second. Giving the Rockies all the credit for their former skippers' success would be unfair; after all, Jim Leyland spent one season in Colorado, while Buddy Bell and Jim Tracy had previous managerial experience. The Rockies did launch the careers of Don Baylor and Clint Hurdle, however.

If you need proof of Weiss' obscurity, consider that the rest of Jaffe's comment focused on Colorado's improvements with double plays. When the man who wrote the book on managers can't find something compelling about a skipper, then what hope do the rest of us have? Let's try anyway by focusing on the fact that Weiss' second-place Rockies lead the NL in sacrifice bunts by position players.

The thought of a Coors Field-based team leading the league in bunts was unfathomable 15 years ago. Back in 1999, games played there averaged about 15 runs per pop. These days, the rate has declined and steadied at around 10 runs per game; still above the non-Coors average, but not by as much. (The exception being in 2012, when Colorado pitched poorly and experimented with a four-man rotation.) Asking any big-league hitter to bunt at Coors Field would appear a waste. To Weiss' credit, just three of the 10 bunts have happened at Coors Field, and it would appear that he has, for the most part, tasked the right players with bunting at the right times.

Four of those bunts were delivered by Brandon Barnes, while another four were split by Charlie Culberson and Charlie Blackmon; Drew Stubbs and Josh Rutledge dropped down the other two. Here are those hitters' credentials:

  • Barnes is trying to shake his no-hit reputation. In 550 plate appearances with the Astros, his strikeout rate exceeded 28 percent while he walked less than five percent of the time. Barnes has more than doubled his walk rate thus far this season, and has decreased his strikeout rate to below 20 percent. He still hasn't shown the bat-to-ball skills or approach to suggest the improvements are genuine, but he runs fast and tends to get the bunt down, which makes him the ideal sacrifice candidate.
  • Culberson, on the other hand, has stayed true to his no-hit reputation. He's reached base three times in 27 plate appearances.
  • Blackmon has been among the league leaders in average since the get go, and seems like an unusual candidate to bunt given his strong contact skills. He has attempted 10 sacrifice bunts throughout his career, according to Baseball-Reference, and has reached base four times thanks to his left-handedness and speed.
  • Stubbs and Rutledge are bench players coming off poor offensive seasons.

Now onto when the Rockies bunted:

Player

Date

Run Diff

Inning

Bases

Outs

Barnes

4/27

1

5

_2_

0

Barnes

4/13

-1

8

_2_

0

Barnes

4/12

1

5

_2_

0

Barnes

4/2

2

8

1__

0

Blackmon

4/30

0

10

_2_

0

Blackmon

4/28

0

3

1__

1

Culberson

4/23

-1

8

1__

0

Culberson

4/9

0

8

12_

0

Rutledge

4/20

-1

9

1__

0

Stubbs

4/30

3

3

_2_

0

Sabermetric wisdom suggests teams should bunt only in situations where one run is necessary, such as late in a close game. Weiss has stayed true to that thought, with eight of the 10 bunts coming in tied or one-run games, and six of the 10 happening after the sixth inning.

Weiss has strayed from the straight path a few times, including a few bunts in the fifth inning, and he seems to have a fondness for setting up the sacrifice fly that might stem from his playing days. Accusing a skipper of managing like he played is a common charge, but during Weiss' era (1987-2000), he tied for fifth in sac hits and ranked ninth in sac flies among shortstops. Whether that's at play or something else is anyone's guess, yet the Rockies finished highly in bunts by position players last season (fourth in the NL) as well.

Jack Moore wrote about the value of the bunt earlier this week, referencing Bill James' essay in his Guide to Baseball Managers. In the end, Moore excerpted James' conclusion, in which he wrote, "Maybe each of them had the right answer for his own team. The rest of us need to keep an open mind." Luckily for Weiss, he and his bunts are seldom on anyone's mind—even if they ought to be.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dee Gordon has been a pleasant early-season surprise for the Dodgers, hitting .344 with a league-leading 13 stolen bases. The spindly second baseman has always been known more for his speed than his power, and he's stayed true to his nature by recording more stolen bases than extra-base hits. Should he continue that pace through 300 plate appearances, it would be the second time Gordon has done so. How rare is that? Not especially for the Dodgers.

Since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958, no team has seen more players accomplish the feat than the Dodgers (47 times)*. Gordon would need another seven seasons to match Maury Wills' franchise record, but if he set his sights lower he could pull even with Steve Sax (six), Davey Lopes (five), or Brett Butler (four). Juan Pierre and Delino DeShields, by the way, had three each.

*The Athletics (40), Royals (38), Cardinals (37), and Astros (35) round out the top five, while the Diamondbacks (four) have the fewest among franchises.

San Francisco Giants
How long has Tim Hudson been around? It's one thing to describe his longevity by discussing his active ranks in wins (first) and innings pitched (second), it's another to point out how he's outlasted all the pitchers he once teamed with in Oakland's rotation.

Hudson led the A's in games started during his stay there, from 1999 to 2004, with Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Gil Heredia, and Cory Lidle finishing second through fifth. None of those four pitchers is expected to throw a pitch this season. Zito is sitting the year out, Mulder suffered an injury that delayed his comeback attempt, Heredia is retired, and Lidle is deceased. After those four there's Rich Harden, who hasn't thrown a regular-season pitch in the majors or minors since 2011; Kevin Appier, a 2006 retiree; and Ted Lilly, a 2013 retiree. Mark Redman hasn't appeared in the majors since July 2008, and Omar Olivares hasn't since September 2001. Jimmy Haynes is the last pitcher with more than 25 starts during those years, and he hasn't toed a big-league rubber in about a decade.

Skip Mike Oquist and you reach the only active pitcher besides Hudson: Aaron Harang. There are 14 other pitchers who started a game in the green and gold, and none of them will appear in the majors barring unforeseen circumstances. Not even youngsters like Kirk Saarloos, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Laxton, Mike Wood, Marcus James, or Blake Stein. How long has Hudson been around? He's probably going to be the last starter standing from the A's Moneyball days.

San Diego Padres
Hudson's opposite on Wednesday night, Robbie Erlin, suffered his fourth consecutive loss and exited with a 5.83 ERA on the season. The smallish southpaw hasn't pitched as poorly as those facts suggest. For one thing, most of the earned-run damage came in his previous start, when he yielded 13 hits and eight runs in five-plus innings versus the Nationals. For another, Erlin, whose delivery will remind you of Cliff Lee a bit, at least with how he angles his front shoulder, has about three times as many strikeouts as walks. While he lacks Andrew Cashner's stuff, his low-90s fastball and array of secondary pitches give him more room for error than fellow San Diego lefty Eric Stults. Add in Erlin's know-how on the mound, and he should pitch at the back end of a rotation for a long time.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Trevor Cahill has had a rough season. He started four games to begin the season, and allowed five or more runs in four of them. Cahill has since moved to the bullpen where, save for an ugly outing last weekend against the Phillies, he's found more success. In his other four relief appearances, the pudgy righty has notched eight innings, 10 strikeouts, and allowed zero runs.

Cahill is missing more bats and generating more groundballs in the bullpen while throwing the same rate of strikes. Those gains have come despite his velocity remaining steady. His pitch selection has altered a little, particularly in two-strike counts, where he's sacrificed some changeups for curveballs. There's seemingly little reason Cahill could not take his new approach back to the rotation, but Arizona's plans for him are unclear.

Kevin Towers fancies himself a sludge merchant and Cahill, who is due $12 million next season, could be one of his next projects.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

8 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (05/02)
<< Previous Column
Painting the Black: Si... (04/29)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: Ri... (05/07)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Raising Aces: Too Earl... (05/02)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Notes from the Field: July 29, 2015
Premium Article Field Generals: How the Cape Takes Shape
Premium Article What You Need to Know: July 29, 2015
Fantasy Rounders: Muscle Melk
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: July 29, 2015
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Angels Add to the Outf...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Papel-Gone

MORE FROM MAY 2, 2014
Premium Article Raising Aces: Too Early to Worry?
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Friday, May 2
Premium Article What You Need to Know: A Busy Thursday in Ba...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Thursday, May ...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner: Week Six
Fantasy Article TTO Scoresheet Podcast: An Interview with Jo...
Daily League Strategy: May 2-4

MORE BY R.J. ANDERSON
2014-05-08 - BP Unfiltered: Brad Boxberger Makes History
2014-05-07 - Painting the Black: Rites of Springer
2014-05-05 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: For Whom the Bell Toll...
2014-05-02 - Premium Article Painting the Black: A Trip Through the NL We...
2014-04-29 - Painting the Black: Singles Falling Steady
2014-04-25 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Ranklin' Franklin
2014-04-23 - Painting the Black: Some Things Brewing
More...

MORE PAINTING THE BLACK
2014-05-16 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Bullish on Dozier
2014-05-09 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Go Fix Yourself, San Die...
2014-05-07 - Painting the Black: Rites of Springer
2014-05-02 - Premium Article Painting the Black: A Trip Through the NL We...
2014-04-29 - Painting the Black: Singles Falling Steady
2014-04-23 - Painting the Black: Some Things Brewing
2014-04-18 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Super Twoing
More...