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July 9, 2014
The Lineup Card
Eight Second-Half Decline Candidates
1. Jean Machi
Machi doubled in that plate appearance, and ever since then it's been nothing but surprises from Machi, who finally made the majors with his fifth organization, at the age of 30. (Merritt, to complete the anecdotal lead, was last seen in Mexico last year.) Knowing that resume, anything he does should be considered a surprise, and projections will look askant at him. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I can't: Jean Machi will not continue to produce a higher WPA (as a hitter) than Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Joe Mauer.
Machi's WPA is currently .319. That's exceptional for a pitcher. Since 2000, only nine pitchers have ever bested it over an entire season, including Travis Wood this year, Micah Owings three times, and Mike Hampton in his seven-homer season in Coors Field. Hampton's .663 WPA that year remains the highest by any pitcher in the post-DH era, and Machi is on pace to challenge it. I don't think he will. I think that, if he gets more plate appearances, Machi will do worse. I really do.
Double against Merritt aside, there's no reason to think Machi is very good at hitting. In his lone plate appearance in 2013, he struck out in three pitches against Huston Street. In one of his two plate appearances this year, he grounded out to second. He never hit a major-league pitch out of the infield. That's not proof that he can't hit. But there's no proof that he can.
His WPA is, I will argue, based not on a true talent level but circumstances unlikely to be repeated. Machi was attempting a sacrifice bunt. He laid down that sacrifice bunt, a point to his credit. Then the pitcher fielded that bunt, threw it into right field, and, with one out in the top of the 13th, allowed one Giants baserunner to score and two others (including Machi) to end up in scoring position. It's the 16th most important batting event by a Giant this year, by WPA. Ben Lindbergh has written glowingly about players (like Nori Aoki) who have demonstrated a true ability to reach base on errors, and it's possible that Jean Machi is one of these guys. But predicting the future requires making some assumptions. I'm assuming Machi is not one of these guys.
So there. Sorry, Jean. I hate to be the jerk who brushes aside the good stuff you've done, but peripherals matter; process matters more than results. I doubt you'll keep this up. (Also, as an aside, I worry about Machi's pedestrian strikeout rate as a pitcher, his suspiciously high strand rate, and the plummeting swinging-strike rates on all three of his pitches. But that's off topic.) —Sam Miller
2. George Springer
3. George Kottaras
4. The Detroit Martinezes
Some were concerned V-Mart could even return from his ACL injury two years ago. I figured he’d be able to climb back into a .300 singles machine. But his slugging is better than Miguel Cabrera right now. He’s also getting pitches to hit because the free-swinging J.D. Martinez, suddenly *his* protection, is mashing everything that moves. He already has a career-best 12 home runs, six of them in the ninth inning and four of those in blowout losses. He’s another nice story, because being released from Houston always contains the markings of a good comeback, but 1.000 OPSes are reserved for Hall of Famers, not fourth outfielders.
Once JD-Mart starts regressing, we’ll see V-Mart receiving fewer pitches to hit, along with his fly balls landing in the mitts of millionaires instead of fans. —Matt Sussman
5. Kurt Suzuki
Jedd Gyorko came up first by this method, but due to his injury, he won’t be playing again soon. A little further down the list, in the 12th spot, was Kurt Suzuki, unexpected success story. Suzuki came from Washington in the offseason to play a better than respectable catcher, even earning an All-Star nod for the hometown team. But in his last roughly 500 pitches in the majors, opposing throwers have decided to see how Suzuki responds to pitches in the dead center of the zone.
It doesn’t take a statistician to see that Suzuki’s zone distance is in a steady decline. Whereas Suzuki started the season strong, ringing up a 129 OPS+ in April/March, his June fell back to a more pedestrian 102, and his last two weeks have been especially poor (.250/.302/.325). It may be the case that Suzuki has been figured out.
PECOTA never bought Suzuki’s breakout, and discerning observers couldn’t pinpoint any particular modification to Suzuki’s approach which would cause such a resurgence. When PECOTA, opposing pitchers, and one’s eyes agree, it seems a good bet that Suzuki will regress. He’s a deserving All-Star on the basis of his first half play, but just don’t expect it to continue. —Rob Arthur
6. Danny Duffy
7. Mikie Mahtook
So Mikie likes it, where “it” = Triple-A rather than Life cereal. Free Mikie! However: Mahtook’s numbers are skewed by a .402 BABIP, second in the league only to, um, Steven Souza, Jr. He’s batting .467 against left-handers after hitting a little over .250 against them in 2012 and 2013. Mahtook’s 0.36 BB/K rate isn’t pretty, and it’s not far out of line with his numbers from Double-A last year if you adjust for a higher league. Nor was a scout at the ballpark recently much impressed by Mahtook’s outfielding. And Mahtook isn’t as fast as he looks, either.
So let’s stay calm, for now. We’re not yet sure how good Mikie Mahtook is, summer is getting hot and heavy, and the regression has actually already begun: on June 17, Mahtook was hitting .325/.399/.517. The Rays can certainly afford to wait. It may be that they already have a virtual duplicate of Mahtook on their big-league roster. Brandon Guyer is a cut, toolsy right-handed outfielder with some holes in his game (and a poor BB:K rate) who nonetheless looks promising. And when Wil Myers returns from injury, even Guyer may be out of a major-league job. —Adam Sobsey
8. Teddy Roosevelt