The latest on the longest season-starting walkless streaks.
It’s appropriate that Jeff Keppinger’s first walk of 2013 was a game-winner. After 140 plate appearances without one—150 dating back to the end of last season—it would’ve been a shame if the walk we’d all been waiting for hadn’t helped the White Sox win.
Before we can attempt to figure out why a player improved or regressed, we have to figure out how much his performance actually changed.
Quick, which player had the greatest change in on-base percentage from 2011 to 2012? Did you say Houston Astros pitcher Aneury Rodriguez? In 2011, Rodriguez went 0-for-9 with two sac bunts. In 2012, Rodriguez appeared in only one major-league game, but he came to the plate once and got a hit. Rodriguez went from a seasonal OBP of .000 to 1.000. It doesn't get bigger than that.
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Answers to some of the most unanswerable and most easily answerable questions about baseball on the internet.
This weekend, dozens of people with baseball-related questions went to Yahoo! Answers to get answers from yahoos. Get it? I switched the words. What I'm saying is Yahoo! Answers, everybody. The best. Especially the best for baseball questions, which, in nearly all cases, could be answered quickly by one of the many websites that track and record every pitch ever thrown, or else are entirely unanswerable. Just the very, very best.
Rather than leave these poor people without answers to their questions, I'd like to answer a few of this weekend's questions. Only the most important ones, obviously. Let's go answer some nutballs' questions!
Sabermetric pioneer Pete Palmer tackles the hit and run and other statistical topics.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Pete Palmer is the co-author of The Hidden Game of Baseball with John Thorn and co-editor of the Barnes and Noble ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia with Gary Gillette. Pete introduced on-base average as an official statistic for the American League in 1979 and invented on-base plus slugging, now universally used as a good measure of batting strength. A member of SABR since 1973, his baseball data is used by the SABR Encyclopedia, MLB.com, Retrosheet, ESPN, and Baseball-Reference.com. He was selected by SABR to be in the inaugural group of nine given the Henry Chadwick award in 2010. Pete is also the editor of Who’s Who in Baseball, soon to be celebrating its 100th anniversary. His latest book, Basic Ball: New Approaches for Determining the Greatest Baseball, Football, and Basketball Players of All-Time, was released late last year.
A lot of younger veterans are having huge starts to their years, but are the stat lines legit, or will they be turning back into pumpkins soon?
Last year around this time, I wrote a series of articles about the “All-Bounceback Team,” highlighting aging players who were off to such great starts that they had already provided more value than they had during the whole previous season, and predicting whether they could continue on at that level. In trying to put together a similar list this week, I noticed there are far more young veterans surpassing their recent performances than there were older veterans reclaiming their mojo. Thus, I’ve decided to use this year’s columns to identify whether these players’ performance so far points to a “Bounceback” for a veteran player, a “Breakthrough” for a young player who has never experienced much success, or is merely the “Balderdash” of small-sample success that’s doomed to erode.
It's red-on-red violence between two founding franchises, but who'll wind up dead?
Back in the '70s, the Phillies and the Reds were half of a quartet of clubs that basically owned the National League. Dial up National League post-season action, and you'd get the Reds or the Dodgers from the old NL West, and the Pirates or the Phillies from the old NL East. That foursome won nine pennants and 18 of the 20 playoff slots from 1970-79; get picky and run from 1971-80, and it's still niine of 10 and 17 of 20. Yet for all that, this will be just the second time two of the league's founding franchises get to square off. You have to be a fan of a certain age or owe a bit to Joe Posnanski to have much memory of the 1976 NLCS, which was the Big Red Machine's stepping stone to its second (and last) pennant—they had to go through crushing the Phillies first, sweeping three in the best-of-five, with the third game decided in Cincinnati after an exchange of blown saves.
Taking a look at TAv broken down by position, one month into the season.
Seeing what positions are providing you with the most offense is important when you need to make a trade or drop a player to make room for one on the waiver wire. If you're into positional scarcity, then knowing where offense is the most scarce (or prevalent) is key for knowing what a player's value is like contextually. Today we'll take a look at how each position is doing via True Average (TAv) thus far, and compare it to last year's end of season totals. TAv is a catch-all offensive statistic scaled to batting average--.260 is always league average, but each position can have a different average to it.
Now, it's been just over a month, so these numbers are subject to change, but the lowest at-bat total at a position this far in is 2650, so we're not playing with tiny numbers either:
Michael Jong examines Marco Scutaro in Boston, the curious catchers of Oakland, and the middle infield in Washington.
With the lack of depth at shortstop, many fantasy players who missed out on the early-round names are filling the position with one-category speedsters like Elvis Andrus and Alcides Escobar who will not kill you in AVG and runs and will contribute heavily in steals. Lost in this legitimate strategy is Marco Scutaro, a guy who does not have speed to burn but provides better balance in his categories. As of this writing, Scutaro is owned in only 62% of ESPN leagues, despite coming off a career year in which he scored 100 runs, batted .280+, and stole 14 bags. None of those stats are groundbreaking in traditional roto leagues, but they are worthy of a player who should do a bit more than ride the fantasy team pine.
The reasoning against Scutaro lies in the outlier 13.2% BB% which fuelled Scutaro's impressive .379 OBP and got him on base to score those runs. Since he had never walked at that kind of rate before, I imagine many wrote him off as bench fodder for 2010. The truth is that Scutaro only changed one thing in his approach: he stopped swinging at pitches both outside and inside the strike zone, a very repeatable change. Scutaro dropped his swing rate in the zone from the low 60% to 55.2%, allowing him to see more pitches and draw more walks. When he does swing, he has no issues making contact, yielding a consistent, if unimpressive AVG. PECOTA projects the move to Fenway should keep his AVG inflated in the .280 range. Batting with his OBP skills at the bottom of the Red Sox lineup puts him in front of good hitters in Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, ensuring that Scutaro will once again provide decent run totals. Given the consistency of Scutaro's contact and plate discipline, his contributions should be more assured than the performances of younger, upside-laden shortstops.
In the last of his preseason "Hot Spots," Michael Street looks at the underappreciated 1B Billy Butler, the increasing flexibility of DH Hideki Matsui, and how Scott Rolen and Juan Francisco fit in to Cincinnati's 3B picture.
For this final preseason Hot Spots column, I’m focusing on underdrafted players, anticipating our shift to targeting undervalued players during the regular season. There’s no better place to start than Kansas City, whose offense is projected by BP to score 741 runs, fourth-worst in the AL, making fantasy owners overlook Royals players.
One who doesn’t deserve such a snub is Billy Butler, whose 32.3 VORP in 2009 was second-best on the team. He’ll need to reach his 80thPECOTA percentile to beat that VORP in 2010, but even his 50th percentile has fantasy value. Though he isn’t a slugger, Butler’s 14% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate from 2007-9 show his strong BA contributions. If he can recapture the patience he exhibited in 2008, when he had a career-best 12.9% K rate, Butler could hit .300 again in 2010; his 60th percentile would get him there, while also cresting .500 SLG.
Michael Jong covers the catchers in Boston and St. Louis, along with the second basemen competing in Cleveland.
It seems the plight of Mike Lowell is affecting more than just the third base position. The inability to trade Lowell has forced the Red Sox to play him as a backup corner infielder. This saps the playing time that generally would go to starting catcher Victor Martinez, who usually backs up first base on his catching off-days. This practice has helped keep Martinez healthy and playing; Martinez has gathered 600+ PA in four out of the last five seasons. Heater expert Evan Brunell expects Martinez to pick up that slack playing more behind the plate at the expense of the husk of Jason Varitek. However, there is a risk with this move: Will Carroll mentioned in Boston's Team Health Report that Martinez' injury risk (he stands at "yellow" as of the report) is tied to his playing time behind the plate. Increased catching time may haunt the Red Sox, Martinez, and his fantasy owners.
While a big part of Martinez's appeal is his longevity, another major aspect is that he's just a good hitter. Outside of an injury-riddled 2008 season, Martinez has been consistently among the best offensive options at catcher. You can pretty much count on him posting an average around .300 because he is excellent at avoiding strikeouts; since 2004, Martinez boasts a superb 88.9 percent contact rate. PECOTA's 50th percentile projection of .286 is fair, but don't be surprised if he once again tops .300, as the 60th percentile on up has him hitting that mark. Martinez does not boast the best power, as his "Bash" (TB/H) are about average for a catcher. However, hitting cleanup OBP machines like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia should generate excellent RBI numbers. Martinez has reached 20+ homers four times in his career, but he is more of a ground ball hitter and will only reach that mark if he gets his maximum playing time as shown here. Varitek has shown little appeal for two seasons now, and PECOTA does not expect much change. Unless he begins starting regularly, you should avoid him.
Michael Jong covers the Angels' and Rays' catching tandems and the situation at shortstop for the Mets.
Any time Mike Napoli gets a bump in playing time in Los Angeles, it is a time for celebration for fantasy fans. Napoli is a good hitter in his own right (career TAv of .287 in 1294 PA), but he is even more highly considered given his status as a catcher. PECOTA is projecting similar rate stats to his career numbers (career slash line of .256/.358/.493), meaning once again that Napoli will be among the most wanted fantasy catchers in the game. With a projected BABIP in the .280-.290 range, Napoli will be only passable in batting average, though his ability to draw walks (career 12.3% and projected 10.7%) should make his OBP solid. Power is where his game shines; how many other catchers could give you an ISO above .230 and almost 33 HR/600 PA?
Of course, Napoli would never garner anything close to 600 PA. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former major league catcher, does not tolerate Napoli's sloppy defense and game-calling behind the plate. The concern is not without reason; BP's own FRAA measures Napoli as 17 runs below average in his career, and other measures are similarly unkind about his defense. As a a result, despite the fact that both Jeff Mathis and Napoli are right handed and show similar platoon splits, Mathis will still sap playing time from a superior hitter. However, with Napoli receiving some PA at DH as well as a 60% share at catcher, 460 PA seems very likely. At that PT, Napoli should still be an excellent option for both AL-only and mixed leagues. Mathis is the typical real-life backup catcher: good defensive reputation, but a black hole on offense that should be avoided by your fantasy team at all costs.