Today, I want to look at the inverse, and take stock of how hitting is on the decline. While there are myriad ways of attacking this issue, I’m going to focus on hitting for power because in standard leagues, hitting for power carries the most weight, affecting three categories (HR, R, RBI). While this is going to be old hat for some, it’s my hope that looking at the dramatic changes in power production over the course of two seasons will help us properly evaluate those hitters who do provide power.
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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.
On the surface, it looks like a close race, but after looking at opponent quality, there is a definitive winner.
The past few weeks have seen Justin Verlander solidify his standing as the AL Cy Young favorite as the Tigers have pulled away from the AL Central pack. Not that the 28-year-old righty has been particularly dominant lately. His home-run rate over his last nine turns (1.40 per nine) has been more than double what it was for his previous 22 (0.65), but because he's otherwise done a fine job of keeping opponents off the bases while receiving more than six runs per game of offensive support, he has collected wins in each of his last 10 turns. His 22 victories have matched the majors' highest total since 2003, and even for a voting body that's shown its evolution by awarding consecutive Cys to Zack Greinke (16 wins) and Felix Hernandez (13 wins), that's the kind of thing that will be noticed when ballots are cast.
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.
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 Street looks at the 1B battles in Boston and Atlanta, as well as the 3B situation in Florida.
Adrian Beltre will hold down Boston’s hot corner in 2010, replacing the aging, increasingly fragile Mike Lowell, whose offseason thumb surgery prevented an offseason trade and scared Boston enough to acquire Bill Hall. Heater’s Evan Brunell says Lowell should get as much playing time as his health allows to showcase him for a trade, and he could miss the start of the season after fouling a ball off his knee. Brunell points out that Lowell’s offense hasn’t suffered from his increasing immobility, and PECOTA agrees that he’ll have very little ratio dropoff from 2009.
Whatever PT Lowell gets won’t be at third, where the Red Sox have utilityman Hall, whose offense is barely acceptable at MIF and not at all at third base. Hall’s high K% explains his weak BA, and his SLG has plummeted from a .437 EqSLG in 2007 to last year’s .350 EqSLG. With plenty of position qualifications, Hall is an acceptable MIF option in a deep AL-only league, but not anywhere else.
Do the Yankees and Phillies stand a better chance of laying into the starting pitchers the third time through the order?
For the first time since 1926, the most powerful offenses in each league will be facing off in this year's Fall Classic, and fans and media have been busy pondering the ability of either pitching staff to hold up. Both the Yankees and Phillies boast deep and powerful lineups that can easily convert a few mistakes into crooked numbers on the scoreboard, and Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel have surely spent anxious hours trying to determine the optimal way to ensure their best available arms pitch the most and, most important, innings. The countdown to Game One has included speculation on whether the Yankees will stick with a three-man rotation, how much gas Pedro Martinez has in his tank, whether CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee can be effective through three starts in a seven-game series, and whether Manual will continue his careful use of volatile "closer" Brad Lidge.
Have some of us been overlooking the obvious when it comes to scoring runs?
If you have ever tried to explain the concept of Pythagorean Record to a baseball novice, you probably have had to answer the following criticism: "That counts the extra runs at the end of a blowout as much as other runs, even though it does not matter whether you win 10-0 or 15-0." The answer that we give to that criticism is that teams that can take advantage of blowouts have better offenses and those type of teams will be more likely to win close games in the future. That is the reason that we have thousand-run estimators that try to approximate how many runs a team will score on average, and why we evaluate players with statistics like VORP-measured in runs over replacement player. Runs are the building blocks of wins, and you win by scoring more runs than your opponent. We cringe when we hear offenses evaluated by batting average because we know that the goal of offenses is to score runs, not get hits.
Geoff Young recently used a BP Unfiltered post to come clean about his unrequited man crush on David Eckstein, setting off a wonderful comment thread in which readers described the players that they consider "guilty pleasures" - those that may not be stars, but are fun to watch nonetheless. Reading through the comments, I was struck by the many different types of players that can catch a fan's fancy, but one variety seemed to be particularly popular: The Little Guy. Maybe it's the David vs. Goliath matchup of the smaller batter versus the hulking pitcher that appeals to us; maybe we just identify with a more normal-seeming scale of player; in any case, shorter players seem to have some level of curb appeal that can't be explained by their stats.