A look at David Ortiz's batting average gains in 2011 and those who have set a similar precedent in the past.
In 2011, David Ortiz did David Ortiz things as he challenged 30 home runs, nearly drove in 100 runs, and surprised fantasy leaguers by hitting .309 last season. This came off a 2009 season in which he hit just .238 and a 2010 season in which he hit .270, so a 39 point spike in his batting average was rather surprising. One of the reasons why Ortiz was able to hit over .300 for the first time in four seasons was his dramatic reduction in strikeouts. That was certainly the easier way to do it because hitting over .300 while striking out 120 or more times is a tough feat to accomplish. Matt Kemp, Alex Gordon, and Mike Morse all did it this past season, but they are just three of 37 players to do so out of the 934 players who have struck out at least 120 times in a single season.
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A look at relievers who have the skills needed to close and are just awaiting the opportunity
Today’s closers are mostly one of two things: yesterday’s failed starting pitcher or yesterday’s middle reliever. Rarely is a pitcher drafted and developed purely for the closing role, as many of today’s closers were once starting pitchers in the minors that either failed to stay healthy long enough to develop as a starter or never showed an ability to throw an effective off-speed pitch. The greatest closer in the history of this game, Mariano Rivera, had but one save in his entire minor league career, and it came in his first professional outing in the Gulf Coast League in 1990. Lee Smith had 478 saves in his career but had just two in his first 58 games in the majors and only 17 in six seasons of minor league baseball before the Cubs promoted him in 1980 (and 15 of those came that same season in Wichita). Brad Lidge never saved a game in his minor league career but was shifted to a relief role in his fifth minor league season because he was only able to pitch in 23 games in his first four years and amass 99 innings of work in those games (all starts).
While there is a confusing starting rotation picture for the AL playoff contenders, the NL is much clearer.
With the matter of the playoff participants in both leagues largely settled, on Wednesday I examined the unsettled nature of the playoff rotations of the likely AL representatives. As I showed, each has a considerable amount of unfinished business with regards to identifying their front four, with injuries and matchup issues both playing a part, and there's relatively little separation between the four, at least according to a quick and dirty measure I nabbed from Nate Silver's back pages. By comparison, the NL teams have much less uncertainty as to who will be taking the ball, and much more certainty about whom the fairest of them all is, at least when it comes to post-season rotations.
Player 1: In my last 105 plate appearances, I am hitting .316/.362/.531 which has taken my seasonal slash line up to a more respectable .273/.340/.432. In that time, I have 13 extra base hits, have scored 11 times, and have driven in 16 runs, but there are problems. For instance, I have struck out 32 times while walking just five during this run of success which is a stark contrast from my seasonal output. I have a nine percent walk rate and a 27 percent strikeout rate on the season, so the declines in both metrics are concerning. My home run to fly ball ratio is just 16 percent, which is likely sustainable, but my .435 batting average on balls in play is the second-highest at my position and trails only a strong candidate for league MVP at this time. I have a 30 percent line drive rate over the past month but was at just 20 percent before this hot streak happened. Still, this is quite an impressive run for a guy that still qualifies for the rookie of the year award. Who am I?
Jason matches movie titles with players' seasons as he discusses 2011's best and worst.
Twitter has a fascinating feature on a daily basis called “trends” that can be very entertaining at times. Last night, one particular trend was for males to describe a certain body part with a movie title and the responses ranged from predictable to hilarious.
Jason looks at his Holy Trinity of Skills and the pitchers who qualify for the honor.
A few times this past off-season, I referred to James Shields, Scott Baker, and Ricky Nolasco as the unholy trinity based on how unlucky they were last season. The three of them were in the end-of-season top 25 for SIERA, but their ERA’s were 5.18, 4.51, and 4.63, respectively. Skills-wise, each had strong strikeout rates and low walk rates, but all three were victims of untimely home runs and, in Shields’s cases, just too many home runs. This season (until last night’s performance by Shields), all three were in the top 27 for this season with SIERA’s of 3.62 or lower.
To avoid biasing our opinion, Jason gives the report on a player before telling us whom he's talking about.
One thing many fantasy owners are guilty of is visual bias. We hear a player’s name and our minds immediately jump to the last reaction we had when watching that player. Refusing to deal Coco Crisp for Edwin Jackson in 2009 was one of the main reasons why my AL Tout Wars season suffered and Mike Siano’s competed for the league title in the final hour of the season. People were down on Leo Nunez coming into this season based on late season struggles and, yet, he is near the top of the standings for save. Similarly, those that passed on Kyle Farnsworth because, well, he was Kyle Farnsworth have missed out on a nice season thus far.
Which players is Jason avoiding, despite their recent success?
The 2011 season has seen its share of odd moments already. Jose Bautista’s slugging percentage is higher than Albert Pujols’ OPS right now; Vernon Wells, Carl Crawford, and Alex Rios have three of the worst OPS in all of baseball; guys like John Lackey, Carl Pavano, and Edinson Volquez all have ERA over 5.00 following the “year of the pitcher”. One of the worst things fantasy players can do is run out and acquire players via trade or free agency based on small sample sizes or news bits that flash across the screen, just because they look intriguing. Here are four players I recommend you stay away from despite their recent success, as you have likely already missed their good production, and will only be saddled with headaches.
Jason gives his first report from Tout Wars, so you can get an idea of who the experts are targeting on waivers (and if it's a good idea)
We are one week into the season and emotions are all over the place. If you were one of the two people in the world who targeted Willie Bloomquist in your draft, you are loving life, as he is stealing bases at a Vince Coleman-like pace. Conversely, if you spent big bucks on Carl Crawford, you are pulling your hair out, as he is well below the Mendoza line and has just two stolen bases on the season. I mentioned in my article last week that I feel trades made in April are not always the wisest moves, but I am all for aggressive behavior on the free agent waiver wire—that typically involves the release of draft day end-game speculations.
Are pitchers able to apply certain skills when a game calls for it?
One of the pitchers I enjoyed watching the most while I was growing up was Tom Glavine. Even though I was a Phillies fan and frequently saw him victimize my favorite team, I was impressed by the expertise he demonstrated on the mound, and how he perfected his craft. Glavine remains the premier example of a pitcher who out-pitched his peripheral statistics; he was greater than the sum of his parts. For the amount of strikeouts, walks, and ground balls that Glavine got in his career, he should never have been able to keep runs off the scoreboard as well as he did.
Is having pitch data available helpful in determining a pitcher's walk rates?
Last week, I looked at Predicting Strikeouts with Swing and Whiff Rates, breaking down pitch-by-pitch data to see if things like swinging-strike rates could provide more enlightenment when combined with the previous year’s strikeout rate to predict future strikeout rate. The answer was mostly negative. This was primarily due to two reasons. One was that much of the data on pitch locations is poor, and ensuing discussions highlighted just how poor it is. The other reason, however, is that strikeout rate is the quickest statistic to stabilize over small samples, so one year of strikeout data does a very good job of predicting subsequent strikeout data already. However, this week I will look at walk rate, and attempt to determine whether this data is more useful in predicting future walk rates. There is certainly evidence of value added in this case, far more so than with predicting strikeouts.
Pitch data shows that the amount of swinging strikes is not predictive of strikeout rates.
When I wrote about pitchers with major divides between their ERAs and SIERAs two weeks ago, a reader inquired why Clay Buchholz had such a pedestrian strikeout rate while having an above average swinging-strike rate. Buchholz has mustered just 6.2 K/9, nearly a full strikeout below the 7.1 league average, but has induced batters to swing and miss on 9.5 percent of his pitches according to FanGraphs, a full percentage point above the 8.5 percent league average. The question was apparent: Do pitchers who get a lot of whiffs increase their strikeout rates over time?