This weekend, I’m in Phoenix watching AFL games and talking baseball with about 150 people at Ron Shandler’s First Pitch Arizona. This morning, I was part of a panel with Rotowire’s Jeff Erickson, LongGandhi’s Trace Wood, Baseball HQ’s Doug Dennis and the Rotoman, Peter Kreutzer. The task: run through a list of 20 players whose performance ran against expectations in 2007.
Below you’ll find the text of the handout I prepared for the panel, for which I had four “primary” players, and could chime in on the other 16. You won’t get the flavor of the panel from this–”Jack Cust struck out more often than Elton John at a Toby Keith concert”–but it’s food for thought on a Saturday.
Twenty players, five panelists, an 8 a.m. start time. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Jeremy Bonderman: Bonderman’s disappointing season was really a disappointing 10 starts at the end of a season curtailed by a sore elbow. If you look at his game logs, you can almost pinpoint when the injury began affecting his performance. He was having his usual problems with balls in play through mid-July, but his peripherals were fine. Starting July 24, his walk rate doubled, his strike percentage dropped, his home-run rate and HR/FB doubled and his K/BB dropped from 4:1 to barely 1.5:1. Bonderman simply had less command of less effective stuff for six weeks before being shut down in early September. FLUKE
Travis Hafner: His year looks worse compared to his peak 2006 than it does compared to his level. In fact, if you average his 2006 and 2007, you get a line that looks almost exactly like his 2004 and 2005 numbers:
Sometimes even a full season isn’t enough to smooth out variance. Two years ago, Hafner drew some extra walks and traded doubles for homers, creating a peak year. In 2007, Hafner saw his walk and strikeout rates both fall, while at the same time he lost a lot of hits on balls in play and a ton of power. Some of this may have been due to an injury to his left (plant) leg, but not enough to account for the falloff. Encouraging was a September in which he hit at his expected level. FLUKE
Jack Cust: His performance is almost completely unsustainable. Cust strikes out far too often—just shy of once every three plate appearances—to support even last year’s .256 batting average. His batting average on contact was a ridiculous .437 in 2007, a mark that is one of the top 20 posted since 1960. Prior to ’07, Cust’s career mark here was .376, a typical figure for a low-contact slugger. If paired with the rest of his line, that mark would leave him as approximately Rob Deer-flavored .220/.350/.460 hitter, with negative defensive value or a DH job. One other negative: Cust was actually a groundball hitter in 2007, with a G/F of 1.3. FLUKE
Fausto Carmona: Carmona’s ugly duckling/beautiful swan act relative to his 2006 struggles got the play, but it was his 2007 transition that was more interesting. He opened the year with a Chien-Ming Wang act, striking out just 23 men in his first nine starts through Memorial Day. He was benefitting from a low BABIP (.277), which was holding his ERA down despite good, but not great, walk and home-run rates. The strikeout rate was not consistent with his career to date. After Memorial Day, Carmona’s ERA rose in his final 23 starts, he won a lower percentage of his starts and his winning percentage fell, but he pitched much better: 114 strikeouts, 44 walks and 10 homers allowed in 152 2/3 innings.
It’s clear, as you look at Carmona’s season as a whole, that the aberrant first nine starts shaded the opinion of him as the season wore on. He misses bats, more than enough to slot him closer to groundball/strikeout pitchers such as Kevin Brown and Bartolo Colon rather than pure groundballers such as Wang or teammate Jake Westbrook. His skills, including a power sinker, make him one of the most attractive assets in the game. FACT
Horning in on everyone else’s action…
Ryan Braun: The guy can rake, and while ’07 might be near the top of his range, he’ll get there again. Fact.
Brandon Phillips: Last two years fit early projections to a T. Thirty HRs is a peak, but he’ll hit 20 again. Fact.
Jorge Posada: Just a big BABIP year, and he’s closing in on 1400 games caught. Fluke.
Dmitri Young: Nice story, but also a fluke BABIP guy. Underlying indicators are poor. Fluke.
Ervin Santana: Pitched well enough after his return (39/16 K/BB, 3 HR in 40 IP) to sustain hope. Fluke.
J.J. Hardy: Shape of season was more interesting than the end results, which were right in line. Fact.
Brian Bannister: Reminds me of Mike Dunne 1987. There never was a Mike Dunne 1993. Fluke.
Jason Bay: It’s easy to say “injuries,” but man, 40 walks and 15 bombs is a huge drop. Nevertheless… Fluke.
Eric Byrnes: Hit righties for the first time. Collapsed down the stretch for the fifth. Fourth outfielder. Fluke.
Jeremy Guthrie: Almost impossible to know how much was him and how much was Mazzone. Fluky fact.
Vernon Wells: He’s had more of these seasons than 2006s, making this, more or less, his level. Fact.
Ted Lilly: Not much difference between this and the rest of his career after you account for league. Fact.
Andruw Jones: Looks like Hafner to me, just a yearlong struggle with variance. He’s not close to done. Fluke.
Josh Barfield: He has no concept of the strike zone, which makes the low BA and OBP inevitable. Fact.
Carlos Pena: Conceding that this was a career year, he’s always had starting-1B skills. Fact.
David Bush: His year wasn’t much different from his career. FB rate isn’t changing. Fact.