Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Phil Coke Is Now Throwing a Cutter

Last night the Tigers took a big lead into the 9th inning, leading the White Sox 8 to 3.  Manager Brad Ausmus thought this was a good time to get struggling pitcher Phil Coke some work as he had a little cushion.  It looked like Coke would get through the inning unscathed, striking out the first 2 batters.  But then he gave up a double, single and finally a home run to lefty Adam Dunn, surrendering 3 ER to an already bloated ERA.  His ERA went from 8.10 to 13.50 and his WHIP went from 1.80 to 2.25.  Even though he went 4 appearances without an ER to his name, Twitter exploded:

And there were many more just like that, some were not that nice.  

Curious on what pitch he threw, I went to Brooks Baseball and saw that it was a cutter.  In fact, he has thrown 17 cutters this year.   Now I don't remember Phil Coke ever throwing a cutter before, so I went back to his previous years and saw that he has only thrown 3 cutters before this year, all in 2010.  Pitch f/x data was still in in the early days then, so it is reasonable to assume that those pitches were merely misclassified.  

Over at Bless You Boys, a fanpost was made by J_the_Man suggesting that Coke throw less of his fastballs or even abandoning his sinker altogether.  Coke has evidently taken this a step further and switched to throwing a cutter instead.  Coke has thrown 15 of his 17 cutters in his last 3 appearances, so it's a fairly recent switch.  He still threw his sinker, but much less frequently.

Altogether, his cutter has resulted in 8 at bats being ended.  2 were strikeouts, 1 was a single and then the home run.  That's a batting average against of .250, but a slugging against of .625.  We're dealing with small samples for sure.  Looking deeper, both of the strikeouts from the cutter were from last night's game, so he obviously felt good throwing it.  It just didn't work on Adam Dunn.

Coke has thrown 13 of the 17 cutters to left-handed batters and only 5 sinkers to left-handed batters.  7 of the 8 at bats that have ended on the result of the cutter have come against left-handed batters.  This is where the transition is taking place, using the cutter instead of the sinker to get left-handed batters out.  Adam Dunn is a left-handed batter.  The pitch selection shouldn't be in question here, if it can indeed be a successful pitch to get them out (however his curveball has bee historically good against left-handed batters, so maybe it was a bad pitch selection).  The only at bat that ended on a cutter to a right-handed batter was a strikeout, though, so maybe it can be a decent pitch to right-handed batters too.

Here is a chart of his pitch location in/out of the strike zone from the cutter:



The home run he gave up was in the middle right of the strike zone, so it was a bad location as he did hang it.

And here's a chart of the whiff rate of his cutter:



As expected, the best results come from when he's keeping it down (and away from left-handed batters).  

Part of me wants to keep Coke around for little while longer to see how his cutter develops.  It is a new pitch for him, so some struggles should be expected.  Although I am also in the same boat as everyone else in that I'm about done with Coke.  His primary job is to get left-handed batters out and he simply did not do that last night.  Then I go back to small sample sizes and it was just one pitch on an attempt to correct something that hasn't worked the last couple of years.  I'm just very confused right now.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Al Aburquerque Is Being Aggressive in the Strike Zone

Al Alburquerque has only faced 24 batters so far this season, so small sample caveats apply.  However, he's only given up 1 walk for a walk rate of 4.2%, which is a much better rate than he has shown in the past (15.9% in 2011; 15.1% in 2012; and 15.5% in 2013).  Based on his plate discipline numbers, there is evidence to suggest a change in approach to attack the strike zone more aggressively this year:


Year F-Strike% Zone%
2011 51.7% 43.5%
2012 54.7% 41.4%
2013 56.8% 41.8%
2014 66.7% 59.7%

His percentage of pitches in the strike zone is up almost 20% from past seasons and even his first pitch strike percentage is up about 10% from last year.  

One of the reasons for this could be his pitch selection.  Alburquerque's best pitch is his slider and while he's always thrown it at a high rate, he's throwing it even more often than in the past (according to Brooks Baseball):

Year 4-Seamer Sinker Slider
2011
38.1%
4.8%
57.1%
2012
5.8%
31.4%
62.8%
2013
5.2%
29.4%
65.4%
2014
16.9%
9.1%
74.0%

This is concerning from an injury standpoint, but again it is a small sample.  

Visually, this chart shows where in the strike zone he is pitching:




Compare this to the 3 years before:



The bottom right corner is still a hot spot for Alburquerque (mostly his slider) but it can been seen in the 2014 chart there are more hot spots in the strike zone.  An encouraging sign for someone prone to walking a lot of batters.

Of course when a pitcher is throwing more strikes, there is the potential for hitters to make more contact:


Year Contact% Z-Contact% O-Contact%
2011
58.8%
74.4%
38.6%
2012
58.5%
66.7%
47.5%
2013
62.4%
80.3%
41.4%
2014
81.1%
92.0%
58.3%

Alburquerque has a fairly high BABIP (.333), but his line drive rate is only 15.8%, down from 25.4% last year, so batters aren't hitting him as hard as last year.  So even though hitters are making more contact, they aren't making hard contact, which is a good sign.  Therefore, there might be some regression here as the season goes on:

Year BABIP LD% GB% FB%
2011
0.250
13.6%
56.8%
29.6%
2012
0.222
11.1%
63.0%
25.9%
2013
0.312
25.4%
40.4%
34.2%
2014
0.333
15.8%
42.1%
42.1%

Visually, we can see where he's been given up the hits in the strike zone:


Alburquerque has given up 7 hits and almost half of them, 3, have been right down the middle.  Maybe he's being to aggressive in throwing strikes?  It's one thing to throw strikes, but you don't want to put in on a tee for batters.  
   
Another thing that Alburquerque is doing that we're not used to seeing are low strikeouts, only 4 or 16.7%.  In 2011 his strikeout rate was 36.8%; in 2012 it was 34%; and in 2013 it was 31.8%.  The low strikeouts are making his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) look not as good as in the past:

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP ERA
2011
13.92
6.02
0.00
2.08
1.87
2012
12.15
5.40
0.00
2.19
0.68
2013
12.86
6.24
0.92
3.72
4.59
2014
6.75
1.69
1.69
4.55
5.06

Alburquerque showing better control and command of his pitches is a good sign.  If he can keep it up, while still maintaining a low line drive rate and increase his strikeouts to where they were the last 3 years, he can possibly be one of the best relief pitchers in the league.  However, it's only been a little more than 5 innings, so it could just be a blip on the radar.  It's something to keep an eye on, though as the season progresses.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 Preseason Prediction #13 - Joe Nathan

Over the last decade, Joe Nathan has been one the best closers in baseball.  Since 2004, Nathan has a 2.14 ERA, 340  Saves and a 10.8 K/9.   A good argument could be made that only Mariano Rivera has been better over the last 10 years.  Nathan had one of his best years last year with the Rangers, with a 1.39 ERA, 43 saves and a 10.2 K/9.  

However, Nathan is 39 years old, so one has to wonder how much longer he can pitch at an elite level.  Also, with the small sample sizes relievers pitch in, a few bad games can ruin their stats, which makes it very hard to predict.  The good news is that Nathan has been very consistent aside from his 2011 season, the year after he had Tommy John surgery.  His last 2 years with the Rangers, he had a 2.09 ERA 0.98 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and averaged 40 saves/year.   

Nathan did have some good fortune last year.  His walk rate was over 3 BB/9 for the first time since he became a reliever, a sign that maybe his control isn't as good as it once was.  Also, his home run to fly ball rate was only 3%, the lowest of his career.  The four previous years, it was 9.1%, 9.6%, 11.5% and 13%.  It's reasonable to suggest that there's going to be some regression here.      Other batted ball data also shows some luck was involved:


BABIP LD% GB% FB%
2011
0.250
17.8%
34.9%
47.3%
2012
0.306
21.5%
45.4%
33.1%
2013
0.224
23.3%
32.0%
44.7%

Since becoming a reliever, his line drive rate has never been as high as it was in 2013, but his BABIP has never been as low as it was in 2013.  Having a high line drive rate and a low BABIP is pretty remarkable and unsustainable, even with very good defense.  I expect this to even out in 2014.  Also, his ground ball rate has never been as low as it was in 2013.  Since 2007, his ground ball rate has been above 40% every year expect his rebuilding 2011 and last year.  High ground ball rates are preferable since they minimize the potential of extra base hits.  If it's going to stay around 30% instead of 40%, that's a problem.  

I don't think Nathan will have a bad season in 2014, but given his age and these other stats, I don't think he'll have an ERA under 2.00 again.

Experts' Projection/Prediction:


IP SV ERA WHIP K BB
Steamer
65
35
3.03
1.15
66
18
Oliver
57
-
3.16
1.14
56
17
ZiPS
52 2/3
-
2.91
1.12
61
16
RotoChamp
62
35
2.90
1.08
68
20
CBS Sports
64
41
2.81
1.00
68
21
ESPN
62
42
2.76
1.02
67
16
MLB.com
63
40
2.57
1.05
69
19
FanGraphs' Fans (7)
68
41
2.39
1.07
78
20
 
My Prediction:


IP SV ERA WHIP K BB
2013 Prediction
-
-
-
-
-
-
2013 Actual
64 2/3
43
1.39
0.897
73
22







2014 Prediction
62 1/3
38
2.89
1.091
68
23
 
Fantasy Impact:  Mock Draft Central has his average draft position at 98, which is the 9th round of a standard 12-team league.  I always wait until about the 12th or 13th round to start drafting my closers since the potential loss of a good hitter or starter is too great.  I won't be drafting Nathan this year, but in the 9th round, that could be good value for him.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Preseason Prediction #12 - Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos had a fine year in AAA last year, hitting .276/.343/.450 with 18 HR and 76 RBI.  The Tigers called him up in September and he hit an empty .278 with no walks and no extra base hits in sporadic playing time.  He's been one of the Tigers' best hitters this Spring, hitting .373/.389/.627, easing some Tiger fans' minds that he is indeed ready.

Castellanos has always been young for the level that he was in.  He just turned 22 earlier in March.  To perform as well as he had in the minors against competition much older than him is a little remarkable.  Castellanos had a 121 wRC+ in AAA last year, tied for 16th best in the International League.  However, if we filter out everyone who is 26 years or older (an age where people tend to drop the "prospect" label), Castellanos moves up to 4th:


Name Age OPS+
25
143
23
134
23
133
Nick Castellanos
21
121
23
121

Nick Castellanos is the youngest of this group, which is pretty good for his development.  If he struggles too much at the ML level, the Tigers can send him down for more seasoning without the risk of him being a bust.  At least not right away; they still have time on their side.  This might very well happen with Castellanos as he tended to struggle in the first month or so after advancing to the next level during the minors.  Hopefully his good Spring will carry over to the regular season and we don't have to worry about sending him down.

According to Minor League Central, Castellanos had a 9.1% walk rate and a 16.8% strikeout rate.  Those were his best marks over his last 3 years in the minors, but he might struggle to maintain those in his first year in the Majors.  Conservatively, I'll go with around a 6-6.5% walk rate and around a 20-22% strikeout rate for 2014.  However, those numbers should improve as he matures.  

Batted ball data is also available at Minor League Central, but should be taken with a grain of salt as it is with different minor league levels and it might not translate well to the majors:

Level BABIP LD% GB% FB%
2011
A
0.401
19.5%
36.4%
38.7%
2012
A+/AA
0.384
24.0%
42.3%
30.9%
2013
AAA
0.307
22.4%
36.5%
37.2%

There first thing that sticks out is his high BABIP in 2011 and 2012, however that might just be a product of being a good hitter as it kinda normalized once he reached better competition in AAA.  He has shown very good line drive rates and his fly ball rate increased from 2012 to 2013, which could be a good sign of home run power if he can keep it around 40% in 2014. 

Experts' Projections/Predictions:


AB AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB BB K
Steamer
495
0.269
0.315
0.399
11
58
5
32
95
Oliver
550
0.255
0.310
0.409
17
73
3
43
118
ZiPS
599
0.277
0.320
0.429
18
64
5
36
117
RotoChamp
465
0.262
0.314
0.396
11
51
4
-
-
CBS Sports
545
0.264
0.320
0.402
13
66
3
45
109
ESPN
457
0.239
0.299
0.365
11
44
4
38
107
MLB.com
513
0.255
0.320
0.398
13
76
2
-
-
FanGraphs'
Fans (21)
475
0.269
0.324
0.411
12
57
4
38
102

My Prediction:


AB AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB BB K
2013 Prediction
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
2013 Actual
18
0.278
0.278
0.278
0
0
0
0
1










2014 Prediction
533
0.253
0.306
0.409
16
61
3
38
125

Fantasy Impact:  Rookies are generally a high risk/high reward when it comes to fantasy baseball, and I'd put Nick Castellanos in that category.  He could be one of the better options for a CI slot if that's the format you're in, however he won't get 3B eligibility right away.  Having both 3B and OF eligibility could be a plus for flexibility purposes.  In deep leagues, grabbing Castellanos in the later rounds could pay off greatly.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 Preseason Prediction #11 - Drew Smyly

Drew Smyly had a fantastic year in relief last year, with a 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 76 innings.  When the Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Nationals, that opened a spot in the rotation for Smyly.  He was a starter all through the minors and even started 18 games at the Major League level in 2012.  However, there is a durability issue here; the most amount of innings he has pitched was 126 in 2011.  


IP ERA WHIP K% BB% HR% FIP
As a Starter
95
3.79
1.21
22.3%
6.6%
3.0%
3.77
As a Reliever
80 1/3
2.96
1.12
26.8%
7.4%
1.2%
2.47

As with most pitchers, Smyly is much more effective as a reliever, but should still be good enough as a starter.  Smyly is still only 25, so he still has some time to adjust and improve if needed.  Such as improving his 5.3 innings/start.

Another area of adjusting is re-introducing his changeup, which he almost completely abandoned in relief last year.  According to Brooks Baseball, Smyly mainly throws two types of fastballs (4-seamer and cutter), a slider and, when he was starting, a changeup.  Having at least three pitches is ideal for any starter to keep hitters off balance while going through the batting order two or three times.  According to Brooks Baseball, Smyly threw 78 changeups in 2012, and all but 1 of them were against right-handed batters.  It was very ineffective as opposing batters got 4 hits in 7 AB, including  2 home runs and a triple.  Overall in his career:

BAA OBP SLG wOBA
Vs. LHB
0.204
0.254
0.315
0.252
Vs. RHB
0.249
0.311
0.425
0.319

Being left-handed, Smyly does better against left-handed batters than right-handed batters.  There's nothing alarming here as a .319 wOBA against is perfectly reasonable.  However, having an effective changeup against right-handed batters can really take Smyly to the next level.  

Experts' Predictions/Projections:

IP W/L ERA WHIP K BB
Steamer
125 9-7 3.92 1.29 110 43
Oliver
99 7-4 3.19 1.19 97 30
ZiPS
135    - 4.07 1.27 127 41
RotoChamp
134 9-6 3.69 1.27 124 42
CBS Sports
150 8-9 3.84 1.23 142 48
ESPN
168 12 W 3.91 1.27 149 54
MLB.com
179 10-9 3.72 1.28 168 58
FanGraphs' Fans (13)
161 10-9 3.75 1.21 147 46


My Prediction:

IP W/L ERA WHIP K BB
2013 Prediction
-
-
-
-
-
-
2013 Actual
76   
6-0
2.37
1.039
81
17







2014 Prediction
153 1/3
9-9
3.70
1.213
140
44


Fantasy Impact:  Smyly is an interesting case.  Due to a good strikeout rate and a potential ERA below 4.00, Smyly should be hot commodity.  However, there is a risk because of durability issues and a full season workload as a starter.  He's a good draft pick at later rounds, but use him carefully.