April 2010

Chris Volstad and Pitching Truths

by Eno Sarris //

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that there are different results on different types of batted balls, and that across baseball, these results hold steady from year to year.

When a pitcher has allowed a line drive this year, the batter has put up a .732/.730/.997 batting line.
When a pitcher has allowed a flyball this year, the batter has put up a .226/.220/.595 batting line.
When a pitcher has allowed a groundball this year, the batter has put up a .219/.219/.238 batting line.

Unfortunately for pitchers, there is little evidence that they can control line drives from year to year. Fortunately for pitchers, there is evidence that they can control the other two. Take a look at the slugging percentages on groundballs versus flyballs in particular. 

This brings us to Chris Volstad, a pitcher that is owned in virtually no leagues – at the time of this writing, he was available in 97% of Yahoo leagues. There’s a reason for that. Check out this screen grab from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. Volstad is doing very little right this year.
VolstadGrab.jpg

Very little is not nothing, on the other hand. Volstad has one important thing going for him. He can induce groundballs. His career groundball percentage is 50.6% and even in his struggles this year, he’s got a nice 48.2% number. That puts him at 40th in the league, which is not bad in itself. It is early going, though. If he had put up his career groundball percentage last year, Volstad would have been 13th in the league, right behind Adam Wainwright and in good company with Josh Johnson right behind him.

Returning to Steve Slowinski’s piece on the levels at which statistics become significant, we find this about pitchers:

Pitching Statistics:

  • 150 BF – K/PA, grounder rate, line drive rate
  • 200 BF – flyball rate, GB/FB
  • 500 BF – K/BB, pop up rate
  • 550 BF – BB/PA

We will have to count this as good news in Volstad’s case. He has a career strikeout rate of 5.67 K/9 and this year he’s lagging behind with a 3.47 K/9. Since he’s only faced 102 batters, we can hope the strikeout rate will rise. Derek Lowe was long successful with a 60% groundball rate, 5+ K/9 and a sub-3 BB/9, and these are all levels that Volstad could reach with a little work.   

It can be tough to try and dominate your fantasy league with a groundballer, that much is true. Especially the groundballers that don’t strike people out, since strikeouts are a category in almost any league. There are also better groundball pitchers than Volstad out there, and RJ pointed out a couple of them just last week. Volstad’s contact rate (88.1% this year, 83.4% career) actually sits in between the two pitchers RJ talked about (Mike Leake and Doug Fister), so he’s an interesting test case. He’s the third amigo you could say.

Perhaps you can leave Volstad on the wire for now. But don’t let anyone convince you that he doesn’t do anything well. Watch his groundball rates, and if they rise, and he manages to strike a few out along the way, he could easily make a good pickup in a deep league.

For more on the three amigos, Mike Leake, Doug Fister and Chris Volstad, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. 

Should you hold onto Nate McLouth, Jason Kubel and Alexei Ramirez?

By Eriq Gardner
 
One of the tougher tasks in fantasy baseball is deciding the appropriate time to let go of an underperforming player.
 
Cutting bait on high draft investments isn’t easy. Some players have experienced great past success. Some hold the potential for tremendous upside. If you drop one of these players, you’re admitting you were wrong in the draft. You may be giving your competitor an opportunity to capitalize on the mistake of a player dropped too early. Imagining a player finally performing up to expectation on another competitor’s team may be too much to handle. 
I call these players “toxic assets,” too much potential value to drop and too little return to do much good. At some point, though, fantasy teams can’t afford to burn valuable roster spots waiting for a player’s fortunes to turn around.
 
Let’s look at some toxic assets at the moment.
natemclouth.png
Nate McLouth went in the 10th round on average in 12-team mixed leagues. Despite hitting .160 with just a single home run, four runs scored, and three RBIs he’s still owned in more than two-thirds of all leagues. That’s understandable considering he was a stolen base shy last year of his second consecutive 20/20 season. This time last year, many saw him as a potential 30/30 candidate.
 
But McLouth is really struggling in Atlanta. His strikeout rate has jumped from a career mark of about 19% before this season to 34% in 2010. He’s taking a few more walks than before, but he hardly seems to be doing anything once he’s on base: no steals so far, not even an attempt. 
 
His lineup opportunity is also slipping. He’s been benched against left-handed hitters. And he’s now played more games this season hitting 8th in the lineup than batting leadoff. Dwindling opportunity makes him a reasonable candidate to ditch in shallower leagues.
 
jasonkubel.png
Jason Kubel went in the 12th round of average 12-team mixed league drafts. He’s coming off a season where he hit 28 home runs, drove in 103 runs, and nearly hit .300. He’s only put up two homers so far this year and his average his hovering slightly above the Mendoza Line. He’s still owned in nearly every league.
 
Kubel is suffering from a slightly unlucky hit rate, but nothing too drastic for a plodding batter with no speed. His ISO% is way off from .239 a year ago to .121 at the moment. He’s actually hitting more fly balls now than he was a year ago, but fewer of them are clearing the outfield fence. This could be partially the result of bad luck and cold weather, but the question is whether he’ll have a lot of rope to turn things around. 
 
Kubel is known as a horrible fielder, which limits his playing time in the outfield no matter how much Delmon Young struggles. Kubel has been getting plenty of at-bats at DH, but Jim Thome is nipping at his heels. Thome already has four home runs on the season and shares Kubel’s affinity for killing right-handed pitching. For now, we’d hold onto Kubel, but if he starts getting held out of the lineup on a regular basis, he might also be ditched.
alexeiramirez.png
Alexei Ramirez went, on average, in the 10th round of 12-team mixed leagues. He’s coming off a season where he hit 15 HR and had 14 SB at a very thin position. He’s also a guy who has a 20+ HR season on his career ledger. As of now, though, he’s done pretty much nothing yet is still owned in about 80% of leagues.
In 69 at-bats this season, Ramirez has only taken a walk once. That’s extremely worrisome, as his biggest improvement a year ago came from increasing his walk rate from a paltry 3.5% in his rookie year to a more respectable 8.1% in 2009. These days, there’s hardly any good reason why pitchers should feed him a pitch in the strike zone he can hit. He’ll swing at anything.
Alexei is hitting 7th or 8th in the lineup and seems to be a long ways away from making the case he should be batting higher. If he’s really just good for his glove, that hardly makes him much better than the White Sox backup at SS — Omar Vizquel. Of course, Ramirez got off to a terrible start last year too before turning things on. Also, it’s nearly impossible to find a quality SS on the waiver wire. Those are the main factors that would prevent him from being dumped off fantasy rosters en masse. 
 
But Ramirez’s owners may want to watch Chicago’s north side closely. If the Cubs promote super-prospect Starlin Castro anytime soon, and he’s available in your league, it may be time to waive adios to Alexei.
For more on Nate McLouth, Jason Kubel, Alexei Ramirez and other toxic assets, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

(Audio) BTN with Eno Sarris and What is WHIFF Rate?

By Bloomberg Sports //

Listen now! – (loads in new browser)

Behind the Numbers
Hosts: Wayne Parillo and Rob Shaw
Guest: Eno Sarris www.fangraphs.com

Total Running Time: 10:34

High Level Look

  • What is WHIFF
  • All about Mike Pelfrey and Joba Chamberlin
  • Eno’s unique introduction to the world of baseball.

More ways to get Behind the Numbers, talk to us, or just have a good time

For more on the hottest fantasy baseball topics and trends, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Garrett Atkins Era Already Over In Baltimore? Rhyne Hughes Promoted

By Tommy Rancel //

The Baltimore Orioles’ signing of Garrett Atkins this off-season was as non-descript of a move as you can get. Yet at the time of the signing, the move struck me as odd. Even before the season started, Baltimore was seen as a fourth- or fifth-place team in baseball’s best division. Therefore, handing nearly $5 million to a below-average corner infielder on the wrong side of 30 didn’t make much sense.

4-27-2010 11-06-36 am.png

Less than a month into the season, the deal looks as bad (if not worse) than it did in December. The 2010 season is very young, but Atkins has a paltry OPS of .564 so far. We warn against small sample size selections, but this looks more like a continuation of a larger decline than statistical noise. Atkins hit his OPS peak in 2006 (.965), but has seen his OPS decline in each season since:

2007: .853
2008: .780
2009: .650

As alarming, if not more, than the OPS decline is the power decline that has accompanied it. Using Isolated Power (ISO), which measures raw power by taking slugging percentage and subtracting batting average, we can see Atkins has been on a sharp decline in power since ’06.

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Atkins put up a stellar .228 ISO in 2006, but just a .116 ISO in 2009. To date, he is struggling to crack .100 in 2010.

Despite the season being less than a month old, it is pretty clear the Orioles are not going to be contending this year. With that in mind, some younger players in the organization could see significant playing time as the team looks for additional members to add to a strong core of talented players that includes Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz and others.

One of those players who stands to get a chance to prove himself is Rhyne Hughes. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Gregg Zaun last summer, Hughes has seen an increase in playing time due to Atkins’ – and the team’s – struggles. Called up just last week, Hughes already has three starts in place of Atkins.

Here are a few things to remember on Hughes: He is not a top prospect. At his age, 26, he’s not much of a prospect at all, and has always been a bit older for his league. More than likely, he won’t be a star at this level, but he wasn’t in the minor leagues either. With that said, despite the lack of hype and fanfare, he has been a fairly solid producer.

In more than 2,200 minor league plate appearances (PA), Hughes has a career slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.349/.457. More recently, he has toiled in Triple-A for Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In 368 PAs at the level, he hit .309/.367/.534, including 15 games this season with a 1.088 OPS.

Hughes is a bit of a hacker (strikeout rate over 30% last year) and doesn’t walk much (less than 10% walk rate in minors), but you’re going to find flaws in most 26-year-old minor leaguers. Meanwhile, the 2010 Baltimore Orioles are in a perfect position to find out if Hughes can have success at this level.

If you drafted Atkins, or picked him up off waivers in a really deep mixed league or AL-only league, drop him if you haven’t already done so. In his place (again, assuming you’re in a deep league) consider Hughes. He should be readily available in most formats and is likely to be given a chance at decent playing time.

If you have an empty spot in an AL-only because a player has recently hit the DL (Nelson Cruz?), give Hughes a flier for a few weeks and see what happens. There isn’t a lot to watch for with the Orioles, but Rhyne Hughes could inject a little excitement to an otherwise ugly season.

For more on Rhyne Hughes and other unlikely sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits

(Video) Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities

by Jonah Keri //

Welcome to Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures, hosted by Bloomberg TV’s Michele
Steele and Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy baseball analyst Rob Shaw. Each day they
discuss the trends and headlines that impact fantasy baseball the same way
Bloomberg News monitors the stories that move the financial markets. Who are
the bears and bulls? Who are the hottest commodities? You get the idea.

Ballpark Figures: Hot Commodities — Bloomberg TV’s Michele Steele talks fantasy baseball with Bloomberg Sports’
fantasy analyst Rob Shaw. Why are Royals middle infielder Alberto Callaspo and
Diamondbacks second baseman Kelly Johnson “Shaw Bets!” and how has
Diamondbacks closer Chad Qualls rebounded from a rough start to become
“Michele’s Steal!”?

Is B.J. Upton Back to Being Powerful?


By R.J. Anderson //

Formerly a top draft pick and uberprospect, B.J. Upton broke out in 2007 with 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Those stats were accumulated despite Upton missing roughly 30 games with a strained quadriceps muscle and changing positions for the third time. Since then, Upton has played most of the previous two seasons and in every game this year, yet he’s racked up a total of 24 homers.To say Upton’s 2007 looks like a tease is being kind. With four home runs in the first 19 games, is it time to start wondering whether Upton’s power is back?

Early in the 2008 season, Upton suffered a torn labrum while attempting to rob a home run. He fought off surgery until after the season, which helps to explain his zapped homer production as well as his increased number of groundballs hit. The reality is the more groundballs Upton hits, the fewer extra-base hits he’ll rack up. Even with elite speed, Upton’s not turning grounders through infield holes into doubles. In 2009, Upton hit fewer grounders but showed signs of rust and did not hit the ball well when he connected.

Over the winter, Upton spent ludicrous amounts of time with the Tampa Bay Rays’ new hitting coach Derek Shelton. So far, that work is paying off. Upton’s .239 ISO (a metric which is derived from subtracting batting average from slugging percentage so as to not count singles twice) would mark a career high by a good margin. He’s hitting a career-low number of groundballs, with a career-high flyball rate. His homers per fly ball ratio is around the mark he set in 2007.

bj1.pngOnly 28.8% of Upton’s batted balls are turning into hits, a stark contrast from a career 33.8% rate driven partly by his excellent speed. If his BABIP rises toward career norms, that would also boost his batting average. Meanwhile, Upton’s 13.4% walk rate is extremely attractive in leagues that count on-base percentage, especially if his BABIP rebounds.

The open question remains what will happen to Upton’s power, underscored by his current lofty .507 slugging percentage. The common perception is that Upton has began going the opposite way more and dumping balls into right field that he would’ve fouled off or whiffed at in the past. That perception is simply untrue. Using data provided by FanGraphs, we can chart how many balls Upton puts into play, and how many of those are hit to right field (since Upton is a right-handed batter). Here are those numbers:

Year BIP Oppo%

2007 325 28

2008 407 31.2

2009 414 24.4

2010 56 23.2


Upton is actually hitting fewer balls the other way than ever before. Still, Upton’s batting average while going the other way is well over .400, which suggests he’s hitting the ball decently when he does go the other way. That’s an important part of the equation.  

Who knows whether this will continue. Upton certainly has the upside and potential to be a 30/30 threat, but if you value risk minimization over reward maximization, then you should consider selling high on Upton. Remember that you already spent a high draft pick to get him, though. If you can’t find a trade partner who values Upton like the super prospect with 30/30 potential, you can sit tight rather than sell for 80 cents on the dollar.

For more about B.J. Upton and other power/speed threats, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.  

Why Player Injuries Don’t Have To Hurt

By Eriq Gardner
There’s nothing more aggravating in fantasy baseball than dealing with injuries. We can’t control when they occur. And we may feel victimized when fate treats the health of our competitors’ rosters more kindly than our own.
But on second thought, injuries provide one of the best tests of real competition. These days, everyone has access to the opinions of experts or can use cutting edge tools like the ones provided by Bloomberg Sports to make roster decisions. But there’s hardly any consensus approach about what to do with a star player who gets put on the injury shelf.
Do you suck it up and do nothing? Do you sell your injured superstar for 80 cents on the dollar? Or might you look at the other side and look to acquire a discounted injured player who can potentially help out down the road?
In looking at a portfolio of assets such as a fantasy baseball roster, and figuring out how to mitigate risk and capitalize on upside, there’s great divergence in strategy. Isn’t that what makes fantasy baseball so great?
BaseballHQ’s Ron Shandler recently pointed out that last year, among the top 276 players, more than 50% ended up missing time — the majority from injuries. This year, more than 10% of players have already experienced injury, including top fantasy superstars such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, Brian Fuentes, Cliff Lee, Huston Street, Jimmy Rollins, Lance Berkman and Manny Ramirez.
The owners of these players have big decisions on their hands: Hold or sell? Other owners may also be tempted into action: Acquire or stay clear?
The decision will often make or break a fantasy season. And as you’ll see by the diagram below, which charts recent trades made in real fantasy leagues, injured superstars like Ellsbury, Roberts, and Rollins are being dealt for widely divergent returns. This is understandable considering that rest-of-the-season projections on these players are hard to figure out with much precision at all:
injuredplayertrades.png
Scott Kazmir and Zack Greinke have little value commonality these days except for the fact that each brought back Jacoby Ellsbury in trade. Presumably, in one fantasy league, an Ellsbury owner panicked and got whatever he could for his Red Sox outfielder who was just diagnosed with hairline fractures in four of his ribs. In another fantasy league, an Ellsbury owner got a lot more — Zack Greinke, who went behind Ellsbury in many drafts (though not too far behind).
I don’t believe there’s any absolute rule when it comes to what teams should do with injured players except one: Don’t sit still. Many people shrug off any necessity to take action, but that’s a big mistake when the possibility exists of mitigating lost value from injuries or capitalizing on another owner’s frustration. Some of the owners making trades in the above graph have it right.
Here are some more common sense tips:
  • Do research and understand the injury: What’s the timeframe for return? What’s the risk of injury setbacks or injury re-occurrences? How long until a player can really rehabilitate and perform up to the usual standard?
  • Watch out for misleading news: It’s almost a cliché these days that a player is making “significant progress” in his road to recovery. Reporters have a duty to check up with team management about a player’s status. Rarely do they get an honest response. The spin is usually positive. For buyers, this means tread carefully. For sellers, the moment that news story hits about a player being ahead of schedule on his road to return, this might represent the best opportunity to explore the trade market.
  • Correctly factor an injured player’s expected contribution to your team: If your player is going to miss 20% of the season, you might think that means the standard for return in trade is 80%. But keep in mind that even without a trade, you’ll be plugging someone off of reserves or the waiver wire who will produce some. So maybe you’d want a player in return who will give you at least 90% of your injured player’s original value. For buyers, if your potential trading partner doesn’t realize this math, it’s a good investment.
  • Measure your team’s need for downgrading risk or upgrading upside: If your team is in the middle of the pack and can’t afford a big hit like a player injury, getting some value in return for an injured player makes sense. If your team is struggling or ahead of the pack with depth to spare, taking on an injured superstar’s upside is also a sound idea. Also keep in mind that a player who is injured can usually be put on the DL, which frees up a roster spot for another player too.
  • Be aggressive but cautious: Always assume the worst when it comes to a player’s injury. Professional ballclubs have a lot of money at stake with their players, so organizations are usually conservative in getting a player back into the lineup. If a player is said to be out two-to-four weeks, assume four-to-five.

Finally, I recently expressed some skepticism about whether so-called sell-high candidates like Scott Podsednik are really candidates for trade. Convincing people to move off of long-held perceptions about a player’s ability is usually easier said than done.

Nevertheless, sell-high candidates usually match up very nicely with buy-low candidates. One guy isn’t producing at all. That’s traumatic. The other guy is returning monster value. That’s exciting. This represents some kind of trading match: Scott Podsednik for Jacoby Ellsbury….would you do that deal?

For more on advanced fantasy baseball strategies, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

This Bud (Norris) is for You (and Your Fantasy Team)

by Eno Sarris //

Sometimes deep league managers have a hard time reading fantasy advice columns. “But he’s already owned” is the refrain of many a frustrated dude (or dudette). Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs did a little piece about ownership cutoff rates in fantasy leagues and what the definition of a ‘waiver wire guy’ is depending on the size of your league. The upshot is that players who are owned in 11% of Yahoo fantasy leagues or fewer are on the waiver wire if your league rosters 350 players. That number drops to 6% if your league rosters 400. So, in other words, if you are in a 14-team league with 25-man rosters, your waiver wire should be full of guys that have about an 11% ownership level.

With that in mind, let’s look at two very different pitchers who are owned in 9% of Yahoo leagues. They are both interesting pitchers, but it will be up to your personal preference whether you take Bud Norris or Chris Volstad in the end. Apples and oranges here, but we’ll cover Norris today and Volstad in a subsequent post.

Norris’ overall 78.2% contact rate this year puts him between Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez in that category — elite company. He was top-five in contact rate outside the zone last year, so it’s no fluke. He has a 9.5% swinging strike percentage in 2010 – which is above average (around 8.5% across baseball). So Norris brings legitimate stuff to the table.

NorrisGrab.jpgSome of his other peripheral stats are nearly off the charts.  His 12.08 strikeouts per nine  innings would be very impressive if he wasn’t allowing a correspondingly terrible 6.39 walks per nine innings. It’s a rare combo. Take a look at this chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools — those other three dots with huge strikeout rates are Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Jonathon Broxton. To approach that group’s overall performance, Norris will have to maintain his elite strikeout rate while also improving his command significantly. Is there a chance he develops his abilities further this year?

Let’s take a look at the locations of his pitches this year (click image for full size version). You may notice something about theNorrisLocation.gif red squares. Yeah, he’s all over the place with his fastball. Looks like rearing back for that gas really hurts his command of the pitch – only about 55% of those fastballs find the zone. Norris’ other pitches find the zone more than 60% of the time.

A look at the spin and movement graph of Norris’ pitches shows that he only really has two pitches this year. He’s a fastball/slider guy, and that’s why whispers of future reliever duty have followed him up the ranks. Satchel Price at Beyond the Box Score recently had a post that outlined the reasons to move a pitcher to the bullpen (Insider link), and inconsistent command of a smaller repertoire was one such condition.

NorrisMovement09.gifBut if we look at last year’s spin and movement chart to get a larger sample size, the change-up actually looks like a legitimate pitch (see how distinct the purple squares are on the left). Since he can command it better than his fastball and it has shown a distinctly different movement and spin in the past, the change-up might be Norris’ path to fewer walks in the future. This year, the change is getting the best whiff rate of his three pitches (19.4%); it has the potential to be a strong third pitch for Norris.

If you are interested in strikeouts no matter what the damage to your WHIP, Norris is already a play for your mixed league team. If you’re looking for further development from Norris, watch his fastball command and change-up usage. If they trend up in future games, we may yet see solid, more consistent starting pitching from Norris. He can certainly miss bats.

For more on Bud Norris and other flame-throwing starters, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.    

Jake Peavy’s Struggles


By R.J. Anderson //

Four starts into his 2010 season, Jake Peavy continues to experience some issues. He’s lasted beyond the fifth inning just once in four starts, and his usually solid K/BB ratio is down to a morbid 1:1. For perspective, Peavy’s previous career low in that statistic was 1.90 and that came in his first full season in the majors. Peavy is only striking out six batters per nine (also walking six) and he’s allowed three homers already; he allowed eight in 101.2 innings last season.

peavy1.png

One of the problems has been Peavy’s inability to miss bats. FanGraphs has batters whiffing at Peavy’s pitches 10% to 12% of the time throughout his career. His swinging strike rate this season is a disconcerting 6.4%. Why is that important? Because swinging strikes correlate extremely well with strikeouts. Which makes sense on a basic level — i.e. the better the stuff, the more swings and misses, and the higher likelihood of at-bats ending in strikeouts. Despite a static velocity reading on his fastball and a presumably healthy elbow, Peavy’s results — in a small sample of four starts, anyway — suggest his stuff has been subpar and extremely hittable.

peavy3.pngIt should be noted that Peavy’s increased gopherball tendencies are expected. As with any pitcher who moves from the National League to the American League, Peavy’s numbers are going to look rougher. Combine the improved level of competition as well as facing the designated hitter instead of a pitcher and you’ve got a recipe for a rising ERA. Peavy’s numbers are going to experience a double whammy though, since he’s moving from perhaps the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball in Petco Park to a the homer haven that is U.S. Cellular Field. About 10% of Peavy’s flyballs are going for home runs; the reality is that number is closer to the projected total than his previous seasons in Petco suggest.

Another thing to keep in mind about Peavy’s performance is his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). About 32% of the balls being put into play against him are turning into hits, which is high, but not absurdly so. Chicago’s so-so defense features iffy defenders like Carlos Quentin, so don’t expect Peavy’s BABIP to see much positive regression, barring a big streak of luck. That leaves Peavy as a pitcher who, right now, is throwing less than his best stuff and having it hammered around and out of the park. Not quite the pitcher who led the majors in strikeouts during the 2007 season.  

It might be too early to drop Peavy in standard mixed leagues, and he holds little trade value at this point. That means the best option could be placing him on the bench and waiting.

For more on Jake Peavy and other struggling starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.  

Big Mike Pelfrey and His Soft Stuff

by Eno Sarris //

There’s a riddle taking the mound for the New York Mets every fifth game, and he could easily take the Shaq-like nickname of the Big Conundrum.

Though he has a mid-90s fastball, Mike Pelfrey has struggled through the beginning of his career – partially because he has used the fastball too often. Take a look at this Bloomberg Sports spider chart for PelfreyPelfreyGrab.jpg last year – not pretty. The secondary stats were just as ugly, as Pelfrey also sported a below-average strikeout rate (5.22) and walk rate (3.22). He was rescued from irrelevance by a decent groundball rate (49.9% career).

So far this season, though, Pelfrey is riding high. The theories for the newfound success have been multitude. Jerry Manuel said it was because Pelfrey kept his secondary pitches down. Bob Klapisch said it was because he maintained his fastball velocity. In this case, Mike Pelfrey actually knows best about Mike Pelfrey. After his last game, he said the following:

“I feel like I am different, being able to throw the secondary stuff
for strikes… I think it got the point where, in the seventh inning, I
didn’t throw any fastballs, I threw all off-speed pitches, and that’s
something I would never have done.”

As my creative writing teacher said, always show something rather than tell it. So let’s show Pelfrey’s new approach in some pictures, shall we? Since different systems classify cutters PelfreyMovement09.gifas different pitches, we’ll count them both as fastballs for the purposes of this analysis. Let’s take a look at his starts from late last year. All those red triangles? Fastballs – he threw them 77.1% of the time last year. He also added a sprinkling of sliders (14.4%), changeups (5.1%) and curveballs (2.5%). But the diet was mostly fastballs.

Fast forward to this year. You might notice immediately that Pelfrey has not been getting more sink on his secondary pitches this year (see the dispersed green and blue dots?), so Manuel’s idea is out. And Pelfrey’s averaged 91.5 MPH on his fastball this year compared to 92.7 MPH last year, so Klapisch doesn’t have it right. No, the biggest difference is merely in the color mix. Even adding those yellow triangles (cutters) to the red triangles (to get our combined ‘fastballs’),PelfreyMovement10.gif you get 67.7% fastballs – lower than last year. Look at all the non-red in there – he’s upped the changeup to 14.1% and the curveball to 6.0% while using the slider just about as much (12.2% this year). 

An added look at the groupings of each of the non-red pitches seems to suggest that Pelfrey is still working the kinks out when it comes to his feel for the secondary pitches. The plots are a little scattered when it comes to non-fastballs. But obviously the new mix is working for him, and the most important thing is that he’s actually throwing these non-fastballs. He has a 6.86 K/9 this year, which is finally close to average (7.06 so far this year), and is much better than his career rate. He’s still getting lucky – his .231 BABIP will rise (.294 across baseball this year), and his 90.5% strand rate will fall (71.5% across baseball). But his xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching, a number that strips out luck. park effects, and aberrant home run-to-flyball rates) is 3.88, which would be a career-best.

In the end, the best news is that Pelfrey is throwing his secondary pitches. Period. Once the luck evens out a little, his ERA will probably regress closer to his xFIP. Fantasy owners are right to pick up Pelfrey off the waiver wire now.

For more about the new Mike Pelfrey, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.  

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