by Jonah Keri //
BallPark Figures: Stock Report — Bloomberg TV’s Michele Steele talks fantasy baseball with Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy analyst Rob Shaw. In today’s Ballpark Figures: Stock Report, Shaw tells us that Cardinals young third baseman David Freese is a bull on the rise, Indians outfielder Austin Kearns is bound to struggle, and Eric Young Jr., is an intriguing middle infield option that will enjoy greater fantasy value once the Rockies return to the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
By R.J. Anderson //
Almost every aspect of Brandon Morrow’s career has resembled a roller coaster ride. So is there any surprise that Morrow’s 2010 season is replicating that model?
Drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft ahead of hometown hero Tim Lincecum, Morrow failed to live up to expectations in the great northwest. Struggles with command and health restrictions that kept him in the bullpen for most of his Mariner career marked his downfall. Over the off-season he was dealt to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League.
The Jays placed Morrow in the rotation, hoping to squeeze the most value possible out of the right-hander. He’s since made five starts, yielding a 5.46 ERA. Morrow has allowed 17 earned runs, but seven came in one start and 12 came in the first two starts. In his last three starts he’s posted the following line: 19 IP, 25 SO, 10 BB, and a 2.37 ERA.
As always. Morrow features an explosive fastball at
upwards of 96 miles per hour. That velocity, combined with his draft
status, helped Morrow secure an annual position on numerous breakthrough
lists in the past two seasons. The hype makes hot stretches like the
one Morrow is now in difficult to evaluate without bias.
There is reason
to believe this is just a hot stretch, though, and not the new
Morrow has shown short stretches of success in the past, without following through. In September 2008, Morrow made a pair of starts against the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He pitched quite well, striking out a batter per inning and posting a 2.13 ERA. In July 2009 Morrow made four starts in which he struck out 21 and walked nine.
The only change in Morrow’s per nine ratios this season is his strikeout rate and a slight deflation in his home run rate – although he’s allowing the same number of home runs per fly balls hit. That increase in strikeout rate just screams unsustainable. Morrow’s swinging strike rate is up one whiff per 100 pitches – from 10% to 11% — and the only change in pitch approach is the strong implementation of a curveball. It’s interesting to see that Morrow is throwing his curve the most on 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts per data from FanGraphs, suggesting the key to his success has been an increase in strikes looking, rather than of the swinging variety.
Reality and history suggest Morrow simply will not continue to strike out more than a batter per inning. Consider that Morrow has only faced two American League East opponents this season (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) and those starts combined to see him walk 11. Also note that he’s yet to face the Red Sox or Yankees.
There’s a chance Morrow can post a sub-4 ERA, but don’t bet on it. If you can sell high, do it.
For more on Brandon Morrow, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
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by Eno Sarris //
Sometimes a player outperforms his minor league numbers by such a wide margin that it’s tempting to call it a Cinderella story on par with the imaginations of Bill Murray in Caddyshack. At the same time, the urge to dismiss such performance as luck is very strong as well.
To be fair to Casey McGehee, he did have an impressive debut. In fact, his .859 OPS in 2009 was the third-best OPS put up by a 26-27 year old debuting at second or third base since 1901 – if you set a 350-at-bat and 15-home run threshold. That threshold is significant, though: The power is the most surprising part of his game, as we will see.
First, let’s appreciate how nicely McGehee is following up his debut season. Since McGehee is eligible at second base in most leagues, we can take a look at how he stacks up against other second sackers in the spider chart on the right from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools. Sure, he’s not giving his owners many stolen bases, but otherwise he’s been more than solid. See those three dots clustered around McGehee in the scatter plot? They represent Dan Uggla, Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia. Heady company for the young Brewer.
But this sort of debut didn’t seem to be in the cards, based on his pre-major league career. His combined minor league line was .279/.332/.409; now, 518 plate appearances into his major league career, his line with the Brewers is .295/.355/.496. Maybe there’s something in the water (or beer) in Milwaukee. Of course the question is whether or not he can continue his elevated play, because those 2,800 minor league plate appearances weigh heavily against that proposition.
First, let’s look at his patience. McGehee has been showing an average walk rate in the majors (8.9%) and he’s bumped that up this year (12.1%) by not swinging… at anything. Swing rate is significant early in the season, and his 37% swing rate makes him the 20th-toughest player in baseball to coax into a swing this year. While he didn’t have great OBPs in the minor leagues, McGehee had above-average walk rates many years. Combined with his current swing rate, it looks like he’s become a more patient hitter and that his nice OBPs may continue.
The million dollar question, however, is if he will continue to show the same power. His isolated power (SLG% – BA) is .257 this year, .200 for his major league career, and .130 for his minor league career. That’s a stark difference right there. A quick check of the sample sizes needed for certain statistics to become significant shows us that ISO is one of the last offensive statistics to do so. In fact, McGehee has not yet reached the level of plate appearances at which his ISO would become significant, counting his career major league plate appearances (let alone one month worth of data this season). In other words, other players that racked up fewer than 550 plate appearances had an ISO that was less than 70% correlated with their future ISOs.
The strongest sign that McGehee’s performance will start correcting is his HR/FB rate. Right now he’s hitting fewer than a third of his balls in the air, yet 18.5% of them are leaving the park. That percentage is on par with Justin Upton, Adrian Gonzalez, and Evan Longoria, some of the most powerful sluggers in the game.
Unfortunately for McGehee and his owners, that’s the part of his game most likely to regress toward the mean. McGehee would still remain a playable option in mixed leagues if his power numbers fall back to Earth. But if someone in your league sees him as an elite infield option, you should consider looking into a trade.
For more on Casey McGehee, Martin Prado and other players outperforming their minor league statistics, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
The answer to that question is…a lot; at least right now.
After finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young award vote as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2009, Javier Vazquez is now the fifth-best starter for the New York Yankees in 2010.
Whether he’s earned it or not, Vazquez has gained a reputation for wilting in the spotlight. He struggled in his first stint as a Yankee in 2004, and was called out by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for not being a big game pitcher as a member of the Chicago rotation. With a 1-3 record and a 9.78 ERA after five turns through the rotation this year, he has only added fuel to the fire.
The biggest problem for Vazquez has been his control. In each of the past 10 seasons, Vazquez has maintained a walks per nine (BB/9) under 3.0. In fact, in five of those seasons – including 2009 – he held his BB/9 under 2.0. Here’s your first sample size warning, but so far Vazquez has walked 5.78 batters per nine innings. In addition to the increase in walks, Vazquez has seen his strikeouts per nine (K/9) fall from 9.77 in ’09 to 7.83 thus far. A K/9 of near 8.0 is still good, and very close to his career number of 8.14.
More walks and slightly fewer strikeouts are part of the problem, but so is some flukish batted ball data. Currently, Vazquez has allowed a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .349. His career number is .309. Vazquez has always been prone to the long ball with a career home run per nine innings (HR/9) of 1.17 and a home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB) of 11.3%. But this year those numbers are off the charts: HR/9 of 3.13, with a HR/FB of 22.2%. It’s safe to say with more time and a larger sample size, these numbers will regress toward career levels.
Beyond the controllable stats like walks and strikeouts, and the easily skewed batted ball data of the early season, one thing to look for when a good pitcher struggles – or when a pitcher is having surprising success – is pitch selection. For examples, check recent Bloomberg Sports’ articles on Kevin Gregg and Mike Pelfrey.
Here are some questions when looking at pitch data: Has something dramatically changed? Is the pitcher relying on one pitch too much? Is he working on a new pitch? All of these could be viable explanations. Just not in Vazquez’s case.
Looking at the pitch selection year-over-year for Vazquez, not much has changed. Keep in mind we’re comparing 200+ innings with 20 innings, but each pitch has been used within a one percent of last season’s total.
While the selection is the same, the effectiveness has changed. Vazquez got 12.3% swinging strikes last season. For reference, Tim Lincecum induced 13.4% whiffs last year, so Vazquez did pretty well. In his five starts so far, he has a swinging strike percentage of just 8.6%. That’s down sharply from his career 11.6% mark. The biggest difference has been on Vazquez’s change-up - from 21.9% whiffs in ’09 to 12.3% in ’10. Behind the change-up is his curveball: 17.9% swings and misses in 2009 to 11.8% so far this season.
One potential problem with the change-up could be velocity separation from the fastball. Thrown with a similar grip to the fastball, the change-up’s biggest asset is fooling the batter into thinking it’s a heater. It keeps the batter off balance due to decreased velocity and sharp movement.
Throughout his career, Vazquez has maintained about 10.5 miles per hour on separation on the two pitches. This year, the separation difference is less than 8.5 MPH. His change-up velocity is within two-tenths of career level, but his fastball is down from 91.2 MPH (career) to 88.9 MPH (2010). A decrease of more than two miles per hour is probably the biggest cause for concern with Vazquez.
We are not doctors; therefore we won’t speculate about injuries. However, Frankie Piliere, a former major league scout and now writer for AOL Fanhouse, suggests that it is a mechanical flaw that has his velocity and control down.
There is a chance Vazquez continues to struggle all season, but with the limited data on the season, it’s just too early to make that assumption given his history as one of the game’s better starters. With simple regression alone on batted balls, Vazquez is likely to improve as the season progresses. If you own Vazquez try to remain patient. As Piliere, notes a mechanical flaw is not the easiest thing to correct during the season, so there may more ugly in his future than good.
Still, some caution is advised. Vazquez has always been a flyball pitcher. A right-handed flyball pitcher pitcher in front of Yankee Stadium’s short porch was never going to be a perfect match. Going from the National League to the brutal AL East was going to naturally inflate his numbers too, given the typical gap of up to half a run scored per game seen between the two leagues in recent years. If Vazquez’s other problems persist, his attempt at an in-season rebound becomes that much tougher.
For more on Javier Vazquez and the New York Yankees, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits