April 2011

Bloomberg Sports Exclusive: Why is Hanley Ramirez Struggling and Lance Berkman Shining

What happened to Hanley Ramirez?

Why is a .310 hitter batting just .197 on the season without a home run?

–   What’s the big difference between last year and this year? 46 of the 327 pitches that have been thrown his way are right over the middle of the plate waist high and he is batting just .273 with a .364 slugging percentage thanks to just one extra base hit (a double on a fastball against John Lannon) in 12 at bats.  In comparison, last season Ramirez faced 323 pitches right over the middle of the plate and he batted .326 with a .612 slugging percentage. 

–   Conclusion– He is not punishing the pitches he should hit. 

–   As far as the outpitches, how’s Hanley handling those? Ramirez has historically struggled against off-speed pitches.  Last season, he hit just .245 against non fastballs.  However, they only threw those pitches 39% of the time.  This year, they have thrown Ramirez off-speed pitches 40% of the time, but there are two major issues, number one, he’s not hitting the fastball.  The very pitch he hit .361 against in 2009, and .336 in 2010, Ramirez is hitting just .262 in 42 at bats. 

–   Is there anything different about the fastballs thrown to him this season?  The answer is yes, they are coming in at 91.2 MPH, compared to 90.5 MPH in 2009 and 90.7 in 2010. 

–   And then there is the change-up, a pitch Ramirez has yet to get a hit again in 10 at bats. 

–   Conclusion– He is struggling more than ever against the off-speed pitches, but he is also not hitting the pitches that we’d expect him to hit, considering he is just 27-years old and has not suffered an injury, Ramirez should bounce back.

What’s the difference for Lance Berkman?

–   Lance Berkman is not just good, he has been perhaps the best hitter in all of baseball with a .410 average, 8 homers, 22 runs, and 22 RBI.  Why is it such a surprise for the perennial All-Star, well first of all he is 35 years and second, he is coming off his worst season, when he hit just .248. 

–   Is it a move to St. Louis?  No, Berkman has all eight home runs on the road this season in 11 games, though at home he is batting .432. 

–   So how can you get him out?  Throw the ball low, as in below the strike zone, he has yet to get a hit in 5 at bats against those pitches.  And paint the corners.  When the ball is thrown over the heart of the plate, Berkman boasts a .421 average and .895 slugging percentage. 

–   When he’s batting from the left side, throw the ball inside, he boasts just a .273 average on inside pitches.  When he’s batting from the road side, he has yet to get a hit above his waist.

–   Conclusion– Berkman has been incredible, and you can’t really pitch around him with Pujols and Holliday before him and Colby Rasmus after him.  The pitchers have to paint the corners, otherwise, just wait for the veteran to cool down.

What Jordan Walden, Closer, Can Tell Us

by Eno Sarris //

There’s a new closer in the greater Los Angeles / Anaheim area. Jordan Walden is young (23) and has a nice fastball (96 MPH+), and took over the role last night. What worked with him might tell us a little something about where to look for future closers.

What was wrong in front of Jordan Walden was Fernando Rodney. The veteran pitcher had never once put in a walk rate better than league average. Lately, he’d been inducing ground balls, but that caused his strikeout rate to fall even further. Mostly, the 33-year-old is in a decline off of a questionable peak.

So, first our future closer needs opportunity. Perhaps one of the worst closers in the league is Brandon Lyon – who has a bad strikeout rate (5.86 K/9 career) and supplements it with a flyball tendency in a home-run happy ball park (8.4% home runs above average park).  Ryan Franklin doesn’t really have a strikeout rate (5 K/9 career) or an elite groundball rate (around 44% the last three years, 40% is average). Recently, Francisco Cordero‘s strikeout rate has been falling and his walk rate has been rising.

Look behind these three guys and you might find a young, exciting pitcher. In Houston, Wilton Lopez doesn’t have the fastball (92+ MPH career), but he induces groundballs (56.1% career) and avoids the walk (1.32 BB/9 career). The Cardinals have Jason Motte, meaning they have a reliever with gas (95.9 MPH career on the fastball) that has fewer than 150 innings pitched in the major leagues. You’ve probably heard Aroldis Chapman.

In each of these cases, a weak veteran pitcher is in front of a young player with intriguing abilities. In each of these cases, the team would love to have a cost-controlled closer in their pen. In each of these cases, the young player should be on your team if you are looking for saves and need to get ahead of the pack.

So that the next Jordan Walden doesn’t end up already on some other team’s roster.

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