Tagged: Joel Piniero

Jake Westbrook Likes St. Louis

by Eno Sarris //

Reports of a $17.5 million, two-year contract between Jake Westbrook
mean that the right-hander must like pitching in St. Louis, or at least
enjoy taking their money. If he can continue to put up his late-2010
numbers, the Cardinals and fantasy owners will like him right back.

In twelve post-trade starts, Westbrook bettered his strikeout rate (from
5.15 K/9 to 6.60 K/9), walk rate (from 3.10 BB/9 to 2.88 BB/9),
groundball rate (from 53.3% to 62%), and home run rate (from 1.06
HR/9 to .60 HR/9). His ERA (3.48) and WHIP (1.25) matched his
peripherals, and if it weren’t for the small sample size, the magic
eightball would read “signs point to yes” when asked about Westbrook’s 2011.

But the small sample size is a fact, and it makes for some doubt. Was
the improved performance more Dave Duncan magic? Or was it simply a move
to the weaker, and DH-less, league? Or did Westbrook finally recover
from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss much of 2008 and all
of 2009? Finally, was it just a short, fun, 12-start run?

Let’s use the largest sample size possible and compare Westbrook’s NL
work to his career numbers. The first thing that leaps out is that his
post-trade control (career 2.80 BB/9) and groundball work (career 59%) look legit.
He can repeat those aspects of his game, and they will help to limit the
damage when batters make contact. Fewer ducks on the pond and fewer
home runs make for fewer five-run innings.

We are left to wonder about the strikeout rate. Westbrook’s contract and groundball rates look like erstwhile Cardinal Joel Piniero‘s
numbers in those categories, so it’s no surprise that the two pitchers share similar career strikeout rates as well (Westbrook: 5.03 K/9; Piniero: 5.57 K/9). Piniero’s 2009 probably provides us a definition of new Cardinal’s upside. Moving
from the AL to the NL might make for a little boost for Westbrook, but his
best season-long strikeout rate as a starter was 5.51 in 2007, and he’s
now three years older. It would be folly to predict many more strikeouts
than five-and-a-half per nine in 2011.

Still, as he puts more distance between his current self and his
surgery, the likelihood that Westbrook finds his old control increases (from 2004-2006, his walks per nine ranged from 2.34 to 2.55). Paired with a slight uptick in strikeouts, and his always-excellent
groundball rates, Westbrook is a fairly safe bet for fantasy relevance
in most leagues – even if he probably won’t repeat his excellent
late-season numbers from last year.

For more on Jake Westbrook and other late-draft pitching options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.

Three-Layered Luke Hochevar Dip

by Eno Sarris

When Luke Hochevar put together his five-hit, no-run masterpiece against Detroit on Wednesday, it reminded people why he was a sleeper going into the season. What’s even more interesting about the start was that it raised questions about Hochevar on three layers. Like any good bean/queso/salsa three-layered dip, this deserves further contemplation.

The first layer concerns his competition. Perhaps the Tigers’ offense is not as good as we thought? Well, for one, Hochevar does not have the Tigers’ number. His 4.85 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 1-2 record against them is slightly better than his career numbers (5.73 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), but not enough to start praying for more Tigers’ days on the schedule (small sample caveat applies). Looking at Hochevar’s career splits page on Fangraphs, you might notice he’s not as good against lefties (5.11 career FIP against lefties, 4.15 against righties). Could it just be that this year’s Tigers are missing a certain punishing lefty-hitting center fielder that could have put some line drives in play? Curtis Granderson certainly enjoyed hitting against the Royals’ starter (.984 career OPS vs. Hochevar in another small sample size), but that’s only one player.

So maybe this really was about Hochevar. The second layer of the dip might concern his strikeouts (or lack thereof). The former first pick in the draft struck out only two Tigers on Wednesday, and it might seem lucky for him to have kept the team scoreless with that sort of punchout rate. In fact, looking at last year, it took a heck of a rally for Hochevar to evenHochevarGrab.jpg approach an average strikeout rate. Take a look at this screen grab from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools – close but no cigar. Even after a two-game stretch late in the year which saw Hochevar strike out 22 batters in 13.1 innings (against zero walks!), he was below average in that facet of the game. So maybe this part of the dip doesn’t taste so good.

Why should the third layer treat us any better than the second one? Well, take a look at Hochevars’ ground balls and fly balls in the game on Wednesday. He had 15 ground balls to only five fly balls. That is what you might call “good.” So good, in fact, that the best GB/FB ratio in baseball last year (2.54, Joel Piniero) didn’t even come close. Of course, that’s over a whole season, and Hochevar’s best groundballing season so far was his 1.64 GB/FB ratio in 2008, which would have been good for 17th-best in baseball had he qualified for the ERA title. Of course, he took a step back (1.30 GB/FB) and we are left wondering if this is just a one-game wonder sort of thing. Head back over to his splits page on FanGraphs, and you’ll actually see that Hochevar improved his groundball rate over the final four months of the season. Can he continue to get better at inducing ground balls? How much impact would that have on his game?

Last year, Hochevar had better than twice as many groundballs as fly balls five times. In those five starts, he gave up 10 earned runs in 38.1 innings – good for a 2.34 ERA. Add in 2008, and you get another four starts that fit the criteria – the number jumps to 22 earned runs in 63.2 innings (a 3.11 ERA). You might be thinking, when was the last time a player with a career GB/FB ratio of under 1.5 put up a ratio over two for the year? Well, it happened just last year, and his name was Joel Piniero.

A season like that would make for some good three-layered Luke Hochevar dip.

For the sour cream on top of the dip, there’s Hochevar’s added
velocity. His fastball averaged over 95 MPH in that game, the first time it has
done so in his career.

For more on Luke Hochevar and other sleeper pitchers for 2010, check out the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.