Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

Phil Hughes: Lucky, But How Lucky?

by Eno Sarris //

Any time a pitcher has an early-season ERA more than two-and-a-half runs lower than their career ERA, the easy tendency is to attribute the success to luck. And to some extent, this is true – it’s very, very rare for a 4.00 ERA pitcher to put up a full season with a 2.50 ERA. But young pitchers also make strides, and real progress shouldn’t be discounted. Where does Phil Hughes fall in this spectrum? If you look at the spider graph below from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools, he’s certainly looking good right now.
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First, let’s tackle the low-hanging fruit. Batters have a .162 batting average on balls in play against Hughes right now. That number will regress toward the .286 career BABIP that Hughes has accumulated. That means more dinks and dunks and line drives past outstretched gloves – and more runs. Hughes has also stranded 87.4% of his batters on base; MLB average for that largely luck-based stat is usually around 70% MLB-wide. So we know that some correction is on the way with Hughes.

HughesVelo.jpgBut Hughes has also made some legitimate strides. Check out Hughes’ fastball velocity on FanGraphs; much was made of an initial drop in his velocity, from the mid-90s to a less exciting 91 MPH. Then the team moved him to the bullpen, where pitchers traditionally add about 0.7 miles per hour in velocity according to this study by Jeremy Greenhouse. In the bullpen, Hughes’ fastball started crossing the plate at an average velocity of 93.7 MPH, making him an outlier in terms of adding gas. The good news is that Hughes is currently starting and he retained some of that extra oomph, as he’s averaging 92.4 MPH this year.

Typically, when trying to get at the true talent of a pitcher that is suffering from either bad or good luck, it helps to look at a players’ FIP (fielding-independent pitching). This number strips out BABIP, strand rate, park effects, defensive impact and other factors to get at what a pitcher “should” be putting up in an ERA scale. Hughes’ FIP right now is 3.14, based mainly on his excellent strikeout rate (8.64 K/9). But if you look at Hughes’ xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching), you’ll see that he’s sporting a more moderate 4.26 number. What gives?

Hughes’ xFIP takes into account that the home run per flyball rate across baseball comes in between 9-11% and that few pitchers stray far outside of this range. But right now, Hughes has a 3.3% HR/FB rate. Even regressing that towards his low career 7.5% number would mean more home runs are on the way.

Wait, you might say – Hughes has a 0.27 HR/9 in 300+ minor league innings, and a 0.83 HR/9 in the majors. Why can’t he limit the number of home runs he gives up? Well, once the ball is in the air he has less control. About one of every 10 fly balls leaves the park across baseball, and that number holds steady, which has spawned more than one impassioned plea for the use of xFIP over FIP. The best way to limit home runs is to keep the ball on the ground, that much we can understand. Hughes is a flyball pitcher with a low groundball rate (36.2% this year). He doesn’t fit the homer-suppression profile.

Rest-of-season projections that use this knowledge of home run rates predict that Hughes will put up about a 4.3 ERA from here on out. This sounds like a big letdown, but it would still result in an ERA around 3.70 for the year. If you told a Hughes owner that he would get a 3.70 ERA with a WHIP under 1.3 and almost one strikeout per inning from his pitcher by the end of the year, he’d be thrilled. Unless you get a knockout sell-high offer on Hughes, hang onto him.

For more on Phil Hughes, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.

What’s Wrong With Javier Vazquez?


By Tommy Rancel //

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.

 

 

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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

Draft Lots of Yankees and Phillies

By R.J. Anderson

The last time we saw competitive major league baseball, the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies played in the World Series. Fittingly, those two teams are battling for something in the spring. This time it’s purely about bragging rights, and purely about the number of players in the top 100 B-Rank. The Yankees and Phillies both feature eight players apiece; the Red Sox hold seven; the Dodgers six; the Twins, Rays, Astros, and Cardinals with five; and five teams only have one player making the cut, including the Royals, Pirates, and Padres.

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Number of players ranked within the top 100:
8 – NYY, PHI
7 – BOS
6 – LAD
5 – MIN, TB, HOU, STL
4 – SEA, FLA
3 – BAL, LAA, TEX, ARI, ATL, MIL, NYM, SF
2 – CLE, DET, TOR, CHC, CIN, COL, WAS
1- CWS, KC, OAK, PIT, SD

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Number of hitters ranked within the top 100:
6 – PHI
5 – NYY, TB
4 – BOS, MIN, HOU
3 – LAD, STL, BAL, LAA, TEX
2 – SEA, FLA, ARI, ATL, MIL, NYM, CLE, TOR, CHC, CIN, COL, WAS
1 – SF, DET, CWS, PIT, SD
0 – KC, OAK

Some time later in your draft, a decision will have to be made between two players of similar caliber. The difference very well could be the quality of the lineup surrounding said players. That’s where the following data should help. If the decision comes down to Marco Scutaro (B-Rank of 213) or Everth Cabrera (190), then a quick scan of the differences between Boston’s quality of hitters and San Diego’s can pay dividends. Especially since so many leagues rely heavily on stats like RBI and R, two numbers that favor players in strong lineups over those surrounded by anemic offenses. 

Various people have their own ‘tiebreaker’ when it comes to a pair of nearly equal players. Age, lineup slot, track record, and injury concerns rank among the most popular. Team quality should enter the discussion too.

For more information on all of the Phillies, Yankees, and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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Curtis Granderson Will Enjoy Yankee Stadium

A year after making the biggest splash(es) on the free agent market, the New York Yankees went a different route this off-season. One of the biggest moves of the off-season was a three-team, seven-player trade that landed Curtis Granderson in the New York Yankees’ outfield.

Granderson, 29 next month, is now tentatively penciled in as the number-two hitter in a talented Yankees line-up. After hitting 19 home runs in 2006, his first full season, Granderson posted back to back 20-plus home run seasons in 2007 and 2008, then reached the 30-HR plateau for the first time in 2009. For comparison, the major league average for outfielders was 19 in 2009. Take a look at Bloomberg Sports’ time-line based trend chart (bottom right).

There are some concerns about Granderson’s declining batting average (career-high .302 in 2007, .280 in 2008, full-season career-low .249 in 2009). But Granderson has maintained a selective approach, pushing his walk rates over 10% in each of the past two seasons. In addition to the walks, he is due for some positive regression on balls in play. Granderson’s career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .323. That’s a little above the league average, but not extraordinarily high for a player with good speed. In 2009, though, his BABIP fell to just .276. Expect that number to rebound this season which would in turn improve his batting average.

Another area of concern is Granderson’s platoon splits. For his career, Granderson has hit an impressive .292/.367/.528 (AVG/OBP/SLG) against right-handed pitching, but just .210/.270/.344 vs. lefties. Last season showed an even more extreme split: .275/.358/.539 vs. RH, .183(!)/.245/.239 vs. LH. Still, several baseball analysts have argued that when a player’s platoon splits are as extreme as Granderson’s, there’s plenty of room for regression on both sides.

A true left-handed pull-hitter, Granderson’s slashing, line-drive power is a perfect match for his new home. Yankee Stadium fueled huge numbers for power hitters last year, especially left-handed pull hitters. In 2009, Comerica Park had a home run park factor of .974, the 18th-best figure for hitters in the majors (1.000 is neutral, meaning home runs were suppressed by 2.6%). The launching pad in the Bronx sported a home run factor of 1.261 (i.e. 26% above average), tops in all of baseball.

Looking at Granderson’s power numbers to each field further supports this theory. For his career, Granderson sports a slugging percentage of .510 on line drives and flyballs hit to left field, .556 to center field and a huge .744 to right field. Granderson’s home run-to-flyball ratios tell a similar story. Again moving from left to right field, here are his career HR/FB%: 4.4%, 5.9%, 29.1%(!!!) Nearly one in every three fly balls hit by Granderson to right field have gone for home runs in his career – and that’s without the benefit of Yankee Stadium’s friendly confines.

Of course you can’t mention Granderson without the player he is replacing in the Yankee lineup, Johnny Damon. Like Granderson, Damon’s slashing, left-handed swing was a perfect match for new Yankee Stadium. In his first and only season at the ballpark, Damon tied a career-high with 24 home runs and set a career high in isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average).

Playing at old Yankee Stadium in 2008, Damon posted a .684 slugging percentage to right field, with a strong 23.5% HR/FB rate. In 2009, those numbers rocketed to .859 SLG and 31.5% HR/FB to right field. Once we factor in age, defense, contract and the likelihood that Granderson might have more natural power than Damon, you can see why the Yankees made the switch.

Currently, Granderson’s average draft position (ADP) is 56. His B-Rank of 40th overall suggests this is quite a bargain. Looking at the Demand vs. Scarcity chart, you’ll notice that Granderson is in the fourth tier of center fielders. Just to the right of Granderson’s yellow dot is another dot also located on the fourth-tier; this belongs to Grady Sizemore. Currently, Sizemore is being drafted around 13th overall, 43 spots before Granderson. However, Sizmore’s B-Rank of 32 pegs his value just eight spots ahead of Granderson. This means you can pass on Sizemore early, wait until the fourth or fifth round for Granderson, and still receive similar production.

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With the expected increase in home-park influenced power, potential BABIP regression, and being in the middle of his perceived physical prime, Granderson’s 2010 season projects to be his best yet. Throw in Granderson’s average of nearly 20 stolen bases a year since ’07 and his impressive blogging skills and you have a must-get player. Draft the man.

For more information on Curtis Granderson and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

–Tommy Rancel

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