July 26, 2012 at 10:55 am by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
Every time Michael Bourn hits a home run these days, he’s setting a career high that he might never reach again. His previous career high was five set as a rookie in 2008, and he’s sitting on eight now after hitting a two-run shot Wednesday in the Braves’ 7-1 win over the Marlins.
I examined where Bourn was targeting pitches to launch them out a month or two ago, but with the introduction of Baseball Prospectus’ and Brooks Baseball’s hitter profiles, I thought it would be interesting to see it mapped out in that way. Below is the diagram representing Bourn’s ISO.
Nothing has changed much since I last looked. Bourn is targeting pitches up and in to jack them out. So obviously, Bourn’s home runs are going to right field, as shown below.
But as power comes, sometimes hitters trade some plate discipline for it, so is this is the case with Bourn?
The center fielder is whiffing on fastballs 4.2% of the time this season, so we can safely say it’s not the hard stuff that’s getting to him. However, he’s whiffing on 20% of sliders, 12.4% of curveballs and 14.6% on changeups. Comparing that to before this season, Bourn whiffed on sliders 13.7% of the time, 11.7% on curveballs and 17.2% on changeups. So on the breaking stuff, yes, he’s swinging and missing more, but he’s recognizing the difference between the fastball and changeup better this season than he has in previous years, and that could be a big reason for why he’s catching up to those high and inside fastballs and hitting them over the fence.
However, if you look at Bourn’s discipline numbers, it would lead you to believe his eye at the plate hasn’t changed. He’s swinging at pitches out of the zone 22.8% of the time, which is actually below his career mark of 23%. He’s making slightly less contact on pitches out of the zone, as well, possibly leading to a slight uptick in strikeout percentage at 21.3% compared to a career mark of 19.9%. But the difference between weak contact on pitches out of the zone and missing altogether is minimal.
The talk of Bourn striking out so much is likely the result of small-sampled observation. He only struck out in 13.3% of his plate appearances in April while keeping it around his career norm of 20% in May and June. However, he has seen a spike to 30% in July, which is probably causing much of the talk.
But, if notice along with the strikeout rate, Bourn is walking 10% of the time this month compared to 9.5% in April, and 6.7% and 6.1% in May and June, so the small sample floats both ways.
Aside from swinging and missing at a few more breaking pitches, there’s no evidence to suggest Bourn is trading on-base ability or plate discipline for his newfound power. I think he’s simply reacting to pitches up and in better than he has in the past, and considering he’s whiffing less on the changeup, he seems to be taking advantage of seeing the speed difference. It’s impossible to say whether this is repeatable, but considering he has never seen the fastball/changeup combination this well, I would just enjoy it while it lasts.
July 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
I’ve seen the question raised in the past few days asking if Dan Uggla’s cold streak is similar or worse than last year’s. While I’m not in the business of comparing cold streaks – I mean, that’s just depressing – I do want to see if I can diagnose Uggla’s problems.
The first number that automatically jumped out at me when analyzing Uggla is an infield fly ball rate of 44.4% and a total fly ball rate of 50% this month. His previous IFFB% per month were 14.8%, 12.1% and 9.1%. While all of these are small samples, and Uggla’s cold streak included June, I think it might help answer his issues.
While the big arms may distract you, Uggla’s swing is in fact lower-body heavy. He has strong hips and uses rotation very well to drive the ball when he’s in sync. The problem begins when Uggla abandons his lower half, falls out of sync and attempts to make up for it with an arm-heavy swing. I can safely say that power hitters cannot get by on an arm-heavy swing.
The result of this for Uggla is making contact farther out in front of the plate, causing weak contact, including infield fly balls and ground balls, as well as whiffing on pitches low and away. This is evident in the map below, which measures the whiff rate per zone in July. Notice how Uggla is making contact on pitches on the inner half and up. He has been able to cover the inner half all season because of that rotation and bat speed, but he completely abandoned his whiff rate in that area lately because his bat and hands are ahead of where they need to be.
Another telling number is foul balls. If Uggla’s bat and hands are ahead of where they need to be because of being arm-heavy, he will likely foul the ball off more because of not squaring the ball up correctly. On the simple four-seamer, Uggla fouled it off 17% of the time in the first two months. Since his cold streak began, Uggla has fouled the four-seamer off 22% of the time. On the slider in the first two months, his foul rate was 14% and he put it in play 13%. During the cold streak, the foul rate is 16% and it’s in play 8%.
And weak contact means poor numbers. In April, Uggla had a .346 wOBA and .328 BABIP. In May, .368 and .349. In June, .284 and .222. In July, .244 and .171. Uggla’s weak contact is dropping his batting average on balls in play like an anchor, resulting in easy outs.
These are imperfect numbers considering the sample size and the fact that I can’t pinpoint the exact date when Uggla started stepping in a bucket. But an infield fly ball rate that high is tough to ignore, and considering I am of the belief that his struggles this year, and last year, stem from abandoning his lower half and relying on his arms, I think the numbers fit well with my observations.
Uggla needs to return to a swing that utilizes his lower half more, and in the process, syncs with his arms and hands to square the ball and drive it. Until he does, expect more pop flies, foul balls and missed opportunities. It was a half-season project last year, and it’s shaping up to be similar this year. He will be back, it’s just a matter of when.
Map provided by Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball.
July 11, 2012 at 8:08 am by Ben Duronio under Player Analysis
Bill Shanks wrote an article about how the Braves should go after Zack Greinke, and included in the post how the Braves should “no doubt they need to consider making an investment in Hanson sometime soon.”
Consider it, maybe they should, but I would certainly not advocate actually extending him at this point. Tommy Hanson is one of my favorite Braves and has been since his dominance in the minors, but there are just too many signs pointing in the wrong direction to warrant investing in him for the long term.
For one, the noted velocity drop is a concern. Can he be effective without having a 92-93 mph fastball? Absolutely, but not as effective as he would be if he had that type of velocity back. The only real injury Hanson has had was the shoulder injury that he suffered last year, so I am roughly as concerned about his injury history as I would be with any other starting pitcher.
I wouldn’t shy away from extending him just because he was injured and shut down last year. I would shy away from it because his rate stats are going the wrong way and at 25-years-old, that’s a big concern.
His ERA is a fine 3.71, but that’s not the most important factor in the world in these parts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is the lowest of his career, including his rookie season when he was walking almost 9 percent of batters faced. Last year he struck out 26.3 percent of batters faced, the fifth highest in baseball with a minimum of 130 innings pitched. Now, the rate has dropped to 20.7 percent, putting him on the second page of qualified starters on FanGraphs (30 players per page).
His FIP, xFIP, and SIERA sit at 4.42/4.17/4.05, which signal that his ERA should likely be even higher than its current levels, which is already the worst of his career. I don’t see the need in rushing to sign him when he has three more years of control, even with them being arbitration years. See if this trend breaks and his rate stats come back down to ’10-’11 levels before even considering it, and even then he may not be worth the risk of tagging a multi-year deal on. The ability to non-tender, even though that is unlikely, is a valuable asset since his arbitration price will likely be high due to the performance he had in the first two and a half seasons of his career. Extending him now, or even in the next year, to a contract that extended beyond his arbitration years has much more risk than it does reward, in my opinion.
May 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
A certain left-hander out of Vanderbilt has been having some issues lately, as you may have heard.
Ben basically lays Mike Minor’s problems out here for FanGraphs. He mentions the extreme difference in ERA and FIP, the left on base numbers, the numbers from the stretch, and finishes with the conclusion that a larger sample size is needed before the excuses run out.
Minor’s peripherals remind us that patience is needed. He actually has a higher strikeout rate this year than over his 82.2 innings last season, currently at 21.7%. His walk rate is also much lower at 7.4%. He has allowed eight home runs, so his HR/FB is through the roof at 14.3%. But seven of those long balls have come in his last four starts, where he has allowed at least six runs in each outing.
Put this all together and you have an ERA of 7.09 and an xFIP of 3.81. The difference is quite large, and I am a believer of fielding independent numbers teaching a lesson of patience when it comes to situations like this.
But also, Minor’s left on base percentage is 52.7%, which is the second lowest in all of baseball behind Chris Volstad’s. One would think such an extremely high number of runs scored in such situations would regress over the course of a season, and the main factor in this assumption is his peripherals have remained strong.
As gondeee discovered at Talking Chop today, Minor’s numbers indicate a major split between his windup and pitching from the stretch.
“That prompted me to look up some splits this morning, specifically Minors splits with runners on and with the bases empty, and lo and behold the difference is frightening:
Minor in 2012 with bases empty: .226/.282/.339 … .621 OPS
Minor in 2012 with runners on: .422/..461/.766 … 1.226 OPS
This leads me to believe that Minor’s mechanics out of the stretch, when runners are on base, are out of whack somehow. This is further supported by his numbers last year, which show just the opposite…”
I know my limitations in the area of pitching mechanics, so I won’t pretend to watch video of Minor and discover mechanical flaws from the stretch. However, the numbers TC provided show that it’s either another case of small sample size, or something is really up with Minor from the stretch. Numbers don’t lie, and right now they point toward Minor having issues in that area.
Then, there’s also the point that Minor’s last three starts, in which he has allowed 20 runs in 14.1 innings, have unraveled over one or two innings in each start. Against the Rockies, he allowed six of eight runs in two innings. Against the Cardinals, he allowed five of six runs in one inning. Against the Marlins, he allowed all six runs in two innings.
Fredi Gonzalez harped on this in his postgame quotes on Wednesday, indicating that things seem to unravel on Minor in one- or two-inning stints. This ties in to Minor’s inability to get outs with runners on base.
All signs point toward the Braves being patient with Minor for now, perhaps seeing the same numbers as Ben, gondeee and I have mentioned today. Four unraveled starts should not be the death of a pitcher as talented as Minor, especially at his age.
May 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
Much has been made of Tommy Hanson’s velocity trends. His fastball has dipped from 92 to 91 to 89 over a three-year span, inciting the usual concern a fan base has when one of its prized arms doesn’t throw as hard as it used to.
Aside from drastic drops in both velocity and movement that usually spell some other issue like injury, I have never been one to panic over velocity trends. Pitchers adapt to how their arms handle workloads, and the more innings they record, the more adapting it can take. This could mean a slight drop in velocity to induce more contact for shorter at-bats, taking some off to preserve endurance, etc.
Brandon Beachy is currently making said adaptation, knocking a couple miles per hour off the fastball and losing a good chunk of strikeouts, yet lowering his walk rate and pitching deeper into games. It should be noted Beachy’s BABIP is currently .226, and a 1.62 ERA will regress, but so far the adjustments are going well.
For Hanson, he has also seen drops in velocity among his other pitches. How it has affected his slider and what adjustments are being made is the focus here.
Hanson’s slider averaged 84 miles per hour in 2010, when he struck out batters at a rate of 20 percent with a 3.31 FIP. The pitch showed good movement and received a whiff/swing rate of 30 percent, while his ground ball/in play rate was 46 percent and his line drive/in play rate was 13 percent.
In 2011, the slider dropped to 82 miles per hour and picked up a couple ticks of downward movement. He threw it the same 28 percent of the time, receiving a five percent increase in whiffs per swing.
So far this year in 39.2 innings, Hanson’s slider has dropped another mile per hour to 81, has maintained the same amount of downward movement and is receiving a whiff/swing rate of 39 percent, a 9 percent increase from 2010. His ground ball/in play rate has also jumped to 59 percent, and his line drive/in play rate is only 9 percent while being thrown 30 percent of the time.
The problem lies in the fact that Hanson’s slider, despite getting more movement, is not as deceptive as it was, according to swing numbers. In 2010, batters swung at the pitch 47.5 percent of the time. In 2011, it was 46.39 percent. This year, it’s 44.14 percent.
So while Hanson’s slider is getting more movement, perhaps the decrease in velocity has led to some loss in deception. The pitch is seeing more whiffs, but it’s also seeing fewer swings, negating some of its value.
In fact, aside from the curveball, the rest of Hanson’s pitches have seen a decrease in swing rate, possibly a result of little deception.
If you’re looking for a comparison going the other way, take a look at Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers left-hander averaged 81 miles per hour with his slider in 2010, receiving 43 percent whiffs/swing. Jump to this year so far, he’s throwing it 85 miles per hour with slightly less movement, but his whiff/swing rate is 47 percent. The difference in swing rate between 2010 and 2012 is 42.95 percent and 50.25 percent.
As I said in the beginning, I have no problem with slight decreases in velocity as long as the pitcher adapts. But Hanson’s stuff doesn’t appear to be adapting well to the decrease, and I feel it’s enough to consider whether a downward strikeout rate is in the forecast, especially with the lack of swings. Yes, his slider is seeing more whiffs per swing, but as mentioned previously, fewer swings negates much of this value. And it’s to the point where he’s losing total whiffs on the pitch.
Numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
April 20, 2012 at 11:05 am by Ben Duronio under Player Analysis
Right now, Mike Minor is probably the best starter on the staff. He has a 1.99 FIP and an ERA of 3.10. He struggled a bit in the tail end of his first start of the season against the Mets, but has been absolutely dominant in his past two starts.
I posted in the offseason about how Minor’s best performances came when he utilized his breaking balls. So far this year, his slide, change up, and curveball percentages are both up while his fastball percentage is down. This is certainly a good thing, as a lesser reliance on his fastball has not come with decrease command. He is throwing his secondary offerings for strikes and has decreased the amount of contact he has allowed in the zone.
While three starts is certainly not enough to properly evaluate Minor, he has shown the type of pitcher I have claimed he could be. His main issue in his two other Major Leagues stints was allowing tons of hits, and his decrease in contact allowed as well as an increase in foul ball percentage has shown that hitters have squared up on the ball less and less with Minor.
David’s chart in the news shows exactly what Minor needs to do with each of his pitches, and David details that in his post. He is locating and confident on the mound with all of his pitches, which is important as he enters his first full year as a starter. This is a sort of narrative type statement, but I think his two stints in the Majors helped him prepare and be comfortable during his first full season of work. He does not have to worry about what will happen if he pitches poorly, and he does not have to worry about going back down to the minors once someone returns from the disabled list as has often been the case over the past two years.
I am on the record saying that I think Minor should be the best pitcher on the staff this season and is the best bet throw 200 innings. It is still far too early to say I have nailed those predictions, but this start is exactly what anyone who was high on Minor could have hoped for.
April 19, 2012 at 8:57 am by Ben Duronio under Player Analysis
In three starts Jair Jurrjens has a 8.10 ERA, 8.62 FIP, and a 0.89 K/BB rate. There are obviously issues with Jair right now, some of it being command and some if it being the actual stuff he has been throwing. He has not been able to locate pitches with any type of consistency, and his velocity is down across the board — even further down than it was last year.
His four-seam velocity over his five years in Atlanta: 91.8, 91.2, 91.3, 89.1, 88.3. His slider has seen a similar drop. While not all drops in velocity are huge negatives, there is a threshold where it makes a pitcher significantly less effective. The sacrifice Jurrjens made last year in his velocity improved his command, but this year he has struggled to throw strikes and command the ball with in the zone.
His home run per fly ball rate won’t be above 20 the whole season and his BABIP probably won’t be above .350, but there is reason to believe that he will not be nearly as effective as he was in his first four seasons in Atlanta. Maybe there is some mechanical issue he and Roger McDowell can work on and fix, but the days of a 3.48 ERA seem to be numbered, from what I can tell.
There is no sense in rehashing whether the Braves should have traded him last summer or this past winter. He is with the Braves now and he has been the biggest concern thus far. He currently has the lowest fWAR of any pitcher in baseball at -0.5. He has been significantly below replacement level so far, and that is true even when his home run rate is regressed as his xFIP is 6.05. If his ERA was through the roof and his peripherals suggested a regression to the mean, I would be less concerned.
I am not surprised with the performance, and I do not see it as injury related. Maybe it is, but there is nothing pointing to that. Losses in velocity come for many reasons, and trying to pinpoint that with the amount of information that any of us have is a silly attempt at guessing. There has been a consistent trend of downard velocity along with downward strikeout rates. He is a contact pitcher, but no contact pitcher will succeed with a strikeout rate under 12 with a walk rate above it.