May 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:10 PM on Sports South
The Mets have moved in the fences a little, but Citi Field is still a pitcher’s park. We know Turner Field has a big right field, and as you can see, Citi Field is further back to straight right, though it does come in a bit in right center. Center field is a cavernous black hole, and I wouldn’t hit it there unless your name is Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. Left field is where you might grab a little more benefit.
Mets ISO Maps
The Mets won’t throw a very good lineup out there as they’re 3rd-worst in team wOBA. Most of their production comes from the Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Lucas Duda group with additional power production from John Buck and Marlon Byrd, though both have OBPs below .300. Ike Davis could round out the lineup and make this a solid lineup, but he’s in a nasty funk and might get demoted. The main idea is to minimize David Wright as much as you can and avoid making mistakes to Duda, Buck, and Byrd.
Jeremy Hefner was actually a pretty solid pitcher last season, but when your walk rate more than doubles, you’re having issues. The league seems to have adjusted to him, swinging at pitches out of the zone less and making more contact. That’s obviously not the desired result, and it may end in his demotion and the promotion of Zack Wheeler. Hefner’s use of the fastball won’t change much by hitter, but he’ll throw the cutter/slider/slutter more to righties (which makes me think slider as cutters generally are more thrown to lefties) and his curveball and change-up to lefties. Looking at the above heat maps, you can see his slutter almost never hits the zone, and he’s throwing it more this season, possibly contributing to more walks. I actually prefer his curveball, but he’s focused more on the slutter so far this season. If the Braves can leave that pitch alone, they should be able to have success tonight.
Kris Medlen sucks, so we should all just go home … Right. Anyhoo, Medlen certainly hasn’t been the same pitcher that he was last season, and that’s because the control/command are noticeably worse this season, doubling his walk rate. Players go through ups and downs, and if you remember last season, he struggled (though not to this degree I suppose) a bit. I preferred his tempo last start, and I’m hoping he keeps himself a bit more controlled tonight as well. This is another series the Braves should win, and energized from a 6-0 homestand, they need to keep the good play going.
(Thanks as always to ESPN and Brooks Baseball for the data and graphics)
May 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
In a recent article, I examined how surprisingly good the Braves infield defense has been. It was surprising, because every fielder other than Andrelton Simmons grades out as somewhere between stonehenge and “can sorta catch the ball if it’s hit dead at him.” Some of this is probably due to #scoooooops not being completely properly evaluated by defensive metrics yet (now I wait for the avalanche of overreaction to that statement) as the Braves’ have just 5 throwing errors on the infield. But a lot of the credit to the Braves infield defense being excellent overall is probably squarely on the shoulders of Andrelton Simmons.
Now, to begin with, defensive metrics, such as DRS or UZR already rate Andrelton Simmons as one of, if not the best defensive shortstops in the game. Mark Simon recently had an excellent article on how Andrelton’s DRS is so off the charts. So how is it possible that they may be underrating him? Well, it’s probably not the case that he’s being underrated with his ranking amongst shortstops, but it is quite possible that the relevant differences, and his overall contribution to runs saved are being undersold. How so?
When it comes to defensive metrics, we know they’re not completely accurate, nobody really (well, except maybe Dave Cameron) debates this. However, a point that is commonly misunderstood is the difference between statistics that are randomly inaccurate and statistics that are systematically biased.
There are essentially three classes of inaccuracy for a statistic’s inaccuracy:
1) Random walk from the true value inaccuracy – In this sort of inaccuracy, we take a value with a true value, and the error is completely random from that point. This type of inaccuracy is the easiest to deal with, because it can be completely solved with a larger sample. Over large numbers the random variation around the true value would cancel out, and we’d get an extremely accurate idea of the true level in such a case.
2) Regression to the mean inaccuracy – This is the type of inaccuracy that results when an outcome that has a certain probability is sometimes replaced with data as if the probability was greater or lower than what it was. In some ways, this is the type of inaccuracy we create when we use regression with a player, though in that case we do it because the whole point of regression is that we don’t know what the true value is. But it does come into play with a stat like FIP, for example. Tim Hudson has consistently out-pitched his FIP over his career, one reasoning is that FIP “assumes” that all pitchers have equal results on balls in play. Thus, when a ball is put in play off Hudson, we’re throwing the data away of what usually happens on a ball in play v. hudson and replacing it with other data, namely the league average. For younger players, this is more reasonable, since we have no real idea if they’re the kind of player that can out-pitch the league average on balls in play until we get a lot of data, so a league average assumption is as best as we can do, and generally fairly accurate for most guys. The problem with this type of inaccuracy is that it’s impossible to fix with a large sample. We can say that this type of inaccuracy is biased. The good news is that we can begin to understand what data we’re missing in these sorts of cases, and then replace it with a better guess, as we get more data. It’s a bias than can be fixed. As Tim Hudson pitches more, we can start to insert a better guess as to his expected outcome when a ball is in play than simply league average, ie we could regress Tim Hudson’s BABIP to his career averages, instead of league averages.
3) Regression to the mean inaccuracy, but with no way to find out the true value we should regress to
A commenter from Tango’s blog perhaps explains this most clearly (taken from this *free* Colin Wyers article that goes into a lot more depth about the inaccuracy of defensive stats, and perhaps more importantly their systematic bias, a must read)
That is, we’re effectively regressing a player’s bad defensive plays and his good defensive plays both towards the mean, because we’re underrating difficult plays that were made difficulty level and rating easy plays as harder than they were when they’re not made. And what’s worse, short of something like field/FX, we have no real way of knowing when it’s happening. With our FIP to ERA example above, we could see when this bias was showing up, because FIP is an ERA estimator, and when it’s systematically lower or higher than what it is supposed to be estimating, we can see the bias, and we also have a way to correct for it, since we can measure what happens when a ball is put in play for a pitcher over a large sample. With defense, we’re not so lucky. UZR and DRS don’t predict things we can already measure over large samples. We have no way to see when the bias is showing up. We also have nothing to replace the biased part of our measurement with either. To put it in Rumsfeldian terms, the regression bias in FIP is a known known unknown, defensive metrics are a known unknown unknown. With FIP, we know that we’re missing some data, but we also know where to find it, when the samples get large enough to put it into play. With defensive statistics, we know we’re missing much of the story, but we, as of now, have no idea where to find that data, no matter how big the sample is.
Ben often advocates averaging a player’s defensive ratings over three seasons, and it’s true than that’s better than a single season’s defensive metrics, because in addition to the bias aspect, defesnive metrics also seem to have a lot of the type 1 inaccuracy above, that large samples do fix. This was probably how Martin Prado went from a good fielder to fangraphs considering him one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball history, and then back to an average-ish fielder this season. But like we just said, even taking three seasons worth of data and averaging it can’t fix a systematic bias, such as we’re talking about in this article.
Again, it seems likely that we have biased data when it comes to defensive statistics, and it’s possible, if not probable, that this bias underestimates the contributions spectacular fielders make, and underestimates the runs that terrible fielders cost a team. Like I said above, the problem seems to be somewhat intractable, because usually we could not only not figure out how much it’s happening, but it’s somewhat impossible to even know when it’s happening, with maybe one possible exception: when a team is filled with mediocre/terrible fielders, with one outstanding fielder. ie the Atlanta Braves’ infield defense.
As stated in the article I linked at the top, the Atlanta Braves have one of the best infield defenses in all of baseball, ignoring ‘stringer based’ methods that are susceptible to the bias we’ve talked about. If you further isolate this to just the left side of the infield, the Braves have the best left side of the infield in MLB, and it’s not even close. Not only are the Braves on the left side the best in MLB, but the gap is larger than that between any other two teams. Unless you’re considering Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson great fielders, you can make the case that Andrelton Simmons is drastically far superior to any of his peers, and that while he’s off the carts with UZR and DRS, thsoe measures might actually be drastically underestimating that difference. The Braves’ left side of the infield, which, again, includes Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson (and would maybe sort of include Dan Uggla, if the left side of the second base bag wasn’t more foreign to him than Europe to a peasant in 100 AD China), is so much better than average, that it’s comparable to the hitting difference between Jeff Francouer and David Wright (roughly 70 points apart in wOBA). Being 20 wOBA points better than the league average would make you a very good defensive team. The Braves are 20 wOBA points better on the left side of the infield than the next best team.
Team statistics on ground balls, bunts and pop-ups on the left side (courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info):
Even if we took the entire left side of the infield as a measure of Andrelton’s defense, it’d be fairly clear that we were underestimating the value of his contributions. When we factor in that part of the left side defense are guys who are merely bad over there (Juan) and amongst the worst in MLB at the position (Chris Johnson), it’s stunning.
So, next time you’re at a game, just spend an inning or two watching Simmons play. As amazing as he looks on TV, when you watch him play in real life, when you can seem him before the ball gets to him, the reactions, the grace, and most of all the cannon of an arm that allows him to play even further back, and make up for any minor sins he does happen to occasionally commit on routes to balls, it’s simply awe-inspiring. Depending on how you view the 20-80 scale, he has either a 70 or 80 glove, and on any scale he has an 80 arm. Such a combination is more or less unheard of. A decent amount of players have had his glove (Probably Brendan Ryan), much fewer have had his arm (maybe Furcal, though I’d say Andrelton Simmons’ release being quicker makes his arm superior to even Furcal’s), but I’m honestly not sure if anybody in the history of baseball has had both in the way that Andrelton does.
Andrelton is saving this pitching staff runs at a pretty prodigious rate, even if we don’t know exactly how many, it’s definitely a lot. Maybe one day defensive stats will get better, and we will truly come to realize, with a somewhat accurate measure, how much Andrelton was completely changing the game when he was in, but until then, I guess we can just marvel.
May 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the most amazing things about this Braves team is how young it is. Their average age is 27 years old, essentially making this a team in its prime. The cold water here is that the youth isn’t under control for much longer. Brian McCann is eligible for free-agency immediately following this season. Jason Heyward has two more years of control left. Freddie Freeman has three. And Justin Upton has two. Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, however, do have 5 years left. On the pitching side, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm are adios after 2013. Kris Medlen has 2 more years left. Brandon Beachy has 3. Mike Minor has 4, and Julio Teheran has 5. So while the team is young, the window is currently this season and the next two.
Unless some players are signed to extensions.
Extensions have popular recently as teams look to lock up the prime years of their best players. While the sport is flush with money, teams can make these deals with smaller risk involved, and because of that extra money floating around, free-agent prices are also rising. It makes sense to sign your core players for their best years and avoid free-agency if you can. The Braves, unfortunately, haven’t signed any of their young players to extensions.
Before you start yelling, there are probably several reasons for this. The first reason is that negotiations are a two-way street. The team AND the player have to agree to a deal, and if the player isn’t willing to listen, there isn’t much you can do. The second part is that there is still time left. When you spend tons of money, you’d like to know exactly what you’re getting for that money, but the negative aspect to this is a player having a breakout year – Hi Justin – and putting his price through the roof. The third aspect is the risk involved, and considering the team has the medical reports, they may see something they don’t like. Lastly, it’s simply a lot of money being invested, and it can limit flexibility, hence the innate risk of injury and/or loss of production.
So let’s take a look at some players who might merit extensions.
Brian McCann – Feb 20, 1984
McCann is off to a hot start in 2013, and he seems to be recovered from shoulder surgery, though we’re still waiting to see how durable the shoulder remains. The three players in the above table are three catchers and their contracts that can be used to compare what McCann might get. The age of the three players is from the start of their “free-agent” seasons – the same situation McCann will be in – and the “McCann Years” are the years of the contract that would pertain to McCann.
Buster Posey is the first guy on the list, but he’s not the best comparison. His first FA season would be at 29 – a year earlier than McCann – but his career averages – .313/.382/.505 – are better than any McCann season except for McCann’s 2006. Posey also had a serious injury, but hinge joint injuries are generally easier to recover from than ball-and-socket joint injuries. He also won an MVP.
Montero – .269/.346/.782 – is actually a pretty good comparison to McCann – .279/.351/.476. Montero did enter the free-agent portion of his contract before McCann will, but that and the shoulder surgery can be a reason to cut the deal to 3-4 years instead of 5. But the $12.5M a year average for Montero over 4 years would be $50M, which seems like a fair deal. It’s also a tiny but nominal raise of $500K for McCann.
Molina also seems like a solid comp on the surface. Both 30 at the beginning of the deal, McCann and Molina entered the league at nearly the same time, and they’ve battled for All-Star nominations ever since. Of course, Molina is now a perennial MVP candidate, and McCann hasn’t been that in 2 or 3 seasons. Keeping up his absurd early pace of this season would put him back in that category, but it would take a career year.
My guess is that a fair deal is pretty close to Miguel Montero’s deal and over 4 seasons, making it 4 years/$50 M. That’s certainly affordable, but is it the best McCann could get? There are a few possible free-agent choices next season, but with a healthy and productive season, McCann is easily the class of the position. As many people have noted before, an AL team who could DH him might be more interested in adding money and years. A McCann deal might be based more on McCann simply wanting to stay than anything else.
It’s also fair to ask whether or not the Braves would want to keep him around. By the end of the season, McCann will have caught around 9000 innings as opposed to the 5000 that Montero had entering his contract, and he has a major shoulder surgery on his resume. I love McCann, but the signs don’t look great for the last few years of the contract, despite catchers seeming to age better than believed.
Freddie Freeman – Sept 12, 1989
My love for Freddie Freeman is well-known, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible. He’ll enter 2014 as a 24-year old, and that’s substantially younger than any of the players in the above table. It will be his first year of arbitration, which is later than the signing date of all of these players but Craig. The general trend, however, is pretty clear. For 3 arbitration seasons and a few free-agent seasons, $41-45 million seems to be the going rate.
The main criticism of signing Freeman is that he hasn’t produced over 2 wins of production yet. While that is true, none of these other players are exactly star-caliber first basemen either according to win values, often coming in around 3 wins. The Braves could use that to try and lower the deal under what the others made, but I’m guessing Freeman’s agent would throw Freeman’s age back in their face. To be worth the basically $8M a season over the next 5, Freeman would need to be worth 1.5 wins or so a season, which is something he’s basically done twice. There are not a lot of reasons to think he won’t actually improve upon his production as he gets a little older and gets to his peak, and he’ll likely be worth much more than this contract, which should be expected given the years the contract would cover.
Andrelton Simmons – Sept 4, 1989
I could spend all sorts of time going through the comparables here, but for $2-4 M a season, how exactly is Simmons not worth that? Even if he received Starlin Castro’s $19M for the next 5 seasons, he wouldn’t even have to produce 1 win a season, and he’s already done that this season while hitting .242/.281/.370.
But the issue here is actually the free-agent seasons. Buying out arbitration seasons gives the team cost certainty, but the incentive to making these deals is gaining free-agent seasons. Castro doesn’t compare well because he and Simmons are very dissimilar players – one being an offensive force and the other a defensive one. The other two are much better comps. Andrus was actually younger at this point in his playing career, and his offense – .275/.341/.351 – seems to be a decent idea of what Simmons could be capable of, though I think Simmons has more power. Andrus, of course, will make $15M during his free-agent seasons, but he did sign that (second) contract after actually starting to hit. As a 4-win player, he’s definitely worth it, especially considering his age. Escobar will make $5 and $6 million in his first two free-agent seasons (both options), and he and Simmons are definitely comparable.
Even if the Braves had to essentially split the difference and offer Simmons $9-10 million a free-agent season, it would be hard to argue that Simmons wouldn’t be worth it. His defense is at least on par with Andrus and Escobar, and it may be better. A 7-year/$30-35 million would seem pretty reasonable, and getting the free-agent years as options would be perfect.
Jason Heyward – Aug 9, 1989
The price for Heyward seems about as clear as it is for Freeman. The market seems to think $60-70 million for the last two arbitration seasons and first three free-agent seasons is what it should take. The real issue is that Heyward will be 2 years younger than Jones and 3 years younger than McCutchen and Gonzalez as they reach the same years of control. And if elite free-agents really are drying up, Heyward would reach free-agency as a 25/26-year old ready to make a huge payday.
Carlos Gonzalez’s contract is definitely the largest of the three above examples, but even if it took something along those lines with a few more free-agent seasons at $20M, Heyward would have to produce only about 4 wins during each of those free-agent seasons (maybe less by then) to be worth the contract. If we scale back Heyward’s defensive contributions last year because we don’t think he was +22-runs good, he’s still a 5-win player heading toward his peak. Considering he could be a monster, those $20 million seasons could be a real bargain.
Justin Upton – Aug 25, 1987
Upton is off to an amazing start to the season, so while right now may not be the best time to talk to him, he’s still a guy the Braves could look to extend past his current contract. He’s owed about $29M over the next two seasons, and it may take a contract that has $20+M seasons to keep him in Atlanta. With teams paying a lot for power, Upton will likely need years close to $25M to consider staying in Atlanta because he’ll still reach free-agency at age as a 28-year old.
Is $25 million reasonable for a player of Upton’s caliber? I suppose it depends on how you view him. He is, of course, having a fantastic season and seems to be the 6+-win player we were hoping for, and if he is that, $25M is a bargain, especially considering free-agent prices aren’t likely to decrease anytime soon. Anything closer to $30M, while a reasonable request if Upton goes nuts over the next 3 seasons, is probably too much for a team with a modest payroll.
Evan Gattis – Aug 18, 1986
Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll go ahead and cut it off. No. No. No. The reason for extensions is to cover free-agent seasons, and there’s no reason to worry about paying a guy for his age-33+ seasons.
Each of these scenarios is to be looked at in an isolated manner. They are simply looking at each player individually to see what a contract with him might require, and I’ll take a look at how the possible extensions could interact in a later post. We’ll worry about picking-and-choosing then. Remember, these are just comparisons. Teams and agents will have a different idea of who the player compares to and how much they should be paid. It’s part of the business. It also requires that both sides are willing to talk about a deal, and it could be the team or the player holding up a deal. Again, we’re just trying to get an idea of what it might take to sign these players, and a shift in how much money is available – specifically the new TV deals that kick in next year – could raise some of these prices, though it would also likely increase the Braves’ budget.
May 23, 2013 at 9:10 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
After sweeping their second series in a row, the Braves are off today before heading to New York for the weekend. Pitching matchups for the weekend series are expected to be Medlen v. Hefner (7:10), Minor v. Gee (7:15, FOX), Teheran v. Marcum (8:00, ESPN). They’ll miss Matt Harvey for the second time this year.
#Gattitude was in full effect again yesterday, taking a 3-0, belt-high, fastball the other way for a grand slam, which essentially put the game out of reach. What can you say besides just keep enjoying the ride. BJ Upton also took Worley deep for his first HR is just under a month. Maholm pitched well again against the Twins B lineup giving up 1R (0ER), in 7 1/3 innings.
Cory Rasmus also made his debut yesterday. The two home runs made the line look a little ugly, but aside from that, he gave up 1 walk, striking out 3, in 1 2/3 innings of work. Both pitches were actually right over the inside corner of the plate, but being a RHP without an over powering fastball, it is hard to sneak those two pitches inside to left-handed batters, especially behind in the count.
Brandon Beachy will make his first minor league rehab start in Gwinnett Sunday. The plan is for him to throw 45 pitches, mostly working on his command of all pitches. Being a triple-A game we should actually be able to get a decent scouting report of how he looks. Just to reiterate, it’s amazing that the Braves have made it this far with only five starters, something only three other teams have done (201 pitchers have started a game this season, or 6.7 starters/team).
Keith Law’s weekly podcast, Behind The Dish, featured Braves assistant GM John Coppolella this past week. They mostly talked about the bullpen and the teams’ plan moving forward. Coppolella is great because he ties in being a scout with his great appreciation for advanced stats. This is one of the reasons his name has been brought up for future vacant GM positions, something Law also discusses.
*Please use the following tid bit of information responsibly* Coolstandings.com currently has the Braves chances of making the playoffs at 90.3%, the highest in the league.
May 22, 2013 at 11:01 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Paul Maholm .202 WPA
LVP: Freddie Freeman -.141 WPA
Home Sweeps Home.
12:10 PM on Sports South
Pitching in the Big Boy League hasn’t been fortuitous for Vance Worley. A solid pitcher in the NL, Worley’s K rate has dropped to 10% while having a 6% walk rate, and considering the average difference between these two is usually 8%, we have a problem. Then add in the fact that Worley’s HR/FB is currently 12%. Ew. Worley isn’t going to overwhelm you. He’ll sink it and cut it, and he’ll add in a slider. His change-up and curveball are there to give batters something else to think about, but as you can see by the heat maps, they’re mainly “get me over” pitches. He’ll throw mainly fastballs, which probably isn’t a good thing for him against this lineup (though Justin Upton isn’t in it).
Paul Maholm is back on the mound today. This is what Paul Maholm is – a solid control pitcher who has enough stuff to be above-average but not dominant. He’ll have the occasional moments of brilliance, but his below-average K rate (19%) leaves him subject to BABiP whims that will also give him the occasional frustrating start. Overall this season, his FIP has been 3.70 along with his 3.83 ERA, so this is who he is. The lineup helping him out today is a little less than spectacular, but it should be enough.
May 22, 2013 at 8:48 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
The magic of #gattitude(tm) rolled on last night, as he hit a dramatic game tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that allowed Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to eventually win the game in extras. To say Gattis is something of a folk hero would probably be an understatement at this point in time. His performance in key situations, predictive of future success or not, has been incredible. If he never played another inning, he’d have already given the Braves many times more value than they ever paid for him.
What’s allowed Gattis to thrive in these late game situations? Well, first and foremost his incredible power. That goes without saying, but I do feel the need to specify that regardless of what I’m about to say as to how it’s happening, the first, and main ingredient is incredible power. I still don’t know that I’d put it at 80, which would mean he’s got the best power in the game of baseball, but I’d probably move my original assessment of 65 up to 70 power, at least.
Next, something that has allowed Gattis to thrive in these late game situations is very similar to what allowed him to thrive so much early in the season, and what led him to struggle as a starter for the month after he hit the legendary neck high fastball homerun off Strasburg. Gattis is very feast or famine. In particular he destroys fastballs on the inner half, and he’s pretty bad with anything on the outer half. A starting pitcher is much more likely to look over the scouting report of the starters and figure out how to most efficiently dissect them. A reliever probably has neither a clue what the scouting report is for a pinch hitter, nor does he typically care, because he believes his stuff can overpower anybody.
Let’s look at the numbers with Gattis, so it doesn’t seem as if I’m narrative spitballing here:
Gattis Inner Half:
Gattis Outer Half:
As we see, he’s Babe Ruth on the inside and maybe, I don’t know, a bad version of Juan Francisco on the outer half.
While we’re probably 170 or so plate appearances away from much of an idea of whether or not Gattis will be able to adjust to starting pitchers who just kill him with pitches on the outer half, I think we do have some reason to believe that he can be a very valuable weapon in pinch hitting situations against relievers who think they can overpower him.
May 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Julio Teheran was incredible last night, Taking a shutout into the 9th inning, before giving up a solo shot, for a still mighty impressive 8 1/3 innings of 1 run ball. He didn’t fan a lot of people, but he control was outstanding, and he kept 94 MPH velocity into the 9th. He did this while these were the three changeups he threw:
Which makes the issue of his changeup even more problematic, he was good while his historically best pitch was terrible. What does he do with it?
Julio has thrown very few changeups this season, 35 to be exact, and they’ve by and large been awful when he has. From various quotes, it seems to be an issue where most all parties agree that the pitch just isn’t there right now. He went through a grip change, and briefly flashed a decent-good changeup a few times when McCann was catching him with a 3 run lead, but he then threw three awful changeups with Laird last night that weren’t even competitive and abandoned the pitch. Julio isn’t happy with the pitch right now and clearly doesn’t want to throw it, the catchers seem fine to oblige him on that point, and there isn’t any pressure from Roger McDowell or Fredi Gonzalez for him to throw more of them.
Let’s see just how bad the changeup has been:
Here is the location of it:
We see it’s not nibbled just outside the zone a whole lot. It’s either sat in the zone or been way outside, for the most part. But perhaps that bottom 1/9 of the zone is fine enough location. Maybe hitters are taking the pitch or they’re not able to handle it there.
Next let’s look at swing rate:
Well, basically hitters are always swinging at it when it’s in the zone, and they’re taking it when it’s outside. Maybe they’re missing with some of those swings then?
Here is the contact rate for the pitch:
Well, they’re not missing it much when it’s in the zone. Maybe they’re making weak contact?
Here is the in play ISO graph for the pitch:
So, yeah, they’re pretty much destroying it when it’s in the zone.
You can probably guess this doesn’t add up very well for Julio’s Changeup, and, well, it doesn’t:
Hitters have a .578 wOBA on the pitch. That’s essentially like if Barry Bonds, in his most ultimate peak years, got to come to plate every time Julio threw the changeup. Actually, Barry never even had a .578 wOBA, and Babe Ruth only bested that number once. Essentially he’s throwing a lot of balls with the pitch, and when he throws it for strikes it is getting crushed.
It’s a bit understandable that they’re avoiding the pitch. This, after all, is the big leagues, and the games, well they sort of count for something. It’s a doubly frustrating catch-22, because the changeup is the ultimate ‘feel pitch’ and you have to throw it a lot for it to be any good, but Teheran, and the rest of the team, clearly seem to believe that he can’t risk throwing it as anything more than a show pitch in real game action. They’ve tried to coddle the pitch along and throw it in a few spots here and there when there’s little risk for danger, but it’s clear that isn’t really enough to get the pitch back to where it was, when it was once considered his far and away best pitch, and one of the best pitches that any prospect in all of baseball possessed. Most pitchers believe that you need to throw the changeup somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 times per game for it to be effective. Not only is Julio not throwing it anywhere near that much, but when he does throw it, much of the time he’s not even trying to throw it near the strike zone, and thus it’s unclear whether that helps at all, or perhaps it even hinders the development of the pitch.
I think at this point Teheran has pitched too well to consider sending him to AAA to work on the pitch when Beachy comes back, and such a move may be devastating to his confidence. Moving to the bullpen would cause him to use the pitch even less, and would only serve to exacerbate the issue. It’s clear that neither Julio nor the Braves’ brass seem to believe that working on the pitch in live game action is a viable option, and this flirtation and bullpen workouts of the pitch clearly aren’t doing much of anything. It’s a problem with no easy answers. Can Julio be a great MLB pitcher without the pitch over the long term? I don’t really think so. His fastball is good, but neither of his breaking pitches are world beaters. He could be a 4th starter without the pitch over the long haul, but nobody wants Julio Teheran to just be a 4th starter, even if team controlled 4th starters are valuable. Anything less than a good 3rd starter would likely be viewed as a massive failure of his potential.
If Teheran had been bad, this wouldn’t be an issue, as we’d just be counting the days until we could send him down to AAA when Beachy came back. However, as is, it’s a bit of a quandary. Hopefully Wren, McDowell and Fredi see a clearer solution than I do.