Thursday, May 31, 2012

Arizona Diamondbacks: Not a Single Pitcher Adhering to Expectations

The Arizona Diamondbacks, much like the Rockies and Padres, are for all intents and purposes already out of the playoff hunt. That has to be disappointing for a team who had taken the division last season behind some pretty solid pitching and a surprisingly effective offense. This season the division around them looks to have stepped up their game, and the D-Backs haven’t been able to keep pace. The biggest culprit has been some significant regression from their very young starting rotation.

Josh Collmenter has lost his rotation spot after 4 relatively ineffective starts, but having been moved to the bullpen as a long reliever it’s an ever present reality that Collmenter may be asked to spot start in the event of injury from time to time. He has been effective as a reliever, which has likely saved him from demotion, but after 24 starts last year, the demotion to the bullpen was probably not what Collmenter was hoping for.  Collmenter has been fairly effective in relief and by all means appears to be capable of holding onto that job and contributing for the D-Backs consistently.

Daniel Hudson has regressed mightily after a strong showing last season with the D-Backs. Hudson did just return from the DL and though his first outing was a shorter one, it was a step in the right direction giving up only 2 runs over 5 innings. In his 23 innings so far he has walked 9 batters which isn’t atrocious, but his 15 strikeouts aren’t exactly impressive either. He’s getting about 50% ground balls so far, and a rather pedestrian 18% line drive rate so he’s not doing especially poorly anywhere but the 5 home runs he’s given up sting a little. Hudson could return to be more effective than he was in the early going, and if his last 3 seasons (two of them partial) are any indication, Hudson is much more effective than he has been early on and could prove to be much more valuable going forward than he has been in the early going.

Patrick Corbin looks to have been filling in for Hudson during his DL stint, and over that course showed a few relatively effective starts highlighted by a 7 inning 1 run performance against San Francisco. Corbin was of course also shelled in one of his outings and was generally ineffective in another. At 22 years old the promise of his good starts should outweigh the frustration with his less effective outings. His 21% line drive rate is less than impressive, but his 18 strikeouts over 27 & ⅓ innings and his 9 walks to go with them are pretty palatable for a young starter. Corbin may be done in the majors for the time being, but he has gotten a taste of the major leagues, and could be all the better for it. He has shown an ability to learn from his mistakes in the minors and could come back in or before September with some impressive changes made to his approach.

Wade Miley joined the rotation in place of Collmenter and has been lights out all season. His 2.41 ERA is as sparkling a stat as you will see from a 25 year old in his first full season in the majors. He’s put together 52 & ⅓ innings between relief and starting so far, and has been pretty solid across the board. While he’s not striking out a ton of batters (32 so far) he’s not walking the park either (18 walks on the season) and has been effective in not only avoiding damage, but in eating innings, having only missed completing 6 innings once since joining the rotation. He’s pitching to contact effectively enough, and avoiding line drives better than most at 16% of balls in play. He’s also near 50% ground balls so far. He’s very young, but has demonstrated a pretty solid understanding of how to pitch in the majors so far and could be one of the biggest surprises for the D-Backs so far. I don’t know that the league won’t make adjustments and we could see him come back down to earth from his 170 ERA+ but he’s certainly showing reason to believe he can help the team.

Trevor Cahill has compiled 61 & ⅓ innings of work so far, and has been consistent, if somewhat unimpressive so far. He’s pitching to a 3.96 ERA, but has given up 4 earned runs in 3 of his last 4 starts, two of which were against the San Francisco Giants. Cahill is providing value, if nothing else, and the biggest complaint against the young starter would probably be his 26 walks so far. Not exactly killing himself with walks, but certainly not helping his cause at near 4 per 9. Cahill is an extreme groundball pitcher and if he can get his walk rate down below the 10% mark, he could prove to be a very valuable starting pitcher, capable of going deep in games and with an adequate defense behind him look like quite the star. Currently he’s providing pretty solid value, but could really shine with a bit more polish.

Joe Saunders is proving us all wrong, after an impressive effort at age 30, the general consensus was that he just wasn’t that good, and would likely regress this season. That said he hasn’t. He’s walking fewer, striking out more, and providing effective innings for his team. His 113 ERA+ is a perfect example of such. His career ERA+ is 103, and he’s overall found a way to be better at everything this year, except maybe giving up hits, which he’s doing at about the same rate as always, and slightly worse than last year. He’s limiting opposing batters to 14% line drives, and has otherwise been himself as far as contact rate goes. With that rather low, and likely unsustainable line drive rate in mind, Saunders might be due for a bit of regression, but with his improved control, he might be able to sustain a number that’s not much higher, closer to his career 18% and still be quite effective. I don’t mean to say that Saunders is an actual ace, but for this staff he might be the next best thing.

Ian Kennedy hasn’t quite been able to turn himself back into that rock solid starter and Cy Young contender he was last year, he’s managed some pretty solid starts, and has been eating innings even in his tougher games so far. He is giving up more homers than one might like to see (9) but he’s still working his strikeout and walk numbers very close to last season’s rates, which is promising. IPK is pretty much looking just like the guy who was in the Cy Young race last year, except the results aren’t turning in. He’s not getting any more grounders than last season, actually at his lowest rate since his ‘07 debut with the Yankees, but still very close to the results from the past two seasons. He is keeping hitters off balance enough that they’re only putting up 17% line drives, which is better than he has produced over the past two years, but his BABIP (.317) is about 40 points higher than last year, which could be a product of a bit of bad luck and might come down some as the year progresses. IPK wasn’t exactly a media darling in New York, but he did develop a pretty thick skin, and is probably better for it. He’s likely to get through this and post a respectable season, despite the team’s already effectively dashed hopes for the post season.

I can’t honestly see the D-Backs making a real strong push for the postseason without the rotation putting it together in a hurry. Between the relatively weak starting rotation they’ve put forth all year, they’ve gotten terrible performance overall from Putz despite his 11 saves so far. Their pitching staff is 11th in the NL in ERA and could do to find a way to fix that in a hurry. Their offense is the definition of mediocre, 8th in homers, batting average, slugging percentage, and runs. They’re getting solid production from just about anyone they put out in the field, even if nobody’s been able to carry the team offensively for any stretch of time. If the Dodgers were having a worse year, Arizona would still be in the hunt despite their sub .500 record. That said, they’re 10 games out already, and while their rotation is better now than it has been at any other point this season, it’s not great, and with a middling offense, they’d need to really start blanking opponents for a while to crawl back into any playoff conversation at this point.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Colorado Rockies: How NOT to Build a Rotation

The Colorado Rockies have a significant history of insignificance. While they have made 3 postseason appearances in their short existence, they haven’t been able to capitalize on their occasional success, and in short order fell back off to being a sub .500 club last year. For a long time Coors field was considered nothing, if not a hitters park, and while that may be true despite their use of a humidor to try to deaden the flight of the ball in the thin/dry Rocky Mountain air, there’s no excuse for the quality (or lack thereof) of the Rockies’ staff.

Guillermo Moscoso pitched admirably for Oakland last year, and when given an opportunity to spot start in Colorado was promptly shelled in back to back starts. Moscoso gave up 12 runs in 9 & ⅓ innings. It feels safe to say that while he didn’t help any, he’s not really the problem here, and probably won’t be making any more starts for the Rockies in the immediate future.

Christian Friedrich started strong, with back to back quality starts but has since looked an awful lot more fallible, giving up 8 and 3 runs over 10 total innings. It’s indicative of exactly what the expectations are in Colorado that his most recent 5 inning 3 run start has been cited as a good performance. Now granted it is a serviceable start, he did strike out 6 and he only walked 1 batter but that’s not what you’re looking for out of your starters. 5 innings, no matter how dominant are not a goal most starters should have. That said, Friedrich has managed to strike out over 25% of batters faced, and could provide some value for the Rox. He is however an extreme flyball pitcher around 75% of balls in play going to the sky, and 31% of balls in play are line drives so far. Those are unsustainable numbers for any semblance of extended success. That said, he’s only faced 101 batters so far, so this is a case  where the sample size, could be indicative of nothing more than the amount of data, not the value of the results.

Drew Pomeranz has not made himself out to be a terrifically effective starter so far. Pomeranz has been out since May 7th with a bruised quad, but in the 5 starts he managed for the Rox, he only made it into the 6th inning once, in his 6 & ⅔ inning effort against the Dodgers. In the early going, Pomeranz showed a propensity for the walk, this season allowing 15 free passes to his 20 strikeouts in only 23 innings. I don’t know exactly what to say about Pomeranz’s performance, it seems to be pretty clear, he managed 1 valuable start for his team in 5 attempts, and only because of how few innings he had pitched, he was able to bring his ERA under 5 with that performance, and while his two starts preceding that outing had been positive enough, only 3 total runs over 9 innings, he did walk 6 batters over those 9 innings and 4 more over that one quality start. He’s not exactly impressing in his rehab starts at the moment either, but he is perhaps rediscovering a delivery that is less erratic. I don’t see Pomeranz making a serious impact for the Rox this season but at 23 there’s plenty of time for him to develop into a more effective starter. With that said, the team may decide to suffer through some more of his brand of pitching if he can keep from walking the bases loaded in AAA.

Jhoulys Chacin looks to have fallen off from his excellent season last year in a big way. Early this month the Rox put him on the 15 day DL with shoulder inflammation, which turned out to be a torn pectoral muscle. Chacin walks too many batters when he’s on, so when that got worse, that might have been cause for concern, but perhaps this issue has been bothering him longer than we knew. Weakness in his pitching arm would certainly be cause for concern if it impacts his ability to spot his pitches. He’s been up and down in his ground ball rates but he’s at an all time low this year, and his line drive rate (24%) is 9% higher than last year. All of this is cause for concern. I’d expect some type of rebound as the season wears on, but Chacin needs to make sure he’s got good strength in that arm before making any starts in the minors.

Alex White is not exactly pitching himself into the good graces of management either, though as I’ve highlighted so far, they might not really be any pickier than having warm bodies on the field at the moment. White has 2 quality starts so far, and has looked to be one of the better overall options for the Rox this season despite his unsightly 6.28 ERA. He’s not walking a ton of batters so far, and has 18 strikeouts over his first 28 & ⅔ innings. Not exactly overpowering but potentially more effective than some of his rotation mates. He is sitting with an ugly .337 BABIP despite his ground ball pitching so far. He is giving up 21% of balls in play as line drives, which is higher than may be desirable, but he is getting batters to swing on top of pitches, and that can eventually breed success. He’s not preventing home runs in any intense fashion, but 4 over his first 5 starts isn’t terrible, just not good. Overall, White could work out to be better than he has shown so far in Colorado, but at the moment he’s just a warm body on the mound. Overall, White is another young pitcher on this staff at only 23 years old pitching in one of the worst pitchers parks in baseball. He’s not excelling on the road either, but confidence and experience could go a long way toward helping resolve those issues.

Juan Nicasio is looking a bit shaky as well, though he does have the best ERA of the regular starters for the team, which isn’t saying a lot at 5.11 but he has hovered around a much more acceptable 4.50 between bad starts. He has managed to put together some very good starts, and has gone 6 innings or more in 6 of his 10 starts so far, so if there’s one thing Nicasio is doing better than anyone else for the Rox, he’s battling to save the bullpen, even when he’s not at his best. He has walked 21 batters over the 56 & ⅓ innings he’s given his club so far, but he’s also struck out 53, so while his walk rate isn’t exactly palatable, he is doing pretty well to get timely strikeouts despite it. He is allowing an unsettling amount of fly balls and 26% of balls in play have been liners, which doesn’t sound pretty, and it isn’t. He’s given up 7 homers so far, which isn’t terrible, though when you’re giving up fly balls like he is, more are bound to leave the yard than one would like. Overall Nicasio has shown great promise, despite not getting excellent results, and that might continue to be the case throughout the year.

Jeremy Guthrie is a curveball pitcher, he throws it about 12% of the time. They don’t break well in Colorado and that has been evident in Guthrie’s results. Guthrie was the staff ace for a bad staff for 5 years in Baltimore, and looks to be showing exactly what he’s made of so far for the Rox. Guthrie’s curve heavy arsenal is killing him at home, so far in all 3 starts at home he’s given up 6 earned runs in each start, and given up 5 homers. When a curveball doesn’t break, it’s a BP fastball, and that’s not good news in a live game situation. Guthrie has pitched pretty well on the road, his last road start being anything but pretty, though some of that could be attributed to the error(s) that lead to 4 unearned runs scoring. He’s not been able to get the strikeout numbers he’s used to, and he’s giving up walks in near 10% of plate appearances, which is a terrible combination. He’s also seeing 24% of balls in play go for line drives, up from a career mark of 18%. He’s given up 9 home runs in his 40 & ⅔ innings so far, which works out to about 2 per 9 innings pitched. Guthrie needs to rely more on his slider and change at home to get through that thin air, and while he might be working it out, he couldn’t do so fast enough for the Rox.

Jamie Moyer may be the oldest player in major league baseball, he has literally been pitching longer than I’ve been alive, and this season, at 49 years old he seems to be up and down. He has pitched a total 53 & ⅔ innings for the Rox so far, and could well turn his most recent troubles around in his next start. He does, above all else, know how to pitch. Moyer looks to be as much a victim of bad luck as anything else so far. His .350 BABIP is unsightly to say the least, to realize that it’s over 60 points higher than his career mark is perhaps more unsettling. I don’t believe it’s anything but hasty to say that Moyer is done. He’s a smoke and mirrors finesse pitcher, but he’s been that guy for years and has shown the ability to provide legitimate value for the Rox. It is somewhat worrisome that he’s walking more than he has since his world series championship with the Phillies, but his strikeout rate is right around the mark he produced that season as well. He is giving up a few too many homers for my liking (11 in 10 starts), but his line drive rate (19%) is right about his career average. Moyer might well be the best pitcher on this staff regardless of age or arsenal. He’s looking to be the only starter who’s actually getting robbed by his own team. there’s no excuse for a .350 BABIP, and that will come down, and once it does, his WHIP should follow.

The Rockies aren’t exactly known for having a dominant pitching staff, they have to combat an oversized outfield, an outright inability to use some breaking pitches at home, and until recently were saddled with the most homer happy park in the majors. What’s perhaps most frustrating for the Rockies is that they have the 3rd most productive lineup in the National league, but are 10 games under .500. That’s going to happen when you have the second worst team ERA in the league. The honor of “most embarrassing pitching staff in baseball” belongs to the Minnesota Twins, but with the Rox problems keeping starters healthy, that much could change at any time. While the team website has been declaring this the “year of the fan”, it has to tough to root for a team that could squander a 10 run lead in any given inning.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

San Diego Padres: Could It Get Any Worse?

The San Diego Padres have not set themselves up for success so far this season, and it’s not something that’s exactly shocking to anyone. The Padres didn’t exactly go out of their way to become a better team this past offseason, and have made it a habit to trade away top talent for prospects and/or youth and cost certainty. While they’ve been able to compete on and off, it’s certainly an “off” year so far, and they look to be spending the season at the bottom of the division for the 2nd consecutive time under Buddy Black. Looking at their rotation it becomes quite obvious why they’re not competing this year, and look I shall!

Jeff Suppan has actually given up more runs in each consecutive start than he had in the previous start all May. Suppan’s struck out a grand total of 7 batters to his 13 walks over 30 & ⅔ innings. So there are a few things that can be said immediately, Suppan isn’t eating innings, and after his 3rd start has also stopped helping his team compete. The biggest question is why. He’s giving up walks, sure, but he’s also getting ground balls like never before, so far over 50% for the first time in his career. 80% of plate appearances are ending with the ball in play, which is admittedly high, but with a consistent groundball rate, that shouldn’t totally kill him. He is also walking near 10% of batters so far, which means in 93% of situations (home runs aren’t counted in balls in play) he’s giving batters the opportunity to run the base paths. He’s not giving up line drives though at only 15% of balls in play. His BABIP doesn’t suggest this is luck though sitting at .273, which is below both the league and his career marks. Suppan is actually giving opposing batters so many chances to put the ball in play that he’s being beaten into submission purely by the volume of opportunities he’s giving opposing batters. If Suppan can’t figure out how to turn those walks into strikeouts, he’s not going to fare any better over the course of the year.

Joe Wieland has been underwhelming so far though his season looks uglier than it may really be. He’s only had 2 bad starts in his 5 turns, so in under 30 innings of work, the young man’s not exactly providing an excellent sample to work from. Wieland is on the DL at the moment, but should have already started his throwing routine to get himself back on track. He’s getting strikeouts fine, and he hasn’t been wild, so aside from concerns that he’s given up 5 homers so far, he looks capable of contributing upon his return. Wieland is preventing line drives well (14%), which could indicate positive things for the young pitcher. He’s certainly pitching home games in the right park to forgive a few mistakes here and there, and could well prove that he’s better than his rough starts indicate. He has however not touched the 7th inning so far, and could do to try to work a bit more efficiently as the season progresses.

Eric Stults has so far made 3 starts on the season, one for the White Sox who, for reasons unbeknownst to me waived him after providing a 6 inning 2 run effort and ⅔ of an inning of scoreless relief. The Padre’s managed quite the coup in snagging the 32 year old off waivers. His start today will be the 28th of his career, and while he’s not exactly a strikeout artist he has shown a knack for limiting damage so far, and is a bit better than 50% ground balls so far. He may be getting a bit lucky overall, as he seems prone to giving up a lot of line drives (24% this season) but he also hasn’t given up a homer so far. Stults may not be the answer to the Padres’ pitching woes, but right now he’s the hot hand, and that can be just as important at times. I wouldn’t look for Stults to continue his homerless streak for the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to provide value for the Padres in one capacity or another for the season.

Cory Luebke got off to a hot enough start, and in the midst of building on his strong season last year, will be sitting out the rest of this season after reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow. Luebke won’t be contributing any more for the Friars this season, but I’d look for him to come back strong and prepared to pitch next season.

Anthony Bass has eaten 58 & ⅓ innings so far for the Friars, and aside from an ugly start against the Mets in his most recent turn, Bass looks to have the ability to provide quite a bit of quality for the Padres. Bass has been able to strike out batters pretty effectively so far, with 55 Ks so far to his 21 walks. He’s keeping batters on top of pitches about ½ of the time, and he’s not getting hammered for line drives (18%) when they do lift one. Bass certainly earned himself a spot in the rotation after last year’s 48 & ⅓ inning audition, and so far hasn’t disappointed. Bass seems to be pretty solid all around, not putting a ton of men on base, and pitching smartly and efficiently more often than not. He’s still just a kid at 24 so some faltering isn’t unrealistic, but so far he’s looking to contribute in a big way for the Friars this season

Clayton Richard is currently the only contributing piece of the Friar’s trade of Jake Peavy and has been able to eat 64 & ⅓ innings so far though he’s done so in relatively unspectacular fashion. He’s been able to provide quality games but he’s far from an ace for this staff. Richard’s biggest value is going to come from his ability to eat innings, whether he’s battling or not he seems to be able to chew up innings without much issue. He’s providing an overall sustainable line, not striking out a large number of batters, but he’s keeping hitters on top of the ball more than ½ of the time, and he’s limiting line drives to 17%. He might be a bit better than his 4.76 ERA indicates, but he’s likely to show up and be any more than back of the rotation innings.

Edinson Volquez has put together 65 innings of slightly better than average ball. He’s not the ace that he’s been advertised to be but he is eating innings well enough. He’s striking batters out at a fair clip with 55 strikeouts so far, though he’s striking out about 1 less per 9 than last year, and 2 less than the year prior. With that he’s walking batters at an unreasonable clip, having walked 34 already, though that’s nothing new with Volquez. The one thing Volquez is doing well above all else is limiting home runs, which he most certainly should be doing, having only given up 1 round tripper at home so far and 3 total. He is garnering ground balls, though less than he has over the 2 most previous seasons. Volquez is also limiting line drives to 13% which is less than he has ever managed in the past, but not too far off of his last 2 seasons. Overall Volquez probably isn’t going to impress anyone more than he already has, and if he can’t get his walk rate under control his annually diminishing strikeout rate isn’t going to make him look better. He’s serviceable, and probably just a bit lucky, given that he’s usually good for about a homer per 9 and has been providing value at half that rate in Petco.

The Friars are worse than middle of the pack across the board, 10th of the 16 NL teams for staff ERA and despite being 2nd in stolen bases, are 15th in team batting average, on base percentage, and runs scored. They aren’t looking like a competitive team, and so far haven’t been this season. I’d say they’ll be sellers come the deadline, but I’m at a loss for what they’ll be able to sell that won’t further cripple their team for next season. They lack a power threat in their everyday lineup, and while Carlos Quentin might help out when healthy, their rotation, pen, and lineup are all subpar and that will assure them of a disappointing season again this year to give them their 4th sub .500 season in the last 5 years.

Friday, May 25, 2012

St Louis Cardinals: Can Their Rotation Help Them Repeat?

The St Louis Cardinals are the reigning WS Champs, and look in some ways to be stronger this year than last. That’s something of a strange statement given that they lost Albert Pujols to the Angels via free agency. However with largely the same team returning and very strong contributions from new acquisition Carlos Beltran, and an increase in productivity for David Freese the Cards seem to be doing just fine offensively. So, about that rotation...

Lance Lynn has come out of the gate hot in only his 2nd year in the bigs with 6 quality starts in his first 9 attempts. Lynn has faltered a bit lately, with his last 3 starts being his weakest efforts, though two of them were quality starts none were more than 6 innings, and he gave up 3 or more runs in each of them. This could signal something of a return to earth for the 25 year old who has been almost too good to be true for the Cards so far. Lynn’s 34 & ⅔ innings from last year don’t make the greatest set of benchmarks, but he’s struck out 52 batters so far in 56 & ⅔ innings, which is good for over 8 per 9, which is only a little bit lower than his rate from last year, and he’s walked 19 batters so far, good for a about 3 per 9. Lynn is doing pretty well with his overall stat line, giving up very few homers, and getting just better than 50% ground balls with 17% of balls in play going for line drives. Unless his dominant start is as much a product of the league’s unfamiliarity with him, he’s clearly got the stuff, and the makeup to be a successful pitcher in the majors.

Jake Westbrook has looked... great in the early going, he has looked a bit more hittable through May, but has still been relatively reliable over his starts this month (last night’s 6 run dumpster fire excluded). He has managed to keep his walk rate quite reasonable having walked only 16 batters in 56 innings, while his strikeout rate is at a 10 year high at 6.1 per 9. He has above all else been able to avoid the long ball, having given up only 3 homers in his 9 starts. Having always been a groundball pitcher, and this year is no exception, he’s garnered over 60% ground balls and has limited line drives to only 13% of balls in play. This all bodes well for Westy, who despite a down year last year, and a track record of being less than exceptional, could certainly be looking to repeat something like his ‘08 performance. Westbrook is looking good in a lot of regards, and there’s very little reason for me to believe that he’s absolutely going to fall off. Of course as he’s not a strikeout pitcher he can get into trouble giving up a lot of contact, but conservatively it looks like Westbrook is going to turn in a solid if unspectacular year, probably a bit better than league average when all is said and done.

Adam Wainwright looked to be struggling to shake off the rust after a year on the shelf but has flashed a bit of brilliance periodically, including his complete game shutout of the Padres in his most recent start. His strikeout rate is good at 8.4 per 9 though his walk rate is up (marginally) at 2.9 per 9 and he’s giving up a little more than a homer per 9 which, is atypical of Waino to say the least. He’s getting ground balls more than ever before, but not by a huge margin, and his Line drive percentage (18% of all balls in play) is pretty much in line with his career line. Coming back from Tommy John surgery isn’t an easy road for most pitchers, so it’s to be expected that Waino has some rough starts while he re-adjusts to pitching in the majors. Overall he looks to be turning the corner with that shiny new elbow ligament, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few hiccups here and there. Waino is better than his ERA indicates so far, but he’s not quite back up to All-star/Cy Young level yet.

Jaime Garcia is solid, if unspectacular, but has actually looked quite steady so far. He has amassed 6 quality starts in his 9 attempts, and has only given up more than 3 runs twice so far. Garcia has been an effective innings eater for St. Louis so far, and that’s not an unappealing quality for the back of your rotation. in 58 & ⅓ innings so far he has struck out 43 and walked 15, so while he’s not walking anybody, he isn’t striking them out either. He is the owner of a rather ugly 1.406 WHIP so far, and has managed to stay out of more trouble than most who are letting batters so readily take to the base paths by only giving up 1  homer so far. His BABIP is an absolutely disgusting .361, and while last year it was .324, a 40 point jump is quite a bit, especially given that he’s more effectively limiting line drives (only 16% of balls in play) than over the past 2 years. Garcia might be a victim of some less than stellar luck to this point, and could look to see his WHIP drop a bit as that BABIP corrects itself. Garcia may despite a diminished strikeout rate be able to provide better value to the Cards this season if he is able to keep his line drive and flyball rates at or near their current levels.

Kyle Lohse has looked like something of the staff ace so far, and while that’s not necessarily fair to throw on Lohse, who’s never been looked upon as deserving of such a role before, his productivity in the early going has certainly been a boon to the Cards. Unfortunately for Lohse and the cards he’s been having some trouble making it through the 6th inning this month, having only done so once, when he was stung for 5 runs against the Cubbies. Lohse has been able to limit damage effectively, and has the exact same WHIP now that he finished last season with (1.168) though that’s due this year to more hits and less walks than last season, he’s been very good about keeping the ball in the yard so far having given up only 4 homers over his first 9 starts. Lohse looks to be more lucky than good overall so far, he’s never been a groundball pitcher, and this year is no exception. He’s giving up 22% of balls in play for line drives, which is not far off of last season’s mark at all. I’d worry about Lohse’s ability to return to the kind of effective pitching he put together last month, and he may revert to the type of ERA that we expect out of him more than what he has provided so far.
Chris Carpenter has been sidelined with a shoulder injury all year and hasn’t made a single start for the Cards this season. The glass ace has been effective over the past 3 years, and was a huge boon to the Cards while Wainwright was out last season, but looks to be back to old habits. With any luck this is a flukey injury and Carp can return around the All-star break and provide a bit of a pick me up for the Cards who are already seeing pretty solid production from the rotation, but giving the team leverage to move someone for a need elsewhere in the team is never a bad thing.

Overall the Cards pitching staff is ranking in the middle of the pack for the NL, but it looks more or less like that can be attributed to a less than perfect bullpen, which looks at a cursory glance to be a target for improvement. Jason Motte is pitching effectively, as are Mitchell Boggs and  Marc Rzepczynski (I understand after having finally typed that why you folks refer to him as “Scrabbles”), however the rest of the ‘pen has not fared quite as well so far. That said, the team is sitting on a very solid rotation, and has the best offense in the National League so far with 59 total homers and 240 runs. They also rank first in batting average, OBP, and SLG. They have been taking their walks and stealing bases effectively as well (6th and 5th respectively), so regardless of what could be happening with Pujols, the team is scoring runs just fine. With their very effective rotation, and their dominant offense (despite rather significant losses), the Cards are in position to make a nice post season run.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cincinnati Reds: Performance That Defies Expectations

The Cincinnati Reds have been all over the place over the last 4 years as a franchise. Without really overhauling the team, they have managed to place 4th, 1st, 3rd, and are now 2nd in the NL Central. Their rotation is full of youth, and some of it fairly productive, though with Aroldis Chapman in the ‘pen there was a potential to upgrade the rotation but that fell through with the Ryan Madson injury during spring training.

Mike Leake has not put together the start he may have wanted to this season, after a pair of league average seasons he’s looking at an ugly season in the early going, and has failed to make it to through the 4th inning twice so far. He’s got 4 Quality starts, his last 2 being perhaps the most promising all season, having given up 3 walks over the 14 combined innings with 11 strikeouts against only 2 earned (4 total) runs to show for it. Leake has overall been ineffective, though the last 2 starts could signal a bit of a turn around there. He’s getting fewer ground balls than he has before and is giving up more line drives (22% of balls in play) so far than ever before, and that’s not exactly going to help him. He’s not doing anything better this year than he did last year, and that will probably not benefit him. If Leake can build on his last 2 strong starts he could turn in a good year and be content with that. If he happens to regress to the generally ineffective behavior from his first 6 starts, Leake will get burned and likely turn in a worse year than his rookie season. Perhaps the biggest thing to keep in mind for Leake is that he’s only 24 years old, and has plenty of learning to do as a pitcher.

Homer Bailey has looked like he’s regressing a bit on just about all the wrong ways, but he’s been lucky to get away with overall comparable results. He’s getting fewer strikeouts than he has since really getting himself entrenched in the rotation, and is walking more batters than last year. He’s also giving up more hits, and more home runs than he has since ‘08. Bailey has 6 quality starts in 8 attempts, but only 2 of them have really been “good” games for the pitcher, going 6 and ⅔ and 7 innings and giving up 1 earned run in each. He has been effective in soaking up innings if nothing else, he has made it into the 7th 4 times, and has failed to make it into the 6th only once. Overall we’re seeing just a little bit of regression out of Bailey everywhere, and the biggest thing that stands out to me is that 26% of balls in play are line drives, he’s probably missing over the center of the plate, and that’s going to continue to translate into extra base hits. Bailey could make a few adjustments and probably be better than he has been in the past, but right now all he amounts to for Cincy is a below average innings eater.

Mat Latos looks to be a bit less comfortable in Cincy than he did with the Padres having only managed 3 quality starts in his first 9 attempts, and having been generally unimpressive  overall. He’s doing pretty well in terms of strikeouts, but he’s giving up more hits, and walks than he has over the past 2 years, which are turning into runs, and that’s certainly not what he wants. Latos is a fly ball pitcher, and has taken that to the extreme so far this season while giving up more line drives (21%) than one would expect of him (carreer 16%). so while he’s still effectively striking out over 20% of opposing batters, he’s also walking near 10% and when he’s not striking ‘em out or walking them, they’ve been able to put good wood on the ball. Latos would need to make some pretty big corrections to salvage this year, but they’re necessary adjustments for him to make. He is, like Leake only 24 years old, but he was expected to contribute much more than this for the Reds.

Bronson Arroyo has only once looked quite this effective in his career, 7 years ago in his first season in Cincinnati. So far, despite giving up a lot of hits the 35 year old obligatory staff veteran has turned back the clock and is striking out near 7 batters per 9 while walking only 8 batters over 58 & ⅔ innings so far. I don’t know how sustainable either of those numbers are for a pitcher who has never been quite so accurate with his walk numbers (never really been terrible either for what it’s worth) and has been seeing a decline in his strikeout rate over the past few years. Arroyo has been effective in eating innings so far, and has managed to not give up more than 4 earned runs in any given start this season, and aside from those 3 rougher starts has managed 5 quality starts, and has overall looked like he’s turned back the clock after a serious down year. Arroyo has however become quite the flyball pitcher this season, though that’s not exactly new and has been giving up line drives at a 22% clip, which isn’t exactly good news. I’d expect Arroyo to start to taper off after a hot start. His peripheral stats just don’t support the kind of results he’s managed to achieve so far and if his walk and strikeout rates normalize the high hit total will start to bite him in the ass.

Johnny Cueto has been the staff ace for the Reds so far, which is right in line with his performance over the last two seasons. He’s not an overwhelming strikeout pitcher, but he also doesn’t give up a lot of walks. He’s managed to shrink his walk rate to less than 2 per 9 so far while he’s holding onto last year’s strikeout rate pretty well. He has 7 quality starts so far in 9 attempts and has the only complete game so far on the staff. He is giving up more hits than last year, but has avoided the long ball better than most having given up 4 home runs over his 59 & ⅓ innings so far. I don’t know that Cueto’s as good as his ERA would make one believe, a lot of his success last year came from keeping away from line drives, and keeping batters on top of pitches. He’s generating less than 50% ground balls and is giving up 20% of balls in play as line drives, so he may start to see rallies when opposing batters catch on to this trend. He is getting ahead of batters well, 60% of plate appearances have started off with a strike, and that will help him keep batters off the base paths. Overall Cueto is probably the best pitcher in the Reds rotation, but is likely due to regress some much like Arroyo.

I can’t see the Reds, despite their relatively effective pitching staff (5th best ERA in the NL) competing late into the season, they have a pretty weak lineup, having so far amassed the 12th most runs and 14th best OBP in the NL. They could desperately use an impact bat, which could come with more production from Ryan Ludwick or by trade, but as they’re currently composed it looks to me like the Reds are in line to start falling off, though they may be on the cusp of playoff contention they don’t look poised to make any type of deep run if they happen to find themselves in the postseason.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ode to Jeff Suppan

Pre-game tonight the Cardinals announcers were praising how well Jeff Suppan is doing.  Come on people, look into this stuff before pontificating!

I can’t believe I live in a world where this stuff happens.  First Volquez, now Jeff Suppan.  Jeff Suppan, entering tonight’s game, has an ERA of 3.00.  His BB/9 is virtually the same to his career numbers.  His K/9 is a wonderfully funny 1.7.  Career wise he K’s about 5 per 9 innings, so that may come up some.  Like Volquez, his HR rate is down massively.  1.2 career, 0.4 this year.  That’s coming up.  A lot.  And I’m not buying the Petco excuse for him.  His career number has been pretty constant whether pitching in a pitcher’s haven (like Busch) or in a hitter’s haven (like Miller Park), so I guarantee that’s coming up.  A lot.  And soon.

Also, like Volquez, his BABIP is incredibly low.  In his career, he is a .301 (which is actually about average).  This year?  .253.  Yeah, that ain’t keeping.  He will come back down and be the good ol’ 4.5-4.8 ERA Jeff Suppan.  When?  Well the Cards touched him up for 3 in the first inning, so I’d say by the end of June we’ll be seeing the really real Jeff Suppan shine through.

I loved Suppan when he was a Cardinal (which, if you haven’t noticed yet, there are very few I don’t).  Never thought he was more than an average pitcher, and overperforming in the 2006 NLCS will always be one of my favorite baseball memories.  Seeing him in Game 7 (greatest NLCS game in history) get Jose Valentin to strike out and Endy Chavez to pop up to center with the bases loaded after Chavez made that catch was incredible.  In 15 innings in that series he gave up 1 earned run (first inning of Game 7), 5 hits and 6 walks.  You were amazing.  I thank you for that.  But, really, you sorta suck now.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Low Expectations, High Aspirations?

Perennial basement dwellers, the Pittsburgh Pirates have managed to defy all expectations last year and managed to finish 4th in the division, and while still a sub .500 team as of this writing are still building on the “success” of last season. Their rotation looks a good bit different now, and the addition of a pair of veterans has probably been a good thing for the team, it’s hard to immediately say how much it will help in the standings.

Brad Lincoln made 8 starts for the pirates last season and was worth an ERA+ of 80 after giving up 25 earned runs over 47 & ⅔ innings. He’s made 1 start for the Bucs this season
going 6 innings and giving up 2 earned runs. He looks to be more of the de facto long reliever for the Pirates this season but could easily step in with a potential injury or an extended period of ineffectiveness somewhere in the rotation. As a reliever he’s garnering a lot more strikeouts than he has in the last 2 seasons and has never had a huge walk rate, which hasn’t changed. Lincoln is probably a bit better now than he was a year ago, but it’s hard to imagine him up and winning a starting job mid season without someone else really dropping the ball.

Jeff Karstens unfortunately went down early this season after two productive if not overwhelming outings. He looks to return to his spot in the rotation sooner rather than later. Karstens seemed to have finally put it all together last season. Looking at 2 starts and an inning before injury sidelined him isn’t exactly great sample size to work from (it’s probably only slightly more accurate than asking a drunk buddy how he’ll pitch when he comes back), but that’s been my method so far, so crap sample or not, that’s all we’ve got to go with. He wasn’t striking much of anybody out in the early going, but that’s never been his M.O. so we can probably let that go and celebrate the total 2 walks in 12 innings he’s allowed. As is the case for any pitcher who strikes out 2-3 batters per outing, Karstens relies on pitching to contact, which worked out better for him last year when he was actually getting ground balls, but in his whole 12 inning sample we’d seen 27% of contact result in line drives. It’s hard to say that Karstens is going to come back and pick up where he left off, testing his outfielders every 5th day, that probably had a lot to do with his shoulder bothering him.

A.J. Burnett showed up in his first start of the year after breaking an orbital bone during bunting drills and made the Yankees look like a bunch of chumps for letting him go. He has since had all of 1 bad game, wherein he gave up 12 runs in less than 3 innings to the very same Cardinals that he blanked for 7 in his return to the NL. He has otherwise given up 2 runs, and gone no less than 6 innings in every start not against the Cards. So, outside of one truly  bad start, Burnett has looked like vintage Burnett much more so than the 3 years in NY, AJ’s strikeout numbers are right on point, while he’s walking fewer than he has at any point in his career. He is however also sitting right on his career home run per 9 rate in his first 6 starts. His BABIP is up a bit over his career, sitting at .321 which is higher than it was in 2 of his 3 years of Yankee tenure, so that might come down, might not. He seems to have rediscovered the ground ball though, so that could help him this season. He’s been wildly inconsistent in his groundball rate throughout his career ranging from highly effective seasons well above 50% and above average seasons in the low 40s so what he’s doing now really doesn’t help forecast anything about success, but it does probably mean his curveball is working again. His BABIP is likely mostly attributed to his 23% of balls in play going for line drives, they are however staying in the park, which they haven’t done over the past few years despite having given them up about 6% less of the time. Burnett looks to be a steal for the Pirates who have 2 years of Burnett left, though they’re not paying for too much of it.

Charlie Morton isn’t quite wowing everyone at the moment, but he’s also not pitching so poorly as to have him run out of town (In all fairness, I don’t know how bad a pitcher would actually have to be for Pirates fans to run them out of town, he did spend 17 starts racking up a 7.57 ERA in 2010 and has held onto the job for 2 years since). He’s walked 10 batters so far in his first 39 & ⅓ innings and has struck out 24, so he’s also pitching to contact, and the 11 hits per 9 leads me to believe he’s pitching to a lot of it. I’d say that a great deal of them have been bad luck, doubly so because he’s getting a lot of ground balls and has effectively limited line drives to a very manageable 16% of balls in play. Morton has given up 5 homers so far in his 39 & ⅓ innings to equate to a little more than 1 per 9 so he’s a little homer prone in the early going. Overall, Morton might be exactly what we’re seeing out of him at this point in his career. He’s not suddenly going to look like an ace, but he will probably go 6 give up 3 most of the time for the Bucs.

Kevin Correia put together a stellar April, and then promptly decided that he was much more comfortable out of the spotlight and has subsequently managed 2 textbook quality starts(6 innings 3 runs and 7 innings 3 runs) and two starts that looked like what Josh Beckett does when he’s not allowed to play  enough golf between starts. Now, Correia isn’t exactly worthless, he has been steadily making 6+ innings per start outside of one I’m sure he’d like to take a mulligan on in Miami and a weak but not totally damning start in Atlanta. Correia is has managed all of 16 strikeouts in his 46 innings so far, on the flip side of that coin, he only has 15 walks (5 of which came in that game in Atlanta). His peripheral stats look like he’s made some changes to his plans on the mound, or he’s gotten relatively lucky so far and is soon to start providing more of those 3.2 inning 6 ER starts than the 6 inning 1-2 run starts he started the year with. Correia is nearly an even 50/50 split between grounders and fly balls, which is great, though it’s significantly higher than he’s put together outside of his 2010 season. He is also limiting line drives to a pretty minimal 13% of balls in play. also something he’s never really done before. I’d have to assume Correia is going to continue regressing some and probably look more like he has since the beginning of May than he did in April.

James McDonald has suddenly decided he’s tired of being a league average pitcher and has stopped walking batters, is striking out more than 1 batter per inning, and has been the best starter in the rotation by over a full run so far. Now, that’s all well and good, but it may well be too good to be true. McDonald does have 58 strikeouts, he also has only 18 walks in his 57 + innings. His WHIP is sitting below 1.000, and has given up all of 2 homers so far. He’s never in the last 4 years done anything that would indicate that this is sustainable. Now, he has had his flashes of brilliance, and if that’s happened to come full circle, maybe fixed a hitch in his windup, or is finally feeling comfortable in the bigs, I don’t know, it’s pure speculation. I do know that he’s doing a very good job of limiting the damage across the board, but very little has changed in his stat line. He’s still a fly ball pitcher, though slightly less so than ever before, it’s a few year trend so far, getting a few more grounders each year. He’s also not too far off his career for line drives at 17%, little better than the league, and not at all unreasonable. What does get me is that his BABIP is almost 40 points lower than it has ever been before, so some of this has all but got to be luck. I can’t say that He’s up and become a true ace, but I can’t see what is 100% unsustainable. Even if his BABIP and WHIP normalize, he’ll still be looking better than last year. I’d be surprised to see him continue to completely shut out the long ball, but he’s keeping men off base pretty well so even when they do happen, they don’t look like they’re going to hurt him too bad.

Erik Bedard is looking a lot like last year’s Erik Bedard, similar, high strikeout total, not unreasonable walk rate, and a tolerable WHIP. So far he’s walked 18, allowed 46 hits, and struck out 48 in his 46 innings. Now, Bedard has been an injury risk for every team he’s played for. His last, and only, full season came in ‘06 for the Orioles and it looks like this year won’t be any exception to that. Bedard left a game after a 5 pitch 1st inning on May 9th with back spasms. Since then he has given up 8 runs in 11 innings which brought his ERA up almost a full run from a very dominant 2.57 to a much more “not bad for the NL” 3.52.  That all said Bedard isn’t doing anything out of line with his career, so he could very well continue being a very good, no. 2/fringe ace when healthy, the biggest question mark with Bedard is always exactly that, “Is he healthy?”.

Overall the Pirates have the 4th best ERA and have allowed the 6th least home runs. They are however 13th overall in strikeouts, so they’re going to live and die on contact and the reliability of their defense. They are fielding the most anemic lineup in the National League at the moment, scoring the least runs, and having the lowest OBP in the league. That’s no way to support a respectable pitching staff, and they need to make some changes to really contend for a wildcard spot, let alone the division. The Bucs are a year or 2 away from anything particularly noteworthy, but there’s some promise there. I would expect them to stand pat rather than become sellers at the deadline, though someone like Bedard who’s on a 1 year contract might be worth flipping if a bat with some contract length becomes available.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crashing down to Earth at a ballpark near you this summer...

Edinson Volquez.

Show of hands, how many people read that in the movie trailer guy's voice?

In any case:
Through his 9 starts this year, Edinson Volquez has thrown 53 1/3 innings and allowed 18 earned runs (21 total), at least according to says that in the same time he’s allowed 20 earned runs and 21 runs total.  Let's stick with BR for now, since they have ERA+ calculated already.  Normally his ERA (3.04) would equate to an ERA+ of 123.  His ERA+ pitching in Petco?  115.  Still a decent number, but enough difference to notice.  He’s really pitching 8% worse than it looks because of Petco.

And that brings us to the diatribe for today. That ERA is on its way up.  His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which uses the things a pitcher can control the most, K’s BB’s and HR’s, to estimate what his ERA should be) is 3.37, and his xFIP (FIP calculated with league average HR rates) is 3.83.  Once he makes a few more road starts and is outside of Petco, those HR rates (0.51 this year, 1.01 career) will start to normalize.  When that happens, he’ll give up more runs.  

It’s amazing me that his ERA is as low as it is, since his K/9 is roughly the same as his career and his BB/9 is also roughly the same.  Big difference is his BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play-measures the frequency of hits that remain in the park and stays pretty constant over a career) is about 30 points lower than usual.  I don’t know if he’s getting better defense (Cinnci usually had some good defenders) now in San Diego so I think that his BABIP is going to return to normal which will also cause him to give up more runs because he’ll be giving up more hits.  That WHIP is still mediocre (1.31) and again is causing me to really think that he’ll be coming down to Earth real soon.  I’d be surprised if he’s still pitching this “well” by the All-Star Break.

If he doesn't, Foment will pay everyone here $150.