Friday, July 11, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MLB Mid-Season Awards Part Two

MLB Mid-Season Awards Part Two

National League Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke (Brewers)

            Let me be the first in stating that the Manager of the Year award is like the RBI of awards, relatively meaningless in comparison to MVP or Cy Young. It is much easier to point to somebody and say what a terrible manager they are as opposed to picking out the good ones. There are probably a couple good selections for this award, but so far I have to hand it to Ron Roenicke for sticking with Scooter Gennett at second base, when a number of managers would have probably let Rickie Weeks be the permanent second baseman. He also deserves credit with sticking Francisco Rodriguez as the closer again, where Rodriguez has performed well at this year. Coming into the year I did not expect this team to be in the National League Central playoff hunt, but here we are, with the Brewers leading the tough division by 6.5 games. Have to give some credit to Ron for decisions that have lead to their success.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin (Athletics)

            Melvin has done a good job in Oakland this year once again, leading the American League West by five games. He probably has kept the offensively-anemic Eric Sogard in at second base for too many games, but the other choice for the spot is Nick Punto, so I cannot really blame Melvin. Melvin also deserves credit for keeping Brandon Moss as the daily first baseman as opposed to trying out Daric Barton, who has failed at first base time and time again. Oakland’s rotation has performed better this season than last, even with the injuries, and I will give Melvin some credit with not freaking out when given Scott Kazmir as your number two starter in 2014. Oakland currently sits with a wacky run differential of +134, which Melvin gets a tiny bit of credit for utilizing guys properly.

Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year: Starting Pitcher Scott Kazmir (Athletics)

            It is hard to overemphasize how done Scott Kazmir looked a few years ago. Despite having a strikeout per nine innings rate of 9.2 last year, Kazmir posted a 4.04 ERA, which while improved was far from the ace that was once of the Tampa Bay Rays (then Devil Rays). In 103.1 innings pitched, Kazmir has an ERA of 2.61, an ERA+ of 145, a hits per nine innings rate of 7.1, a career low. His walks per nine innings are also a career low at 2.1. His strikeouts per nine innings are only 7.9, which is a bit disappointing, but he is not going for the Cy Young award. He is the number two starter on the best team in baseball and has produced when injury struck Oakland’s rotation. I am not sure it is fair to say Scott Kazmir is back, but he is no longer the joke he was thought of just a couple of years ago.

National League Comeback Player of the Year: Starting Pitcher Josh Beckett (Dodgers)

            Beckett was viewed as dead weight last year, posting an ERA+ of 70 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, with his hits per nine innings reaching a high of 10.4. Beckett was walking 3.1 batters per nine innings. His home runs per nine innings reached a career high of 1.66. Everything suddenly changed for Beckett this year, reducing his walks per nine innings to 2.69 and his home runs per nine innings to 1.06. This year Josh Beckett has an ERA of 2.11 and an ERA+ of 168. Explaining Beckett’s magical comeback is probably another article if I could find a way to really explain it, but Beckett has had various slumps throughout his career, the latest lasting two full seasons in which he posted an ERA+ of 89 and 70. Beckett is holding his own and proving to be better than some of the others in the rotation (Greinke, Haren, Ryu). In ERA+, he is second only to the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, who has an ERA+ of 174. Beckett just being a step behind Kershaw after being dead weight last year makes him the National League Comeback Player of the Year. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

MLB Mid-Season Awards Part One

MLB Mid-Season Awards Part One

            July begins tomorrow, meaning the all-star game approaches, and we are more than halfway through the season. We have a large enough sample to make some effort in determining who should win various awards so far based on performance throughout the season. Things can and will obviously change from here until season’s end, so these are just for fun.

American League Most Valuable Player: Outfielder Mike Trout (Angels)

            Trout continues to be not only the best player in baseball, but continues a trend that puts him in elite company. Trout, age twenty-two, is now the all-time leader in fWAR among MLB players in history through their age twenty-two season. He currently leads Ty Cobb by 0.7 fWAR with a good portion of the season remaining. As of right now, Trout is a once-in-a-lifetime-type player. In 344 plate appearances this season, Mike Trout has an OPS of 1.017, a career-high in an already impressive career. His weighted on base average, or wOBA, is second in all of baseball only to Troy Tulowitzki, at .432. Tulowitzki has a pretty stark home/away difference in terms of batting and power, giving Trout the edge as the best player in baseball. This is not as stark with Trout, who has a home OPS of 1.025 and an away OPS of 1.009. That kind of consistency is what makes Trout a better hitter. Beyond the bat, Trout is as close to perfect as you will see today. His baserunning is arguably the best in baseball, with good speed, especially for someone with his size. Some may say he has developed an 80 power tool, hitting a home run that was unofficially measured at 489 feet, but regardless of where you rate the power, it is there, as he has hit eighteen thus far and is likely to reach a career-high by year’s end. Trout has been good-to-very good defensively, spending the entire season in center field. I can understand the argument behind Tulowitzki if you want to try it, but I think the home/away split and baserunning separates him by quite a bit.

National League Most Valuable Player: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)

At Coors, Tulowitzki is Superman, putting up a ridiculous OPS of 1.309. His home wOBA is scale-breaking at .553. Tulowitzki OPS away from Coors has been .831, which is a massive split. His away wOBA is .362, which is still very good, but not the Superman-type stuff we have been seeing at Coors. Despite this huge split, Tulowitzki is my choice for National League MVP. I am not going to hand wave away numbers because they were at Coors. Would he be less productive if he were on say the Pirates? Yes, but we are not talking in theoretical here. Not only is Tulowitzki one of the game’s best offensive players, but he plays good defense at one of the most valuable positions in baseball, if not the most valuable, at shortstop. I am not much of defensive metrics in producing usable objective numbers, especially at a position like shortstop, but that is another long discussion. Some might argue Giancarlo Stanton, who does not have a big split like Troy Tulowitzki, or Jonathan Lucroy because you think pitch framing is the most valuable asset in baseball (wait for my upcoming series on pitch framing), and I think as the season progresses Stanton might make a good run. Stanton has an OPS of .999 and a wOBA of .422 currently and plays right field, which is also a very valuable position. I really think there is a fifty/fifty shot at Stanton being named the MVP at year’s end.

American League Cy Young Award: Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez (Mariners)

            This is probably the toughest race of all award races, but I am going to go with Felix Hernandez by a hair over Masahiro Tanaka. They are close in nearly all categories, with Tanaka leading in strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings, but Felix clobbers him in home runs per nine innings, giving up 0.28 per nine innings as opposed to Tanaka’s 1.01 per nine innings. The first argument against this is that Felix pitches in a more pitcher-friendly park, which is true, but like the Tulowitzki argument, I do not like normalizing park factors, especially with pitchers because they actually play their games in these stadiums. If we were talking who is theoretically the better pitcher, then that HR/9 rate might mean less, but we are talking in reality. Hernandez also edges him in my favorite pitching statistic, SIERA, with a SIERA of 2.42 to Tanaka’s 2.52. Someone is going to take this as I do not like Masahiro Tanaka or I am magically biased to the Seattle Mariners or something, but that is not that case. I really would not be opposed to flipping a coin at this point because things are so close between the two.

National League Cy Young Award: Starting Pitcher Johnny Cueto (Reds)

            In a somwhat easier race, the NL Cy Young belongs to Johnny Cueto thus far. Cueto has been a killer on the mound, giving up only 5.4 hits per nine innings, which plays a part in his league-leading ERA of 1.88. After 124.1 innings pitched, Cueto’s ERA+ sits at 195, which has the average pitcher at 100, which can give you an idea how great Cueto has been for the Cincinnati Reds this season. Although he only strikes out 8.83 per nine innings, he does walk a low 2.10 batters per nine innings and only manages to give up 0.65 home runs per nine innings. Adam Wainwright is a close second, but it is not hairsplitting, like the AL Cy Young race, as he gives up one entire hit more than Cueto per nine innings, despite having a good edge in walks per nine innings, only walking 1.7 per nine innings to Cueto’s 2.1 per nine innings. This is also a close race and there is a decent shot that Wainwright will earn the award by year’s end, but for now Cueto is the man.

American League Rookie of the Year: Starting Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees)

            I outlined the case for Tanaka for the Cy Young earlier, so it should be no surprise that he will take the spot for AL RotY. The only other contender is Chicago White Sox power slugger Jose Abreu. Abreu is having a fantastic year, putting up an OPS of .953 and a wOBA of .401. With 25 home runs, Abreu would be the American League Rookie of the Year in most years, just not this year with Masahiro Tanaka’s domination. Tanaka has an ERA of 2.10, a K/9 of 9.88, a BB/9 of 1.40, and a HR/9 of 1.01. Like mentioned, those are strong Cy Young award contender numbers, let alone Rookie of the Year numbers. One point beyond the numbers is Jose Abreu’s lack of ability to make solid contact with anything that is not pitched straight/flat into the strikezone. If you pitch to him slightly out of the strike zone, or even around the edges, you have a good chance of him not making contact and swinging at the pitch. I do not think Abreu can make changes quick enough in the second half of the season to correct this, but in the future it is possible. As for this year, Tanaka has shown little, if any, weaknesses.

National League Rookie of the Year: Shortstop Chris Owings (Diamondbacks)

            Owings is essentially NL Rookie of the Year by default, as there has not been anyone to really emerge from the pack of rookies in the National League as we have seen with the American League. Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is a close second, with 34 stolen bases. It comes down to how much you value shortstop over center field, which you should, shortstop is the more difficult position. Not only does Owings play the tougher position, but he has the better OPS at .771, wOBA at .336, and wRC+ of 109 compared to Hamilton’s OPS of .717, a wOBA of .315, and a wRC+ of 98. You can go with Hamilton’s 2.9 fWAR over Owings’ 1.8 fWAR, but I just do not see Hamilton’s speed value in addition to his bat beating Owings’ bat. At this point we still have contenders to emerge because this is such a shallow field, like Kevin Siegrist and Andrew Heaney. There has been so little in the NL rookie field, that I honestly considered leaving this vacant, but decided to go with someone, regardless of the strength of the candidates, as someone is going to win this award. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

MLB Power Rankings 6/29/14

MLB Power Rankings

1. Oakland Athletics – The Athletics continue to be the kings of baseball, putting up a run differential of +134, far ahead of the second place spot (+52 is second). In their last ten, Oakland has been 8-2. They have to be the favorites heading into the second half of the season.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers have taken a commanding lead in the National League Central, posting a run differential of +46 and winning eight of their last ten. They now have a 6.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and are the first team to reach 50 wins (now at 51). They are not Oakland, but they are trending up.

3. Los Angeles Angels – After a disappointing season last year, the Angels are looking like a surefire playoff team, even though they will not win the American League West (Oakland). They are 8-2 in their past ten games and have a run differential of +52, second best in the majors.

4.  Los Angeles Dodgers – It is only a matter of time before the Dodgers take the lead in the National League West from all indications. They are 7-3 in their last ten games and have a run differential of +48, much better than the division leading San Francisco Giants. They are unbelievable on the road, posting a road record of 26-16. They are certainly a team trending upward.

5. Toronto Blue Jays – Despite going 4-6 in their last ten games, the Toronto Blue Jays still possess a 1.5 game lead in a tough division and still possess a run differential of +34, +25 more than the second place Baltimore Orioles. A bad week, but with the trade deadline looming, they are gearing up to seal the deal and win the American League East. I am not going to knock them down further just yet.

6. Detroit Tigers – It seemed like yesterday when the Tigers and the Royals were neck and neck for the American League Central lead, but the Detroit Tigers have taken a 4.5 game lead in the division after going 8-2 in their last ten games. They are +10 in run differential on the Royals, despite their issues with right field, the bullpen, and Justin Verlander.

7. Seattle Mariners – Why is a team who is 7.5 games out of the division league at number six? Well, they are playing very good baseball, with a road record of 23-16. They spent the past ten games going 6-4, putting up a run differential of +47, which would having them leading a few divisions in baseball. If the playoffs started today, the Mariners would get a wild card spot. Taijuan Walker also returns on Monday, so expect him to help the Mariners, if he is not traded.

8. San Francisco Giants – The Giants threw a no-hitter this week, but continue to disappoint, dwindling the lead in their division to the Dodgers, currently only one game ahead of the Los Angeles club. They are 3-7 in the past ten games, with a run differential of +32, -16 compared to the Dodgers. Things are going south in San Francisco.

9. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals have been very good as of late, going 5-5 in their last five games, putting up a run differential of +24. As for the bad news, they remain 6.5 out of the National League Central lead and have Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia on the DL with Shelby Miller exiting a game with back tightness. Wacha and Miller seem like short-term injuries, so it is hard to point in which direction they are trending.

10. Kansas City Royals – What a disappointment the Royals have been lately. After winning double digit straight games, they are 3-7 in their last ten games. Their run differential has shrunk to +11. Royals General Manager Dayton Moore better make some moves fast or else this team might keep sinking.        

11. Washington Nationals – While the Nationals are tied for the National League East lead, it is just a matter of time they make a claim to that crown solely, with a run differential +40 compared to the Atlanta Braves. Bryce Harper’s rehab is going very well and he should be back with the team fairly shortly. I would be surprised if they do not have a multi-game lead in a couple weeks.
12. Atlanta Braves - The Braves baffle me a bit, as they remain tied for the National League East lead, going 7-3 in their last ten. Their run differential, however, is -1. That is not a number you see on a team that will win a division. Run differential is fairly predictive, so that number would indicate that the team will falter the NL East lead sooner rather than later.

13. Baltimore Orioles – Good week for Orioles fans, as the team now trails the Toronto Blue Jays by just 1.5 games, however their run differential stands at just +9, which would concern me if I were to think the Orioles could make up ground and win the division. They are 6-4 in their last ten. If only Dylan Bundy were ready this year, then I would have faith, but I am a doubter for now.

14. Cincinnati Reds – Things are looking up a bit, Reds fans. Despite being 7.5 back of the National League Central lead, the Reds had a hot stretch, going 7-3 in their last ten games. Mesoraco and Votto may keep this team afloat in a hunt for a NL Wild Card spot, as the Reds possess a run differential of +18.

15. Cleveland Indians – Cleveland’s run differential has sunk to -18, seemingly putting them out of the playoff hunt for now, despite Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley performing out of this world. Starting pitching has been a big problem for the Indians, having only one starter with an ERA+ over 100. They went 4-6 in their last ten games.

16. New York Yankees – Now that the bottom teams of baseball are showing their true records, this spot has to go to the Yankees, who are two games out of the American League East lead. They have gone 5-5 over their last ten games and possess a bad run differential of -29. They can make some moves in order to take a shot at the division league, but I do not think it can be done with this roster

17. Pittsburgh Pirates – The good news: the Pittsburgh Pirates have been hot over their last ten games going 7-3. The bad news: they have a run differential of -12 in a tough division. Despite a 41-40 record, they are in fourth place in the National League Central, and it is hard to see them overtaking the Reds even, who have a run differential of +18, +30 better than the Pirates.

18. New York Mets – The Mets?! Yes, the New York Mets have made the leap on up, despite having an unlikely shot of making the playoffs. They have been 6-4 over their past ten games, but they have put up a positive run differential of +2. Maybe they should be buyers at the trade deadline, despite being six games back.

19. Miami Marlins – The Marlins are two games ahead of the New York Mets, but they have had a rough week, going 3-7 in their last ten games. They are allowing an astonishing 355 runs, which is largely on the pitching staff. They currently have a run differential of -4. They are out of the playoff hunt and should not make the effort to buy this year, just hold steady and wait, if anything.

20. Chicago White Sox – A bad 3-7 over their last ten games, the White Sox are out of it despite Jose Abreu and Chris Sale. Their run differential currently sits at a bad -35. Why are they ranked this high? Well, it turns out that there are quite a few bad teams in baseball, some worse than the White Sox.

21. Boston Red Sox – This is not the year Red Sox fans. The Sox have been 4-6 over their previous ten games, putting up a run differential of -36. They are seven games back, which seems like a difficult task, but maybe Mookie Betts can save them, right? Maybe?

22. Minnesota Twins – Minnesota is in last place in the American League Central, however their run differential is only -30 and they are nine games back, which looks like cake compared to some of the other bad teams. They have gone 4-6 in their last ten games.

23. Philadelphia Phillies – Philly is 3-7 over their last ten games with a run differential of -39. They are only seven out of the National League East lead though!

24. Texas Rangers – It is time for Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels to wave the white flag and surrender, as the team is an injury disaster and will not make the playoffs. They are thirteen games out of the lead, with a run differential of -56. They put up a bad 2-8 over the past ten games.

25. Chicago Cubs – Still rebuilding, but Arrieta has been good and Dallas Beeler made a nice debut. While they are 15.5 out of the National League Central lead, they are only -14 in run differential thanks to Anthony Rizzo.

26. Houston Astros – Houston is still rebuilding. They are 16 out of the lead and are 3-7 in their last ten, but their run differential is -54, +2 better than the Texas Rangers!

27. Colorado Rockies – What happened? The Rockies are eleven games out of first in the division, going 1-9 in their last ten. Their run differential is only -20 though. Still, they must be punished for going 1-9 in their last ten, so they are stuck at 27.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks – The Diamondbacks are, of course, bad. Still have to wait another month before the trade deadline deals that will almost assuredly be done. They have a run differential of -67 and a 5-5 record in their past ten games.

29. Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays are eleven games back with a run differential of -42. They did however go 6-4 in their last ten. At least they will have a good pick in the draft and get good assets for David Price. 

30. San Diego Padres – The Padres has scored 240 runs this year, by far the worst in the majors. They fired their General Manager on Sunday. They are twelve games back with a run differential of -60. Last stop San Diego.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

MLB Prospect Weekly News & Notes (6/28/14)

MLB Prospect Weekly News & Notes

- This week has been mixed for Houston Astros prospects and fans, as starting pitcher Mark Appel has shown some progression (or regression to the norm), but Carlos Correa fractured his fibula on a slide into third, keeping him out for the remainder of the season. Appel has a collective 5.40 ERA over his past two starts, with five total strikeouts. This may sound horrendous, but when you compare it to his previous three outings, allowing 17 earned runs in just 6.2 innings pitched, it is progress, just not as fast as the Astros front office and fans wish. Prior to his injury, shortstop Correa had an OPS of .926 on the season. Correa was named to the Futures Game roster, but, of course, will not play. Starting pitching prospect Mike Foltynewicz struggled on Thursday, giving up four earned runs in five innings. High-A third baseman Rio Ruiz went ice cold this past week, posting an OPS of .678 in 33 plate appearances, far below his season OPS of .817. Although he has not started this week, keep an eye on AA pitching prospect Kyle Smith, who is posting an 3.78 ERA on the season, displaying good command, walking only 1.89 batters per nine innings and striking out 9.82 batters per nine innings.

- Mookie Betts was called up to the major league Boston Red Sox today after posting an OPS of .869 in AAA, with a wOBA north of .400, which is very good. The big issue here is that some of his value comes from the position he plays, second base. He will be playing the outfield for the Red Sox, which he can do, and it makes sense to a degree as the Boston Red Sox outfield has been anemic offensively this year. A ton of people love Betts bat and it will be interesting to see how he translates in the next week. AA pitching prospect Henry Owens was selected to the 2014 MLB Futures Game. This news came out the same day Owens had a rough outing in AA, giving up four earned runs in six innings pitched. While starting pitcher Cody Kukuk looked great in A ball, he has since struggled in High-A ball, posting an 8.33 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched. He has been really roughed up in his past two starts, giving up ten earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched. I would be worried about Kukuk, as he has been killed in every appearance so far in High-A. Second baseman Sean Coyle has been impressive in AA this year, putting up an OPS of 1.024. With Betts movie up, I would expect a call-up to AAA for Coyle anytime.

- The curious case of Kris Bryant continues in AAA Iowa for the Chicago Cubs, as he has ten hits in 33 at bats, five of them being home runs. Yesterday, Bryant had a three hit performance, raising his OPS for the week up to 1.427. He still has some strikeout issues, but seems to be adjusting to AAA pitching, which is a good sign. Bryant is still playing third base for some reason that is beyond me. Bryant and teammate Javier Baez were both named to the Futures Game this week. Baez has had a good week in AAA, posting an OPS of .780, higher than his season average of .722. He showed some improvement in taking walks/striking out, raising his walk percentage to 9.7% and lowering his strikeout rate to 29%. While those still seem disappointing, baby steps with Baez and plate patience. According to Theo Epstein, president of the Chicago Cubs, the Cubs are trying to “re-program” the way Jorge Soler’s body moves to prevent future injury. Outfielder Soler returned to Rookie ball this week, having an OPS of 1.667 in fifteen plate appearances, which sounds impressive, but if he did not put up those numbers rehabbing in R ball, it would have been a major disappointment. Cubs AAA second baseman prospect Arismendy Alcantara had a great night last night, going 4-6 with one home run. Alcantara is putting up an OPS of .890 in AAA in 315 plate appearances. With major league second baseman Darwin Barney’s struggles on the season, Alcantara could (and should) be called up before year’s end. Reliever prospect Zack Cates has been putting up encouraging numbers, with an ERA of 2.89 in 9.1 innings after being promoted to AA. This week has been a rough one for Cates, putting three earned runs in four innings pitched. Cates gave up no earned runs prior to this week. Starting pitcher Dallas Beeler was called up this week and will start Saturday. Hunter Cervenka has quietly been pitching well in relief in AA, posting an ERA of 2.87 in 31.1 innings pitched. He should be promoted to AAA soon, but the Cubs front office is conservative on call-ups.

- On Sunday, Diamondbacks pitching prospect Braden Shipley had one great day, striking out ten in seven innings pitched. Reports indicate his changeup and curveball were killer pitches alongside his easy plus fastball. Yesterday, Shipley could not get it going, giving up eight earned runs and striking out zero in 3.1 innings pitched. Although Shipley has an ERA of 4.97 in 29 innings with the High-A affiliate, he shows flashes of potential, as seen on Sunday. There is some concern that he is almost 22 ½ years of age and does not have High-A locked down yet, but he shows enough to keep an eye on him and expect him to develop. With the fastball, changeup, and curveball, we are looking at three likely plus pitches at the least. Shipley made the Futures Game roster. Since being promoted to AAA, starting pitching prospect Archie Bradley has struggled, putting up an ERA of 5.18 in 24.1 innings pitched. The walk rate of 4.44 in nine innings pitched is concerning in AAA, especially for the Diamondbacks top prospect. Since being promoted to AAA, Jake Barrett has been mixed performance-wise, alternating outings, allowing a home run in one outing, then allowing no earned runs, then back to a single home run outing, then no earned runs. I would not consider this bad news as it has been just four innings, so give him time and he will make the big league club. Another interesting story for the Diamondbacks farm system has been shortstop Nick Ahmed, who has an OPS of .829 in AAA this year. He has been hot this week, posting an OPS of 1.219 in 37 plate appearances. With Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius already taking up shortstop spots, it is unclear if they will move Ahmed to a different position, trade him, or perhaps trade Owings or Gregorius. Now that La Russa is the man in charge, it is still unclear what this means for the Diamondbacks franchise.

- Washington Nationals starting pitching prospect Lucas Giolito has been one of the success stories for those who come back after a UCL injury and Tommy John surgery. The nearly twenty year old Giolito has been a killer in A ball, with a K/9 of 10.04, a BB/9 of 3.46, and an ERA of 2.30 in 54.2 innings pitched. He dazzled in six innings on Thursday, striking out nine and giving up no earned runs. He was named to the Futures Game and will likely be promoted to AA before the end of the year. Everyone loves him and seems to think he will be a possible ace in the major leagues before long. Starting pitching prospect A.J. Cole was promoted to AAA yesterday after posting an ERA of 2.92 in 71 innings pitched. Cole gave up an astonishing 0.13 HR/9 in AA. AA outfielder was named to the Futures Game roster after putting up an OPS of .984 in 325 plate appearances. Taylor had what was a down week for him, posting an OPS of .753 in twenty-eight plate appearances. If the Washington Nationals can find a spot for him on their big league club, he might be called up by the end of the year. I would be shocked if he is not in the majors beginning in 2015.

- Top Cleveland Indians prospect Francisco Lindor was the lone representative on the Futures Game roster for the Indians. Despite struggling this year with an OPS of .770 in 319 plate appearances, Lindor is still considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball and the top shortstop prospect in baseball by many. One reason for this is his BB% and K% compared to someone like Javier Baez. On the year, Lindor has a BB% of only 11%, but his K% is only 16%. Lindor has developed some pop, hitting six home runs on the year, beating his home run totals in High-A and AA last year combined. While it is only been three games, Lindor has had a good week, putting up an OPS of 1.111. While old at twenty-seven years of age, reliever Austin Adams has been fairly productive pitching in AAA for the Cleveland Indians, putting up an ERA of 2.65 in 34 innings pitched. He really could be called up by the Indians or be used as a trade chip to a team looking to add a bullpen arm (there are many). Adams has given up one run since May 7, which is pretty impressive.

- Let us talk about Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker. Since the last prospect news and notes, Walker had one start in which he pitched nine innings, striking out eight, walking one, and giving up no earned runs. After the game, Walker was quoted as saying he is “back to feeling normal,” which may just be talk, but that mindset is encouraging, especially with a top prospect like Walker. Walker’s status with the Mariners organization is up for questioning, with the Mariners seemingly in on Jeff Samardzija. I do not think it is likely he will be traded, as he would have been traded for David Price in the offseason if General Manager Jack Z. wanted to trade him. Perhaps with the team in the playoff hunt the Mariners finally may make a move and if it is a big one, it will require Walker. Two prospects for Seattle were named to the Futures Game: outfielder Gabby Guerrero and third baseman D.J. Peterson. Guerrero being named to the roster is a bit of surprise, as he has not had the best year, putting up an OPS of .794 in High-A ball. Guerrero has been ice cold this past week, putting up a poor OPS of .524 in six games. After putting up an OPS of .997 in A ball, D.J. Peterson was promoted to AA on Tuesday, where he has played two games. He has had two hits and a walk in nine plate appearances, but that is a sample size too small to even think about. AA pitching prospect Victor Sanchez did not have a good week, giving up four earned runs in 6.1 innings in one start and four earned runs in four innings in the other start. His strikeout numbers were down for both games to four and two, respectively.

- Time for your weekly Joey Gallo update, Texas Rangers fans. Over the past week, third baseman Gallo has put up a disappointing (yes, disappointing for him) OPS of .833 with three home runs. The really bad news is the BB% and the K%. He took no walks this week and struck out 58.3%. That is seriously concerning, but that is the type of player Gallo is, a swing for the fences without regard-type. Historically guys with such poor plate patience do not make it, but Gallo has elite power, probably the best in the minor leagues (sorry Javier Baez). Rangers outfielder Nick Williams heated up since making his High-A debut on Tuesday, posting an OPS of 1.218 in 13 appearances before being placed on the seven day DL for an undisclosed injury. The expensive Jairo Beras had an above average week in A ball amid a disastrous season. For the year, Beras has posted an OPS of .552, but has posted an OPS of .750, which is a small sample, but perhaps Beras is finally trending in the right direction. Seventeen year old starting pitching prospect Marcos Diplan has quietly been tearing up Rookie ball, putting up an ERA of 1.52 in 23.2 innings pitched. He has had a relatively tight leash on innings pitched, often going out for four or five innings, but he strikes out four, five, or seven in that short amount of time. Diplan is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

-  Baltimore Orioles starting pitching prospect Dylan Bundy was at one time considered the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, and even the best overall prospect by some. An UCL injury and Tommy John surgery derailed that, but since coming back and rehabbing in Low-A ball, Bundy has looked like his old self. In three starts, he has twenty-two strikeouts, three walks, and one earned run in fifteen innings pitched. His fastball has been sitting in the 91-93 mph range. He is still throwing a solid curveball and his cutter sat between 86-89 in his most recent outing. Dylan Bundy will be an ace on a major league team in two years. Both the Rays and Cubs should use Samardzija or Price to try and get him before his prospect hype gets back into the stratosphere. Outfielder Dariel Alvarez and starting pitcher Hunter Harvey both were named to the Futures Game roster. Alvarez has been solid in AA this year, putting up an OPS of .825, but he has only drawn walks 2.5% of the time and is already twenty-five years of age. Nineteen year old Hunter Harvey has just been a force in A ball with a 2.98 ERA over 66.1 innings pitched. In his most recent outing on Monday, Harvey struck out seven and gave up one earned run in six innings pitched.

- AA pitcher Robert Stephenson was the lone selection for the Cincinnati Reds in the Futures Game. Stephenson has been mediocre to say the least this year, putting up an ERA of 4.17 in 82 innings pitched. He also has a fairly concerning BB/9 of 4.50. The past week has been mixed for Stephenson going seven innings, striking out seven, and only allowing three runs, then going five, striking out five, and allowing four earned runs. If anything, Stephenson is trending sideways, which has to be worrying for a top prospect in a club’s farm system. In semi-prospect news, the Reds signed Raisel Iglesias, a 5’11” Cuban pitcher. His fastball touches 96 and his breaking ball sits in the 76-81 range via Ben Badler. Some expect him to start, but with the height, I think it is more likely that he is headed to the bullpen.

- Catcher Kevin Plawecki and starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard were the two selections for the Futures Game for the New York Mets. Plawecki was promoted to AAA on Thursday after putting up an OPS of .864 in AA on the year. He has had eight plate appearances in AAA, so I am going off of a tremendously small sample size in analyzing two games. While Plawecki’s OPS of .821 in AAA sounds impressive so far, you have to keep in mind that the Mets AAA club is in the Pacific Coast League where hitters can put up video game numbers, so that number is about average to above average, not something to rave over quite yet, especially with a miniscule sample size. On the other hand, Noah Syndergaard’s ERA of 5.35 in AAA sounds horrible, but it is a hitter’s league, so I would not put too much stock in either hitters or pitchers’ numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Since being promoted to AA, Brandon Nimmo has not set the world on fire offensively, posting an OPS of .714 in thirty plate appearances. Nimmo still displays great plate patience, walking 20% of the time, while striking out only 16.7% of the time. In High-A, Nimmo was walked 17.9% of the time and struck out 18.3% of the time. Thought Nimmo might make the Futures Game roster, but he did not.

- The two individuals named to the Futures Game for the Phillies were shortstop J.P. Crawford and third baseman Maikel Franco. Crawford was just promoted to High-A ball last week and has struggled since, putting up an OPS of .686 in 40 plate appearances. In 267 plate appearances in A ball, Crawford put up an OPS of .804. What is especially concerning with him is his BB% and K%. He gets walked 10% of the time and strikes out 27.5% of the time in High-A, but then again, small sample size, as he was literally 1:1 in BB/K in A ball. Franco has spent the entire season in AAA, but has looked pretty bad, posting an OPS of .596. The past week has not been kind to him, as he has put up an OPS of .405 in his past seven games. Someone who made the Futures Game roster last year, pitcher Jesse Biddle, continues to struggle in AA. On the season, Biddle has an ERA of 5.03 and was given a “mental break” by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and is now listed as day-to-day.

- The Colorado Rockies had one person selected to the Futures Game, SS Rossell Herrera. Herrera has spent the entire year in High-A ball, putting up a mediocre OPS of .706. He has only had one game where he has homered the entire year, hitting two home runs, creating a power surge for the rest of the season for Herrera. High-A catcher William Swanner has struggled all year in High-A, posting an OPS of .743. He spent all of last season in High-A and put up very similar numbers, so he is not progressing like he should. Swanner has been on a hot streak over the past week, though, putting up an OPS of .919 in seven games. It probably is too small of a sample size to analyze too seriously, but he is trending in the right direction. Last year’s third overall pick Jon Gray continues to perform fairly well, putting up an ERA of 3.77 in 74 innings pitched. Last Friday was not Gray’s best outing as he was roughed up in five innings pitched, giving up five earned runs, but striking out seven. He is still performing better than the pitcher chose two spots ahead of him, Mark Appel.

- Marten Gasparini just turned seventeen and is already playing in Rookie ball for the Kansas City Royals. The highest paid European free agent ever, Gasparini is putting up an OPS of .642 in 27 plate appearances. Two points on this. 27 plate appearances in a career is certainly small sample size. He also just turned seventeen. The only other seventeen year old more advanced than Gasparini at this point is Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias. Christian Binford was the lone person named to the Futures Game roster, putting up an ERA of 2.35 in 76.2 innings pitched in High-A ball. Binford was hit up in his last start, giving up three earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched, but striking out six in the process.

- The aforementioned pitching prospect Julio Urias was named to the Futures Game roster, alongside shortstop Corey Seager. Urias is seventeen years old and playing well in High-A ball, which is unbelievable really. In 49.2 inning in High-A, Urias has an ERA of 3.44. He has a plus fastball and a plus curveball at seventeen. I cannot overemphasize how impressive this is. Shortstop Corey Seager has spent the entire season in High-A, putting up an OPS of 1.010, which is also impressive. Seager is likely to end up at third base, so I am not sure why they are playing with him at shortstop. The past week has been slightly above average for Seager, putting up an OPS of 1.096 during the seven game stretch. Joc Pederson was snubbed from the Futures Game, despite hitting 1.005 in 332 plate appearances in AAA. Pederson was just placed on the seven day DL for a shoulder injury. All three are a big part of the Dodgers future plans.

- Braves pitcher Lucas Sims has been good at times in High-A ball, putting up an ERA of 4.71 in 84 innings pitched. On Thursday, Sims had an impressive performance, striking out six in seven innings, allowing no earned runs.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vanderbilt Takes Home the 2014 College World Series

Vanderbilt Takes Home the 2014 College World Series

            After getting smoked by Virginia’s offense on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, The Vanderbilt Commodores came back to win the College World Series on Wednesday night, two games to one. This is Vanderbilt’s first College World Series win in school history, despite a notable number of baseball alumni including Sonny Gray, David Price, and Mark Prior. In the deciding game three, Vanderbilt starter Carson Fulmer came up big against the dominating Virginia offense, striking out five and giving up only one earned run in 5.1 innings pitched. While that may not sound impressive, doing so against a lineup featuring Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, Joe McCarthy, and John La Prise is really something to be impressed by. Pitcher Hayden Stone, also of Vanderbilt, pitched very well, striking out four Virginia batters in 1.2 innings pitched. Adam Ravenelle kept Virginia scoreless as he closed out the final two innings, allowing no earned runs.

This pitching performance by Vanderbilt has been the constant for the team all, season, being lead, ironically, by their inconsistent ace Tyler Beede. Beede pitched game two for the Commodores, giving up six earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched, striking out only four. The real pitching star of this College World Series also pitched that night, but for the Virginia Cavaliers. Brandon Waddell pitched a complete game in game two, striking out five and only allowing one earned run. This night was lead by hit after hit for the Virginia offense, producing thirteen hits total, including three by Kenny Towns and three by Joe McCarthy. Vanderbilt’s real MVP of the series, outfielder John Norwood, had two hits Tuesday, driving in one run, and scoring the other run himself. Outside of Norwood, it was all Virginia on Tuesday. Tuesday produced no home runs for either team.

Game one was an offensive nailbiter, as Vanderbilt edged Virginia nine to eight. Virginia’s ace, Nathan Kirby was roughed up by Vanderbilt’s offense, walking five and giving up five earned runs in only 2.1 innings pitched.  Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler also disappointed in the first game of the College World Series, giving up five earned runs in three innings pitched. Vanderbilt batters only had six hits total on the day, but seven walks put enough runners on base to win the game. Only Tyler Campbell had more than one hit, two on the day. Virginia’s biggest threat on offense, Mike Papi went hitless for the day, also failing to draw a walk, despite messy pitching. Second baseman Daniel Pinero and shortstop Branden Cogswell both performed well, having three hits each, with Cogswell drawing one walk. Despite an offensive battle, game one featured no home runs either.

The hit that changed everything and sealed Vanderbilt’s fate as victors in the 2014 College World Series came in game three from John Norwood in the top of the eighth inning, as he homered off of Virginia reliever Nick Howard, giving Vanderbilt the go-ahead run, which would be the last run produced in game three. Norwood made up two of Vanderbilt’s three runs on the day, reaching second on an error, then scoring on a single by Vince Conde. Perhaps the box score does not indicate it as well, but game three will go down as an all-time classic in the books of college baseball, giving us nine innings of tension, followed by a feeling of celebration unless you were a Virginia Cavaliers fan, player, or coach.

Dansby Swanson, second baseman for the Vanderbilt Commodores, was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Swanson had three hits and two walks against the Virginia Cavaliers. 

Freaky No-Hitters

Freaky No-Hitters

            Yesterday, June 25, 2014, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants threw his second career no-hitter, both of which occurred against the same team, the San Diego Padres, within one calendar year. Only two pitchers have thrown two no-hitters, have at least two Cy Young Awards, and have at least two World Series Championships; Sandy Koufax and Lincecum. The two also have another interesting connection, both were dominant for only a short period of time, albeit for very different reasons. Koufax pitched twelve seasons, dominating in the latter half of his career, despite having arthritis problems that would eventually lead to him retiring at the age of thirty. Many consider Koufax the greatest pitcher of all-time, if not at least one of the greatest of all-time. Lincecum, currently thirty, has gone the opposite direction, joining the Giants in 2007 and having great seasons until 2012. While his 2008 and 2009 Cy Young Award-winning seasons are absolutely dominating (ERA+ of 168 in 2008 and 171 in 2009, with a K/9 over 10 both years), he probably will not be remembered a tenth as well as Koufax in the future. Koufax was great for six seasons (and quite possibly the best pitcher in the game during that stretch) and good for four others. Lincecum was great for two seasons and good for three others.

While the obvious objection is Tim Lincecum is only thirty years old, he has been on a downward trend since 2011, posting not league average seasons, but outright bad seasons. His ERA+ in 2012 was 68, with an ERA of 5.18 in 186 innings pitched. That season also saw his walk rate spike, going from 3.6 in 2011 to 4.4 in 2012. At the time it was considered that it was just a fluke bad season for Lincecum, but 2013 and 2014 concur with 2012. Lincecum’s ERA+ in 2013 was 78 and is currently at 77 in 2014 (and that is including his no-hitter yesterday). Keep in mind that an ERA+ of 100 is league average. So why exactly has Tim Lincecum thrown two no-hitters in two of his three worst seasons in his career? This may surprise some, but there is no real objective answer here. Is it just mere luck? Is nature on his side? Is it the work of God? A no-hitter, or even a perfect game, does not necessarily indicate anything other than a pitcher had a very good day and pitched well.

In 2012, Phillip Humber threw a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox, striking out nine in just 96 pitches. That year Humber posted an ERA+ of 66. Humber currently struggles on the Oakland Athletics AAA team. In 2010, Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks, walking eighth batter, even hitting one batter with a pitch, but accomplished the feat after 149 pitches. Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox later that season, posting an ERA+ of 82 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and 95 total for the 2010 season. On Mother’s Day in 2010, Twenty-six year old Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics pitched a perfect game, striking out six in the process of throwing 109 pitches. Braden posted an ERA+ of 117 that year. Three games into the 2011 season he left with a shoulder injury and never pitched another inning again. On July 10, 2009, struggling fifth starter Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter for the San Francisco Giants, walking none, making it one of the rare no-hitters where only an error stopped it from being a perfect game. For that 2009 season, Sanchez posted an ERA+ of 100, exactly league average. He followed that year up with a pretty good 2010, posting an ERA+ of 127, allowing a career low 6.6 hits per nine innings. Sanchez’s 2011 was disappointing prior to his foot injury that happened mid-season, posting an ERA+ of 82. 2012 and 2013 saw limited innings for Sanchez because he was just such a poor pitcher, posting an ERA+ of 53 in 2012 and 31 in 2013. He is currently struggling with the Chicago Cubs AAA team. In his second year in the major leagues, 1999, Eric Milton pitched a no-hitter for the Minnesota Twins, leading to him having his best career major league year with an ERA+ of 113. Milton struggled in mediocrity, with a career ERA of 4.99, until he retired in 2009.

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, tons of all-time MLB greats have pitched no-hitters or perfect games. Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver among the endless list of Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers who have completed the task. Lincecum is more likely to be grouped in with the Humber, Braden, and Sanchez, among the many that have thrown no-hitters or perfect games at this point. His peak was phenomenal, but it was only two seasons. Randy Johnson had more than two phenomenal seasons. Cy Young had a ton of phenomenal seasons. Nolan Ryan had a ton of phenomenal seasons. Could Lincecum join that second group of Hall of Famers still? It is possible, but unlikely. Lincecum is and has struggled seemingly every other start in the past few seasons. His last start before the no-hitter had him give up four earned runs in six innings. That is not a one off thing for Lincecum this season or for 2012 or 2013. He has clearly lost a step, as he is giving up more walks per nine, less strikeouts per nine, and more home runs per nine these past few years than he did during his glory years. Way back in 2008 and 2009, it was talked about how his delivery would impact the longevity of his career and it appears it has. From time to time these days, however we do get glimpses of the sure thing that was Tim Lincecum years ago. These glimpses appear to be nothing more than just that, glimpses, not signs of recovering into the pitcher he once was. It would take a herculean improvement in the years to come to be truly compared to whom many are comparing him to after yesterday’s performance, Sandy Koufax, which is unlikely. While he may never be that killer arm once again, two no-hitters against the same team in a calendar year is still a great accomplishment. The others to accomplish such a feat are Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer (no-hitters in back-to-back starts), Allie Reynolds, Nolan Ryan, and Roy Halladay. A mixed group in terms of overall career trajectory, regardless Lincecum joined a very rare club Wednesday afternoon. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where Is The Real Justin Verlander?

Where Is Justin Verlander?

            When discussing the faults of the Detroit Tigers this season, many bring up the bullpen, which undoubtedly plays a part in their failures this season, or shortstop issues until Eugenio Suarez arrived, but one major factor is Justin Verlander pitching like a back of the rotation starter. Just three years ago, Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award and the American League Most Valuable Player Award, the latter of which has only been accomplished by twenty-four pitchers in history. During that 2011 season, Verlander posted an ERA of 2.40, ERA+ of 172, and a SIERA of 2.98. For clarity, SIERA is a modified form of ERA that takes into account strikeouts and walks among other things that only the pitcher controls. All three of those statistics are extremely impressive and justify the awards Verlander received that year (though many debate the MVP award). Now that we are post the point in the season where one may waive away small sample size, Verlander has posted an ERA of 4.82 in 104.2 innings pitched, resulting in an ERA+ of 86. Walks per nine are at a career high (3.6), while strikeouts per nine are at a career low (6.6). What has exactly happened to Justin Verlander, who was considered the best pitcher in all of baseball at one point in time?

            The statistics that begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together are those just mentioned, walks per nine (BB/9) and strikeouts per nine (K/9). Strikeouts and walks play a big role in a pitcher’s performance and are linked to every statistic used to measure their performance (ERA, ERA+, WHIP, SIERA, etc.) While his 2011 award winning season was his most complete, Verlander actually achieved his career high in K/9 back in 2009, with 10.1 strikeouts per nine. 2010, another good year for Verlander, saw his K/9 drop fairly significantly down to 8.8 strikeouts per nine. His MVP and Cy Young season, 2011, had that number rise to 9.0, so essentially one strikeout per inning pitched. The following year, 2012, was absolutely identical to 2011, as he posted a K/9 of 9 once again. 2013 saw a slight tick downward, as his K/9 fell to 8.9. This year, that K/9 number has absolutely cratered to 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings. How exactly does a MVP winning pitcher see his K/9 fall to such lows at the age of 31? Looking at the other side of the coin, walks per nine have also changed dramatically throughout the years for Verlander. That 2009 season where Verlander posted his best K/9, he gave up 2.4 walks per nine innings. BB/9 increased a fair amount in the 2010 season, walking 2.8 per nine innings. In the 2011 MVP season, it dropped down to an amazing 2.0 walks per nine innings. 2012 saw his BB/9 rise to 2.3, nothing to panic about as it is still a really good number. 2013 is where the concern grows, as Verlander posted a BB/9 of 3.1.Verlander’s 2014 BB/9 currently sits at 3.6, his second highest mark in his career for a season (behind his poor 2008’s 3.9 BB/9). It should alarm one to see BB/9 increase by 1.6 and K/9 decrease 2.4 in just three years.

            There are several things you could point to for these changes. Perhaps the change in the strikeouts per nine is due to a velocity drop. The following is a line graph looking at Justin Verlander’s maximum average velocity on his fastball throughout the years.
Average Maximum Fastball Velocity over the Course of His Career

            There are a few things worth noting on this graph. Verlander’s maximum fastball velocity on average is at its lowest in 2008 and 2014, his two worst years statistically, failing to break 100 mph. His most successful seasons, from 2009 to 2012, show his fastball consistently above 100 mph for the most part. The two outliers from those years, both below 100 mph on average, were in October 2009 and March of 2011, where the sample size is 83 and 73 respectively, thus making us able to dismiss those points as small sample size. At this point, there is mere correlation between maximum fastball velocity and the poor 2014 season. This leads us to the next point of how often is he throwing his four-seam fastball now compared to the glory years of 2009 to 2012.
Fastball Usage as a Percentage

            Verlander appears to use the four-seam fastball less and less since 2009. While it may not appear to be much of a difference, he has thrown the fastball for 55.21% of his pitches in June, the highest percentage of fastballs thrown by Verlander this year. The entire year of 2009 saw him throw his fastball at least 64.94% of the time (July) and as high as 70.85% of the time (September). In 2010, Verlander broke the 55.21% barrier in four of the six months pitched. In 2011, he broke that 55.21% barrier in six of eight months pitched. In the last of his great years, he broke that 55.21% barrier in five of seven months pitched. His fastball usage as a percentage in the four months of 2014 pitched is 53.33% in March, 54.08% in April, 53.20% in May, and 55.21% in June. While the usage drop is not as great as expected and not indicative of Verlander’s issues on its own, it leads one to wonder how much his fastball was a pitch that struck batters out during that 2009-2012 span, as he it appears he is getting less people out perhaps with a lesser usage of the now slower fastball.
Whiff Percentages for Verlander’s Fastball

            The above chart looks at Verlander’s fastball’s whiff percentage, which is exactly what it sounds like, the number of pitches swung and missed on by the batter expressed as a percentage. One quick note on the graph, the October 2011 point is not a victim of small sample size, as the sample size (number of pitches thrown and swung and missed on) was 216, which is down from the average month, but nothing I would label small sample size, just a bit of an outlier. Another note is that this is just whiff percentages, not based on fastball usage as a percentage at all. 2009, Verlander’s career year in strikeouts per nine, produced a dramatic increase in the whiff percentages going from 7.6% of his fastballs producing swings and misses in 2008 to over 11% of his fastballs producing swings and misses in 2009. 2010 to 2012 produced slightly less swing and misses and a slightly lower K/9 rate. 2013 is in line with those previous seasons, as 10.62% of his fastballs resulted in a swing and miss. Although 2013 was a relatively down season for Verlander, one must remember that his K/9 rate only dropped from 9.0 in 2012 to 8.9 in 2013, so these whiff percentages on the fastball are in line with strikeouts per nine innings. His average whiff percentage on the fastball this season is 6.9%, dramatically down from the 10.62% we saw the previous year. This should lead one to the conclusion that Verlander has slightly cut back on his fastball, not only due to the drop in velocity, but also due to the drop in whiff percentages.

            While the fastball is part of the issue regarding the higher K/9 rate this season, other pitches should be thoroughly investigated, starting with Verlander’s slider.
Average Maximum Slider Velocity over the Course of His Career

            As you see, Verlander’s slider reached its peak average maximum velocity, 91.57 mph, in 2009, the year he posted his career record 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Since 2010 that slider velocity has been fairly consistent, even including this year (with the exception of April 2012, which saw a fairly dramatic dip over a sample size of 50, which is too big to dismiss as small sample size, as the slider is a secondary pitch). Where the interesting part comes in is in the usage of the slider as a percentage of the pitches Verlander throws.
Slider Usage as a Percentage

            Verlander’s slider is used about 2.6% of the time he throws a pitch in 2009 and has been steadily increasing in terms of usage as a percentage since then. During his MVP season, it topped out as 11.4% of his pitches in July 2011. The 2012 and 2013 seasons showed a fairly large increase in its usage, but the 2014 numbers have been off the chart, especially lately. During the month of June 2014, the slider has made up 21.17% of his pitches, a career high. It is somewhat baffling why its usage has increased when you look at the whiff percentages on Verlander’s slider.
Whiff Percentages for Verlander’s Slider

            Not only has the swing and miss percentage for his slider not improved, it has actually gotten worse this year, despite its usage increasing as a percentage of his total pitches. Notice the Y-Axis labeling ranges from 0 to 100, so minor increases may, in fact, be large changes in swing and misses. In 2009, roughly 20.5% of the sliders Verlander threw resulted in a swing in miss. This fell to 16.33% in 2010, then 12.56% in 2011, followed by 19.43% in 2012, then 17.86% in 2013, so a fairly wide variance throughout those seasons regarded as good or great. This year, 2014, his slider has a swing and miss percentage of 10.01%, a career low. One interesting note is Verlander’s June 2014, as his slider has made up a career high of 21.17% of his pitches, but has only had a whiff percentage of 5.8%. Why Detroit Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones or manager Brad Ausmus has let the high usage of an ineffective pitch continue is beyond me. Perhaps they think he can work through it, but it is perplexing to see a massive increase in the pitch being used in terms of a percentage while making guys swing and miss only 5.8% of the time.

            Looking at other pitches, Verlander’s curveball has been consistent in regards to velocity, usage as a percentage, and whiff percentages, so nothing noteworthy in regards to his curveball. There is a slight change in regards to differences in his changeup over the years, however.
Average Maximum Changeup Velocity over the Course of His Career
Changeup Usage as a Percentage

Whiff Percentages for Verlander’s Changeup

            The first note in the average maximum velocity graph is Justin Verlander’s changeup in 2009, the year he posted a career high in K/9. The velocity of his changeup in 2009 is a career low, yet he managed to set the bar for career K/9. How could this happen exactly? As you see with the second graph, his changeup was used as a career low in terms of percentage of changeups thrown, making up an unweighted 9.25%. In 2009, 19.54% of the changeups Verlander threw resulted in a swing and miss. So despite the velocity being lower than Verlander’s career average, it did not hurt him as badly due to a lower usage rate in terms of it making up a percentage of pitches thrown and a high whiff percentage. Skipping ahead to his 2011 MVP & Cy Young season, Verlander’s changeup’s velocity increased to a career high 90.16 mph. That 2011 also resulted in a spike in the changeup being used in terms of the percentage of pitches thrown, making up 15.96% of the pitches thrown by Verlander. That year produced a fairly high whiff percentage from his changeup, resulting in whiff percentage of 23.02%. Both good years regarding the changeup, but when we leap ahead to this year, 2014, we see a bit of a decline. Verlander’s overall maximum velocity on his changeup in 2014 is 88.37 mph, the lowest since the 2009 season where he set his career best K/9. The reason why it is not as successful in 2014 is due to the higher pitch usage in terms of a percent, 14%, as compared to 2009, and a massively decreasing whiff percentage, currently sitting at just 16.18% of changeups being swung and missed on. A decrease in whiff percentage on the changeup by 6.84% is fairly significant and is yet another piece in the puzzle that is Justin Verlander’s decline.

            Average maximum velocity, pitch usage as a percentage, and whiff percentages all seem to have a correlation in the fall of Verlander’s strikeout percentage or K/9. [url=]Blake Murphy[/url] ran regressions using pitchers who threw a qualified amount of pitches from 2006 to 2012, using strikeout rate as the control, then looked at several variables, including velocity and whiff percentage. His results find that whiff percentage has the best link in regards to variance in strikeouts, either as an overall percentage or K/9.
Comparing Whiff Percentage to Strikeout Rate

            As thoroughly discussed, Verlander’s whiff percentages are down across the board, with the exception of his curveball, which has seen essentially no change from previous seasons in either direction. He also combines whiff percentage, first strike rate, and fastball velocity and find that it has a slightly stronger correlation to strikeout rate than just whiff percentage alone. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but strong bonds should be noted. Murphy fails to look at the velocity of pitches other than the fastball, which might help us establish a stronger bond had slider and changeup velocity been used as variables. One other note regarding Murphy’s results is the relatively low R2 value of fastball velocity, 0.180. While this does not eliminate a correlation between fastball velocity and strikeout rate or K/9, it does weaken the claim, even though the common sense (and perhaps lazy) thing to do would be to notice Verlander’s weaker numbers, including strikeouts, and also the decreased velocity of his fastball, among his other pitches and try to make some sort of strong claim just from that alone. The conclusion for the K/9 drop still comes down to whiff percentage and velocity, alongside pitch usage as a percentage, as throwing weaker pitches that guys rarely swing and miss on more frequently result in a drop in strikeouts.
            None of this has addressed another perplexing issue regarding Verlander, his ever rising walks per nine innings, or BB/9, currently sitting at 3.6. Let us take a look at release points and strikezone plots for some of Justin Verlander’s most recent outings in hope that it may give us some insight into his command and control now, and then compare it to previous years.
Release Point from Last Outing

Where Pitches Landed in Last Outing

Release Point from 6/16/14 Outing

Where Pitches Landed in 6/16/14 Outing
Release Point from 6/11/14 Outing
Where Pitches Landed in 6/11/14 Outing

            Only one of these outings can be described as successful, and that is his most recent outing, the 6/21/14 game against the Cleveland Indians. The release points in all three outings are not what you see in an ace pitcher having a good day. Even in the last outing, which can be described as good by any qualification (Seven innings pitched, eight strikeouts, two earned runs), the release points are a bit too spread apart, almost in a line formation, as opposed to a bunching, or what should be as close to a single release point as possible. It should be noted that he gave up one walk in the 6/21/14 outing, two walks in the 6/16/14 outing, and four walks in the 6/11/14 outing. Now let us look at three games from the 2011 season where he only gave up two walks per nine innings.

Release Point from 9/2/11 Outing
Where Pitches Landed in 9/2/11 Outing
Release Point from 8/6/11 Outing
Where Pitches Landed in 8/6/11 Outing
Release Point from 6/30/11 Outing
Where Pitches Landed in 6/30/11 Outing

            Verlander’s 9/2/11 outing resulted in one walk, the 8/6/11 outing resulted in two walks, and the 6/30/11 outing resulted in two walks. I chose the dates as ones that just looked average for his 2011 season, picking no games where Verlander walked zero or where he walked four, the most in a single game that season. The differences in the release points between the year 2011 and 2014 should be pretty apparently, as in 2014 pitches are no longer bunched together in a circle when released, which you would see from most staff aces, but now are released in varying positions in a diagonal motion. There are other things in pitch mechanics I will not go into in this article, but the release point of a pitcher should be somewhat consistent, not what we have seen in Verlander’s last three outings in 2014. In regards to the strikezone plot, or where the pitches landed, Verlander’s command is not quite as good, but there is not much of a difference there. The 6/11/14 game plot has a tremendous number of called balls, but then again, the 6/30/11 plot also features a similar amount of called balls. So far evidence does not really show much of a change in command, but one may point out the small sample size of just three games from two different seasons, which is valid as time prohibits me from posting every graph from both seasons, if not all seasons in his career and analyzing them.

Zachary D. Rymer points out an interesting statistic regarding Verlander’s fastball control. In 2009, his K/9 record year, 22% of his fastballs were in the strikezone. His 2011 MVP season had 15.2% of the fastballs in the strikezone. This spiked to 23% in 2013, followed by a massive drop of only 12.7% of Verlander’s fastballs being in the strikezone. That should be concerning to Verlander, the Detroit Tigers, and fans. So far this year, Verlander has only had 58 called strikes or swings and misses on his slider. Similarly, only 135 changeups this year have resulted in a called strike or a swing and miss. So while I may not be able to explain exactly why Verlander is walking so many people, he is and the numbers indicate a concerningly small percentage of fastballs, sliders, and changeups are either called strikes or swinging and missing strikes (the latter of which goes back to the whiff percentage).

Going back to the beginning, we are reminded that is having a bad year, with an ERA of 4.82, 68th among qualified pitchers, behind the likes of Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood, and Jorge de la Rosa. This is not a knock on these pitchers, but rather the type of pitcher who he should be compared to. A 4/5-type starter in an above average rotation is what Verlander is performing like this year. Verlander’s SIERA, also known as Skill-Interactive ERA, this year is 4.52, the highest it has been since his first full season in Major League Baseball. It has a similar scale system to ERA, so a 4.52 is pretty bad. It also indicates that his ERA or performance this year is not unlucky, but in line with his skill this season. That statistic alone indicates nothing beyond this year, just this year. As for what Verlander’s future as a starting pitcher in MLB is I am not sure. He could make mechanical changes, leading to higher velocity and an increased whiff rate, which would help him out tremendously.Just this month, Justin Verlander was quoted as saying “My fastball velocity,I'm not seeing a hundred, but it's sitting as high as it ever has....the stuff's there.” That has to worry fans of Verlander or the Tigers organization that he sees nothing wrong, when there are quite a number of red flags as I have pointed out and “the stuff” does not appear to be there anymore, or at least this season. The question of can Verlander rebound is one that is difficult to answer. For every great pitcher that has dropped off abnormally young, like Verlander, they are often accompanied by injuries. Dwight Gooden is perhaps similar, having such a sudden drop-off, but that may be attributed to his drug usage. Rick Ankiel just fell apart overnight, but he was not a great pitcher like Verlander. Perhaps age thirty-one is where Verlander's arm had enough innings and is showing some serious troubles. Perhaps it is just a bad season and he will rebound. At this point in time, it is too hard to say.