Archive for the 'Stats Analysis' Category

Do Blue Jays Have What it Takes to Keep Winning?

The Toronto Blue Jays just completed a very impressive three game sweep of the AL Central division leading Detroit Tigers with a 7-3 victory Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park.  The Jays flexed their offensive muscles and really roughed up the suddenly terrible Justin Verlander – 7 innings, 5 earned, 4 walks and 4 strikeouts.

The Jays walked into Detroit and pretty much laid the smack down on a perennial powerhouse.  They earned the sweep with three straight victories against Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander.  The Jays got solid starting pitching, stellar bullpen work and their deep offensive attack continued its league leading performance.

With the sweep on the road in Detroit (did I mention they swept Detroit in Detroit?) and last night’s series opening victory over the St. Louis Cardinals the Blue Jays now sport a 38-24 record and lead the AL East by six full games.  The baseball season is brutally long and it is wise not to get too high or too low with any one series victory, or loss.

I was pretty excited when we took the first game and I texted my buddy who responded the same way he has all season “Good win.  Now let’s keep it up”.  In other words, relax, there is a long way to go.  Is the Blue Jays success sustainable with the currently assembled roster?

Let’s have a look at the offense and pitching staff to see if there are any major red flags in terms of impending regression.

OFFENSE:

The Blue Jays lineup has been an absolute beast to opposing pitchers all season.  They are tearing the cover off the ball and wearing out opponents pitching staffs.  When I looked at the Blue Jays in the preseason I thought the team had serious downside risk and also to the upside.  I think that most pundits while mostly concerned with starting pitching actually underrated the lineup a tad.

The Blue Jays have depth up and down the lineup and at first glance nothing really stands out and screams regression.  Let’s take a look at the starting lineup:

Catcher – Believe it or not but Erik Kratz leads the Blue Jays in WAR (0.2 fWAR) despite playing only about half the games of Dioner Navarro (0.0 fWAR).  The Blue Jays are not getting much production out of the catching position so the threat of regression at this time is low.

First base – Edwin Encarnacion (2.4 fWAR) and Adam Lind (1.1 fWAR) have both hit very well thus far.  Edwin Encarnacion responded to a sub-par April with a monstrous May but his overall stat line (273/361/606) is right around his career levels.  Adam Lind is only playing against righties for the most part (383/458/628) and has been aided slightly by an elevated BABIP so he could see a dip in overall production.

Second base – Brett Lawrie and Steve Tolleson have provided solid value.  Lawrie will shift to third base against righties and has given team solid pop and great defense.  Tolleson has hit lefties well in the past and can play an adequate second base.

Third base – Juan Francisco has actually been worth more (1.4 fWAR – 39 games) than Brett Lawrie (1.3 fWAR – 55 games) thanks to a stellar offensive start.  Francisco has slashed 262/343/579 and has been ever deadlier against right handed pitchers (298/381/654).  I wouldn’t expect Francisco to continue at such a torrid pace the rest of the season but I don’t think the power will suddenly disappear.

Short stop – Jose Reyes has actually underperformed his preseason ZIPS projections and has only slashed 259/330/400 thus far.  ZIPS projects 283/338/424 for the rest of the season and Blue Jays fans would be happy with that type of production.

Outfield – Jose Bautista has been his usual awesome self but probably even awesome-er to start this season.  He is currently slashing 318/444/565 and has absolutely destroyed lefties (434/531/849) so any regression there could be slightly offset against right handers.  ZIPS projects a solid 281/400/536 the rest of the way.

Melky Cabrera has bounced back very nicely and has added a new element of depth to the Blue Jays lineup.  He welcome prized rookie Mashiro Tanaka with a leadoff homerun early in April and has continued hitting all season.  He has slashed 305/345/490 and ZIPS projects 294/334/448 the rest of the way.

Anthony Gose has done a great job filling in for Colby Rasmus.  He has shown great speed, defense and an improved patience.  Kevin Pillar has done a great job in late game pinch running and defensive replacement situations.

Colby Rasmus has begun a rehab assignment and could return in the next few weeks from his hamstring injury.

PITCHING:

This is where things get a little dicier.  Let’s have a look at our rotation pitcher-by-pitcher.

RA Dickey – He has been about as expected – mid 4.00 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  He has had his share of troubles when he hits the sixth inning but with a team with so many question marks in the back end of the rotation he will be a key component of any division title run.  Given the strength of the lineup the Blue Jays do not require Roy Halladay like precision on the mound.

ZIPS projects 122 IPs, 4.25 ERA, 7.47 K/9, 1.28 WHIP.

Mark Buerhle – I really expected to see career numbers across the board but I was actually relieved when I saw that his K/9, K/BB, WHIP and batting average against are not really that far from his career averages.  Yes his 2.10 ERA has been heavily aided by an 80% strand rate and 2.4 HR/FB% and it would be foolish to not expect regression.  However he will still eat innings and give our stellar lineup a chance to win ballgames.

ZIPS projects 109 IPs, 4.07 ERA, 5.71 K/9, 1.31 WHIP.

Drew Hutchison – In the preseason quiz I picked Hutch to ‘out-WAR’ Ervin Santana (for those curious Hutch leads 1.2 to 1.0).  He has been very consistent this season and looks like he could join the conversation of one of the division’s better young pitchers.

This is where I have serious concerns – innings pitched.  One year removed from Tommy John surgery will he have the stamina and team blessing to pitch the required 175-200 innings to actually finish the season?  The most innings he has thrown in his professional career was in 2011 when he tossed 149.1 IPs.

In 2012, one year after his surgery the Washington Nationals (also in pennant chase) limited their ace Stephen Strasburg to 159 innings and shut him down.  Will the Blue Jays risk injury to Hutch?  What if they actually make the playoffs?  It is hard to envision Hutchison finishing the year without being shut down.

JA Happ – I almost hate to mention him fearing I will jinx him but Happ has been pretty solid.  His value gets a slight bump as he is really a guy the Blue Jays will have no problem using and abusing if need be.  They have replacements in the system and free agency can always fill his spot for the next few years but milking his value this year will be crucial down the stretch.

Marcus Stroman – Watching him start got me pretty excited about his potential.  He has a very live arm, athletic build and delivery and I think size concerns are overblown.  But like Hutchison how many innings will the Blue Jays allow him to make in what is his first major league season?  He threw a total of 111.2 IPs in the minor leagues last season.

I didn’t include the ZIPS projections for 3 out 5 of the Jays rotation because the projections are either awful or don’t include much in the way of expected innings.  Which is sort of the point.  Alex Anthopoulos is no fool.  He knows the Toronto Blue Jays will require at least one or two veteran starting pitchers to complete this roster.  There are too many question marks surrounding age, experience and past performance.  The baseball world will be watching and Blue Jays fans will be hoping.

Edwin Encarnacion’s Amazing Month Vs Troy Tulowitzki’s Amazing Season

For the most part this is a Toronto Blue Jays centric blog and a secondary focus is on the American League East.  I know the blog name is odd but I thought it would be a clever play on words.  We’ll call it a foul tip as opposed to full swing and miss.  But today I want to focus on a player who has received attention of course but nowhere near what is warranted.

Troy Tulowitzki is having one amazing start to a baseball season.

Our beloved “Edwing” Edwin Encarnacion has had a month of May that no Blue Jays fan will soon forget.  EE has slashed 284/350/789, 31 hits, 16 homeruns, 1.139 OPS and an incredible .479 wOBA.  He hit his 15th and 16th HR for the month, tying him with Mickey Mantle for the most HRs in one month.  In short he has been hotter than Rob Ford’s crack pipe.

Now prepared to be blown away.  Take a look at this comparison of Edwin’s white-hot May and Troy Tulowitzki’s total season numbers:

  PA   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS    wOBA  
E.Encarnacion (May-2014) 120 .284 .450 .789 1.139 .479
T.Tulowitzki (2014) 208 .369 .471 .702 1.174 .492

Now consider the fact Troy Tulowitzki is also playing well above average defense at shortstop and has been worth a league leading 4.1 fWAR already this year.  In roughly two months Troy Tulowitzki has already been exactly what Edwin Encarnacion was worth (4.1 fWAR) for ALL of 2013.

Troy Tulowitzki has produced more surplus value in 2014 than prominent Blue Jays Melky Cabrera (1.2 fWAR), Juan Francisco (1.1 fWAR), Jose Reyes (0.8 fWAR) and Brett Lawrie (0.6 fWAR) combined.  Yeah, he’s been pretty good so far and yeah the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Ricky Romero one spot ahead of him in the 2005 draft.

Has Kevin Seitzer Improved Blue Jays Plate Discipline?

Well after another blown save and lackluster bullpen performance by the Toronto Blue Jays there record fell to 13-16 and are now three full games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles.  During the JP Ricciardi era it seemed that one year the Blue Jays bats would be unstoppable but the pitching didn’t keep up, or vice versa.

Perhaps a team on a shoestring budget (at that point) just has to put up with such things.  Last year it felt like we had wasted one of the best bullpens the team has ever had as the offense and starting pitching was just ok.  This season I wanted to have a look at the offense.  I hadn’t actually looked until writing this piece today but it felt like the Blue Jays under Kevin Seitzer had become a more patient team at the plate.

Let’s take a look shall we?

On the season the Blue Jays have scored an impressive 134 runs – ranking 7th in all of baseball.  They have hit 35 homeruns (4th) and .330 wOBA (6th).  As a team the Blue Jays swung at 45.4% of all pitches thrown and so far this year only 43.1% (the fourth lowest in the majors FYI).

Let’s take a look at individual batter numbers:

Swing% 2013    2014     Diff 
Jose Reyes 43.8% 47.4%  3.6
Melky Cabrera 47.6% 45.0%  2.6
Jose Bautista 39.2% 34.0% -5.2
Edwin Encarnacion 41.9% 43.5%  1.6
Dioner Navarro 46.3% 43.5% -2.8
Adam Lind 41.7% 34.6% -7.1
Colby Rasmus 45.0% 48.2%  3.2
Brett Lawrie 47.5% 51.5%  4.0
Ryan Goins 43.8% 41.1% -2.7

Sort of a mixed bag when looking player by player and you can plainly see that a majority of the overall lower swing rate comes from Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.  Saying that those are three of the more important cogs in the lineup and of course they will make up a good deal of overall plate appearances.

The Blue Jays have a few free swingers that aren’t likely to start changing now.  Brett Lawrie swinging as often as Melky Cabrera given the differences in contact skills might explain some of his early season batting average struggles.

While not conclusive down the entire lineup card as a team the Blue Jays are trying to work the count a little deeper and have swung at less pitches overall.  Ranking 4th overall in swing percentage is a good thing.  Ranking 1-3 are the Twins, Rays and Red Sox and all three are in the top ten in runs scored early on in 2014.

Getting the starting pitcher out of the game and facing pitchers like Todd Redmond in key run scoring opportunities can only help the team in the long run.  I hope this new approach continues as it makes the Blue Jays a tougher team to play against.

Obligatory & Early Edwin Encarnacion Is Struggling Piece

So it has been quite a slow start for the Blue Jays best overall hitter Edwin Encarnacion.  He has looked a little off to start the year and I wanted to see if there was anything that stood out in his stat set that might explain why?  April can be a difficult month to write about baseball given the small sample sizes that abound in the early going.

Thus far our beloved EE has amassed 83 plate appearances over the first 19 games so there is at least a reasonable level of data to analyze.  The first stat that obviously sticks out is the big donut in the homerun column.  Encarnacion has been one of the best power hitters in baseball over the last two seasons hitting 42 and 36 dingers respectively.

So far this season Encarnacion is slashing a pretty dismal 230/313/324 and considering he is returning from the occasional power sapping wrist surgery Blue Jays fans have the right to be a tad concerned.  Let’s compare some stats from the early going to his last two complete seasons to see some of the trends.

First some basic and counting stats:

EE AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ wOBA ISO
2012 .280 .384 .557 13.0% 14.6% 151 .396 .277
2013 .272 .370 .534 13.2% 10.0% 145 .388 .262
2014 .230 .313 .324 10.8% 22.9% 81 .291 .095

It doesn’t take a strong grasp of advanced statistics to see that Encarnacion is off to a rotten start.  His 2014 line looks more like Munenori Kawasaki than that of one of the most dangerous sluggers in the game.  Perhaps most concerning is that Encarnacion is striking out well above his career rate of 15.9% and over twice as much as his 2013 10.0% mark.

Let’s take a closer look at some batted ball data:

EE LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP
2012 17.6% 33.0% 49.5% 12.0% 18.7% .266
2013 21.6% 35.1% 43.3% 9.3% 17.6% .247
2014 18.2% 38.2% 43.6% 4.2% 0.0% .309

Overall there is nothing that stands out besides the unsustainably low homerun to fly-ball percentage.  I really expected to see his infield fly-ball percentage to be high-ish but clearly Edwin’s two biggest problems thus far are the fly-balls he is hitting currently aren’t leaving the yard and overall contact issues.

Let’s visit the latter claim to see if it holds true:

EE O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Z-Contact% Contact% F-Strike% SwStrk%
2012 21.8% 59.8% 41.0% 87.0% 82.1% 55.4% 7.2%
2013 24.4% 60.5% 41.3% 89.4% 84.3% 59.9% 6.3%
2014 27.8% 60.0% 42.7% 87.8% 79.0% 67.5% 9.0%

So far this season Encarnacion is fishing a little more outside of the strike-zone according to Fangraphs pitch f/x data.  He is also making a career low overall contact rate and a near career worst swinging strike percentage.  Simply put he is swinging through a lot more pitches that in the past he has been able to ‘barrel’.

Based on the ‘eye test’ of watching his at-bats it isn’t hard to tell that he is definitely out of sync.  He appears less balanced, more easily frustrated and a touch late on pitches he can hit.  Hitters will always go through prolonged slumps and given the track record of success for Edwin Encarnacion one need not ring the alarm bells quite yet.

RA Dickey Shows 3 MPH Increase On Knuckler, Dominates Yankees

RA Dickey gave the Toronto Blue Jays a glimpse of how good his knuckleball can be Saturday afternoon against the New York Yankees.  Dickey was masterful over 6.2 shutout innings striking out 6 Yankee batters.  So the question has to be asked – is RA Dickey circa 2012 back?

Dickey was extremely ineffective in his first start this season and after a promising spring training where he had been throwing the knuckler slightly harder it was definitely a disappointing beginning to the season.

A lot of discussion was had surrounding his velocity, or lack thereof last season so I thought I would take a closer look at just that today.  Here is a chart showing the velocity and movement of RA Dickey’s knuckleball from four different starts.  The first is a start against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, then the opener against Cleveland in 2013 and of course his first two starts of this current season.

Start Date   Velo (Max)   H-Break   V-Break   Count   Whiffs / %  
6/13/2012 78.7 (82.4) 2.75 1.99 101 23 / 22.8%
4/2/2013 77.3 (80.9) 0.37 0.43 97 9 / 9.3%
3/31/2014 75.5 (78.6) 2.20 2.39 82 10 / 12.2%
4/5/2014 77.7 (81.4) -0.49 1.74 94 13 / 13.8%

As you can see Dickey really was able to power that knuckler during his NL Cy Young campaign from 2012 with the New York Mets.  The average velocity was still 1 MPH higher in that start than during his last start versus the New York Yankees yesterday.  His highest average knuckler also maxed out over 1 MPH higher as well.

Dickey was basically a man possessed during that start against the Rays in 2012 generating a ridiculous 22.8% whiff rate.  He was good against the New York Yankees yesterday but will probably never be able to match that particular start in 2012 – nor should he be expected to.

In 2013 he threw 224.2 IPs with a 4.21 ERA, 7.09 K/9, 4.58 FIP and 2.0 fWAR.  Overall those aren’t terrible numbers but fans expected a lot more from the reigning 2012 NL Cy Young winner when he was acquired last offseason for the hefty price of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.

He didn’t quite flash Cy Young yesterday form but when compared to his first start of the 2014 campaign RA Dickey was almost a completely different and better pitcher.  He was on average over 2 MPH harder and each knuckleball and his hardest “power” knuckler was nearly 3 MPH harder.  He was also able to throw much more strikes consistently.

As you can also see from all four starts the knuckleball really has a mind of its own in terms of movement both horizontally and vertically.  I don’t think Russell Crowe in a Beautiful Mind could find a pattern in that data.

If RA Dickey can maintain his velocity and success from his last start against the New York Yankees it would definitely bode well for any sustained success from the 39-year old knuckleball pitcher.  Dickey is under contract with the Blue Jays for another season (2015) plus an option year.  At the very least Dickey could increase his trade value league wide if Alex Anthopoulos was looking to cash in.

Balance of Power – Jays Struggles With Tampa Bay More than Just Simple Road Woes

Riding with the Wind, ’14: A Good Read

I just read a community research article at http://www.fangraphs.com written by Foster Honeck a few days ago, entitled “Baseball’s Biggest Market Inefficiency”.  It is worth your time, whether you agree or disagree with him.

I won’t play the role of spoiler, but I will make one comment about the Toronto Blue Jays: you will be interested or outraged or intrigued or surprised or something else to see the Jays’ rank.  It is unlikely that you will be indifferent.

Read it, enjoy it, respond to it thoughtfully, or react to it viscerally.  It was not what I expected nor did it tell me what I wanted to hear, both of which contributed to my enjoyment.

Wes Kepstro

Riding with the Wind, ’14: Brandon Morrow

As I was reading something the other day I mused about what people say about Brandon Morrow.  The majority of comments that I’ve read seem to focus on his health, which I believe to be a positive step after reading so many TOR-should-have-kept-Brandon-League comments.  Man that was irritating.  The health thing is less so, but only marginally less so.

Brandon Morrow is a good pitcher.  The salient question is, ‘how good is he?’  The simple answer is pretty good, which tells us nothing unless we introduce some sort of comparison or contrast for context.  If he was among the league leaders in Games Started since 2010 and produced at his average rate over that 4 season stretch, he’d be a top 20 pitcher in MLB.  That’s how good he is.  His approximate value of about 14.5 fWAR would be in line with James Shields, Mat Latos, and Gio Gonzalez.  The Jays were supposedly in on the Latos and Gio deals.  Can you imagine…?

Of course he isn’t among the leaders in GS since 2010.  Brandon Morrow has started 87 G since 2010, or 47 fewer than the MLB leaders.  But it’s not only about durability.  In August 2010 the Jays shut him down because he had very little history as a starting pitcher, costing him a handful or so of starts.  Durability then became a factor, as a series of injuries have cost him about 40 starts.  We can’t get hung up on what might have been, however, but it doesn’t reflect reality.  The reality is that Morrow has started 87 G, which ranks 82nd among qualified starters since 2010.

I wanted to see how Morrow stacked up against guys with similar challenges—mainly health issues—to get an idea of how effective or ineffective he’s been.  I was a little bit surprised.  What I discovered helped me to realize what needs to go his way in 2014.

On average it has taken Brandon Morrow a little more than 9 GS to accumulate 1 fWAR; because of that, I chose pitchers who were within five starts on either side since 2010.  That narrowed the group to 14 pitchers.  Of those 14 pitchers 4 made at least 4 relief appearances, which tends to skew the numbers a little too much for a lazy guy like me.  That left us with a group of 10 pitchers, of whom Brandon Morrow was one.  Here’s what Fangraphs had to say:

 

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

babip

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Peavy

91

90

582.1

7.77

2.21

1.08

.281

70.7

36.7

9.5

4.10

3.74

3.90

11.5

Lackey

90

90

564.1

6.78

2.68

1.02

.313

69.3

44.4

9.9

4.67

4.10

4.09

8.7

Billingsley

90

90

541.1

7.60

3.38

0.57

.304

71.2

46.7

6.4

3.77

3.44

3.90

8.2

Danks

90

90

575.1

6.51

2.60

1.13

.289

70.1

43.5

10.8

4.33

4.19

4.06

8.0

Garcia

89

89

535.0

7.22

2.67

0.62

.313

70.4

55.3

8.6

3.38

3.27

3.42

9.1

Morrow

87

87

504.2

9.47

3.46

1.00

.299

69.2

38.6

9.8

4.32

3.69

3.74

9.4

Buchholz

87

87

554.0

6.56

3.22

0.78

.268

76.4

49.1

8.9

3.15

3.91

4.09

9.3

Beckett

87

87

534.1

7.82

2.76

1.18

.291

71.0

42.3

11.6

4.33

4.08

3.87

7.6

Minor

86

85

507.1

7.91

2.54

1.08

.288

72.5

35.5

9.8

3.90

3.76

3.88

6.6

Johnson

84

84

516.2

8.54

2.84

0.66

.303

73.6

46.3

8.2

3.40

3.15

3.41

11.8

This is part of a bigger animal from: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2010&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=7%2cd

Several quick general observations:

  • Yes, that’s Josh Johnson at the bottom of the table—I’m sorely tempted to release a torrent of profanity that would make Melissa McCarthy blush;
  • Chad Billingsley should do whatever he can to be a Dodger for the rest of his natural born days;
  • Is Clay Buchholz on the verge of being Romero-ed?  Seriously, how long can he do that in the AL East, in Fenway?;
  • Josh Beckett is on the downside of a pretty good career, so including him might be a little unfair;
  • Jaime Garcia and Mike Minor are good young pitchers

Looking at the table, Brandon Morrow doesn’t command the strike zone very well.  This undoubtedly contributes to his average of slightly more than 5.2/IP per start.  He’s below average at stranding runners and doesn’t induce many ground balls (I seem to recall him inducing his first double play ground ball in the final game of the season in 2011, but I’ll have to check…).

Positively, he mows down hitters like a scythe: his swing-and-miss stuff is thrilling to watch.  His babip against is slightly above league average but his HR/9 and HR/FB rates are better than average.  His peripherals suggest that he’s somewhat of a bad luck pitcher.  Given the Jays’ defense (*cough*RajaiMaicerBonifacioArencibia*cough*), it’s not surprising.

There are two things that must happen if Brandon Morrow is to pitch to his talent level.  First, he needs to be healthy.  If he reaches somewhere around 28-30 GS (career high 30 GS in 2011) and 180-200 IP (career high 179.1 IP in 2011), the Jays and their fans would be deliriously happy.  That would give him a range of about 6.5-7 IP/GS, on average.

Second, the defense behind him must be sharp for him to succeed.  He’s a strikeout/fly ball pitcher.  His low ground ball and high walk rates raise the significance of each ground ball he induces, meaning poor defense does more damage than just booted ground balls: his skill set suggests that he almost needs to strike out the side to get out of a tough inning.  Historically, the Jays’ defense has almost demanded it.  Whereas Mark Buehrle may induce several consecutive batters (or even innings) worth of ground ball outs, Morrow induces them infrequently.  Strong defensive performances by the infield help someone like Brandon Morrow considerably.

Our expectations of Brandon Morrow and the Jays have been tempered by injuries and poor performances.  Is 2014 the year that it all falls into place the way it did for the Orioles in 2012 and the Red Sox in 2013?  Who knows?  Brandon Morrow rounding into form (coming of age?) gives them a starter with top 20 skills, which may help us understand their reticence in acquiring a starter in the off season.   If he can be a top of the line guy that his talent level suggests is within his grasp, the Jays stand a good chance to be in the hunt.

Wes Kepstro


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