Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All Heat, Not Enough Change

In 2012, Kelvin Herrera established himself as one of the more dominant reliever in Major League Baseball. In 84.1 innings pitched he struck out 77 hitters and unintentionally walked just 21. On top of this, he ground ball percentage was an excellent 55.5% and opposing hitters hit just .250/.301/.342.

It was an excellent season and among the hesitations of Royals fans for 2013, a potential Kelvin Herrera collapse ranked low on the list. Unfortunately, that is what has happened and given the high leverage situations in which the Dominican reliever is utilized the issues are amplified. In 2013, Herrera has a 5.04 ERA. His walk rate has nearly doubled and while his strikeout rate has climbed to over a batter an inning, his home run rate has jumped from 0.43 per 9 innings to 2.88 per 9 innings.

What the hell is going on?

After Herrera's initial struggles in Atlanta, we were told that Herrera feared that he was tipping his pitches. Given the uniqueness of this series compared with the rest of his career, I couldn't help but wonder if there might have been some truth to that. However, when the struggles continued I began to notice Herrera's increased reliance on his fastball.

Now make no mistake about it, Herrera has a dynamite fastball. As a 5"11", 190 pound man it is incredible that he can consistently hit triple digits. However, these are big league hitters. If they couldn't catch up with fastballs, they wouldn't be playing at the highest level in the world. Relievers can find success with two pitches, but unless your name is Mariano* it is hard to do so with one.

The thing is that Herrera has another fantastic pitch. The gentlemen at Fangraphs even took the time to create this post as an homage to the awesomeness of the Herrera's change. Take a moment to watch these GIFs, it is worth your time.

I took a moment to test my hypothesis that in Herrera's worst outings he has been far too reliant on the fastball. Here is what I've found:

  • In 9 of 26 outings this season Herrera's FIP has been over 5.00 
  • In 14 of the 26 outings Herrera has thrown change ups less than 20% of the time. (In 2012, he threw change ups in 28.7% of his pitches). Seven of these resulted in FIPs over 5.00
  • In 12 of the 26 outings Herrera has thrown less than 15% change ups. Six of these resulted in FIPs over 5.00
  • In 9 of the outings he has thrown change ups 10% of the time or less. Five of these resulted in FIPs over 5.00
According my five second correalation analysis about 12% of the variance in FIP is accounted for by a decreased use of Herrera's change up. This isn't nearly as high of a number as I anticipated. Not that we believed this to be the case, but it appears that Herrera's troubles weren't totally the result of his pitch selection.

However, looking over the data we do find a trend in which Herrera is using his change up less and less. Perhaps he feels as though his change up is to blame for the meltdown earlier in the year and to compensate he is trying to simply blow it by guys. This is just a theory, but I think very plausible considering his youth and the explosiveness of the pitch.

Taking a slightly different look at the numbers we see that when Herrera throws less than 20% change ups (has happened 14 times) he has posted a FIP over 5.00 seven times, meaning 50% of the time he doesn't mix in change ups he gets lit up like a pumpkin. 

When Herrera mixes in his change up and throws it over 20% of the time, he has only had 2 outings out of 12 in which his FIP has been over 5.00. Basically, when he mixes in his change up, the odds are just one in six (16%) that he gets hit hard. This may seem like a lot, but last season this happened to Herrera in 10 of his 76 outings (13%).

This data tells me that the distinction that should be made is that not throwing a fair share of change ups will not necessarily lead to a bad outing..However, his bad outings are much rarer when change ups are mixed in on average once every five pitches. Basically, if Herrera and Perez can use his best pitch in the same way they did last season, Herrera's numbers would likely see a nice boost. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cardinals Suck at Commemorative Cups

See for yourself. 
You guys might want to talk about how the Royals have won 7 of their last 8 games, or how we took 2 of 3 from the Tigers, or how Jose Valverde’s goatee is uglier than the streets of Detroit after midnight, but I have more pressing matters to write about: the HUGE gap between the Royals and Cardinals commemorative cups.

I made a recent trek up to St. Louis to visit my future graduate school, and scheduled the trip around the Royals and Cardinals series. I had never been to Busch Stadium, and as much as I want to lie about it being a piece of junk, was actually a really nice stadium. Although I was heckled by fans before, during, and after the game – I attended the game in which Aaron Crow blew a two run lead in the bottom of the 8th inning – the stadium itself was quite impressive. Maybe not “baseball heaven” as they call it, but a nice stadium nonetheless.

But everything soon changed after I made my habitual journey to a concession stand. You see, I like to purchase commemorative cups from every stadium at which I attend a game. I have NFL cups, MLB cups, MLS cups, college, and minor league baseball cups. They are my version of shot glasses, pennants, posters, etc. that people collect when they visit many different stadiums. The cups can get pricey, but when people come over and ask if they can have a drink, they are always impressed by my collection.

So when I purchased a burger basket meal at Busch Stadium and ordered the commemorative cup, I knew that this was a good time of year for cups. After all, it should be the first cup of the year for the team, assuming they have multiple versions, and should also feature the schedule. Having gotten one from Kauffman Stadium on Opening Day, I had a certain expectation for the cup. I was sadly disappointed.

As you can see above, the Cardinals cup lacks any sort of originality, flair, or pizzazz that the Royals cup does. While the Royals cup features three players, the team’s slogan – Come to Play – and the team schedule, the Cardinals just simply has the logo and the schedule. In fact, I’m not even sure if what the Cardinals sold me should even be labeled as a commemorative cup. It’s closer to just being a cup. What is it commemorating?! Nothing.

As a commemorative cup connoisseur, this is exactly the sort of arrogance I should have expected from the Cardinals organization. It’s as if they think winning 11 World Series and being a perennial contender somehow excuses them from offering an aesthetically pleasing commemorative cup to their clientele.

No St. Louis, it does not. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Super Salvy

The Royals cruised to their sixth consecutive victory last night in large part due to a triple by their 245 pound catcher, Salvador Perez. It doesn't take a genius to tell you that Salvy's presence in the lineup has a huge factor on this organization, but I was wondering just how big of an influence it has been over the last three seasons. Let's check out the numbers.

Over the past three seasons, the Royals are 78-85 when Salvador Perez makes an appearance and 77-83 (.481) when he starts the game. In that same time frame, the Royals are 172-213 good for a .447 winning percentage. Over the past three seasons, in games that Salvador Perez doesn't start, the Royals are 95-130, winning just 42 percent of their games.

When you readjust the numbers for averages over 162 games over the past three seasons, the Royals have performed like a 78 win team with Salvador in the starting lineup and a 68 win team without him. It doesn't take a Math major to realize that this is a ten win swing.

This season alone, the Royals have played like an 88 win team with him starting and a 43 win team with him out. If the Royals can keep this up and Perez can start 90 of the team's final 101 games, the Royals will finish 82-80. Obviously, this isn't the record that we all hoped for entering the season, but that would at least make it a fun summer.

The numbers say that Perez isn't that valuable, but it is close. In 163 career games, he has accumulated a 5.2 fWAR and 6.1 bWAR. There is no doubt he is one of the most important players in the organization, but with all the disappointment in Hosmer and Moustakas it seems as though Perez's success has been overlooked.

Do me a favor. Next time you hear someone complain about the Royals inability to develop superstars that hit the ground running, be sure to point to the guy wearing the Royals mask behind home plate.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mike Moustakas is not very unlucky.

During this part of the year baseball fans are trying to figure out which struggling players are lost, and which are simply unlucky.  The easiest way for people to quickly determine how lucky or unlucky a player has been is by using the BABIP (Batting Average Balls in Play) metric.  While some people will maintain a higher BABIP based on line drive rate or speed, the average BABIP is right around .300 around the majors. 

I wanted to see how LD% and IFF% (infield fly percentage) affected BABIP, so I took players in the top and bottom 30 players in MLB for both K% and IFF% from 2012.  That left me with a list of 91 players.  I found the K%, IFF%, BABIP, LD%, K%+IFF% and LD%-IFF% for each player during 2012, thus far in 2013, and for their respective careers.  It was not the most shocking revelation to find a correlation between BABIP and LD%-IFF%.  Of the top 20 LD%-IFF% of this sample the average BABIP was .337.  Of the lowest twenty of the same stat from this sample the average BABIP was .291.  It helped me understand the Chris Davis breakout a bit more, as his miniscule pop out rate helps hide his above average K rate, and at the same time his line drive rate looks better compared to how few pop outs he commits (hence his .343 career BABIP).   It also provided more reason to me how players like Derek Jeter, Shin-shoo Choo and Dexter Fowler are able to maintain career BABIPS over .350. 

This was a nice way to spend a few hours of my night, but how does it pertain to Mike Moustakas? Well, if there was a loser from this experiment in numbers it was Moose.  Moose has the third highest IFF% of anyone since 2011 (only Brendan Ryan and Chris Young are worse).  Of the players sampled in my sample, only the unquestionably disappointing Justin Smoak has a lower career BABIP of .262 compared to Moustakas’ at .267. In fact, that .267 mark is 16th worst in the majors since 2011.  That is obviously quite a bit better than his .190 mark thus far this season, but still well below league average.  In terms of his LD%-IFF% Moustakas was the only player sampled to have a career IFF% higher than his career FB%.  He was one of only three major leaguers this season with a negative LD%-IFF% (the struggling B.J. Upton and Josh Willingham being the other two).

This is not a good sign for Moustakas, and even though his IFF% is down a percent from 2012 (17.6 to 16.7), his LD% is down about 3.5% to a puny 12.8%.  Simply put, Moustakas is not making good contact right now.  That being said, he is making contact.  Moustakas has the 28th best K% in the league at 13.7 percent.  But with his IFF% of 16.7 he is getting out on the K or pop out over 30% of the time.  As far as I’m concerned a pop up is as bad as a strike out, and with this massive pop out rate he is in the top third in the league in K%+IFF%; higher than strike out guys like Jason Kipnis, Dexter Fowler, Alfonso Soriano and Austin Jackson. 

These figures combined with Moustakas’ declining ISO means that there is very little that Moustakas is doing right at the plate right now.  The only positive I see is his low strike out rate, but even that has a chance to regress as the year rolls on.  The infield flies and coupled with not hitting the ball with any authority gives me pause that we will see much improvement in 2013.  My previous two paragraphs were admittedly somewhat jumbled, but I think that these stats have painted a picture as to what is wrong with Moose.  His lack of both speed and line drives, along with his career long problem of hitting pop ups in the infield is going to continue to kill his average.  His power has seemed to have left him with only four long balls, while on defense Moustakas has a positive UZR, but his seven errors have add to the struggles.  Mike Moustakas may well be the 2015 version of Domonic Brown, but as of right now  Moustakas seems lost, and it sure looks like he is a long ways away from being the player Royal fan’s expect him to be.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prepping for the Draft: Braden Shipley & the Clear top 8

On Thursday the Royals will make the third selection of the 2013 First Year Player draft. It just so happens that the #8 prospect in Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects for this year, is a pitcher who bares a striking resemblance to the Kansas City's first round pick from a season ago.

After Jonathan Gray and Mark Appel, the top college arm available in the draft is Nevada's Braden Shipley. Like Kyle Zimmer from a year ago, Shipley offers the benefit of being tested against college competition, but also has the limited wear on his arm thanks to the fact that he too is converted infielder. For better or for worse, the Royals organization prefers to develop arms themselves and as a converted infielder, they would have the opportunity to do so.

Shipley also offers the type of three pitch mix that the Royals organization prefers. He boasts a fastball  that sits 93-96 sometimes touching 98, one of the draft's best change ups, and a work in progress curveball that should one day be an average offering. This is the mix that the Royals hammer into their young prospects and the same three pitch mix that excited the Royals enough to select Kyle Zimmer last June.

I am pretty confident that if Shipley is available to the Royals at eight they will select him. However, there are also rumors that both the Cleveland Indians and Miami Marlins are hot on the scent of the member of the non-Hangover Wolfpack. Many suspect Cleveland to go the route of Colin Moran, but Miami could be the snag. They are also said to be considered high school catcher Reese McGuire as well as Mississippi outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Shipley isn't necessarily my top choice, but I do find him to be an attractive option. My fear is that if Shipley doesn't last until the Royals selection, they will be so locked in on pitching that they will reach deeper into their draft board and pass up on superior prospects. Outside of Gray and Appel, I see no other college pitching prospect worthy of a top 10 selection. In order to protect the Royals from themselves, it might be the safest bet to root for Shipley to slide.

Additional Note: In Bob Dutton's article regarding the draft in today's KC Star, he throws in this little nuggest...
"All signs, however, point to a preference for a pitcher unless one of two highly regarded prep outfielders from Georgia - Clint Frazier or Austin Meadows - unexpectedly remain on the board."
This is the first connection between the Royals and those two players. I find it especially interesting, because based on my readings there is a strong chance that at least one of the two remains when the Royals are on the clock. It would be very surprising if Grey, Appel, Kris Bryant, or Kohl Stewart last past the top 5.Given that pretty consistently Shipley, Frazier, Meadows, and Moran have ranked as the next four prospects to go it seems likely that the Royals will have the opportunity to pick one of the four.

Based on the mock drafts that I have looked over, the next grouping of prospects are up in the air. So based off of industry consensus, the Royals find themselves in a decent spot of having the guaranteed opportunity to select one of the top 8 players in the draft. This brings me back to my initial fear; that Shipley will go in the top 7 and the Royals will reach for a pitcher in order to fit their pre-draft plan.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Prepping for the Draft: Thoughts on Sean Manaea

When it comes to the 2013 Amateur Draft the most intriguing prospect could be Indiana State left hander Sean Manaea. This is not to say that the Sycamore is the most highly regarded prospect on the board as that honor clearly belongs to either Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray or Stanford's Mark Appel. However, eight months ago, this wasn't so obvious and many considered Manaea a candidate to be selected in the top spot of the draft.

According to Baseball America, during the Cape Cod League last summer Manaea featured a mid-90s fastball that dominated hitters, allowing them to hit just .119 against him in 52 innings of work. Unfortunately for the lefty his velocity has been down to 88-93 all Spring and he hasn't even maintained that throughout many of his starts.The combination of that and injuries haveresulted in many to predict that Manaea could slide on draft day, with some even speculating that as a Boras client he could steal a page from the Mark Appel playbook and return to school for another year.

Now, there is no way that I think the Royals should take a chance on him with the #8 overall pick in the draft. No, there are several other options that I would be much more comfortable with/excited for in the slot. However, thanks to the powers at be, the Royals have been awarded with an asset that no team has ever had before. On July 18, 2012, the Royals were crowned champions of the first ever Competitive Balance Lottery.*

*First we are the champions of the competitive balance lottery then we lead the league in fewest home runs. Can life get better?

Thanks to the Royals good fortune and small market, this weekend the Royals will get to make selections at 8, 34, and 46. Perhaps even more importantly given the new collective bargaining agreement, the Royals will also receive the additional bonus pool allotment that is assigned to each of those draft slots. As a result, the Royals have the 6th largest bonus for this year's draft.

Now back to Manaea. Here's what Jim Callis had to say about the 6-5, 215 pounder in his latest mock draft:

"Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea remains the draft's biggest wild card. He was a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick before his stuff dipped and he endured ankle, hip and shoulder issues this spring. Teams don't have a good feel for his health or his signability, and I believe the most likely scenario is one of the clubs at the top of the draft with a large bonus pool will gamble on him after the first round."
There are only four teams that have larger bonus pools than Kansas City that also pick higher in the first round. Those teams are the Houston Astros, the Chicago Cubs, the Colorado Rockies, and the Florida Marlins. The Astros have already proven to have the strategy of spreading bonus money around to players with signability concerns, but last year they featured a strong high school focus. Theo Epstein of the Cubs drafted a similar player to Manaea in his time in Boston when he selected Anthony Ranaudo with the 39th pick of the 2010 draft.

What is important to note, is that while these teams select ahead of the Royals in the first round, the Royals will have the first shot at Manaea following the first round. The only teams with a second pick before Kansas City and a bonus pool larger than $7 million are the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees.

The Pittsburgh Pirates select 9th and 14th, but would they be willing to gamble a selection that high on Manaea, especially after they were burnt a year ago with Appel? I find this doubtful. The Yankees, however, select 32 and 33 and could be a real threat. Ultimately, only time will tell if they roll the dice.

Thanks to the Competitive Draft Lottery, the Royals are in a very good position come draft day. Should they take a chance on the Missouri Valley Southpaw? I can't say, but it is definitely an intriguing proposition and they clearly fit the profile for the type of team that will eventually select him.