Two All-West Trades, Let’s Savor Them

(Sorry, White Sox.)

Angels receive LHP Tyler Skaggs from Diamondbacks and RHP Hector Santiago from White Sox.
Diamondbacks receive 1B Mark Trumbo and RHP A.J. Schugel from Angels and OF Brandon Jacobs from White Sox.
White Sox receive CF Adam Eaton from Diamondbacks.

We went into Trumbo’s power yesterday (see the sidebar), so we’ll get into the other aspects of his game for Arizona. The behemoth GOLDSchmidt does not retreat from first base for any mortal being; Trumbo will probably play left field. The Dbacks had Fangraphs’ highest team defensive rating last year, and Adam Eaton was considered a rangy defender with a capable arm. But if you check out the data, you’ll see that Eaton actually had a drastically negative defensive score, -11.2, equal to Jason Kubel. Yeesh, that’s ugly, and probably a poor measure of Eaton’s talent, given the sample size. All the same, Eaton’s negative figure did not knock Arizona out of first place, nor did Kubel’s (the two combined for about 500 PA). Trumbo could honestly be that bad, but the defense as a whole will remain elite.

The Angels get two young, cost-controlled pitchers who are bound to them for many moons. If you’ve found this blog, I don’t need a long ass paragraph to convince you that’s a good thing.

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Rockies receive LHP Brett Anderson from A’s
A’s receive LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen from Rockies

We’ve long been bullish on Brett Anderson, and we view his injury history as just an unlikely clustering of obstacles to his success. Anderson has an excellent pair of breaking pitches and locates them both well. His groundball rate is a bigger asset at Coors than it is elsewhere. Anderson could be the best pitcher on the Rockies for the next two years, after which he’ll become a free agent. If it goes the other way and he keeps getting hurt, all the Rockies gave up was a middle-of-the-rotation starter and a minor league arm. Not bad for a team currently out of the playoff picture.

Drew Pomeranz might become the next young A’s pitcher to blossom under pitching coach Curt Young. You figure A.J. Griffin, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Scott Kazmir all come above him in the rotation. That leaves Pomeranz in competition with Tommy Milone (another lefty) and Dan Straily (a righty). If he doesn’t distinguish himself in the spring or early in the season, he’ll come into play later on as a testament to the wonders of Oakland’s depth. He’s much cheaper than Anderson, too, meaning the A’s could continue to stock their bench this winter (with great dividends come summer, the opposite of the ant in the fable).

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Despite the prevailing criticism of Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks, we think all four teams made smart decisions yesterday. Arizona’s isn’t far from the wild card or even the division. Look at this scatterplot of runs scored and allowed per game. The teams on the bottom right almost universally made the postseason. The Diamondbacks are on the fringe of that group. They addressed an offensive need, and the resulting defensive sacrifice doesn’t affect their standing as an elite defensive team. Now all they need is a couple of proven starters and a rebound year for the bullpen. Bullpens rebound all the time.

Last year’s Angels had laughable pitching depth. Bear witness if you have a strong stomach. Santiago and Skaggs should take most of the 254 and two-thirds innings that went to Jerome Williams and Joe Blanton. If they self-improve on top of that, huzzah! They’ll be Mike Trout’s teammates for a while.

The Rockies could be a playoff contendah in the next two years if they hit on the Anderson gamble. If it busts, they’re in the same position they are now.

The A’s, already a very good team, they don’t need an expensive boom-or-bust pitcher when they have six others at the same position. Acquiring cheap depth like Pomeranz allows for more cheap depth. That’s how they succeeded last year. And even with better Angels and Rangers playing opposite, I’d count on it happening again.

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The Case for Mark Trumbo

Rumors of the MLB trade variety suggest that Angels third baseman/hitter Mark Trumbo might soon be on the move to Arizona as part of a three-team deal involving also the White Sox. From what I’ve seen, the internet’s opinion (served hot, in take-out form) has been critical of Trumbo and the Diamondbacks for targeting him. We say Trumbo is written off unfairly thanks to sabermetric cynicism.

Time for us to be clear: we came of age in the present era of sabermetric explosion. Advanced stats are second nature to us, and beautiful; OBP is like the Mona Lisa and batting average is this thing (NSFW?). I’ve hated pitcher wins since I was 12 years old. So we know the criticism of Trumbo’s plate discipline is valid, that any OBP below .300 should be considered untenable by a sound-minded front office. But we don’t agree that Trumbo’s OBP will stay that way in the next few years. And we don’t think that the sabermetric community fully appreciates his power.

Recently we’ve been studying the year-to-year correlations of stats that express a hitter’s power. With pretty much the same data, we’ve also been studying aging patterns over the last ten seasons (2004-2013). In this article we’ll use some of our findings to talk about Trumbo. The whole shebang will be presented later this week. If you care about these things, keep in mind that we limited our research to player-seasons with at least 100 plate appearances.

Let’s start with the power stats. Below is a bar graph showing the year-to-year R-squared value for a bunch of different stats. The higher the bar, the more consistent the stat is from one season to the next. For now, focus only on the green bars; they are concerned only with home runs.

summaryrsquarednoleged

(Data taken from Fangraphs.com)
Air = FB + LD
Contact = PA – (BB + K + HBP)

Home Runs per Contact (HR/Contact) has the highest R-squared value of the bunch. In terms of predictive power, it’s better than plain Home Runs, Home Runs per Plate Appearance (HR/PA), and Home Runs per Airborne Ball (HR/Air). It’s better than Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO), itself way better than regular Slugging Percentage. HR/Contact isn’t difficult to calculate, either. You only need five stats: home runs, plate appearances, walks, strikeouts, and hits by pitch. (Hits by pitches? HBP, you know what I mean.)

HR/Contact is better because, more than any other stat, it separates a hitter’s power from the rest of his batting skills. It does not care about how many times a batter walks or whiffs, all it knows is how often the ball goes out when that batter does make contact. For Trumbo, that means appreciating his raw power free of context. By context we mean his prolific out-making. Bear with us here. We’ll re-contextualize him by the end.

Trumbo has been a regular player for three years, so we compared him to the best power hitters of those years (2011-2013), guys with at least 1000 PA over that span. Of the 30 players with the most home runs, Trumbo ranks 11th in HR/Contact. Of the 30 players with the highest ratio of home runs to fly balls, Trumbo ranks 12th in HR/Contact. Here’s a table of the latter group.

trumbohrcontact

I like this group better because it has Trumbo’s potential future-teammate GOLDSCHMIDT in there for a nice comparison. (Click to engorge)

Based on this data, it’s easy to come up with crude tiers of raw power. (Crude things usually are easy, and fun.) Chris Davis and Giancarlo Stanton are clearly the elite mofos of the present day. The group from Adam Dunn to Mark Reynolds can claim to be distinct from those two above them and the morass below–Tier 2. Trumbo definitely belongs to Tier 3, however large you want to make that. Let’s say you’re Mother Teresa. You want to be generous with your rankings, so you define Tier 3 as anything above seven percent. Trumbo would sit in the upper half of that tier, above a lot of other people who are more celebrated than he. All told, only 21 players have a HR/Contact over seven percent, a.k.a. fewer than one player per team. If the Diamonbacks pulled this trade off, they’d have one, and another guy by the name of Goldschmidt, currently 23rd, a near-certain lock to crack the top 20 by the end of next year. That might just be the most powerful duo in the league.

You already knew about Trumbo’s power, though maybe you didn’t know the extent of it. Still, you’re skeptical of his plate discipline, and of his somewhat-related ability to avoid strikeouts. However, the aging data we’ve studied suggests that in the next two or three years Trumbo is likely to draw more walks and strike out less. Since 2011, his walk rate, according to Fangraphs, has risen steadily from 4.4% to 6.1% to 8.0% last year. His strikeouts have actually increased, however, bucking the traditional trend illustrated below.

kpa

(Data taken from Fangraphs.com)

That steady decline across all ages bodes well for Trumbo, even though he hasn’t yet demonstrated a prolonged improvement. Batters find avoiding strikeouts easier as they age and gain MLB experience. Trumbo is a professional like the rest of them, and in his prime: the smart bet would be that he figures something out and shaves a couple of percentage points off his abnormally high strikeout rate. Especially if he bats in front of Goldschmidt, and you’re a believer in lineup protection (I think I am). Fewer strikeouts of course lead to more plate appearances ending in contact, so that Trumbo would get about two dozen more chances to put one in the seats. And if you think–with bias, presumably–that his gains in walk rate are bogus, then it stands he’ll have even more chances to make contact. That’s when Trumbo is dangerous.

Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler WOW QUICK HOT TAKE

Twitter is currently blowing up in reaction to the news that the Detroit Tigers will trade 1B Prince Fielder and his mammoth contract to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler and his manageable contract. The details are scarce, and word is the commissioner’s office hasn’t approved the deal yet, but it’s safe to say this trade affects the AL pennant in the short term and the franchises involved in the long.

The Rangers offense last season was the worst it had been in three years. The player with the most plate appearances, Elvis Andrus, posted a weak wRC+ of 78–or, 22 percent below league average. That’s certainly part of it, but look at all of their regulars and you’ll notice a distinct lack of a lefty threat. Look at their first basemen and you’ll see even less to like. Mitch Moreland, the nominal starter, didn’t even grade a good defensive player.

The front office could either trade Andrus at the nadir of his value or they could expect a rebound in 2014. Regression is the typical mode of thought nowadays. But Moreland has never demonstrated that he’s an above-average hitter for first base. Enter Fielder. His contact is fat but the revenue landscape leaguewide is changing faster and faster. An albatross contract today might be a minor annoyance seven years from now, especially for a big-market club. Besides, a team that has won two of the last four pennants should rightly prioritize the present over the future. MIdnight Baseball’s first reaction, regarding the Rangers, is approval.

Kendrys Morales or Spare Parts

The offseason has begun, qualifying offers have been offered, or tendered, or non-tendered–whatever, things have happened. We don’t really know the some of the lingo, but we’re gonna cover this shit anyway. Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence have re-signed with the Giants, so the biggest fish from the West right now is one Kendrys Morales.

This poor bastard broke his leg jumping on home plate after winning the game about 30 seconds beforehand. Now that he’s set to make a lot of money in his first go at free agency, eminent baseball writers are comparing him to land mines. Things that kill people or mangle their legs or do both of those things, you hope in quick order. There’s even a song about them, and in the song, the land mines have taken the speaker’s sight, taken his speech, taken his hearing, taken his arms, taken his legs, taken his soul, left him with life in Hell. Legs show up right next to soul. Coincidence? Nah.

We’re not saying that Dave Cameron and Fangraphs and the sour fans of Seattle are wrong about Kendrys. He might very well be an albatross for whichever team signs him. Scott Boras is his agent, and there haven’t been any indications that he is inclined to settle for one year at about $14 million, the value of the Mariners’ qualifying offer. There are a few other teams who might be interested in Morales’ services, namely the Rangers and Orioles, but they’d have to give up a draft pick, so blah blah blah probably not gonna happen.

All we are saying is that, while Morales isn’t a dynamic player or an exceptional hitting talent, he is the best player on the DH market. There are only seven players out there, according to Fangraphs: Morales, Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, Michael Young, Delmon Young, Luke Scott, and Travis Hafner. All of them are on the wrong side of 30 and might as well wear heels in the field, so they’ve got the qualifications down. A look at their hitting, for power specifically, might convince you of Morales’ worth. (Michael Young won’t be included because I think some old school, tobacco-chewing GM will grab him as a utility infielder, much to twitter’s delight.)

A few days ago we tweeted that the Mariners should sign Paul Konerko. He’s coming off a bad year with the White Sox, who have already replaced him with Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. If he still wants to play somewhere, why not Seattle? He could fill the short end of a DH platoon, maybe even play some first if Justin Smoak really struggles with lefties. He’d be the wise and wise-cracking old dude on a team of talented youngsters who just need to learn how to win. At the end of the season, he’d call his shot to left field, get backed off the plate, and call his shot again, only to lay down a surprise bunt down the third base line that scores Franklin Gutierrez, who was running on the play, from second. Then his librarian-by-day, vixen-by-night, on-again-off-again girlfriend will leave her stuffy, old-money fiancé and his plush, post-modernist bullshit high-rise apartment, because not once has he ever done anything with the level of passion that Paul just displayed in that fucking legendary game, game 163 versus the Yankees.

For the Mariners, the benefit would be huge savings. Assuming Morales rejects the QO, they’re looking at a two- or three-year deal at about $15 million in average annual value. Konerko would be an iota of that investment, less than $5 million for just one year, I’d bet, freeing them up to chase Jacoby Ellsbury, perhaps. They could still fill the left side of the platoon with another cheap, cagey veteran, like Hafner or Scott.

The problem is, Konerko’s been declining pretty hard. Here’s a picture from when we brainstormed this article:

earlykonerkodraft

My, uh, little cousin did this. Click to engorge.

What you see above is the result of a moron using Bill Petti’s interactive spray charts. Paul Konerko’s last two seasons are up there–2012 on the left, 2013 on the right–and most of his batted balls are filtered out. What’s left are line drives and fly balls that traveled 300 feet or more. That’s a nice round number, and even the shortest home runs need to be about 300 feet. We thought the number of airborne batted balls that travel 300+ feet would be a good proxy for power potential, so we looked at all the other DHs on the market and put the data into a table. We also, and this is important, tried to replicate Mariners colors from the default choices on Microsoft Excel.

But first, a brief explanation of what follows. We separated all the players, even switch-hitters Morales and Berkman, by handedness, because we’ve seen how valuable platooning cheap players can be with this year’s Oakland team. The first column, FB+LD>300ft, is just the raw number of those kind of hits over the last two seasons. Then we have three different baselines. We wanted to know how often these long hits occur, period, so we have plain old plate appearances. (Again, for Morales and Berkman, these are split up by handedness.) Then we wanted to know how often these long hits occur out of the times the batter makes contact, so we subtracted walks and strikeouts from plate appearances. Then we wanted to know each batter’s percentage of long LDs and FBs out of all their LDs and FBs. That’s the last column.

If you prefer to know how many plate appearances it takes on average to hit one long balls, we provided that (1 every…). We also have the percentage of all plate appearances that ended with a long hit, for those of you who like it that way (300ft%). Here you go:

dhmarket

One final note about this data: Morales and Berkman, the switch hitters, have platoon advantages built into their numbers, whereas the other players do not. This is because I could not figure out how to filter for pitcher handedness in the Petti charts, only batter handedness. So Morales and Berkman are of course only facing righties when they bat lefty and vice versa–we don’t have that certainty with the rest of the lot. I don’t think this invalidates what I’m about to say, but it is something to keep in mind.

The first thing we took away was Konerko’s power decline. His ratio of long hits over all FB+LD is seriously lagging, about half of righty-Morales’ ratio. Konerko is a seriously great and serially underrated hitter, but it’s not just the home runs that vanished, it’s the long fly balls too. His back troubled him throughout 2013 but those problems may subside next year, so a cheap gamble on a once-great player could pan out beautifully.

Given the data, however, we must recognize there are better, higher-percentage options. Luke Scott’s figures are virtually identical to lefty-Morales, and there’s zero chance he commands the money that Boras wants for Morales. Plugging in Scott or even Hafner (whose numbers here are worse by the tiniest of margins) as the big end of a DH platoon would go a long way toward replicating Morales’ production. You probably don’t want either to play every day, so you sign a righty to cover the small end. At the right price, even Delmon Young can do good for you there.

The Mariners are a not-bad team getting better. They know what their infield looks like now, and it’s actually pretty good. Mike Zunino is ready to take the catching reins, so maybe Jesus Montero, who in his brief career has mashed lefties, could enter the DH mix. That makes good sense, and solves the problem cheaply. If the Mariners are going to throw money around this offseason, it should be for Ellsbury or to bolster the rotation.

Every team in the course of a season gives plate appearances to about 20 dudes (excluding pitchers). The bottom 10, the guys who rank 11th through 20th in plate appearances, still get a lot of playing time collectively, and the little differences they make individually matter a lot in a close playoff race. The A’s got 1.7 WAR from those guys last year; the Mariners, -1.2 WAR. If the Mariners stack their bench on the cheap with role players, they can approximate Kendrys Morales and turn their bench into an asset. Meanwhile, Morales is free to be a rich man’s version of himself for a team that can afford such a thing.

Koji Uehara is Trimming the Fat

With no AL or NL West teams in this World Series, we at Midnight Baseball will turn our focus to Red Sox and Cardinals players who used to play out west. Out of all of them, Koji Uehara probably has the highest profile right now. So, with apologies to Carlos, we start with Koji.

Few could have seen such dominance coming this season from Koji Uehara. The Red Sox signed him for one year and $4.25 million, or less than the market value for one win. We can therefore imagine that his suitors were few and miserly. He entered the season behind Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey for the closer’s gig, which doesn’t always go to the best pitcher but shows what the Red Sox thought of him. Bullpens are like totem poles, or pyramids of cheerleaders. They are constructed with a hierarchy, and the people doing the constructing may not have the best criteria behind that hierarchy. The prettiest cheerleader might not be the swellest, the one who deserves the top spot on the pyramid. Coming into the season, Uehara was like a girl who, after many tryouts, finally gets accepted into a cheer squad, but only on the condition that she buy her own uniform, or something. And it’s totally not fair because she has this one awesome, game-changing cheer move, and the baffling thing is, they’ve all seen it before.

The splitter. A rare bird nowadays. Pitchers can send the ball left, right and down, or any combination thereof, but sometimes it seems like one of those directions is prominent for a few years at a time. They fade in and out of favor every few years. A few years ago the cutter was a-buzzing. Sports Illustrated even did a story about it title, “This Is The Game Changer.” There’s been backlash since, notably from the Orioles organization, which has stated that they don’t want their pitching prospects throwing cutters because they think it weakens the arm and saps velocity out of the regular fastball. They may be right, or they just be fucking with the rest of the league. Is Dan Duquette laughing in his office with his underlings, saying “I can’t believe they bought it!”? Is Dan Duquette even the GM of the Orioles still? Is this paragraph going anywhere?

Anyway, on the back of the splitter, Uehara has tossed a historic season for baserunner prevention, as Jonah Keri already described. Perhaps relievers around the league, borderline major leaguers and replacement-level types, will copy the pitch hoping to apea small part of his success. A split-finger renaissance! That’d be cool, but that’s not something we can measure just yet. We can measure how valuable the splitter’s been: the most valuable pitch of its kind in the league, and with the most value per one hundred pitches thrown among pitchers with minimum 50 innings pitched.

Right about now you are probably thinking that Uehara’s great year is the result of some lucky fluctuation–BABIP maybe, or park factors. Uehara’s always had the splitter, ever since he was a suckling babe, and in seasons past he merely very good. What gives?, say you, because you get angry when curious. Well, give me a second, damn it. I can explain.

Uehara’s splitter is good enough that he doesn’t need to instill uncertainty in the hitter to be successful with it. (Look at this page again. Of all breaking pitches, Uehara’s splitter is like eighth-most valuable in the league, even though he’s pitched fewer than 80 innings.) Every pitcher has one or two pitches that just plain aren’t as good as his feature stuff. The reason they keep those pitches around is to give the hitter more things to think about. The more pieces you have in chess, the more moves you can make. Except Uehara is finding out that his splitter works just fine even if the hitter doesn’t have to worry about his cutter and even if he throws it more than the fastball. By cutting out the worst parts of his game, Uehara improved.

kojipercentgraph

w/Rangers means from 7/31/2011 to the Wild Card game in 2012

Don’t worry about the curveball. He’s threw three of them this season, so you can’t even see it on the graph. One of those three went in for a strike. Here it is.

That leaves two main takeaways: 1) Uehara has dropped the cutter this postseason and 2) he’s been increasing usage of his splitter ever since 2011. It has always been his put-away pitch, thrown more in two-strike counts. This postseason, and to a lesser extent this season, he has thrown the splitter as much as he used to when he wanted to strike motherfuckers out. And now, when he has two strikes, the odds of him throwing a splitter are less like a coin flip and more like the odds of getting a prime number when rolling a die. (EMBRACE THE NERD INSIDE.)

koji2strikesgraph

You would think the splitter’s value would dilute with all the extra volume but it doesn’t The graph below suggests that in some aspects it is actually getting better results.

creepykojisplittergraph

 

Hitters swung at the splitter a little less but when they did they whiffed more, or if they made contact it was more likely to be into the ground, this season compared to last. So far this postseason, hitters are flailing more than ever. Despite these gains, the bottom half of the graph suggests that Uehara’s improvement is tied strongly to BABIP. The colored bars add up to slugging percentage, and their height matches up well with the BABIP line, suggesting that cursed fluctuations are at least partly guilty for that abominable .168 slugging hitters put up against the splitter this season. Even with a normal-ish BABIP of .267 (as it was in 2012), Uehara’s splitter still held hitters to .283 in slugging. And if you take out Jose Lobaton’s definition-of-an-aberration homer, Uehara’s slugging allowed this postseason would be substantially less than the still-very-low .300. There’s really no way to make these numbers look bad.

You can take a look at FanGraphs leaderboards and find that Uehara’s splitter doesn’t have exceptional movement. Neither it nor his fastball have overpowering velocity. Deception, guile and location serve to make his splitter exceptional. Here’s a zone map of his spliiter from the ALCS.

Low low low! Lower than the prices at Costco. (My mom works there. Love you, mom.) Dude hits his spots. That’s either command or control. I can’t remember how the nerds are classifying them these days. Just look at these putaway pitches from 2012–since this is a west-themed blog, I looked at his time with the Rangers. I found the games in which he was called to enter into the most crucial situations. Then I found the most crucial at-bats in those appearances. In a fit of noteworthy luck, those at-bats came against Michael Saunders, Evan Longoria, Mike Trout, and Edwin Encarnacion, three of whom are some of the best hitters in the league and one of whom is left-handed. So we get to see Uehara face hitters of both handednesses. All of these are two-strike pitches, all of the two-strike pitches thrown against these hitters.twostrikepitches

 

Aside from Edwin’s all-fastball at-bat, Uehara stuck with the splitter. I think the fastball to Trout was meant to back him off some, but I don’t know if Uehara is one of those guys. I haven’t heard that about him, but then again you never hear announcers call an Asian player a bulldog or a firebrand. Announcers are usually middle-aged white guys and they love Texans and big country gentlemen. They don’t like city boys, such as Zitocakes with his yoga, and they respect Asians from a distance, as with Ichiro. There are plenty of cultural barriers between foreign pitchers and the national media: language, customs, training regimens, expectations of privacy, facial hair. We know, at the very least, that Uehara has busted the last one down.

legolaskoji

Look at those sideburns. He’s Legolas because he’s as accurate with his splitter as Legolas is with his bow. Get pumped for The Desolation of Smaug, folks.

Clayton Kershaw and the Rise to the Top

Clayton Kershaw starts Game 6 of the NLCS against the Cardinals tonight, his team down three games to two. The Dodgers play on the road, but they’ve got the best pitcher in the world on the mound, so it’s a wash, maybe even advantage Dodgers. I’m not the only one who thinks Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Although recency bias helps people like me favor Kershaw over Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee, it doesn’t necessarily make us wrong. At the very least, sensible opponents of my position would have to grant that Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball this season.

kershaw

 

By now you’ve noticed the thing between this paragraph and the last. It’s a way to chart Kershaw’s ascent to the Rosin Throne. Kershaw’s played just six years in the majors, and for all possible combinations of those years I’ve provided his WAR and where that WAR has ranked him among all other pitchers in the same time period. In the second chart, I showed only the ranks so I could do the gradient.

I set the midpoint of the gradient at 30, reasoning that the top 30 pitchers in the league could rightly be considered “aces.” Theoretically, an ace is the best starter on a pitching staff, so if you distributed the top 30 pitchers one to each team, they would all be aces. It’s just one definition, and I’m not sure if I even buy into it. (Of course some teams have none and some have two. Besides, the talent pool might not be deep enough for 30 bona fide aces.) But 30 isn’t arbitrary and serves well enough here. All we want is to chart is Kershaw’s rise to the top, and we’re less concerned with his stops in the middle.

Anyway, for the last four years, Kershaw’s been one of the three best pitchers in baseball. Who knows for how many years he’ll be considered the best. Maybe just this year. After all, Tim Lincecum was the best once.

lincecumhalf

 

You can find plenty of differences between Lincecum and Kershaw that suggest Kershaw is more likely to sustain his greatness. Lincecum is tiny; Kershaw isn’t. Lincecum’s velocity is closely tied to his springy, elasto-man delivery; Kershaw’s velocity seems more natural. Lincecum was never a free-pass machine, but he never had Kershaw’s current pedigree of avoiding walks. Still, Lincecum’s is a cautionary tale (as if pitchers needed another one): things can go bad, and quickly.

It’s time for me to stop being negative. Kershaw’s rise is truly remarkable. Here’s another guy who came up as a teenager.

felixhalfIn his first six years, King Felix established himself as a front-line starter, but not as one of the best three to five pitchers in the game. I think we can all agree that if Felix can pitch well into his thirties at a high level, he will make the Hall of Fame. What does that say about Kershaw? Could he be one of the best in recent history?

On his Baseball Reference page, Kershaw is graded similar to Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver. Let’s look at their first six seasons (caveat: I started counting at their first season with 40 innings pitched).

pedrohalfseaverhalfclemenshalf

 

No matter how you slice it, Pedro took longer to reach the top than Kershaw did. Seaver posted some monstrous WARs thanks to plenty of 300-inning seasons, and you could call him the best in his fifth year, whereas Kershaw needed six. And Clemens, oh boy Clemens. I don’t think we will ever again see dominance to that degree from a young pitcher. (And I didn’t even get to see it.) Clemens in the late ’80s was unreal, and the closest thing we’ve had since is Clayton Kershaw.

 

The NLCS Dodgers and Robert Andino, and Other Game 3 Notes

Your NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, so far in the NLCS:
85 PA, 14 H, 0 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 7 BB, 24 K

Your Seattle Mariners utility infielder Robert Andino, in 2013:
85 PA, 14 H, 0 HR, 5 R, 4 RBI, 7 BB, 27 K

Hell’s bells, Trudy!

It’s that bad!

And it gets worse!

Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier might not play, giving eight to ten plate appearances to Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. Oh, and Cardinals ace slash playoff dynamo Adam Wainwright will start Game 3 in LA tonight. Ahem:

Source: Notgraphs

That curveball has been a playoff pestilence since 2006. Click for schadenfreude.

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We’ve covered the Dodgers bench before. A collection of hypothetical Replacement Players would have performed ever-so-slightly better. Los Angeles paid for premium talent around the field, but filled their bench lazily, with creaky veterans. This roster is ill-equipped for injury and facing injury at the second-worst possible time.

A series of ESPN hot zones will help us visualize why the Dodgers are in trouble tonight. All of them show the batter’s batting average over the last two years against right-handed pitchers. (These can be found on each player’s ESPN page.)

puntozonemap

hanleyzonemapschumakerzonemapethierzonemap

 

You can be sure that, aside from the gains in batting average, Hanley and Ethier would also provide much more power potential than their backups. I don’t want to overdo it with the zone maps, so you can look for yourself at ESPN. It checks out.

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Here’s one for fun. Mark Ellis isn’t a bench player, and actually he’s been a serviceable starter this year. He is in many ways a throwback second baseman, with quick hands, a good glove, solid contact rates and not a lot of power. And since Donnie Baseball is a throwback manager, he likes to bat Ellis second, so he can make productive outs and execute the hit-and-run. This is the folly of team baseball. Managers like Mattingly overvalue guys who make outs that, in some contexts, advance baserunners, all because it’s easy to point to that and say, “Aha, a consolation for out-making! All guys make outs, but this guy sacrificed himself for the team.”

markelliszonemap

 

That of course flies in the face of everything we now know about lineup optimization. Perhaps tactical errors like this need to be made in the limelight of the postseason for progress to be made. High-profile mistakes will raise discussion and get an owner’s attention.

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Hyun-Jin Ryu probably won’t operate with much wiggle room tonight. The 26-year-old “rookie” lefty is a traditional four-pitch pitcher, with a fastball, slider, curve and change. His curveball doesn’t move like Wainwright’s, but that’s like saying he can’t run like Rickey. It’s still a good curveball, and a damn good fourth pitch.

Source: Fangraphs

Ryu’s best weapon might be his changeup. He throws it more than any pitch except the fastball, and for the season it surrendered only three extra-base hits (all home runs, strangely). Looking at just this season, Ryu’s change compares favorably to Wainwright’s curve.

  • Ryu Change: 3 XBH, .168 BAA, .213 SLG, .195 BABIP (Count: 724)
  • Wainwright Curve: 9 XBH, ,172 BAA, .226 SLG, .297 BABIP (Count: 1018)

Against the righty-heavy Cardinals lineup, Ryu’s changeup must be as extraordinary as it has been so far in his young career.