The Padres, as No Team has Been Before.
It is a fact undeniable that people don’t often talk about the San Diego Padres. The reasons for this, presumably, are numerous. The Padres haven’t been good for a while. They have a relatively small fan base, and a limited payroll, and they’re overshadowed by bigger deals up north. They play out West, for whatever that might matter. They don’t have any stop-what-you’re-doing superstars, and the good players are frequently talked about in trade rumors. It’s just hard to talk about 30 different teams evenly, and if you’re in the business of ratings or traffic, the Padres aren’t a big draw. But the Padres as a team perform independent of the buzz. And on Sunday, in San Diego, they knocked off the Diamondbacks 4-1.
That capped off a series sweep, that followed another series sweep. This might have escaped your attention, but the Padres are now a game over .500, at 35-34. They’re right in the thick of things in the National League West, and if you forgive the arbitrary cutoff, since April 24 the Padres are tied for the second-best record in baseball. They started 5-15, slipping off whatever radars they might’ve been on in the first place. They’ve made it all the way back, quietly, and they’ve done so because of their position players. Almost entirely.
What we don’t have, here, is game-by-game WAR totals. But here’s something I can do. Since the start of May, the Padres have gone 25-18. That’s a quality record, good for a 94-win pace if you prefer things that way. And here’s the breakdown of how that’s happened:
•Batters: 7.9 WAR
•Pitchers: 0.1 WAR
Something the Padres have been doing is hitting, and another thing the Padres have been doing is fielding. For kicks, they’ve also been running the bases, and by all of this I mean they’ve been doing these things well. They have not been pitching particularly well, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Maybe more accurately, it has been slowing them down, but it hasn’t prevented them from catching fire and rising in the standings.
Now that the Padres are where they are, it’s incredible to look at their overall numbers. They’ve achieved, through 69 games, a .507 winning percentage. Here’s the same breakdown of how that’s happened:
•Batters: 12.0 WAR
•Pitchers: -1.7 WAR
•Batters: Second-best in National League
•Pitchers: Worst in baseball
A year ago, it looked like Chase Headley had broken out to establish himself as one of the game’s premier third basemen. It made him the subject of trade rumors, and it also made him the subject of contract-extension negotiations with San Diego. This year, Headley hasn’t at all been the same player, but the Padres have coasted by anyway, thanks in large part to Everth Cabrera playing like an All-Star shortstop. Jedd Gyorko, also, has been outstanding as a rookie. Chris Denorfia‘s been valuable, and Kyle Blanks is trying to make something of himself again. The Padres are over .500, and by our metrics, the pitching staff has collectively been below replacement-level.
Maybe that isn’t a complete shock — the second part — given the regular starting rotation:
Cashner, of course, is of considerable interest, but his strikeouts haven’t matched his stuff, and his velocity is down. Stults has actually been the star, and you should take a moment to ask yourself what you know about Eric Stults. He’s 33 years old. He had all of 145 major-league innings before turning 30, and over those innings he allowed 83 runs. The Padres grabbed him off waivers from the White Sox last May. He wasn’t supposed to be much, and he’s been the Padres’ ace.
I grabbed all individual team seasons going back to 1900, yielding a sample of 2,370. I calculated team pitching staff WAR per 162 games, and the worst ever posted is -2.4, by the 1964 Athletics. The 1998 Marlins show up at -2.1. Then, at -1.0, we find the 1940 Bees and the 1928 Braves. The 2013 Padres are on pace for a final WAR/162 of -4.0, which would be, by this measure, the worst mark in history. Let’s say that again: by WAR, the Padres are on pace to have the worst pitching staff in baseball history.
And they’re over .500, after 69 games. Below, the worst pitching staffs for teams that won at least half of their games:
Season Team W L Win% WAR/162
1911 Cardinals 75 74 0.503 1.8
1991 Athletics 84 78 0.519 3.6
1969 Senators 86 76 0.531 4.0
1969 Athletics 88 74 0.543 4.3
1938 Bees 77 75 0.507 4.7
1982 Padres 81 81 0.500 4.8
1967 Angels 84 77 0.522 5.1
1966 Tigers 88 74 0.543 5.2
1933 Braves 83 71 0.539 5.4
1970 Angels 86 76 0.531 5.5
Only 11 teams have ever finished with a WAR/162 below zero. The best of those teams was the 1940 Bees, who finished 65-87. The Padres have done things in a way we might consider historically unique.
But we have to look at how the Padres project from this point forward, because it means only so much to discuss what’s already happened. To say that a team is “on pace for” something is to ignore the principle of regression, and regression is a huge factor when discussing something statistically extreme. Let’s check out the FanGraphs projected standings. Sure enough, we find the Padres just barely projected to finish above .500. Overall, they’ve more or less been performing at their true talent. So that idea remains intact.
And then we can look at a projected performance breakdown, based on the team depth charts. Padres pitchers are projected to be above replacement-level the rest of the way. But only barely, and the pitching staff’s projected WAR is second-lowest in baseball, ahead of only the Astros. Of the Padres’ total projected WAR, pitchers account for 20% of it. This is baseball’s lowest rate, with the Astros at 28% and the Indians at 29%. The Padres, to date, have been lopsided, and the Padres, henceforth, project to remain lopsided, if slightly less so.
Let’s say the projections all come true. The Padres, then, would finish with 81 or 82 wins, and the pitchers would collectively have a 1.5 season WAR. That would be the worst ever for a .500+ team, and it’d be the worst for any team since the 2003 Padres, unless this year’s Astros were to continue to suck. I’ve included here a lot of details. Here’s the general message: these Padres are weird. These Padres can’t pitch, but they can still win.
We can’t actually know what’s going to happen, so we’ll have to re-visit this after the year. We don’t know, most generally, how the Padres are going to finish in terms of wins and losses. We don’t know if Cory Luebke is going to get back on a mound, as his rehab from Tommy John surgery is stalled. We don’t know when we’ll see Joe Wieland, and we don’t know who the Padres might call up, and we don’t know for whom the Padres might trade if they stay in the race and target an arm. There’s some starter depth in the organization, but it’s limited. Robbie Erlin has promise. Burch Smith is doing well in Tucson, and that’s also where one will find Anthony Bass. While Tim Stauffer‘s in the bullpen, he could conceivably get stretched out.
It’s not odd that people still aren’t really talking about the Padres. It’s somewhat odd that the Padres have rallied to reach a pretty good record. It’s extraordinarily odd how the Padres have gotten to this point, and this team could end up one of the weirder teams in history. Perhaps Chris Denorfia captures the essence of the Padres in a nutshell. He does pretty well for himself at the plate. He’s more than capable in the field. He’s quick on the basepaths. He doesn’t do crap on the mound.
The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Swings.
Hi! This is a post. You either want to read it or you don’t. This is last week’s edition of this post. You either wanted to read it or you didn’t. I really don’t care what you decided because I get paid just the same, and I’m just in it for the big FanGraphs take-home. If you don’t read these posts, you’re not reading this introduction. This introduction is selective for those of you who follow this series, so, thanks for your support. You are wasting your time reading this paragraph.
Here come the five wildest swings, from between June 7 and June 13. These are the swings at pitches that PITCHf/x says were the furthest from the center of the strike zone, which is one way of measuring this. There are other ways, but this is by far the easiest for me to investigate every Friday. In theory I exclude hit-and-run swings, but I have yet to encounter one. In practice I exclude checked swings, and that always makes this post take an extra while, because turns out there are a lot of those at really wild pitches. These posts consequently go up late, meaning you might well be reading this on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. If it’s a weekend, don’t complain about the .gifs. You’re not in a rush. Slow down, take a breath, we don’t take enough breaths. Onward!
•Batter: Michael McKenry
•Pitcher: Jean Machi
•Date: June 13
•Location: 34.7 inches from center of zone
Look at what we can observe from this .gif. It’s late in a game between the contending Giants and the contending Pirates. The Pirates have the bases loaded and two outs when McKenry whiffs at a breaking ball, and then McKenry looks skyward, frustrated with himself. Machi slams his glove in celebration and points to the heavens, having escaped a major jam. The guy in white in the first row behind home plate appears to slap his leg or something like that after being let down. Another fan behind home plate sees the whiff and just looks up, trying to find serenity in a mental cloud of bad words. There’s intensity and emotion afoot, and it’s almost enough for you to forget that the score is nine to nothing.
In the course of writing these posts, I’ve grown accustomed to stumbling upon Clint Barmes. Barmes seems to make a bit of a habit of swinging at breaking balls way outside, thrown by righties, and that’s one of the reasons why Barmes is a really bad hitter. Or, it’s indicative of the main reason, I don’t know, you can analyze this as deeply as you feel like. On this day, for the Pirates, Barmes had the game off. Jordy Mercer started in his place at shortstop. But McKenry took a classic Barmes two-strike swing. Genetically, Clint Barmes didn’t play. In another sense, he basically did. And Mercer went 0-for-3. The Pirates can’t shake themselves of Clint Barmes, even when they try.
•Batter: Tim Hudson
•Pitcher: Andrew Cashner
•Date: June 11
•Location: 34.9 inches from center of zone
Observation #1: bad swing, Tim Hudson!
Observation #2: way to walk into an out and then walk into the out again, Tim Hudson!
Observation #3: I wonder if Andrew Cashner is another guy like Dan Haren where they look really weird and uncomfortable in short sleeves. Cashner doesn’t quite measure up to Haren in this regard, but to me, it’s close. Cashner, at least, needs long sleeves rolled up to the elbows. This isn’t a look he’d ever choose on his own. Maybe this is why Cashner has spent so much time injured. The less he plays, the less he has to wear short sleeves.
Observation #4: guy just getting back to seat behind home plate at the end of a half-inning.
Observation #5: do any of those fans actually give a hoot? Like, at all? It’s a one-run game in the seventh inning!
Observation #6: Hudson seems almost annoyed and inconvenienced by the tag. “Please get out of my way, you can have the out, you don’t need to fulfill the rest of the out, you can just have it.”
It feels a little dirty to include pitchers on this list, even pitchers who aren’t completely embarrassing hitters, like Tim Hudson. They’re not trained to hit very well, so of course they’re going to be over-represented on a list of the worst swings of the week. But then, they do hit, and their plate appearances do count, and they do take some really ugly hacks a lot of the time, so I think the way you feel about pitchers showing up on this list mirrors the way you feel about pitchers having to hit in general. If you support the DH, you might feel like pitchers should be excluded, since they can’t and shouldn’t hit. If you’re all about NL superiority, you don’t see the problem. One thing’s for sure: if you have a strong opinion about the designated hitter, shut up about it, you’re obnoxious. You are probably very opinionated about many things, and that’s an off-putting quality. People don’t misunderstand you. People understand you. That’s precisely why people try to stay away from you.
•Batter: Colby Rasmus
•Pitcher: Yu Darvish
•Date: June 13
•Location: 35.4 inches from center of zone
This is one of those swings that’s sneaky-bad. In these lists, we see countless whiffs at offspeed pitches down in the dirt. This belongs in that category, but notice that this is in a 1-and-0 count, and Rasmus doesn’t even take a confident hack. Rasmus looks entirely defensive when he’s the guy who’s supposed to be in control, but now that I think about it, to be honest, I don’t know who could possibly stand confidently in there against Yu Darvish. It’s a miracle to me he’s allowed home runs. It’s a miracle to me he’s allowed hits. Darvish has a career .281 BABIP and a normal HR/FB%. He has an ERA. I think there’s something to be written about the home runs Darvish has allowed, and how they were possible, given the quality and diversity of Darvish’s repertoire. I haven’t quite figured out the angle, but now it’s out there for anyone else. Anyhow, to get back on track, Colby Rasmus does this a lot. It’s not getting better and he’s not getting younger.
During this plate appearance, the Toronto broadcast was going on about how Darvish isn’t much of a fastball pitcher, even though he possesses a fastball that sits easily in the mid-90s. Buck Martinez seemed put off by Darvish pitching backwards, and repeated the old bromide about the necessity of pitching off your heater. Darvish, definitely, throws more offspeed stuff than most starting pitchers. He has more weapons than most starting pitchers, and the threat of the fastball is always present. As Martinez was talking, Rasmus struck out on an offspeed pitch. The broadcast even noted Darvish’s league-leading strikeout total. He’s averaging almost seven innings a start. It wasn’t about putting two and two together. It was about putting one and one together, and instead of connecting the dots, Buck Martinez drew a crooked line in the opposite direction and then swallowed the crayon.
You can’t evaluate a baseball player based on the way that he looks. It can’t be done, even though scouts have fallen in love with the concept. Baseball players aren’t bananas. But, sometimes, you can’t shut off the way your mind works, and your mind is always searching for explanations. Like, here, the TV feed showed Rasmus flailing at a breaking ball, then it cut to an image of Rasmus’ face, and for a moment it was like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. That guy probably makes bad decisions a lot.
•Batter: Manny Corpas
•Pitcher: Erik Davis
•Date: June 11
•Location: 35.9 inches from center of zone
Here, not only do we have a pitcher swinging the bat — we have a relief pitcher swinging the bat. We have a relief pitcher swinging the bat, and looking like it. Initially, Corpas was going to be hit for. Then the batter in front of Corpas singled, and Corpas was sent up there in a sacrifice situation. Walt Weiss didn’t want to burn a position player if he didn’t have to. But the runner from first wound up advancing, making it no longer a sacrifice situation, making it a swing-away situation. Corpas did that, and the above happened. This was in a 1-and-1 count, and here is the previous pitch thrown by whoever Erik Davis is:
I don’t know what compelled Corpas to swing at the third pitch, after taking the second, and maybe it had something to do with the fact that suddenly there was a runner 90 feet away. Corpas inherited a sacrifice opportunity, and wound up in a run-scoring opportunity. Maybe Corpas fancied himself a potential hero, and maybe he thought he could get his first career RBI. He should not have thought these things. Corpas’ job should’ve been nothing. He should’ve done nothing, and just let Erik Davis do whatever he would do until the plate appearance was over.
From the Rockies broadcast:
Goodman: Now it’s an RBI situation, the infield’s in, and you know it’s not a starting pitcher, you go okay, Chacin, he handles the bat pretty well. Manny never swings a bat.
Frazier: Right, exactly.
Frazier: Watch him hit one off the wall.
Goodman: Haha, not with that…uh…that’s a swing.
Corpas felt an appropriate amount of shame:
Here’s the incredible thing. Corpas came up with a runner on first. On the first pitch, the Rockies attempted a hit-and-run, and Corpas swung and missed, but the runner made it safely to second anyway. The next pitch was wild, and the runner advanced to third. The next pitch was also pretty wild, and Corpas whiffed, and the ball nearly got past the catcher. Had that happened, the runner, presumably, would’ve trotted home. Corpas struck out on the next pitch, but we came that close to a runner advancing 270 feet and scoring during Corpas’ plate appearance, thanks not at all to Corpas himself. As is, the runner advanced 180 feet without Corpas’ help, so if the ends justify the means, for Corpas, that was a job well done. He went up trying to move the runner 90 feet, and the runner went twice as far.
•Batter: Starling Marte
•Pitcher: Edwin Jackson
•Date: June 9
•Location: 39.7 inches from center of zone
The thing about baseball instincts is that a lot of it isn’t actually about instincts. It’s about repetition, allowing a certain behavior to just come naturally without having to think about it. It’s also about preparation, getting ready for different potential outcomes before a ball is thrown. A fielder who gets a good first step was prepared before the pitch, and he knows what different balls in play look like off the bat because he’s seen a lot of them. A pitcher who’s awesome about sequencing knows going in what the batter’s going to expect, and how he can take advantage of that. Here, Marte swings at a two-strike breaking ball in the dirt, and immediately he sprints down to first. Frequently, in these situations, the batter will pause, if only for a moment. Marte started running right away, and he made the play at first awful close. Some would say Marte showed good baseball instincts, trying to take advantage of what would otherwise be an out. But this was either because Marte has done this so much it’s coming naturally now, or he mentally prepared himself for what to do if he chased a terrible pitch. Ultimately, it’s more good than bad that Marte almost reached first base safely, but this is one of those cases where you watch the hitter and think “he did that too well.” If you show me a batter who’s good about immediately running to first on dropped third strikes, I’m not going to feel real good about that batter’s discipline.
Applied to beer, “grab some Buds” suggests you should grab multiple Budweisers. Probably at least three of them, depending on how you interpret “some” versus “few” and “several.” Like all companies, by law they’ll encourage you to drink responsibly, but here they’re telling you to have multiple beers at a time. Applied not to beer, “grab some buds” suggests you should grab multiple friends. Who grabs their friends? People who don’t want to have friends anymore, that’s who. “Grab some buds. Just get on in there. Really feel ‘em up.” Maybe instead of “grab,” try “have”? Better yet, how about “appreciate”? Everyone likes to be appreciated.
Umpire: You’re the man, Edwin!
The Pirates’ first-base coach is Rick Sofield. Here he observes Marte getting thrown out, and when the umpire signals the out, Sofield applauds. Maybe you could say he’s applauding Marte’s effort, getting down the line that fast and turning an out almost into a baserunner. Or maybe he waits until Marte turns around and claps in his face, claps in approval, claps about Marte deserving to be out after taking such a wild and terrible hack. Maybe Sofield doesn’t have the Pirates’ best interests at heart at all. Maybe he’s a bitter, cynical old ***. When you start to see that as sarcastic applause, you can’t unsee it that way. I guess the Pirates would be a pretty sarcastic organization, considering.
Hitter Volatility Through Mid-June.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last year I reintroduced VOL, a custom metric that attempts to measure the relative volatility of a hitter’s day to day performance. It is far from a perfect metric, but at the moment it’s what we have.
If you recall, a lower VOL value is better in the sense that it indicates a hitter has been more consistent offensively. However, both good and bad hitters can be consistent, so a lower VOL always needs to be viewed in the proper context. The other thing to keep in my mind is that (as a reader pointed out) there is a strong correlation between VOL and PA/G, as we can see by looking at VOL and batting order position (for 2013):
Batting Order PA/G VOL
1 4.4 0.449
2 4.2 0.488
3 4.1 0.488
4 4.0 0.491
5 3.8 0.517
6 3.6 0.532
7 3.5 0.549
8 3.4 0.544
9 2.1 0.775
Now, that isn’t the worst problem, since we see similar relationships between PA/G and overall wOBA and wRC+. Also, one nice feature is that as the average PA/G increases the correlation with VOL gets weaker. What I’ve done in this iteration is to limit the calculation of VOL to just those games where the hitter logged at least three Plate Appearances. When this is done the correlation between PA/G and VOL drops to -.25 — for now, I can live with that.
VOL+ is simple a player’s VOL relative to league average ([VOL/lgVOL] * 100).
Evan Longoria (4.3 PA/G) is currently your most consistent hitter, sitting at 28% better than league average. That’s great news for the Rays considering he has a 154 wRC+ so far in 2013. Not only is producing at an extremely high level offensively, but his performance has been quite consistent, game-to-game.
Contrast that to the Marlins’ Placido Polanco. Polanco (4.2 PA/G) has the sixth-best VOL so far this year, but he’s hitting 41% worse than league average. That means the Marlins are getting a steady dose of bad from their third baseman on pretty much a daily basis.
Sorting the leader board by wOBA also gives us a few interesting comparisons. One is Josh Donaldson and Ryan Braun.
Both players have averaged 4.2 PA/G this season and have logged relatively similar wOBAs (.378 and .376, respectively). However, Ryan Braun‘s VOL is 28% better than league average while Donaldson’s is 7% worse — a 35% difference. So while Donaldson has been marginally better in terms of creating runs, Braun has done almost equally as well with a greater day-to-day consistency than Donaldson.
For those interested, I also ran team-level VOL (sorted by least to greatest VOL):
Team R/G PA/G VOL wOBA
Royals 4.1 38 0.491 0.295
Tigers 5.0 40 0.505 0.340
Rays 4.8 38 0.507 0.324
Orioles 4.9 39 0.507 0.330
Rangers 4.4 39 0.511 0.325
Mariners 3.5 38 0.517 0.297
Indians 4.8 39 0.520 0.323
Blue Jays 4.6 39 0.522 0.312
White Sox 3.6 37 0.523 0.288
Red Sox 5.3 40 0.526 0.343
Athletics 4.6 39 0.528 0.306
Angels 4.5 39 0.529 0.321
Twins 4.2 40 0.537 0.297
Yankees 4.0 38 0.540 0.300
Astros 3.8 37 0.542 0.298
Marlins 3.2 38 0.551 0.265
Giants 4.4 39 0.552 0.303
Cardinals 5.1 39 0.563 0.307
Brewers 4.1 38 0.564 0.295
Reds 4.6 39 0.567 0.313
Pirates 3.8 37 0.572 0.277
Diamondbacks 4.4 39 0.573 0.302
Dodgers 3.6 38 0.575 0.293
Phillies 3.7 37 0.587 0.308
Padres 4.2 38 0.588 0.295
Rockies 5.2 40 0.588 0.319
Nationals 3.5 37 0.603 0.280
Mets 3.9 39 0.611 0.274
Cubs 4.0 38 0.613 0.300
Braves 4.4 38 0.621 0.310
Tigers’ fans should be happy to see their team at number two on the list, as they have the second-highest team wOBA and do the second best job of replicating that performance on a game-to-game basis. Combine a consistently great offense with that rotation and it’s easy to see why Detroit should make another deep run this post-season.
The Braves offense turns out to be the most inconsistent — slightly better than average, but inconsistent. Now, given their pitching this may not be as big of an issue were they more of an average- to below-average run prevention team. However, it makes you wonder how they will perform in the different context of the postseason.
That’s all for now. Like the velocity loss leader boards, I will be updating VOL throughout the season, hopefully on a monthly basis.
The Bloom Is Off Brett Lawrie’s Rose.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In 150 at-bats back in 2011, Brett Lawrie captured our attention and imagination. “If he could hit nine homers in such a short time, Lawrie could have 30-homer potential over the course of a full season,” is likely a sentence you read before the 2012 season. It’s probably a sentence I wrote, as a matter of fact. In the season and a half since though, Lawrie has hit just 16 homers, and has battled a myriad of injuries. He’s just 23-years-old, but perhaps it’s time we stopped waiting for Lawrie to be a star.
At this point, Lawrie has started just over half of the Blue Jays’ games at third base — 37 of 65, to be precise. In those 37 games, he’s hit .209/.268/.374. In the other 34 games, his five replacements — Jose Bautista, Mark DeRosa, Edwin Encarnacion, Maicer Izturis and Andy LaRoche — have hit .205/.268/.420. The latter line is fueled in large part by three homers from Encarnacion, but the point is clear — Lawrie has hit very poorly this season — poorly enough that the Jays have not even missed him offensively when he hasn’t played. And he hasn’t played quite a bit.
This season, Lawrie has already landed on the disabled list twice. He began the season on the DL with a rib cage injury, and he’s on the DL right now with a left-ankle injury. In 2011, he broke a finger in batting practice. Last season, he missed about a month with a similar oblique/rib cage injury, and battled calf, back, knee and groin issues as well. Many of these injuries are self-inflicted. His knee and ankle injuries came as a result of awkward slides, for instance. That stuff happens, of course, but at a certain point a series of seemingly random events becomes a pattern. It’s worth wondering if Lawrie is capable of staying healthy enough to play a full season.
Health has not been Lawrie’s only issue, however. Contact has been just as big of a problem. Lawrie is swinging at the same percent of pitches out of the strike zone, the same percentage of pitchers inside the strike zone and the same percentage of pitches overall. But he is making far less contact. In fact, of the 122 players who posted at least 500 plate appearances and have logged at least 150 PA this season, Lawrie’s 8.80 percent drop in contact percentage is the largest. It’s not really close either. Only eight of the 122 are making contact five percent or less than they did last year:
Player 2012 PA Contact% 2013 PA Contact% Difference
Brett Lawrie 536 83.4% 153 74.6% 8.8%
Justin Upton 628 77.1% 276 69.1% 8.0%
Jeff Francoeur 603 80.3% 175 73.2% 7.1%
Colby Rasmus 625 75.7% 238 69.3% 6.4%
Joe Mauer 641 87.9% 273 81.8% 6.1%
Pedro Alvarez 586 70.7% 217 64.6% 6.1%
Asdrubal Cabrera 616 84.0% 224 77.9% 6.1%
Dan Uggla 630 70.0% 248 64.6% 5.4%
As you can see, there’s a decent gap between Lawrie and even the other egregious contact decliners. He has fallen on both balls in and out of the zone too, so it’s not like the problem is wholly isolated to the location of pitches.
The problems don’t end when he makes contact either. Lawrie is hitting grounders at the same rate that he did last season, but he is hitting more fly balls and fewer line drives. That has led to a slight uptick in homers, but also a slight uptick in infield fly balls. Perhaps this is why Lawrie’s batting average on balls in play is so much lower than it has been in previous seasons. Perhaps he has also been unlucky. Perhaps also his seemingly declining speed is a factor.
After swiping 19, 30 and 20 bases in his first three professional seasons, good for a not-great-but-decent 70 percent, he was only successful on 13 of 21 stolen-base attempts last season. That is neither great nor decent. This year, he isn’t running at all, as he’s swiped two bases in three attempts. His Speed Score is in decline as well, so it’s not just his stolen base totals that point to a decline in speed. Whether or not this is affecting his BABIP is an open and still unanswered question, but it’s certainly not a positive development for the 23-year-old British Columbia native.
Last season, Lawrie flew under the radar, but given his generally decent results, it was a little too soon to paint him as an underachiever. Certainly it was folly to expect him to be amazing as he was in 2011, but he has lowered the bar a lot further than even the most pessimistic watcher would have. After all, he was a regular on top 100 prospect lists before his ’11 debut. It’s not like he sprang on the world unsuspectingly. But combine his ’12 and ’13 stats and compare to his fellow hot corner denizens and it would be hard to say that Lawrie has justified his hype.
Of the 32 third basemen with at least 500 PA since the start of 2012, Lawrie has only posted a better wRC+ than nine of them — Alberto Callaspo, Jordan Pacheco, Michael Young, Mike Moustakas, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Roberts, Greg Dobbs, Izturis and Placido Polanco. With the exception of the similarly underwhelming Moustakas, that is a list of either players who are either old, role players or both. Lawrie’s 94 wRC+ is even lower than the 97 wRC+ posted by a completely broken Kevin Youkilis. A full 14 hitters, including the similarly completely broken Alex Rodriguez, have been at least 20 percent better than has Lawrie. No one is expecting Lawrie to suddenly start hitting like Miguel Cabrera, but it was certainly expected that he’d be better than Jeff Keppinger.
My middle school band teacher, Mr. Koziara, was fond of telling us that if we only got two parts of each song right, make it the beginning and the end. People wouldn’t pay as much attention to the middle. Certainly Lawrie got the beginning of his song right. Only six players have posted a wOBA higher than the .407 mark Lawrie posted in his abbreviated 2011 rookie campaign. But he has stumbled significantly since, and while a large portion of his troubles may be injury related, his injury problems are rapidly becoming a feature and not a bug. It’s too early to give up on Lawrie, he can still be a first-division starter. But at this point, we might need to let go of the notion of “Brett Lawrie, superstar.”
The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Pitches.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hey there, Pauls and non-Pauls, and welcome to the first part of the tenth edition of The Worst Of The Best. For the first part of the ninth edition, go here. For every post in the series, go here. This is what you have elected to do for the next five or ten minutes. This is how you’ve chosen to spend your time. How did you arrive here? Did you seek this out on purpose, or did you mindlessly click a link out of habit? How many mindless decisions do you make throughout your day? To what extend does this mindlessness end up controlling your time? It is important to free yourself of mindless behavior, of automation. It’s not like a switch you can flip, but, consciously involve yourself in all things. Actively make your decisions, and in this way you might re-wire previously inefficient networks. Thank you for reading!
There’s going to be a top-five list of the wildest pitches from between June 7 (not yesterday) and June 13 (yesterday). These are the pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, according to PITCHf/x and math, and of each pitch there will be images, including .gifs. It would be great to have .gifs that only load when you click on them or mouse over, but at present we don’t have that capability, so. We’ve talked about it. Some pitches just missing this list: Francisco Liriano to Barry Zito on the 12th, Jeff Locke to Alfonso Soriano on the 9th, and Jason Hammel to Ben Zobrist on the 7th. We’ve still got some Jason Hammel for you, though, to fulfill all of your various Jason Hammel needs. We’ll begin with the fifth-wildest pitch, like we always do literally every time.
•Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
•Batter: Jonny Gomes
•Date: June 10
•Location: 58.9 inches from center of zone
This, like so many other pitches in this series, was a two-strike curveball that wound up in the dirt, short of the strike zone. One could say, accurately, that the curveball was spiked, although generally speaking spikes are intentional, at least in football. Brian Anderson is the Rays’ color guy, and after the pitch he chimed in to say “Give you a whole new meaning of the ‘spike curve’.” Dewayne Staats chuckled at the moderately clever joke, not realizing that every color guy makes this joke about spiked curveballs, and I’m the one who has to listen to the joke over and over, because I committed myself to this season-long exercise.
Full disclosure: even though Cesar Ramos has been around since 2009, without fail I get him confused with Cesar Carrillo. Ramos has made 118 career big-league appearances. Carrillo has made three, all in 2009, so I’m probably the only guy who routinely confuses anyone with Cesar Carrillo. I think this is probably because I was living in San Diego at the time Carrillo was drafted in the first round by the Padres, so he’s the Cesar I think of first. A full 17 picks later in the same first round, the Padres drafted Cesar Ramos. Additional full disclosure: setting a paltry ten-inning minimum, Cesar Carrillo owns the worst FIP- in baseball history. Now that is a thing that you know.
As I’ve researched this series, I’ve come to better appreciate the catcher/umpire relationship. Umpires count on catchers to keep wild pitches from hitting them, and when a catcher goes out of his way to block a ball in the dirt, the umpire will often express his gratitude. Now, keeping that in mind, look at this screenshot. Gomes is backing out of the way. Jose Lobaton looks like he’s about to deliver a powerful stomp to an invisible cockroach. Tom Hallion hasn’t budged. That’s how much Tom Hallion was taking Jose Lobaton for granted. Or that’s how much Tom Hallion wasn’t paying attention.
Ramos: God that was embarrassing
Ramos: I am so embarrassed
Ramos: Chin up, Cesar
Ramos: You can save this
Ramos: You can bounce back from this
Ramos: Face the world
Ramos: FACE THE WORLD
Ramos: And don’t forget to exhale
Ramos: Exhale exhale exhale
Ramos: I shouldn’t need to remind you to exhale
Ramos: Who needs to remember to exhale?
Ramos: God that’s embarrassing
•Pitcher: Jason Hammel
•Batter: Josh Hamilton
•Date: June 12
•Location: 60.0 inches from center of zone
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers just brawled, as a result of pitchers throwing at batters. Ian Kennedy was suspended for ten games, and while that suspension isn’t actually going to hurt Arizona very much, it’s still a substantial number accompanied by a substantial loss of pay. Every hit-by-pitch is followed by questions of intent, and while pitchers almost never fess up to drilling a guy on purpose, fastballs are suspicious, and elevated fastballs are more suspicious, and there’s no question that guys get drilled on purpose sometimes. But people don’t really worry too much about intentional hit-by-pitches on offspeed stuff. If a guy gets hit, but the pitch was a curve, the argument is “why would he hit him on purpose with a curve?” If you’re trying to send a message, it’s supposed to be sent by the hardest pitch you can throw. You know what hurts? Getting hit by a pitched baseball. It hurts only a little less if it’s going 75-80 miles per hour instead of 90. So it seems to me there’s an opening here for what we might call the passive-aggressive intentional HBP. Pitchers can hit batters on purpose with offspeed stuff and by and large evade punishment, arguing it was a mistake, that the ball just slipped out of the hand. Look how easily this curve slipped out of Hammel’s hand. What if it slipped in the other direction and nailed Hamilton in the upper body? It was a curveball! No one sends messages with curveballs! People could send messages with curveballs.
Jason Hammel and Matt Wieters spontaneously re-enact the best pitch Daniel Cabrera ever threw.
I don’t know why Josh Hamilton turned around after the pitch was thrown. The umpire wasn’t even looking at him and the ball didn’t sail away to the backstop. What I suspect is that Hamilton was asking the umpire to confirm that he did the right thing, that this was a ball because he didn’t swing at it. “So that’s a one in the other column, right?” Alternatively, perhaps Hamilton turned around wearing a smug grin of self-satisfaction, as if to say, “look, I did it! And you thought I couldn’t do it.”
Not unlike the plot of the movie Speed, Josh Hamilton’s bat contains an explosive, and it will detonate if the bat isn’t swung a certain number of times per minute. Hamilton doesn’t have his plate-discipline stats because he wants to; he has his plate-discipline stats because he has to. And as evidenced by this casual waving, Hamilton has grown used to the threat, like it’s just something that he deals with, now, and that’s too bad but life is a precious gift. So why doesn’t Hamilton swing at every pitch? Or, why doesn’t Hamilton use a different bat that doesn’t contain an explosive device? One argument would be that Hamilton feels like he thrives under the constant pressure. That Hamilton thinks the pressure makes him a better performer. Another argument would be that Hamilton is stupid.
•Pitcher: Hyun-Jin Ryu
•Batter: Patrick Corbin
•Date: June 12
•Location: 61.4 inches from center of zone
Well wait now just one second. What on earth?
The hell is going on with Ryu’s number? Why are the nines so uneven? They’re separate patches, sure, and the jersey isn’t tucked in evenly, leading to folding, but the numbers are super close together so they shouldn’t occupy such different planes. These numbers are more lopsided than Ryan Miller‘s eyes. Stitched properly, it’s not like the numbers are going to migrate based on tugging and stretching, so either this is some sort of optical illusion, or this jersey wasn’t stitched properly, or this isn’t a regular jersey at all and instead the numbers are magnets and the jersey is magnetic. That sounds completely absurd, but Ryu struggled with his weight in spring training, and might have drawn comparisons to a refrigerator. This is a stretch, but so is asking me to ignore what’s pasted right above.
“Oh, it’s just the other pitcher,” you say. “It’s fine to throw this to a pitcher in an 0-and-2 count,” you say. “No such thing as a waste pitch against a pitcher,” you say. Ryu wasted this pitch. Shortly thereafter, Corbin drilled a line-drive single. What have we learned from this about pitchers hitting? All the wrong lessons, actually. Mostly, they suck at it, and you can throw them wild 0-and-2 breaking balls because they really suck.
•Pitcher: Michael Stutes
•Batter: Jean Segura
•Date: June 8
•Location: 64.3 inches from center of zone
Some people have been waiting for evidence of a pitcher not even reaching the dirt with a pitch. In front of the dirt, there’s grass; people have wanted to see a pitch hit the grass. This doesn’t definitely come down in the grass, but look at the way the ball bounces to the catcher. Ordinarily, when we’ve observed breaking balls in the dirt, they’ve come back way up, bouncing practically into the strike zone. Catchers have had to jump to keep the ball from getting to the umpire or the backstop. This ball bounces and jumps forward on a low line, suggesting that it hit right on the lip between the grass and the dirt. The dirt extends way, way far in front of home plate, to a distance you mentally underestimate when you watch on TV. To hit the lip is to throw a really terrible pitch that no one’s going to swing at. That really gives a whole new meaning to the spike curve.
“Segura” is the Spanish word for “secure.” Jean Segura, to date, has been one of the best players in baseball, and it just occurred to me that Spanish-language newspapers have probably been littered with just really terrible Jean Segura puns. Unless that’s strictly an English-language practice, so, consider this a research proposal. Is everyone insufferable, or is it just us?
PFP is mostly about training pitchers to cover first base. A common problem when pitchers are covering first base is that they’ll focus on the base and take attention away from receiving the baseball. They’ll take the catch for granted and concentrate on nailing the footwork. That leads to dropped baseballs and safe baserunners. Here, we see Michael Stutes catching a baseball. But he turns away in the process, before the baseball is secure. He caught the ball clean, but this just reinforced the wrong behavior. Stutes took his mind off the baseball as it was on the way. Look for Stutes to commit a stupid error in not too long. It’s all right there, before our eyes.
•Pitcher: Andrew Cashner
•Batter: Dan Uggla
•Date: June 11
•Location: 64.9 inches from center of zone
One way to measure pitcher command is to compare the pitch location to the intended pitch target. That gets right to the core of the very idea. Another way might be to measure catcher exertion. It would be a proxy, but it would probably be a pretty accurate one. If the pitcher hits his spot, the catcher won’t have to do anything. The more a pitcher misses, the more a catcher will have to physically respond. He’ll have to use up some of his precious stored energy. With a perfect pitch, all a catcher does is crouch and close his glove. Here, Nick Hundley wound up such that he caught the ball behind his back. You can imagine this as a fancy, if dangerous hockey save. Catcher + skates = goalie. But it’s pretty hard to learn to skate in shoes with knives on them.
It’s this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, go outside and locate the nearest missing-cat flier. Then go to a pet store or shelter and get a similar or identical-looking cat to the missing one. Then proceed to call the phone number of the grief-stricken owners and tell them you have a cat. When they excitedly ask if it’s their cat, respond “No.”
Here’s Nick Hundley, just catching a baseball behind his back, no big deal. Just some casual acrobatics. Here’s Andrew Cashner, not noticing.
Frequently, after a pitch like this, you’ll see the pitcher acknowledge to the catcher that he screwed up. He’ll find some means of expressing “my bad,” like nodding, or tapping himself on the chest, or saying “my bad.” It doesn’t really mean much but it’s at least an admission of guilt, a sign of taking accountability. There’s no such expression on Cashner’s part. Does Andrew Cashner not think it was his bad? Does he think it was Nick Hundley’s bad? That doesn’t make any sense. You don’t think anything of the acknowledgment at the time, but without one, the interaction is all weird.