Friday, November 30, 2012

Kota Kobayashi Signs with Indians: Scouting Report

Kota Kobayashi, a 21 year old right-handed pitcher, has signed with the Cleveland Indians on a minor league contract. A Japanese Native, Kobayashi (obviously not to be confused with veteran Hiroyuki Kobayashi or even the younger Bay Star Hiroshi Kobayashi) has been in the Yokohama DeNa Bay Stars organization, but had not pitched with the big club (and as far as I know, there aren't publicly available statistics for the minor leagues). According to the NPB official website, he is just over 6 feet tall (183 centimeters) and about 183 pounds (80 kg). This usually spells relief profile, as he isn't going to gain anymore height, but could perhaps gain a little weight. Now, on to YouTube Scouting!:

Here he shows a good off-speed pitch that breaks well out of the zone (you should probably ignore the hitter's reactions as it is a college team). At 25 seconds, you can see him throw it for a strike at the bottom of the zone, and it almost sort of flutters. The fastball is mostly straight (with perhaps some armside tail) and it looks like he can throw it at the bottom and the top of the zone. He also clearly has a curveball that you see at 2:30. While it can be difficult to tell from behind, it looks like it is soft and slow, but maybe doesn't have the gigantic loop that you often see in slow curves. He seemed to be having some problems repeating his delivery, which seems to have quite a bit of moving parts (more on that later). His fastball command wasn't exactly strong in this video, but it showed tail to both sides occasionally (he may even be sinking it). Just as far as the eye test goes from seeing behind without a radar gun, it does seem like he has decent velocity, or at least that he has good speed differential. It definitely looks like he has room to fill out. Here he faces former MLBer and current Rakuten Eagle Akinori Iwamura:

The second pitch is the curve, and from the side (but obviously zoomed out) it looks like I thought from behind. He seems to keep it low, but it isn't big or loopy. I wonder how a slow velocity curve will work when it has break like it is harder (my suspicion is "not good"). Iwamura slapped the 3rd fastball he saw pretty hard. Here is a pretty good (though somewhat shaky) view of his delivery:

One thing you will notice is that there is no pause. It is really a standard delivery from that standpoint. It has the leg sweep that you often see in the NPB, but it is pretty quick. I wonder if the quickness makes it harder to repeat or easier (that is, is it easier to rush, or does the lack of pause make the delivery more fluid?). I don't know what to say about the way he finishes the delivery, except that it is odd and funny looking. I don't think that it effects anything, it is just humorous. As far as arm action, he is basically coming over the top. He does a good job of getting extension despite his somewhat short stature, but it is a high effort delivery. This is going to give him the best velocity possible, but will also make repeating it harder (control/command) and make him tire easier and make injury more likely (though how likely, who knows). This is why I see him as basically a two pitch reliever. He seems (if the small selections we have seen are any indication) to be pretty fastball heavy, so his success will most likely rely on his fastball and his ability to move it around the strike zone (something he is probably advanced at for age 21). 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doosan swaps Hong for Kim with Lotte

In the Korean Baseball Organization, the Doosan Bears signed Hong Sung-Heon. In the KBO, when a team loses a free agent, like Lotte did in this case, you are allowed to take a player from the team that signed the free agent (the NC Dinos, as an expansion team, is exempt from this for this season). Lotte selected Kim Seung-Hee as compensation. This basically makes it a trade and I will look at it as such.

Kim is a short 31 year old (will turn 32 before the beginning of the 2013 season) right-handed pitcher that has pitched both out of the bullpen and as a starter. After struggling in 2011 with a 4.71 FIP, Kim bounced back slightly in 2012 but still only had a 1.63 K/BB. However, opponents had just a .671 OPS and .110 ISO. This was down from the .754 OPS from 2011, but a lot of this seems DIPs and BABIP related, as his strikeout rate actually dwindled.

Here is some video of his delivery:

As you can see, it is sort of violent, and Kim comes with an injury risk (the height can't help). Evidently, he lost some of his fastball velocity when he came back from mandatory military service. His fastball (this from KBO Data) sits anywhere between 86-91 MPH, along with an occasional two seamer that is slightly slower than this to get him grounders (over the last two years, he has given up more fly-balls than ground-balls, getting more grounders in 2011 but got my fly-balls in 2012). He also will throw a rare changeup in favorable counts. His main off-speed pitches are his forkball (73-82 MPH), a slider (73-84 MPH), and a curveball (67-77 MPH).

Hong is a 35 year old right-handed hitting left-fielder (that used to be a catcher). Once an elite hitter in the KBO, Hong took a big step back in 2011 (especially power wise) before coming back somewhat (though not all the way) in 2012. 

Here is a video of him hitting a homer:

Below are his spray charts since 2008:

If 2011's Range Factor is any indication, despite the age, he is a good left-fielder (or at least gets to more balls than average). However, his KBO Data scouting report has him as a below average defender who should mainly be a DH. As you would expect, he is a below average baserunner, getting caught stealing more than he stole in 2012. He had a couple different injuries in the middle of the year, limiting him to 113 games. Like Kim, he is on the wrong side of the aging curve (obviously even further), and it is unreasonable to expect him to expect him to return back to his older levels. However, he still has some offensive value. Kim's value as a pitcher is pretty marginal, so I don't think that Doosan lost too much by signing (again) Hong.

Bobby Bramhall Signs With Nationals (Scouting Report)

The Nationals have signed Bobby Bramhall to a minor league contract. Bramhall was an 18th round pick by the Brewers in 2007 out of Rice.

A short lefty (5-11), Bramhall has gotten some starts in the minors (including 16 games in AA), but has mainly been a reliever. After a solid 2008 in Advanced A, Bramhall threw 97 innings in AA in 2009 and wasn't bad, with a 3.91 FIP (as a pitcher that was a year younger than the league. The league average ERA was 3.84 that year. Huntsville's park has been hitter friendly over the last couple of years at least). He had a decent strikeout rate, high walk rate, and a decent home run rate. However, in 2010, he threw in just 3 games (all in the Arizona Rookie League) and didn't pitch at all in 2011 after having Tommy John Surgery. In 2012, he hooked up with the Marlins organization and spent most of the league in AA (making one start). At age 27, he was obviously old for the league, but had a solid year with a good strikeout rate (and low walk rate). He didn't get many ground-balls, but didn't struggle with line drives or homers.

He also threw a game in A + and in AAA (which I watched). Since I couldn't find any videos of him on YouTube, I made one:

When I saw him, he was mainly keeping the ball away with most of his pitches and showed off a good breaking ball. His delivery seems pretty standard, mainly tying to take advantage of his height, but he does pause a bit to start his delivery. His fastball was just around 86 MPH, so he is clearly going to have to pitch off his breaking ball. Bramhall's command was pretty spotty when I saw him, something you don't want to see from an older/below average stuff pitcher. He is mainly going to have to rely on his breaking ball and should mainly face lefties, both because of his stuff and his numbers (26.8 K%, 4.1 BB %, .37 HR/9IP in 2012 against lefties).

Bramhall went on the DL with a back strain in August of 2012, and injuries seem like they will be part of the package for Bramhall. This is a concern for pitchers who are somewhat small. This is why I don't get why he keeps starting games in the minors. The Nationals should keep him in the bullpen and see if he can succeed in AAA as a lefty specialist.

Mike Leake Scouting Report

With reports of the Reds re-signing Jonathan Broxton, reporter John Fay believes that it will be easy for the Reds to move Mike Leake, as this most likely signals that Aroldis Chapman is finally moving to the rotation. Fay believes that Leake still has decent trade value despite having a rough season.

When you actually look at Mike Leake's advanced metrics, he was really no different in 2012:

2010: 115 FIP -, 104 xFIP -, 4.33 SIERA

2011: 108 FIP -, 95 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA

2012: 111 FIP -, 98 xFIP, 4.01 SIERA

Along with his career ERA - of 106, it appears that Leake is a slightly below average starter. It does seem, if his xFIP and SIERA are any indications, that he has some pretty major home run issues and would benefit from a more pitcher friendly park. The Reds' park has a 107 park factor over the last 3 years, and Leake has a career 1.26 HR/9IP and 14.6 HR/FB %, certainly supporting that point. Since the HR/FB % spiked in 2012, it made his ERA worse and got him left off of the playoff roster. When Johnny Cueto injured himself in the first start of the post-season, Leake was added to the roster and started game 4. At the Great American Ballpark against the Giants, the start didn't go well, as Leake gave up a homer on the 2nd pitch of the game and gave up 5 runs in 4.1 innings, striking out just one and walking 2 (2 homers in all).

Leake was drafted 10th overall by the Reds in 2009 out of Arizona State as an advanced pitcher that didn't have a high ceiling, but didn't need to pitch in the minors either (making his MLB debut before his MiLB debut, and pitching in just 2 MiLB games so far). The 25 year old right-hander's stuff is certainly below average, with an average fastball under 90 MPH, using more cutters and sinkers than 4-seam fastballs. It seems that he is relying less and less on his slider that averages a little more than 81 MPH (dropping from nearly 18% usage to 8-9% usage in 2012), along with a change and a (not slow) curve. In going back and reading old scouting reports, it seems that it was unclear as to what was his best pitch. His sinker is really similar in velocity to pitchers like David Pauley, Wandy Rodriguez, and Ian Kennedy. The horizontal movement on it is similar to those like Cliff Lee, Jarrod Washburn, and Ryan Vogelsong. Vertically, his sinker breaks a lot like the sinkers of Roy Halladay and Jerome Williams. His cutter breaks horizontally like former teammate's Travis Wood and the Houston Astros' Lucas Harrell. Vertically, it is like Matt Harrison's and Chris Carpenter's. These are some pretty good names. The curve breaks like the curves of Stephen Strasburg and A.J. Griffin (two curves I like) horizontally, and Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Paul Maholm vertically. The slider's horizontal movement is similar to Zach Greinke and Jake Arrieta and vertically like Ricky Nolasco, Brandon Beachy, and Johnny Cueto. His change is also similar to Beachy horizontally, as well as Gil Meche and John Danks. Vertically, it is like Barry Zito's and Roy Oswalt's.

Just from times I have seen him, it seems that his sinker occasionally drifts up and that is why he gives up so many homers. The lack of stuff makes the occasional mistake more costly. When he throws it down and away at the bottom of the strikezone against righties, it is a really nice pitch. However, when it gets up, it is straight and pretty hittable. Because of his stuff and lack of a real 4-seamer, he really can't live high in the zone, though he sometimes does (ineffectively), which limits his ability to move the hitters eyes and makes him less dangerous when it comes to missing bats (which is one of the reasons that his strikeout totals are so low). The closest he comes to throwing a pitch high is when he throws his cutter (to right-handed hitters especially) in the somewhat middle of the plate (height-wise, it usually stays off the plate, and even though the velocity is usually a little lower, it seems like a less hittable pitch). It seems that he would rather go away from both lefties and righties, not wanting to go inside.
The slider is somewhat of a frisbee slider, almost knuckling with some pretty soft (but dramatic and sweeping) break to the left-handed batters box (it is so soft that Pitch F/X often confuses it for the curves when it dips to 80 MPH or lower). His curveball is a pretty hard curveball that drops quickly without big loop.

There is a little evidence from his overall release point chart that he has raised his release point slightly since coming into the Majors, but from looking at a bunch of individual game date, it seems he has actually just been more consistent (something you would expect to see as a pitcher matures and develops. An alternative explanation would be, something I saw in at least one report, that he used to occasionally drop his arm angle, whether unintentional or intentional. He could simply no longer be doing this, which would make the release point data pretty noisy). Because he is "just" 6 foot tall, he doesn't quite get the downward plane that most pitchers do (although he releases the ball higher than Johnny Cueto) because he lets go of the ball below 6 feet high.

Known for his pitchability, Leake doesn't discriminate when it comes to who he throws his cutter to, and still throws his change to righties about 6% of the time (just short of half the time he throws it to lefties). If he has a pitch he really likes to go to for a strikeout, it is the slider against both lefties and righties. Interestingly, he throws the curve more against lefties than he does against righties. It is the only pitch that he throws for strikes less than 60 % of the time, with the cutter being the pitch he throws for strikes the most (perhaps the reason that there isn't much variation when he throws it, throwing it somewhere around 20-24% of the time regardless of the situation). The slider, which makes sense considering that he throws it so much two strikes, is the only pitch he gets many whiffs with. He gives up more contact than league average and gets far less swings and misses than average. So his game has to be weak pop-ups (it isn't) or ground-balls (48.9 GB % in his career, very solid). This is why he throws so many sinkers and cutters (his slider also gets a lot of ground-balls). These pitches have also helped him have basically no platoon splits, about equally effective against both lefties and righties.

So far, Leake has not reached 200 innings in a season, setting a career high in 2012 with a 179. To be a valuable mid-rotation starter, one needs to be a good innings eater, something Leake has not been so far. He was put on the DL in 2010 thanks to shoulder fatigue, but I am not convinced that is something to be concerned about. It also doesn't look he wears down a the end of the year, at least as far as effectiveness goes. At his age, I think his new team has to let him really eat up innings in 2013. As mentioned above, the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark has really hurt Leake, as he has an ERA of almost a full run higher at home in his career. One of the less friendly home run parks would make Leake a significantly better pitcher. Especially if the team has a good infield (which would seem to be what he had with the Reds) that would turn a lot of Leake's ground-balls into outs. I think he can be a guy in the middle of the rotation and pitch at a league average rate with a new team. He is first year arbitration eligible this off-season, and according to MLB Trade Rumors, he is projected to make 2.9 million for 2013 (not to mention two more years of control after that). That is a bargain for a middle of the rotation pitcher, especially considering what Scott Feldman got (6 million), an injured Scott Baker (5.5 million) got, and especially what Jeremy Guthrie got (3 guaranteed years for 20 million. This doesn't mention that Bartolo Colon got 3 million and he is coming off a suspension and is 39). I think Leake has quite a bit of trade value (even if he is a slightly below average pitcher because of his lack of stuff) and the Reds should get a good package for him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dodgers Shortstops Scouting Reports: Ynoa and Lemmerman

Since the team was sold to Guggenheim Baseball Management (better known as the group lead by Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson), the Dodgers have been the most aggressive team when it comes to spending money. Despite this, their current shortstop situation is certainly not ideal. They started the season with speedster Dee Gordon at the position, but not only did he not hit, he got injured and really struggled defensively thanks to a bizarre issue when it comes to throwing to first base. The team ended up using  Luis Cruz (who finished 2011 in the Mexican League, but performed valiantly for the Dodgers) at short for 24 games and Hanley Ramirez (whom they traded for despite being moved to 3rd base in the off-season by the Marlins. Ramirez has always been considered athletic, but not a very good defender. His bat has also taken a step back over the last couple of seasons for whatever reason) for 57 games. Cruz repeating his 2012 success in 2013 seems unlikely from just a basic statistical standpoint, and Hanley Ramirez simply does not get to as many balls as a traditional shortstop does. Having a good offensive/bad defensive shortstop has worked for the Yankees (and perhaps to a lesser degree, the Tigers), and it doesn't seem like the Dodgers have a lot of other options. 26 year old Justin Sellers played in just 19 games in the Majors in 2012 thanks to bulging disk surgery. At least an adequate defender according to minor league batted ball data, the former 6th rounder has had some offensive success in the minors and should be an at least okay baserunner. Do you want him as a starter on a contender though? Probably not (even if healthy). 24 year old Osvaldo Martinez (acquired in the middle of the season) has a career .556 AAA OPS (most of it in the PCL), making him not an option at all. So in this post, I will look at the Dodgers two AA shortstops, Jake Lemmerman and Rafael Ynoa, and see if the Dodgers have their next shortstop in either of those players.

Jake Lemmerman was a 5th round pick by the Dodgers out of the University of Duke (where his offensive statistics were very mediocre) who destroyed the Pioneer League after signing and moved into full season ball at the start of 2012. After a decent offensive performance in A + Rancho Cucamonga (105 OPS +, 104 wOBA +), he got his first taste of AA in 2011 and then spent the whole year there in 2012. While he put up the same kind of numbers in AA (104 OPS +, 104 wOBA +), nearly all of his damage was done at home (.206 ISO versus a .078 ISO on the road). The AA Chattanooga park is a pretty hitter friendly park compared to the rest of the Southern League (105 Park Factor in 2012, 109 in 2011), particularly when it comes to doubles (it is basically neutral when it comes to homers). Doubles are Lemmerman's game (just 7 homers, 4 at home, 3 on the road in 2012), as he was tied for 5th in the Southern League. 24 of those doubles came at home, just 5 of them came on the road. He did have a larger GB % on the road, and his K/BB wasn't as good either, but the park accounts for at least as much as the doubles as those variables do.

He is considered a good contact guy, but that didn't exactly play out in 2012 as he struck out 21.8% of the time. He doesn't seem to be a platoon player, as despite the fact that he is better against LHP, he has held his own against RHP, only seeing slight decreases in rates. He has sort of a weird leg kick to begin his swing but still manages to use good bat control to get the bat on the ball most of the time.

Lemmerman played a little 2nd base, but played mainly shortstop. FRAA thinks he played above average there while range factor had him below average.
You see a lot of things like "good instincts" and "knowledge" when it comes to Lemmerman (what you might expect from a major college shortstop drafted relatively high). However, you see a lot of things like "lack of range and speed" and skepticism as to whether or not he will stick at short. This shows in things like steals. Lemmerman had just 8 steals, but was not caught stealing (5.1 speed score). The arm is considered anywhere from average to good in the field.

Rafael Ynoa is a couple years older than Lemmerman at age 25, and he was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers back in '06, where he would stay through 2007. Evidently unconcerned with the mediocre showing with the bat there, the Dodgers brought him to the states where he would eventually make it to AA to start the 2012 season. His offensive season was just slightly worse than Lemmerman's (106 wRC +, 102 wOBA +, 99 OPS +), but offense has clearly not been Ynoa's strong point, as he was league average in Class A in 2010, pretty bad offensively in A + the next year, and has a career OPS just under .700 (with a SLG under .350). This means he will have to make up for his bat with other tools. While Lemmerman has appeared towards the bottom of almost all of the Dodgers scouting reports, Ynoa has been mostly absent.

He split time almost equally between 2nd and SS, which is probably not good news for Ynoa since it is seen as questionable as to whether Lemmerman will stick there. When Ynoa played in the Arizona Fall League, he played mainly 2nd base. Both range factor and FRAA had Lemmerman as the better defender, but Ynoa has been positive in that category for most of his minor league career. He has also shown some speed as well, with a 6.0 Speed Score in AA and 6.8 in the Arizona Fall League with 30 steals and 12 caught stealings in all.

Ynoa didn't have the splits Lemmerman had, and if you only look at the road statistics for the two, Ynoa was not only better, he was considerably better. Even though he is a switch hitter, he is quite a bit better from the left side, walking less, striking out less, and hitting for more power. It seems he likes to stand in the back of the batters box and goes from leaning on his front foot to leaning back before the ball is pitched. This gets his hips in a strange position, almost like he is batting from a closed stance (even though it doesn't appear that his feet are "agreeing" with his hips). The actual motion of the swing is clean, and the bat seems quick enough, with a pretty large sweeping uppercut. He doesn't have big strikeout rates and has a pretty normal GB/FB/LD/IFB, so it doesn't seem that the uppercut or swing is a problem. It just doesn't generate a lot of power for whatever reason (it is not like he is exceptionally small, listed at 6-0, 180). Plate discipline is not an issue either, as he has posted good walk rates to go with his relatively low strikeout rates through out his career. I would love to get a look at more advanced batted ball data (spray charts/average batted ball distance/etc.), because it seems that he should be a better hitter than he is. The mechanical problems listed above may explain a good deal, and I wonder if they are fixable or whether he has been playing too long to be able to make a large change in his mechanics.

While both of these players have the potential to help the Dodgers, but I don't think either will have a large impact barring a few different injuries to the infield (or more likely, the abandonment of Hanley Ramirez at short, moving him somewhere else and Cruz being unable to repeat his 2012 success). They certainly seem like an organization that isn't going to try to plug holes with minor leaguers, which is why I have been surprised to not hear them linked to the middle infielders on the free agent market. As for long term potential, the two obviously have more value at shortstop than they do at 2nd base. I am not sold on Lemmerman's bat, which really makes me skeptical of him as anything more than an okay utility option (more likely a journeyman type). To me, the big thing for Ynoa will be his defense. Even if he doesn't improve with his bat, a switch hitting middle infielder that can run and field will always be able to find a utility job.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jose Flores (Indians) Scouting Report

Right-handed reliever Jose Flores has re-signed with the Indians. While it turns out Jose Flores is a common name in professional baseball, this Flores has spent his entire professional career with the Indians. Flores was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Mariners in 2011, but was returned at the end of spring training. This was sort of a weird selection (and a predictable send back) considering that he had never made it out of A-ball at the time. He ended up spending the entire year in A + and had a good DIPs year (though his ERA was a shocking 6.02 ERA in 55.1 innings) with a 2.93 FIP, matching solid strikeout and walk ratios with an excellent home run rate. The Kinston (Cleveland's A + affiliate in 2011) ballpark had a 95 park factor in an already somewhat pitcher friendly Carolina League, but Flores' home run rate was basically equal at home and on the road. Despite this, he spent most of 2012 in A + again as a 23 year old. Not to be outdone, he didn't give up a single home run in 38 innings (and in the 6.2 innings in AA). He had a similar 2.54 FIP (in a more hitter friendly park with a 3.67 SIERA because of the no home runs) and was promoted to AA at the end of the year.

If the Mariners got nothing from Flores, we at least got 2 games of Pitch F/X from his spring training outings. The scouting report (according to Ben Badler and USS Mariner) was that he had a "decent fastball but no secondary stuff". We only have 41 pitches of data on Flores (obviously not enough to get tendencies or anything) and 33 of them are fastballs. The one changeup he threw was 83.06 MPH and the 7 sliders he threw averaged 82.22 MPH. His fastball was 91.79 MPH on average (getting up to 93.2 MPH), which is below average for a reliever.

One interesting thing about him statistically is his consistently high BABIPs. When he first came to the States and pitched in the Arizona Summer League in 2009, he had a .348 BABIP in 27.2 innings. In 2010, in A-ball, he had a .327 BABIP in 42 innings. In 2011, he had a BABIP of .376 and a .313 in 2012. Is this because of his batted ball rates, bad defenses in the Indians system, small sample sizes, or other variables? Over the last two years (100 innings), Flores' ground-ball rate has not been bad at all (44.3 %) and there are no absurdities in his line drive rate. The only thing you can really point to is a lack of infield fly-balls.

For defense, I decided to look at the main (most games) shortstops of the clubs he has played for since '09:

Casey Frawley A+ 2011: -13.00 FRAA, 3.34 RF/G (4.36 is average for SS RF/G)

Ronny Rodriguez A + 2012: 8.8 FRAA, 4.24 RF/G

Casey Frawley A 2010: -4.5 FRAA, 3.78 RF/G

Jose Camargo AZL 2009: 3.92 RF/G (FRAA unavailable)

It does seem that Flores hasn't had the benefit of good shortstops (but we only looked at shortstops), but we would expect a high BABIP to run through the Indians system if the culprit is bad defense. So I went to those 4 specific teams listed above, sorted by innings pitched (to get the best sample sizes), took the top 5, and counted the pitchers that had ERAs above and below their FIPs.

2012 A +: 4 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, one had a ERA lower.

2011 A +: 3 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 2 had ERAs lower

2010 A: 2 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 3 had ERAs lower

2009 AZL: 3 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 2 had ERAs lower.

So it does seem that the Indians' defense in the lower minor leagues are costing their pitchers. We should also note that Flores' minor league career is not exactly a large sample size. This can be a problem when evaluating relievers in general, especially in the minor leagues. Flores has only thrown 169.2 innings since coming to the States (there isn't a real reason to include the Dominican Summer League statistics). If we were wanting to identify him as someone who gives up a naturally high BABIP, we would certainly want more innings than that. It seems that we can attribute these numbers to both bad defenses and statistical randomness over small sample sizes.

As you would expect, Flores is more effective against right-handed batters, but he hasn't given up a homer against a lefty over the last two seasons. While his K/BB is very mediocre against lefties (it is a somewhat dominant 21.5 K % to 5.2 BB % against righties), he gets stellar 55.3 GB % against them (just 38.3 %). This is either, again, small sample size, or signals a different approach to lefties. Considering he is so fastball heavy, it would seem to be the former.

Flores has a pretty bizarre delivery that really lacks any kind of fluid motion. It does not seem violent, there just seems to be a lot of moving parts. He must control it well considering his lack of walks in the minors. As we saw above, the velocity is not impressive, but the fastball does seem to get on hitters quickly, perhaps because of the release point. To give you an idea of his release point, look at this chart from Brooks Baseball:

He is 6-3, but he is really releasing the ball at about 6 feet, and he is doing it without coming "out" like you would usually see if he was dropping his release point or coming sidearm. Compare this to Max Scherzer, who basically is throwing sidearm:

Scherzer gets even lower and obviously much more "out". Compare this to the more "normal" delivery of James McDonald:

He obviously uses his height much more and releases the ball higher. However, he is more "out" that Flores, showing that Flores is basically coming straight over the top. This delivery may help Flores keep down the platoon splits as lefties don't have a real advantage (unlike with Scherzer who has huge splits) in seeing the ball sooner and from a different angle. This could explain how Flores is getting all the grounders from lefties (so perhaps it isn't just small sample size!).

His slider looks pretty unimpressive, lacking the big break (though it certainly isn't "soft" velocity wise) desired. He is mainly going to have to pitch off his fastball (some versions of Pitch F/X had him throwing a cutter and two seamer as well) and just hope to fool or surprise hitters with an occasional breaking pitch. I think he is sort of an interesting bullpen piece going forward. He may not get his shot in 2013, but he has pretty solid control and may have just enough deception to get out MLB hitters.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bryan Holaday Scouting Report

According to Michigan Live, the Detroit Tigers appear slated to use Bryan Holaday as their back up catcher. The team lost Gerald Laird to the Braves in free agency and traded away prospect (who was in AAA with them and played in the Majors with the Marlins) Rob Brantly during the season (to help land them Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez).

Holaday is a 25 year old right-handed hitting catcher that was drafted in the 6th round out of TCU. He made his Major League debut in the middle of 2012, playing in 4 games for the Tigers (he went 3 for 11). He spent the rest of the year in AAA, playing in 75 games. Holaday really struggled, with a 91 wOBA + and 77 OPS +. While his K/BB wasn't bad (better than league average at 1.95), he didn't for any power (measly .080 ISO) mostly likely driven by a high (50 %) ground-ball percentage. It is easy to blame the lack of power numbers on AAA Toledo's home park (92 park factor in 2012 and 98 park factor in 2011), but Holaday's numbers were much worse on the road. In his short professional career, Holaday has not been league average in any of his stops. This may be surprising when you look at his college statistics, but Holiday had a .917 OPS in 701 at-bats before the change in bats (which has suppressed offense at least somewhat) when the Mountain West League Average was roughly .881 in 2010. Considering that most Mountain West players do not succeed professionally (one of the best pitchers in the conference that year was Wily Kesler, who never made it to AA and is pitching in Independent Ball) , you would expect an "average minor league hitter" would probably be better than .036 better than league average (C.J. Cron had an eye popping 1.172 OPS in the MWC that has translated to above average numbers in A +. College numbers, and minor league numbers for that matter, do not always translate linearly of course, Justin Smoak being a great example, but the point stands that you have to look at the college numbers in their context, especially before the change in bats).

The bat not seeming to be there is not a huge deal for Holaday, as he was drafted mainly as a defensive first catcher. Obviously as a senior college catcher with the arm and complete confidence that he would stick behind the plate, he was taken as a high floor player (meaning he was not risky, but his upside of what he could be is not as high as most players). In the minors, his caught stealing rate is exactly the same as Rob Brantly's, and he allows less passed balls. The basic catching statistics aren't always helpful (there are a lot variables and sabermetrics and scouting has gotten much better when it comes to evaluating catcher defense), but I really liked Rob Brantly's defense when I watched him (though the advanced fielding metrics at Fangraphs and Getting Blanked rated him as negative in the small sample size).

In reading pre-draft scouting reports, it did seem that most thought he would have more power that he has shown. Again, statistically, this can be explained. He also isn't a huge guy, though his swing itself is pretty smooth and the bat looks quick. In college, he had an obvious uppercut swing, which makes his low power/high ground-ball rate 2012 make no sense (while he didn't hit for much power in AA in 2011 either, he at least didn't have a big ground-ball rate). However, when I watched the video of his few MLB at-bats, the uppercut was basically gone. There is a bit of a leg kick and a lunge in his swing, but he isn't striking out a lot, so it is not as if those things are causing him to not make contact (it just might not be particularly good contact). He doesn't really have any kind of platoon splits over the last two years in the minors, which is a good thing for a backup catcher.

While Gerald Laird doesn't exactly leave big shoes to fill, starting catcher Alex Avila was ridden hard by the Tigers in 2011 and the wear and tear showed in 2012. Avila also has developed some really nasty platoon splits, and has become completely ineffective versus left-handed pitching. This makes the Tigers backup catcher very important, as it needs to be someone who can hit lefties (Holaday is right-handed, but again he hasn't shown platoon splits in the minors) and step in capably in the case of an injury. The Tigers are a team that will be the favorite in the AL Central and will again try to compete for a World Series. Putting themselves in a situation where Holaday is their main backup option seems very unwise, as he is a 3rd option and AAA player in my mind. The Tigers should go after another backup catcher or at least have another legitimate option in mind.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Nationals Sign Caleb Clay

The Washington Nationals have signed 24 year old right-handed pitcher Caleb Clay to a minor league deal. Clay was a sandwich pick (44th overall but technically 1st round) in 2006 by the Red Sox and has spent his entire career there. After pitching mostly as a starter through 2010, he was moved to the bullpen when he moved up to AA. He had Tommy John Surgery in 2007, but the move to the bullpen probably had more to do with mediocre results in 2011 and 2012, as he had a 4.40 FIP in Class A (3.70 League Average ERA) and 3.96 FIP (3.90 League Average ERA) in Advanced A. The move to the bullpen didn't seem to help, as over the last two years he has thrown 122.1 AA innings with a FIP 1.04 over league average and SIERA .05 better than league average. So obviously the problem Clay has been having is home runs (1.54 HR/9IP), which probably has to do a lot with his ground-ball rate (33.9 %). He has not exactly pitched in a pitcher friendly environment with a 107 Park Factor over the last two years, and a move to the Nationals organization will help, as both their AA and AAA parks were harder to hit homers in this year than their respective league averages (with AA Harrisburg playing below league average overall and AAA Syracuse playing roughly league average overall). As you would expect, Clay was better on the road in his two years in AA, but his HR/9IP was actually higher on the road. It was his K/BB that was better on the road, which is rather weird (though 63 road innings versus 59.1 innings at home are not large sample sizes). 

Clay pitched in a short sample in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 so we have Pitch F/X data from one of his outings. His fastball was about average, at 91.57 MPH. He also threw a hard slider at 87 MPH, a curve at 72 MPH, and a changeup at 83 MPH. According to other scouting reports, his fastball is below average at 88-90 MPH (at one time his fastball got up to 95 MPH according to Baseball America and Sox Prospects) and the slider is not as hard as Pitch F/X picked it up. The changeup is evidently his best pitch for whiffs and he has good control, which shows up statistically as well, as even though he struggled with walks in 2011, he walked just 6.5% of batters in 2012. Baseball America said he had the best in the Carolina League in 2010 (he walked just 4.8 % of batters that year).

In watching video of him, his delivery is pretty standard other than it seems he brings his leg out towards 3rd base and up a little more than usual. To me, his best pitch is his slider, which sweeps from left to right in a very hard fashion, though I can see why some like his changeup. However, this MLB Prospect Portal video is probably a good summation of his career so far:

He threw some good breaking balls down and kept the ball low with good control, but even though he had the platoon advantage (he hasn't really had major platoon splits over the last two seasons), a ball out of the strike zone was driven out of the ballpark. It doesn't seem like their is anything wrong with his pitchability, it just looks like his stuff isn't good enough. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Arismendy Alcantara Scouting Report

Arismendy Alcantara is a small middle infielder (listed at 5-10 160) that was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Chicago Cubs in 2010. 

He has been used almost exclusively as a pinch runner/pinch fielder in the Dominican Winter League, but did get an at-bat on Wednesday night (in which he grounded out to end an extra inning game). Even with the platoon advantage (he is a switch hitter who was hitting right-handed against a left-handed pitcher), he didn't seem to have very good plate discipline and he sometimes come out of his swing.

He is not a player that ever really appears in Cubs' prospect lists but he played in A + as a 21 year old (actually he was 20 for the whole actual season). The average age in the Florida State League was 22.7 years old. Despite this, he had a good year with the bat, with a 110 wOBA + and 124 OPS +. This was good for 30th in the league in wOBA (out of hitters with at least 300 plate appearances). More impressively, Alcantara was younger than 26 of the 29 above him. The Cubs Florida State League affiliate Daytona played basically neutral in 2012 (99 one year Park Factor), but he was much more effective at home than he was on the road (the ISO was basically the same, the difference was mainly BABIP). His switch hitting is paying off as well, as he was equally effective from both sides according to OPS in 2012, with better peripherals as a right-hander and more power as a left-hander. He seems to be an average/BABIP dependent hitter, as he doesn't walk much (doesn't have a big strikeout rate, but it is too high for his walk rate) and doesn't hit for much power. He is a ground-ball hitter, though his ground-ball rate did drop in 2012. At the plate, it seems like he has some work to do mechanically. Despite taking no real stride, he loads up with a front leg kick. This isn't the best way to start and he doesn't have a swing that would make any opposing player jealous. I actually saw some video of him before 2012, and it seems that he did not have this load. Perhaps it is ironic that he had a better season with it, or perhaps it is a timing mechanism that works for him. 

After stealing just 8 bases and being caught 8 times in 2011, Alcantara was much more efficient in 2012, stealing 25 bases and was caught just 4 bases. Part of the struggles in 2011 may have to do with leg injuries, as he has had DL stints in each of the past 2 years. However, one would not have expected him to have had the success on the bases he had in 2012 if they were bothering him. Overall, you are seeing improvements in his overall game, as his ISO, Stolen Base success, and Speed Score have all went up over his 3 years (without repeating levels), and he has been dropping his strikeout rate as well (I am not counting 2009, as he spent the year in the Dominican Summer League, which is somewhat of a different animal statistically). His speed score was 8.1 in 2012, which was 2nd to only teammate Matt Szczur in the Florida State League (it was also in the top 40 in the minor leagues as a whole, tied with Brett Jackson and Jimmy Paredes). Basically, he is fast, and a good baserunner as well (Baseball Prospectus gives him a positive baserunner and the Baseball Cube gives him a 85 out of 100 on speed).

Both the data (RTZ, FRAA, and Range Factor) and the scouting reports say he needs to work on his defense. However, he played almost exclusively shortstop in 2012 (after splitting time better short/2B/3B in previous seasons). While athleticism obviously does not always translate to good defense, both his age and speed at least give you a reason to think that he will improve.

Whether or not his defense develops determines whether or not he is a MLB player for me. If he becomes at least a decent to average defender, he could be a slap hitting utility infielder that you could use late in games on the bases. Because his plate discipline needs so much work, I have to imagine that he is going to find AA in 2013 pretty tough. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ranking the DFA'd

Yesterday was a big day in baseball, as teams had to decide which prospects they wanted to protect from the Rule 5 draft. This of course leads to players being taken off the 40 man roster to make room. According to MLBDepthCharts, 23 players were DFA'd yesterday. Here is my rankings of the players along with a paragraph on each of them:

1.Adam Moore (Royals): He played in just 4 big league games and just 72 overall in the Majors at age 28 (going to turn 29 in May). They haven't gone real well, and he has really struggled with injuries. Still, he has hit well in the minors, and is still somewhat interesting as 3rd catcher. Probably borderline on whether he is worth claiming, definite minor league contract guy.

2. Scott Cousins (Mariners): Despite having some extreme offensive and contact problems in the Majors, two teams have already thought he was worth enough to claim him (and then of course designated him). The tools make him interesting enough to teams that he will get his chance. Another borderline case, the two DFA's probably makes him a guy that you wouldn't claim. MiLB contract and invite to Spring Training makes sense. What he becomes relies on contact, but he is a possibility as a 5th outfielder (though the skill sets of Felix Pie and Darren Ford, both signed to MiLB contracts by the Pirates, are slightly more attractive).

3. Brayan Pena (Royals): long time back-up catcher, epitome of a replacement player. He is going to turn 31 years old to start the 2012 season. I can't imagine anyone claiming him unless they are just absolutely desperate for catching (he has already played for the Braves in the past, just saying). It seems like he is worth a minor league contract and invite to spring training as a AAA catcher/emergency big leaguer.

4. Derrick Robinson (Royals): Despite posting mainly good peripherals, the 25 year old has never hit very well in the minors. He plays a good centerfield according to some data and he can run really well. The 4th rounder at least has the tools to be an extra outfielder, but it just isn't something the Royals need right now.

5. Chris Volstad (Royals): A frustrating back of the rotation starter, the sinker baller has shown some potential, but doesn't miss many bats, and walks too many batters for his skill set. He has still been an above replacement pitcher and could perhaps eat up some emergency innings (a good infield would help him).

6. Cory Burns (Padres): Burns is interesting because he is 25 and put up some sparkling numbers in the PCL this year. The thing that makes him uninteresting is his well below average velocity and the fact that he is a right-handed reliever. He instead relies mainly on a changeup. It is a good changeup, and it has helped him get both lefties and righties out. We will see if it helps him get out hitters on a consistent basis in the Majors.

7. Zach Stewart (Red Sox): A product of a few different trades, Stewart has found the Majors very rough. In his 103 innings, he has a ridiculous FIP of 7.55 thanks to a low strikeout rate (but low walk rate) and over 2 home runs per 9 innings. With that said, he has a good ground-ball rate (50%), so his SIERA is 3.93, pretty solid. What Stewart actually is obviously somewhere in the middle. He has a mix of pitches  that he can throw in virtually any count (his tendencies aren't very predictable) but he has below average velocity. There is a chance he could be a back of the rotation guy, getting a lot of ground-balls and giving up a lot of contact. He is the kind of guy that could benefit from a pitcher ballpark more than others.

8. Mike McCoy (Blue Jays): McCoy cannot hit at all, but he has played in 170 big league games and has shown that he is a good fielder making him a capable utility man in the minors. He is a great example of why AAA Las Vegas numbers mean nothing, as he has clobbered the ball there, only to be one of the worse hitters in the Majors.

9. Cory Wade (Blue Jays): Wade is an interesting guy as a below average velocity reliever that has had some MLB success. A bounce back season from 2012 is likely, but he isn't a guy with high value.

10. Jim Miller (Athletics): DIPs hasn't been impressed with his short (63.1 innings) MLB career, but the veteran right-handed reliever has decent velocity and solid numbers in AAA. The question is not whether or not he can miss bats, it is whether or not he can limit walks.

11. Vin Mazzarro (Royals): Despite decent to above average velocity, Mazzaro has never really put it together. In now 286 big league innings, he has not proved much at all except that he can be an above replacement pitcher. Still just 26, he relies on basically just his fastball and slider, never really finding a 3rd pitch to get hitters out with. Perhaps a move to the bullpen would help, but it didn't work so well in 2012.

12. Bryan Lahair (Cubs): He turned out to be the AAAA hitter that Theo and company insisted didn't exist after a big start. Several Japanese teams have been looking at him, and the rumor is that he was DFA'd so he could pursue opportunities there (it appears that he has already signed with the Softbank Hawks for 950,000). The 10 % BB/30 % K MLB player seems to work over there for a few different reasons, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him have success there. He is probably better than Wily Mo Pena, as at least statistically he is an above average MLB hitter (obviously the lack of other skills get in the way).

13. Chone Figgins (Mariners): I honestly had no idea where to rank him. He has been so terrible over the last 2 seasons (and he wasn't good the year before), and the chances of him getting better at age 35 (before the start of the season) are slim to none. He doesn't quite have the speed he used to, and his defense has been pretty poor (it doesn't look he can be a traditional utility player), and his bat has absolutely disappeared. Still, he has had a really solid career and some team will bring him in on a MiLB deal and see if he can resurrect himself.

14. Sandy Rosario (Red Sox): His numbers may not be eye popping in the minors, but they aren't bad, and he has a good fastball that averages almost 95 MPH along with a slider and change that he throws quite a bit. He is already 27, and despite his short sample in the Majors, he could be a guy that eventually sticks in a MLB bullpen.

15. Fabio Martinez (Indians): Martinez has a big time fastball, but he has really struggled with command. He is still just 23, but hasn't yet reached AA. This is why he isn't worth a 40 man spot yet, as he simply isn't ready. However, there is more potential here than just about anyone on this list.

16. Clint Robinson (Royals): Somewhat of a classic AAA slugger, Robinson has put up some eye popping numbers in the minors. Despite playing in a hitter friendly park in Omaha the last two years, he has virtually no home/road splits and he has walked more than he has struck out against righties. The decent strikeout rate makes him interesting, but it is hard to tell with these sluggers sometimes. He could be a bench bat, a AAAA slugger forever, or even go to the NPB.

17. Brandon Hicks (Athletics): Once considered somewhat of a prospect, Hicks hasn't really hit since he got to AA and his time in the Majors has been a disaster. However, he still can play shortstop, and evidently a pretty good one. There is always some value there.

18. Mike McDade (Blue Jays): Despite not turning 24 until May of 2013, it is quite apparent that McDade is the traditional AAAA slugger. He provides no defensive value with that body type and the bat speed just isn't there. However, he has put up some monster numbers in AA and AAA, and at the very least can be brought in by a team to anchor the 1B/DH spot in AAA and be a bench bat in an absolute emergency.

19. David Carpenter (Red Sox): While Carpenter does have an above average fastball, it has lead to no MLB success. He gets a fair amount of strikeouts, but too many walks and not enough grounders have lead to his demise. His sample sizes in the minors are too small to really glean anything from, but he doesn't belong on a 40 man roster but does at least belong in a MLB camp (if just for the fastball).

20. Danny Valencia (Red Sox): Valencia has had some success in the Majors, he was good in 2010 and above replacement in 2011, but the value is all tied to his bat and he was a mess in 2012. He seems really reliant on BABIP, which is no way to make a living. Perhaps he has some kind of rebound (it's hard to predict BABIP, the "Bill James" Projection system likes a bounce back), but a low walk, low power, bad defense, bad baserunning skill set doesn't exactly lead to attractive players.

21. Ryan Verdugo (Royals): Verdugo's one start in the Majors was an utter disaster, and he clearly has below average stuff and velocity. In the minors, his numbers are much more impressive as a reliever than they are as a starter. We will see if a move back to the bullpen will get him back to the Majors.

22. Ivan De Jesus (Red Sox): Now 25, De Jesus is no longer a shortstop, a below average defender, and has laughable hitting numbers away from Albuquerque. Other than a minor league lifer, I don't see much here.

23. Joel Carreno (Blue Jays): Both AAA and the Majors have proved to be extremely difficult for Carreno, but he is still just 25. As a right-handed reliever without overpowering stuff, one is probably better going off with relievers that are more of a sure thing like Cory Wade or Jim Miller. Or would could go the route of pitchers with better stuff like Fabio Martinez and David Carpenter.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Scouting Report on Sugar Ray Marimon

In the WBC qualifiers, Royals right-handed pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon has been pitching for his home country of Columbia. I got to watch one of his outings streamed online.

Marimon was showcasing a 92-93 MPH fastball early that got down to 89-90 (which is somewhat backwards velocity wise as his first inning was his best velo inning). The velocity may be a little low because we are at the end of a long season, and he threw 134 innings in the 2012 regular season. It is said that he can get it up to 95 MPH. It was usually staying high but the slender pitcher (listed at 6-1 168) has a really easy delivery. The off-speed he used was a 77 MPH curve that breaks almost like a soft slider. It has decent break but it isn't sharp break, I just don't know how many people he is going to fool with it. He was extremely fastball heavy and I didn't see a third pitch, but according to Clint Scoles (awesome first name) of His 3rd pitch, a changeup, is  "79-81 mph. shows fade and tumbling action. Useful pitch against lefties, and he maintains good arm speed. It’s another average offering."

When Baseball America released their top 10 Royals' prospects, Marimon was nowhere to be found and wasn't even mentioned. When Coast2Coast Prospects ranked the prospects in the Royals system, Marimon was all the way at number 36. In 2012, Marimon split the season between A + and AA. He was a bit old for the Carolina League at 23.75 years old (he is now 24) when the average hitter was 22.5 years old and the average pitcher was 22.9 years old. He also pitched in a very friendly home park (90 one year Park Factor) and it showed. In his 6 home starts, he had a 2.98 FIP and 2.91 SIERA with a decent ground-ball rate and microscopic BABIP of .242. In his 8 road starts, he was still mostly above league average but both his ground-ball rate and strikeout rate disappeared, leading to a very pedestrian 4.40 SIERA (3.71 FIP). The strange thing is that his home run rate actually was larger at home. He was promoted to AA and made 12 starts there, really struggling with a 5.45 FIP and 5.49 SIERA. The Royals' AA park is an extreme hitters park, with a one year Park Factor of 110, but weirdly he pitched a little bit better at home (with both his FIP and SIERA being over 6.00 on the road). Since the average age in the Texas League is 24, this is where Marimon was supposed to be, and he pitched poorly (meaning a repeat of the level, with him being a touch old for the level, is in order).

Since joining the Royals system in 2007 (including pitching in the Dominican Summer League that year), Marimon has a 1.97 K/BB, a little under what you would like. While his walk rate is okay, he has never been a guy that has struck out a lot of batters (18.1 % over his last 200 innings). He also doesn't get many ground-balls or a good number of infield fly-balls. According to the AA data (which is always sketchy), he is a strike thrower (63% is solid for the minors, and not bad in the Majors), but having to pitch in Northwest Arkansas and then AAA Omaha (104 one year Park Factor) is nothing short of the Labours of Hercules. If he can figure it out at those levels, then he is a big league pitcher. I don't see him as a starter, or even an impact reliever, but he could be a swing man or low leverage guy to eat up some innings with that easy delivery. Over the last two years, he has actually shown reverse splits, so I don't think it would make any sense to use him as a specialty reliever.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Padres and Athletics Trade Evaluation: Andy Parrino

This is the final post on the trade between the Padres and Athletics that included
Tyson Ross, A.J. Kirby-Jones, Andrew Werner, and Andy Parrino (links to the previous articles on each name). This post is a look at Andy Parrino, who the A's are getting from the Padres.

Andy Parrino is a 27 year old switch hitting shortstop that has also played 2nd (his minor league time is split between 2nd and short pretty evenly), 3rd, and both corner outfielder positions. He was a 26th round pick by the Padres in 2007 out of LeMoyne College (where he had a couple of big years, especially his Junior Year when he lead the MAAC in OPS and a few other offensive categories). Parrino has never been a top prospect of any kind thanks to a "lack of tools".

Defensively, the data throughout the minor leagues (using FRAA and Total Zone data from 2007-2009) suggests he has been an above average defender. In his 79 games in the MLB, all 3 major defensive metrics rate him as an above average defender. Small sample problems (along with the general problems that may arise when using defensive metrics) apply, but the body of evidence points to him being a good defender. John Sickles wrote in April this year:

"Parrino is a very skilled defender at second base, not bad at shortstop and third, and can even take a turn in the outfield if you need him. Given the short benches used by most teams these days, Parrino's ability to play multiple positions, take some walks, and provide occasional pop should keep him employed for awhile."

As far as baserunning goes, the results are somewhat mixed but he is most likely below average. Baseball Prospectus rates his baserunning as below average, while FanGraphs' formula has him as an above average runner, even with a poor speed score of 2.8. Baseball Prospectus also rates his baserunning in the minors as below average according to BRR and his average speed score (excluding his 5 game stint in class A in 2009) was 4.4 in the minors. Considering he has never stolen more than 8 bases at any level, he just isn't going to provide much value on the bases.

Even with the baserunning being below average, the bat is Parrino's weakest spot. He has always drawn walks, even in the Majors, with a 13.5 BB% in that somewhat short sample size (with a 12.53 BB % in his minor league career and 9.255 BB % in AAA, where he hasn't been older than most of the competition). His complete minor league slash line of .272/.372/.406 is pretty uninspiring, though not bad. Power has not been his thing, as league average ISO in the PCL over the last couple of years has been .157. Despite playing in a home stadium with a two year Park Factor of 105, Parrino has a ISO of .145 in his AAA time. He has hit for a good average (and a good OBP with the good walk rate), which is a obviously a skill set that works for good middle infielders. However, it is not one that has translated to Petco Park, as he has a 62 wRC + and 66 OPS + in his time in the big leagues. It is hard to blame the extreme pitcher friendly park in San Diego as well, as his numbers are much worse on the road. It is also not like Oakland's park is much more friendly for hitters (Oakland has a 97 three year Park Factor according to Baseball Reference, while San Diego has a 92 three year Park Factor). In the Majors, he doesn't have much platoon splits at all, not being really stronger or weaker from either side. In the minors, this has pretty much been the case over the last two seasons.

The most troubling thing about Parrino at the plate has been his strikeouts. While he struck out 18.3 % of the time over the last two years in the minors, or less than 2 per every walk, he has struck out 26.9 % of the time in the Majors (while still having an above average BB/K thanks to all the walks). This chart shows the problems Parrino has been having with contact:

It isn't even just one zone that has been giving him problems, it has been basically all over. It is a small sample size obviously, but this is a sign of a guy that is pretty overwhelmed. The swing pitch type chart is also discouraging when you look at how many changeups he has been chasing:

The data sample is obviously somewhat small so let's look at his spray chart (obviously small as well) and see if that can tell us anything about Parrino's style and whether or not that will work in Oakland's ballpark:

You will notice most of his batted balls are center to right. This is because he does a good job of going up the middle against both lefties and righties and pulls the ball as a lefty. In Oakland's ballpark last year, lefties had a .048 OPS better than right-handers. In 2011, the split was smaller at .009 OPS, and in 2010 it was .013. This is important because Parrino will obviously have more at-bats as a lefty as a switch hitter. The 2012 Oakland Athletics club (just them, regardless of ballpark) had a .736 OPS average up the middle, .880 OPS on balls to the left side average, and .934 OPS to right field. All of this data may suggest that Parrino pulling the ball at Oakland as a left-handed hitter may work better than it would at other places (though his ability to hit balls up the middle may be wasted, as the OPS on balls up the middle for the Athletics was worse than league average). League average OPS on balls pulled by right-handers and hit the other way by left-handers (that is, left field) was higher than balls hit to the right side of the field. There may be other variables (such as the hitters or randomness), but this data would seem to suggest that Parrino could be helped by the way the ballpark works.

What makes Parrino attractive to the Athletics? Lazy commentators might just point out the walks, but there is a need on the Oakland roster. When acquiring Chris Young, the A's traded away Cliff Pennington, who was at times the starting shortstop, the starting 2nd baseman, or a utility player. While Parrino is not the player Pennington is, he could take over the utility role. He isn't the answer at shortstop, and the Athletics are most likely bringing back Stephen Drew to take over that role, but he could battle Jemile Weeks for the 2nd base role. The depth on the infield for the A's is pretty poor, as Drew and Brandon Inge are both free agents, Josh Donaldson is probably not an every day player (though he will most likely fight for a starting position with Scott Sizemore coming back from an injury), Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales are more replacement players (who will most likely get a shot at competing with Parrino for a job), Stephen Parker doesn't play shortstop, and Josh Horton has worse MiLB numbers than Parrino does. The A's are going to have a few players to fight for a utility spots, with Parrino as the possible favorite but none of them are real impact players. If the A's are unable to bring back Drew, it looks like they will really be hurting for a shortstop (and may use the extra outfield depth to bring one in). Parrino also has 2 options left, isn't arbitration eligible until 2015, and is under team control until 2018. If a player can play at all (which Parrino can clearly do something, even if only defensively), there is value in that contract situation.

So who "wins" the trade (that is, which team does this help the most)? Basically, the Athletics get two low impact useful players that can help them this year. The Padres get a guy in Ross who could help them this year if used correctly and turn out to be a good bullpen piece in the future (probably better than Werner) along with Kirby-Jones, a guy who can't help them in the Majors this year, but could in coming years. To be simplistic, the A's get the low ceiling high floor guys, while the Padres get the higher ceiling guys (although their impact will be limited as well). To me, the trade will come down to how the Padres use Ross. Will they try him as a starter? Or will they convert him to a slider heavy reliever? If it is the latter, I think he can be successful. If this happens, it may not matter what Kirby-Jones does. I am not going to declare a winner or loser in this trade because it helps both teams (it is more of a need for need trade than a talent for talent trade). The Padres can lose this trade though, if Ross is not used right and Kirby-Jones doesn't develop into a MLB player. The risk for the A's seems to be a lot less (though it obviously isn't a huge impact for either team, good teams still get good value in these kinds of trades).

Padres and Athletics Trade Evaluation: Andrew Werner

This is the 3rd article breaking down the trade between the Padres and Athletics that included Tyson Ross, A.J. Kirby-Jones, Andrew Werner, and Andy Parrino.

Andrew Werner is a 25 year old undrafted lefty that was signed out of the Independent ball in 2010 where he was good (though not great statistically) after a good career at the University of Indianapolis.

Werner made 8 starts at the end of the year for the Padres, making his big league debut. 5 of those starts were in the friendly PETCO park, but they were still pretty mediocre, with a 113 FIP -, struggling with homers (1.12 HR/9IP) with 4 of the 5 homers coming at home. The 40.1 innings is obviously a small sample size, but he did have a decent strikeout rate and a solid K/BB. He was a pretty extreme ground-baller and had a good infield fly-ball percentage. He was horrible against righties, with a .372 wOBA against, while he was very good against lefties, with a 2.51 FIP, including no homers allowed.

He actually has more MLB innings than AAA innings, as he spent most of the 2012 season in AA (103 innings). He pitched in a really friendly pitcher park there, but was extremely effective, with a SIERA of 1.10 better than league average and a FIP about 25% better than league average. If you estimate (with a home park factor of 92) that he was getting about 8% of help from his park, he was still 17% better than league average, or roughly a 83 FIP - or 3.28 adjusted FIP. This still puts him (he was the FIP leader before the adjustment) as the 2nd best pitcher in the Texas League with a minimum of 100 innings (Jose Cisnero as the leader, who was okay in Lancaster in 2011 and decent in the PCL in a short sample size in 2012. Cisnero pitched in an extreme pitcher park, which makes his results somewhat more interesting, at least statistically). In AA, he showed the same tendencies he showed in the Majors. as far as ground-ball rate, decent strikeout rate, relatively low walk rate, but without the infield fly-balls and without the homers. While he was better against lefties in AA, he was still very solid against righties. In fact, he faced a ton of them, as he faced just 79 lefties versus 348 righties! In fact on July 9th, he faced NW Arkansas who ran out an entire starting lineup full of right-handed batters. It wasn't his sharpest outing, but Werner proved to be serviceable nevertheless, with a 45 game score but 1.80 FIP in a place that has a 110 Park Factor.

Whatever he was doing to get righties out in AA, it wasn't working in the Majors. Without real pitch selection data in the minors, we will look instead at how he attacked right-handed batters in the Majors using Brooks Baseball:

Against lefties, he is very heavy with his fastball and starts a lot of counts with the curveball, but throws the slider and change about equally. He doesn't have a "go-to strikeout pitch" against either lefties or righties, but he throws his fastball the most against lefties in those situations and his change against righties. His curve is not a pitch he gets strikeouts with, as he simply doesn't throw it with 2 strikes, which I find odd. Compare this to another "pitchability lefty" in Patrick Corbin, who uses his curveball as a finisher against both lefties and righties:

It is weird that Werner doesn't rely heavily on his curveball since he has a well below average fastball at 88.1 MPH (average in his MLB stint). Out of the 30 qualified starters in 2012 with the lowest average fastball velocity, 26 of them throw curveballs (All more than 4% of the time. R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer does not throw a curveball), and 18 of them throw it more than 10 % of the time (3 over 20% of the time). Corbin was not a qualified starter, but he averaged 90.6 MPH on his fastball in 107 innings, and threw his curveball (misidentified as a slider by FanGraphs) 17% of the time. Perhaps it isn't fair to compare the two curveballs, as Corbin's is 7 MPH faster.

Instead, Werner relies instead on a mix of pitches, throwing a sinker (according to Fangraphs), splitter, change, curve, and slider. He mainly throws the sinker (or fastball) and change, with 72.7% of his pitches being one or the other (and the slider being 13.2% of the time). In velocity, his change is most similar to those of James McDonald (a relatively effective starter that previously threw his change a lot, but according to FanGraphs, has almost ditched the pitch. As far as opponents hitting it, it has actually been a good pitch, with a 71 wRC + against) and Jeremy Sowers (out of the Majors since 2009 after an okay career, he threw his change more than any other off-speed pitch, but it wasn't effective as opponents had a 119 wRC + against it). In horizontal movement, Werner's change is most similar to the changeups of to Greg Smith and Kevin Hart. Smith was pretty poor in his 229.1 innings in the Majors, especially his time with the Colorado Rockies. He spent 2012 with the Angels' AAA in the PCL and wasn't very good with a FIP .039 worse than league average and a SIERA .035 worse than league average. His change was his most used off-speed pitch and his most consistently effective in his MLB time. Kevin Hart got 119.2 innings in the Majors, splitting between the bullpen and the rotation. It didn't go very well and he hasn't pitched in affiliated ball since 2010 (he had shoulder surgery in 2011). His changeup was thrown only rarely and was extremely ineffective. In vertical movement, Werner's change compares to Edinson Volquez and Rubby De La Rosa. Edinson Volquez being compared to Werner in any way is humorous, but the serviceable (if not extremely frustrating) now former teammate of Werner throws his changeup over 25 % of the time and his change is one of his more effective pitches (his fastball and sinker are his pitches that have not been good). De La Rosa has had arm problems and has been okay at best (below league average according to FIP - and ERA -) in 61.1 career big league innings. His change has been his worst pitch according to batted ball data.

So it seems that the data on his change seems to be mixed and his slider doesn't seem to be even an average pitch (when compared to other sliders). With that said, it seems that at worst he is a LOOGY. The Athletics were .50 points of FIP worse against left-handed hitting than right-handed hitting in 2012. He could fill in the role of Brian Fuentes, who was released in the middle of the season and then retired, as a lefty specialist and allow Sean Doolittle to take the more high leverage situations (and use Travis Blackley in a more swing man role). One could say he is the kind of guy the A's need as a low ceiling (he is most likely a 5th starter/emergency at best) but high floor (he has some MLB role) as they try
to put together another contending team. It seems that Tyson Ross could possibly have a bigger role in the Majors before it all shakes out, but Werner is a more secure piece.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Padres and Athletics Trade Evaluation: A.J. Kirby-Jones

Here I am continuing my breakdown of the trade between the A's and Padres that involved Tyson Ross, A.J. Kirby-Jones, Andy Parrino, and Andrew Werner. This post will focus on A.J. Kirby-Jones, who is going from the Athletics to the Padres. He was drafted in the 9th round by the A's in 2010. Kirby-Jones is a first baseman/DH, so obviously the value is tied up in his bat as he doesn't really have any other tools (he runs a pretty laughable 4.92 to first). He is short (5-10) but stocky (listed at 215) and recently turned 24 years old.

Kirby-Jones played the entire year in the California League, which inflates offensive statistics. However, his team, the Stockton Ports, play in a park that is less hitter friendly than most in the league (95 one year Park Factor). This is why it isn't surprising that he hit much better on the road. It doesn't explain the .173 point difference in BABIP (!), or why he walked more and hit less ground-balls on the road though. His road statistics were crazy, as he walked over 20 % of the time, with a .232 ISO in 56 games on the road (although he hit 1 more homer at home). Overall, in 114 games, Kirby walked 17.5 % of the time (nearly 9% above league average) while striking out 25.9 % of the time (5.8% of the time more than average). His ISO was .061 above league average and he had a 110 wOBA + and 120 OPS + (121 wRC +). This is right in line with how he hit in 2011 in A-ball (113 wOBA +, 126 OPS +, 125 wRC +) after he destroyed A- in 2010 (125 wOBA +, 155 OPS +, 156 wRC +).

Kirby-Jones is much better against lefties than righties (the split was worse in 2012 than it was 2011) but it isn't like he is completely incapable of hitting without the platoon advantage (which is important from right-handed batters, as left-handed platoon bats are more valuable than right-handed platoon bats).

In college, he made a run for the national lead in homers, though Perfect Game liked fellow slugger Paul Hoilman better. Hoilman was picked in the 19th round by the Cubs in 2011 and after a good 2011 in A -, he was only about league average in A-ball in 2012.

Kirby-Jones' swing seems pretty quick, but it is not the prettiest. He uses somewhat of a leg kick to get the swing started (which isn't a big deal, it is a timing technique, stating that he does so is more descriptive than anything else) and it seems long. It looks like that perhaps a pitcher could jam him inside, not because of bat speed, but because it is just a long swing in general. It can also be extremely violent at times and he doesn't necessarily start it on time occasionally, which can make him late. Whether this is plate discipline, timing, eye, or a hitch in his swing, I am not entirely sure. He does have good plate coverage though, which is perhaps a little surprising since he isn't exactly tall, but evidently his arms are long enough (or perhaps his swing is long enough) to go get low pitches away.

He is the kind of guy who can have some success in a bench role on a NL team (which is obviously what the Padres are) as a pinch hitter. He could also turn out to be a minor league slugger that doesn't translate to the Majors. He could be anyone from 2009-2011 Eric Hinske or Mike Cervenak. I think AA next year will tell us a lot, as he won't be older than the competition like he has been in the lower levels.

Padres and Athletics Trade Evaluation: Tyson Ross

The Padres have traded Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner to the Oakland Athletics for Tyson Ross and A.J. Kirby-Jones. What I believe I am going to do is break this trade into 4 parts, one post for each player. It may not turn out that way (I could combine a couple, or I could give up before I am done with all of them), but I am going to try to write scouting reports on each player (and then maybe we will be able to make a judgment on the trade).

Last year, I thought Tyson Ross was a good comparison for Rangers' rookie reliever Robbie Ross 

Robbie Ross in 2012: 77 FIP -, 62.4 GB %, 2.04 K/BB

Tyson Ross in 2012: 119 FIP -, 49.6 GB %, 1.24 K/BB


To be fair, Robbie did all of his work in the bullpen while Tyson was used mainly as a starter. Tyson Ross has now pitched in 53 games in the Majors, starting 21, totalling up to 148 innings. It hasn't gone real well so far, with a 106 FIP -. His problems has not been homers (.73 HR/9IP, .56 HR/9IP on the road). His problem has been his K/BB. He has not struck out a lot of batters (just 15.6 %) and he has walked quite a bit of batters (10.7 %). His problem is specifically against left-handed batters, as he has been awful against them, striking out just one more batter than he has walked. Against righties (he has faced both about 50% of the time), he at least strikes out 2 per every walk (though both rates are really still below average). With that said, he has gotten a better GB % and HR/FB % against lefties. In AAA this year, those traits mostly held, as he had a better GB % against lefties but his FIP/SIERA and K/BB was better against righties. The difference was that he was better at limiting home runs against righties. This is probably more predictive. If we lazily assume that the Padres use him in the bullpen and have him face 2 righties for every lefty, we can project a 4.15 FIP. Of course, this should go down a little thanks to PETCO, but that still isn't very good for a reliever. Mark Buerhle had a 4.18 FIP (obviously as a starter) in a park that played neutral (100 Park Factor) and that translated to a 107 FIP -. This would put him about 106th out of 136 qualified relievers in 2012 (with Kameron Loe, Jose Arredondo, Jared Hughes). Statistically, it is really hard to love Ross. What about from a scouting or (more accurately) Pitch F/X standpoint?

Ross brings an above average fastball to the table, averaging anywhere from 92.5 MPH to 93.47 MPH (touching up to 97.7 MPH). He is very fastball heavy, throwing the 4 seamer 40 % of the time and his sinker 28% of the time. His main breaking pitch is a slider at 24% of the time while throwing a changeup just 9% of the time mainly against lefties. While it is still hard to judge off-speed pitches using Pitch F/X data (I usually compare movement data, but that doesn't take into account the control of a pitch. Using batted ball data can be useful over large sample sizes, but it is also noisy. For instance, is a high or low BABIP on a pitch just randomness or luck, or is it because the pitch is being hit especially hard or especially soft? While GB/LD/FB is helpful, it doesn't differentiate between a hard ground-ball and soft ground-ball. Using batted ball distance from Baseball Heat Maps is useful, but can be misleading if you have a bad infield and ground-balls are going 150-200 feet because no one in the infield gets to them before the outfielder gets to ball), considering that Ross is so bad against lefties, it is probably safe to say it isn't a great pitch. The small sample size doesn't really allow us to gather anything from batted ball data, but the ground-balls he gets against lefties (more than right-handers as stated above) is not from the changeup. His best ground-ball pitch is, as you would expect, his sinker. For a sinker/slider guy, which is what Ross is, the slider has to be the out pitch (or you have to have really good command and avoid walks, which is something Ross obviously doesn't have). Small Sample Size alerts apply (605-624 pitches thrown), but it seems to be that kind of pitch for him, at least according to GB/FB/LD/K. It is the pitch that he likes to throw the most when he is ahead and the pitch that he gets the most strikeouts with by far. It is the pitch he gets the most swings and swings and misses with, and he throws strikes with it (not necessarily in the zone obviously) about 64% of the time, a good percentage.

So without 3 real MLB pitches, it is hard to see Ross as anything but a reliever. But could the fastball/sinker/slider (I realize that is 3 pitches, but he doesn't have two off-speed pitches that he can really throw, which is usually considered a prerequisite to starting) work in a relief role? Comparing his slider to other relievers, it's velocity (85.99 MPH on average) sits between Michael Wuertz and Ryan Perry in the Pitch F/X era. Wuertz slider was considered the hardest pitch in baseball to hit when he was on. Perry has not had much MLB success, but his slider was ranked high in the minors by scouting sites. In horizontal movement, his slider most compares to Luke Gregerson and Denny Bautista. Gregerson, a career reliever, has carved out quite a career with the San Diego Padres so far by throwing his slider nearly 60 % of the time (68.5 % of the time in 2012!). Bautista had a pretty poor MLB career, but was once ranked a high prospect. I believe the slider is what Bautista is throwing here (he pitched in Korea this year and thanks to Dan of @mykbo for the video):

In vertical movement, Ross' slider most compares to Jonathan Papelbon and Robert Parnell. Papelbon, one of the top relievers in baseball, mainly relies on his plus fastball, but the slider has been effective for him when he has used it. Parnell is a fastball heavy pitcher, and seems to have ditched his slider for a curveball, if Pitch F/X is to be believed. So the vertical movement is less impressive than the horizontal movement or velocity.

However, I think this is what the Padres see in him. Ross' best hope may be to turn into Josh Kinney, or even new teammate Luke Gregerson and become an extremely slider heavy reliever. His fastball velocity is above average, but it doesn't seem to be helping him. This can come with injury problems and he has a history of problems with his UCL, but if you are asking me what the Padres see in him, it is clearly the fastball/slider combo. The stuff should play in the bullpen, but I think his days as a starter should be over. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Scouting Report on Hirokazu Sawamura

24 year old Hirokazu Sawamura has dominated the NPB over the last two years, with a 20.772 K %, 6.5 BB %, and .6 HR/9IP over the last two years. This is versus the league averages of 17.461 K %, and 7.578 BB %, and 5 HR/9IP. As we have previously seen, the NPB is a league that suppresses offense with the new ball (as evidenced by both the drop in homers and in runs in general), but the K/BB isn't anything dramatic and hasn't really even changed.

Here is Sawamura's NPB Tracker Data:

I watched him in the Asia Series pitch against the Lotte Giants of the KBO. This is inferior competition to what he is used to in the NPB. But on to the videos:



Sawamura threw it as hard 92.38 to 95.48 MPH with sink, but also showed the ability to throw it high. So basically he can work both eye levels. He got some whiffs with it but gave up several baserunners. He seemed to be really fastball heavy early on and it wasn't until late in the game that he got late into the game.
The fastball moves, that is, it isn't straight. It is a MLB fastball. His average fastball may be a little under average, but he can run it up there with some authority when needed.


 The control of this pitch was not very good, and it was his main breaking pitch:


Sawamura didn't throw this pitch a lot, and sometimes it was a little difficult to distinguish from the slider.


The curveball seemed the be the least used pitch (as evidenced by it being what is probably the worst video).

For a guy who has dominated the NPB, the outing against Lotte was not very good, as he struggled with command and control through out. However, even though it wasn't his best day, he still showed good velocity, missed some bats, and looked like a pitcher who might be able to succeed in the Majors with, possessing two decent breaking pitches.

Here is the heat map for the game he threw the most pitches in 2012 (unfortunately, NPB tracker does not have heat maps for seasons, just individual games):

As you can see, Sawamura likes to live in the high part or even in the middle of the zone. This isn't a big deal if this is with his good fastballs.

Depending on his control, I could see him being an average to slightly below average starter in the big leagues. He has the fastball to be a big league starter and has shown durability and has had success at a relatively young age. As almost always, the key to success will rely on the development of his breaking pitches (which look okay) and control.