Saturday, August 31, 2013

Round Rock Relievers: Ortiz, Burns, and Rowen

Round Rock, the AAA affiliate for the Texas Rangers, used three relievers in the game I saw them play live against Oklahoma City. In this post, I'll take a short look at each of them using both my live look and Pitch F/X data.

Joe Ortiz made the Rangers' club out of Spring Training and pitched reasonably well in a couple of stints with the team by not walking anyone, but failing to miss any bats as well. He should be back with the big league team once the AAA season ends and MLB rosters expand to 40. When looking at a GIF of his delivery, the first thing you notice is his odd size:

Ortiz is listed at 5-7 175, which I think is conservative when it comes to weight. He is one of the shortest pitchers in affiliated ball, but he has a pretty pudgy frame to go with it. Here are the pitches Ortiz threw in his AAA outing I saw live (click to enlarge):
As you would expect with such a small frame, he has a low release point:
The above graph shows that he is clearly a low ball pitcher, but I think a graph showing the locations of his individual pitches demonstrates it even better:
He throws his slider and changeup in pretty traditional locations, but is actually a glove side pitcher with his fastball. This helps him pitch successfully against both lefties and righties, as he can throw the sinker away to righties and the 4-seamer away to lefties. Overall he throws arm side and glove side about equally.

Cory Burns was traded to the Rangers in the off-season by the Padres for Wilfredo Boscan. Burns has very limited time in the big leagues with both clubs, but has been downright dominant in the PCL the last two years (FIPs under 2.00 both times). Burns has a weird turn in his delivery that he has to get rid of with runners on base. He still didn't hold runners on at all:

Besides the turn in his delivery, the most notable thing about Burns is his high volume of changeups, something that showed in the outing I saw of him:
This makes him a reasonably heavy arm side pitcher on average:

Burns also has a weird slider that he can't get glove side, and he doesn't seem to throw a four seam fastball, instead opting for a 2-seamer that he can locate on both sides of the plate:

Ben Rowen makes the uniqueness of Burns seem trivial with his submarine delivery. Rowen has not pitched in the Majors, unlike the two above, but he has been dominant in AA and AAA:

I didn't get a great look because he only faced three hitters, and disposed of them quickly.
Rowen pitched for the Rangers' big league club in Spring Training for a few outings in Pitch F/X parks, so we do get a look at his release point and his average location of all his pitches in Spring Training (though instead of the traditional MLBAM, this data comes from Brooks Baseball's adjustment of Pitch F/X data). There aren't many pitchers that locate pitches higher on average than their release point:
 Especially considering it was Spring Training and a small sample size, we should be cautious paying attention to pitch locations for Rowen. MLBAM thought Rowen's fastball was a changeup, so I changed it to a fastball. It was the only pitch he could get down in his Spring Training outings.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chihiro Kaneko Scouting Report

Chihiro Kaneko has made him self a force to be reckoned with, along with thrusting himself into the discussion as one of the better pitchers in the NPB. The 29 year old right-handed pitcher for the Orix Buffaloes has come off an elbow injury, which limited him to 63.2 innings in 2012, beautifully. He is having the best season of his career, with a stunning 48 ERA - and 79 kwERA - on the season. So despite his listed size of 5-11 170, he is statistically interesting enough that I think he needs to be talked about both in terms of how he is successful in the NPB, and whether or not this success could possibly carry over to the MLB if the opportunity presented itself.

In his most recent start, Kaneko threw a complete game, his 4th complete game in the last five outings, giving up just two runs in 116 pitches, with seven strikeouts and one walk. I took the data from that game and separated the pitch types by the Yahoo! classifications. Below is each of his pitches, along with the average velocity, usage percentage, and notable results of the pitches in the outing. I also GIFed what looked like each pitch to give a visual view (they are not from the outing in question, and they are somewhat random in that some of them are whiffs, some are just balls, and some are actually hits. Don't let the result of the one GIF color the judgment of the pitch's effectiveness, instead use it to look at the pitch's movement and Kaneko's delivery on a whole).

Fastball: 89.13 MPH, 29.3 % usage, 7 whiffs, 6 fly-balls (1 HR), 1 grounder

2-seam: 87.22 MPH, 7.8 %, 2 whiffs, 1 fly-ball

Changeup: 78.46 MPH, 20.7 %, 5 whiffs, 3 fly-balls, 2 grounders

Curve: 67.58 MPH, 6 %, 1 whiff, 1 fly-ball

Cuttter: 85.78 MPH, 12.1 %, 4 grounders

 Fork: 84.23 MPH, 6 %, 3 whiffs, 2 grounders

 Slider: 78.36 MPH, 15.5 %, 2 whiffs, 2 fly-balls, 3 grounders

Kaneko is roughly as good against lefties as righties, yielding a lower batting average against righties with more strikeouts, but walking less lefties (the amount of batters faced for both sides is about equal) and only 2 of his 7 homers allowed are against lefties.

I like the fork/splitter pitch, and that is how he limits his platoon splits, but the stuff across the board is not really notable, with a fastball that sits below 90 MPH, a slider that sits below 80 MPH, a mediocre looking change he throws more than the forkball, and a curve that sits under 70 MPH.

You can't really argue with his NPB success this season, and I think as long as he stays healthy, he will be a good NPB pitcher for the foreseeable future because he has decent velocity and a good mix of pitches that he can and will attack the strike zone with. At the same time, I don't think he is quite the MLB prospect that his numbers suggest he might be. He doesn't quite look like the guy that MLB teams would be interested in and it is really tough to know how his breaking pitches would play in the Majors.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Evaluating Josh Lindblom as a Starter

Josh Lindblom was acquired by the Texas Rangers from the Phillies in the Michael Young deal. A career reliever, the Rangers decided to convert him to a starter and stash him in AAA. So far, the change seems to be working reasonably well in Round Rock, as he has made 18 appearances, throwing 98 innings with a manageable home run rate of 1 per 9 innings, and a roughly league average kwERA of 4.13. Lindblom has also made 5 starts on the big league club in 8 appearances, with a 4.52 kwERA, somewhat struggling to miss bats. I saw him pitch against Oklahoma City, the Astros AAA affiliate, and you can see him and his delivery below:

Listed at 6-4, size is clearly not an impediment to him being an effective starter, and I think the slow and smooth delivery is pretty repeatable (walks have clearly not been a problem for him). He uses a pause when his leg comes to create some timing issues for hitters, not coming forward until it comes back down.

According to MLBAM pitch tags (the Brooks Baseball tags more or less agree with them), Lindblom has gone to more moving fastballs, curveballs, and changeups, throwing the 4-seamer 26.6 % of the time instead of over 50 % of the time. The BIS tags have him throwing any kind of fastball less than half the time with the Rangers' as a starter this season. For his outing that I saw live in Round Rock, I charted the velocity of each of his pitches, labelled with the opposing batter, pitch number, and the result of the at-bat. 
As far as general observations from his outing itself, his 82 MPH slider seemed sort of flat looking. He often bounced the slow curve, and seemed to slow down his arm to throw it. I thought he became a lot more hittable late in the game, as the stuff wasn't overpowering even for a AAA game. Some of the slower fastballs had a little bit of cut or something to them, even though it doesn't appear that he throws a cutter.

His release point this year is closest to Bobby Parnell and Darrell Rasner (with the high leg kick and the slow curve, it has been hard for me to shake the idea that he reminds me of certain NPB pitchers, with Rasner, currently a reliever for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, showing up, that feeling isn't going away) as starters.  Here is a visual look at what his release point looks like and the average location of all the pitches he has thrown in the Majors this season:
 This graph (which is just the strike zone) shows the average locations of his individual pitches in the Majors so far this year:

 While the sinker (his 2-seamer according to MLBAM tags, I changed the name here to match what Brooks Baseball calls it), curve, and changeup locations make sense, I was really surprised to see him be such a heavy glove side pitcher with his 4-seamer. He also throws it very high in the zone despite not having good velocity. His slider also doesn't get down or get as glove side as you would like. By contrast, this is what his average locations look like broken down by results:

 The homers are the most arm side and high, but are also some of the slowest pitches, not counting the swinging strikes, which he gets more glove side than anything else (suggesting the curve and slider are working). He gets fouls with the most velocity, when hitters can't catch up, and his outs come more glove side than his called strikes.

Lindblom is a pretty heavy groundball guy, getting more groundouts than strikeouts this season, and it appears that hitters are pretty balanced as to where they hit the ball against him (courtesy of MLBfarm)

 As a starter, I think Lindblom is going to have a hard time successfully navigating through MLB lineups. His fastball is below average, I am not a big fan of his slow curve, and his slider doesn't seem to be a very effective pitch. I don't think these pitches will amount to Lindblom missing any more bats than he already is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yoshio Itoi Scouting Report

Yoshio Itoi, with Toritani and Abe as honorable mentions, appears to be the best position player in Japan that has a chance of coming to the Major Leagues for the 2014 season. Itoi has not yet reached international free agency, so he would need to be posted (of course, as this article was nearing completion, a report came out that said the Buffaloes do not plan on posting Itoi and he doesn't become an international free agent until 2017. We will see how that plays out, but for now, I'll focus on the player himself and not the theoretical availability of the player. Until that recent report, everything I had heard suggested that Itoi would be posted, and that was the reason the Fighters traded him away before the season started).

Itoi has always been attractive due to not only his good NPB numbers, but because of the evident plate discipline that comes with them:

Career 10.6 BB %, 16.8 K%, 120 OPS +
2013: 11.0 BB %, 15.8 K %, 120 OPS +

In his age 32 season Itoi has maintained his overall hitting statistics and improved his walk and strikeout rates.  He has been batting 3rd most of the season, but was changed to lead-off temporarily by the Buffaloes, only to be switched back (and then switched back to lead-off on Tuesday and Wednesday). I don't think he has the power that MLB teams look for for the 3 hole (though he has a 128 SLG +, his ability to walk separates him more, with a 137 BB % +), making him more of a lead-off type hitter if not a guy who hits in the bottom half of the order in the Majors. Compared to other hitters in the NPB (specifically the Pacific League, where I am comparing statistics for this post), his ability to walk and hit for more power is more notable than his ability to hit for average (114 Batting Average +).

Here is a GIF of his swing from the WBC in March

Let's break down his swing more slowly by looking at screenshots. These are from 2012, so he is wearing a Fighters jersey (even though he plays for the Orix Buffaloes now), but his swing is the same.

He turns his hip a little bit which causes his body to no longer be facing the ball directly, with his back turned slightly towards the pitcher. This seems to be  momentum related, like pulling back on a rubberband to make the force coming forward harder.

Here he doesn't seem to be on balance, and at this point it seems sort of amazing that he ever hits for power. If you didn't see the screenshot below it, you would perhaps think that he was about to be hit by a pitch and was moving out of the way.
This is where he gets more "normal", with the bat head coming forward. There is a lack of "jailbreak" on the part of Itoi, meaning he isn't starting to run as he swings. He stays in there, he just looks a little strange feet wise, and he is clearly trying to pull this ball.
The head remains in a good spot, staying with the ball and not going a different way from his body.
As he finishes his swing, this is when he starts to break out of the box, not leaving early, but instead letting his momentum carry him out of the box.
 Here is another look at his follow through in a different at-bat:
 His balance is just odd, as his body seems to be leaning towards the catcher while his right leg is going in the opposite direction. My initial guess is that this would subtract from his power potential, but statistically he packs quite a punch for a guy that doesn't have a stout frame.

Here is what he looks like hitting a pitch low and in (like in the GIF)
He seems to succeed on inside pitches by moving away from them, using the balancing act to get his body away so he can extend his arms and avoid getting jammed. All the GIFs and screenshots above are of him pulling the ball, but the below screenshot shows Itoi hitting a homer to the opposite field

It is hard to see him doing anything different here, it just looks like he was perhaps a little late on the pitch. Without any spray charts, it looks like Itoi is a pretty pull heavy hitter and is always going to be attempting to pull the ball with authority. He evidently has the raw strength to hit a homer the other way and I have seen him flip balls the other way for hits (on both the inside and outside of the plate), but I think the preference is to pull and that is where most of his power comes from, which makes you wonder how he will handle balls on the outside of the plate.

 I took a look at the last 430 pitches Itoi has seen at the plate in the NPB (the number is random because I started keeping track at a somewhat random time. It is a good sample size though). I tracked the Yahoo! pitch tag, velocity, opposing pitcher platoon, result of each pitch, and the general location of the pitch just for the ones he put in play.

In that time, Itoi put 66 pitches in play (in play includes homers for this post) that I have location data for, 77 overall (I just missed the other eleven for some reason). Compared to MLB league average (I don't have league average pitch breakdowns for NPB), this is about half a percent below average. However, this doesn't mean he has contact problems, as he whiffed at only about 6.5 % of the pitches he saw in the time period. He took called strikes 21.6 % of the time, and balls 41.6 % of the time. This is about 5 % more balls than league average, but also nearly 3 % more strikes taken than league average in the Majors (by taking the 28 % strikes looking out of strikes thrown and multiplying it by .64, which is the strike percentage in the Majors. Both of those numbers were taken from Baseball Reference). This means that Itoi seems to be a passive hitter overall. He also has a foul percentage of about five percent less than MLB average (12% to 17%), which probably hurts his pitches per plate appearance. He has less swing plays than most hitters, but unless he can get his foul total up, he won't be driving pitch counts up as much as you would expect. Considering his low whiff percentage, I don't think contact is a problem, and I could see the fouls going up in different sample sizes.

In 2013, one real concern has been his platoon splits. He has just a 97 BA + against lefties, with a 8 % difference in batting average (Yahoo! is the only place I know of that has NPB splits, with just splits for the current season, and they don't have OBP or SLG) between righties and lefties, bigger than the MLB average of 6 % in batting average for left-handed batters. 150 of the 430 pitches in this data set were against lefties and only 7.3 % of them were whiffs, meaning he wasn't having a problem making contact against them. He took a few more called strikes, but had about the same ball percentage. Itoi had 6 groundouts versus 6 flyouts against lefties, versus a crazy 22 to 8 ratio against righties. However, all 4 home runs came against righties in the 430 pitch sample size, as well as all 3 line drives (which can be a somewhat subjective tag).

Out of the three home runs I have location data for, one was low, but in the middle part of the plate, another was high and away, and one was up and in the middle of the plate. Three of them were fastballs, and the other one was classified as a forkball. The most common location for Itoi to make contact on was middle away, meaning pitches that were on the other side of the middle of the plate, but about middle height. The least common was up and in, with just two pitches hit, both fastballs for base hits. It was probably least common because pitchers generally want to avoid that location, noting what we saw in his mechanics, he hits the inside ball very well. This also seems suggest that any concerns about him being able to reach the ball away with his swing are unwarranted.

The average velocity of the pitches he hit was 131.13 KMH, or about 81.3 MPH. His average whiff was 134.19 KMH, or about 83.2 MPH. This is odd, as most hitters whiff at pitches that are slower on average. The average pitch Itoi saw overall was 132.5 KMH, about 82.15 MPH. The most frequent whiff pitch for Itoi was the slider, while 9 of the 66 contact plays were on sliders (he saw 79 sliders).

Only 39 of the 430 pitches he saw were 146 KMH (roughly 91 MPH) or above, meaning that he hasn't seen a lot of good velocity lately, something he will see if he plays in the Majors. MLB teams will have to make sure he is able to handle that kind of velocity, because his success simply won't translate to the Majors if he cannot. He has seen four 95 MPH fastballs, and he has hits on two of them, one that was in the middle of the plate (and low), and one that was away. He also whiffed and took a ball on 95 MPH fastballs. That whiff is the only whiff of the 39 pitches (he did have a check swing strike, which I think is technically considered a whiff), so it appears you can't blow good fastballs by him.

Of course, the most common pitch Itoi saw was the 4-seam fastball, seeing it 50.2 % of the time. Here is the breakdown of the rest of the pitches he saw:

79 sliders

52 curveballs

29 changeups

19 2-seamers

16 forkballs

7 cutters

1 sinker

11 "others"

Because of the right-field profile despite good speed, Norichika Aoki seems to be a somewhat logical NPB to MLB comparison for Itoi, especially since they are about 6 months apart in age. Just off hand, Itoi seems to be a slightly slower version of Aoki that hits for more power (not to mention more sensible and orthodox hitting mechanics than Aoki). Here are Aoki's last two seasons in the NPB, adjusted by league average:

2011: 112 OPS +, 121 BA +, 118 OBP +, 106 SLG +
2010: 128 OPS +, 134 BA +, 132 OBP +, 124 SLG +

Aoki definitely hits for a better average (or did in the NPB at least), but Itoi also brings better power. Overall, they seem to be similar hitters in effectiveness, but go by it in slightly different manners. The assumption that Aoki is faster is also disputable as well. In Itoi's age 29 season (2011), he had 31 steals and was caught 6 times. In Aoki's age 29 season (also 2011), he had just 8 steals in the NPB, and last had 30 or more in 2008 (of course, he did it in the Majors in 2012 as a 30 year old). Itoi's overall statistical profile seems to be a better one than Aoki's since he seems to have more speed and power, something most MLB teams would probably take over the ability to hit for average.

Even with the move to right-field (which has a 10 run difference in value from center-field according to traditional positional adjustments, but just a 5 wRC + difference in 2013 so far, or about a .022 difference in SLG), the ability to do more than hit makes Itoi a somewhat safe player as long as (potential) posting money doesn't get too high. At the very least, his ability to play defense and run the bases makes him a useful backup outfielder. Perhaps in the same vein, I think his hitting skills are diverse enough (he hits for average, power, and walks as well) that we can expect at least some of it to translate well in the Majors. He most likely isn't going to get himself out by swinging at bad pitches, can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and doesn't seem to have obvious holes in his swing. His ability to hit left-handers is a concern, but he could still be an every day player if the rest of the skills translate. I think he can be a good MLB player, a slightly above league average regular that probably isn't going to be extremely exciting, but he should hit at a level that would justify a much bigger posting fee than the ones that have been paid out for NPB hitters in recent years.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

George Springer Scouting Report

George Springer has emerged as one of the best prospects in baseball this season, making a run at 40 steals (which he already has) and 40 homers (which he was three away from when I wrote this post) for the season. The 23 year old was drafted by the Houston Astros 11th overall out of the University of Connecticut in 2011 and was rated as the 37th best prospect in baseball to start the 2013 season by Baseball America. This year, he has been destroying both AA and AAA, with a wRC + of at least 175 at both levels.

First, here is some video of a Springer at-bat from my vantage point at a game Oklahoma City played against Round Rock.

He was pitched inside pretty effectively in the game. Even though he didn't see premium velocity, pitchers were able to get in on him. Springer also had some horrible whiffs where he came completely out of his swing on breaking balls. I thought he looked pretty flawed and even bad in all of his plate appearances but one.

His one good at-bat was his homer, where he used a hard quick upper cut swing and drove a low pitch, the only pitch in the at-bat, over the wall:

He would get under the ball and did hit an infield flyball (though infield pop-ups do not seem to be a problem for him this year, he is a pure fly-ball hitter, which makes a lot of sense considering his swing path). As his heat map shows (courtesy of MLBfarm), Springer is pretty much a dead pull hitter:

So you can see why he hits for power. He uses a combination of raw strength with an uppercut swing and a pull heavy approach. So the fact that he didn't always handle fastballs well and was pitched inside effectively in my short look at him is somewhat concerning. However, he has a much higher than league average P/PA, meaning he has been working the count this season, and if you trust GameDay stringers, has been swinging at less pitches than league average outside of the strike zone.

Springer really doesn't have home/road splits (and Oklahoma City is actually slightly pitcher friendly), so it is not as if he is doing all his damage in one park. He also doesn't have real platoon splits for his career, and they are non-existent in AAA this season. The power numbers he is putting up in the highest levels of minor league baseball are real, and it is coming with walks and a high average (though he does have a high strikeout rate). 

The numbers are impressive, and I don't think you can poke holes in them in any way statistically. He is a very very good minor league player. He is also very athletic (as shown by the stolen bases), so he should be able to play the outfield well, even if he doesn't stick in center, where he has played the majority of games in his big leauge career. However, he isn't without his flaws at the plate. Because of this, I think he is less of a sure thing than his numbers suggest. The power/speed combo may be blinding enough to cause suspicions about how he looks at the plate to go away, but in the Majors, every mistake and flaw is magnified. Whether or not the rest of his game overcomes these flaws (or he fixes the flaws or the flaws happen to be exaggerated on my part because of a one game look) will determine whether or not he turns into a good Major League player.

Monday, August 26, 2013

International NPB Free Agents

Free Agency in Japan works differently than free agency in the Major Leagues. Players earn domestic free agency after eight seasons of service time in the NPB, meaning they can exercise the option (assuming they haven't signed a new deal) to become a free agent and sign with another NPB team. However, unless a team agrees to post a player, they have to wait until 9 years of service time to become (or have the option of being) an international free agent, meaning they can sign with teams overseas (read: the Major Leagues).

So I compiled a list of the players that have international free agency eligibility* and are still active. Some of the players are backups or are no longer very good, but that is okay for this list. I also put their NPB salaries converted to U.S. dollars (using 1 Yen=.010 dollars), because all other things equal, you would expect an American team to have to pay them more to get them from Japan. Of course, this isn't always the case, as some players may decide that no amount of money is worth leaving their home country and some players may decide that taking less money for a shot at making the Majors is worth it. It is just to be used as a measuring stick. I also put what the expected MLB WAR, using the 5 million dollars equals one WAR measuring stick used by FanGraphs and others to evaluate free agent contracts, next to the salary. In a world where the player would take the same amount or more money than his current NPB salary to play in the Majors, they would need to exceed that WAR to be "worth it".
As you may notice, NPB salaries are pretty low when compared to MLB free agent contracts, so nearly every player on the list just needs to play as an effective part time player to be worth their current salary in the Majors (obviously some of them are playing for less than 500,000 dollars, which is below MLB minimum). Below, I will take short looks (by no means comprehensive scouting reports) on three players that are at least interesting to me as international free agents. I have no idea whether or not any of them would consider coming to the States, so this is purely a talent, not a conjecture of their career desires, perspective.

Shinnosuke Abe has been perhaps the most prolific and well known hitters in Japan over the last several years. Despite turning 34 before the 2013 season started and really struggling to move in the WBC thanks to a previous knee injury, Abe still catches nearly every day and is enjoying a great offensive season. In fact, by OPS, he is enjoying the best season of his career, even better than his prime years before the first ball change (he hit 44 homers in 2010, the last year of the "old" ball). Only Wladimir Balentien (who is chasing the single season HR record in the NPB) and Tony Blanco have a higher OPS in the Central League (with a minimum of 50 games) than Abe, meaning he has been the best Japanese native in the league. Here is a GIF of an Abe homer to get an idea of his swing:

Catching defense is hard to evaluate, especially considering we have no metrics at all for NPB catchers, and the body type is going to turn off a lot of scouts because he doesn't look like a catcher, with more of a DH body type. That is probably fair, and he has never been a doubles/triples/stolen base guy, so interested teams would be interested in his bat. Considering the poor job MLB teams have done at evaluating NPB hitters, hesitance over guaranteeing 6 million dollars to a guy just for his bat would be understandable. With that said, his plate discipline looks like it has improved over the past couple of years, as he is now walking more than he strikes out, and by a considerable margin. An interested team wouldn't be just counting on his power to play, but he has shown the ability to hit for consistently high averages with good plate discipline, giving the power more of a chance to play up at a higher level.

As far as I know, Abe hasn't expressed interest at coming over to the Majors, but he is probably the best bet to be a successful hitter as a free agent (considering 2013 brought another disappointing class of middle infielders from the NPB, expectations and interests on Takashi Toritani is most likely low). 

Two other somewhat interesting (but considerably less interesting) possible free agents in my opinion are pitchers. The first is a NPB starter, but someone who would pitch out of relief in the Majors. 

Masanori Ishikawa is a 33 year old left-handed starter for the Yakult Swallows. His greatest claim to fame is most likely his ability to avoid walking hitters, with just a 4.2 % rate in his career, and 5.7 % rate over the last two years. As you would expect, that doesn't come with a lot of strikeouts either, with just 13.3 % for his career, and 13.9 % and 14.2 % over the last two seasons. He is also listed at 5-6 161, which despite a consistent run of 170-190 IP seasons, isn't going to interest MLB teams as a starter. However, he could be a lefty specialist, shown by his ability to limit lefty hitters to the Mendoza line this season. His release point also looks like one of a lefty specialist, as shown by the GIFs below, showing three of his pitches.




He also throws a notably slow curve and has been known to let go of an occasional screwball. He is a guy with a decent pedigree of success in the NPB, can throw strikes, and provide some deception. The big problem is that MLB teams will probably not want to pay 2 million dollars for a left-handed specialist that hasn't proven himself in the big leagues yet.

Shinichiro Koyama is a 35 year old right-handed reliever for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Despite a decline in his peripherals in 2013, he has been able to keep his earned run average near where it was in 2012, where it dipped below two. There isn't really anything flashy about Koyama other than he has finished some games in the past and throws a pretty good changeup.




*Thanks to Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times for double checking my list, which mostly came from's research.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Asher Wojciechowski Scouting Report

Asher Wojciechowski is a 24 year old right-handed pitcher in the Astros' AAA affiliate. Wojciechowski was acquired by the Astros in the ten player J.A. Happ trade before the 2012 trade deadline. In 2010, he was the 41st overall pick out of the draft by the Blue Jays. He began the 2013 season in AA, but was quickly promoted to the PCL, where he has a 4.30 SIERA and 4.14 kwERA (league average is 4.14 and 4.16 respectively) with a low groundball rate in 123 innings.

He has nice size (listed at 6-4), with broad shoulders to go along with it. He sure looks like a workhorse starter to me based on size. I don't neccessarily love the stop and go in his delivery, which you can see in GIF form here:

To get a centerfield camera look, this one I got from MiLB TV when he was with Corpus Christi (AA).

I also got a video look from the side (thanks to Daniel, my brother for doing the videos) to further look at his delivery:

This second one is a longer version:

If you don't want to watch the video or would just like a screenshot version (I know most people don't watch all the videos in prospect posts):

 Asher takes a long strike, bringing the ball behind him as he brings his glove pretty straight forward. His arm seems pretty in sync with his whole body, coming forward as he finishes his stride. 
 This makes his release point look pretty good, finishing with a pretty standard arm angle.
His landing point seems to be pretty standard and smooth as well.

I watched him pitch against the Rangers' AAA affiliate, a team that is both slightly below PCL averages in age and runs per game, and early on Wojciechowski took advantage of passiveness on the part of the Round Rock hitters, getting a lot of called strikes (though he began the game by getting Jim Adduci to have a horrible whiff on the first at-bat with a fastball). The 2nd time around the order he got touched up pretty hard on pitches that stayed over the plate. His off-speed pitch got hit hard by Brendan Harris and Aaron Cunningham (to be fair, Cunningham showed off a good contact tool by being able to hit a pitch outside the strike zone for a hit) a couple of times, two players that have clearly failed at the Major League level (Cunningham had a -.8 oWAR in the Majors, and while Harris had some early success, he didn't have any MLB at-bats 2011-2012 and was just signed as a free agent by the Rangers). To his credit, he bounced back and had a nice outing by dominating the third time through the order.

I charted all the pitches in the entire game based on the velocities from the ballpark radar gun (which missed a few, and Wojciechowski's case, three). The only results I labelled was the at-bat ending result.
Wojciechowski sunk the ball and kept it low a lot, which explains a lot of the grounders. His first off-speed pitch was a wild pitch. He would do the same thing a couple more times, just not getting the ball to the plate. He caused Solarte to have a horrible swing on one of the slower breaking pitches.

His average pitch was 87.1 MPH, with an average fastball of about 89.6 MPH. He topped out at 92 MPH, and his off-speed averaged 79.9 MPH, in the 79-82 MPH range. All of his called strikeouts came on fastballs, as did his one swinging strikeout. The vast majority of his contact plays also came on fastballs as well. He threw fastballs about 74 % of the time, which would be one of the highest rates in the Major Leagues (only lower than Bartolo Colon if BIS tags are to be trusted). While I am not aware of any rules enforced by the Astros, there should always be some caution when looking at minor league pitch selection since sometimes pitchers are instructed to throw a certain percentage of one pitch.

While the size shouldn't be overlooked, there is nothing in either his numbers or his fastball that screams future successful big league starter. It looked like he was just using one off-speed pitch as well and it wasn't particularly devastating. With that said, he has solid fastball control, even though the off-speed pitch isn't quite there yet. As a big guy who can fill up the strike zone, he should have a spot on some Major League rosters, but I don't think he is an impact starting pitcher. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Deliveries of the Nippon Ham Fighters

This post is a GIF heavy post, so depending on your browser and internet connection, you may want to leave the article open and let it load for a while. This post shows the deliveries of the different pitchers on the Nippon Ham Fighters of the NPB. The pitchers should be in order of their uniform number. The GIFs are made from different YouTube videos of the pitches, and while I got most of the pitchers, I couldn't get everyone (the ones I didn't get were usually rookie or Ni-Gun pitchers). I usually prefer the centerfield camera look, but many of these are from an angle or even from behind the plate.

Shohei Otani

Yuya Ishii

Yutaka Otsuka

Masahiro Inui

Brian Wolfe

Yuki Saito

Hirotoshi Masui

Keisaku Itokazu

Hisashi Takeda:

 Naoki Miyanishi

Hayato Arakaki

Hiroshi Kisanuki

Bobby Keppel

Tomohisa Nemoto

Toshiyuki Yanuki

Yodai Enoshita 

Masaru Nakamura

Masaru Takeda

Ryuji Wakatake

Yusuke Uemura

Toshiharu Moriuchi

Keisuke Tanimoto

John Clayton Unten

Shogo Yagi

 Masaru Saito

Hidekazu Kawano
Naoyuki Uwasawa

Kazuhito Tadano