Monday, September 30, 2013

University of Texas Fall 2013 Pitcher Scouting Reports

I saw one of the University of Texas' fall baseball games, their Saturday game against Lamar, so this post is a look at the five pitchers that appeared in the game for UT

Josh Sawyer
Sawyer is a 6-2 freshman that still looks thin with the ability to perhaps add a little weight to his frame. The left-handed pitcher was throwing 84-87 MPH on his fastball with the ability to get it glove side. His 74-75 MPH breaking ball had good depth, with some horizontal movement as well. He used the pitch quite often, but he got hit pretty hard overall, even on pitches on the outside of the strike zone.  

Morgan Cooper
 The 6-5 freshman right-hander complemented a 88-90 MPH fastball with a slow 69-73 MPH hook.

Ty Culbreth
 The 6-0 sophomore got some whiffs against lefties with a 86-87 MPH fastball, and had a 77 MPH  breaking ball to go with it.

Justin Peters:
Peters is a 6-4 junior who redshirted last year after spending 2011 with Weatherford College and 2012 with UT. It seemed like he went with all fastballs with his funky release point, throwing 82-86 MPH.

Jon Malmin
The 6-0 freshman should add a little weight and a should throw harder than his current 84-87 MPH fastball that seemed to have cutter or slider movement at times with a 72-73 MPH curve.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Brother Elephants Pitcher Scouting Reports

In a previous post, I looked at three CPBL pitchers who could be possibly be considered MLB prospects. However, since the league contains only four teams, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the pitchers on each team similar to how I have been looking at the deliveries in the NPB. Since complete games in the CPBL are kept on YouTube, I watched each pitcher, wrote some short notes on their pitches, and GIF'd their deliveries, just as an introduction for people not knowing anything about the CPBL but wanting to start to get to know the players. I am not doing the teams in any particular order, and the first team is the Brother Elephants. The Brothers are last in the league in overall 2013 record, but have the best pitching staff just by runs allowed (they have scored the fewest amount of runs). Hiroki Sanada and Ta-Yuan Kuan were in the post linked to above, so they won't be in this post.

I tried my best with the names, but unlike the NPB and KBO, there aren't always easy to find English translations. If you know of a better translation of a name, leave it in the comments and I will link to it or change the name (ironically, the biggest reason I wanted to do some CPBL posts is because there are basically no English resources available, which also makes doing so without being bilingual difficult). All velocity numbers are translated from KM/H to MPH.

Lin En-Yu
He was recently replaced on the active roster by Li Juguan, but he was on the roster when I started working on this, and he has more innings, so I included him. He has pretty good size, and brings his hands over his head facing the hitter before his leg kick, which isn't part of his stride. After all this, he comes forward pretty standard.
82-86 fastball
72-76 soft slider
64 curve

Yu-Ching Lin
The 24 year old has backed up a strong 2012 campaign with a slightly better 2013 campaign. His numbers are virtually the same other than walks, an area where he has improved. Just under 6 feet tall, he uses a hip turn to bring his body away from the hitter with a high leg kick, followed by a bizarre arm action.
84-88, velocity picked up to the higher stages in the second inning. Could get some downward movement on it.

76 slider mostly downward break, 73 more of a curve.

76-78 splitter like pitch that breaks arm side

A lot of deception in his overall games, a lot of bad chases out of the zone by CPBL hitters.

Miguel Mejia
The 25 year old pitched in both the Marlins and Tigers systems, almost exclusively out of the bullpen. Nothing was spectacular about his numbers, and he racked up just 131 innings in 3 years. At about 6-2 or 6-3, he uses a pause in the middle of his leg kick, and it seems to upset his own delivery timing, along with the hitter's. There is a tilt backwards in his delivery before slinging his arm forward.

92-94 early, down to 87-91 after the first couple of batters.
73 slider, good two way movement, not close to the strike zone.
78-80 splitter, up to 84

Brad Thomas
LHP, easily the tallest pitcher on the team, standing at about 6'4. According to Pitch F/X, when Thomas was in the Majors, his fastball was about 91 MPH and he threw a sinker, curve and a changeup, but here is what I saw watching him in the CPBL:

91-92, really likes to come in on right-handed hitters.

79-80 unimpressive slider he can throw for a strike
Luo Guohua
The 26 year old is enjoying his best season, posting a 3.82 ERA as a reliever.
He has a really standard delivery, standing just over 6 feet tall.

82-84 sometimes moves arm side.

75-77 breaking ball he struggled to get down, though on the occasions that he can, he gets good two way movement.

72 more of a curvey breaking ball 
Sung-Wei Tseng
RHP SP is about 5-10. This year has been the 28 year old's biggest year by far when it comes to innings pitched, and while his ERA and groundball rates held well, his strikeout to walk rate leaves something to be desired (50 to 41 in over 130 innings).
83-86, up to 87-89. 2-seamer can come in on RHB, and can throw it low with good movement.

72-74 curve/slider

Mid 70s changeup/slider he left up a lot.

Po-Hsuan Keng
At about 6 feet tall, the 28 year old has been a 1 inning reliever throughout his career (actually averaging less than an inning an outing). He is not much of a strikeout pitcher, relying on groundouts instead. He has pretty good size, good weight, broad shoulders, but slings the ball sidearm. It is more of a high sidearm, not a low sidearm.
84-86, gets some sink or 2-seam run, down to 83-84, up to 88
78 change
73 slider breaks glove side, something to go away from right-handed hitters.

 Wu Ming-Hsu
Also about 6 feet tall, the CPBL rookie threw 23.1 innings this year, so the jury seems to still be out on the 25 year old. He slings the ball hard, with a little bit wobbly landing point. Fastball command seems to be some kind of issue
89-92, gets up to 93-94, down to 86-88 with a little more command and ability to get it low.
81-82 slider, gets it glove side, not a lot of movement either way, a strike pitch
72 curve
79 split

Hung-Wen Chen
First year in the CPBL has been successful, with a 3.07 ERA and 3.6 K/BB ratio. The 27 year old pitched in the Cubs' minor league system from 2007-2011, enjoying some success, getting all the way to AAA, but not missing a lot of bats. He also spent part of 2011 in the Mexican League, where he dominated as mostly a closer in 34.2 innings. A pretty big looking guy, but actually stands under 6 feet. He has a leg sweep more than a kick, though he does come up some. Comes forward after he has set the leg back down.

87-91 up to 92-93 at end of outing can get some downward movement on it. He seemed to use it both arm side and glove side and would pitch inside to righties.

74-79 got up to 80 soft slider (though it doesn't look like a slider grip, the movement didn't look like a splitter, maybe a separate splitter), didn't seem to get it down well, a strike pitch.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chris Resop: Effective Dragon?

According to recent reports out of Japan, the Chunichi Dragons of the NPB are interested in Athletics' reliever Chris Resop. Resop spent 2013 split between the A's AAA team and MLB team, pitching well for neither. Former KBO pitcher Brian Gordon had a 2.45 FIP on the same AAA team, and former NPB reliever Hideki Okajima had a 3.24 FIP on the team. Resop's was 4.66, striking out less than 18 % of batters and predictably struggling with homers in the hitter friendly PCL. In Oakland, he was worse, striking out even fewer batters in his 18 outings and struggling with walks. For his career, Resop has been a good example of a replacement level reliever (0.0 fWAR, .2rWAR, 1.0 WARP), pitching in MLB games in every year except 2009 since 2005, totalling 243.1 innings pitched.

Resop pitched has pitched in Japan before, in 2008 with the Tigers, but it didn't go well. He made 8 appearances with the Ichi-Gun team, four of them starts, and struck out just 6 of the 99 batters he faced, giving up 18 runs. In the Ni-Gun, he had better peripherals (21K/6 BB out of 84 batters faced), but still had an ERA over 5. So certainly statistically, it is a little curious why the Dragons would be interested in Resop. The Dragons have used three foreign pitchers in 2013, and they combined for a strikeout percentage of 14 % (Central League average is about 17.6 %), so they clearly need foreign pitchers who can miss bats next year (Daniel Cabrera will be back, Brad Bergesen will not be, and from what I have read, Warner Madrigal's status is still up in the air), but Resop has a history of not missing bats.

It was a year before Yahoo data was tracked by NPB Tracker, but Resop did pitch some in the Majors that season, and his average fastball out of the bullpen was 93.4 MPH. Using the roughly 1.5 MPH difference from starters and relievers that we see in the Majors, Resop's average fastball was probably about 92 MPH or lower in Japan, which is probably about 4 MPH better than a league average NPB starter. So it is not hard to see why he was attractive to the Tigers, he threw pretty hard, it just didn't translate to him missing any bats.

I couldn't find any video of him in Japan, so we will use MLB Pitch F/X data to evaluate Resop and see whether or not there are reasons to expect that he will be better in the NPB if given another chance.

Here is where he located his pitches, along with their velocities in 2013 with Oakland:

He is clearly a low ball pitcher, even though he is not extremely tall for a RHP in the Majors (listed at 6-3), he is taller than 9 of the 10 Dragons' 2013 leaders in IP (only the gigantic Daniel Cabrera is taller). Height does appear to be something NPB teams look for in foreign pitchers because of scarcity in their own countries. Stereotypes aside, the average Japanese male is 5-7, while the average American male is 5-10. The country of Japan also has just over a third of the amount of people that the United States has, so just by sheer probability, the United States, and thus the MLB, are likely to have more tall people to spare than Japan. We see this play out in the NPB's acquisitions of foreign hitters as well, as Japanese teams are much more likely to go after sluggers like Wladimir Balentien and Michael Abreu than go after speed and defense players. That doesn't mean there aren't some tall Japanese pitchers or big powerful Japanese sluggers, because there are. NPB teams just appear to feel that these roles are easier filled by foreign players, while speed and defense players, along with sidearming or "junkball" pitchers are easier to fill using the drafting of native players. The problem is, Resop doesn't appear to be a hard thrower anymore, falling under MLB average for reliever fastball velocity.

For reference, here is what his release point looks like in picture form:

Even though he gets the ball low, he doesn't seem to do a great job of using his height, as it seems that he isn't very upright at the time of release, perhaps having a bit of arm drag (though it could be overstated, as he still does an adequate job of staying upright). Here is what his release point in graph form looks like compared to the 2013 Dragons that have pitched in the Majors, using Pitch F/X data:

His release point is under 6 feet, but it is pretty close to the center of the plate, not coming too far out for hitters from the left side to pick up too easily.

For a more full look, here is a GIF of his delivery, and a home run on a low sinker:

Since I have only done the Pacific League when looking at the deliveries of NPB pitchers, we can't compare his deliveries to Dragons' pitchers, but we can flip through the deliveries of some of the pitchers in the NPB that he compares to. To me, he has a pretty simple delivery, coming mostly straight forward. He doesn't pause or hesitate, but it seems he is a little slow to get started. His front leg leads you to believe he is coming forward, but he holds his body back for just a split second. The delivery itself reminds me of the deliveries of Brian Wolfe, Ming-Chieh Hsu, and Yoshihiro Ito. Those are three different pitchers, as Wolfe is a command guy, Hsu is washed up and didn't miss many bats, and Ito walks more guys than league average, but misses much more bats than the other two. Because of Resop's strikeout history, he is closer to either Hsu or Wolfe. If the Dragons sign Resop and he pitches like Wolfe, they are thrilled, but the last time he was in Japan, he pitched like Hsu. His release point reminds me of Darrell Rasner's, though Rasner is more upright and more ideal (perhaps ironic since he just had Tommy John Surgery), who has started games in the Majors and has been a successful closer in the NPB.

For his career, Resop is mostly better against righties as you would expect, but he doesn't give up near as much power to left-handed batters. This may be randomness, but could also be because he keeps the ball away from lefties.
The only pitch he gets glove side is his slider, something he doesn't use a lot (in fact, this year was clearly the most he had ever used it). He also started using the changeup a lot more in 2013.

Perhaps the uptick in secondary pitch usage will allow him to be a successful starter again like he was in AAA in 2010, but I don't think the diminished fastball, along with the statistical eyesores can be ignored. He is someone that has been on NPB radars for a while, as he was also rumored to be heading to Japan before the 2013 season, but I don't quite see the value. The Dragons should look elsewhere, to someone who has a more defined role, or at the very least, has a longer history of missing bats. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Projecting KBO Pitchers Using Hyun-Jin Ryu's First MLB Season

Hyun-jin Ryu has finished his first regular season in the Majors with the Dodgers, with his last start of the year being on Tuesday night. He ends the season with a rWAR and fWAR over 3.0, pitching at an above MLB average rate, even when considering park factors.

Here is how Ryu's last two seasons breakdown:
2012 KBO: 70 ERA -, 66 FIP - (just based off league averages)
2013 MLB: 83 ERA -, 91 FIP - (FanGraphs)

This of course got me thinking of how current KBO pitchers might fare in the Majors if given a chance. Offense is up in the KBO this year, league average ERA is now 4.31, which is why I used the adjusted ERA and FIP for Ryu. A 3.02 ERA in 2013 would be considered as good as Ryu's 2012 season (a 2.84 FIP would be considered as good as Ryu's 2012 FIP). In the Majors, 130 FIP - is about replacement level. The most aggressive translation (penalizing the KBO pitchers the most) would be 25 FIP - points. So, if we used a direct translation, any pitcher with a 105 ERA/FIP - in the KBO could be considered MLB replacement level talented. This is about 4.53 ERA, or the top 20 KBO starters (11 Korean Natives). I only used starters in this post, because Ryu is a starter and to bring bullpen pitchers into the mix, we would have to adjust for reliever/starter splits. 

Out of the 9 non Korean Natives that project to be at least replacement level in the Majors, using career rWAR:
1 no MLB experience
5 under replacement
1 right at replacement
2 above replacement

It should be noted that I projected Ryu as a middle of the rotation/league average MLB starter. He clearly outperformed that projection in the first year, translating better than expected. So it is no surprise that using the way Ryu translated to the Majors, we would be projecting below replacement pitchers to perform at least replacement level. Again, translations are useful because they help us know who to look for, especially if we haven't seen all the players play enough to have the general scouting information that helps MLB teams make decisions on amateur or (in this case) foreign. But, they do not substitute that information.

So here is a list of the 11 Korean pitchers with their current ages whose ERA projects as better than replacement level in the Majors. I also put their 2013 FIPs for comparison, along with their fastball velocities, taken from Naver (except Lee Jae-Hak, who doesn't have a Naver scouting report, I just put his velocity from personal observation. Yu Heui-Kwan doesn't have a Naver scouting report, so he is a future article candidate. If a player has a link attached to their name, I have written about them in the past).

Lee Jae-Hak, 22 years old, 3.49 FIP, 85-89 MPH

Yoon Sung-Hwan, 31 years old, 3.66 FIP, 83-91 MPH

Yu Heui-Kwan, 27 years old, 3.61 FIP

Woo Kyu-Min, 28 years old, 2.96 FIP, 84-89 MPH

No Kyeong-Eun, 29 years old, 3.84 FIP, 86-94 MPH

Yoon Hi-Sang, 28 years old, 4.00 FIP, 84-92 MPH

Song Seung-Jun, 33 years old, 3.82 FIP, 81-92 MPH

Jang Won-Sam, 30 years old, 4.30 FIP, 85-91 MPH

Kang Yoon-Koo, 23 years old, 3.07 FIP, 86-94 MPH

Kim Kwang-Hyun, 25 years old, 4.32 FIP, 83-93 MPH

Bae Young-Soo, 32 years old, 3.42 FIP, 86-92 MPH

Based on the simple Ryu translation, 75 ERA/FIP- in the KBO could be considered MLB average or 3rd starter type. This would be a 3.23 ERA or better. Lee is the only Korean native that has an ERA good enough this year, while Woo and Kang are the Korean natives with FIPs good enough to project as above average in the MLB. Kang also seems to have the best fastball of the group (or is tied with No), though none have as good of a fastball as Ryu (he was listed at 87-95 MPH by Naver).

Charlie Shirek: 3.40 FIP

Chris Seddon: 3.52 FIP

Radhames Liz: 3.35 FIP

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is the Radar Gun in Japan "Cold"?

In my article on Masahiro Tanaka, I speculated that Tanaka could see an average fastball velocity increase in the Majors because of some slow pitches that were tagged as fastballs by Yahoo!. The point was that the MLBAM tags seem to be superior to Yahoo! tags, so the fastball wouldn't actually be better, it would just look harder thanks to better labels, even if it is a slight increase. However, I have had a couple of readers on Twitter argue that pitchers who go from the NPB to the Majors have an increase in fastballs for whatever reason, unrelated to Yahoo's taggings. With Patrick Newman getting his NPB pitch data back online, this is something we can test. The data starts in 2009 and (currently) ends at 2012, so I looked through the player index, and looked for pitchers that pitched in the Majors as well as the NPB. I then removed every player that didn't play in the Majors and the NPB in consecutive years, because if there is a gap in years, then of course there will be drastic velocity changes. I only inputted the fastball velocities of the consecutive years. To use Yu Darvish as an example, I used just his 2011 NPB fastball velocity and just his 2012 MLB fastball velocity (there were a few pitchers that pitched in the MLB, then Japan, then the MLB again. For those pitchers, I used the first year of the second stint of the MLB as the velocity, along with the last year of the NPB stint). For the MLB velocity, I just used FanGraphs' Pitch F/X section for ease. I got 44 pitchers in my sample, not a large one, but one that should at least give us an idea of whether or not the hypothesis is correct.

The pitchers' average fastball velocity in the NPB was 89.04 MPH, while their average velocity was 91.22 MPH in the Majors, a gigantic 2.18 MPH difference. Of course, it isn't that easy. Many times, pitchers that were used as fringe relievers in the MLB were/are signed to NPB teams to be used as starters. If a pitcher pitches in relief in the Majors, and then as a starter in the NPB, then their average fastball velocity will be artificially down in Japan. For instance, in the Majors, the average velocity for starters is 91.4 MPH in 2013, and 92.9 MPH for relievers. This doesn't make up the whole difference, but it does possibly explain at least some of this. So I looked at the 44 pitchers again, and noted whether or not they changed from a starter to reliever or vise versa (if the majority of their outings were as a starter, I considered them a starter, etc.). Only 19 of them actually had role changes, with the other 25 staying the same.

Out of the 25 that stayed in the same role, their average NPB velocity was 90.02, while their average MLB velocity was 91.66 MPH. So there still seems to be a difference of about 1.5 MPH in velocity between the NPB and the Majors. The actual reason for this is unclear, and any theories put forth by me would all be speculation. Also, I should note that I didn't look at 2013 data, so there is always the chance that this has changed in someway, but for now, it appears that Yahoo's radar gun readings for the NPB are about 1.5 MPH slow compared to those of MLBAM's 50 foot release point designation.

There should be some caution exercised however, with a sample size this small, because there could be other factors driving the velocity changes. For example, two of the biggest velocity climbers from the NPB to the Majors were Hisashi Iwakuma and Chang-yong Lim, whose velocity increases could be explained, at least partially, from better health in the Majors (Iwakuma has batted shoulder problems in his career and was scarcely used in the first half of the season with Seattle, only to emerge in the rotation in the second half, Lim had Tommy John surgery in 2012, and his 2013 season is him coming off that. These injuries could have slowed down their fastballs in their last year of the NPB, while the MLB version of the pitcher is the healthy version). Pitchers like Yoshinori Tateyama, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish actually saw a small decrease in velocity from the NPB to the Majors (all of them going to Texas), and Kam Mickolio has actually gained about a MPH in Japan after leaving the Majors.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Can Wladimir Balentien Successfully Return to the Majors?

Wladimir Balentien has become one of the biggest baseball stories around the world as he shattered the NPB home run record despite missing the first couple weeks of the season, doing it in a less hitter friendly run environment than the previous record holders of Oh, Cabrera, and Rhodes (league average home run rate in the NPB Central League is 2.195 % this season, Wladimir Balentien is hitting home runs 11.3 % of his plate appearances, or a HR % + of 516. That puts, relative to league, Barry Bonds' 2001 of 371 HR % + and Chris Davis' 2013 of 264 HR % + to shame, though it isn't quite as impressive as Babe Ruth's 1927, where he had a 951 HR% +). However, Wladimir isn't just hitting home runs. The hitter that was once considered undisciplined and struck out in 26.7 % of Major League at-bats (though he showed some plate discipline at AAA, walking 9.75 % of the time and striking out less than 19 % of the time) has walked nearly exactly as many times as he struck out in the NPB this year. No doubt some of this is a function of being pitched around, but even when you take out his intentional walks, he is still walking 17.8 % of the time, or about 9.25 % better than league average. Tony Blanco, second in league slugging, is walking 11 % of the time, while the best native NPB power hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, has walked 15.8 % of the time, so even compared to the best power hitters in the league, Balentien is walking a lot.

It was an adjustment fellow former-MLB/AAAA power hitter Wily Mo Pena never made. Pena burst onto the NPB scene with long home runs to start the 2011 season, but slowed down significantly, only hitting 21 homers and walking just 6.9 % of the time. This year, he has been nothing short of a disaster, spending a lot of time in the Ni-Gun (the Japanese minor leagues) and just hitting his first Ichi-gun home run in the last couple of weeks. Pena's AAA power numbers were significantly better than Wladimir's as well (though he didn't have the K/BB of Balentien). Despite the time wasted on articles about a "juiced" ball in the NPB, Wladimir's season is nothing short of special statistically, with a 215 SLG + and 182 OPS + relative to 2013 averages. This is an improvement over his 2011 and 2012 seasons, where he had a SLG + of 138 and 169 respectively.

Reports of whether or not Wladimir is interested in coming back to the Majors, are as always, mixed. Sources say that he wants to come back, while Wladimir is still under contract for the next few seasons, and insists that he wants to not only stay a Yakult Swallow until the contract runs out, but play for the team until he retires. If a MLB team does make a serious run at Wladimir, and he is interested, then the actual mechanics of him coming back to the MLB might be a little complicated, with some kind of buyout needing to take place. The point is, if a MLB team does acquire Wladimir Balentien, it won't be for cheap. He is making real guaranteed money in Japan, and not only would the MLB team have to dish out the money for him to be interested, they are probably going to have to pay the Swallows as well. Considering that Balentien slugged .374 in 559 big league plate appearances, hitting at a below replacement level, scouts and executives are going to need to see the tangible evidence that he has changed as a hitter, and isn't just a hitter whose game translated to Japan better than expected. That is, figuring out which hitters will translate from Japan to the Majors, or vise versa, is hard work (pitchers, as fickle as they are, are obviously easier, as both MLB and NPB teams successfully acquire quality "foreign" pitchers much more often than hitters). Balentien obviously translated from somewhat of a AAAA player to a great NPB hitter. The question for MLB teams watching Balentien put together one of the best power hitting seasons ever seen is this: Is he still the hitter that struggled to have his raw power come out in games in 2008 or 2009, or has his time in Japan allowed him to become a different and objectively better hitter that would succeed against MLB pitching if given another chance? Notice I am not asking: "Is Wladimir Balentien's home run title legitimate?" or "Is the power Wladimir has shown this year "real"?" The answer to those questions is yes, of course. The statistics don't lie. Wladimir went to one of the best leagues in the world and has outhit players that actually had success in the Majors, such as Casey McGehee, Lastings Milledge, and Andruw Jones. We aren't asking if he is statistically interesting as a "MLB prospect". He is. This post is just an attempt at doing the work to see, from a somewhat advanced scouting perspective, whether or not the incredible statistics would translate to the Major Leagues.

First, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at his swing, comparing his current swing with the Yakult Swallows to the swing he used while in the Majors. By doing so, perhaps we can spot any major mechanical differences that may be helping him, if they exist. So with the caveat that I think trying to find little things in swing mechanics often come with confirmation biases (my favorite example is Ike Davis. When he is struggling, everyone talks about where his hands are, despite the fact that he has had quite a bit of MLB success with his hands in the same spot), let's take a look at a few GIFs.

Here is Wladimir pulling a home run for the Seattle Mariners:

Here is Wladimir's last MLB home run, a pulled shot with the Reds:

The swing looks the same in both of the MLB GIFs to me. It is a hard violent rip with a violent twisting of the body to pull the ball and almost sling the bat along with him. The head looks fine, and he seems to be under relative control with a firm foot. It is a hard swing, and I can't speak to bat speed, but he isn't completely wild.

This groundball single from the WBC demonstrates how well he stays in I believe:

Here is his 56th homer of the year in 2013:

If anything, he seems to come out of his stance a little more, "swinging from the heels" more than he did in the above GIFs. There is more motion in his overall swing, but there seems to be a little more reach, a little more plate coverage. If you are desperately trying to prove that Balentien has improved, you could argue that his swinging motion is less binary, and that he is adjusting to balls better. Whether or not the bat seems faster is impossible for me to tell, I don't see a difference at least. So other than maybe more plate coverage, I don't think swing mechanics are very helpful in the case that Wladimir will adjust to MLB pitching better if given another chance. Looking at the data below will be much more helpful.

One of the first questions, whether rightly or wrongly, risen about hitters playing in Japan is whether or not they can handle elite fastballs, something that they don't see often in the NPB. We can look back at Wladimir's time in the Majors and see that he saw 112 pitches above 95 MPH. He swung at missed at 20 of them and made contact (balls put in play) with 9 of them. So despite only seeing a few pitches about 99 MPH and none above 100, he swing and missed at 95 MPH + fastballs like they were at least 99 MPH according to our fastball velocity breakdowns.

So it does seem like this was a problem for Wladimir, whether he was slow to recognize pitches, or his swing was long enough that he couldn't catch up to them. Of course, hitting elite fastballs isn't the only thing MLB hitters have to do to be successful, so let's take a look at his overall Pitch F/X data while he was in the Majors, starting with his average result locations:

While most MLB hitters are more likely to hit homers on balls closer to them and higher in the zone, swinging and missing at pitches lower and away, Balentien was pretty extreme. He did like faster and straighter pitches, making contact with pitches about the same velocity as the average pitch, but hitting homers on pitches more likely to be fastballs. Perhaps one of the reasons his power didn't play in the Majors was because he relied on getting pitches in zones that pitchers wouldn't throw many pitches. He would look for high and in fastballs, and pitchers knew it, so they wouldn't give it to him.

He clearly had a plan as the difference between the pitches Balentien swung at and the ones he took shows:

Though he didn't have a great walk rate, he was a pretty selective hitter. He got a lot of pitches low and away, and he didn't swing at many of them because he knew that he would just swing and miss. He would make pitchers come up in the strike zone to him. I think this helps show that he had his zone and a plan at the plate, but it was so binary that pitchers knew it and knew how to attack him.

Here are the locations and velocities of all of Wladimir's homers:

Notice that the vast majority of them are in the 85-91 MPH range. The only really good fastball he hit for a home was away, giving him more time to catch up, and he only had one homer on really slow pitch.

Of course, with him in the NPB now, we do have some version of pitch data, and for the purposes of this post, I will use the Gen's breakdown at on Balentien's strike zone and homers this season. Out of respect for one of my favorite sites to read about NPB baseball, I won't republish any of his graphs (only commenting on them in general terms) and encourage readers to read that post as well (it has more graphs and less words than this post).

Here is Balentien's heat maps as a MLBer (via Brooks Baseball). I don't love using batting average, but that is what Gen used (if you do follow the link and look at his graphs, remember that Pitch F/X graphs, such as the ones above and the one below, are from the catcher's perspective, while the Yahoo! NPB graphs Gen used are from the pitcher's perspective. So they are basically flipped), so this way we can compare them better.
Balentien couldn't do anything with balls up and in for the most part, but did really well on balls down and in. In the NPB, it appears that his best zones have been up, mainly up and away, a below average spot for him in the Majors. Down and away in the zone seems to be a weakness for Balentien in the NPB, while he was good on those pitches in the Majors. He isn't as strong on inside pitches in the NPB as well. It seems that the best way for NPB pitchers to pitch to him is to keep the ball low. Anything high or over the middle of the plate gets destroyed. He will swing and miss at fastballs high, but his real swing and miss spots are on breaking balls thrown low and away, according to the graphs on Yakyubaka. However, when breaking balls are kept in the middle of the zone, that is "hung", Wladimir takes advantage of them.

Just two of his first 50 home runs of the season came on pitches thrown middle in or up and in, so it doesn't appear that he has fixed that part of his swing, which makes his particularness in the MLB (where he wanted pitchers to throw up and in on him) a little strange. It seems that he wanted pitches up and in (more likely, up and in the middle of the plate), though he actually struggles on these kinds of pitches, especially if they have plus velocity.

After looking at Wladimir's mechanics and the pitches he likes to swing at or struggles with, the next logical step seems to be to take a look at where the ball goes when Wladimir hits it. In Japan so far, the answer seems to be "far" or "over the fence", but we can start by looking at his spray chart as a MLBer spray chart as a MLBer (via Texas Leaguers):

There is some opposite field power there, but the vast majority of his home runs and batted balls (especially when you look at all the outs in the infield) come on pulled balls. For perspective, as a MLBer, Wladimir pulled the ball 31.1 % of the time. MLB average for right-handed batters (at least in 2013) is 26.7 %. 50.05 % of homers by right-handed batters are pulled, while 9 of Wladimir's homers (60 %) came on pulled balls. As I think you could have guessed from the GIFs above, he was a pretty heavy pull hitter.

To test if this was still the case, I watched Wladimir's first 55 home runs of the year (from Yakyubaka's video) and labelled them by what field they were hit to:
37 pulled
9 center
9 opposite

So he is still a pull hitter, and perhaps even more aggressively so. I think him being a pull hitter that doesn't handle up and in pitches well is pretty concerning from a Major League perspective. One could speculate all day on what goes on in someone else's mind and not get very far, but perhaps Wladimir feels that while a pull happy approach in the Majors didn't exactly work for him, he can pull everything in Japan, that he can just wait for the mistake with the breaking ball, or wait for the pitcher to finally throw a fastball, and pull it with authority. We know that the average fastball for a starter in Japan is about 5 MPH off the average fastball for a MLB pitcher. This makes it somewhat hard to evaluate hitters coming from Japan (or Cuba or Korea, or even AAA) to the Majors, though at least you can quantify the fastball difference. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to quantify the breaking ball difference. Not only are breaking balls different in the NPB (some examples include more slow curves and less hard curves, sliders thrown for strikes to hitters on both sides of the plate, and less changeups and more splitters), but they are also hard to grade by quality. Are the breaking balls Wladimir is seeing in the NPB worse than the ones he would see in the MLB? And by how much? How can we even estimate it, much less know the difference?

He has gotten better on balls away, but not on balls in. There are still holes in his offensive game that you can point to and lead you to believe that he would not be a successful NPB hitter. However, to use a name I mentioned above, there are still a lot of holes in Chris Davis' game. He still strikes out nearly 30 % of the time. However, he seems to have harnessed his raw power enough to bring it into games consistently (we will see if it is something he can do over multiple seasons, but I would say that a 50 + home run season means he has done pretty well) by improving his plate discipline, getting his walk rate from below 7 % to above 10 %. So even with the apparent flaws in his game, Wladimir's extreme power with improved plate discipline, with less swings on breaking balls out of the zone leading to more walks, he could still be a potent force in any lineup in the world. Perhaps he is already there, as a Yomiuri Giants coach argues:

"His eye has improved a lot...Compared to last year, he is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Statistically Interesting CPBL Pitchers

In a previous post, I looked at three Chinese Professional Baseball League hitters that were interesting statistically from an international point of view, basing "interesting" off hitters that outperformed Manny Ramirez in some capacity. Skeptical of what the league has to offer when it comes to power, I wanted to see if some of the best statistical pitchers in the league were interesting from an international perspective.

Just like in the NPB and the KBO, there have been many foreign pitchers come and pitch in the CPBL, but at least for now, I won't use any kind of statistical translation because those aren't always helpful (though it appears that the official site makes it easy to navigate from year to year, so it may be worth taking a look in a post in the future). Instead, I'll just use the best foreign pitchers in 2013 as benchmarks to find three native players that are statistically interesting.

Andrew Sisco 2.7 ERA lead all qualified starters in the CPBL, and in the big leagues was an above replacement but below average pitcher. Brian Burres (0 rWAR, -3.3 WAA) had a 3.49 ERA , JD Durbin (-.6 WAR, -1.3 WAA) had a 2.89 ERA, and career minor leaguer/independent player Zach Hammes had a 2.72 ERA. Brad Thomas is a closer that had a 1.44 ERA (but 1.26 WHIP), was below replacement level in the Majors.

There were three pitchers in the CPBL (with more than 30 IP or so) with an ERA under 2.7 (Sisco's mark) and WHIP under 1.26 (Thomas' mark). For the purposes of this post, it made sense to focus on those three pitchers (in the future I hope to have some more CPBL scouting reports and pay more attention to the league, a league that seems to be attracting higher profile names, but with almost no English exposure).

Fu Yu Gang is a 25 year old right-handed pitcher that has been an extremely effective reliever. He has actually been a little worse this year with a 1.63 ERA after his 1.20 ERA in 2012, coming with a strikeout an inning. The slight drop in strikeouts and the increase in walks is concerning, as he certainly shouldn't be declining at his age. As perhaps the GIF below shows, he doesn't have imposing height, and he is a little on the heavy side.

He comes up before coming forward, separating his hands after he comes set, kicking his leg up and slightly outward before coming forward. His arm motion seems to be a bit over the top, and while the top of his body peels to the left, his legs take him pretty straight forward, giving him a decent landing point. I could see how it would upset a hitter's timing, and since everything eventually comes over, I don't see a huge red flag, other than it is just a lot going on.

He reportedly gets up to 93 MPH (I saw 87-89 MPH when I watched him) with a slider, curve, and change. The curve has tremendous slow loop at 74 MPH, looks like he can throw it for a strike. The slider (78-82 MPH) has good two way movement, though it doesn't have real sweeping action, almost cutting downward.

Hiroki Sanada

A former NPB pitcher with both the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama Baystars, Sanada appeared in 11 different seasons and had a career kwERA of 4.67, almost exclusively in relief. He was never a high strikeout pitcher, but in his last full season in the NPB, 2011, he struck out just 8.4 % of batters. He appeared in just one Ichi-Gun game in 2012. He would not have been a guy that would have been considered a MLB prospect while in Japan statistically (though it does appear he got some kind of tryout), so either the standards listed above are too lenient, he translated to the CPBL better than expected, or something in his game has changed. There is no real way to test the first one, and I don't have enough info or data to speak intelligently about the third one, so instead, let's take a look at what he does and doesn't do well.

He is just below 6 feet, which I don't think would be a big concern in international scouting because he is a career reliever. His delivery is pretty straight forward other than his hesitation to actually start coming forward. There seems to be less moving parts in his delivery than the delivery of Fu Yu Gang.

According to NPB Tracker data, Sanada's would bring an average of about 91-92 MPH on his best days, and average 88-89 MPH overall. In his final NPB outing, his fastball was way down, averaging around 86 MPH with his slowest fastball tracked ever (84.5 MPH). The data and his Taiwanese scouting report basically agree on what pitches he throws; fastball, 2-seam fastball, slider, curveball, change, and forkball. However, the scouting report claims he has reached 93 MPH with his fastball in the CPBL, meaning it may be back up to where it was a few years ago. From the video I watched of his season in the CPBL, his fastball was 86-89 MPH, with some 91s. He isn't afraid to throw it inside to right-handed batters and then throw away with the slider. The pitch was 80-81 MPH, seems to be mostly designed to just keep away and throw for strike, not a pitch that will get a lot of swings and misses, which explains his low strikeout rates. He used it about a quarter of the time in the NPB, very heavy usage in video I watched, occasionally hanging it.

The change/forkball was inconsistent, sometimes having good command or drop, sometimes having neither (and about 82-83 MPH), so it seemed like he would go back back to the slider against LHP. I did see him break out what looked like a curve at 74 MPH.

Ta-Yuan Kuan

He was not impressive in 2012 with a 4.72 ERA, but the reliever has been one of the best pitches in the CPBL so far this year. Has actually become a flyball pitcher this year after being a groundball pitcher in the two previous seasons, but he's increased his strikeout rate and decreased his walk rate.

A small guy, at under 5 feet 10 and listed at a 150 pounds. He tilts back in his delivery slightly, getting his front shoulder up further in the air before coming forward. It is very slight, but it seems like this may, if he can repeat it, help him get on top of the ball a little bit better than his size would suggest.

Seems to have a full array of pitches: A fastball that gets up to 91 MPH (against New Zealand in the WBC and other short outings I watched, I saw 88 MPH, but he wasn't pitching off his fastball much, going with a lot of off-speed and breaking balls), cutter, fork, change, curve, and slider.

I saw more of a split than a change or a fork. The pitch is usually in the high 70s and had impressive, though perhaps a little slow, drop. He also seemed to have a 2-seamer that he would throw at 84-85 MPH. It seemed like he could sink his fastball. His slider is about 79-80 MPH with some good glove side movement, though it doesn't really sweep the way you would expect, more of just a downward slider. He uses the pitch very heavily against right-handed batters. I think I like Kuan's collection of pitches better than the two pitchers that preceded him in this post. None of them have the lights out stuff that international scouts are going to be looking for in "older" (by which I mean players that aren't 16-18 year olds) pitchers, so from an MLB perspective, they may not get a lot of recognition.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Orix Buffaloes Pitcher Deliveries

We have looked at the deliveries of every team in the NPB Pacific League so far besides the Orix Buffaloes, which is this post. I recently wrote about Chihiro Kaneko and Yoshihisa Hirano on the blog, so I didn't include them in this post and encourage you to click on those links and read the scouting reports, if you haven't already. For this post, I simply made GIFs of each pitcher's delivery.

Ming-Chieh Hsu

Takahiro Matsuba

Kentaro Kuwuhara

Shuichi Furukawa

Tatsuya Sato

 Shun Tono

Mamoru Kishida

Takahiro Mahara

Yuki Nishi

Tomoya Yagi

Satoshi Komatsu

Kei Igawa

Shunichi Sato

Brandon Dickson

Shinya Nakayama

Motoki Higa

Masafumi Hirai

Takashi Kamoshida

Brad Mills

 Masaki Ihara

Tomoyuki Kaida

Keisuke Katto

Kazuki Kondo

Hideaki Takahashi

Nobuyoshi Yamada

Ryo Toda

Shohei Tsukahara
Yuji Maeda

Kodai Matsumoto

 Shota Morimoto

 Alessandro Maestri