David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“At the major-league level, guys mostly are who they are when it comes to putting the bat on the ball”

 

CARDS' CARPENTER TRADES CONTACT FOR POWER

Dave Cameron 

Over the last few years, Matt Carpenter developed into one of the game's most underrated stars by exceeding at the skill set embodied by the likes of Mark Grace and Joe Mauer over the last few decades; be extremely selective at the plate, rarely strike out, hit a ton of line drives, and create value through elite levels of walks and doubles.


From his rookie season of 2012 through the end of last season, no one in baseball took a higher percentage of pitches than Carpenter, and he ranked 14th overall in contact rate when he did offer at a pitch in the strike zone. Carpenter's unwillingness to chase pitches out of the zone, and his ability to rarely whiff on swings in the zone, allowed him to post nearly even walk and strikeout rates in an era when pitcher dominance has become the norm. While he wasn't a big power guy -- he hit just 25 home runs during those three seasons -- he made up for it by posting one of the highest line-drive rates in the game, which allowed him to rank in the top 10 in doubles, so he wasn't just a slap-hitting singles machine like some other elite contact batters.

This year, though, Matt Carpenter is different.

The most obvious change can be seen in looking at his home run total. As mentioned, Carpenter hit 25 in 436 games over the last three years; he's hit 21 homers in just 133 games so far this season, and has a strong chance at doubling his career-high dinger total by years end. But to get that extra power, Carpenter has made some significant sacrifices, most notably in how often he makes contact. In 2014, Carpenter made contact on 95 percent of his swings at pitches in the strike zone, ranking ninth out of 146 qualified batters; this year, he's at 86 percent, which ranks 113th out of 153 qualified batters.

Contact rate generally has very small year-to-year fluctuations, especially contact rate in the strike zone. At the major-league level, guys mostly are who they are when it comes to putting the bat on the ball, and it's unusual to see a guy move so dramatically down the spectrum in such short order. In fact, Carpenter's nine percentage-point decline in a single season would rank as the second largest drop on in-zone contact rate since we have reliable PITCHF/x data to measure such things; only Justin Upton's 2012-2013 drop of 10 percentage points would be larger. And not coincidentally, Upton also saw the drastic decline in his contact rate correspond with a power spike (going from 17 home runs to 27 home runs), as there's a natural trade-off between how often a hitter is willing to swing and miss and the rewards they get when they do make contact.

And perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that this is an exchange Carpenter has decided to make. In February, Matt Holliday told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he would like to see Carpenter adapt as a hitter.

"It’s great to walk and have long at-bats but he’s got the potential to hit 50 doubles. We’ve seen it,” Holliday said. “He’s got the potential to hit 15 to 20 homers. We saw that in the postseason. It’s fine that first at-bat of the game if you want to take some pitches. But I’d like to see him be a little bit more aggressive. It’s in there. He showed it. It’s in there for all of us.

"I think there’s more in there,” Holliday added. “I think there’s a combination of 27 homers like (Heyward) hit in his third year and the ton of walks he drew. I think there’s potential for 25 homers and 80 walks. I don’t think we want to ask him to walk a ton. We want to ask him to be a little more aggressive and drive the ball in the gaps and not worry about leading off. The expectation for us would be to go out there and have a good at-bat and drive the ball in the gap. We don’t need you to draw a walk or try and start a rally. We’d rather have him create the rally."

Perhaps when Holliday's playing days are over, he should go into business as a soothsayer; at Carpenter's current pace, he'll finish with 24 homers and 85 walks, or almost exactly what Holliday said his teammate was capable of. He hasn't abandoned his patient approach at the plate, but he's reduced the extremity of that approach; his 39 percent swing rate this year is up from last year's 33 percent mark, and while he's still one of the most selective hitters in baseball -- his swing rate ranks fourth-lowest in MLB this season -- he's not on an island by himself anymore.

Most notably, Carpenter's changing approach can be seen on pitches at the top and inside portion of the strike zone. Below, we'll present a pair of heat maps showing his swing rates at different parts of the strike zone, the first one from last year, the second one from this year.

  

 

Look at the portion of the zone that measures the inner-third of the plate; Carpenter has increased his swing rate by 19 percentage points down-and-in, 15 percentage points middle-in, and 29 percentage points up-and-in. Additionally, he's increased his swing rate by 15 percentage points in the upper-middle part of the zone, and 16 percentage points in the middle-high area just out of the zone. These five boxes represent four of the lowest contact areas of the strike zone, so naturally, the fact that he's increased his swing rate in these areas will lead to lower contact rates on in-zone swings. Carpenter is also chasing out of the zone a bit more often, but the bigger change is that he's going after pitches in and pitches up, when previously, he hunted mostly for pitches middle-away, taking strikes if need be in order to wait for something on the outer half of the plate.

And Carpenter is finding a new ability to hit for power in these areas. Below are pitch location maps for all of Carpenter's home runs the last two years, with 2014 first and 2015 below that.

 

 

Graphics courtesy of BaseballSavant.com.

Previously, Carpenter would yank one over the fence if you threw him a centered-fastball. This year, though, he's hitting fastballs up in the zone, plus hanging breaking balls and two-seamers running in on the inside corner. Carpenter has never really hit the inside pitch with authority before, but likely at the encouragement of his teammates, he has learned to turn on pitches inside and is now more willing to go after high-risk/high-reward pitches up in the zone.

Going after high pitches generally means more balls in the air, and inside pitches are hit on the ground less frequently than middle and middle-away pitches as well, so unsurprisingly, Carpenter's ground-ball rate has also dropped to 31 percent, well below his 38 percent career average. However, because balls in the air that don't go over the fence are turned into outs at a much higher rate than grounders, Carpenter has is also posting the worst BABIP of his career, coming in at .303, down from a career .331 mark. Essentially, Carpenter has traded quantity for quality, making less contact and getting fewer hits when he does make contact in exchange for getting more impactful contact when he really turns on a mistake.

For all these changes, it's worth noting that Carpenter is essentially no more effective at the plate than he was previously; his 126 wRC+ this season is an exact match for his career average. He's shifted from a .300 hitter with below-average power to a .260 hitter with above-average power, but that's different more than it's better. It's certainly what Holliday wanted to see from his teammate, but it's not clear that this is actual improvement; this might just be change for change's sake, or change for responding-to-peer-pressure sake.

But at the very least, Carpenter has shown he is malleable, and perhaps what we're seeing now isn't the finished product. Perhaps Carpenter will take the best parts of these changes and reduce the negative effects, combining the best of both approaches and raising his game to a new level overall. But right now, he seems to have mostly exchanged strengths and weaknesses, and as the season has gone along, he's moved even further in this direction; he's striking out in 26 percent of his second-half plate appearances, and he's starting to become more of a pull-hitter than his previous use-the-whole fields approach. As the league begins to adapt to his adjustments -- and he likely starts getting shifted more often, like other left-handed pull-heavy sluggers already have been -- it will be interesting to see how much of this change in approach Carpenter stays with.

The extra homers are nice, but Carpenter is still mostly a leadoff hitter, and trading on-base percentage for slugging percentage from your first guy in the batting order is an odd exchange to make. If Carpenter is going to stick with this new approach, it might be time to consider moving him down a few spots in the batting order.

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/matt-carpenter-st-louis-cardinals-plate-discipline-more-power-less-contact-091015

 

“He was trying so hard to do it that he lost who he was.”

 

Eric Owens was the Dodgers minor league hitting coordinator when Dee Gordonwas splitting time between Los Angeles and Triple-A Albuquerque. Each has moved on. Owens is now in Toronto and Gordon is an All-Star second baseman for the Miami Marlins.

Advice from Owens helped turn the speedster into the hitter he is today.

“In the big leagues, they were telling him to just hit the ball on the ground and go the other way,” explained Owen. “He was trying so hard to do it that he lost who he was. When he went down to Triple-A, I said to him, ‘Hey, just go ahead and hit the ball hard. If it goes in the air, that’s OK. It’s going to happen.”

“When I saw him earlier this year, he told me that helped him out a lot. Instead of worrying about hitting the ball the other way, and manipulating his swing to do that, he could just see the ball and hit the ball.”

Gordon is slashing .327/.354/.406 and leads both leagues with 174 base hits.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-revere-hutchison-ortiz-chemistry-more/

 

“Best timing ever!”

 

When Do You Accept That Your Season Is Over?

By

David Aardsma

Sep 9, 2015

 

It’s a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Scottsdale, Arizona. I just got done playing catch with my ex-Dodger teammate Daniel Coulombe, who was also recently designated for assignment (DFA’d), when my phone rings. I’ve been waiting for this call, I’ve been expecting this call …

I’ve also been dreading this call.

Almost three weeks ago I was pitching for my eighth MLB team, the Atlanta Braves, having a comeback season for myself when I got “the look.” You know it from a mile away, unless your name is Derek Jeter. Sad eyes, lowered shoulders, avoiding all eye contact — you just hope it’s not for you. With my son playing around in my locker, I hear the words no Brave wants to hear: “Fredi Gonzalez wants to speak to you in his office.”

Five minutes later, life changed. I now have no idea what to do with myself. I’m no longer a Brave, I’m still in a locker room and stadium where I’m no longer welcome, my whole family just landed in Atlanta to spend the week with me, and one of my best friends just got in town with his family to see me pitch. Best timing ever!

I just got DFA’d and I’m stuck. For a player, the designation process works like this: the team still owns you for ten days. Now, any time within those ten days, the team can put you through waivers. If you don’t get picked up and if you have enough service time, you can choose to become a free agent. Most of the time the team will use the first seven days to attempt to trade you, then place you on waivers if they can’t find a trade.

In my mind, my season is far from over. I have stayed healthy for the first time in five seasons, and other than ERA (4.70 overall, but inflated from three poor outings — a 1.52 era minus those three games), all of my numbers are better than or comparable to the best seasons of my career. I truly felt like I had a resurgence!

I know I am unlikely to get traded. I’m guessing bonuses in my contract are the reason I got DFA’d in the first place. I was one game from a “games finished” bonus and eight appearances from another bonus in my contract. I can’t blame the Braves for being smart with their money, but it sucks being on the other end. No right-minded team is going to pick up a player just to immediately pay triple his contract in bonuses after eight games of service.

So at this point, I know it’s going to be at least ten days before I’m playing for another Major League club, and I need to stay ready. After several exhausting (bringing the kids around to all the tourist sites is no joke) days with our friends and family in Atlanta, we hop on a plane for home.

Back home I can get my mind on a routine again to keep me game ready. The first week is easy. I’m excited, I have energy, I know I will be pitching for someone in a pennant chase soon. Working out is fun. When I’m throwing, I have life on the ball, and my bullpen sessions are like clockwork.

I call Jamie Murphy, my agent since I was a kid with a full head of hair at Rice University.

“Jamie, what’s the good word? Who will I be pitching with?”

“Nothing yet,” Jamie tells me. “Several teams are interested and like you, but I’ll let you know.”

Great, teams are interested. Time to go throw another pen. My control is just a little off this time, my body doesn’t feel quite as good, but hey, when I get picked up I’ll be locked in without a problem.

A couple of days later I make another call to Jamie.

“Jamie my man, what’s going on?”

“Well, a couple teams said no thanks,” he says. “One of the interested teams got back to me and they like the guys they have, but there are several we haven’t heard from yet so hold tight.”

Alright, I thought I would be helping someone get to the playoffs by now, but I need to stay ready.

For the first time, the question pops into my mind, and I ask Jamie, “When do I stop throwing and begin my offseason?”

Jamie’s answer is immediate: “Hold tight, keep working and we will see what happens.”

So I go back to throwing pens. By this time, I’ve definitely lost that good tight feeling in my mechanics where everything is where it should be, and my control is getting more than a little off (no matter what my catcher tells me).

While many things contribute to my success during a season, for me it’s mostly the routine. I was never the greatest athlete, so for me to be successful I need to put in a lot of hard work and be very dedicated to a routine. You wake up and head to the field the same time most days. I have a very lengthy and thorough stretching and mobility routine, and after playing catch I do mound work every day. When I come in I watch video on the hitters and get ready for the game. Even during the game I have a stretch routine and I practice my mechanics to make sure I have the same feeling every day. And after the games I work out and head home. My schedule is basically eat, sleep, talk, and think baseball.

When I’m home, I become a dad and a husband again. I’m waking up (way too early), clothing, feeding, and taking the kids to school. Then it’s off to work out and throw, and then back to being Dad. Pitching and baseball become a secondary thought to my family’s routine. It’s extremely easy to lose that focus, that tight feeling.

But again, some teams need me to be ready, so I fight through all those feelings and find my focus.

Jamie calls and asks, “How are you feeling?”

“Great, I’m ready to go,” I tell him — you have to be optimistic. “Who needs me?”

“Unfortunately, no one yet,” he says. “Some more teams said they are sticking with their call-ups. But we haven’t heard from everyone yet, so keep grinding and I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

CRAP!

I ask again, “Jamie, is it time yet to start enjoying my offseason?”

“Well … not yet. Let’s hear from everyone first. There is still a chance.”

That chance is getting smaller and smaller every day, as now we are battling the problem of teams not wanting a pitcher who has missed 20 days of games.

My head isn’t even fully into it now, and my body is feeling it. My throwing is without conviction and my pens are pretty brutal. I’m more “Dad” now than I am a baseball player, and the tequila and pool are beginning to look mighty tempting. I’ve stopped looking as intensely at my MLB At Bat app, and mentally I’m just waiting for that sign telling me to throw my feet up and relax.

The sign comes in the form of the phone call on that sunny Wednesday in Scottsdale. The Cypress Hill ringtone, Jamie’s favorite song, signals that my season is over.

“Enjoy yourself,” Jamie tells me. “Kick back and relax for now. In a couple of weeks start working your butt off again and you are going to have one hell of a 2016 season.”

And with that, my 2015 is done. All the hard work and early morning flights. All the dinners by myself and countless hours on the mound doing pitching drills. It is all over until spring.

Well … unless a team calls tomorrow. Then I’m as ready as ever. :-)

http://www.baseballessential.com/news/2015/09/09/aardsma-accept-season-over/

 

“teams will always exploit rules.”

 

 

 

 ‘Gaming’ the system an international venture for major-league teams

Geoff Baker  September 6, 2015  

Teams are limited to a yearly “bonus pool” of what each can spend on international free-agent prospects, based on the previous season’s order of finish. The pool consists of a $700,000 base amount for each team plus the combined total of four assigned slot values ranging on a scale from 1 to 120.

Inside sports business

An overlooked aspect of the Mariners trading center fielder Austin Jackson to the Chicago Cubs for a player-to-be named was the dollar amount also received.

Not just cash, but $211,100 in international “slot’’ value, the trading of which is becoming an important strategy for teams on the international market.

Teams are limited to a yearly “bonus pool” of what each can spend on international free-agent prospects, based on the previous season’s order of finish. The pool consists of a $700,000 base amount for each team plus the combined total of four assigned slot values ranging on a scale from 1 to 120.

Slot values are awarded in similar fashion to a four-round draft. Last year’s worst team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, got the highest slots at No. 1, 31, 61 and 91, while the MLB-leading Los Angeles Angels received the lowest slots at No. 30, 60, 90 and 120.

The higher the slot, the more pool space value it has. Teams can trade these slots, but instead of shipping cash they are giving the deal recipient more financial room to sign players within their international bonus pools.

When this year’s international signing period began July 2 – with the latest 16-year-old Dominicans, Venezuelans, Cubans and others becoming eligible — the Mariners, based on finishing 11th overall last year, had slots No. 20 ($598,300), 50 ($404,100), 80 ($272,900) and 110 ($175,000) for a combined $1,450,300 value. Added to their $700,000 base amount, it gave them $2,150,300 in their total international spending pool.

They could have spent it all on a single player, or spread it over multiple signings.

But teams exceeding their limit pay a 100 percent overage penalty on every dollar beyond.

Also, teams going more than 5 percent over are limited the following year to spending no more than $500,000 on any one international player. Go 10 to15 percent over, the penalty becomes a $300,000 single-player spending limit.

Teams more than 15 percent over will face that $300,000 single-player limit for two years.

With top international prospects garnering $1 million and higher, teams limited to offering $500,000 or $300,000 will be out of luck. So, there’s incentive to stay within the rules.

But not all teams do.

Some will smash well beyond pool limits to acquire the very best talent, gladly paying overage fees and suffering through penalty restrictions in coming years. These teams, knowing they’re going to be penalized, will then trade away “slot values” for additional players since they don’t need the financial room anymore.

That’s what happened in the Jackson trade.

The Cubs were lousy last season, so they had a higher international spending pool of $3,227,700, including the $700,000 base amount and slot values at No. 8 ($1,527,700), 38 ($472,700), 68 ($319,200) and 98 ($211,100).

It was that No. 98 overall, worth $211,100, that the Mariners acquired for Jackson.

And that should come in handy, since the Mariners were pushing their $2.15 million pool limit by signing three Dominicans: shortstop Carlos Vargas for a reported $1.7 million, catcher Daniel Santos for $110,000 and pitcher Ivan Fortunato for an undisclosed amount in early July.

So, the Jackson deal gives them another $211,100 of room to avoid blowing their limit.

The Cubs, on the other hand, blew multiple times beyond their limit by spending $9 million on six top players the first day of signings.

They’ll get the full penalty no matter what and don’t need their $2.5 million in slot value space. Dealing that space lessens their pool limit even more – increasing the penalty amount they’ll have to pay – but it’s worth it for the right deal.

They’ll pay another $211,110 in penalties for trading that fourth slot to the Mariners. But that’s a relative pittance to land Jackson for a playoff run.

The Dodgers also spent well beyond their bonus pool, then traded their four slots to Toronto and Atlanta. That adds another $1.3 million to the Dodgers’ overage penalties, but they got four minor league players in trade returns for that price.

Ben Badler of Baseball America noted the Blue Jays also had good reason for making that deal. They had already exceeded their pool limit by more than 15 percent, but trading for extra slot value space kept them just 14.86 percent over.

So, when penalties are tallied, the Blue Jays will face just one year of being limited to spending $300,000 on any single player instead of two years had they exceeded their pool by 15 percent.

Critics say such teams are “gaming” the system and want rules overhauled when MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement is renewed after the 2016 season. But proponents argue teams will always exploit rules.

And there is a benefit for teams staying within limits this year. Next summer’s crop of Cuban prospects is expected to be excellent.

With penalties stacking up from this summer and last, many top spenders — the Cubs, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants and Yankees among them — will be limited to $300,000 bids for players next year.

That means the Mariners will have less competition for top Cuban players. And if they opt to blast through their spending limits — accepting penalties in exchange for securing multiple top international prospects — next summer could be their chance to truly “game” the system.

http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/gaming-the-system-an-international-venture-for-major-league-teams/

 

 

“More than it being a problem, you hope it’s a learning process,” 

 

Fastball key to Rondon’s ninth-inning future

 Lynn Henning, The Detroit News  September 10, 2015

Detroit — September could have, should have, been Bruce Rondon’s dress-rehearsal as next season’s Tigers closer.

But now the Tigers will have on their pricey offseason shopping list one more item that could be most difficult to find and that will, in any event, be high retail: a ninth-inning put-away pitcher they can trust.

It didn’t need to be this way. But for reasons that don’t entirely add up, Rondon, who is still 24, has shown too little stability for the front office to hand its most potent bullpen pitcher the closer keys in 2016.

He might not be far away. He probably isn’t far away. And when he crosses that threshold, as he almost certainly will, Rondon should be as good as they come. He has the pitches, beginning with a biting 100-mph fastball, and extending to a slider and change-up that make his heater particularly deadly.

Of course, it would help if Rondon threw his fastball rather than acting as if it was one of three co-equal pitches.

This is where the Rondon timeline doesn’t quite make sense. He is 18 months past Tommy John surgery. That isn’t to say he is all the way back, because Tommy John recovery can take a couple of years, or even longer.

But it’s the slider and its heavy torque on an elbow that is the pitch normally slowest to come back. A pitcher’s fastball tends to be the first option to return intact.

Rondon, curiously, is throwing his fastball 56 percent of the time. He is opting for his slider about a third of the time, all according to FanGraphs data.

This was what appeared to get Rondon into trouble during Tuesday night’s near-disaster against the Rays at Comerica Park. Rondon walked leadoff batter Kevin Kiermaier after getting ahead of him with fastballs and then falling behind on back-to-back sliders.

He got ahead of the next batter, James Loney, then threw a change-up on a 1-and-2 count that Loney poked for a single.

Rondon, in fact, wasn’t terribly sharp with any of his pitches Tuesday, which is why he walked another batter and eventually blew the save. The Rays tied the game before the Tigers eventually won in 13 innings.

But it is this curious urge by Rondon to mix three pitches and go with his fastball as a slight favorite that is hard to justify when his ERA is 6.23.

“More than it being a problem, you hope it’s a learning process,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday, musing about Rondon as the Tigers got ready for a Rays rematch at Comerica Park.

Ausmus acknowledged a young pitcher sometimes needs “prodding” in making decisions that, at least in some minds, would appear to be common sense.

The skipper also mentioned another fact of big-league life: Hitters are not overly bothered by fastballs, even in the upper-90s. A reliever necessarily must offer alternatives, and Rondon has good secondary stuff.

At least when he gets it over the plate. Tuesday’s mystery was why in pitcher’s counts or even on 2-2 pitches why he didn’t trust his best option. Percentages favored the fastball. And yet early in the inning he went with second or third choices as he steadily got into trouble.

You can make too much of a game like Tuesday’s. You can even make too much of a 6.23 ERA. The reason is, as the Tigers have discovered with young reliever Drew VerHagen, very suddenly the lights go on, confidence rises, and a good long-term reliever can arrive.

Rondon likely would have been home long before this season had he not torn his elbow ligament during spring camp in 2014. In fact, he had pitched well for a couple of months ahead of a forearm strain that cost him, and the Tigers, dearly down the stretch in 2013.

But he was throwing beautifully in Florida 18 months ago — until the ligament ruptured.

He has had moments, even weeks, this season when it looked as if he had crossed the equator. Then a game such as Tuesday’s would make everyone wonder. Not about his ability. But about his readiness.

The Tigers will look at him as part of next spring’s back-end mix. They can make assumptions there. What they can’t assume, today anyway, is that he’s ready for the ninth inning. Not regularly. Not until he can fire that fastball for strikes and weave in secondary pitches that truly need to be secondary.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/columnists/lynn-henning/2015/09/09/henning-fastball-key-rondons-ninth-inning-future/71977342/