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Cliff Lee Hates Walks

If Kevin Youkilis is the “Greek God of Walks,” does that make Cliff Lee his mortal enemy? It’s an interesting query to ponder, considering Cliff Lee’s complete refusal to walk batters this season. At this pace, Lee is set to shatter the single season record for K/BB ratio. Given that the record for highest K/BB isn’t as universally celebrated as the single season home run or RBI leaders, let’s take a closer look at Cliff Lee’s historic season.

The current record holder in K/BB rate is Bret Saberhagen, who posted a K/BB rate of 11.00 over 24 starts in 1994. By comparison, in 13 starts this season Cliff Lee’s current K/BB rate sits at 14.83. While the list of K/BB leaders is littered with players from the 1800s, recent players on the list include Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Ben Sheets, and Carlos Silva. Since it’s difficult to compare players from the 1800s with players today, let’s take a look at how Lee stacks up against the recent control freaks.

Player               GS     K/BB     K/9     BB/9     FIP    WAR  WAR/GS
Cliff Lee            14    15.17    7.27     0.48    2.58    3.8    0.27
Bret Saberhagen      24    11.00    7.26     0.66    2.76    5.2    0.21
Curt Schilling       35    9.58    10.97     1.15    2.40    9.7    0.27
Pedro Martinez '99   29    8.46    13.20     1.56    1.39   12.1    0.42
Pedro Martinez '00   29    8.88    11.78     1.33    2.17   10.1    0.35
Ben Sheets           34    8.25    10.03     1.22    2.65   8.0     0.24
Carlos Silva         27    7.89    3.39      0.43    4.18   3.0     0.11
Greg Maddux          33    8.85    6.85      0.77    2.43   8.2     0.25

A quick look at the table reveals the true dominance of Cliff Lee this season. On a per start basis, Lee is set to post a better WAR than every pitcher on the list except Pedro Martinez. While WAR/GS is a crude way to predict Lee’s WAR going forward, it does tell us how incredible his performance has been in the first half for the Mariners/Rangers. It’s also worth noting that even though he struggled in his Rangers debut, Lee did not give up a walk, increasing his K/BB rate while decreasing his overall BB/9 on the season. Despite a K/9 rate in line with Saberhagen, Lee is on pace to best Saberhagen in every single category in the table. Outside of the big strikeout guys (Schilling and Martinez), Lee may actually outproduce every other player in the table.

Even though K/BB leader isn’t a highly distinguished title, it’s certainly a sign of a player’s dominance in a particular season. No pitcher in the history of baseball has shown the amount of control Lee has exhibited this season. Since Lee’s strikeout rates are only above-average, you might expect batters to make a lot of contact against Lee, leading to more hits and a higher WHIP. This hasn’t been a normal season for Lee, however. The lefty has posted a WHIP of 0.95 this season, the top mark in the league. Some of that can be attributed to luck, but his current BABIP of .291 is actually fairly close to his career average of .305. With the recent trade, however, it’s going to be tough for Lee to match or improve on his numbers going forward. Leaving Safeco (and the Mariners defense) and moving to Texas will affect Lee’s numbers slightly. Despite that move, Lee still has a chance to complete one of the finest seasons by a pitcher. Even if Kevin Youkilis is Cliff Lee’s mortal enemy, I think it’s safe to say that every hitter despises Lee, especially this season.

*This article was originally written for

Stephen Strasburg Should Be an All-Star

What is the All-Star Game really about? Joe Posnanski ponders that question in his most recent article.While Posnanski doesn’t answer the question directly, he presents the different opinions of the All-Star Game. When I think about the All-Star Game, I tend to use a combination of two opinions Posnanski presents.

• It’s all about watching the best players in baseball.
• It’s all about watching the best players IN THE FIRST HALF (which is a different thing).

Following that line of reasoning, there is no doubt in my mind that Stephen Strasburg belongs on the NL All-Star Team this season.

Let’s examine the potential arguments against putting Stephen Strasburg on the All-Star team.

1. He hasn’t pitched enough to justify an All-Star selection.

Strasburg has pitched about as much as any reliever on either All-Star team this season. As a matter of fact, the only reliever on the team with more innings pitched than Strasburg is Pittsburgh’s Evan Meek. The skeptics are so quick to point out Strasburg’s lack of playing time, but very few actually seem to realize that most of the relievers selected have actually pitched fewer innings.

2. He’s pitched well, but it’s a small sample. How do we know he won’t regress?

This argument goes hand in hand with our first point (somewhat). Strasburg has accumulated a larger sample (albeit barely) than most of the other relievers selected. A look at his advanced stats reveals a pitcher that is as good as advertised.

Stat	Strasburg	Rank (Among All Pitchers/Among Starters)
K/9	13.01		4th/1st
K/BB	5.3		13th/4th
FIP	1.77		2nd/1st
xFIP	1.88		1st/1st

*Minimum of 30 innings pitched this season

Among starting pitchers, Strasburg ranks 1st in K/9, FIP, and xFIP. Those are truly terrifying numbers for any pitcher, especially a rookie. That level of dominance certainly suggests that Strasburg is already one of the best pitchers in baseball, and is worthy of pitching in the All-Star Game.

3. The league will adjust to Strasburg the second time around.

I suppose this part of the argument cannot be proved until Strasburg gains more experience in the major leagues. At the same time, this is Stephen Strasburg we are talking about! The most hyped pitching prospect in baseball since… well, maybe ever. As the stats in the table above show, it’s not as if Strasburg is using “smoke and mirrors” to confuse opponents. Anyone who has watched Strasburg pitch this season can tell you that he already has three plus pitches, and inferior hitters look useless against him. Much like Mark Prior, it appears only injuries can derail Strasburg’s dominance.

4. He’s young, he will have more opportunities to pitch in the All-Star Game.

Personally, I hope Strasburg goes on to pitch in a number of All-Star Games. The fact is, pitchers are so unpredictable these days, that we can’t be sure Strasburg will remain healthy throughout his career. Perhaps I am overreacting, but because pitching is so uncertain, we can never be 100% sure one guy will remain healthy. If I had to bet, I would guess Strasburg makes a number of All-Star Games throughout his career, but we just never know.

Chances are, Strasburg’s inclusion to the NL Roster would be one of the best things to happen to the MLB. Ratings would probably be higher if Strasburg was on the team. This was the same guy who broke NERD, Carson Cistulli’s method for picking the most exciting baseball games on any given day. Also, and no disrespect to Arthur Rhodes here, most baseball fans would likely rather see Strasburg come out to face Crawford-Hamilton-Morneau in a tie game than Arthur Rhodes. Strasburg’s rise to the majors has been one of the biggest stories of the 2010 season, and this was an opportunity for the “Legend of Strasburg” to grow larger.

Again, Strasburg has already proven that he is a fantastic young pitcher. He will very likely make a number of All-Star Games throughout his career, so I shouldn’t overreact to one snub. While I have dedicated this article to Strasburg, there are many players who were snubbed that were even more deserving than Strasburg this season. I still stand by my premise that Strasburg should have been included on the NL Roster, but (barring health) I’m so glad I will be able to watch his magnificence for many years to come.

*This article was originally written for

What’s Happened to Gordon Beckham?

Once hailed the savior of the White Sox, Gordon Beckham has suffered from the dreaded “sophomore slump” in 2010. In 430 at-bats as a rookie, Beckham put up a slash line of .270/.347/.460. In the off-season, Beckham was shifted to second base, where he was expected to make a bigger impact with both his bat and his glove. While Beckham has provided value with his glove in 2010, as a hitter he has completely collapsed. Beckham’s current slash line of .206/.283./252 has left many White Sox fans wondering about the future of their former top prospect.

A look at the advanced metrics reveals some troubling trends. Beckham’s solid walk rate has dropped from 9.5% to 8%, while his strikeout rate has risen from 17.2% to 19.6% in 2010. His swing rates reveal that Beckham has chased pitches out of the zone with more frequency in 2010. His O-Swing% (or percent of pitches he has swung at outside of the zone) has risen from 24.7% to 30.4% this season. While Beckham has actually made more contact with pitches out of the zone in 2010, they are leading to an increased number of infield flies. Beckham’s 16.1% infield fly rate is currently the 11th highest rate in baseball. Also troubling, is Beckham’s poor 15% line drive rate. While BABIP is typically a good indicator of luck, in Beckham’s case, it’s hard to argue he’s been unlucky. Beckham’s current BABIP of .250 would typically suggest improvement, but with such poor line drive and infield fly rates, it’s hard to imagine a big improvement if his rates stay the same.

During the season, some Chicago writers have suggested that Beckham may be pressed after experiencing failure for the first time in his career. While I cannot assess the mental state of Gordon Beckham, his current rates are so out of line with what we would expect that, as a fan, you have to wonder if Beckham is pressing. Last season, Beckham slugged 14 home runs in 430 at-bats. This season, his slugging percentage is actually lower than Juan Pierre’s (.258-.272). Another troubling aspect of 2010 is Beckham’s inability to hit a fastball. Beckham feasted on fastballs last season, hitting them for 4.8 runs above average (per FanGraphs). In 2010, that number has plummeted to -5.7, meaning that batters are able to blow their fastball by Beckham. Looking at Beckham’s pitch values is quite depressing. As a rookie, Beckham hit four types of pitches for a positive value (fastballs, sliders, change-ups, and curveballs). In 2010, Beckham has a negative pitch value rate against every one of those pitches. While his struggles against fastballs are the most pronounced, his ability to hit sliders and change-ups have dropped substantially as well.

Are these the symptoms of a player struggling to cope with failure for the first time in his career? While the answer to that is unclear, this has certainly been a “lost” season for Beckham’s development. His numbers, particularly his infield flies, home runs, and complete loss of pitch recognition seem to suggest a complete breakdown in 2010. In the same way that Alex Rios’ numbers last season were not an accurate reflection of his true ability, it’s fair to say that 2010 has not been an accurate reflection of Gordon Beckham’s true ability. Unfortunately, there isn’t much the White Sox can do to rectify the situation right now. The Sox are hesitant to send Beckham down to Triple-A, and would prefer that he work out his issues at the major league level. Unless Beckham can rebuild his swing and regain his confidence, Sox fans might have to wait until 2011 before they see “the real Gordon Beckham” again.

*This article was originally published on my personal sports blog

Have the Tigers Ruined Rick Porcello?

Coming out of Seton Hall Prep in 2007, Rick Porcello was an ace in the making.  When scouts combined his age, velocity, and dominance (103Ks in 63 IP as a Senior); they saw a front-of-the-line major league starter. After being draft 27th overall, Detroit wasted no time showcasing their young ace. In order to ensure Porcello developed his other pitches, the Tigers insisted that Porcello stop relying on his curve. With his new approach, Porcello only managed 5.18 K/9 in his brief stint in the minor leagues.  Two seasons later, the strikeouts and the curveball have almost disappeared completely. While it’s still extremely early in his career, is it possible that the Tigers may have ruined Rick Porcello?

Here’s what Keith Law wrote about Porcello in 2009:

He doesn’t miss a lot of bats with the new approach, but generating ground balls keeps the pitch count down, and pitchers who throw strikes and don’t give up home runs can be very successful. But bear in mind that Porcello has the raw stuff to be more of a strikeout pitcher, and when he reaches the majors, he could blend the two approaches and be one of the top pitchers in the game.

That last sentence sums up the main cause for concern with Porcello. While scouts believe Porcello has the ability to dominate, his K/9 rate in the majors is a dismal 4.70. Even more disturbing is Porcello’s disappearing curveball. After throwing his curve 8.1% of the time in 2009, Porcello is only throwing his curveball .2% of the time in 2010.  Unless Detroit is still enforcing the “no-curve rules,” it might be time to start worrying whether his approach has been permanently impacted. It is interesting that the curve was Porcello’s worst pitch in 2009 according to the pitch type values. His reluctance to throw it in 2010, could mean that he has lost confidence in the pitch. The big question is, whether Porcello can be an ace without his curve?

Then again, Porcello is still only 21 years old and has already experienced success in the majors. It’s certainly possible that a) the Tigers are still enforcing the “no-curve rules,” or b) Porcello continues to develop into an ace while in the majors. Porcello did not spend a lot of time in the minors, and he is exceptionally young for his level. Typically, only the most promising players reach the majors at Porcello’s age. However, it is disturbing that his current approach has not produced “ace” results. Just for reference, Mark Buehrle has a higher career K/9 rate than Porcello’s current K/9. As Keith Law stated in his 2009 top prospect list, pitchers that get ground balls and prevent home runs have a lot of value, but Porcello was drafted as an ace and not an innings-eater. Yes, it’s still incredibly early in his career, but there is already some evidence to suggest Detroit may have mishandled their prized pitcher.

*This article was originally written on