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Taking a Closer Look at Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position

In baseball, part of what is commonly debated is how important it is to hit with runners in scoring position. Viewers of their teams will often have their sad sigh when their team leaves runners stranded in scoring position and will look up how their team does in those situations and say, “this is why we don’t score runs” or “this is why we don’t win games.” They will also look at other teams and see how good of an offense the other team might have and immediately make the assumption that they are going to be better at hitting with runners in scoring position than most other teams if their offense is better. But just how much of a team’s success is based on hitting with runners in scoring position and how much of hitting with runners in scoring position is based on team success?

I. Impact of Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position

One of the old clichés in baseball is, “you can’t win without hitting with runners in scoring position.” Many people link that to why the Cardinals had done so well in the past and why they haven’t really been able to get going this year. In years past, they have consistently been not only one of the best teams in baseball, but also the best at hitting with runners in scoring position.

Many people in the game consider it also to be one of the most important stats when it comes to judging a player’s hitting ability. In a press conference at the beginning of the season, Matt Williams had sabermetricians finally thinking that someone with their ideology was becoming the manager of the Washington Nationals when he said, “If you don’t get with the times, bro, you better step aside.” When I heard that, I immediately thought that he would be talking about more advanced hitting metrics than batting average and home runs and RBI’s. He followed that comment up with, “My favorite stat right now and always has been the stat of hitting with runners in scoring position. Because batting average and on-base percentage and all of those things are great, but who is doing damage and how can they hit with guys in scoring position.” When I heard that, I immediately slunked back in my chair and placed him in the category of old-school.

And listening to one of the Reds games (as I always do), listening to Marty Brennaman (who I think is a good broadcaster for his catchy phrases and also because he’s from where I’m from), I heard him talk about Votto and he said, “Votto will take a 3-0 pitch an inch off the outside corner, when he could do with it what he did Wednesday. I believe in expanding your strike zone when you’ve got guys on base.” For those who don’t know, what he did on Wednesday (a while ago), was drive a 3-0 pitch from Matt Harvey (that shows how long ago it was) for a home run to left field in New York. Unfortunately, for a while now Marty Brennaman has been seemingly leading a war of the old-school against his own team’s star first baseman Joey Votto over hitting. Namely hitting with runners in scoring position or men on base. Again, while listening, I slide back in my chair, disappointed in Marty for being so illusioned and confused and broadcasting his wrong opinion to many of the people who listen to him on the radio.

Williams and Brennaman aren’t the only people that have this mindset though. The thing that they and many other people think is that if you can’t hit with runners in scoring position, you can’t win games and you can’t score runs. For these people, it is for the most part a blind hypothesis, just assuming it is true because it seems that it should be true.

For examining this data, I am going to look at the coefficient of determination, or R2 (I have below this the formula for R, correlation coefficient, that when squared equals the coefficient of determination). For those who don’t know, when looking at the data and calculating a formula of best fit, R2 shows a percentage value of how many of the samples of the x-value fit the line of best fit (the line that in perfect situations can calculate the y-values). I am going to call the dependent variable, or y-value, wins and runs and the independent variable, or x-value, the various offensive statistics that I will use to test my hypothesis (hitting with runners in scoring position does not have much to do with determining how many wins a team gets in a season or how many runs a team scores). Basically it is how dependent team wins and runs are on hitting with runners in scoring position. Before I look at hitting with runners in scoring position, it is important to establish which three offensive statistics are the best at determining wins and runs.

In terms of influencing the scoring of runs from 2002 to 2013, the three best offensive statistics are:

1. OPS with an R2 of .9132 (91% of the OPS x-values fit the formula: y = 2059.2x – 791.27)
2. ISO with an R2 of .5801 (58% of the ISO x-values fit the formula: y = 3279.75x + 238.02)
3. wOBA with an R2 of .3999 (40% of the wOBA x-values fit the formula: y = 3482.9x – 389.93).

When it comes to which statistics determine wins the most, the three best statistics are:

1. WAR with an R2 of .5329 (53% of the WAR x-values fit the formula: y = 1.1243x + 59.614)
2. wRC+ with an R2 of .4302 (43% of the wRC+ x-values fit the formula: y = 0.8977x – 5.4636)
3. wRAA with an R2 of .3632 (36% of the wRAA x-values fit the formula: y = 0.1033x + 81.239)

There are a couple things to notice when looking at this data. One of those things is that most offensive statistics have a much weaker coefficient of determination when looking at wins, largely in part to the fact that pitching is kept completely out of the equation. Another thing to know is that if there was a bigger sample size, the R2 values would be different but using this sample size (which I will use for RISP), these are the R2 values that show up.

The purpose behind collecting those statistics in terms of offense in general as opposed to just RISP is because this way there will be statistics to use when looking at how much RISP influences offense. Looking at determining runs scored in an overall season with RISP numbers:

1. OPS has an R2 of .3099 (31% of the OPS x-values fit the formula: y = 948.7x + 19.173)
2. ISO has an R2 of .2395 (24% of the ISO x-values fit the formula: y = 1812.2x + 470.92)
3. wOBA has an R2 of .2898 (29% of the wOBA x-values fit the formula: y = 2391.5x – 35.754)

It is quite a dramatic change, especially when looking at OPS that clearly had a big hand in determining runs scored in a season. While some of them still have some modest effect in determining runs scored, it is still not quite at the same level as those that covered a full season and not just a given scenario. Now looking at how those other statistics determine wins with runners in scoring position:

1. WAR has an R2 of .29 (29% of the WAR x-values fit the formula: y = 2.5609x + 68.94)
2. wRC+ has an R2 of .2739 (27% of the wRC+ x-values fit the formula: y = 0.5518x + 27.727)
3. wRAA has an R2 of .2366 (24% of the wRAA x-values fit the formula: y = 0.2366x + 80.996)

As I had mentioned before, it should be expected that these numbers ought to be low because there is much more that goes into a win than just offensive ability. There has to be great pitching too that is not put into account. With that said, these numbers are quite far from being great in determining wins as is evidenced by their still being far away from even the 50% mark that they should be close to.

For Matt Williams’ sake, I also looked at how much batting average with runners in scoring position determines wins and runs:

1. For scoring runs, AVG has R2 value of .181 (18% of AVG x-values fit the formula: y = 2005.8x + 213.05)
2. For wins, AVG has R2 of .1427 (14% of AVG x-values fit the formula: y = 257.76x + 13.255)

So Matt, not to rain on your parade, but batting average with runners in scoring position has very little to do with determining runs or wins. And Marty, it’s just limiting Votto’s overall production to a small sample size that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with winning games. No one will argue that hitting with runners in scoring position can help to win games because it does often result in scoring a run but it should not be looked at as one of the key stats in a player’s production.
II. Is it dependent on overall strength of offense?

Now back to those St. Louis Cardinals. Last year, with runners in scoring position, they put up not only unreal numbers, they put up numbers that are really just plain stupid. I mean, they batted .330 with runners in scoring position, had a .370 wOBA, and a 138 wRC+, and won 97 games, 32 games over .500. Like I have previously established, those numbers are intrinsically worthless considering that it is such a small sample size but those are still just gaudy numbers. This year, for lack of a better word, they’re awful with runners in scoring position. A .244 batting average, .293 wOBA, and 86 wRC+ all those with runners on second or third and have won 39 games, only 4 over .500.

Many people look at that and think that clearly, their inability to hit with runners in scoring position this year has caused the drop off in production. Of course, the low .303 wOBA, 92 wRC+, OPS of .681, and AVG of .250 are a bit of a drop off from the .322 wOBA, 106 wRC+, .733 OPS, and .269 AVG of last year might have something to do with that drop off in offense too. The Cardinals offense is also scoring about a run less this year than they did last year (4.83 Runs/9 innings in 2013 and 3.67 Runs/9 innings in 2014) meanwhile their pitching has practically been identical to last year with a FIP of 3.31, xFIP of 3.66, and SIERA of 3.60 this season compared to last year’s 3.39 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, and SIERA of 3.57. But is hitting with runners in scoring position dependent on how the offense overall is? I’m sure you can already see what coefficient we’re going back to.

The process was similar to last time, with the dependent variable, or y-value, being hitting with runners in scoring position, and the independent variable, or x-value, being the same statistic only looking at the value over the course of a full season. I found that wRC in a year has by far the strongest effect in determining how a team hits with RISP with an R2 of .7527 with 75% of the x-values fitting into the equation of y = 0.3364x – 51.232. OPS is after that with an R2 of .6487 and 65% of the x-values fitting the equation of y = 1.0184x + 0.0025. And then there is wOBA that has an R2 of .6258 and 63% of the x-values fitting the equation of y = 0.9807x + 0.0062. Some other values are:

• wRAA that has an R2 of .5811 (58% of the x-values fit into the equation: y = 0.2586 + 0.5721)
• wRC+ that has an R2 of .5558 (56% of the x-values fit into the equation: y = 0.9678x + 3.3038)
• WAR that has an R2 of .3831 (38% of the x-values fit into the equation: y = 0.2005x + 0.8901)

So a case could be made that the strength of a team’s offense overall does dictate how that same team hits with runners in scoring position. While by no means is it an overwhelmingly strong coefficient of determination in any of the cases, in most cases the strength of an offense determines at least 50% of hitting with runners in scoring position which is good enough to at the very least say that better offensive teams are more likely to hit better with runners in scoring position than weak offensive teams.

Comparing the Three Cuban Stars: Abreu, Cespedes, and Puig

On February 13, 2012, the Oakland A’s shocked the baseball world by signing Cuban outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. They never make big money signings but this time they did, signing him to a four year, $36 million deal. That season, he seemingly led the Oakland A’s to their surprising division title and was thought to be a major candidate for the MVP award for leading the A’s offensive charge. Had it not been for some player on the Los Angeles Angels, I think his name is Mike Trout, winning the Rookie of the Year, Cespedes would have been an easy pick for that award.

During that same season, another Cuban outfielder was signed by a Major League team. This time it was the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 28, 2012 signing 21 year old Yasiel Puig to a seven year, $42 million contract. Puig played in rookie ball and A ball in 2012 before making his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 2013. From that moment on, Cespedes was seemingly forgotten and the birth of “Puigmania” began. Puig, like Cespedes did for the Athletics, led the Los Angeles Dodgers offense in his 104 games with them to a division title. Puig too, lost out on Rookie of the Year but he certainly did provide a strong case for that award.

And this year, Puigmania rolls on but another Cuban slugger has come in as well. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox (on a six year, $68 million contract) has burst onto the scene, making the White Sox one of the story teams this year. And while it is likely that the White Sox won’t make a run like the A’s or Dodgers did, Abreu certainly will make his strong case for Rookie of the Year.

Each of these players are great, all of them with phenomenal talent. One question that has been brought up with the recent emergence of Abreu is which Cuban player is better. Judging everyone based on the stats that they have put up and seeing how each one stacks up by the common scouting method called, “the five tools,” (the five tools being hitting for power, hitting for contact, speed, arm strength, and fielding ability). I will try to present a case for which one of them is truly the best. Now granted, both Cespedes and Puig have had more playing time than Abreu, but that will be taken into account when judging them.

Hitting for Power:

This, to me, is one of the most interesting of the five tools to compare the players because each of them has quite a lot of power. Cespedes has yet to post up a Major League season where he has not hit at least 20 homers (he looks to be on pace for that number this year again with his 12 homers in 55 games so far), Puig hit 19 home runs in only 104 games last year, and Jose Abreu has done nothing but knock the cover off the ball so far this year hitting 17 homers in a mere 47 games. But as many people who go on this website I’m sure know, there is more to power than just hitting home runs. Extra bases count. Doubles, triples, home runs, all contribute to one’s ability to hit for power.

Looking at ISO, Abreu is far and away the leader in this category. His .353 ISO leads Cespedes (.218) and Puig (.232) by a very wide margin. But since his .353 ISO is in a limited playing time of only 47 games, I have decided to measure the ISO through the first 47 games of both the careers of Cespedes and Puig. Cespedes’ ISO through his first 47 games was .341 and Puig’s was .310. While I can see Abreu’s power diminishing somewhat from this extraordinary power number, I can’t see Puig and Cespedes quite matching his power hitting ability (even though Cespedes really punished the baseball in the 2013 Home Run Derby).

Edge: Jose Abreu

Hitting for Contact:

This too is an interesting statistic to judge because there are so many numbers to indicate contact hitting ability. One could look at batting average to see who the best is but of course that could easily be countered by BABIP. For example, Puig has the highest batting average of the three, hitting .327 but his BABIP (.385) is over .100 points higher than both of the other two. The other two players have BABIP numbers that are remarkably close to their actual batting average. Cespedes’ batting average is at .262 with a .261 BABIP while Abreu’s batting average is at .266 but his BABIP is at .276. But those numbers are just how good someone is at letting the ball hit the ground and reach base with a hit, not necessarily making contact with the ball.

Each player is good at making contact with the baseball. One would think that because Puig has the highest batting average, he is the best at making contact but that is actually not true. In fact, of the three players, he makes contact the least of all of the players. He just happens to hit the ball in such a way that he gets a hit more often than the other two do. In terms of overall contact%, Cespedes makes the most contact with his 74.8% contact rate, Abreu comes after him with 70.9% contact, and Puig is third with 69.9%. When the ball is inside the strike zone, Abreu is slightly better than Cespedes with his 83.3% vs. Cespedes 82.5% (Puig is also fairly close at making contact with the ball 81.6% of the time when it is in the strike zone). When the ball is outside the strike zone, Cespedes is once again the contact king with a contact rate of 64%, Abreu is trailing far behind with only 55.5%, and Puig is again in third with 53.3%. Now granted, Puig’s numbers are improving, but so are Cespedes’ numbers and Abreu is still only in his first season with plenty of time to improve.

Edge: Yoenis Cespedes

Speed (Base running ability):

If anyone is expecting Abreu to be the best in terms of speed and overall base running ability, I’m going to tell you right now to not get your hopes up. Abreu isn’t awful in terms of base running but he is far from great. This is basically between Cespedes and Puig. With more time under his belt, Cespedes does have more stolen bases but they are both equal in caught stealing. Cespedes has stolen a total of 23 bases and been thrown out 12 times (a 66% success rate) while Puig has stolen 16 bases and been thrown out 12 times (57% success rate). Abreu has not attempted a steal yet. Then when looking at actual speed in terms of miles per hour, Cespedes has been clocked at a high of 19.4 mph while Puig has been clocked around 20 mph so Puig has a slight edge in terms of raw speed but not necessarily an overwhelming advantage. To settle the divide, a look at the sabermetrics should settle who is better.

To say the least, Yasiel Puig is reckless running on the bases. He runs very fast but he often runs into outs. So needless to say his BsR is hurting. He has a career -5.2 BsR with his low being in 2013 when he had a -4.2 number and his high being this year at -0.9. Yoenis Cespedes is much smarter on the bases. He doesn’t run himself into outs as frequently as Puig does and so his BsR career number sits at 2.9 with a low of 0.6 in 2013 and a high of 1.4 in 2012. And if that isn’t enough to show that Cespedes is better, his career Spd sits at 5.3 while Puig’s is at 4.8. For the record, Abreu’s Spd is at 2.8 and his BsR is at -0.7 so like I said, he isn’t bad but he just isn’t a very fast guy.

Edge: Yoenis Cespedes

Fielding Ability:

Defensive ability is always thought to be one of the toughest things to measure because there is no real perfect way to calculate it. Another thing making it difficult is that while outfielders Puig and Cespedes basically play the same position, Abreu does not. Since he is the only first baseman in this mix of players, we will look at his numbers first.

When stacking him up with the other first basemen, Abreu really doesn’t seem half bad. In terms of UZR, Abreu is 7th among all first basemen with at least 300 innings played with his 2.2 UZR which is slightly above average. In terms of Defensive Runs Saved, Abreu is 24th among all first basemen with at least 300 innings played with his -4 which is deemed below average. So by no means is he bad, he just isn’t great. Now in the outfield, Puig and Cespedes are different stories.

Puig and Cespedes are both very good defensive outfielders. In his career, Puig has been better defensively posting up a career UZR of 3.5 while Cespedes has put up a 2.7 number. When it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, Puig again holds an advantage with his +7 mark to Cespedes -1. All in all, while Abreu is a decent first baseman, Puig is a very good defensive outfielder (not deserving of a gold glove but none the less is the best defensive player of these three).

Edge: Yasiel Puig

Arm Strength:

Defensive ability isn’t just catching and fielding the ball, it is also having the arm to make big plays. But it is tough to tell who is best because there aren’t many numbers to point to actual arm strength. Puig has some of the more highlight reel arm throws, in terms of both good throws and bad throws, and so his arm has garnered the most attention of the three. Abreu, being a first baseman generally just has to do underhand flips to the pitcher covering the bag at first and occasionally start a double play feed so his arm is really not tested as much. So again, Abreu is eliminated from the conversation almost before it started. It is again between Puig and Cespedes.

Like I said, Puig has made some of the more highlight reel throws but him being in Los Angeles and in the center of a massive media hub might have some effect on that. Cespedes has made some very strong throws but being in Oakland where not much media attention is seen, he doesn’t get as much time on the highlight reels. Still, the arm of Cespedes is not to be denied. Again, he has played in more innings than Puig has so it would be expected that he would have more outfield assists than Puig, and he does. He has 25 assists, 13 more assists than Puig’s 12. He also has two more throwing errors with three compared to Puig’s 1. But the numbers show that in spite of those throwing errors, Cespedes rARM (Outfield Arms Runs Saved) is much higher, being a 12 as opposed to Puig’s 4. The other statistic to rate an outfielder’s arm is the ARM (Outfield Arm Runs), another stat designed to show runs saved based on throwing ability, that still has Cespedes higher with 13.8 to Puig’s 4.1. So sure Puig has made some good throws, but his arm is not better than that of Yoenis Cespedes.

Edge: Yoenis Cespedes

By judging each player by the scouting five tools, Cespedes does have an edge both in actual scouting reports and by the numbers. Cespedes has the best arm, base running ability, and contact ability while Puig is the best fielding and Abreu is the best power hitter. If only judging by the five tools, Cespedes appears to be the better player but when looking in terms of actual production, Puig has done the best over his career to this point. Posting a 7.2 WAR, Puig matches Cespedes’ exact same WAR in 160 fewer games. Puig also has the highest wOBA of them all (Puig has .415, Cespedes has .344, and Abreu has .396) and the highest wRC+ of the three (Puig with 172, Cespedes with 120, and Abreu with 151). Puig is also the youngest of the three at only age 23 while Cespedes is 28 and Abreu is 27 so there is more time and room for improvement.

And in conclusion, this article would not be complete if I also did not compare the bat flips of the three. So here they are:



And Abreu’s bat drop (I’m sure that he is working on his bat flip though):

Trade Retrospective: Jonathan Broxton to Reds

The Reds are never known for making a lot of moves at the trade deadline — they make the majority of their moves during the offseason. This was one exception to Walt Jocketty’s past trades and it caught many people by surprise. When it was known that Broxton was likely to be traded, many people thought that it might be the Rangers or the Orioles or the Giants and out of nowhere, the Reds pick him up.

While Broxton was a good pitcher, the Reds gave up some very solid talent to acquire him, giving up both Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran for a pitcher who everyone knew would not be the closer for the Reds. Many, including myself, thought that this was immediately a bad deal for the Reds. A year and ten months after this deal; this piece is going to cover how the trade looks now and how it could potentially look like in the future.

From the Royals’ perspective:

Losing Jonathan Broxton was not only good for them; it turned out to be great for them. It was incredibly likely that he was going to leave them anyway at the end of the season when he hit free agency but they were able to receive not one but two prospects for him. The better of the two prospects is Donnie Joseph.

Donnie Joseph made his Major League debut last year, coming out of the bullpen on July 11, 2013 for the Kansas City Royals, pitching .1 innings and walking one. He was up only briefly for a little bit before being sent down and then coming right back up in September. While in the majors, he threw 5.2 innings in 6 games, struck out 7 batters, walking 4, giving up 4 hits, and not allowing any runs. Before that, he had a very successful minor league career. He has managed to strike out a lot of batters in the minors while also managing to limit the homers. In Triple A (2012-2013), he had a 12.06 K/9 in Triple A using only two pitches, a fastball that he can throw that will top out at about 92 mph and a lights out slider that he can throw around 85 mph. Part of what makes his stuff so good is his delivery. His delivery is very unorthodox and it makes his slider all the more deadly. What Joseph does is he slows himself down and holds his arm at such an angle that it is tough for the left handed batter to get a good read on him.

Where Joseph struggles is with his control. In those years in Triple A, he averaged about 5.98 BB/9 and while he kept the home run numbers down with only allowing 6 homers in his 93.3 innings (good for a .58 HR/9). He will not be a starter in the majors as neither in the minors nor in the majors did he ever start even one game, but he doesn’t project to be a lefty only kind of pitcher. His stuff indicates that he could face right handed batters in the majors. He looks to become a great piece to one of the already best bullpens in all of baseball.

The other prospect, Juan Carlos (J.C.) Sulbaran is one who definitely needs some polishing up before he can be considered anything other than a prospect. The potential is there for him, but having been in the Minor Leagues for five years, and at the not as young anymore age of 24, he could start to see an opportunity at reaching the Majors start to slip away. His problem has been control or lack thereof. In 2013 at Double A, he had a 5.44 BB/9 but only a K/9 of 5.05. He also tends to give up his fair share of home runs too, having given up 1.75 HR/9 at the Double A level in 2013 as well. He used to be better at striking out people than he is now but his strikeout rate has been on a sharp decline while his walks and home run rates have not been going anywhere. The Royals are looking to turn him into a starter but if he can’t find his control, then he will just become a lost prospect who never panned out.

Part of this trade that many people don’t think about is the door that it opened. Trading Broxton allowed the Royals to look into their bullpen, pull Greg Holland out, and place him in the role of closer and Holland has been nothing short of exceptional since then. Since the start of the 2012 season, only Craig Kimbrel has registered a higher WAR than Holland as a relief pitcher (Kimbrel had a 6.3 WAR to Holland’s 6.0). Holland limits home runs (.46 HR/9 in his career), limits walks (3.32 BB/9 but that number has been going down over his past three seasons), and have always struck out a ton of batters (12.34 K/9 and that number is only going up). All these numbers factor into his 1.80 FIP since 2012 that is only topped by Craig Kimbrel’s 1.32 FIP. By sending Broxton to Cincinnati, the Royals created a vacancy in the closer role that they knew they would eventually need to fill (as Broxton would eventually become a free agent at the end of that season) but by shipping him out mid-season, they were able to test out how Holland would handle the ninth inning in a lost season and he fit in beautifully which provided them a solid closer for when they would be a better team the next season.

From the Reds’ perspective:

When pitching Jonathan Broxton hasn’t been bad but that is about all that I can say positive about Broxton. The Reds acquired him to be a setup man and then all of a sudden signed him to one of the biggest contracts for a relief pitcher overall, let alone a relief pitcher who isn’t even assigned to be a closer. And as if it couldn’t get any better (note the sarcasm), he has been injured for a large part of his tenure as a Reds player. He was injured for a large part of 2013 with a right elbow flexor and only wound up throwing 30.2 innings with them that season. Then in 2014 took a while coming back off the DL after undergoing right forearm surgery. When he has pitched with the Reds, he hasn’t been bad but the time that he has pitched has been very limited. There are other signs that are concerning involving the future of Broxton.

The days of Broxton being that dominant pitcher with the electric fastball on the mound are over but he can still be a solid pitcher if and only if he changes his approach to pitching. His K/9 has been progressively going down since 2010 when it was 10.54 as in 2013 it was only 7.34. His BB/9 for the most part have remained consistent, sitting at above 3 BB/9 for most of his career and he is still good at limiting the home runs which is a good sign. However, most pitches who don’t strike out a lot of batters have ground ball rates over 50%. His groundball rates have for the most part always been around 45% which aren’t bad but it should be lower as he starts losing strikeouts.

A contributing factor to the reduction in strikeouts is his fastball velocity heading downhill while his off speed pitches haven’t changed speeds. So far in 2014, his fastball has averaged about 92.8 mph and while his slider has lost speed as well (being at about 85.6 mph), his changeup velocity is at 89.9 mph, leaving a difference in velocity between fastball and changeup of 2.9 mph. And while he only throws his changeup 2.7% of the time, there should be a greater difference in speed between the fastball and changeup otherwise it will be much easier for the hitters to hit off of him. Broxton is clearly heading downhill and the Reds definitely got the worse end of this trade.

When the Reds made this trade, it resembled the Sean Marshall deal too much for me not to know Jocketty’s intention which was to extend Broxton after making the trade. Too often I have seen Walt Jocketty trade for a player in his contract year, giving up a lot of talent and then try to extend the player in his contract year. Like with Marshall, this deal isn’t looking too good for the Reds. They signed Broxton to a three year, $21 million deal that the Reds are only halfway through regretting. And while the Royals didn’t necessarily come out as much on top as they could have with this deal, it is easy to see that the Royals got the better of this deal.

Options for Closer in Arizona

As I usually do, I was checking through the headlines on and I happened to notice that Kirk Gibson has not made a decision for who will be closing for his team. This should be one of the bigger questions leading up to the regular season as the Diamondbacks have several options when it comes to closers.

Honorable Mention: Josh Collmenter
He is a pitcher who has quietly been one of the best relief pitchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks of late. He is a three pitch pitcher with an 88 mph fastball, a 70 mph curveball, and a 78 mph changeup. With that slow speed, one would expect him to be a more pitch to contact kind of pitcher and let the defense take care of him. But he posted a career low 32.7% groundball rate which is low for many pitchers. However, he also does not give up that many homers, giving up an average of .78 HR/9 last season. He struck out 8.32 batters per nine innings last season while walking 3.23 batters per nine last year.

Where Collmenter’s value is on the Diamondbacks is as a long relief, spot starter pitcher for them. He pitched in 49 games last season and threw a total of 92 innings meaning that he threw nearly 2 innings per appearance. In his career in the minors, he pitched all of his outings as a starter with the exception of 2 games in his first year in low A ball in 2007. Closer could be a good spot for him with the strikeout rate but I would like to keep him in the bullpen for if the starter can only throw 2 innings or less.

3. Brad Ziegler
It is no secret that Brad Ziegler is very good at getting groundball outs, that is what makes him successful. He doesn’t really throw an actual sinker per se, but his fastball essentially plays the role as sinker. The submarine arm action that Ziegler throws with has the pitch rising up briefly before dipping down just before it gets to the plate (as shown in the gif below).

By using this heavy sinking action on the fastball, he has produced a career 66.1% ground ball rate (which has been raised to a 72.9% rate since the start of the 2012 season) and in front of a great fielding team like the Diamondbacks (team UZR/150 of 8.1, good for second highest in the Majors), that leads to success. But this is why he should be used more of as a relief ace as opposed to closer. If the starter leaves the game in the seventh inning with people on base, I want a pitcher to come in who can get the ground ball double play. Neither Putz nor Reed are as good at getting groundball outs and only Putz has a higher LOB% (90.9% for Putz as opposed to Ziegler’s 80.7). If Ziegler is put into the role of closer, then he would be less likely to be put into a situation where a groundball is needed as the manager would want to hold on to him until the ninth inning.

2. J.J. Putz
J.J. Putz has a very realistic chance of claiming the role of closer at the start of the season. If not for injuries, Putz would have maintained the role of closer last year but an elbow and finger injury during the season limited his playing time to only 34.1 innings and when he returned from them he was more of a situational right handed pitcher. But since the start of the 2012 season, no pitcher on the Diamondbacks has more saves than Putz’s 38 saves leading many to believe that he could be a front runner for the closer spot based on experience alone. He’s been solid for them in the past, but a steady decrease in pitch velocity and an increase in home run rate over the past 3 years should be somewhat concerning for the Diamondbacks. His fastball velocity is still above 90 mph (91.7 mph in 2013 and 92.8 mph in 2012) and the home run to fly ball rate is still not too high (having been only about 14.8% in 2013 and 8.7% in 2012 but that is a concerning increase from the 6.0% HR/FB rate in 2011).

One thing interesting to think about with regards to J.J. Putz is what effect his injuries had on his performance last year. In most areas, Putz experienced a dramatic increase in essentially all statistics but one of the more significant increases occurring in SIERA where he went from 2.29 in 2012 to 3.24 in 2013 and his walk rate increased from 1.82 BB/9 to 4.46 BB/9. It is tough to tell whether or not these inflated statistics are just as a result of injuries or if they are as a result of just wearing down from age. After all, we can’t forget that Putz is now 37 so he does not have age on his side any more. I don’t see him being as bad as his stats from 2013 indicate but it is certainly something to think about.

1. Addison Reed
One pitcher who definitely has age on his side is Addison Reed; the pitcher who I believe should be given the role of closer without question. He proved that he is one of the best young pitchers in the game and he showed this while playing for a terrible defensive team like the White Sox. I believe that his ERA is definitely misleading as a 3.79 ERA makes him seem worse than he is. Reed strikes out 9.08 batters per nine innings, limits the walks with only a 2.90 BB/9, and a HR/9 of .76 which is comfortable in the closer’s role. Those are the kind of numbers that someone in the position of closer should have and with his young age of 25, there is definitely room for improvement. His other numbers like his xFIP of 3.77 in 2013 and his SIERA of 3.19 in 2013 would indicate that he is definitely going to get better.

There are other things to like about Reed aside from his statistics and potential. Last year, he threw the four seam fastball for 92.7 mph, the two seam fastball 93.5 mph, the slider at 83.8 mph, and the changeup at 83.7 mph. The 8.9 mph difference between his fastball and slider are very deceiving to a right handed batter because of the movement away from the batter and the 8.8 mph difference between his fastball and changeup creates a devastating effect on left handed batters as is evidenced by the .266 wOBA vs. L last season with the 37 strikeouts.

The Diamondbacks are in an enviable position with having multiple options that they could plug into closer. With the young and fragile rotation (Corbin has already shown that young starters are good but not invincible) that the Diamondbacks have, I think that Collmenter will have to avoid getting locked into the closer spot as he may be needed to make a few starts. Ziegler was good for the Diamondbacks last season but don’t expect to see him in the closer’s role as a pitcher of his caliber needs to be free to pitch at any time during the course of a game. But honestly when it comes down to the choice, the gap between Reed and the other options is substantial enough that there really should not be much debate.

What the Red Sox are Getting in Grady Sizemore

The Red Sox have made news, signing Grady Sizemore to a Major League contract worth $750k ($6 million if all incentives are factored in).  This got me thinking about what happened to Sizemore.  He made the game of baseball seem simple with his defensive prowess, his above average power, and his lightning speed.  Then one day, his aging body realized that the kind of aggressive player that he had been would no longer work and it started giving in to the high strain that he put it under.  He had a hernia surgery as well as several knee and back surgeries between 2010 and 2013 which seemed to end his baseball career.  Then out of the blue he was picked up by the Red Sox in a deal that has high potential for both sides; the Red Sox could get a great player for cheap and Sizemore could resurrect his career.  This deal could end poorly for Sizemore, who could finally realize that his career is over either from injury or performance reasons while the Red Sox will view it as a failed experiment that doesn’t hurt them financially now or in the long term.

The signing of Grady Sizemore is an indication that they are ready to give Jacoby Ellsbury’s former job over to Jackie Bradley Jr., but it also shows that they are prepared with a backup plan in case that doesn’t pan out.  Some would say that Sizemore is hardly a backup plan as he could very well end up injured, which is absolutely true, and that an outfield of Gomes LF, Victorino CF, and Nava RF would happen in the event of Bradley turning out to be a dud.  But with Sizemore comes a tremendous amount of upside.  Five years ago he was a 30-30 player and a gold glover in the outfield.  He was healthy, he was starting to walk more and strike out less, and then everything stopped for him.  He was forced to undergo elbow surgery in 2009, an injury that had plagued him all season long, and from that point on if it wasn’t one problem then it was another.  Left knee surgery, right knee contusion, hernia surgery, back surgery, and then a right knee surgery came all in a span of three years which can leave a player asking whether or not their career is over.

The question that should also be brought to the attention about Sizemore is what his plate discipline will be like.  Sizemore’s BB/K reached its peak in 2008 with a .75 BB/K, dropped to .65 in 2009, and then plummeted to .245 in the combined 104 games in 2010 and 2011.  For most of his career, it seemed that Sizemore was above average at walking and avoiding strikeouts as his career BB/K was .53, .05 above the Major League average during that time period of .48.  Now did the drop come about as a result of the injuries that he suffered from 2009 to 2011 or did they just come as a result of him losing his ability?  The interesting thing about his BB/K having such a drastic change is that his swing percent rarely changed.  His career Swing% is 43.4% which is fairly decent considering that between 2004 and 2011, the average swing rate among players was 47.6%.  Sizemore also made contact with the baseball at an 81.1% rate over the course of his career with the contact rate dropping barely below that number in the three shortest years of his career (2004, 2010-2011).  Those were also the only years that his swinging strike percent exceeded 10%.  Perhaps what this shows is that pitchers weren’t afraid to attack him and he wound up taking a lot of called strikes.

The other facets of his game that must be viewed at with a lot of importance are his power and speed.  I truly believe that if Sizemore can stay healthy, then we will see a resurgence of his power.  His power numbers have always been impressive, with a career ISO of .204 and career SLG of .473.  Even in 2011 when he was limited to 71 games and was coming off of microfracture surgery in his left knee, he produced an ISO of .198.  I don’t think power will be an issue for him.  The other major part of his game that will likely never return is the speed.  In those 71 games of 2011, he stole 0 bases after averaging 19 swiped bases per season and stealing at least 22 bases in 4 of his 7 seasons prior to 2011.  With the second knee surgery having occurred in 2012, my guess is that little to no speed will be found from him in 2014.

As with everything in baseball, there are the intangibles that must come into consideration when discussing the future of Grady Sizemore.  For starters, he has not set foot onto a baseball field in 2 years.  It is a possibility that he will be incredibly rusty and might struggle to perform again at the big league level.  For some players, that would be less of a concern but for a player who last played baseball in his twenties and who is now playing in his thirties (granted, it was his late twenties and it will be his early thirties), it could pose a greater challenge.  It’s possible that he could shake all rust in Spring Training and come out in April and prove all the doubters wrong although it is impossible to know for sure.

The most optimistic yet realistic scenario for Sizemore is that he comes back to the majors, is solid defensively, and puts up great power numbers for the Red Sox.  My guess is that from the knee and back surgeries, his base stealing days are over and he will not be able to cover as much ground in the outfield that someone else might.  If I was Red Sox management, I would not give him the role of backup center fielder until I knew for sure the kind of speed that he has left.  I would task Shane Victorino with that as he has remained healthy and still has the speed to cover that ground.  Victorino would play center and when he does then Sizemore would be in left field and Gomes/Nava would be in right field.  If Bradley fits in with the Red Sox plan, then Sizemore just becomes a spot starter/platoon player in left, center, and right field only to give people a break when they need it.  So to answer the question that the title of this article poses: the Red Sox are getting a wild card, a player with the potential to be a power bat off the bench or even in the everyday lineup or a player that has played his last days in the bigs.

Bronson Arroyo and His Future

The loss to the Pirates, the recent removal of Dusty Baker, and the upcoming free agency of Shin-Soo Choo has overshadowed Bronson Arroyo and his status with the Reds. It seems that if there is one player who never receives enough attention, it is him. But while the baseball world may not seem to realize that he is a free agent, there is no doubt that Walt Jocketty and his staff are very much aware of the 36 year-old starter’s expired contract.

Bronson Arroyo, with the exception of 2011, has been not only one of the Reds best starters, but one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball. He has not been a Cy Young candidate and he is not the ace of the Reds by any means. But the one thing that cannot be denied is his innings pitched per year. Since joining the Reds, he has thrown over 1600 innings and has averaged about 211.1 innings pitched per year. They have started to dip recently but throwing 202 innings each year of the past two seasons shows that despite the age, he still has his durability. He has managed to avoid the DL in his career which is something to be marveled at. Every year that he has pitched with the Reds, he has started at least 32 games and averaged 6-7 innings per start. This kind of reliability is something to be desired out of a starter in this day and age where there is at least one Tommy John surgery or one pitcher who is on a strict innings limit.

One of the things that allow Arroyo to be so durable is the fact that he does not waste his time out of the zone with his pitches. His goal is to go right at the hitters. This season, he was fifth in the majors in walks per nine with 1.51. During his tenure with the Reds (2006-2013), he has averaged 2.31 BB/9 which is good for 14th among pitchers who have thrown at least 1000 IP during that time frame. He seems to be trying to improve those numbers as his BB/9 has been 1.54 over the past two seasons. He indicates that he refuses to beat himself by giving up the free pass (which can help him out seeing as how does not strike out a lot of batters and he does tend to give up home runs).

Bronson Arroyo has made himself a very good pitcher due to great durability and his ability to change speeds when he pitches. Last season his fastball averaged 87 mph and his curveball averaged about 70 mph. The change of speeds helps him to keep most batters off balance because they have no idea what kind of speed is going to be released from his arm or what kind of arm slot the baseball is going to be thrown at. While watching a Reds game, one of the guests in the booth said that he would rather face a pitcher like Aroldis Chapman because he knows what speed and arm slot to expect most of the time. Chapman will throw his fastball about 85.4% of the time and his off-speed pitch (slider) about 14.6% of the time. Once the batter stands in the batter’s box, he can expect to see that heater for the majority of the time. Bronson Arroyo throws his fastball (or sinker) last season for 44.1% of the time. That is 55.9% of the time that he throws one of his 3 other off speed pitches that ranges anywhere from 70 mph to 77.6 mph.

Despite the fact that Arroyo is such a good pitcher, it is unlikely that he will return to the Reds. The Reds, I’m sure, would like nothing more than to have Bronson Arroyo return to their team. The problem is that the Reds are going to have a full rotation and none of the other pitchers are going to the bullpen any time soon. Tony Cingrani has emerged as a phenomenal young left-handed starter that has earned a starting spot. Homer Bailey and Mat Latos have proven to be durable aces that on their best day can match up with anyone and shut down the best of offenses even in Great American Ballpark. Mike Leake probably would have been sent to the bullpen to make room for Arroyo but because of the great bounce-back season that he had, he has re-solidified his spot in the rotation as well. Cueto could be an option to be sent to the bullpen because of his long list of injuries but it is true that when healthy, he is one of the best pitchers in the game. The Reds also have several very talented pitching prospects in the minors in Robert Stephenson, Daniel Corcino, and Nicholas Travieso who are just waiting for an excuse to be called up to the majors. And because of Arroyo’s proven track record it is almost a solid guarantee that he will not be sent to the bullpen.

If you take away anything from these past few paragraphs, it should be that Arroyo is a solid and dependable starter. Maybe on certain teams (I’m looking at you, Houston) he could be an ace but on most teams he will be a solid mid-bottom of the rotation starter for any team. His tendency to give up home runs could be cured in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark but it is unlikely that the problem will go away all together. He is a good pitcher who might get his 3 years, and 30+ million dollars somewhere but he will not find it in Cincinnati. Cincinnati is a mid-market team who is going to have to worry about signing up Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, and Tony Cingrani in the future and they have already spent a lot of money to keep Jay Bruce and Joey Votto locked up for the long haul. Their depth in pitchers allows them to look elsewhere for places on where to spend all of the money that they would have to spend in order to resign Arroyo. Perhaps they could use it to get La Russa out of retirement . . .