Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's Up with Matt Moore?

A month ago, Matt Moore was 8-0 with a 2.21 ERA and looked like a good bet to start the All Star Game. He has arguably been the worst pitcher in the American League since then. It would be a shame if Matt Moore never becomes as good as we expected.

The young left-handed Rays starting pitcher has been one of our favorite prospects for the past 3+ years. When we did our "24 Under 24" column 18-months ago, we had Moore ranked third, just ahead of Mike Trout, behind Kershaw and Strasburg. Because Matt Moore has 10 Wins and a decent 3.95 ERA, the difficulties Matt Moore has been going through in June can be easily overlooked. His monthly splits are an eyesore...

Matt Moore by 2013 Month
April: .122 Opponents Batting Average / 1.13 ERA
May: .232 Opponents Batting Average / 3.30 ERA
June: .337 Opponents Batting Average / 8.39 ERA

Are Matt Moore's recent struggles a bump in the road, or regression towards a more realistic measure of his true talent?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Prospecting for Arms ft. Kyle Gibson

Rumors abound that the Minnesota Twins may be charting out a course for Kyle Gibson to join the Major League team's rotation. He's probably one of the five best starters in the Twins organization, but how much of an impact will he actually have upon arrival? Whether you're a Twins fan, a fantasy player, or both, what can we expect from Kyle Gibson?

Photo by Kris J. Murante
Twins fans have been waiting on Kyle Gibson for four years. The Twins selected Gibson 22nd overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. His stock had dropped because of a stress fracture in his wrist. If he hadn't been hurt, he would have been projected as a Top 5 pick. 2009 was not only the first time the MLB draft was televised, longtime readers will remember that was the first time we took notes during the draft. We thought Kyle Gibson was a good risk because the arm injury wasn't in his shoulder or elbow. We wrote that Gibson at 22nd overall could be the steal of the draft, but we were off by 3 picks. The Angels selected Mike Trout with the 25th overall pick.

Kyle Gibson's ascension to the Major Leagues has been sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in September 2011. He's an older prospect, turning 26 on October 23rd, the scheduled date for Game 1 of the 2013 World Series.

In terms of stuff, Kyle Gibson is known to have good command while relying on a fastball that sits around 91-92 mph. He's listed at 6'6" 210 lb, so he should throw with a good downward plane on his pitches.

In his minor league career (368 innings) over four Minor League levels, Gibson boasts a career 3.45 ERA, 0.6 HR/9 and 3.3 K/BB ratio. His Earned Run Average rises by level, but stats acquired while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery are less significant than numbers produced while pitching healthy.

Kyle Gibson ERA by Level
Rk: 2.45
Photo by William Deshazer
A+: 1.97
AA: 3.68
AAA: 3.94

Fangraphs shows his Fielding Independent Pitching stats for each minor league stint. The highest FIP he ever recorded was in 2011, when he pitched to a 3.67 FIP in Triple-A. This year, in Triple-A, he has a 2.96 FIP.

Minor league splits tell an interesting story about Kyle Gibson. In 15 starts for the Rochester Red Wings this season, his opponent's batting average and OPS show no split advantage...

Kyle Gibson 2013 Splits (AAA)
LHB: .233 BA, .581 OPS
RHB: .226 BA, .580 OPS

A quick look at walks and strikeouts by opponents handedness shows a problem when facing lefties...

Kyle Gibson 2013 Splits (AAA)
LHB: 22 BB, 32 K
RHB: 6 BB, 47 K

How Kyle Gibson handles big league left-handed batters could determine how productive he will be for Minnesota.

Fantasy players would care what kind of run support and defense Kiyle Gibson will get after a promotion to the Twins. Advanced metrics do not agree on the worth of the 2013 Twins defense. Baseball Info Solutions ranks them 11th out of 30 in Defensive Runs Saved, but Ultimate Zone Rating ranks them 26th with a -17.2 UZR. Let's take that to mean that we don't know how good the Twins are at defense.

How about their offense? It's probably the 10th best offense in the league, averaging 4.2 runs per game. There are really cool ways of measuring the performances of their individual batters. For example, the Twins are ranked 20th out of 30 MLB teams (10th out of 15 AL teams) in wOBA. According to Fangraphs, they are not especially good base runners. They are ranked 11th out of 15 American League teams in base running. Looking specifically at the bottom line, the Twins rank 10th in the AL in runs scored and runs scored per game.

Photo by Joe Robbins
The best thing Minnesota Twins starting pitchers have going for themselves is their bullpen. Twins relievers have a 2.84 ERA, which is best in the ERA and only trails the Braves' 2.82. The Twins bullpen has the best FIP in all of baseball (3.16). Until/if they trade Glen Perkins, Twins starters should have as much confidence as anyone in their teammates' ability to protect their leads.

All in all, we expect Kyle Gibson to be a valuable part of the Twins rotation for the next handful of years. His fantasy value should be eminent immediately. Unless left-handed batters absolutely hammer him in the big leagues, he should be worth a flyer in just about any fantasy league.

What do you think? Does Kyle Gibson sound like the real deal?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rookies on the Rise

This season is shaping up to have a fantastic rookie class. While the American League boasts a couple of baseball's most elite prospects, in Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers, it's been the National League rookies that have been most impressive this season. Even without Matt Harvey qualifying as a rookie, the 2013 rookie class of starting pitchers in the NL appears to be a group for the ages.

Over the first two and a half months of the season, Shelby Miller has been the brightest star of the group, with impeccable stats through 14 starts this year: 2.08 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 10.01 K/9 and 1.98 BB/9. Miller won't turn 23 until October 10th, which makes this Cubs fan very nervous.

The elder statesman of the NL rookie class is the Dodgers' 26-year old Hyun-Jin Ryu. After the Dodgers won the exclusive right to negotiate with Ryu with a $25 million posting fee, they signed him to a $36 million contract over 6 years. He is on his way to being worth every penny. Fangraphs calculates Ryu's performance to have already been worth $8 million to the Dodgers, after just 91 1/3 innings pitched. Ryu's ERA sits at 2.96, making him and Miller the only NL starters with ERA's under 3.00.

Photo by Ross D. Franklin / AP
One of the few bright spots in this shamefully lost season in Miami Jose Fernandez, who was born in Cuba almost 21 years ago (7/31/92). When the Marlins called him up, people were shocked because he's so young and the team is going nowhere. Why start his arbitration clock so that he can go get hammered in the big leagues for a team that's going to lose 100 games with or without him? On the contrary, Fernandez has been incredible. He struggled a bit earlier in the year, but still has season numbers up there with Miller and Ryu. Fernandez has a 3.05 ERA, and his 3.17 FIP and 3.38 xFIP are better than Ryu's. Jose Fernandez has been particularly unhittable of late. In June, Fernandez has a 1.65 ERA, 1.81 FIP, and has held batters to an anemic .127/.211/.157 slash line.

As a brief side note, I wanted to compare Jose Fernandez's 28.2% strikeout rate in June to all other qualified Major League starters in June (he ranks 11th) and marveled at which pitcher came out on top...

June 2013 Starting Pitching K% (Qualified)
Joe Blanton, Angels 35.0%
Shelby Miller, Cardinals 33.7 %
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals 31.7 %
Max Scherzer, Tigers 31.7 %
Cliff Lee, Phillies 30.7 %
Matt Harvey, Mets 30.1 %
Cole Hamels, Phillies 29.5 %
Yu Darvish, Rangers 29.4 %
Madison Bumgarner, Giants 28.9%
Julio Teheran, Braves 28.6%
Jose Fernandez, Marlins 28.2 %

Joe Blanton's career strikeout rate is 16.1 K%

The Braves have Julio Teheran, once the top pitching prospect in the country, living up to expectations. After a slow start, where scouts criticized his pitches as "flat" and the results failed to argue the point, Teheran has pitched fantastically. Most notably, Teheran threw 8 innings of 1-hit ball against the Pirates on June 5th. Teheran has pitched better each month, as his ERA by month shows: 5.08 April, 2.60 May, 2.25 June.

If Cubs fans were nervous because the Cardinals continuously reload their rotations with studs like Shelby Miller, they should be downright petrified at seeing Michael Wacha join the team picture. He's still a year or two away from consistently dominating, but he just turns 22 on July 1st. Michael Wacha has plenty of time.

If being a Cubs fan weren't rough enough, we have to attempt to rebuild at a time when the Cardinals are on top of the World, and the Pirates are legitimately good for the first time in 20 years, and the Reds may have the best team of the group. In Pittsburgh, former #1 overall pick, Gerrit Cole, has had a brilliant start to his Major League career. It sounds like Cole will be sent back to triple-A for more seasoning.

Rather than sending Tony Cingrani to the triple-A Louisville Bats, the Reds are moving Cingrani to the bullpen, where he could be a potential X-factor for the Reds. Cingrani could be the difference between the Reds missing the playoffs to playing in the World Series. Time will tell if he can have a magical season, or if the league will adjust to his fastball and punish his lesser offerings. Case in point: Cingrani has a 3.02 ERA and 4.04 FIP. If his ERA can stay closer to 3.00 than 4.00, the Reds should be in good shape.

Todd Kirkland / AP
Earlier this week, the Mets knocked the socks off the National League by showcasing Matt Harvey and rookie Zack Wheeler as the starters for a double-header.

Wheeler is the real deal. With velocity, movement, and improving command, Zack Wheeler will be a strikeout pitcher with low opponents' batting average.

Wheeler must lower his walk rate to reach elite pitcher status, but the smart money is that he'll have that figured out by the end of next season.

Tyler Skaggs should become a good pitcher for the Diamondbacks. At first glance, he looks like he could be a ways away, as he's sporting a 5.40 ERA in three starts. Although it's a ridiculously small sample size, he is showing the ability to strike out Major League hitters (9.2 K/9 this season). His FIP is still high (5.21) because he has given up a home run on 20% of his fly balls. That number should be lower, which is taken account by xFIP calculations and show in his 3.78 xFIP for the year.

Trevor Rosenthal has been a strike-throwing lightning bolt out of the St. Louis bullpen, boasting a 12.9 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and minuscule 1.77 ERA, when considering his .377 BABIP. For those fellow Cubs fans scoring at home, yes, that's 3 Cardinals pitchers mentioned in this post, compared with zero Cubs players.

The American League has seen a few starts from Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Their success pales to the good showings from their NL pitchers mentioned above. The best AL rookie pitcher so far has been Dan Straily of the A's. Straily is the only AL pitcher with sub-4.00 numbers in all three ERA, FIP and xFIP.

The strong start of National League rookies extends to comparisons of position players.

2013 National League Rookies
C: Evan Gattis, Braves
1b: Matt Adams, Cardinals
2b: Jedd Gyorko, Padres
SS: Didi Gregorius, Diamondbacks
3b: Anthony Rendon, Nationals
OF: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
OF: Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
OF: A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks

Apologies to Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, but his .298 On-Base Percentage is dwarfed by Anthony Rendon's .388. Rendon shifted over to second base to fit a need for the Nationals, but he's a third baseman by trade.

2013 American League Rookies
C: Yan Gomes, Indians
1b: Nate Freiman, Athletics
2b: Nick Franklin, Mariners
SS: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
3b: Jose Iglesias, Red Sox
OF: Leonis Martin, Rangers
OF: Brandon Barnes, Astros
OF: Oswaldo Arcia, Twins

Jared Wickerham
Getty Images
We're buying the hype on Wil Myers for the long run. Over his career, we expect at least 250 home runs from that bat. For the rest of this season, however, our expectations are more bearish. His strikeout rate in the minor leagues rose to cautionary levels, and he had a fairly sizable handedness split, excelling versus left-handed pitchers.

Jose Iglesias is really a shortstop, but he, Profar, and Franklin have all been good enough to receive recognition. Iglesias is trying his best to shed the all-glove/no-bat tag he was given at the inception of his pro career. This season, in 30 games, while still playing marvelous defense on the left side of the infield, Iglesias is hitting .423/.477/.557. Iglesias, Profar, and Franklin make the team. Other rookie AL third basemen have been so lousy that I'm not even going to mention them by name. Avisail Garcia just missed making our Outfield.

Photo by Lenny Ignelzi / AP
It's still early enough in the season for rookie player ranking lists to get flipped on their heads. Up to this point in 2013, the National League rookies are assimilating to the big leagues easier than their AL counterparts. A large part of the baseball world is going ga-ga for Puigmania. Evan Gattis has been pulling off a modern day Paul Bunyan impressions by grippin-and-rippin a heavy bat sans batting gloves. Strong showings from Gyorko, Gregorius and Ozuna, along with a handful of awesome pitching performances, make the 2013 National League rookie class deeper than we've seen in years. For the long term, the American League shows great promise, with some of baseball's most touted rookies (Profar, Myers, Gausman) on the cusp of being full time Major Leaguers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Beaning and Fisting

On Monday afternoon, Jacob Peterson of @JunkStats pointed out an anomaly with Doug Fister's propensity to hit batters this season. As some of you may know, Doug Fister leads the league with 12 HBP. Jacob pointed out the historic territory Fister approaches in terms of total HBP and HBP/BB ratio.

Green Wave Arms Race

It's nice to see a pitching prospect at Tulane with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Midweek Musings

This could be the year the Pittsburgh Pirates break their 20-year old postseason drought. It will most certainly be the year they break their 20-year run of finishing below .500.

Friday, June 7, 2013

2013 MLB Draft Recap

In case you missed it, we're recapping the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft for posterity. Once again, MLB Network is doing a fine job without the help of Kevin Millar or Mitch Williams. The real treat in listening to these broadcasts is the insight from Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo. For you NFL fans out there, they are sort of like the Todd McShay and Mel Kiper.

Thursday, June 6, 2013