April 24, 2014

Four Stat-Lines to Watch on the 2013 Indians

Lonnie ChisenhallI’ll get to some actual predictions later this week, but today I thought I’d share with you some stat-lines I’ll be paying extra close attention throughout this year.  Think of these as “leading indicators” for how successful each player’s season might be.

Michael Brantley’s On-Base Percentage – Given that he’s been in Cleveland since 2009, it’s pretty easy to forget that Michael Brantley is still fairly young.  Younger than Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson.  In fact, the only position player expected to see any regular playing time who’s younger than Brantley is Lonnie Who Loved Baseball, who can barely grow an awesome handlebar mustache.  I guess I just want to point out that any criticisms of Brantley need to be tempered by his obvious though easily forgotten youth.

On the other hand, he’s not twelve.  Michael Brantley will turn 26 in May, and it’s time for him to demonstrate the OBP skill that made him such a valuable prospect in the first place.  For his minor league career, Brantley had a .388 OBP across nearly 2,500 plate appearances.  So far in the Big Leagues, he’s at only .329.  For reference, in 2012 .388 would’ve placed Brantley fifth in the AL in OBP, behind Miguel Cabrera; .329, on the other hand, is right around league average.  Of course, it’s harder to get on base in the Show than it is in the Minors, but if Brantley isn’t going to hit for power (career SLG% .376) or contribute strong defense at a position of need (adequate defensive LFers grow on trees), then he’s going to have to get better at not making outs.  Or he’ll be out of a job.

The good news is that last season Brantley posted a .348 OBP, and not coincidentally he was an above-average offensive player for the first time in his career (106 wRC+).  But in LF, he’s going to have to do better than that to hold his own in a position that is dominated by strong offensive performers.

Scott Kazmir’s Swinging Strike Rate – I wrote last week how excited I am to watch Scott Kazmir this season.  I don’t know why exactly, but I’ll be rooting for him to make the team and to find some modicum of success.

Worry isn’t the right word, but I do wonder if we won’t have too much of a chance to see Kazmir, what with Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer both nipping at his heels.  But while is here, what I’ll be watching most closely on Kazmir is his ability to induce swinging strikes.  Check out this chart:

YEAR SwStr% ERA
2005

10.9%

116

2006

12.5%

141

2007

12.1%

130

2008

11.8%

127

2009

8.7%

89

2010

7.4%

67

 

You get the picture: Kazmir has to induce swinging strikes to succeed.  When he’s above 10%, he does just fine.  When he falls below, things start to get ugly, and quickly.  This is mostly due to his batted ball tendency: Scott Kazmir is a flyball pitcher, and if those guys don’t get lots of swings and misses (and eventually, strikeouts), they’re going to struggle.  After all, flyballs become home runs eventually, and if you give up enough of those, you’re just not going to be able to hack it.

Vinnie Pestano’s Splits – In 2012, Vinnie Pestano was about as dominant against right handed batters as any pitcher who’s ever lived.  Per nine innings, Pestano struck out 13.0 and walked only 2.2, resulting in an otherworldly 5.9 K/BB rate.  He struck out 37% of all right handers he faced.  His FIP (ERA estimator) against righties was 2.24.  Fewer than 23% of right handed batters managed not to record an out against Pestano in 2012.

His problem, of course, was left handed batters.  Against lefties, his K/9 dropped below 7.0, his walk-rate climbed to nearly 4 per nine, and his FIP jumped all the way to 4.46. Perhaps the best way to break it down is this: his wOBA against right handed batters was .220, which is about what NL pitchers would put up.  Against, lefties, it was .326—slightly above league average.  In other words, Vinnie turned right handed hitters into NL pitchers and left handed hitters into Michael Bourn.

Most of this probably isn’t fixable at this stage—Vinnie’s delivery is just ridiculously hard on same-sided hitters.  But there seems to be a feeling among most Tribe fans that as soon as Chris Perez moves on, Vinnie will be right there ready to close.  Not if he can’t improve against lefties, he won’t.

Lonnie Chisenhall’s Isolated Power – I’ve written about ISO before, but in case you need a refresher, it’s just the difference between a player’s batting average and his slugging percentage.  In other words, how many of his hits are for extra bases?  A pure singles hitter would have an ISO of .000.  Sluggers like Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder have  ISO’s north of .250.

Last season, Travis Hafner led the Indians with an ISO of .210, and he was the only one above .200.  Shelley Duncan was next at .185.  Among players who will return this season, only Carlos Santana hit for more power (.168) than Lonnie Chisenhall (.162).

But a .162 ISO really isn’t anything special.  Last season that would’ve sandwiched him somewhere between Coco Crisp and Kyle Seager.  The reason I’m keying on Lonnie’s power is that he doesn’t have any other offensive skill of note, at least not yet.  His approach—especially against left handed pitching—really needs work, and until he straightens that out he’s going to strike out A LOT.  As we all know, strikeouts aren’t a big deal if you draw walks, but Lonnie doesn’t really do that either, at least not yet.  That means his one offensive tool right now is power.  I sure hope he develops his approach this season, but if not, he’s going to have to get that ISO north of .180 to have much value with the stick.

There’s more than these four, of course.  We’ll watch Drew Stubbs’ BABiP (a career low .290 last season) and Mark Reynolds’ K% (below 30% would be nice) and Nick Swisher’s Bro-Ratio (likely to set all-time highs, ‘cuz he’s from O-H-I-O, BROSEPH!).  We’ll look out for Ubaldo’s K-rate (above 20%, PLEASE) and Masterson’s splits  and Brett Myers’ rap sheet.  I can hardly wait, but before then, I’ve got a prediction post to write.

(Glorious, glorious) Photo Credit - Mark Duncan, The Associated Press

  • mgbode

    so, we have listed the likely #7 hitter, #9 hitter, SP5, and setup man. I agree with everything listed, but the success of the actual team will have less to do with these guys than many others.

  • WFNYJon

    I see your point, but I think I disagree. This team is going to need to squeeze every last bit of roster-juice out of this squad if they want to compete with Detroit. I mean, it goes with saying that Masterson and Ubaldo have to be better than last year, or that Swisher can’t miss half the year with a pulled bro-muscle, right?

    But the difference between this team being .500 and being competitive might actually come from the margins of the roster. Can Brantley and Chisenhall take the next step? Can they find effective options at the back of the rotation and bullpen? These seem to me to be where the interesting stuff might happen. I don’t think my list is exhaustive by any stretch, but I do think these lines may matter more than we think.

  • mgbode

    Honestly, I don’t think we are competing with Detroit. They have the best team in MLB and get to play with an AL Central schedule. We are competing to be one of the wildcard teams. Yes, that doesn’t invalidate your point (just moves it), but I think it’s an important distinction.

    Masterson and Ubaldo don’t just have to be better this year, they have to be anchors (or someone else needs to step up in the rotation). I’m just more curious on what/how you think they can improve. What to watch early in the year as indicators for them.

    my indicators:

    Masterson – K/BB & HR/FB

    Ubaldo – K% (w/ velocity) & LOB%
    (he’s always walked alot of guys, so i’m less concerned about him continuing to do that unless he’s reinventing himself).

  • Steve

    Brantley’s .329 OBP may be right around the league average, but we need to adjust for the park. Progressive is such a pitcher’s park that the league average OBP for Brantley’s ML time is actually .316. So Brantley is a nice tick above that. And his .348 OBP last year compared to a park-adjusted league average of .311 suggests he’s figuring it out. His BB% and K% both made significant jumps in the right direction. All of this while seeing the percentage of pitches in the strike zone that he swings at making a solid jump from the low 50%s to high 50%s. He’s found a way to draw more walks while being more aggressive at the plate. I was skeptical of him before, he wasn’t getting on base and wasn’t taking the bat off his shoulder, and getting nicked up a few too many times, but now I have high hopes for the kid. I expect him to be a big contributor this year.

    Also, Progressive being a pitchers park has a big effect on those ISO numbers you were looking at, it drags them down quite a bit.

  • mgbode

    just curious, but is that average OBP for Progressive only factoring in visiting teams? too many of those stats use home & road teams splits, which bias the stat towards the effectiveness of the home team. thanks.

  • Steve

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/parkadjust.shtml

    Of course, just using the road team splits would theoretically see the same bias, just in the opposite direction. But bb-ref takes into account the difference in success between home and road performance.

  • WFNYJon

    Yes, yes. Good points all.

  • mgbode

    why would it see the same bias in the opposite direction? 81 home dates means 50% of the data is from the home team if not corrected.

    and yes, B-R does have this fixed. at one point, they did not (which is part of the reason I asked). thank you.

  • Steve

    If you want to tease out the advantage of playing at home, then you have to tease out the disadvantage to playing on the road. You can’t just use road splits. And I’m not sure how far back you are looking, but they’ve been calculating park factors like that for quite a while now.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    It feels like about the right time for Brantley to hit a power spike. He’s been driving the ball well to the gaps in spring training, physically it looks like he’s added some muscle, and I’ve just got this feeling that some of those 37 doubles from last year will be home runs this year, so to speak.

  • co811809

    This is baseball. You cant just say the Tigers are going to win the division. What happens if Verlander gets hurt? They turn into a team like us with a slightly better offensive lineup but we are better defensively. Is Detroit better than us? Yeah of course, but this is the MLB there are 162 games we have a chance to be better. Go Tribe!

  • mgbode

    Detroit’s starting rotation is still well ahead of ours even if Verlander misses the entire season.

    Now, that is “on paper,” and yes, something like the 2012 O`s could certainly happen to us. I’m just thinking we have a better chance at the 2nd wild card slot than the division.

  • nj0

    Considering how bad our LF and SP5 were last year, I think focusing on those guys isn’t exactly that far fetched.

  • mgbode

    fair point. though Zach McAllister had a fine year from the SP5 spot once he took it from Gomez :)

  • Kildawg

    The only significant injury Detroit had last year was Martinez. They would also hurt if M. Cabrera or Fielder got injured, obviously Verlander the biggest blow (their rotation average without him).

  • mgbode

    ok, just putting this out there to show their rotation is still much better than average even without Verlander. hate defending Detroit, but better to know now than later (2012 stats):

    Name ERA/FIP
    Scherzer 3.74/3.27
    Fister 3.45/3.42
    A.Sanchez 3.74/3.68
    Smyly 3.99/3.83
    Porcello 4.59/3.91

    Masterson had the best FIP of starters on the Tribe in 2012: 4.16 w/ an ERA of 4.93.

    And, remember, this is spotting the Tribe Justin Verlander. On offense, the Tigers added Torri Hunter(’12 WAR= 5.5) and Victor Martinez (’11 WAR = 2.9) to an offense that already had Miggy, Prince, and Austin Jackson.

    It’s baseball, anything can happen, but last year, I saw potential pitfalls for the Tigers (bullpen, unproven SP2-5, potentially weak lineup after Miggy & Prince). This season, they still may have bullpen issues. SP2-5 is much more proven, and they have added hitters + Austin proved to be real.

  • ThatAlex

    The Nick Swisher “bro” line made me chuckle. Good work.

  • nj0

    Completely agree. With Verlander, they’re the best 1-5 rotation in baseball. Without him, they’re still probably in the top half.

    For example, w/o Verlander FGs has the next starting four at 12+ WAR. Cleveland’s entire stable of potential starters are predicted at 9+ WAR.

  • saggy

    if brantley could hit about 15 more homers and steal about 25 more bases he would be just like Carl Crawford in his prime.

  • Porkchop

    Jon, just for the record the Chis is not growing a Handlebar in that picture. It is either the beginning of a Horseshore, a full Circle Beard, or perhaps a Fu. A Handlebar is clearly defined by the hair growing pararel to the lip and most importantly long enough that the ends are no longer affixed to the skin. I have no idea how you expect us to respect your opinion on Brantley’s OPS if you can’t properly label facial hair.
    Signed by the 1000′s of men who live with the fear that their wives will one day cut the ends of their beautiful Handlebar mustaches off while they sleep.