Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Optimism for Johan Santana

2012 proved to be quite the momentous year for Johan Santana. After missing the entire 2011 season following major shoulder surgery, the 33-year-old Venezuelan silenced critics with 5 shutout innings (and a no-decision) on Opening Day. While it wasn't a dominant start, El Gocho showed us that his stuff is effective at any velocity (his fastball in 2012 averaged 88.4mph, down from 89.6 in 2010) as he struck out five batters and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth inning. 

In fact, Santana looked every bit the part of the ace the Mets lacked, averaging better than 6 innings per start and a 2.39 ERA through his first eleven starts. His eleventh start last year was especially significant. I don't want to be the one to tell you what happened, so I'll let Gary Cohen tell you here.

What immediately followed is, well, not so good. What you often hear is that Santana, well, stunk after that night. In the 10 starts that followed, Santana averaged under 5 innings / start and posted a Oliver Perez-esque 8.27 ERA. Because of this, the common theme is that Santana is now a question mark for 2013. But is he?

Let's look at some numbers [Note: "Pre" references starts up to and including June 1st, "Post" is everything after]

K/9, BB/9, K/BB, BABIP

Pre: 9.0, 2.78, 3.24, .259
Post: 7.90, 3.31, 2.39, .357

The biggest thing to note is that Santana's walk rate jumped 19%. The strikeout rate dropped 12% as well, but the 7.90/9 exactly matches his rate in 2009/10, so it isn't exactly a red flag. The most significant thing to note is the major increase in BABIP. Some of that is indicative of his struggles, but some does indicate some unfortunate regression (his career BABIP is .276). The numbers here do indeed indicate a major regression in his performance, but blanket statements here may be misleading. 

What is seemingly overlooked in analyzing his decline is the major ankle injury Santana suffered against Chicago on July 6th. I posit that this be used as the 'turning point' in Santana's season, and here's why (on a start by start basis):

June 8th, @NYY: 5IP, 7H, 6ER, 1BB, 5K
Santana certainly struggled against the Yankees here, but it was almost a perfect storm of factors that led to this. First, Johan was given an extra 2 days of rest which some argue threw off his schedule. Second (and perhaps, more importantly): Santana, who has always been a fly-ball pitcher (his career Ground-Ball rate is only 37.2%), started a game in a notorious home-run hitters' park, against a notorious home-run hitting team (the Yankees hit 245 home runs, breaking their own franchise record and totaling the 7th most all-time). Of the 10 balls put in play against Santana that day, 6 were hit in the air. 4 of them left the park.

June 14th, @TBR: 5IP, 6H, 4ER, 4BB, 6K
A sloppy start for Santana, in which he allowed 10 baserunners in 5 innings. That said, he did keep the ball in the yard. He did allow 1 fewer hit, and struck out an additional batter, but he walked three more than in his previous start. In all, an improvement. This wasn't a 'quality' start by any means, it is at least passable.

June 19, vs. BAL: 6IP, 4H, 0ER, 2BB, 5K
This was Santana's first 'good' start after the no hitter, and it came against a quality Balitmore Orioles team. He seemed to shake off his funk here, and it showed in his next few starts. 

June 25, @CHC: 6IP, 5H, 2ER, 3BB, 6K
Santana has thrown back-to-back quality starts, and seems to be getting back to where he was. His control was a bit shaky, giving up three walks, but he continued to have a good strikeout rate (22K in 22IP in these four starts, matching his pre-no-hitter rate), but the walks were definitely up (10BB/22IP). 

June 30, @LAD: 8IP, 3H, 0ER, 2BB, 3K
Not many strikeouts in this start, but very effective nonetheless. In fairness, it was against a depleted Dodgers lineup, but for Santana to go beyond 6 innings for the first time in a month was a good step forward. He was also much more efficient in this start, averaging just over 13 pitches per inning. He may not have been dominant (if you consider the low strikeout total) but he was about as close as it gets.

At this point, we can see that Santana was not nearly as bad after the no-hitter as we get told, he was still pretty good. His ERA in these five starts was 3.60 (12ER/30IP). Not great, but certainly respectable for someone supposedly 'worn out' following a 134-pitch no hitter following anterior capsule surgery (if you remove the start against the Yankees, his ERA in the other four was a paltry 2.19). His In his next start (vs. CHC), he started out fine (2ER in the first 4 innings, before having his ankle injured covering first base on a Reed Johnson groundout). After that moment, things turned for the much-much-much worse. In the 15 innings Santana would pitch following the injury, he gave up a total of 31(!) earned runs. 

Now, this is no guarantee that Santana will be in vintage form next year. What it is, however, is a theory - one at least as credible as any other - that Santana's ankle was the reason behind his decline. His shoulder, in the meantime, seemingly showed no long-term fatigue. Johan Santana can be fairly considered a variable going into next season. But he's a gamer, and has shown that he can work effectively with what he has. And many of us said these things a year ago. After seeing Santana pitch opening day this year, I'm willing to put my money on him going forward.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why the Pessimism Surrounding Ike Davis?

After an inconsistent 2012, many consider Ike Davis' future to be far cloudier than they did a year ago. Davis followed an impressive rookie campaign (.264/.351/.440, 19HR) with an excellent start to his sophomore season (.302/.383/.543, 7HR) that was cut short after only 149 plate appearances due to a freak ankle injury suffered on a pop up in Colorado.

After missing the last 126 games in 2011, Davis' health was further thrown into question after rumors surfaced of a valley fever infection. Ike (and Mets brass) insisted this would be a non-factor, and he finished spring training on a high note, homering in the Mets' final three spring games. 

Things would turn quickly south, however. It wasn't until his sixth game that Ike got his first hit of the season, and things did not pick up much after that. He showed flashes of his ability at times (he homered in 3 out of 4 games April 14th-18th), but largely seemed to be struggling. Those struggles were attributed to a combination of rust, his health, and his mental fortitude. Everything came to a head in early June, when the decision was made not to demote Davis; Sandy Alderson claimed that the first baseman would better benefit from hitting (or trying to) against Major League pitching. That was June 8th of this year. Perhaps coincidentally, things looked up for Ike Davis that very day.

Ike Davis on June 8th: .158/.234/.273, 5 HR
Ike Davis since June 8th: .263/.345/.560, 27 HR

Not only was Davis contributing again offensively, he became the player everyone hoped for. From June 8th to the end of the season, Davis' .905 OPS would lead all National League first basemen. His 32 home runs in 2012 were one shy of Adam LaRoche (who led NL first basemen in HR), and LaRoche had 63 more plate appearances. His 32 were tied for fourth overall in the NL (with Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran), and his 18.25 PA/HR was second in the National League, trailing only Ryan Braun. So the question here is, why so much uncertainty going forward?

1. Ike Davis has disparate platoon splits.

In 2012, Davis did show some bad splits, posting a .560 OPS vs. left-handed pitching compared to an .868 OPS vs. righties. His overall line vs. LHPs was .174/.225/.335, which is certainly nothing to hang his hat on. That said, that line on May 24th was .184/.200/.327. His OPS did ultimately improve, though his average dropped 10 points. Why bring this up? Well, looking back to the lines posted above, it shows that Davis managed a .905 OPS despite hitting so disparately. Frankly, were Davis able to do that over a full season, I doubt any Mets fans would complain (his turnaround stats, projected over all 584 of his 2012 PA's, would yield 41 home runs and 30 doubles against a respectable .263 batting average.

Further, Ike suffered from an abyssmal .193 BABIP against lefties (compared to a slightly-below-average .271 BABIP against righties), which suggests some room for progression to the mean, given his career mark of .277.  Also, worth noting, is Ike's .805 OPS against left-handed pitching as a rookie. Granted, this mark came against a rather high .388 BABIP (suggesting regression). Putting these two pieces of evidence together suggests Ike's true abilities lay somewhere in the middle. If he could manage an OPS between .650 and .700 against left-handed pitching, along with his consistent ability to hit right-handed pitching, Davis could develop into an elite first baseman in a league lacking them after both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed with American League ballclubs.

2. Ike Davis struggles against breaking pitches.

Again, this carries some credence, given that Ike saw curveballs or sliders on nearly 1/3 (31.6%) of all pitches he saw this year. Once again, I humbly (okay, okay. I do it smugly) point to the numbers above. I think that, while he may not fare exceptionally against them, he at least regained his ability to lay off breaking pitches out of the zone (his strikeout rate dropped a full 7% after June 8th).

In short, it seems foolish, to me, that people are now so unsure about the abilities of Ike Davis. The odds that his struggles could be attributed to being away from baseball for close to 10 months (as opposed to his abilities being 'exposed') seem likely. His distinct, and almost instant, change in June this year suggests that something specifically clicked again for him. His game in 2012 was not perfect, but the numbers suggest that there's a lot more positive to be taken than negative. Davis has shown the ability, in three separate, consecutive years, to be a top-notch power bat at first base. Don't insist on letting two months sway you, when the majority of evidence is stacked against them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The 2012 Major League All-Mediocre Team!

In the spirit of awards season, I figured I should take a little time to recognize some of the outstanding performances of the 2012 major league season. But, everyone else has been doing that for months. So I'm gonna do something I find a little more fun. Which gives us:

The 2012 (First Annual!) Major League Baseball All-Mediocre Team!

In the interest of thoroughness, I've assembled not only a starting lineup, but a full 25-man roster!

First, some fun (and surprising) facts about this year's team:
- The 2012 MLB A-M Team earned $116,129,000 in payroll, which would represent the ninth-highest payroll in the MLB (6th in the AL, 4th in the NL).
- The team hit a combined 217 home runs in 2012, which would be second, behind only the New York Yankees.
- Using only RBI and ER as metrics, the all-mediocre team scored a whopping 846 runs, and allowed only 615, which would rank 1st and T-11th, respectively.
- 14 of the 25 players are in the American League (8 batters, 6 pitchers) compared to 11 in the National League (5 batters, 6 pitchers). 7/8 starting position players are from the AL.
- 17 teams are represented on this list. Atlanta, Chicago (AL), and Tampa Bay each have three representatives.

The rules for this were agreed upon by our all-star panel of judge, and are as follows:

Batters -

1. Using OPS+ measurements on Baseball-Reference, I've selected the players closest to an even 100, representing the league average.

2. Players listed must have qualified for the Major League batting title*, and can only be represented in their primary position (Hanley Ramirez, for example, would thus be ineligible at Shortstop this season).

*Based on the taxing nature of the position, the Plate Appearance minimum for Catchers is 400, instead of the necessary 502.

3. Because we're shooting for mediocrity here, those below 100 are selected over those equally above 100 (i.e. someone with a 98 OPS+ would be selected over someone with a 102 OPS+).

4. Also in the spirit of mediocrity, candidates who were closest to 100 overall were selected (i.e. someone with a 103 OPS+ would be selected over someone with a 96 OPS+).

5. In the event of a tie, salary was the next tiebreaker. What better gauge of mediocrity than the underwhelming bang for your buck?


Catcher - Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers - 100 OPS+
9HR, 48RBI

First Base - Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays - 94 OPS+
19HR, 61RBI

Second Base - Marco Scutaro, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants - 99 OPS+
3HR, 44RBI

Third Base - Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox - 99 OPS+
19HR, 60RBI

Shortstop - Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals - 98 OPS+
5HR, 52RBI

Left Field - Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays - 97 OPS+
13HR, 47RBI

Center Field - Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves - 99 OPS+
9HR, 57RBI

Right Field - Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers - 101 OPS+
24HR, 90RBI


Dan Uggla, 2B Atlanta Braves -- 98 OPS+
19HR, 78RBI

Jimmy Rollins, SS Philadelphia Phillies -- 98 OPS+
23HR, 68RBI

Hunter Pence, RF Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants -- 103 OPS+
24HR, 104RBI

Dayan Viciedo, LF/IF Chicago White Sox -- 96 OPS+
25HR, 78RBI

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox -- 95 OPS+
25HR, 59RBI

Pitchers -

1. Using ERA+ measurements on Baseball-Reference, I've selected the players closest to an even 100, representing the league average

2. Starting pitchers must have qualified for the ERA title; Relief Pitchers must have pitched a minimum of 50 innings.

3 - 5 are the same as above, substituting ERA+ for OPS+ as necessary.


Starting Rotation:

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays -- 100 ERA+
177.1 IP, 3.81 ERA
2.16 K/BB, 1.348 WHIP

C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels -- 99 ERA+
202.1 IP, 3.83 ERA
1.90 K/BB, 1.344 WHIP

Phil Hughes, New York Yankees -- 99 ERA+
191.1 IP, 4.23 ERA
3.59 K/BB, 1.265 WHIP

Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox -- 101 ERA+
168 IP, 4.29 ERA
2.29 K/BB, 1.363 WHIP

Edwin Jackson, Washington Nationals -- 98 ERA+
189.2 IP, 4.03 ERA
2.90 K/BB, 1.218 WHIP


Ryan Webb, Miami Marlins -- 99 ERA+
60.1 IP, 4.03 ERA
2.20 K/BB, 1.525 WHIP

Jamey Wright, Los Angeles Dodgers -- 102 ERA+
67.2 IP, 3.72 ERA
1.80 K/BB, 1.507 WHIP

Vicente Padilla, Boston Red Sox -- 97 ERA+
50 IP, 4.50 ERA
3.40 K/BB, 1.480 WHIP

Brad Brach, San Diego Padres -- 97 ERA+
66.2 IP, 3.78 ERA
2.27 K/BB, 1.245 WHIP

Cristhian Martinez, Atlanta Braves -- 103 ERA+
73.2 IP, 3.91 ERA
3.42 K/BB, 1.344 WHIP

Chris Resop, Pittsburgh Pirates -- 96 ERA+
73.2 IP, 3.91 ERA
1.92 K/BB, 1.425 WHIP

Steve Delabar, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays -- 105 ERA+
66 IP, 3.82 ERA
3.54 K/BB, 1.091 WHIP