Archive for December, 2009

Forgotten: Lefty Jaime Garcia

Cardinals left hander Jaime Garcia almost opted for professional baseball in his native country of Mexico in 2005. But area scout Joe Almaraz convinced Garcia to sign with the St. Louis as a 22nd-round pick. Almaraz is quite the persuader as he also convinced the Orioles to draft Garcia in round 30 a year prior but they did not sign him. Almaraz left Baltimore after 2004 to scout with the Cardinals and he didn’t forget about Garcia.

Much of the Cardinals attention is currently focused on Matt Holliday these days after they signed Brad Penny to seemingly replace current free agent Joel Piniero. That leaves the Cards with four definite starters: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny, and Kyle Lohse. St. Louis may try bringing back veteran John Smoltz or someone else to plug the fifth spot in the rotation but it could very well be filled with an in-house candidate.

Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters figure to be some of those in-house candidates but then there is also the case of the intriguing Jaime Garcia. Garcia was cruising through the Cardinals system before elbow soreness cut short his 2007 season. He made 18 inspiring starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2008 and received a call up to the big leagues in July 2008. Garcia served as a reliever and had a tough ten game trial (7.07 FIP) before it was determined that he needed Tommy John surgery on his left arm.

Garcia returned in 2009 and logged 38 innings in the minor leagues after surgery. He performed well in the postseason for the Triple-A Memphis club. Garcia attacks hitters with a sinking fastball that ranges from the upper 80’s to the lower 90’s and he has a hammer 12-6 curveball. Baseball America reports that he added a third useful offering last season in their recent scouting report, “He used his rehab to add a pitch that’s a cross between a cutter and slider”.

Garcia’s sinking fastball has induced ground balls at a mighty pace throughout the minor leagues. Here are his ground ball rates, courtesy of, throughout the Cardinals system.

2006: A ball (78 IP)- 65%. A+ (77 IP)- 62%
2007: AA (103 IP)- 56%
2008: AA (35 IP)- 62%. AAA (71 IP)- 55%. MLB (16 IP)- 63%
2009: Rookie (4 IP)- 85%. A+ (13 IP)- 71%. AAA (21 IP)- 55%

At every single level Garcia has induced ground balls at an amazing rate. His lowest ground ball rate is 55% in 92 combined innings during two Triple-A stints. Consider the top five ground ball percentages for 2009 MLB pitchers:

1. Joel Piniero– 60.5%
2. Derek Lowe– 56.3%
3. Jason Marquis– 55.6%
4. Chris Carpenter– 55%
5. Rick Porcello– 54.2%

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright ranked #13 with a 50.7% rate. The Cardinals had three of their 2009 starters within the top 15 and two within the top 5. Piniero is likely signing elsewhere but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t have another ground ball pitcher in their 2010 rotation.

There’s no reason not to believe that Garcia could induce ground balls at a very solid clip as a starter in the majors. His pitching repertoire would fit right into the Cardinals rotation. The Cardinals defense is very solid up the middle with slick fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan (10.6 UZR) and the rangy Colby Rasmus (8.9 UZR) is center field. Second base is the weak spot but the Julio Lugo/Skip Schumaker tandem may provide average defense with Lugo (-3.5 UZR in 168 innings) shifting over from shortstop. Schumaker (-7.7 UZR) will be spending his second season ever at the position after spending almost his entire professional career as an outfielder and there might be room for more defensive improvement.

It is also encouraging to know that with last seasons defense the Cardinals four primary starters and ground ball specialists had these BABIPS:

Adam Wainwright– .309
Chris Carpenter– .272
Joel Piniero– .293
Kyle Lohse– .300

The Cardinals defense certainly didn’t hurt these pitchers last season.

Garcia is entering 2010 with a clean bill of health and should get a long look during the Spring. He’s one of the Cardinals better pitching prospects and offers more upside over Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be given the job. Since his professional career began in 2006 Garcia has never topped the 155 inning mark and he hit that career high in his first pro season in the lower minors. Below are Garcia’s inning totals:

2006- 155 IP
2007- 103 IP *season ends early due to elbow soreness*
2008- 122 IP *season ends with Tommy John Surgery*
2009- 38 IP *first season back from Tommy John Surgery*

It’s also worth noting that some fear Garcia’s pitching mechanics and Garcia really can’t be expected to fire 170+ big league innings next year from the Cardinals rotation. They will closely monitor Garcia and his innings total.

Keep a close eye on Garcia’s progress this Spring and the Cardinals plans. He might be ticketed to Triple-A Memphis to start 2010 but he could arrive to St. Louis’s rotation at some point during the year. He’d be a cheap pick up and worth the gamble if he’s ever presented with the opportunity to start at the big league level. If he makes the big league rotation on opening day I’d recommend picking him up but keep in mind that he likely won’t last in that role for the entire season due to his past inning totals and the fact that this will be his first full season back from injury.

Garcia fits the Cardinals overall pitching scheme and their defense is going to help him and his sinking fastball. Don’t be surprised if he’s grounding opponents with his sinker this summer in St. Louis.

Marlon Byrd Inks with Cubs

According to ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine, free agent OF Marlon Byrd signed a three-year, $15 contract with the Chicago Cubs. Byrd figures to patrol center field on the North Side, pushing Kosuke Fukudome back to right field.

Byrd’s career was on life support when he latched on with the Texas Rangers back in 2007. The stocky right-handed batter once was a hot-shot prospect with the Philadelphia Phillies, and he posted a 116 wRC+ while playing good D as Philly’s everyday center fielder in 2003.

It was all downhill from there, however, as Byrd’s offense plummeted. He posted a grisly 58 wRC+ in 2004, a 92 wRC+ between the Phillies and Nationals in 2005 and a 79 wRC+ with Washington in 2006.

After tearing up AAA Oklahoma to begin the ’07 season, Byrd was called up by the Rangers and played all three outfield positions. He managed a 110 wRC+ in 454 plate appearances, though his batting average on balls in play was a whopping .370. Byrd swung from his heels, chasing 32 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (25% MLB average) and 71.5% of in-zone pitches (66% MLB average). He walked in just 6.5% of his plate appearances.

Given that hacking and his good fortune on balls put in play, Byrd looked like a good bet to regress in 2008. Instead, he turned in a career year at the plate. Byrd was still aggressive (29.8 O-Swing%, 71.2 Z-Swing%). But opposing pitchers placed only 49.6% of their offerings within the strike zone against him, compared to 54.6% in 2007 (the MLB average is about 50 percent). As a result, his walk rate climbed to 10.2%. In 462 PA, Byrd posted a 125 wRC+.

In 2009, Byrd had a 28.5 O-Swing%, but his walk rate fell considerably (5.5 BB%). He was positively giddy against in-zone pitches. Byrd hacked at 74.1% of pitches thrown over the plate, one of the 15 highest rates among batters (his In-Zone% was a little higher than in ’08, at 50.6). His park and league-adjusted offense was still eight percent above average, though, as he popped a career-high 20 home runs. Byrd’s ISO was .196, well above his career .143 mark.

Over his past three seasons, Byrd has a combined .295/.352/.468 triple-slash, with a 114 wRC+. The 32 year-old has experienced a nice second act, after seemingly falling off the map toward the middle part of the decade.

Byrd showed a big home/away split from 2007-2009 (.309/.375/.522 at home, .281/.328/.414 away). While some might point to those splits and declare that Byrd is a .280/.330/.410 player, simply taking his away numbers and discarding the home figures isn’t a particularly useful way to go about making a projection. That’s the statistical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

As Byrd’s wRC+ figures show, he’s been 10-15% better than the average batter over that time period. Factoring in Marlon’s age, one might expect him to be slightly above average with the lumber in 2010.

CHONE projects Byrd to bat .271/.333/.431 in 2010, while ZiPS spits out a .283/.339/.450 line. The difference in home ballparks shouldn’t be a jarring one. According to The Bill James Handbook, Wrigley Field has increased run scoring by 13 percent and home runs by 10 percent compared to a neutral ball park from 2007-2009, while Arlington has boosted runs by seven percent and homers by 13 percent. Arlington is more hospitable to righty power, though (110 HR park factor for RHB from 2007-2009, compared to 103 for Wrigley).

Overall, CHONE forecasts Byrd to be worth +2 runs with the bat, while playing a slightly below-average center field (-3 runs). If he reaches those marks, he would be worth around 2 WAR in 2010. That sort of sums up Byrd’s overall game: average. He’s an OK option in NL-only formats, but you should aim higher in mixed leagues.

DeRosa By the Bay

In a shocking turn of events, the San Francisco Giants recently signed a 30-something free agent to help fill a void in the lineup. An unpredictable one, that Brian Sabean. Mark DeRosa, 35 in February, will likely man the hot corner for the Giants on most nights, shifting Pablo Sandoval to first base.

After reportedly seeking a three-year deal worth as much as $27 million total, DeRosa had to settle for a milder two-year, $12 pact with San Francisco. The University of Pennsylvania product once was an obscure utility man with the Atlanta Braves, posting a combined 81 wRC+ from 1998 to 2004 (his park and league-adjusted offense was 19 percent worse than average).

However, DeRosa emerged as the Swiss Army Knife of ball players with the Texas Rangers. He didn’t play a whole lot in 2005, with a wRC+ of 102 in 166 plate appearances. But the righty batter was penciled into the lineup card daily in 2006, posting a 108 wRC+ while bouncing around the diamond (second base, third base and right field, with a few cameos at shortstop, first base and left field).

Those contributions helped land DeRosa a three-year, $13M deal with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2007 season. He replicated his Lone Star State production in the Windy City in ’07, with another 108 wRC+ season while playing every position on the diamond at some point, save for catcher and center field (he spent most of his time at 3B and 2B).

2008 would be a career year for DeRosa, who bopped to the tune of a 128 wRC+ while doing his usual “wherever ya need me, skip” act in the field. He walked in a career-high 12.4 percent of his PA, compiling a .196 ISO to boot.

After the season, the Cubs shipped DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for a package of young arms including Christopher Archer, John Gaub and Jeff Stevens. With the team’s playoffs aspirations obliterated by mid-season, however, the Tribe dealt DeRosa to the St. Louis Cardinals in late June for relief prospects Chris Perez and Jesse Todd.

DeRosa suffered a left wrist injury in ’09, serving a DL stint for a torn tendon sheath just after being acquired by the Cards. He played through the ailment once he was activated in mid-July. Overall, DeRosa batted .250/.319/.433 in 576 PA, with a 101 wRC+. Despite the bum wrist, he actually retained much of his power stroke, posting a .183 ISO on the season.

His plate discipline wasn’t as sharp, though. Perhaps it was the wrist injury, as such maladies sap a player’s bat control. Or maybe it was just the normal decline we expect to see in a mid-30’s player coming off of career-best campaigns. Whatever the cause, DeRosa took a cut at more pitches off the plate, swung at fewer offerings within the strike zone and made less contact:

19.5 Outside-Swing%, 71.3 Z-Swing%, 82.5 Contact%

20.9 O-Swing%, 66.3 Z-Swing%, 79.3 Contact%

23.5 O-Swing%, 65.2 Z-Swing%, 77.9 Contact%

(The MLB averages in recent years are: 25% for O-Swing, 66% for Z-Swing and 81% for Contact)

DeRosa should be roughly a league-average hitter in 2010, though there’s downside potential because of his age. He played mostly third base in ’09, but logged enough appearances in the outfield to qualify there as well. Unfortunately, DeRosa likely lost second base eligibility in many leagues (he appeared in just two games at the keystone).

CHONE projects DeRosa to hit .262/.343/.415 next season, which is about average offensive production. Bill James calls for a similar .260/.335/.418 line, while the fans are slightly more hopeful with a .273/.346/.436 forecast. DeRosa is an adequate option in NL-only leagues, but there’s no upside with decent hitter, in his mid-30’s, coming off of an injury.

Bay Inks with Mets

According to’s Bill Ladson, free agent OF Jason Bay has come to terms on a four-year, $66 million deal with the New York Mets, pending a physical. Bay’s contract reportedly includes a vesting option for 2014, too.

Bay, 31, was actually Mets property back in 2002. The former Gonzaga star was a 22nd round pick of the Expos in 2000. He was dealt to the Mets in March of 2002, only to be traded to the Padres in July of ’02 and then the Pirates in August of 2003. The Bucs shipped Bay to the Red Sox as part of a three-team deal in July of 2008.

The 6-2 righty batter can mash, but his defensive shortcomings do dent his value. Bay has a career -8 UZR/150 in left field, and his recent work has been even less appealing.

There’s a lot to like about the bat, though. Bay has a career 137 wRC+, meaning his offensive production has been 37 percent above average once we account for park and league factors. He suffered a down 2007 season (97 wRC+) as he battled a knee injury, but Bay bashed to the tune of a 138 wRC+ in 2008 and a 142 wRC+ in 2009.

A highly disciplined hitter, Bay has walked nearly 13% of the time during his big league career, with a 19.4 outside swing percentage (the MLB average has been around 25 percent in recent years, though it was lower in 2004 and 2005).

His career ISO is .240, and checked in at .269 in 2009. Bay isn’t a big stolen base threat, but he snatched 13 bags in 16 attempts this past year. The Canadian has crushed fastballs (+1.70 runs/100 pitches), with positive run values against changeups (+0.46) and sliders (+0.42) as well. Curves haven’t been his kryptonite, but he’s at -0.21 runs per 100 tosses against the pitch.

How will Bay fare in Citi Field? It’s hard to make any bold conclusions based on just one year of park data, but Citi did play like a pitcher’s park in its inaugural season. According to the Bill James 2010 Handbook, Citi Field depressed run scoring eight percent compared to a neutral ball park. Home run production was stunted by four percent. Lefties (93 HR park factor) felt the effects more than righties (99 HR park factor).

That’s not as hospitable as Fenway, which has increased run scoring by 11 percent compared to a neutral park from 2007-2009. Homers are hard to come by because of the Green Monster (91 HR park factor), but doubles are plentiful. Fenway has boosted two-baggers by 45 percent since 2007.

Baseball-Reference’s Play Index Tool gives the option of taking a batter’s line and adjusting it, based on the offensive level of the league (NL or AL) and the run scoring environment of the ball park. According to the Play Index Tool, here’s what Bay’s 2009 season would have looked like, had it occurred in Citi Field:

Actual: .267/.384/.537, .269 ISO
Adjusted: .265/.380/.535, .270 ISO

The net impact doesn’t appear to be huge. On one hand, Bay is going from a clear hitter’s venue to a park that played as pitcher-friendly in 2009. But on the other, he’s moving back to the NL. Derek Carty of The Hardball Times showed last off-season that batters going from the AL to the NL receive a slight boost in contact rate, home run per fly ball percentage, singles and doubles.

Whether Bay is worth four years and $66M remains to be seen. But as for 2010, his move to Queens shouldn’t change his fantasy value tremendously. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about how a 34 or 35 year-old Bay will produce.

2009 BABIP-xBABIP Splits

Yesterday, we took a look at the starting pitchers with the biggest difference between their ERAs and their Expected Fielding Independent ERAs, attempting to find which hurlers performed above or below their peripheral stats in 2009.

Today, let’s turn out attention to the hitters. I compiled a list of the batters (minimum 350 plate appearances) with the biggest gap between their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and their expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP).

What’s xBABIP? Last winter, Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix sought to find which variables were most strongly correlated with a batter’s BABIP. Using data from the 2002-2008 seasons, Dutton and Bendix found that a hitter’s eye (BB/K ratio), line drive percentage, speed score and pitches per plate appearance had a positive relationship with BABIP (the better a batter rated in those areas, the higher his BABIP). Pitches per extra-base hit, fly ball/ground ball rate, spray (distribution of hits to the entire field) and contact rate had a negative relationship with BABIP. From this research, they created a model for predicting a batter’s BABIP.

Prior to Dutton and Bendix’s work, a lot of people used to calculate a hitter’s expected batting average on balls in play by taking line drive rate and adding .120. It made some sense: line drives have the highest batting average of any batted ball type by far, falling for a hit well over 70 percent of the time.

However, line drive rates don’t show a high correlation from year to year. That makes the “LD% plus .120” method unreliable. Dutton and Bendix’s model showed a 59 percent correlation between actual and expected BABIP. The LD +.120 method showed just an 18 percent correlation.

Some of the numbers used in Dutton and Bendix’s study are not readily available. However, Derek Carty of The Hardball Times and Slash12 of Beyond the Box Score have both come up with expected batting average on balls in play calculators based on the new findings.

For the purposes of this article, I used Slash12’s calculator. It uses the following variables:
– Line Drive Percentage (LD%)
– Ground Ball Percentage (GB%)
– Fly Ball Percentage (FB%)
– Infield/Fly Ball Percentage (IFFB%)
– Home Run/Fly Ball Percentage (HR/FB%)
– Infield Hit Percentage (IFH%)

While not identical to the variables used by Dutton and Bendix, these batted ball numbers do a good job of taking into account the aspects that lead to a higher or lower BABIP.

First, a disclaimer. Like the ERA-xFIP charts from yesterday, these lists of “lucky” and “unlucky” hitters are based on just one year of data. To get a better feel for how a hitter will perform in the future, it’s vital to take a good hard look at multiple seasons worth of performance. This is just a quick-and-dirty exercise.

To provide a little more context, I also included each batter’s actual BABIP since 2007, when possible. The three-year averages help us get a better picture of each hitter, and help us figure out which batters might be “tricking” the xBABIP calculator based on one year of abberrant batted ball numbers.

Take Jason Kendall, for instance. Kendall had a 12 percent infield hit rate in 2009, compared to a 7.6% career average. The calculator doesn’t know that Kendall’s ankle exploded like a cheap Acme bomb a decade ago, and that he’s a 35 year-old catcher who has a BABIP under .270 since 2007. It thinks he has speed due to the infield hit rate. That’s why you need to look at multi-year numbers.

Here are the hitters with actual batting average on balls in play figures exceeding the expected batting average on balls in play numbers. These are the guys who might see their batting averages fall in 2010:

Higher BABIP than xBABIP

And here are the batters with actual BABIPs falling well short of the XBABIP totals. These hitters could experience a bounce-back in 2010:

Lower BABIP than xBABIP

All Systems Votto

Joey Votto has been one of the Reds brighter spots since they made him a second round selection in the 2002 draft. He progressed steadily through the minor league system and made his major league debut late in 2007.

Votto had a very solid rookie season (.373 wOBA) in 2008 and built upon that strongly in 2009. Despite missing a few weeks in June due to a bout with depression and anxiety attacks over the sudden loss of his father, Votto, had an extremely encouraging 2009 season. In 131 games and 469 at-bats Votto hit .322/.414/.567 with 25 home runs. He had the third highest wOBA (.418) in the majors trailing only Albert Pujols (.449) and Prince Fielder (.420).

Votto’s .373 BABIP in 2009 stands out like a sore thumb and when we refer to the expected BABIP calculator from The Hardball Times Votto’s expected BABIP is .317 based on his batted ball profile. This number would severely damage Votto’s triple slash. The calculator would have spit out this unimpressive line assuming that all hits subtracted from Votto’s line were generously singles:


Color me unimpressed. I’m just not buying this. While we should expect some natural regression from Votto’s 2009 BABIP going forward I think the calculator is being too harsh here. It should also be noted that Votto has consistently strung together high BABIPs. Here are his BABIPs dating back to his 2006 season in Double-A:

2009: .373 (MLB)
2008: .330 (MLB)
2007: .354 (MLB-84 ABs) and .341 (AAA)
2006: .371 (AA)

Votto has consistently hit the ball hard and I think his 21.7% line drive percentage (a component that the calculator considers) in 2009 is hurting his expected BABIP score from the calculator. In 2008 his line drive percentage was 25.2% and it was 26.1% in 84 big league at-bats in 2007. While the 2009 mark suggests that he hit fewer line drives I believe that natural scorers bias could also be coming into play here especially considering his high 2009 BABIP and very low 2009 line drive rate compared to his 2008 and 2007 (small sample size) rates.

Votto has flown under the radar and isn’t quite a household name because he plays on a bad team and is overshadowed by four big name first basemen in his division in Pujols, Fielder, Derek Lee, and Lance Berkman. I wouldn’t peg Votto to hit around .320 again with some normal and expected BABIP regression but he’s going to be a good power source and provide a nice batting average around or slightly above .300. The Bill James (.311/.397/.550) and Fans (.311/.398/.535) projections look quite fair for Votto and much more accurate than the BABIP calculator’s glum forecast.

Bill James is projecting a .344 BABIP in 2010 and you, The Fans, have his projected BABIP at .352. That sounds about right to be but I’d expect a home run total north of 30 for Votto in 2010 since he has no significant injury history and appears to be over his depression and anxiety issues. Expect more long balls if he appears in 150+ games especially in the homer friendly ballpark in Cincinnati.

Votto deserves more recognition than he’s been granted and he may be a candidate that could slide to you in rounds 6-8 of your fantasy drafts. You would be getting fantastic value with him there and don’t be afraid to pop him a little earlier if need be. It’s all systems go for Votto.

2009 ERA-xFIP Splits

With 2010 nearly upon us, we’re being inundated with retrospectives recapping all that has occurred over the past year. Let’s add one more list to the mix: starting pitchers with the biggest difference between their Earned Run Average (ERA) and Expected Fielding Independent ERA (xFIP).

Why? Because ERA doesn’t give the most accurate assessment of pitching performance. As Colin Wyers at The Hardball Times showed this past summer, ERA does a rather poor job at predicting future ERA.

Wyers found that xFIP, which is based on a pitcher’s strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate, has more predictive value than any other pitching metric. In other words, knowing a pitcher’s xFIP tells us more about his skill level and what his future performance may be than simply knowing his ERA would.

A pitcher’s ERA is subject to some factors largely outside of his control. The defensive skill of his teammates plays a part in the rate at which balls put in play are converted into outs. BABIP isn’t entirely out of a pitcher’s control: fly balls have a lower BABIP than ground balls, so fly ball-slanted hurlers tend to have a lower BABIP (the fly balls that aren’t caught are far more damaging, though). Plus, pitchers adept at getting infield pop ups generally have lower BABIP figures, as those are near-automatic outs.

However, team defense can have a large bearing on a pitcher’s ERA. Some get the backing of airtight defenses. The 2009 Seattle Mariners, for instance, saved 12 runs more than the average club per 150 defensive games. Other pitchers get a bunch of plodders and iron gloves. Take the Mets, who were over seven runs below average per 150 defensive games.

Maybe a groundball skips into the outfield for a hit because your second baseman has fall-down range. Or perhaps your world-class center fielder shows off his ridiculous D and runs down a sure fire extra-base hit. ERA doesn’t care either way. Franklin Gutierrez is awesome, but we’re trying to measure the skill of the pitcher here.

A pitcher’s ERA may also be distorted by abnormally high or low home run/fly ball percentages and rates of stranding runners on base. HR/FB rates for pitchers tend to stick around 10-12 percent. Some pitchers may be better than others at throwing from the stretch, but it’s usually a good idea to expect some regression if a guy’s strand rate strays too far from the 70-72% league average.

With all of that being said, here are the starting pitchers (100 inning minimum) with the biggest discrepancies between their ERA and xFIP.

First, the guys who outperformed their peripherals. These are the pitchers whose controllable skills weren’t as good as their ERAs would indicate.

Lower ERA than xFIP

Keep in mind, an appearance on this list does not mean that a pitcher is going to spontaneously combust. You’ll note the presence of Cain, Hanson, Carpenter, Kershaw, Santana, Greinke and King Felix, among other well-regarded starters. It just means that we would expect some regression moving forward. Greinke is a monster (3.15 xFIP), he’s just not likely to go all Pedro Martinez circa 1999 on a regular basis.

Here are the starters whose peripherals were better than their ERAs. These guys performed better than their ERAs suggest.

Higher ERA than xFIP

For some of these starters, you’ll notice strong strikeout-to-walk ratios dragged down by lofty BABIP figures and very low strand rates. Nolasco and Hamels are excellent bounce-back candidates.

When preparing for your 2010 draft, lists like these are a good place to start. But it’s also important to look beyond just the 2009 numbers, taking multiple years of performance into account whenever possible. Due diligence can help you avoid wasting a high draft pick on a ticking time bomb and can help uncover a diamond in the rough.

Scouting Jonathan Sanchez

Prior to July 10th, 2009, Giants southpaw Jonathan Sanchez was just a high-octane, low-command curiosity to those outside of the Bay Area. No-hitters have a way of raising one’s profile, however.

A 27th round pick in the 2004 draft out of Ohio Dominican University, Sanchez quickly attracted attention in San Francisco’s farm system. The lanky lefty blew hitters out of their cleats in the minors, making 48 starts and 19 relief appearances from 2004 to 2007. Sanchez punched out an obscene 11.9 batters per nine frames, displaying decent control with 3.5 BB/9.

The native of Puerto Rico shot up the prospect ladder. He ranked 23rd in Baseball America’s Giants list in 2005, 6th in 2006 and 2nd prior to the 2007 season. BA called Sanchez’s fastball “sneaky-fast,” sitting in the low-90’s while occasionally creeping up to the mid-90’s.

He also had a “plus changeup” that “fooled hitters at every level,” as well as a sweeping slider in the developmental stages. There was some concern that Sanchez’s slender frame wouldn’t hold up under a starter’s work load (his career high IP in the minors was 125.2), but lefties with wicked stuff don’t grow on trees, and he had more long-term value pitching every fifth day.

Sanchez made his big league debut in late May of 2006, pitching mostly out of the ‘pen (23 relief appearances, four starts). In 40 IP, he whiffed 7.43 batters per nine innings while handing out 5.18 BB/9. His plan was simple: chuck low-90’s fastballs (thrown 72 percent of the time, with a run value of +0.79 per 100 pitches). Sanchez’s rarely-used breaking stuff (-0.25 runs/100) and changeup (-4.16) rarely hit the intended target. His xFIP was 5.40.

In 2007, Sanchez again spent most of his time in relief, with 29 ‘pen appearances and four starts. His 5.88 ERA was ugly, but there were signs of improvement. Jonathan K’d 10.73 per nine frames, lowering his walk rate modestly as well (4.85 BB/9). His fastball, thrown 71 percent, wasn’t as effective (-0.46 runs/100), and that “plus” changeup didn’t manifest (-1.98). But sliders and curves (+2.22) got the job done. With better breaking pitches, Sanchez raised his outside swing percentage from 19.4 in ’06 to 27.2 in ’07. In 52 innings, his xFIP improved to 4.18.

The Giants made Sanchez a full-time starter in 2008, giving him 29 turns in the rotation. Sanchez struck out an impressive 8.94 hitters per nine innings, though he was generous with the free passes, too (4.85 BB/9). Still, his 4.14 xFIP in 158 innings pitched far surpassed his 5.01 ERA. The San Fran southpaw suffered from a .327 batting average on balls in play, 10th-highest among starters tossing at least 150 innings.

As a starter, Sanchez used his fastball as a security blanket. He tossed the 91 MPH offering nearly 73 percent of the time, the 7th-highest rate among starters. The pitch had a run value of +0.33 per 100 thrown. His low 80’s breaking stuff (thrown 12 percent) had a -0.39 runs/100 value. The low-80’s changeup (thrown 15 percent) remained cannon fodder (-1.51).

Though unpolished, Sanchez was plenty hard to hit. His 75.7% contact rate was well below the 80.8% major league average, and his 10.9 swinging strike percentage put him in elite territory. The MLB average for starters is 7.8 percent, and Sanchez’s figure ranked 10th among starters.

Last off-season, former Rotographs writer Peter Bendix dubbed Sanchez a breakout candidate. His reasoning?

Certainly, Sanchez threw too many balls this year (38.6%, to be exact – league average is 36.5%), and walked too many – 4.27 per nine innings. However, starting pitchers who can get as many swings-and-misses – and, therefore, strikeouts – as Sanchez are few and far between. Sanchez’s ERA was artificially inflated by his inability to “stop the bleeding” this year – a fact that is probably borne from a combination of inexperience and bad luck. Therefore, it’s likely that Sanchez will fare better in “clutch” situations next season, thus lowering his ERA, perhaps considerably.

Bendix’s prediction proved correct, as Sanchez’s ERA and peripheral stats were a near-perfect match in 2009. In 163.1 IP, Sanchez posted a 4.24 ERA while compiling a 4.19 xFIP. His BABIP came back down to .290, as the Giants featured sleek leather (5th in the majors in team Ultimate Zone Rating).

Sanchez whiffed even more hitters this past year, with an eye-popping 9.75 K/9 (6th among starters). His contact rate dipped to 73.8 percent. Among starters with 140+IP, only Rich Harden and Javier Vazquez had more success avoiding lumber in 2009.

Jonathan’s swinging strike rate remained steady at 10.8 percent, and his percentage of plate appearances ending with a K increased from 22.6 to 24.75 (16% average for starters). Not bad for a guy temporarily demoted to the bullpen in late June.

Control, however, remained elusive. Sanchez walked 4.85 batters per nine frames. He did have five intentional walks in ’09, compared to just one in 2008. But his unintentional walk rate still rose from 10.7 percent to 11.9 percent (7.5% average for starters).

In terms of pitch selection, Sanchez leaned on his fastball less than in 2008. He threw a heater 66 percent, with a league-average run value per 100 pitches (+0.06). Jonathan’s changeup still fooled no one (-1.62).

It’s his slider that made the most progress. Sanchez’s Pitch F/X data shows that he actually has a pair of low-80’s breaking pitches: a slider and a curveball. In 2008, he threw a pretty even distribution of sliders (6.3%) and curves (7.1%). In ’09, he went to the slider far more often (18 percent, compared to 4.9% for the curve).

Courtesy of Trip Somers’ Pitch F/X tool, here’s the tale of the tape for Sanchez’s breaking pitches in 2008 and 2009. Jonathan’s curve fell out of favor, while he tightened his slider:


Slider: 51.7 Strike%, 14.4 Whiff%
Curve: 60.3 Strike%, 22.2 Whiff%


Slider: 60.8 Strike%, 15.6 Whiff%
Curve: 53.2 Strike%, 13.7 Whiff%

Sanchez’s breaking stuff had a +1.96 run/100 value in 2009. The slider showed more bite. The average lefty slider breaks away from lefties (in toward righties) 1 to 1.5 inches more than a pitch thrown without spin. Sanchez’s slider actually broke in toward lefties 1.1 inches in ’08. In ’09, the pitch moved away from southpaw batters nearly three inches.

Despite his wildness, Sanchez has displayed the skills of an above-average starter in each of the past two seasons. The 27 year-old is a quality, if occasionally aggravating, fantasy option. Sanchez is a good bet to post another low-four’s ERA next year: CHONE pegs him for a 4.26 mark in 2010, with 9.3 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. His control keeps him out of the batch of elite arms, but Sanchez makes the Giants rotation more than just Lincecum, Cain and pray for rain.

Sorting Through Cincy’s OF Options

In 2009, Cincinnati’s outfielders featured lackluster lumber. George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr. they were not. Collectively, Reds fly catchers posted a .318 wOBA, second-worst in the N.L. Considering that the Padres (.317 wOBA) play in a park that’s anathema to offense, it’s safe to say that Cincy’s outfielders were the least potent in the Senior Circuit.

However, better days are on the horizon. The Reds have a plethora of intriguing outfield options, some already in the majors and others just around the corner in the minors. Here’s a rundown of who may be guarding the gaps at the GAP in 2010 and beyond.

In the majors

Jay Bruce

The Boss entered 2009 with plenty of fantasy hoopla, but his final .223/.303/.470 triple-slash looks disappointing. Or does it? At age 22, Bruce walked more, struck out less and hit for a near-.250 ISO. The potent lefty batter swung at fewer pitches out of the zone, took at cut at more in-zone offerings and made more contact. In other words, Bruce matured at the dish.

His BABIP was shockingly low, at .222. Yes, his line drive rate (13 percent) was also down considerably. But even so, Bruce’s Expected BABIP, based on HR, strikeouts, SB, line drive rate, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls, was .294. Bruce turns 23 in April. With his wrist healed, he’s poised to wreak havoc on pitchers in 2010. The fans seem well aware of Bruce’s talents, projecting a .271/.343/.497 line for Cincy’s right fielder.

Drew Stubbs

The 8th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Stubbs made a favorable first impression in Cincinnati following his call-up last August. The University of Texas alumnus turned in a .267/.323/.439 line in 196 plate appearances (101 wRC+), swiping 10 bags in 14 attempts. Stubbs displayed a surprising amount of pop in the majors, with 8 HR and a .172 ISO.

A 6-4, 200 pound righty batter, Stubbs has long been adored by scouts for his range in center field. His TotalZone defensive numbers are glowing, too. Stubbs’ bat, however, has been subject to much debate.

While displaying a keen eye at the plate, Stubbs had issues making contact with the Long Horns. Those swing-and-miss tendencies have manifested in pro ball, with the gifted defender whiffing in 23.4% of his PA in the minors. His big frame hasn’t translated to a lot extra-base thump (career .132 ISO).

However, Stubbs continues to work the count well (11.9 BB%), and his base stealing has gone from haphazard (23 SB, 15 CS in Low-A in 2007) to fantastic (46 SB, 8 CS in AAA in 2009). As a plus CF with plate discipline and quick feet, the 25 year-old looks like a quality starter for the Reds. His base thievery makes him relevant in fantasy circles.

Chris Dickerson

Dickerson’s 2009 season was cut short by shoulder and ankle injuries. In between the ailments, the 28 year-old performed up to expectations: he worked the count (13.3 BB%), punched out often (25.9 K%) and nabbed some bases (11 SB, 3 CS). Dickerson didn’t put a charge in the ball in the lower minors, but his work at AAA (.180 ISO) and with the Reds in 2008 gave some hope that the 6-3, 225 pound batter had found his power stroke. Alas, a near-fifty percent GB rate in 2009 produced a .098 ISO.

Dickerson straddles the line between highly useful 4th outfielder and acceptable starter (Chris helps himself with quality outfield D). Given his issues with lefty pitching in the minors (career .223/.328/.319 line), he figures to take on righties in a platoon role in 2010. If you’re in a deep NL-only league, you could do worse.

Wladimir Balentien

Acquired from Seattle last July for RHP Robert Manuel, Wlad has failed to translate his minor league feats of strength to the big leagues.

Balentien was Curacao’s version of Jeff Francoeur in the low minors, swinging at anything within a five mile radius of home plate. However, the big righty batter cleaned up his plate approach in AAA (10.5 BB%, 18.8 K%, .283/.359/.534 line).

Unfortunately, Balentien has been carved up in the majors. In 559 career PA, Wlad has a weak .221/.281/.374 line, with a 72 wRC+. He has been merely below-average against fastballs and changeups. But breaking stuff has baffled him entirely (-3.12 runs/100 against sliders, -1.5 vs. curveballs). As a result, Balentien’s 70% MLB contact rate is miles away from the 80-81% average.

You might think Wlad would be a decent platoon mate for Dickerson, but Balentien has a reverse platoon split. At 25, Balentien is entering a critical point in his career. He needs to tighten his strike zone and avoid looking like Pedro Cerrano against stuff that bends and breaks.

Laynce Nix

Outrighted by the Reds during the fall, Laynce was recently brought back to Cincy on a minor league deal. The 30 year-old lefty hitter is coming off of a season in which he popped 15 HR and posted a .236 ISO.

Once you factor in Nix’s hack-tastic approach (6.6 BB%) and favorable home ballpark, though, his offense was eight percent below the league average (92 wRC+; his career mark is a paltry 74). As a good defender who occasionally makes some loud contact against righties, Nix is a decent extra outfielder. But he’s not a fantasy option. If you’re stuck playing a guy with a career .277 OBP, you’re screwed.

Willy Taveras

What happens when a batting average-dependent player, with zero power or patience, doesn’t have those bloops and ducksnorts fall in? Ask Taveras. The 28 year-old was merely very bad at the plate in 2008 (74 wRC+). But in 2009, horror ensued.

Taveras’ bat was 51 percent worse than the league average (49 wRC+) as he battled a quad strain. Sure, he stole some bases (25 SB, 6 CS). But Taveras is the exact type of player that fantasy players should avoid. He gives production in one category, at the expense of severely hampering you in many others. Stubbs has Taveras’ speed and actually has a clue in the batter’s box. Willy figures to be either glued to the bench or in another city come spring.

Coming soon

Chris Heisey

A 17th round pick out of Division III Messiah (PA), Heisey vaulted up Cincinnati’s prospect list with an impressive 2009 season.

A career .298/.369/.460 hitter in the minors, Heisey possesses a broad, if short of star-caliber skill-set. He hits for some power (.162 ISO career, and a .214 ISO at AA in 2009), but he’s not a hulking over-the-fence threat. The right batter picks his SB spots well (career 84.3 SB%), though he wouldn’t be described as a burner. Heisey gets positive reviews for his outfield defense, but he’s likely a corner outfielder in the majors. The well-rounded prospect could be more selective at the dish: his career walk rate is a little over eight percent.

Baseball America said it best in its 2010 Reds Top 10 Prospects list: “Heisey could be termed a ‘cheap five-tool player.'” The 25 year-old isn’t far away from making his big league debut. He’s no star, but Heisey and his blend of talents could figure into Cincy’s left field picture.

Todd Frazier

At this point, few doubt that the former Rutgers star is going to pack a punch with his bat. The question is, where will his name be penciled in on the diamond? A 6-3, 215 pound righty hitter, Frazier has trekked all over the field.

He’s not going to stick at shortstop. The Reds had him pinballing from left field to first base to second base in 2009, with a couple appearances at the hot corner for good measure. Brandon Phillips, a plus defender at 2B who’s signed for two more years (with a club option for 2012), doesn’t figure to be moving. Scott Rolen is Reds property through 2012 following his restructured deal with the club.

As such, LF appears to be the place where Frazier (a career .296/.367/.491 minor league hitter) breaks into the majors. “Arm bar” or not, his bat figures to be potent.

Position switch?

Juan Francisco

The 6-2 lefty hitter made his major league debut last season, and has played almost exclusively at 3B in the minors. However, Francisco is tipping the scales at 210+ pounds already. His long-term viability at the position is in question. The 22 year-old has ample pop (.201 minor league ISO), but he has to do a better job of laying off junk balls. He has taken a free pass in just 3.8% of his PA, with a 23.4% K rate. Francisco would be best served spending a full season in AAA, lest big league pitchers take advantage of his eyes-to-ankles strike zone.

Yonder Alonso

A first-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Miami, Alonso has a sweet lefty swing and has batted .293/.378/.459 on the farm. His ’09 season was slowed by a broken hamate bone, but Alonso still reached AA. While Yonder is not far away, there’s a sizeable road block at first base in Joey Votto. Sadly, the 6-2, 215 pound Alonso runs like tree sap in winter. Baseball America said “Cincinnati has toyed with playing him at third base, but his limited range would be a liability.” Perhaps the Reds will put him in left field, stomaching his defensive mishaps in exchange for his quality lumber.

The Rodney/Fuentes Situation

Earlier in the decade, the Angels were known for consistently cobbling together top-tier bullpens. From 2002-2007, L.A. ranked in the top three in the American League in reliever xFIP, taking top honors in 2003 and 2004.

The names, outside of $900,000 bonus baby Francisco Rodriguez, were hardly glamorous. Those Angelic bullpens were anchored by guys like Brendan Donnelly (a 27th round pick of the White Sox who passed through six organizations), Scot Shields (the Angels’ 38th rounder in 1997) and Ben Weber, a 20th round pick of the Blue Jays who didn’t get a legit big league shot until age 31.

Given the Angels’ track record of uncovering bullpen gems, one might find it strange that the team has laid down a big chunk of change on free agent relievers in recent off-seasons. Justin Speier pulled down $18 million while contributing -0.2 WAR. Brian Fuentes compiled 0.4 WAR in 2009 while making $8.5M. He’ll earn $9M in 2010, and has a $9M vesting option for 2011. Fun fact: Donnelly came out of nowhere, again, to post a 0.6 WAR season with the Marlins in 2009. The cost? A minor league deal.

Add Fernando Rodney to the list of high-profile relief signings. The long-time Tiger, 33 in March, inked for two years and $11M recently. It’s a level of compensation that Rodney has not justified during his major league tenure.

The first thing some will point to regarding Rodney is: 37 for 38. As in, he converted 37 of 38 save opportunities in 2009. That sounds impressive, right? Well, looks can be deceiving.

Rodney posted his lowest strikeout rate (7.26 K/9) since an 18-inning stint 2002. His control, never a strong suit (career 4.64 BB/9) was again middling, with 4.88 walks per nine frames in 2009. On the positive side, the righty with mid-90’s gas and a hard changeup did post the highest groundball rate (57.9 percent) and first pitch strike percentage (62.7) of his career.

Even so, he was nothing special. Rodney’s xFIP was 4.42 this past season. For reference, 138 relievers pitched 50 or more innings in 2009. Fernando’s xFIP placed 89th. His 1.49 K/BB ratio ranked 115th. Even by Rodney’s own standards, it wasn’t a banner season. His 77.9% contact rate was his highest since ’02, and well above his 73.3% career mark. His ’09 xFIP was actually his worst full-season mark.

With the Angels, Rodney could now compete with last year’s big-ticket disappointment, Fuentes. The 34 year-old southpaw posted a K rate (7.53 per nine) well below his career level (9.92 K/9), while handing out 3.93 BB/9. His xFIP was a grisly 4.94.

Fuentes couldn’t seem to find his breaking stuff last year. His recent Baseball Info Solutions pitch data lumps all of his mid-70’s breakers together, but the Pitch F/X data suggests Fuentes tosses both a slider and a curve.

The slider has been worth a healthy +0.76 runs per 100 pitches since 2002, with the curve posting a run value around the major league average. But in 2009, those slow, sweeping pitches (all called sliders by BIS) were pummeled for -0.42 runs/100. Fuentes’ contact rate spiked to 80.3 percent, well above his 73.6% figure since ’02.

Here are the 2010 CHONE projections for Rodney and Fuentes:

Rodney: 57 IP, 7.9 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 4.58 ERA, 0 runs above replacement
Fuentes: 56 IP, 7.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 3.54 ERA, +8 RAR

If Rodney and Fuentes were to perform around this level, the Angels would be paying $14.5M for less than one win above replacement.

Heading into 2010, Rodney will garner attention based on his save total and the possibility that he usurps Fuentes for ninth inning glory in L.A. Don’t get carried away, though. For all of the press and cash Rodney and Fuentes will get, the best reliever in the ‘pen might just be pitching in middle relief.