Gavin Floyd, White Sox
This past winter, I took a rather skeptical stance regarding Floyd’s “breakout” in 2008:
Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons to think that Floyd’s 2008 campaign was more the product of good fortune than great pitching. Floyd’s ERA was a shiny 3.84, but he surrendered 19 unearned runs- pitchers bear some responsibility for those tallies as well. His strikeout rate was pretty ordinary, as he punched out 6.32 batters per nine innings, while serving out 3.05 free passes per nine. With a 2.07 K/BB ratio that was actually below the 2.12 AL average, Floyd’s Fielding Independent ERA (FIP) was a mundane 4.77. The 0.93 run difference between his ERA and FIP was the fifth-largest among all starters. Floyd’s .268 BABIP is going to rise, and with it, so will his ERA.
Floyd’s ERA in 2009 (3.84) is an exact match for his 2008 work. However, there’s every reason to believe that it is legitimate this time around. In 185 IP, Gavin has whiffed 7.78 batters per nine innings, with 2.72 BB/9. His ’09 Fielding Independent ERA (3.77) is a full run lower than in 2008.
The 26 year-old righty’s fastball has never been an especially effective pitch (-0.91 runs/100 pitches during his career), and he seems to have adapted by throwing fewer and fewer heaters as the years go by. Floyd chucked a fastball 61 percent of the time in 2007, 54.7% in ’08 and just 48% in 2009.
In its place, the former Phillies prospect is relying more upon a cut fastball and a slider (the pitch data on Floyd’s page lumps them together, but his Pitch F/X data shows them as two distinct offerings). Couple that nasty pitch with a typically strong 80 MPH curveball (+2.75 runs/100) and a nice changeup (+1.15), and you have an awfully strong 2009 campaign. Normally susceptible to lefties (.279/.360/.518 from 2006-2008), Floyd and his new pitching strategy have subdued southpaws for a .227/.289/.378 line in 2009.
Pedro Martinez, Phillies
Pedro’s incredible career reached its nadir in Queens last season. He appeared to be breaking down physically, though his Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP, based on K’s, walks and a normalized HR/FB rate) of 4.61 was a full run lower than his 5.61 ERA. He looked as though he could be moderately useful at the back of someone’s rotation, but that was under the assumption that his shoulder or some other body part wouldn’t spontaneously combust.
After sitting out the first half of the 2009 campaign, Martinez inked a deal with the Phillies in July. Following a few minor league tune-ups, Pedro is giving big league hitters fits. During his first 23 frames, the wily 37 year-old Dominican Republic native has posted a 23/3 K/BB ratio.
It remains to be seen whether or not he can maintain the increase, but Martinez’s fastball velocity (88.6 MPH) is his highest since his last year with the Red Sox in 2004. Pedro’s pounding the strike zone (56 Zone%, 49% MLB avg.), getting ahead of batters (65.6 first-pitch strike%, 59% MLB avg.), and he’s getting outside swings when he lays one off the plate or in the dirt (29.9 O-Swing%, 25% MLB avg). Is there a more enjoyable pitcher to watch than Pedro? I think not.
Seth Smith, Rockies
Coors or no, Smith’s slugging exploits in 2009 (.317/.406/.572, 15 HR and a .419 wOBA in 315 PA) are impressive. The University of Mississippi product mashed in the minors and performed decently with the Rockies in 2008 (.349 wOBA in 123 PA), but it would have been difficult for anyone to see this coming. With +20.2 Batting Runs (a park-adjusted measure of offensive value), Smith trails only Todd Helton among Colorado batters.
While no one should expect Smith to keep on eviscerating the ball like Pujols, he combines a very keen batting eye (13.1% walk rate, 20.2 O-Swing%) with plenty of pop. Smith’s rest-of-season projection pegs him for a .297/.366/.484 line. Even if that’s “all” he delivers, that’s very useful. Of course, finding consistent playing time in Colorado’s crowded outfield could be problematic. But if he keeps on lacing everything he sees into the gap or over the fence, he’ll find enough AB’s. Smith isn’t this good. But as a patient lefty batter with a quality minor league track record and little fanfare, he reminds me of a poor man’s Brian Giles.
Tim Hudson, Braves
Pedro isn’t the only prominent name returning to the hill as the 2009 season wraps up. Hudson underwent Tommy John surgery last August, but he has looked rather sharp in his first two starts this season. The mended 34 year-old has posted an 11/4 K/BB ratio, allowing 3 runs in 12.1 IP. Huddy’s still got his deep mix of pitches: the sinker, cutter, curve and splitter are all present.
Will Atlanta pick up Hudson’s $12M option for 2010? There’s a $1M buyout, so the Braves have to decide if they think he’s worth $11M. For Hudson to be “worth” the dough, he would have to post about 2.4 Wins Above Replacement ($11M, divided by the $4.5M per WAR that teams pay on the free agent market). It’s possible if he’s healthy, though Atlanta’s other financial commitments in the rotation (as Erik Manning notes in the linked post, Lowe is due $15M, Vazquez $11.5M and Kawakami roughly $7M) could play a part in the decision-making process.
Jake Fox, Cubs
Fox, of course, went Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs in the International League, and he has batted .282/.328/.520 in 198 big league PA for the Cubs. Fox obviously possesses scores of power (career .235 ISO in the minors), but he’s also a hacker of the highest degree (5.9 BB%, 37.1 O-Swing%). The 6-0, 210 pound Fox might take a page out of the Adam Dunn playbook defensively, but he could be useful to power-starved owners looking for an offensive jolt.
Geovany Soto, Cubs
Soto pieced together a superb rookie season in 2008 (.371 wOBA), but his 2009 campaign has been defined by shoulder and oblique injuries, as well an anemic offensive showing (.310 wOBA). The 26 year-old Soto is in Lou Pinella’s dog house, with Koyie Hill stealing more AB’s.
Despite the rapid downturn in his numbers, there are reasons to believe that Soto circa 2008 and this year’s version are largely the same. His walk rate his up (11.2 BB% to 13.4%), his K rate is down (24.5% to 23.2%), he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone (20.1% in ’08, 18.1% in ’09), and his contact rate has increased (74.7% to 77.6%). Soto’s ISO is down (.219 to .162), but it wasn’t reasonable to expect a .200+ ISO from him again, and a .162 ISO is still excellent for a backstop. Geo still has the skills to be a big asset, if the Cubs are willing to play him.
Ian Snell, Mariners
Huh? Snell has won four straight starts for the Mariners. Surely he’s pitching like a stud, right? Well, not really. During that winning streak, the banished Bucco has only surrendered 7 runs in 21.2 frames. But he has done so despite actually walking more batters (11) than he struck out (10). Snell looked to be a long-terms asset for Pittsburgh following a 2007 season in which he posted rates of 7.66 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9, with a 4.01 FIP in 208 IP. The former 26th-round pick out of Delaware inked a three-year, $8.6M extension with the team in March of 2008, with club options for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Since then, however, Snell has been on a downward slope. He kept the K’s but lost the strike zone in 2008 (7.39 K/9, 4.87 BB/9), and his peripherals are looking Daniel Cabrera-esque in 2009 (5.52 K/9, 5.21 BB/9). Sensing Snell’s wildness, opposing batters have gradually swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (from 28.2% in ’07 to 21% in ’09; 25% MLB average). Consequently, his first-pitch strike percentage has plummeted from 63.7% during his banner 2007 to 52.1% in 2009 (59% MLB average). That’s the lowest rate among all starters tossing at least 100 innings.
Kevin Millwood, Rangers
Despite holding an ERA (3.77) that’s 1.3 runs lower than his 2008 mark (5.07), Millwood is not really pitching any better. In fact, one could make the case that his 2008 season was actually stronger.
Millwood’s K/BB ratio was 2.55 in ’08, but it’s just 1.62 in ’09. His FIP in 2008 was 4.02, yet it’s 4.89 this season. The difference? A massive change in BABIP, from .366 in ’08 to .279 in ’09. Texas’ dramatic improvement with the leather has surely played a part (28th in team UZR in 2008, 6th in 2009), but Millwood has also been pretty darned fortunate. Millwood’s tight rope act appears to be running thread-bare, however. Since the All-Star break, he has given up 22 runs in 42 frames, with a mediocre 1.24 K/BB.
Grady Sizemore, Indians
Sizemore’s 2009 season is over, as Cleveland’s cornerstone player undergoes a pair of surgeries to fix a balky elbow and an “instability of the abdominal wall.” Sizemore has turned in an ’09 campaign that most would characterize as disappointing (.343 wOBA, .248/.343/.445 line in 503 PA), but his core skills are still very much intact.
Grady walked 12.1% of the time, punching out 21.1% and posting a near-.200 ISO (.197). According to this Expected BABIP tool from The Hardball Times, Sizemore was pretty unlucky this year. His BABIP was just .276, yet his XBABIP (which uses HR, SB, groundballs, fly balls and pop ups in addition to line drive rate) was .309.
Even if we assume that all of Grady’s extra hits would be singles, his line “should” be closer to .281/.376/.478. That’s a typical Sizemore season (his career line is .275/.367/.485). About the only facet of Grady’s game that was truly off was his base stealing (13 SB, 8 CS). Don’t be scared off by his “down” 2009 season. Sizemore is still the same championship-caliber player he has always been, and he could be quite the bargain on draft day next year.
Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Hamilton’s first season in Texas was excellent (.385 wOBA), but 2009 has been marred by injuries and an impatient approach at the dish. Battling rib, groin, abdominal and back maladies, Hamilton has batted just .270/.318/.426 in 355 PA, with a .322 wOBA. Adjusting for his home ballpark, the 28 year-old has been below-average with the stick (-3.5 Batting Runs).
Hamilton’s walk rate has dipped from 9.3% in 2008 to 6.9% in ’09, with a 35.7 O-Swing%. He’s still crushing fastballs (+1.48 runs/100 pitches seen), but breaking stuff (-1.14 for the slider, -2.12 for the curve) and changeups (-2.53) are giving Hamilton nightmares. Perhaps noting Hamilton’s tendency to expand his zone, opposing pitchers have placed just 43.3% of their pitches within the zone against him (49% MLB avg). Josh is currently sidelined with a pinched nerve in his back.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.