Archive for the ‘Delmon’ Category

Should Hitters be Platooned More Often?

September 2, 2009

Ryan Howard is a good hitter. A very, very good hitter. He has a .921 2009 OPS and a .961 career OPS (142 OPS+). Howard’s splits look like this:

vs. RHP, career: .307/.409/.561 (1.071)
vs. LHP, career: .224/.308/.446 (.754)

Against righties, Howard is every bit the monster he’s reputed to be. Against lefties, he’s a well below-average first baseman. But wait, there’s more:

vs. LHP, 2008-09: .212/.290/.406 (.696)
vs. LHP, 2009: .198/.284/.348 (.632)

Every club’s AAA squad has a right-handed hitter who could probably play a passable first base and put up a .700 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Of course, you can’t platoon Howard. You should, but you can’t. His overall numbers and his resultant reputation are just too good. He’s not going to lead the NL in homers and RBIs every year by platooning. Also, in his (almost deserved) MVP year of 2006, he did put up a .923 OPS against lefties (which is pretty much the whole difference between MVP-quality Howard and the last couple years’ pretty-decent-first-baseman Howard).

But consider another case. Tonight, the Twins were facing White Sox southpaw John Danks. They started Jason Kubel at DH and in his customary #5 slot in the order, and they started Delmon Young in left field and in the #8 slot. Forget for a moment that it’s crazy to play either of these guys in the field, and just consider this (vs.LHP/vs.RHP):

Kubel’s splits, career: .667/.844, 2009: .622/1.010
Young’s splits, career: .805/.697, 2009: .861/.578.

Kubel, looking at his total line, has always been a good hitter, and has been one of the 15 or so best hitters in the league in 2009, with a 140 OPS+ and .387 wOBA. Young, on the other hand, has been as disastrous as ever, with a 78 OPS+ and .288 wOBA. Yet: Kubel is just as helpless against lefties now as he’s always been, or even more so–the only difference is that he’s crushing righties rather than just holding his own against them. No matter how lovely his overall numbers are (and add a .300 average, 22 homers and 77 RBI to that OPS), Kubel has no business ever serving as the designated hitter against a left-handed pitcher. Ever. Delmon Young is Kubel’s perfect platoon partner, and DH vs. LHP may be the only role for which Young is actually suited.

There’s another great reason to platoon, too. Say you’re playing a team with a southpaw starter but a shortage of lefties in the ‘pen, or a right-handed closer that you know they’re going to use in the ninth. How awesome is it to have the luxury of using Ryan Howard or Jason Kubel (or your righty thumper if the situation is reversed) at exactly the right time, rather than just hoping his turn in the order comes up when you need it to?

So here’s my idea, for some future really, really ballsy manager and/or GM:

We need to stop thinking of “hitting” as a skill. Rather, there’s hitting vs. LHP and there’s hitting vs. RHP, and they’re totally separate skills, and your ability to do one doesn’t make it a whole lot more or less likely that you can do the other.

So Ryan Howard has been awesome, and has put up some awesome stats, but he hasn’t somehow earned the right to keep sucking against LHP by virtue of being awesome against RHP, any more than Tim Lincecum has earned the right to start in center field by virtue of being an awesome pitcher.

This kind of thinking would lead to a lot more platoons in more extreme situations (and there are a lot of them), and teams would properly value right-handed hitters whose numbers look bad because they hit against RHP 70% of the time, but who are highly valuable as the less-used half of a lefty/righty platoon. But even more commonly, it would change the way managers set batting orders and rest players. Almost every player (as we all know, but which I don’t think people pay enough attention to) has a significant split in favor of opposite-handed pitchers. For instance, Mauer is a Hall of Fame .951 career vs. LHP and a merely pretty-good-for-a-catcher .762 vs. LHP, and while he deserves to start most games against both, he’s probably not a #3 hitter against lefties, and he should never get a day of rest when a righty is on the mound unless the team has faced six righties in a row. Even Roberto Alomar, a switch-hitter and future Hall of Famer, probably batted high in the order far too often against LHP, against whom he had an OBP 50 points lower than he had against RHP (.337/.386).

It’s not a big deal on a case-by-case basis (except in extreme cases like Howard and Kubel), but a manager who really looked at these things, roster spot by roster spot, and utilized significant platoon advantages whenever possible — in setting the lineup and order and actually using platoons where appropriate, not merely pinch-hitting at the end of the game — might pick up an extra win or two over the course of the season. And DHing Kubel against lefties just has to stop.

Dark day…almost

June 14, 2009

Sometime soon, I’m going to go to one post per weekend rather than two. But not this weekend (which means that, since this little notice is most definitely something, there will have been at least 67 straight days with a post before I go one without).

I was hoping to have a special guest blogger today, but that’s not going to happen yet, so that will be tomorrow. Then on Monday, I’ll try to be a little clearer about my position on all this Strasburg stuff, by way of a response to Ron Rollins’ comment to yesterday’s little bit of nonsense (and presumably to tHeMARksMiTh’s Sunday post on the same topic).

In the meantime, consider this: since May 23 (the date of his return from the illness and passing of his mother), Delmon Young is “hitting” .217/.226/.233 with 27 strikeouts in 16 games. That’s a .459 OPS, from a left fielder who contributes absolutely nothing in the field. There are 53 times since 2007 where a pitcher has had at least 25 PA in a season and managed to top a .459 OPS.

Just Another Reminder that Strasburg and Wieters Aren’t Hall of Famers Yet

May 19, 2009

So here I was flipping through Baseball Prospectus 2005 in preparation for a quick piece on the quickly-devolving tragedy that is the career of Rickie Weeks, and I noticed something:

  1. Andy Marte.
  2. Delmon Young.
  3. Felix Hernandez.
  4. Dallas McPherson.
  5. Casey Kotchman.

That’s right. Those are the first five names that appeared on BP’s “Top 50 Prospects” list, about 51 months ago.

Now, let me say up front that I have nothing but respect for the fine people at BP (as you know if you’ve read, well, anything I’ve written here) and for this article’s author, Rany Jazayerli (as you know if you’ve checked out the blogroll to the right).

And the point of this isn’t that they got it wrong. Baseball America’s list had Mauer as the top prospect (who was no longer eligible by BP’s standards–he was the “Top Prospect Emeritus,” and I’d say that was a pretty decent call), but otherwise had a very similar look to it; minors uber-expert John Sickels was still doing the ESPN thing back then, and frankly, his top 5 hitter list is looking even worse than BP’s. In short, I don’t think BP did any better or worse than they should have in 2005 (incidentally, I can’t find my Baseball Prospecti 2004 or 2006 right now; anybody want to share the Top 5 from those years? Edit: found it! Check the comments.). But the fact remains that even by top-prospect-list standards, this one is looking really, really bad. Let’s review:

  1. Andy Marte (BA #9, Sickels #1): Rany’s writeup on Marte seems almost defensive — yeah, we really picked this guy, hear us out! — and now that’s looking a little silly. He’s currently back to knocking the cover off the ball in the minors (.343/.380/.614 through 22 games in Triple-A), but he’ll have to keep it up for quite a while before the big club in Cleveland forgets his .211/.265/.337, 56 OPS+ showing in a full season’s worth of big league PA. He might play again, might even start, but if he’s a star, it’ll be the biggest turnaround this side of Josh Hamilton.
  2. Delmon Young (BA #3, Sickels #4): Rany says “Marte and Young were the only two players seriously considered for our top spot.” They were right in line with everybody else on Delmon; BA went on to rank him #1 in 2006 and #3 in ’07. I have no further comment at this time.
  3. Felix Hernandez (BA #2, Sickels #1 among pitchers): Damn good, and it’s almost impossible to believe/remember he’s still only 23. They got one right, though it remains to be seen whether he’s really the top pitcher in the list (see more candidates below).
  4. Dallas McPherson (BA #12, Sickels #9): already nearly 25 when Rany was writing, the “most polished power bat of any player in the minor leagues” has a .298 career OBP and somehow lost the Marlins’ starting 3B job to Emilio Benifacio, so now I guess he’s in the Giants’ system. He did have a lot of power — 18 HR in 399 MLB PA — but the “polish” seemed to be lacking.
  5. Casey Kotchman (BA #6, Sickels #7): Here was your professional-hitter-and-gold-glove-first-baseman du jour, your Mark Grace or John Olerud for the 21st century. He did have a pretty solid and Grace-like first full season at age 24 in 2007 — .296/.372/.467, only 11 HR but 37 doubles — but then slipped in 2008 and was dealt to the Braves halfway through in the Mark Teixeira deal. Still only 26 and currently hitting .296/.362/.448, he might be a solid regular for several years now…but if so, he’ll likely be Overbay or Casey, not Grace or Olerud. Defense looks as good as advertised, however.

Other unnotables include Joel Guzman, #7 (62 big-league PA) and Eric Duncan, #13 (0 big-league PA). But should we get to the good players now? Wait ’til you see who’s bringing up the rear…

14. Scott Kazmir: posted a 116 ERA+ right there in 2005, at age 21, and didn’t look back. Well, not until ’09.

20. Chad Billingsley:
took off in 2006 at age 21. This kid might be the most underrated superstar in the game right now.

21. Ian Kinsler:
then a shortstop, Rany noted that he “projects as a slugging second baseman” without a ton of defense, so +2 for Rany. There was some thought then that his big 2004 in the minors was a fluke, just as there was some thought that his big 2008 in the majors was a fluke. Signs point to “no.”

24. Hanley Ramirez:
And in retrospect, there’s your true #1. Rany’s full of praise for him; his low ranking seems to stem from a very off 2003 and being blocked at shortstop by Edgar Renteria in Boston. BA ranked him #10.

26. Curtis Granderson:
“was not blessed with outstanding tools.”

38. Ryan Howard:
“almost guaranteed to find himself in another uniform before he gets an opportunity–maybe even before you read this.” Thome was blocking him in Philly at the time. They kept the right big guy.

39. Cole Hamels:
downgraded for injury risk.

44. Brian McCann:
just a good catch by them, really. McCann never once had a single-season minor league OPS as high as his big-league career OPS of .859. Oddly, BA also ranked him at exactly #44.

and, last and apparently least…

49(tie). Dustin Pedroia:
heh. Tied with someone named Mitch Einertson (who has yet to make it past Double-A) for the very last spot, in what was labeled a fierce “competition for our coveted slot of Mr. Irrelevant.” Little dudes in baseball: wildly underrated right up until the exact moment that they become wildly overrated.

Rany’s writeup seems resigned to the fact that Pedroia will never make the bigs, but notes that “PECOTA (admittedly thrown off by the small sample size) projects Pedroia to have more value over the next five years than any other prospect in baseball.”

BA’s list was a top 100 (as is BP’s, nowadays), and yet Lil’ Pedey goes unranked. Score one for PECOTA!

Errors in Judgment

May 16, 2009

As Rob Neyer brought to your attention yesterday, a five-member panel appointed by MLB granted the Royals’ appeal, overturning the Angels’ official scorer’s decision granting Howie Kendrick an inside-the-park home run on what was really a routine popup down the right field line that was completely misplayed by Jose Guillen.

I happened to be watching that game live, and, I mean, this was a terrible decision by the scorer. No two ways about it. You can click on the second link above and watch the video clip for yourself. If that’s a home run, we should go back to ’86 and give Mookie an RBI single.

So, I’m glad they overturned it. And Rob’s post and some of the comments beneath it raise some good questions about the quality and motivations of (team-employed) official scorers.

But I think this touches on an even bigger issue. The only reason this was any kind of controversy is that the ball just barely grazed Guillen’s glove on the way by. Consider this same result in a couple alternate universes:

  1. Guillen gets a great jump on the ball and camps under it, but he pulls his eye off it too early and it pops right out of his waiting glove, and then he kind of head-butts it all the way to the fence, resulting in Guillen being featured prominently in blooper reels for the rest of the year.
  2. Guillen takes his eye off of it on his way over, so he takes a slightly wrong angle whereby he comes too far in on the ball, and then watches helplessly as it bounces six feet beyond his reach.
Is there any question in the world that (1) is scored an error, (2) a home run? Yet, isn’t Guillen exactly equally culpable in both scenarios? And in the third scenario, the one that happened back in reality? In all three cases, he should’ve made the play, but didn’t. Why (at least for purposes of fielding and pitching analysis) treat the three cases any differently?

If you can watch the play and read the accompanying story and not come to the conclusion that “errors” and “fielding percentage” are utterly useless as tools for measuring defense, I’d really love to hear your argument in their favor. (Well, read the rest of this, then let me have it in the comments.)

Properly evaluating defense, at its core, requires you to ask one question, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the guy got a glove on the ball. Whether the fielder caught the ball, or dropped the ball, or ended up thirty feet away from the ball, the question should be exactly the same: should we have expected a dude in that position to make the play that that dude just made (or didn’t make)?

The Twins provide another convenient vehicle for making this point. Most days, as I’ve discussed here before, they start one of the worst left fielders in baseball (Delmon Young, or occasionally Jason Kubel); on the other days, they start one of the best (Denard Span sliding over from CF when Carlos Gomez plays). Now, Young and Span may end up with essentially the same number of “errors” over the course of the season, but if you watch them every day, you’ll routinely see Young come up ten feet or more short on fly balls hit at the exact same angle and speed as balls that Span catches with no difficulty. And when Span does make an “error,” odds are it’ll be on a ball just like that: one that Delmon could have been expected to play into a double. See, this works both ways. If Span’s legs and instincts get him to a ball that only one or two other guys in baseball could’ve hoped to, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to punish him if he bobbles it.

Turns out, most MLB clubs already have, internally, done away with fielding percentage and errors. Most teams (not the Twins, clearly; get Go-Go back in the damn game already!) employ some kind of sophisticated system of defensive analysis using tools — like my oft-cited favorite, UZR — that really do nothing but attempt to answer that one simple question (albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way than the way I just posed it).

But how long do you think it’ll take before this straight-forward, common-sense, weirdly counterintuitive idea takes hold among the media and public at large?

Or, to pose the same question in a different way: how many times must the author hear Joe Q. Colorcommentator cite errors made or fielding percentage as evidence that a team is first or last or sixth in “team defense” before he experiences some sort of cataclysmic psychic event?

Thing Fifteen: Solving the Twins’ Outfield

April 28, 2009

To this point the blog has, if nothing else, justified its name, with this being the fifteenth new thing in fifteen days. And yet, aside from the occasional cheap shot at Alexi Casilla or Delmon Young, I’ve completely avoided talking about my own favorite team. The main reason for that is that my goal is to write one relatively succinct, digestible thing per day, and as I’m sure you’ve seen, I’ve struggled with that a few times already; if I start writing about the Twins, odds are I’m going to just prattle on forever. But I’m afraid that’s a chance I’m going to have to take today. It’s just time.

The general thinking is that five outfield/DH types — Young, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel — are all good enough to be playing every day somewhere, but only four spots are open to them. So the question coming into the year was: who’s the odd man out?

Well, so far, Gardy has done his best to answer that with: “well, nobody! Or everybody, depending on how you look at it!” Through the first 20 games, he’s started the following combinations (left-center-right):

Young – Span – Cuddyer: seven times
Span – Gomez – Cuddyer: six times
Young – Gomez – Span: four times
Young – Gomez – Cuddyer: two times
Kubel – Span – Cuddyer: one time

All told, Span has started six in left, eight in center, and four in right; Gomez has started 12 games, all in center; Young has started 12 games in left and one at DH; and Cuddyer has started 15 in right and two at DH. Kubel has essentially been the full-time DH, starting against both righties and lefties, though two others have spelled him there in addition to Cuddyer and Young.

Let’s take a look at who these guys are. Two career numbers for each player are given below; the first is wOBA, a system that’s about as good as any for assigning one number to the offensive value of a player, and it works on essentially the same scale as OBP (.300 is bad, .340 fine, and .400 great); the second is UZR/150, which attempts to measure how many runs a player saves or costs his team per 150 games played against the average at his primary outfield position, relying on play-by-play data.

Michal Cuddyer (.339, -6.3): the elder statesman of this group (but still a week or so younger than me), Cuddyer had an excellent year with the bat in 2006 (.282/.362/.504, 24 HR, .370 wOBA), but slipped in 2007 and was hurt for most of 2008, and is off to a terribly slow start in 2009. He has a reputation among Twins fans as an excellent outfielder, but fans often confuse excellent arms with excellent outfielders; Cuddy has a cannon, but doesn’t get around well at all. His defensive numbers through his first 15 starts this year are bizarrely good (26.4 UZR/150), but his real ability tops out at about a minus-five-run right fielder. He hits righties well enough to justify playing every day for most clubs, but his real talent is hitting lefties, against whom he’s a career .280/.368/.439 hitter.

Carlos Gomez (.287, 18.7): Just 23 years old, Go-Go can be both a delight and absolute torture to watch. He swings from his heels (often falling to his knees off a particularly ambitious miss), never walks, is prone to mistakes on the bases, and, in 2008, would often bunt (often foul) with two strikes. But he might be the fastest player in baseball, and he absolutely is the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. As such, he needs only to get on base about 30% of the time, as he did in 2008, to be a useful everyday player. With his youth and talent (and he has a very nice swing on the rare occasion that he keeps it within reason), he still has the potential for much more than mere usefulness.

Jason Kubel (.338, -20.0): He’s a better hitter than his career wOBA suggests; that’s brought down by a poor first year back from surgery in 2006. He had a .345 wOBA last year and is tearing the cover off the ball in the early going this year, at .417. A typical lefty, Kubel has a career OPS 120 points higher against righties than against southpaws. With his reconstructed knee, he moves like he’s about eighty. A team without Justin Morneau might try him at first base, but he has no business “running” around the outfield.

Denard Span (.364, 12.0*): a former first-round pick, Span had pretty much obtained “bust” status heading into 2008, and then suddenly exploded. With an excellent 2008 in both the minors and majors and a similar start to 2009, it seems safe to conclude that Span did suddenly become a player: great eye at the plate, good bat control, good instincts on the bases, some gap power. He can apparently hit left-handed pitching despite being a lefty himself. He’s not quite the centerfielder Gomez is, but he can more than hold his own out there, and is an incredible asset in either corner.
* The 12 UZR150 is a reasonable guess; he hasn’t played enough games at any one position to really trust the numbers. What’s clear is that he’s an excellent defensive player at any of the outfield positions.

Delmon Young (.321, -15.8): Bill James recently wrote that Young must be the worst percentage player in baseball, and at this point, frankly, you could almost take “percentage” out of that label. Young, like Gomez, is just 23, but unlike Gomez, he has shown few flashes of potential and no currently useful Major League skills. He’s hit around .290 in both of his two full seasons, was once considered the #1 prospect in baseball, and had 93 RBI in 2007. That’s enough to convince some people that he’s a useful or promising player. Watch him every day, though, and you see something different. In the field, Delmon looks uninterested at best, clueless at worst; he frequently misses routine plays and routinely makes even minimal challenges into adventures (or doubles, or triples). He hasn’t balanced that by showing any power, hitting a total of just 23 HR in 1220 AB in 2007-08, and he’s drawn just 52 unintentional walks (against 232 strikeouts) in that same period. Even his minor league stats are largely underwhelming. I tend to believe that any player the scouts loved as much as they once loved Delmon must have something going for him, and maybe Delmon will show that something someday. But right now he’s here, and here is very, very, very, very far from there.

So what should he be doing with these guys? I see a few things that should be just blindingly obvious:

  • Span should be starting somewhere every day. Not only is he the best overall player of these five, which he clearly is because of his defense; he might even be the best pure offensive player among them. Whatever else you do, if Span is healthy, pencil him in in the leadoff spot and one of the outfield positions. He’s already sat out two of the first 20 games, and that’s two too many.
  • Young should not be starting anywhere on a contending team. Look, I get the argument. He’s a promising player, or people consider him as such, and needs to be playing every day. But if this team intends to compete in the Central — and this year, every team in the Central figures to compete in the Central — Delmon has no place on’t. Let him start every day in Triple-A (where, it should be noted, he’s never exactly proved himself), coach him heavily on defense and pitch recognition, and hope you don’t have to call him up before he’s ready because of an injury.
  • If you’ve got a flyball pitcher in the game, Gomez has to be in the game too. The thing about the Twins’ five outfielders is that only two of them are good defensive outfielders. So if you’ve got a guy on the mound who gives up a lot of fly balls (and that’s most of the Twins’ rotation), your best chance to win is to have both Gomez and Span in the outfield, even if you take a hit on offense.
  • Kubel shouldn’t DH versus lefties. Even in 2008, his best offensive year, Kubel had just a .704 OPS against left-handed pitching, worse than the overall OPS of Nick Punto and about equal to Casilla’s. Unless Gardy has some reason to believe Kubel has completely come around in that area — and I really don’t think he does — that’s just not a designated hitter.

So here’s what I’d do (assuming demoting Delmon isn’t an option):

Against RHP: Span LF, Gomez CF, Cuddyer RF, Kubel DH
Against LHP: Span LF, Gomez CF, Young RF, Cuddyer DH

So yeah, first, I’d play Gomez every day, flyball pitcher or no. I really think his defense is just that good, and, like a lot of people do with Young, I want to see him play every day to see if his bat will come around. Moreover, Span blanketing left allows Gomez to shade toward right, minimizing the damage done by playing Cuddyer and/or Young, who can pretty much just guard the line.

Second, I’m never putting Young in left, where his numbers have been uniformly terrible (I’ve watched him miss a relatively easy foul fly against the Rays as I’ve been writing this). For some reason, his numbers from about a season’s worth of playing right field with the Rays are above average (6.0 UZR/150 in 163 career G). That might just be a blip (and probably is), but it might also be that he had to depend less on his range and more on his strong arm in RF than he does in LF. There seems to be less foul territory in right field in the Dome, and the fence is closer. At least by putting him there you’d be giving him a chance of being a useful player, rather than just watching him flail helplessly around in left every day (as I have to currently).

Third, a Kubel/Cuddyer DH platoon is actually an above-average DH, whereas the current Kubel/Kubel setup is a serious weakness against lefties, especially in a lineup where your two best hitters are lefties.

Is this really worth spending all this time thinking over? …Well, yes, by somebody (probably not by me, but what can you do?). A Span/Gomez LF-CF would save about 40 runs on defense over the course of a season compared to a Young/Span one, which makes about four wins. And you give a little bit of that back on offense, but honestly, until Delmon actually shows something, it’s not all that much (and then Gomez takes a little back again on the basepaths). Four extra wins in the 2009 American League Central could very well mean the playoffs. To Gardy’s credit, he knows what his best defensive outfield is, frequently subbing Gomez in for Young and shifting Span to left in the late innings of close games. Now someone needs to explain to him the kind of difference having that for nine innings could make.

All that said, if Joe Mauer doesn’t come back on May 1 and knock the ball all over the park for 130 games, it’s not going to matter. But they might as well put their best lineup out there until we know for sure…