Wednesday, May 15, 2013

LINE DRIVES: v2.0--Five-Man Rotation

Is there something wrong with Stephen Strasburg?

Felipe M

I was recently asked about five starting pitchers that have not pitched up to par in this 2013 season.  Of course, it was all from a fantasy baseball perspective, but, if you have been paying attention, I basically share both fantasy and "real" baseball analysis interchangeably. So if you read between the lines, whether you're a "real" baseball fan or a fantasy baseball owner, you will get the info you are looking for.

Here's a quick look at the five starting pitchers in question (all stats are as of May 14, 2013):

Pitching Raw Stats
Player
K/BB
K/9
BB/9
H/9
WHIP
ERA
HR/9
Stephen Strasburg
3.40
9.3
2.7
7.8
1.18
3.10
0.9
David Price
3.69
8.2
2.2
10.3
1.39
4.78
1.4
Jonathan Niese
0.95
4.6
4.8
11.0
1.76
5.93
1.1
Josh Beckett
2.73
8.5
3.1
10.4
1.50
5.19
1.7
Ryan Vogelsong
2.47
8.5
3.4
12.1
1.73
7.78
2.1













We will start with Stephen Strasburg:

The issue that many baseball fans have with the young phenom pertains to his current 1-5 record.  After going 15-6 in 2012, fans are wondering if there's something wrong with Strasburg as he's off to a "bad" start.  However, if one looks at his season numbers, one can easily identify that he's having a great season so far.  He's striking out hitters at a high clip, has no, apparent control or command issues, and he's not hurting himself with the long ball.  Also, for the traditional fans out there, his ERA is pretty low for current baseball standards.  

Clearly, at plain sight, there's nothing wrong with Strasburg.  So we will take a deeper look to see what can be hidden that's making Strasburg sport a 1-5 record:

  • Right off the bat, the run support has been missing for the Washington Nationals.  At only 2.3 runs per game, even Strasburg's capabilities aren't enough to keep the Nationals in the game.  League average hovers around 4.2 runs/game.  A few more runs by the offense would help immensely.
  • Perhaps Strasburg doesn't have the stuff that he's used to having.  His Strikeout rate of 24.9% is a career low.  Then again, that stat is still above league average.  Walk rate is pretty steady to his career norms.  Matter of fact, all of his advanced pitching stats are pretty on par with his career.  However, there are a few categories that have seen a noticeable change:
    • He's now pitching in more 3-0 counts than we've ever seen him pitch in the Big Leagues.  3-0 Count% is at 5% (career high).  However, that stat puts him at league average so what that tells me is that maybe he is human after all.
    • 0-2 Count% is also a career low.  And that stat puts him slightly below league average.  Either way, you can't expect a pitcher to continually dominate with constant 0-2 counts.
    • The biggest drop in category is probably one that will shock a lot of baseball fans; Strikeouts While Looking% is at 14% (lowest since 2011).  This puts him well below league average and would explain his career low strikeout rate.
Nevertheless, Strasburg is still pitching lights out and continues to give the Nationals a chance to win; even if the offense can only muster up 2.3 runs/game in games that he pitches.

David Price: Heck of a mystery to figure out the struggles of a pitcher that has a 3.69 K/BB.  At first glance, it seems that Price might be having command issues.  And then you see that he's actually sporting a BABIP of .338.  So Price is pretty much going through lots of bad luck.  Or is he?

Lack of command or bad luck?  That is the question!  Right away, I see that his OPSAgainst is a career high .797.  However, that is only slightly above league average, so with a bit of luck, that number can drop.  However, luck doesn't explain career highs in the following categories:
  • Extra Base-Hit%: 9.3% 
  • Line Drive%: 24%
  • Homerun%: 3.6%
  • HR/FB: 11%
So there's something in his pitches that opposing hitters are seeing better than at anytime in Price's career.  Nevertheless, these numbers are mostly, but slightly above league average.  Nonetheless, one alarming stat is his strikeout rate of 21.3%--the lowest it's been since 2010.  And even then, it's still a rate that's slightly above league average and secondly, he's still sporting a career low walk rate (5.8%).  All of this comes with a career high 66% 1st Pitch Strike%!  You finally add in the fact that he is seeing a career low in run support/game (3.6) and I must conclude, although there are some command issues that are evident, most of Price's struggles seems to come at the hands of bad luck: balls that find the holes for singles or flyballs that fall safely out of the reach of his outfield.  A few lucky breaks here and there, and a lot of these stats drop down to league average.  Add to the fact that his walks and strikeouts are near elite and we're looking at a pretty good starting pitcher.
Look at it!  Its warning track has a warning track....

Josh Beckett: A lot of publicity has been made about Beckett's struggles in the last few seasons or so: decrease in velocity, commitment questions (apparently, the guy loves playing golf on his off days), the odd-even theory (more like a fallacy, but moving on...), tough AL East lineups, etc.  Whatever the excuse is, we've heard them all.  What is known is that Beckett is now pitching in a perceived, weaker-hitting National League and pitching in a notorious, pitchers' ballpark in Dodgers Stadium.  So how has he fared?

Despite the good K/9 and decent BB/9, Beckett is getting lit up because of the number of base-hits he has given up so far this year.  A deeper look that the base-hits might be a product of a high BABIP--.336--but he also has a career high 4.1% HR% and his Extra Base-Hit% is 10.3 (highest since 2010).  Furthermore, his Line Drive% is 24% (highest since 2002) and his Groundball/Flyball ratio 0.66.  All those flyballs seem to be turning into extra base-hits and only 6% of those flyballs actually stay in the infield (Infield/Flyball ratio--pop ups).  To make matters worse, he is also posting a 74% contact rate--the lowest it's been since 2011.  So even though hitters are struggling to make contact with Beckett's pitches, they still find a way to drive his pitches into the outfield.

And even his good K/9 is clouded by the fact that his Strikeout Looking% is a career worst, 20%.  Again, command issues as Beckett struggles to locate his pitches in the strike zone.  And it's been reported that he went on the DL today with a groin injury.  So that'll give him 15 days to figure out what's wrong with him. 

Jon Niese: Coming into the 2013 season, Niese was expected to have a good year, coming off a successful 2012 campaign.  Unfortunately, it has been disastrous for Niese, heretofore.  

Despite receiving almost 6 runs/game of support, Niese is only 2-4.  Despite the projections showing a pitcher with good control, Niese has displayed terrible control.  His Walk% is a ridiculously high 11% (highest it's been since 2008--his rookie year) to go along with a pathetic 10.9% Strikeout% (also a career low). 

Despite the high H/9, Niese's advanced stats didn't show any numbers lying too far off his usual norm.  As a matter of fact, he is still doing a good job inducing groundballs as his Groundouts/Airouts ratio is at 1.66.  His Line Drive% is a career low 16%.  His HR/FB is a league average 7.9%.  However, his IF/FB is at 6% (career low) so hitters are finding opportunities to drive the ball for extra base-hits (.841 OPS is highest it's been since rookie year of 2008).  

But Niese's main problem is definitely his lack of control.  He's only thrown 59% of his pitches for strikes (career low), Swinging Strike% at only 11%, and %of Pitches Swung at 42%--the latter figures are the lowest we've seen since 2008.  

As far as working the count, Niese has started out a count with a 1st Pitch Strike only 48% of the time.  His 3-0 Counts Seen% is a league (and career) high 9% and only 18% of hitters see an 0-2 count from Niese (career low).

So hitters are doing a good job in hitting their way on base, but Niese is assisting them with his terrible control.  Poor control we haven't seen from Niese since--2008--his rookie year.

Ryan Vogelsong: Everybody's favorite underdog baseball story of 2011, Vogelsong has had  a sort of fairy tale baseball experience the last couple of seasons.  This season however, the magic is disappearing.  His walks, although pretty high, is not as big of a concern as his command.  The following stats are all highs since Vogelsong joined the Giants:
  • OPSAgainst: .939
  • HR%: 4.9%
  • Line Drive%: 24%
  • HR/FB: 13.6%
His IF/FB of 11% is also the lowest Vogelsong has seen as a Giants' pitcher.  The homeruns allowed is the real red flag as AT&T Park is notorious for being a pitcher-friendly ballpark (although, teammate Matt Cain has also been struggling with the long ball this season as well).  

Despite the fact that his BABIP is a high .370, the rest of the numbers, especially the homeruns, do not indicate issues of bad luck, bur rather issues with [diminished?] skills and command.


All photos courtesy of Mike McCann's Field of Fotos.

Have been meaning to share the six baseball teams I will be keeping a close eye on, but continue to forget.  Here they are:

AL EAST: TAMPA RAYS
AL CENTRAL: CHICAGO WHITE SOX
AL WEST: OAKLAND A'S

NL EAST: NEW YORK METS
NL CENTRAL: CHICAGO CUBS
NL WEST: SAN DIEGO PADRES

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