Welcome to the first week of The 79th Zone, which is this year’s version of fAD. I didn’t do one for the first two weeks because I’m morally opposed to providing interpretations of stats in the first two weeks, especially after embarrassing myself with that one Wainwright call last year. But expect them to happen regularly (the articles, not the embarrassing predictions). Remember last year when the AD/AD combo had a painfully long intro paragraph that was usually about that strange kicking sport only foreigners and Chad Ochocinco play? Thank the Good Lord you’ll be spared that torture, and as I understand it, many people today will eat eggs and celebrate this new-found freedom from the dredges of “Liverpool this” and “Manchester United that”. Anyway, this is the part of the year where we can start calling data significant and drawing meaningful conclusions from players’ peripherals. Things like contact rates, strikeout rates, walk rates, and stuff like that are beginning to become reliable. I can smell the regressions in the air! Can’t you?
Michael Pineda – Last Month: 25.1 IP, 3 W, 1.78 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 21 K, 9 BB, 3.99 xFIP
First off, I will say that we have a legit Rookie of the Year candidate in Pineda. Plus, he will definitely get a boost from the Seattle defense and the cavernous Safeco Field; after all, this is the same park and defensive-minded organization that made respectable pitchers out of Jarrod Washburn, Jason Vargas, and Doug Fister. However, as HR-suppressing as that park is, there is no way he will continue anything close to his zero-HR pace. He has a 50% FB rate, good for 5th in the league. There’s a trade-off to be made here: high fly ball rate equals a lower BABIP (oh boy, I get to use an article linked on the Cafe from this week!), but the HR/9 will be higher as well. There’s still good production to be had with Pineda, but think 4.00/1.26 production from here on out.
Carlos Quentin – Last Month: 85 PA, .320 AVG, 14 R, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, 1.107 OPS
Quentin is one of the players that I just can’t figure out. In the minors, his BABIP was consistently .330+, but in over 2,000 MLB plate appearances he has a .254 BABIP. I theorize that this is largely due to a lower LD% in the majors, as well as better defenders not letting him get away with said low LD%. In fact, in that particular statistic, he ranks second to last since 2008. He also has the 8th-highest FB%, which as I just pointed out above, correlates with a low BABIP. This all brings me to this year. There has been little change in his batted ball profile, and while he will probably remain a good power hitter, he will not retain that .320 AVG.
By the way, this is as good a time as any to mention that MinorLeagueSplits is back in a different form after a several-month-long hiatus. Bookmark it for MiLB batted ball data and other stats that aren’t readily available elsewhere.
Trevor Cahill – Last Month: 25.1 IP, 2 W, 2.49 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 27 K, 7 BB, 2.49 xFIP
Like Quentin, I can’t figure out how Cahill’s numbers transferred from the minors to the majors so poorly. He put up 10.0+ K/9 in his first two minor league stops, then 8.0+ in his next one (not including <10 IP sample sizes). Upon promotion to the majors, though, he barely topped 5.0 in his first two years. This year, he’s burst out with more than a strikeout per inning, and he looks to be following last year’s breakout up with an even better performance. Why the sudden massive jump in strikeouts? Truth be told, I don’t know if we can explain it other than variance in small samples. His breaking ball usage did jump about 6% from last year and he is inducing 5% less contact, but neither of those would explain a K rate almost double his career number, especially since pretty much every other peripheral has stayed the same. So as such, I’d have to predict a severe drop to about 6.0-6.5 strikeouts per nine, maybe even as low as last year. He’ll still have value as a Hudson-esque GB machine, but he won’t produce the full gamut of SP tools you need.
Yovani Gallardo – Last Month: 31.1 IP, 2 W, 4.88 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20 K, 10 BB, 3.94 xFIP
Wait, did Cahill and Gallardo switch places or something? While Cahill is posting a career high K/9, Gallardo has dropped to sub-6.0 levels, but with career best GB and BB rates. Those circumstances don’t seem to be working as well for Yovani as they have for Cahill, given his 4.88 ERA up to this point. FIP, xFIP, and tERA are more forgiving, with 4.04/3.94/4.31, respectively. The explanation behind this, I guess, is his skyrocketing contact rate, almost 10% over his career norm. The 87.2% he’s currently sitting on isn’t ultra-high, but he moved from top 20 to bottom 40 between 2010 and 2011. His slider just isn’t working for him (-1.95 runs in value per 100 pitches), and until he gets it, I don’t see this new contact pitcher profile working out. He’ll probably get it at some point, so buy low for sure.
Francisco Liriano – Last Month: 20.2 IP, 1 W, 7.40 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 14 K, 14 BB, 5.25 xFIP
Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. After what looked like a return to his former glory in 2010, he’s plummeted back to his ’09 self in the early going. And absolutely nothing is working for him. His fastball and slider are getting destroyed (-4.8 runs combined so far), he’s not fooling hitters with pitches outside the zone (9% drop in O-Swing), and his fastball velocity is down (93.7 mph to 92.1). That fastball velocity drop may not seem that significant, but there appears to be a strong correlation between Liriano’s velocity and success. That brutal slider, his one saving grace every year (note the consistent 1.00+ runs per 100 pitches every season), has lost its bark and its bite. There’s not much to say here except that if you’re going to try and buy low, buyer beware.
Derek Jeter – Last Month: 71 PA, .219 AVG, 9 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .516 OPS
Jeter’s been terrible so far. Like, absolutely awful. He’s not even hitting for doubles power, with an ISO of .016 and one XBH all year. If this is anything close to real, this could be the most precipitous drop from stardom since Andruw Jones. Apparently, Jeter retooled his swing over the winter to try and recapture his pre-2010 career. It didn’t work out. About 15 games in, he ditched the new swing. Since then, his old swing hasn’t worked out either. His struggles are pretty well documented, and many articles are citing his 72.9% GB rate. Burning worms at a rate that astonishing will destroy production for anyone that isn’t one of the fastest players in the league and doesn’t rely on hitting doubles or HR in any capacity. Jeter was at 65.7% last year, which probably also contributed to his struggles. I generally stay away from Yankees players because they tend to be overrated, and this goes double for Jeter this year, especially since he’s approaching 37 years old. Just…just leave him alone.
Final note to go out with: As the title suggests, I do Liriano what you did last summer. You watched your team lose and play poorly during the day (unless you’re a Cubs fan, in which case you got drunk at the ballpark and someone told you later that the Cubs lost and played poorly). You lied awake through the night with regrets of a misspent youth pounding through your mind, a youth spent drafting Bill Pulsipher and Luis Castillo. You wavered for days between dropping and not dropping your #4 pitcher, only to be ruined by your indecision, as someone else pulled the trigger on Anibal Sanchez. You know how I know all this? I am you. We are all one being, one mind, united. Except Brad Hawpe; I don’t want that guy in my amorphous baseball mind meld.
André Walker is Ubaldo's Smirking Revenge. His alter ego Neato Torpedo is Hawpe's Well Below Average Glove.
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