Friday, May 2, 2008

Where Can Barry Bonds Find a Home?

Barry Bonds, still one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball (.276/.480/.565 last year in 340 PA), has not yet signed for a team in 2008. While I find this situation to be utterly ridiculous, it does make for a good opportunity for speculation about his future home. Some think that he will end up with the Tigers; others think that he will end up with the Yankees. I think that he will end up with the Mariners.

The Tigers already have a glut of hitters, including DH candidates Gary Sheffield and Marcus Thames. While both Sheffield and Thames are right handed, Sheffield remains competent against righties, posting a .819 OPS against them during the past three years. Plus, they have plenty of outfielders already; Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson will need to be rested from time to time and inserting Bonds as the DH full-time removes the possibility of giving other hitters partial days off. Due to an already clogged OF with good options available, Bonds doesn't make much sense in Detroit without a trade or two for bullpen help. And since good relievers are in short supply these days, it is unlikely that such a deal will be made and there has been no sign that one will materialize soon.

As for the Yankees, they suffer from a similar problem. They already have four outfielders who warrant regular play (Matsui, Damon, Cabrera, and Abreu) and a clogged DH situation. Jason Giambi is a liability at 1B and needs regular rest to avoid injury. Shelley Duncan can play 1B and OF and hammers lefties. Jorge Posada might need days off from catching once he gets back from the DL, and the DH spot is a perfect fit for him on those days. Plus, The Yankees are already heavy on lefty bats, making Bonds a less than perfect fit. And in the New York media circus, it is a near certainty that Bonds will dominate the headlines. All in all, this makes little sense.

The Seattle Mariners, however, are a different story. While they just called Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien, they still have room for Bonds. Their outfield situation isn't crowded; they have their starters (Ibanez, Ichiro, and Balentien) and Willie Bloomquist. No offense to Willie, but he's not an everyday player. Plus, their DH situation isn't that crowded either. Sure, Clement needs to start some days but he can catch and Kenji Johjima isn't exactly burning up the majors right now. If Clement catches against righties, then the Mariners have plenty of at-bats to give Clement and Bonds. Jose Vidro is washed up and has been for some time now. Additionally, the Seattle lineup only has 2-3 left-handed batters right now so there's no worry about overloading the lineup. There's nothing standing in the way of adding Barry to Mariners' lineup.

Plus, the Mariners are not built for long-term success. By trading away Adam Jones, they essentially went for broke this year. Adding Barry Bonds would make their lineup much more formidable and would improve their chances of catching the Angels in the AL West.

So how about it, Bavasi?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Second Home

I wanted to let everyone know that I'm writing for the Bleacher Report (link provided) in addition to this blog. There will be some pieces that you can find there that you can't find here. Those will be responses to other pieces on the site.

Anyway, I'm watching Kennedy's start tonight and will give a follow-up to my previous analysis. Hopefully, he'll attack the zone and justify my confidence in him.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mad Max

I was going to write about a few prospects who got the call-up recently but after watching Max Scherzer destroy the Astros, I had to write about him.

For those who are not familiar with his repertoire, Scherzer exhibits a nasty, heavy fastball that sits at 93-96 and touches 98 (Edit: The TV gun was slow and I revised this thanks to new information). His fastball is reminiscent of Kevin Brown in his prime; the ball simply explodes through the zone, forcing weak contact and getting lots of swings and misses. He was working up and down in the zone, getting 94 MPH fastballs at the knees for strikes early and then elevating later in the count (increasing the velocity as well). He also shows an average change-up from 84-88 and a show-me slider.

The major knocks on Scherzer are that really only has one plus pitch (his fastball) along with a strange head-whack he has toward the end of his delivery. The head-whack is a bit overstated, in my opinion. He jerks his head down and toward first base just before he releases the ball. This may put more strain on his shoulder long-term since it's moving his body farther away from the ball's release point but it doesn't seem to effect his control at all. He keeps his head facing toward the plate, unlike someone like Okajima, and can command both sides of the plate.

Edit: I looked through the tape again and found that his command wavered at times but improved near the end of his outing. He got quite a few players to swing at balls, which shows how much movement his fastball has. However, he doesn't need to have pinpoint command. If he can keep his walks down, then I think he'll be fine.

As for his line: 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 7 K. Not bad, right? This wasn't luck, either. He looked incredibly dominant. When he matched up against Lance Berkman, he got ahead with a fastball, a hard foul ball with a change-up, then blew Berkman away with two more fastballs (first one fouled off, the second one up and away). Berkman looked off-balance and was late on most of the fastballs. Now, Berkman is an outstanding fastball hitter. This wasn't luck. This was dominance.

I'm not sure if Scherzer can sustain this level of performance unless he can refine his offspeed pitches more. His repertoire might be better suited for a relief role as a dominant closer. I do want to see them give him a chance as a starter. He maintained his velocity through the four innings and he showed no control problems in the minors.

The skinny: This kid is the real deal. He could be this year's Joba (for you fantasy guys) and possibly even more. If you get a chance, watch a game and see how his fastball dominates big-league hitters. It might make you giggle (I definitely did) and it will certainly provide more evidence that the Diamondbacks are going to be a quality team for years to come.

Give Kennedy Time

In response to some comments on a previous post, I'd like to talk about Ian Kennedy, the third Musketeer in the Hughes/Joba/Kennedy triumvirate. He has had a rough start to his season, with an 8.53 ERA, 0-2 record, an a horrible 17:15 BB:K ratio. Terrible numbers, to be sure. However, I think he's going to be just fine.

Kennedy's hallmark as a minor league pitcher was his impeccable command of his fastball. In 2007, his only full year in the minors, he posted the following numbers (spread across A+, AA, and AAA): 12-3 W-L, 146.1 innings, 1.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 6 HR allowed, 163 K, and 50 BB.

These are outstanding numbers, with consistent success at all three levels. He continued to do well at the major league level last year as well in a three game cameo at the end of the season (19 IP, 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 15 SO, 9 BB).

This year, his command has been awful, as evidenced by his 17:15 BB:K ratio. So what is his problem and is it going to persist?

Looking at the Pitchf/x data (using Josh Kalk's excellent Pitchf/x tool), I spotted a few interesting things about Ian's pitching. First, a little information about his fastball. The most obvious thing that jumps out at me is that his command of it isn't quite as bad as previously indicated. He has 55 balls and 105 strikes (23 of those strikes being in play outs and 8 being hits). His other three pitches are also mediocre; if you combine his curveball, slider, and change-up, he registers 43 balls and 73 strikes (17 in play outs and 5 hits, all singles). So overall, his control isn't horrible, but it's not good either.

He's having trouble missing bats with his fastball (3.125% swing and miss but is doing ok with his other pitches (a combined 16.4% swing and miss). He's not Tim Lincecum but he's not horrible either. So what is his problem?

He's getting behind too many batters early in the count and walking too many guys. 29 of his at bats have ended in a hitter's count (any of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2). 34 have ended in a pitcher's count (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2). 11 have ended in a neutral count (0-0, 1-1). Clearly, he's not getting ahead of hitters with any regularity. Hitters do much better against Kennedy after reaching hitter's counts and much worse when put into pitchers' counts. This is true for pretty much all pitchers and hitters. It is called count leverage. And once the count gets to three balls and any number of strikes, guys are teeing off on him to the tune of an OPS well over 1.200.

About 26% of at-bats against him reach a 3 ball count. Compare that to Brian Bannister (who is a somewhat similar pitcher, having decent stuff but great command and control) who only has 12.7% of at-bats reach 3 ball counts. Clearly, Kennedy needs to be more aggressive in the strike zone early in the count.

So what's the diagnosis? I believe that Kennedy will make the necessary adjustments to succeed. He proved that he has the ability to throw quality strikes in the minors and there is little reason to believe that this suddenly deserted him. Plus, he's already throwing strikes now when he's behind in the count. His fastball tails in on right handers pretty well so he can be aggressive with it early in the count.

If he takes a page out of the book that Maddux bequeathed to Brian Bannister and uses count leverage to his advantage, he should be fine.

The Beginning of Zito's End

So as I mentioned in my last post, Barry Zito is flat out awful. And as of yesterday, he's now awful in the Giants' bullpen. While I definitely think Zito shouldn't be in their rotation, the question now becomes: What value does he have in their bullpen?

The most obvious place for him would be as a long man or as a lefty specialist. We'll start with the latter first.

This year, Zito is slightly better against lefties than righties. But that's not saying much; righties have an OPS of .947 against him while lefties sport a nifty .810 OPS. Last year was slightly better, with the righty/lefty split at .723/.714. In 2006, it went the other way, with lefties actually having a higher OPS against him (.767) than righties (.754). These are not the numbers of a man who dominates like-handed batters. So this not a good place for him at all.

We've already seen how ineffective he is over several innings so he will probably be just as bad out of the bullpen. However, there is value in him eating up innings in blowouts. If the Giants are down 8-0 in the fifth, they're not coming back. Their offense just doesn't have that sort of ability to score runs. So Zito can provide value by soaking up innings (even if he's horrible in doing so), keeping their effective bullpen arms well-rested. It's not a glamorous role (and probably one any average AAA pitcher could manage) and definitely not worth $126 million, but it's something.