Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that was filled with heavy doses of sludging and drudging. It’s my hope that at the end of every week during the baseball season, at that moment that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to check out some random observations and contribute your own opinions to ten stray thoughts on a Friday.

So, without further ado:

There Is Simply No MVP Case For Any Other Position Player

Unsurprisingly, Jim Leyland, the manager of the Detroit Tigers, believes that Miguel Carbrera, the best player on the Detroit Tigers, should be the American League MVP. However, he worries that the narrative might work against Cabrera when it comes time for writers to vote on the award. In an interview on Detroit radio last week, Leyland said the following:

I mean this respectfully. I don’t mean this disrespectfully — I think what could be a little problem for Miggy … he could run into one of these Wonderboy stories. You know — a young kid, 20 years old, everybody gets excited about that, everybody loves that. It has a nice ring to hit, it should have. So I think that’s dangerous for Miggy.

The thing is, if there exists a narrative in support of 21-year-old Mike Trout winning the MVP award this year, it’s a narrative that’s supported by the numbers. FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus all list Trout as the best position player in the American League by a good measure.

Here’s a head-to-head look at Cabrera and Trout:

  • Cabrera: 29 HRs; 95 RBI; 8.9 BB%; 12.6 K%; .261 ISO; .383 OBP; .583 SLG; .405 wOBA; 157 wRC+.
  • Trout: 20 HRs; 60 RBI; 9.2 BB%; 20.7 K%; .251 ISO; .409 OBP; .597 SLG; .441 wOBA; 184 wRC+.

Even if you ignore that Cabrera has 82 more plate appearances, and look at the counting stats, it’s all too close to dismiss the massive difference in rate stats. It should also be noted that I only included RBIs in the comparison because it’s something that some of the old guard of voters might actually consider. However, of infinitely more interest to me is that while Cabrera has knocked in 20.6% of the runners on base when he comes up to the plate, Trout has brought home 20.9%.

Although, I’m not going to write anything negative about Jim Leyland because he once did this:

Gaming The System

When the new collective bargaining agreement was first announced, we wondered what inefficiencies would be discovered and worked out. While even under the previous CBA, teams were allowed to sign undrafted high school players before they went to college, they can now do so outside of the caps put on draft spending.

While it’s fun to imagine that the Arizona Diamondbacks are somehow gaming the system by signing pitcher Felipe Perez, an incoming freshman at UCLA, to a $400,000 bonus, I’m not so convinced. It’s difficult to believe that at least one other team over 40+ rounds of the draft, didn’t think Perez to be worth taking a flier on. Even if he were likely to cost more than the limit after the tenth round, that’s still more than 300 selections that taken ahead of him.

The $400,000 still seems like a fairly significant amount of money to pay for a player after the draft, even if he was the top undrafted player from Baseball America’s pre-draft list of the 500 best prospects available. However, according to Jim Callis of Baseball America, the Diamondbacks still could have spent more than $404,000 on draft signing bonuses without losing a 2013 first round, so again, it’s not like they’re circumventing anything here.

A.J. Burnett’s Success

One of the better stories of the second half has been A.J. Burnett’s resurgence. I’ve looked a little bit at his numbers and charts to see if there’s any glaringly obvious difference between his approach from the mound last season and this year. The one thing that stood out immediately was how consistent his pitches have become.

Take a look at the horizontal by vertical movement of each type of pitch Burnett threw last year:

And now, compare that to 2012:

He hasn’t thrown as many pitches yet this season, but I think we see a trend emerging, with his pitches simply having a consistency to them that they lacked last year.

This can also be confirmed by a comparison of his release points from year to year.

Here we have 2011:

And now, the more contained 2012:

I wonder if his tighter mechanics haven’t led to better command, which has allowed him a better measure of confidence pitching lower in the zone, which has then resulted in getting ahead in the count and inducing more ground balls. It’s simply too easy to dismiss his revival this season as merely facing lesser competition in terms of hitters in the National League. I don’t know if it’s calmer nerves, better health or what, but Burnett is showing a measure of consistency that he has never previously been able to.

One Of My Favourite Things

Over the past couple of seasons, while watching baseball with a more critical eye, I’ve noticed that I tend to appreciate a certain type of pitcher over others. It’s perhaps rooted in watching a lot of Roy Halladay starts, but my favourite type of pitcher attacks the bottom half of the strike zone with a 4-seamer, 2-seamer or cutter early in the count, and then uses a breaking pitch away from the batter or comes high and hard up in the zone once he’s ahead.

This approach seems to me to be as foolproof as it gets. If the batter doesn’t fall behind in the count early, he’s most likely to hit a ground ball. Sure, occasionally a breaking pitch will hang or a batter will be sitting dead red with two strikes, but a pitcher will normally be in control of the situation with a favorable count.

Yesterday, both Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants and Jordan Zimermann of the Washington Nationals offered perfect examples of this approach. Next week the Giants and Nationals will embark on a three game series with the following pitching match ups:

Ryan Vogelsong vs. Gio Gonzalez

Madison Bumgarner vs. Jordan Zimmermann

Tim Lincecum vs. Stephen Strasburg

It would be foolish to watch any other series.

Strikeouts In Any Language

I was watching a playoff game from the Mexican League last night, and the commentary was of course, in Spanish. It was rather amusing to discern the difference in cadence and tone between the Mexicans and the typical American commentators, but the only word I understood was, “Adios!” which was spoken after every strikeout.

It all reminded me of this awesome bit from national treasure Jon Miller:

How Harper Handles Himself

Remember this?

That was the result of these two called strikes on pitch number five and six.

I seem to remember taking a bit of heat in a couple of comments sections for referring to Brett Lawrie’s display as a childish tantrum. I was told that such expressions are par for the course when you’re playing with intensity.

On Wednesday night, Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper was struck out looking on two separate occasions in a game against the Houston Astros thanks to bad calls by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez.

Here’s the first one in the fourth inning against Armando Galarraga:

And here is the second, in the sixth inning against Xavier Cedeno:

Absolutely terrible calls. And here’s how Harper responded:

Three cheers for restraint.

For the record, the leverage index for the Lawrie called strike out was at 2.78, and it decreased WPA by .071. The sixth inning called strike out for Harper had a leverage index of 3.06, and it decreased WPA by .077, because the bases were loaded.

The Oakland A’s Are Movie Friendly

If the season were to end today, the Oakland A’s would be in the playoffs. Given the franchise’s market, budget, location, stadium, roster and injuries, there is no team less likely to be in the position that they are currently in than the Athletics. As such, it’s the duty of all neutral observers who like baseball to cheer vehemently for Oakland for the remainder of the season. If your team falls out of the race in the coming weeks, your allegiance should go to the A’s. They’ll probably let you down in the end, but it will most likely be a lot of fun cheering on a team that no one thought stood a chance of being where they are right now.

With a below average offense and an average pitching staff, they’ve basically gotten to where they are with good defence and a complete and utter unwillingness to give up home runs. I don’t know if that’s by ballpark design or roster design or even random design, but it certainly appears to be what’s happening.

Popular Players

Yesterday’s five most popular player profiles at Baseball Reference were:

  1. Derek Jeter
  2. Tyler Greene
  3. Matt Treanor
  4. Albert Pujols
  5. Michael McKenry

Over at FanGraphs, the last 24 hours has seen these player profiles visited the most:

  1. Joel Guzman
  2. Mike Trout
  3. Matt Harvey
  4. Matt Moore
  5. Yu Darvish

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The Division Series play off round will look like this:

  • Texas Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels;
  • New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers;
  • Washington Nationals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates; and
  • San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals.

The Championship Series play off round will look like this:

  • Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees; and
  • Washington Nationals vs. San Francisco Giants.

The World Series will look like this:

  • Texas Rangers vs. Washington Nationals.

The World Series winner will look like this:

  • Texas Rangers.