Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cincinnati Reds PWMBA: Johnny Cueto

Johnny Cueto is a hot shot prospect (age 23) that along with Bailey and Volquez gives the Reds the best young pitching staff in the majors. They are a group of quality pitchers that could carry the Reds to a winning season this year in addition to years to come. What I am doing right now is building them up while everyone wonders how long until I mention that they pitch on a team managed by Dusty Baker and that if he doesn't personally stab each one in the throwing arm it will be a miracle.

Cueto has shown some signs of being excellent with a 90+ mph fastball in addition to a good slider and changeup. He makes good use of all three pitches and has impressive strikeout numbers in every phase of his career.

It is Cueto's other numbers that interest me though and more specifically his major vs. minor league numbers. Cueto threw 174 innings last year (his rookie season) and has 348.1 career minor league innings pitched. His minor league numbers are impressive (particularly his AA numbers of 11.36 K/9 and 1.03 WHIP) but his major league numbers last year show some stark differences.

The following graph compares several rate statistics for Cueto's minor league career vs. his 2008 rookie campaign.

The numbers that stick out most are his HR/9 rate and his BB/9 rate. Cueto's minor league HR/9 rate was 0.62, which is excellent. In the majors last year Cueto gave up 1.5 HR/9. A jump is to be expected when moving up to face better competition but such a significant increase is a bit alarming. It could partially be attributed to park factor; the Great American Ballpark ranked fourth last year in HR. It is important to realize however that his HR/9 in away games last year was still above league average.

It would be one thing to say that Cueto was unlucky last year however his BABIP was only 0.309, barely above league average. It is reasonable to expect his walk totals to come down as he develops his pitches more. He will have to find a way to give up fewer home runs in order to find success in this league. If he struggles early I would not be surprised to see the Reds send him down to AAA to get some more development seeing as how he only has 22.0 IP at that level. It's hard to say what to expect though; whether it's the dominant AA pitcher or the adequate major leaguer. Projections almost universally have him doing roughly the same as he did last year. While his performance was acceptable, it is not the kind of performance that Baker can be expected to ruin.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chicago Cubs PWMBA: Kosuke Fukudome

The baseball season is coming. Professionals are playing the sport as we speak (or write) in beautiful cities as well as Kissimmee. As such, it's time to start looking ahead at some things to expect.

Or what we can't expect or predict in any reliable way as the case may be. In this series I am identifying a player on each team in the NL Central that is a question mark in terms of what to expect from them heading into the season. Some may be because of small sample sizes or interesting trends, other may be a jerk who plays for the Cubs.

Chicago Cubs Player Who Might Be Anything: Kosuke Fukudome

Fukudome only has one year of MLB statistics so it is difficult to determine how well it projects to his future production in the majors. He started off hot but definitely cooled down the stretch. He seemed to make some adjustments well but may have hit a slump toward the end of the season. It is also possible that pitchers have figured him out and he has not been able to adjust to them. The graph below shows his stats over the course of the season.

While there is a trend downward it is unclear if it is a cause for concern or performance below true capabilities. His final season stats were .257/.359/.379, good for a EqA of .260. Exactly league average is not the production the Cubs invested in and not the production needed from a corner outfielder.

The upcoming season will be interesting as it may determine how much money and time the Cubs will invest in Fukudome. If he performs well then he may be a long term member of the club. If not, then he may be looking for a new job where he can try to overcome a legacy as overhyped.

I admittedly have no knowledge of Fukudome's stats from Japan and cannot imagine how they would translate. If there are projections that compare them to minor league statistics I am unaware of them however I think the main issues to keep in mind are that Fukudome is only 32 and he has shown signs of being able to make adjustments and show patience at the plate.

Fukudome's season was comprised of a Jekyll first half and a Hyde second half. Somewhere towards the middle is where I would expect him to perform this upcoming season and in the long run of his career. Looking at his season stats, he was hitting .279/.383/.408 at the All-Star break. This is actually fairly close to most projections I have seen and seems to be a reasonable level to expect from him. Quite frankly, if he performs at any level below that and the Cubs can and should find a replacement for far less money and equal or greater production.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

An Open Letter to Everyone Who Still Thinks Francisco Rodriguez Was MLB's Premier Closer in 2008

Dear Everyone Who Still Thinks Francisco Rodriguez Was MLB's Premier Closer in 2008,

I really hate to tell you this. I know you're enamored with that saves record. "62," you find yourself mumbling for no apparent reason, your suddenly awestruck eyes trained on the horizon. "62!" Yes, Francisco Rodriguez set the single-season record for saves last year. And yes, he pitched well while doing so. But he wasn't the best closer in baseball last year. He wasn't even the best closer in the American League, and he may not have been in the top five in the junior circuit, for that matter!

I know you're upset right now. I know you think I'm crazy. But bear with me here: let's break K-Rod's year down together, starting with that "62" in the saves column. The fact of the matter is that the saves record was largely due to good fortune (from a closer's perspective). The Angels didn't score an awful lot of runs last year (765 RS, good for 10th among 14 AL teams), but had solid pitching (697 RA, 5th in the AL), which resulted in a lot of close games, which in turn resulted in a lot of save opportunities for Rodriguez: 69, to be exact (itself a big league a record). K-Rod converted 62 of those save opportunities and blew 7 saves for an 89.8% conversion rate. Not bad, but not automatic.

"But wait," you may say, "nobody except Brad Lidge was automatic in 2008!" Fair enough. So what about the rest of the stats? And what about these so-called "superior" closers (at least in 2008) I've made veiled reference to already?

I'm so glad you [may or may not have] asked! As I hope this list will indicate, K-Rod did have a good year, but if you ignore the number "62" for a moment, he's nowhere close to the guys at the top of the 2008 heap (particularly Mo, who had an obscenely good 2008 to almost no fanfare).

76 G, 69 GF, 62/69 S/Opp, 68.3 IP, 2.24 ERA, 198 ERA+, 77 K, 34 BB, 1.288 WHIP

Mariano Rivera:
64 G, 60 GF, 39/40 S/Opp, 70.7 IP, 1.40 ERA, 317 ERA+ (!), 77K, 6 BB (!!), 0.665 WHIP (!!!)

Joakim Soria:
63 G, 57 GF, 42/45 S/Opp, 67.3 IP, 1.60 ERA, 266 ERA+, 66 K, 19 BB, 0.861 WHIP

Joe Nathan:
68 G, 57 GF, 39/45 S/Opp, 67.7 IP, 1.33 ERA, 305 ERA+, 74 K, 18 BB, 0.901 WHIP

Brad Lidge:
72 G, 61 GF, 41/41 S/Opp, 69.3 IP, 1.95 ERA, 225 ERA+, 92 K, 35 BB, 1.226 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon:
67 G, 62 GF, 41/46 S/Opp, 69.3 IP, 2.34 ERA, 198 ERA+, 77K, 8 BB (!), 0.952 WHIP

So we have six closers, all of whom pitched a very similar number of innings across a similar number of games, of which they finished a similar number and with roughly the same success rate in save situations (ignoring Lidge and Rivera, who combined to blow one save all year). But K-Rod finished with 23 more save opportunities than any other man on this list. TWENTY-THREE! I should hope he'd save more games than the others!

What's more impressive than K-Rod's individual "62," I should think, is that the Angels even gave him 62 chances, let alone 69! 69: that's roughly 43% of all Angels games in 2008. Not 43% of all Angels wins; 43% of all the games that the Los Angeheim Angels of Anangeles stepped onto the field for during the regular season. 43% of those games ended with K-Rod stepping onto the rubber in a situation that has been arbitrarily determined to be worthy of an "S" in the box score.

Now, as we shift away from the saves column, K-Rod looks a lot less impressive. Even Lidge, "Mr. Automatic" in 2008, pales a bit in comparison to Rivera, Soria, Nathan, and Papelbon. Rodriguez's K/BB ratio is worse (often much worse) than everyone else on the list, as is his WHIP. His ERA+ is at the bottom of the heap, as well. And unlike Lidge, he didn't make up for high walk totals with absolutely ridiculous K-rates (though he did strike out a lot of hitters--let's be fair, here), or for his high WHIP with ridiculously "clutch" save rates (he saved games at just under a 90% rate, which is good but not Lidgean or Riveran--and Rivera combined his 97.5% success rate with an absurd 0.665 WHIP!).

K-Rod was good in 2008. But he wasn't anywhere near as dominant as Rivera, Soria, Nathan, Papelbon, or Lidge. And I only chose the easy cases; a case could be made that Bobby Jenks (57 G, 52 GF, 30/34 S/Opp, 61.7 IP, 2.63 ERA, 174 ERA+, 38 K, 17 BB, 1.103 WHIP) was at or above Rodriguez-level last year as well, for example.

Listen: I know you like the saves record. And I'll admit that it's pretty cool. It's a Major League record, after all, and who among us didn't dream of breaking records on our way to first-ballot HOF induction while slapping pine cones with sticks in our backyards? Hell, I'd be buying rounds if I broke the single-inning record for balks. But dominance in a closer is about more than the saves column. Joakim Soria in '08? Dominant. Mariano Rivera basically every year ever? Dominant. But I'm afraid that, good though he is, Francisco Rodriguez is not now, was not in 2008, and probably will not ever be at Mariano Rivera's level.

I hope we can still be friends.


P.S. - My sister thinks you're cute.