The Path Back to Normal

American sports fans had their eyes glued to the Boston Red Sox/Kansas City Royals game this afternoon.  Less than 24 hours after authorities apprehended the remaining Boston Marathon bomber, the Red Sox took the field.  Donning honorary jerseys and patches (which the Royals wore as well), the Red Sox began the Boston healing process.  Baseball has long been coined America’s pastime.  While the NFL may be more popular and generate more revenue, baseball holds a special place in America’s heart.  Whether it’s the history of the game, the nostalgia of the parks, or the distinct smell that comes from walking through the gates, when baseball is being played, America is right.  Due to the manhunt on Friday, the Red Sox game was postponed.  Saturday, baseball was back in Boston, and the healing is officially underway.

Players dream about making the perfect pitch, driving in the winning run, or stealing a vital base.  While executing all the aforementioned plays strokes players’ egos and brings fans to their feet, what Daniel Nava did Saturday afternoon stands out.  On arguably the most emotional sports day in Boston history, Nava stepped to the plate with 2 men on and 2 men out and the Red Sox down by 1.  Nava proceeded to put a 1-1 changeup into the bullpen in right field.  Fans, players, and especially Nava celebrated with fist pumps, high fives, and hugs as the Red Sox took the lead and went on to win the game.  A game winning home run is one thing, but a home run to lift a healing city on it’s way to recovery is quite another.  Nava’s home run will go down in Red Sox lore just like their magical playoff run did.  The emotion Nava displayed running the bases wasn’t just his, it was the entire city’s.  After having their happiness bottled up for days, Nava finally allowed Bostonians to let it all out.

 

Braun or Fielder?

Ryan Braun has cemented himself as one of the premier hitters in recent memory.  Continuing the pace he’s on will put him in not only Hall of Fame discussions, but ‘Who’s the Greatest of All-Time’ discussions.  Unfortunately for the right handed slugger, he’s also cemented himself in the ‘Is he Clean?’ discussions.  We’ll never know if Braun actually was using performance enhancing drugs, although many of his peers (on other teams) certainly believe that Braun got away with cheating.  Through last year Braun has clubbed 206 home runs, the only player younger than Braun with more home runs, his former teammate Prince Fielder.  Fielder, a pure power hitting lefty, has been as consistent as Braun over the course of his career.  Analyzing both players’ stats it’s remarkable to see how close their numbers are.  Fielder’s career OPS+, 145, Braun’s career OPS+, 148.  Prince, however, has never been accused of using steroids.  So who’s better?  Let’s take a look.

In the field, neither player makes a huge difference.  What’s great about Fielder is that he plays every single day.  He doesn’t want a day off, he wants to be in the lineup and in the field every pitch of every game.  3 of the last 4 years he’s played 162 games, the one year he didn’t, he played 161.  He makes all the plays he needs to, but don’t count on any Gold Gloves in his future.  Braun, a natural infielder, has gone through some growing pains in the outfield.  Nothing radical, but there was some learning he had to go through.  Today, he’s grown into the position and makes all the routine plays.  His plus arm is nice to have in left field, but overall his defense is at or around replacement level.

We’ve looked at both offense and defense now and determined that these players are very similar.  So who is the guy to choose if you’re running a club?  We’re going with Ryan Braun.  Here’s the explanation.  While their slash stats are very similar, there are a couple offensive factors that Braun has that Fielder doesn’t.  Number one, speed.  Braun has stolen 127 bases in his career and only been caught 33 times (80%).  Braun moving himself into better scoring position is invaluable to the Brewers run scoring efforts.  The second offensive area where Braun stands out is strike outs.  He has more than 150 less strikeouts than Fielder.  This can likely be attributed to Braun driving the ball to all fields with better efficiency than Fielder.  Prince is more or less a dead-pull hitter.  Yes, he can hit home runs the other way, but he rarely drives line drives to the left side.  Braun on the other hand is comfortable going gap to gap, leading to less swing and misses on outside pitches.  One final argument for Braun, his career WAR, 33.4.  Fielder’s career WAR, 21.9.  Take those sabermetrics for what you will, but it’s another measure that puts Braun ahead of Fielder.  They’re both great players and are both on the path to Cooperstown.  After showing what they can do for 5+ years in the Big Leagues, we’re pegging Braun as the better player, if he’s clean.

 

 

 

Harvey or Strasburg?

Mets fans made their voices heard Friday night at Citi Field, chanting “Harvey’s better” while opposing Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was on the mound.  Begging the question, who is the better pitcher?  Both men are 24 years old, right handed, and have electric arms.  2013 marks the 4th year Strasburg has been in the league.  Having considerable fanfare around him throughout the latter parts of his college career and his entire professional career, Strasburg has been on all baseball fans radar’s, not just the prospect lover’s.  In contrast to Strasburg, Harvey hasn’t been pegged as a perennial Cy Young award winner since his arrival to professional baseball.  However, as we sit today, it appears that both men will indeed be Cy Young contenders for years to come.  When comparing these two aces, really, two questions need to be addressed.  Who is better? and Who would you rather have?  We’ll start with the former.

Who’s better?

What we mean by better is, who has better mechanics and stuff.  The answer to this question is simple: Stephen Strasburg.  Mechanics is pretty much a wash between theses two starters.  Both waste very little motion in their delivery, use their legs well, and end in athletic positions.  Stuff is where the difference is. While both righties throw straight cheese, Strasburg has the better stuff.  Where Strasburg breaks away is the refinement of his pitches.  His changeup is hard and it moves, a lot.  He mixes that with his upper 90′s fastball and hard 12/6 curveball, giving hitters nightmares at the plate.  Knowing where Harvey is and where Strasburg is right now, stuff-wise, it’s hard to see Harvey ever catching up. Harvey’s changeup needs some work, it has good action but he fails to command it effectively.  Harvey relies heavily on his fastball and plus curveball, where Strasburg has three pitches that he can go to anytime.

Who would you rather have?

This is a challenging question.  Knowing what was written above, it would seem that the answer to this question would be the same, Stephen Strasburg.  But it’s not, our answer is Matt Harvey and here’s why.  When comparing the two starters, there isn’t a whole lot of difference, relatively.  They’re both going to be top-flight starters in the league for years to come.  The difference?  One comes with Tommy John surgery in his past, one doesn’t.  Harvey has a clean injury history and there’s no reason to believe he will have any in the future.  Looking at Harvey and Strasburg physically, it’s clear that Harvey is a bigger, thicker guy.  Harvey projects as a more durable pitcher who will be pitching every year.  Strasburg has already proved he has some fragility to him.  With both pitchers being relatively similar, we’ll take the guy who’s going to be there, year in and year out.

Moneyballers

Statistics are on their way to taking over baseball.  Every single Major League Baseball club has someone dedicated to analyzing the stats of Major and Minor Leaguers alike.  The baseball community has learned a lot about statistics since it was brought to the forefront by Michael Lewis in Moneyball.  Almost everyone now subscribes to the fact that on-base percentage is more important than batting average and stealing bases is only effective if done at 75% plus clip.  These strategies were first put into play by Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics.  A decade after Moneyball was published, the Athletics are at it again.  With a lineup full of relatively unknown players the Athletics have gotten of to an impressive 12-4 start.  So how does a lineup full of players like that get off to such a good start?  Let’s take a look

All the hallmarks of Oakland A’s “Moneyball” can be found in their current lineup.  They have a team OBP of .354, have only been caught stealing 3 times and have hit 40 doubles.  Every single player in their starting 9 have hit at least 1 double and only one (Eric Sogard) has not hit a home run.  If that’s not Oakland A’s baseball, what is?  On the mound, they’ve been equally as good.  Three of their starters have a WHIP of under 1 while Bartolo Colon and Dan Straily haven’t walked anybody in 4 combined starts.  The bullpen has been spectacular to boot.  Their top four relievers all have a whip of 1.000 or lower.  Those top four have also combined for 40 strikeouts in 33.6 innings of work.  Wins in Major League Baseball are incredibly hard to come by.  After 10 years of Moneyball being available to the world, the Oakland A’s are still doing it better than anybody else.

 

 

Sticking or Slipping (AL)

We introduced our first installment of Sticking or Slipping yesterday by taking a look at leaders in OPS in the National League.  Now it’s time to analyze or DHing friends from the American League.  We’ll tell you who’s going to keep their pace up and who’s going to start swinging and missing.  Disagree with us?  Leave a comment or drop an email.

Chris Davis (.330/.448/.809):  Davis is an old school slugger.  A big guy, with big guns, who hits big bombs.  Davis broke out last year, belting 33 home runs  for the Orioles.  Due to his problems with striking out, his average isn’t going to stay as high as it is.  His on-base percentage should improve, if he continues to take his walks (he’s already got 9 in 14 games), from his .326 OBP last year.  He’s also got 1/5 of the doubles he hit last year (4/20), which is one of the main reasons he has such a high slugging percentage.  When 2013 comes to end, Davis will be at the top of a lot of categories.

Seth Smith (.447/.512/.684):  This Oakland veteran is off to the best start of his career.  He’s always been a steady player, taking his walks and hitting his doubles.  He never has, and never will be, a home run threat, that part of his game has stayed the same.  All other facets of his play, however, have been on another level in 2013.  In just 38 AB he’s got 17 hits and 6 doubles, he’s also drawn 5 walks.  Smith is a quality player and fits Oakland’s system perfectly.  He simply doesn’t have the ability to stay atop this list.  We’ve seen what Smith can do for four full season.  Come September, Smith will be back to his .275/.325/.440 ways.

Travis Hafner (.342/.432/.711):  Pronk is back to his mid-2000 Cleveland Indian ways.  Being a dead pull left hander hitter has its advantages in Yankee Stadium.  Three of Hafner’s four bombs have come at home, while the fourth came in another familiar place for him, Cleveland.  Steady hitting and taking walks through this point have got Hafner on this list.  Don’t look for him to stick around.  Being injury prone isn’t helping his cause, not to mention his diminishing statistics over the last 3 or 4 seasons.  His slugging percentage may end up alright because of the jet stream in right field at Yankee stadium.  His average and OBP, however, aren’t going to be league leaders.

Coco Crisp (.333/.429/.704):  Probably the biggest surprise on this list is Coco Crisp.  The switch hitter has displayed power that he’s never shown before.  Crisp has 4 home runs from the leadoff spot plus 6 doubles and a triple.  Kick in 9 walks and you’ve got some great slash stats.  Surely, the Athletics would love to see Crisp keep this power up, but it won’t happen.  This strong start will inflate his end of the year stats a touch, but he will end up around .275/.340/.385.

Lance Berkman (.389/.500/.611):  Berkman is in his 14th season of Major League Baseball.  He’s compiled some amazing stats over the years, and at age 37, he’s still collecting ‘em.  Big Puma has only gone yard once but he’s ripped 5 doubles and take 8 walks.  Keeping his walks up will help him stay close to the top of this list, although at 37 years old it’s tough stay consistent.  For many years Lance Berkman saw his name at the top of many offensive categories.  This won’t be one of those years.  He will be a contributor on the Rangers, but nothing more.  Come July, his stats will be diving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Belief

Heavy hearts haven’t been hard to find this week.  Sports are meant to be a distraction from the tragedies in life.  They allow our imaginations to run wild for 2 or 3 hours a night.  They don’t put things in perspective, they’re games, played on television, and that’s it.  What happened in Boston this week is unspeakably horrific.  We are not here to discuss the news, we’re here to analyze and offer opinion about sports.  With that said, it didn’t seem right to analyze a Boston Red Sox game without mentioning the pain and suffering their city is going through.  Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences are with the victims of this heinous crime.

Terry Francona led the Boston faithful out of their long deprived World Series-less lives.  Francona brought two championships (2004, 2007) to Boston before being let go by the club after the 2011 season.  Francona has returned to his post as a Major League skipper with the 2013 Cleveland Indians.  Tonight, Francona wraps up his first series against his former club.  The Red Sox have won the first two games of the series and are looking to complete the sweep of their former manager.  The two teams are having polar opposite starts to their seasons.  Boston has jumped out to a 10-4 start, at no point during the entire 2012 season where they 6 games over .500 like they are now.  Cleveland on the other hand has struggled with their new-look lineup.   Newcomers Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Mark Reynolds have been doing their part, but mainstays from last year have not played well.  Jason Kipnis is off to a horrendous start, along with Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Boston knocked around Justin Masterson on Wednesday night, bringing his statistics back to Earth and hope to do the same to Zach McAllister tonight.  Tonight’s matchup puts McAllister against Boston stud John Lester.  Lester is off to a torrid start, if Cleveland wants to avoid the sweep, they’ll really have to earn it.

 

Oswaldo Arcia Scouting Report

Name:  Oswaldo Arcia

Position:  Outfield

Club:  Minnesota Twins

Country:  Venezuela

Height:  6’0”

Weight:  220

Hits:  Left

Throws:  Right

 

Arm Strength:    Arm is average to a shade above average.  Once in a while he can really let one go but that’s few and far between.  Good accuracy with his throws.  Grade: 4

Speed:  Looking at his numbers a decent amount of triples stick out.  This is more attributed to hime busting it out the box than his natural speed.  Not a very graceful runner, runs hard though.  Good instincts on the base paths.  Grade: 3

Hitting:  Starts in a good athletic stance, doesn’t get too low but does have some bend in his knees.  Uses a drop and drive hand path.  His hands start at about shoulder-height, he then drops them letter-high and brings them through the zone.  Loads with a small leg kick and strides about the length of the plate.  Creates a little distance with his hands, as his body goes forward before his hands follow suit.  This slows him down a hair, but he’s still fairly quick through the zone.  Hands stay tight and form a nice power L at a contact.  He’s hit for a good average at every level and projects to continue that at the big league level.  He may have to shorten his stride a little as well as have his hands stay with his body better as time progresses.  Those are the two “slow” spots in his swing, tightening those up will make him quicker at the plate.  Grade:  6

Power:  Doesn’t have a ton of power, projects as 10-15 home run guy.  He has a longer swing which prevents him from cranking on inside pitches that he can’t get his body into.  He has a strong lower half which allows him to drive balls gap-to-gap.  Shortening up his swing will improve his power numbers but the habits he has are hard to change.  Nonetheless, he’s strong and puts a lot into his swing.  Grade: 4

Fielding:  Good enough arm to play rightfield, won’t scare too many runners, however.  Ok instincts in the field, not a highlight reel player out there but is more than serviceable.  Projects as a solid, serviceable right fielder.  Grade:  4

Summary:  Arcia has the ability to hit at the Major League level.  Has a few areas in his swing that he could clean up but could hit for a good average as is.  Not a huge power threat as of now, but could have a few 20+ homer seasons with some coaching.  Powerful build and a good athlete.  Lacks speed but is a hard worker in the filed and while running the bases.  Good baseball instincts in both those places as well.  Projects as a solid, high average, major league right fielder.

 

Sticking or Slipping?

Early in the baseball season statistics run wild.  Fringe players will be slugging at an all-star level and superstars may go days without hits.  By this time of the year statistics start to normalize.  Bad players start playing poorly and sluggers have finally popped a few home runs.  While most of the slouchers have fallen back to their usual replacement level by this time, a few hang around towards the top of the batting leaderboards.  Sorting by OPS and looking at the top 10, a few of these over-performers stick out.  We’ll take a look at the top 5 in OPS in both the AL and NL and let you know who’s sticking and who’s slipping.  Starting with the NL:

Justin Upton (.340/.404/.900):  It’s safe to that Upton is going to be sticking around the top of the board.  The former first overall pick has been inconsistent in the past but always a home run threat.  He seems to have put all his successes together so far, hitting for average, power, and stealing bases 2 weeks into this season.

Carlos Gonzalez (.380/.467/.740):  Car-Go has been a steady performer for the last 3 years, it’s easy to forget that the Rockie is only 27 years old and just entering his prime.  Gonzalez has serious ability and will be an offensive threat throughout the year.  Playing at Coors field helps, but no matter where he’s playing, this guy can rake

Nate Schierholtz (.361/.425/.740):  Yes, Cub Nate Schierholtz is third in the league in OPS.  He won’t be staying there.  He’s 29 years old, so this isn’t him finally coming into his own.  He also has over 1400 career PA and a career .332 OBP, so he’s shown what he can do.  Schierholtz’s hot start may boost his end of the year stats, but his current hot streak should stop before April is over.

Dexter Fowler (.292/.382/.708):  Fowler already has close to half the total home runs he had last year (6 and 13 respectively).  Fowler, like his teammate Carlos Gonzalez seems to have been around for a while but is only 27.  Coming into his prime, this could be the year he finally reaches his power potential.  His average and on-base have been steady into this year.  His power surge is what driving up his OPS.  More home runs and his ability to hit triples will lead to a much higher OPS this season.  He’s sticking.

Michael Cuddyer (.367/.466/.633):  Michael Cuddyer is an aging player who is benefiting from playing in the elevation of Colorado.  He joins to other Rockies in the OPS top 5, which isn’t a coincidence, they play in somewhat of a hitters park.  At age 34, it’s doubtful that Cuddyer can keep this pace up.  He’s still capable of hitting in this league, but not at his current pace.  As the days get longer, Cuddyer will slowly fall down the OPS leaderboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defensive Difference

In backyards, side-streets, and little league fields, the scenario of bases-loaded, bottom of the ninth, 2 outs, and down by a couple runs has been played out millions of times.  Most envision themselves as a slugger who cranks a towering flyball into the stands.  Not as many put themselves on the other side of the ball as a defender needing to make a heroic play.  Who knows if Craig Gentry has played out either of those scenarios before, but Tuesday night he got to live one of them out.  The Texas Rangers center fielder made a beautiful diving catch to seal the Rangers’ inter league win over the Cubs.  Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do, period.  However, it doesn’t appear to be an overtly athletic challenge to someone who hasn’t stood in against a pitcher with three or more pitches.  Defense on the other hand, is where ball players can showcase their athletic prowess.

Gentry’s catch on Tuesday night was an awesome play and is part of a week that has already included some great plays on defense.  Ben Revere’s catch on Monday night will challenge as the best defensive play of the year come the award shows.  Comparing the two is tough.  Gentry’s play was clearly in a higher impact situation while Revere’s was early in the game with only one man on.  After giving it some thought and watching the videos a couple times, Revere has got Who’s Got a Heat Gun‘s vote.  Very few players get to the ball Revere caught yet alone make a full extension diving catch.  Yes, Gentry saved the game, but if Revere misses that ball, Jay Bruce scores and Monday night’s Phillies/Reds game is a whole different story.  The best part about these plays is being part of the debate.  No matter what side your on, the fact that defense is begin debated so heavily is great for the game.  It’s a part of baseball that gets overlooked a lot, even though it produces the most athletic plays of the year.

Trevor Bauer Scouting Report

Name:  Trevor Bauer

Club:  Cleveland Indians

Country: USA

Height:  6’1”

Weight:  190

Delivery:  Bauer is not a big guy so he uses a somewhat funky delivery to generate his power (think Tim Lincecum).  He doesn’t employ a very big leg kick, bringing his knee just above his belt before exploding forward.  Bauer gets low and drives to the plate with an over-the-top delivery.  On the way to the plate Bauer really leans into the pitch and gets his arm into throwing position quickly.  One problem area is his front leg, which he keeps very straight and stiff.  This causes him to fly open a little too much with his hip and looses a little of all the energy he’s generated.  Loosening up his front leg and landing a little with a little more athleticism will really help Bauer’s game.  Grade:  4

Stuff:  Bauer claims to throw a lot of different pitches.  After examining a few of his outings, it seems that he really only throws four defined pitches.  The knock on pretty much all of his pitches is that he can’t throw them for strikes consistently.

Fastball:  Throws a hard straight fastball, hitting between 90-95 on the heat gun.  Not a lot of movement on this pitch and he doesn’t do a good job of locating his fastball.  Location is the main issue with this pitch.  Doesn’t throw enough consistent strikes.  Grade: 3

Curveball:  Hard, explosive pitch.  Nice 12/6 movement on this pitch.  Nice change of pace from his fastball, sitting around 75-80 on the heat gun.  Main problem is that he spikes the pitch way too far in front of the plate.  Instead of having the pitch dive into the dirt in front of the catcher, he routinely puts it close to the grass in front of the hitter.  Will be an effective pitch if he can learn to locate a little better.  Grade:  4

Changeup:  Another solid pitch but also need refinement.  It has a little tail on it but nothing to drastic.  Another good pitch to keep hitters off balance with.  Comes in at about 80-84 on the gun.  Again, needs to command this pitch better for it to be a effective.  Grade:  3

Screwball:  This is the pitch that Bauer calls the reverse slider.  Its speed is in-between his fastball and changeup but its movement is more similar to the changeup.  It tails just a little bit.  Its an ok pitch but not really any different than a slower 2-seam fastball.  Grade: 3

Summary:  Bauer is an interesting prospect.  His stuff is pretty good action-wise but he struggles locating most his pitches.  His deliver is quirky but effective.  The delivery could use a little work as mentioned before.  Overall, Bauer has a nice arm that could be valuable to a Major League club.  He’ll need to accept the coaching that he gets in order to get better.  The main thing he needs to focus on is control.  If he can’t use his plus-arm to get his pitches across the plate, he won’t cut it.

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