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The Hapless Brandon Belt

March 28, 2012

I was perusing through some recent updates pertaining to my fantasy team when I stumbled upon a video of Matt Moore. I decided to click on it and saw Moore’s boyish smile materialize over the heading, “The Talented Matt Moore.” I paused for a few seconds, then played the clip because, well, who doesn’t like to follow top prospects?

So I listened to the lauding of Moore, for his talent, work ethic, wisdom, and the other routine embellishments bestowed upon him, and while watching this I thought of Brandon Belt and all his talent, work ethic, and wisdom that’ll likely be rotting in Fresno to start the year. And while I was lost in my own thoughts, Joe Maddon came up to the plate:

“A guy like him…you coach him very carefully, meaning that you don’t want to take away from some of his natural abilities by putting too many thoughts in his head.”

For anybody who’s watched Brandon Belt lately, too many thoughts seem to be exactly what’s in his head. In Tuesday’s game against the Angels, Belt looked uncomfortable at the plate, overly aggressive at times, and tentative when swinging at pitches on the edge of the plate, as if he were fighting off his own natural instincts instead. He’s been told to hit more aggressively this spring—and he does carry a .382 average to this point—however it’s resulted in over twice as many K’s to BB’s and a modus operandi that doesn’t seem sustainable for success.

Belt is a naturally patient hitter, a breath of fresh air after being subject to hack-aways such as Tejada, Rowand, and even Sandoval. And not only is he a patient hitter, he’s got a keen eye for the strike zone, swinging at only 27.2% of outside balls and 72.5% of balls in the zone according to PITCHf/x, better than Miguel Cabrera of the 15.7% walk rate last year.

All he needed was some more practice against breaking balls and it seemed like he would be on the right path towards developing into a premier player. Hell, he was almost a league average batter last year despite a .225 average and 27.3% K rate (98 wRC+). But right now, Belt is looking like damaged goods. His approach was his calling card, and now it’s looking out of whack. He’s not looking as he should, and with Huff’s $10M looming over Sabean’s head, Pill’s ability to hit right-handed, and Buster reserving several days at first it doesn’t seem likely he’ll make the cut for opening day.

While it’s possible that Giants may be may be making the correct adjustments for Belt and that I’m just a blind evaluator, it might actually be good for Belt to go to Fresno to clear his head and clean up his approach, rather than attempt to fix it in a bench role against Major League pitchers. At the very least, he’s guaranteed a full-time gig there and he won’t have to deal with the pressure of 40,000 fans and the front office scrutinizing his every at-bat. He’ll come up when he’s ready, though he doesn’t have much to prove.

It’s hard to not worry about Belt’s progress as he gets yo-yoed around in limbo, but if he goes down, hopefully he’ll be able to find his way out sooner than later.

Stats via Fangraphs, Moore video via ESPN

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Examining Huff with FIO

March 18, 2012

A couple of weeks ago Bradley Woodrum released a series of articles (Part 1, Part 2) on a statistic called Fielding Independent Offense (FIO). He created a system to project a batter’s offensive skill independent of the random variations of BABIP, basing it on BB%, K%, HR%, and Stolen Bases, which can better determine a player’s true offensive skill than other stats like wRC+ because those largely incorporate luck.

FIO is calculated as such:

FIO = -51.57 + 275.21(BB%) – 180.52(K%) + 1184.34(HR%) + 151.75(SB/PA) + 422.14(BABIP)


This is a graph of Aubrey Huff’s wRC+, FIO, and Career BABIP FIO. Notice how his FIO almost matches his wRC+ even though FIO includes stats that wRC doesn’t count, like strikeout rate and BABIP. That is a testament to how key the 5 components of BABIP, BB%, K%, HR%, and Stolen Bases are to offensive production.

As you probably already know, BABIP is a large determinant of offensive production and can vary a lot more wildly than the other 4 components. It is also the only one of the 5 stats where a large part of the outcome is out the batter’s control. That’s where FIO comes in; it gives us a players wRC+ as a function of his BABIP. So If Huff’s BABIP is X his offensive production is Y.

The green line is Huff’s Career BABIP FIO (CaBFIO), where we are plug in Huff’s career BABIP instead of his BABIP for that year. His career BABIP is probably more indicative of his skill to make batted balls fall for hits; thus CaBFIO is also probably more indicative of his true luck independent performance for that season, and we can use this to see if random variation favored Huff or not.

You can see that in 2005 Huff’s CaBFIO outperformed a his wRC+ by 35 points which probably indicates that he suffered from some bad luck that year. He likely suffered from some bad luck in 2009 as well, as his CaBFIO slightly out performed both his wRC+ by 25 points. In 2010, Huff’s wRC+ outperformed his CabFIO by 14 points suggesting that he might have gotten a little lucky. Even on further inspection, you can see in at Huff’s career numbers that his CaBFIO outperforms his wRC+ by 7 points so his 2010 excellence might have been due to a  significant amount of luck involved in Huff’s 2010.

2011 was a disaster for Huff, (I probably realized that after the 100th time he grounded out to second) as you can see all the lines dropped downwards and his CaBFIO was only 7 points better than wRC+. His CabFIO was only 91 and his wRC+ was 84 well below average and unacceptable for any 1st baseman. If you look closer, every one of Huff’s components trended in the wrong direction: his SO% increased 1.9%, BB% dropped 4.3%, and his HR% almost halved from 4.8% in 2010 to 2.5% in 2011.

Huff did suffer from a bad BABIP of .271—20 points lower than his .291 career average—but the way he put balls in play (grounding out to second) indicates it wasn’t just random variation hurting Huff. Breaking it down further, Huff in 2011 had a 15.9% Line Drive rate, the second lowest of his career and significantly lower than his 17.9% average. Line drives are the hard hit balls that most likely to fall for hits, so such a dramatic drop in LD% indicates that he was not hitting the ball as hard. Most disturbing of all was his dramatic drop in HR/FB rate. His career average was 13.2% and in 2011 he had a career low 7.3%, further showing that he lost the ability to make hard contact with the ball.

All these trends can show us that Huff’s 2011 was not significantly affected by luck and that he just stunk at the plate. From this, we can probably draw to the obvious conclusion that Huff needs to change his approach for him to become a useful player again. The other possible and more depressing conclusion is that Huff could have hit the wall of aging (he is 34 years old) and simply cannot be a useful major leaguer for much longer.

Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Refrence

Big thanks to Bradley for releasing his tools and spreadsheets. Also the diagrams on the components on FIO and wRC+ are taken from Part 2 of his series.

It Feels Good To Say It

March 11, 2012

Melky Cabrera just might end up being our big offseason acquisition. No, he won’t sustain a .500, or .400, or possibly even .300 average, but it’s hard to rag on his arrival when Jonathan Sanchez is currently struggling to throw harder than Eric Surkamp. But the point isn’t about Sabean winning a game of hot potato; it’s about Melky starting to look like the presence Beltran was supposed to be. Not a middle-of-the-order presence mind you, but a presence nonetheless, with speed and youth on his side. But going into the Royals camp last season, expectations were rather subterranean off a stint with the Braves broadly summarized by this:

Coming into 2011, he was on the fast track to becoming a bust. A once promising prospect who couldn’t get it together and fizzled out. The Royals quietly took him on a $1.25 million flier to fill out their $35 million payroll, and he broke out to something along the lines of a .305/.339/.416, near 20-20, 118 wRC+, 4.2 WAR season.

Surprised? To be honest, it was quite refreshing he had the season he did, because in doing so he reinforced once again the human element of the game. In cutting distractions, getting in shape, and changing his approach, Melky did something beyond what regression to the mean or BABIP could predict. So much of today’s baseball is characterized by sabermetrics, and while they can give us an ancillary look under the surface of statistics, they brashly account for human nature, which make Bautista breakouts and Berkman comebacks so exciting and unpredictable.

On the topic of Melky, I am bullish on the idea of him producing very similarly to last year. Dr. B of When the Giants Come to Town (great blog, check it out!) perfectly summarizes my thoughts here:

I think Melky may actually be undervalued because EVERYBODY thinks he’s going to regress! Now, I know spring training stats don’t mean a thing, especially early on, but I think these analysts may be missing the human element here. Melky has always had the tools, tools galore! There is a well known phenomenon in baseball called Post Hype Sleeper. That’s what Melky was last year and lot of people are having trouble believing it. The human element is that in his first few seasons, Melky was very much out of shape and possibly had a problem with alcohol. He hit rock bottom in Atlanta. He got serious about his conditioning and the results in KC were obvious. Now, he appears to be in even better shape and has a totally focused, almost workaholic attitude. He’s also just entering the age range where ballplayers typically have their peak seasons. So, tools, post hype sleeper, conditioning, attitude, age, contract year. I think it all adds up to last year being just the tip of the iceberg.

– Dr. B (When the Giants Come to Town)

Melky is the Giants’ Post Hype Sleeper, and I believe his attitude and approach in Spring Training carries far more weight about his future success than his scalding performance on the field. Hopefully though, his performance will keep following his mentality for the months to come.


Credits: Melky gif via SB Nation

Baserunning and the Giants

February 20, 2012

The past few years of Giants baseball has been bereft of speed. The only true stolen base threat on the team last year was Andres Torres who stole 19 bags. He also got thrown out 6 times leaving him with a 76% stolen base success rate, which is above the 70-75% break-even point, but not by much. Torres still, was an above average baserunner accumulating 1.4 runs on the base paths according to UBR (Ultimate Base Running), which he added in 124 chances on the bases or .0113 runs per time on base (I’m gonna abbreviate it R/B).

UBR is a stat that garners rather than weights, so the more times you get on base the more runs you can add on the paths. To put some UBR ratings into perspective, the top base runner last year was Elvis Andrus who added 7.7 runs in 230 times or .0335 R/B. Paul Konerko on the other hand was worth about -10.4 runs, about one win in 237 chances, which is a -.0439 R/B.

The Giants failed to add many runs last year by the stolen base; the aforementioned Torres with 19 and Manny Burriss with 11 were the only two Giants to crack double digits. In reality, the Giants’ top base runners were those who advanced on the groundball/flyball, didn’t hit into double plays, ran from first to third, and second to home.

Nate Schierholtz was one of those players, adding 2.1 runs in 118 times on base, a .0178 R/B. Nate didn’t add value through stolen bases, having only stolen 7 bags while getting caught 4 times (many of those are botched hit and runs) leading to a 63% success rate well below the break even point, so his stolen base game likely hurt the team more than it helped. He did the little things though, he only hit into 5 double plays the whole year (in a similar number of at bats Miguel Tejada hit into 10) and he seemed to do a good job always taking the extra base and going first to third second to home.

The Giants did have some other good base runners on the team like Mike Fontenot who added 1.8 runs with only 76 chances on the paths, a .0236 R/B.  Surprisingly, Aaron Rowand topped the Giants in UBR with 2.2 runs added in 96 chances, which calculates out to .0229 R/B. The biggest surprise of all though came when I looked at Brandon Belt, who in only 63 chances, added 1.7 runs .0269 R/B(the highest R/B on the team). If Belt could get on base a little more and be given a full seasons worth of plate appearances this kid could add a significant amount of runs through base running.

In 2011, the Giants cumulative total on the base paths added up to 4.2 runs, a little less than half a win. 2010 was a different story: the Giants were below average in UBR, losing -11.4 runs running the bases which cost them a little more than a win. The team’s base running was helped with the big differences from Rowand, who was -2.8 runs in 2010 and plus 2.2 in 2011, and Freddy Sanchez who was worth -2.4 runs in 2010 and 1.0 in 2011, as well as the loss of negative base runners Edgar Renteria(-.6 runs), Bengie Molina (-.4 runs), Jose Guillen (-1 run in his time with the Giants), Travis Ishikawa (-3.2runs) Juan Uribe (-1.1 runs) and the diminishment of Pat Burrell’s roll (-.5 runs).

This past offseason, the Giants have added two speedy outfielders in Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. Last year, Melky stole 20 bases in Kansas City and got thrown out 10 times, computing a 67% success rate that is below the break-even point. However, he added 3.5 runs in 239 chances a .0146 R/B. Angel Pagan in 171 chances added 2.2 runs a .0128 R/B. Some of those runs did come from his 32 stolen bases; he only got caught 7 times, giving him an 82% clip which is well above the break even-point. These two can provide weapons for Bochy, as they are constant stolen base threats. They could be used to steel base at a critical time in a game. Swiping a bag can make the difference between a win or a loss, especially with the amount of the one run ball games the Giants play in.

All in all, I am very excited for the addition of team speed added onto this year’s Giants but it needs to be noted that base running only accounts for a small amount of runs, and as a result wins. Nevertheless, baserunning can amount to something. The top baserunning team in the majors, the Rangers gained 23 runs which amounted to about two wins.  Base running can also hurt a team as well, for example Boston was the worst base running team last year and lost -15.7 runs, about one and a half wins, just about the amount they would have needed to make it to the playoffs last year.

This article was inspired by ObsessiveGiantsCompulsive’s article on The Giants Baserunning.
Stats from Fangraphs.com

Levi’s Landing is Still Alive

February 12, 2012
by

I’ve been busy the past month with work, but it’s hard not to get excited over the coming of Spring Training. I have some articles lined up, but I just need to get through this week and I’ll be good to go. To whoever’s been keeping up with Levi’s Landing the past few months, I’d like to thank you for reading our work, and I’ll try to be more proactive in the coming weeks.

– Roy

This Week in Arbitration

January 19, 2012

Pablo Sandoval signed a 3-year, $17.15 million deal.

Melky Cabrera ($6M) will make more than Jonathan Sanchez ($5.6M) this year.

Angel Pagan will make $4.85 million as a CF/4th OF.

Nate Schierholtz will earn $1.3 million from the Giants.

Tim Lincecum is gunning for the rainy day fund, filing for a record $21.5 million in arbitration. The Giants offered $17 million, also a record.

Fausto Carmona is really Roberto Hernandez Heredia.

 

Vogelsong Extended

January 12, 2012

Well there goes yet another one of my wistful fantasies. Instead of seeing Shaun Marcum in Giants ensemble next off-season, we’ll be seeing Vogelsong don the black and orange cap for at least another two seasons. The terms are 2 years, $8.3 million, and a club option for 2014 for the guy who has “from Day 1…been a Giant at heart.” And to my own surprise, I’m not at all upset with the move.

In the short run (2012), an excess $1-2 million of his arbitration salary does not significantly hurt the team. The FO is already content with the 25-man roster, the money will not stop Cain from re-signing, and the amount is close to negligible in regards to our financial status. In the long run (beyond 2012), this investment could pay some dividends. If Vogelsong performs like a 3rd starter next year, there is no doubt that he will have demanded a higher payout from the Giants or in free agency. And not only would he get more money, the Giants’ fiscal responsibility over him would have been guaranteed through 2014 instead of 2013,  assuming he gets his two-year deal after 2012. He’d be here until he’s 37, and we’d have to pay more to see it. Not only is our commitment to him mitigated, his club option gives us the flexibility to keep him moderately cheap for another year if we need a stopgap or just want to squeeze one last season out of him.

Now let’s assume that instead of keeping him, we let him walk after 2012. We’d technically lose both him and Cain, and not only will Cain be expensive, but so will the other great pitching talent that will be available on the market next year. We could pick up someone younger and better, but at the expense of Lincecum? How are we to pay for Tim and three other costly starters with bats to pursue? It would be quite convenient if we somehow had another decent pitcher eating up innings and playing for scraps that we didn’t have to worry about…oh. Yeah.

This mania about Vogelsong being a lock to play like a dud next year is overblown. His FIP last year was 3.67, and his BABIP of .280 doesn’t portray anything that says his 2012 is going to hell in a handbasket. Will he regress? More than likely, but not to the tune of an ERA on the wrong side of 4, I’m willing to bet. Vogelsong wasn’t a weekly miracle like Tim Tebow, who defied odds and statistics to win games. He was gritty, pitched hard, and usually managed to do more good than harm for us at the end of the day. Vogelsong, in my humble opinion, has the potential to pitch like a 3rd starter in the Giants’ 4th rotation spot, getting paid like the latter.

To expect Vogelsong to perform like a 4-5 starter is a bit farfetched I think, but even if he does, he’ll be getting paid accordingly. For what he’s earning, every decimal of ERA under 4 is just a bonus.

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