Monthly Archives: November 2014

A pitch Khris Davis can’t hit

Khris Davis is a masher. He crushed pitching as a minor leaguer, and has boomed 33 home runs in 200 career games.

Now, I was leading the ‘I believe in Khris Davis‘ movement even before he surprised everyone during Spring Training in 2013, and I even had the opportunity to interview him last year. But despite my clear bias towards the man, Davis has a fault that pitchers took advantage of in 2014; he can’t hit the changeup.

The Milwaukee Brewers, as a team, weren’t thrown many changeups in 2014 but, according to Baseball Savant, Davis saw 225 of them alone, leading the club. The fastest changeup was 90 mph and the slowest was 74.2 mph. As the season wore on, pitchers began to figure out that the changeup was his Achilles’ heel, and they also discovered that they needed to pitch him down on the corners and out of the zone (see picture below).

Khris  Davis_img

They absolutely dominated Davis with low changeups and stayed away from leaving them up in the zone. With the aggressive nature of Davis, pitchers knew their changeup didn’t need to be a strike for him to take a whack at it, and he ended up whiffing at 25.3% of them.

Here’s a breakdown of what Davis did when we was thrown a change. Spoiler: It’s not pretty.

chart

He swung and missed more often than he put the ball in play, and managed only eight hits for a .131 average. Just five players had worse batting averages versus the change (minimum 50 ABs): Jason Kipnis (.098), Adam Dunn (.100), Brandon Moss (.101), Alex Avila (.115), and Brian Dozier (.122).

After all of this, I probably don’t need to tell you that Davis was worth -5 runs against the changeup, the 10th-worst mark in baseball among qualified hitters. However, with that being said, he was worth positive runs versus every other pitch, with the exception of the split-fingered fastball. The changeup seems to be the only pitch with which Davis has a real problem. Sure, he batted just .217 against the four-seam fastball, but he knocked 10 of them out of the park and garnered a .276 isolated power.

2015 will be a big year for Davis. He’s entering his age-27 season, and will most likely have to compete with Gerardo Parra for playing time. If he can’t be at least average with the changeup and if he continues going fishing out of the zone, pitchers will have a field day with him.

Carlos Gomez and capitalizing on opportunities

It’s been a long road to baseball prominence for Carlos Gomez. After bumming through two years with the New York Mets and one with the Minnesota Twins, the speedy outfielder finally found a home in Milwaukee. Even as a part-time player, Gomez showed improvement at the plate almost as soon as he put on a Brewers uniform. His wOBA has risen every season since, and he has gone from a 76 wRC+ player to creating 32% more runs than league average. We’re all aware that he’s become somewhat of a power hitter and has been able to draw more walks and get on base at a higher clip in recent years. Anyone who watches the Brewers can tell you that. But, one of the main reasons he’s a dominant threat at the plate is because he’s capitalizing in opportune moments.

When it comes to hitting, RE24, or run expectancy based on the 24 base-out states, attempts to quantify how well hitters capitalize on their opportunities. As you might have guessed, RE24 gives more credit for hits with runners on base than with the bases empty. Baserunners can also improve or diminish their RE24 by advancing on a wild pitch or stealing a base. This is one of my favorite statistics because it’s simple to understand and it’s a good way of measuring the context of  a player’s performance.

Because FanGraphs can explain this much more thoroughly than I am capable of, here’s an excerpt from its library:

Calculating RE24 for a specific play or game is extremely easy as long as you are working with the appropriate run expectancy matrix. A run expectancy matrix presents the expected number of runs scored between a given point and the end of an inning based on the overall run environment, the number of outs, and the placement of the baserunners. For example, in the RE matrix below (run environment set at 4.15 runs per game), the expected number of runs given a runner on first and no outs is 0.831 runs.

Runners 0 Outs 1 Out 2 Outs
Empty 0.461 0.243 0.095
1 _ _ 0.831 0.489 0.214
_ 2 _ 1.068 0.644 0.305
1 2 _ 1.373 0.908 0.343
_ _ 3 1.426 0.865 0.413
1 _ 3 1.798 1.140 0.471
_ 2 3 1.920 1.352 0.570
1 2 3 2.282 1.520 0.736

Unlike most sabermetric statistics, RE24 isn’t hard to calculate. Here’s more from FanGraphs:

To calculate the RE24 of a given plate appearance, simply take the run expectancy of the result of the play, subtract the run expectancy of the the starting state, and add in any runs scored during the play. For example, if the play started with a man on first and no outs there was an original run expectancy of 0.831. If the batter hits a single that results in the runner getting to third and the batter ending on first, the resulting run expectancy would be 1.798. Since no runs were scored on the play, you would simply do the following:

1.798 – 0.831 + 0 = 0.967 RE24

So, if Gomez was the hitter in the above scenario, he would be credited with 0.967 RE24. If he had failed to move the runner over, he would be docked -.342 RE24. A player with a 15.5 RE24 means he was about 15 runs better than the average player with the same amount of opportunities. Pretty simple, right?

Let’s get some perspective on this now. Mike Trout led MLB with a 64.54 RE24 in 2014, while Matt Dominguez‘s -34.96 was the league’s worst. Gomez, meanwhile, had a career high and baseball’s 33rd-best RE24 (25.43). His 34 stolen bases and baserunning skills surely helped, but he also hit considerably better with men on base (.313) than he did with no ducks on the pond (.268). And this may mean he’s not suitable for the leadoff position, but that’s something to look at at a different time.

Gomez’s year-by-year RE24 paints a pretty clear picture on how he’s improved as a hitter and how he’s been able to take advantage of the opportunities he’s faced.

Year Team RE24
2007 Mets -7.59
2008 Twins -17.26
2009 Twins -15.70
2010 Brewers -13.85
2011 Brewers -3.03
2012 Brewers 5.38
2013 Brewers 24.13
2014 Brewers 25.43

He went from being the runt of the litter to one of the strongest and healthiest. All he needed was the freedom to swing away and reliable playing time. Credit Ron Roenicke for giving him the green light and credit Gomez for earning a spot in the lineup.

Look at the table again and remind yourself that Gomez strikes out. A lot. And remember, a strikeout decreases run expectancy. So, despite the fact that Gomez struck out 141 times last season, he still managed to have one of the game’s best RE24 by not striking out with runners on base. When Gomez batted with the bases empty, his strikeout rate was 24.9%. With runners on, he was set down on strikes at a 16.8% rate. Basically, Gomez struck out at the perfect moments.

Gomez is just entering his prime, and even though RE24 is not a predictive stat, it’s still fair to assume his will continue to rise as it has since 2008.

Pick an outfielder: Khris Davis vs. Gerardo Parra

When the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Gerardo Parra from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a July trade, Ron Roenicke assured us that Khris Davis wouldn’t lose much time in left field. And although it began that way, it was Parra, not Davis, who was being penciled into the lineup card more often towards the end of the season.

So the question has to be asked; who would you rather see in left field? The last time we played this game (Marco Estrada vs. Brandon Kintzler), Estrada was traded just a few days later, so maybe this is a bad idea. But oh well, let’s do it anyway.

The two outfielders bring different things to the table. If you want defense, Parra’s your man. If you covet over-the-fence power, Davis will get your vote.

We’ll start with Parra.

Parra is a six-year veteran who owns a career .313 wOBA and 90 wRC+. In other words, he’s nothing special as a hitter, but is still serviceable. Most of his value comes from his glove. He’s the owner of two Gold Glove awards (2011 and 2013), and has a 61.5 UZR as an outfielder, third-highest since 2009. In 2013, he was worth over four wins, but his value dramatically decreased in 2014, which made it easy for Arizona’s front office to ship him off.

In 440 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks last season, Parra posted -0.4 WAR. But as a Brewer, he was a completely different player. In only 134 plate appearances, Parra accumulated 0.5 WAR. I expect him to finish 2015 with a WAR around 1.0, but that obviously depends how much playing time he receives. If he even comes close to that, the Brewers will walk away from the trade victorious. Mitch Haniger, the player Milwaukee traded away, is at best a fifth or sixth outfielder, and doesn’t have much value.

Unlike Parra, Davis isn’t a great defender. He was better than expected in 2014 (3.1 UZR), but still nowhere near his counterpart’s ability. Instead, Davis is known for his pop. Last year, Davis told me that he likes being the team’s secret weapon, but after a year in which he hit 22 home runs and posted the highest ISO on the team, he’s no secret. Leading the team in isolated power is pretty impressive when you realize he beat out guys like Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun. Despite this, however, his on-base percentage (.299) and wRC+ (107) left a lot to be desired and are a bit worrisome. He only drew 32 walks and struck out at a 22% clip. Luckily, 2014 was just his first full big league season and he has time to progress. He exceeded people’s expectations. Who says he won’t do that again?

Platooning the two is also an option. As you can imagine, Davis doesn’t like hitting off righties and Parra loathes the thought of seeing a southpaw. If the Brewers choose to follow this route, Parra would see the majority of the playing time as most pitchers in the NL Central are right-handed. Personally, I’m not a fan of platoons, but sometimes it’s necessary (see Scooter Gennett).

Davis is still listed as the starting left fielder according to the Brewers’ official website, and I think that’s the right call. With Davis’ power ability, he needs to be in the lineup every day, and improvement should come from the 26 year old along with a better understanding of how the game is played. Parra is a great bat to have off the bench who will replace Davis in the late innings of close games. But if Davis continues to flounder when it comes to getting on base, Ron Roenicke may have to sacrifice his power and go with Parra.

It’s time for you to make a decision.

Please explain your MVP ballot, Tom Haudricourt

The Most Valuable Player award was given out last night to deserving candidates Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. There is really no argument that they weren’t the correct choices. But, when I began looking at how each writer voted, I was startled when I came across the ballot for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s own Brewers beat writer, Tom Haudricourt.

Haudricourt is no slouch with the pen. He was named Wisconsin Sports Writer of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and is obviously extremely knowledgeable about the Milwaukee Brewers. With that being said, however, I’m calling his 2014 MVP ballot into question.

Here’s how he voted:

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
5. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
6. Anthony Rendon, Washington
7. Buster Posey, San Francisco
8. Matt Holliday, St. Louis
9. Hunter Pence, San Francisco
10. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh

I really have no problem with anyone on the list or how they were ordered. I mean, Matt Holliday would have been six miles away from my ballot, but I’m not going to argue about it. However, how Haudricourt gave Adrian Gonzalez a fourth-place vote is beyond me. How he voted for him ahead of Jonathan Lucroy is even more utterly ridiculous.

Gonzalez finished seventh overall in the MVP race, but Haudricourt gave him the highest nod. Here’s how many other votes Gonzalez received.

1st: 0 votes
2nd: 0 votes
3rd: 0 votes
4th: 1 vote
5th: 4 votes
6th: 2 votes
7th: 0 votes
8th: 3 votes
9th: 3 votes
10th: 1 vote

You can find the complete National League ballot here.

Haudricourt clearly overvalued Gonzalez, as 14 of the 30 writers didn’t even cast a vote for him. In Haudricourt’s explanation of his picks, he fails to even mention Lucroy or Gonzalez, so we really have no idea what he was thinking or where he was coming from. It left a lot to be desired. So, I’ll attempt to break it down a bit and to try to figure out what inspired Haudricourt to vote the way he did.

Gonzalez led MLB in runs batted in and was among the top 20 in home runs this past season. Those were probably the two leading factors that went into Haudricourt’s decision. And that’s where he went wrong. RBIs are relatively useless and don’t tell us much about the skill set of a player. For example, Ryan Howard racked up 95 RBI last season, and yet, finished with a negative WAR.

The silly thing is, Haudricourt didn’t even need to use a sabermetric stat to come to the realization that Gonzalez wasn’t worthy of an MVP vote. Gonzalez’s on-base percentage of .335 just barely placed him in the top 70. Does that sound MVP-worthy to you?

But it’s not that Haudricourt voted for Gonzalez that grinds my gears, it’s the fact that he thought Gonzalez had a better season than Lucroy. There is honestly no argument that can be made defending that. Lucroy received one second-place vote (from FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron), 13 fourth-place votes and six fifth-place votes, among a few others. Only two ludicrous writers left him off their ballots. What I’m trying to say is, almost every writer valued Lucroy over Gonzalez, except Haudricourt.

Now, I understand Haudricourt isn’t sabermetric-savvy, so he probably doesn’t care about pitch framing. And that’s too bad, because that’s where a lot of Lucroy’s value comes from. According to StatCorner, he saved 22 runs by expanding the strike zone for his pitcher.

But let’s look solely at hitting. Based on this table, try to figure out who had the better season.

wOBA wRC+ OBP BB% K%
Jonathan Lucroy .368 133 .373 10.1% 10.8%
Adrian Gonzalez .351 128 .335 8.5% 17.0%

Lucroy wins hands down. To even further Lucroy’s cause, he and Gonzalez had almost an identical amount of plate appearances. Did I mention that Lucroy is a catcher?

Not much more needs to be said on the matter. It’s a shame Lucroy was robbed by Haudricourt. He deserved better from his beat writer, fair and simple.

Was the Brewers bench as bad as it seemed?

Throughout the entire 2014 season, I was critical of the Milwaukee Brewers bench. Not the actual bench the players sit on, but the players who are classified as bench warmers. Aside from Rickie Weeks and Lyle Overbay, both part-time starters, I felt the team had no real hitters behind the regulars. This was before I ever looked at the statistics. This was merely based on the eye test. But a few days ago I decided to take a closer look and to see if my eye was on point.

The Brewers accumulated 47 pinch hits last season, which was the seventh-most in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates led with 61. But while they were among the top 10 in pinch hits, their .222 average was around the middle of the pack. Still, they were five points over the league average of .217.

Here’s a breakdown of who those 47 pinch-hits came from.

  • Rickie Weeks: 14 (.250)
  • Lyle Overbay: 11 (.323)

There were seven players with one.

Take away Weeks and Overbay, and the Brewers hit .180 (22-for-122) when pinch hitting. Without them, there was really no one who an opposing pitcher had to worry about. Khris Davis was 0-for-11 as a pinch hitter, and his outfield partner, Gerardo Parra, was 1-for-8. . Those are extremely small sample sizes, but with pinch hitters, that’s what you have to expect. Based on this, my eye test passed.

Now, instead of judging the Brewers pinch-hitting capabilities on their batting average, let’s look at their wOBA and OBP in order to get a more accurate picture of how they fared. Note: I’m only using the players I listed above.

PH PA PH wOBA PH OBP
Rickie Weeks 67 .319 .373
Lyle Overbay 40 .399 .425
Scooter Gennett 22 .253 .318
Logan Schafer 17 .165 .250
Mark Reynolds 16 .376 .375
Elian Herrera 15 .145 .133
Jeff Bianchi 9 .396 .444
Average .293 .331

Weeks, Overbay and Reynolds were clearly the best bats off the bench for the Brewers. Bianchi could have been one, but an injury derailed his season. Meanwhile, Gennett really struggled off the pine, Schafer was useless and Herrera added absolutely no value. They just didn’t get the job done.

Going back to my eye test, the Brewers performed better than I originally thought. Their on-base percentage and wOBA, which says a heck of a lot more than batting average, was admirable. It probably could have been even better if Roenicke utilized his bench in a more reasonable way. Some of the decisions he made were head-scratchers, but you can say that about any manager.

The scary thing is, the best pinch hitters that Milwaukee had in 2014 will be gone next season, and the worst will most likely remain on the roster unless Doug Melvin is able to scrounge up better hitters. Having Parra on the team for an entire season will definitely help, but if Herrera and Schafer return to the bench, the Brewers might as well have the pitchers hit for themselves.

Strikeouts, walks and Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy will get some MVP votes and he should have won a Gold Glove in 2014, but this is apparently Yadier Molina‘s world and we all suffer live in it. That is Major League Baseball’s official slogan, is it not? Nevertheless, I don’t really want to get into a ring and duke it out with a Cardinals fan, so I’m going to stop my sarcastic tone right now…at least during this post.

What I’m trying to say is Lucroy is a heck of a ballplayer. He’s improved in almost every season, and part of that has been because he’s been able to stay healthy. Since his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand in 2012, he’s played in 300 out of 324 possible regular season games over the last two years. That’s crazy for a position player, but for a catcher, that’s certifiably insane.

But let’s get back to his improvement, particularly when it comes to strikeouts and walks.

G BB% K% OBP
2010 75 6.1% 14.8% .300
2011 136 6.2% 21.2% .313
2012 96 6.4% 12.7% .368
2013 147 7.9% 11.9% .340
2014 153 10.1% 10.8% .373

Each season, Lucroy has drawn more walks than the last, and has reduced his strikeouts since 2011. He’s doesn’t swing at pitches outside of the strike zone nearly as often and has even taken more strikes in the zone.

Lucroy saw 2,551 pitches last season. Of the 146 hitters who qualified, only 27 saw more and none of them were catchers. However, that’s a bit of an unfair assessment because no catcher came even close to the number of plate appearances Lucroy racked up. So, because Lucroy’s being more selective at the plate, his on-base percentage has skyrocketed and he ended up with top 20 finish in the OBP race in 2014 (is that even a thing?).

The 28-year-old catcher has also stopped swinging and missing. Just like his BB%, his whiff rate has fallen each year in the bigs. With that being said, though, when Lucroy does strike out, he does so on a pitch he misses on. He struck out 71 times last season and 46 of those were on swinging strikes. But that just means his eye at the plate is fantastic.

There’s so much more I can say about the man, but that’s for another time. And I’m sure if Lucroy continues to decrease his strikeout rate and increase his walks, I’ll be right back here next year writing about the same thing. I’ll try and think of a better title, though.

Is Aramis Ramirez’s power gone?

Aramis Ramirez, who will turn 37 in June, will make $14 million in 2015. Aramis Ramirez, whose isolated power has dropped each of the last three years, will make $14 million in 2015. Aramis Ramirez, who has missed a combined 99 games since 2012, will make $14 million in 2015.

Think about those statements before you continue reading.

Now, this isn’t a post about how the Milwaukee Brewers are overpaying Ramirez. I already sang that song about Yovani Gallardo, and I don’t like repeating myself (just ask my girlfriend). I just wanted you, the reader, to know that Ramirez is making that much money at that age even though his power has disappeared.

Instead of the usual table I present to get my point across, here’s a bar graph.

isolated

Clearly, his ability to hit for extra base hits is dissipating with age. But what about his home runs? Here comes another table.

Year Games HR
2012 149 27
2013 92 12
2014 133 15

Even though Ramirez played 41 more games in 2014 than 2013, he only managed to hit three additional dingers. A reason for Ramirez’s lack of power in 2014 was his uncharacteristic poor patience at the plate. He whiffed at his highest rate since 2003 and swung at 39.5% of pitches outside of the strike zone (his career O-Swing% is 29.7%). By swinging at non-strikes, Ramirez put himself in a hole and therefore, struggled to produce. He only manufactured nine percent more runs (109 wRC+) than league average; not exactly what you expect from a cleanup hitter.

So, what can we expect from him next year? Steamer projection system is anticipating Ramirez will hit 17 home runs and have an ISO of .164 in 122 games. But I must say, if he’s only going to be playing in 122 games, there’s no way he’s going to hit north of 15 homers.

I’ll be running out my own projections when spring training comes around, but I’ll take a swing at Ramirez’s now. If he’s able to play 130+ games (which is doubtful at his age), I think he’ll hit 15 home runs and post a .330 wOBA, 110 wRC+ and .155 ISO. His days of hitting 20+ home runs are over, especially if he keeps chasing pitches.

This may be Ramirez’s last year as a professional baseball player and is surely his last year in Milwaukee. Here’s to hoping he exceeds expectations, but don’t put any money on it.