Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Analyzing Minor's Struggles

Mike Minor was hammered by the Red Sox in his last outing. While its no earth-shattering news that he's been struggling, Fredi wants to keep using him in the series against the Nationals this weekend. He's sure to be on a short leash, though. Should he put up another poor performance, the Braves already have options in-house with Medlen and Teheran and are reportedly looking to make moves for a veteran starter.
Mike Minor has an un-serviceable 6.14 ERA, 5.52 FIP, and 4.56 xFIP. He has been inconsistent to say the least. 

After checking his splits and pitch profile, a few things jumped out at me: 
First, holy crap Minor gets worse as the game goes on. Towards the beginning of the game, he has been effective with his stuff. In the middle innings however... its a different story. 

Innings 1-33.8651439.215.281.356.637
Innings 4-69.36131827.348.417.6951.112

Second, a high walk rate. 9.4% is close to the bottom in the league - not quite in very worst tier, but far below middle of the pack. This is clear evidence that he has trouble commanding his pitches. He is 8 of 9 in walking someone in 3-0 counts. 

Third, He gives up a ton of HRs. 18 leads the league. In 14 appearances, mind you

Fourth. Curiously,  his "stuff" is not bad at all.  His slider and curveball have decent amount of movement on them. His changeup has a respectable -6.6 MPH drop in speed compared to his fastball.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that Mike Minor's troubles stem from inability to make effective adjustments as the game wears on. Itunlikely that he just magically loses his stuff - he shouldn't be that tired by the 4th or 5th inning. But hitters get ridiculously better once they've already seen him that day.  They are able to sit on pitches, predict them accurately, and smash them out of the park. In fact, his line drive rate has taken a tumble by 7%, but it seems that this is because any time a ball gets hit hard, it's walloped into the tenth row (16.5% HR/FB ratio). Because his stuff hasn't been bad, there must be something tipping hitters off and preventing Minor from fooling them, be it pitch sequence, pitch location, arm slot, or arm speed.

His batted ball profile for his changeup is a telling example: despite having a solid speed drop from his 4-seam, the changeup gets slammed for a HR a whopping 2.5% of the time. With a vast majority of Minor's homers coming the middle innings, it might be that batters know to look for an ever-so-slightly slower arm speed to tip off the pitch. 

All of this is compounded by weak control, which puts men on base for home runs to drive in, prevents Minor from implementing damage control measures, causes his ERA to skyrocket, and lose games for the Braves. 

Unless Minor fixes whatever ails him the second and third times through the lineup whether it be pitch sequence or arm mechanics on his offspeed stuff, the Braves cannot rely on him down the stretch (-0.4 WAR) if they want to stay competitive in the National League.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rotation Woes

With Beachy going down on Saturday with a sore left elbow, the Braves' starting rotation, considered one of the deepest before the year started, is suddenly finding itself reeling. The organization is playing musical chairs with their pitchers - sending Medlen down to turn into a starter, jumping back and forth with what they were planning to do with him following his struggles and good starts by both Delgado and Minor, then finally bringing him back as a reliever.

The rotation as it currently stands is:

Besides Hudson and Hanson, everyone else is playing for his job.

Now that Beachy has been sidelined for a good while (and will probably need Tommy John), the Braves called up Jair Jurrjens to tryout in a spot start. Should his start go poorly (which I am predicting will happen given his pretty terrible results and peripherals in AAA), the  job could go either to Medlen or Teheran. Medlen was less than stellar in his 3 starts in AAA, pitching only 13.1 innings and posting a 4.73 ERA and a 4.93 FIP. Teheran hasn't been better. Coming off a phenomenal 2011 season, he seems to have regressed tremendously, with numbers far down across the board.

Delgado and Minor have also been disappointing this year, Although it has been really great to see both of them step up when they were pushed. But given that both seem to lose their great stuff from time to time and have problems consistently finding strikezone, I don't know that I feel comfortable with them manning the 3 and 4 spots for the entire rest of the year. But hey, maybe one or both will figure out how to harness their talents to produce more consistent results. If they both happen to find their groove, it would take a lot of pressure off the Braves Front Office, the management, and the offense. And they are certainly capable of it - when Delgado and Minor are on, it is fun to watch.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Venters Debate

Just read the Capitol Avenue Club's response to a hilariously inadequate and ignorant* criticism of the CAC's post on Jonny Venter's performance this year.

*LOL at the first line (and then all of it)

Although the CAC is right that Venters's peripherals for the year are similar to his peripherals from the previous two years, after looking into it a little more, I found that those numbers are bolstered by his dominant April, where he gave up a total of 0 earned runs, held microscopic 0.87 FIP and a 1.21 xFIP and fanned batters at a 44.7% clip.

But the day April ended was the day something changed. Since May 1st, when he gave up 4 hits and 2 earned runs against the Phillies, he has been pretty damn bad. Since May 1st, his K% has dropped to 15%, his FIP and xFIP have jumped to 6.67 and 4.25, respectively. So I disagree with CAC's determination that Jonny Venters is totally fine - his most recent numbers show that he has been much worse than his entire 2012 numbers indicate. On the flipside though,  this is not a reason for RO to spurn or disregard xFIP or other stats - its simply a reason to look at it more closely. FIP and xFIP, in fact, work perfectly fine in this instance.

As for the cause of Jonny Venters recent struggles, it doesn't seem to be one of command because his walk rate hasn't changed very much. It might be that his mechanics are off, as his most commonly thrown pitch, the sinker, has lost a lot of its devastating movement.

If the solution is simply a fix in mechanics, its definitely possible for Venters to bounce back to dominant self

Thursday, June 14, 2012

For Dan Uggla, Patience is a Virtue

Its been a tale of two first-halves for Dan Uggla his past two years with Atlanta. Every Braves fan remembers his horrendous first half last year. When July rolled around, Uggla was sporting a slash line of .178/.247/.340 to with 12 HRs, and 28 RBIs. Not something you'd pay someone even $62 to produce, let alone $62 million. Even his monster 2nd half could only bring his slash line to a career low .233/.311/.453.

Turn the calender over 1 year, and we see a completely different Dan Uggla. He is running away with lead in the All-Star voting for 2nd basemen, and leads NL  2nd basemen in WAR with 2.5 (which already matches his WAR total for the entirety of last year). He leads all 2nd basemen in OBP at .386, is tied for first with Cano in HRs, and is 2nd in wOBA (.367) and wRC+ (132), just barely trailing Robinson Cano in each.

Through June 2011 2012
Avg .178 .260
Obp .247 .386
Slg% .340 .471

So what accounts for the stark differences between the two first halves? Some of it is certainly luck. Uggla was ridiculously unlucky before the All-Star break last year, holding the lowest BABIP of all qualifying hitters in the majors at .187 - far lower than his current .326. So more of his hits are simply finding holes.

But luck doesn't tell nearly tell the whole story. Much of Uggla's higher BABIP is due to his quality of contact. His line drive rate has jumped to a career-high 20.6% from last year's career low 15.4%, and his ground ball rate has plummeted from 41.2% to 32.9%.

Watching Uggla everyday, its easy to see why his batted ball profile has improved to his career best: plate discipline. Uggla seems to be taking more pitches, having much longer at-bats, and avoiding looking like a flailing rhino swinging at curveballs in the dirt. Uggla, taking a leaf out of Larry Wayne's book, has been watching pitches with a much more discerning eye, waiting for hittable pitches in the zone before swinging. Last year, he swung at over 27% of pitches outside of the zone, by far the highest rate in his career. That number is this year is down to 21.6%, according to Pitch f/x. This extra discipline has translated into a superb 16.5% walk rate (compared to last years 9.2%) good for 4th in the MLB. The best news from this is that his career-high OBP, bolstered by his career-high walk rate, is unlikely to regress to much to his career averages. Walk rate is one of the quickest hitter's stats to stabilize - discipline (once you've learned it) doesn't really fluctuate.  Lets hope Dan Uggla's continued production brings us to the division title.

We need one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First Post

This a test post. About to start blogging about the Atlanta braves. Mix of rational SABR analysis and emotional fan ranting to come. Much better formatting to come too.