Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogging Elsewhere

Good News and Bad news.

Bad news first - I will no longer be blogging here.

Good news - It's because I am now blogging for Fansided at Tomahawk Take

Come read stuff from me and my fellow writers there!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's time for Huddy to Stop Bunting

Last night, Tim Hudson pitched a gem against Clayton Richard and the Padres. And while he has been quietly building an excellent career, he has also been quietly putting up fantastic offensive numbers. I was watching his at-bats last night with a hope that - however unlikely it was - Fredi would refrain from calling a sac bunt when runners were on. In Hudson's first at-bat, he swung away with no runners on, hitting a sharp grounder to third. In his second at-bat, he fell to two strikes attempting to lay down a sac bunt before lining out to right field.

In both instances, he hit the ball squarely and fairly hard. And that game isn't anomalous for him. He's been on an offensive tear for a while. Since June 1st, Hudson has been one of the Braves' most potent offensive weapons in games he plays, hitting .292 with a .345 OBP and .375 SLG in 12 games and 31 plate appearances. Understandably, offensive contribution is a highly overlooked part of any pitcher's game. Pitchers have far fewer opportunities at-bat to even make an impact (Johnny Cueto leads this year with 62), and when they do get chances, they are horrible and/or asked to bunt.

But Tim Hudson has been making a strong impact. His solid June numbers have gotten exponentially better. Since the All-Star break, Huddy has posted a .357/.400/.500 slashline. Yes, this has only happened over 7 games and 16 plate appearances, but the offensive he has provided is still quite valuable. This year, according to Baseball Reference, Tim Hudson has accumulated 1.0 WAR from pitching, and .4 WAR from hitting. His value increases by 40% when you take hitting into account.

Yes, that is a small sample size. But to me, Hudson has shown enough skill that swinging away will be more beneficial than sac bunting. Sac bunts are rarely ever useful for a team, as demonstrated here, here, and here. Its true that sac bunting with pitchers might generally be the better way to go because they are so damn bad at hitting, but Hudson has been just a little better than pitchers in the league (hitting .130/.166/.162). Moreover, Fredi doesn't necessarily use the sac bunt wisely. This year, Hudson has attempted 7 sac bunts (not including ones where he gets two strikes and then must swing away). Of those, 4 were successful, and each one decreased the Braves probability of winning. According to Baseball-Reference, all of Hudson's "successful" sac bunts together managed a -10% Win Probability Added.

That all said, there may be times when Hudson should sac bunt. But those times should be very few and far between. According to this post at Baseball Prospectus, "any batter hitting below .075 should always sacrifice, while any batter hitting better than .243 should never sacrifice." But it all depends on who bats afterwards. On the Braves, its Michael Bourn. With Bourn's .292/.353/.428 slashline, Timmy would need to  hit at least roughly .175 (his 2012 batting average is .211) in order for sac bunts to be detrimental to run expectation. This may waver in late-game, high-leverage situations, but it would almost always be smarter to bring in a pinch-hitter than to sac bunt in that situation.

But I don't see Timmy getting a free pass to swing any time soon. Managers hate deviating from traditional baseball strategy. In fact, Fredi Gonzalez made it clear that he wants Hudson off the base paths. Someone should let him know that not all pitchers are created equal at the plate. Tim Hudson isn't Tommy Hanson, who has one hit the entire year, and taking the bat out of his hands is actually a net-loss for the Braves.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Just how valuable is Chipper Jones?

Forty-year old Larry Wayne has been putting on a show, despite having no knees, being incapable of lateral movement, needing a wheelchair to push him around the bases after a home run several nagging injuries and a decaying body.  In his final year with the Braves, Old Man Jones is reminding everyone just why we considered him a future HOFer. With a .316/.391/.513 slashline, Chipper has exceeded even the lofty expectations people have set for him. The Braves will certainly miss him next year, and many argue that the value he brings is irreplaceable.

And in many ways, it is. It will be impossible to replace his legacy, his iconic status, and his leadership. His presence in the lineup has a reassuring feel, kind of like seeing Dad in stands during a little league game, and everyone else seems to perform just a little better when he's in the lineup. Nevertheless, it may be easier to replace his on-field production than it initially seems. Yes, he rakes the ball - but only when he plays. So far, of the 105 games the Braves have played, Chipper has only played in 66 (and only started in 58). At that rate, he will have only started in 90 games by the end of the season. Of course, he did spend a stint on the DL in the first half, so he may play games at a higher rate for the rest of the season (even though his record and age show he's liable to go on the DL at any second). Even if he ends up playing 120 games, he will still have spent approximately a quarter of the year on the bench, tremendously diminishing his overall value to the team. Even with his surpassing rate stats, his accumulated offensive value is lower than you would expect. So far this year, Chipper has 46 Weighted Runs Created (wRC), which is a metric that quantifies a player's offensive value and attempts to measure it by runs. This is tied with players like Kelly Johnson, Norichika Aoki, and Pedro Alvarez - who hit at way worse clips - simply because they can provide offensive value nearly every game.

So far, Chipper has been replaced by Juan Francisco or Jose Constanza in about 45% of the games. In games that they have started at 3B or LF (when Martin Prado moves in to 3rd to take Chipper's spot), they have accumulated 18.4 wRC. This makes Chipper and his replacements responsible for 64.4 wRC, which is around the number that players like Corey Hart, Derek Jeter, David Freese, Buster Posey, and Aaron Hill are putting up. That isn't to say the Braves would need a player of that caliber to replace Chipper because bench production, whether from Francisco, Reed Johnson, or another TBD backup outfielder will remain a constant next year. At his current pace - if, if he plays 120 games - Chipper will produce approximately 84 wRC. Last year, that mark was nearly matched or beaten by players with significantly worse rate stats: Dan Uggla, BJ Upton, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Young, Carlos Pena, and Torrii Hunter.

This is all overlooking Chipper's maybe average defense (yes, he's great at charging, but pretty pathetic laterally), and poor performance on the base paths. Find a player who can be as good or better in both areas and it really shouldn't be as hard as it seems to replace his production, if only because that player will actually be in the game much more. A quick look at the players who produced 80-85 wRC last year, and they hovered around .780 OPS (compared to Chipper's .904) with about 580 PA.