Anibal Sanchez, Tigers, whiffs

Anibal Sanchez Tries On Ace Sized Pants

Anibal Sanchez could quite possibly be the best pitcher in the major leagues who is never mentioned. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Sanchez mentioned in the same breath as teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander; much less in the same instance as Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Adam Wainwright. In my opinion, he belongs there.

Sanchez’s career has been somewhat of an odd spectacle. He played for mostly terrible teams in a bad market, had some shoulder trouble, and always seemingly under-performed relative to the potential that he flashed. This all changed in the past 365 days.  Over the past calendar year, no one has racked up more fWAR than Sanchez. If you push the timeline back to the past two seasons he’s sixth; behind: Felix, Verlander, Kershaw, Scherzer, and Chris Sale. Are you shocked? I was.

What Happened?

Anibal Sanchez started throwing harder. A lot harder.

Sanchez's Velocity

Sanchez’s Velocity

*Due to clarification issues with pitches, the cutter mentioned later doesn’t show up in this chart.*

Check out that fastball velocity. Sanchez has been able to add 3-4 MPH to his fastball. That is incredible. Velocity usually maxes out early in careers before beginning its ultimate decline stage. I looked into his release points and spotted something that’s somewhat interesting.

2011 Fastball Release Points

2011 Fastball Release Points

That graph is from 2011. As you can see, the data is skewed a little to the catcher’s left (Anibal’s right side).

Anibal 3

2013 Fastball Release Points

This graph is from 2013. The release points are more consistently over the top and form a much tighter cluster. I’m not sure if that means anything for his velocity, but it is interesting. Perhaps Anibal’s previous shoulder problems required him to alter his release a little bit, which subsequently allowed him to throw a little harder? Whether it was that reason or another, it was a damn good decision.

Anibal’s change-up also became one of most devastating pitches in the game. He’s always has a good change-up, but 2013 is put the pitch on its own planet. During the 2011 season Sanchez threw his change 557 times (17.45%) and hitters hit .231 off of the pitch with a .361 slugging percentage. Fast forward to 2013, opposing hitters are hitting .185 with a .270 slugging percentage off the offering. It makes sense why Sanchez has upped his usage of the pitch to 24.15%.

Sanchez 2013 Pitch Usage

Sanchez 2013 Pitch Usage

Above is Anibal’s pitch usage for 2013. If charts aren’t your thing I’ll sum it up for you; good luck guessing what’s coming. When Sanchez is ahead of batters you have greater than a 20% chance to see one of three pitches. Even when the batters are ahead of Sanchez you’re still likely guessing wrong given the odds. He’s simply impossible to guess which pitch is coming at this time.

I’ve saved the most beautiful pitchf/x chart Texas Leaugers has to offer on Sanchez for last.

Sanchez Pitch Movement

Sanchez Pitch Movement

Look at how differently all of Sanchez’s offerings move. The slider and cutter both offer quick concise movements at faster speeds; 86 and 93 MPH respectively. The slider shows much more depth, but good luck realizing that quick enough to act on it. The curve on the other hand, flashes tremendous depth, horizontal movement, and change of pace (80 MPH). Hypothetically, if you’re able to spit on those pitches he can run the change-up in on your hands (RHH) or away from you out of the zone (LHH). The sinker will also eat up your hands (RHH) or the end of the bat (LHH) considering it moves horizontally 6 inches to the catchers left from the center of the zone. There are 7 pitches classified here; two more than the first chart from Brooks. This is mainly due to clarification issues between pitchf/x systems. Three of the pitches move right and downward. Four of the pitches (really only 3) move left and downward. Imagine having to prepare for all of these offerings; that’s what opponents have to do every fifth day.

How Does He Stack Up?

I noted in the beginning how Sanchez rates in fWAR over the past 1 and 2 calendar years. How does he stack up in other categories over that time frame?

Anibal vs. His Competition

Anibal vs. His Competition

Those stats and places are over the past 2 calendar years. If we were to set the boundary at only the last calendar year Sanchez would improve his position in: SwStr% (5th), Contact% (3rd), O-Contact% (7th), FIP (2nd), K%-BB% (8th), and WAR (1st). Anibal Sanchez is very good. He is a bonafide ace. He has 5 or 6 (depending of how the cutter is picked up by pitch f/x) quality offerings that allow him to keep hitters off-balance. He is throwing harder than ever. We’re witnessing greatness and many people don’t realize it.

Value Going Forward

During the 2012 offseason Zack Greinke was considered to be the crown jewel of the free agent class. Detroit knew better; they weren’t letting Sanchez get out of the city. He signed for $88 million over 5 years, $71 million less than the contract Greinke was given by the Dodgers. Greinke has been good in 2013, but it’s clear now that Sanchez was the best pitcher in that free agent class. He just so happened to the best value as well. Sanchez just turned 29 in February. He’s not a young guy, especially given his injury history, but given his relatively young age he shouldn’t decline very quickly.

As far as fantasy is concerned, you won’t be getting Anibal Sanchez at a discount anymore. I landed Sanchez in two leagues this season, 15th round in one league (10 teams) and 12th in the other (12 teams).  He’s currently ranked 32nd on Yahoo! after being ranked 141st in the preseason. Sanchez is a top 10 pitcher without a doubt next season. If you can get him anywhere between Adam Wainwright or Chris Sale’s o-ranks this season, 41st and 57th respectively next season you’re getting pretty solid value.

I’ll leave you with this magnificent GIF of Anibal striking out 17 Atlanta Braves. Those ace pants I mentioned in the headline? They fit.

Take a Seat

Take a Seat

Standard
Patrick Corbin, whiffs

Can Patrick Corbin Keep This Up?

I’ve written about Patrick Corbin at The Fantasy Fix before. I decided to revisit Mr. Corbin after a Twitter conversation between myself and Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris last night. Basically the conversation went a little something like this. Eno made the point that Patrick Corbin doesn’t seem to be elite at any facet of pitching. I was inclined to agree, without looking, that he seemed to be more of a “sum of all parts pitcher.” I was in no way trying to diminish Corbin or his achievements, just stating my belief that he was good at many things, but not great at anything.

My mind wasn’t quite as made up once I began perusing Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball to see how he compared to other pitchers. I’ll try not to harp on anything I touched on in July unless something has changed significantly from the original piece. Let’s dig in.

2013 Success

The first thing I mentioned back in July was Corbin’s increased velocity. Still good on that front; both variations of his fastball (sinker/2-seam & 4-seam) have sat around 92 MPH on average all season. The pitch mix, however, has changed a little since my previous piece.

Patrick Corbin

Corbin was already pretty dependent on his slider, but he’s become even more dependent on it since mid-July. Despite the fact that he is using it more, he’s still getting nearly the same amount of whiffs that he did in the first half of the season (27% versus 25.5%). The other large change is the dramatic increase in his sinker; granted there could be some classification issues with pitchf/x, but not 10% worth. My initial thought when I saw this was: “ He must be making an effort to get more groundballs?” But his GB% has stayed relatively normal throughout the season. There had to be a reason for the change, so my next guess was that maybe he is simply more comfortable with the 2-seam? His command numbers show that to be the case. From July 18th until now Corbin has thrown his 2-seam for strikes 69.5% of the time (62% league average) compared to only finding the zone with 59.4% of his 4-seam fastballs (64.4% league average). I’d bet pretty heavily on Corbin’s command on his 2-seam being the reason for its increased usage. Corbin’s slider is still pretty much untouchable, by the way.

CorbinR3.gif.opt_

Command is a big reason why. As you can see below he either buries the slider onto the back foot of righties or runs it low and away to lefties. It’s tough to do anything with those pitches.

Corbin's Slider

Is Corbin Elite At Anything?

We know Corbin isn’t elite at getting groundballs (29th for qualified starters). He isn’t among the league leaders in K%. Is he actually elite in anything? I was somewhat surprised to see that he actually was.

Corbin stats

These are a few of my favorite stats to look at when I evaluate pitchers. Corbin is the absolute best at getting ahead on the first pitch. His 70.3% mark this season represents a 12 percent increase over his 2012 campaign. If there is an area any pitcher would like to improve upon, I’d think getting ahead would top the list. We’ve noted that despite his swing and miss stuff his K% isn’t elite, that’s proven again by his K%-BB% (if you want more information on why I use that metric as opposed to K/BB read here). His O-Swing and O-Contact rates are top 10 out of all qualified starters (84 pitchers). I’d qualify that as elite, or at least on the cusp. The swinging strike rates and contact rates are also very promising. Although, I am curious as to why the high swinging strike rate doesn’t result in more strikeouts. Could they be on the way? It’s not listed in the chart above, but Corbin’s slider is ranked as the 9th best in baseball according to Fangraphs’ pitch values.

We’ve now established that Corbin has been elite at a few aspects of his game in 2013. The best news is that the things he is elite at are pretty much in his control. He controls how much he gets ahead and unless his slider turns into a cement mixer overnight he should continue to get batters to chase at a high rate.

Should We Be Skeptical Going Forward?

One area that Corbin his seen a dramatic improvement of this season is his ability to suppress homeruns. His hr/fb rate sat at 13.5% last season, but it’s currently at 9.3% this season. I believe there are a few factors that have gone into this improvement. Those include: increased velocity, better pitch utilization, and the 2-seam.

Corbin's two seam

Corbin’s 2-seam is denoted by FT, or the orange triangle. Pitchers implement this pitch due to the movement, whether it’s downward or horizontal. Corbin’s 2-seam has a natural sinking motion along with a fair amount of horizontal run. Sinkers are much tougher to hit out of the park when they’re located well. The rate could tick back up some, especially due to playing in Arizona, but I don’t think it’s a complete fluke by any means.

I believe a little more in Patrick after doing the research for this piece. Eno asked me what ERA I would guess Corbin would post in 2014, I went with a 3.30. Eno decided on 3.60 (without looking). Which one of us is closer and what’s your over/under?

Standard
Brian McCann

Appreciating Brian McCann

As a Braves fan, I have been spoiled by watching Brian McCann play every day. McCann has been a fantastic player for the Atlanta Braves, but unfortunately Atlanta’s financial situation might force 2013 to be his last season in a Braves uniform.

As fans, we’re all conditioned to want the shiny new toy. We usually have unreal goals and expectations of prospects, that’s what makes us what we are. Earlier this season I couldn’t believe how many fans were ready to give up on McCann after Evan Gattis started the season off so well. Gattis was in a role that was tailored perfectly for him; occasional starting and pinch hitting versus predominantly fastball pitchers. He excelled and because of that success people were ready to trade Brian McCann.

Flash forward a few months; Brian McCann is doing Brian McCann things like posting a .272/.347/.497 line. He’s having one of his best offensive seasons in 2013. His wRC+ and wOBA are the third highest marks of his career as they sit at 134 and .364, respectively. He is reminding everyone just how good he can be; just in case 2012 made you forget. Shoulder surgeries are an untamable animal. No one is sure how a player will rebound from shoulder surgery, McCann’s power returned quicker than I ever imagined it would this season. I guess that means we should all thank the surgeon as well, because he obviously did a hell of job helping McCann get his strength back.

Brian McCann is one of 16 catchers in the expansion era to have an OPS+ greater than or equal 115 over the first nine years of his career. He comes in at 12th on the list, behind names such as: Mauer, Piazza, and Bench. As much as we usually trash the All-Star voting process and subsequent farce of a home field deciding game, Brian McCann has still been to 7 of them. He’s accumulated 5 Silver Sluggers to sit in his trophy case as well.

I hate when writers bring up how players “do things the right way.” I feel obligated to mention that with McCann though. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember one article or quote that made McCann seem like anything less than a standup guy and fantastic teammate. Sure, he was disappointed he didn’t get to start in the Wild Card game last season. Who wouldn’t be?

It’s very possible Brian McCann will leave the Braves after the 2013 season and I’ll be sad to see him go. His superb season combined with the drop off in Gattis’ production shift the odds a little more in an Atlanta’s favor, but my hopes still aren’t up.

Since McCann’s call up in 2005 he has been one of the most valuable commodities in baseball: a good offensive catcher. Whenever I got frustrated with Brian I would just remind myself we could be running Francisco Cervelli out there 90+ times per season. He left us with many great memories; including a few hilarious slides, gassed out triples, and a few F bombs. I can only hope he gets the respect from Braves fans that he deserves now and into the future.

Standard
Mike Minor, whiffs

Mike Minor’s Ascension

Mike Minor is quite possibly the best pitcher in the major leagues who is never talked about. There are plenty of good pitchers to praise, so I don’t feel slighted at all that Minor’s name rarely comes up in casual discussions about the top tier of current pitching. The former first round draft pick has turned himself into a bonafide top 25 starting pitcher in the MLB after once being known as a “safe pick” in the draft. How has he managed to do it?

Early 2012 Struggles & Subsequent Rebound

The first half of the 2012 season wasn’t kind to Minor. He posted a 5.97 ERA over 92 innings. His peripherals weren’t much better either (5.45 FIP/4.72 xFIP). One of his main problems was the amount of free passes he was handing out. Minor was walking 3.91 batters per nine innings or 10.1% of the batters he faced. It’s extremely difficult to succeed when you’re constantly setting yourself up for failure.

Image

This data from the first half of 2012 paints a picture of Minor’s pitch usage along with his velocity and how much each pitch moves vertically and horizontally. We’ll compare that with 2013 a little further down.

Image

Here is where we can start to connect the dots a little on why Minor was walking so many batters in early 2012. He wasn’t commanding his fastball at a high enough level. He was throwing his fastball outside of the zone nearly 35% of the time. Throwing pitches out of the zone isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it all depends on the sequencing and the situation.

Image

That’s his pitch mix from July 2012 until now. The sinker is a new development for Minor in 2013. Of the 108 sinkers recognized above 104 have came in the 2013 season. Other than adding a new pitch to his arsenal what exactly has happened that has allowed him to get so much better?

Image

Whiffs. Swings and misses. They are a huge part of a pitcher’s success and possibly one of the most important for sustaining long term success. Minor is getting more whiffs on every pitch since last July on every pitch except for his cutter. He’s added 2+ points to his whiff rates on his fastball, curve, and change. That’s a huge deal. It’s the goal of a pitcher. The best way to limit damage is to not allow the chance of damage to occur. 

You might be asking yourself: How exactly is he getting more whiffs even though he isn’t throwing that many more strikes? Sequencing. Good pitchers usually all have one thing in common. They get ahead early with strikes and then make hitters get themselves out. Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw are two perfect examples.

Image

O-Swing% is the amount of swings you generate on pitches outside of the zone. Minor’s number has jumped a ton this season. We looked as his movement earlier and most of the pitches stayed the same (except for the curve which added a little depth). We’ve already touched on the fact that hitters are swinging and missing more, so I want to focus on the F-Stike% column. Minor is getting ahead with a first pitch strike over 64% of the time in 2013 (I couldn’t splice the data to include late 2012). He’s getting ahead of 5.4% more of the batters he faces. That may not seem like a lot, but it is. As of this writing Minor’s first strike percentage ranks 21st in the majors out of 87 qualified pitchers. Compare that with his 69th place ranking out of the 88 pitchers who qualified in 2012. He’s in much better company this season.

Going Forward

Minor is the most polished pitcher the Braves have on the roster. Julio Teheran and perhaps even Alex Wood could have more upside, but Minor is by far the most polished. It sounds cliche, but Mike Minor learned how to pitch. A lot of pitchers every year have good fortune or luck and things just go their way. Minor’s last 365 days can’t be chalked up to that. We’ve noticed fundamental changes in the way he pitches and the results that have followed.

He learned the value of getting ahead of hitters with his fastball and forcing them to play defense and chase his off speed offerings. Minor is a flyball pitcher, 43% of balls put in play are in the air, so there’s no doubt that the Braves having a rangy outfield helps him out on defense. Flyballs can turn into homers in a hurry, but Minor has done a much better job of avoiding the long ball in 2013.

Luckily for the Braves the core of their rotation (Minor, Wood, & Teheran) is under control for a long time. Barring any injuries it looks as if Frank Wren has channelled a little bit of the 1990’s. Good pitching is hard to develop, but the Braves have seemingly mastered the art. As long as Minor and company can stay healthy the Braves are in good hands for a long time.

*Thanks for FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball for all of the data*

Standard
BJ Upton

What Went Wrong in 2013 For BJ?

2013 hasn’t been very kind to the eldest of the Upton brothers. It’s easy to say: “everything has been a problem,” but I wanted to try and dig in a little bit to see if I could find one glaring issue. I’m in the camp, that even though he has looked extremely poor this season he should be given every opportunity to work himself out of it on a full time basis, especially with Heyward on the shelf. Jordan Schafer had a very nice run to being the season, but he’s ultimately still the player that was DFA’d by the Houston Astros. I’d much rather trust the larger sample size that suggests he’s a below average major league player than the 3 month sample that suggested otherwise. Anyways, on to the research.

*I didn’t use 2007’s data. The reasons for that are: he has never put up another season similar to that and it was nearly 6 years ago. I included 2008 because the study had to start somewhere and because aside from the huge walk rate the other numbers are similar to other season’s in BJ’s career.*

What did the Braves acquire in Upton?

The Braves may have outbid themselves a little when it came to the winter signing. It was reported that the most Philadelphia offered was $55 million over 5 years. That’s all in the past. Upton’s signing might have been a slight overpay for his production depending on which WAR (Fangraphs or B-Ref) figure you prefer, but the deal was a perfect match. Upton’s WAR totals (Fangraphs) throughout his career are as follows: 4.5, 4.8, 2.1, 3.8, 3.9, and 3.1. If the average cost of a win is $5 million then Upton essentially was paid perfectly for his previous years of production. Upton joined Carlos Gonzalez as the only two players to go 20/20 through the 2010-2012 seasons. He was only 28 at the time of the signing, so he was a much better bet to age better than Michael Bourn. Frank Wren signed a player who has a ton of talent, plays a premium position, and was still relatively young for essentially market value. It sounded pretty good, but what went wrong?

2013: A Year To Forget

Upton’s struggles have been well documented. He’s worked very hard on trying to change the mechanics (toe-tap) of his swing, but it’s very difficult to undo years and years of repetitions in a short span of time. I’ll leave that diagnosis to the Braves’ hitting coaches, because I’m not smart or qualified enough to open that can of worms.

We can analyze the data though; and there are some good signs to go along with the bad ones.

Bjuptonplatediscipline_zpsb2b7154c_medium

As you can see Upton’s seen his walk rate fluctuate over the years, but his near 10% this year is a substantial rebound to his career norms before his 2012 season. While this development is definitely a good thing, it isn’t nearly good enough to offset the dramatic increase in his K% in 2013. Simply put, this trend has to reverse in order for BJ to have much success. Surmounting a K% of that magnitude is nearly impossible. Can we decipher what has lead to the increase in K’s?

Bjupton2_zpsb9f1a724_medium

The chart above has some very alarming things in it. We’ll get the good things out of the way first. He’s chasing much less than he did in 2012. His 25% chase% (O-Swing%) this year is much closer to his 2010 and 2011 numbers when he was a productive player (113 & 108 wRC+, respectively). His O-contact is also down, which means he’s making less contact when he actually does chase. This can be a double edged sword. It’s good that he’s making less contact on bad pitches, because swinging at balls usually results in weak contact. It is also alarming when you combine it with the fact that he’s making less contact when he swings at pitches in the zone as well. I’m not qualified enough to say that he’s losing coordination or anything of that nature, but his contact% has declined nearly every year since 2008. The original trade off wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because his power numbers went up every year. BJ has possibly finally reached a tipping point in his approach that has made the results collapse.

His batted ball profile has also seen some sizable changes in 2013.

Bjypton4_zps59fbf648_medium

As you can see, he’s hitting a few more groundballs this year than in previous years. With that comes a lower flyball rate and a lower HR/FB rate. Even though line drive percentages can be somewhat iffy at times, it’s good to see that his 2013 performance is still in line with career norms. The most alarming part of this chart, in my opinion, is the dramatic increase in infield flies (IFFB%). A remarkable 20.5% of the balls he’s put in play in 2013 have been pop-ups on/near the infield. That’s an impressive (not in a good way) feat. It’s essentially the same problem Andrelton Simmons has had in 2013 (19.3%). That, along with his K%, will hopefully regress to his career norms with more plate appearances.

Lastly, I wanted to take a look at which pitches have given Upton the most trouble in 2013. The graph below contains his pitch values from FanGraphs.

Bjupton3_zps9ac6e49f_medium

*these values are his runs above average*

As you can tell Upton has went from crushing fastballs to doing nothing with them. He was very good against the hard stuff in 2011 and 2012, not so much this season. Upton has been better against curveballs in his career than I assumed. This trend has continued in 2013 with his performance against curveballs being his only positive number (barely). He’s also gotten much worse against the change-up. My rough theory on this is that he has been so late on fastballs this season, due to his timing issues, that he could be selling out to catch up with the heat and subsequently be extremely out in front when a pitcher changes speeds.

What Are We Left With In 2014 and Beyond?

As I stated in my introduction, I firmly believe in BJ’s talent. I’m a little more cautious after diving headfirst into the data. I still believe, but I definitely have my doubts. A lot of the signs I’ve pointed out definitely aren’t good, but there are some positives as well (BB%, O-Swing%, LD%). Obviously in a best case scenario we would get 2008 BJ Upton for the next 4 years and be completely satisfied with that, but he hasn’t been that player in quite some time. If he can get back to 2011/2012 BJ in 2014, I’ll be extremely satisfied.

I’ve left his defense out of this simply because defensive metrics can be pretty noisy with small sample sizes. The information we do have on Upton in a Braves uniform is essentially the same as we had during his time in Tampa. He’s around average; a little more or less depending on your preferred metric. Upton’s combination of defense, power, and base running made him a coveted asset during the 2012 off-season, let’s hope he can pull it back together.

Standard