Friday, April 22, 2011

Brett Anderson is really freaking good

On Tuesday Brett Anderson made the Boston Red Sox look as confused as Sarah Palin under light questioning. 62.96% of the Sox' plate appearances against Anderson ended in either a strikeout or a groundout.

His slider was absolutely filthy, sitting at 81 MPH while generating swings-and-misses 23.8% of the time (MLB average = 13%). He threw the pitch 42 times and threw it for a strike better than three out of every four attempts.

He worked off of his slider most of the night (and why not?), mixing in a four and two seam baseball and an occasional change. Anderson didn't generate whiffs with the the four seamer and changeup, but his the heavy sinking movement on those pitches result in a large number of weakly hit ground balls.

If Anderson can finally stay healthy for a full season, he could find himself high up in the Cy Young balloting at the end of the year.

Yovani Gallardo revisited

After his disastrous start against Washington last week, we noted a dip in Yovani Gallardo's velocity that seemed to correspond with the Nationals' sudden ability to hit everything Gallardo was throwing. Yovani looked much better against the Astros on Friday, sustaining velocity on all of his offerings through his departure from the game in the sixth.

Gallardo did give up four earned runs on eight hits, but he also struck out seven, walked just one, and surrendered no homeruns. With four out of his nine baserunners crossing the plate, it's clear that Gallardo was an abnormally low strand rate and a high batting average on balls in play.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's up with Yovani Gallardo?

In his past two starts Yovani Gallardo has been roughed up to the tune of 17 hits, 4 walks, and 11 earned runs in the past 10 1/3 innings.

The most puzzling thing about Gallardo's first 3 starts was the lack of strikeouts. Going into last Sunday, Gallardo had only struck out 9 batters in 20 innings of work. This, after striking out more than a batter an inning over the past two seasons. And it's not as if Gallardo has faced stiff competition this far. Outside of an opening day start at Cincinnati, Gallardo has face the the struggling bats of the Braves, Cubs, and Nationals.

So what's wrong with Yovani Gallardo? Is anything wrong with Yovani Gallardo?

It looked like Gallardo had broken out of his early season funk after the first four innings of play against the Nationals on Sunday. Through the first four frames, Gallardo had struck out five, walked none, given up just three hits and one run.

But then everything fell apart in the bottom of the fifth, as the Nationals started making hard contact with everything that Yovani was throwing, culminating with two three-run home runs by Danny Espinosa and Ivan Rodriguez that chased Gallardo from the game in the sixth.

The graph above plots the velocity of each pitch Gallardo threw Sunday against the Nationals.  His fastball sat 92-94 through the first four frames, but then he lost 2 MPH during the next two innings. There were similar velocity dips for each of his pitches, with an even more pronounced drop in the velocity of his slider.

Now maybe this doesn't tell us anything at all. After all, it stands to reason that a pitcher would lose some velocity as he gets deeper into a game. But on a lark I decided to look up the PitchFX data on Gallardo's best start from last year - a June 24th complete game shutout against the Twins in which he struck out 12, walked none, and allowed only five hits.

In this start, Gallardo actually gained velocity as the game wore on.

So is it a question of Gallardo just needing to round into "mid-season form"? We know that the average fastball velocity for all pitchers goes up 1-2 MPH from the beginning of the season to the middle of the year. Is it just a matter of Gallardo building up endurance in order to sustain the success that enjoyed over in the first four innings against the Nationals?

My guess is Gallardo will be fine, but it will be interesting to track the changes in his PitchFX data over the next couple of weeks.

He gets the Houston Astros at home on 4/22. That should help.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Video: Ozzie Guillen Reviews the Great Gatsby

Brilliant Chicago improv and sketch troupe Warm Milk have made a hilarious web short called "He's a Great Book! with Ozzie Guillen." Watch the video below:

He's a Great Book! with Ozzie Guillen -- The Great Gatsby from Dan Bulla on Vimeo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Checking in on Mike Minor

The Screaming Indian has been very high on Mike Minor ever since he started striking out AA batters with reckless abandon in 2010. In fact, we billed him as the fifth overall and most MLB-ready of the Braves prospects.

It looks like he's going to slot in as the fifth starter for the Braves this year. But Minor offers mid-rotation upside, even in his rookie season, because he's already very polished.

One concerning trend that we noted in our write-up of Minor's prospect status is his sudden fly ball proclivity (47.6% flyball rate) upon being called up to the big leagues at the end of last season. So far this spring, Minor's groundout/airout ratio is an amazingly low 0.35. If this trend continues, the young lefty is going to be highly susceptible to the long ball in his rookie season. His 7/4 K/BB ratio in 10 IP is also a cause for concern.

Meanwhile, Brandon Beachy - Minor's competition for the role of fifth starter - has 7 Ks and 0 BBs in 5 innings with a GO/AO ratio of 1.67. It's worth noting that Beachy has been with the "B Squad" and facing weaker competition.

It's also worth noting that fans - particularly fans like me, who aren't scouts - are at a huge information disadvantage in spring training. Maybe Minor's working on some things, and we're not privy to what it is that he's working on. Maybe he's just struggling though. He hasn't surrendered any home runs yet (which has helped him coast to a glossy 0.90 ERA), but at the rate that he's giving up fly balls, he's going to be badly bruised the long ball if this trend does not reverse.

I don't think it's time to discount him yet, but I'd keep him on a short leash as we start the season. Beachy proved himself a competent enough option at the end of 2010.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A scout talks to Buster Olney about Carl Pavano

To me, this begged a few obvious questions:

I'll let you know if he responds.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can McLouth rebound?

It gets said a million times, but spring training is just spring training. It's difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from the statistics being generated because, unlike during the regular season, the main objective of each team is not to win the game being played.

That said, Nate McLouth is having a very interesting spring. McLouth has come to the plate 20 times this spring and has not struck out a single time. Since being called up to the big leagues, Nate McLouth has never - never - gone more than 18 consecutive plate appearances without striking out. That stretch of plate appearances ran from September 8-11th of 2005 when McLouth was a rookie and a Pittsburgh Pirate.

It's an especially encouraging sign after 2010, when an inability to make contact in April and May (68% contact rate and 72% contact rate, respectively) caused him to be demoted to a part-time role before a June concussion caused him to miss most of the season's remainder. McLouth was much improved when he got healthy. In fact, McLouth's .467/.636/.800 spring comes on the heels of a September where he hit .275/.339/.549 in September while making contact 86% of the time in 51 AB.

Even by spring training standards, it's still extremely early to be making statistics-based judgements about player performance. But with Jordan Schafer scuffling at the plate again (.182/.206/.212), McLouth looks primed to claim the center field position outright. He's still not a very good defensive center fielder, but the Braves will be happy if his bat has regained the potency that it once had in Pittsburgh.