Archive for Small Sample Size

Adam Jones: Too Good to be True?

Posted in Offense with tags , , on May 7, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Many Orioles have gotten off to a great start in 2013.  Last week we took a look at the hot start of Chris Davis, to determine if his success was due to good luck, or a change in approach.  This week, we’ll take a gander (thank you Microsoft Word thesaurus!)* at the hot start for Adam Jones, and see if we can answer the same question.

*just kidding, I don’t need Microsoft Word’s thesaurus to help me write anymore

As of May 6, Adam Jones is the owner of a very healthy triple slash line, which is sitting at .331/.360/.519 (AVG/OBP/SLG).  All of three are above the levels of his breakout 2012 season, when those statistics were also career highs.  Despite the .519 slugging percentage, he is hitting for slightly less power this year compared to less, as his ISO is currently 0.030 lower than it was in 2012.  Still, between last year and 2013’s great start, the Orioles front office and its fans are feeling pretty good about that extension Jones signed last year to stay with the team through 2018.

Similar to Davis, the first thing that jumps out about Adam Jones’ season so far is his extremely high BABIP, which is currently at .400 (career .320 BABIP), and ranked as the 7th highest in all of baseball (Chris Davis is ranked 17th).  While BABIP can be an indicator of good or bad luck, luck is not the only reason for a high or low BABIP.  As previously discussed in the Davis post, hitters who are fast and hit line drives have a better chance to maintain high BABIP’s.  Jones certainly has above average speed and his line drive rate is currently 3.3% above his career average.  However his 2013 LD% is basically the same as it was last year, when his BABIP was .313.

One reason being touted for Jones’ great start to the season has been his improvement when hitting with two strikes.  The numbers back this up, as Jones is hitting .302/.333/.476 with two strikes in 66 PA’s.  He also has an ABSURD .545 BABIP with two strikes.  Read that last sentence again.  In a count where the pitcher likely has a huge advantage, Jones getting hits on over half of the balls he puts in play.  In his career, Jones’ numbers with two strikes look a lot different, with a line of .211/.257/.329 and a BABIP of .331.  Even Chris Davis has a.228/.297/.491 line, with a BABIP of .409, is not even close to Jones’ two strike numbers in 2013.

While there is no reason why Jones will keep up his pace with two strikes, maybe he has changed his approach at the plate with two strikes through a shortened swing, better strikezone awareness, etc.  I have admittedly not watched enough Orioles games this year to make that claim one way or another, but the plate discipline numbers do not back this up.  Cue the table!

table

Jones is basically right around his career averages in the above plate discipline categories.  These numbers in addition to his current walk and strikeout rates don’t really show any sort of change in approach.  Jones has never been known to take a lot of walks, but so far in 2013, both rates are trending in the wrong direction (the blue line indicates league average).

BB Rate

BB Rate

K Rate

K Rate

Finally, before we finish up, let’s look at a couple players in the BABIP top ten with similar BB%, K%, and AVG/OBP/SLG as Jones…

compare

Any idea who those players might be?  Hint: it’s probably not who you were hoping for.

  • Player A is Chris Johnson, third baseman for the Atlanta Braves.  If his name sounds familiar, he was part of the package Arizona sent to the Braves with Justin Upton this past offseason.  Over the course of his career (1,400+ PA’s), he’s basically been your average hitter, with a career triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.318/.432.
  • Player B is Nick Hundley, catcher for the San Diego Padres.  Hundley has almost 1,500 major league PA’s in his career and has been a below average hitter, with a .242/.300/.397 line.
  • Player C is Starling Marte, left fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Marte has accumulated roughly a half season of PA’s in his two years in the majors and was one of the Pirates top prospects as recently as last year.  Scouts love his potential, but a lot believe he will never learn the plate discipline needed to reach it.  I don’t believe that it is unrealistic to say that Marte would be fortunate if his ceiling is Adam Jones type production, but he has a long road to get there.

If you don’t feel good about these players continuing to produce at those levels for the rest of the year, you shouldn’t, because it’s not likely that they will.  Unfortunately, the same can be said of Jones, especially since his plate discipline numbers indicate that his approach at the plate has not been any different this year than in previous years.  At some point, Jones’ balls in play will stop finding holes (especially with two strikes), and his numbers will regress to last year’s levels, or even closer to his career levels.

Chris Davis: Too Good to be True?

Posted in Offense with tags , , , on May 4, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

On Tuesday, Matt Kremnitzer over at Camden Depot took a look at the hot start to the season for Chris Davis, and came to the conclusion that his early season success can be attributed to his improved plate discipline.  Kremnitzer has a similar table in his piece, but take another look to see just how much Davis’ approach at the plate has improved so far this year, compared to his previous time with the Orioles (updated numbers for 2013).

Untitled

*2011 stats reflect Davis’ time with the Orioles only

Currently, Davis is sporting a triple slash line of .337/.438/.704, with a .467 wOBA (as of May 3rd).  Is he going to keep that up during the entire season?  Absolutely not!  But, as Kremnitzer pointed out in his piece, his improved approach at the plate is a very positive indicator that Davis has a good chance to continue his success over a sustained period of time.

However, before we start talking about Davis as a potential MVP candidate, there are some reasons to be skeptical of his hot start.  I bring this up not to be a “Debbie Downer”, but more to temper expectations.

The first (and easiest) indicator is with Davis’ BABIP, which is a lofty .387, despite a line drive rate that is currently a career low and roughly 3.5% below his career rate.  To put this into perspective, typically batters who hit a lot of line drives and/or are fast can sustain a high BABIP.  For example, Ichiro Suzuki has a career .347 BABIP, and Dexter Fowler (who is speedy) led the league in BABIP last year with .390.  He also happened to lead the league in LD% at 27.2%.  Davis is nowhere near as fast as Fowler and currently has a LD% of 19.7%.  However, the career BABIP of Chris Davis sits at .338, so even a regression to his career level won’t send his overall numbers off a cliff.  This is the good news.  Now here comes the bad news.

Chris Davis swings at fastballs down and in…and crushes them.  Check out the figure showing his SLG on fastballs over his career by zone, courtesy of Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus (from catcher’s point of view).

SLG

You may say that’s not bad news, or even that it’s not news at all, but it sets up the bad news.  And that is that Chris Davis also swings at pitches that initially look like meaty fastballs down and in, but turn out to be breaking balls (curveballs and sliders) that dart out of the strikezone.  As a result, he DOES NOT crush them, and often times he misses them completely.  This time, our trusty figure shows his swing rate on breaking balls, again from the catcher’s point of view.

SWG

Pay special attention to the highlighted area out of the strikezone in the bottom right corner (pitches down and in to Davis) and make a mental note of how many times he swings at breaking balls there.  Now combine that swing percentage with the fact that he whiffs on breaking balls in that area more than 53% of the time (and 71.4% specifically in the zone on the bottom right).  Breaking balls thrown out of the strikezone down and in to Chris Davis is an undeniable weakness.

Let’s look at a few more figures, this time from 2013, courtesy of Texas Leaguers.  The first figure in each set shows pitch locations where Davis swung, while the second figure in each set shows pitch locations taken (again from the catcher’s point of view).  First, the sliders…

Sliders

Now, the curveballs…

Curveballs

For some reason, opposing pitchers haven’t thrown Davis many breaking balls down and in out of the strikezone this year.  I’m not sure why they wouldn’t throw breaking balls in that area with more frequency, other than the fear of making a mistake and getting punished (Davis will crush breaking balls that don’t find their way far enough inside).  Another potential reason could have something to do with the batters in front of Davis consistently getting on base, requiring pitchers to guard against the steal or a passed ball.  A pitch down and in to a left hander is a difficult spot for a catcher to receive, especially when trying to throw out a potential base stealer.

Chris Davis is off to an amazing start to the year and there are good reasons to believe that an improved approach at the plate is a bigger reason for it than plain old luck.  As the season progresses and pitchers throw more breaking balls out of the zone down and in to Davis, we’ll see if that improved approach includes laying off those pitches, giving us a better idea as to whether Davis is going to have another breakout year.

Orioles Currently Lacking a Designated Hitter Who Can Actually Hit

Posted in Offense with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

If you’ve been reading this site (or most articles involving the young 2013 baseball season), you’ve heard the words “small sample size” applied frequently.  And since teams have barely played more than 20 games so far, those same three words apply directly to everything I am going to be presenting in this post.  So if you want the answer to the “what should the Orioles do about their DH?” question without actually reading the rest of write-up, the answer will be along the lines of, “they should go with what they have, until there is a large enough sample of plate appearances to support a decision”.

Hopefully the title alluded to this, but the Orioles designated hitters have been bad so far this year.  They have collectively compiled -0.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs), which is currently ranked 15th out of 17 teams (not every National League team has played an interleague game in an American League park yet).  If you take out the National League teams, the Orioles move up to 13th(!)…out of 15.  Let’s take a look at some other offensive (double entendre!) statistics for the Orioles DH’s (as of April 26), but let’s limit the list of teams to AL clubs only, since all of the teams will have similar sample sizes.

(as of April 26, 2013)

as of April 26, 2013

Yikes.  Remember, each of these rankings is out of 15 teams.  Again, yikes.  You can point to the very low BABIP and make an argument that maybe they’ve been unlucky, but looking at the other statistics, it would appear to be a reach.

Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce have held down the fort at the DH spot so far.  47 of Reimold’s 70 PA’s have come at DH (the others in LF and 1 as a pinch hitter), while Pearce has been used solely in the DH spot for a total of 25 PA’s.  Again, small sample.  Let’s put up their individual stats as a DH to compare the 2 players.  I’m not even going to tell which player is on which line, because as you can tell, it’s pretty pointless.

as of April 26

as of April 26

Since both players are pretty terrible hitting in the DH spot, is it possible that they’ve both been unlucky?  Reimold may be suffering from a bit of bad luck while it looks like Pearce is just suffering from being Steve Pearce.  Pearce is a 30 year old journeyman who has had some success against LHP, but not enough for a team to feel comfortable giving him regular at bats against them (career .258/.339/.456 against LHP in 289 plate appearances).  And he shouldn’t even face a right hander…pretty much ever.  Overall, he’s a career .231/.306/.365 hitter in almost 750 PA’s.  So if he is given more playing time, his numbers will probably improve, but not to the point where anyone should want him as a guy whose only job is to hit a baseball.

As for Reimold, he’s actually hit quite well in his 22 PA’s as a left fielder.  Comparing his numbers playing LF to his numbers in 47 PA’s as the DH…

as of April 26

as of April 26

…we see quite a difference.  If anything, Reimold may be on opposite ends of the luck spectrum during his time at the 2 different positions.  This provides some hope, as there is not much else they can do to improve at the DH position, other than hope that one of these 2 players becomes more productive in the DH spot.  It is WAY too early to talk about trading for anyone, and outside of (MAYBE) Russ Canzler, the Orioles don’t have anyone on their 40 man roster that would provide a substantial improvement.  One interesting option is to bring back Jim Thome, who has not declared retirement and remains unsigned.  While it wouldn’t take a lot of money to sign him, his presence wouldn’t automatically be an improvement, and his presence on the roster would severely limit the team’s roster flexibility, especially when they play games in NL ballparks (Thome cannot play anywhere in the field).

So if you’ve managed to keep reading after the answer was given in the first paragraph, the answer has not changed.  The Orioles should stay the course, continuing to use Reimold at the DH spot (in favor of Steve Pearce), and monitor the results.  If the DH numbers don’t improve by June, then it will be time to look seriously at other options.

Orioles on Pace for a 162-0 Season

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 3, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

The Orioles won their first game of the season last night, putting them on pace to finish the season undefeated.  They thoroughly embarrassed Tampa Bay 7-4, and it could have been much worse if they hadn’t shown the Rays mercy by choosing to leave an additional 8 runners on base.  Basically the only thing left to do is for the American League to win the All-Star game so the Orioles will have home field advantage in the World Series…not that they would need it.