Saturday, April 23, 2011

Michael Pineda: A Closer Look

I'm scared shitless just looking at this
So one of the obvious bright spots in this rather dismal season thus far is the emergence of Michael Pineda as what appears to be a bona fide ace in the making. He is 3-1 with a  1.78 ERA, and responsible for just about half of the M's wins. But heck, Kevin Correia looks like Greg Maddux right now and Anibal Sanchez damn near threw a no hitter the other day, so strange things are happening across the league. Let's take a closer look at Pineda's advanced stats to see if there are indicators that he might fall to Earth a bit in the future.

Now, 25.1 innings is a tiny sample size, so we can't draw any conclusions, but we can understand where he has been helped a bit by the luck dragon and where he is doing well all on his own merit.

Pineda had a strikeout-per-9 (K/9) rate of 8.8 over 400+ minor league innings, including a K rate of 11.0 in 62.1 of AAA innings last season. His K/9 right now sits at 7.46, which I actually think is just about perfect for two reasons. One, it's not other-worldly, so it doesn't suggest that a big regression is coming - he's being effective without performing at an unsustainable rate as far as his expected strikeouts go.  Second, a K/9 rate of 7.5 is just pretty darn good - so just being objective, you can check the "good" box.

His walk rate (BB/9) was something that was supposed to be a real strength for Pineda as he rarely issued free passes in the minors with a BB/9 rate right around 2 over his 5 seasons but inching up to about 2.4 over his two seasons at AA and AAA. Over his four starts thus far, it stands at 3.20 BB/9 which isn't terrible.

But I worry about two things related to his walks: His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .253. In AAA it was .290 and in AA it was .306.  League average is right around .300. Yes, better pitchers can have BABIP's in the mid .200's but it takes a lot of luck and some really special stuff to pull it off (for reference, Felix Hernandez's BABIP in his Cy Young season was .263). As his BABIP starts to regress towards the league average, he'll be allowing more baserunners simply because of dumb luck. Secondly, I'm sure there's some research out there that can lend some actual evidence to this, but relative unknown pitchers typically have an advantage over hitters.  As hitters start to become more familiar with Pineda and his repertoire it stands to reason that he may start giving up a few more hits. This is why I'd like to see that BB/9 get under control and down into the 2.l0-2.20 per 9 range.

Another thing to watch is this: Right now, he's giving up about 50% fly balls and he's yet to give up a home run.  This has a lot to do with why his ERA is 1.78 and his xFIP is 3.99. xFIP is expected fielding independent pitching, which is represented similar to an ERA, but it tries to control for the luck factor. It tends to shed light on whether or not a pitcher is under or over performing the actual on-field performance, or something like that. He's going to give up some longballs. Yeah, he pitches at Safeco which will help, but if he struggles versus anyone it's lefties and Safeco is actually pretty HR-neutral for left handed batters. So it's going to happen, and when it does, all his sparkling stats are going to be dulled a bit.

But, and this is the big finale... he has the fastest average fastball of any starter in baseball right now. And it's really not even close at all:

Pineda: 96.1
Price: 94.5
Ogando: 94.2
J. Johnson: 94
Verlander: 93.8

And consider that there's a lot of concrete evidence that pitchers throw harder as the season wears on (a lot of that has to do with the weather). He has been pretty much 60% fastball and 30% curveball all year and it's producing a whopping 13.1% swinging strike rate, good for 3rd in all of baseball. His fastball has just been electric and incredibly tough to hit. As long as that holds up, he's going to be very, very good.

So, in sum. Michael Pineda is pretty friggin good. He's been downright dominant so far. He has some work to do with his walks. He is probably not going to have a 1.78 ERA at the end of the season. But he is really making the Mariners look pretty good for letting him start the year in the bigs, and he's a huge piece of any optimism about the Mariners future.

Go M's.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Erik Bedard's First Start of the Season

There aren't a whole lot of players that could call 5 IP, 4H, 3 ER, 2BB, and 3 SO a success, but in my book, for Erik Bedard to toe the rubber in Arlington and throw 95 pitches without having body parts fly off into the Texas sky is a big success. That he managed to actually compete well vs. the major league equivalent of the Gas-House-Gorillas, all the better. Honestly, it was just nice to see Erik Bedard on the hill again, and I thought he actually pitched pretty well.

His fastball averaged right around 90 last night.  His average fastball in years past has been around 91 to 92. There's evidence that suggests pitchers throw harder as the season wears on, so being just a tick below your career average fastball this early is a good thing. For Erik Bedard, coming off shoulder surgery, it's an even better thing - because this suggests he's throwing easily and ostensibly pain free.

Watching the game, I couldn't help feel that he was getting a little squeezed, but I figured that's because A) I'm a Mariner fan and B) I've rather staked my shaky reputation on Bedard returning to form this year.  Looking at Pitch F/X data, he didn't get some close calls, but he also got a couple called strikes that shouldn't have gone his way either. Overall, I can't say he got screwed, but the zone was pretty tight last night:
image from a totally rad site

His location wasn't great, and in particular, he was leaving too many pitches up in the zone in the Rangers' wheelhouse. While the pitch f/x data isn't 100% ironclad with the pitch type, you can get a feeling for what I'm saying by looking at the results of his cut fastball:

That's a lot of meatballs and at 89.7 mph, you really can't get away with that too long vs. a very good hitting team.  He only gave up 4 hits, but two of them went a really, really long way.

You'd have to expect Bedard to need a few starts to dial in that "feel" again, so I imagine you'll see more than one post about his speed and location, but here's hoping that the results improve with each outing.

But Bedard pitched well, and for the Mariners to try and compete at all this year, he's going to have to do that a lot.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ichiro's Odd Inning

The Mariners kicked off the 2011 season on the right foot yesterday, defeating the A's 6-2.  While you can't take away much from game 1 of 162, it was nice to see Smoak rip a double, Figgins and Olivo looked great at the plate and Mr. OBP, Jack Cust, walked three times.  The superstars delivered as well, with Felix going all nine innings and Ichiro adding a pair of stolen bases to his two hits and a walk. 

One of the more interesting innings was the top of the 6th.  It featured two odd decisions from Ichiro.  Here's a link to the official play-by-play.  At first glance it looks pretty straight forward:
-Walk by Brendan Ryan
-Sac bunt by Jack Wilson
-Ichiro single to left field, scoring Ryan
-Figgins HR to left
-Bradley K looking

A great job of small ball by Ryan and Wilson put Ryan on second base with only one out.  Ichrio stepped to the plate and did something nobody expected.  He tried to bunt down the third base line.  Luckily it went foul.  But it's hard to imagine what he was thinking at that moment.  A base hit gets in a run.  Best case scenario a perfect bunt puts runners on the corners.  Ichiro needs to be a run producer in this lineup.  He did just that on the next pitch, slapping a Breslow pitch into left field, scoring Ryan on a close play at the plate.

With Figgins at the dish, and two stolen bases under his belt already, Ichiro looked unsure of himself at first base with the lefty Breslow on the hill.  He repeatedly guessed wrong and took his lead back to first base when Breslow was actually going to the plate.  I thought to myself, "well, he has to stay put here because otherwise he's just guessing."  He didn't and was picked off trying to steal.  Don't get me wrong, I want Ichiro to run wild this year.  I'd love to see 40+ stolen bases.  But when you can't read a pitcher's move to first base and your SB attempt is reduced to pure guesswork, it might be wise to stay put and see what Figgins can do at the plate unless he is facing a full count. 

The good news is that Figgins hit a rocket into the left field stands, Felix was great and the rest is history.  It may be VERY early, but 1-0 still feels pretty good. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Opening Day and Fearless Seattle Mariner Predictions

I'll call today the real opening day for two reasons:  One, because our beloved Mariners finally take the field of course.  Two, because MLB just doesn't know how to throw a party, and they do this every year, scheduling just a handful of games to roll out the season.

Don't get me wrong, yesterday was exciting, but just not "dazzling" in the way that it could be, uniting baseball fans across the nation(s). And despite the fact that the M's are projected by most prognosticators to finish last in the division, it's still an exciting day.  I'm excited. Are you excited? I know you are.

So with all this excitement welling up in my cockles - even the sub-cockles - I give to you my fearless Seattle Mariner Predictions:

Standings: Mariners will finish 1st in the division, that's right, FIRST - but with just 85 wins. All AL West teams struggle to stay over .500 and no single team has a strangle hold on the division until the last week of the season.  Texas becomes the 1996 version of the Seattle Mariners where they're all bat, no pitch, and while they get chicks all aflutter with the longball, Texas winds up leading the league in runs allowed. Anaheim can't complete the Scott Kazmir reclamation project and Fernando Rodney is out as closer by mid-year due to his Bobby Ayala impersonation. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren both are dominant, but their secondary pitching options just don't materialize and injuries to Toriiiiiii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Kendrys Morales are too difficult to overcome. The Athletics actually finish 2nd and I don't want to talk about them any more than I have to.

Eric Bedard wins comeback player of the year, managing 28 starts, winning 14 of them, and having an ERA just north of 3.  He signs multi-year contract with Yankees in the offseason (ahem...sorry).

Felix Hernandez goes on to win 18 games but is bested by Justin Verlander in the Cy Young voting.

Justin Smoak will post a line of .268/28/84 and there will be much rejoicing. He finally shows more than just flashes of that on-base percentage and power machine that everyone was hoping for, and he plays a plus defense at first as well, all adding up to a 4 wins above replacement season.  Girls in the right field bleachers called "Smoakies" come dressed as cigarettes with his number on the filter and the Safeco staff has their first family-friendly controversy on their hand.

Chone Figgins will hit .296 with 85 runs scored and steal 41 bases, play great defense at 3rd, and make everyone happy he'll be around for two more years.

Milton Bradley will play in 142 games, batting .278 with 19 HR and 82 RBI. There's not a single off-field incident to report, although he is thrown out of two games and actually suspended for three for making fun of Tim Tschida's man-boobs.

Adam Moore will emerge as the preferred catcher by the end of May, ultimately hitting .265 with 14 HR and 52 RBI and the M's are fielding offers for Miguel Olivo at the deadline.

Jack Cust will be Jack Cust, and benefit nicely from the right field at SafeCo and post a .245/26/85 line despite striking out 38% of the time.

David Aardsma returns from hip surgery to save 30 games.

Tom Wilhelmsen is lights-out and sells the rights to Warner Bros. to make a movie out of his life for $3 million. Charlie Sheen asks to play Wilhelmsen, but is turned down.

Ichiro has his first season batting under .300, but makes up for it by hitting 18 home runs and stealing 35 bases.

Lastly, Eric Wedge shaves his mustache, honoring the wager that if the Mariners win the division, he'll get rid of that ugly thing.  Ichiro does the honors.  When the Mariners lose in the ALDS to the Twins, everyone will cite the lucky mustache.

Here we go, folks.  Go Mariners.