Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kennedy is the straw that stirs the drink

Saturday, August 28, Jim Riggleman decided it was time for a change. With a stagnant offense, Riggleman decided to shake up the lineup by placing Adam Kennedy in the leadoff spot, moving Roger Bernadina up to the three spot, shifting Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn down a spot and dropping Nyjer Morgan from leadoff to the eighth spot in the lineup.

Truth is, Riggleman already made the change a few days earlier and didn’t realize the genius he had stumbled upon. On Thursday, August 26, Riggleman inserted Kennedy into the leadoff spot and the Nationals exploded with 11 runs. On Friday, the Nationals faced off against talented rookie left hander Jaime Garcia; as Riggs is one to always try and exploit platoon splits, Kennedy sat in favor of hard working utility infielder, Alberto Gonzalez. The Nationals responded with only two runs.

Then, like a light bulb going off over Riggleman’s head, he had the epiphany that Kennedy would be the ideal leadoff man to restart the offense; unbeknownst to him, the move would quickly pay off in spades. The Nationals exploded for an astounding 14 runs, a new home game high since the team moved back to Washington.

The next day? The Nationals put up four runs against ace Adam Wainwright and picked up another win.

Come Monday, more of the same as the offense pounded out nine runs in a rout of the home standing Florida Marlins.

So, obviously Adam Kennedy is the reason for the offensive explosion, correct? Not exactly. While the lineup is 4-0 in games Kennedy leads off, he’s actually not having much success, posting a .200/.261/.300/.561 line. Why, then, does it feel like Kennedy has sparked the rejuvenated offense?

Simple; he unselfishly works the count and provides the other hitters in the lineup a sneak peak at what the pitcher is featuring. For the season, Kennedy is averaging 4.01 pitches per PA. Nyjer Morgan, the former leadoff hitter was only averaging 3.73 pitches per PA. If you give each player 700 PA’s over the year (typical of a leadoff hitter who plays 162 game… so not THAT typical), that works out to 2807 pitches to Kennedy and 2611 to Morgan, or 196 pitches over a year. According to Baseball Reference, the average starter is going 97 pitches a game in 2010, so, if you factor that number in, Kennedy over a season, sees two full games worth of pitches more than Morgan; that’s a lot, and it really helps the team.

Adam Kennedy isn’t the end all be all of leadoff hitters, shoot, he’s not even playing all that well right now; but, the offense with him at the top of the lineup works, and in a business driven by results, can Jim Riggleman really afford to gamble with a formula that’s brought the team 38 runs in four games?

Time will tell if this offensive explosion is just a fluke, or the start of something much bigger; as for now? I, for one, am enjoying the ride.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tom Milone needs to be on your radar

Photo courtesy of MiLB Snap Shots

Meet Tom Milone, a 6’1” lefty who has been carving up the minor leagues the past three seasons since being selected as a 10th round pick out of USC. Under the radar for his first couple of years, Milone has produced a bevy of standout performances in his first year as part of the Harrisburg Senators, a member of the AA Eastern League.

Currently Milone leads the Eastern League in K's, BB's, K/9, BB/9, K/BB, and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). He's third in WHIP and 8th in HR/9; in short, he’s been a monster on the mound.

While the stats immediately bring to mind images of fellow lefty control artist Cliff Lee, Milone gets by with a totally different approach to pitching. Blessed with only a mediocre fastball, even for a left hander (84-87 MPH), Milone relies on making pitch after pitch in the precise location. Where Lee can get away with a mistake due to his 92 MPH fastball, Milone has to be razor sharp at all times, and to his credit, he has been.

Heading into 2010, Milone was not a player scouts loved, or even saw as a prospect. You won’t find him on any Top 10 organizational prospect list, but quite frankly, he doesn’t need to be. His numbers do the talking for him. Currently Milone’s FIP sits at 2.62; that’s a whole 0.58 runs better than the second best pitcher in the league. Think about that for a second, Tom Milone’s FIP is over a half a run better than the second best pitcher, that’s not just a great year, that’s utter dominance.

While Milone’s numbers are great, how exactly would they translate to the major league game? After all, very few pitchers can survive with a fastball that is slower than some guy’s changeup. To my surprise, Milone not only stacks up favorably with the rest of the Nationals staff; he’s actually projected to be the second best pitcher on the staff behind Strasburg,! Using Minor League Splits great MLE tool (Minor League Equivalency), Milone’s Major League FIP comes out to be 3.71*, second only to Strasburg and even besting Livo’s 3.77.

Tom Milone isn’t a prospect. Blessed with a below average fastball, he’ll never win over the scouts touting the radar guns. Heck, he might not even have the respect of the hitters he’s handling with ease on a night in, night out basis. But pay that no mind. He’s a lock to win Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. In short, Milone is the real deal. Don’t believe me? That’s fine; I’ve got a hunch Tom Milone will only be too happy to continue to prove the doubters wrong.

* - Minor League Splits has Milone at a 2.82 FIP, which is incorrect due to them crediting him with four extra innings pitched than he already has. His 2.62 FIP would translate to an even lower FIP than 3.71, but for the sake of keeping them simple, I’m just posting the number Minor League Splits spit out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Use the Cutter, Craig

Photo courtesy of Miss Chater

Craig Stammen began a new phase in his big league career last night when he appeared for the first time in his major league career as relief pitcher. The results were a mixed bag. Stammen gave up four hits and one run over two innings while impressively striking out four hitters, including striking out the side in the 7th inning after allowing the first two runners to reach via base hits.

Stammen’s move to the bullpen did not sit well with the right hander, and to be honest, why should it have?

At the time of his demotion to the pen, Stammen was riding a hot streak, posting a 2.37 ERA in his last four starts. Quite frankly, Stammen’s demotion was head scratching at best. John Lannan, who has been shelled throughout the 2010 season, was kept over Craig while posting stats that did not back up the decision making by the Nats brain trust.

While Stammen did not take the news in stride, it did give me a reason to take a look back at Craig’s year to date; what I found was surprising.

May 27, 2010 is a day that forever changed Craig Stammen’s career, and for the better. On that day, Stammen revealed a new pitch, a cut fastball.

Stammen’s cut fastball, also known as a Cutter, is so over powering that he is making major league hitters swing and miss at the pitch an astonishing 22.48% of the time.

Currently the average swinging strike % for a pitcher is 8.4%. To put that in perspective, Stammen’s cutter is nearly three times as likely to produce a swinging strike as the average pitch. It goes without saying that results like that cannot be ignored.

What else stands out when you pour over Craig’s stats is how overpowering his cutter is compared to his other pitches. While his slider and two seam fastball produce better than average swinging strike rates, the rest of his arsenal is well below average. As you can see in the graph below, Craig would be better off sticking with his two seam fastball, cutter and slider from this moment forward.

While swinging strikes are great and all, how did the rest of Stammen’s numbers fair when he switched to throwing a cutter? The results, as one would expect, were positive.

In the nine starts prior to introducing the cutter, Stammen posted a 4-5 mark with a 5.96 ERA and a 4.84 K/9.

In the 11 appearances (10 starts, 1 relief) since introduction the cutter into his repertoire Stammen has posted a 4.30 ERA and a 5.82 K/9.

Now, the downside in all of this is that Craig has also seen his walks increase. While some of his peripherals have taken a hit, the drop of 1.60 runs a game in ERA as well as an increase of nearly one strikeout per nine innings simply cannot be ignored.

Now that I had found a link in Stammen’s performance and the use of the Cutter, I decided to test my theory by how often Craig threw the Cutter in a game. What I found was that when Craig featured his Cutter, he got great results; when he dabbled with it, he found trouble.

So there you have it. Craig Stammen discovered a Cutter, and saw his results increase because of it. It is my hope that the Nationals have figured out that Craig’s Cutter is a special pitch that needs to become a feature in his arsenal. I will leave it up to Pitching Coach Steve McCatty and Catcher Ivan Rodriguez on how best to communicate this to Craig, but I suspect (or at least hope) they’ve already talked to Stammen about game planning and pitch sequencing.

Craig Stammen has all the tools to be a successful major league pitcher; that he just discovered a devastating out pitch will only help his cause.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Week 6 Production Chart

We're back after a week off to give a bi-weekly production update. due to the all-star game I'm back with the weekly production chart. Not a lot of changes... Zimmerman continues to produce out of his mind.

Week 6 Production Chart

Top 5 players in terms of value
1. Ryan Zimmerman 13,850,000
2. Livan Hernandez 9,700,000
3. Josh Willingham 6,800,000
4. Stephen Strasburg 5,225,000
5. Craig Stammen 4,998,000

Top 5 in negative value (i.e. what they'd owe the team)
1. Jason Marquis -8,600,000
2. Cristian Guzman -6,200,000
3. Wil Nieves -3,600,000
4. Miguel Batista -2,400,000
5. Brian Bruney -2,300,000