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The Curious Case of Starling Marte

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The Curious Case of Starling Marte

Posted on 14 May 2013 by Patrick Hayes

Sabermetric Spotlight: The Curious Case of Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Reason -

How many times have you taken a look to check Starling Marte’s stats the past few games, waiting for his downfall to start? Shoot, the past two weeks or so I can count at least a dozen for myself. Which is why I decided it’s finally time to return to baseball writing and to dig into Marte’s season thus far.

First of all, before I get to the good stuff, how awesome is his name? I’m automatically including it in my 2013 MLB All-Names team, which I now just decided to create. Be on the look out for that soon, lucky you. Now let’s continue.

Starling Marte

Basic Numbers -

Starling busted into the Majors late last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates and cranked a homer in his first at-bat (Only July 26). In 47 games and 167 ABs, he hit .257 and did his fare share of striking out and not taking many pitches. Because of his less than stellar OBP, he found himself in the later half of the Pirates lineup for the majority of his first go in the bigs.

Heading into the 2013 season, projections seemed to think his first full year would play out much like 2012 did. Frustrating fantasy baseball owners by teasing them of stealing 20+ bases but lacking a high average to make him truly worth an early gamble.

Flash forward to May 13th. Starling is hitting .329 in 36 games with just as many HR (5) RBI (17) and two less steals (10) than he had in 18 more at-bats in all of 2012. The biggest change? His BABIP has skyrocketed from .333 last year to .413 in 2013. Before digging into his stats tonight, I was under the impression that he was/is due for a slump eventually and that this number will recede closer to .350-.375 and his AVG would likely end up around .275. However, looking at it a little more, I believe this isn’t the case. Every year of the his professional baseball career (starting in 2009), Marte has had a BABIP of .389 or higher, except in 2012.

Last year was his first time in both AAA and MLB, was it just part of the expected learning curve? Has he figured it out in 2013? What’s changed?

Sabermetrics -

Looking at Batted Ball data through almost the same amount of at bats in 2012 to 2013, surprisingly, not much has changed. Ground Ball Percent has risen to 57.5 from 57, Line Drive Percent up to 19.8 from 18.4 and Fly Ball Percents down a hair to 22.6 from 24.6. If none of these ratios have changed, his Plate Discipline must be the answer, right?

Bingo. Starling is now swinging is almost half of the pitches he sees (49% from 46.1% in 2012) and is making contact 79.2% of the time, up from 72.3% last year. The biggest jump comes is pitches contacted that are thrown outside of the strike zone as balls. A whooping 63.9% rate from 51.5% last year.

Why are more pitches being connected with you ask? Looking at Pitch Type, Marte is now experiencing an increased dose of Fastballs (56.8% from 52.1%) as well as change-ups (9.4% from 6.8%). The pitch he is seeing less of? Sliders. Now at only 14.2%, down from 18.7%. It seems that batting exclusively in the lead-off spot has led to a more appetizing array of pitches for Starling to hit, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity.

Forward Looking -

It’s only normal to expect his BABIP to take some sort of a dip (especially if pitchers start throwing him more sliders), but not to the depths that experts have predicted. It will stay north of .380 and average will hover just north of .300 to finish the year. Tack on a potential 30 stole base campaign, along with a resurgence of Andrew McCutchen and you have all the makings for one valuable and exciting player.

Fantasy Analysis -

If you are fortunate enough to have Marte on your squad, you most likely picked him up via Free Agency. His ESPN Average Drafted Position saw him being taken around 224. Do you sell high? Well if your team is in trouble, go for it. Starling will easily end up a 20/20 OF and could easily eclipse 100 runs scored. He will go in the top 100 next year.

Did You Know? -

His middle name is Javier and he was born outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates

Reactions and opinions are always welcomed. Find me on twitter: @pf_hayes

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Billy Hamilton could be the most fantasy newsworthy prospect in all of minor league baseball, but do the Cincinnati Reds have much else in the pipeline to support the major league squad? If I am giving full disclosure, Hamilton was the reason the Reds were selected as this week’s Down On The Farm topic. He might break the 20-80 scouting scale for speed and even if he has a Dee Gordon-like OBP, he will be fantasy relevant upon his arrival. Of course, he projects as a better hitter than Gordon, so consider that his ultimate downside. But beyond Hamilton, the system ranked in the middle of the pack in the preseason and graduated three of its better prospects, potentially leaving the cupboards barren.

Pre-Season Rank: #19 (ESPN), #18 (Baseball Prospectus), #16 (Baseball America)

The Top 5

1. Billy Hamilton
Overall Ranks: #64 (ESPN), #22 (BP), #48 (BA)
In retrospect, writing about Hamilton may have been a mistake. You see, I will file this piece on Tuesday night, but by Wednesday morning the stats I am about to provide will likely be obsolete. That’s because Hamilton seems to steal two or three bags a night these days, continuing his quest to break the all-time minor league stolen base record. That mark, set by Vince Coleman in a 1983 season where he missed a month due to a broken hand, is 145. Hamilton presently sits at 139 through 113 games, making it all but a certainty he will set the new standard for prolific minor league base stealing. Obviously for fantasy players, he will be a must-add when he arrives in the majors, possibly as soon as September as an expanded-roster pinch runner. He probably needs a season at Triple-A for final seasoning, but this is not your typical Juan Pierre style speedster, as Hamilton gets on base at a prolific rate as well. In fact, he walked 12.8% of the time in 82 A-ball games and has since walked 17.2% of the time in 31 Double-A games. He has also struck out less than 20% of the time at both levels, posted an OBP better than .400 at both levels, and had wRC+s of 148 and 154, respectively. As a 21-year old, Hamilton is too advanced for Double-A both at the plate and on the bases. Zack Cozart has been nice for the Reds, but the clock is ticking for him at short.

2. Devin Mesoraco
Overall Ranks: #8 (ESPN), #24 (BP), #16 (BA)
Mesoraco is the most prominent of the Reds prospects to graduate to the majors this year, something Reds fans were understandably excited about. Unfortunately, Mesoraco has struggled in his first full season, posting a .218/.297/.367 slash line, a wRC+ of just 71, and negative values in both fielding and baserunning. There is obvious upside for the 24-year old backstop, and catcher is a position with a steep learning curve, but he has yet to show enough to warrant surpassing incumbent Ryan Hannigan for the starter’s role. He was thought to have All-Star potential before the season and was a fantasy sleeper, so there may be a post-hype case to be made in 2013 if he can show some improvements down the stretch for the Reds.

3. Zack Cozart
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #75 (BA)
The apparent incumbent at short until Hamilton is ready, Cozart has shown little with the stick for the Reds this year. Fortunately for the team, though, he has rated out as a plus defensively and on the bases, scrounging together a 1.9 WAR despite being a negative at the dish. Cozart rarely walks and has a curiously low BABIP for a high-contact speedster (.274), giving him a terrible .289 OBP. The 14.5% infield fly rate shows that he is making a lot of mistakes at the plate, and his pitch values basically indicate he can only hit a fastball. At age 27, there probably isn’t a tonne of untapped potential here, but there is always real-life value in defensively capable players with speed.

4. Daniel Corcino
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
Corcino gets a lot of comparisons to current Red Johnny Cueto, primarily because of his diminutive size at 5’11”, 165lbs (Cueto is 5’10” but 220 lbs). Still, the slight stature has not held Corcino back from steadily moving through the Reds’ system, making the jump from Low-A to Double-A this year with acceptable results. His strikeout rate declined and his walk rate increased, leading his FIP to jump from 2.80 to 3.78, but at age 21 he could reasonably be expected to struggle at this level. Instead, Corcino has shown he can handle a full workload for the second straight season and is likely on the path to Triple-A Louisville for 2013. If he can refine his breaking pitches to go with a 95MPH fastball and a plus change-up, he should be able to get the K-rate back up around 9K/9IP, somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 levels. As with all small pitchers, the “likely reliever” tag has been given to Corcino, but that is a few seasons premature right now.

5. Robert Stephenson
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
The Reds are challenging their 2011 1st round pick to move through the system quickly, already promoting the 19-year old to low-A ball. He did not really leave them much choice, I suppose, after seven dominant starts at the Rookie Ball level, where he had nearly 11K/9 and a 2.52 FIP. In his four starts since the promotion, he has struggled to go deep with just 4.5 IP/start, but he has also had success with a 3.37 FIP and 10K/9. As with a lot of high school arms, Stephenson has a big fastball but his secondary pitches are still under construction. The franchise could opt to push him all the way to High-A to start 2013, and success there would have to put him on the radar as a top prospect.

Additions and Subtractions
The Reds’ big move came in the offseason, sending out multiple high-end prospects for Mat Latos, a move you have to commend the Reds for making as they sit in first in the NL Central with Latos playing a big role. The Reds did not make waves at the draft and were not regarded as big winners or losers, making it difficult to assess in the short term. They also added two non-prospects in smaller deals, picking up reliever J.J. Hoover for Juan Francisco and starter Todd Redmond for Paul Janish. Both players have performed well for Triple-A Louisville, with Hoover now being a useful arm in the Reds’ bullpen.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Louisville – Yet another shortstop, Didi Gregorious, was prematurely elevated to Triple-A to make way for Hamilton but has performed well since arriving with a .776 OPS. Unfortunately, slugging first base prospect Neftali Soto has not been as successful, posting a .719 OPS thanks to an awful .311 OBP. At age-23 and coming off a 30-homer season, Soto will have another chance at the level before any worry sets in. The pitching staff has been entirely unspectacular, with Redmond being the only real bright spot. After the promotions of Mesoraco, Hoover, Cozart, and Todd Frazier, the pipeline of major league talent is pretty thin at the top level.

Double-A Pensacola – What is a Blue Wahoo? Sorry, I have no idea. Luckily, though, a few of them are worth checking out, and Pensacola is the best stop for Reds’ prospects. Hamilton and Corcino have been discussed in detail, but 21-year old outfielder Ryan LaMarre has also impressed, stealing 27 bases and sporting a .367 OBP, albeit with little in the way of power. 22-year old lefty Anthony Cingrani has also been worth a watch, sporting a ridiculous 1.94 ERA since his promotion from Bakersfield. Cingrani is striking out over a batter per inning while allowing opponents just a .196 average off of him. Triple-A could be in the cards for next season, and he will likely be a top-100 prospect to start next year.

High-A Bakersfield – When Hamilton left, Theo Bowe apparently decided to take up his mantle, and the speedy 22-year old outfielder has stolen 45 bases in 77 games with a .412 OBP. Unfortunately, he has also been caught 24 times. Donald Lutz, a 23-year old first baseman, hit 17 home runs in 63 games and earned a promotion to Pensacola, where he has struggled a great deal. 23-year old outfielder Steve Selsty has homered 12 times in just 49 games for a 1.052 OPS, but at that age and level he needs to dominate to catch up to his peers. On the mound, 23-year old Chad Rogers earned a promotion after sporting a 3.13 ERA with a K:BB ratio better than 3:1, and he has had two great starts for Pensacola since. 25-year old Josh Smith has also been impressive with a 3.73 ERA and over a strikeout per inning, but he is far too old for this level and needs to show more dominance to get on the radar.

Low-A Dayton – 19-year old prospect Yorman Rodriguez had a trial at Bakersfield but now finds himself back in Dayton, where a .296 OBP is holding him back from utilizing his ample tools. 22-year old shortstop Ryan Wright just received a promotion of his own after posting a .767 OPS through 100 games for Dayton. 19-year old pitching prospect Robert Stephenson just received a bump from Rookie Ball and has performed well in three of his four starts since the promotion. The level also has a few other interesting arms, but none of them are exceptional or performing above expectations at this point.

Whether it is an organizational philosophy or just conincidence, the fact that most of the Reds’ top-performing minor leaguers are old for their level is a bit troubling. With that said, there is some depth to the system, and they have two high-end talents in Hamiltion and Cingrani. While they did not do anything to restock the system after the Latos deal, a win-now edict tends to leave you a bit thin in the prospect pipeline. The Reds will likely rank in the early-20s on next year’s lists, but with the added benefit of owning the most exciting prospect in all of minor league baseball.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Stephen Strasburg is a Tool

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Stephen Strasburg is a Tool

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Dennis Lawson

The Strasburg Multitool

The Washington Nationals lead the league in ERA (3.30), quality starts (67), WHIP (1.20), and batting average against (.234).  The team stands within just percentage points of having the best record in all of baseball, and rumor has it that the team intends to shut down Stephen Strasburg soon.  Mind you, allowing the fewest runs in all of baseball has allowed the team to procure a 2.5 game lead in the NL East over the Braves, but shutting down a guy with 154 strikeouts in 121.1 innings pitched seems ludicrous.  It could very well be the Lusitania of really bad ideas.  Maybe the team should limit Strasburg’s innings or put him on a pitch count, but they could go way outside the proverbial box and use him like the tool he really is.

When your team stands 16th in runs scored (440), 16th in batting average (.256), 19th in OBP (.317), and 12th in slugging percentage (.416), a little boost on offense could go a long way.  If you also happen to have a hitter who plays only every 5th game but hits .333/.405/.545/.951, you might want to get him more plate appearances.  Seriously consider that 0.8 oWAR in just 39 plate appearances.  Is there any legitimate reason not to find a place for him in the outfield?

No.  Based on WAR for just batters in the Washington lineup, Strasburg ranks 6th behind Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, and Danny Espinosa.  Every one of the guys in that top 5 have 350+ plate appearances, and Espinosa has 421 PAs.  Of course, it would be overly simplistic to suggest that Strasburg’s line would translate to 7+ oWAR over the next 350-400 plate appearances.  On the other hand, a projection of 2.0 oWAR would be reasonable and more than enough to offset any defensive shortcomings he would have as an outfielder.  After all, the guy looks to be a pretty good athlete, and he has a pretty decent throwing arm by outfield standards.

Maybe some detailed medical research has demonstrated that shutting down a pitcher during the season definitely improves his ability to perform in the playoffs.  Maybe a team of monkeys is sitting around a dorm room trying to hammer out Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on keyboards as well.  The point here remains that if those monkeys are 2 stanzas into composing a masterpiece, you do not interrupt to give them some rest.  You let them keep going as long as they are on the right track.  Same goes with Strasburg.  At age 23 he’s working on a masterpiece of a season, and it seems a shame to interrupt the man.  Preach all you want about side sessions, simulated games, and cross-fit workouts, but nothing duplicates live baseball action.

In Strasburg the Nationals have a great multipurpose tool.  He needs to be used in one form or another.  In order to concern yourself with the playoffs, you actually need to make the playoffs first.  If Washington remains serious about making a playoff run, then shutting down Strasburg completely must be taken off the table as an option.  It is not like they have a bunch of 900+ OPS hitters sitting around who can throw 100 mph, but they might have one very soon.

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Opposite Field: Melky Cabrera Like A Boss

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Opposite Field: Melky Cabrera Like A Boss

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Brian M. Jones

Who amongst us has a boss who seemed undeserving of the praise and a chance to punch the coin box.

Many of you may feel your boss seemed to achieve his position based on some reasoning other than actual performance. Perhaps he took credit for others performances. Maybe it was due to the fact that every time he did do something right the right people were looking. Maybe his mistakes weren’t noticed at all. Maybe the people doing the evaluating weren’t all that qualified to start with.

The positive results of all these scenarios amount to luck.

Sound like someone you know?

No deductive reasoning can tell us why this person is in charge of your daily grind.

Melky Cabrera is this man.

If you own Melky Cabrera in a fantasy league, sell now. The market has never been higher and it never will be.

Melky’s insane performance over the last 18 months has been a by product of a huge amount of luck and I’m about to show you how.

Look at the following chart.












Austin Jackson

8.7 %

25.2 %









Rogers Hornsby

11.7 %

6.8 %









David Freese

7.9 %

21.4 %









Ty Cobb

10.3 %

3.1 %









Harry Heilmann

9.8 %

5.7 %









Joe Jackson

9.3 %

1.9 %









Rod Carew

9.6 %

9.7 %









Joey Votto

13.6 %

18.3 %









Derek Jeter

8.8 %

14.7 %









Matt Kemp

8.1 %

23.2 %









Mike Darr

10.9 %

22.1 %









Shin-Soo Choo

11.4 %

21.2 %









Carlos Gonzalez

7.5 %

21.5 %









This chart illustrates the top 13 players of ALL-TIME in BABIP between 1919-today with at least 600 plate appearance.  In case you’re unfamiliar with BABIP just follow this link.

Why 13 and what does BABIP have to do with Melky?  Last one first, we know that BABIP contains a large quantity of luck.  There’s that word again.  Some hitters with very good bat control, an ability to hit to all fields, or who cover large areas of the plate can sustain higher BABIPs than normal.  These hitters thusly are able to influence BABIP in a way that is to be viewed as a skill.

I’m betting that Melky is not one these hitters.

The reason I have 13 names on this list is to reference #13 player on the list and put to Melky into the perspective of history.

Carlos Gonzalez has a career .353 BABIP.  That is the same as what Melky has done since the start of 2011.

Take a minute to soak in some of the names on the above list. Do you still think Melky is for real?

Lets explore deeper. From the start of his career in 2005 through 2010 just prior to his breakout season Cabrera put up a .288 BABIP. In 2011 that number jumped to .332 and to .386 through about 100 games in 2012.

If you still think Cabrera has graduated to elite status I offer you the following. If you can suggest that .332 in 2011 his new standard then that would put Melky in a 3 way tie with Lou Gehrig and Larry Walker, both players who carried a .332 BABIP.

So what can we learn by comparision? Gehrig had a 15.6% walk rate and Walker 11.4% Prior to his 2011 break out Melky had a walk rate of 8.0%. This has fallen to 5.0 and 6.7 in 11 and 12. Another area of regression we say from Melky has been an increase, albeit a small one, in his K%. His BA in 2011 jumped 50 points from 2010 and is up almost another 50 in 2012.

I think I have made a fairly good point with the numbers and based on the evidence I see what would I attribute this luck to? My opinion is that from 2010 to 2011 the Melkman saw an increase of nearly 200 plate appearances. Given his drop in BB and K rates combined with a lofty near historic BABIP I would point to the suggestion that Melky is just swinging away. He has sacrificed walks for extra swings and given the massive uptick in BABIP we can deduce those swings are leading to hits.

Finally if you’re going to point to Melkys HR rate or ISO, don’t. Because remembering how BABIP is calculated we know that the HR were already subtracted from the equation. And, if you read my article last week on FIP we know that there are only three true outcomes, homeruns, walks, and strikeouts. A quick look at his plate discipline will enhance the theory I have suggested here.

They support the luck factor by illustrating over the past three years Melky has seen his swing rate jump from just under 25% to 35.5%, he is swinging at more pitches. His first strike swing rate is up 6% and his contact rate up 7%.

Finally lets get back to the fantasy angle.

While there is certainly a chance Melky has improved, I don’t think it is to the degree that we have seen the last year and half. So this comes back to my suggestion to sell Melky. If his drop in BABIP returns back to even a league average of about .300 you can count on big losses of production. Remember fantasy is like playing with living, breathing stocks. Sometimes they get hurt, go to jail or post funny zingers on twitter, but the similarity remains the same. Buy low sell high. Unless Cabrera reaches for truly historic figures you can rest assured selling him now would be selling at his highest.

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Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Adam Dunn

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Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Adam Dunn

Posted on 31 July 2012 by Chris Caylor

We have a couple of unexpected names in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot, Who’s Not. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Hottest of the Hot: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

Dunn vowed to rebound from his ghastly 2011 season, and boy, has he ever. The slugger who averaged 40 home runs a season between 2004-10, then plummeted to 11 last year, is on pace to hit a career-high 50 big flies in 2012. In the past week, the Big Donkey batted .375/.423/.833 with 3 homers, 8 RBI, and 9 runs scored. Dunn even stole a base. For the season, Dunn leads both leagues with 31 home runs (plus 73 RBI). The .215 batting average is still a killer for those in roto leagues, but his .356 OBP confirms that his selective batting eye is as sharp as ever. Combine Dunn’s season with the consistent excellence of Paul Konerko, and it’s easy to see who is keeping the White Sox in contention for the AL Central.

Who else is hot?

Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers – Gomez has had himself quite a week. You’ve probably already seen his “foul” home run trot, but don’t let that overshadow how productive he has been for the Brew Crew. The speedy centerfielder put together a battling line of .346/.379/.884 with four home runs, 10 RBI and three stolen bases. With Zack Greinke gone, watching Gomez may be one of the only interesting things about the Brewers left in 2012.

Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays – Hellickson has had an up-and-down season, but July has definitely been an extended “up” period for the young righty. Hellickson has hurled five consecutive quality starts this month, with a 2.67 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Thanks to their horrendous hitting, though, the Rays only managed to win two of Hellickson’s starts. Thanks to Hellickson (and teammates David Price and Fernando Rodney), the Rays may have something to play for when Evan Longoria returns in August.

Paul Maholm, Atlanta Braves/Chicago Cubs – Here’s a name you wouldn’t expect to see in this space. The lefty Maholm, however, is on a roll like no Cubs pitcher has experienced in decades: six straight starts of at least 6 IP and 1 or fewer ER allowed. Maholm, never considered a power pitcher, has struck out 37 batters and walked only 13 during his streak. As a reward for his outstanding pitching, Maholm was traded Monday night to the Braves, where he will attempt to help Atlanta reach the postseason.

Who’s Not

Omar Infante, Detroit Tigers – Since being traded back to the Tigers, the versatile Infante is just 3 for 21, with no home runs or extra-base hits. With Detroit counting on him to upgrade their dreadful second base production, Infante needs to snap out of his funk sooner rather than later.

Tyler Colvin, Colorado Rockies – After being one of the hottest players in baseball in June, Colvin has come crashing back to Earth like Skylab (raise your hand if you got that one). In his past 14 games, Colvin has gone 6 for 46 with 17 strikeouts, including an 0 for 15 stretch. With Todd Helton returning from the DL, Colvin’s playing time figures to decrease until he can stop his descent.

Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies – Here’s a name you would never expect to see in the “Not” section. In his past four starts, Halladay has only 16 strikeouts, allowed 19 hits, and thrown one quality start. In that same time frame, Ross Ohlendorf, Joe Kelly, and the aforementioned Maholm have outpitched Halladay. For the season, Doc has an ERA+ of 93, which would be his worst since 2000. It truly is shaping up to be a season to forget in Philadelphia.

Follow me on Twitter (@chriscaylor), as well as the rest of the outstanding stable of writers at Full Spectrum Baseball.

Stats through Sunday 7/29

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