Moving the Needle

Jose Bautista - Typically you don't pay retail for a player coming off a career year. But three weeks into 2011, Bautista's 54-homer, .995-OPS 2010 seems quaint in comparison. Through April 24, Bautista sports a .359/.506/.750 line, including seven homers and 19 walks, and that's while missing three games to attend to the birth of his daughter. Rays manager Joe Maddon even compared him to Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series, and Rays All-Star pitcher David Price dubbed him "probably the best hitter in the league right now." All last season, we waited for him to fall to earth, and he did not. It's possible he's still getting better at age 30, and given how much the Jays are running this year, I'd expect him to wind up with more than the nine steals he had in 2010 while qualifying at both third base and outfield. If we were to draft all over again, I'd take him in the middle of the first round.

James Shields - I've been destroying Shields for the last year on our Sirius XM radio show for being sabermetric fool's gold. Along with Ricky Nolasco, Scott Baker and Aaron Harang, Shields was one of those pitchers with sterling strikeout to walk ratios that simply gave up too many hits and home runs. According to Voros McCracken's seminal study, widely subscribed to in the sabermetric community, pitchers have very little control over balls in play, so the only way to prevent hits is by striking batters out, something Shields has always been able to do. That he still gave up so many hits then was widely considered to be bad luck and not an indication of his skills going forward. My theory was he learned the importance of missing bats and not issuing free passes too well. That sometimes it's better to walk someone rather than give in with a fastball down the middle, and sometimes it's better to induce weak contact than expend energy going for the punch out. Shields, Nolasco, et al. then, were "extreme strike throwers" in my view, putting the ball over the plate even in instances when it was suboptimal.

But Shields has either made a significant adjustment over his last couple starts, or my theory was simply false, and his bad luck has finally regressed to normal. Either way, he's now pairing those enticing peripherals (27:8 K:BB in 38.1 IP) with actual results (two straight complete game wins with 16 Ks and 1 ER). Because Shields faced the struggling White Sox and Blue Jays (though he was smart enough to walk Bautista twice), I'm not buying in completely, but it's enough to back me off my "fool's gold" stance.

Brett Anderson - Anderson's been one of the better per-inning starting pitchers in the American League since his debut in 2009, but a forearm injury last year and a small market have partially obscured his rise. So far this season, Anderson's got a 27:4 K:BB ratio in 34.2 IP and an ungodly 3.94:1 GB:FB ratio. It's very hard to hit a home run on a ground ball, so unsurprisingly, Anderson has not allowed a single one yet, after giving up just six in 112.1 IP in 2010. A pitcher-friendly ballpark and an above-average defense behind him only help.


By: gooklaw
On: 4/25/2011 5:04:00 PM
I was happy to get Bautista in the 2nd round after getting Cano with Pick 7 out of 14...EVERYONE kept saying how there was no way he could have nearly as good a year this year as last, and I thought, "Uhhh...why NOT?"

BTW.'d need a lot more than 5-4 to take Hanley over Tulo from here on!!
By: Erik Siegrist
On: 4/25/2011 5:36:00 PM
Phil Humber may be moving the needle as I type this... five no-hit innings so far against the Yankees, in New York.
By: Erik Siegrist
On: 4/25/2011 5:46:00 PM
As for Bautista, he lost a crucial year of development to the Rule 5 process in 2003 as he kept getting claimed and waived and claimed again, then after he wound up back in Pittsburgh he had another weird year (2006) where they kept moving him around defensively while they tried to figure out what to do with him. Given that Toronto is arguably the first organization to give him a chance to just get comfortable, maybe him being a late bloomer shouldn't be that big a surprise.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 4/25/2011 5:46:00 PM
Anderson and Morrow are Cy Young candidates if they stay healthy. I will be shocked if Shields keeps it up all year. Joey Bats having a good year off a career year I would call an exception and not the norm. Doesn't look like a one year wonder at all though. Got to love a late bloomer who all of the scouts threw away.
By: Scott Pianowski
On: 4/25/2011 6:01:00 PM
More negative needle moving, please ; )
By: Scott Pianowski
On: 4/25/2011 6:05:00 PM
There are different kinds of career years - sometimes they validate greatness we've all been waiting for and sometimes they come so far out of nowhere that they almost make people frustrated. The former group tends to be overpriced the next year, but not the latter group.
By: bogfella
On: 4/25/2011 6:18:00 PM
I think Shields is missing more bats because his once rather straight fastball is moving more. They had him drop his arm angle a bit (an adjustment that has helped several)and he is getting a little more late movement - and it only takes a little if he can keep it all in synch.
By: Mark Stopa
On: 4/25/2011 6:32:00 PM
I agree on Bautista, and feel stupid for not throwing money on him to win the HR title when I was in Vegas. He was 20:1 (maybe higher, I can't remember) and I'm sure it's much less now.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 4/25/2011 7:31:00 PM
I think someone spiked pianoman's pizza with some psychedelic shrooms? That was one whacked, zen like definition....deep thinker that one is. lol Career year just means peak statistical performance. Joey Bats still needs 5 months of good health...lets not anoint him returning champ yet even though it looks good in April.
By: Scott Pianowski
On: 4/25/2011 8:18:00 PM
My point wasn't intended to be complicated, Zen, but I'll rephrase it anyway. The market will chase a player off a career year if the player in question has a pedigree, but the market will often be lukewarm if the player was not highly regarded before the breakout, or if there's something suspicious about the breakout. The market reaction to career years is often trotted out as a uniform thing, but it really depends on a player's perception history
By: matthewthill7
On: 4/25/2011 9:42:00 PM
I like Bautista as much as the next guy, but give me a break. Guy's BABIP right now is .360, vs. a lifetime BABIP of .272 (including a .233 mark last year). His power is legitimate, obviously, but you wouldn't judge a girl completely by what she looked like with just makeup on, would you?? No, of course not.

Morrow for Cy Young? Sift through the history books and see if anybody has every won a Cy Young with a career walk rate of 5.05 BB/9. Yes, I get that he could strike out an entire team of Albert Pujolses, 27 strikeouts in total. But between the extreme wildness and the essential guarantee that he gets hurt (four seasons, only one over 70 innings), it's a pipe dream, at best.

The real reason why Shields' numbers look so good so far?? How about a .236 BABIP (.305 career) and a 7% HR/FB rate (11.4% career). His K/9s are down a full tick - 6.34 so far in '11 vs. 7.34 career - and his control is the same as it always was, ~2 BB/9. Strike swinging% is a bit better than in years past, but not notably so. There's no growth here, any pitcher can out-pitch his peripherals in the short term.
By: bogfella
On: 4/25/2011 10:25:00 PM
Matthew - While he never won a Cy Young, I believe a guy named Nolan Ryan was fairly successful despite many, many seasons with a BB/9 over 5.0 ... in fact, in his first 10 years or so in MLB I think he might have had one season with a BB/9 under 5.0? It's really difficult to base future success completely on past history - too many things can change. For example, later in his career, Ryan generally had a BB/9 in the mid 3's. Morrow has shown consistent improvement in his command and "extreme wildness" would be quite a stretch at this point.
By: Chris Liss
On: 4/25/2011 10:49:00 PM
Bautista's BABIP was low last year because he hit 54 home runs! That's a pretty big percentage of his hits that aren't being counted. If half of those were doubles, he'd have had a lot higher BABIP.
By: Chris Liss
On: 4/25/2011 10:49:00 PM
SP - Will add some negative ones next week.
By: Erik Siegrist
On: 4/26/2011 4:27:00 AM
matthew, I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Morrow might not walk five batters every nine innings for the rest of his career.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 4/26/2011 9:45:00 AM
I would throw in age along with pedigree as a big factor in market value off a big year. Last year Cargo, Bautista, and Konerko finished top ten in points for bats. This year they respectively were drafted rounds 1,3,5ish? Unlike Konerko and Cargo I think a lot of people think something fishy was going on with Bautista. Yours truly as one. That doesn't mean illegal, that just means something triggered that spike. Maybe it was hgh or maybe he was hypnotized to quit smoking and he gained an increased level of focus, reflex, and depth perception. I am sure Brady Anderson wasn't only my first choice to describe his year at the end of the season. Bautista hit 13, 15, 15, 16 dingers before last year. I do believe in the late bloomer theory but to triple up in one year? 1% probability? That dog don't hunt! Hopefully whatever he did, it was by legal means.
By: Jacobdk
On: 4/26/2011 1:35:00 PM
How many pitches did Nolan Ryan throw in 1974, when he walked 202 batters and struck out 367 in 332 innings? (btw, his era that year? 2.89).
By: Erik Siegrist
On: 4/26/2011 4:09:00 PM
Players who had 5.0 or worse BB/9 rates and went on to win a Cy Young: Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Roy Halladay, Bob Turley... I stopped looking at that point.

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