Saturday, July 30, 2011

A very odd line

Peter Bourjos had a very odd game on Saturday night. Despite starting, he did not record a single at bat, but only walked once. He also scored and drove in a run, to go along with two stolen bases.
So his line was 0/0, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB.

Just how did he do it?

For starters, he didn't do it with a sacrifice fly, which is the easiest way to drive in a run without recording an at bat. Instead he did it the hard way, with a hit by pitch with the bases loaded in the 5th. His other three plate appearances included a walk, a sacrifice, and another hit by pitch. Despite not recording a hit or even an at bat, Bourjos clearly contributed to the Angels 5-1 win over Detroit. He had the best WPA for a hitter on the team, adding about a 1/4 of a win, only outdone by starting pitcher Dan Haren (0.348). Certainly an unconventional way to contribute, but hey, whatever works.

Trade deadline thoughts

With Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis at the corners, the Orioles could have unbelievable power production from their corners. Of course, both could hit .220 with their 30 home runs. At least Reynolds can work the count and get on base with a free pass regularly.

In Texas, Koji Uehara instantly becomes the best pitcher in the Texas bullpen. Neftali Feliz just doesn't look like the same pitcher he was in 2010. He's striking out three fewer batters per inning, taking his K rate from elite to below average, and his walk rate has doubled. Uehara, on the other hand, has quietly put together a spectacular season so far. He's striking out more batters than 2010, and more batters per inning than Feliz did in his spectacular 2010, with absolutely elite control (1.5 BB/9). His 30% groundball rate is terrifyingly low, but when you're striking that many batters out and not allowing many free passes, you can get away with it.

The Phillies traded their top two prospects for Hunter Pence. They needed the outfield depth, but both Cosart and Singleton were in Baseball America's top 40. For a player that isn't a star, that's a lot to pay. At least he's under team control for several years. The Ibanez contract is up next year, so that will give Dominic Brown another shot at the majors in 2012, and could give the Phillies a spectacularly athletic outfield, with Victorino in center. For Houston, it was a no brainer. That team is not going anywhere soon, and to get a potential impact hitter and pitcher, you have to pull the trigger.

The Fister/Furbush trade looks like a win win. The back of the Tigers rotation has been shaky. While Fister by himself won't be a major difference maker, he should slide nicely in to the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation. Furbush could eventually become a similar pitcher, but much like the Red Sox deal with the Royals, he just wasn't ready for that role yet. The other prospects may end up tipping the deal in favor of the Mariners, though. Long term, that massive losing streak may pay dividends, allowing them to sell.

My take: Red Sox trade for Mike Aviles

Red Sox trade Yamaico Navarro and Kendal Volz for Mike Aviles
The general consensus on Navarro was that he could become a Mike Aviles type. Although he can play all over the infield, he doesn't play anywhere particularly well. He does a little bit of everything with the bat though. At 23, there is still time for him to become a major leaguer, but he's looking more like a utility guy. Kendal Volz was a mediocre starting pitcher prospect for the Red Sox, become transitioning to a reliever this season. Despite being 23, he's still in A ball, but he has struck out 56 in 51 innings this season. He's a long way from the majors, but could develop into a 6th or 7th inning guy.

Mike Aviles had a breakout rookie season, hitting .325/.354/.480, but has been a disappointment since. He had a disastrous sophomore season that was cut short by a forearm break, a bounceback 2010, and another disappointing season this year, only hitting .222/.261/.395. There are a couple reasons to be hopeful, though. In 2011 he has hit for a career high in isolated power (slugging percentage - batting average), and he's striking out less than the average major leaguer. He's been unlucky on balls in play (.231), but he also doesn't have very many line drives, which are strongly correlated with BABIP. All in all, I wouldn't expect great things from Aviles, but he should be serviceable, even at shortstop. Scutaro is dinged up and Lowrie is just about to begin his rehab assignment.

The deal fills a need for the Red Sox. If they don't make this deal and Scutaro goes down we're looking at Drew Sutton at short stop on a regular basis. Navarro in particular is likely to be a major leaguer, but he doesn't look quite ready yet. Long term, the Red Sox will probably lose this deal, but for 2011 it makes them better.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Josh Reddick: A familiar story?

When Reddick first got called up and started hitting well, my first thought was "Huh, wonder if he's kind of like Trot Nixon." As you can probably guess, the answer was “Yes,” otherwise this wouldn’t be a very interesting post. Nixon was a first round pick by the Red Sox in 1993 and a former top prospect (ranked as high as 13 overall by BA) whose star gradually faded (ranked 1994-1996: 13, 46, 39, but not ranked in 1997 and 1998) before breaking out in AAA at the age of 24, putting up a .310/.400/.513 line, which got him back in to the tail end of the Baseball America Prospect Rankings (99 in 1999). It is easy to see why there was skepticism about Nixon’s breakout year – his numbers the previous three years were poor to mediocre, and at 24 he was a bit old for AAA. However, Baseball America put a little bit of faith in the former top prospect by ranking him. The following year, in full time duty as the Red Sox right fielder, Nixon put up a .270/.357/.472 line, and became a lineup stalwart through 2007, although after his career year in 2003, when he was almost four wins above replacement, back injuries and old age caught up with him, as he played in fewer and fewer games per year with declining numbers.

We don’t know what kind of trajectory Reddick’s career will take, but his minor league career path has followed Nixon’s well. Josh Reddick was drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 draft out of a Georgia junior college, a solid draft that included other major leaguers such as Justin Masterson, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Bard. Reddick signed for $140,000, which doesn’t exceed the slot threshold for all players drafted after the fifth round. After hitting well in A and high A ball to begin his minor league career, and reaching as high as #3 in the Red Sox system and 75 overall in Baseball America’s rankings, Reddick’s career stalled out in AA and AAA. Now, at 24, he put up a solid .230/.333/.508 line, which was most likely dragged down by his average on balls in play, as Andrew noted. He also began to walk more, with his “luck adjusted” line rising to .298/.390/.576. I’m not quite as bullish as Andrew – I think that Trot Nixon’s career, especially the peak value, is a lot better than median for Reddick. It is easy to forget just how good Nixon was, for his career in Boston he was a .278/.364/.464 hitter and he accumulated more than twenty wins above replacement. Nixon was never a star, but was a contributor nearly every single year in a Red Sox uniform. It will be a major coup for the Red Sox if Reddick can become an inexpensive 2-4 win player, as Trot Nixon was.

With Reddick’s defense, ability to draw a walk, and enough pop to carry a corner outfield position, I think there is a fair shot that he fills the right field vacancy everyone had pegged Ryan Kalish to fill. One thing to keep an eye on going forward is how many at bats Reddick gets against left handed pitchers. Lefties were always an issue with Nixon, and he only hit .214/.308/.322 against them for his career. Reddick only has 50 AB in AAA and 9 in the majors against lefties in 2011, so we can't really draw any conclusions about platoon splits just yet.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick is scorching the ball for the Red Sox, hitting a whopping .450 so far this season filling Crawford’s open starting spot in left and spotting JD Drew. With the Sox designating Cameron for assignment, it is clear the front office believes in Reddick for at least this season. Over the past three seasons, Reddick has been a top prospect for the Sox, and he has all the tools to be an above average outfielder— a strong, accurate arm, good power, above average speed, and enough range to play center in an emergency, but the trouble has always been his approach. Prior to 2011, Reddick swung early and often, chasing pitches, and making quick outs on challenging pitches. At AAA in 2009 and 2010 he struck out nearly three times more than he walked, which is not a recipe for success at the big league level. Strikeouts aren’t necessarily worse than other outs, but there’s no way to get a hit if you don’t put the ball in play. Reddick slumped out of the gate in AAA in 2010, but salvaged the season with a huge second half, hitting .351/.372/.627, for a final line of .266/.301/466. Even during his hot second half, his success was in spite of his walk rate rather than because of it. During intermittent play in April, June, and September he struggled in 63 major league plate appearances, striking out 15 times while walking only once, and put up an overall line of .194/.206/.323.

Following his disappointing showing in the majors, this season can be seen as a make-or-break year for Reddick, since Ryan Kalish passed him on the organizational depth chart. Reddick took a huge step forward this season, though at first glance it might not seem that way. His line at AAA this season was a Mark Reynolds-esque 230/.330/.502, but his underlying numbers were greatly improved. Unlike an all-or-nothing slugger like Reynolds, Reddick struck out in only 16.8% of his plate appearances, and had nearly as many walks as strikeouts (33BB, 39K). His power was up as well (isolated power of .277 this season, as opposed to .200 in 2010).

The only thing that was down for Reddick was his average on balls in play, which was only .207. Batting average on balls in play is a tricky statistic, as it varies widely from hitter to hitter, and depends on what sort of balls in play the hitter is hitting. Line drives are much more likely to become hits than groundballs, which are somewhat more likely to become hits than flyballs, while pop-ups almost never become hits. There isn’t publicly available minor league batted ball data which we could use to investigate this, but there are three reasons why Reddick’s BABIP can be discounted. First of all, it’s safe to assume he was hitting the ball hard, since more than half his hits went for extra bases. Second, his career BABIP in the minor leagues was .291 over 2000 plate appearances. Finally, it takes more than 650 plate appearances for BABIP to have good predictive value (See this article currently hosted at Fangraphs for a good primer on sample size issues and when stats.) If we take Reddick’s career BABIP (which is still well below the .310 average on balls in play for the International League this season) and apply it to his 2011 AAA season, we end up with a much stronger .293/.385/571 line.

At the major league level, Reddick has been insanely hot, hitting .450/.489/.750 over 40 at bats. It’s obviously folly to project him to keep hitting this way, as he’s currently sporting a .459 average on balls in play, but the bright side is that his newly found plate discipline has remained intact following his promotion. Even normalizing his average on balls in play based on his batted ball data, Reddick’s line would be .325/.382/.600, good for second on the team in OPS. Reddick has 5 walks to only 4 strikeouts, and has shown a much more selective approach than he did in 2009 or 2010. Between his improved batting and quality defense (he currently has a ridiculous 107 runs above average if his numbers were projected out to 150 games), I believe Reddick should provide the production the Red Sox were expecting out of JD Drew this season, and could provide the Sox a solid, cost controlled corner outfielder for seasons to come. I don’t think Reddick will ever have a season quite like Drew did in 2004, and few players ever do, but I believe a career path similar to Trot Nixon seems like a good median projection.