Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Character Assassination

It wasn't too long ago I attempted to kill the credibility of everyone's favorite cannon armed utility outfielder. Jose Baustista's month of September looks good on the surface but doesn't inspire heaps of hope when we look at who he victimized. With Edwin Encarnacion's name exploding into the news (!!!) I thought I'd give old E5 a similar treatment. Let's take a look at the pitchers E5 rode out in September. I included a home run he hit off Mariano Rivera in August because any time you can take Mo deep, it is cause for celebration.

Note: League average HR/9 is 1.04, HR/FB is around 10.

ScumbagHandFIP HR AllowedHR/9HR/FB
Jeremy GuthrieR5.31351.5810.9
Jason BerkenR5.31191.4311.7
Mark HendricksonL4.92161.3710.7
Danys BaezR4.5681.0013.8
David PriceL4.59171.1910.7
Sergio MitreR5.30101.7421.7!
Justin VerlanderR2.80200.758.2
Mariano RiveraR2.8970.9515.2

Poor Jeremy Guthrie. So shitty, yet so terrible. Jeremy Guthrie's propensity for serving up cookies fuels the persistent rumors of a possible trade to Keebler for a Tollhouse to be named later.

Clearly Edwin liked what he saw from the crappy Orioles pitching staff in 2009. Jason Berken will be good one day but that day is yet to arrive. Mark Hendrickson ranks as one of the worst pitchers to continually hold down a job in baseball history.

David Price will also figure out how to get bums like EE out at the big league level sooner rather than later, but he struggled with his control and command in 2009. Poor Sergio Mitre is bad enough without Joe Girardi throwing him to the wolves as he did in this particular start. The Jays knocked Mitre around for 5 merciless innings, surrendering 7 runs (4 tater tots!) while Joe G rested his beleaguered 'pen.

While Mitre, Berken, and Price may serve as the "case in point" when I express skepticism over inflated September numbers, the next two on this list are legit. The real effing deal. Taking Justin Verlander deep is reason to puff out the chest, strut around ignite low-grade ordnances in or around your visage. Doubly so for Mo; though he did serve up a few more flat cutters in 2009 than anyone's come to expect (his 15.7% HR/FB rate is way up from a career mark of 6.6%.)

To refresh: the green box is the strike zone and the blue dots are the pitches Encarnacion hit out of the park in September. The squared pitches are curveballs, the circled pitch is a cutter Mo left up and out over the plate.

What else we got here? The two curves came courtesy of Justin Verlander and Jason Berken. Verlander threw EE a first pitch curveball for a strike then tried to sneak another one past him. Encarnacion took him deep. Berken offered a curve in a 1-1 count after missing with a slider and throwing a good fastball down in the zone. Everything else was a fastball, most early in the count. Three first pitch homers, two at 0-1, one 1-0 and a 2-0 treat from Hendrickson.

In fact the two noteworthy homeruns off decent hurlers both came in 0-1 counts. What does that mean? I don't know, but I'll give the man (The Player?) all the credit in the world for sticking with a Verlander curve and jacking a Rivera cutter. The rest? Meh. I think that collection of bums and kids speaks for itself.

Which isn't to say the only home runs that count are sliders on the black expertly knocked the other way, but there isn't much here that suggests Edwin will continue his torrid finish to 2009 when the level of opposition rises again. Can we put him down for 12 or 15 next year? Probably, but once word around the American league gets out about his love of early fastballs over the plate, he isn't likely to see too many more.

Thanks to Baseball Reference, Hit Tracker, and Fangraphs for all the juicy informations and Getty Images via Daylife for the image.


  1. "Cue the fireworks!" in the graph is certainly a nice touch. This exercise, with Bautista and now EE, seems to devalue the home run a little bit, in my esteem. Whether he hits it off of Mo, or Verlander, or Guthrie, he's hitting a home run in the big leagues. Whether Guthrie is a big league pitcher or not is not really the crux of the debate. That's not EE's problem to worry about. He hit 26 in 2008, and 13 last season in 80 odd games. If he's healthy, of course you can put him down for 12 to 15. Actually, you can put him down for more.

    On Ian's post the other day commenter Peter D. (I think) was saying that Aaron Hill's home runs barely cleared the fence in left field, so we should obviously be worried? Who gives a shit how far the ball goes if it's a home run? EE will get his.

  2. It isn't to devalue the home runs, but not all home runs are created equal. Hitting a quality pitch off a quality pitcher, or putting yourself in position to hit a pitch off a quality pitcher is a lot different than sitting dead red against an overwhelmed kid with no command or the strike zone.

    The thing with Aaron Hill's home runs and their distance is valid. If his home runs are barely clearly the fence one year, not much has to change and suddenly he hits a lot of long fly outs. Any time a player's HR/FB jumps as drastically as Hill's, you have to watch for regression back to his career or recent history.

    If he can sustain it, awesome. But assuming he's going to continue scraping the back of the wall with his dongs is a little reckless.

  3. I totally agree with you, there's a lot to say about the pitch, and the pitcher. I'm just a believer in September, I guess, mate. I think I'm coming at it from a more simplistic view. I think I'm coming at it from the "all home runs are created equal" point of view. I'm a simpleton.

    I'm not assuming under any circumstances that Hill will swat as many as he did last season. I'm not worried about it. If he only hits 20 home runs, and walks more than he did last season, we're good. I think regression is definitely in the cards home run wise for Hill. I guess I'm not worried because Travis Snider's going to hit 30 of his own.

    I'm hungover. Apologies for the lack of coherence.

  4. I don't think you're a simpleton or anything like that, I'm trying to be guarded and realistic in my optimism.

    Snider for example. I don't think 30 home runs are beyond expectation AT ALL. As I've said many times, his ability to use the entire field with impressive, prolific power bodes well for the future. He just needs to sort out his approach a little. I'm excited.

  5. On Aaron's homers: There was something that came out shortly after the Hit F/X numbers started to get crunched this year that noted just how hard Hill was hitting the ball. Those homers that were scraping over the top of the fence might have gone straight through it if there were a couple of feet lower.

    But really, I don't think that you'll see a bunch of those homers turn into fly balls. If there is some decline, it is more likely is that you'll see more doubles and fewer homers.

    As for the style points on the JoBau and EE late season homers: There are a lot of bad pitchers out there in the world. Probably more bad ones than good ones. And there's something to be said for knocking the fuck out of their bullshit mistake pitches.

  6. Drew - do you know how these performances compare to "regular" HR hitters. I.e. if below average pitchers give up an above average number of homeruns generally, then aren't all HR hitters teeing off on those guys more regularly than above average pitchers too? Sure they'll all have their HRs off of Mos and Vers, but not a high proportion of them - otherwise those pitchers wouldn't be Mos and Vers in the first place.

  7. 12-15 is pretty pessimistic. CHONE projects 17 and Bill James 21. Then again, Bill James thought Chris Davis would hit 83 HRs last year so I don't exactly trust that guy. And Chone Figgins isn't a HR hitter so what would he know.

  8. That's a good point QJ, one I'm trying to look into. I'm also looking into EE a little deeper because I have more faith in him than Bautista.

  9. If EE stays with the Jays this year, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect 20 HR's from him. He's shown power with the Reds and if he stays healthy, could provide some power at the bottom of the lineup.

    Unless Cito gets funky and wants to put him in the leadoff spot

  10. Given the number of balls that just scraped the fense, I do think 20-21 home runs for Aaron Hill next year is a realistic target, which going into last year I would have thought was great. However, I'm not yet convinced that he will draw many more BB's.

    As for Encarnacion and Bautista, they are fine fill in guys if the team can't fine a young stud as a replacement. Bautista is a nice guy to have against left handed pitching.

  11. The first point I'd like to make is that the notion that Hill's homers just scraped over the wall is false, or at least unproven.

    Ian's analysis showed that Hill's average homerun was 387', yet he pulled over 70% of his homeruns to the pole side of right-centre, where an average fence is at most 360'.

    Compare that to Lind who averaged 398', but almost 70% of his were from alley to alley.

    In short, Hill's homers were only on 11' shorter than Lind's but hit to a much shorter porch on average.

    I'd like to see the average clearance of their home runs to get a better sense.

    I think he definitely got lucky on how well he squared up the ball in 2009, but I'm not sure the assertion that his homeruns were cheapies is accurate either.

    As for Encarnacion, what is league average FIP in 2009? The pitcher profile looks like an average rotation to me.

  12. I'm on the same page as QJays -- by definition, pitchers who give up lots of home runs should account for the majority of home runs given up, no?

    What I take from this chart is that EE was able to tee off of Verlander and Mo just as well as he hit guys like Guthrie and Hendrickson. At first glance it does seem a little cheap that he hit so many taters off shitballers, but realistically, most major league rotations are home to a couple of those guys anyways -- hitters aren't facing aces every game.

    Considering EE's 26 HR season in 2008, I don't think it's fair to write him off just yet. He's the same age as Adam Lind, and his struggles throughout 2009 can be chalked up to his wrist injury and adjusting to AL pitching. I think he could surprise a lot of people next year.

  13. The point with Hill is not so much that he scraped the fence every HR, but that he is more of an anomaly statistically and shouldn't be expected to repeat the same outcome. And of course the average HR distance has to exceed the average fence distance, because the minimum distance for a HR is the fence distance. Hill hit a few bombs.

    Drew, would it be reasonable to assume that if you created 2 groups of pitchers separated at the average HR/9 value, you'd find that the average hitter has approximately 25% of his home runs against the better group, and 75% of his home runs against the worse group (if the distribution of innings is relatively equal between the two groups), or is that way off? Even if it were 35-65, EE doesn't look so bad (what with a single month under the microscope and all).

  14. Fair point QJ. I'll do some work and look at who Lind or even Overbay victimize to see if we notice a difference.

    I've simply focussed on JoeBau and EE because of their out of nowhere Septembers compared to pedestrian summers. I think I'm giving Encarnacion the short shrift.

  15. Cool - I'm just really interested, not meaning to be overly critical (also, I'm not exactly crunching any numbers myself). And I have no idea if "worse" pitchers actually get roughly similar mound time to "better" pitchers either, but I would guess it's close. Either way, I still hope EE rakes this year.

    Only thing about Overbay - he's not full time and doesn't get a chance to victimize the full range of pitchers (pretty much all lefties he was allowed to face owned him). Might be a weird comparison.


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