Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A-Gon and his Reputation

Admittedly, I've been a bit surprised by A-Gon this year. I actually expected a bump in his power numbers due to the GABP effect. However, I wasn't expecting the shoddy glove work.

That said, GABP used to have an unusual park effect for errors. When the park first opened, it was much more likely that an infield error would be made at GABP than other NL parks. Accordingly, I thought I'd check it out to see if A-Gon was making significantly more errors at home.

I started by looking up the fielding park effects for GABP and over the past three years (2004-2006) infielders were 9% more likely to make an error at GABP than the average NL ballpark.

So, on the year, A-Gon has already made 12 errors. I looked up the type of error and the location to see if there was anything in particular going on.

Here's what it looks like:
H/A: Catch__Groundball__Throw===Total

So, much to my disappointment, A-Gon has actually made twice as many errors on the road. And, as to be expected, he has made the most errors on groundballs.

Sad to say, I'm not sure what's going on with A-Gon. I never bought into him being a great defensive shortstop, but I certainly expected him to be above average.

Unfortunately, the truth may ultimately be that this is the real A-Gon. His fielding percentage is currently at .960, which is far from great, but he's actually posted a .960 or lower fielding percentage three other times in his career. So, this actually isn't quite the outlier that we might think.

Fielding percentage certainly isn't everything, but so far his range is only middle of the road. A-Gon's bat has been solid, but it would be nice if his glove lived up to its (perhaps undeserved) reputation.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Harang vs. Indians

There's been a lot of talk about Aaron Harang's "struggles" this season, but I think it's clear that he's pitching better in 2007 than he did in 2006.

Including the 7 strong innings he pitched today against a very tough Indian team, here's how Harang's numbers stack up against 2006 in all the important categories.

ERA: 3.76
WHIP: 1.27
BB/9: 2.2
K/9: 8.3
HR/9: 1.08

ERA: 3.93
WHIP: 1.17
BB/9: 1.9
K/9: 8.1
HR/9: 0.77

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Busy Week

Well, it's been a busy and important week for Reds fans. With the 2007 season looking more and more like a lost cause, this week has fans looking toward the future. This week saw the long awaited arrival of Homer Bailey and the MLB draft.

As for Bailey, he performed well against a tough Indian lineup in front of 38,696 screaming Reds fans. Bailey went only 5 innings, giving up 2 runs, 5 hits, 4 walks (1 IBB), and 3 strikeouts. Oddly enough, the Reds let him throw 114 pitches in his first Major League outing. Given Homer's importance to the fortunes of the Reds over the next decade, let's hope that this outing isn't indicative of things to come.

Young pitchers throwing a substantial number of pitches at a young age can lead to arm problems. Young pitchers are often still growing and developing, which makes them even more susceptible to arm injuries from a heavy work load.

As for the draft, the Reds had a number of draft picks and really need to hit a homerun in this draft. The 2007 draft could restock a much improved farm system and pay huge dividends for the future.

In order for a small market team to compete with the larger payroll teams, the small market team must embrace player turnover. A prime example is the Oakland A's, who for years have seen All Stars and MVPs leave for greener pastures in free agency. However, the A's received additional draft picks as compensation for the losses.

That strategy enabled the A's to continually restock their farm system with inexpensive homegrown talent. As player salaries continue to rise at ~10.4% each season, the disparity between the salaries of the established veterans and young prospects continues to grow. Accordingly, the value of inexpensive homegrown talent increases each and every year. That's part of the reason why trade deadline deals for prospects are becoming increasingly rare. Teams have begun to appreciate the actual value of their top flight prospects.

The Reds need to implement a strategy that will see them lose a solid player every year or two to free agency. That will enable them to get compensatory draft picks for those players, which will ensure that they can continue to restock their farm system. The more picks you have, the better your chances of drafting successfully.

This is an important week for the future of the Reds. Time will tell how they did in the draft, but if Homer's performance is indicative of his future performance, then the Reds are at least one step closer to the promise land.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

High Altitude Ball

Well, the Reds won the first and lost the second game of the Colorado Series.

On Friday, the Reds called up Bobby Livingston to pitch. Livingston is a grinder who survives on great control and getting ground balls, rather than great stuff. There are three factors that determine whether a pitcher is going to be able to have sustainable success at the Major League level. Three components of pitching are solely within the control of the pitcher: 1) walk rate, 2) strikeout rate, and 3) ground ball rate.

Pitchers with a low walk rate limit the number of batters who reach base by limiting the number of free passes handed out. Pitchers with a good ground ball rate tended to limit the number of homeruns allowed. As for the strikeout rate, analysis has shown that pitchers have no control over whether a ball put in play results in a hit or an out. Accordingly, the fewer balls a pitcher allows to be put into play, the fewer hits he will allow. So, generally speaking, the more batters a pitcher strikes out, the fewer hits he will allow.

Livingston has two of the three things you need to be a successful Major League pitcher. He has a low walk rate, good ground ball tendencies, but he does not have a good strikeout rate. His MLB career will be defined by how many bats he misses. He pitched well on Friday night, but didn't strikeout any hitters, which does not portend well for the future.

Pitchers can be successful with only two of the three components, but in the modern era there are very few pitchers who can be successful over the long run with a strikeout per 9 innings (K/9) rate of below 5.0. After two starts on the year, Livingston's K/9 sits at an anemic 0.8. Basically, over 9 innings, he strikes out less than 1 batter.

As for Saturday's game, the Reds offense went AWOL yet again. After a hot start to the season, Adam Dunn is down to .251 on the season. There was a great of hope for Adam Dunn this year, as he came to camp in great shape and was supposedly working on a new approach at the plate with his former minor league hitting instructor Brook Jacoby. Dunn has been more aggressive, but it doesn't seem to be paying dividends to this point.

Kyle Lohse was solid, which is an improvement over his recent outings, but certainly nothing to write home about. He's due a big free agent payday after this season, but he has yet to prove that he deserves a big contract. The Reds would be wise to let him walk.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Arroyo and Possible Injury

After last night's shellacking at the hands of the Houston Astros, it's looking more and more like Bronson Arroyo is injured.

On May 16th, Arroyo pitched against the Padres and worked 8 strong innings, but was left in to throw 129 pitches. He pitched well, but his 129 pitch was called a ball and resulted in a game losing bases loaded walk.

The bullpen was overworked and unreliable, so Narron enabled Arroyo to work deep into the game. Unfortunately, the Reds did not build a reliable bullpen this past off season, which has resulted in countless lost games and potentially an injury to Arroyo.

Since that game, Arroyo has pitched 3 times, each time getting shelled. He has thrown 11 innings, given up 24 hits, 7 walks, struck out only 4, and allowed 20 runs. During that span, his ERA has risen from 2.64 all the way up to 4.73.

After last night's game against the Astros, Arroyo said that he felt as good as ever and catcher David Ross said that it was the best stuff he'd seen Arroyo have this season. However, the results certainly suggest that Arroyo is pitching hurt, which would be even more unfortunate after the contract extension he received from the Reds over the off season.

This past off season, the Reds gave contract extensions to Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. It seemed like odd time to extend Arroyo, who was coming off a career best season and was still locked into a below market contract that he signed with the Red Sox. Arroyo signed a multiyear contract with the Red Sox that was below market rate in the hopes of staying in Boston, but the contract actually made him a more attractive trade target for the Reds.

The contract paid him $2.75M in 2006, $3.8M in 2007, and $3.95M in 2008. Given that Arroyo had two years left on a very reasonable contract, it seemed a strange time to extend him further. However, that's precisely what the did when they gave him a contract extension through 2010 with a 2011 team option. The Reds gave him an extension which will pay him $9.5M in 2009, $11M in 2010, and a team option for $11M in 2011.

Given that baseball contracts are guaranteed, contracts are largely about assigning the risk between the two parties. When a team hands out a multiyear contract, it is assuming the majority of the risk. If the player gets injured or sees his production decline, he still gets paid at the negotiated rate. Of course, the team has assumed the risk that they will not get the production for which they are paying.

Given that Arroyo was under contract at a very reasonable rate, it seems like the Reds assumed an unnecessary portion of the risk by offering Arroyo an extension. If Arroyo is actually injured, then the Reds decision to assume such a large portion of the risk may come back to haunt them.