Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lance Berkman's Return to Relevance

After Lance Berkman was traded from the Houston Astros to the New York Yankees last season, some speculated that a change of scenery could benefit him.  He arrived at Yankee Stadium and proceeded to disappoint, hitting .255 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 37 games.  He finished 2010 with the worst output of his career, which signaled that his career may be on the decline.

Then along came the St. Louis Cardinals with a one year $8 million contract for the 2011 season.  This would fill a hole for them in the OF and give some insurance at 1B for Albert Pujols.  The signing has turned out to be one of the highlights of a mediocre season for the Cardinals.  He just hit his 30th home run last night and only Berkman thought he had that in him this season.  I venture to guess the Cardinals would have been happy with 20 HR, 70 RBI and a .270 AVG, based on what he had shown last season.  Along with his 30 HR in 2011, Berkman has 81 RBI and is hitting .292.  His OPS is .980, which ranks 4th in MLB.

So, was 2010 a fluke or is this season an aberration?  First, Berkman missed time in 2009 due to injury.  In 136 games he accumulated 25 HR, 80 RBI, a .274 AVG. and his OPS was .907.  These are very respectable numbers considering the time he missed and not far off previous seasons.  His totals for 2010 were miserable; 14 HR, 58 RBI, .248 AVG. and a .781 OPS.  These numbers were a dramatic drop across the board.

Some of Berkman's peripheral numbers in 2010 and 2011, in conjunction with his career rates, are telling.  Using FanGraphs' data, Berkman's ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB), line drive percentage (LD%), and his home run per fly ball ratio (HR/FB) were all skewed in the wrong direction in 2010.  In 2010, his GB/FB was a career high 1.31 compared with a career average of 1.11 prior to 2010.  His LD% was 16% compared with 19.9% prior to 2010.  A career low 12% of fly balls he hit went for HR in 2010 compared to a rate of 19.3% prior to 2010.  This season Berkman is hitting far less ground balls compared to fly balls (GB/FB = .98), his LD% is at 19% and 23.3% of fly balls he has hit have gone yard.  His 2011 numbers are much more in line with his career rates.

At 35 years old, no one would suggest that Lance Berkman is going to continue to bash over 30 home runs a season for much longer, but he seems to have been able to put a miserable season behind him and in good fashion.  At the least, Berkman has become relevant again at the plate, which could earn him at least one more multi-year contract.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Major League Baseball Weekly Stance

Major League Baseball week in review 8/15/11 - 8/21/11.

American League East
  • Baltimore Orioles - Pathetic week (1-5) adds to atrocious season

  • Boston Red Sox - Hobbled but not broken

  • New York Yankees - Curtis Granderson adds inside the park homer to MVP resume

  • Tampa Bay Rays - Nice week (4-1), would lead AL Central, third in East

  • Toronto Blue Jays - Jose Bautista's numbers dwindling since break, so should MVP talk

American League Central
  • Chicago White Sox - Maintain .500, 5 back of Tigers, Alex Rios shows signs of life Sunday

  • Cleveland Indians - Rough weekend vs. Detroit

  • Detroit Tigers - Austin Jackson snuffs out runner at plate and possibly Indians' title hopes

  • Kansas City Royals - Extend Jeff Francoeur for two years/$13.5 million

  • Minnesota Twins - Jim Thome's 600th home run highlight of week...and season

American League West
  • Los Angeles Angels - 5 year/$85 million extension for Jered Weaver is an absolute steal

  • Oakland Athletics - Josh Willingham, 3 more HR, slugging pct. at .607 since break

  • Seattle Mariners - Win one, lose 5, on pace for 93 losses

  • Texas Rangers - Take 3 of 4 from Angels, lose 2 of 3 to ChiSox and West lead is sits at 4

National League East
  • Atlanta Braves - Running away with NL Wild Card, very favorable schedule rest of way

  • Florida Marlins - McKeon says he's "...embarrassed..." after 1-6 road trip. What did he expect?

  • New York Mets - This is one boring team without Jose Reyes...

  • Philadelphia Phillies - Bullpen beat up, Ryan Madson receives two straight days off

  • Washington Nationals - Solid week (4-2), Drew Storen with 3 more saves (34 for season)

National League Central
  • Chicago Cubs - With Hendry gone and the season lost, attention turns to replacing GM

  • Cincinnati Reds - Joey Votto = .400, 3HR, 8 RBI; season OPS sits at .972

  • Houston Astros - Team loaded with rookies wins 4 of 6

  • Milwaukee Brewers - Impressive in all facets of game, 6-1 record extends Central lead

  • Pittsburgh Pirates - Jose Tabata given extension along with 3 club options (through '19)

  • St. Louis Cardinals - May be completely out of division race now, wildcard unlikely too

National League West
  • Arizona Diamondbacks - Awful time for a losing streak, 1-6 week allows Giants to hang

  • Colorado Rockies - Win 4 of 6, hot streak could push them into contention, time is short

  • Los Angeles Dodgers - Ethier now annual free fall continues, .100, 0 HR, 0 RBI

  • San Diego Padres - Another team littered with youth and a positive week (5-2)

  • San Francisco Giants - Fail to take advantage of D'Backs losing streak, lose 5 of 7

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jim Thome Deserves Recognition

Congratulations to Minnesota Twins DH, Jim Thome for reaching 600 home runs (8th all-time) last night versus the Detroit Tigers.  He did it in spectacular fashion going 3 for 4 with 2 HR and 5 RBI.  It was not surprising the milestone came against the Tigers.  Thome has 65 career home runs versus the Tigers, the most against any team.

Thome, who turns 41 on August 27th, deserves to be mentioned among the great home run hitters of all time despite playing during baseball's steroid era for a majority of his career.  Thome incidentally has never come under steroid speculation.  Unfortunately, some people will say Thome's accomplishments are tainted because there is no proof he didn't do steroids either.

Performance enhancing drugs aside, sports radio was abuzz this morning about whether Thome has Hall of Fame credentials.  One of the more ridiculous things I heard was that he was not among the "great hitters" during any stretch of time.  From 1996 to 2008, Thome hit at least 30 home runs every season, except when he played only 59 games in 2005.  From 2001 through 2004 he hit 49, 52, 47 and 42 homers (average = 47.5).  That was a remarkable stretch as far as I'm concerned and his career numbers speak for themselves.

Jim Thome will be voted to the Hall of Fame, hopefully the Baseball Writers Association of America won't make him wait long because of the cheating by others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

No Pie for A.J. Burnett

 A.J. Burnett is a good teammate.  Upon his arrival in 2009, he seemingly brought along with him an attitude which helped loosen up a stiff clubhouse.  His now trademark 'pie to the face', in which he literally throws a pie in the face of a teammate who helped win the game, shows his playfulness and good demeanor.  Last night, staked to a 13-1 lead, he couldn't make it out of the 5th inning, and squandered his chance to get his own pie reward.

His issues have sometimes been attributed to mental lapses, but I argue that his problems stem from an ineffective fastball and secondary pitches that are failing to pick up the slack.  According to FanGraphs, his fastball velocity has dropped from 94.2 mph on average in 2009 to 92.6 mph this season.  Subsequently, Burnett has lost confidence in the pitch, as he has thrown his fastball only 57.5% of the time while his career average prior to this season was 68%.

He has used a mostly effective curveball 32.1% of the time this season versus 27.5% for his career.  But the use of his changeup this season of 10.4% of the time versus a career rate of 5.8% is alarming.  The minor effectiveness of his changeup is negligible when compared to the blatant ineffectiveness of his fastball.  This issue may simply be the differential of the velocity between his fastball and changeup.  The speed of Burnett's changeup this season is 88.1 mph.  So there is a 4.5 mph difference between the pitches.  This is not going to fool a professional hitter.

An effective change usually sits 7-10 mph below the fastball.  For example, CC Sabathia's differential is 7.0 this season and Cole Hamels' is 8.4 this season.  You can further look at Burnett's own career for examples.  His arguably finest season's, 2002 and 2005, show differentials of 10 and 9.7 mph, respectively.

I'm not a pitching coach, but it seems apparent that A.J. Burnett needs to decrease the speed of his changeup to accommodate his slowed fastball velocity.  Then maybe he'll be able to feature his fastball again and utilize the curve and changeup  more effectively as secondary pitches.