The Silver Slugger is awarded to a single player per position, determined to be the most valuable offensively, in both the American and National Leagues as determined by Major League Baseball’s coaches and managers.
When it comes to thirdbase in the National League in 2013, the League’s managers and coaches picked extremely poorly in selecting Pedro Alvarez. In his age-26 season, Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 in 152 games for the playoff-bound Pirates. He led the National League in two categories: homeruns (36) and strikeouts (186).
On a plate appearances basis, he was a mid-pack thirdbaseman offensively. By wOBA, Alvarez (.330) was seventh in the NL behind David Wright (.391), Aramis Ramirez (.366), Chris Johnson (.354), Ryan Zimmerman (.353), Juan Uribe (.334), and Pablo Sandoval (.331). wRC+ tells the identical story, slotting Alvarez seventh among Nation League hot-corner handlers.
Stepping back from advanced statistics, Alvarez was 17th in on-base percentage and second in slugging behind David Wright.
Wright played only 112 games and thus, did not reach 20 home runs or qualify for the NL batting title. He still was more valuable at the plate not just on a rate basis, but in terms of aggregate production than Alvarez. By Batting runs above average, Wright crushed Alvarez 29.7 to 9.9. That’s worth two wins on the field.
Alvarez was one of only two National League thirdbasemen to hit over 20 homeruns joined by only Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a strong overall season, hitting .275/.344/.465 in 147 games for the disappointing Nationals, who like Wright’s Mets missed the playoffs. Both Chris Johnson and Juan Uribe had nice seasons for the playoff-bound Braves and Dodgers, but neither has a real clear claim to being the best-hitting third baseman in the National League.
It’s not a stretch to say that hitting home runs was the only productive thing that Alvarez did in a better than average manner in 2013. Well, that and whiff, as he struck out in 30% of his plate appearances.
And somehow, National League managers decided that Alvarez’s ability to hit homeruns made him the best hitter in the league at the position. That’s wrong.
In his age 23 season, the injury-prone Ceciliani missed a week with a hamstring strain in August, but still played in a career-high 113 games for AA Binghamton where he hit .268/.322/.380 with 17 doubles, six triples and six homers, and a 6.3% walk rate and a 22.8% strikeout rate. He was also 31-of-38 (82%) stealing bases. The left-handed hitter split his time between centerfield (58 games) and left (48 games).
He hit .243/.304/.350 in 103 AB vs. lefties in 2013 and .276/.328/.390 in 315 against righties.
He does not profile offensively in an outfield corner at all. His only hope of starting everyday is in centerfield. Even there, he would struggle to put up a .300 on-base percentage in the big leagues as pitchers will exploit his aggressive approach. On the other hand, he runs well, and offers the ability to play center or left, but does not have the arm for right.
Ceciliani is most likely to stick as a fourth/fifth outfielder who can add speed/defense in LF off the bench and picks up some spot starts for a MLB team against right-handed pitching. He is Rule 5 eligible for the first time this winter (if you’re curious, the full list is available here) and I do not expect the Mets to add him to the 40-man roster this winter.
Is Gavin Cecchini on the verge of a make or break year as a prospect? He had a solid average in a pitcher friendly NY Penn League, but his power numbers are really lacking. A lot of reports I read are down on him, and was just wondering your take Toby. Thanks.
Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:
No, 2014 is not a make or break year for Cecchini, who will make his full-season debut in 2014. Barring a Spring Training injury, he will be playing shortstop for Savannah as a 20-years-old on Opening Day, Thursday, April 3, 2014. He will be young for the South Atlantic League. Again, he will be 20 years old in 2014.
Yeah, Cecchini does not hit for much power, that’s not what his game is about.
Instead, his game is about playing a well-rounded shortstop. He’s at best an average runner, but he has lithe actions quick feet around the bag. His hands work well. He has enough arm to play short. So, while he’s not going to blow anyone away running from home to third like, say Jose Reyes, the Mets expect him to play short, and do so well.
As Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul DePodesta told me in March, “I think he’s going to be a solid average defender at shortstop. I don’t think we have any question that he’s going to stay at the position… We think he’s going to a very steady defender. It’s probably not going to be Omar Vizquel, it’s not going to be flash, but he’s going to be a very solid defender.”
For the sake of argument, lets say that Cecchini does become average to a little better at short, say zero through plus five runs above average defensively. Last year, by UZR, the list of guys in this profile, who played at least 700 games at short (half a season), included Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Drew, Brandon Crawford, Pedro Florimon, Jhonny Peralta, Brendan Ryan and Jean Segura. (Note: Segura’s UZR/150 of -1.1 was the only one here who was negative, but it’s close enough to average that I think he can be safely included in this group and he was above average by Total Zone, DRS and +/-.) This selection of eight guys comprises seven starting shortstops – a quarter of Major League Baseball, and Ryan, who played mostly for the Mariners in 2013.
Here is this octet of players ranked by fWAR:
And what do we have here? A wide range of value from replacement level through qualifying offer-level (Drew) and beyond. Even while playing averagish defense at short, there is a line at which teams will stop running a player who is hapless with bat out onto the field. Ryan, who hit .192/.24/.265 in 87 games with the Mariners is living proof. Moving up the chart, Florimon was above replacement level, barely, thanks to a .221/.281/.330 line for the Twins. Ok, that’s not really useful to a winning baseball team.
Instead, it’s Crawford (.248/.311/.363) and Andrus (.271/.328/.331) who establish the bottom bound of useful when combining averagish to slightly above average defense at short with enough offense to get above 2 WAR. For what it’s worth, Crawford hit nine homeruns and Andrus stole 42 bases.
Cecchini’s glove should be an important part of his overall value, but the hitting matters too, always.
In 2013, Cecchini hit .273/.319/.314 with a 6.6% walk rate and a 14.2% strikeout rate in the New York Penn League as a 19-year-old. At the plate, I like the way Cecchini’s hands work, but he’ll need to become stronger in the coming years. I thought he was too pre-loaded in 2012, and was starting to use his lower half better in 2013. And yes, power will always be the weakest of his traditional tools.
On our eight-player list of average to slightly above defensive shortstops, there’s only one other guy who was drafted out of high school: Ian Desmond. He played in Savannah as a 19-year-old for the Washington Nationals and hit an imposing .247/.291/.334 with 13 walks, 60 strikeouts and 16 extra-base hits. For some reason, the Nationals promoted him to advanced-A to finish the season, and had him begin his age-20 season in double-A. It’s all worked out in the end, but his path through the system was certainly faster than Cecchini’s will be despite unimpressive statistical markers. Desmond, of course is 2-3 inches taller than Cecchini and stronger.
Peralta played in the South Atlantic League at age 18 in 2000 and hit .241/.352/.309 for Columbus.
There’s nothing make or break about Cecchini’s 2014, as long as he shows the tools to play short. His glove will give him a chance to get to the big leagues, and it’s his bat that will determine what time of value he provides when he gets there. Wishy-washy? Sure, but that’s the thing about a guy who has not played a day in a full-season league.
For our Mets Minor League Report on Cecchini, click here.
I wanted to point out the video above for Cory Vaughn’s swings. In particular, take a look at the swings from the angle just outside the cage.
Watch the end of Vaughn’s swings. He cuts his hands off. It’s very apparent from the 0:58 mark through 1:18 or so. It appears to me as though he’s stopping his hands early. In doing so, rather than accelerating through the ball which will give him more power to drive the thing, he’s decelerating early, and sapping power.
Maybe he’s just working on something in batting practice and this is some kind of bat control drill, but it sure looks odd to me.
He appears to do it in one of his swings captured in this Minor League Report from the 2013 season with Binghamton.
Vaughn popped 10 homers in 71 games in Binghamton in 2013. Were he to have played a full season, that’s about 16-18 hoemrs. Maybe he’s big and strong enough that he doesn’t need a full extension in his swing, and he’s working on other priorities. On the other hand, I think this answers a question that has nagged me (well, a little bit): can Vaughn, who is big, and strong and as John Mayo says in the embedded video “looks the part” hit for more power in games? Yup, let those hands go! Full extension and follow-through will tap into his natural strength.
Was Craig Breslow’s decision to throw to third in the seventh inning of last night’s World Series game correct?
He says yes. His manager is not so sure.
Breslow, as quoted by Evan Drellich at MassLive.com, “I looked up and I saw that I definitely had a play there. I didn’t make a good throw. That’s not a throw I make too much, but it’s one I need to make there.”
Manager John Farrell: “I’m sure Craig would like to have that ball back and hold it with a chance to shut down the inning right there…”
I think they are both right.
Lets set the scene. In the seventh inning of game two, Craig Breslow relieved John Lackey. His first, and more important mistake was walking the first batter he faced – Daniel Descalso – by wOBA, the weakest hitter in the Cardinals lineup. The next batter, Matt Carpenter lifted a fly ball to shallow left field that tied the game. Jonny Gomes’ throw home was late and off line. Breslow picked the ball up and threw to third, thinking he could nab John Jay there. He airmailed the throw. That was mistake number two.
This is the diamond the moment before Breslow released the baseball.
I estimate that the speedy Jay, who is already sprinting full bore, is about 30 feet from third base in that frame. In just over a second, Jay will be sliding into third base. IF Breslow were to release the ball at that instant, he has about a second to get the ball to third base. Remember he needs to give Bogaerts time to apply the tag. I estimate that Breslow is 100 feet from third base. If he had a full second to get the ball there, he merely has to throw the ball at 68 miles an hour. He can do that. But he doesn’t have a full second. Because Bogaerts needs time to catch and apply a tage. If he has three quarters of a second, he would have to throw the ball at 91 miles an hour to nail Jay. His four-seam fastball averages 91 miles an hour. He can do that. That’s off a mound, with a windup. If Breslow was doing the math, which he wasn’t, if he had anything less than three quarters of a second from the instant of release to Bogaerts’ glove, he should not have thrown the ball.
And yet, it makes perfect sense for Breslow to think he had a play on Jay at third base.
Here is the diamond as Breslow was scooping up the ball after it left catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s glove.
Jay is barely 20 feet from second. This picture perfectly captures the reason Breslow thought he could throw Jay out at third. Go back to his quote, “I looked up and saw I definitely had a play there.. ” This is the part of the play he got right. However, the issue for Breslow is what happened in the intervening frames. He’s no infielder. He was too slow in getting from picking the ball to his release. While he was grabbing the ball off the grass, gathering himself to throw, and hopping, Jay was still running. Take a look for example, at how far Breslow hopped. He fielded the ball outside the dirt circle around home plate. He threw from comfortably inside it. That’s maybe a six-foot hop. While Breslow was airborn, Jay was running. While Breslow was winding up to throw, Jay was running. Perhaps Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Bogaerts or a well-practiced infielder could and would have thrown Jay out at third.
What happened? This.
Lets subtract eight feet of height from Breslow’s throw. What if it was shin-high and Bogaerts just had to catch the ball and slap a tag on the sliding runner? It looks from that shot as though it would have been late.
By the time Breslow released the ball, it was too late. This is the part Farrell got right.
Baseball players do not reach the big leagues by thinking in general that they will not make a play. Rather the reverse is the case. Guys reach the big leagues, by thinking that they can make the play. They work and practice to execute, and they are right – they do make the play – more often than anyone else on the planet, that’s what makes them big leaguers. But in this case, Breslow was doing something unfamiliar, throwing to third at maximum velocity under time pressure, that he rarely ever does.
So, in a sense, one of the hardest things for professional athletes to do, and the thing they do not train to do, is, in the most pressure-packed moment that their sport offers, think “no, I cannot make that play.” Coaches preach endlessly in the minors, “make the right play.”
In fact, I would argue, the key moment, and even better example of this, came earlier in the sequence.
Imagine what would have happened, if instead of throwing home, Jonny Gomes had thrown to the cutoff man. Sure, the tying run would have scored from second. But Jay would never have started towards third. And the Cards and Sox would have had a tie game with runners at first and second. Maybe in this alternate universe, Carlos Beltran still would have singled off of Breslow to drive home a run as he did in real life. In this case, that would have put the Cardinals ahead 3-2 instead of 4-2. Or Jay didn’t score on the single. Or perhaps, Breslow retired Beltran to keep the game tied.
Gomes has thrown out two runners at home plate in 2013, a career-high. He’s nailed seven runners at home in eight big league seasons, under one per year. Just once in his career, in 2009 with Cincinnati, has he thrown out a runner at home plate on a sacrifice fly. For his career, Gomes is one run above average with his arm.
Sometimes the best decision is not to make the throw and cede the lead. Neither Gomes nor Breslow was thinking about the probability that he would succeed on his individual throw (and necessary catch, and tag). Neither was evaluating the reward of a successful throw versus the cost of an unsuccessful event. Neither was thinking about the much greater possibility of something going wrong. But maybe they should have.
Sometimes, the road to immortality (in a baseball sense) is for a player to best recognize his own limitations and learn to say no. Or just be Carlos Beltran and hit .339/.448/.714 (!) over 10 series in a post-season career.
I was watching the international feed of the World Series last night, with Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe. In the second inning I believe, after Pete Kozma dropped Shane Victorino’s ground ball, Thorne and Sutcliffe grew exasperated with the Cardinals’ defense, which was not good.
And then Thorne said, (I’m paraphrasing, because I did not have my recorder going): “What’s surprising is that the Cardinals were very good defensively in the regular season, they were tied for the National League lead with fewest errors – 75.”
This is true, but silly. First, and most importantly, cumulative errors are a bad way to measure team defense. Second, the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, both of whom committed 75 errors in 2013 both committed the fourth-most errors in the game overall: the Yankees (69), Rays (59) and Orioles (54) all committed fewer. So even by Thorne’s own preferred metric, the Cardinals were not close to the best in baseball at avoiding errors.
A much more accurate measure of team defense is Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency, which simply measures the frequency at which a team’s defense turns batted balls into outs in which St. Louis was 21st in baseball at .703. Boston was 17th at .706. Going a step further, adjusting for context, Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, rates the Cardinals even worse, at -0.94, 26th in baseball. Boston is 24th.
Other advanced metrics tell a similar story. By team wide UZR, the Cardinals at -42.9 were 27th in baseball. The Sox were 10th.
By Defensive Runs Saved per 1,200 innings, the Cardinals were 26th (-3). The Sox were 15th.
The outlier is Total Zone, where per 1,200 innings, the Cardinals were league average (0 – 16th in baseball). The Sox were 12th.
The metrics disagree about Kozma specifically. By UZR/150, he was 24th among MLB SS at +8. By Total Zone, he was fourth-best in baseball at 11 runs above average. BIS‘ +/- puts him fifth among MLB SS.
The part that bothers me is that Thorne’s line gets the story all wrong. The Cardinals were, by most full accounting systems, a poor defensive team, at best league average according to total zone. They mostly caught the balls they could reach, but their teamwide range was not strong. Thus, they committed relatively few errors while not being a strong defensive outfit. The Cardinals has strengths – they had one of the top offenses in the national league, an ace in Adam Wainwright, a young pitcher throwing like an ace in Michael Wacha, a bullpen that throws really really hard – but defense was just not one of them.
According to Thorne, it was. And that’s wrong and misleading to our future baseball-loving friends around the globe.
There’s no one way to build a contender or World Series team.
These are really fun reads from Dave Schoenfield at ESPN Sweet Spot about how the Red Sox and Cardinals were built.
Basically, the Cardinals were largely built internally, but they spent good money on outfielders – Matt Holiday and Carlos Beltran. The Red Sox have certainly had their development success stories (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Bucholz) but relied more on the free agent market.
The number that I think is most important is $83 million. That’s the number the Red Sox spent on 2013 contracts through free agency. Filling multiple needs simultaneously through free agency is expensive. Yes, the Mets have many needs – most notably in the rotation, in the outfield, and at short stop. In fact, I would argue that it is beyond the Mets’ budget (whatever that budget is) at the moment. Moreover, as Michael Baron pointed out two days ago, the Red Sox had a better base of proven, returning talent in 2013 than the Mets will have in 2014.
Put simply, I believe that the Mets have too many holes, and not enough money to address them all at once this offseason to become a playoff caliber team in 2014. (Unless, of course, the Mets have $80 to spend on 2014 payroll, and that strikes me as wildly unlikely.) Instead, the team should be focused on acquiring cost-controlled talent, so that when Harvey returns, and their talent base is closer to playoff level, the Mets can find their own Victorino, Holliday, or late-career Beltran.
The Mets began the process of purging players from their 40-man roster last week. At the moment, including players on the 60-man disabled list, the Mets have 44 players on the 40-man roster. Those 60-man DL guys will start counting against the 40-man roster after the World Series. The deadline to add prospects to the 40-man roster to protect prospects is November 20.
Guys are either protected from the Rule Five draft three or four times. Players who are younger than 19 years old on June 5th before signing their first contract are protected four times while those who are 19 or older are protected three times. So, any college draftees from the 2010 draft are Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year.
The Mets 40-Man Roster Position Breakdown
Last week, the Mets outrighted RHP Greg Burke and LHP Sean Henn; neither were claimed. Meanwhile, the Dodgers claimed Mike Baxter while the Angels grabbed LHP Robert Carson.
The hard-throwing Carson has not figured out how to retire Major League hitters.In 33 inning in the last two years, he’s run a 13/11 K/BB ratio and allowed 11 homeruns on his way to a 6.82 ERA. His fastball is 93-95 and his slider is mostly 85 ish (82-88 per Brooksbaseball), but he has been less than the sum of his parts thanks to command troubles.
In 155 PA in 2013 in his age 27 season, Baxter hit .189/.303/.250 with zero homeruns. Sure, he’ll always have “The Catch” in Johan Santana’s no-hitter in 2012, but it’s looking more and more costly. He disclocated his shoulder on the play, and according to Kristie Ackert in the NY Daily News, “some in the organization feel that Baxter never recovered his power after that injury.” There’s little question that his isolated slugging percentage of .061 was his worst in his three seasons as a Mets.
There are seven more pitchers on the 40-man who are eligible to be free agents:
David Aardsma, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Feliciano, Frank Francisco, Aaron Harang, LaTroy Hawkins, Daisuke Matsuzaka
When these seven walk, the Mets’ 40-man roster will slim down to 37. That’s a start.
The Mets have relatively few must-add players this winter. The only three givens to me are:
1. Jacob deGrom - RHP who throws a low-mid 90s power sinker and ended the year in AAA. Adopted a curveball as his primary breaking ball in 2013. Still has a chance to start, but likelier a reliever in the end.
2. Jeff Walters - Fastball/Slider RHP who had a strong year out of the Binghamton bullpen. Will start 2014 in AAA Las Vegas and should make his MLB debut sometime in the warm part of summer.
3. Steven Matz - LHP stayed healthy for the first time in 2013 and made major strides. There’s no way the Mets let a lefty who can touch 96 get away.
Adding those three players would take the Mets back up to 40 players. So, if the Mets want to add any other players via the Rule 5 draft or free agency or a trade, they will have to drop more guys.
Adam Rubin suggested last week that in addition to the four players who were already waived, Scott Atchison, Zach Lutz, Andrew Brown and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are most at risk. I would add Jordany Valdespin and Hansel Robles to the list of guys who should be worried about their 40-man roster spots.
Prospects On the Bubble Outside Looking In
Luis Cessa – Really nice season for Savannah in a-ball, but is his combination of low 90s fastball, slider and changeup special enough for a team to carry out of a-ball? Highly doubt it.
Cory Vaughn – Auditioning for a roster spot in the AFL. I believe he’s not an everyday big leaguer. Perhaps he’s a platoon player/bench bat. We discussed that at more length a few weeks ago.
Bret Mitchell - Missed 2012 after hip labrum surgery but had a nice 2013 out of the Savannah/St. Lucie bullpen throwing 90-94 sitting 92-93. Still, 22 walks in 30.2 innings in the FSL signal that he’s not ready for a MLB 40-man roster.
Aderlin Rodriguez – left unprotected a year ago, Rodriguez hit .260/.295/.427 in 62 games for St. Lucie before hand/wrist injuries ended his regular season. He’s unlikely to be protected or drafted.
Worrying about the 40-man roster for a team that finished 2013 at 74-88 seems almost to miss the point. If the Mets are going to improve the squad for next year, they will need to replace the players they have with ones who are better. (That’s top-grade #analysis, right there.)
In that case, change is good. So, do the Mets have the ability to spend in the free agent market? Can they be creative in the trade market?
The short answer to the question posed by the title is: “yes, I believe Cesar Puello is a prospect.”
Monday, in his chat on the Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List, which did not include Puello, Josh Norris answered a question on the 22-year-old outfielder in his first exchange:
@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Josh. What did evaluators have to say about Cesar Puello’s season, and did he end up close making your list?
Josh Norris: He didn’t end up close to making the list, and quite frankly, a great deal of it had to do with the Biogenesis scandal. It also didn’t help that people within the Mets organization have told me beforehand that they don’t really consider him a prospect.
According to Josh, conversation he is referring to, with someone within the Mets organization, occurred during the season, perhaps June.
Sure, Puello was not good in 2011 or 2012 in the Florida State League, but the statement seems like a pretty big overreaction.
Lets start with the basics. Puello, who turned 22 on April 1, had his best professional season this year, but was limited to 91 games because he was suspended for the final month+ thanks to his connection with the Biogenesis mess. Mets people I have talked to believe strongly that Puello was clean in 2013.
Puello had always looked the part. He’s big, strong, runs well, throws well and plays hard – always willing to take a pitch and get his uniform dirty. However, he had a long way to go mechanically and tweak after tweak have finally put him in a place where he can make his physical prowess work.
The tables below show Puello’s four seasons in full-season ball. After two years in the Florida State League in which he was injured and swung at everything, he seemed to figure things out this year. His walk rate rose to 7.4% and his homerun rate spiked driving his isolated slugging percentage to a career-best. His extra-base hit rate reached an all-time high. His BABIP of .391 was also his career-best and one he has no chance of sustaining in the big leagues (if he gets there). Still, there’s plenty to work with.
Although his suspension kept him from the number of plate appearances to qualify for the Eastern League leaderboards, if we relax our requirements to 300 plate appearances, he finished second in the circuit in wRC+ and wOBA (two advanced offensive metrics) to 26-year-old teammate Allan Dykstra. Puello’s 163 wRC+, where 100 is league average, is outstanding.
Lets take a look at how 22-year-olds who have produced similarly in recent years have fared. Whoops, there are none. More on that in a minute.
The following list is the top hitter in the Eastern League in each season at age 22 or lower. Note, all the players in the list below I’ll be looking at the top wRC+ among players in the Eastern League with 300 or more plate appearances in a year (basically half a season).
Year - Player - AA wRC+ – Update
2012 – Aaron Hicks - 133 – Replacement-level big leaguer for the Twins in ’13
2011 – Travis D’Arnaud - 150 - Replacement-level big leaguer for the Mets (31 games).
2010 – Brandon Laird - 136 - Replacement-level Astro in ’13
2009 – Josh Thole - 129 - Replacement-level Blue Jay in ’13
2008 – Nick Evans – 145 – Plugging away in AA for the DBacks in ’13
2007 – Asdrubal Cabrera – 129 – Viable MLB middle infielder who had his worst year in the big in ’13.
2006 – Adam Lind - 152 – He can still hit, but defense hurts his MLB value.
Other notable 22-year-olds from 2011 included young big leaguers like Starling Marte (wRC+ – 138) and Will Middlebrooks (136).
Just being the best 22-year-old in the Eastern League is certainly no guarantee of big league stardom or even big league success although every one of the best 22-year-olds in the EL in a given year played in the big leagues.
But there’s something else important going on here. Limiting the sample to all players who had 300 PA in the Eastern League in a season, Puello just had the best season by a 22-year-old, as measured by wRC+ since Fangraphs began keeping track in 2006.
Adam Lind has been a bit better than league average as a hitter over his career. Considering that his wRC+ is closest to Puello’s on the above list, I think that should carry a little weight. Unlike Lind, I expect Puello’s defense to be a positive addition to his overall value rather than a major drag.
This is not just about numbers. Puello has the underlying tools – power, bat-speed, strength, hand-eye coordination to be a big leaguer.
I expect Puello to be a solid, everyday outfielder with a peak that does make him an above average contributor for a time. Now, he had his career-best marks in plate discipline and power in 2013. Any further improvement in both crucial categories and his projection would improve in parallel fashion.
David Ortiz parked a 86 spliter from Joaquin Benoit for a series changing grandslam last night.
It did not look like a terrible pitch. Lets examine in more detail.
Here’s a screenshot an instant before contact.
The Fox angle is screwy – it’s way to the right of dead center, so that pitch is actually close to the outside corner.
Tim McCarver called the pitch a fastball in real time, but according to Brooks Baseball, it was a split fingered fastball. It was supposed to dive; it didn’t. Still, Brooks Baseball classifies the pitch as being the lower, outside third of the zone to Ortiz.
At BrooksBaseball, they classify splitters with changeups and screwballs as “off-speed pitches” in a separate category from breaking balls (sliders and curves).
The following heat map shows where pitchers threw Ortiz off-speed pitches for the 2013 season. Breaking news: they threw Ortiz soft stuff low and away. (Click on all of the heat maps to embiggen and all are taken from the catcher’s perspective.)
And the reason? It worked often. This is Ortiz’s whiff percentage against such offerings in 2013. He will chase low and away.
And the bad news for the Tigers. When Ortiz made contact against pitches low and away, he could do damage with them. Ortiz slugged over .700 when he made contact with an off-speed pitch in the far low and outside third of the strike zone in 2013.
Now, there are few enough hits in those tables that Sunday night’s grand slam skews how dangerous Ortiz is on such pitches low and away.
Here’s his career.
Ortiz handles the soft stuff middle-down very well, and still slugs over .500 on balls in contact on off-speed pitcher in the lower outer third.
For comparison, and for a Mets angle, look at how poorly their two first baseman fared on such pitches in their careers.
Duda can hit offspeed pitches that are centered. However, as soon as a pitcher moves to the outer third or off the corner, Duda is toast.
Davis’ profile looks like Duda. He can handle a breaking ball that misses down over the middle of the plate. And as pitchers move away from him, the boxes get bluer and bluer.
Other Left-Handed Sluggers
Lets take a look at some of the leading left-handed power threats in baseball from the last five years.
The Royal One handles off-speed misses that end middle-down and away-middle and absolutely punishes them, but he slugs under .300 on contact on balls that are both in the bottom third and outer third.
Votto is a plate coverage monster and like Prince abuses off-speed stuff middle-down, away-middle and middle-middle. Even he does not have the coverage to the lower outside corner as Ortiz does, slugging .344 in the box low and away in the strike zone.
Joe Mauer, crushes off-speed pitches up. (Note: this sentence has been edited, as I originally referred to his “hard decline,” but really, his last two years have been excellent.) And no, he’s not Ortiz on the stuff low and and way.
Benoit did not throw a good splitter to Ortiz. It was flat. As Jeff Sullivan explains at Fangraphs this morning, the pitch had five fewer inches of vertical break than Benoit’s other splitters in the inning.
However, among left-handed power threats, Ortiz is unusually strong on pitches low and away. He’s better than Votto, Mauer, or Fielder on contact low and away. So, he was the right batter, on the right pitch at the right time.
As any Red Sox fan would say, “duh.”