September 10, 2015

Joey Votto and the lefty strike

by Daniel Conmy

Joey Votto threw a tantrum yesterday. Not only did he get ejected, but the Reds superstar needed to be restrained by a good chunk of teammates and coaches so he didn't go after the umpire and take some swings. If you have not seen the call that made this tirade happen, feast your eyes on this.

Now, you can look at Votto and say that he overreacted to a call that has always been called a strike to lefties. Or you can challenge how umpires call the game.

There's the call in question if you want a freeze frame. That is Francisco Cervelli catching that ball on the outer half or into the right handed batter's box. He brings an interesting angle to this story that we will get to in a little bit, but back to Votto.

Joey Votto is known for his patience at the plate and his ability to take a walk. Votto knows the strike zone very well, but Bill Welke thought he knew it a little better last night. While Votto seemed upset about not be awarded time in the video, the pent up rage began because of this borderline call.

Alright, let's break down the other pieces of this picture. Bill Welke has his head over the middle of the plate. That changes his perception on the outer half for lefties. Umpire positioning is key to whether or not a pitch will be called a ball or strike. It has been documented that lefties have an unfair advantage at the plate and their counterparts do not need to even come close to the strike zone to get the batter out during lefty-lefty matchups. There is one other piece that we have not discussed in depth yet, and that is Francisco Cervelli.

Cervelli is one of the best pitch framers in the game. Don't take my word for it, look at this data taken from StatCorner.

I'll get to what all those sections mean in a second, but the focus should be on calls. Those are the extra calls that Cervelli is able to get based on his pitch framing ability, which is good for 1.86 per game. His oStr% is the percentage of calls his able to get called strikes that would be balls if a perfect zone was in place. That is the largest percentage with catchers who have a large sample size for the 2015 season.

Was Votto right to erupt? Probably based off of his perception of the strike zone. Bill Welke was not the only reason this pitch was called a strike. Welke's positioning in regards to the outside corner and the framing abilities of Francisco Cervelli were the most important factors.

September 7, 2015

Jackie Bradley Jr. is a baseball player again

by Daniel Conmy

Bradley was a prized pick when he dropped out of the first round and into compensation picks. The Boston Red Sox snagged him and Bradley Jr. started developing into a prized talent that could eventually impact the outfield in Boston. For the past three years, Bradley couldn't figured it out at the plate. The defense has always been stellar, but the bat was so nonexistent, so it wasn't worth the defensive upside to put him in the lineup. Then, in the middle of the 2015 season, something clicked.

In no way do I condone the use of small sample size, but Bradley turned his season around with one fateful day. At the plate, Bradley Jr. went 5 for 6 with two home runs and three doubles. There were signs in early August, but this explosion on the scene cemented a transformation. In July, Bradley posted a negative wRC+, but he quickly turned it around in August, posting a wRC+ of 210. Yes, that means he was 110 percent better than the average ballplayer in August. Why the sudden change of course?

Bradley changed his timing mechanism. Before, he did not lift up his leg, but simply shifted weight. The medium leg lift, which helps some batters time pitches, created a better version of Jackie Bradley Jr. Now, Bradley is in the middle of the Red Sox plans for upcoming seasons. A defensive wizard suddenly found a new ability.

Do not throw caution to the wind and believe that Jackie Bradley has turned it around though. Eluded to earlier, this is a small sample. In the month of August, he was one of the best players in terms of WAR. Players have good months. They have good first halves. Remember Bryan LaHair?

While being cautiously optimistic, Bradley Jr. needs to play at this level for the length of a season before trusting the numbers he's putting up. The physical change to his swing might be the only thing holding him back, but time will tell if that's the only speed bump in his game. Pitchers will soon adjust and then we will see if Bradley can easily adjust over the next challenge he faces at the plate.

September 4, 2015

The walk

by Daniel Conmy

As I yell at my friend continually over a text about the importance of a walk, I realize that I have an outlet where I can express this fascination with four pitches outside the strike zone. It is nothing more than a free trip on base that raises your on base percentage by mere points. There are harsh critics to what the walk can do, but what the walk doesn't do is give an out to the other team. Those are precious commodities.

This enthrallment was recently revamped when I read an article about Joey Votto and his patience at the plate. And the next day, Bryce Harper decided to walk four times in one game. Votto is on another planet at the moment, walking 39 times since August 1 and posting a 220 wRC+ in that span. Harper, on the other hand, has walked 26 times in that same period. Both puzzling numbers for great professional hitters, but let's take a look at their season statistics.

Not bad, right? These two players are walking about as often as they strike out and they both hit for power when they aren't walking. So why is it that Joey Votto continually gets blasted by his own play-by-play announcer, Marty Brennaman, when he walks too much? It seems that Brennaman does not understand the beauty of the walk.

These two players understand, probably better than anybody in the game, what opposing pitchers want to do to beat them. Yes, you can beat them, but when either hitter puts a good swing on the ball, it goes a long way more often than not. These players make the pitchers come to them. And if they decide to stay outside the zone? They gladly take the walk, which noted before, does not give the other team an out.

While Votto has a track record with this high walk rate, Bryce Harper is finally turning into that perennial MVP candidate that many thought was possible when he broke into the MLB at 19 years of age. The patience executed by Harper turned him into a player feared by most opposing pitchers. On September 3, Harper walked four times in four plate appearances, resulting in four runs scored and one RBI. Truly a historic day. A walk in this instance, led straight to an RBI, but the most important thing is Bryce Harper was put on the bases and let his teammates execute, which can't be said for the rest of the Nationals season.

Based off of his swing rate outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), Harper has laid off more offerings outside the zone, which has allowed him to reach base at a higher rate. With every other category seemingly stable, Harper bettered himself by understanding that pitchers might not challenge as often and it continues to benefit him.

I will continue to yell in my friends ear about how walks are crucial and those four pitches outside can just win a game for your team.