There are a handful of topics I have been wanting to write about but a busy work schedule has kept me out of the Fanpost arena for a few months. Rather than clog up your sidebar with various posts, I figured I'd toss them all into one. I'll keep it organized but the only common theme between all of these topics is Angels Baseball. After the jump you'll find:
- The "Clutch" Factor - Where do the Halo's stack up against the rest of the league? How important is "clutch" hitting? Who do you want at the plate in the big moment?
- Tyler Chatwood: Tick... Tick... Tick... - Is it only a matter of time before Chatwood's ERA jumps into the 5's where some peripherals suggest it belongs?
- Buy or Sell: Analyzing the Angels - Which Halos are legit and which are being helped/hurt by the baseball gods?
The "Clutch" Factor
According to FanGraphs, "Clutch measures how well a player performed in high leverage situations. It’s calculated using WPA and WPA/LI, and it compares a player’s performance against himself. For example, a player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch."
In summary, a positive clutch rating indicates a player has stepped up his game in key situations, while a negative clutch rating states the opposite. Like many of you, I've seen just about every Angels at bat of the 2011 season and it has seemed whenever the Halos need the big hit we are left muttering profanities as our hitter pops up, strikes out, or bounces into the inning-ending double play. I've certainly recognized the lack of clutching hitting demonstrated to date, but wondered how the Angels stacked up against the rest of the big leagues...
Around the League: Who's Clutch? Who Chokes?
I took a look at the overall team clutch ratings over at FanGraphs. To no surprise, the Halos -2.04 rating places them in second to last in MLB. Only the Chicago White Sox have been less clutch in big situations this season. Out of curiousity I peaked at the other end of the spectrum to see which teams have consistently delivered the big hit this season. To no surprise, sitting atop the list was the Baltimore Orioles... Wait... What? Needless to say, I was baffled to see Baltimore listed as the most clutch team in baseball. The rest of the top ten includes the sub-.500 Astros, Pirates, Mariners, Cubs, and Nationals. On the other hand, some of the more successful clubs (Boston, Toronto, Texas, MFY) are among the league's worst clutch hitting teams.
Surely, this is a product of a small sample size, right?
In 2010 the Cincinatti Reds were the biggest choke artists in MLB.... en route to the NL Central Division Title. The Houston Astros were far and away the most clutch team in baseball and had 76 wins to show for it. In 2009, half of the MLB playoff teams sported negative clutch ratings. This begs the question, "Is there too much emphasis placed on clutch hitting?" Is it possible we as fans tend to stress on this component because the key moments in the ball game are when we find ourselves the most emotionally invested?
Personally, it's difficult to accept that idea that timely hitting is overrated in baseball. Everything I have known as a fan and former player tells me otherwise, but the findings were pretty interesting nonetheless.
Two out in the bottom of the 9th, the bases are loaded and the Halos trail by 1 run...
The situation doesn't get more high leverage than this. The game hinges on one at bat. Who do you want at the plate?
Let's look at a few of the probable choices and breakdown how they have performed in the big moment in 2011..
- Howie Kendrick - Howie has finally shown signs he is ready to breakout and be the player we have been hoping for the last handful of years. He has already posted a career high WAR and will hopefully keep the production coming when he returns from the disabled list. The way Kendrick has hit the ball this season makes him the obvious choice to have in the box in the big moment, right? Not so much.... Howie's break out year has been backed by solid peripherals that include a 25% line drive rate, zero infield pop ups, and a booming (and likely unsustainable) HR/FB rate of 23%. The bad news, however, is Howie is not demonstrating those skills in the clutch situations. A 15% line drive rate, 28% K-rate, and 0% HR/FB in high leverage situations leave him with a wOBA just over .200 when it matters the most.
- Maicer Izturis - The Halos second most productive bat this year has seemingly done most of his damage in lower leverage situations. His .359 wOBA jumps to a monster .453 in low leverage situations but drops to .289 in high leverage situations leaving him with a slightly negative clutch rating that places him around the middle of the pack of the Angel regulars. I was pretty damn surprised by this as it seems Maicer is always coming through when it counts. Contrary to the numbers, I wouldn't mind seeing Maicer dig into the box in this situation.
- Erick Aybar - Aybar has had a nice bounce back year, albeit aided by a slightly inflated BABIP. There is plenty of reason to feel good about Aybar so far. His line drive rate has returned to the 21% mark he sported in his big 2009 campaign, and his speed has allowed him to convert 10% of his ground balls into infield hits. However, like Howie, these skills aren't being demonstrated in high leverage situations. In said situations, Aybar's line drive rate falls to 8%, K-rate jumps to 19%, and he has popped out a whopping 25% of the time. Toss in a handful of GIDPs and you have the least clutch hitter of the group.
Surely, there has to be someone in the lineup we can count on to step their game up in this critical moment. Let's turn our attention to the veterans...
- Torii Hunter - Torii hasn't enjoyed a ton of success so far in 2011. The strikeouts are up a bit and the power has dipped some. However, there are some indicators that he'll be back on track sooner than later (more on that later on). Despite a slow start, Hunter has been clutch when the Angels need him to come through. In the big moment, Hunter has cut his K-rate from 23% to 18%, delivers line drives at a 26% clip, and has seen the ball leave the yard on 25% of his fly balls. All this adds up to a .424 wOBA in clutch situations.
- Bobby Abreu - Like Torii, Mr. Smooth has been a bat the Halos can count on in clutch situations. Abreu has a sub .300 wOBA in low leverage situations, but over .400 in high leverage situations. Bobby's ability to cut his K's nearly in half in these big at bats is a large contributor to his success. Nobody has been more clutch for the Angels thus far in 2011.
Tyler Chatwood: Tick... Tick... Tick...
Tyler Chatwood should eventually be a decent Major League pitcher. Some might make the case that his 3-2 record and 4.06 ERA suggest he is ready right now, but I think his early success this year is largely luck-driven and his xFIP (5.00) is a much more telling of the pitcher he is at this point in time.. Let's look a little deeper.
First and foremost, Chatwood is walking more batters than he is striking out. This is a recipe for disaster. Over 5 walks per 9 innings is flat out unacceptable. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this number will come down. Chatwood has always had some trouble finding the strike zone sitting around 4+ BB/9 in his minor league career. His 1st-Pitch Strike % is among the worst in baseball (55%).
Coupled with his inability to pound the strike zone is his inability to get the strike out. Chatwood hasn't posted a K/9 over 5 at any level above high A-ball. The guy can pump it upwards of 95MPH, but the problem is he hasn't shown much with his secondary stuff. He throws his fastball nearly 75% of the time, and frankly a low-mid 90s fastball isn't enough to blow away major league hitters when you don't have much else to keep them off-balance. Hitters are all over Chatwood as demonstrated by the leagues relentlessness to chase balls out of the zone (20% vs. Chatwood compared to 29% league average), tremendous contact rate (89% vs. Chatwood compared to 81% league average), and miniscule Swing & Miss % (4.4% vs. Chatwood compared to 8.4% league average).
So how has Chatwood managed a 4.06 ERA despite these two glaring weaknesses? Simple, he's been a little lucky. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on his HR/FB rate (9%) despite the fact that it is a little below the league average. I'll even give him a break on what appears to be a little luck in the BABIP department. Chatwood's xBABIP sits at .308 compared his .289 actual, but the Angels have played top-notch defense so far (4th in MLB) so we'll let it slide. However, his 76% strand rate is remarkably high especially for a guy that doesn't help himself out of innings with the strike out. A pitcher with a K-rate like his would likely sit closer to a 70% strand rate, which would result in an ERA much closer to his xFIP of 5.00 than his current mark.
Chatwood is coming off a solid 6 K / 2 BB performance vs. Atlanta on Sunday and takes the mound in Minnesota tonight. Hopefully he can put forth another quality outing but I'm incredibly skeptical of him going forward. I firmly believe Trevor Bell is a better option in this rotation spot for the rest of this year as well as down the road.
Buy or Sell?
Some of you might remember my preseason posts that took a look at various peripherals in attempt to "normalize" players by bringing any "luck-based peripherals" back to their expected levels. I'm a believer that applying a player's xBABIP in place of his BABIP will give us a much better sense of how a player is actually performing despite surface stats. Other factors would include using a players 3-year average on something like HR/FB rate (in conjuction with this year's numbers) in attempt to apply a more realistic rate to the player. When it's all said and done, I believe we get a good idea on whether or not the player is the real deal or a fluke. Let's take a look at some of the Halos...
- Maicer Izturis - Maicer has been roping line drives at a remarkable rate (28%) this year which has fueled a .336 xBABIP (almost right on the nose of his .333 actual BABIP). I'm not sold Maicer can maintain such a fantastic line drive rate, but something closer to 24% could be realistic. Hopefully, Maicer can stay on the field regularly because the rest of his peripherals check out. He's legit. Rest of Season Projection: (.293/.356/.429)
- Erick Aybar - Aybar is enjoying a nice bounce back from a dismal 2010, but he is in line for some regression. His .309 batting average is largely aided by a BABIP about 30 points higher than his xBABIP. Expect him to come back down to earth a bit, but he should still be an impact player if he continues to play a solid short stop and steal bases at his current rate. Rest of Season Projection: (.281/.316/.383)
- Bobby Abreu - For the second straight year Bobby's batting average sits in the .250-.260 range. Abreu's BABIP is about 15 points under his xBABIP and his HR/FB rate is down considerably (5% compared to 12% over the last 3 years). Bobby is hitting the ball on on the ground twice as often as he is putting the ball in the air. Sooner or later Abreu will start getting a little air under the ball and see a few more of those balls leave the yard, even if not at the 12% rate we're used to seeing. Bobby has been a little unfortunate to date, but not much. Rest of Season Projection: (.271/.379/.385)
- Torii Hunter - Torii has actually hit the ball much better than his line tells you. A career high 20% line drive rate is a major factor in his .320 xBABIP, nearly 45 points higher than his actual BABIP this season. However, Torii is also striking out 23% of the time, his highest mark ever. Expect him to cut down on the K's a bit and let his BABIP correct itself for some nice production down the stretch. Rest of Season Projection: (.271/.345./.431)
- Alberto Callaspo - Not much to report on Callaspo. He is ripping line drives at a 23% rate, which may be unsustainable considering he has been around 17-18% in 2009 and 2010. I'd guess he could settle in around 20% though which would give him a .311 xBABIP; identical to his current .311 actual BABIP. Callaspo is for real, and though he is nothing remarkable, he is a tremendous upgrade over 2010 Angel Third Basemen. Rest of Season Projection (.295/.355/.394)
Mark Trumbo - Real tough to get a solid read on Trumbo with such a small sample size. The power is legit and the 15% HR/FB rate will likely only grow. It will be interesting to see how many at bats he will lose to Branyan. I'd love to see them work both Trumbo AND Branyan into the lineup. I would much rather see Trumbo in LF than Amarista or Willits. Trumbo's bat more than makes up for any defensive edge Willits or Amarista have out there. Rest of Season Projection (.253/.310/.448)
- Peter Bourjos - Peter's hot start was carried by a BABIP that soared in the .400s for much of April and I believe even into May. It currently rests at .336 and will likely continue to fall down closer to the .300 range. Fleet Pete's problem is a ridiculous 32% K-rate. Bourjos kept his strikeouts under 20% in his minor league career, and around 22% last season. He should be able to cut down on the K's which will help his average stay in the range it is now even if his BABIP falls. Despite his offensive struggles, I'm in the camp that believes this guy should be in the lineup every night if only for his phenomenal defense. It's okay to have a lighter hitter in the lineup in exchange for top flight defense. Let's not lump Pete into the group of Mathis and Willits who don't do anything at the plate, and provide league average defense. Bourjos belongs in the lineup. Rest of the Season Projection: (.230/.271/.388)
Thanks for reading and go Angels..