Tag Archive | "Pitch Selection"

Early Patience Is Encouraging For Hosmer

The Kansas City Royals are poised to turn a corner in 2013.  Eric Hosmer and his return to form would be a big part of that.

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars - copyright i70baseball

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars – copyright i70baseball

In a dismal sophomore year for Eric Hosmer, there was an encouraging statistic that jumps out.  His power numbers took a big dip but he started to show patience at the plate and was able to increase his walks dramatically.  During his rookie campaign, Hosmer drew 34 walks and increased that number to 56 during the 2012 season.  Early on in Spring Training, he is showing good pitch selection once again.

It is hard to make much of Spring stats.  It is even harder to try to find something substantial about the stats this early.  The one thing that jumped out of the recent box scores to me was Hosmer drawing two walks and then drilling an RBI triple on Tuesday.

The two walks brings his Spring total to three, in eleven plate appearances.  His average is still low and, other than the triple, there are no extra base hits on his early record.  Still, he is driving in runs early, striking out less, and driving a higher on base percentage.  If he can translate that into his game come time for the regular season, the Royals and their fans will be very happy.

Hosmer’s power numbers will increase as his plate selection gets better.  Many fans are frustrated with the under performance from Hosmer last season and rightfully so.  The team is poised with a strong pitching staff to alter their makeup and show a willingness to win this season.  To get there, Hosmer will need to be a big part of it.

Patience will be the key to his season.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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A Season of Allen Craig

This week, the St. Louis Cardinals found out exactly what a full Major League season of Allen Craig looks like. He has now played in 156 games and collected over 500 plate appearances in the big leagues. The numbers are in…and they look pretty good.

In his time with the Cardinals during the regular season, Craig sports a .297 batting average with 25 home runs, 95 RBI, and a better than .880 OPS. He does have 100 strikeouts against only 42 walks, so perhaps his pitch selection could be a bit better. But those numbers are great. Craig is just one of those players who goes out and rakes.

The problem, of course, is that it has taken Craig parts of three seasons to get one season’s worth of stats on his résumé. Injuries have definitely taken a toll on the slugger’s playing time early in his career. The good news is, the biggest injury he sustained was a result of hustling his ass off and crashing into the wall knee first and not some muscle or tendon pull as a result of poor conditioning or other weakness. The time he missed certainly still counts, but a freak accident injury is something entirely different from being injury prone. It will take more time to see if Craig is predisposed to weird injuries or not.

Craig’s true breakout may have come in the 2011 World Series. Though he only hit .263, Craig had three home runs and an otherworldly 1.154 OPS. Pretty much every other performance in that series got overshadowed by David Freese’s heroics, and he certainly deserved the MVP award. But Craig at least had a case to be in the conversation. Many of his offensive numbers were very close to Freese, and he added some flash with the catch over the wall and go-ahead home run in Game 7. In fact, most of his RBI were of either the go-ahead or game-winning variety. Craig was clutch in that World Series. Remember the hits off Alexei Ogando in the first two games? Overall, Craig had just as big a part in the Cards winning that series as Freese, Chris Carpenter, and Albert Pujols.

Not too shabby for a player who one week will play several positions and the next week seem to be a man without a position. Under Tony LaRussa, Craig played everywhere on the field except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. New manager Mike Matheny has thus far kept Craig in the outfield or at first base, an important position for him to excel in with Lance Berkman’s return uncertain.

But that is a great question: What happens if/when Berkman does come back? Where do the Cardinals play Craig if everyone else is healthy? He was capable playing elsewhere in the infield, but he was not great. With an outfield of Matt Holliday, Jon Jan and Carlos Beltran and everyone’s healthy and producing, who sits? It would be a nice problem to have…unless your name is Allen Craig.

Craig has proven he belongs in the big leagues; now he needs to prove he can stay off the disabled list. He is forcing management on and off the field to take notice by putting up rock-solid numbers. If they continue and his time on the field stabilizes, Craig has a fine career in front of him.

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Five to watch as the ‘real’ games begin

The St. Louis Cardinals had an impressive showing in spring training, compiling a solid 16-9 record. Spring games and records for that matter mean little to nothing so take it for what it is. Preparation.

 

The pitching staff was especially good, allowing the fewest runs in the Grapefruit League and the hitters did their part as well. Some names are familiar, others not so much.

If St. Louis can keep this momentum going, they could jump out to an early lead in the National League Central race. And while the results of the games may not count for anything. The work put in often does.

Let’s take a look at five players who could have a quick start to the 2012 regular season.

David Freese, 3B

The World Series MVP showed some impressive power this spring, blasting three home runs. He also racked up 10 RBI, good for second place on the Cardinals roster.

He only hit .189, so he needs to improve his pitch selection, but that should come with time.

It’s possible Freese could put up career highs in homers and RBI this season, as long as he stays healthy.

Matt Carpenter, INF

Carpenter made the big league roster because of his outstanding spring.

The backup infielder hit .357, scored 13 runs and had 10 RBI.

With David Freese at third and Lance Berkman at first, it’ll be hard to get consistent playing time for Carpenter, but when he does play, he should be very effective.

The Redbirds are set at the corner infield position with Carpenter backing up the stars.

Adam Wainwright, SP

Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season with an elbow injury. But now he’s back, and he doesn’t appear to be any different.

The Cardinals ace had an impressive spring, recording an impressive 1.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

He makes the Cardinals’ starting rotation so much more dangerous.

When Chris Carpenter comes back from his neck injury, the National League won’t enjoy playing St. Louis.

Kyle Lohse, SP

Chris Carpenter’s neck injury looks like it will linger into the regular season, meaning Lohse is going to have to step up and solidify the St. Louis pitching staff.

He showed that he’s up to the task this spring, notching three wins and leading the team with 20 strikeouts.

If he can avoid injury and keep the ball in the park, the Cardinals should be able to survive a month or two without Carpenter.

Matt Holliday, LF

Holliday absolutely tore it up at the plate this spring.

The slugger hit .383 with three home runs and 11 RBI in Florida.

He’s going to have to lead this team offensively in 2012. If his spring numbers are any indication, the Cards are in good hands.

It’ll be up to Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran to make sure Holliday gets plenty of good pitches to hit.

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Jake Westbrook Woes

The Cardinals dropped a heartbreaker on Wednesday night, losing to Cincinnati 9-8 in thirteen innings. Games that high scoring and that long have multiple story lines, plot twists, and drama. This one could be summarized in two sentences. The good: St Louis fought back from an early 8-0 hole to tie it in the last of the ninth. The bad: Jake Westbrook got shelled, surrendering a double, a triple, and three home runs in 4 1/3 innings. Let’s focus on Jake.

Westbrook has had a rough first half. His 5.34 ERA is ranked 104th out of 111 ‘qualified’ pitchers per Fangraphs (although his xFIP is 4.06, which is only 88th). Last season he rebounded from a nearly similar xFIP with Cleveland (4.24) to post the best xFIP of his career with St Louis (3.51). Last year nine of his 12 Cardinal starts could be classified as quality ones (6 IP or more, 3 ER or less). This year only 5 of 15 starts could be described that way. What is driving his struggles, and can he rebound?

Looking at his 2010 data with the Cardinals, and comparing it with his 2011 to date, a couple of things jump out. His velocity on his three main pitches – fastball, slider, cutter – are roughly the same as last year. He’s still throwing his fastball about 60% of the time. His usage pattern for his off-speed pitches has changed. He’s throwing the slider about half the time (16.4% last year, 9.8% this), and his cutter 4X as much (14.8%, up from 4.7% a year ago). His pitch selection more closely resembles what he did while an Indian in 2010 (14.9% slider, 12.9% cutter), when he posted a 4.65 ERA and that 4.24 xFIP.

Next, his swinging strike percentage is the lowest of his career. Over all of last season hitters swung and came up empty 7.1% of the time, and it was virtually the same in both leagues (7.2% AL, 6.9% NL). This year – 6.1% of all swings are in vain. Additionally, and perhaps related, hitters are making more contact on his pitches located outside of the strike zone. Last year they made contact on 70% of those pitches; this year it’s 75%. These two statistics support the belief he is not locating as well this year as he did last season. The most obvious symptom of bad location is lots of base runners, and Westbrook has had that in spades. His current WHIP is his worst since 2001. His walk rates are up and his strikeouts are down. Opposing hitters are batting .320 on balls in play, their best mark off Jake since 2006.

Although his location has been off this year, his HR’s allowed have not shown a real spike. Last year with the Cardinals only 9.4% of the fly balls he allowed left the yard. This year it is worse, 13.2%, but with a caveat. This year’s percentage is much more in line with his performance in prior seasons. In 2007 it was 10.2%, 2008 16.7%, and in his half of 2010 with Cleveland it was 12.7%. So although he’s not getting as many swinging strikes, and opposing hitters are making more contact on pitches outside the strike zone, and he’s constantly pitching with guys on base, he’s not surrendering home runs at an abnormally high rate.

Given all that data, we can make one reasonably easy recommendation and one hard one for a better second half. Easy: he should use the All-Star break to re-evaluate how often he throws his slider and cutter, and adjust them to his second-half 2010 levels. Hard: he needs to re-discover his command and locate better both in and out of the strike zone. Better location will drive his base runner numbers down and help him get deeper into ballgames with better results. Otherwise his second half in 2011 will look maddingly like his first.

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