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Inside The Numbers: Faint Ray of Hope - The Hitters Report


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By Greg Bird, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

Last time we looked at the Angels in depth it was the end of April. I graded out the team based on the stats that had become reliable. It was getting late early. Well, things haven’t changed all that much but there is a faint ray of hope. The Angels have won 8 of 9 and are facing the Red Sox this weekend. They have put themselves in an incredible hole. So near the mid-point of the season we are going to revisit the team in two parts to grade them out on what we know to be reliable. Think of this as the semester grades you get right before Christmas, except this is right before the All-Star Break.

To be accurate this is more of a process report than a progress report. The grades will be based on Pizza Cutter’s research over on FanGraphs. His research was into when stats are significant and can no longer be considered “small sample sizes.” Since many more stats have become reliable since April I will break this into two pieces: a hitters and pitchers report. This article is all about the hitters. I will be focusing on the 11 players who I think will be used most in the lineup. 

The Statistical Process (everything is as of July 1st)

The research shows that at 50 plate appearances (PA), not at bats, a hitter’s swing rate stabilizes. This means we know about how often a player will swing at all the pitches he sees. This tells us how selective he is at the plate. The stat to become reliable next is contact rate at 100 PA. This tells us that when a player swings how often he makes contact with the pitch. Basically how often he swings and misses. All Angels hitters have reached these two plateaus. 

At 150 PA a player’s strikeout rate, linedrive rate, and pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) become reliable. Strikeout rate tells us what percent of a hitters PA ended in a strikeout. Linedrive rate tells us what percentage of balls in play were hit on the line. P/PA tells us how long of an at bat the player has. Everybody but Conger has reached this level.

The next cut off is 200 PA where walk rate and groundball rate stabilizes. Walk rate tells us what percentage of PA end in a walk. Groundball rate tells us what percentage of balls in play are hit on the ground. These give us an idea of what type of contact the hitters are making. Schuck and Bourjos are still under 200 PA at this point in the season. 

The final level any of our hitters have reached so far is 350 PA where Homerun rate (HR rate) and homeruns per flyballs (HR/FB) become dependable. The HR rate tells us what percentage of PA end in a homerun. HR/FB tells us what percentage of flyballs the player hits leave the yard. Five hitters have 350+ PA so far: Pujols, Hamilton, Trout, Trumbo, and Kendrick.

Mark Trumbo
Let us look first at the star student from April to see how he is faring now. Trumbo has reduced his strikeouts this year as compared to 2012. He does strikeout a lot, 23.6% of the time, but this is still much better than last year when he struck out 26.1%. Mark has also improved his plate discipline this year by only swinging 47.7% of the time. This is 3.5% less of the time than he did last year. I believe his increase in selectivity is a big reason why he has improved his walk rate from 6.1% to 9.7%. This is really helping his OBP and his overall value as a hitter.

Trumbo is also making contact more often when he does swing. This implies he is swinging at pitches he can better handle. He has maintained his linedrive rate and his P/PA from 2012 while increasing his groundball rate by 5.1% over last year. 

This contact info means he is hitting fewer flyballs. This has led to a decrease in his overall HR rate from 5.5% to 4.8% because fewer balls are hit that have a chance of leaving the yard. While the overall HR rate has decreased more of Mark’s flyballs are turning into homeruns. His HR/FB increased from last year’s 20.6% to 21.5% in 2013. While he is hitting less flyballs more of them are going over the wall. This dangerous hitter is slowly and continually improving his approach. His results may not always be there but we can’t ask for much more than a good approach from our star student. Grade: A

Mike Trout
Next up is our young phenom who has already punched his ticket to start in the All-Star Game. The news is no longer mixed. Trout is now making almost 2% more contact with the pitches he swings at this year over last year. At the same time Mike is swinging at nearly the same number of pitches that he did in 2012. This leads me to believe his pitch selection is improving. This has allowed him to reduce his strikeout rate by 5%. He has gone from striking out 21.8% last year to 16.8% this year. To put this in perspective, Trout is going from striking out more than league average to well below league average!  

In addition to striking out less he is also walking a bit more. He walked 10.5% of the time last year and is walking 11.1% of the time this year. Less strikeouts and more walks means he is getting even tougher on pitchers. 

Trout is hitting more groundballs this year which has led to a lower HR rate. Mike’s overall homeruns are down a bit as his HR/FB has fallen from 21.6% to 14.8%. It may be less homeruns but he is helping out his overall numbers by putting the ball in play more and striking out less. While the slash line numbers this year aren’t better than last year the underlying process is greatly improved which leads me to believe his numbers are sustainable and could even progress. Grade: A+

Albert Pujols
In April I called Pujols the long time teacher’s pet but now I just think he’s the sick kid who tries to tough it out by coming to school when he should go see the doctor. Some things are getting better for Albert but I think his injuries are really affecting his game. To be fair I don’t know if it is a complete decline or just injury numbers. I do think in the end these injuries might be the final reason for his decline. Let’s just hope he gets this dealt with in the offseason and returns to All-Star form before the inevitable decline years.

Albert’s contact rate is improving from April and is at 82.9%. It is still below last year’s 84.8% and the rate of his best years of around 86%. He is swinging and missing a lot more than he ever has in his career. Pujols’ swing rate is returning to last year’s numbers but this is still about 6% above the swing rate of his peak years. He is just not as selective as he used to be. Is this because of age or because the injuries force him to start his swing early? I do not know.

Pujols’ strikeout rate is unchanged and similar to last year which is still 2% above his career average. Albert’s walk rate is rebounding to 2011 levels which is almost 2% better than 2012 but this is still about 5% below most of his career walk rates. I assume the intentional walks when Hamilton was a sure out earlier in the season bumped these numbers up a bit. Albert is swing at more pitches and missing them more often. This is an obvious recipe for striking out more and walking less.

Albert is hitting more linedrives than last year and he is even a little above his career linedrive rate. But Pujols’ HR rate is down from last year as is his HR/FB numbers. All this is happening while he is hitting fewer groundballs. This seems to mean weak flyball contact and easier outs. It seems the injuries are really affecting Albert’s process and while he can be useful at times he needs some rest. Grade: C-

Josh Hamilton
Let’s turn our attention now to the star transfer student from our rival. Josh has begun swinging less and has dropped his swing rate back in line with his career number of 56.1%. His selectivity is improving. He is increasing his contact rate, which means he is swinging and missing less. He is still about 2.5% below his career contact rate but it is trending the right way. 

Josh’s strikeout rate is also going down. It now sits at 24.9% which is slightly less than last year’s 25.5% and a lot less than April 28%. His career strikeout rate is 20.1% so he still has some work to do to become the old Josh but right now any good news is worth reporting. His walk rate is still low even for him. He is walking 3% less than last year. All this isn’t too much of a surprise since it is obvious he is still struggling with some breaking pitches and lefties in general.

There are other periphery things that are trending in the right direction for Hamilton. His linedrive rate is up to 20.5%. It isn’t his career level but it was lower earlier in the season. His groundball rate is back to 2010/2011 levels which were very productive years. Last year it dropped nearly 4% and was down earlier this year too. 

Hamilton is seeing the same number of P/PA and his GB/FB ratio is fairly normal. The other stats that are in decline right now are his HR/FB rate and his HR rate. This is apparent since he hasn’t been doing the damage at the plate that we are accustomed to seeing. The data suggests he is really emerging from his slump and his process is improving. Hopefully his results keep improving too. Grade: C+

Howard Kendrick
Now let us look at the student with all the potential in the world and see if he is finally putting it together. Howard’s results have looked good in many areas and some of that will be seen here but is his process solid too? 

Kendrick is swinging at 53.9% of the pitches he sees which is 3.3% more than last year. Kendrick’s swing rate during his best season was considerably lower at 46.9%. He is not being as selective at the plate as in previous years. His contact rate is very similar to last year so he isn’t swing and missing more. He isn’t striking out more than 2012 but his strikeout rate is up a full percent since April. It has returned to his career average and sits at 17.3% right now. 

What has really improved for Kendrick is his walk rate and linedrive rate. He has increased his walk rate from 4.9% last year to 5.7%. This is the same walk rate he had in his All-Star Game year so it should be sustainable. Howard’s biggest improvement in 2013 is his linedrive rate. It is sitting at 28.6% right now. This is the best among qualifying hitters. This is also 8% more than last year and 9.3% higher than his career average. I don’t really know if this rate is sustainable but if it is this could be a career season for Howard. I really doubt it is since the league average linedrive rate is 20.8%. We can still enjoy it while it lasts. 

Other improvements are his HR rate and his HR/FB numbers. His HR rate is 2.7%. This isn’t as good as his All-Star year but well above his career average. His HR/FB number surpasses his career numbers and it sit at 17.6%. This could be a function of his increased linedrives and hard hit flyballs. Kendrick is making really good contact right now. If he can keep that up and keep his strikeouts down than he could be very successful this year. Grade: B+

Erick Aybar
Our do anything to get a good grade student, including a little dishonesty or trickery, is who I’d like to look at next. While Erick is being more selective at the plate than last year he is swinging at more pitches than he did in April. This is good except he is also swinging at and missing nearly 2% more pitches than he did in 2012. While he is swinging and missing more, Aybar’s increased selectivity is allowing him to strike out less. In 2012 he struck out 11% of the time whereas this year he is striking out only 8.7% of the time. This leads the AL among qualified hitters but doesn’t lead the Angels’ core 11 players.

Erick is making better contact this year hitting more balls on a line. His 20.6% linedrive rate is nearly 2% more than his career average. Hard hit balls are always a good thing. The one thing he has really regressed on is his walk rate. He is only walking 2.8% of the time. Last year he walked 4% of the time, which is very close to his career average. This could be a function of his increased swing rate. Overall he is doing better but the increased swing and miss issue is concerning. Grade: B-

Alberto Callaspo
Every class has a klutzy student and one Angel definitely has the yips this year on defense. This hasn’t seemed to have an effect on his hitting however. Callaspo is swinging at 40.5% pitches this year which is more than last year but it is still more selective than his career average of 43.9%. While he is being more selective he is also making more contact with pitches he sees. He has a 92.8% contact rate in 2013. This has led to Callaspo striking out a lot less this year than in 2012 or in his whole career. Last year Alberto struck out 11.3% of the time and his career average is 8.4%. This year Callaspo is striking out only 6.9% of the time. This is considerably better than the league average strikeout rate of 19.8%. 

Callaspo’s greater selectivity is leading to an increased linedrive rate. He is hitting 24.9% of his balls on a line which is 4.2% more than his career average. This better contact due to being more selective at the plate bodes well for continued success. 

Alberto is also walking more this year. 10.8% of his PA ends in a walk which is 2.3% more than his career average. His groundball rate has returned to his career average after taking a dip last year. Overall Alberto’s approach seems very solid and he should continue to be solid at the plate, even if he messes up in the field. Grade: A-

Chris Iannetta
Some students are the strong silent type and I want to focus on “the Iceman” next. Chris is much more selective at the plate now than he was early this year or even in his career. He is swinging at only 41.9% of the pitches he sees. In April he was swinging at 51.8% of pitches and over his career he has swung at 44.4%. He is making a bit less contact this year which means he is swinging and missing more than he used to. 

All these changes at the plate have led to Iannetta see more P/PA, striking out more, and walking more. Chris is seeing 4.23 P/PA as opposed to 4.03/PA last year and 4.15/PA over his career. He is striking out 24.2% this year which is slightly more than last year and 1.9% more than his career average. This is probably due to his increased problem with swinging and missing. He is walking a tone more and has even earned the moniker “Roman god of walks,” due to his Italian heritage and similarity to the plate discipline of a certain Red Sox corner infielder. Iannetta is walking 19% of the time which is 10.7% more than league average and is best among hitters with 150+ PA. 

Iannetta’s approach seems to have produced better contact too. 22.3% of his balls in play are linedrives which is well above average and very good for Chris. His batting average doesn’t show it yet but if he keeps up the hard contact more balls should fall in for hits. Overall Chris’ approach is solid and he will give us a quality at bat. Grade: B

Peter Bourjos
There is a student in this class that has a ton of potential but is suffering from Murphy’s Law this year. Peter has adjusted his approach from last year and even from April. He is swinging at fewer pitches than he did in 2011 or in April of 2013 but at more than he did in 2012 when he struggled trying to be more patient. Peter seems to have adjusted his approach to be more selective but within a range that he is still comfortable.

Bourjos is making more contact with the pitches he is swinging at which has led to fewer strikeouts. He increased his contact rate by 2.9% from 2011 and he is making contact with 78.2% of the pitches he swings at. He has reduced his strikeout rate to 19% which is just below league average. This is also less than his last two years which were both around 22.5%. 

Peter is seeing fewer P/PA this year than last year but his P/PA is very similar to 2011. He is making better contact this year than he did in 2012. He is hitting 15.5% linedrives as opposed to 13.3% last year. This isn’t as good as his break out year where he hit 16.7% linedrives but it is a good bounce back year. Overall his success seems due to an improved approach at the plate, reducing his strikeouts and hitting the ball harder. This is sustainable if the injury bug finally leaves him alone. Grade: A-

J.B. Schuck
We have a young unproven successful kid in our class and the big question is; is his success maintainable? Schuck has limited time in the big leagues having only had real playing time in Houston in 2011. He is showing the same swing rate from 2011. This leads me to believe his plate discipline and selectivity are real. J.B. is actually swinging and missing more with us than he did in Houston. This means he could actually be doing a little better than he already is doing if he regresses to 2011 rates. He is also is not hitting balls as hard as he was in 2011, about 6% less. His linedrive rate now is 18.4% and in 2011 it was 24.7%. The rest of his numbers have not stabilized based on PA but these numbers suggests that he is actually playing below the ability he showed previously, if that is true than his current success is more than sustainable. Grade:B+

Hank “the Tank” Conger
The last guy up is our class clown. Hank is getting more playing time and will probably get more in the coming weeks due to his improved defense. He doesn’t have a lot of at bats to judge him by yet. Hank’s swing rate is similar to 2011, the last year he had significant at bats. He is no more or less selective. Hank is swinging at and missing more pitches this year, mostly at pitches inside the strike zone. That is concerning because while he is having success at the plate his process doesn’t seem to be sound right now. It could be a product of his sporadic playing time so we will have to take the wait and see approach. Grade:C-

The Conclusion
The Angels’ lineup has some guys doing really well but it also a couple of guys who are just not living up to their ability. I think Hamilton’s approach at the plate is improving and his recent turnaround could be sustainable. It’ll take some time before we see where he will end at and if the ugly Hamilton is behind us. Pujols may never get right until his injury issues are resolved. That may not even be the issue but we won’t know until he isn’t crippled by his knee and plantar fasciitis. 

Trout, Trumbo, and Bourjos are the real bright spots in this lineup. These guys are showing they are smart baseball players who can really make the adjustments to be very good and in one case great, baseball players. 

Other guys in the lineup are great companion pieces and nobody is an easy out. In years past there was always one player I would dread coming to the plate all year. Apart from early season Hamilton and sometimes Pujols there is nobody else I really dread in the box. This means the lineup could really go on a big run and carry the team for large stretches. That is what it was designed to do and it is finally beginning to show its potential.

The offense has some definite room for improvement. If the two superstars revert to their baseball card numbers then it will get exciting really fast. It could easily be the best lineup in the AL. Until that happens the Angels are just a very good offense that may show some flashes of brilliance. I guess we can continue to hold on to our faint ray of hope that things could end well in 2013. Grade: B

Next time I will look at the rotation and the bullpen and see how they are doing and if they can help us hope too.

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Hi Greg, nice piece. I'm not really sure what the grades mean - are they based upon expectation? Recent performance? Performance as a whole? Etc. The reason I ask is that you give much higher grades to three players in particular - Trumbo, Pujols, and Hamilton - than their performance relative to expectation actually warrants.

 

Trumbo, for instance, might have an improved approach, but the results are not really any better than they've been the last two years. He improved slightly from 2011 to 2012, but this year's numbers are very similar to last. The main different is that he's walking a lot more but his average is down. Now I could see you grading him well because his improved approach points to better long-term performance; I would imagine that with his walk rate his overall triple-slash numbers will be slightly better this year than last, say .270/.330/.520 by season's end would be my guess. But either way that hardly warrants an "A." A "B" seems more appropriate.

 

As for Pujols and Hamilton, even a C- and C+ seems generous - especially if you take into account expectation. Pujols has been the better overall hitter than Hamilton, but he's still pretty much league average. And while Hamilton has improved over the last two weeks, his season numbers are still quite bad. I don't see how either can be graded higher than in the D range.

 

Maybe you can clarify what exactly you are grading? But again, nice piece!

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Finally had the time to read this thread and it's a fantastic look at some of the Angels bats. I just don't understand the grading system. How is Howie a B+ while Trumbo has an A, Callaspo with an A-, and Shuck with the same grade of a B+. Howie is hitting better than all those guys. Pujols and Hamilton are on the verge of getting kicked out of school.

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Sorry I didn't clarify how I based the grades. I DID NOT grade on performance results. Their triple slash lines or any other results stats did not matter. I was grading solely on what stats had become reliable (swing rate, contact rate, walk rate, strike out rate, linedrive rate, and the other stats mentioned.) These are all mostly process stats. That makes this more of a report on their process not their actual results.

Here are two examples mentioned and the methodology.

Hamilton grades higher than Pujols because his approach is improving and getting closer to the numbers that underly his most productive years. Hamilton had a D in April's report but has improved many things since then. Pujols is improving his numbers but still not as much as Hamilton has. Hamilton's results improved the last two weeks but his approach changed sooner than that to change the underlying numbers as much as he has since April. Pujols' results look better but Hamilton's approach is more improved.

Trumbo's results may be similar to last year but his overall approach is much better. He isn't just increasing walks he is also decreasing strikeouts. There are other things he's doing better too. In fact most of his underlying stats are improving, hence the high grade.

I could go through this for everyone and the actual letter grade is slightly arbitrary so there could be a quick reference aspect. The final letter comes from spending so much time looking into each player to get a feel for what they are doing.

Hope this helps you understand it a bit more.

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I understand the process grading but results are not necessarily following, especially with Trumbo. You can slde the scale back and forth along the number line of contact rates and zSwing all you want but in the end if he is hitting .200 for the month of June then the process is flawed.

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Bad results don't necessarily mean bad process over a smaller sample size. Results are also dependent on luck and opponent's defense. A player can only control what type of contact they make and if they walk or strikeout. Trumbo is reducing strikeouts and increasing walks. His linedrive rate has not dropped of this season. His HR/FB rate has gone up. These two facts suggest he is making very solid contact with the balls he puts in play. If they get caught or end up in outs that really isn't something he can control. His underlying numbers don't suggest his recent slump is dependent on him. It also suggests he will pull out of it and it won't last much longer. In fact he is hitting .250 over the past 7 days.

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Bad results don't necessarily mean bad process over a smaller sample size. Results are also dependent on luck and opponent's defense. A player can only control what type of contact they make and if they walk or strikeout. Trumbo is reducing strikeouts and increasing walks. His linedrive rate has not dropped of this season. His HR/FB rate has gone up. These two facts suggest he is making very solid contact with the balls he puts in play. If they get caught or end up in outs that really isn't something he can control. His underlying numbers don't suggest his recent slump is dependent on him. It also suggests he will pull out of it and it won't last much longer. In fact he is hitting .250 over the past 7 days.

Hmmm, I give you a month and you respond with "small sample size" then you drop the 7 day forecast (which is not all that bright and sunny) and say it is all good. I just don't see the A student here but more of the kid struggling even though he has all the tools to succeed.

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The month isn't much of a sample size for batting average, neither is a week. I am just saying we are talking about process not results. You mentioned a month, and within the last month he has a 7 day period of improvement. That is another reason to mention it. He is still doing the right things to be successful, controlling counts & hitting the ball hard. Success at the plate almost always follows those behaviors. In other words, if Trumbo maintains this approach at the plate I'd be willing to bet you will be very happy with his results at the end of the year.

Thanks Vladdy, I realize we are all frustrated with Pujols' production but there is some good news. His walk rate is improving and his line drive rate is also improving. This underlying data suggests that maybe he isn't in full decline, something that would warrant the F. The more Albert improves his approach, which he is trying to do, the more we see a productive Pujols. That's why there is a faint ray of hope.

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