July 16, 2007

WPA Update: Through 92 Games

Win Probability Added (WPA) is a stat that attempts to measure how much impact each play had on the outcome of a game and assigns that value to the players responsible. In other words, hitting a grand slam in the seventh inning when the score is 10-2 has considerably less WPA value than drawing a walk to lead off the ninth inning when the score is 2-2. The grand slam didn't have much impact on the likely outcome of the game, whereas the walk had a major impact on each team's chances of winning.

There are much better and longer explanations of WPA than that one, of course. If you're interested in learning more about it, Dave Studeman's WPA primer at The Hardball Times is a good place to start, and both Fan Graphs and Wikipedia offer tons of good information on the subject. It's far from a perfect stat and is not meant to definitively prove how valuable each player has been, but WPA is an interesting tool to use in looking back at what has already taken place.

It's important to note than WPA doesn't measure any defensive contributions, which means that strong defenders don't receive full credit for their value. Beyond that, WPA doesn't place offensive contributions in the context of position, so an .850 OPS from a catcher or shortstop is treated the same as an .850 OPS from a designated hitter or left fielder. There's nothing that can be done about measuring defense via WPA, but it's relatively easy to put the numbers in better context by using positional adjustments.

With the help of David Gassko from The Hardball Times, I've taken the overall WPA totals found at Fan Graphs and adjusted them for position. Many of the adjustments are minimal, but starting pitchers are given a boost relative to relief pitchers and hitters who play up-the-middle positions are given a boost relative to hitters who man corner spots. The end result is a sort of adjusted WPA (adjWPA), which you can find below:

                      adjWPA                               adjWPA
Johan Santana 2.62 Boof Bonser -0.13
Pat Neshek 2.22 Glen Perkins -0.16
Joe Nathan 1.77 Jason Bartlett -0.35
Justin Morneau 1.40 Kevin Slowey -0.36
Joe Mauer 1.35 Lew Ford -0.40
Luis Castillo 0.93 Dennys Reyes -0.45
Carlos Silva 0.74 Jeff Cirillo -0.49
Matt Guerrier 0.63 Ramon Ortiz -0.74
Torii Hunter 0.45 Luis Rodriguez -0.82
Michael Cuddyer 0.24 Jason Tyner -0.88
Mike Redmond 0.21 Sidney Ponson -0.92
Scott Baker 0.20 Nick Punto -1.07
Juan Rincon 0.01 Jason Kubel -1.85

Between his Babe Ruth-like heroics at the plate and a 2.60 ERA in 128 innings, Johan Santana is the clear-cut adjWPA leader through 92 games. Seeing Pat Neshek's name in the second spot might be surprising, but it probably shouldn't be. Not only does Neshek have a 1.59 ERA and .127 opponent's batting average in 45.1 high-leverage innings, he's put out tons of fires for both starters and relievers by stranding 87 percent of the baserunners he's inherited. That's the type of thing that WPA accounts for.

Joe Nathan has been more hittable than last season, but has a 2.03 ERA while throwing 40 innings in almost exclusively high-leverage situations and has converted 18-of-20 save chances. Justin Morneau holds a huge lead over the rest of the position players in raw WPA, but Joe Mauer closes almost all of that gap thanks to the difference between first basemen and catchers. In other words, a .312/.405/.455 hitting line with 40 RBIs and 44 runs scored in 60 games from a catcher is pretty damn valuable.

Mauer ranking fifth in adjWPA is pretty amazing given that he's missed one-third of the games and his value would be even higher than that if defensive contributions were included. Also amazing is that two-thirds of Luis Castillo's sixth-ranked adjWPA total comes from the recently completed four-game series against the A's. Castillo had a .31 adjWPA coming into the series, but racked up a .62 adjWPA in four games against Oakland. Like Mauer, his value would rise even further with defense factored in.

Torii Hunter's adjWPA pales in comparison to his overall numbers, which was also the case last season. He's hit just .229/.264/.271 in close-and-late situations, which is among the worst production in the league in those spots, but has batted .333/.370/.549 when the margin is at least four runs either way. WPA reflects the fact that he's struggled in high-leverage situations while piling up a large portion of his impressive totals in spots where the outcome wasn't necessarily in doubt.

Of course, a .45 adjWPA is still plenty good. It ranks seventh among MLB center fielders, whereas Hunter ranks fifth among MLB center fielders in VORP, which treats all hits equal regardless of impact. By comparison, Mauer and Morneau both rank fourth in adjWPA at their position, while Castillo ranks 12th among MLB second basemen. Similar to Hunter, Michael Cuddyer perhaps ranks lower than expected thanks to mediocre numbers in high-leverage spots and a team-high 11 double plays.

Switching to the bottom of the rankings, adjWPA shows Jason Kubel as the clear least-valuable player. Not only has he hit just .241/.294/.390 overall, which is horrible for a corner outfielder, Kubel has batted .200/.238/.375 in close-and-late situations and .200/.231/.400 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Nick Punto, Sidney Ponson, Jason Tyner, Luis Rodriguez, and Ramon Ortiz round out the rest of the least-valuable group, which should come as no surprise.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

July 15, 2007

Big Willow and the Other Twins

While the Twins swept a four-game series against the A's in what may very well prove to be the turning point of their season, I spent the weekend traveling between St. Louis Park and Elk River to watch my cousins play in state tournaments. Molly and Amy manned (or perhaps womanned) the left side of the infield for their 14-and-under traveling softball team, while Josh pitched and played shortstop for his 11-and-under traveling baseball team.

As my ridiculously burnt face makes abundantly clear, I spent a total of about 20 hours watching them play in double-elimination tournaments, with the only Twins updates coming via my trusty Blackberry. For someone lucky enough to call watching Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Johan Santana a "job," comparing 14- and 15-year-old softball players with 11- and 12-year-old baseball players was quite an experience.

Almost business-like in their approach at times, the girls' team had a seemingly never-ending supply of highly choreographed chants that they complimented with a constant stream of encouraging chatter. Not only had they clearly put some time and energy into what they should shout when in need of a two-out rally, they had entire routines worked out for special occasions like, say, someone leading off an inning.

Amy made all the plays at shortstop and ripped line drives all over the field as the team's leadoff hitter. She went 3-for-3 in Game 1 and started what was almost a game-tying rally with a double down the left-field line in Game 3. Molly looked like Brooks Robinson vacuuming up grounders and charging in to make plays on bunts at third base, and dropped down two Rod Carew-like bunts of her own that amazingly drove in four runs in the type of small-ball that even Ron Gardenhire and I can agree on.

Meanwhile, Josh's team mimicked those same chants that they've heard their older sisters do, but couldn't quite pull them off, sort of like the subtle yet massive difference between Sylvester Stallone and Frank Stallone (or, if you prefer, Jason Giambi and Jeremy Giambi). The boys also created chants mid-inning that involved random nicknames (Mr. Honeycutt, Robby Bobby Boo, Hot Pockets) and altered lyrics to songs Harry Belafonte made famous 50 years earlier.

Their pregame ritual was like a high-pitched Under Armour commercial, with Josh screaming "we must protect this house!" and "all the dogs in the house" saying "woowoowoo!" as he displayed what I imagine to be the best Ray Lewis impression ever turned in by a 12-year-old boy from Minnesota. The team played well and they were plenty disciplined, but rarely did they appear to be aware that the game wasn't being played in someone's backyard, let alone nervous.

Along with leading the pregame festivities, at various points Sunday afternoon Josh was dominating hitters with an overpowering fastball, rushing back to the dugout to eat a sandwich between innings, launching line drives into the right-center field gap, rallying his teammates by walking around with a bucket on his head, and shaking his hips, Willie Mays Hayes-style, as he stepped to the plate (apparently you don't get a nickname like "Hot Pockets" for nothing).

In between all the bucket-wearing and house protecting, the boys from Big Willow finished runner-up in the state tournament after needing an amazing comeback earlier this summer just to get there:

Jon & Josh Gallop, Sam Niedorf, Robert Dworsky, Nathan Levin, Jesse Benedict, Mike Badower
Ryland Dorshow, Quinn Rohweder, Matt Magaard, Eli Cooper, Eli Badower

Since I caught very little of the Twins-A's series, I tried to get at least some feel for what went on under the sunless Metrodome roof by looking at the cumulative Win Probability Added (WPA) totals for all four games via Fan Graphs. While not as interesting as figuring out what the WPA totals for my cousins' games would have been, it'll have to do:

                       WPA                                 WPA
Luis Castillo .561 Juan Rincon -.032
Pat Neshek .366 Jeff Cirillo -.057
Johan Santana .347 Jason Bartlett -.061
Carlos Silva .234 Matt Guerrier -.064
Joe Nathan .231 Garrett Jones -.079
Justin Morneau .200 Torii Hunter -.142
Joe Mauer .186 Dennys Reyes -.171
Nick Punto .168 Jason Kubel -.268
Jason Tyner .152
Scott Baker .147
Boof Bonser .116
Michael Cuddyer .086
Mike Redmond .080

Coming into the series, Luis Castillo had a .02 WPA in 71 games this season.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

July 12, 2007

Link-O-Rama

  • Following in the footsteps of Jason Tyner in Tampa Bay several years ago, it sounds like Carlos Quentin Bobblehead Day will go on without him later this month in Arizona.
  • In what is probably a too-close glimpse into my life, the other day I spent about 20 minutes debating with someone who shall remain nameless whether or not Eddie Harris from Major League was a 200-game winner. On the heels of that fascinating discussion about a fictitious movie baseball player comes friend of AG.com Matt Casey's in-depth look at the movie All-Star team over at NBCSports.com.
  • Over at Baseball Prospectus, David Laurila recently interviewed Joe Mauer about an assortment of interesting topics. Among them, his thoughts on the "most important" offensive statistic:

    I'm not a big numbers guy outside of win-loss, but offensively it would probably be on-base percentage. I'm hitting in the third spot, and the middle of our order is pretty good with Cuddyer, Hunter, and Morneau behind me, so if I get on base one of them will probably drive me in. Baseball is a numbers game, and that might be the most underappreciated one.

    As a follow-up to that, here's how Mauer describes "a quality at-bat":

    Seeing a lot of pitches, fighting bad pitches off--basically, just waiting for a pitch you can handle. Whether you're a power guy, or more of a slap hitter guy, if you find a pitch you're comfortable in handling, that's a quality at-bat. If you get on base or drive a ball up the gap, you pretty much know you had a good plate appearance. But it's mostly about making sure you get your pitch.

    Finally, asked about whether or not he'll remain at catcher long term, here's what Mauer said:

    I don't know. I love catching, and hope to do it as long as I can, but if switching positions means that I can add years to my career, I'm all for that. I want to stay behind the plate as much as I can, though. I think I can be a great catcher for some time.

    [...]

    Both physically and mentally, catching wears on you. Let's say you take a Pudge Rodriguez and put him at first or third for his whole career--I'd bet you that his offensive numbers would go up. So I think it's just the nature of the position. With me behind the plate, I think our team is better as a whole.

    It's a shame that Torii Hunter can't lend Mauer some of his media-driven outspokenness once in a while, because he's clearly got a lot of good stuff to say.

  • I can't remember ever seeing Hayden Panettiere act in anything except for when she was a sports movie tomboy, but the latest evidence suggests that I've been missing out.
  • Not only has Knicks forward David Lee been hanging out at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, he's apparently dating former World Poker Tour hostess Sabina Gadecki.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman opined that Luis Castillo "continues to perform as well as any second baseman in the league." In reality, Castillo's modest .684 OPS ranks 10th among AL second basemen, with Brian Roberts, Dustin Pedroia, and Placido Polanco each above .800. Hartman is no doubt concentrating on Castillo's nice-looking .305 batting average, but even that ranks just fourth among AL second basemen and, as discussed here yesterday, it's incredibly empty.

    Also from Hartman's column comes a note about Minnesota potentially being sanctioned to hold MMA-style fight cards in the future, with Brock Lesnar possibly headlining a show at some point. Of course, Hartman makes the common mistake of referring to mixed martial arts as "ultimate fighting," which is like referring to basketball as "NBA." He also describes the sport as "a combination of boxing and wrestling," which is like describing basketball as "a combination of bouncing a ball and running."

  • For what seems like the dozenth time in the past month, the Star Tribune ran an article about the horrible housing market. When I bought my first home back in March, I got the sellers to drop their original asking price by about $15,000, but apparently I should have held out for more. Oh well.
  • With the A's in town, St. Paul Pioneer Press sports gossip columnist Charley Walters suggests that the Twins might be interested in Dan Johnson, while Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle opines that Mike Piazza might be a better fit in Minnesota. For now at least, the Twins will wait for the ever-elusive (and perhaps non-existent) "healthy" Rondell White while installing Garrett Jones at designated hitter, which isn't likely to work out very well.
  • Ick.
  • One of my pet peeves when it comes to the mainstream media is the refusal to accurately attribute information that comes from websites. If a reporter from one newspaper references something from another newspaper, they make it very clear where that information came from. Meanwhile, if that same reporter gets information from a website, they often say that it was "from the internet" or "found online," as if anything not printed on paper comes from an anonymous trash heap.

    For instance, earlier this week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer referenced a ProspectInsider.com report about Mariners top prospect Adam Jones potentially being called up from Triple-A, except they couldn't be bothered to actually give the website address or name the person who wrote the report. Instead, the newspaper referred to the source as merely "a website" and "the web report," as if doing that would have seemed anything but absurd had the same information come from a newspaper or magazine.

    Because the information comes from a website, it's somehow not worthy of the same treatment? The information is good enough to reference and discuss, but the source isn't good enough to be properly credited? At this point, with a huge percentage of newspaper audiences coming from online readers and most newspaper websites housing blogs that are written by reporters, what exactly is the point of treating websites like anonymous masses? A guide to giving blogs credit is definitely needed.

  • Meanwhile in Seattle, the Mariners are not only reading blogs, they're using the information they find on them and giving proper credit. Imagine that. Felix Hernandez and pitching coach Rafael Chaves read Dave Cameron's brilliant pitch-charting analysis over at U.S.S. Mariner and have credited him with helping change King Felix's first-inning approach. If I were setting the betting line, I'd make something similar happening with the Twins and this blog as a 3-to-1 underdog against hell freezing over.
  • Speaking of King Felix and the Post-Intelligencer, here's an amusing note found in the newspaper earlier this week:

    Bullpen coach Jim Slaton was near rookie reliever Brandon Morrow in Seattle's dugout when the benches cleared during the top of the seventh Sunday. Morrow is a valuable property, and Slaton wanted to make sure that the kid didn't get hurt even as Morrow wanted to get in the middle of the rumble. As it turns out, however, Morrow isn't the most valuable property.

    "I was holding him back, but then I saw Felix Hernandez coming out of the dugout," Slaton said with a laugh. "I said to Morrow, 'Don't be offended, but here comes Felix.'" So Slaton got his arms on Hernandez and made sure he didn't get himself inadvertently hurt.

    Mainstream media members take note: Before referencing the above quote, I named the source and even linked to it. Crazy, I know, but for some reason attributing it to "a newspaper" or "a printed report" would have seemed kind of silly.

  • According to friend of AG.com and Baseball Think Factory writer Chris Dial, Hall of Famer George Brett enthusiastically told him the filthiest joke he's ever heard when they met years ago, despite the fact that Dial was a complete stranger to him. As if that wasn't enough reason to become a huge Brett fan, now we know that he's learned how easy it is to fall in love with Baseball-Reference.com.
  • The Twins lost Kevin Cameron in the Rule 5 draft this winter, only to watch him post a ridiculous 0.31 ERA in 29.1 first-half innings working out of the Padres' bullpen. Buster Olney of ESPN.com asked Cameron about leaving the Twins organization:

    I was a little bummed out when they didn't put me on the 40-man, but obviously, it worked out for the best. The Rule 5 draft is always a crapshoot--you never know what will happen--but I couldn't be happier here in San Diego.

    On a marginally related note, the Twins waived Alexander Smit from the 40-man roster yesterday and former assistant general manager Wayne Krivsky quickly claimed him for the Reds. Smit was a mess at high Single-A, posting a 5.86 ERA while walking 26 batters in 50.2 innings, but he's still just 21 years old and ranked as the Twins' No. 10 prospect heading into the season. Losing him for nothing after losing No. 18 prospect Alex Romero for nothing this winter is discouraging.

  • For fellow fans of The Adam Carolla Show, here's a collection of every broadcast in the radio show's history broken down into clips that you can download. Between those Carolla clips, Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge, and Poker Wire Radio, I've been listening to a whole bunch of radio recently. My TiVo is getting lonely.
  • Not even hockey beat reporters are safe from the seemingly never-ending newspaper cuts.
  • Because the decision to hire Rickey Henderson as their new hitting coach is an absolutely brilliant, inspired move that's sure to lead to all kinds of amusement, I'm somewhat willing to overlook the fact that the Mets designated 48-year-old Julio Franco for assignment just a few hours later.
  • Seriously, where were all these prostitution rings run by teenagers when I was in high school? Along with walking barefoot in the snow for five miles to and from school--uphill, no less--back in my day we had to fail miserably in our attempts to actually talk girls into having sex with us. Times sure have changed.
  • Here are a pair of new blogs started by AG.com readers: Josh's Thoughts and Coast2Coast Sports.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    July 11, 2007

    Compared to Last Season … (Part 2: Hitters)

    Last week I devoted a pair of entries to examining how the Twins fared through exactly one half of the schedule, looking at the pitching staff on Tuesday and the lineup on Thursday. The entries focused on the team as a whole, but with the All-Star break leaving us without games to watch I'd like to take this opportunity to delve a little deeper into the performances of individual players. Specifically, comparing how each player's first-half performance this year compares to their season totals from last year.

    On Monday I covered the pitchers and today I'll tackle the hitters. Rather than focus on stuff like batting averages and RBIs, which often leave a lot to be desired, what you'll see quoted instead are more advanced metrics that attempt to break down a player's performance in a more detailed and complete manner. In other words, rather than simply saying that a hitter is batting .275 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs, these numbers will help show how they got there. Here's a quick list of the metrics I'll be using:

    GPA - Gross Production Average
    SO% - Percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout
    BB% - Percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk
    IsoP - Isolated Power
    BIP - Batting average on balls in play
    LD% - Percentage of balls in play that are line drives
    GB% - Percentage of balls in play that are ground balls

    If you're interested in learning more about any of those numbers, check out The Hardball Times' stats glossary or Dave Cameron's excellent primer on "evaluating pitching talent" over at U.S.S. Mariner. With that too-long introduction out of the way, let's dive right in ...

    JUSTIN MORNEAU: .295 AVG, .364 OBP, .581 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .309     14.1     6.7     .238     .344     23.5     35.9
    2007     .309     13.2     7.7     .286     .289     16.5     46.0

    Justin Morneau's overall production has essentially been identical to his MVP-winning 2006 season, but the way he's gotten there has been quite a bit different. Morneau's line-drive percentage has dropped 30 percent and he's hit the ball on the ground 28 percent more often, which helps explain why his batting average on balls in play has fallen from .344 to .289. It's difficult to overcome that while remaining similarly valuable, but Morneau has done it by striking out less and walking more.

    Oh, and his fly balls are going further. In 2006, 16.7 percent of Morneau's fly balls went for homers, but this year 23.4 percent of them have traveled over the fence. Not only is that more than double the league-average rate of 11 percent, it puts Morneau third in the league after he ranked 15th last season. He also ranks third among AL hitters in Isolated Power after ranking 14th in 2006. Morneau needed 34 homers and 130 RBIs to win the AL MVP, but he's on pace for 45 homers and 140 RBIs this year.

    JOE MAUER: .309 AVG, .401 OBP, .456 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .320      8.9     9.5     .160     .376     24.9     49.4
    2007     .295     12.2    11.0     .147     .348     20.5     49.2

    Joe Mauer was among baseball's most patient hitters last season, but he's worked even deeper into counts this year, seeing a team-high 4.1 pitches per plate appearance. The result is a 16 percent hike in walks, but Mauer has also upped his strikeouts by 37 percent while hitting 18 percent fewer line drives. Putting the ball in play less often and not hitting the ball as hard when you do is a large part of why his batting average has dipped from .347 to .309.

    With that said, Mauer's .295 GPA ranks third among AL catchers, behind only Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada, and both his line-drive percentage and batting average on balls in play are among the league's top 20. He continues to rank among the league's most extreme ground-ball hitters, which explains why his power hasn't developed further. As a look at the ground-ball percentage leaderboard shows, it's simply difficult to hit for power when half of your balls in play are on the ground.

    TORII HUNTER: .301 AVG, .342 OBP, .558 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .274     17.7     7.0     .212     .300     18.0     44.6
    2007     .294     16.5     3.4     .257     .321     15.6     45.4

    Torii Hunter is on pace for career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, and RBIs, but it's tough to see where the improvement has come from statistically. Never a patient hitter, Hunter has sliced his walk rate in half, drawing a grand total of just 12 non-intentional walks in 351 plate appearances while seeing seven percent fewer pitches per trip to the plate. He's hitting more ground balls and fewer line drives, and his homer-to-fly ball ratio is unchanged.

    So how has he managed a seven-percent increase in both batting average on balls in play and overall production? Believe it or not, it's because he's stopped popping up. Last year, 15 percent of his balls in play were infield pop ups, which are essentially automatic outs, but this year that rate has dropped to five percent. Along with seven percent fewer strikeouts, that gives Hunter the equivalent of 17 percent "extra" balls in play to work with and many of them have turned into extra-base hits.

    MICHAEL CUDDYER: .274 AVG, .360 OBP, .433 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .289     20.5     9.0     .220     .338     20.6     44.0
    2007     .271     16.8    11.4     .159     .317     18.3     45.8

    Michael Cuddyer has followed up his breakout 2006 season by cutting his strikeouts by 18 percent and upping his walks by 27 percent, but the rest of his game has declined. Cuddyer's line-drive rate has dropped 12 percent and he's hitting twice as many infield flies, a combination that's dropped his batting average on balls in play from .338 to .317. More importantly, his Isolated Power has dipped 28 percent, going from 21st in the league to barely above average.

    Last year 15.9 percent of Cuddyer's fly balls went for homers, but this year just 10.8 percent have gone over the fence. The difference in those two rates has already cost him five homers, which goes a long way towards explaining the decreased production and figures to correct itself somewhat in the second half. In what is likely a sample-size fluke, Cuddyer has slugged just .432 against left-handed pitching after knocking them around to the tune of a .518 slugging percentage last year.

    LUIS CASTILLO: .305 AVG, .352 OBP, .339 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .254      8.9     8.6     .074     .326     17.7     61.5
    2007     .243      7.5     6.8     .034     .333     14.0     70.5

    Luis Castillo is on pace for his lowest on-base percentage and OPS since he was a 25-year-old. For a player whose game is based on speed, that might suggest he's slowing down and losing hits in the process. However, the numbers disagree. Castillo is bunting for hits more than ever and sports a .333 batting average on balls in play that's in line with his career norms. For a player who leads the league in ground-ball percentage, that's an indication that he can still get down the first-base line pretty quickly.

    Castillo's decreased production is actually due to a loss of walks and power, although the latter could involve not legging out as many doubles. Castillo's Isolated Power has been cut in half, but that's not overly concerning for a leadoff man who's always been among the least-powerful hitters in baseball. Castillo's job is clearly to get on base, which is why a 21 percent drop in walks is a much bigger concern. His .305 batting average looks nice, but it's incredibly empty and masks a drop in value.

    JASON BARTLETT: .254 AVG, .334 OBP, .321 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .264     12.3     5.6     .084     .361     22.2     43.8
    2007     .231     13.2     8.3     .067     .293     24.7     42.6

    Jason Bartlett has made big strides in two key areas offensively this season, upping his walk rate by 48 percent and producing 11 percent more line drives. Surprisingly, it hasn't led to an overall increase in production, in large part because Bartlett's batting average on balls in play has dropped from .361 to .293. While .361 was likely unsustainable to begin with, it's odd to see a speedy player up his already solid line-drive percentage while seeing his average on balls in play drop by 19 percent.

    Because of that, I'd expect Bartlett to improve his numbers in the second half as a few more bloopers and choppers begin falling in for hits. It's interesting to note that Bartlett has hit .270/.350/.343 since beginning the season in a 1-for-20 slump, which is essentially the same production that Castillo has provided, except in a different package. Also of note is that Bartlett has gone 17-for-18 (94 percent) stealing bases and is now 33-for-39 (85 percent) during his big-league career.

    JASON KUBEL: .250 AVG, .302 OBP, .404 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .222     19.1     5.1     .145     .271     20.6     48.6
    2007     .237     17.5     6.5     .154     .288     23.4     43.7

    Jason Kubel's overall production remains sub par, but various components of his performance have actually been good and much better than last season. He's striking out seven percent less, walking 27 percent more, hitting for slightly more power, and keeping the ball off the ground. Kubel's line-drive percentage ranks fifth in the entire league and is up 14 percent from last year. So far at least his batting average on balls in play doesn't match, but expect that to correct itself in the second half.

    It's been a tale of two seasons for Kubel, who began the year with a measly .310 slugging percentage and zero homers through his first 108 plate appearances. Since then, he's slugging .471 with seven homers in 155 plate appearances. Even with the slow start, Kubel's .154 Isolated Power is virtually tied with Cuddyer for third-best on the team. Kubel is hitting .300/.364/.425 against left-handed pitching, but Ron Gardenhire continues to regularly bench him against lefties to "protect" him.

    NICK PUNTO: .212 AVG, .313 OBP, .272 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .252     13.0     9.0     .083     .345     23.6     46.3
    2007     .209     14.9    12.4     .060     .252     16.0     50.2

    When Nick Punto was hitting well last season, I wrote that he "found success because he stopped focusing on drawing walks and pretending he's a power hitter." Looking to put the ball in play rather than working deep counts was a good approach for a hitter who has no power and struggles to make contact. Unfortunately, he's back to old habits, with a 15 percent increase in strikeouts and a 38 percent jump in walks. That tradeoff works for some, but for Punto it means letting hittable pitches go by.

    The result is a 32 percent drop in line-drive percentage, which coincides with Punto's batting average on balls in play plummeting from .345 to .252. When you have the power to make pitchers pay for mistakes or possess the skills to make solid contact in unfavorable counts, then taking tons of pitches makes sense. When you're Punto, it just means that you've been reduced to coaxing walks in between making easy outs. It was fun while it lasted, but this third baseman has turned back into a pumpkin.

    MIKE REDMOND: .287 AVG, .332 OBP, .351 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .268      9.5     2.1     .072     .384     27.0     46.0
    2007     .237      8.9     4.5     .064     .316     22.2     40.9

    Last season Mike Redmond swung at just about everything and seemingly always found a hole, hitting .341 thanks to a .384 batting average on balls in play that would have ranked second in the league (one spot ahead of Mauer and behind only Derek Jeter) if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. That average on balls in play, which included a ridiculous .443 mark against left-handed pitching, was clearly unsustainable and the drop to .316 this year is due in part to his luck evening out.

    Redmond has also seen his line-drive percentage and ground-ball percentage fall significantly, which means that he's hitting far more easily catchable fly balls. His production is down across the board save for a huge increase in walk rate, but even now only Hunter draws free passes less often among the team's regulars. Redmond remains an outstanding backup catcher, but he's clearly misused as a designated hitter and last season looks like an obvious fluke when viewed in the context of his career.

    JEFF CIRILLO: .273 AVG, .338 OBP, .391 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .269     11.4     7.2     .095     .360     20.4     45.7
    2007     .250      6.9     9.0     .118     .287     19.3     47.9

    Much like Redmond, Jeff Cirillo's solid 2006 season in Milwaukee was based upon an unsustainably good batting average on balls in play. That number has dipped from .360 to .287 this season, taking Cirillo's overall production down along with it. Interestingly, aside from losing some of his luck, many elements of Cirillo's performance have improved. He's cut his strikeouts by 39 percent while upping both his walk rate and Isolated Power, and his line-drive percentage remains relatively close.

    The big difference simply comes down to a bunch of balls that went for hits last season finding gloves this time around. While it might seem difficult to believe about someone who was 36 years old last season, Cirillo has been hurt by a lack infield hits. Last year 12 percent (10-of-84) of his hits never left the infield, whereas this season that number has fallen to six percent (2-of-35). Odd as it sounds, bad wheels might be hurting Cirillo's offense a lot more than Castillo's.

    JASON TYNER: .268 AVG, .318 OBP, .317 SLG
     
    YEAR      GPA      SO%     BB%     IsoP      BIP      LD%      GB%
    2006     .244      7.8     3.9     .041     .343     27.0     51.9
    2007     .223      8.4     5.2     .049     .297     14.3     59.5

    After riding a high line-drive percentage and good work on balls in play to an empty .312 batting average last year, Jason Tyner has essentially done nothing well this year. His walk rate is 40 percent worse than league average, his line-drive rate is 21 percent below league average, and Castillo and Erick Aybar are the only hitters in the league who've shown less power while batting at least 150 times. All that and he's started 14 times at designated hitter and another 15 times in an outfield corner.

    The amazing thing is that even when Tyner is benefiting from an usually high batting average on balls in play, like he did in 2006, his entire offensive value boils down to hitting a single three times out of every 10 at-bats. He doesn't draw walks or hit for any kind of power, so when the singles dry up he has zero worth offensively. For all his speed and supposed small-ball ability, Tyner has just six infield hits and only two AL hitters have grounded into a higher percentage of their double-play opportunities.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    It's not really a new blog entry, but ...

    Twins-related blogging will resume tomorrow with the second installment (and hitters portion) of my "Compared to Last Season" entry. In the meantime, consider checking out a pair of new columns that I wrote for Rotoworld/NBCSports.com:

  • Buy Low for the Second Half
  • Sell High for the Second Half

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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