Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scouting Trip #5: Buffalo Bison (Mets AAA) at Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies AAA)

SOrry for not updating more often...I've had serious writer's block. I should have plenty to write about in the next few weeks with players being called up and the mlb draft and such. With that said, let's get to a quick scouting report.

As Sun Tzu and Green Day tell us, "Know Thy Enemy". A good way to do this is to keep tabs on the Mets farm system. When the Buffalo Bison (NY AAA) came to play in the Valley, I had a chance to do just that. Here is my opinion on some future Mets, that will soon be choking late in a season near you.

Josh Thole - Catcher - 6'1", 205lbs, Bats:Left Throws:Right Age: 23

Thole was drafted straight out of high school (where he played nothing other than catcher) in 2005 and was promptly moved to first base. In his first 3 years as a pro, Thole only caught a few dozen games. In 2008, the Mets decided to move him back behind the plate. Why? His bat doesn't profile at first. Thole hit just 8 HRs in his first 5 pro seasons. Major league teams need more pop from their first baseman. The little raw power Thole possesses is sapped by his ubiquitous two strike approach. He chokes up for every pitch, a pure singles hitter. So while he doesn't strike out a lot (just above 10% of his atbats) he doesn't walk alot either (again, just a bit more than 10% of the time). His career minor league On Base% is .380 (good) but his Slugging% is .375 (really bad).

Defensively, Thole's 3 years off from catching everyday have set his defense back. His arm strength is below average and the long and slow motion he uses doesn't help his Pop Times either. Several of his throw downs to second before innings tailed off toward the first base side of 2nd base, which tells me his arm angle is too low. While reports indicate his is coachable and a hard worker, it seems he still has a ways to go to be major league ready defensively. At age 23, thats not good news.

So Thole might one day be a singles hitting catcher who is average defensiely. He's not someone Phillies fans should be worried about.

Ruben Tejada- Shortstop - 6', 165lbs, Bats:Right Throws:Right Age:20

Yes, Tejada is just 20 years old and already in AAA. The Mets have moved several International players through the system rather aggressively. It hasn't really paid off. More on that later.

Tejada is quite good defensively. He can turn plays that would otherwise be singles into outs using his above average speed and range at short and his good arm strength. While he made several highlight plays during the game, they were made more difficult than they had to be by what, to me at least, looked like slow reactions to balls hit his way. I think he is a fine defender, but the aesthetically pleasing aspects of his game may cause some to overrate him.

Offensively, Tejada is awful. Yes, he's rather fast and probably has the wheels to steal 15 or 20 bases in a season, chances are he won't get on base enough to do that. He has poor pitch recognition, zero power, and even some strange habits in the box. For instance, at one point during his second atbat, Tejada moved up in the box midway through the pitcher's windup. Just struck me as odd.

AT only 20 years of age and a paltry 160lbs, Tejada has plenty of time to improve his offensive skills and get stronger before the Mets can give up on him. He looks to me like a future utility infielder (Wilson Valdez redux?) and possibly a stopgap at 2nd between Luis Castillo and superior prospect, Wilmer Flores, who is only 19 right now and a LONG way from the majors. Again, not someone to b worried about.

Jennry Mejia- Right Handed Pitcher - 6', 165lbs, Age:21

Mejia entered the season as the Mets' top prospect. The dominican righty dominated advanced-A ball last year and earned himself a late season promotion to AA, no small feat at age 20. He has top-of-the-rotation kind of stuff, but has the command one would expect to see in a kid with only 210 innings in pro baseball (the Mets have limited him to about 50 innings per season so far).

His fastball sits at 93-96 and will tick higher, and the ball sometimes shows natural cutting action toward left-handed hitters. His changeup is his best off-speed pitch and, at 85-87 mph with good tail, looks like a soft two-seamer. His curveball is very inconsistent, but at its best, it's plus with good two-plane break and depth in the upper 70s.

He's thick but not tall, and his arm slot is just below 3/4 -- so he has to work on staying on top of the ball, and the finger injury reduced his already below-average command. He can be a #1 starter.

You may be asking, "Eric, did you see this guy pitch?" No, I just wanted to mention him to dig at Mets fans. You see, Mejia was not even close to being ready for the big leagues, but the Mets threw him into the bullpen this year anyway, where he has been lousy and thrown fastballs around 80% of the time. The past few months of baseball have set a potentially dominant pitcher back immeasurably. I love it

Check back this weekend for more stuff

Friday, May 21, 2010

Scouting Trip #4: Louisville Bats (Reds AAA) at Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies AAA)

After a week or two without anything to write about I was given a gift from the baseball gods: Aroldis Chapman was coming to the Lehigh Valley.

Chapman is a lanky, 6'4" Cuban left-hander with an interesting back story. He was expected to turn into the ace of Cuba's national team for things like the Olympics and World Baseball Classic, but Chapman had other ideas. He tried to defect from Cuba in 2008 but failed. In July of 2009 at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, Chapman fled the team in the middle of the night and established residency in the Pyranees principality of Andorra. This was necesary because if Chapman had become a U.S. citizen, he would have been subject to the MLB Draft, where his earning power would have been limited by MLB's slotting system and service time clock. As a foreign player, he was classified as a free agent, which created a bidding war for his services. The Reds won that war, and inked Chapman to a six year, $30 million contract. In contrast, Stephen Strasburg, a far superior prospect, signed for 4 years and $15 million, with a $7.5 million signing bonus. Chapman had to establish residency in any country other than America in order to enjoy the benefits of the free market. Ironic.

On the Baseball side of things, Chapman's fastball has quite a reputation. He touched 102mph while pitching in Cuba and 100mph in the World Baseball Classic.

Here's what I took in on Wednesday night, Chapman and otherwise:

Aroldis Chapman LHP Cincinnati Reds

Chapman's fastball:

Velocity was good, but not as electric as advertised. The overall range was 88-98 mph. The low velocities (high eighties) came late in Chapman's start (80 pitches in) and are either the result of fatigue or the blister he left the game with shortly thereafter. He sat mostly in the low to mid nineties throughout the game, amping up to high velocities when guys got on base.

Aroldis throws the fastball alot. 75 of his 96 pitches were heaters. 16 of 18 atbats were led off with a fastball. All 14 of Chapman's firt 14 pitches...fastballs. Only 7 of those 14 were thrown for strikes, so it took Chapman a little while to get into a rhythm.

Major league hitters will jump all over a pitch that is thrown this often. Chapman must either mix other pitches in more often, build up enough stamina to consistently use a fastball in the mid to upper 90s, or be moved to the bullpen where he can let it rip without having to worry about wearing down.

Chapman's Slider:

It's filthy. The slider sat between 81 and 85 during his start. With sharp movement and tilt, it is a true swing and miss pitch. Chapman threw 9 sliders, 7 of them for strikes and 5 of those were singing strikes. But he only threw it 10% of the time. While I understand Chapman has had problems with walking guys and the team probably wanted him to throw lots of fastballs just to start throwing strikes again, I'd like to see more sliders out of him.

Chapman's other stuff:

Chapman also throws a curve and a changeup. The curve is alot like that of Cole Hamels. It is just another pitch for hitters to think about. Chapman threw it for a strike 3 of 5 times and only coaxed a swing with one of them.

The changeup is lousy. Chapman threw 6 of them and 5 of them were balls. The only strike he got with it was from John Mayberry Jr. who was cheating fastball and guessed wrong. Chapman's arm speed is noticeably slower when he throws the change. He airmailed it once or twice, so his feel for the awkward grip required to throw the change is poor.

Misc stuff: Chapman pitches just as well from the stretch as he does from the windup. His pickoff move was, to me at least, average. The IronPigs baserunners may think differently, however, as two of them were picked off during the game. My vantage point during the game was not condusive of judging the lateral movment on Chapman's fastball.

My Final Assessment:

Aroldis Chapman has two dominant, major league pitches in his repetoire at age 22. He has the frame (6'4") to handle a full workload of major league innings as he physically matures. If he can iron out his control issues even slightly, he'll be a #1 starter. Worst case scenario, the Reds are sitting on a dominant late-inning arm.

Random stuff: 96 pitches, 63 for strikes...76% fastballs...3 hits allowed, 3 walks allowed (2 of them came in 6th inning when Chapman was clearly having blister trouble)...7 strikeouts...54% first pitch strikes...2 of 3 hits against were for extra bases...3:4 Groundball to Flyball ratio

Other dudes you should know about:

Yonder Alonso 1b/LF Cincinatti Reds

Alonso played first in college at The U. His bat is just about major league ready even though he's just 23 years old, but Joey Votto is so damn good that there's not enough room for Yonder. It was obvious the Reds were going to have to try one of them in Left Field eventually, and now Alonso is guinea pigging it in the outfield. While I was too busy focusing on Chapman to judge Alonso's aptitude in the outfiled, I was very attentive while he was in the batter's box. He lays off anything thats not a fastball. The way his swing loads up may allow good fastballs to sneak past him. He worked the count into his favor in most of his atbats, allowing him to get that fastball he likes to swing at. While he was 0-5, you can see signs of a middle of the order bat.

Todd Frazier 2b/3b/OF Cincinatti Reds

Frazier, a Rutgers grad, was labeled the #1 prospect in the Reds system by Baseball America. What I saw Wednesday night from Frazier and what he has been doing all season at the plate is making them look bad. Frazier showed poor discipline in every atbat. His swing was as balanced as drunk guy on a row boat. I was very disappointed. I hope he gets it together because everything I've read about Frazier talks up his attitude and work ethic. I also have a soft spot for guys with versatility, and Frazier can handle as many as 6 defensive positions. He's a mess at the plate right now and needs coaching in the worst way.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Truly Knowing Chooch

The sabermetric renaissance has given us a very clear representation of a baseball player's offensive performance. It has also provided us with measures that explain, to a point, a pitcher's success or failure, factoring in things like luck and ballpark size. Now we can even quantify defensive skills with things like Ultimate Zone Rating, and determine not only how many runs a player produces with his bat, but how many he saves with his glove.

One thing the stat geek still can't quantify, however, is catcher defense. Blocking balls in the dirt, game calling skills, handling pitchers....there's a lot that goes on behind the plate that you just can't put a number on. So these skills still have to be scouted "the old fashioned way" by actually watching games and focusing on the catcher. This is what I sought out to do Sunday night with Phillies catchers Carlos Ruiz.

If you ask anyone who regularly watches the Phillies about Chooch, they'll probably say something close to the following: "He has good at-bats, he's good defensively and he calls a good game." Does he really? I feel like catchers who are offensively unspectacular get labeled with the "good defense, calls good game" cliche. Conversely, I think that catchers who are good defensively and put up huge numbers at the plate have their skills in the former ignored. So, I wanted to sit down and focus on Sunday night's Phillies/Mets game and decide for myself whether or not he actually calls a good game.

How did I go about doing this? I kept track of the pitch sequences to each hitter, both pitch type and location (the location Chooch set up at, not the one where the pitch ended up because sometimes pitchers miss that spot). From this I could see where Ruiz called effective pitches and where he made mistakes and within individual at-bats as well as how he changed things up against any hitter in their next time up. Here is what I found:

Where Chooch is good:

Ruiz has either a great memory, a well scripted gameplan or both because Met hitters rarely saw pitch sequences (either type or location) that even resembled what they got a look at in ANY of their previous atbats. The only hitters that saw trends were David Wright and Fernando Tatis, both of which were pitched almost exclusively inside. This is probably the result of scouting reports dictating such location.
Ruiz was catching Jamie Moyer (fastball, sinker, changeup, cutter, slider, curveball) so he had plenty of weapons to mix and match against Mets hitters. Jamie Moyer's wide array of pitches allow for this more so than a pitcher who only a few pitches, so watching Ruiz catch Cole Hamels could yield different results.

I was really impressed with Carlos' approach from the 7th inning onward. The Phillies had a good lead and Ruiz had his pitchers throwing tons of strikes and pitching to contact. Why wear out bullpen arms by trying to get cute and strike guys out when you can just pound the strike zone rack up outs? Set aside your ERA and get out of there. Good stuff Chooch.

Where Chooch is bad:

While Ruiz does a nice job changing things up on hitters between atbats, he does not do a good job of mixing things within them. In the 23 atbats in which his goal was to keep runners off base (keep in mind once the Phillies had a large lead, Chooch's strategy changed, this sample is taken exclusively from when the outcome of the game was still in question and every out mattered) the pitch sequence within the plate appearance was effective 16 times, detrimental 6 times, and inconsequential 4 times.

In the atbats where Moyer got knocked around, Ruiz would often call for the same pitch in the same location two times in a row. On the first of those two pitches, the hitter would be fooled and swing poorly. On the second pitch, the hitter would always hit the ball hard. Ruiz failed to realize the hitter was making adjustments. This happened several times in the first inning (on Castillo's single, Wright's HR and Rod Barajas' single) and got better as the game progressed. Ruiz needs to try not to fall in love with a pitch selection just because it worked once before.

So yes, overall Carlos Ruiz calls a good game but he doesn't always call a good atbat.