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Trend Spotting: On Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir

Trend Spotting: On Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir
August 15, 2013
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Part two of evaluating Indians starting pitching to date and the recent results have been somewhere south of acceptable. The two guys we will be taking a look at are Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir.

The purposes of evaluating each will be slightly different, with McAllister it will be to suggest whether or not his success is sustainable and what to expect from him over the course of the year. In terms of Kazmir we are approaching that time where it is important to consider what the Indians should do in terms of laying out their 2014 rotation plans and if they should include Kazmir.

Of course the questions surrounding Kazmir have become a bit hazy and in reality using data to discuss whether or not his arm will hold up is incredibly thin ground upon which to stand. However, we will attempt to shine some light on his arm strength and how his innings limit affects the Indians interest/signability.

Zach McAllister, progression and situational pitching:

A lot of concern has been heaped on McAllister’s finger issues as well as his seeming lack of stability since his return from the disabled list which is not entirely an illegitimate concern.  However, if you look past a purely W-L or earned run average prism, Zach has actually been fairly impressive and seems to have healed up nicely.

In his five starts since returning on July 23rd McAllister has posted the following line: 25.2 IP, 8.42 K/9, .303 BABIP against, 55.2 LOB%, and FIP of 2.84.

What we see with Zach is really encouraging for a couple of reasons first off his strand rate and BABIP against will in all likelihood shift in positive directions for him.

The increasing strikeout rate is probably the most important aspect of improvement or at least positivity surrounding his return from the disabled list. Quite frankly we are witnessing a relatively unique trend as Zach has had success (ERA wise) and struggles (ERA wise) during seemingly paradoxical stretches.

This being that strikeout rate and walk rate usually are powerful indicators of success especially in regards to stranding runners. In the first half Zach’s K/BB was 2.05, so far in the second half it is 2.40, with a 25% spike in K-rate. Yet his ERA has seen a major increase in the second half.

Which all comes down to his strand rate/BABIP. His strand rate has decreased by an almost 20% shift. This is in all honesty just a sample size issue as BABIP with RISP is elevated.

McAllister has another really interesting trend regarding strikeout rate that has to do with his ability to bear down in higher leverage situations:

McAllister with a runner on first: 5.53 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, .303 BABIP
McAllister with a runner(s) in scoring position: 6.58 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, .321 BABIP

What does this mean, if it means anything at all? Well it means that Zach actually is a better pitcher with runners in scoring position, it means that he bears down, digs in or whatever classic baseball aphorism you want to throw out.

It means that in tight situations, Zach locks in and controls the ball at a much more impressive level than when there are non-threatening situations. Of course one would hope to see a higher overall K-rate but it is still solid and his elevated K-rate of late gives some hope that the hand issue had deflated his K-rate, which is reasonable to assume when you understand that his big league K-rate is over a half a strikeout per nine higher than this season’s.

Lastly, the elevated BABIP with RISP is encouraging as its impending regression will inevitably allow Zach to be more efficient and productive.

Scott Kazmir and Velocity:

(Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

Having looked at Scott Kazmir’s velocity charts as well as his increased success as the season wore on it was fairly surprising that his “tired arm” has sidelined him. Of course at the outset of the season, it was fairly predictable that Scott would run into some sort of innings wall because, as is well documented, he had thrown very limited innings in 2011 and 2012.

Of course raw velocity does not speak to arm strength or the health of the arm although it can be a fairly strong warning sign. However, it at least speaks to Kazmir’s upside stuff-wise and leads you to believe that either his arm strength is slowly improving or he is returning mechanically to the Scott Kazmir of 2008.

Another positive sign mechanically is that Kazmir to this point is at a career high in terms of first pitch strike percentage. Positive mechanically because it proves repetition which is born out in his ability to control the ball and get ahead early in at-bats.

The positives are clearly stacking more and more in Kazmir’s favor and depending on his innings the rest of the way he has a very good chance in terms of winning Comeback Player of the Year.

However, the question becomes where do you go from here?

Do you resign Kazmir?

Do you thank him for the ride and let him walk?

If you resign him, then for how long?

What does the contract look like?

The answer to the first two questions is you absolutely resign him for the following reasons:

  1. Having a left-handed starter with three-starter upside is immensely valuable especially when used to break up the other four right handed starters in the rotation.
  2. The tired arm as well as overall health and mechanicall concerns make him more signable for a team like the Tribe.
  3. Also in terms of signability, Kazmir has voiced his appreciation of the organization's willingness to provide him the opportunity in which he has succeeded. Points two and three being that a fair, team friendly contract with Kazmir is a distinct possibility.

As to the other two questions it depends how much risk the Indians front office is willing to bear and how much upside you believe Kazmir offers.

In my opinion, the best sort of contract for Kazmir would be a two-three year deal with an annual average value floor of 7 million dollars with incentives that can raise it to 11 million per season.

Obviously his arm health/strength over the next month will have a lot to say about his potential contract. I'm always interested to hear your thoughts on whether the Tribe should extend Kazmir and at what cost.

A few things that may only interest me:

  • The lowest WAR of any Tribe regular is not Chisenhall, not Stubbs, not Aviles but yes, Asdrubal Cabrera. (yes our criticisms of him may have become redundant)
  • Ryan Raburn’s career HR/FB 12.4%, this season’s: HR/FB  27.5%. (Yeah, not particularly sustainable)
  • Indians pitchers are still in the top three in K/9 at 8.26.
  • With men in scoring position Carlos Santana has a wOBA of .405, an OPS of .964 and a wRC+ of 163. (Should probably hit fourth all the time Terry)
  • Having missed 30 games already this season Michael Bourn projects to be a 2.5 win player. He seems to have drawn much derision for a player producing value far beyond what he is being paid this season.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Seth
August 16, 2013 - 8:20 PM EDT
Norm, that makes no sense. With men on base Santana has had 206 at bats, has hit 20 doubles, a triple and 4 home runs with a .321/.432/.524 slash. What exactly are you looking for to happen when a guy comes up to drive in runs? I would agree Santana is not an ideal 4 hitter because his best skill is on base ability, not power and average, but on this team, lacking other options, he's the logical choice.
Norm
August 16, 2013 - 6:26 PM EDT
Hi Seth, I understand what you are saying and it makes sense that Santana would be a good hitter with men on base. But I will tell you why he is not a good cleanup hitter!!!!!!!!!!! The stat you and Michael are quoting is irrelevant to a "cleanup" hitter! You would not think so but I will explain. "Cleanup" is what it implies to the most important stat is the ability to score your teammates, not the ability to have high OPS in that situation.

Santana is just not good at scoring his teammates. Compare him to Brantley, for example. Many more of Brantley's teammates have scored runs when he bats in similar circumstances than Santana although Santana has a much higher OPS. Think about what OPS tells you and you understand why. It includes stats that do not score runs!! Brantley, the lower OPS, actually has batted in a dozen more runs with men in scoring position than Santana even though he only has one HR. Why? He is productive with "ducks on the pond". Santana is not.

You can try the exercise with other than Brantley. In productivity, you will be surprised to see the old fart there even with a very few at bats comparatively. It isn't that AsCab is good. He is not. But Sabermetrics is not about statistics. It is about understanding which statistics are important and for that you have to understand players. Set theory is probably more important than the stats to find where players should hit in the order.

Not complaining about Santana's OPS even though it is declining badly. Just that it is not the relevant stat/set to be looking at for a "cleanup" hitterl
Seth
August 16, 2013 - 1:08 PM EDT
Norm, what are you looking at? Santana has a .956 OPS with men on and .945 with RISP, and you are complaining about that? You run into sample size problems any time you look at those kind of splits, and usually it's not "real", it's just variation within the sample that evens out if you look at a few seasons. Hafner, one year everyone would point to his bad numbers with runners on , the next year he'd do great with runners on, looking at the full season of all at bats is closer to the reality of what you'll get from the guy. In which case, outside of Kipnis, Santana's still been their most productive full-timer, so yeah, it makes sense to bat him cleanup... I would say Brantley is the exception to that where he does perform better with RISP, but he doesn't have power in any case. It would be nice if Brantley could take his approach with runners on into all of his at bats. I think his problem is he struggles when no one's on because he becomes patient to a fault, and is more aggressive in RISP situations. Santana, maybe he's trying too hard to hit home runs with no one on, or maybe his increased performance with runners on is mostly sample size noise
Norm
August 16, 2013 - 3:54 AM EDT
Michael, this is your answer to Santana's inability to hit with men on base all year? His HRs come with no one on base for the most part and he has far fewer RBIs than a low OPS player like Brantley. And he is getting worse, not better. On the year, he is hitting .261 with 51 RBIs instead of .215 since the all-star. Great cleanup hitter. Pay close attention Terry and learn the art of deluding yourself thru using select statistics. Your large body of work would have kept Reynolds "large body of work". Bullpucky!
Michael Hattery
August 16, 2013 - 1:36 AM EDT
Norm I actually was using a full sample rather than a short limited second half one which you are using. So yes the data I used differed because it offered a larger body of work. In fact using only his August stats would be more selective than what I did especially considering we are only partway through the month.
And his overall line has earned him the right to bury a small sample struggle in August versus Cabrera who has struggled for the entirety. So yeah, they use all stats, which includes the entire season not a single month.
Norm
August 16, 2013 - 12:50 AM EDT
Michael, little selective about Santana's stats, aren't you? What has he done since the all-star break or even in August? How many HRs has he hit with men on base? How does a hitter as great as you tell us Santana is have only 51 RBIs in the middle of August?

As a matter of fact, AsCab is not hitting well in August or the second half but is virtually indistinguishable in that regard from Santana, Swisher, Chisenhall, Stubbs and Giambi. Of course, that is not the point you want to make so we should ignore it?This looks like a team wide problem to me rather than a guy who was stuck at cleanup because there is no one else. BTW, Sabermetrics uses all stats don't they, not just select ones?
Joe Chengery
August 15, 2013 - 8:35 PM EDT
Good points on on the pitchers and on Cabrera and Santana. Adam, again, Cabrera is your big hole in the Indians' lineup, not Chisenhall, especially when you factor in experience and expected production.

In fact I would do the following:

Put any of these five guys in the cleanup spot: Santana, Brantley, Gomes, Raburn, Giambi (Santana or Brantley are my first two choices, but think the other 3 could be more productive there than Cabrera).
Move Cabrera to the eighth spot, behind Chisenhall. Truth be told, I trust Stubbs' bat right now more than Cabrera's, but like that speed at the bottom of the lineup, so leave Stubbs 9th, though an argument could be made that Stubbs bats eighth, gets on base, then Cabrera can focus more on hit-and-run, which might help him to hit more consistently.

Cabrera really needs to be moved out of the cleanup spot, sooner rather than later (like, Friday against Oakland). Cabrera has been more disappointing than Reynolds; Reynolds largely carried the team offensively for 5 weeks; at best, Cabrera did for 1.5 weeks at most, and really hasn't done much defensively either.
Rich Smith
August 15, 2013 - 6:38 PM EDT
Kazmir analysis is great and it would be wonderful if Kazmir can be signed to 2-year deal with an option for third. To sign him and Masterson they would need to trade Asdrubal and Chris Perez in off-season. Better use of resources if you ask me.
Seth
August 15, 2013 - 4:43 PM EDT
Good analysis of the Kazmir situation. I have to think that if the Indians want him, they can re-sign him. What that contract might look like depends a lot on the next 6 weeks. If the "dead arm" issue becomes something more and he struggles from here on out, he's back to looking at a 1-year contract to continue trying to rebuild some value, and would be lucky to get Brett Myers money. If he finishes strong, then something like you proposed here sounds about right. Barring something catastrophic, they should look to retain him, because I think worst-case if there's concern his arm will never hold up over a full season, he could be a very effective relief pitcher.

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