Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scouting Two Players Of Recent Interest

Two players' names have come up repeatedly in the last few weeks: C.C. Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury. I wanted to chime in on some of what I've seen. We'll start with Ellsbury.

People who have been reading this blog since 2007 know I was never overly impressed by Ellsbury as a prospect. Not because I didn't think he had tremendous tools, but because I thought he had too many holes in his game and didn't have the cerebral aspect of the game under control to the point where he could let his tools thrive.

For the first three full years of his Major League career, that analysis pretty much manifested itself to a T. Even in a decent 2009, he wasn't an impact player because you could get him out with hard stuff up in the zone and in, and soft stuff down in the zone and away. He posted below league average numbers in all three of those seasons, and at age 27 it looked like that was what he was. Robinson Cano is 11 months older than Ellsbury, so it was getting a little late for Ellsbury to be something else as he was already a year or two into what is typically considered the "prime" years.

But turn it around he has. A career 92 OPS+ player entering the season, Ellsbury has posted a fantastic 137+ so far this year. He's also flashing power relative to hsi position for the first time in his career. He's not just playing above average, he's playing great, a huge jump, and unusually late in his career to make such a jump. Why has he made the jump? In my opinion, it's because he no longer misses mistakes. Ellsbury is not one of those elite hitters who is going to hammer your best pitch. In fact, the two holes in his swing remain holes - you can still pound him with fastballs up and in because he's not strong enough to do anything with it, and you can still get him to reach and wave at stuff down and away (as Freddy Garcia showed all 3 times he faced Ellsbury on Sunday night).

But if you leave anything in the middle of the plate, he's going to hammer it. His double off the wall just left of center on Friday was a 2-seamer that Colon ran right back over the middle, and his homer on Saturday was a cutter from Sabathia that did the exact same thing. There is something to be said for this. Outside of the elite of the elite hitters in the game who can hit it and hit it hard no matter where it is, a lot of the "next level" guys make their living by not missing mistakes. This speaks to him making some adjustments on the cerebral front (although he's certainly not all the way there as he just does not lay off stuff down and the way, consistently expanding the zone, which is probably a big part of the reason he only has 31 walks, roughly one every 4 games, which is not good, even for a guy hitting .316). His pitch recognition appears to be plus, and when he gets his pitch he puts his swing on it. That is why he is flashing the increased power, which is really the main thing that has changed in his game. .316 is a nice batting average, but it's not wildly beyond what he's done before. He picked up 188 hits in 2009, and he won't be a ton above that unless he goes crazy the last few months, so that's not something we haven't seen before. The power is such an entity, and I think this is the reason for it.

On C.C., DV insists that this is a big deal. As I said the other day, I don't think it is unless it's in his head. Listen, we all know the numbers. C.C. has been, as he usually is, one of the five best pitchers in the game in 2011, and if you take out his numbers against the Sox he has probably been the best. He's 16-2 with a 2.11 against everybody else, and 0-4 with a 7.20 against the Sox.

So why isn't this a bigger deal? Because when you break it down by start, you see it's not like the Sox are all over him from the first pitch. In this last start, he gave most of it up in one inning, and he still struck out 6. In his start before that against the Sox, he went 6 scoreless allowing only 2 hits before having it unfold in the 7th on bloops to end all bloops. In his start before that against the Sox, he allowed 2 runs over 6 innings before allowing 4 runs in the 7th. In the start before that, his first against the Sox this season, he allowed 1 run over 5.2 innings, and you can do a lot worse than that in Fenway.

So across his first three starts, CC allowed 4 runs in the first 17.2 innings of those games. The big inning has got him, and listen the final result is all that matters. But if you only look at those final results, it's easier to say "the Sox are in his head" or something like that. If that were the case, I doubt he's dominate the first 6 innings of all but this last game.

Finally, C.C. is the kind of established pitcher that can turn these things in one start. The Sox aren't the first team to jump on him in a small sample size, I'm sure. What's more, in his first two years in pinstripes, he was 4-1 against the Sox with an ERA under 3 in 8 starts. The numbers this year aren't more important than the numbers last year, and vice versa. C.C. just needs to get them off his fastball (either by figuring out if he's tipping something or by simply mixing pitches even more than normal against them and then spotting the fastball).

After all, the Sox are the type of lefty-heavy team C.C. usually dominates. Lefties are hitting .200 off C.C. this year with 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 homers. 191 plate appearances against lefties, and they've picked up 7 extra base hits all season. I'm not sure about the rest, but I know the Sox have both homers (Gonzalez and Ellsbury) and at least one of the doubles (Crawford). That just doesn't add up. Could be a sample size thing, could be the fastball thing, could be something else. But C.C. is the kind of pitcher you trust to figure it out. Especially against a team for whom 5 of their best 7 hitters (Gonzalez, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Crawford, and Reddick - with Pedroia and Youkilis being the others) are lefties. If C.C. had more of a negative history with the Sox, then it would be a bigger cause for concern. But if you look at that history, the Sox have gone through periods of getting him (this isn't the first) and he's gone through periods of getting him. This isn't Beckett against the Yankees from 2006-2010 where he has a 5+ ERA over 5 seasons.

So for now, I don't think it's a huge cause for concern, and more of a start to start kind of thing. Obviously you'd feel better in his next start against the Sox if he had pitched well against them the last time, but that's how you're almost always going to feel. If that next start finally is that start, then this is no longer even a conversation. The sample size is bigger than these last four starts, and the data when you break down the starts isn't as bad as the final lines seem.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

One of the reasons that good pitching often beats good hitting is that when a pitcher hits his spot with a good pitch hitters aren't going to do much with it. The guys that do, as you mentioned, are the elite hitters. Manny, ARod, Bonds, Pujols, etc. Those guys can hit anybody's best pitch. So, in order for all the other guys to make a living they have to hit mistakes. And Ellsbury does that very well.

CC Sabathia has struggled against the Red Sox this year. And there are many different levels of analysis you can provide, but you can save a lot of time by asking one question--would you want your team facing CC Sabathia in the playoffs? I doubt you'd find many people who would say yes. Freddy Garcia? Fatolo Colon? Send me those guys all day every day. But if you aren't concerned about CC Sabathia then you haven't watched much baseball in the last five or six years.

DV

I would never boycott this space. It's a great blog and I appreciate the back and forth. It's what makes it entertaining.

Also, and this is only for the Colby guys, but according to Forbes, Colby is ranked 20th nationally amongst all colleges. It's twelve spots ahead of Bates and 18 spots ahead of Bowdoin (we're also ahead of Duke, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Middlebury). Maybe Bro Adams isn't as terrible at his job as I thought. Also, hope the Polar Bears enjoy the view from the back of the CBB.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Columbia, uh huh, WOW that's a hard school to get into.

I'll have some real analysis in a second.

the gm at work said...

PF,

Thank you for your truth torpedoes about 46. Mine generally get disregarded because of my 46 biases. Your insight that he capitalizes off of mistakes is largely accurate, and that's really, the way I see it, what separates good players from bad ones. Good players don't let pitchers make mistakes. When 46 sees a mistake, he'll do one of three things: 1. Try to hit it 550 feet and hit it 405 feet, 2. Try to hit it 550 feet and pop up, 3. Go with the pitch and make something happen. 1 and 3 are obviously more desirable, and it's been refreshing to see those more often than 2.

That said, he's definitely got holes still, and he's definitely as dumb as a post. I think pitchers fail to look at those holes because the film of the last full season he had was so long ago that HDTV didn't even exist yet. I'd be interested to see how he responds to scouting next year.

Anonymous said...

gunn -

absolutely. and listen, i'm not trying to diminish the ability to hammer mistakes. quite the opposite. it's a real skill. one of the things we are seeing with rodriguez is that he can still do some special things with tough pitches, but he misses a lot more pitches he used to crush. the fact that ellsbury is really making pitchers pay for mistakes is not a small deal, it's a talent, and something that a lot of people don't do nearly as well as he's doing it this year.

i think your points on cc are fair. a lot of people are concerned based on the performance this year, and i'm not going to sit here and say i wouldn't feel a lot better if he'd pitched better against them. i'll definitely be watching his next start against them more cautiously than i usually do. i'm just pointing out that you can only realistically take that concern so far based on 4 starts, and the reason you pointed out is a big part of that.

great stuff as always from you, gunn.

dv -

ellsbury has taken a step forward this year in terms of performance, i think in large part, because he's taken a step forward in terms of the mental side of the game. how he continues to approach the mental side will only become more important, as you say, because teams will no doubt look to adjust against him. he's not likely to get as many get-me-over 2-0 fastballs so long as he keeps hammer pitches in the middle of the plate. he's also probably likely to get less fastballs in general (i noticed the yankees on sunday night already seemed to have seen enough, and were going a lot more off-speed and fastballs out of the zone). how he adjusts to that adjustment - especially in terms of taking walks, something that he has never really done at any point in his career, and is not doing this year - will be a big factor in his success moving forward. especially as a leadoff guy with his speed, he has to be willing to take his walks if pitchers are trying to get him to expand the zone.

- pf

the gm at work said...

On CC: It cannot be ignored that the Red Sox frequently shelled CC in Cleveland as well.

We might be heading for a disagreement regarding the walks, Pat. I wrote about this back in April (twice) and May (once): I don't want 46 to walk. Period. If 46 is less aggressive at the plate, that's when he is the least effective, and I'm serious about that. During his power-hitter delusion streak in April and early May, when for the most part he was downright putrid at the plate, he was taking many pitches, drawing walks, and working counts. Know what else he was doing?

Taking called third strikes right down the f***ing middle.

No walks. Protect the plate. Hit .315. I'll still think you suck, but I'll appreciate your contributions toward winning. That's my relationship with 46 right now.