1: Ken Rosenthal writes a fairly level-headed piece on why the M’s might face some trouble in 2010. This won’t be a shock to anyone here (Bedard is hurt? Wha?), but the article seems designed as a response to some of the plaudits the M’s have received in the national print media. Mind you, this article now finds its place amongst an equally voluminous collection of “the M’s haven’t won anything yet” pieces – like this one. I don’t think anyone here had the idea that the M’s are a 100-win true-talent team, so the article is fine as far as it goes.
One thing that caught my eye though was the quote from an unnamed scout about Milton Bradley. According to whoever it was who talked to Rosenthal, Milton Bradley doesn’t look so hot this spring. “I’m afraid he can’t play anymore,” says Scout X. This is the spring training yin to “He’s in the best shape of his life”‘s yang. For every hot-shot pitcher turbo-charged by some unexplained mechanical tweak (which scouts think will make him unhittable) you’ve got the guy with a hole in his swing, who fights what seems to scouts like a quixotic battle. Someone needs to track these assertions. I don’t mean to suggest that the scouts are wrong – if they’re right, this is really important info. If you can always find one guy who thinks he’s found a flaw in Pujols’ swing, well, that’s interesting too, but I’ll take these reports with a grain of salt. In this case, the scout is helpfully specific: Bradley apparently has trouble with pitches up in the zone (“above his hands’). It’ll be fun to see if this holds true.
2: How can fans keep track of something like that? Well, you could make heat maps with MySQL and R. That’s laudable. Alternatively, you could outsource that work to Craig Glaser and friends. Sabometrics has a new iPhone app that gives you a heat map for every player in baseball using 2009 pitch fx data. It’s called Batting Goggles, and it just came out this week. So, how does that scout’s observation about Bradley look through Batting Goggles? Actually, it looks pretty good – Bradley struggled with pitches up in the zone in 2009 (but killed pitches anywhere in the middle third). What does Ichiro look like in this view? Still amazing!
You can isolate by batter/pitcher handedness too, so if you want to see if Ichiro’s amazing vs. lefties (yes) AND righties (yes), you can just tap to do that. Of course, the sample sizes here for many players aren’t that big. Using this for relievers, for example, isn’t going to be all that predictive. You’re also focusing only on balls in play, so you could get different results using something like linear weights (to count all strikes/balls). But it’s still pretty amazing, at least to me. It’s in the app store now, as is Derek’s “2nd Guesser” that came out last fall.
* I wonder of Ichiro’s the only batter to have his two highest ISO figures on balls out of the strike zone. Sure, he does fine on pitches right down the middle, but he really hurts pitches off the plate inside. Yet another reason that Ichiro is not like other humans.
3: Jason Vargas and Sean White both had their best outings of the spring in a losing effort tonight. Vargas pitched 5 shut-out innings, notching 4 Ks, while White got 2 Ks in a 1-2-3 inning. White struck out Kyle Blanks using a rare curve ball, and touched 91-92; Vargas struck out Blanks with the high “heat” – an 88mph fastball – and couldn’t quite crack 89. White’s drawn raves all spring from the M’s brass, and while he was extraordinarily lucky last year, he’s got moderately interesting stuff, and could help the bullpen this year despite a nasty xFIP in 2009 (his tRA was better). He needs to start generating swinging strikes and Ks; among qualified relievers, White finished dead last (out of 135) in K rate last year. The samples are tiny, but he did generate swinging strikes on his curve and change, so we’ll see if he goes to them more than last year (when 3/4 of his pitches were fastballs).
4: Here’s an interesting study on umpires, which ranks the men in blue from most to least pitcher-friendly. If you’re a pitcher, you really want Doug Eddings behind the plate. Alternatively, you hate seeing Randy Marsh, Tim McLelland or Paul Schreiber. If you’d like, poke around at the spreadsheet Jeff links to in the article – man, Randy Marsh is not a fan of strikeouts.
5: Shawn Kelley gets the start tomorrow against Kansas City, which seems like a good way to ease into a new role. The M’s maintain that they want to stretch him out for 2-inning bullpen stints, and that he’s NOT a candidate for the rotation. Even so, it’ll be nice opportunity for Kelley to get more practice throwing a change-up – a pitch which he threw in college (as a starter), but abandoned in his pro career until now. The Royals facility includes pitch fx, but Cleveland’s stadium (where the other half of the squad play) doesn’t. I wonder if the decision to send Kelley to Surprise factored that in?
6: Mike Salk says the M’s are leaning towards keeping both Kanekoa Texeira and Mike Sweeney on the 25 man roster.