Scouting Report, Michael Wacha

Despite their best efforts, the St. Louis Cardinals have promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha in order to make his MLB debut on Thursday. The Cardinals wanted to keep Wacha in Triple-A in order to control his workload and prevent him from reaching Super-Two status, which would allow him to reach arbitration four times, instead of the normal three. Wacha was the 19th overall pick in last season’s Amateur Draft out of Texas A&M. Wacha will be the fourth player drafted in the 2012 draft to reach the Major Leagues, following Kevin Gausman of the Orioles, Paco Rodriguez of the Dodgers and Michael Roth of the Angels. The 6’6” right-hander is still just 21 years old. Wacha dominated across three levels last season, allowing just 2 ER in 21 innings total at Rookie Ball, High Single-A and Double-A. This season, Wacha has impressed with a 2.05 ERA across 52 2/3 innings at Triple-A. However, his peripheral statistics are a little more concerning as his K/9 is just 5.81 and his opponents BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is just .197, which suggests he has been a little lucky and explains his 4.00 FIP. His K/9 is down from 17.1 in 2012. He works with three pitches: fastball, change-up, curveball. Wacha works his fastball from 90-94 and actually reached 97 as a reliever last year. When Wacha can keep his fastball down in the zone he has good sink to it, but it flattens out when he elevates the pitch. His change-up is easily his best off-speed pitch, which is usually in the mid-80’s and has great fade, which makes it incredibly difficult to square up down in the zone. Wacha’s curveball is the reason he fell to the 19th pick in the draft, at the time it had very inconsistent break and he had trouble commanding the pitch. However, since joining the Cardinals’ organization, Wacha has greatly improved the pitch by making the break more consistent and more sharp. It is still not a plus pitch, but if it continues to improve it can be an average Major League pitch and a nice complement to the fastball and change-up. Wacha has tremendous command and control for someone his age, with just a 2.3 BB/9 and .7 HR/9 in 73 2/3 professional innings. His tremendous size helps him get great downward plane on all his pitches, which helps get the great downward movement on his pitches when they are thrown down in the zone. Wacha has a very fluid delivery, in which he uses everything effectively to generate great velocity and deception. He slightly turns his back to the hitter, which creates good deception by hiding the ball from the hitter a little longer. He is able to get great extension towards home plate and uses every inch of his 6’6” height and by getting this extension he keeps the ball down in the zone. He also creates deception by cutting his arm action short, which gives the hitter less time to see the ball, but I also wrote about the concerns with this when I wrote about Dylan Bundy, who has not pitched this year due to elbow discomfort. This is especially concerning for Wacha because even by cutting his arm action off, Wacha is still not able to get his arm back up by foot strike. The only other concerning part of his delivery is that Wacha slightly pulls his head off-center when throwing the pitch, which raises his arm and forces him to lose direct route to home plate. By raising his arm, he puts more stress on the arm rather than the entire body. He has a enough big frame to hold up as a workhorse even with these flaws. Plus he generates quite a bit of power from his lower half, which alleviates some of that extra stress he puts on his arm. It remains to be seen how long Wacha will be in the Cardinals rotation, because it mainly depends on Westbrook’s recovery from elbow discomfort, but Wacha seems ready to step in like so many other rookie pitchers for the Cardinals. Down the road, it seems very likely that he can develop into a #2 or #3 starter.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Kevin Gausman

With the news that Kevin Gausman will make his Major League debut for the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, we take a look at his scouting report in order to determine if he is ready for the jump from Double-A. The right-handed throwing Gausman was the 4th overall pick in last years Amateur Draft. Gausman is just 22 years old and stands 6’3”. He has never pitched above Double-A, but has enjoyed success across three levels of the Minor Leagues. In 2012, Gausman pitched at Low Single-A and High Single-A, where he pitched just 15 innings with a 3.60 ERA. He began this season in Double-A where he has pitched 46 1/3 innings with a 3.11 ERA and 9.5 K/9. Gausman comes after hitters with a four pitch mix, including a fastball, cutter, change-up and slider. His fastball is mid-to-upper 90’s with the ability to reach 99 mph late in games. His fastball shows excellent arms side sink, which has helped him compile a 51.5% groundball rate this season. He has great command of the pitch, especially for a player in just his first full season of pro ball, but he has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone where it loses his tremendous movement and flattens out. He uses an occasional cutter that is in the upper 80’s and cuts glove-side. Gausman’s change-up is his best off-speed pitch. The change-up is an incredible 15 mph off his fastball, as it sits 82-84 and has great fade to his arm-side. His slider has greatly improved since his days at LSU, when many scouts doubted the pitch. Similar to his change-up, he throws the slider around 82-84 mph. Gausman has a high leg kick where he brings his knee up to his chest. He takes his arm a little too far behind his back and is only able to get it into position by foot strike by cutting off his arm motion early. Gausman throws slightly across his body as his front foot lands closer to the third base side of the field. While this creates some deception, it also places some extra strain on his arm. His numbers in Double-A are not overwhelming, but his stuff is very impressive and can translate at any level. In my view, he is definitely ready for the jump to the MLB and while he will not immediately be the ace of the staff, Gausman projects as a front of the rotation starter, already with two plus pitches and 4 quality offerings.

Anthony Cacchione

Advanced Metrics Tutorial

This post will explain a few of the advanced metrics that we like to use. We will continue to add to it as we reference other statistics more frequently. This post will be created into a new page, so that it can easily be referenced.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP):
FIP is a statistic that measures a pitcher’s performance on an ERA like basis. FIP attempts to take defense out of the equation for a pitcher’s statistics, as it only considers a pitcher’s walks allowed, hit batters, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. FIP sets out to remove defense from the evaluation of a pitcher because it only examines things that the pitcher can control. FIP is a great statistic for predicting future performance of pitchers because the statistics it measures correlate more strongly year-to-year than balls in play, because pitchers have little control over what happens once the ball is in play.
Fangraphs provides a rule-of-thumb chart for looking at FIP:

Excellent: 2.90

Great: 3.25

Above Average: 3.75

Average: 4.00

Below Average: 4.20

Poor: 4.50

Awful: 5.00

FIP is more effective in predicting a pitcher’s future performance than it is in measuring present performance. FIP can be inaccurate in measuring a pitcher’s single game performance, but it usually evens out over the course of a season. FIP and other advanced metrics are the main reason Zach Greinke signed with the Dodgers for $147 Million/6 years. Since 2008, Greinke is 5th in the MLB among starting pitchers with a 3.05 FIP, despite a 3.41 ERA in that span, which ranked 26th.

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR):
UZR is a defensive statistic that gives a run value to an individual’s defensive play. It attempts to measure how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding abilities. UZR measures the runs above or below average that a fielder is compared to other players at the position, so the same UZR for a second basemen compared to a shortstop does not suggest they are equal defensively. UZR takes into account the amount of runs an outfielder saves with his arm, the amount of runs an infielder saves with double plays turned, the amount of runs a fielder saves because of his range, and the runs he saves or costs because of the number of errors he made.
Defensive statistics as a whole are not going to be 100% accurate, so to receive the most accurate understanding of a player’s defensive ability, it is best to use large sample sizes; Fangraphs recommends 3 years worth of data. UZR is like RBI and Home Runs in that it is a counting statistic, so it is not a good statistic for comparing players with different amounts of playing time.
Fangraphs provides a rule-of-thumb chart for looking at UZR:

Gold Glove Caliber: +15 UZR

Great: +10 UZR

Above Average: +5 UZR

Average: 0 UZR

Below Average: -5 UZR

Poor: -10 UZR

Awful: -15 UZR

Wins Above Replacement (WAR):
WAR is an all-encompassing statistic that attempts to summarize a player’s contributions to his team. Fangraphs.com describes it as intended to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com have an established baseline for what a replacement level player is. Also, since WAR is adjusted for context, league and ballparks, it allows players to be compared between years, leagues and teams.
-Offensive Players: WAR for offensive players takes into account offensive, base running and defensive value in runs above average. There is also a positional adjustment because some positions (i.e. Shortstop and Catcher) are harder to play than others. The total amount of runs above replacement level is then converted to wins; 10 runs equates to 1 win.
-Pitchers: WAR for pitchers is calculated by taking into account a pitcher’s innings pitched as well as his FIP. The pitcher’s FIP is then converted to a runs value and, just as for offensive players, 10 runs equates to 1 win.

Fangraphs suggests that average starters and average starting pitchers are around +2 WAR. A bench player or quality reliever is usually around +1 WAR.
Fangraphs provides a rule-of-thumb chart for position players and starting pitchers:

Scrub: 0-1 WAR

Role Player: 1-2 WAR

Solid Starter: 2-3 WAR

Good Player: 3-4 WAR

All-Star: 4-5 WAR

Superstar: 5-6 WAR

Scouting Report, Carlos Martinez

In the wake of the Cardinals’ decision to demote relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs to Class AAA and call up right-handed pitcher Carlos Martinez, we take a look at Martinez‘s ability and future. The Cardinals signed Martinez out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for a $1.5 million bonus, but he did not pitch in the US until 2011. The 21-year-old Martinez stands just 6’0”. He has never pitched above Double-A, but has enjoyed success across three levels. In 2012, Martinez pitched at High Single-A and Double-A, and pitched to a 2.93 ERA across 104 1/3 innings. Martinez is very similar to the last pitcher we covered, Yordano Ventura, because they are both relatively short power-pitchers, who could end up as top starting pitchers or shut down relievers. Throughout his Minor League career, Martinez has been used as a starting pitcher with a three pitch mix, including a fastball, curveball and a circle-change. As a starter, Martinez throws his fastball between 94-98 mph and can dial it up to 100 when needed. He has a tendency to leave the fastball up in the zone where it loses movement, but when he spots it down in the zone his fastball has good late life. Martinez’s curveball has very sharp downward action, making it very tough on right-handed hitters. He has good control of both his fastball and his curveball, but needs to keep the fastball down more consistently. He throws a circle change-up, which is his weakest pitch. Even though it is not his best pitch, the change-up has good arm-side run, but he needs better command of the pitch. He has a tendency to leave the change-up high in the zone, which diminishes the movement and makes it easier to hit. Martinez’s delivery is very violent with a quick arm action. He takes his arm a little too far behind his back and is unable to get it back into position by foot strike. This arm drag is intensified because of his propensity to drift from his balance point, which does not allow his arm to get back up by foot strike. He is able to create a little deception by slightly turning his back to the hitter, which also helps him keep his front side closed. Martinez’s finish is incredibly violent as he strides very far, but after he releases the ball, his front leg straightens and he spins off towards first base. Martinez currently projects as a #2/3 starting pitcher, but he will need to improve his change-up in order to have three plus pitches. After his promotion, Martinez will be used out of the bullpen, where the Cardinals are in dire need for a quality reliever. In my view, Martinez’s size and violent delivery will likely limit him to be a shut down reliever instead of a starter, because he would likely have durability issues as a starter.