Stats & Info: Craig Gentry

Tuesday's priority: Upgrade bullpen, 'd'

December, 3, 2013
It was a very, very busy Tuesday in baseball and the priorities for the teams involved in making moves revolved around two areas- relief pitching and defense.

The Tigers made the biggest transaction of the day so far, signing free agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract.

Nathan is the active leader in saves with 341, tied with Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers for 10th most all-time. Nathan comes off a season in which he had a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves. His four seasons with 43 or more saves rank tied for third-most all-time.

The upgrade in putting Nathan as closer ahead of Joaquin Benoit is tied to the history of each with regards to giving up home runs.

Benoit has allowed a homer every 30 at-bats over the last three seasons. Nathan has allowed one every 39 at-bats.

Athletics continue remake with Gregerson
The Athletics traded Seth Smith to the Padres for middle-relief specialist Luke Gregerson.

Gregerson brings durability, having made 70 or more appearances in four of the last five seasons. His 132 holds in that span are by far the most in the majors.

Gregerson succeeds despite not throwing that hard. His average fastball is 89 mph. He’s thrown nearly 1,800 sliders over the last three seasons. The only reliever to throw more is Carlos Marmol.

Gregerson will pair with Jim Johnson to form a new back end of the Athletics bullpen.

Bell will toll for Rays
Heath Bell will join his fourth team in as many seasons, as he’s headed to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

After three straight 40-save seasons, Bell has sputtered the last two years with the Marlins and Diamondbacks.

Bell did have 72 strikeouts and 16 walks last season, a ratio comparable to what the Rays got from their closer, Fernando Rodney, in 2012.

But the focus for the Rays will be on keeping Bell’s homer total down. He yielded 12 in 65 2/3 innings, or two more than he allowed in nearly 200 innings of work from 2010 to 2012.

Gentry goes to the Athletics
The Athletics obtained Craig Gentry from the Texas Rangers and could plug him into their outfield in a number of ways.

His best spot from a defensive perspective is centerfield. Gentry ranks 29th in innings at that position over the last three seasons, but rates tied for third with 32 Defensive Runs Saved in that same span.

Gentry doesn’t hit for power but does have a .365 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.

He also can net extra bases after reaching, as he’s 55 for 65 in stolen base tries over the last three seasons (an 85 percent success rate that rates 11th-best among those with 40 or more steals).

Hanigan to the Rays
A bunch of catchers changed teams, with A.J. Pierzynski signing with the Red Sox and Jarrod Saltalamacchia subsequently heading to the Marlins.

Those were offensive-minded moves in each case (as noted in the chart at right), but the Rays snuck in and made a prominent move for their defense.

The trade with the Reds for Ryan Hanigan gives the Rays a second catcher highly regarded for his pitch-framing (as noted in this Grantland piece) and throwing arm.

Opponents have 52 steals against Hanigan and have been caught 38 times by him (they were also caught nine times by pitchers) over the last two seasons. The 58 percent steal success rate was the second-lowest against a catcher, behind only the 56 percent success rate against Yadier Molina.

Hanigan hit only .198 last season, but he walked more than he struck out for the fifth time in the five seasons in which he’s had at least 200 plate appearances. He had an on-base percentage of .350 or better in each season from 2009 to 2012.

Top stats to know: Rays vs Rangers

September, 30, 2013
This year’s regular season has an extra day, with the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays meeting in a one-game tiebreaker to determine the second Wild Card spot.

Here are half a dozen statistical storylines related to this matchup.

The home team has a good recent history
Since 1995, there have been six one-game tiebreakers. The home team has won five of the six, including the last three, with the only road win being by the 1999 Mets against the Reds.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney had direct involvement in the last one, allowing the walk-off hit to Alexi Casilla as the Twins defeated the Tigers 6-5 in a one-game tiebreaker that decided the 2009 AL Central title.

David Price struggles against the Rangers
The Rays will start last year’s Cy Young Award winner, David Price. His history against the Rangers is rough—1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight regular-season starts, 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA in three postseason starts.

In four starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Price has allowed 19 earned runs and 25 hits in 16 2/3 innings.

Price has had trouble figuring out how to get the Rangers righties out. As the chart on the right notes, they have good numbers against both his fastball and his offspeed stuff.

Price’s situation is similar to that of Joe Saunders, who faced the Rangers in Texas in the Wild Card round last season. Saunders entered that start 3-7 career against the Rangers and 0-6 in Arlington, but got the win for the Baltimore Orioles over Yu Darvish to advance to the ALDS.

Nelson Cruz returns
The Rangers will have Nelson Cruz available if they wish to use him. Cruz has not played since August 4 after accepting his 50-game PED-related suspension.
Nelson Cruz
Cruz is an appealing option because of how well he hits lefties. He has a .317 batting average, .387 on-base percentage and .578 slugging percentage versus left-handed pitching over the last four seasons and is hitting .290 with five home runs in 100 at-bats against southpaws in 2013.

Combining regular season and postseason, Cruz is 9-for-21 with three home runs against Price. He homered against Price the last time they met—in a 6-5 win for the Rangers on Aug. 27, 2012.

Matchup to watch: Wil Myers vs Martin Perez
Two of the top candidates for AL Rookie of the Year will go head-to-head when Rays outfielder Wil Myers faces Rangers starter Martin Perez.

Myers was the Rays top hitter in September, hitting .317 with four home runs, 13 doubles and 14 RBI, including 2-for-4 in the season finale on Sunday.

Myers had a .299 batting average and .388 on-base percentage against left-handed pitching this season. His success came as the result of spraying line drives at a high rate (20 of the 72 balls he put into play, 28 percent).

Perez had trouble with right-handed hitters in the final month of the season, when they hit .317 against him, though eight of those hits against him were infield hits. Perez profiles as a hittable pitcher, but he’s managed to limit damage with men on base, yielding only one home run with men on base in his 19 starts.

Impact defender: Craig Gentry
Both these teams have good defenders in their infield, most notably Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Evan Longoria. The Rangers have a difference-making defender in the outfield in Craig Gentry.

Gentry has 26 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield over the last two seasons, but has done so in only 1,284 innings. Gentry has the third-best Runs Saved per 1,200 innings total among outfielders in that span, trailing only Gerardo Parra and Lorenzo Cain.

Rays have a deep bench
Since this is a regular-season game, each team will be working from up to a 40-man roster.

For the Rays, that means that Jake Odorizzi could play a key role if either Price struggles, or the team uses up its bullpen in a close game. Odorizzi has made a pair of relief stints of at least three innings in the last 10 days and was unscored upon in each.

Joe Maddon will also have Freddy Guzman available as a pinch-runner. Guzman has appeared in one game this season. He pinch-ran in the 11th inning stole a base and scored the tying run in a win over the Rangers on September 18. Guzman stole 73 bases in the Mexican League this season.

How Josh Hamilton helps, and hurts, a team

November, 27, 2012
As with most things related to Josh Hamilton, there are two sides. And as one of the most fascinating free agents in history, both of those sides will undoubtedly be scrutinized.
Josh Hamilton
What cannot be debated is that since Hamilton’s arrival, the Texas Rangers have been a much better team than before his arrival.

Not all of that can or should be attributed to Hamilton himself; however, it’s not a coincidence that the Rangers’ offensive production ticked up noticeably in the five years he’s been with the club (2008-12) compared to the five years before the Rangers’ trade with the Cincinnati Reds that brought Hamilton to Texas.

How can we quantify the impact made by Hamilton?

From 2003-07, the Rangers team OPS was .781, they averaged 5.2 runs per game and about 1.3 home runs per game. From 2008-12 – the “Hamilton era” – the Rangers team OPS was .783, they averaged 5.1 runs per game and about 1.2 home runs per game. In other words, the Rangers offense simply remained steady after the arrival of Hamilton.

Not exactly.

When one compares the Rangers production to the major-league average over the two five-year spans, it becomes clear just how much better the Rangers’ offense was with Hamilton.

The Rangers’ run scoring went from about 9 percent above the league average to more 14 percent above league average. Similarly impressive advances were made in the team batting average and OPS (see chart).

Clearly, the departure of Hamilton would have a distinct impact on the Rangers’ offense.

After all, when you look at strictly offensive performance from 2012, Hamilton’s +4.4 offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) -- which removes the defensive component from WAR – was the second-best mark on the Rangers behind Adrian Beltre.

In a vacuum, that production could have been the difference between the Rangers making and missing the postseason. His offensive production would be missed.

But, there’s always another side with Hamilton, and in this case it’s his defense. Despite producing 4.4 oWAR in 2012, Hamilton’s net WAR production was a relatively modest 3.4.

Why? Because Hamilton was a net negative on defense, costing his team more than a win with his glove.

To compound the issue, most of Hamilton’s worst defensive work was done while he was producing his worst offensive stretch of the season.

From Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season, Hamilton produced a Minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved mark, compared to being nearly league-average from the beginning of the year through July (-1 DRS).

Only four players -- Pedro Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Nelson -- were worse over the final two months.

Which is why Hamilton’s departure, while it would undoubtedly impact the offense, may not hurt the Rangers all that much overall. Craig Gentry, a cheap and ready-made outfield replacement, produced +2.8 WAR in 2012 on the back of some outstanding defensive work.

And while it might seem impossible that a player who hit one home runs in 269 plate appearances could be a replacement for Hamilton, who hit 43 home runs, the numbers suggest it would far less of a net loss for the Rangers than one would initially think.

That’s why there are always two sides to everything Josh Hamilton. In this case, we’re not talking about on the field versus off the field, but rather in the batter’s box versus in the outfield.