Stats & Info: Matt Meyers

Is Mike Stanton the next Brandon Wood?

June, 7, 2010
Word on the street is that the Marlins have called up power-hitting outfield prospect Mike Stanton, and fantasy owners everywhere are putting in their waiver claims. And with good reason: The kid has 21 home runs in a third of a season Double-A at the tender age of 20. Last year Stanton hit 29 homers between high Class A and Double-A, and the year before that he hit 39 jacks at low Class A. As far as power-hitting prospects go, he's about as good as it gets. Note that I wrote "about as good as it gets," because Stanton isn't perfect. And he has one major flaw that could prevent him from becoming a viable major leaguer.

In 238 plate appearances this year for Jacksonville, Stanton has struck out 53 times. That's 22 percent of the time. For his career he has struck out 26.7 percent of the time, so he has shown a bit of an improvement this year. However, that's still a heck of a lot of whiffs for a minor leaguer. As friend of TMI Kevin Goldstein Tweeted yesterday, "We can all get excited about Stanton being up, but I do fear his numbers are going to look like Rob Deer's for a while."

On the major league level, strikeouts for hitters tend to be overrated, and there are plenty of hitters who have remained productive despite racking up a ton of K's -- Jim Thome, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard among them. However, when evaluating prospects, strikeouts matter. Because if a guy has trouble making contact against minor league pitching, odds are they're going to have an even harder time squaring up big league arms. For example, Dunn has struck out in 26.5 percent of his plate appearances in the majors. But in the minors he fanned 18.2 percent of the time. The list below is the current top 10 in the majors in strikeouts, and the percentage of the time they fanned in the minors.

Mark Reynolds, 23.1
Justin Upton, 19.7
David Wright, 18.0
Rickie Weeks, 18.7
Adam Dunn, 18.2
Carlos Pena 20.7
Matt Kemp, 18.5
Ryan Howard, 27.2
Austin Jackson, 21.1
Adam Lind, 16.8

These guys fan more than anyone than baseball, and with the exception of Howard, every one of them whiffed less frequently in the minors than Stanton. As Howard has proven, lots of K's in the minors are not prohibitive to success in the majors. However, it's certainly cause for concern. And we've seen many prospects in recent years flame out because their high minor league strikeout rate came back to bite them in the bigs. The most recent example is Brandon Wood, who provides a cautionary tale for those going gaga for Stanton. Wood made lots of noise in the prospect world when he hit 43 homers back in 2005. But he struck 23.3 percent of the time in the minors and his power has never translated while playing for the Angels. He has a .381 OPS for the Angels this year and has struck out in 30.2 percent of his big league plate appearances.

Before you get too excited about Stanton, keep Wood in mind.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Trembley the least of O's problems

June, 4, 2010
In a move that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, the Baltimore Orioles have fired manager Dave Trembley. Considering the O's are something like 8-109 since last year's All-Star break -- actually 39-88, which is still brutal -- it's hard to make a case that the guy deserves to stay. But as in most cases in which a manager is axed, this team's problems go far beyond the guy filling out the lineup card, and that's the case in Baltimore, where the O's current rebuilding project is already on the verge of going off the rails. And the crazy thing about their 15-39 record is that a lot of things have actually gone right for them.

For example, Ty Wigginton is hitting .282/.365/.548 with 13 homers, and Luke Scott is hitting .272/.344/.524. If you had told me on April 1 that those would be their lines on June 3, I'd have guessed the Orioles were in the midst of a promising year, with the likes of Wigginton and Scott fortifying the emergence of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Instead, the latter trio, the supposed building block of the franchise, hasn't held up its end of the bargain and is the reason Baltimore has scored the fewest runs in the AL. To wit:

Jones: .249/.271/.376, five walks, 45 strikeouts
Wieters: .240/.314/.347, nine extra-base hits
Markakis: .305/.400/.430

Obviously, one of these things is not like the other, and Markakis has actually been pretty good. But he's now 26 years old and his slugging has dropped in each of the past two seasons. He's dangerously close to being a singles-hitting right fielder. But he was supposed to be a superstar, and it's hard to say he hasn't been a little bit of a disappointment because of his lack of pop.

As for Jones, it's hard to know exactly what's happened to him since his fast start of a year ago, but he's simply been one of the worst players in baseball thus far. Last season, he swung at 35.2 percent of pitches outside the zone and 73.3 percent in it. This year, those numbers are 39 and 66.2, respectively. He's basically swinging at the same percentage of pitches, but more of them are outside the zone. And while he's increased his contact rate on balls out of the zone (57.3 to 64.9), that's not exactly a recipe for driving the ball.

Wieters' problem is that he can't seem to stop hitting the ball on the ground. He hit grounders 41.9 percent of the time last year, and this year he's hitting them 49.3 percent of the time, which is among the league leaders, most of whom are speedy top-of-order types. It's hard to be a power hitter, which is what Wieters is supposed to be, when you're hitting the ball on the ground. Those tend not to leave the park. There was no way Wieters was going to live up to the colossal expectations for him last year, and his .280/.344/.412 line was good, but not great. His failure to even approach those numbers this year is obviously concerning.

Is that Trembley's fault? It's hard to know for sure, but both Markakis (2008) and Jones (last year) had the best stretches of their career under Trembley, so it's hard to say it's all on him. The bottom line is that the guys who were supposed to be the cornerstones of the next great Orioles team simply aren't showing any signs of growth. Jones and Wieters are still just 24, so it's too early to give up on them, but if the next manager can't get these guys to live up to their potential, then the O's may have to start looking toward their next rebuilding project.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor for ESPN The Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The Pirates win the Central?!?!

March, 31, 2010
For the ESPN The Magazine baseball preview, we used Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projections to simulate the season 100 times using Diamond Mind Baseball. In addition to producing standings for each season, the software also spits out the stats. Over the next couple of days we'll go inside some of the more eye-opening results.

As regular readers of Insider might remember, I wrote a piece a couple of months ago in which I explained why the Pirates have one of the best organizational plans in baseball. Seriously. Obviously, I was pleased to see the Pirates finish in first in three of our simulations (and tie for first in another). Even the most optimistic observer wouldn't expect Pittsburgh to make the post-season so quickly. Therefore, I had to check out how it all came together. Let's examine the Pirates 87-win season, which was their high-water mark in all of our sims.

Not surprisingly, Andrew McCutchen picked up right where he left off last year, and hit .302/.361/.437 with 11 homers and 23 steals in that "season". The real key, however, is Garrett Jones, who proved he's no fluke by slugging 33 homers while posting a .910 OPS. Of course the Bucs got some pitching help as well, most notably from Charlie Morton, who posted a 3.21 ERA in 188 innings while inducing 21 double plays. There's also Ross Ohlendorf, who proved the doubters wrong by posting a 3.84 ERA in 182 innings.

But for the Pirates to win 87 games, I think we'd all agree they'd have to get really lucky in some places. Enter Bobby Crosby. In this "season," the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year hit .278/.339/.400 with nine homers. That's nothing special, but it's a huge boost for the Pirates, whose shortstops combined for a .300 OBP with nine homers in 2009. Pittsburgh also got an .801 OPS with 16 homers in a bounceback season from backstop Ryan Doumit. Of course, the Pirates would have to get some luck elsewhere, and that's where injuries come in.

Yes, the software builds in injuries, and every player has a different risk factor. In this sim, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter made just 18 starts. And Adam Wainwright, Carpenter's co-ace, pitched 135 innings and had a 4.35 ERA.

Of course there's also Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh's real secret weapon. The Pirates top hitting prospect bursts onto the scene in September to go 9-for-23 with five homers. (We don't have game-by-game data, so I'm guessing it's September because it's so few at-bats, and if he came up earlier in the season and hit like that, odds are he wouldn't go back down.) I'm calling it now: If Alvarez carries the Bucs to the postseason like this, he deserves Rookie of the Year, even if it is just 23 at-bats.

And yes, after all of this, the Pirates won 87 games and eeked out the Cards by one game for the division title. So if someone says to you, "there's no way the Pirates can win the Central," you can reply, "au contraire! If McCutchen and Jones continue to rake, Crosby and Doumit bounce back, Morton and Ohlendorf exceed expectations, and Carpenter and Wainwright are hurt and/or ineffective, then the Pirates might just win the division. Oh yeah, the Bucs would also need Pedro Alvarez to be a real-life Joe Hardy down the stretch. See, it could happen.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine.

The one in which Boston wins 122 games

March, 30, 2010
For the ESPN The Magazine baseball preview, we used Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projections to simulate the season 100 times using Diamond Mind Baseball. In addition to producing standings for each season, the software also spits out the stats. Over the next couple of days we'll go inside some of the more eye-opening results.

If you take a look at the AL East standings in the Mag preview, you'll see that in one simulation the Red Sox won 122 games. It was the most wins by any team in any of our simulations. So we asked ourselves, what does a 122-win season for the Red Sox look like? Let's check it out.

The key to the Red Sox that "season" was their outstanding pitching, and we can only assume that the defensive improvements they made this offseason played a major role in the team's run prevention. For starters, Josh Beckett went 27-2 with a 2.76 ERA, 199 strikeouts and 45 walks. Maybe he should reconsider renegotiating that contract before the season starts.

Beckett wasn't the only Boston pitcher who went bananas. Check out the rest of the rotation.

So yeah, if the Red Sox get this kind of performance from their rotation, I'd say there is a shot they win 122 games. It also helps that their offense was quite prolific as well this "season." J.D. Drew had a .928 OPS with 31 homers, while Kevin Youkilis had 32 jacks of his own. Jacoby Ellsbury even stole 73 bags. Are any of these performances possible? Sure. Are they likely to happen in the same season? Umm, no. And that's why this confluence of events occurred just once in 100 simulations. And truth be told, the odds of a 122-win season in Boston are probably slimmer than that. But if every one of the Red Sox's key players has a season at the high end of expectations, it's possible. (Don't worry, Yankees fans, you guys had one 108-win season in which CC Sabathia went 23-4 with a 2.70 ERA. That scenario is probably a little more likely.)

Tomorrow we'll look at a world in which the Pirates win the NL Central. And no, it does not involve a time machine.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor for ESPN The Magazine.

The five best (and worst) baserunners

March, 25, 2010
If you're anything like me, you spend your spare time leafing through the Bill James Handbook. (Cut me some slack, I have to fill the void until Opening Day.) If you're unfamiliar with the book, James devotes an entire chapter to baserunning, and he breaks down which players help and hurt their team's cause the most on the base paths. Needless to say, this is nothing short of eye-opening, and I've tweaked James' research a bit to reveal the five best (and worst) baserunners in baseball.

First, here's some background on how James measures baserunning. For example, if you go first to third on a single, it's plus-1, if you're thrown out, it's minus-1. Same goes for trying to go first to home on a double. If you take as many bases as the batter got, then it's nothing. For basestealing, it's plus-1 for a steal, but minus-2 for getting caught.

For the purposes of this analysis, let's ignore basestealing because we already know who the best thieves are anyway. What's most revealing about James' numbers is we can see who the best guys are once they are already on base. Sure, speed plays a role, but instincts and routes are vital as well. So, if we remove stolen bases from the equation, the best baserunners in 2009 were:

Ryan Braun, +27
Chase Utley, +27
Chone Figgins, +27
Colby Rasmus, +26
Maicer Izturis, +25

Some thoughts:
1) Braun is even better than I thought, and so is Utley. This also does not include Utley's perfect 23-for-23 stolen base season. I think we can safely say he is the smartest baserunner in the game.

2) Figgins and Izturis epitomize the Angels aggressive strategy. As a team, the Angels were +70 on the bases last year (excluding steals), which was the best in baseball. Anaheim went first to third on a single 128 times last year, which was 20 more than any other team.

3) Rasmus was safe going from second to home on a single 12 out of 13 times, and first to home on a double 7 out of 8.

Carlos Lee, -35
Juan Rivera, -35
Yadier Molina, -29
Adrian Gonzalez, -28
Mike Lowell, -27

A few more thoughts:
4) As James notes, both Lee and Rivera were thrown out eight times trying to go first to third on a single. You know what they say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me eight times, then maybe I should stop trying to go first to third on a single."

5) Molina was actually +3 as a basestealer (9-for-12).

6) Yes, Adrian Gonzalez is as slow as he looks.

7) Mike Lowell was on first base on ten occasions when a double was hit. He did not score once.

That's a nice segue into one of the more interesting tidbits in the chapter. Last year, when there was NOT a man on on second, runners on first scored 42.6% of the time on a double. When there was a guy on second, runners from first scored 45.3%. You read that right, there is no such thing as clogging the bases. Unless it's Carlos Lee out there.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor for ESPN The Magazine