Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adieu 2009

For regular readers, you’ll notice that I rarely take the time to wax poetic about my personal life within the confines of this blog. My focus is on baseball analysis so baseball analysis is what you get. People don’t go into Applebee’s expecting to be propositioned for sex.  In fact, the majority of decent Americans would be put off by a scenario in which quest for a Fiesta Lime Chicken was interrupted by a lady or gentleman of the night. For the most part, I’ll keep this about happenings on the diamond and leave my first person perspective out of this. However, seeing as this is the year-end blog post, I thought I’d take a moment to thank everyone for coming by for a visit.

Another calendar year is almost in the books and the OtB site is still going fairly strong. In fact, this post represents the 290th one produced since the inception. I can say that I did not anticipate this side-project sustaining for as long as it has when I first picked it back up in 2007 after an initial failure-to-launch in 2006. The title of the blog alone should indicate that I was not thinking long-term which a new stadium was being erected just west of the downtown area.

That brings up a question I get on a semi-regular basis: Will the site still be Over the Baggy in 2010? At this juncture, I’m not sure. I like the name and I’ve mocked up a new logo/banner to adorn the top of the page that should start to distance the name from the Metrodome (it is from an old Metropolitan Stadium postcard actually) but I may wind up caving and reinventing the brand altogether.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the readers that have stopped by on frequent or infrequent basis. I hope you derive as much enjoyment out of reading these postings as I have researching and creating them. I want to thank all of those that have supported the TwinsCentric projects – we (John, Nick, Seth and I) try to provide you with entertaining and thought-provoking material. For those that have not taken the opportunity to do so, please download the free sample of our latest offering to enjoy the remainder of this offseason.

As always, you can share your feelings or input with me via email (TwinsFanc1981 [AT] or follow me on Twitter (@OverTheBaggy) for more Over the Baggy-goodness. I leave you and the year 2009 with a handful of items that should provide ample evidence that, on occasion, I know what the hell I am talking about and not just spewing nonsense. Enjoy and see you next year!

  • Nick Swisher’s 2009 rebound season.  When the White Sox flipped him to New York, the Chicago front office cited his lowly .219 batting average in 2008 as an excuse for why he needed to go.   What I saw was a guy that was stroking line drives (20 percent rate) and relatively consistent peripherals in conjunction with his career but had a suppressive batting average on balls put in play (.251 BABIP versus a .300 league average).   My exact prediction was to “[e]xpect that Swisher's 2009 season resembles 2007 rather than his 2008 numbers.” His .249 batting average notwithstanding, Swisher compiled a 2009 season that excelled past his 2007 – putting up a .375 wOBA in ’09 versus his .361 wOBA in his final year in Oakland. 
  • Paul Konerko’s turnaround.  In February I wrote that “Konerko is a very likely candidate to have a rebound season.  Last year, while battling a[n] early season hand-injury, Konerko had his worst season since 2003, hitting .240/.344/.438 with 22 home runs in 514 at-bats.  Konerko's numbers were thwarted by bad luck thanks to a suppressed .247 batting average on balls in play even as he hit line drives 21.5% of the time.  His average on those line drives in play was .583, well below the MLB average of .718.  If he continues to swing like he did in 2008, his numbers should revert back towards his career line of .277/.352/.491.”  This past season, the White Sox first baseman continued to hit line drives consistently (18.5%) but saw more of his line drives finding vacant areas of turf, resulting in a .768 batting average on those types of hits.  Konerko finished the year hitting .277/.353/.489 – coming within fractions of producing his then-career line.
  • Ty Wigginton’s 2009 decline. Wigginton’s name was used a lot after the ’08 season as a free agent candidate.  Undoubtedly, his .285/.350/.526 averages with 23 home runs certainly looked appealing when you remove the .343/.390/.691 average and 15 home runs at the bandbox of Minute Maid Park, you could foresee a drastic drop in production when removed from his hitter’s haven.  The Orioles – sigh, always the Orioles – signed him to a relatively light two-year, $6M contract but allowed the situational-at-best player to accumulate 100 starts and watched as his numbers plummeted back to earth, finishing ’09 with a .273/.314/.400 line with 11 home runs.  Context means everything.
  • That whole “Hinske would have been much better than signing Kubel” ballyhoo thing.  Citing stats from Dave Cameron’s where he first questioned the Twins for extending Kubel, Hinske had a fairly good season and provided yeoman-like work for a one-year, $1.5M contact, producing a .344 wOBA in 190 plate appearances split between Pittsburgh and the Yankees.  At 31-years-old, the likelihood that Hinske could or would replicate his ’08 season was a gamble. Into his 30s, one expects signs of decline.  Meanwhile, Kubel’s meteoric rise in 2009 was not just a thing of beauty, procuring a .383 wOBA as an everyday designated hitter, but as a player moving into his prime playing years he stood a better-than-average chance that he would not only meet his ’08 numbers, he would exceed them. In the end, Hinske’s season was worth about 0.8 WAR (wins above replacement) while Kubel’s provided the Twins with 2.9 WAR. 
  • Accurately predicted Albert Pujols’ MVP (gimmee) and was close on Mark Teixeira (if it weren’t for a meddling catcher named Mauer). Admittedly, Pujols was not a risky selection, and neither is Teixeira, but I do like to point out that I nearly hit Teixeira’s home run total on the nose: “Considering it will be 318 to those right field seats at the new Yankee Stadium, Teixeira has the capabilities to hand out some souvenirs to some very happy Bronx visitors, maybe reaching the 40-home run plateau.” Teixeira finished the season with 39 home runs of which, 24 were hit at the new Yankee Stadium.
  • Zack Grienke’s breakout. In April I said “It’s hard to classify a guy who went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA not already “out” but Greinke will take further steps forward to prove that he is among the top pitchers in the game today.  With David Dejesus and Coco Crisp both in the outfield and a stronger offensive lineup, Greinke’s will witness his winning percentage rise in 2009.” Okay, it wasn’t that I expected this level of dominance but reviewing his pitch data prior to the 2009 season I felt that Grienke would piece it together. He did. (In full disclosure, my selection for the NL’s breakout player of the year in the same article was JJ Hardy. Whoopsie-doodle.)
  • Identifying opposing pitchers’ obsession with throwing Joe Mauer fastballs (and his subsequent destruction of said pitches). I outlined this diddy back in early June and at the time I noticed that Mauer’s fastball distribution of 67% was closer to the amount slap-hitting infielders like Placido Polanco and Luis Castillo received while power hitters like Albert Pujols and Kevin Youkilis were seeing fastballs only 55% of the time. At the end of the season,’s Dave Allen came to the same conclusion in a very similarly titled article in October. Could 2010 come with more breaking balls?
  • Detailing the Carl Pavano acquisition. There was plenty of backlash among the fan base suggesting that the Twins cheapskated their way past the trade deadline, grabbing a pitcher with a 5.37 ERA. Rebuffing this sentiment, I pointed to xFIP (among other stats) to present the case that Pavano is actually a better pitcher than perceived: “For teams that evaluates players with advanced statistics (Boston, Tampa and Seattle come to mind), it would be hard to ignore that his xFIP of 4.16 – a stat that normalizes the home run rate along with the infusion of strikeout and walk rates – which was TENTH best in the AL among qualified starters. Better than Sabathia. Better than Buerhle, Shields, Washburn, Burnett. Et cetera. Et Cetera. He was pitching better than all of those staff aces. One xFIP point worse than Lee – one point! – and it took the Phillies four of their top ten prospects to nab Lee from the Indians.” Pavano was better than advertised and instead of shipping a stockpile of prospects to the Indians for 12 starts as the Phillies did for Lee, the Twins traded one decent prospect for a pitcher that produced identical peripheral numbers.
  • A video scouting breakdown of Deolis Guerra’s improved mechanics. Through the use of loaded videos (and several hours of staring at the computer monitor), I highlighted the physical changes the Twins prospect had made in his motion which correlated with his newfound success. In brief, Guerra was curling too much in his upper-half in 2008 which inevitably led to his control issues. I really enjoyed this feature and as new videos become available and I get better as using the GIMP program that isolates those clips, I will hopefully be adding more scouting breakdowns to OtB in 2010.