I’ll get to some actual predictions later this week, but today I thought I’d share with you some stat-lines I’ll be paying extra close attention throughout this year. Think of these as “leading indicators” for how successful each player’s season might be.
Michael Brantley’s On-Base Percentage – Given that he’s been in Cleveland since 2009, it’s pretty easy to forget that Michael Brantley is still fairly young. Younger than Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson. In fact, the only position player expected to see any regular playing time who’s younger than Brantley is Lonnie Who Loved Baseball, who can barely grow an awesome handlebar mustache. I guess I just want to point out that any criticisms of Brantley need to be tempered by his obvious though easily forgotten youth.
On the other hand, he’s not twelve. Michael Brantley will turn 26 in May, and it’s time for him to demonstrate the OBP skill that made him such a valuable prospect in the first place. For his minor league career, Brantley had a .388 OBP across nearly 2,500 plate appearances. So far in the Big Leagues, he’s at only .329. For reference, in 2012 .388 would’ve placed Brantley fifth in the AL in OBP, behind Miguel Cabrera; .329, on the other hand, is right around league average. Of course, it’s harder to get on base in the Show than it is in the Minors, but if Brantley isn’t going to hit for power (career SLG% .376) or contribute strong defense at a position of need (adequate defensive LFers grow on trees), then he’s going to have to get better at not making outs. Or he’ll be out of a job.
The good news is that last season Brantley posted a .348 OBP, and not coincidentally he was an above-average offensive player for the first time in his career (106 wRC+). But in LF, he’s going to have to do better than that to hold his own in a position that is dominated by strong offensive performers.
Scott Kazmir’s Swinging Strike Rate – I wrote last week how excited I am to watch Scott Kazmir this season. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ll be rooting for him to make the team and to find some modicum of success.
Worry isn’t the right word, but I do wonder if we won’t have too much of a chance to see Kazmir, what with Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer both nipping at his heels. But while is here, what I’ll be watching most closely on Kazmir is his ability to induce swinging strikes. Check out this chart:
You get the picture: Kazmir has to induce swinging strikes to succeed. When he’s above 10%, he does just fine. When he falls below, things start to get ugly, and quickly. This is mostly due to his batted ball tendency: Scott Kazmir is a flyball pitcher, and if those guys don’t get lots of swings and misses (and eventually, strikeouts), they’re going to struggle. After all, flyballs become home runs eventually, and if you give up enough of those, you’re just not going to be able to hack it.
Vinnie Pestano’s Splits – In 2012, Vinnie Pestano was about as dominant against right handed batters as any pitcher who’s ever lived. Per nine innings, Pestano struck out 13.0 and walked only 2.2, resulting in an otherworldly 5.9 K/BB rate. He struck out 37% of all right handers he faced. His FIP (ERA estimator) against righties was 2.24. Fewer than 23% of right handed batters managed not to record an out against Pestano in 2012.
His problem, of course, was left handed batters. Against lefties, his K/9 dropped below 7.0, his walk-rate climbed to nearly 4 per nine, and his FIP jumped all the way to 4.46. Perhaps the best way to break it down is this: his wOBA against right handed batters was .220, which is about what NL pitchers would put up. Against, lefties, it was .326—slightly above league average. In other words, Vinnie turned right handed hitters into NL pitchers and left handed hitters into Michael Bourn.
Most of this probably isn’t fixable at this stage—Vinnie’s delivery is just ridiculously hard on same-sided hitters. But there seems to be a feeling among most Tribe fans that as soon as Chris Perez moves on, Vinnie will be right there ready to close. Not if he can’t improve against lefties, he won’t.
Lonnie Chisenhall’s Isolated Power – I’ve written about ISO before, but in case you need a refresher, it’s just the difference between a player’s batting average and his slugging percentage. In other words, how many of his hits are for extra bases? A pure singles hitter would have an ISO of .000. Sluggers like Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder have ISO’s north of .250.
Last season, Travis Hafner led the Indians with an ISO of .210, and he was the only one above .200. Shelley Duncan was next at .185. Among players who will return this season, only Carlos Santana hit for more power (.168) than Lonnie Chisenhall (.162).
But a .162 ISO really isn’t anything special. Last season that would’ve sandwiched him somewhere between Coco Crisp and Kyle Seager. The reason I’m keying on Lonnie’s power is that he doesn’t have any other offensive skill of note, at least not yet. His approach—especially against left handed pitching—really needs work, and until he straightens that out he’s going to strike out A LOT. As we all know, strikeouts aren’t a big deal if you draw walks, but Lonnie doesn’t really do that either, at least not yet. That means his one offensive tool right now is power. I sure hope he develops his approach this season, but if not, he’s going to have to get that ISO north of .180 to have much value with the stick.
There’s more than these four, of course. We’ll watch Drew Stubbs’ BABiP (a career low .290 last season) and Mark Reynolds’ K% (below 30% would be nice) and Nick Swisher’s Bro-Ratio (likely to set all-time highs, ‘cuz he’s from O-H-I-O, BROSEPH!). We’ll look out for Ubaldo’s K-rate (above 20%, PLEASE) and Masterson’s splits and Brett Myers’ rap sheet. I can hardly wait, but before then, I’ve got a prediction post to write.
(Glorious, glorious) Photo Credit - Mark Duncan, The Associated Press