Mar
06

2012 Season Preview: Regression Candidates

By

He smiled! (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Yesterday we took at look some Yankees who are candidates to see their performances take a step back in 2012, and now it’s time to flip the coin and look at some players with the potential to improve. That’s the neat thing about the term “regress,” it can work both ways even though it’s somehow developed this negative connotation. The Yankees had a few players under-perform last year, some with good reason and others just because.

Boone Logan
On the surface, Logan had some killer stats last season. He struck out 9.94 batters per nine (24.9 K%) while walking 2.81 per nine (7.0 BB%) with a decent 42.4 GB%. Of course lefty specialists usually aren’t judged by their overall numbers, they’re on the roster to get left-handed batters out. That was a problem for Logan last year, who allowed same-side hitters to tag him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 118 plate appearances. He gave up three times as many extra-base hits to lefties as David Robertson despite facing 24 fewer hitters.

Logan’s strikeout (11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and walk (2.30 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) rates against southpaws were insanely good, but his problem was the long ball. His 40.6 GB% resulted in a 13.3% HR/FB ratio, though Hit Tracker says that three of the four homers he surrendered to lefties were Just Enoughs. That means they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Two of the four homers would have remained in play in the other 29 parks according to their data. Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer given their definition, as they’re very prone to the weather and wind and ballpark. The homer issue may not be much of one, so if Boone can maintain those strikeout and walk rates, he should do just fine against left-handed batters going forward.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
We all know the story by now. Martin started last season ridiculously hot — .270/.367/.511 in his first 158 PA — before dragging himself across the finish line — .221/.303/.357 in his final 318 PA. The end result was a .237/.324/.408 batting line in 476 PA, or a .325 wOBA and a perfectly league average 100 wRC+. The average catcher produced a .309 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ last season, so Martin was an above average hitter relative to his position.

Like most players, Russ was a more productive hitter at Yankee Stadium (.345 wOBA and 114 wRC+) than on the road (.307 and 88). The easy answer is the short porch and more homers, but that’s not the case. Martin went deep eight times with a .175 ISO and a 15.4% HR/FB ratio at home last year, but clubbed ten homers with a .166 ISO and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio away from the Bronx. His walk and strikeout rates were essentially identical both home and away as was his batted ball profile, but his road batting average (.217 with a .220 BABIP) paled in comparison to his home rate (.260 and .288).

Martin is likely to see his home performance suffer a bit next year and his road performance improve a bit. In terms of process stats — the strikeouts, walks, batted ball types — he was the same hitter regardless of venue in 2011, he just got different results. Given the advantages of Yankee Stadium, the short porch and the fact that pretty much every hitter performs better at home, his home performance may not decline as much as his road performance improves. Martin will never be the guy he was in 2007 again, but a little more love on the road will boost his overall numbers and value to the team. Some more rest will only help further.

Nick Swisher
Swisher was basically the anti-Martin last year. He was dreadful to start the season — .206/.321/.288 in his first 193 PA — but a monster thereafter — .284/.397/.519 in his final 442 PA. Overall, Swisher finished with a .260/.374/.449 batting line (.358 wOBA and 122 wRC+), his worst performance as a Yankee and the second worst season full season of his career. His 23 homers were his fewest in five years thanks to the early-season slump.

Although he’ll never be a high-contact guy, Swisher has slightly improved his strikeout rate as his career has progressed while maintaining his high walk rate. He’ll never hit for a high average but that’s fine, he’s asked to provide power and patience. That power was missing early in the season, though his 14.3% HR/FB ratio in 2011 was right in line with his career average (14.9%). He just didn’t hit as many fly balls has he had in the past…

Green is GB, blue is FB, red is LD. (via FanGraphs)

Swisher’s performance against right-handed pitchers last year was by far his worst as a Yankee, going from .375+ wOBAs to just .335. Again, it had to do with the lack of fly balls, a 41.4 GB% compared to 35.9% from 2004-2010. He’s still relatively young (turned 31 in November) and healthy, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect the fly balls to return in 2012. It’s not like we’re asking an injury-prone guy in his late-30′s to perform miracles here. More fly balls will lead to more homers, hopefully getting Swish back around 28-30 and making him more dangerous against northpaws.

Alex Rodriguez
It’s easy to forget just how stellar A-Rod was before his knee started giving him problems. He carried a .301/.377/.509 batting line (in 318 PA) into July before getting hurt, which is still excellent even if it’s not on par with his lofty standards. Alex was never the same after that (.191/.345/.353 in his final 84 PA), and the story is the same heading into 2012. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I think everyone knows the deal. If healthy, A-Rod will produce big numbers even if they aren’t quite as big as they used to be. Whether or not he can actually stay on the field for 140 games or so is a total mystery, experimental knee procedures and new training methods be damned.

Rafael Soriano
Baseball’s highest paid setup man didn’t have a great first year in pinstripes, particularly early on. Most realized that his fly ball ways (just 35.2 GB% in 2011 and 31.4% career) were a bad fit for Yankee Stadium, so the big jump in homer rate (0.92 HR/9 and 8.3% HR/FB were nearly double his 2010 totals) wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was his walk rate, which jumped from 2.69 BB/9 and 7.5 BB% coming into the season to 4.12 and 10.0 in 2011, respectively.

Most of the walk damage came before Soriano hit the DL with an elbow problem. That makes sense, since elbow injuries have historically resulted in a loss of control while shoulder injuries have resulted in loss of velocity. Soriano walked 11 of 69 batters (15.9%) before hitting the DL but only seven of 95 batters (7.4%) after getting healthy. His strikeout (14.5 K% per-injury but 27.4 K% after) rate improved as well. Unfortunately, health is a going to remain a question going forward given his career-long battle with his elbow, but a healthy Soriano should be a very good reliever for the Yankees.

Nothing to complain about from the right side. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s performance problems are all self-inflicted. He readily admits that he’s changed his left-handed swing over the last three years in an effort to take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium, and says he’s working hard to correct the problem. He’s even talked about laying down bunts to beat the shift, which might be going a little too far. That’s another argument for another time.

With his massive power (.246 ISO and 17.1% HR/FB in 2011 vs. .250 ISO and 18.2% career), strong walk rate (11.1 BB% in 2011 vs. 11.5% career), relatively low strikeout rate (16.1 K% in 2011 vs. 17.2% career), and right-handed production (.410 wOBA vs. LHP in 2011 vs. .400 career) still intact, it’s all about Teixeira getting that batting average as a left-handed hitter (.224 in 2011) back up to his career norm (.277 coming into 2011). If he does that, his overall batting average (.248 in 2011) and OBP (.341) will also return to their previous levels (.286 and .377 coming into 2011, respectively).

Fixing the problem is much easier said than done. The uppercut Teixeira has added to his swing has resulted in a ton of fly balls (48.3% in each of the last two years) against righties, and fly balls will do a number on the ol’ BABIP (just .222 last year) since they’re generally easy to field. Eliminating the uppercut and returning to the level, all-fields approach that made him one of the game’s very best hitters will be tough because that’s a lot of muscle memory to undo. It won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. It will cost Teixeira some homers, but he’s a good enough hitter that he’ll be able to provide average, on-base skills, and 30+ homers at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one of the other.

Categories : Players

58 Comments»

  1. handtius says:

    I think Tex is the most important one on this list since he’ll be with the team the longest. I’m also extremely tired of watch infield pop ups.

  2. ADam says:

    The possibility of a paying a guy 180 million dollars to bunt makes me sick to my core…

    • nedro says:

      This comment is just silly. He’s not going to bunt every friggin AB. What he’s talking about is laying down a bunt here and there at the beginning of the season, just to show it. If he proves he can do it, opposing teams may relax the severe shift they employ against him batting lefty, resulting in an uptick in balls in play getting through for hits. Just relax.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        I wouldn’t count on other teams relaxing the shift just because of a few bunts. He has to start smashing some line drives to left and center fields to make them change their alignment.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        If they’re going to shift the entire goddamn infield to the right side every time he bats, the issue isn’t him laying an easy bunt down the third base line, the issue is why wasn’t he doing it already.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Yeah, it’s about bunting in an attempt to get on base more… not bunting to advance runners and sacrifice an out. I agree with Mike that correcting his swing is the real solution. If he can’t do that, though, bunting might be an option to improve his performance.

      • ADam says:

        even so.. He should never bunt…. ever

    • Perry says:

      A similar sentiment regarding walks was once the norm.

      • handtius says:

        i don’t think you want the team to pay someone 180mill to bunt, regardless if it’s the norm or not, unless they’re a national league pitcher. still, wouldn’t want to pay a pitcher 180mill either.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          The first problem is that you’re not paying him to bunt. You’re paying him, and one of the many things he might do is bunt. Bunting will almost definitely make up a small portion of the things he does that add or subtract value on the baseball field. I don’t think many people are advocating Tex bunt all the time, just occasionally *if* he can’t fix his swing.

          The other issue is productivity. If he can increase his offensive production by bunting, why shouldn’t he do it? It’s not clear whether bunting will help or hurt his productivity, but if he executes it could certainly help.

          • handtius says:

            I understand where you’re coming from here, but I would personally rather Tex take his hacks then lay down bunts, even if raises his ave slightly. I rather there be a possibility of an extra base hit and driving in a run (even if it’s his own) then him bunt.

            Also, when the Yankees signed him, they signed him for particular skill set. I’m not saying that those don’t change, but when they signed him, they were planning on getting a high obp, high power hitter with a decent average who is a gold glover at first. I doubt they had in their mind that he would be laying down bunts with any regularity.

            • Ted Nelson says:

              I completely agree that the best case is that he corrects his swing. Then bunting is pretty much off the table.

              It’s a real question whether he can do that, though. I hope he does, but if not I’d like to see him adjust rationally rather than emotionally. We can look to see if he replaced X number of 2011 LH PAs with bunts converted into base hits at Y% how would that impact his productivity as it relates to the offense scoring runs. I haven’t done that, but I wouldn’t make a decision on whether bunting is the way to go or not until I did.

              • handtius says:

                Agreed. I don’t want to see Tex bunt because it means he couldn’t correct his swing. Also, who’s to say he can bunt? As I mentioned in another reply, I doubt Tex has done much bunting since little league. I remember Giambi talking about doing this in the way back machine. I don’t remember it working to often. I can honestly remember him doing it once.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          How about this…..If I’m going to pay someone $180 mil, it’d be nice if they knew how to lay down a successful bunt for a hit every now and then, among the 10,000 other things I’d want for them to do well as someone making $180 million dollars.

          • handtius says:

            i understand the sentiment and why tex mentions laying them down, but i doubt he’s bunted much, even through the minors. not say he shouldn’t be able to, but he’s probably very much so out of practice. again, i’d rather him take his hacks then bunt.

    • V says:

      If bunting for a base hit was successful 100% of the time, I think he’d get more than $180M to bunt.

      • Perry says:

        Which is the point. If the shift is so strong that he can lay down a bunt and make it to first base a certain percentage of the time, you want him to do it if that percentage would make his run-production increase. If bunting creates a .600 wOBA whereas not bunting creates a lower wOBA (which it obviously will–only the Babe ever got to .600, and only once), you want him to bunt.

        Of course, whether or not he can bunt that effectively is entirely uncertain, but he only needs to bunt well enough so that his wOBA goes up, basically. (I’m simplifying, but that’s the idea.)

        In actuality, though, other teams will not allow this. If they see him getting on base that often, they will plan for the bunt and rearrange their infield. So, either way, it won’t last long. Either he is successful, in which case opposing teams will stop him (but hopefully open up some holes in their defensive alignment) or he is not successful, in which case he should, obviously, just stop.

        But the idea that 180 million is too much to pay for a bunt is absurd. If someone is creating runs, I don’t give a rat’s derriere how they’re doing it.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Agree with pretty much everything. It might be preferable for defenses to allow the bunts even if it raises his wOBA, though, if that wOBA is lower than what they expect him to do hitting away against a non-shift or less-shift alignment.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          Well said.

    • Urban says:

      You’re not paying anyone anything.

  3. J Scott says:

    I dunno, to me this group looks more like “Progression Candidates”.

    • Havok9120 says:

      Progression is away from the norm. Regression is towards the norm.

      With these guys, except Logan I think, we want regression.

      I hate grammar.

  4. bpdelia says:

    I keep seeing people say this but its conpketely false.

    To regress is to fall back to am earlier and less developed state. Period. You can not regress to an improved state.

    The term regression to the mean may work but even then its a poor use of the word.

    If you must do this modify the word with “negative” or “reverse” regression.

    To regress cannot be a positive term. This is simply not what the word means. In fact its basically the exact opposite of what the word actually means.

    • handtius says:

      re·gress (r-grs)
      v. re·gressed, re·gress·ing, re·gress·es
      v.intr.
      1. To go back; move backward.
      2. To return to a previous, usually worse or less developed state.
      3. To have a tendency to approach or go back to a statistical mean.

      Check out number 1 and 3. That’s under the definition of the word. It is not a combination of the 3. These are three different uses of the word. Yes, it can mean returning to a less evolved state, but that is not the only meaning as you can see above.

    • JohnnyC says:

      Obviously you have never taken a course in statistics. Regression has a discursive meaning as it pertains to data analysis. Words have multiple definitions depending upon usage.

    • thenamestsam says:

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/regress

      You’re locked in on the 2nd definition, but the main definition is just “To go back”. Guys who go back to what they were before are regressing. They also fit in with the statistical definition. Regression is typically used in a negative context but that is not the only way to use it. Going back to a positive state can also be “regressing”. In fact every definition I can find of the word qualifies the negative part of it with a “usually” or an “especially”. Do you have any evidence to support your claims to the contrary?

  5. A.D. says:

    Teixeira’s performance problems are all self-inflicted. He readily admits that he’s changed his left-handed swing over the last three years in an effort to take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium

    Few things have annoyed me more that Tex and Giambi changing their approached when coming over to the Yankees

    • JFish says:

      I completely agree with this statement. Even more so for Tex though. I thought he was a more complete hitter and wouldn’t suffer the effects of “hitting to a short porch”

    • LiterallyFigurative says:

      +1

      To me it never made any sense.

      Giambi and Texiera were 35-45 home run guys who hit .290+, because they used all fields.

      They come to the Bronx, and then they want to pull the ball. They don’t actually hit more homeruns, but the batting average drops 40 to 50 points. Watching their ABs becomes a predictable bore.

    • Kosmo says:

      To interject: Giambi´s problem was far greater than simple becoming a strict pull hitter. It´s obvious once he stopped using PEDs, mid 2003, he wasn´t the same offensive ballplayer. Everything else fell off including physical health. 2002 was his last great year and I can´t remember if he was still going opposite field or was pulling the ball.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Even though he declined from his prime, Giambi was still an offensive force from 2003-2008. 7th among MLB 1B in wOBA over that span.

        • Havok9120 says:

          Nonsense. He’s stunk it up since he got off the juice. Which is why he must have gotten back on it. Thats the only explanation. For the fact that he’s still a pretty good hitter.

          I’d love to have him back. Forget Damon or Mats, HE’S the retread I wanted.

  6. David Ortiz's Dealer says:

    Slightly off topic, but based on what I have seen of games on TV, Tex looks thinner. Once he learns that LF in Yankee Stadium is wideopen and drives the ball the other way he’ll be fine.

    I think ARod will do as much as his body allows, and Martin it might be less is more, if he gets regular days off and stays fresh I think he’ll have a good slash line even if the HR/RBI totals look low.

    • LiterallyFigurative says:

      You may be right on Martin and not playing as many days. From a Yankee standpoint, his being fresh may be better for the team. But given that he is approaching free agency, why would Martin want to catch fewer days? It may hurt his earning power.

    • Havok9120 says:

      From everything I’ve read, Tex actually DID come into camp “in the shape of his life.” Everyone is saying he’s fit and strong as heck.

      Its teh juic3s! No, not ‘roids, actual juice. He even owns part of the company.

  7. nsalem says:

    Has there been any conversation in these posts the last couple of days about Brett Gardner and regression?

  8. LiterallyFigurative says:

    For Alex, it’s all about being healthy and playing 130+ games.

    That was probably my biggest concern about trading Montero: Alex’s health could compromise our RH vs RH power. Montero would’ve been an A-Rod facsimile, making the lineup absurd vs righties.

  9. boogie down says:

    I’m not sure he’d lose too many homers, or any at all, for that matter. While some of the HR’s he would normally golf out would be gone, a more level stroke would eliminate the bevy of pop-ups he had last year and, with more solid contact, could still have the necessary force to be driven out. I really think those two factors would come close to offsetting each other while allowing him to provide more consistent production and raising his BA and OBP, as you mentioned.

  10. Stephen says:

    I would like to nominate Phil Hughes for regression, but I suppose you need to have some career norm before you can regress to it. There’s been nothing normal about Hughes development.

  11. emac2 says:

    “He’ll never hit for a high average but that’s fine, he’s asked to provide power and patience”

    Huh?

    Slow down there nick. We’re not paying you 10 mil to make contact on a consistent basis. We’re paying you to get on base and hit the occasional long ball when you guess right

    I knew this was a management problem. What do you think it will take for Girardi to finally go out and tell him to hit the damn ball!?!

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