Matthew Pouliot

Buster Olney

Buster Olney doesn’t make a lot of sense

61 Comments

From Buster Olney’s ESPN Insider column today comes this little snide remark directed at stats people:

One of the oft-repeated lines about hitting with runners in scoring position is that it’s not really a repeatable skill. This is kind of silly because a lot of hitters work on situational hitting every single day in batting practice.

Olney is trying to make the point that maybe it’s not just luck that Allen Craig and the Cardinals as a whole are hitting so well in the “clutch.” ¬†Craig is currently batting .489 in 90 AB with RISP, compared to .274 in 190 AB with none on. He had the same kind of split, if not quite as pronounced last year, hitting .400 with RISP and .289 with none on.

And the Cardinals as a whole have been outstanding with RISP, hitting .337 with an .876 OPS. No other NL team has better than a .744 OPS with RISP. On the other hand, the Cardinals are just 13th in the NL in OPS with none on, coming in at .673. Their .244 average ranks ninth.

For the Cardinals as a whole, though, it’s not something carried over from 2012. Last year, the Cardinals ranked third in the NL in OPS with the bases empty (.741) and with RISP (.775). The NL average OPS with RISP was 26 points better than with none on, so that’s just the kind of split one would expect.

But this isn’t really about the Cardinals. This is about Olney trying to come up with some sort of bizarre reason why a team would hit better with RISP without simply repeating “clutch” over and over. Which is good, in the abstract, but… situational hitting in batting practice? Really?

When you think of situational hitting with RISP, what do you think of?

1. Trying to hit the ball in the air in order to collect a sac fly
2. Trying to advance the runner from second to third with a grounder to the right side or a bunt
3. A squeeze or suicide squeeze bunt with a runner on third

That’s pretty much it, right? And if you pull off one of those three outcomes, you’ll get your high fives as you head back to the dugout. But what you won’t get is any help with your batting average.

Allen Craig doesn’t have great numbers with RISP because he’s hitting situationally. He has them because he’s ripping the ball all over the place. We shouldn’t expect those odd splits from the last year and a half to continue because, let’s face it, hitting with RISP isn’t really a repeatable skill. But we can probably expect Craig to keep hitting well with RISP because, in general, he’s a darn good hitter.

Previewing the Home Run Derby: Prince Fielder aims for third crown

Prince Fielder
12 Comments

Prince Fielder can join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time winners of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, but to do it, he’ll have to best Chris Davis, who is currently on pace to hit 60 bombs this year.

This year’s Home Run Derby field is unusual in that it features just three players currently among baseball’s top 20 home run hitters:

Davis – 37
Pedro Alvarez – 24
Robinson Cano – 21
Michael Cuddyer – 16
Fielder – 16
Yoenis Cespedes – 15
David Wright – 13
Bryce Harper – 13

Davis is the major league leader, of course, but the next three on the list are absent: Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Gonzalez, who chose to pull out due to injury. Other All-Stars with 20 homers missing include Domonic Brown, Nelson Cruz, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista.

Besides Fielder, 2011 champ Robinson Cano is the only other former HR Derby winner in the field. David Ortiz no longer appears interested in competing after winning in 2010 and finishing tied for third in 2011.

Fielder and Cano are also the only holdovers from last year’s field. Fielder won with 28 homers, include 12 in the finals to beat Bautista. Cano, who hit 32 homers in winning in 2011, went homerless last year, the only player to do so the last three years. He should be pretty motivated tonight.

Alas, Cano is one of the biggest long shots, according to Bovada:

Davis: 11/4
Fielder: 3/1
Harper: 5/1
Alvarez: 6/1
Cespedes: 6/1
Cano: 13/2
Wright: 10/1
Cuddyer: 14/1

One other thing that should be noted here: since Citi Field altered the fences prior to 2012, it’s been a better home run park for right-handed hitters than left-handers. Before that, the opposite was true.

For that reason, I think Cespedes is the real sleeper pick tonight, though it wouldn’t surprise if expends a little too much energy in round one and doesn’t have enough left for the subsequent rounds. The last time a round one leader went on to win the Derby was Fielder in 2009.

But Fielder should be considered the favorite based on experience. My guess is that Davis disappoints. The Home Run Derby is typically about pulling the ball, and Davis hits his homers all over the place. As for Harper, while I think he’ll win one or two eventually, I doubt it’s his time just yet.

All-Star Futures Game wrap: U.S. beats World 4-2

Xander Bogaerts
5 Comments

Not that the score really matters, but the U.S. team topped the World squad in the All-Star Futures Game again this year, winning 4-2 and outhitting the competition 9-3. Of course, this game is more fun to watch for the individual performances that any sort of team effort. So, let’s get right to the prospects who shined and those that fell flat:

The standouts

– Xander Bogaerts (SS Red Sox): The world team’s best prospect, Bogaerts singled back up the middle in each of his first two at-bats and walked in the fourth. In the first, he fouled off a two-strike slider from Noah Syndergaard and then grounded a 96-mph heater back through the box. He was caught stealing in the first, mostly because of an odd slide that caused him to miss the bag with his front leg. He showed much better instincts in the fourth, when he raced home on a sac fly and evaded the catcher’s tag by going inside the baseline and hooking around it.

– Eddie Butler (RHP Rockies): The 22-year-old Butler turned in the most impressive inning of the game, even if he did allow a single before getting a double play. He topped out at 98 mph with his fastball, and he struck out Bogaerts on three pitches, including a 90-mph changeup with lethal movement down and in to the right-handed hitter. There are questions about how Butler will hold up as a starter, but he could probably help the Rockies as a reliever right now if they want to go that route.

– Arismendy Alcantara (2B Cubs): Showing his emerging power, Alcantara pulled an Anthony Ranaudo fastball into the second deck at Citi Field. Alcantara has 13 homers in 389 at-bats in Double-A this year after hitting seven in 359 at-bats in the FSL last year and two in 390 at-bats in the Midwest League in 2011. The Cubs just recently moved him from shortstop to second base to make room for Javier Baez on the Smokies. He’s always profiled better there anywhere, and he could be the team’s replacement for Darwin Barney next summer or in 2015.

– Christian Yelich (OF Marlins): A couple of other guys might have more potential, but Yelich is the best hitter, as of July 14, 2013, of anyone who was playing today. He showed it by doubling over center fielder Gregory Polanco’s head in his first at-bat and singling in his second. The Marlins might make room for him in the outfield soon by trading Justin Ruggiano.

– Jesse Biddle (LHP Phillies): It was a tough call whether Biddle or Archie Bradley showed the best curve of the day. Biddle’s is reminiscent of Barry Zito’s, and while he doesn’t have the ceiling of a Bradley or a Taijuan Walker, he doesn’t lack for polish. He stranded two runners in the fifth, and he was the one pitcher to get four outs today.

– Rafael Montero (RHP Mets): With the game being played at Citi Field, the Mets had the starting pitchers for both sides today, with Montero going for the World team and Syndergaard pitching for the U.S. Montero needed just nine pitches in his inning of work, but he still managed to mix in a couple of nice sliders.

The disappointments

– Michael Ynoa (RHP Athletics): After battling injuries, Ynoa, one of the biggest Latin American signings ever, broke through in the Midwest League this year, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts (54 2/3 innings) for Beloit. However, he’s given up 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings since moving up to the California League and he didn’t impressive with his command or stuff today. He gave up a two-run homer to the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson in his inning of work.

– Reymond Fuentes (OF Padres): Fuentes was the World Team’s leadoff man because of his .412 OBP in Double-A this year, but he made first-pitch outs in two of his three at-bats today. One was a routine fly to center and the other was a pop to shortstop. Fuentes did have a better at-bat in between, battling back from an 0-2 count to eventually ground out on Archie Bradley’s seventh pitch.

– Byron Buxton (OF Twins): It was more a disappointment for us watching than any reflection on Buxton as a prospect, but Buxton saw 11 pitches today, swung at three and made contact just once, hitting a foul ball. He struck out swinging in both of his appearances.

– Henry Urrutia (OF Orioles): Some think the 26-year-old Urrutia, a Cuban defector in his first year in the minors, could come up and help the Orioles down the stretch, but he didn’t show much today. He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, with the third going for a double play, before drawing a four-pitch walk from a wild Kyle Crick his last time up. Maybe that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s hit .365/.427/.531 in the minors this year, but his tools aren’t all that impressive.

– Addison Russell (SS Athletics): I think Russell is a tremendous prospect, but he was overmatched at the plate today, particularly in his first at-bat against Enny Romero, when he went down swinging at a slider off the plate. He was also Ynoa’s lone strikeout victim. Russell, though, is just 19. He may well be back as the U.S. team’s starting shortstop in this game again next year.