Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rangers Pepper 7/24: Strike Zone Thoughts, Garza for Olt Breakdown, Garza vs RBiA

by Dustin Copening

#RangersThoughts” on Twitter can be seen by following me @dfwfanconnect, but those thoughts evolve every few days from 140 characters into what I have dubbed as  “Rangers Pepper”.

Last night sucked, but today is a new day and new Rangers pitcher Matt Garza takes the mound. To add to the sunshine, last night sucked for the Athletics also. Enjoy the Pepper!:

Squeezed And Peeved - Joe Nathan and the Rangers were robbed! Well, that’s what Twitter told me as the Rangers squandered a nice comeback effort last night against the Yankees, along with a chance to move within 2 games of the A’s in the West and a half game of the Orioles for a Wild Card spot.

The point of contention for the Rangers Twitter Army was what looked to be a narrow strike zone for Joe Nathan, followed by a wide strike zone for Mariano Rivera. Before fully committing to the Kerwin Danley lynch mob, I wanted to wait and see what the PITCHf/x data showed. Specifically I wanted to see if Danley did call the zone differently in the 9th inning, as opposed to the other 8.

This is the breakdown from of the called strikes for Alexi Ogando, Ross Wolf, and Joe Nathan (top, left to right); and Phil Hughes, Preston Claiborne, and Mariano Rivera (bottom, left to right):

I chose these six pitchers because they threw called pitches in areas of the strike zone that were hotly contested by the fans (at the knees and outside left).

The ball called on Nathan circled on the left of his chart was clearly a missed call, but the ball called on the right that occurred in the Eduardo Nunez AB is iffy. There is no doubt that the pitch caught the inside of the plate. Claiborne, Wolf and Nathan received strike calls on pitches in the same vicinity (in Claiborne’s case the pitch was even farther inside). That being said, the Nathan pitch in the Nunez AB may have been just a tick too low.

You will note that there is a called strike thrown by Nathan sitting nearly on top of the pitch in question, but it’s a hair higher in the zone. Called strikes thrown by Ogando, Wolf and Claiborne also appear to have been a notch higher in the zone than the pitch in question. There is one called strike thrown by Hughes that clearly missed the zone that Danley established last night, but two misses is hardly a sign that the zone called was an unfair one.

But without this data to look at, screenshots from the MLB At Bat app pitch tracker of Nunez’s AB compared Leonys Martin’s AB spread like wildfire. Even Martin himself retweeted 7 variations of people sharing the screenshots with him of the supposed missed calls.

As for the Martin AB, not one of the called strikes against him were far enough out of the established strike zone for there to be a justified argument that they should have been called balls.

Nathan himself took the high road, while still letting it be known that he would have liked a few more called pitches to go his way.

Maybe next time they will.

Why Olt For Garza Makes Sense For Chicago - The buzz around the Matt Garza talks leading up to the deal was then wasn’t then finally completes, was that the Cubs were asking for a top 50 prospect and a handful of other young, promising players to round out any deal. This matched up well with the persistent rumors that Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein wanted a haul much like the Milwaukee Brewers received from the Los Angeles Angels for Zack Greinke last year (Jean Segura was ranked in the 40-50 range of overall prospects in 2012).

In an updated list of the top 50 prospects in baseball from Baseball America, Olt sits at number 44.

Naturally, one might question why the Cubs front office accepted Olt as part of a Garza trade when they just selected power hitting third baseman Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. However, the inclusion of Olt makes plenty of sense if Bryant follows a conservative timetable on his way to Wrigley.

Olt is about to turn 25 (which might shock some of you) in August, and presumably has a short wait until a call up to the bigs once he’s settled into the Cubs organization. Any concerns about the vision issues he suffered from a few months ago appear to be squashed with this deal, and with good reason as he has heated up of late (.290/.410/.710 split in his last 10 games played).

Placing a power hitting Olt in the big league lineup gives the Cubs more of a reason to avoid rushing Bryant up the minor league ladder so that the 21 year old develops at a pace that his skill dictates, and not at a rate sped along by the lofty expectations from the press and his agent.

Since Olt is under team control until 2019, in the next few years Chicago might find themselves in possession of a masher entering his prime and still under team control as Bryant starts forcing his way .  Such an asset would be highly attractive in a move for prospects or a pennant run piece, while a 23 or 24 year old Bryant slips as seamlessly as possible into Olt’s roster spot.

UPDATE: On MLB Power Alley this morning, Jed Hoyer said that Olt will begin his Cubs tenure in Iowa, their AAA affiliate, in hopes that he returns to the 2012 form that made him one of the most coveted bats in baseball.

Jon Daniels will be perfectly fine with that as long as Matt Garza pitches at least once in the Fall Classic.

Garza And The Temple - Several months ago I wrote an article in which I looked at potential pitching trade targets from every team in Major League Baseball. One of my focuses during my research was how each pitcher performed at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (RBiA).

Only a handful of the guys that I looked at performed well when pitching in Arlington. Matt Garza, with a 6.04 ERA and 1.306 WHIP in 28.1 IP, was not one of them. To be fair; Mark Buehrle, Cliff Lee, and CJ Wilson were the only three guys I studied that had solid numbers at RBiA, and two of them previously pitched for Texas (increasing their performance sample size).

Several Rangers fans have theorized that maybe the reason why a good pitcher like Garza struggle when pitching in Texas is that the Rangers traditionally rank near the top of every offensive category in home games. To put this theory to the test I looked at the variations in Garza’s ERA and WHIP in his regular season home and road starts against the Rangers versus those numbers against everyone else he faced during his time pitching in the AL (2007-2010).

Here’s what I found:

One interesting coincidence is that Garza has pitched the exact same number of innings against the Rangers in home games as he has in road games; however, he has made 4 home starts versus 5 road starts, or an average of 7.1 innings per start at home against Texas compared to 5.2 IP per game in Arlington. Not surprising, as you would expect fewer deep starts for him or anyone pitching at RBiA as a visitor.

In Garza’s home starts there is a massive difference in his ERA and WHIP when pitching against Texas as opposed to other teams, but not in the direction I expected to find. Garza actually pitched better against the Rangers at home by 1.66 earned runs and 0.376 in WHIP. Those numbers directly counter the theory of Texas’s offense being a notch above the other teams that Garza has faced, although it feeds into the narrative that the Rangers struggle to create runs away from the friendly confines of RBiA (especially in a pitchers park like Tropicana Field).

The breakdown of Garza’s road starts in Arlington against his road starts elsewhere falls more in line with what I expected to see. He has an ERA 1.4 points higher in his starts at RBiA, although his WHIP comes in .045 lower. Why would Garza allow nearly 1.5 more earned runs while allowing a lower WHIP when pitching in Texas?

The infamous jet stream might have something to do with it. In his five starts, 11 of the 18 earned runs scored against him came via the XBH, including two credited to him via a David Murphy double off of Jeff Bennett on 9/26/2009.

Of course 28.1 IP is an awful small sample size for a pitcher who’s thrown nearly 1100 innings in his career (roughly 3%), and he has thrown a two hit, complete game shutout at RBiA before (8/15/2008).  Also, another start not factored into these numbers was his solid start in Game 3 of the 2010 ALDS. A 6 inning, 5 hit, 2 run (1 earned) effort that breathed life back into a Rays team facing an 0-2 series deficit.

Speaking of sample size, Cliff Lee posted a 3.08 ERA and 0.835 WHIP over his 7 starts as a Ranger in Arlington, after giving up a 7.44 ERA and 1.512 WHIP in 7 previous starts at RBiA as a visitor.  Matt Garza should not be mistaken as the same caliber of pitcher that Lee is, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned that he’s in for a tattooing every time he takes to the mound in Rangers home colors.

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