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Monday, February 28, 2011
Carlos Marmol's 2010 performance was an outlier of epic proportions. He accumulated 38 saves, but did so in a manner never seen before (or, well, in recent memory), striking out 42 percent of batters (15.99 strikeouts per nine innnings (K/9)) while walking 15 percent of batters (6.03 walks per nine innings (BB/9)).
The end result was this: only 43.3 percent of at-bats against Marmol resulted in a ball being put in play, by far the lowest mark in the league. The No. 2 in this statistic, Billy Wagner, still had at-bats ending with balls put in play 53.6 percent of the time.
For fantasy purposes, this made Marmol the ultimate wild card. He'd get you saves, sure, and rack up a ton of striekouts. On the other hand, there could be weeks where he'd simply blow up a team's walk rate. (Mind you, if you're not counting pitcher walks, then Marmol's your guy!) Meanwhile, while Marmol's whiff rate increased in 2010, his walk rate actually dropped from a catastrophic 2009 season.
So the question is, are these improvements real? Can you count on Marmol to continue his extreme ways and help you as a fantasy closer?
Marmol's odd Z-Swing rate
As detailed here, batters have swung at Marmol's pitches in the strike zone at the lowest rate of anyone in the majors both of the last two years. (This rate is referred to as the Z-Swing rate). I suspect, as detailed in that article, this is a cause of Marmol's strikeout and walk rates being so high, because batters take pitches they'd ordinarily be able to put into play, resulting in deeper counts, which frequently turn into walks and strikeouts.
Marmol has had the lowest Z-Swing rate for two years running, at least, and in general there is a high consistency in pitchers' Z-Swing rates from year to year, so we can expect this to continue. Thus, we would expect the underlying numbers of Carlos Marmol will be exaggerated next year; we shouldn't be surprised to see high punchout and free pass rates yet again.
Marmol throws two pitches. First, he throws a fastball that doesn't have great movement but has a great average velocity of 94.1 mph. Then, more frequently, Marmol will rely upon his 83.7 mph slider, which gets great horizontal movement in the other direction of the fastball.
Interestingly, Marmol pitches backwards in a sense: whereas most pitchers concentrate more on the fastball as they get into higher-ball counts (to avoid walks), Marmol starts to drop his fastball in favor of his slider instead (except on 3-0 counts).
Marmol does possess a very good ability to hit the strike zone with the slider, and seemingly does not possess a great ability to hit the zone with his fastball, so this doesn't hurt him as much as it might other pitchers. Still it only exacerbates his high strikeout and walk numbers.
Will Marmol's strikeout rate fall next year?
Immediately upon looking at Marmol's pitches, we see a clear change from 2009 to 2010. His slider's whiff rates (percentage of pitches that batters swung at that they missed completely) against left- and right-handed batters have gone up dramatically, as you can see in Table 1 below:
The question of course is, is this change sustainable? The answer appears to be both yes and no.
Against left-handed batters, there is a clear change in how the slider is used. The pitch was thrown more inside and low to left-handers and was less often over the plate than it was in 2009. In addition, Marmol clearly started to use the slider more frequently in 2010 against left-handed batters, to the point where the pitch was used more often than the fastball.
In 2009, Marmol's slider use against left-handed batters was more normal—he'd use the pitch less in high-ball counts. But, as stated before, Marmol pitched extremely backwards to left-handers in 2010. So another potential cause for the higher whiff rate simply could be that Marmol was using the pitch in 2010 against left-handed batters in situations where batters would normally see fastballs, whereas in 2009, batters would not be as caught off guard by the slider in these counts.
These factors would seem to give us reason to believe that Marmol's whiff-rate increase against left-handed batters is sustainable, and thus so is his strikeout rate against these batters, as these factors are highly correlated.
Unfortunately, against right-handed batters there's no real reason to explain the increase in whiff rate. There's very little change in where Marmol locates the slider in the strike zone from 2009 to 2010 against these batters.
Similarly, there's very little change in how often Marmol used the slider in each count against righties; whereas Marmol only started pitching "backwards" against left-handers in 2010 (this isn't totally true, there's clearly some backwards tendencies in 2009, but it just wasn't as extreme), he was already doing so against right-handers in 2009.
Thus, one would expect Marmol's whiff rate, and therefore his strikeout rate, against right-handed batters to drop next year. That's not a great result.
Marmol's walk rate dropped from 2009 to 2010, to an only slightly less insanely high 6.03 per nine innings in '10 from an utterly insane walk rate of 7.9 per nine innings in '09. Is this sustainable?
Well, some signs point to no. Oddly enough, Marmol's rate at hitting a wide strike zone dropped significantly on his slider in 2010. Similarly, against left-handed batters, the fastball's rate of hitting the zone also dropped, though the rate actually went up against right-handed batters. This would make us expect more walks, not fewer.
However, lower in-strike-zone rates don't necessarily result in higher walk totals, as you can see by the fact that Derek Lowe, the man with the lowest rate of hitting the strike zone, manages to always have a good walk rate.
In Marmol's case, we do see here that a large portion of his zone-rate's decrease occurs in 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. In fact, in 2010 on 2-0 and 2-1 counts, Marmol was actually better at hitting the strike zone than the year before.
Meanwhile, Marmol's seemingly lesser ability to hit the strike zone was heavily countered by the fact that the percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that opposing batters swung at (O-Swing) rose from 19.8 percent in 2009 to 25.0 percent in 2010, a huge difference.
O-Swing rates tend to be rather consistent from year to year, so I'd expect this change to hold up next year. As a result, I'd suspect that Marmol's "lower" walk rate in 2010 is sustainable and will continue next year.
Normally, Marmol would be a riskier option for a fantasy player as a closer; after all, with his high walk rate, he could start the season on a walk bonanza and lose his closing job, depriving him of most of his worth.
However, fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief on this account because the Cubs just signed Marmol to a three-year deal. There's no way they'd make a snap judgment after that and remove Marmol from the closing job before his natural averages can balance out and get his ERA back to normal if he starts out with a rocky start.
That said, he's still not someone I'm confident putting a good prediction on. As you can see from the above, I expect his strikeout rate to drop a little and his walk rate to stay roughly the same, making him a worse option than he was last year, but still a good pitcher.
My confidence in either of these projections, of course, is low due to how unique Marmol is, but essentially I'd still warn potential fantasy owners not to expect as much from Marmol as owners received from him last year. After all, his season last year was historic, and, thus, it's probably not a hard prediction to expect some regression from such a player.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 5:10am
To be fair to everyone reading here at The Hardball Times, I must say that these rankings and projections are strictly the opinion of myself. They are not based on any sort of scientific, sabermetric formulas. If you want a system rivaled by few, you really should check out the THT Forecasts. In my biased opinion, you won’t find a better projection engine, especially dealing with minor leaguers. My rankings are, however, a product of countless hours pouring over data ranges, my own exhausted opinion, and several other products and analysis.
I tried to restrict this rankings list to the head-to-head, “big board” variety. Jeffrey Gross did a good job at giving you positional rankings for roto leagues that could be referenced for H2H just as easily. In my compilation, I really wanted to focus on players that are young and strong who have large talent ceilings.
Positional scarcity, of course, played a role, but it was by no means a determining factor. Points-based leaguers will see some of your favorites intermingled, but I didn’t want to ignore the 5X5 gamers. If anything, these rankings are a combination of both.
Another item I chose not to address is dollar values. THT Forecasts can do an amazing job of taking your league’s settings and giving you base-level prices for all players. To even try to compete with that wouldn’t be fair to you, the reader, and it would entail a lot more work for me.
My advice in regards to auction drafting is to always gauge the room and adapt to the draft. Many times this can only be truly achieved through practice. Just don’t get caught up in the eBay effect, always be looking for value, go hard after the guys you like, and never let the room know whom you like.
Lastly, use these rankings wisely. As Andrew Lang said, “An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts—for support rather than for illumination."
Name R HR RBI SB AVG W K SV ERA WHIP 1. Albert Pujols 113 41 120 9 0.320 2. Miguel Cabrera 102 35 118 2 0.314 3. Hanley Ramirez 118 29 101 24 0.330 4. Ryan Braun 115 36 130 18 0.318 5. Joey Votto 100 40 110 9 0.308 6. David Wright 112 34 124 17 0.310 7. Carlos Gonzalez 120 30 107 33 0.298 8. Evan Longoria 108 28 115 14 0.296 9. Josh Hamilton 109 38 127 5 0.318 10. Alex Rodriguez 98 36 120 10 0.299 11. Troy Tulowitzki 97 25 97 23 0.303 12. Carl Crawford 106 16 82 40 0.305 13. Prince Fielder 100 43 138 0 0.290 14. Chase Utley 110 27 97 14 0.293 15. Roy Halladay 22 201 0 2.50 1.05 16. Robinson Cano 95 26 101 4 0.306 17. Mark Teixeira 100 35 111 2 0.286 18. Adrian Gonzalez 85 35 119 0 0.280 19. Dustin Pedroia 121 19 70 24 0.308 20. Ryan Howard 91 39 126 3 0.270 21. Ryan Zimmerman 84 28 100 3 0.310 22. Joe Mauer 95 17 91 2 0.323 23. Matt Holliday 110 29 100 9 0.309 24. Jason Heyward 102 29 98 19 0.301 25. Andre Ethier 92 34 106 2 0.286 26. Tim Lincecum 20 235 0 2.99 1.17 27. Jose Bautista 99 40 105 9 0.270 28. Josh Johnson 15 197 0 2.68 1.19 29. Kevin Youkilis 90 27 83 8 0.304 30. Nelson Cruz 80 34 90 14 0.290 31. Jon Lester 18 236 0 3.15 1.21 32. Jose Reyes 84 13 62 34 0.286 33. Justin Upton 83 25 80 24 0.283 34. Felix Hernandez 16 220 0 2.95 1.17 35. Shin-Soo Choo 80 20 89 20 0.300 36. Jayson Werth 97 30 90 16 0.277 37. Matt Kemp 90 29 91 17 0.279 38. Justin Morneau 78 25 102 0 0.300 39. Dan Uggla 90 32 95 3 0.278 40. Kendry Morales 86 30 101 1 0.299 41. Brian McCann 70 26 94 0 0.286 42. Buster Posey 80 21 89 1 0.310 43. Cliff Lee 15 180 0 3.20 1.09 44. Billy Butler 80 20 90 0 0.311 45. Zack Greinke 16 200 0 3.49 1.19 46. Adam Dunn 82 40 100 0 0.267 47. Tommy Hanson 17 197 0 3.05 1.14 48. Jay Bruce 80 31 85 6 0.280 49. Andrew McCutchen 90 15 40 31 0.288 50. Jacoby Ellsbury 105 8 53 59 0.293
For my projections and the actual excel file, click this link below.
Points of interest (discord):
Miguel Cabrera: I’m not ready to cast judgment on Miggy yet. He’s dealt with adversity before and never let it really affect his on-field performance. Substance abuse can be a serious and lingering problem, and even Cabrera must recognize that there are more important things than baseball. All reports are indicating he has taken the steps needed to adequately recover.
I could see how analysts and your fellow draftees would argue that he should slide into the second round. I could see that my leaving him ranked as the No. 2 player in fantasy will be seen as wreckless with all this new information. Maybe it’s my faith in second chances or my belief that he’s the second-best hitter in the game (possibly the best), but I can’t seem to shake him from the top two, although a shaky spring and another incident would do much to destroy my confidence in him. He is a risk now and there’s no getting around that.
Ryan Braun: My Braun love runs deep. I think he’s done nothing but prove himself his entire career. 2011 could really be his coming out party where he takes his seat alongside Pujols as a superstar of MLB. His “off” season last year was yet again stellar. Barring injury, he is my preseason NL MVP. Write that down.
Robinson Cano: I figure this will be my most controversial ranking of the Top 50. Cano is an amazing player, and his last two years have been awesome. He hit right around .320 with 25-plus homers each of those seasons. He scores runs and drives them in, and he does all this from the middle infield. What’s not to love?
My opinion is his second half is more of a real assessment of his skill set. Don’t get me wrong, that first half was epic, but his “fade” in the later months is much more of what I see for Cano. If that is truly the case, he should put up numbers near the projection and must be considered an early- to mid-second rounder, not the first rounder he’ll most likely be labeled.
Jon Lester: Lester is as mature a 27-year-old pitcher as there is in baseball. He has made it through some incredible trials and has become the most dominant lefty that will toe the mound in 2011. He’s close to putting it all together.
A slight decrease in his WHIP could set off a chain of events that will have us calling him the Cy Young winner by season’s end. The Red Sox's success could give Lester a great opportunity at 20 wins, as well.
Felix Hernandez: Felix, on the other hand, graced his fantasy owners with a historical second-half run that culminated in the 2010 AL Cy Young award. I don’t dislike King Felix. He is deserving of the success afforded him.
I just can’t get over how bad the Mariners could be in 2011, and I don’t care who you are—that will negatively affect a pitcher eventually. Hernandez has pitched a lion’s share of innings for a 24 year old. He’ll actually profile better as a points-based pitcher than a normal H2H guy. I believe he’ll be good in 2011, but not as good as Lester, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum or Roy Halladay.
Jayson Werth over Matt Kemp: Read my Kemp distrust in the All-Aversion All Stars: Part II article. I believe that having him ranked as high as I do (37th) despite my hatred is directly related to his overall talent level. Even though I don’t think he’ll do well, I understand that the skills he possesses could manifest themselves once more. The choice will be his to make.
I like Werth because he’s safe. Experts who try to downplay his 2010 season haven’t done their due diligence to the statistics. If he can hit around .280 with 30 HR and 15-plus SB, he would be an absolute steal at the 36th pick. Don’t be afraid to stand alone. Live, die, and draft by that mantra.
Tommy Hanson: In his second full season, it is time for Hanson to step up and join the elite fantasy starters. He pitched ridiculously well in the second half of 2010 with a line of 75 strikeouts in 106 innings, coupled with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. I don’t think his strikeouts-per-nine innings (K/9) ratio is something you should get hung up on. If anything, his success in the K/9 department on the minor league level should point to a chance at bettering his numbers in 2011. With some added dominance, Hanson could be scary good.
Andrew McCutchen: McCutchen is a poor man’s Carl Crawford, and he is nowhere near his professional peak. So to value him this low isn’t really fair to how good he can and will be in 2011. The reason he has fallen on my big board is due in large part to the depth at the outfield position.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsbury is back and leading off atop the best offensive lineup in the game, he has speed blessed by God, and he works hard at his craft and understands his role. If he is healthy, he shouldn’t be too far off his 2009 stat levels. I would adjust his batting average down a bit, and he might need some time to rev his engine. The steals will come in bunches, and he could wiggle into the Top 15 overall players by season’s end.
Overall lack of starting pitchers: I can’t draft pitching before the third round. Maybe it’s against my religion or something. Whether that’s a weakness or not, I haven't yet decided. So my rankings throughout the 300 will be hitter skewed. Forgive me for letting my personal draft strategies influence my rankings.
As always I welcome the comments below, and 51-100 will be up next Monday.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:09am
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