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July 20, 2013 posted by Josh Kay

Mid-Season Positional Rankings Breakdown Hit F/X Primer: Catchers: Tier 1

Mid-Season Positional Rankings Breakdown Hit F/X  Primer: Catchers: Tier 1
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We know that slumps are a part of baseball. All players have weaknesses in their plate approach that pitchers look to exploit. At no point in the season is there more time for team statisticians to run analysis on certain players in an attempt to find more ways to get them out than there is right now. Instead of doing normal rankings, which you can find anywhere, this new feature will break down the players by position and take a close look at what holes they have in their swing that could cause them to slump.

If a batter goes through a cold spell, look at the pitches being thrown. Was that weakness exploited more during the slump? Thanks to the never-ending quest to find answers about what’s happening on the diamond, new information is always being developed. Let’s all give thanks to the wonderful website brooksbaseball.net for their new hit f/x player cards.

1. Yadier Molina- St. Louis Cardinals: Molina is currently batting .341 with 40 runs scored, seven home runs, 49 RBI and three stolen bases. His batting average of .341 is being propped up by his sustained success against left-handers that he displayed last year for the first time since 2008. Molina is batting .348 against them this year which is in line with his .342 batting average against them in 2012. In addition, Molina has extended his success against right handed pitchers. Molina is sitting on a .339 batting average against right handed pitching thanks in large part to an incredibly impressive improvement against the slider. Against all pitch types from right handers (except the curveball) Molina is hitting above .300 and in many cases much higher than that.

Let’s look at the three main breaking and off-speed pitches the past four years for Molina against right handed pitching. The first number in each column will be batting average, second the slugging, and third, (in parenthesis) the batting average on balls in play.

Year Curveball Slider Changeup
2010 .182/.182 (.200) .246/.323 (.273) .313/.438 (.357)
2011 .281/.344 (.346) .276/.345 (.320) .346/.654 (.304)
2012 .214/.452 (.177) .288/.350 (.297) .250/.313 (.308)
2013 .114/.171 (.160) .390.439 (.400) .318/.546 (.300)

 

The number that immediately jumps out at us is the .390 batting average this season against the slider from right handed pitchers. Typically the slider is the most difficult pitch on same handed hitters, yet Molina is seeing it extremely well. While the BABIP is most definitely higher than it will be at seasons end, Molina has struck out on the pitch just once in 41 at-bats ended on the slider from a righty. That’s a 2.44 percent strikeout rate.

For comparisons sake, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton has a 54.84 percent strikeout rate against sliders from left handed pitching this season.

Yadier Molina won’t still have his .340 average at season’s end, but if his success against the slider holds up, the youngest Molina will continue to produce like the #1 catcher in fantasy baseball.

In May, Molina’s hottest month, he hit .500 (8-16) against the slider and .455 (5-11) against the curveball with two doubles.

2. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants: Posey is currently hitting .325 (.337 BABIP) with 13 home runs, 38 runs scored, 56 RBI and one stolen base. Posey’s walk rate has dipped back down to 9.5 percent (nearly identical to his 2011 number he amassed in just 185 plate appearances), which is a leading indicator for the slight decline in power. However, despite hitting for a lower batting average so far, than he did in 2012 (.336), Posey has really improved his skillset.

Posey struggled against breaking pitches in 2012. He hit .196 with a 25.89 percent strikeout rate against the slider and .184 with a 28.57 percent strikeout rate against the curveball. This season however, Posey has made impressive improvements against breaking pitches and now hits all pitch types (hard, breaking, off-speed) for a .300+ batting average. He has cut his strikeout rate on the slider down to just 14.81 percent and on the curveball to 24 percent. Expect more of the same from Posey in the second half as he looks to build on his now truly deserved label as a “complete hitter”.

3. Joe Mauer- Minnesota Twins: Mauer is on pace for his best power output since his 2009 career season. In 2009, Mauer hit 28 home runs while sustaining a higher walk rate than strikeout rate. He has yet to sniff the corresponding .222 ISO since. However, Mauer currently is producing his best ISO since that season (.153) The problem with this lies in his career high strikeout rate of 18.6 percent. Not only is 18.6 percent Mauer’s career high, it is nearly double his career rate of 11.1 percent. Ok, so not quite close to double, but let’s embrace the dramatic effect that statement provides.

Looking into the splits, it is clear that Mauer has been quite fortunate against left handed pitchers. With a BABIP of .420 against lefties despite a 21.6 percent strikeout rate and only an 8.8 percent walk rate, Mauer has clearly been benefitting from too many mistake pitches made at inopportune times. In fact, last season with two strikes, Mauer hit 1-22 with a 50 percent strikeout rate and a BABIP of .091 against left handed pitchers’ sliders. This season he has increased that strikeout rate up to 56.25 percent but is instead 3-16 (.429 BABIP). It’s safe to say that can’t and won’t continue, so long as Mauer continues to be Hamilton-esque with two strikes. Even more surprising is that Mauer has a 47 percent strikeout rate against two strike four-seam fastballs thrown by left handers in 2013, compared to a 20.93 percent strikeout rate in 2012.

Mauer’s plate discipline has completely vanished and his results haven’t changed. According to Fan Graphs, Mauer recorded a 139 wRC+ in 2012 and now sports a 142 wRC+ for this season. Mauer his hitting .320, identical to last year’s mark of .319; it’s safe to say Mauer needs to improve his plate discipline for his batting average to stay at this level.

A potential problem to keep an eye on for Mauer is the four-seam fastball from left handers. The similarities are simply staggering on the surface level from last year to this year for Mauer against the four-seam fastball from lefties. Mauer hit .397 in 78 at-bats in the situation in 2012. In 2013 that number is .393. What has changed of course, is that Mauer struck out 11.54 percent of the time on the pitch in 2012 while coaxing a walk rate of 21.2 percent when a plate appearance ended with the four-seam fastball. Those numbers respectively this season are 25 percent (strikeout rate) and 17.86 percent through 28 at-bats and 33 plate appearances.

 

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