Table of Contents

Monday, April 09, 2007

2007 Reds Spring Training in Review (pt. 1) Intro & Hitting

Overall Record: 18-12-1
Pythagorean Record: 15-15-1
Runs Scored: 142 (4.6 r/g)
Runs Allowed: 143 (4.6 r/g)
Team OBP: 0.347
Team SLG: 0.412
Team ERA: 3.95
Team FIP: 3.86
DER: 0.693

What Happened?
The Reds began spring training with more optimism than they'd had in years, following a moderately successful season in which the Reds were legitimate contenders until the last series on the year. With this momentum, expectations were high. The question was no longer whether the Reds will ever contend, but rather whether they could continue to contend this season.

Unlike previous years, there were very few jobs available to be "won." Entering Spring Training, the following players were considered "locks" for the opening day roster:

The Starting Eight (8)
Ross, Hatteberg, Phillips, Gonzalez, Encarnacion, Dunn, Freel, Griffey

The Bench (3)
Conine, Castro, Valentin

Rotation (4)
Harang, Arroyo, Lohse, Milton

Bullpen (6)
Weathers, Stanton, Coffey, Cormier, Bray, Majewski

That's 21 players, leaving 4 spots on the active roster--one of which had to be a 5th starter, and one of which was probably going to be 7th bullpen pitcher--open to contest. These were the primary contenders:

Bench
Chad Moeller, Josh Hamilton, Chris Denorfia, Norris Hopper, Bubba Crosby, Jeff Keppinger, Mark Bellhorn

Starting Rotation
Kirk Saarloos, Matt Belisle, Elizardo Ramirez, Bobby Livingston, Homer Bailey, Paul Wilson

Bullpen
Saarloos, Belisle, Victor Santos, Jared Burton, Jon Coutlangus, Dustin Hermanson, Kerry Ligtenberg, Brian Meadows

In the end, injuries played as large a role as anything in determining who would make the final cuts. Milton, Bray, and Majewski all went down with (hopefully) short-term ailments, opening an additional rotation slot and two bullpen slots (7 total slots then available for opening day). Furthermore, Norris Hopper, Jeff Keppinger, and Elizardo Ramirez all went down on relatively small injuries, while Chris Denorfia suffered a season-ending injury to his ulnar collateral ligament, forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery. All told, the Reds started the season with 7 players on the 15-day disabled list (Jerry Gil also hurt his elbow).

The Reds ended up taking Hamilton and Moeller as their additional bench players, and Belisle, Saarloos, Santos, Coutlangus, and Burton as their extra guys in the bullpen. Belisle was given the 4th start of the year, though a move was anticipated on Sunday, April 8th to get Milton back on the roster as the 5th starter (as it turns out, Burton was put on the DL). Crosby, Bailey, and Livingston were demoted to AAA, while Bellhorn, Wilson, Hermanson, Ligtenberg, and Meadows were released.

In the meantime, the Reds had a fairly exciting series of exhibition games in the Grapefruit League (see graph above). They began the preseason with six consecutive wins, and continued winning until they were 10 games over 0.500 by mid-month. They slid a bit from there, but still finished with an excellent 18-12-1 record. A few of their losses were absurdly one-sided affairs (as tends to happen in spring training when using non-roster players), which caused their Pythagorean Record to be much closer to 0.500. But whatever, it was still fun.

Stories of note included Josh Hamilton's amazing spring debut, Paul Wilson's failed bid to come back from multiple arm surgeries, Adam Dunn's "new approach" to hitting that is meant to be more Ichiro-like, Ken Griffey Jr.'s move to right field, and Dustin Hermanson's failed bid to become the team's closer.

Player Performance Evaluation - Hitting

I was a bit liberal in who I allowed to get on these charts--in this case, anyone with 34 or more plate appearances made the cut (including Conine, but excluding Griffey, Bruce, etc). Also, while I do point out differences between 2006 and spring training stats below, please don't read too much into them. Unless I specifically say so, I'm not predicting regular season performance based on these stats.

How They Hit - OBP v ISO
Vertical and horizontal lines indicate 2006 league averages. Some big-time overlap in the bottom-center. The lower group shows Ross, Hopper, and Janish, while the group above that shows Gonzalez, Denorfia, Bellhorn, and Conine.
  • The top-right quadrant is the place to be, and despite strong springs from a number of players, only Phillips, Dunn, Hatteberg, and Encarnacion made the cut. Hamilton's outstanding spring is largely seen in his OBP, though he did show decent power.
    • Phillips is an interesting case. There have been a number of articles out recently that have suggested that players showing substantial spikes in their spring training slugging percentages vs. their career averages tend to have breakout seasons. Dave Ross is an example of this--had a very high SLG in spring training and went on to have a career year. Brandon Phillips' 0.676 SLG in this spring training was more than 300 points higher than his career numbers, and ~250 points higher than his 2006 numbers. So we might be looking at the start of a huge year for the guy. I hope so.
    • The same is not necessarily true for spikes in OBP, such as in the case of Josh Hamilton or Ryan Freel. One reason for that will be discussed below.
  • The lower-left quadrant showed some players who were struggling, including Dave Ross (coming off a career, breakout season) and Javy Valentin.
  • Prospect Jerry Gil showed impressive power for a middle-infielder, slugging 4 extra-base hits in 34 AB's. Didn't get on base much though, which is consistent with his record.
Handling the strike zone - %K vs. %BB
Horizontal and vertical lines indicate 2006 league averages. Three overlapping groups of player names in this one, moving bottom to top: Wise & Phillips, Ross & Janish, and Gonzalez-Crosby-Mueller-Valentin.
  • I'm not sure that it's worth reading much into this, but:
    • Denorfia and Hatteberg placed in the upper-left quadrant as usual, though Hatteberg's strikeouts were substantially up from last season. I do expect Hatteberg to decline a bit this season, and an increase in strikeouts could drive down his batting average quite a bit.
    • Freel and Encarnacion both substantially decreased their walk and strikeout rates to move from the upper-right to the lower-left. I expect both to move back to toward the upper-right in the regular season, as they have always been fairly patient hitters.
    • Dunn and Bellhorn are players who classically have lived in the upper-right part of this graph throughout their career (i.e. they see a lot of pitches), so it's no surprise to see them there this time as well. Dunn's walk and strikeout rates were both substantially down from last season though (17% BB and 29% K in 2006, 11% BB, 22% K in spring training), perhaps as a result of a change in approach. It will be interesting to watch those numbers in April and May.
    • The lower-right is the worst place to be on this graph, and we do see a few disappointments there. Most notable is Dave Ross, who kept his high strikeout rate from 2006 but completely forgot how to take a walk. Hopefully he'll figure that out again soon.
Good performance, or just good luck?

The solid line reflects 2006 league averages for qualified players, according to THT. Dotted lines reflect the first standard deviation from the mean for the 2006 data, and is presented to give an idea of the expected spread. OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is a good, simple measure of overall offensive performance.

Batters do have some control over BABIP, and the best hitters maintain BABIP's higher than league average season after season (this is generally not the case for pitchers). Nevertheless, drastic deviations from league average are often due to chance events (e.g. being "hit-lucky" for a short period of time), and are fairly common in small sample sizes like those we see in spring training. Therefore, it's useful to look at this stat when trying to discern skill from luck.

Ryan Freel, Josh Hamilton, and Adam Dunn all enjoyed unusually high BABIP's during spring training. In contrast, Scott Hatteberg and Juan Castro had very poor BABIP's. To get an idea of how these players' spring performances might have changed if they had had a more "normal" BABIP (i.e. normal luck), I added or removed singles (including fractions of singles--the values shift a lot for each hit when you're dealing with this small a sample) from their spring lines until their BABIP was equal to 0.310 (0.310 was the NL-average among qualified players in 2006). The results are reported in the table below:
PlayerSpring BABIPSpring OPSHits adjustedAdjusted OPS
Dunn
0.441
1.155
-4.45 hits
1.001
Freel
0.455
0.942
-4.77 hits
0.711
Hamilton
0.475
1.012
-9.7 hits
0.758
Hatteberg
0.257
0.803
+1.85 hits
0.879
Castro
0.235
0.594
+2.55 hits
0.710
Dunn's totals didn't shift much, thanks to his high walk rate and (more importantly) his high isolated power. But the springs of Freel and Hamilton look very different with the BABIP adjustment. This analysis predicts that Freel "should have" had only a marginal spring (OPS breaks down to a line of 0.262/0.346/0.365).

More interesting though, given the fanfare he's received, was the finding that Hamilton's line dropped down to a more "human" 0.268/0.337/0.421 using this adjustment. Now, I still think that's an outstanding spring training for a guy in Hamilton's circumstances--and I still think he should have made the team, especially given his apparent defensive abilities and offensive promise--but this adjusted line certainly doesn't have the sparkle that his actual numbers do. Note: the reasons that so many hits needed to be removed from his total are that a) his BABIP was extremely high, and b) he had more plate appearances than anyone else on the Reds' squad.

As far as the underachievers go, Scott Hatteberg's adjustment didn't turn out to be very large (his BABIP wasn't all that low anyway), but Juan Castro's spring looks decidedly different if he could achieve a 0.310 BABIP, virtually matching Ryan Freel. However, I will throw out the caveat that there is some skill involved in achieving that high of a BABIP, and Castro is not a particularly good hitter. He did have a 0.313 BABIP for the Reds last season, but more often seems to be in the 0.280-0.290 range during his career. Therefore, the adjustment might be a bit generous in his case. If I instead set his BABIP at 0.285, which matches his 2005 season, he gets an OPS of 0.672--still an improvement, just not as substantial.

I'll close with some relevant stats for Reds' hitters in spring training:
Player PA R H 2B 3B HR TB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO SB CS %BB %K BABIP
Hamilton 81 6 29 4 2 1 40 0.403 0.457 0.556 1.012 0.153 1 0 10% 16% 0.475
Encarnacion 76 10 22 2 1 3 35 0.310 0.355 0.493 0.848 0.183 1 0 5% 12% 0.322
Phillips 70 11 23 3 1 6 46 0.338 0.357 0.676 1.034 0.338 1 0 3% 17% 0.340
Dunn 63 7 20 1 0 5 36 0.377 0.476 0.679 1.155 0.302 0 0 11% 22% 0.441
Denorfia 62 7 14 1 0 1 18 0.264 0.355 0.340 0.694 0.075 3 0 11% 16% 0.302
Gonzalez 59 4 14 4 0 0 18 0.259 0.322 0.333 0.655 0.074 0 3 8% 15% 0.311
Ross 56 4 11 2 0 0 13 0.216 0.286 0.255 0.541 0.039 0 0 5% 25% 0.297
Bellhorn 53 4 10 0 0 1 13 0.233 0.377 0.302 0.680 0.070 0 1 15% 32% 0.360
Hatteberg 53 7 11 3 0 2 20 0.244 0.358 0.444 0.803 0.200 0 0 15% 15% 0.257
Valentin 50 1 11 0 0 0 11 0.239 0.300 0.239 0.539 0.000 0 0 8% 20% 0.306
Castro 45 2 9 4 0 1 16 0.209 0.222 0.372 0.594 0.163 0 0 2% 20% 0.235
Freel 44 10 15 4 0 0 19 0.385 0.455 0.487 0.942 0.103 2 2 7% 14% 0.455
Janish 43 6 10 1 0 0 11 0.256 0.302 0.282 0.584 0.026 0 0 5% 26% 0.345
Wise 40 5 10 2 0 0 12 0.263 0.300 0.316 0.616 0.053 1 1 3% 18% 0.323
Crosby 38 9 8 3 0 1 14 0.235 0.316 0.412 0.728 0.176 1 0 8% 16% 0.259
Moeller 36 6 9 2 0 1 14 0.281 0.361 0.438 0.799 0.156 0 0 8% 17% 0.333
Votto 37 9 8 1 0 1 12 0.286 0.459 0.429 0.888 0.143 1 1 24% 24% 0.389
Hopper 36 4 9 1 0 0 10 0.265 0.278 0.294 0.572 0.029 1 0 3% 8% 0.281
Gil 35 6 6 2 1 1 13 0.176 0.200 0.382 0.582 0.206 1 1 3% 29% 0.217
Conine 34 3 10 2 0 0 12 0.323 0.382 0.387 0.769 0.065 0 0 3% 21% 0.417
Machado 28 3 3 1 1 0 6 0.136 0.321 0.273 0.594 0.136 1 0 21% 14% 0.167
Griffey 20 2 5 1 0 0 6 0.263 0.300 0.316 0.616 0.053 0 0 5% 15% 0.313
Bruce 15 1 3 1 0 0 4 0.200 0.200 0.267 0.467 0.067 0 1 0% 27% 0.273
Godwin 10 1 3 1 0 0 4 0.333 0.300 0.444 0.744 0.111 0 0 0% 20% 0.375
Keppinger 10 5 6 0 0 1 9 0.750 0.800 1.125 1.925 0.375 0 0 10% 0% 0.714
Jorgensen 9 1 1 0 0 0 1 0.167 0.444 0.167 0.611 0.000 0 0 22% 33% 0.333
Cruz 8 2 2 1 1 0 5 0.286 0.375 0.714 1.089 0.429 0 0 13% 38% 0.500
Dickerson 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0 0% 60% 0.000
Strait 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0 0% 60% 0.000
Stubbs 5 1 2 0 0 0 2 0.400 0.400 0.400 0.800 0.000 0 0 0% 20% 0.500
Coming up next....2007 Reds Spring Training Review (pt. 2), Pitching