Status Update 7/11/18: Stupid, Splendid, and Specious Splits (Pt. 2) – Generals Hitters

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Splits won’t tell you a lot about Rudy Flores that you can’t observe on your own. Guy can swing it. (Photo credit: John Sewell)

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part examination of split and component stats. Check out our pitching-focused post from yesterday

JACKSON, TENN.One of the more fascinating things about the game of baseball is the way certain component numbers deviate from one another when breaking down overall statistics. Some guys are great in day games, while others play better at night. Why is that, and who knows it? There are certainly answers for some of these oddities, but do they all matter? It depends on whom you ask. Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting season splits for the Generals, through 7/8/18:

MILB.COM – SELECT HITTING SPLITS (On-Base Percentage)

HITTERS Home/Road Day/Night 2 Outs Ahead/Behind in Count Bases Empty/Men On
Cribbs .374/.329 .267/.223 .318 .489/.173 .324/.378
DeLuzio .286/.276 .229/.308 .250 .410/.108 .284/.283
Flores .409/.352 .383/.380 .333 .532/.283 .347/.410
Herum .348/.347 .320/.296 .293 .488/.200  .353/.344
Leyba .306/.347 .346/.326 .333 .492/.216 .390/.271
Littlewood .302/.323 .304/.316 .346 .507/.073 .321/.308
Prince .407/.374 .407/.387 .365 .575/.173 .411/.368
Robertson .346/.376 .382/.359 .448 .488/.255 .359/.367
Rosario .382/.219 .176/.357 .429 .423/.176 .353/.302
Vinicio .287/.272 .222/.294 .329 .382/.261 .267/.294
Westbrook .294/.363 .177/.309 .323 .411/.291 .341/.315

For the record, DL players, players who joined the team in July, and players with fewer than 20 games played at Jackson aren’t on this list.

*Spoiler alert: Rudy Flores can get on base. Good hitters can get on base under almost any conditions, and Flores shows you that by consistently getting high marks across the board in the above categories. There’s a reason why he’s a two-time Southern League All-Star AND why he saw a lot of time in left field last season—J.R. House needed his offensive ability in the lineup.

 

*You’ll notice also that the Generals tend to have a higher on-base floor, so to speak, in night games than in day games—it’s harder to prepare when you’ve got less time before the game, and that’s always the case with daylight games.

*Check out each guy’s highest split—where is it? For a lot of guys, it’s when they’re ahead in the count. (In this case, 0-0, 1-1, and 3-2 counts are considered “even”; 2-2 is “behind”). Look also at who does well when they’re behind in the count. Jose Vinicio and Jamie Westbrook are freer swingers than their peers—if you’re not afraid to swing, you’re probably inclined to hit better in bad counts, provided you can make contact. (Walks, of course, can’t be drawn in a count where you’re behind.)

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Daniel Robertson is one of three healthy position players on the Generals’ roster who have played at the big league level, and his big-league plate discipline is a hallmark at the plate. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

*The three guys who have the highest on base percentage with two outs are Daniel Robertson, Alberto Rosario, and Josh Prince. Quick: what do they all have in common? If you’ve been paying attention, you may know that all three have MLB service time. If you’ve been to The Show, you’ve more than likely got both a very high awareness of any situation, and you can execute and/or maintain your plate discipline against strong talent. The Generals are lucky to have a guy like that in each third of their batting order most nights of the week.

FANGRAPHS.COM – SELECT HITTING DATA

HITTERS BB% K% ISO wOBA wRAA LD%
Cribbs 9.4% 28.8% .139 .336 3.2 20.3%
DeLuzio 7.1% 23.9% .088 .273 -4.3 16.7%
Flores 11.1% 22.2% .180 .379 14.4 18.1%
Herum 7.0% 13.0% .142 .355 3.0 17.6%
Leyba 9.0% 15.0% .113 .323 0.1 16.1%
Littlewood 14.6% 19.1% .106 .294 -3.4 12.9%
Prince 13.2% 23.2% .135 .376 8.0 27.4%
Robertson 11.2% 12.4% .160 .354 5.9 15.0%
Rosario 6.9% 13.8% .063 .304 -1.3 15.4%
Vinicio 3.9% 24.0% .098 .280 -7.4 9.9%
Westbrook 4.6% 16.9% .194 .357 9.4 17.3%

*Daniel Robertson is the guy closest to having a walk rate that outpaces his strikeout rate, which is great for a table-setter. He’s also shown surprising power, hitting six homers en route to a .160 isolated power mark. That combination of sneaky power and having a good eye at the plate are part of what got D-Rob to the big leagues in four different seasons. You want to prove people wrong as a 33rd round pick? Be efficient and show some pop.

*Galli Cribbs is still a glove-first shortstop, even after batting .351 in April. But wouldn’t you love to see shades of April Cribbs return? If that’s going to happen, he’ll have to reaffirm his plate discipline. After picking up 11 walks in April, Cribbs walked just 13 times over the next two months, which is partly why his numbers have dipped. If he can’t perform more consistently in bad counts (.173 OBP, his lowest split here by far), the only other option is to avoid them entirely. He’s hitting enough line drives to be a nightly contributor, but a strikeout rate near 30%, absent a lot more power, cannot be ignored going forward.

*If you’re hunting for a wild card, the so-called “x-factor,” it might be Marty Herum. Having just returned from an April injury, Herum played only 30 games through July 9, but his wOBA and wRAA are strong, and that’s important. DON’T LET THESE ABBREVIATIONS SCARE YOU, FAM – I’VE GOT YOU!

Think of wOBA as the highest revision of on-base percentage. The “w” part means “weighted,” i.e. not everything weighs the same—singles and doubles, for example, are weighted differently in this formula, as they should be. The reason wOBA is better than slugging percentage is scale. When you hit a triple in your only at-bat, your batting average is 1.000 and your on-base percentage is 1.000, but your slugging percentage is 3.000. Why? Slugging is scaled differently. With wOBA, every offensive result has a specific pre-determined weight, so the final number encompasses everything you’ve done at the plate and spits out a something you can easily frame in the context of the .300-.400 range decimals you’ve seen forever as a baseball fan.

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Marty Herum’s bat and glove could be critical to the Generals’ success in the Second Half. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Now, bear with me—you can stick with wOBA if you’d like to get off this sabermetric express train, or you can ride out to one more stop, wRAA. Baseball is about scoring runs, and wRAA uses wOBA as an input to determine the difference in run production between your player and an average player. We’re not talking about literal runs in the “R” column, but all of the offensive events that contribute fractions of a run, summed up into a nice, friendly, zero-scaled numeral. wRAA answers the question: “How many runs has this guy helped us produce beyond an average player’s contribution?”

Marty Herum’s wRAA, unlike his wOBA, is not among the top 3 hitters on the team. This is in part because wRAA works like a counting stat, in that you can collect more wRAA (and also lose wRAA) as you play more games. With that in mind, it makes a huge difference to divide wRAA by each player’s number of games played. In a per-game context, Marty Herum is the Generals’ third-best run producer, sitting at 0.1 wRAA/G behind Flores (0.18) and Prince (0.14).

Do you remember the Generals going 15-2 in April? How about the 26-32 stretch after that, when Herum was on the disabled list for every game except one (May 10, a loss)? If Jackson is going to turn things around from a sub-.500 record in the Second Half (currently 6-13), they’re going to need a positive impact from Herum, not unlike what they got in the First Half from now-Reno-Ace Juniel Querecuto.

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Status Update 7/11/18: Silly, Spurious, and Special Splits (Pt 1.) – Generals Pitchers

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Despite some struggles in May, Yoan Lopez has proved one of Jackson’s most effective relievers. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part examination of split and component stats. Check out our hitting-focused post coming Thursday, July 12! 

BILOXI, MISS.One of the more fascinating things about the game of baseball is the way certain component numbers deviate from one another when breaking down overall statistics. Some guys are great in day games, while others play better at night. Why is that, and who knows it? There are certainly answers for some of these oddities, but do they all matter? It depends on whom you ask. Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting season splits for the Generals, through 7/8/18:

MILB.COM – SELECT PITCHING SPLITS (Opponents’ Batting Average)

Pitchers Home/Road Day/Night 0 Outs/2 Outs Ahead/Behind in Count Bases Empty/Men On
Atkinson .276/.224 .191/.268 .296/.250 .180/.386 .253/.246
Bellow .294/.167 .321/.220 .138/.209 .244/.314 .120/.350
Donatella .224/.212 .191/.227 .181/.212 .190/.273 .182/.277
Gibson .364/.200 .500/.250 .292/.333 .364/.150 .265/.294
Ginkel .241/.147 .000/.250 .190/.174 .111/.188 .111/.296
Goldberg .000/.143 .000/.074 .200/.000 .071/.000 .000/.059
Huang .161/.154 .250/.139 .267/.071 .048/.417 .208/.100
Jeter .245/.143 .500/.195 .231/.250 .292/.143 .146/.275
Lopez .232/.167 .133/.216 .188/.174 .116/.160 .227/.173
Payamps .218/.195 .194/.207 .273/.133 .114/.367 .212/.192
Takahashi .281/.246 –/.263 .333/.222 .190/.367 .188/.378
Widener .202/.193 .148/.208 .178/.158 .153/.218 .209/.178

For the record, DL pitchers and pitchers who joined the team in July aren’t on this list.

*It’s not a shock that Taylor Widener, Brad Goldberg, and Yoan Lopez hold some of the team’s best marks across each of the above categories. Those three have been among the most consistent pitchers on staff, notwithstanding a difficult month of May for Lopez. A few team trends stand out:

*Jackson’s record in road contests this year is a pedestrian 11-9, including 4-7 since the end of April. That’s strange, if only because none of the Generals’ four starters who have pitched in daytime games have allowed opponents to hit over .200 in the daylight.

*Every Generals pitcher has held opponents to a batting average below .250 on the road. Only eight of the twelve have BAs against them at home that are under .250.

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After coming over from the Chicago White Sox organization in an early June trade, Brad Goldberg has been an extremely useful bullpen arm for Doug Drabek and Shelley Duncan. (Photo credit: Mark Cunningham)

 

*In addition to Widener and Lopez, Kevin Ginkel has held opposing hitters at or beneath the Mendoza line in both none-out and two-out situations. The same is true for Ginkel, Goldberg, and Lopez when both ahead in the count and behind.

*Half of the Generals’ staff have strong marks with men on base, but the other six in the list have allowed batting averages at or above .275 with ducks on the pond. Sometimes the difference in those splits can be traced to a change in delivery, based on the fact that some pitchers perform differently in the stretch rather than in the wind-up. That said, those numbers (especially the ones that approach or exceed .300) are the kind that make fans squirm, particularly with regard to relievers.

FANGRAPHS.COM – SELECT PITCHING DATA

PITCHERS P/IP LD% IFFB% HR/FB K-BB% LOB% FIP/xFIP
Atkinson 17.0 19.8% 20.6% 11.3% 15.8% 66.6% 4.52/4.11
Bellow 16.9 15.7% 9.7% 3.2% 1.5% 70.2% 4.48/5.25
Donatella 16.5 18.9% 27.9% 5.8% 11.4% 72.1% 3.91/4.37
Gibson 14.7 13.5% 20% 0% 13.2% 65.4% 2.91/4.23
Ginkel 15.6 21.6% 38.5% 7.7% 28.4% 82.2% 2.22/2.33
Goldberg 17.3 0% 20% 20% 30% 100% 3.04/2.34
Huang 15.3 21.4% 30% 0% 23.5% 92.3% 2.38/3.24
Jeter 17.2 20.3% 35.5% 0% 11.8% 70.4% 2.91/4.45
Lopez 16.2 26.3% 33.3% 10% 24.2% 62.5% 3.06/2.94
Payamps 15.3 18.7% 26.9% 7.7% 25.8% 76.3% 2.71/2.84
Takahashi 16.5 21.3% 25% 19.4% 20.2% 60.8% 5.55/3.93
Widener 16.0 16.8% 29.5% 8.4% 25.6% 82.7% 3.00/3.06

*Giving up a line drive is not the same thing necessarily as giving up hard contact (which FanGraphs doesn’t measure in the minor leagues), but line drives usually lead to more hits than ground balls or fly balls. Goldberg’s current embargo on line drives is unlikely to remain that low for a long period of time, but it’s certainly part of what has made him successful (he has allowed one home run with Jackson on a fly ball). Lopez’s success in spite of giving up a significant percentage of line drives is also accurate – he allowed three late-inning home runs in May that were crushed, but he’s missed a lot of barrels as well, given his infield fly ball rate and K percentage.

*Anybody who has watched Bo Takahashi knows that home runs have been a recent pitfall for him. The elevated rate of home runs hit against him is way above the norm, but for a 21-year-old in his first month at Double-A, it’s not that surprising. Over time, Takahashi should be able to make fewer mistakes against good hitters and lower it down to the 8%-12% range, which is generally the range that guys pitch to in the Major Leagues. (Recall that one of the homers hit against him was inside-the-park as well.)

*Strikeout and walk percentages relate in a peripheral way to a Left On Base percentage, given that a pitcher with a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate tends to put fewer hitters on base and strand more runners when they do reach base.  The guys ranked highly therein have been as difficult to hit as any on the team, aside from former General Colin Poche.

*FIP and xFIP, for the uninitiated, are measured on the same scale as ERA but use fielding-independent measurements (home runs, strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen) to calculate a pitcher’s expected allowance on a per-nine-innings basis. FIP is best frame as a tool to frame how a pitcher has already performed, while xFIP speaks a bit more accurately to how their numbers might change in the future (it replaces home runs allowed with a league-average rate of home runs per fly ball). This is not to say that certain guys will definitively be better or worse in coming weeks or months, but it’s OK to be a little more optimistic for the Second Half outputs from Ryan Atkinson and Takahashi if you were on the fence.  If FIP and xFIP are close already, web developers would put that performance in “wizzy-wig” territory, i.e. WYSIWYG (what you’ve seen is what you’ll get).

Status Update on the Jackson Generals: 7/2/18 – The heat of July is on

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Generals utility man Josh Prince struck a match to start the Second Half, batting .400 over the team’s first ten games. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Through the first ten games of the Second Half, scoring has been difficult for the Jackson Generals, who have only 4 wins in that span. Even with a 13-1 drubbing of the Birmingham Barons last Thursday, Jackson is averaging just 4.1 runs per game since the All-Star Break, and 2.8 if you remove that one offensive outburst. The team’s runs-per-game mark has declined consistently from their April high of 5.6 to just 4.3 in the month of June. We’ve talked in the past about how injuries really hamstrung the Generals in the First Half, but they may have to account for another form of adversity in July: fatigue.

The Generals have done 79 slightly variations of the same thing in different cities over the last three months. This thing they’ve been doing is, collectively, their favorite thing in the world (or a variation of it), and for the most part, they’ve done it quite well. But in doing it well, some of the teams around them who didn’t do well at first have now caught up, found some footholds. They’re hitting their stride while the Generals struggled – Jackson finished below .500 in June for the second straight month. So: How do you respond? How do you find a way to make sure you’re staying as ready as possible, mentally fresh and competitive on a daily basis? What alternatives can you find when something that was working suddenly no longer applies or suffices?

Take Josh Prince. He’s 30 years old, a former Milwaukee Brewer and 2014 Southern League All-Star. He batted .172 over his last eight games in the First Half, stealing only one base. He doesn’t quite have the speed of the player that swiped a league-high 37 bases in 2014, and he’s in a minor slump heading into the All-Star Break. At that age, having seen those heights, you might guess that motivation becomes difficult. And maybe it does, but you’ve discounted one thing: Guys who play for as long as Josh Prince have found all kinds of ways to motivate themselves and correct their missteps over the years.

Two weeks later, Josh Prince is the Generals’ hottest hitter. He carried the Generals’ offense on Sunday in a 4-3 victory over 11 innings, homering in the second inning and driving in the go-ahead run in the 11th. He’s batting .400 since the end of the All-Star Break, and he’s played all four corner positions and DH. In terms of letting your play do the talking, Prince is as good an example of tacking back in a positive direction as the Generals currently have. He was the only man to hit over .300 in June.

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Generals pitcher Kevin Ginkel threw 12.2 scoreless innings in June, beating Colin Poche’s mark that was set in April. (Photo credit: Mark Cunningham)

Of course, if you’re already doing well, the challenge becomes: What’s good enough? How long can I keep performing like this? How can I impress others (and myself, in some measure) again today? Enter Kevin Ginkel.

Back in April, the Generals were fortunate to have Colin Poche on their Opening Day roster. How good was Poche? He won the Southern League’s Relief Pitcher of the Month award (presented by BC Powder) after striking out 23 batters over 11.0 scoreless innings in his Double-A debut. Now with the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization, Poche is being called by some “the most unhittable arm in the minors.” But Kevin Ginkel, quiet as it’s kept, has already outpaced Poche’s stretch of 11.0 scoreless innings with Jackson, tossing 14.1 frames of run-free baseball through July 1 to begin his Double-A career. Ginkel got the win in Sunday’s victory over Birmingham, holding the Barons without a run in the 10th and 11th innings, both of which started (by rule) with a runner on second base. That’s pretty strong. Ginkel pitched 12.1 innings in 10 June relief appearances, both marks tying for the most on the staff. His 34% strikeout percentage doesn’t touch Poche’s just yet—at 60.4%, nobody else has come within 20 points of Poche—but it’s been a great boon to the Generals’ late-game efforts, especially with the offense struggling to score.

Ginkel’s a recent call-up from High-A. Prince was drafted the same year Ginkel had his 14th birthday. Young? Old? It’s irrelevant. Neither player has allowed fatigue to hamper a re-doubling of their efforts, continuing to prove they can do what the Generals’ coaching staff needs (and more). To shovel out of a 4-6 hole, Jackson will need more hands like those on the spades.

2,414 vs. 1: Ryan Atkinson’s stunning rise to 2018 Spring Training

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The 2016 MLB Draft spurred Ryan Atkinson to prove he could still pitch. Nineteen months later, he has a 2018 MLB Spring Training invitation in hand. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Two years ago, Ryan Atkinson wasn’t pitching. He was a patient services manager at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, moving on with post-mound life. Nineteen months later, the right-hander is trying to pull off an improbably fast rocket ride to the Major Leagues. As a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training, he has a shot to make the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2018 Opening Day roster.

Go back to the 2015 MLB Draft. 632 pitchers and 579 position players were selected, but of those 1,211 picks, only 11 have already made their Major League debuts. Baseball fans know some of those names: Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Paul de Jong, Dansby Swanson, and Ian Happ all came from the 2015 draft. There’s even a former General, 2016 Jackson hurler Andrew Moore, in that elite eleven.  To ascend quickly, you have to be special, and people usually know it. Those six were chosen in the top four rounds.

Ryan Atkinson, a 2015 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, was not among the 1,211 draftees in 2015. Nor was he one of the 1,214 draft choices in June 2016 (634 of whom were pitchers). He hadn’t thrown a baseball in the twelve months prior to the 2016 draft.

Atkinson signed with Arizona–undrafted in eighty rounds over two years–in 2016. He ranked 13th in Minor League Baseball in strikeouts in 2017.

How does that happen?

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Going Back-to-Back: Will Kevin Cron Be The Generals’ Second Straight Southern League MVP?

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Can you name the last time a Southern League franchise had their players win Most Valuable Player awards in consecutive seasons?

We’d forgive Kevin Cron (or any Southern League player, for that matter) if they didn’t know. It hasn’t happened in this millennium, and you can barely say that it’s happened in Cron’s lifetime. Cron was a year and a few months old when Pittsburgh prospect Mark Johnson won it with the Carolina Mudcats in 1994; Cron had turned two by the time future Pirates catcher Jason Kendall won it for the Mudcats in 1995. Back-to-back MVPs from the same franchise happened twice in the 1980s and twice in the 1990s, actually, but it hasn’t happened since. That’s a credit to the rising quality of development among the many farm systems that feed Major League Baseball.

Cron, the 24-year-old first baseman for the Jackson Generals, has a strong chance to bring home the award in 2017. But sportsfolk, as history has proven, can define the word “valuable” in a number of different ways, and that may rob Cron of the league’s highest individual recognition. “MegaCron”–as a Generals fan on social media has appreciatively characterized him–has been essential to Jackson’s successes this year, and we’ll give him some printed-word respect on this page, regardless of how the league ends up voting.

First, though, a look at his competition for MVP:

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Generals’ offense re-loads on the road

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Kelly Dugan spanked two home runs in the Generals’ first two road games at Montgomery. The Generals are 14-5 on the road this year. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

If you looked at the 24-19 Jackson Generals, your eyes would probably widen slightly in peeking at two stats in particular: comebacks, and home/road splits. The Generals, despite scoring the most runs of any team in the league (220), have not yet proven to be a team that rallies well.

Huh?

(Hang on, we’re getting there.)

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Homer-happy approach has Generals’ offense leading Southern League

 

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Rudy Flores went deep for the fourth time this year on Wednesday, helping the Generals beat Tennessee 2-0. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

The Jackson Generals reclaimed first place in the Southern League’s North Division on Wednesday, and they did it in familiar fashion. To begin, Kelly Dugan bopped a home run in the third inning off the scoreboard beyond right-center field. Four innings later, Rudy Flores whistled a shot down the right field line that cleared the wall by inches. They were the 24th and 25th solo homers that Jackson has propelled out of the park in their first 32 games, marking an even 40 blasts as a team in total.

There is a reason Baseball America’s first-month data says the Generals have the minor leagues’ premier offense so far: Jackson has hit the ball a long way, and they have done it a lot. You wouldn’t easily score 164 runs in 32 games without knowing how to dinger, and they do. Remember, the 2016 Mobile BayBears jacked a league-best 109 homers, and that team featured 10 position players who are now Generals.

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