Sunday, March 15, 2009

Analysis of Kuo by BaseballHQ

The following was free content being sent to me as a sample by BaseballHQ, a roto advice service run by the Ron Shandler enterprises that creates his Baseball Forecaster annual, which is trying to drum up business, I suppose, in this declining economy, as they had never done this before.  I thought it would be OK to provide the below content while providing their link to subscribing to their service as a quid pro quo for posting their content here and previously:  

Kuo makes spring debut...
 Hong-Chih Kuo (LHP, LAD) pitched a scoreless inning in a "B" game on Monday, and could appear in an "A" game on Thursday. Kuo missed most of September and the NLDS last season due to elbow problems, and has been brought along slowly this spring. 

Kuo had his elbow operated on for the fourth time prior to last season, and he came back with some very impressive results. He bumped up both his ground ball rate and Dom, and made a significant improvement with his Ctl. Kuo held left-handers to a .202 average, and was equally effective against right-handers, who hit just .205 with 1 home run against him. Given his ongoing health issues, and last season's results, the move to the pen sure seems to be a wise one for the Dodgers. Manager Joe Torre has indicated that he would like to limit Kuo to no more than an inning per outing this season, in an effort to keep him healthy. It remains to be seen if Kuo's elbow can hold up, and if he can maintain his Ctl gains. Still, while last season's numbers will be tough to duplicate, Kuo should continue to be very effective when he's on the mound.

Giants Thoughts

This supports my contention that the D-gers would have a hard time duplicating what their bullpen did last season, which was an excellent performance overall, 3.34 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, though 3.2 BB/9 is barely bad, slightly over the 3.0 BB/9 you would want to see out of your pitchers.  They will need to replace:
  • Saito's 2.49 ERA:  even if Broxton is replacing him as closer, then you are taking Broxton's prior position as setup away, and I don't think he'll be making up in 2009 the 47.0 IP that Saito put up in 2008, as he put in 69 IP himself, and should not be in that many more games and innings pitched.  Right now, the choices are between washed up starters like Jeff Weaver or Claudio Vargas or unproven youngsters like James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Cory Wade, Ramon Troncoso or declining veteran relievers like Guillermo Moto and Yhency Brazoban.  Effective relievers like Saito, Joe Beimel, and Chan Ho Park are gone from the roster.
  • Joe Beimel's 2.02 ERA:  Even if he were signed back by the D-gers, he'll be 32 years old coming off his best season ever where he walked too many and struck out too little, while still giving up a hit an inning, not a recipe for repeating his 2.02 ERA, it seems like it was totally due to his fellow relievers picking it up after him and/or great luck in stranding runners that rarely repeat season to season (his FIP was 3.30, much like his 2007's 3.39 FIP, and similar stat rates).  His previous seasonal best was 2.96 ERA and at age 31 for last season, and 32 for 2009, he should not be duplicating his 2008 season unless he suddenly got better, meanwhile his walk rate went up in 2008 to an untenable 3.86 BB/9 (2.70 in 2006, 3.21 in 2007) while his K/9 was a barely tolerable 5.88 K/9.  Few pitchers survive long with that type of low K/9, but he's been doing it for 3 seasons now, by getting a lot of ground balls and not giving up much HRs the past two seasons.  His stats basically say he is a sinkerballer like ol' Moonman Minton, so he should still be good, but his past suggest 3.00 ERA good, not 2.00 ERA good.
  • Cory Wade's 2.27 ERA:  Must also have benefited like Beimel did.  His FIP was 3.78 in 2008.  His BABIP was a great .227 and unless he's a knuckle baller or crafty lefty, there are few pitchers who can keep their BABIP that low over a career, I am not even sure if any pitcher ever had that low a BABIP, as the league average is roughly .300 every season.  Those right there suggest that he's not repeating 2008's great ERA.  He is a good to great reliever, though, don't get me wrong, 1.9 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB are great for any pitcher to have, his only minus is his low 6.4 K/9 but that's still tolerable given his great walk rate.  The caveat there is that his walk rate looks nothing like what he did in the minors, he walked a whole lot more and somehow suddenly figured things out in 2008?  Does not seem likely on this angle either.  He does get a good number of GB%, leading to a 1.08 GB/FB ratio, which is good.  He also had some luck involved, his HR/FB ratio was only 9.2% when most pitchers regress to a 10.0% mean.
  • Ramon Troncoso's 4.26:  Now here is where the D-gers get some of it back.  He pitched much better than his ERA suggests, his FIP was a sterling 3.00.  He suffered bad luck with his BABIP that should help him in 2009 as he gives up less hits.  However, he managed a 9.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, which are both great for any pitcher, but which don't match the 6.8 K/9 and 5.3 K/9 or the 3.1 BB/9 and 4.7 BB/9 that he compiled in AA and AAA in 2007 and 2008.  Most pitchers don't raise their K/9 or drop their BB/9 when they rise to the majors, and even fewer do both.  So it is not like he's going to throw a low 2's ERA in 2009, and there are a number of danger signs that he could regress back to his minor's performance.
  • Chan Ho Park's 3.40:  No longer with the team as he found greener pastures (ungrateful pitcher took off when it was D-ger Stadium that makes him as good as he is:  2.18 ERA at home, 4.50 ERA on road; his new team will get a nasty surprise).  And at age 36 for 2009, was unlikely to repeat his performance in any case.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo's 2.14:  He looks like our Merkin Valdez.  He strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and is injured a lot.  Even in 2008, when he was healthy for the longest, he ended the year on the DL with elbow problems.  His high career K/9 clearly has costed him his health, and he doesn't know how to dial it down.  he also had a stupendous 2.4 BB/9 in 2008 while before, in the minors where it should be easier for him to do that, he struggled with his control with 2007's 3.6 BB/9 his best since 2005 (in only 20 IP), so his minor's performance suggest more that his walk total should be roughly double what he did in 2008.  He had a low FIP, though, 2.28, so he clearly has the skills to do it again.  What's not so clear is whether he has the health to do it again.  
As I noted previously, that's a lot of high quality innings that will need to get replaced just to duplicate what the D-gers did in 2008.  Unless they get a lot of great performances out of Weaver, Vargas, Moto, Brazoban, Elbert, McDonald, and other young prospects, that will mean that the D-gers will get a lesser performance out of their bullpen.  They are most probably going to have a downgrade in the rotation with the loss of Lowe with no likely replacement of that quality, they have a recovering Jason Schmidt and a last legs Shawn Estes in camp as possible replacements.  Wolf can be a slight upgrade over what Brad Penny and Greg Maddux did in 2008, but just to break even, they need Billingsley to deliver another 3.14 ERA, Kuroda 3.73 ERA, Kershaw 4.26 ERA.   

Billingsley looks likely to reduplicate what he did in 2007 and 2008, unless that off-season injury he had has any effects on his pitching.  However, Kuroda looks in danger of delivering a worse performance because his ERA his first time around the majors was 3.43 in the first half of the season, but then he had a 4.14 ERA in the second half.  The second half looks closer to reality as his BABIP in the first half was .260 while he second half BABIP was .316, high but not as severe as the first half's from the mean of .300.  Since it averaged out to a .284 BABIP overall, he will probably suffere some sort of regression to the mean that will push his ERA slightly higher.  

The key thing for him is that he did not get much advantage from pitching in D-ger Stadium, if he can figure that out, he can drop his ERA further.  I would also note a danger for injury, he only started 3 games, and horribly so, in June, pitched poorly in July, but was stellar in August and September.  And his FIP for the past two seasons were 4.02 and 3.35, so his ERA has been better than how he performed on his own, he has had some luck with relievers saving him.

Kershaw has many things going for him.  His BABIP was .323, so he should get better there.  His home ERA was 3.41 while his road was 5.36; still only 21 in 2009, he should only get better on the road, while upside at home is relatively limited.  He also improved as the season went on, 4.42 ERA first half, 4.17 ERA second half, in more starts too, 13 vs. 8.  He also greatly improved his walk rate as he got more comfortable.  He also ended with a great September, 5 starts (though only 28.2 IP, which is pretty bad, perhaps they were protecting his arm since this was his first season in majors), 3.45 ERA, first month with BABIP below .318 (.280).  Great K/BB ratios the last two months.

Still, it is demanding a lot out of your young pitcher to expect him to pick up for Lowe and deliver a low 3 ERA.   And foolhardy to project him to do so.  Most of the projections for him place him around 4.15-4.20 ERA for 2009.  I think that is conservatively projected, given his great last two months, I think around 4.00 ERA is doable for him, and it wouldn't surprise me if he went below 4.00 into the 3's.  However, that is only improvement enough to make up for Kuroda's probably drop in performance and Billingsley will find it hard to repeat his 2008, so at best, Kershaw's improvement will cancel out Kuroda's and Billingsley's possible regression to career means.

Randy Wolf looks to be a nice improvement over Penny and Maddux, I didn't realize that he was a better than average starter, so he could help pick up a portion of the loss of Lowe.  However, at age 32 for 2009 (33 in August), he is at risk for the downside of his career, that most pitchers encounter between age 32 and 36.  He's actually been in a decline since his stellar season in 2002 when he was only 25 years old.  He battled injuries in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, before his first healthy season in 2008.  

But when pitching, he has usually been in the 4.25 ERA range for the most part, though pretty bad in 2006 and 2007 as he battled injuries.  He also greatly benefited from home cooking as his ERA at home was 2.98 and on the road was 5.76.  The bad news there is that in 2007, he didn't take advantage of D-ger Stadium, with only a 4.60 ERA vs. a 4.95 ERA on road.  But elevated BABIP contributed to those numbers, probably because of his injury.  So I should have accounted for him more.

But to expect Schmidt and/or Estes to do better than Penny and Maddux is no sure thing.  Schmidt hasn't really pitched much in two seasons.  He is a huge question mark and has only been healthy enough for one start so far (the main expected starters have already gotten 3 each except for Wolf who has 2), where he gave up 3 runs in 2 IP, 2 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 HR.  Estes is an improvement most probably over Penny and Maddux but he's most probably not going to be that much better to make up for Lowe's loss.  Plus, he hasn't even gotten in one start so far, so he's just a backup plan for now, Vargas got the one start that the main starters didn't get.  And hasn't pitched well in relief, 10.13 ERA.  Wow, and Weaver didn't even pitch in 2008.

So, as I've been making my point, Ramirez is a great addition but is only offsetting the losses of Lowe in the rotation and reduced performance out of the bullpen.  He's an offensive improvement in LF and Blake an improvement at 3B, plus Furcal likely to improve SS.  There should also be an improvement in CF as well.  It will be a strong lineup.  But they had a pretty good lineup much of 2008 as well, particularly at the end with Blake and Ramirez, and their runs scored monthly were these:

Mar/Apr:  5.07 runs per game
May:  3.96 runs
June:  3.11 runs
July:  4.54 runs
August:  3.97 runs
Sept:  5.40 runs

They have the same basic lineup as they did in August/September where they averaged 4.63 runs, except for Furcal, and that's 750 runs in a season, which is an improvement over 2008's 700 runs scored.  If the D-gers can somehow get a 4.25 ERA from Lowe's replacement (hard to do since Wolf is that replacement most likely), that adds 24 runs to the runs allowed column. If the bullpen goes up 40 points in ERA, that's adding 22 runs for a total of 46 runs added to the runs allowed, and puts the D-gers at roughly 87 wins for 2009.  If Furcal can play for much of the season, that could push the team to 88 and 89 wins.  

But if Wolf cannot put in another healthy year, after 4 years of injury marred seasons, and Schmidt/Estes/Vargas cannot duplicate what the other starters did in 2008, then that would push the win total down.  Or taking another tack, combining Lowe with Penny, Maddux, and Stults, the D-gers need to replace 385 IP, or roughly two sturdy starters, that combined delivers a 4.21 ERA.  Wolf has only one season in the past four that was in that range, and the last time he basically had that ERA was in 2003.  Then the other replacement pitcher in the rotation needs to deliver roughly a 4.21 ERA, and for that the D-gers are hoping that Schmidt, Estes, or Vargas can deliver that (or Weaver if need be).  I don't think that'll be happening, and they will be lucky if Wolf puts in another healthy season after 4 seasons of missing a significant number of starts.

They are also depending on a 35 year old Blake to man 3B and while an improvement over DeWitt and and LaRoche, he might not be much of an improvement if he starts to decline.  This is the landmine age-range where it can all go away suddenly.  And he wasn't that good for them in 2008.

And even then, he greatly benefited from a .353 BABIP in pitcher's park D-ger Stadium, allowing him to hit .278/.324/.476/.800 there.  Dropping that to his career .301 BABIP, he loses 4 hits in LA, double and 3 singles, dropping his batting line there to .246/.286/.437/.723, which is not much higher than last year's 3B production of .245/.321/.376/.697, which are roughly the same, as the OBPxSLG for Blake is 0.125 and the OBPxSLG for 3B in 2008 was 0.121, or just 4% better production.

They are also hoping for Furcal to put in a relatively full season at SS.  He has had injuries the past two seasons, and was out for most of 2008 except for a few games he played at the end, where he didn't hit for much of anything.  At age 31, he could produce, but he's unlikely to play a full 150+ games again, I think at best he'll be like Durham for us, getting into 120-140 games a season, and since SS is a more stressful position on the body, he could do worse than what Durham did.  

In addition, his injury is not even close to Durham's chronic hamstring problems, he had a hernated disc operated on in his lower back.  Good news is that Vlad Guerrero recovered from his herniated disc and was healthy for the most part since, particularly with no back problems.  However, Vlad's back was healed through rest and re-hab, exercises strengthening his back for the future.  Furcal's was so bad that he had it operated on and he missed basically 5 months of the season, whereas Vlad only missed 46 days on the DL, so his injury was much more serious.  Perhaps a better comparison are Mark Kotsay, Eric Chavez and Joe Crede, who have missed many games the past two seasons due to back problems.  Kaz Matsui, a better comparison as he's a MI too, has missed 36-54 games in 3 of the past 5 seasons with back problems.

They are also hoping that Hudson will keep things even for them at 2B, offensively.  As I noted before, he's been health challeged previously, missing many games, and his wrecked wrist took away his power.  Plus, as I also noted before, he got most of his offensive boost in AZ from playing in their home stadium.  He will be in D-gers Stadium now, one of the worse pitchers parks in the majors.

All in all, that is a lot of hope built into the D-gers keeping their wins around 88.  I don't think it's happening.

1 comment:

  1. We shall see but, assuming that they stay relatively injury free (i.e. not losses for great portions of the season), the Dodgers will benefit from getting to play the entire season with this lineup against the teams of the NL Worst(West). They should have a decided advantage in those games.

    From the reports, it seems like they are leaning towards Schmidt, if he can stay we all know a big if. Estes & Vargas are non-factors. Don't be surprised if they opt for Pedro Martinez on an incentive-laden contract if Schmidt can't answer the bell. If they were smart, they'd go in this dorection anyway. Pedro was unimpressive last year coming back from surgery, but so far the reports are that he is gaining back some of his velocity and, more importantly, his movement.



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