Baseball HQ Facts/Flukes: Zimmermann, Kubel, Minor, Pence, McDonald

by BaseballHQ.com on February 26, 2013 @ 12:23:58 PDT

 

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By Brent Hershey

Zimmermann: Under-the-radar ace? … As long as he's on the same team as a healthy Stephen Strasburg (RHP, WAS), Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, WAS) is not likely to be called an "ace." But let the numbers since his Tommy John surgery in 2010 make their case:

Year    IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  H%  S%    G/L/F   BPV
====   ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ==  ==  ========  ===
2011   161  3.18  3.75  1.7  6.9  4.0  30  74  39/19/42   95
2012   196  2.94  3.78  2.0  7.0  3.6  30  78  43/23/33   94

Among the arguments:

  • San Francisco Giants OF Hunter Pence
    Pence, Bay Area don't agree?
    Zimmermann is still just 26 years old; he's still a year or two from his prime.
  • He's shown excellent base skills from the start, and has maintained his Ctl/Dom numbers throughout his 58 post-surgery starts.
  • His G/L/F tilted toward a ground-ball profile, especially over the first half of 2012 (50%).
  • He's done it with a bit of S% fortune, but nothing extravagant.
  • Back-to-back mid-90s BPV seasons attest to his broad skill set.

To be fair, his ERA the past two seasons was at least a half-run better than it should have been. But at his age and experience, a step up in xERA would not be a surprise. He won't be cheap once he wins 15 or so games, but Zimmerman's a current low risk/high reward pick.

Kubel becomes a power force … It appears Jason Kubel (OF, ARI) likes Arizona. Whether is was mainly the ballpark switch -- Chase Field just might be Target Field's polar opposite -- a blossoming skill set, or something else, the question is: Can it be repeated?

Year      AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  h%    G/L/F    PX  hr/f  HR
====     ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ==  ========  ===  ====  ==
2009     514  .300  .292   10   79  33  39/20/42  151   16%  28
2010     518  .249  .256   10   78  28  38/19/43  117   12%  21
2011     366  .273  .250    8   77  33  35/21/43  117   10%  12
2012     506  .253  .265   10   70  30  33/23/44  176   19%  30

There are enough holes in this profile to make us skeptical:

  • Though the overall HR spike was impressive, Kubel's Headley-like second half (19 HR on 26% hr/f) seems more like a fluke.
  • When Kubel approached 30 HR before in 2009, his contact rate yielded a much higher xBA. Since then, xBA says about .270 is the best one can hope for.
  • He still has trouble with lefties (.736 OPS).

The mix of a poor contact rate, strong FB% and the near-doubling of hr/f seems to indicate that although Kubel may have some value hitting home runs, his thirties will be filled with quite a bit of all-or-nothing swings. With a contact rate this low, getting to 30 HR again will be a chore. Except his power to flatten out in 2013.

What of Minor's second half?  … Mike Minor (LHP, ATL) has endured several ups and downs in his young career, but has always thrown strikes. When that skill improved in the second half of 2012, things really began to get interesting:

Year    IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  H%  S%    G/L/F   hr/f  BPV
====   ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ==  ==  ========  ====  ===
2010    41  5.98  4.09  2.4  9.5  3.9  40  64  35/17/48   10%  119
2011    83  4.14  3.82  3.3  8.4  2.6  36  73  37/27/35    8%   78
2012   179  4.12  4.18  2.8  7.3  2.6  26  69  35/21/44   12%   68
------------------------------------------------------------------
12-2H   94  2.21  3.68  1.7  7.0  4.1  22  79  36/22/43    7%   93

At 25 years old, Minor finally has a stable rotation spot and seems to have the skills to impress in 2013, though he's still got a couple demons to conquer:

  • His xERA has consistently been right around 4.00, but it improved to 3.68 over his 15 starts in 2012's second half.
  • Minor has always had good Ctl, but he gave up just 18 walks in those 15 starts after July 1, and maintained most of his Dom. His 2H Cmd was fantastic.
  • His fortunate 22% hit rate in the second half is responsible for his 2.21 ERA. He has almost no chance of repeating that level.
  • Minor's GLF profile shows that he gets hit fairly hard (LD%) and that he's likely to always be a HR risk (FB%).

Though Minor has little control over things like hit rate, his continued ability to limit walks and register strikeouts have him heading in the right direction. A fairly safe young arm with some upside.

Pence's value takes a dive  … Though he's now a World Champion, Hunter Pence (OF, SF) had a rough two months in San Francisco (.671 OPS). At age 29, seems like he's overdue to for a skills growth spurt:

Year    AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  h%    G/L/F    PX  hr/f  Spd  SBO  HR/SB
====   ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ==  ========  ===  ====  ===  ===  =====
2008   595  .269  .273    6   79  30  52/14/34  126   15%  120  15%  25/11
2009   585  .282  .280    9   81  31  53/15/33  112   16%  128  15%  25/14
2010   614  .282  .284    6   83  31  53/15/32  112   15%  116  17%  25/18
2011   606  .314  .282    8   80  37  51/18/31  129   15%  124   6%  22/ 8
2012   617  .253  .254    8   76  29  51/17/32  110   16%  111   4%  24/ 5

While mid-20s HR look like a lock, there are reasons to think the next step might not come this season:

  • Consistency is usually praised, but when he's partway through his prime seasons and his GB rate hasn't moved south of 50%, this just might be all that there is.
  • A two-year dive in ct% has affected his BA and xBA. Hit rate was in line with his history, so he'll need to regain that contact rate to return to a BA level that helps, not hurts.
  • He's clearly running a lot less, and though his Spd still tallies above average, predicting another double-digit SB season is a dubious exercise.

The pluses for Pence are a strong history of hr/f and his durability (154 games played in 2011 is his career low). But with 2011 as the BA outlier, and declining contact and SBO, it doesn't appear as this is the season Pence peaks.

Which McDonald shows up? … James McDonald (RHP, PIT) made owners look very good in 2012 -- at least until July. The starter was on a breakout pace until the Second Half Wall hit, and hard:

Year    IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  hr/9    G/L/F   hr/f  BPV
====   ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  ====  ===
2010    72  4.02  4.16  3.6  8.5  2.3   0.5  30/23/46    4%   63
2011   171  4.21  4.43  4.1  7.5  1.8   1.3  39/19/42   11%   41
2012   171  4.21  4.16  3.6  7.9  2.2   1.1  39/21/39   11%   62
----------------------------------------------------------------
12-1H   96  2.44  3.59  2.4  8.1  3.3   0.6  38/21/42    6%   95
12-2H   75  6.48  4.94  5.2  7.8  1.5   1.8  40/22/38   18%   19

While McDonald's year-over-year profile looks stable, his 2012 splits showcase both his upside and downside as we head into 2013:

  • In the first half, he made substantial strides in improving his Ctl. While xERA shows he wasn't a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher (credit a 25% H%), a 95 BPV over that span says that the goods are in place for an impact starter.
  • But a second-half walkfest and some bad fortune (64% S%, 18% hr/f) conspired to pull down fantasy teams that hung on, hoping it was just a bad stretch. The stretch turned out to be three months long.
  • In the second half, the good news is he maintained his Dom and his xERA said he didn't pitch as bad as it seemed. The bad news: He cannot be useful walking more than 5 batters per nine innings.

The key to McDonald's 2013 season looks like his walk rate. With two consecutive 30-start seasons under his belt, the 28-year-old has the experience and the skills base to take the next step up. We've seen the ceiling, but the Ctl has to cooperate.

For definitions and benchmarks of BaseballHQ.com's most-used terms, see our Glossary Primer.

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