Nats Get It Done, Ryan Zimmerman Extended Through 2020

Ryan-Zimmerman

With both sides willing to extend talks past an initial Saturday deadline, the Washington Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman agreed to a six-year deal on top of the two-years left he has on his existing contract. 

Ryan Zimmerman talked to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson moments ago. 

“It’s a relief,” Zimmerman told MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. “It’s a lot of stuff to work out. It’s a big commitment. Things like that don’t get done quickly. Both sides worked tirelessly to get this stuff done. Now, we don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

There are little other details available as of yet, but we will keep you up to date.

Prince-Fielder-Mariners-Question-Mark

Could Prince Fielder Be The Next Adam Dunn?

Following the 2008 season Adam Dunn was considered by many to be far-and-away the second best slugger on the free-agent market. Eventual New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira took the crown as the winter’s top jewel, but many viewed Dunn as the type of player worthy of a major $100+ contract. The only problem was that no team stepped up to the plate to give the home-run king the deal that he wanted, and very-well likely deserved. 

November rolled into December, and December rolled into January, and still Dunn went unsigned. The problem wasn’t that the 29-year-old’s talents weren’t appreciated, it was that after the Yankees had thrown down $180 million on Teixeira, there really just wasn’t enough interest among other teams in signing a slugger to that type of deal. Eventually in February, with spring training quickly approaching, Dunn decided to cut his losses and sign a two-year, $20 million contract with the Washington Nationals

Fast forward to today and again the consensus number two slugger on the free-agent market remains unsigned. Prince Fielder, like Dunn, is widely accepted as one of the game’s best hitters, but in this year’s free agency it simply seems there is just not much interest in his services. He’s been adamant about signing a deal close to the one that Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels, but Pujols had at least three teams bidding for his services, as far as we know, Fielder MIGHT have one. 

So here we sit in the middle of January, and Fielder may very well be finding himself in the very same position that Adam Dunn was in just four years ago. There is no question about the talents he could potentially supply, but the demand just isn’t there at all. While his agent Scott Boras insists that they plan to be patient in order to find the right deal for their player, every day that passes makes it more and more likely that Fielder will in fact not
sign a mega contract.

According to my research, if Fielder were to sign a $100+ million contract today, it would be the latest any player on the free-agent market signed such a deal with a new team. The latest such deal ever signed to date came when the New York Mets inked Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million deal on Jan. 5, 2005. While nothing is etched in stone, the fact that the major offseason contracts are usually signed before the new year does not bode well for Prince. 

Of course, those numbers make sense when you consider the fact that many in baseball wait to sign their free-agent deal until the top dog sets the market with a major deal. Common sense would dictate that when Pujols signed his $240 million mega-deal, it would raise the bar on the perceived value of Fielder, a slugger who is younger and close to as talented as the Angels new first baseman. It’s not often, however, that there are two players who play such a similar role, that demand so much in the same offseason. This is why Fielder and Dunn may hold the same fate.

One can’t help but notice the one other striking similarity between the two sluggers, their weight. MLB scouts would be lying to you if they said the reason Dunn struggled to get a long term deal in 2008 wasn’t because of worries about his longevity due to his frame. Fielder weighs roughly the same amount as Dunn, but is about eight inches shorter. To compound this issue, the Washington Nationals appear to be the biggest bidder for Fielder, and it clearly seems that his best value lies with a team that can also use him at the designated hitter. 

Why else would the Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Chicago Cubs be completely absent in pursuing Fielder when they were just a handshake away from giving Pujols over $200 million?

To Prince’s credit, he has a lot going for him that Dunn never did. First, he’s just 26, where Dunn was 29 when he was on the free-agent market. That is a major difference for players looking for a long-term deal because the 26-29 years are arguably most player’s most productive seasons. Fielder also is by far a better contact hitter over the course of his career, and strikes out far less than Dunn. 

Some have flirted with the idea of Prince agreeing to a three-year deal that would allow him to hit the free-agent market again when he is 29. Don’t be surprised to see this option quickly become a reality because as the days tick by, Fielder’s price will continue to drop more and more. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past Boras to attempt to land Fielder a one-year deal with the hopes of landing him a major deal next winter. 

Detwiler vs. Lannan: Battle for the Rotation

The Washington Nationals are experiencing a problem unique to their team’s history in DC.  They just have more capable pitchers than they have available starting rotation spots.

As we see it today, the Nationals have four locks for the starting rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Chien-Ming Wang.  Just yesterday MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reiterated that Wang will be part of the Nationals rotation.  That leaves just one spot for the battle of young lefties between Ross Detwiler and John Lannan.

Ross Detwiler’s story was one of the first I covered for The Nats Blog in September.  I was pretty sure that Detwiler’s time as a starter was over.  Bloggers have to be good at eating crow sometimes.  By the time the season ended, Detwiler post a 3.21 ERA in 10 starts with a 2.13 K/BB ratio and a 1.232 WHIP.  He is a former first round draft pick that is due for success as he moves through his mid-20s.  Last season, he pitched well against lefties, who posted just a .167 BAA and a sub-.300 OBP, and over 40% of balls put in play against all batters were grounders.

John Lannan is an unique starting pitcher as far as his history and value.  In 2010, he was the Nationals Opening Day starter and was demoted to Double-A Harrisburg in the same season.  He was also the Opening Day starter in 2009.  In 2011, Lannan looked more like the 2008 and 2009 versions of himself though, which bodes well for the Nationals going into the 2012 season.  Last season, he posted a 3.70 ERA and an outstanding 54.1% ground ball percentage.  However, his 4.28 FIP and 0.9 WAR leave much to be desired after a full season’s work.

When it comes down to it, the Nationals have to balance what they think they have in the short term versus what they will need in the long term.  Their depth at starting pitcher isn’t quite what it used to be after the Gio Gonzalez trade, and that will surely factor into the decision in several ways.

Lannan is 27, and Detwiler will be 26 going into next season, so that makes age a push.  However, as far as contract is concerned, Lannan is already arbitration eligible and will be a free agent after the 2013 season, while the Nationals won’t face arbitration with Detwiler until after next season, and he is under club control through 2015.  Detwiler is also a former first round draftee while Lannan is an eleventh round pick.  This point won’t be lost on the front office.

Perhaps the most important piece to differentiate between the two players is trade value.  Lannan’s track record of back-end-of-the-rotation type numbers will be valuable to many teams that are looking for a proven starter.  He won’t ever pan out to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he’s already proven in three of the last four years to be more than capable to handle 180+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA to help a team in a playoff push.  Lots of teams would trade high value talent for that.  Detwiler, on the other hand, hasn’t shown much but injury in his brief MLB history until this past September.  That could work in the Nats favor if they believe that Detwiler will continue on his September track rather than revert to the less successful version of himself.

Unfortunately, the Nationals don’t have much time left to make this decision.  On Opening Day this April 5th, one of these two will have a rotation spot, while the other will likely be elsewhere. Detwiler is out of minor league options, and Lannan should make around $4 million due to arbitration.  It’s a decision that is likely to play itself out in Spring Training unless Mike Rizzo pulls the trigger on a trade before then.  I’d keep my eyes peeled for that trade.

Why Adam LaRoche Will Be the Nationals First Baseman

After a disappointing 2010 season for the Washington Nationals, general manager Mike Rizzo allowed first baseman Adam Dunn to enter free agency to the dismay of many fans.  With this loss, Washington began their search for another starting first baseman, their fifth in six seasons.  On January 4th, 2011, Peter Gammons of MLB Network was the first to report via Twitter that the search was over.  The Nationals had agreed to terms on a two-year deal with former Arizona Diamondbacks 1B Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche, 30 years old at the time, had proven himself to be the consistent first baseman that the Nationals needed, both offensively and defensively.  In seven seasons with four different teams leading into 2011, he had accumulated six straight 20+ homerun and 78+ RBI seasons along with a career slash line of .271/.339/.488.  Defensively, LaRoche had never made more than 11 errors in a season leading to an excellent .994 career fielding percentage at first base.  In addition to these already reliable stats, he established a reputation for a strong resistance to injury by playing no less than 136 games a season, excluding his rookie year.

Given this history, fans had high expectation for LaRoche entering the 2011 season. Unfortunately, history didn’t repeat itself for the seventh time.  In spring training, he was diagnosed with a slight labrum tear in his left shoulder after feeling discomfort, but despite this news, he continued to play into the regular season.  After 43 games, during which he collected a dismal .172/.288/.258 slash line, William Ladson of MLB.com reported that the Nationals were leaning towards placing LaRoche on the 15-day disabled list while searching for a second opinion on the labrum tear.  Soon after, former MASN reporter Ben Goessling announced that LaRoche would undergo season ending shoulder surgery based on a second opinion.

This opening left the starting first base position open for Michael Morse, a utility player who began the season platooning in left field with Roger Bernadina after a breakout spring training.  Morse capitalized on this opportunity leading the team with 31 home runs, 95 RBIs and an outstanding .303 batting average in 146 games.  In addition, he collected only 6 errors in 82 starts at first base.  This great all around play led him to be the only Nationals player in 2011 to receive NL MVP votes.

Morse and rookie Chris Marrero split first base duties at the end of the season, putting the year left on Adam LaRoche’s contract out of the minds of some in the Nationals’ fan base.  Rumors swirled that Washington was looking to acquire a big name first base free agent such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, because Morse could easily play left field.  As excitement spread among the fans and reporters, it seemed more and more that the Nationals were going to surprise the league for the second year in a row with a big name signing despite the fact that LaRoche would be a $9 million bench player with no position flexibility.

In early December, most of this excitement was dampened with reports that the Nationals were not interested in either Pujols or Fielder.  Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post posted on Twitter, “Nats source on Fielder/Pujols talk: “That’s not even a good lie.” Can we put that to bed now?”  A short time after that, Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with no reported pursuit by the Nationals.

With Fielder still on the market and rumors still flying, Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo was asked bluntly in a conference call on Friday if Adam LaRoche would be Washingon’s first baseman for 2012.  According to Amanda Comak of the Washington Times, he responded with a straightforward “That’s correct.”  This finally put to bed most of the rumors that the Nationals were in the market for a star first baseman and confirmed that LaRoche would be Washington’s 2012 first baseman.

Despite the statement made by Mike Rizzo, some optimistic fans that do not want to see a repeat performance from LaRoche still believe and are spreading news that the Nationals are possibly silently bidding for Fielder.  Players are also campaigning to the front office for the star first baseman.  New Nationals SP Gio Gonzalez on Christmas Eve tweeted, “Now that we are in the Nations Capital, we need a Prince. Come on Fielder.” Two days earlier, the Nationals’ number one prospect Bryce Harper tweeted, “Now all we need to do is get Prince!hah,” after the trade to acquire Gio.

Only time will tell what the Nationals officially decide. For the time being, Adam LaRoche is the Washington Nationals’ 2012 starting first baseman.

Nationals Win in Gio Gonzalez Trade

As Ted already covered this morning, the wait to see who the Washington Nationals’ first big signing would be ended on Thursday afternoon, as they acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics.

We’ve already covered the base level stats several times, so we won’t do much but remind you. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Gonzalez threw more than 400 innings, posted a 3.17 ERA in the American League, and went 31-21 when the A’s didn’t break the .500 mark.  It’s not a small feat.

We’ve covered the more pessimistic view of the signing, and it’s worth pointing out that the Nationals did lose some extremely valuable prospects in this trade.  Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone showed real promise in their September call up opportunities, Derek Norris still had time to become a premiere offensive catcher, and A.J. Cole had perhaps the highest ceiling of them all at just 19 years old.

At some point, though, a baseball team has to make tough decisions get to the next step.  A deep farm system and talented prospects are great, but the fact remains that prospects are prospects.  They aren’t proven major leaguers, and there is no guarantee that they will meet their projections.  Of the 3 pitchers the Nationals lost, only A.J. Cole projected to be a #3 or better in a starting rotation, and he is young enough that a lot can change in the future, both positive and negative.  Peacock was always projected to be a #4 or #5; Milone would be a #5 at best.

In return, the Nationals didn’t get in ace, but they already have that: Stephen Strasburg.  They got an extremely solid, young (26), left-handed, middle of the rotation pitcher to accompany Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann for at least the next 4 seasons.  Gonzalez isn’t arbitration eligible until after this coming season and will be under club control until after the 2015 season.  This is the type of move a team makes to push them to the next level.

Looking at the 2012 season, it’s hard to argue that the Nationals pitching rotation isn’t better now than it was.  The rotation will look something like Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan.  This lines up all of the pitchers favorably against almost all competition in baseball.  What organization wouldn’t want Jordan Zimmermann facing other #3s?  And finally, John Lannan will face competition that is closer to his skill level to show what Nats fans have seen glimpses of in the last 2 seasons.  This impressive rotation, as it stands today with Gonzalez in the #2 or #3 slot, competes with every rotation in the National League.

Gonzalez’s value can’t be understated in terms of wins either.  In each of the last 2 seasons, he provided 3.2 (2010) and 3.5 (2011) WAR, which would have been the best WAR among Nationals starters in each of those seasons.  As the stats go for players that pitched the whole season, Gonzalez is a vast improvement compared to what was in the system and major league ready.  He has also been durable the last two seasons, throwing more than 200 innings each year.

Sure, his just over 4 BB/9 is a bit concerning, but there is no saying that it can’t be resolved.  The Nationals have access to the magic that is Steve McCatty, one of the most talented pitching coaches in baseball.  Cat has built the Nats pitching staff into something impressive, and it even looked like he got through to Henry Rodriguez at the end of the 2011 season to resolve some of his command issues.

Gonzalez’s issues with walks have drawn many comparisons to the now-defunked starting LHP Oliver Perez.  However, this is an unfair comparison in many ways.  While their BB/9 were both less than ideal, Perez never showed some of the promise that Gonzalez has already shown, except for one season (2004).  Gonzalez has already thrown more than 200 innings twice, Perez never reached that mark in 9 MLB seasons.  Gonzalez had a sub-4 FIP the last 2 seasons, Perez had just one sub-4 FIP season (2004).  About 48% of balls in play are on the ground for Gonzalez, while Perez induced grounders at less than a 33% clip with more HR/9 and a similar BABIP.  I could go on.  It is not fair to take one stat, walks, and make these sort of blanket comparison with a failed MLB starter.

The prospect loss hurts in the short term, but the Nationals did get two highly sought after draft picks in the 2011 draft, Matt Purke and Alex Meyer.  They should provide some depth down the road when Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez all reach free agency in case the team is unable to re-sign one of these young pitchers, or if Purke or Meyer jump to the top of prospect lists before then, they can add to an already impressive rotation.

For these and many more reasons, Gio Gonzalez will be a valuable piece for the next several years as the team competes for its first playoff appearance and pennant.  The initial shock to the farm system will be noticeable, but Mike Rizzo has proven he is more than capable of stocking a farm system in fairly short order either to use as trade bait or to make an impact to the major league roster.  Before directing too much ire toward the Front Office, remember, NatsTown has been clamoring for the team to compete now, and Rizzo has helped the team do that with this move.  You can’t ask for much more.

Did the Nationals Lose Too Much for Gio Gonzalez?

The Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics are finalizing a four for one deal that would send Gio Gonzalez to the Nats in exchange for right-handers Brad Peacock and AJ Cole, lefty Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris.

Having spent his entire four-year career with the A’s, Gonzalez had a breakout season in 2010 and continued his success in 2011 compiling a 31-21 W-L record with a 3.17 ERA in those two years. Not bad if you’re looking for a solid #3 starter like the Nationals were, but considering Washington gave up three of the organizations top ten prospects, it’s only appropriate to dig deeper and see if GM Mike Rizzo’s risk is worth the reward.

The scouting report on Gonzalez is that he has a fastball in the low nineties with a solid change up and wicked curveball, but like most pitchers with strong curves, control is a big issue with the newly acquired left-hander. In 2010 Gonzalez issued 92 walks only to lead all of baseball with 91 walks in 2011, that’s a 4.1 BB/9 ratio. This immediately raises a red flag to me, as it should to any Nationals fan. There is nothing worse than giving away free runs by issuing walks that ultimately could ruin your confidence and make the defense behind you lazy.

Washington gave up talent that could have greatly benefited them long-term, which is a clear message that the future is now for the Nats. So let’s take a look at the players that Oakland got in return.

Brad Peacock had an impressive showing with the Nats in September with a nice fastball and knuckle curve as well as a developing changeup. Scouts say that he may be ready to be a full time major leaguer as soon as this year and will be a solid #3 or #4 starter.

A.J. Cole is arguably the most difficult prospect to gauge because he is the youngest of the four headed to Oakland. The tall and lanky right-hander is said to have poise on the mound with a great fastball and a developing changeup and slurve. Cole also has the most upside out of the bunch and is said to be about four years away from being major league ready.

Tommy Milone, like Peacock, made the most of his September call up as Washington won all five of the games he started. This left-hander is usually very accurate and pounds the zone with terrific command of his fastball, cutter, curveball and arguably his best pitch, the change up.

Most Washington fans are familiar with Derek Norris, who just couldn’t seem to catch a break in the Nationals organization. Norris fought for time with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores as the three vied for the title of “catcher of the future” with Ramos coming out on top in the end. At this point Norris really had no place with the Nationals and will have a great opportunity to revive his career with the Athletics. A power hitter who doesn’t hit for average is a tough combination for a catcher, especially for one who has a history of injuries. The ninth ranked player in the Nationals system has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy.

Overall, the deal is a big risk for both teams. For the first time in franchise history the Nationals are not building for the future but are finalizing a roster to win now, while the Athletics are doing the opposite collecting as much young talent as they can trying to contend with the idea of relocating to the Santa Clara area with a new stadium.

Essentially the Nationals gave away three tremendous young pitchers and a catcher with a huge upside for a guy whose only “proven” himself to be a solid #3 starter (at best) with control issues…hate to say it, but Gonzalez sounds like the second coming of Oliver Perez. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a risk I’d be willing to take. In my mind, Peacock would have done an admirable job as the fourth or fifth starter with someone like John Lannan, Jason Marquis or Livan Hernandez filling in the other voids. I can’t see Gonzalez being a consistent 13-15 game winner for the next five or so years, but then again I guess the only way we are truly going to be able to grade this swap is when the four Oakland prospects are fully developed, a process which could take up to five or six years. Only time will tell.

What do you guys think? Did Rizzo make the right call?  If you disagree, Joe will be along later this morning with a more optimistic view of the Gonzalez trade.

Report: Nationals Sign Mark DeRosa

The Washington Nationals have added to their veteran depth today by signing veteran INF Mark DeRosa, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  The team also added to its veteran presence by signing OF Mike Cameron to a minor league deal earlier this week.

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports yesterday, DeRosa’s deal will be a one-year, major league deal, so DeRosa will join the big club to start the 2012 campaign.  DeRosa could potentially play a number of roles.  Much of this depends on the health of 1B Adam LaRoche.  DeRosa could play the utility infielder role that Brian Bixler played with the team last season, which is what Rosenthal predicts.  The bulk of his time could be spent at first base if LaRoche’s health is still in question, however.

In his 14 season MLB career, DeRosa hit .272 with a .757 OPS.  He has battled injury in recent seasons, but as recently as 2008, DeRosa put up a .285/.376/.481 slash line.  He also played every position on the field that season, except for pitcher and catcher.  The value of that type of player is significant for a team building around young talent.  While it’s hard to see DeRosa going back to 2008 numbers when he’ll be 37 to start the season, he could be a valuable piece off the bench to give the Nats a jolt in the dog days of summer.  His versatility will be extremely valuable.

DeRosa joins the, the nearly 39 year old Mike Cameron at the base of the Nationals “veteran movement” this offseason.  The Nats have no shortage of young talent, and this push by GM Mike Rizzo for one-year veteran deals could be simply to add depth, but it could also be to add veteran voices to that of RF Jayson Werth with the likely loss of SP Livan Hernandez and C Pudge Rodriguez to free agency.  Here’s hoping that these signings turn out better than the Matt Stairs signing did last year.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 4

In this week’s Nats Talk On The Go podcast, The Nats Blog’s Joe Drugan and Capitol Baseball‘s Craig MacHenry talk about the Washington Nationals. The podcast is available on iTunes and available for streaming.

Contents

Nats Headlines:

Gio Gonzalez

Roy Oswalt

Mike Cameron

Minor Leaguers (Carlos Rivero)

Question of the Week: Would you rather get Gio Gonzalez in a 4-to-1 trade or Roy Oswalt for a 1-year deal?

Contest: Listen for details!

OUTTAKES and BLOOPERS (just a few of many)

Update on Gio Gonzalez; Roy Oswalt’s Market Increases

The Washington Nationals appear to be serious in their search for a young left handed starter, at least according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.  Rosenthal tweeted yesterday that the Nats were proposing a 4-for-1 trade with the Oakland Athletics for LHP Gio Gonzalez.

We discussed this transaction a bit at the end of last week when the story first broke, but it does seem like the team is a bit more serious than many expected at that time.  As part of this package, one of two young Nationals pitching prospects would likely need to be moved in the deal, RHP Brad Peacock or LHP Ross Detwiler.  

In my opinion, Ross Detwiler won’t be enough of a “major piece” in the deal.  Detwiler was a first round pick in the 2007 draft, but his career has been mired by injuries and lackluster performances.  In 2011, he finally showed some signs of improvement, but it would still be a huge gamble for the A’s to lose someone like Gonzalez.  In contrast, while Peacock is less experienced, he doesn’t have the negatives on his record like Detwiler does with injuries and less-than-stellar MLB stats.  I would much rather send Detwiler than Peacock in a deal like this.

In other pitching news, free agent LHP Roy Oswalt said he would consider a one-year contract, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick.  Oswalt was previously looking for a three-year deal.  This will surely make the Nats front office take another look at the 34-year-old lefty.  This could prove to be an interesting option for the Nationals, as they could pay for a one-year deal with a veteran to eat some innings until the trade market or free agency improve for lefty starters.

vlad

Offseason Read: Barry Bonds’ “Good Eye”

Last week I wrote an article about where the strike zone actually is for pitchers. Based on research by Baseball Prospectus I concluded that the strike zone is determined partially by the rules and partially by the pitcher. I wrote:

“Pitchers face something more complicated than a static box determined by the plate and the height of the batter. If a pitcher can hit the catcher’s glove with little error and do so in or “near enough” to the strike zone, he will get a strike. If he is inconsistent he loses the “near enough” region and possibly even parts of the strike zone if he is too wild. In effect, an inconsistent pitcher faces a much smaller strike zone.”

livan_and_felix

From Baseball Prospectus

Note how much  tighter Felix Hernandez’s zone is. This is ostensibly because his pitches are “all over the place”, meaning he is “inconsistent”.

I also noted that there seemed to be an increasing preference toward pitchers over the past three seasons.

averagestrike

The numbers on the y-axis can roughly be thought of as “the percentage of all strikes that were actually balls.” Using plate discipline data from FanGraphs (provided by Baseball Info Solutions), the outcome of every pitch (in the zone hit, out of the zone taken, etc) can be obtained. After doing so, it becomes clear that the number of pitches in the zone or out of the zone and swung at (i.e. strikes) by each pitcher is almost always different from the number of strikes actually recorded by the pitcher. This difference is what I refer to as the “strike deficit.”

The strike deficit has been increasing over time, as in more pitches outside the zone have been called strikes. Is this because umpires are systematically favoring pitchers or because pitchers are becoming more consistent? I don’t have anything to add to this right now, though I suspect someone else already has it figured out.

The strike zone for a batter

It seems unsurprising that hitters also influence the strike zone. Anyone who’s played baseball knows this. Even in high school and youth baseball umpires seem more deferential to power hitters and indifferent to everyone else. It seems like the same trend plays out in the MLB.

hitters

The chart on the left illustrates the magnitude of benefit hitters have received from umpires. Those ludicrously tall bars on the right of that chart are Barry Bonds who was so good from 2002-2004 that his balls, too, were strikes. The fellows getting screwed on the left are, inexplicably, several 2007 Angels.

The chart on the right illustrates the spread of the strike deficit. First, it looks pretty “normal” as in following a normal distribution. The position of each player, however, is not random.

ump_bias

Here are all qualified hitters from 2002-2011 partitioned by the percent of strike deficit. The top 5% of hitters who benefitted the most from “ump bias” are clearly better hitters than the bottom 5%. I am guessing their hitting skills preceded their tightening strike zones.

Barry Bonds’s “Good Eye”

In 2002-2004 Barry Bonds had the three highest walk percentages of all time. In 2004 he walked 37.6% of the time he came to the plate. That year 21% of his strikes were actually balls. In 2002 and 2003 that number was 12%. These are by far the highest numbers of all time.

The rest of the top ten seasons are from hitters you would be hard-pressed to describe as “Ray Mendoza.”

To see the effect of the strike zone hitters such as this enjoy, observe Albert Pujols’ 2008 zone:

pujols

And note the large number of balls called low, inside-and-low in particular, and that one straight down the middle of the plate. There are also very few strike outside the zone.

Bad hitters

For some reason, of the eight hitters to get screwed the worst from 2002-2011, four of them are Angels and all of them are from 2007.

top_losers

I really have no idea why this is the case. The Angels might be there because they faced particularly good catchers and/or pitchers, as most of the Angels players experienced a decrease in strike deficit that season.

As for why 2007 was so bad, I’m not really sure. 2007 seems to have been a pretty neutral year for hitters overall, so maybe somebody had severe issues with Reggie Willits.

What’s going on?

Hitters, too, can influence the strike zone.  The hitters getting screwed are bad and the ones getting helped are good.

But these are general trends, not rules. There are many power hitters and many contact hitters not being influenced one way or the other. I have also not disentangled the effect of the catchers or pitchers they face.

But it does seem likely that very good hitters get a level of “respect” that overrides the pitcher’s influence. For everyone else, they seem to be at the will of the pitcher. Or at least that’s my best guess