Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday Stats Pack: Flowers, Stolen Bases, Bullpen, Sims

Unlike last season where I posted two separate entries, I'm going to try to do one Saturday Stats Pack with both major league and minor league notable stats. So, without too much stalling, here is this week's edition.

Tyler Flowers (By Editosaurus (Own work) [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons)
.344 wOBA

Over the last two seasons, only six catchers have stepped into the batter's box at least 350 times and have a better weighted on-base average than Tyler Flowers. They include the current elite of the elite (Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy), the young Willson Contreras, a career-year from Wilson Ramos, the impressive Yasmani Grandal, and a part-time backstop in Evan Gattis. This is a surprise for White Sox fans, who saw Flowers post a wOBA of almost a hundred points lower during nearly 1400 PA playing in the black-and-white. To put it in simple terms, Flowers is simply making better contact. While with the White Sox, 20% of the balls he hit were given a soft-contact classification. There is a correlation between a high Soft% and a lower BABIP. Unsurprisingly, Flowers' BABIP has surged since coming to the Braves as he's lowered his Soft% to 13.4%. Meanwhile, his Hard-Hit rate has climbed 12 points. No catcher since 2016 can match it. Sure, there do remain sample size concerns here, but Flowers is winning over doubters every week that he continues to produce.

82.4%

So far, the Braves are 14-for-17 in stolen bases - a success rate of 82.4%. This would be some kind of franchise record. Only once in franchise history have the Braves reached the 80% threshold. That came in 1941 when the Braves swiped 61-of-76, good for an 80.3% rate. The Braves' best rate since moving to Atlanta came in 2012 when the Michael Bourn-Jason Heyward-Martin Prado outfield helped the Braves steal a shade under 76% of their attempts. Last year, they only stole 69%, which is still nice, I hear.

62.2 Innings

For all of the vitriol the Braves bullpen has received - and sometimes deserves - Brian Snitker has relied on his relievers for the third-fewest innings of any bullpen in baseball. Compared to the Reds, the Braves have needed 35.1 fewer innings from their relievers. To be fair, though...part of that accomplishment is because Atlanta has played, along with a few other teams, the fewest games in baseball - though the Reds have played just two more. Atlanta's starters have thrown 123 innings, good for 23rd.

What Are We, Anyway?

After Roger McDowell was let go, I wondered if it would alter how the Braves tried to pitch. McDowell was a guy who stressed the importance of pitching low and getting grounders. So far, the Braves pitching staff doesn't seem to be doing anything at a rate that suggests any kind of philosophy. Their strikeout rate is fourth worst, their walk rate is 11th worst, and only six teams induce fewer grounders. Their HR/FB rate is in the middle of the pact. However...they do one thing that stands out. 22% of the balls that batters connect on are rated as softly hit. This may be due, in part, because only the Cubs have a worse fastball velocity than the Braves. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if anything substantial comes from a Chuck Hernandez-led pitching staff like the McDowell years.

Rick Briggs (CC by 2.0) via Flickr
Minor League Stats of Interest...Gwinnett - 2.3 BB/9

There's nothing too exciting about the walk rate above until you bring it into context. Since 2015, Lucas Sims' walks per nine innings have ranged from 5.2 and 5.9. Before that, he kept it around 3.5 BB/9 - which isn't great, but certainly something that can be worked around as a starting prospect. Early on this season, we have seen a possible return to the pre-2015 version of Sims. In 23.2 innings, Sims has walked just six. Sims has always had the stuff and typically carries a low H/9 as a result. Now, he's keeping batters off base, though the BABIP is artificially too low and will climb. The Sims of 2017 is no longer a top prospect. Outfield Fly Rule did a composite list of his rating according to Braves' top prospect lists and he landed #21 - a bit lower than my ranking of #18. However, if he continues to pitch like the top-flight prospect he once was, it's only a matter of time until he gets a shot to show what he has.

Mississippi - 38.4%

Travis Demeritte has routinely seen his prospect status hurt by his strikeout rate. It was 33% last season and 35% the season before. The offensive skills are intriguing, but the strikeouts are an issue. And, to be frank, a strikeout rate of 38.4% is very bad. The thing is...that rate is about 20% higher than Demeritte's, who has only struck out in 18% of his plate appearances this year. Instead, the 38.4% strikeout rate belongs to Connor Lien. The defensively minded outfielder became a bit of a prospect back in 2015 when he slashed .285/.347/.415 at high-A ball with a plethora of big defensive plays, but injuries limited him to just 64 games when he played at Double-A last season. So far this season, he's put a clinic on how not to reclaim your prospect status. Lien has hit four homers and stolen five bases - trends that could end with season stats that look rather solid. But at a near 40% strikeout rate (compared to a near 5% walk rate), he'll be in line for some problematic times.

Florida - 7.20 ERA, but Trending Up

Touki Toussaint is still a raw pitcher facing hitters that are older and more experienced than he is. He's trying to solve high-A ball for the first time and is still over a month away from turning 21. You might look at his 7.20 ERA and say "he's just not ready for the Florida State League." I, on the other hand, look at his K/BB rate and start to get excited. Like Lucas Sims, Toussaint's stuff is off the charts. In fact, his stuff is as good as anyone's in minor league baseball. What talent evaluators have doubts about are his ability to harness and control that stuff. He's been hit hard so far this season, but his 3.8 K/BB rate tells me he might be "getting it" a bit more. Consider that his career rate is 1.75 strikeouts per walk. Don't be discouraged if you see that ERA. Something good might just be happening here.

Rome - Waves Upon Waves

We've heard how John Coppolella and company want to build a farm system that will send prospects to the majors in waves. After last season's Rome pitching staff that included three former first round picks led the team to a league title, the next wave has landed in Rome and the South Atlantic League has turned into their playground. In 22 games, the staff has a 2.28 ERA. Starters Ian Anderson (1.93 ERA), Joey Wentz (2.70), and Bryse Wilson (2.55) were all plucked out of the first-thru-fourth rounds last year and each has been excellent. Relievers Thomas Burrows, Jon Kennedy, and Matt Custred each have ERAs under 1.00. As a staff, Rome has a K/9 of 9.7 per nine and have surrendered just four homers. It's early, but it looks like Rome will be a favorite to repeat in the South Atlantic League.

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