Telltale Signs of a Bounceback
@Phrontiersman What things should we look for in the first month of the season which would indicate a certain player will rebound or crash?
— Waiting For Cano (@AntsInWA) January 5, 2013
I took to the internet to try and cure my brain’s writing logjam – lazy, I know, but I’d run out of patience – and, thanks to Anthony, now finally have something for you.
In many ways, the 2012-13 offseason has been the antithesis of what we’ve come to know as a “typical” Ruben Amaro offseason. Starting in ’08-09 and in each of the subsequent winters, RAJ has managed to land at least one big name (and many, many zeroes to the ledger), up until this one. Now, this winter isn’t over, so time remains for the usual craziness to occur, but it seems safe to assume that the roster as currently constructed is the one most likely to take the field at the start of the 2013 season.
It’s a roster filled with players looking to bounce back from disappointing or sub-standard seasons; a collection of risks and gambles. Roy Halladay is well into his 30s and had shoulder issues in 2012. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are looking to get back to playing full seasons. Michael Young was one of the least valuable players in the league in 2012, and Mike Adams needed offseason surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome after posting good-but-below-usual levels of production last year.
What, then, can we look for to be potential indicators of what kind of season each is going to have? Can we get an idea in April and early May of just what we might get from each of these players? Let’s wonder together.
On May 14, Halladay will turn 36. A right lat muscle injury cost him a large chunk of his age-35 season and likely had a direct effect on what he didn’t miss. His 4.49 ERA was his worst since setting the modern record for worst ERA in 2000 (since broken by Brian Matusz), his HR/9 crested 1.0 for the first time since that same fateful season and his BB/9 was his highest since 2004. Some deeper peripherals (whiff rate, for one) were unchanged or at levels similar to previous years. The numbers everyone will have their eyes on come April, though, are the ones produced by the radar gun. Doc’s fastball averaged 90.3 MPH last year, according to ESPN’s TruMedia, down from 91.6 in 2011 and 92.1 in 2010.
Notice the graph to the right, specifically the top line and x-axis. As Doc’s fastball was faster in 2012, batters made less contact. Makes sense, right? The bottom two lines are interesting in shape – a higher in-play average at 91.5 or so than 90 is a bit curious – but not much more.
Now, if there’s a pitcher in the league whose stuff, when right, can play at almost any velocity, there’s a good chance it’s Roy Halladay. A permanent drop in velocity, while obviously far from ideal, isn’t as potentially destructive for a pitcher with stuff that moves like Halladay’s as it would be for, say, Joe Blanton. Still, if Halladay’s four-seamer is back to averaging 91-92 in his first handful of starts, that would go a long way to assuaging fears of lingering shoulder damage.
Adams confessed during his introductory press conference that his dealings with thoracic outlet syndrome led to altered mechanics and persistent pain. Knowing that, Adams’s 2012 regressions gain context. For years, Adams was one of the game’s elite relievers. He was helped by Petco, but pitching half a season in the A.L. in 2011 with Arlington as his home park, Adams maintained a high level of production outside of an understandably spiked HR rate.
Above, we see a graphical representation of Adams’s altered delivery. Really, he’s been a near-constant work in progress, but this chart shows how Adams shifted back more toward a three-quarter release than sidearm.
If the surgery was truly a success and Adams is feeling no ill effects from the TOS that caused this, fans should expect him to be averaging back above 93 MPH with his fastball from a more sidearm-oriented release point.
One of the most polarizing figures in baseball (at least as far as my type is concerned), Young inherits third base from Placido Polanco and a cast of characters after posting a rather sour .277/.312/.370 line in 651 plate appearances last season, most of them as the DH. Young has spent 557 innings across 64 starts in the field at third base since the start of 2011, but as the club showed when it signed Polanco to play third despite not having logged 100 innings there in a season in the six seasons prior to his inking before the 2010 season, that doesn’t seem to be an overarching concern.
It’s worth noting that Phillies primary third basemen have slugged above .400 twice in the 10 seasons since 2003: David Bell in 2004 (.458) and Pedro Feliz in 2008 (.402). Things have been a little limp at the hot corner since Scott Rolen was shipped off. Young had nine consecutive seasons of a .400 or better SLG before last year’s .370, so even though he’s aging, there’s hope he has enough pop left in his bat to give third base a bit of offensive punch it’s been sorely lacking, albeit at a defensive cost not incurred with the likes of Feliz and Polanco.
Notice, in the two heat maps above (right-click and open image in a new tab for full size), that Young struggled to turn on inside pitches in 2012 like he did in 2011. He wasn’t particularly strong on pitches over the outer half and beyond in either year, but regaining the ability to turn on the ball and produce power to the left side of the field (CBP’s left field foul pole is three feet closer than Arlington; its LF power alley nearly 20) would go a long way for the Phillies – and Young – in 2013.