Tagged: Baseball Prospectus

Splitting Hairs – Taylor Jordan

While I readily admit it can be a blessing and a curse, sometimes I incessantly nitpick at things and scrutinize them, occasionally doing so in a poorly timed fashion. It made me successful* in medicine and research at times, but it also gives people a misconstrued perspective of who I am, especially when I go on Twitter with my thoughts.

‘Why can’t you just be happy with ____?’

‘Are you physically capable of just watching the game?’

The answer to both is a resounding ‘no’, much to the chagrin of my wife.

My target of my well-intentioned ire and (over)analysis today?

Washington Nationals pitching prospect and current rotation member Taylor Jordan.

First, let’s get the good things out of the way – ranked as a Top 20 organizational prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, Jordan has done well, scoreboard be damned, in his brief dalliance as a National. Possessing a very good sinking fastball along with good and developing into very good secondary pitches, he tends to be erratic in the strike zone, but at 24 years old, has displayed scads of maturity and an ability to not let poor play behind him rattle him and shake him from his game. Let’s have a look at some of his major league stats, courtesy of Fangraphs:

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The first figure shows us some of the usual statistical suspects – please don’t trouble yourself with the win-loss record – as well as some advanced stats that provide a better gauge of how well Jordan is doing independent of the circus going on behind him; in 15.2 innings pitched, the Nats have made three errors behind Jordan. Defense aside, Jordan is doing his part in keeping the Nats in the game by making hitters pound the ball into the ground, as his 55.2% groundball rate attests; his fielding independent pitching (FIP) is lower than both his ERA and expected FIP (xFIP), which speaks to his ability to keep scoring opportunities at a minimum just by himself (FIP < ERA), while also outpitching some of his peripheral stats and therefore, expectations (FIP < xFIP). While he hasn’t struck many folks out – 3.45 K/9, contrasted by his minor league career K/9 of 7.2 across all levels – he also isn’t walking many, which can offset his lack out strikeouts thus far in the bigs.

The second table lists Jordan’s PITCHf/x pitch values per 100, which is a rough, eyeball-it method of determining how effective a pitcher’s repertoire has been against hitters. The more positive a value, the more effective a pitch, with the opposite true with negative values. So far, Jordan’s slider (wSL/C) is his best pitch, with most of his other repertoire scoring well.

So far, so good, for both us and Jordan; if you’d like more ink to peruse, definitely check out John Sickels’ article at SB Nation. Now, let’s peel off another layer of this onion, and take a look at some visuals.

washington-nationals-v-philadelphia-phillies-20130710-003552-426

OK, next picture…

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Hmm, OK. Next…

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Alright, we’re good with pics for the moment – let’s talk about Jordan’s arm slot for a second. It’s high – almost 90 degrees in the last two pictures, awfully close in the first one as well – and is what is considered a high cocked position. The good folk(s) at Driveline Mechanics have a great description of the high cocked position  – go check it out. Briefly, this slot is felt to generate the most potential for maximum velocity on your pitches in some circles. While it’s debatable if it really does provide much added velocity, it definitely can lead to injury, especially if the elbow is consistently cocked at an angle that exceeds level the shoulders – excessive scapular loading. Knowing that Jordan has already undergone one Tommy John surgery, we can see where possibly this extreme arm slot might not be the most advantageous, long-term. That being said, Jordan appears to keep his pitching elbow right at shoulder level, which is less worrisome.

Let’s go back to the first picture and the red circle. Notice his wrist and the ball with respect to the rest of his body and home plate? We have another Cobra; as mentioned before here at HDIB? with Shelby Miller, the Cobra move is not a biomechanically advantageous one, long-term. The extreme forearm pronation necessary to put your hand in this position can be taxing and create additional stresses on the forearm and up into the shoulder, but in particular, the brachioradialis, pronator teres, and pronator quadratus muscles of the forearm are at increased risk of fatigue and breakdown with this amount of pronation. This extreme positioning of the hand and wrist can also lead to timing issues, especially when fatigued, which again can lead to injury arising from a breakdown in proper mechanics. While his Cobra move is a tad different that the one seen in Miller, Jordan’s still bears mention as something that isn’t very mechanically favourable. That being said, this arm slot and positioning are possible tools to the success of his sinking fastball, as his very pronounced hand position over the top of the ball can provide additional vertical movement of the pitch. This extreme arm slot might also have already bit him in the butt, as he has already been told by teammates that he is tipping pitches; considering the slight change in angle in his arm slot in picture #1 (taken in his most recent July 9 start) versus pictures #2 and 3, it appears he has possibly countered the pitch tipping with a slightly lower arm angle at cocked position.

This is a nice segue to another negatively positive aspect of Jordan’s mechanics that works for him and against him – he has a very deceptive delivery and hides the ball well before release, which can add to his effectiveness. Much like his unorthodox arm angle helps, but also hurts (literally in some respects), Jordan’s lower half can sometimes betray him while also helping him.

Again, let’s have some visual evidence:

Taylor Jordan

Here we have a different view of Jordan and a bit of a glimpse of what the catcher and batter see. Here, we will focus on the lower body and I have taken the liberty to add some arrows to better describe an effective mechanical detractor – throwing across the body. The red arrow is the path his stride foot is taking with respect to his back leg and the black arrow is my best estimation using the odd camera angle and some landmarks in the picture of where he should be stepping at pitch release. While stepping across the body in a ‘crossfire’ style can be very effective at hiding the ball and thereby tricking the batter and slowing down his ability to recognize, identify, and track the pitch, it also can cause arm problems due to the arm path essentially blocked by the upper body, thereby creating increased stress and strain on the arm. With this in mind, it’s not a far-fetched to see how he is sometimes compared to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hurler Jered Weaver in regards to his deceptive delivery.

In a small sampling of innings, Taylor Jordan has started to meet and at times, exceed the lofty expectations set forth by the experts. While he is still young and still recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction – he is apparently on a 130 inning pitch limit this season – he does display some troubling habits that might hinder his progress and effectiveness in the future. While I wish I could be blissfully ignorant of these potential red flags in the spirit of a feel good story in the midst of a disappointing season thus far for the Nationals, my innate and annoying desire to pick apart these sorts of things in the name of knowledge leads me to remember the words of a mentor, who would patiently endure my mental gymnastics, with these words:

Great is the enemy of good.

For Jordan, the mechanics that have made him good could prevent him from becoming great.

*that’s debatable

Politics and Pros(e)pectus – Baseball Prospectus’ Day in DC

In the latest pit stop of their baseball sojourn across the country, the fine, upstanding gentlemen of Baseball Prospectus and Jason Parks came into our nation’s capital to host Baseball Prospectus Day at Nationals Park on Sunday July 7, while also making a stop at independent bookstore Politics and Prose the night before to discuss the latest iteration of their Essential Guide series of annual previews, along with any other baseball related minutiae that the attendees wished to confab about.

Presented with the help of the Washington Nationals, the two events presented an opportunity to bribe with beer pick the brains of some of the best and brightest of writers, evaluators, and gadflies that cover the game, and appreciate the under-appreciated and oft-overlooked aspects of baseball evaluation and operations. It also provided a rare opportunity to talk shop with some of the decision makers in the Nats organization, and to gauge the intricacies of how the front office puts together the on-field product.

Much like I did in my HDIB? post for Nats Blogger Day, I’d like to take some time and give some ink to the people who made both events a great time and also provide some insight as to what went down for those who didn’t get the chance to participate.

First, here are the BP guys, with Twitter handles and general roles at BP. I am not doing complete justice to the many hats these guys wear at BP and in the baseball community in general, but hopefully this is enough of a start for you fine HDIB? reader(s) to give them a follow and read up on their contributions. I present them in the order they were standing at the Politics and Prose event from where I was sitting, just in case you were wondering.

Joe Hamrahi @JHamrahi President and writer
Mike Ferrin @MikeFerrinSXM Fringe Average Podcast (@FringeAverage) co-host, Roundtrip with BP/Perfect Game on SiriusXM/MLB Network Radio
Jason Parks @ProfessorParks Texan, prospects/player development writer, Fringe Average podcast co-host
Ben Lindbergh @ben_lindbergh Editor-in-Chief, co-host of Effectively Wild podcast, writer
Jay Jaffe @jay_jaffe Writer Emeritus, quaffer of good beer
Mike Gianella @MikeGianella Fantasy writer
Jason Cole @LoneStarDugout Prospects contributor, also Texan
Zach Mortimer @ZachMort Prospects contributor
Chris King @StatsKing Prospects contributor, owner of an awesome Twitter wallpaper/background

Overall, the Politics and Prose event was very informal – it was essentially a free-form Q&A session – while the BP Day at the park was a little more structured. For BP Day, about an hour and a half was dedicated in the (delightfully air-conditioned) Roosevelt Room before the game, and was split between the BP staff and two members of the Nat front office for taking Q&A, which was then followed up with some seats in Section 110 to take in the game against the San Diego Padres. From the Nats, Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti and Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie stopped by to answer any and all most questions related to the team and their roles in the organization. Lunch was served. Guffaws were had. Mr. Minniti told us unspeakable things that I can’t repeat here; OK, not really. In a delicious twist, Director of Player Development Doug Harris was unable to make it, due to a last-minute change in schedule – now knowing that hours after the game, the Nats traded for Chicago Cubs OF Scott Hairston, well… who knows.

So I’ve set the scene, we have our players (non-uniformed), what was said?

While I did the best to recall as many tidbits as I could, even with quick notes typed into my phone, I know I am missing a lot and might also be misattributing something said to the wrong person. Mea culpa – I hope you enjoy my version of the outing, nonetheless.

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Nats prospects – Parks gushed about the future of Lucas Giolito, going as far to say he seriously considered putting him in his Top 50 Prospects list without even throwing a pitch in the minors (Giolito is currently rehabbing back from ulnar collateral ligament replacement – Tommy John – surgery). He projects him to be a legitimate #1 starter prospect, should his recovery and minor league education not be too bumpy of a road; Parks also commented that aside from Giolito and Brian Goodwin, the Nats cupboard did look at little thin, given the graduation of prospects like Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, and Nate Karns to the bigs. He also really liked Rendon as a pure hitter and discussed the nuances of hitting and the neuroscience and psychology behind it, which as a neuro-dork, I lapped up. He did not like Rendon at second base as a long-term solution, given the stresses of the position and Rendon’s lower body health history a bit of a red flag.

‘Best’ front office/organization – by and far, the BP guys loved the things that the St. Louis Cardinals do, but shied away from outright calling them the best, hence the quotation marks. From top to bottom, they, as a majority, felt that things are done in Saint Loo the right way, and with the right things at the forefront of their collective minds.  This is not to say that other teams don’t do things the right way, but overall, they felt St. Louis had more talent, top to bottom, in their personnel. It was interesting to hear how they scout amateurs for a particular biomechanical profile* that they feel breeds pitching success, independent of stats or position. Given the horses they have had in recent years – Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller, to name a couple – it’s another interesting approach to drafting talent that has provided the Cards much success. A couple of the BP guys also mentioned how the Cardinals organization is unique because of their scouting and evaluation approach – while they do occasionally go after the Carlos Beltran-type free agent or grab a guy off of the waiver wire as a reclamation project, they tend to makes changes to their roster from within the organization, which is a rare luxury.

Byron Buxton – a question was asked as to who is the best prospect at the moment in the minors and this was Parks’ answer. Go look him up and fall in prospect love.

Catchers and the psychology of a tall receiver – a question was asked about the Orioles (the details escape me), but Ben Lindbergh fielded the question and gave a very thoughtful answer, which then turned to his writing on catchers and their ability to control the game by how they frame pitches. It then went into some of the psychology involved between the catcher and the umpire and how some taller receivers – think Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters – can possibly skew calls against his pitchers, because their height blocks a lot of the ump’s view of the strike zone and can also create additional movement that could skew the umpire’s strike zone. Head over to BP and read more about some of the work Lindbergh has done regarding pitch framing and the effects a catcher can have on the game – it’s eye-opening stuff.

‘Memorable’ minor league parks – An eclectic group of gentlemen – you can read about them over at @CespedesBBQ – were about to embark on a trip to Clinton, Iowa to catch a game, I think Buxton was involved somehow – and they asked what minor league parks were the most memorable, for lack of a better term. Parks and Cole primarily fielded the question, with some input from Ferrin – and it was a resounding vote for Clinton, with special attention given to the smell of the town, due to a dog food plant in the area. Honourable mentions went to Bakersfield, New Britain, Potomac, and Las Vegas. As an aside, I grew up in two of the also-rans – I don’t know whether to be proud of that accomplishment, or to shake my head in embarrassment.

World Series picks – the consensus pick for the AL was the Detroit Tigers, with one vote for the Tampa Rays. The NL participant wasn’t as clear-cut, with votes going to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals, and one vote for the Nationals (Ferrin). An interesting tidbit to come out of the question was how high the BP guys were on the Tigers, in spite of their closer woes; they all felt the Tigers lack of a solid back-end of the bullpen could be easily remedied in the second half of the season.
Nats front office guys– Minniti and Cromie were relatively candid about life in the front office and the hours they put in on a daily basis. Some high points included some discussion about their approach to scouting international players and the role of the international bonus pool money and how different the international scene is for baseball in general and for the Nats in particular, whose troubles in recent years in the Dominican have been chronicled, but are worlds improved under the Rizzo regime. Parks had discussed previously the scene across the MLB with respect to the murkiness that sometimes can be encountered on the international market, and how difficult it can be to scout and produce talent in the Caribbean, in particular. Briefly, there’s a lot of money, a lot of effort, and a lot of question marks encountered in an effort to have just *one* international prospect to see an MLB roster. Moving away from the future and to the present, Minniti intimated that this trade deadline will not be one of lots of moving and shaking from the Nats, as compared to previous seasons; he said that overall, the team will not make too many big splash, high-profile deals. Overall, both Minniti and Cromie lauded Rizzo’s managerial style and how low stress he makes it upon the front office.

As previously mentioned, these are just a few of the points that were touched upon during the outing; this is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, it was a great experience and one that gave me a better appreciation of not only how hard these guys work at their craft, but also how menagerie-like the BP team is, in their personalities and their backgrounds. It was an interesting underlying theme of the events – there are so many places to come from – the financial world, medicine, Brooklyn, wherever – but deep down, all roads lead you to baseball, if you want them to.

Or to Clinton, Iowa – but you don’t want that.

*for lack of a better phrase