Season Preview – Mallex Smith

We’ve spent some time analyzing the veterans coming back to the Braves this season, but our focus today turns to the 22 year old Mallex Smith, who was a single short of the cycle (with two triples!) on Wednesday against the Orioles in the 2nd Grapefruit League game for the Atlanta club.  Here we see Smith’s offensive numbers by minor league level.

MallexSmithActualNumbers

He has been truly great, but to put these into context, let’s see the next chart which converts each number into a 600 at bat season.  Each fraction is rounded down to the nearest integer and batting average is recalculated.

MallexSmithEstimatedNumbers2

The last row is a linear regression of the various seasons into the next level (a mythical AAAA league).  This isn’t really a good estimate of how Smith will produce in the majors for lots of reasons.  Research has shown that lower minor league stats are less predictive of major league success than higher minor league stats, and the difference in pitching between AAA and the majors is much greater than the difference between AA and AAA, etc., etc.

In any case, it is interesting that Michael Bourn is mentoring Smith in spring training, because they seem like very similar players.  Let’s look at Bourn’s defense by looking at Range Factor per 9 innings over his career in center field.

MichaelBournCareerFielding

He started out at or above the league range factor, and as of 2013 has been below it and falling.  If we isolate Bourn and Smith’s minors-only fielding numbers we can see the following comparison.

MallexAndBournMinorsFielding

It would appear that Smith’s ceiling might be a roughly equal offensive player to Bourn, but a slightly slower defensive center fielder with a few more errors.  That will be well worth it to the Braves if the Braves’ coaching staff can get the potential out of Smith.

Season Preview – Julio Teheran

Julio Teheran seems to be at a crossroads.  Is he going to take his game to the next level as he enters his prime (he turned 25 just a few weeks ago), or is he going to level off as a solid 2nd or 3rd starter for the rest of his career?  Let’s look at some key data from baseball-reference.com and the pitch data from BrooksBaseball.net.  We’ll start with his traditional numbers.

TeheranAnnualPitchingStats

Since be became a starter in 2013, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) rating has been higher than his ERA, but that’s to be expected for a pitcher with a good defense (we miss you Andrelton!).  His WHIP and ERA saw slight upticks, and so it will be interesting to see if he can shrug off the weak start to 2015 we experienced to put together a complete season of excellence.  If that upticks causes concern, let’s dig deeper into the reasons why that ERA went up.

TeheranPerNineStats

As you can see, in 2015 he gave up more home runs per 9 innings, walked significantly more, gave up more hits, and struck out about the same.  7.5 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t going to dominate the league, but giving up nearly 8 hits and 3 walks every 9 innings is not going to get it done.  It will be interesting to see what his walk rates are in spring training, to see if he can get back below the 2.5 BB/9 level that he had in 2014.

Teheran seems to have settles into a career as a fastball/slider/sinker pitcher, without the overpowering fastball velocity he had a few years ago, but with a more effective slider.  Here’s the usage % for each pitch:

TeheranUsageRates

He rarely throws his curve and change anymore, but that’s okay because they’re fairly terrible.  His slider has become his 2nd most used pitch.  How has his velocity changed?

TeheranAnnualVelocity

Everything is down from year to year, with his fastball settling in at a modest 92 mph average.  As you can see, the slider has replaced the changeup as his 10mph slower distraction from the fastball.  Normally a velocity chart like this would be troubling on a 25 year-old until you consider two things.  1) He only started from 2013 on, so the numbers on the left are very limited time as a reliever.  2) Look to the results as we go forward in his career:

TeheranAvaerageAgainst

His change-up and curveball have the highest batting average against, but he doesn’t use them much.  Meanwhile, his fastball has been better every year as a starter, and his slider is just creeping up to meet the fastball at about a .200 batting average.

What can we look for?  I look for a slight bounce-back season for Teheran, with a sub-4 ERA and a better WHIP.  If his BB/9 and H/9 continue to go in the wrong direction, the Braves may regret the contract extension they gave him through his age-29 season, but he should continue to be a serviceable starter in any case.

Season Preview – Nick Markakis

Today we dive back into the statistics waters of BaseballReference.com to see what we might expect from Nick Markakis this season. There’s some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with his various WAR values:

MarkakisWARbyYear

As Markakis enters his age-32 season, we see that the overall trends are not positive.  He has been a worse than average overall defender since 2009, and there seems no reason to believe he will improve.  His offensive and overall WAR have bounced back from his injury-shortened 2013 season with the Orioles, but there is little reason to believe his overall WAR will go much above the expected 2.5 WAR or so.  Not terrible for a $11 million/year salary, but there isn’t much hope for long-term improvement.  Let’s turn to his Right Field-specific defensive numbers.

MarkakisRangeFactor

As would be expected of a 32 year-old, his range factor is declining, but is still quite comparable to the league’s range factor.

MarkakisFielding%

As Braves fans have come to appreciate, Markakis simply doesn’t make errors in Right Field.  He is in the right place, he doesn’t drop the ball, and he throws the ball to the right place.  Let’s look at the traditional offensive numbers.

MarkakisPerAtBat

Not surprisingly, his batting average and walk rate have stayed fairly consistent with a slight upswing in both last year.  His home runs were way down, with many commentators blaming that on his recovery from neck surgery during the offseason before the 2015 season.  What we came to expect from many good hitters is a trade-off between batting average and home runs. We might expect that either the home runs will improve and the batting average falls slightly, or the home run numbers continue to be weak, but the batting average continues to be high.  In other words, the blue and red lines should either converge or diverge.  Either should keep Markakis with a high-level overall offensive performance.