May 7th, 2012

Leyland: Hamels should’ve gotten 15 games

Interesting comments from manager Jim Leyland this evening during his pregame show on Cole Hamels, the Phillies pitcher who admitted to hitting Bryce Harper on purpose last night. Major League Baseball announced a five-game suspension for Hamels Monday, but Leyland felt like it should’ve been much more than that, and he said as much on his pregame radio show:

“Personally, if I was I was making that vote, it would be a 15-game suspension, at least. I don’t know Cole Hamels, so I certainly don’t have any qualms with Cole Hamels. I don’t know the man. I know he’s a very good pitcher, a very talented guy, but when you come out and admit it like that – that ball could have missed, hit him in the head or something else like that – and you come out and admit that, I think five games is way too light, in my personal opinion. And I would expect that if that was my pitcher, if my pitcher went out and, almost in a braggadocious way, talked about hitting a guy and that ‘I did it on purpose.’

“The way I read it, and I don’t know if the kid meant it this way, but it was almost like a braggadocious thing. That’s not enough. There’s no way. It upsets me because if you watch Major League Baseball, a lot of times one of your guys hits [a batter], one of their guys hits [a batter], the umpires are very quick to warn both benches about a situation like that, and a lot of times there’s nothing going on at all, but they just want to stop something before it starts. Well, this is a case where this is, to me, this is a great time … you know, we’re always talking about our game being cleaned up and doing the right things for our game in all areas of the game … but this is a perfect time to show that we mean business. And I think this suspension is way, way too light.”

Leyland went on to take a poke at the warning system as Dan Dickerson was starting into a follow-up question.

“It becomes a joke. Let’s tell it like it is. I know I’ll probably get some phone calls [from MLB], but I don’t care if I do or not. I don’t know if anyone cares about my opinion. You asked me, so I’m sharing it with you. I think, with what we’re trying to do with baseball and send the right message to everybody, young people, old people, fans, everybody else – and this is a case where in my opinion it looks like to me the union has nowhere to go because this was two of their people involved. This was not just one of their people where they could file a grievance about something. This is two of their people, so that makes it a different thing too, in my opinion. So I think this is way too light and I’m very disappointed in the sentence.”

Why are hitters slicing up the Big Potato?

Jose Valverde is throwing the same mix of pitches he did last year, when he was perfect as a closer despite giving up his share of baserunners. However, hitters are far more aggressive and making far more contact with his pitches so far this year.

That’s what the pitch data on fangraphs.com is showing, at least.

You might remember that Valverde changed his mix of pitches last year, going from the near-even mix of fastballs and splitters he used in his first season in the American League back to the fastball-heavy arsenal he used for a lot of his career. On average, he has stuck with that so far this season, though his mix has gone up and down from one outing to the next.

According to the pitch f/x data through MLB.com Gameday, disseminated through Fangraphs, Valverde went from throwing fastballs with less than half of his pitches in 2010 to 78.4 percent in 2011. Through Sunday, he was at 76 percent this season. His splitter, which comprised more than half his pitches two years ago, was at 20.5 percent last year and 21.5 percent entering play Monday.

The difference isn’t in what he’s throwing. It may be in how he’s throwing it, though the velocities are generally the same. There’s definitely a difference in how hitters are reacting to it.

Fangraphs uses two different sets of data — one for Pitch f/x, another that takes that data and adds a human element from Baseball Information Solutions — but they say much the same thing. Hitters are swinging at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone. In the case of the BIS criteria, it’s 36.1` percent of his pitches. And when they do, again according to BIS, they’re making way more contact than they did a year again, nearly 70 percent.

When they swing at pitches inside the strike zone, the contact rate is huge — 89.4 percent according to Pitch f/x, 87.5 percent according to BIS.

STATS Inc. breaks down swings and misses by pitch type. According to STATS, hitters missed on 23.1 percent of their swings against Valverde’s fastball, and 31.9 percent of their swings off the split-finger, including 63 percent of swings on splitters outside the strike zone. So far this season, they’ve missed on just 18 percent of swings off the fastballs, and 28.6 percent of swings off the splitter.

The overall contact rate, too, is at a career high. About 80 percent of the swings hitters are taking at his pitches make contact. His career rate is just over 70 percent.

Valverde’s strikeout rate has been dropping for several years, but he more than made up for it with the ability to get ground ball and fly ball outs. The rate of contact and the hit totals are suggesting he’s not benefiting from that like he used to. And as everyone has noticed, when guys get base hits off of Valverde and get on base, they usually end up on second. If they’re not there already, they can steal the base against him. Do that often enough, and guys won’t need big hits to get to him.

Does that mean he’s done? Not likely. Sure, he’s 34 years old, but that’s not exactly twilight for late-inning relievers.

Does that mean he has to approach American League hitters like he did the National League for his two seasons in Houston before he signed with Detroit? That might be the better question.

Schlereth’s option voided, now on Tigers DL

Remember when the Tigers optioned Daniel Schlereth to Triple-A Toledo a couple weeks ago, and he reported shoulder problems the next day and eventually ended up on the Mud Hens disabled list? That move has now been voided, since it was determined that Schlereth’s injury dated back before the move.

Thus, the Tigers placed Schlereth on their 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 21, with left shoulder tendinitis. The move was backdated so long that Schlereth is actually eligible to come off the DL, though there’s no sign he’s close to returning. One would assume the Tigers will use up their option and send him to Toledo once he’s healthy again. The only difference now is that he’ll accumulate Major League service time while he’s on the DL.

Tigers hit road without Jim Price

Good morning from Seattle, where the Tigers begin their nine-game road trip tonight against the Mariners tonight at Safeco Field. They’ll be closer to full strength on their roster with the return of Doug Fister, but they left town yesterday without radio analyst Jim Price, who will miss the entire trip at the team’s request.

The Tigers made the announcement in their game notes today, but the decision was made quite a while ago. Price, who underwent cancer treatments over the offseason, fell ill during the Tigers’ first road trip of the season in Chicago when he caught something that was going around the clubhouse. He went home from Chicago and missed the next series in Kansas City. He accompanied the team to New York a week and a half ago, but this trip — both for the duration and the distance traveled — was a different story.

Former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry, who filled in for Price in Kansas City, is with the team for this trip. Price will return to the booth at Comerica Park when the Tigers return home May 16.

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