Tag Archives: Tim Lincecum

A Brief Conversation About Hitting and Home Runs with Matt Kemp

Kemp is a tough nut to crack. He’s often stand-offish with the press and is the brunt of criticism, sometimes undeservedly, but he is who he is and he’s a fantastic baseball player.

So when I tried to talk to him about home runs and fastballs, he didn’t give me a whole lot, but he gave me a few things.

Without further ado:

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Filed under Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB

Uh oh, I’ve seen this before.

When Jim Tracy was the manager of the Dodgers (2001-2006), I had respect for him.  Sure, he had his faults, but he always played the best players on the team at their positions.  He started Dave Roberts over an aging Marquis Grissom; he gave a lot of time to Adrian Beltre; he plugged in Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis in the middle even though they were well below-average offensively (it turns out it was a great decision because of both players’ defense; Cora and Izturis both had three-year positive UZR/150s in their time as Dodgers).

Yes.  Some complained about his over-use of match-ups and other things, but those were minor. Overall, he was a very good manager except for one big thing.

Tracy abused starting pitchers.  Kind of a lot.

In 2002, Odalis Perez had a magnificent season: 222 innings pitched, 76 runs allowed (74 ER and a 3.00 ERA, in case you’re wondering), 155 Ks to 38 BBs and a 3.45 xFIP.  He had a 4.08 K/BB ratio and a 1.54 BB/9 ratio.  All in all, it was a tremendous year.

But it was also 100 innings more than he had pitched the previous year.

Understand that I’m not in favor of throwing any pitcher to the wolves.  But when you have a young, talented pitcher with great years ahead of him, you have to make sure he’s going to be great later on down the road. One brilliant year is not better than ten years of dominance.

His 2002 season was slightly flukish thanks to a low BABIP, but he was never able to be better than average again.  He pitched 3,000 pitches that year.  The following years, this is how he did:

2003: 185 IP / 3.35 xFIP / 3.07 K/BB / ~2800 pitches
2004: 196 IP / 3.76 xFIP / 2.91 K/BB / ~2800 pitches
2005: 108 IP / 3.93 xFIP / 2.64 K/BB / ~1600 pitches
2006: 126 IP / 4.29 xFIP / 2.61 K/BB / ~2100 pitches
2007: 137 IP / 5.20 xFIP / 1.28 K/BB / ~2300 pitches
2008: 158 IP / 4.30 xFIP / 2.16 K/BB / ~2700 pitches

You can see from his pitch type, too, that he averaged a heater in the 90s and lost a mile per hour the next year and almost year after that until he retired at the age of 31.

Odalis wasn’t the only example of Tracy’s labor abuse, either.  Kevin Brown, in 2003, pitched 3,200 pitches after pitching a little more than 1,000 the year before and retired in 2005 after two more lackluster years.  In 2006, Tracy’s first year as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he made young gun Zach Duke throw 214 innings after 84 in the majors (and 100 in the minors) the year prior.  There were a few times when Tracy was responsible with a pitcher, but more often than not, he didn’t seem to show the care that he should have.

But that’s behind Tracy.  Now we’re in 2010. Tracy is the manager of the Colorado Rockies.  And the Rockies have a young ace named Ubaldo Jimenez.

I’ve had a crush on Ubaldo for a while, since I first interviewed him in 2006.  He’s a sweet man, gargantuanly tall, with an incredible fastball and some very, very good secondary stuff.  I really wish he was signed as a Dodger.

In 2009, he jumped from 3,350 pitches in 34 starts (99 pitches per game) to 3,570 pitches in 33 starts (108).  A pretty big jump, but within reasonable limits.

So far in 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez has thrown 456 pitches in four starts.  That’s an average of 115.5 pitches per game.

This is something to worry about.  Let’s say Tracy keeps up this pace, puts the Uballer on the mound for 115 pitches per appearance. No pitcher has thrown that many pitches per game started since pitch counts were first recorded in 2002.  Livan Hernandez was the closest at 114.5 (he broke the 4,000 pitch barrier) in 2005, his age 30 season.  Likewise, Randy Johnson hit 114 per game in his age 38 season.

Hernandez was never the same and Randy barely topped 100 innings the next year.

Last year, Ubaldo averaged 108 pitches per game.  Other players that pitched more than 108 pitches per game and then never returned to that year’s level of production/spent the next years in the hospital: Mark Prior, Jason Schmidt, Woody Williams, Bronson Arroyo, Russ Ortiz. Joel Piniero and Javier Vazquez also broke the 108 plane. Though they both had fantastic 2009 seasons, they both accomplished the 108 marks in 2003.  That’s five years of their careers down the drain.

The jury is still out on Justin Verlander, Carlos Zambrano and Tim Lincecum, though I guess things are looking good for Verlander and Lincecum.

If you want to point to something that’s encouraging, well, the pitchers who seem to have the best rate of recovery on that list have tremendous fastballs: Randy Johnson, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum.  Though Verlander and Tiny Tim have only recently accomplished the feats, they’ve also been very good in their time.  Ubaldo has the fastest fastball in the majors.

A couple of nights ago, Ubaldo pitched a heck of a game through seven innings and had reached about 110 or so pitches.  And then he was brought back in. There’s no sense to be made of a decision like that. The Rockies have a good shot at the division this year, but their target years are probably 2011 to 2015.  The Giants probably won’t contend until they get some hitting, the Dodgers’ farm system is depleted and their on-field talent is worse–and will be worse–than the Rockies’ for the foreseeable future, the D-backs have some talent, but not enough and the Pads are out at least until 2013.  Why are you bending Ubaldo to see if he can break?  Yes, you want those innings.  If you can get 250 innings of 3.00 xFIP, you’d want that more than 200 innings of 3.00 xFIP and 50 innings of 5.00 xFIP.  But at what point does that cost too much?

I hope Ubaldo’s career isn’t at risk here.

[Edit] — Fangraphs only had pitch counts going back to 2002, I figured that was when pitch counts first became a sortable stat.  Turns out B-R has pitch counts going back to 2000.  And, funnily enough, Livan Hernandez and Randy Johnson still top the list, although in different years.  Here’s the correct top of the list for most pitches per apperance:

Randy Johnson, 2001: 116.7
Livan Hernandez, 2000: 116.0
Randy Johnson, 2000: 114.9

So correction: Ubaldo would be third-highest of all-time.

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Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Man.  We’re so close to the season right now, it’s just so awesome.

As per usual, since I go to 30 games, I get about 5 or so in really good seats to watch the players I’ve wanted to see or like to see the most.  Here’s who I’m looking forward to seeing this year:

  • Tim Lincecum: The obvious choice. A two-time NL Cy Young winner, his delivery is a magnificent thing.  Since he plays for San Francisco, I get to see him a lot at Dodger Stadium and he’s yet to disappoint.
  • Albert Pujols: Another obvious choice.  This man is, without a doubt, the best hitter of our time.  I thought I read somewhere that he swung and missed at a pitch fewer times last season than some people struck out, but I can’t seem to find it now.  The man is just amazing.
  • Justin Upton: Yes, I follow Keith Law’s blog.  Upton had a great year last year (.300/.366/.532 with 26 homers in 588 PAs) and he’s still only 22.  I can’t wait to see what he does in 162 games.
  • Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun: I’m not saying this just ’cause I drafted Braun in my fantasy draft this year. This pair is probably the best pair of hitters in a line-up today and I’m looking forward to the early-May match up.
  • Miguel Cabrera: Maybe the most underrated player in the game today. Detroit plays the Dodgers for the first time in a few years and they’re coming to Los Angeles May 21-22.  Cabrera had a phenomenal year last year (.324/.396/.547) and he’ll be 27 on April 18. Not bad for a guy with 200 career home runs already.
  • Jason Heyward: You can probably tell I keep up with Baseball America and a lot of prospect rankings and Heyward was unanimously No. 1 or 2.  Word came today he’s officially starting in right field on opening day, so great for him.
  • Alex Rodriguez: Hey, if you haven’t heard, the Yankees are playing the Dodgers in LA May 25-27.  The consummate professional, A-Rod basically does his thing every year.  Problems these days are if he’s going to stay healthy through the end of his career–he’s missed 60 games the last two seasons.  But he’s still the second-best hitter of our generation.
  • Stephen Strasburg: Another case of following the hype. I’m always interested in seeing what scouts see in players, this being one of those times.  Fortunately, the Dodgers host the Nationals late in the season (Aug. 6-8), so there’s a good chance I get to check him out.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: I’ve had a crush on this guy for years and it was great to see him finally put together such an amazing year last year after all he’s done.  Can’t wait to see what he does this coming year.
  • Chase Utley: Yet another consummate professional, he does every part of hitting well and he’s a fantastic defensive second baseman to boot.
  • Tommy Hanson: No doubt a legit starter for the Braves, he pitched 127 innings last season and posted a damn-fine 2.89 ERA. He’ll be 23 at the start of the season.


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