A Tale of Two Slumpers
A wise monkey once typed, "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times." To which an old man exclaimed, "You stupid monkey." Everyone's a critic, because it's free to complain, but perhaps both parties were right in this encounter. The monkey was merely trying to point out that so often it seems like things are going really good or really bad and we don't take solace in the middle ground. The old man had no appreciation for this concept, perhaps because he only cared to remember the bad times because of their recency. It's common for people to get sucked in by this halo effect giving less weight to previous accomplishments because they didn't come within an arbitrary time period.
Rays fans may feel a bit like Mr. Burns when it comes to Luke Scott and Carlos Pena. Stupid monkeys will point to the cycles that players go through knowing that they're just that. Fleeting periods of time that in the end tend to cancel each other out, while old men on high like to guffaw at how the most recent period is who that player is now, and that they will never see previous bests. One of these curmudgeons floated some date ranges to this nicotine-addled "author" with the hopes of shining light on what the recent issues have been with these players and whether it looks like we can expect more of the same going forward. In the case of Luke Scott we're looking at the period of 4/6 - 5/2 (Pre) compared to 5/3 - 6/5 (Post). Here are his results:
We note that all numbers, with the exception of unintentional walks plus HBP, have plummeted from the best of times of the beginning of the year. It would behoove the discerning reader to also know what Scott has done when it comes to plate discipline numbers as this is a great first stop when identifying changing habits at the dish:
We see that Scott is expanding his zone while swinging less within it, which is generally a recipe for disaster. He's actually making more contact outside of the zone and the same within, while seeing more pitches within the zone, especially on first pitch. Overall, he's swinging and missing at a slightly higher rate, but of more concern should be the swings out of the zone as even increased contact is generally not of the "barreling a ball" type. This is a good time to look at the Pitch F/x data via Joe Lefkowitz. Note, this database is missing a handful or more of games and the corresponding data from those games. In these small samples that may make a difference, but like the would-be cannibals in Alive we will trudge on. Here are all pitches broken down by pitcher handedness and pitch type for each period:
The first section contains the raw number of pitches with the section to the right showing those as percentages. Note that the percents in the in the greenish shade show total percent of those pitches seen to give an idea of pitch mix in each period, while the percentages in the white zones show the pitch mix from that handedness within the period. The platoon% shows the overall pitches for each period (green) and the % of pitches from each type of pitcher (white) during the period. The last section shows run values (RV) and run values per 100 pitches (/c) for each of the breakouts.
Of note is that lefties have thrown fewer breaking balls and change up during the post period while throwing many more fastballs. Righties are working opposite with fewer fastballs exchanged for more breaking balls and change ups. We also see what might prove to be the most salient point of this (fruitless?) exercise, in that, Luke Scott has gone from seeing 28% same-handers to 47% southpaws in the post period. Most lefties struggle with lefties, this is not a radical viewpoint, and it looks like Scott's heavy dose is helping to lead to his lackluster numbers. For the RV let's turn to a couple of charts:
When things were going well he was struggling with secondary stuff from lefties, but pretty much feasting on everything thrown by a righty, including the change which would seem like a real weapon against a solid fastball hitter. Now on to the post period:
During the post period, he's not really hitting anything, and really seeming to struggle with the fastball, which should be his gravy pitch. Perhaps this is a sign of a slowing bat or a guy that is guessing a bit, but I'll leave that to the reader to decide. Let's move on to Pena:
Again, we see a guy that is struggling to do much of anything, but curiously the walk rates have spotted up a bit. The K% is in line with what you would expect during the post period, but Pena has lived with that scarlet K for many years now and been productive throughout. The bigger issue is the lack of solid contact when swinging the stick:
Here's another guy that is expanding his zone more which comes with an overall uptick in swings, but unlike Scott he is not making better contact in or out of the zone. He's seeing less pitches in the zone, and a slight downturn in first pitch offering, yet his swinging strike rate is up almost a third. Let's look at what pitchers are doing to see if anything stands out:
Lefties are throwing less breaking balls and more fastballs while righties are throwing a lot more breaking balls at the expense of mostly the change and a bit less with the fastball. Again we see the red flag of platoon splits where he is seeing almost an even split of lefties vs. the prior period when he was only seeing around a third of pitches from same-siders. Again let's turn to some charts for the RV stuff:
We see that Pena was feasting on fastball from both types of pitches while hitting adequately against lefty changes and righty breaking balls. This makes sense as righty breaking balls and lefty changes should have good splits for him. Let's see how that changes:
Now we see that as righties have increased the usage of the breaking ball he has really struggled and he's not doing any better against the change despite decreased usage. He's still faring well against the right-handed fastball, but lefties are killing him with the faster offering even as he's seeing it at a higher rate.
This could be the story of two guys with decreasing bat speeds that are getting caught guessing more often. That's one narrative that some dumb monkey could try to pass off as analysis, but this one thinks that the depressed results are faring much more from the type of pitcher doing the dealing. It may be a good idea to start looking to sit one or both of these guys against lefties, provided, there is an adequate substitute in both the field and at the plate. This is an option that has not presented itself thus far due to the injury constraints, but may prove fruitful as the year goes on. It's also likely that the Rays will see a lesser ratio of left-handed pitching as the year goes on even with teams lining up anybody that can throw with the minority arm due to the team's overall struggle with lefties. At this juncture, it would be foolish to right these guys off as finished, but it would equally asinine to not acknowledge that they have struggled and there is a chance that this persists. Against righties and lefties alike. This "author" hopes that we have yet to see the end of the good times and that both of these sluggers will get it going, sooner, rather than later.