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Stats that Matter – August Edition

Three good news stats that matter balanced with two bad news stats that matter.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

It’s a random Saturday in August. What better time to look at some completely random statistics and make a big deal out of them!

That’s what this very random series of articles is about – stats that matter! Here’s how it works: I look up the stat sheets of players I am interested in. Usually, that means Baseball Savant or Fangraphs. I then dig into the minutia of their pages to see if any statistics stand out to me as particularly interesting, engaging, random, or potentially significant. I write about them. You read them. We have a happy Saturday.

I try to stick with good stats, fun stats, meaningful stats, and positive stats. Occasionally I temper that with a little bad news, too. We’re sticking with that today: 3 good stats. 2 bad stats. Let’s go!

Jack Flaherty: wOBA against FB and SL, 2019 vs. 2021

Jack is back! And so far he’s looked pretty good in his return. In 12 innings since coming off the IL, he’s struck out 13, walked just 1, and allowed 2 runs on 2 home runs. That’s about as good a return as anyone could have hoped for.

Flaherty’s season stat line looks remarkably similar to his brilliant 2019 campaign. His era is a hair lower – 2.68 to 2.75. FIP is up a bit – 3.68 compared to 3.46. His K’s are down about 3% points but it’s hard to see that as a big deal. His walks are right on target. He’s allowing slightly fewer homers. He’s been brilliant. He’s pretty much picked up right where he left off pre-COVID.

That got me wondering just how deep the similarities go between seasons. Flaherty throws 5 pitches: 4-seamer, slider, curve, sinker, and change. The 4-seam fastball and slider account for close to 80% of his pitches thrown. Those two pitches form the bulk of his pitching production.

In 2019, when he was Bob Gibson in the second half of the season, Flaherty allowed a .257 wOBA against his fastball. He allowed a .244 wOBA against his slider.

In 2021, with an IL stint thrown in, Flaherty has allowed a .265 wOBA against his fastball. And a .275 wOBA against his slider.

So, he’s seen a little variance in the effectiveness of his slider but it’s still an amazing pitch. His fastball remains as dominant as ever. Despite COVID stealing a season and a major injury, Jack Flaherty is still Jack Flaherty. 2019 was no fluke. He was an ace. Is an ace. Will be an ace.

Paul Goldschmidt: xSLUG% vs. SLUG%

It feels like Paul Goldschmidt is having a down season, doesn’t it? His power is down. His walk rate is down. His cumulative stats like wRC+ and wOBA are down some from his prime seasons in Arizona. They’re down from his incredible COVID season in 2020.

Then you dig a little deeper and all of that down becomes, well, up! For example, Goldy is sitting in the 95th percentile of average exit velocity. He’s near the top of the league in expected batting average. Statcast thinks he should have one of the highest slugging percentages in the league.

If we go just by expected stats, Goldy should be having an MVP season. Here’s his expected slash line (xBA, xwOBA, xSLUG): .286/.381/.535.

Here’s his actual slash line (with wOBA replacing OBA): .280/.346/.453.

That’s nearly 100 points of expected slugging % that’s drifting away like a fart in the wind. It makes you wonder why that’s happening? My best answer is “Busch Stadium”. His HR/FB rate this season is just 12.8%. That would be the lowest of his career, except that he was even lower in the shortened 2020 season. He routinely averaged between 19-25% HR/FB rate while playing in Arizona. He keeps crushing the ball by nearly all relevant metrics. Busch keeps gobbling those HR’s up. Statcast believes Goldy should have 4 more HRs by distance than he actually does.

Paul DeJong: Exit Velocity

Now to a “bad news” stat that I’ve been trying to explain away all season. I’ve talked BABIP and launch angle and sample size trying to minimize DeJong’s terrible offensive performance. Well, it’s August now. Paul DeJong has 328 meaningful plate appearances this season. Still, his line is terrible. Why?

Here’s the simple answer: he can’t hit the ball hard. Paul DeJong’s average exit velocity is just 86.3 mph. That ranks in the bottom 10% of all batters. That’s 7 mph lower than Paul Goldschmidt. Ouch.

It’s also not that far off some of his past performance. DeJong’s avg. exit velocity has ping-ponged throughout his career:

2017: 86.5
2018: 89.3
2019: 87
2020: 89.2
2021: 86.3

What does that mean? (Shrugs.) Part of me just wants to say, “well, he’s an inconsistent hitter who tends toward really poor contact numbers and relies almost exclusively on home runs.” Which, as we know, is a pretty terrible plan for a right-handed hitter in Busch Stadium. Unless you’re Nolan Arenado.

That contributes to a bunch of other things that have been problems in DeJong’s past. Like his well-below-average .285 career BABIP. Sure, we would expect his current .215 BABIP to rise more toward neutral. But, then again, he doesn’t hit the ball hard anymore. So, that BABIP makes sense.

It leaves the Cardinals with a shortstop who has a defense that ranges from good to bad, depending on which metric you use, and the upside of a league-average bat. I don’t think the Cards will move away from DeJong next year. And he certainly could see a bounce back in exit velocity and BABIP at age 28. But I’m increasingly pessimistic that he can even return to his 2019 level of performance let alone build on it, as many of us expected entering this season.

Andrew Knizner: BA/wOBA/SLUG versus Breaking Balls

Now for our second “bad news” stat of the day. I’ve written almost nothing about Andrew Knizner this season. Mostly that’s because he hasn’t been able to distinguish himself in any tangible way. Yadi was hot early and rode that to heavy playing time when he was healthy. That continued even when Yadi was clearly hurt. Over the last few weeks, probably by order of the front office or medical personnel, Shildt has pushed the veteran catcher to the bench regularly and Kniz has received more playing time. Couple that with the starts he got before the All-Star break when Yadi was on the IL and we nearly have a viable sample size for young Knizner.

How’s he doing? So bad… His slash line is .179/.294/.256. His wRC+ is a 57.

Still, he’s hitting the ball harder than Paul DeJong! (Seriously, he is.)

Knizner built his minor league reputation on an above-average contact ability – “hit tool” – for a catcher. He hit over .300 in four of his six stops in the minors, with a high of .324 in AA in 2017. His power was just OK everywhere, but it picked up (as did everyone’s) in Memphis in 2019 when his BA fell and his ISO climbed to .187.

Let’s just say that hit tool has not translated at all to the majors. Why not? We can certainly point to inconsistent playing time. Better is to point to pitch types. Kniz remains completely unprepared for major league breaking balls. His slash line on breakers is .118/.142/.176. He whiffs on over 30% of the breaking balls he sees. That’s all “yikes” level stuff.

The league hasn’t really picked up on this. They’re still throwing him fastballs around 60% of the time. He does hit hard stuff better – coming in at an unimpressive but survivable .326 wOBA.

I can still point to his small sample size and remind everyone that he did hit in the minors. He really should be a better hitter than he’s been! Catchers are notoriously slow to bring their bats to the majors. Maybe he can settle in with more playing time. Maybe not…

Luis Garcia: Sinker% and BA/wOBA/SLUG

Luis Garcia has been surprisingly brilliant since the Cardinals snagged him off whatever dump heap he was in. The former Philly, Angel, and Ranger has a 3.68 ERA but he couples that with a 1.54 FIP and a BB rate of just 1.8%. In the “season of the walk” that’s a feel-good story!

The journeyman reliever has been mostly bad throughout his career. Normally, I would just write off what he’s done as small sample size variance, but there might be something here. Sometimes clubs just grab arms off the dust bin. Sometimes they see something they think they can work with. That might be the case with Garcia.

With the Cardinals, Garcia’s sinker percentage has sky-rocketed to 51.3%. His last full season – 2019 – Garcia used his sinker just 25% of the time.

Why are the Cardinals using it more while dumping his 4-seamer? Opposing hitters are batting just .212 off it with a .203 wOBA and a .212 slug%. He hasn’t allowed an extra base hit on his sinker. His expected stats aren’t quite as good but they’re not too bad either.

Will this last? Heck if I know! His sinker wasn’t used much in the past because it wasn’t very good in the past. But if anyone can coax brilliance out of a sinking fastball on a 34-year old journeyman’s arm, it’s gotta be the Cardinals. And Busch Stadium. And Arenado/DeJong/Edman/Goldy.

So far, Garcia is keeping the ball in the zone. Making batters hit his hard sinker. And trusting his world-class defense to take care of the rest. It should work. It is working. Hopefully, he keeps it up!

Got your own random stat that matters? That’s what the comments are for! Happy Saturday.