May 28, 2009
Good Luck, or Just Plain Good?

Last week, I took a look at two Mets who are underperforming expectations in Church and Green. Since I’m a believer of karma, today we’ll take a look at two Mets who are over performing their projections and decide if they are recipients of good luck or just are playing well.

Livan Hernandez

I am already on the record as saying that I’m a bit biased when it comes to analyzing Livan. As I wrote before, it’s hard not to like a Cuban refugee that throws every type of pitch with an effortless motion. Watching a pitcher throw a 84 MPH fastball, 77 MPH slider, 74 MPH changeup and a 65 MPH curveball (as well as every pitch in-between) is fun for me. Before the season, CHONE projected Hernandez would have a 4.91 FIP and a 5.23 ERA. After his one run shutout against the third best hitting team in the National League –according to wOBA,- Livan’s FIP and ERA currently sit at 4.52 and 4.28 respectivly. The latter means the Livan is getting a bit lucky but, even with luck taken into consideration; Livan is performing better than expected. Let’s look through some numbers to see why Livan is performing so well.

Last year, Livan’s FIP was 4.94, he accomplished this with a K/9 of 3.35, BB/9 of 2.15, and a 1.25 HR/9. This year, as mentioned, Livan has a 4.52 FIP with a 5.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 1.15 HR/9. So, his walks slightly increasing a touch is offset by his home run rate slightly decrease. The big difference is the increase in strikeouts. This years strikeout rate represents Livan’s highest rate since ’06 (5.33) and isn’t too far off from Livan’s last good season in ’05 (5.37.) One of the reasons Livan has been striking out more batters this year is the unexpected “return” of his fastball. Livan’s average fastball has been 84.7 MPH, in years prior is fastball has been sitting at 83.7, 83.6, and 83.9. The last time his fastball was over 85 MPH was–you guessed it—2005, his last effective season when his fastball sat at 86.0 MPH.

Now, I don’t think that one mile-per-hour is the sole reason for Livan’s revival but I do think it’s a bit telling. According to FanGraphs Pitch Type Linear Weights, Livan’s fastball this year had a wFB of -6.7 (negative is bad). In the two years prior his wFB has been -14.7 and -26.0. Concurrently, his slider has also seen a dramatic improvement and slight improvements from his other pitches. Whether a stronger fastball makes for more effective breaking/offspeed pitches, or the more effective breaking/offspeed pitches are making is fastball more effective, not the speed, is a “chicken and the egg” type question that I cannot answer. What I can say is that Livan hasn’t been getting lucky, he’s pitching better. Whether he can sustain this improvement is another question.

Omir Santos

Before the season began, CHONE projected that Omir would have a .617 OPS. Omir currently has a .737 OPS, his highest OPS since 2004 when, in 119 ABs, he had a .744 OPS as a 23 year old in advanced A ball. As I stated last week, the best way to see if a batter has been lucky is to use PrOPS. According to PrOPS, Santos has been lucky, I mean come on of coarse it does, this is Omir Santos we’re talking about -wait, what?- PrOPS actually has Omir pegged for a .813 OPS according to his line drives stats and other batting metrics. It’s true Omir has actually been unlucky, however, catchers underperforming their PrOPS is kind of common as slower players tend to not get those infield hits that other players do. However, even though Omir has not been lucky per se, he has been outperforming what his minor league numbers suggest he will be able to do and logic as well as ZiPS updated projections say he will come back to Earth soon…and hard. As Howard Megdal mentioned, think Argenis Reyes in 2008. Still, Omir has been a pleasant surprise and I will always remember his reaction to hitting that home run off of Papelbon as I’m sure all of you will as well.

3 Responses to “Good Luck, or Just Plain Good?”

  1. Comment posted by Danny on May 28, 2009 at 8:24 am (#992835)

    Livan seems to be in better shape this year. I’m wondering if that is helping his fastball velocity a touch. I don’t think he will sustain this production, but an ERA in the high 4s would be more than acceptable for a #5 starter. (Sadly Livan is our #4 right now hahaha). I think he might stick all year.

    The Omir Santos thing is more confusing. I KNOW he is due for regression, but as PrOPS shows, his success seems a lot more legitimate than ARGH’s success ever was last year. I’m starting to like the guy and I think he might stick as a good backup catcher for us. And Omir also seems to move pretty well for a catcher. Maybe he’s a REALLY REALLY REALLY late bloomer? ;-)

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  3. Comment posted by Wally Dykstra on May 28, 2009 at 8:56 am (#992850)

    Re Omir, I will admit that I have no idea what his performance has been in the minors, and you would expect that if he’s been not so hot in the minors, he certainly shouldn’t be better in the majors. What I see when I watch Omir, however, is a guy with a very short compact swing that hits line drives to all fields. He reminds me a lot of Paul Lo Duca in his build and hitting approach. This approach should lend itself to good hitting results, so I will choose to remain optimistic.

  4. Comment posted by Hubie on May 28, 2009 at 1:39 pm (#993362)

    I like Livan a lot this year. I didn’t see much of spring training but did watch the Red Sox exhibition games and I commented at the time that Livan’s stuff looked better than both Ollie and Maine. I heard his interview during the pre-game yesterday and he says he is healthy for the first time since 2006 and he actually can push off his legs. Be interesting to see if he can pitch this well agst the Phillies in two weeks as it looks like his turn will come up during that series. I don’t see him leaving the rotation any time soon and I can see him winning 12 games and finishing with a 4.5 era.