Assorted Thoughts On The World Baseball Classic And Brandon Lyon

(Flickr/cseeman)

Earlier this week Benevolent Overlord Mac wrote up a post about Ryan Vogelsong’s appearance on the USA roster for the World Baseball Classic. Today, the complete rosters for all sixteen teams were announced, and there are nine Giants littered across the rosters of teams from around the world. Joining Vogelsong on the U.S. roster is Jeremy Affeldt. Pablo Sandoval, Jose Mijares, and Marco Scutaro will all play for the Venezuelan team, Angel Pagan and Javier Lopez will play for Puerto Rico, and Sergio Romo will play for Mexico. In addition to those eight, Giants minor leaguer Clayton Tanner will play for the Australian team.

Here’s the thing: I love the WBC. Love, love, love it. I understand why most people don’t, and I understand why many of the best players from around the world avoid it. It doesn’t matter to me. Few things get me going like athletic competition mixed with blind, fervent patriotism. Many fans out there would rather their team’s players not participate in this event, and while I understand the sentiment, I disagree. If, say, Sergio Romo tweaks his knee or his elbow pitching for Mexico, will I be upset? Of course. But I understand that that’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory of being an elite talent in a globally popular sport.

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Andrew Baggarly posted a story today that states that the Giants are in serious negotiations with Brandon Lyon, the right-handed reliever who pitched for Toronto and Houston last season. Lyon had a fantastic year last year, pitching 61 innings in his two stops last year, striking out a career high 9.3 batters per nine innings while only walking fewer than three.

His peripheral stats indicate he was somewhat lucky last year – a 6.8% HR/FB ratio looks particularly unsustainable – but pitching in San Francisco, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors the last few years, especially when it comes to fly-ball pitchers, could help him sustain that low rate. There’s only one thing that gives me pause about Lyon, and that’s his potential price tag.

Last year he made $5.5 million, and after putting up a 3.10 ERA he’s likely looking to receive a raise. As I mentioned in my now-irrelevant post yesterday, I believe the Giants’ payroll will be approaching $140 million after the arbitration cases of Romo, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, so another $5-6 million would likely break that imaginary glass ceiling. It also would certainly spell the end of Brian Wilson in a Giants uniform, as Lyon would certainly occupy the seventh and final reliever spot.

Lyon’s strikeout rate last year was 9.3 batters per nine innings, which was a career high mark by nearly two full batters. What made Lyon’s strikeout rate spike that much? Looking at his pitch classifications, Lyon made some changes to his pitch selection this season

In 2010 (I’m throwing out his 2011 data since he pitched only 13.1 innings due to a bicep injury) Lyon threw his cut fastball 29.3% of the time and got whiffs on 7.1% of those*, and he threw his four-seam fastball 27.7% of the time, garnering 7.8% whiffs. He also threw his 21.1% of the time, garnering a whiff percentage of 9.8% on that pitch. Compare that to his 2012 Pitch F/x stats. His cut fastball usage jumped to 37.1%, and his whiff percentage on that pitch also jumped to 8.1%. His four seam fastball usage fell about 5%, down to 22.9%, though his whiff rate on that pitched stayed about the same. He basically stopped throwing his slider all together, using it only 12 times in all of 2012. Instead, he threw his curveball almost twice as often in 2012 as he did in 2010, and to great results: batters whiffed on his curveball 21.4% of the time.

*All the data in this paragraph comes from the incomparable texasleaguers.com Pitch F/x database.

It would seem an increased reliance on his cut fastball and curveball, and a decreased reliance on his slider, helped bump Lyon’s strikeout rate to a career high in 2012. If he does indeed sign with the Giants – nothing is final or particularly close to final yet – Giants’ fans will look for him to continue his good performance in 2013. He’ll likely come with a relatively high price tag, but he could be a very good addition to an already-excellent bullpen.

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