Is Brian Bannister on to something?

In a recent interview with MLB Trade Rumors, Kansas City Royals pitcher Brian Bannister reveals that he does statistical  studies to help improve his game.  Bannister, in talking about DIPS theory, suggests that one piece of information that is rarely taken into account, when considering statistics such as DIPS, is the issue of the count.  He doesn’t fully develop the argument, but he talks about the fact that on an 0-2 count, the batter doesn’t have the luxury of letting a pitch go by and so he might be forced into a bad decision and a bad swing.  It’s a logical theory.  And thankfully, one that can be tested, and rather easily at that. 
It’s known that in general, pitchers batting average against varies by count with general batting average and OBP on a 3-0 count being much better than on an 0-2 count.  I think the reasons there should be fairly obvious.  The question here though is a little different.  Once the ball is hit (and it doesn’t leave the park), does a pitcher have more control over what happens to the ball to an 0-2 pitch rather than a 0-1 pitch?  Or more accurately, are the results at least more consistent on some counts, but not others.
I took my trusty 2003-2006 Retrosheet PBP data base out and selected out all the balls in play and coded them for whether the batter got a hit or made an out.  I calculated each pitcher’s BABIP for each year, broken down by count in which the ball in play happened.  I kept it to those pitchers with at least 200 batters faced total in the year in question.  As per usual when I do DIPS-based analyses like this, I looked at the AR(1) intra-class correlation over those four years to see how stable BABIP was for each count.  The higher the number, the more stable BABIP is at that count from year to year.
0-0 count – .066
0-1 count – .023
0-2 count – .050
1-0 count – .084
1-1 count – .103
1-2 count – .045
2-0 count – .011
2-1 count – .002
2-2 count – .016
3-0 count – .039
3-1 count – .000
3-2 count – .046
First off, those numbers are all still pathetically small.  (There’s also a likely sample size issue, in that we’re looking at sample sizes as small as 20 BIP on some pitcher-year-counts)  Yeah, some are bigger than others, but these are the types of numbers that spawned the original DIPS theory that on balls in play, a pitcher has very little replicable skill in keeping the ball from being a hit, at least on a year-to-year level.  It looks like that conclusion still holds, and it doesn’t seem to matter much, on a year-to-year individual pitcher basis, what the count is.
But, maybe there’s something to Bannister’s theory.  I ran BABIP by count on all balls in play from 2003-2006 for everyone.  The results seemed to support Bannister’s basic premise that the count does make a difference.  Here are the BABIP numbers for all pitchers in the four years in the dataset, in order from highest to lowest.
3-1 .3119
3-0 .3112
3-2 .3066
2-1 .3053
2-0 .3045
1-0 .3027
1-1 .2978
0-0 .2965
2-2 .2932
0-1 .2908
1-2 .2908
0-2 .2856
That’s what you might expect.  The more that the count tilts toward the batter, the higher the BABIP, and the difference between an 0-2 and a 3-0 count is 26 points or so.  So, overall, the average pitcher does benefit from having the count in his favor.  The problem is again, at the individual level, there’s not a lot of stability, so it doesn’t look like it’s something that one pitcher is able to exploit and not another.  At the individual level, the variation around the mean is random.  Rather, the benefit of an 0-2 count is a general benefit that all pitchers get in the aggregate.
Consider this a tutorial in what’s known as multi-level modeling.  In this case, you have individual players who are all members of an overarching group, MLB pitchers.  In this case, most of the effect might descend from being a Major League pitcher rather than being a specific individual.  Now, Bannister says that the best way to control what happens to a batted ball is to try to control the count.  It looks like he’s right.  Pitchers who pitch ahead in the count are more likely to give up balls in play that end up in someone’s glove.
Now, do pitchers generally show some skill in what counts they give up their BABIP?  The answer is actually “sorta kinda yes.”  Again, I went to the 2003-2006 data set and calculated the percentage of balls in play that came during each specific count (minimum 200 total BIP) relative to the total number of BIP.  Then, I ran a series of ICC’s over the four years in the data set.  The ICC’s were generally in the mid .30 range.  Not huge, but not something that can be dismissed out of hand.  There’s more.  The ICC’s for percentage of time getting the BIP off of an 0-2 count was .51 and for a 1-2 count was .41.  The ability to induce a pitcher’s count, and then to get the batter to hit the ball has some decent stability.  And those are the counts with the lowest BABIP.
So, in a two-step process, there is a certain amount of control that a pitcher has over BABIP.  A pitcher has somewhat of an individual ability to control what counts he gets into, especially two-strike counts.  Then, based on that, there’s a league-wide benefit/penalty for working into specific types of count.  It’s not that certain pitchers have a certain ability to leverage a 1-2 count, comparable to other pitchers.  It’s just that some pitchers are better than others at getting to a 1-2 count, and everyone pitches better when the count is in his favor.  So, a pitcher who is good at getting ahead in the count is likely to have a BABIP that’s particularly low, and that’s not a mistake.
I think Brian Bannister is on to something.

One-Hit Wonders

A “Perfect Game” is the pinnacle of all pinnacles for a starting pitcher.  Reaching this feat has been nothing short of rare as there have only been eleven Perfect Games since 1957 (not including two shortened perfect games).  These games are so special because the pitcher allows a total of zero baserunners. 
After that, we consider a “no-hitter” to be the most special game.  These occur, as the name suggests, when a pitcher does not allow a hit.  Runners can reach base via error, walk, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, etc, but no batter safely reaches base via a hit.
What I began to wonder is why we consider a no-hitter to be so special.  Why are these games categorized in record books and in the minds of fans if they are potentially worse than other games?
On May 12th, 2001, A.J. Burnett tossed a no-hitter against the Padres.  He did not allow a hit however he walked nine batters.  Nine!  On September 28th, 1974, Nolan Ryan tossed a no-hitter against the Twins.  Though he struck out fifteen batters he also walked eight.  Sure, it is harder to prevent hits than walks, but since 1957 there have been 69 no-hitters wherein the pitcher allowed three or more baserunners.
If the key to a Perfect Game involves not allowing any baserunners, why are no-hitters like this broadly categorized if the pitchers give up anywhere from 3-11 baserunners?  Jim Maloney, in 1965, pitched a 10 inning no-hit shutout in which he struck out twelve, hit a batter, and walked ten
It seems as if we are leaping from Point A to Point E and skipping everything in between.
Since Perfect Games call for no baserunners, the next best games have to involve only one baserunner.  There are two types of these games and, to be fair, a no-hitter with one walk will be ranked higher than a one-hitter with no walks.  After that come the games with two baserunners.  There are three types of these games.  The rank of these games, in order, is below.

  1. PERFECT GAME:  0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 Baserunners

  2. NO-HITTER A:      0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 Baserunner

  3. ONE-HITTER A:    0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 Baserunner

  4. ONE-HITTER B:    0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 Baserunners

  5. NO-HITTER B:      0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 Baserunners

  6. TWO-HITTER A:  0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 Baserunners

Since hits are harder to prevent than walks, a No-Hitter with one walk should be considered the second best type of game, while two different types of One-Hitters are actually better than another type of a No-Hitter.  I only wanted to use games involving two or less baserunners so let’s look at some good ‘ole data.
First, we will look at the eleven legit perfect games. Nobody has more than one in their career.



Randy Johnson 5/18/04
David Cone 7/18/99
David Wells 5/17/98
Kenny Rogers 7/28/94
Dennis Martinez 7/28/91
Tom Browning 9/16/88
Mike Witt 9/30/84
Len Barker 5/15/81
Catfish Hunter 5/8/68
Sandy Koufax 9/9/65
Jim Bunning 6/21/64

Next come the games in which a pitcher allows 0 hits, 0 runs, and only 1 baserunner. There have been 21 of these games and nobody has done it more than once. The recent no-hitters that qualify here include -

  • Mark Buehrle, 4/18/07
  • Derek Lowe, 4/27/02
  • Kevin Brown, 6/10/97
  • Ramon Martinez, 7/14/95

Looking a bit further, of those 21 No-Hitter A games, five of them involved an error accounting for the only baserunner.  Kevin Brown’s is the only one listed above that qualifies for that.
Additionally, there have been eight games where a pitcher has not allowed a hit or a walk, but allowed baserunners via errors.  Kevin Brown heads the club that includes – Terry Mulholland, Bob Forsch, Jerry Ruess, Dick Bosman, Bill Singer, Joe Horlan, and Lew Burdette.
After the first type of no-hitters comes the first type of one-hitters.  These games are ranked ahead of the next best no-hitter because they allow less baserunners.  There have been 49 of these games and only two players have recorded multiple ones – Mike Mussina and John Smiley have recorded two One-Hitter A games in their career.
The next best game involves a pitcher allowing only two baserunners, one via a hit and one via a walk.  Four players have recorded multiple One-Hitter B games.  Cory Lidle, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Ray Culp have each recorded Two One-Hitter B games.
Moving back to the world of no-hitters, these next games involve no hits, no runs, and 2 walks.  There have been 13 of these games and only Nolan Ryan and Warren Spahn have recorded multiple ones.  Each recorded Two No-Hitter B games.
Lastly, we have games in which a pitcher allows two baserunners, both via a hit.  There have been 100 of these games and 10 pitchers have recorded multiple ones.  The ten pitchers who each have Two Two-Hitter A games in their career are:

  • Rick Wise
  • Bill Stafford
  • Curt Schilling
  • Bret Saberhagen
  • Jim Merritt
  • Jimmy Key
  • Catfish Hunter
  • Tommy John
  • Ron Guidry
  • John Candelaria

The point of this post was really just to shed some light on games that are technically better than others just generally classified as “no-hitters.”  I’m not really trying to debunk anything.  I was fooling around with the Baseball-Reference Play Index, which is probably the most amazing resource I have ever encountered, and I strongly suggest you pay the nominal subscription fee if you are a fan of stats.
Fun Fact – Nolan Ryan had seven No-Hitters in his career but only three of them involved three or less baserunners.
Just some updates from my end.  If you haven’t seen it yet I have been providing sabermetric previews for Tampa Bay Devil Rays players over at Rays Anatomy.
Additionally, I recently began a weekly column titled Nerd-onomics over at MLB Front Office wherein I apply my sabermetric knowledge to aid fantasy baseball enthusiasts.
Before I go I just want to leave you with a trivia question. I am going to add a trivia question at the end of all of my articles, from now on, and those who answer correctly will receive a hug from me.
TRIVIA – There is only one ACTIVE starting pitcher who has been around for 10+ years and has never had a losing W-L record. It is not Pedro Martinez, as he went 0-1 in his very first season and it is not Roy Oswalt as he has only been around for 8 seasons. Answers go in the comment box.

A PITCHf/x analysis of Kelvim Escobar

Despite winning the American League West with a 94-68 record last year, the LA of Anaheim Angels have gotten short shrift from the PITCHf/x analysts thus far. The only writeup that the pitching staff has gotten was one by Joe Sheehan on John Lackey three weeks into the season. I’d like to remedy that a little bit today. The Angels had three outstanding starters: Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Jered Weaver. Let’s take a detailed look into the pitching performance of Kelvim Escobar.
Escobar is a 31-year-old right hander from LaGuaira, Venezuela. He was a former starter turned reliever (and closer) and back to starter again for the Toronto Blue Jays before joining the Anaheim Angels in 2004. He’s struggled to stay completely healthy, but overall he has turned in some fine numbers for the Angels in four years: a 43-35 record and 3.60 ERA in 109 starts, allowing 611 hits and 213 walks against 561 strikeouts in 653 innings.
Since the Big A was one of the original nine stadiums to have a camera system installed from the beginning of the 2007 season, the large majority of Escobar’s season was recorded by the PITCHf/x system, 2469 of his total 3141 pitches. This gives us a good data set to identify his pitches and examine his pitching tendencies.
Escobar throws quite an array of pitches: a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a changeup and split-finger, a slider and a curveball. According to scouting reports, he is capable with all six pitches.
Escobar Pitch Speed vs. Spin Force Angle
Here I’ve shown two graphs that I use for pitch classification. The first graph shows the speed of his pitches versus the direction they break, in polar graph format. The second graph shows the movement due to the forces of spin deflection and gravity on his pitches in the last quarter-second before they cross the plate.
Escobar Late Break
There are a couple other ways to look at the vertical vs. horizontal deflection over the whole pitch trajectory:
Escobar Vertical vs. Horizontal Pitch Deflection (spin + gravity)
Escobar Vertical vs. Horizontal Spin Deflection (spin only)
Escobar’s four-seam fastball runs 92-96 mph, and the average spin deflection he gets on the four-seamer is a 10-inch hop and a 4-inch tail in toward right-handers. Compared to a league-average fastball, that’s 3 mph faster but with a couple inches less lateral movement, probably due to the fact that his motion is more over-the-top than many right-handed pitchers. The four-seamer is one of Escobar’s main pitches to both lefties (26% of the time) and righties (27%).
Escobar’s two-seam fastball also runs 92-96 mph, but its average spin deflection is an 8-inch hop and a 7-inch tail in toward right-handers. The two-seamer is his primary pitch to lefties (28% of the time) and also a main pitch to right-handers (24%). I made the division between the four-seamer and the two-seamer by looking at the spin direction of each pitch on a game-by-game basis, but the dividing line between the two is still a bit fuzzy to me.
His split-finger fastball runs 85-89 mph, and its average spin deflection is a 6-inch hop and a 6-inch tail in toward right-handers. Escobar uses the splitter fairly often to left-handers (15% of the time) but only infrequently to right-handers (6%).
His changeup runs 83-87 mph, and its average spin deflection is a 10-inch hop and a 3-inch tail in toward righties. The 9-mph separation between his fastball and changeup is about average for major league pitchers. He uses the changeup more often to lefties (16% of the time) but also some against righties (11%).
Escobar’s slider runs 85-89 mph, and its average spin deflection is a 3-inch hop and a 2-inch break away from righties. That’s about 3 mph harder than the average major-league slider, with typical movement. The slider is one of his favorite pitches to right-handed hitters (25% of the time) and is rarely used against lefties (2%).
Finally, his curveball runs 79-84 mph, and its average spin deflection is a 3-inch drop and a 1-inch break away from right-handers. That’s about 4 mph harder than the average major-league curveball, with 12-to-6 movement that is somewhat rare. (The spin deflection on the average major-league curveball is a 2-inch drop and a 5-inch cut. John Walsh’s article is my source for league average numbers.)
Next, let’s look at how Escobar mixes his pitches in different ball-strike counts, which I’ve split out by batter handedness. The picture gets a bit messy when a man throws six different pitches, but let’s dive in and see what we see.
Escobar Pitch Mix to LHH by CountEscobar Pitch Mix to RHH by Count
To lefties, Escobar uses the four-seamer on any count and relies on it a little more if he falls behind. He throws the curveball early in the count, 22% of the time with no balls, 9% of the time with 1 ball, and only 3% of the time with 2 or 3 balls in the count. He favors the two-seamer with 0 or 1 strike, 33% of the time, but uses it only 16% of the time with 2 strikes. Instead, with 2 strikes he relies on the splitter 32% of the time. He’ll throw the changeup at almost any count except 0-2 and 3-0, but he likes to throw it more when he’s behind in the count, in which case he throws it 25% of the time.
Early in the count with Escobar, lefties should expect to see the two-seamer, the four-seamer, the curveball, and the changeup, in that order. If Escobar gets the hitter down 0-2 or 1-2, he should expect the splitter (41% of the time) or perhaps a fastball (41%), but if the count goes 2-2 or 3-2, he should start to watch for the changeup, too (33%).
To righties, early in the count, Escobar throws hard stuff, 31% two-seamers, 28% sliders, 23% four-seamers, and only 18% of his other three pitches combined. When he gets 2 strikes, the two-seamer disappears (only 3%), but he’s willing to show the splitter (14%). The changeup gets used a little with 1 strike (11%), but at 2-1 or 2-2 it’s a favored pitch (26%), and at 3-2, it’s his favorite pitch (34%), like it was to lefties. Righties can expect the curveball mainly at a single count: 0-2, where Escobar uses it 28% of the time; it’s little used (6%) in other counts.
What kind of results does Escobar get with each of his pitches? His four-seam fastball is a pretty good pitch, but his two-seamer grades out poorer. All four of his off-speed pitches are above average. I should mention that the PITCHf/x games for Escobar are missing his two worst starts of the year, which skews all the following numbers a little bit in his favor.

LHH _Ball_ _CS_ _Foul_ _SS_ InPlay _Avg_ _BABIP_ _SLG_ __HR__
4-seamer 0.33 0.26 0.17 0.06 0.18 0.315 0.315 0.444 0.000
2-seamer 0.40 0.17 0.18 0.05 0.20 0.338 0.317 0.523 0.031
Splitter 0.35 0.09 0.19 0.17 0.19 0.294 0.273 0.441 0.029
Changeup 0.39 0.14 0.15 0.12 0.20 0.216 0.216 0.297 0.000
Slider 0.22 0.11 0.39 0.06 0.22 0.500 0.500 0.750 0.000
Curveball 0.35 0.32 0.09 0.13 0.11 0.353 0.353 0.412 0.000
RHH _Ball_ _CS_ _Foul_ _SS_ InPlay _Avg_ _BABIP_ _SLG_ __HR__
4-seamer 0.41 0.17 0.20 0.08 0.14 0.176 0.176 0.216 0.000
2-seamer 0.39 0.26 0.14 0.04 0.17 0.415 0.392 0.585 0.038
Splitter 0.36 0.04 0.15 0.19 0.26 0.158 0.158 0.211 0.000
Changeup 0.27 0.06 0.12 0.28 0.26 0.237 0.216 0.316 0.026
Slider 0.35 0.17 0.11 0.16 0.22 0.254 0.243 0.352 0.014
Curveball 0.39 0.23 0.11 0.14 0.14 0.154 0.154 0.154 0.000
Lg. Avg. _Ball_ _CS_ _Foul_ _SS_ InPlay _Avg_ _BABIP_ _SLG_ __HR__
Fastball 0.36 0.19 0.19 0.06 0.19 0.330 0.304 0.521 0.037
Changeup 0.40 0.11 0.14 0.13 0.21 0.319 0.295 0.502 0.035
Slider 0.36 0.14 0.17 0.13 0.20 0.310 0.286 0.481 0.033
Curveball 0.40 0.19 0.13 0.11 0.21 0.310 0.290 0.471 0.029

The league average information comes from John Walsh’s article. In the following pitch location charts, I’ve changed my color-coding a bit to try to improve readability for those with color blindness. Hopefully the new system is an improvement.
Bedard Four-Seam Fastball Location
Escobar works with the four-seamer on the outer half of the plate to both lefties and righties, although with lefties he works down more and avoids coming inside, and with righties he works up more and works inside just off the plate. He has some trouble throwing the four-seamer for strikes to righties (only 59%, compared to 64% league average), but when he does, and they put in play, he gets very good results: .176/.216 (avg/slg), compared to .330/.521 major-league average off the fastball.
To lefties, he’s much better at throwing the four-seamer for strikes (67%), and he gets a lot of called strikes (26% compared to 19% league average), but his results on balls in play are only fair: .315/.444 avg/slg. He didn’t allow a single home run in 31 fly balls hit off the four-seamer in PITCHf/x games. That is unusual–fastballs are the most homered-upon pitch for most pitchers.
Escobar Two-Seam Fastball Location
Escobar has trouble throwing the two-seamer for strikes, getting it over only 60% of the time. As with the four-seamer, he works mainly on the outer part of the plate to both lefties and righties. However, both lefties and righties have good success when they put the two-seamer into play. Lefties hit .338/.523, and righties hit .415/.585.
Escobar Split-Finger Fastball Location
The splitter is Escobar’s strikeout pitch to lefties, and you can see why. They swing and miss at it down and away more often than not. He doesn’t necessarily throw it in the strike zone that much, but he gets strikes because the hitters chase it. When he does get it in the zone, hitters do much better with it, making at least decent contact and racking up a .294/.441 line, including a home run.
He doesn’t throw the splitter nearly as much to righties, although I wonder if maybe he should. He still gets a lot of swings and misses (19%, compared to 13% league average), but righties are able to put the ball in play almost every time he gets the splitter in the zone. However, the right-handed hitters don’t fare nearly as well as lefties on balls in play, hitting only a meager .158/.211. Perhaps it’s the small sample size (19 balls in play), or maybe righties really do have trouble getting good wood on the splitter.
Escobar Changeup Location
The changeup is the first pitch where we see a marked contrast in Escobar’s location to lefties and righties. To lefties, he pitches away, away, away. He gets some swings and misses in the zone, but lefties don’t chase the changeup out of the strike zone much. On balls hit into play by lefties, Escobar does well, a .216/.297 line, compared to .319/.502 against an average major-league changeup.
To righties, he throws the changeup mostly in the zone or on the corner low and away. He gets a lot of swings and misses, especially on the outside corner. The changeup is a very effective pitch against righties. No wonder he likes to throw it as a strikeout pitch to righties. Moreover, even though he pounds the heart of the zone, righties have little luck on balls in play, hitting only .237/.316. Most right-handed pitchers avoid throwing the changeup to right-handed hitters, but for Escobar in that situation, it’s a great pitch and one he could perhaps use even more often.
Escobar Slider Location
As you can see, his slider is rarely used to lefties, mostly thrown up and in and fouled off. To righties, he uses the slider a lot, and to good effect. He gets a good number of called strikes (17%, versus 14% league average) and swinging strikes (16%, versus 13% average), and when the ball is put in play, Escobar also fares well, allowing a .254/.352 avg/slg, compared to .310/.481 against an average major-league slider. Those numbers include allowing only 1 home run on 27 fly balls hit by righties off the slider–luck or skill?
Escobar Curveball Location
Finally, we come to the curveball, Escobar’s least-used pitch. He throws it mostly down and away to both righties and lefties, although he also throws it in the zone quite a bit. He gets a lot of called strikes, especially to lefties (32%), but also to righties (23%), compared to league average of 19% with the curve. Most pitchers rarely throw the curveball as the first pitch to a batter. Escobar, on the other hand, often throws a lefty a curveball right across the plate for strike one looking. Lefties don’t often make contact with the curveball, but when they do, the results are decent: .353/.412, compared to league average against the curve of .310/.471.
Right-handers see the curveball more often with two strikes, and it’s a good strikeout pitch for Escobar, both swinging (at balls in the dirt) and looking. Righties don’t make contact with the curve very often, either, and when they do, their results are particularly poor: in 13 curveballs in play, righties hit 10 groundballs (including two double plays), 2 fly balls, and one line drive. The line drive and one groundball landed as singles, for a .154 average.
In summary, Escobar has a solid four-seam fastball which he complements with a weaker two-seamer, and his array of off-speed pitches is impressive. His changeup, splitter, curveball, and slider are all well above average pitches, and some of them, particularly his changeup, are among the best in baseball. He struggles with control on his fastball, and this, along with the recurrent health problems, is probably all that keeps him from being one of the very best pitchers in baseball.
As a final note, I thought this was a great photo from of Kelvim Escobar in full stride.

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in my similar previous analysis of Erik Bedard, Johan Santana, James Shields, Mariano Rivera, Joakim Soria, Josh Beckett, Joba Chamberlain, or Eric Gagne.

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Milwaukee Brewers

Oh Milwaukee, you fickle town.  You actually made us believe that you were going to be the feel-good story of the year.  You pledged to pee your pants if the Brewers made the playoffs.  Then, you managed to let the Cubs (the CUBS!) win the NL Central and you missed out on the playoffs altogether!  You let down all of the bandwagon intelligentsia fans who wanted to look cool by cheering for your team.  At least your pants are dry.
Welcome to stop #15 in our tour… Milwaukee.  Am I really only half-way done with these?
Record: 83-79, 2nd in NL Central
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  83.47 wins (801 runs scored,  776 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
MVN Blog:
Brewers Bar
More Brewers Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: Well, for what it’s worth, I think Prince Fielder should have been the MVP last year, not Jimmy Rollins.  But, I also think Troy Tulowitzki should have been Rookie of the Year instead of Ryan Braun.  I suppose that when it comes to picking an NL award with a Brewer involved, I get it wrong every time. 
What went right: Before Brewers fans begin micturating on me, it’s not that I thought Braun had a bad year.  In fact, he had a prodigious year.  It’s just that Troy was actually better.  Braun, despite the fact that he can’t field is a keeper.  He has all the signs of a good, young power hitter (including the high strikeout rate).  He hits fly balls, and they tend to either go for doubles (always beware a high HR total without a matching high double total) or out of the park.  As an added bonus, Braun’s emergence saved the Brewers from having to play their original platoon of Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell at third.  Both of those guys stuck around as utility/bench guys, but neither actually finished above replacement level.  Assuming that those two had stayed replacement level through the year, Braun actually added 50 runs to the Brewers above them with his bat.  (He probably took off a few runs with his glove, though…)
The other thing that went right for the Brewers was that all of their luck happened in the first half of the season.  This made them the darlings of the early season.  Had they waited until twenty-five games in to start their little run, it wouldn’t have gotten noticed.  How could a team go so bad so fast?  Well, it’s entirely possible that the Brewers were never that good to begin with.  At the end of game #81, they were 47-34, on pace for a 94-68 record, which would have been good enough for home field advantage in the playoffs.  Here’s the thing.  81 games is actually a pretty small sample for any binomial distribution (as is 162!).  Let’s say that the Brewers were really a .500 team deep down.  The chances that a .500 team would win at least 47 of 81 games (to put another way, the chances of getting at least 47 heads in 81 coin flips)?  About 9%.  Not super-likely, but about a one-in-eleven shot.  Further, at the mid-point of the season, winning percentage in the first half predicts the second half with a correlation coefficient of about .46.  Not all that great.  The Brewers didn’t collapse.  They simply regressed to the mean.
What went wrong: Tony Gwynn apparently had a kid, but forgot to teach him how to hit.  I’ll give the kid credit.  He’s 24 and should at least learn some new tricks (from his dad?)  But, he was also posting OPS around .690 in AAA.  In 2006, he posted a .756 OPS, but with the benefit of a BABIP of 40 points over his career average.  Methinks the Brewers got a little fooled.  He’s got that marginal 4th/5th outfielder look about him.
Actually, the biggest thing that’s gone wrong for the Brewers is that they appear to be run by someone who hasn’t looked up in five years and is far too easily impressed by a big name.  Why on earth Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron (need we mention, he’s suspended for 50 games) are getting as much money as they are shocks me.  Kendall in particular is a head-scratcher.  His walk rate has been slowly declining, his strikeout rate has been slowly increasing.  His doubles have been slowly dying off, and he never really had home run power.  Eight years ago, he was a rare animal as the high OBP catcher who stole bases (fantasy owners loved him!), but he’s also a catcher, and catchers age like dogs and Presidents.  What does that make him eight years later?  56 years older.  Other than Satchel Paige and Julio Franco… ah, you can see where that one is going.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Personally, I think Hot Dog was using steroids.
CoCo is good (but my, did Cincinnati overpay!): Exeunt Coco and Linebrink.  Francisco Cordero did save 22 straight games to open up the season and had 27 saves at the All-Star break.  Despite my usual objections to the over-ratedness of the save, it should be pointed out that Coco struck out 12 batters per nine innings (let that number sink in…) while walking 2.5.  That’s amazing.  He probably doesn’t do that again, but it was a nice ride while it lasted.  Here’s the thing.  Pitchers usually have a BABIP in the low .300s, and if they deviate from that, they usually regress back into that neighborhood.  Coco’s BABIP was .341.  So, next year, he probably regresses a bit on the K rate, but a few more balls in play probably get caught.  That said, why did Cincinnati pay $10M per year to get him?  I find it hard to believe that any relief pitcher is really worth that much.
The Brewers will attempt to re-create that bullpen magic by signing Eric Gagne (not nearly as bad as he looked in Boston, but not worth $10M), David Riske (has a special place in my heart… at my bachelor party, my buddies and I went to the Indians game that night. Riske was out shagging flies during batting practice and when he heard it was my bachelor party, he threw me a ball), Guillermo Mota, and Salomon Torres.  Bullpen guys are always a risky (get ready for plenty of Riske/risky puns… we in Cleveland had to live with them for a few years) proposition.  The amount of work that they do in a season (even over a few seasons!) is such a small sample size that it’s hard to figure out their true talent level, and then to project that into next season.  If there’s one area where I think projection systems are fairly useless, it’s relievers.  The fun thing is that all of those gentlemen might work out well, and all of them may be just awful.
Manny Para: My my, what have we here?  Para went from AA to AAA and finally to the Big Show in 2007, and along the way, threw a perfect game in AAA and had an OPS against (at all levels) of .615.  Para is consistently striking out about a batter inning, although when he got to the Majors, his walk rate jumped.  Looks like MLB hitters were able to lay off his breaking stuff.  Still, Para’s got the raw skills (look at that pitch profile) and he could be an interesting one to follow.
Outlook: I can’t believe I made it through a piece on the Brewers without making a “Sunglasses at Night” reference about Corey Hart.  (Oh wait, there it is.)  Here’s the fun thing about the Brewers.  Here’s the fun thing about the Brewers in 2008.  a) They’re probably a .500 team deep down, but with a little luck, they could be an 86 win team.  b) They play in the NL Central.  This means that they are a possible playoff team.  Ain’t baseball great?  Other than Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan, there isn’t a Brewer regular making more than $3M (wait, I take that back… Bill Hall, 3.125).  The infielders are all in their mid-20s.  What happens when those contracts come up?  Long term, this team could be the ’94 Expos.  Lots of young players who had a great season together, then all went on to have pretty-good-to-excellent careers… with other teams. 

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Minnesota Twins

Once the Twins actually trade Johan Santana, will there be anything even vaugely interesting going on in Minnesota?  Stop #14 will take a look at the entire state of Minnesota and hopefully answer that question.
Record: 79-83, 3rd in AL Central
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  80.26 wins (718 runs scored,  725 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
MVN Blog:
Twins Killings (macabre!)
More Twins Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: It’s odd that the Twins are only known as “That team that’s about to trade Johan Santana”  Sure, he’s “the best pitcher in the game”, but there are plenty of other things in Minnesota that don’t get any notice.  For a .500 team, they’re something of a Sabermetrician’s delight in how many lessons they personify.
What went right: Who was the third most valuable reliever in baseball last year, according to VORP?  Did you say Matt Guerrier (ahead of J.J. Putz and Takashi Saito, and just behind Rafael Betancourt and Heath Bell)?  Joe Nathan came in 6th.  Both had a VORP in excess of 30.  Pat Neshek came in with a VORP of 21.9, which put him ahead of Jose Valverde and Jason Isringhausen.  Neshek, in particular, allowed a line drive in a mere 16% of the batted balls hit against him and gets more than a strikeout per inning.  (The guy pitches from an arm angle that should be illegal.)  In his career, he’s allowed a .168/.219/.284 line to right-handers.  He does become somewhat normal against lefties, but then again a .201/.292/.308 line ain’t half-bad.  Guerrier may have gotten a bit lucky this year (his BABIP dipped), but he’s another who allows very few line drives, and he greatly improved his K/BB ratio.  Why does no one know about the Twins amazing bullpen outside of St. Paul?
Joe Mauer didn’t win the batting title again, but he continued to hit .294/.382/.426 and played the position of catcher.  Not bad.  Mauer did have a leg injury over the past year, and there is one concerning piece of information concerning Mauer.  While he’s really low on the strikeouts and does walk quite a bit, he’s not a power hitter and has relied in the past on the line drive as the main component of his game.  Over the last two years, he posted line drive percentages of 24%+, but this year, it was 17%.  I have to wonder if the injury had something to do with it.  Either way, he’s an outstanding talent (and he’ll only be 25 this year!), and if you hear that he’s back to fully healthy this spring, be prepared for news of him breaking into a whole new level.  Here’s to the people who laughed at Minnesota for picking Mauer first overall a few years ago as a “signability” pick. 
What went wrong: Nick Punto should have an article written about him here.  He must have compromising pictures of someone on the Twins coaching staff.  Punto, according to VORP was just about as un-valuable as Justin Morneau was valuable.  Think about that for a minute… I grant that he did have a pretty good 2006 campaign, and maybe someone in the Twins’ front office kept hoping against hope that he would re-capture that form, but it ain’t gonna happen.  Punto had a “breakout” season in 2006, in which he hit .290/.352/.373 and one home run.  Punto plays third base.  Even if he had sustained that line, who in the Twins front office looked at him as legitimate third base material?  Were they really that impressed with his batting average?  To make matters worse, did you know that Punto, on the rare occasions that he made it to first base, was actually picked off four times this year?
Someone in Minnesota is probably a wee bit concerned though about what happened with Juan Rincon over the past year.  How did a guy who had posted consistent 2.5o ERAs over the past few years suddenly balloon to a 5+ ERA with 9 HR surrendered in 53 IP?  Rincon’s walk rate was elevated last year, but the real culrpit was the fact that he surrendered many more fly balls last year and percentage-wise, many more of them left the yard than in previous years.  He may very well be developing into more of a fly ball pitcher, but a reminder that HR/FB is not much of a reliable stat.  I’m more concerned about his walk rate.  There’s also the suspicion that has to be addressed.  Rincon was suspended for steroid use in 2005.  In Baseball Between the Numbers, the BP folks noted that most of the players suspended for steroid use were relievers, and that they were probably using Vitamin S to help them recover more quickly.  It’s dangerous to draw conclusions from a single case and to assume post hoc ergo propter hoc, but it’s something that crossed my mind, and we have no idea of knowing whether or not Rincon continued using following his initial suspension, but it’s a theory.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Want a bit of perspective on what Ron Gardenhire thinks about Johan Santana?  Santana started 33 games.  In only one of them was Santana removed from the game in the middle of an inning.  It certainly wasn’t for quality bullpen arms to go to.  Seems that Santana has earned the right to work his way out of his own messes, thank you very much.
Garza vs. Young: Which is more important, a good young pitcher or a good young position player?  (There is no right answer to that question, btw)  The Twins, partly motivated by the fact that they lost Torii Hunter to free agency traded a good young pitcher in Matt Garza for a good young outfielder in Delmon Young.  They have several pitching prospects in the minors who are tossing up OPS against numbers in the low to mid 600s and can rack up the strikeouts (Slowey, Blackburn), so while Garza is certainly a nice commodity to have around, he’s got a few replacements lined up to take his place.  The Twins have a pretty bare cupboard when it comes to position players in the minors.  So, if you meet a Twins fan who laments the unforgiveable trading of Garza, because you should never trade away young pitching, explain to him that you should trade away young pitching when you have several other young pitchers and when another team is willing to give you something nice that you also need.
Let’s just hope (for the Twins’ sake) that this doesn’t turn into Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields.
Would a salary cap make a difference?: Of course it would.  I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that the three suitors for Johan are the Yankees (top payroll), Red Sox (2nd), and Mets (3rd) and that the reason is that Johan Santana, in the current market will get a 5/100 contract (or something like that) and that the reason that the Twins won’t sign that contract is because they can’t without crippling their team.  It’s not that the Twins have a divine right (or a reserve clause) to keep Santana.  Indeed, it’s entirely possible that the Twins may decide that commiting a large amount of money to one player is a silly way to run a business or that they think they can get better value for that $20M with someone else.  The problem is that the Twins really don’t have the chance to make that decision for themselves.  The realities of the market will make it for them.  The Yankees can pay out 5/100 contract and not have it cripple their team.  The Twins can’t. 
Let’s be clear on a few things: a salary cap won’t necessarily promote parity.  Salary cap detractors point out that the Patriots are about to win their 25th straight Super Bowl, despite the NFL having a salary cap.  It may not promote parity, but it will promote championships being won for the proper reason: brain power and planning.  Then there’s the philosophical question of the salary cap.  Should the odds be even up?  That’s a whole other discussion.
Oddly enough, though, the lack of a salary cap may explain why Nick Punto has a job.  Often times, anti-cappers point to the fact that several teams persist in playing players who clearly have no business being in a major league uniform.  Consider though: any young player is a bit of a gamble, some more so than others.  The sure-er things are more expensive.  Punto is a question mark, and one that’s turning quickly into one of those frown faces you make with a colon and a parenthsis.  If lightning strikes and Punto succeeds, the Twins are geniuses and a cap isn’t needed (see, small market teams can succeed!).  If not, it’s their own fault for playing such an obvious dud for so long and a cap won’t solve stupid. 
Outlook: Imagine what the Twins could do if instead of being constant sellers, they could add a player to this nucleus that they have here.  Think about that for a minute.

The Name Game

Growing up in Philadelphia, and raised in an extreme sports environment, Jayson Stark has always been an idol of mine. In fact it was reading his Philadelphia Inquirer column every week that eventually propelled me into sabermetrics. His columns always combined humor and statistics in order to show all of the hilarious or newsworthy baseball happenings that could not be seen on an ESPN show. Not shocking in the least, ESPN eventually brought him onboard. That being said, I thought I would do my sports-writing idol proud by writing an article in a style similar to his.
The idea for this came to me when the Phillies signed Chad Durbin to be their: (circle the correct answer)

  • A) 5th Starter
  • B) 6th Starter
  • C) Mop-Up Reliever
  • D) Waste of Space
  • E) Who cares, we have Adam Eaton!?

Regardless of the answer you selected, this now gave the Phillies Chad Durbin and J.D. Durbin – two completely unrelated Durbins. Now, it isn’t as if we’re talking about two guys with the last name of Smith. I never knew “Durbin” was a last name until a couple of years ago and now there are not only two in major league baseball but two on the same team?
More interestingly enough, there have only been four Durbin’s in the history of major league baseball and the other two ended their careers during, or before, 1909. The only two Durbin’s in the last 98 seasons of major league baseball are now on the same team – and have no relation to one another.
The Phillies acquired J.D. Durbin after the Diamondbacks placed him on waivers in April. Durbin had appeared in one game for Arizona and surrendered 7 hits and 7 runs in 2/3 of an inning. For the Phillies, Durbin was somewhat serviceable, even throwing a complete game shutout against the Padres.
J.D. Durbin made his Phillies debut on June 29th during the first game of a double-header against the Mets.
At the time of acquiring J.D. Durbin, the Phillies had a minor league prospect with the name J.A. Happ. Due to rotation injuries, Happ made his first major league start on June 30th, against the Mets.
Now that would be odd enough, on its own, however the Phillies also acquired J.C. Romero from the Red Sox. Romero also made his Phillies debut on June 29th, during the second game of Durbin’s double-header.
So, to recap, not only did the Phillies have three pitchers with the first names of J.A., J.C., and J.D., but all three of them made their Phillies debuts within the span of 48 hours from June 29th-June 30th!
And, speaking of the Phillies, they acquired Tad Iguchi from the White Sox towards the end of the season. Since he would not have been able to play for the Phillies until May 15th, if he re-signed with them, he went elsewhere (Padres). The Phillies, in need of another bench player, decided to sign So Taguchi. I guess this way the transition will be easier for the players.
Or how about the Twins deciding to replace Luis Castillo with Alexi Casilla.

  • Believe it or not, the American League had an Ellis, an Ellison, and an Ellsbury.  And no, they were not Dale, Pervis, or Doughboy.
  • The Athletics had Dan Haren and Rich Harden.
  • The American League also had a Joakim, a Joaquin, and a Johan.  That’s never happened before with different players.
  • Lastly, there was the Rays’ Delmon Young and the Dodgers’ Delwyn Young, who sadly never got to face each other.

Speaking of “Young’s,” the NL West not only had two of them, but two Chris Young’s.  They could not be more different, either, as one is a 9-ft tall, white, former ivy-league pitcher and the other is a 6-ft, black, college-less outfielder.  Pitcher Chris Young (PCY for those keeping track) won the 2007 battle as his younger counterpart went 0-10, with a walk and 4 K’s against him.

  •  Orlando Hudson went 2-11, with an RBI and 4 BB, against his “River” counterpart Tim Hudson.
  • Unfortunately, Reggie Abercrombie never got to face Jesse Litsch.  I wonder what Sportscenter would call that matchup.  Reggie and Jesse?  Reggie and Litsch?  Abercrombie and Jesse?  Ugh, who knows…
  • Aaron Rowand and Robinson Cano didn’t face each other this past year either.
  • Somehow, the Blue Jays and Rockies have played nine times and we are still waiting on a Halladay/Holliday matchup.
  • Scott Baker didn’t pitch against, or to, Paul Bako in 2007, though my fingers are crossed for 2008.

Mike Lamb is 3-9 in his career against Adam Eaton (who isn’t?) as well as 1-7 off of Todd Coffey.
Coffey and Lamb usually don’t go well together, though, but Felix Pie is also 0-1 off of the caffeinated one.
Eaton has never gotten to face Pie yet.  I’d like to put a pie in Eaton’s face.  3 yrs and 24 mil worth of pies!
In what would probably cause the universe to crumble, I am patiently awaiting a Rick VandenHurk vs. Todd Van Benschoten matchup.  I’m feeling 2008 or 2009.
In the long-name department, Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 1-2 against Andy Sonnanstine.  Salty also went 0-2 against Mark Hendrickson.  He went 1-1 against Ryan Rowland-Smit, but Ryan had two last names to reach eleven letters and therefore had an unfair advantage.
Easily the most hypocritical name award goes to Angel Pagan.  You can figure that one out.  Did you know, though, that the National League had “Two Wise Men”?  That’s right – Matt and Dewayne.
Though Matt Wise surrendered a hit to Angel Pagan, he struck out Dewayne Wise, proving what we already knew – Matt Wise is the smartest pitcher ever.
On a sad note,  2007 proved to be a disappointment in the generic name field (not Nate Field or Josh Fields).  Combined, there were only four Smith’s.  Jason, Joe, Matt, and Seth.
Even sadder, we only had three Williams’ – Dave, Jerome, and Woody.  Scott Williamson tried his hardest but that does not count.  Could be a cool sitcom title – Three Williams and a Williamson.
Major League Baseball spanned the endpoints of the life cycle this year.  On one side we had Alan Embree (embryo) and Omar Infante (infant) and on the other there were Jermaine Dye (die) and Manny Corpas (corpse).
Dye has never faced Corpas but is 2-7 in his career off of Embree.  Infante has also never faced Corpas but has doubled in 4 at-bats against Embree.
Jorge de la Rosa and Eulogio de la Cruz did not face each other this year despite being the only two “of-the” names.  And, just to clarify the none of you who asked, Valerio de los Santos would not qualify for this category since de los would technically be “of-them” or “of-those.”
Miguel Cairo has long been the MVP of this group but he welcomed two additions this year in the forms of Ben Francisco and Frank Francisco.  I had always thought of Francisco as a Spanish first name but was very surprised to find it as an American last name.  In fact, if you say Ben Francisco really quickly and in front of a drunk, it could even sound like San Francisco.
I recently got an original NES and could not help but notice that two major leaguers sound like items from a Zelda game.  Don’t both of these sentences make sense?

  1. Link, to defeat Ganon, you must hit him in the lower Velandia.
  2. Use your Verlander to blow up the stones blocking the entrance.

One of my favorite movies is Sinbad’s Houseguest, and whenever I hear the name of Giants’ 2B Kevin Frandsen I am reminded of Sinbad’s character Kevin Franklin.  Something tells me Frandsen never impersonated a dentist.
In addition to everyone else we had six players with job names.  Chris Carpenter and Lee Gardner maintained the stadiums and fields, Scott Proctor made sure they didn’t cheat, Skip Schumaker supplied them all with cleats, while Matt Treanor helped rehab Torii Hunter.
Schumaker did not face Carpenter, Gardner, or Proctor.  Treanor is 1-3 off of Carpenter in his career.  Hunter was 3-6 with a HR and 2 RBI off of Carpenter (career), as well as 2-6 with an RBI off of Proctor.
Clearly, a Hunter is more valuable than a Proctor and a Carpenter.
Point blank – the following names sound incredibly made up and fake:

  • Frank Francisco
  • Dave Davidson
  • Emilio Bonifacio
  • Rocky Cherry

When primitive men first began to speak it was easiest to combine two words together without any intermediates.  Thousands of years later we still have names like Grady Sizemore, Jarrod Washburn, Mark Bellhorn, and Chris Bootcheck.
Speaking of Chris Bootcheck, I wonder what he and Jon Knotts would talk about.
In the anatomy field, Rick Ankiel and Brandon Backe were in the same division, with Ankiel going 0-3 with an RBI off Backe.

  • DIRTY NAME AWARD – Rich (Dick) Harden
  • ACADEMY AWARD – Sean Henn
  • LED ZEPPELIN AWARD – Scott Kazmir
  • FUTURE PIZZA SHOP NAME AWARD – Doug Mirabelli (hon. mention – Mike Piazza)
  • FICTIONAL SERIAL KILLER AWARD – Mike Myers (as usual)
  • NAME TYPO AWARD – Jhonny Peralta
  • MOST FUN TO SAY AWARD – Jonathan Albaladejo
  • IMPERVIOUS AWARD – (tie) James Shields and Scot Shields

And there you have it.  We covered the life cycle, the entertainment (regular and adult) industry, jobs, cities, the bible, and more.
We can only hope that 2008 will finally bring us a VandenHurk/Van Benschoten or a Holliday/Halladay.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Reviewing "The Psychology of Baseball"

Mike Stadler, The Psychology of Baseball.
Perhaps I am exactly the wrong person to review this book.

Reviewing “The Psychology of Baseball”

Mike Stadler, The Psychology of Baseball.
Perhaps I am exactly the wrong person to review this book.  Mike Stadler has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is a professor at the University of Missouri.  He grew up near Cleveland.  He recently wrote a book on what psychology can tell us about baseball.  I’m soon to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and grew up near Cleveland and I write a blog about baseball heavily influenced by psychology.  In fact, I toyed around with the idea of writing a book somewhat like this.  An author should never review his own book, and while I’m not Dr. Stadler, my backstory is sounding a little too close for comfort.
Then again, maybe I am a good candidate.  I have a decent enough knowledge of cognitive (and other types of) psychology, of which Dr. Stadler makes plenty of use and I know enough about the literature from which he is drawing to know whether he’s got a good grip on the research literature (short answer: yes.)  In fact, from a professional standpoint, this is a beautifully researched piece of work. 
I got this book as a Christmas present (thanks to my brother!) and read it in a little under two hours on a flight to Albuqueque.  (Don’t ask.)  It’s a quick read, although probably made quicker by the fact that I speak psychology-ese.  In fact, if there’s one critique that I have of the book, it’s that (for the first few chapters, anyway) Stadler sounds more like he’s writing for Psychology Bulletin than a general readership.  Then again, the things he talks about are hard to write about in simplified English.
Before you read this book (and you should read it), you should know that it’s not a Sabermetric book.  Or is it?  Stadler doesn’t present any original research of his own, nor does he come up with any new measures or rating systems.  He does, however, like a good Sabermetrician, take a look at what actual scientific research from the realm of psychology, says about baseball.  He rather expertly draws on his knowledge of the research in cognitive psychology, which deals in things like how people perceive and process information (it’s much more complex than you might think!).  In doing so, he does take down a few silly notions that people hold about baseball, including the myth of the “rising fastball” and how it really is impossible to keep your eye on the ball.  (The ball moves much too fast for that.)  Like a good Sabermetrician or any good scientist, Stadler’s not content to hear something that people have said and taking it as granted until he looks at all of the evidence available.
Actually, Stadler’s strongest chapters, both in writing style and content are his last three.  In them, he explores more cultural questions, including why (and when) it is that fans cheer for their favorite team and how they got that favorite team to begin with (including a discussion of terror management theory!)  He also explains the psychology of why fans believe in the power of streaks and clutch and how most “streakiness” is just a statistical illusion.  These are things that most Sabermetrically inclined folks have known for a while, but the strength of this book is that it goes deeper than to say “streaks don’t exist”, but instead focuses on why people can’t seem to get it out of their minds that we in the Sabermetric community really wouldn’t lie about something like that.  Seriously.  Stadler does suggest that there is something of an ability to perform in the clutch, and that it’s psychologically valid (and as a psychologist, I buy his explanation).  It’s just that baseball players have all been selected out specifically for the ability to perform in these situations, meaning that most players have some sort of clutch ability and that the differences between players aren’t likely to be very large.
The chapters on the topics more tied into processing and perception can be difficult to the untrained eye.  As a trained psychologist myself, I find it fascinating, but I could see someone wandering through the chapter on how a fielder catches a fly ball and having some trouble following along.  Still, it’s not a question you’ve probably ever considered in how complicated it really is, and even if you don’t understand all of it, the Sabermetrician in you can appreciate how a seemingly simple question is a lot more complex when you look at it.  It’ll also get your hopes up for starting a career in which you get paid to study how people catch fly balls.
Overall, it’s worth a read.  (Here’s where to buy it…)  It’s a book that I would have been proud to have written. 

Adjusted W-L: A Study of the Unlucky

If you have read any of my work on Starting Pitchers and SP Effectiveness it will come as no surprise that I strongly dislike Win-Loss records. 
In the 2005 season, Johan Santana posted the following numbers-

  • 16-7 actual W-L
  • 2.87 ERA
  • 7.02 IP/gm
  • 231.2 IP
  • 0.97 WHIP
  • 5.29 K:BB
  • 3 CG/2 SHO
  • 33 Games Started

In 2005, Bartolo Colon won the AL Cy Young Award.  Any idea of how many of the above categories, which we all intuitively equate to pitching effectiveness, Colon outranked Santana in? 
One.  One category.  Colon beat Santana in only one category in 2005.  Care to venture a guess to which it was?  Combine my sarcastic tone with the title/first line of this article if you need help.  That’s right.  The one category he outperformed Santana in was WINS, 21-16.  Santana outperformed Colon in every other statistical category in 2005 and somehow lost the Cy Young.  Not to take anything away from Colon’s season but he clearly did not perform better than Santana in any category other than wins and they had the same number of starts.  And to say that the Angels made the playoffs strictly because of Colon is just slightly over borderline ridiculous. 
For reasons unbeknownst to me, W-L has become an extremely significant barometer when measuring the quality of a season and of a career.  We invest a ton of stock into a statistic that paints us half of a whole portrait.  Ask yourself this – what does a W-L record tell us?
Does it provide a ratio of how often someone pitched well to how often he didn’t?  No, because a Win does not always equate to a well-pitched game and a loss does not always equate to a poorly-pitched game.
Does it take into account the fact that some teams score more than others?  No, because you get credited with a win if you last at least five innings and your team never relinquishes the lead once you leave.  It does not matter if you give up six runs in seven innings as long as you meet that above criteria.
A few weeks back I introduced my statistic, AQS – Adjusted Quality Start, which refers to when a pitcher either goes 6+ IP while surrendering 3 or less earned runs or 7.2+ IP while surrendering no more than 4 earned runs.  Using the AQS allows us to find the ratio, mentioned in the question above, of how often a pitcher performed well in comparison to not performing well.  Regardless of whether or not you received the deserved decision, or whether or not you even received a decision, if you meet the criteria of an AQS it means you pitched well and, in theory, deserve to win.
Springboarding off of the AQS, I began to separate W-L records into what they really were – a combination of Cheap Wins, Tough Losses, Legitimate Wins, and Legitimate Losses.  The legitimate decisions refer to games that a pitcher either recorded an AQS, and won, or did not record an AQS and lost.  The reverse can be said for the Cheap Wins/Tough Losses.  Failing to record an AQS and getting a win really should not happen and the same can be said for garnering a loss while recording an AQS.
I will use the 2007 season of John Smoltz to put this to use.  By all accounts he had a great year but he often gets lost in the Peavy/Webb shuffle when discussing the best in the NL this past season.  Peavy won 19 games, Webb won 18, and Smoltz only won 14.  Something deep down tells us that Smoltz had a better season than his 14-8 record would indicate, but how much better?
Looking more closely at his 14-8, we see that he had 0 Cheap Wins, 5 Tough Losses, 14 Legit Wins, and 3 Legit Losses.
If we take the Cheapies and Toughies out, Smoltz is left with a 14-3 record of legitimate decisions.  I want to go a bit further, though, because he recorded 22 decisions no matter how we look at it.  He legitimately deserved to go 14-3, but there were five games he lost that he pitched well enough to win.
With that in mind, I began to adjust the W-L records of pitchers and see what would happen if they were credited with a Win for every Tough Loss and a Loss for every Cheap Win, on top of the Legit Wins and Legit Losses.
When we apply that to Smoltz, his 2007 Adjusted W-L would be 19-3.  When we do the same to Peavy and Webb we get a 21-4 record for Peavy and a 20-8 record for Webb.
Essentially, Smoltz should have won 19 of his 22 decisions, Peavy should have won 21 of his 25 decisions, and Webb should have won 20 of his 28 decisions. 
If we are going to use W-L record as a barometer of quality, then we should use this Adjusted W-L instead since it actually does give us the ratio of how many times a pitcher performed well relative to the decisions he received.
Below is a table featuring the Actual W-L records and the Adjusted W-L records of some NL pitchers from 2007.





Jake Peavy




John Smoltz




Cole Hamels




Brad Penny




Tim Hudson




Ted Lilly




Matt Cain




Ian Snell




Dontrelle Willis




Adam Eaton




As we can see, Brad Penny had the best Adjusted W-L of any NL pitcher as he truly deserved to lose only one of his decisions.  If he received proper run support and was a bit luckier in the games he recorded decisions, he would have posted a 19-1 record.  I wonder if it would have been a different Cy Young picture if he did. 
Look at the cases of Matt Cain, Dontrelle Willis, and Adam Eaton.  Cain finished the season with an actual W-L of 7-16, even though he deserved to go 16-7.  That means he was unlucky nine times.  Dontrelle Willis should have been 15-10 even though he ended up 10-15, meaning he was unlucky five times.  Yes, by all accounts Dontrelle had a down season, but he did really deserve to win 15 of his decisions. It was just how bad his 10 deserved losses and no-decisions were that turned his season upside down.
On the flip-side, Adam Eaton finished the season 10-10, even though he deserved to be 6-14.  While Cain and Willis were very unlucky, Eaton turned out to be lucky four times.
When we look at the number of Cheap Wins and Tough Losses, we can subtract the difference, express it as a + or – number and detail which pitchers were the luckiest and unluckiest.  This is a bit different than the Pythagorean Formulas used to determine what a team’s record should be.  The team formulas look at the season, as a whole, and provide estimates as to what an overall record should be based on how many overall runs are scored and given up.
It does not make sense to use that here, because if a pitcher gives up 10 runs in Game 1, and 1 Run in Game 2, the average would come out to two bad starts, even though the starts are completely separate and the damage was done in one game.  The team formulas evaluate the entire forest without looking at each individual tree.
Looking at each individual tree needs to be done to really show which pitchers were luckiest and unluckiest.
In the case of Cain, he had 0 Cheap Wins and 9 Tough Losses.  Net Luck = 0 – 9, meaning that Cain had a Net Luck Rating of -9, or in other words was very unlucky.  There were no recorded Wins that he should have lost but there were nine recorded losses he should have won, or at least not recorded a loss.
Adam Eaton had 5 Cheap Wins and 1 Tough Loss.  5 – 1 = 4.  Eaton’s Net Luck was +4, meaning he was lucky four times.  Positive numbers correspond to being lucky, negative numbers correspond to being unlucky, and 0 corresponds to receiving exactly what you should have received.
Aaron Harang was 16-6 with 0 Cheap Wins and 0 Tough Losses.  He had a great season and deserved to go 16-6 in his decisions.  He would have a Net Luck Rating of 0, since he was not lucky or unlucky.
When pitchers tie in either luck or lack of luck the statistic we should look to is AQS %, which refers to the percentage of times a pitcher recorded an AQS.  With lucky pitchers, a lower AQS % tells us they pitched well less, and so they are luckiest because they recorded the most amount of Net Luck while pitching well the least amount of time.  For unlucky pitchers we look at the highest percentage because it tells us that the pitcher was not only unlucky enough to lose games he should have won but that he also pitched well a higher percentage of times.
For instance, Scott Olsen, Adam Eaton, and Byung-Hyun Kim all tied with a +4 Net Luck Rating, meaning they were the luckiest NL pitchers.  Olsen had an AQS % of 33.3, Kim at 27.3, and Eaton at 26.7.  Therefore, Adam Eaton was the luckiest NL pitcher because he received four positive decisions that were unmerited and pitched well the least amount of time.
Though Cain, Bronson Arroyo, and Derek Lowe all ranked higher than Dontrelle and Smoltz, the latter two finished at -5.  Dontrelle had an AQS % of 57.1 and Smoltz at 84.4 %.  Therefore, Smoltz was unluckier than Willis because he received five negative decisions that were unmerited and pitched well way more often.
When we apply Net Luck to every pitcher in 2007, in both the NL and AL, we get the following results -

  • Luckiest NL SP = Adam Eaton (PHI), +4
  • Luckiest AL SP = Odalis Perez (KC), +4
  • Unluckiest NL SP = Matt Cain (SF), -9
  • Unluckiest AL SP = Dan Haren (OAK), -6

Though Haren pitched well and still finished 15-9, he should have been 21-3.  Odalis Perez actually tied Felix Hernandez of the Mariners at +4, but Hernandez’ AQS % was 57.1 whereas Perez came in at 30.8.
Honorable Mentions for Luck in 2007 go to:

  • Scott Olsen, +4
  • Byung-Hyun Kim, +4
  • Paul Byrd, +3
  • Boof Bonser, +3
  • Jeremy Bonderman, +3

Honorable Unlucky Mentions in 2007 go to:

  • Bronson Arroyo, -7
  • Derek Lowe, -6
  • John Smoltz, -5
  • Mark Buehrle, -5
  • Gil Meche, -5
  • Dontrelle Willis, -5

Though I do not have all of the data compiled right now, something I am going to investigate over the next few weeks are which pitchers, from 2000-2007, have been the luckiest and unluckiest.
Another usage of Net Luck that fascinates me, and that I am currently researching for my book, involves an application to 300 game-winners, as well as those who are close.  Something tells me that I will find some guys with 300 wins who maybe should not have 300 wins, as well as some guys who are short of 300 that really should have it.  After all, if we are going to use 300 wins as a Hall of Fame barometer, we should at least make sure the wins are deserved.
I am currently involved in conducting this research and if anyone would like to help, please get in touch with me.

Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame! (Robb Nen too!)

Well, we’ve finally gotten through another annual go-around of the un-pleasantness that is the Hall of Fame balloting. This year, Goose Gossage and his mustache finally got in. This year’s ballot was done in by the fact that there weren’t any “so obvious a caveman could have voted for him” candidates. All we had were the usual arguments over Jack Morris (OK, let’s play the board game Taboo. The five words you can’t say are “Game, Seven, 1991, World, Series” Go ahead. I dare you. Make a case for Morris), “Circle Me” Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, and Tim Raines, none of whom made it. (for the record: no, yes, no, yes.)
Still, there was one player whose candidacy got no attention from the media and who was subsequently screwed by the system. A truly great (in the sportscaster sense of the word) pitcher has been shunned forever from the Hallowed (which means “holy”… doesn’t it sound stupid when you say “holy”?) Hall in Cooperstown. This man I have in mind only received two votes this year, meaning that next year, when BBWAA finally sends me a ballot, I can’t vote for him. Initially, the fact that he got two votes made me question whether the drug problem in baseball goes all the way to the writers. (Read the last few posts from Fire Joe Morgan, whom I am blatantly ripping off paying hommage to in this article, and you’ll be convinced that it does…)
But then it hit me. If people can make an argument about Jack Morris getting into the Hall of Fame, more than two guys should be making the same arguments in favor of Robb Nen. Seriously. Robb Nen for the Hall!
On a side note: I’d like to meet the man who wrote the words “Shawon Dunston” on his ballot this year. Maybe he thought he was writing “Bert Blyleven” or “Mark Grudzielanek”, but the pen slipped. That’s the only reasonable explanation I can possibly come up with for that one. The rest of my theories involve space aliens or O.J. Simpson or Cubs Fans who had one too many Old Styles in 1987 and are just now waking up from the hangover and assuming that Dunston actually went on to have that Hall-worthy career everyone thought he would. Actually, that last one’s pretty reasonable. Maybe the Dunston voter meant to write “I’m done, son” and he put it at the end of his list to indicate that he had no more players for whom he wished to vote, and the guy at the HOF office mis-read it. My guess is that this Dunston voter lives and/or works somewhere near Wrigley Field, so it’s entirely possible that I might meet this guy.
Back to Nen. Let’s take the usual arguments for Jack Morris and apply them to Robb Nen.
1) Morris won a lot of games (254 to be exact). In fact, he won more games than (insert name of another pitcher in the Hall already).
Nen was a closer, so it’s not a good idea to compare win totals. Thankfully, closers have a stat (the save) that everyone purrs over and that’s, statistically speaking, just as goofy as wins for a starting pitcher.  Just eliminate any sense of context and raw save totals sound really cool.
So… Nen saved a lot of games (314 to be exact). In fact, he saved more games than… well… Goose Gossage. (It’s true. You can look it up.)  Never mind that Nen played in an era where he was the ninth inning specialist on some good teams and racked up saves that way.  When you make this type of argument, all context must vanish.  Nen also had more career saves than Cy Young, the greatest pitcher of all time ™. Beat that completely specious argument!
1a) Morris won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s.
Robb Nen, from 1994-2003 (see, a full decade!) saved more games than any other pitcher in baseball whose name was not Trevor Hoffman. And Nen didn’t pitch in 2003! (Hoffman didn’t pitch much either in 2003, due to injury.) I don’t suppose it’s much of a shame to lose in the saves race to Hoffman, who’s also a future Hall of Famer. Over that time frame of a full decade, Nen saved 31 more games than 3rd place contestant Troy Percival. Wow! Nen probably would have saved more in his career, but for the fact that he was injured in 2002 and never recovered to pitch again (see below.)
Why start in 1994?  Because 1994 was a marking point in baseball.  A year before, the Coors Field era began, and 1994 was the year I graduated from middle school.
1b) Excitedly citing the rest of his career stat line in isolation with a random exclamation point for effect! (e.g., Morris, in his career, had 254 wins, 28 shutouts, nearly 2500 K’s, and issued 99 intentional walks!)
Nen: Career 2.98 ERA! 314 saves! and struck out 10 guys per nine innings! (Morris = 5.8). (n.b.: proper grammar is optional)  Plus, Nen also had a hit in his Major League career as a batter. Morris never did. I rest my case. Here’s another random exclamation point!
2) Game Seven, 1991 World Series. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say any of those words…)
Morris won 7 post-season games. Nen notched 11 post-season saves. See where I’m going with this? Nen was also the closer on two different World Series teams. Defining moment: In the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2002 World Series, Nen came into the ninth inning to face the Angels with his Giants up 4-3. What did Nen do? Set them down 1-2-3, including a strikeout of the grittiest, pluckiest guy ever. EVER. David Eckstein is the Chuck Norris of baseball. And Nen did it with a bad shoulder (see below.) It gave the Giants a 1-0 series lead, which they should have held. This guy comes through in the clutch!
However, it must be pointed out that Nen was not the winning pitcher in (the five words I’m not supposed to say).  Nen did win a ring with the Marlins in 1997. (And as an Indians fan, I hate him for it.) Nen’s a champion.  That has to count for something.  (Someone call Buddy Biancalana!  I think we’ve got an angle for his candidacy.)
3) Morris made 14 consecutive Opening Day starts.
To be named the team’s Opening Day starter, it doesn’t mean that you’re good. It just means that the four other morons you’re standing next to you who also have the designation “starter” aren’t quite as good as you. (Exhibit A: Runelvys Hernandez.) Robb Nen was the “closer” (got the most saves on his team) for 9 seasons. Which is the same thing as saying that he was judged superior to the other five morons on his team who were designated “relievers” in 9 different seasons. Robb Nen can honestly say that he was judged better than Ed Vosberg. Wow.
4) C’mon man. Morris had HEART. And he was FEARED.
During the 2002 World Series, Nen pitched knowing full well that he had a significantly torn rotator cuff, and that in doing so, he was jeopardizing his career by continuing to pitch. For his efforts, he became a cult icon in San Francisco and he also never pitched again because of his aggravation of the injury.
(*Begin teary eyed speech and cue “America the Beautiful” playing in the background*)
There are some things in baseball that go beyond what can be measured on the field. Nen not only put his shoulder on the line, but his very livelihood.  What for… for his team. He never complained. That, my friends is heart. That’s what really separates the merely good players from the absolutely magical. There’s that one moment in time where they take their team up on their (wounded) shoulders and no matter the consequences, they see the job through. In October of 2002, Robb Nen was that guy.  Remember: they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!
Plus, the guy had a Slider that was nicknamed “The Terminator” (how fearful!) and a high 90s fastball. People are generally afraid of having a small projectile hurled in their general direction at a great rate of speed, but if I simply say that there was a non-specific “fear” of “seeing Nen come out of the bullpen” you really have no way to refute that and have to take my word for it, don’t you? I thought so.
5) Morris is better than Bert Blyleven, cuz… ummm, Bert Blyleven was part Dutch and I don’t like Dutch people.
No, no one actually made this argument. But this one would actually make more sense. Look, if you want to vote for Jack Morris (or anyone) for the Hall of Fame based on arguments related to his character and virtue or because you watched the re-run of (those five words I’m not allowed to say) on ESPN Classic a week or so ago and can augment them with a few numbers showing that Morris was “great” in the sportscaster sense of the word, then I suppose that’s your right. Just keep it consistent like those other two guys did and vote for Robb Nen as well.  But remember: people who specialize in bovine excrement can cobble together a heart-string-tugging case for just about anyone who was moderately good.


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