World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: June 23

This week’s roundtable will have to last you two weeks.† Next week (6/30), we will sadly have to interrupt our usual Roundtable service due to the fact that the table and everything else that†I own will be in a moving van working its way across a couple of states.† But, this week, we do have the fun of welcoming David Appleman, proprietor of FanGraphs.com, where he serves up all sorts of baseball-related statistical gooeyness for us statistically inclined folks.† Read on as David, Eric, and Pizza talk about whom they want on the mound in Game 7, lacking balance, and the Blue Jays’ rotation.
Question #1: If you had to win a single game of baseball, which active starting pitcher would you most want on the mound?
David Appleman: I think the obvious and almost unanimous choice a year ago would have been Johan Santana, but heís not quite pitching at such a ridiculous level anymore and Iím hesitant to put him at the very top of any list Iíd have to make today. Roy Halladay is one of the few other pitchers that comes to mind and heís currently having the best season of his career. He leads the majors in K/BB, and is an extreme groundball pitcher to boot, meaning youíre going to keep your home runs to a minimum.
After sifting through the stats a bit more, Josh Beckett really stood out to me. While his ERA (3.84) doesnít show it, heís pitching arguably better than he ever has. Heís striking out over a batter an inning and his walks are at a career low. And while I typically donít put a whole lot of weight on post-season statistics, he does seem to have a knack for the big game, which shows up in both his ERA and his peripherals.
Finally, C.C. Sabathia, who also doesnít have a great ERA (4.06) has been as good as anyone after April. Heís striking out batters at a career pace and thereís not really anything bad you can say about the guyís pitching. Since I brought up Beckettís postseason, I guess itís only fair I mention Sabathiaís. Yes, he was horrible last year and issued way too many walks, but Iíd still give him the benefit of the doubt.
While itís a tough decision, I think Iíd have to go with Roy Halladay as my #1 guy right now, closely followed by C.C. Sabathia, and then Iíd have insert Santana as my #3 choice (because despite his slight decline, heís still very good), with Beckett left as an alternate.
Eric Seidman: It’s tough because we have to set some parameters.† If we’re talking about one game right now with only active pitchers (meaning nobody on the DL) I would probably pick CC Sabathia or Cole Hamels.† Sabathia’s poor start was mainly attributed to two consecutive early starts in which he allowed 9 runs each.† After that he has been very stellar.† Hamels is Hamels, one of the best pitchers in baseball.† If we’re talking about anyone, I’ve always been a member of the “give me John Smoltz in a must-win” bandwagon.† According to Fangraph’s clutch stats, Vicente Padilla has been the guy people should want on the mound the most; after watching him for years in Philadelphia I’ll have to disagree there, though.† If I have to pick I’ll say Hamels simply because he has proven himself capable of “stopping” and has the mental makeup required to sustain the confidence level required in a must-win situation,
Pizza Cutter: Brandon Webb keeps the ball on the ground the best and has†a quite-good K/BB ratio and has an FIP of 3.00.† Roy Halladay has the best K/BB ratio and a quite-good keep it on the ground ratio, plus an FIP of 2.85.† Halladay throws harder and is less reliant on his fast ball, throwing it only 45% of the time (to Webb’s 70%).† Halladay gets my vote, as of right this moment.† Odd that Halladay probably wouldn’t be the first name off anyone’s lips in the general public.† A guy that good toils in obscurity.† Sad.

Question #2:Based on many different metrics it appears that the Blue Jays have the best pitching rotation 1-5 in the game, and perhaps even had the best last year as well.† If you agree they have the best rotation, who would you put #2?† And if you disagree with the assertion they are on top, whom would you put #1?
David Appleman: Taking into consideration all 5 starters, Iím going to have a hard time arguing against the Blue Jays for the best rotation. Their strong K/BB ratio and extreme groundball tendencies make them a difficult quintet. So I guess Iíll go for whoís #2 and Iíll choose the Diamondbacks. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren at the top of the rotation are as solid a 1 Ė 2 punch as youíll find, followed by Doug Davis, Micah Owings and Randy Johnson. Doug Davis has done quite well after his recovery from thyroid cancer with a 3.65 ERA on the season. Heís a groundball pitcher and happens to strike out nearly 8 batters per 9 innings. His walk rate is unbearably high right now, but expect that to drop back down to career levels as the season progresses. Micah Owings has been struggling a bit recently but he did start the season off quite strong and so far his strikeouts are up and his walks are down compared to last year. His BABIP and LOB% suggest that his ERA over 5 is fluky and should be about a full point lower. Randy Johnson may be old, but as long as heís pitching he has a chance to win every time heís on the mound. Heís still striking out over 8 per 9 innings and walking less than 3, but heís been getting hit hard lately with a .349 BABIP. He could just be getting unlucky or his declining velocity could also be catching up to him. Iíd guess the latter, but as long as heís missing bats he should do much better than his ERA over 5 suggests. Not a terrible guy to have as a 5th starter.
Eric Seidman: For me it comes down to the Blue Jays and White Sox, at this juncture, which surprises me a bit as I expected a national league staff to somewhat rival the Blue Jays.† Barometers such as W-L and ERA don’t tell the whole story for the Jays, but a look at their FIPs:
Halladay – 2.85
Burnett – 3.59
Marcum – 3.67
Litsch – 4.54
McGowan – 3.64
When your #5 starter has a 4.54 FIP, and nobody else comes in over 3.70, you’ve got one heck of a rotation.† Now, the White Sox appear to have a WPA advantage as all five starters are in the positive, whereas Burnett has currently cost the Jays 0.43 wins.† The five White Sox starters add up to 3.54 wins, though, whereas the Blue Jays big five combine for 4.93 wins.† The White Sox FIPs are:
Danks – 3.23
Floyd – 5.11
Vazquez – 3.41
Contreras – 3.63
Buehrle – 3.82
So, it’s very similar in the sense that four-fifths have great FIPs.† Ultimately, I’ll take the Blue Jays as I would want Halladay over anybody else here but I would not be upset at all if I were a White Sox fan.
Pizza Cutter: Let’s see, the top 5 starters for the Blue Jays have a combined VORP of 81.6.† Anaheim is at 80.9.† St. Louis is at 80.8.† Oakland is at 79.8.† The White Sox are at 79.7.† Sounds like a good top 5.† The Angels actually outclass the Blue Jays on BRAA among their top 5 starters, but the Blue Jays have an average FIP among their top five of 3.60, while the Angels check in at 3.80.† Right now, the Blue Jays seem to have the edge from top to bottom, but the Angels are nipping at their heels.
Question #3: Which team†is the most un-balanced so far in the 2008 season?
David Appleman: In terms of a batting vs. pitching imbalance, itís a close one between the Rangers and the Pirates and Iím going to have to give the edge to the Pirates since they donít play in an extremely favorable batterís park. The Pirates are currently 7th in the majors in runs scored, but have had the 5th worst bullpen production and the worst starters of any team in baseball. Their starting pitchers strike out the 5th fewest batters and walk the most. Itís not like theyíve been unlucky, theyíre just bad. Meanwhile, their batting has been quite admirable, with surprise play from Nate McLouth and the resurgence of Jason Bay. Ryan Doumitt has to be considered one of the best offensive catchers in baseball when healthy and Xavier Nady is showing that he can be a valuable player. If the Pirates could get themselves an average pitching staff, theyíd find themselves an above .500 team. Itís probably not quite good enough to put them in contention, but they certainly wouldnít be 12 games back.
Eric Seidman: I’ll go with pesky fish from Florida.† They have a very solid offense, not so solid starting rotation, and a bullpen that, despite its positive WPA, does not appear to be very trustworthy upon glances at past work or the names of the personnel.† The Phillies are a very offense-heavy club, but they at least currently have a solid bullpen, and their starters have not been terrible.† I ultimately think the Marlins are the least balanced team in the league but that, with some extra luck, could hang around for a while.
Pizza Cutter: The Texas Rangers jump out at me on this one.† The Rangers are getting amazing production from Josh Hamilton (who’s leading the league in HR and RBI) and Milton Bradley (who leads in all three slash categories).† They’ve also gotten some good contributions from Ian Kinsler and Ramon Vazquez and one of these days Michael Young will get his due.† However, the pitching in Texas has been awful.† I suppose that when you play in Dallas in the middle of the summer, pitching isn’t going to be amazing, but it’s Padilla and Millwood and then you don’t feel so good.† They’re a .500 team that’s had about a third of their games decided by 5 runs or more.

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4 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: June 23

  1. Why isn’t Tim Lincecum even close to the discussion in terms of top pitchers you’d want in a single game? For that matter, how about Edinson Volquez? Both guys have been lights out this year, and nearly untouchable. Volquez’ .285 BABIP suggests that he’s pitching to his capability, while the same can be said of Lincecum’s .308 suggests more of the same. In the same vein, hitters are only managing to hit .233 against Lincecum, and a mere .198 against Volquez.

  2. Timmy Lince is third on my list. The problem with Volquez is that we simply don’t know enough about him as he’s only done this for 1/2 of a season. If he keeps it up and shows he can dominate anyone at any time for a whole year, or more, he would definitely shoot up the list.

  3. MGL says:

    “The problem with Volquez is that we simply donít know enough about him as heís only done this for 1/2 of a season. If he keeps it up and shows he can dominate anyone at any time for a whole year, or more, he would definitely shoot up the list.”
    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. In the entire above discussion, you continually conflate two very different things. One is how players have done so far this season, which, while contributing to how good they “are”, does not necessarily indicate, one way or another, how good they “are.”
    Two, is how good players “are,” meaning what their true talent level currently is and how we expect them to perform in the near and distant future (with distant future adjusted for age, chance of injury, etc.).
    I REALLY wish people would stop quoting current season stats when asked a question like how good someone “is” or who they would like to have batting/pitching for them in one particular game (or something like that), which is essentially the same thing.
    Here is a question for you guys? Which is more predictive of future performance: Last year’s stats (the entire season), or this year’s stats so far (85 games)? By “stats”, let’s just say VORP or something similar.
    If the answer is “last year’s stats” (which I don’t know that it is off the top of my head, but I suspect it is), then why not substitute all of the stats you quoted above to support your opinions with last year’s stats and see if the opinions still make sense?
    The best pitcher in baseball IS (not WAS, this year) still Johan Santana and it ain’t even close. Of course, I don’t KNOW that for a fact, but show me a reliable current forecast for all pitchers and if Santana is not in the top 3, I’ll eat my spreadsheet.

  4. All good points, I didn’t even realize we were doing that. I think when it comes to Sabathia we jump to this season’s numbers because it’s just assumed (and shouldn’t necessarily be without evidence) that because his past work has been very stellar that his early season woes were more flukey than indicative of a decline in skill level. Ignoring those two April starts would be incorrect, but weighting them less would not be, and taking a look at his performance indicators all told: 3.24 FIP, 9.06 K/9, 3.57 K/BB, .261 BAA, 1.28 WHIP, 0.93 HR/9 (compared to 0.75-0.87 in the last three years) would show he is still very good but his barometers make him look worse.

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