Finding the breakout

From the stuff we’re reading file: Michael Lerra over at THT has an article on finding the next breakout pitcher.  He likes Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and John Danks.  And umm… Paul Maholm.  Actually this is the type of work that I really look forward to in the off-season.  Predictor systems usually predict just about everyone to basically pick up where they left off last year with maybe an adjustment for age or similar players.  And for what it’s worth, usually everyone picks up about where they left off last year with a little adjustment for age.  The trick is to find the guy who will break out.  I’d trade all the forecasting systems in the world for one that could locate the breakout guys.

This is the world I’m bringing a child into: Mrs. Cutter is pregnant, and I have to wonder about a world where just about anything that the human race is capable of doing is available in game/reality show format.  The Pittsburgh Pirates just signed two pitchers who won a reality show in India.  That may or may not be a prize to sign with the Pirates, but…

Ah, so we meet again…

A trivia question: Over the last 25ish years (since 1981), what batter/pitcher combo has faced each other the most?  As you might expect, these are two gentlemen who played more than 20 years each (and both premiered in the same year), both spent their entire careers in the same league, but were never teammates.  The names are at the end, but if this is any hint, they faced each other 154 times over their careers.

So after the 35th time, who really had the advantage?  Is it the pitcher who now “knows how to get the batter out?”  After all, he’s had the experience to see what a batter will swing at and what he won’t.  Then again, maybe the batter has the advantage.  He’s had the experience to see what the pitcher throws and can figure out his patterns.  Indeed, there’s always talk that when a player is traded to/signs in a new league, he will have a period of adjustment, owing to the fact that he likely hasn’t faced many of the batters/pitchers that he will now be facing.  I’ve actually heard it all four ways, that a batter will benefit from/suffer for his first foray into a new league (because the pitchers haven’t seen him/he hasn’t seen the pitchers before) and that a pitcher will benefit from/suffer for his foray into a new league (same logic).  What gives?

Well, let’s look at what really happens.  I took all the Retrosheet play by play files from 1980 to 2007 and put them into one big file.  (My computer currently hates me.)  I sorted them into chronological order and then numbered the different confrontations between batter and pitcher.  I dumped everyone who appeared in the 1980 season from the data set.  Johnny Bench faced Tom Seaver in 1980, but certainly, that wasn’t the first time that they’d seen each other (although my data set would have considered them to be just introduced).  In order to maintain the intergrity of the sample, they had to go.

Then I coded for whether the plate appearance ended in the batter being on base (even if that meant an ROE).  My first thought was to run a simple OBP broken down by the number of times that the two had faced each other.  But then in order to get to a point where a player had been around long enough to face a pitcher 20 times, he was probably a different class of hitter than the guy who only only got marginally introduced to a couple pitchers.  Same logic goes for pitchers who stick around.  So, I had to calculate what the expected OBP of the plate appearances in question might be.  I calculated both the player’s yearly OBP and the pitcher’s OBP given up (plus the league OBP for the year).  To make sure I wasn’t getting any .500 OBPs from someone going 1-for-2, the pitcher and batter had to have logged 250 PAs in the year in question.  This had the nice side effect of getting rid of pitchers hitting.

You can calculate what the expected OBP of a particular batter/pitcher matchup is by converting OBPs into odds ratios (OBP / 1-OBP), and then using the formula.

(batter OR / lg OR) * (pitcher OR / lg OR) = (expected OR / lg OR) 

Once you have the expectation, you can turn it back into an OBP rather easily (OR / (OR + 1)). 

Then, it was simply a matter of watching what happened when I compared what would have been expected to what actually happened.  I fumbled around with some binary logit models to see what happened, and they generally showed that as a pitcher and batter faced each other more often, the advantage slowly worked its way in the batter’s favor, but I think that the graph shows the effect a little better.  On this graph, numbers above zero mean that the pitcher has the edge.  Below, the batter has the edge.

 

pitcher batter learning.JPGIn the first meeting between batter and pitcher, the pitcher had a 7 point advantage in OBP.  By the time of the second meeting, that advantage was almost entirely gone (down to 1.5 points), and then by the third meeting, the outcome was most likely to be even-up to expectations.  Following that, you can see that the graph jumps around a little, but the general trend-line is downward until about 35 PA’s.  After that, the graph just gets really unstable.  My interpretation is that means that we have something of a real effect, although not a very coherent one, and the fluctuations may have to do with selective sampling and a decreasing number of pitcher-batter pairs that have met 30-something times.

There’s certainly a trend line to be had, and it certainly looks like it points toward the batter having the edge as he faces a pitcher more often, and by meeting #35, the magnitude is 13 points worth of OBP.  At first, the pitcher has the element of surprise, but the pitcher must strategize on how to remove the batter from the batter’s box with a new strategy each time, while the batter himself must simply react to what’s thrown at him.  At first, the batter has nothing to go on, but if he can learn the pattern (and it looks like he does) he can react better.

So for a short period of time, an exotic pitcher does have the advantage.  But not for long.  That advantage wears off pretty much the second time through the lineup.

Trivia answer: Greg Maddux has faced Barry Bonds* 154 times over their careers.  Second place on the list, incidentally, also belongs to Greg Maddux, this time paired with Craig Biggio (140).

World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: November 21

This week, the roundtable is pleased to welcome Mr. Jayson Stark who writes about baseball for an a small, Connecticut-based media organization called E-espian.  Jayson’s written a few books here and there, and even wrote the foreword to Eric’s book.  (Eric’s cool like that.  He knows everyone.)  He joins us to discuss Nick Swisher, Dice-K vs. Jon Lester, free agents, and our early favorites for Rookie of the Year   Why is the Roundtable on Friday?  Because sometimes schedules explode.  Look for next week’s roundtable at it’s usual Wednesday time.

Question #1: Why did Kenny Williams sell low on Nick Swisher? Did Kenny Williams sell low on Nick Swisher?

Brian Cartwright: I think Williams was disappointed with what he got, and was more willing to dump Swisher now for what he could get than wait for Swisher’s value to go up. Swisher did have a terrible year – his wOBAs for his years in the majors were .365, .341, .377 and .368, all above average for outfield, but then .317 in 2008. Williams is trying to put a winning team on the field, and didn’t think Swisher would be part of it.

Colin Wyers: I’ll be honest. As a Cubs fan I tend to read a lot of the Chicago sporting press and I continually wonder how the White Sox hover near contention at pretty much any time. About the nicest thing I can say about Williams without lying is that he’s smarter than Hawk Harrelson, which is kind of like being wetter than sand.

The White Sox apparently decided that Swisher wasn’t a center fielder, and given a choice of Quentin, Dye, Konerko and Swisher at the corner spots it’s pretty clear who Ozzie Guillen will play. And the White Sox have always been ones to put on airs about being a small-ball team despite having their greatest sucess with the longball, so some room needed to be made for some speedy, ineffectual hitting in the Podsednik mold. Hence the Swisher deal.

Eric Seidman: Statistically, the hot topic involving Swisher is that he was unlucky in 2008, and it is hard to debate that his actual BABIP was MUCH lower than where it was expected to be at.  There is no real way he will repeat what he did last year, and his true talent level is projected at around an .800 OPS with 23 HR.  That isn’t really isn’t tremendous for a first baseman, but Swisher is still a nice piece for a team.  Williams apparently clashed with Swisher’s attitude problems, and that, coupled with his disappointing 2008 season, was enough of a reason for him.  I don’t agree with it, but who knows, maybe these three prospects will help the White Sox in the long run.

Pizza Cutter: Kenny Williams got three magic beans for Swisher.  They might grow into beanstalks to the sky, but probably not.  (Jack at least got six.)  I took a look at Swisher’s FanGraphs page and I’m really rather confused.  To look at Swisher’s peripherals, it looks like his numbers are kinda vibrating around a talent level.  But take a look at his swing numbers.  Swing diagnostics are usually pretty stable from year to year, but Swisher’s aren’t.  In 2006, he had a sudden upsurge in swinging (and a downward slump in making contact).  In 2007, he started swinging less at pitches in the zone, but then made contact with a lot of pitches outside the zone.  Sounds to me like he re-engineered his approach and what he was looking for at the plate.  Then in 2008, he started swinging at even more pitches out of the strike zone (and making contact with many of them), while swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone.  It seems like Swisher is consciously trying a new approach.  It might be that Swisher has become a tinkerer.

He also was victimized by a low BABIP, despite raising his line drive rate.  Kenny Williams probably bought high on Swisher and sold low.  His 2008 batting average was abysmal (.219), but his OBP was still a coomparatively healthy (.332).  I wonder if Kenny Williams just got scared by .219.  Maybe Swisher’s newfound approach doesn’t jive with what the White Sox are trying to teach.  In any case, Swisher is a decent player who is willing to stand either in the outfield or near first base.  The White Sox have holes in both places…

Question #2: Who are your favorite rookies for 2009?

Jayson Stark: Can’t say I’ve thought about this a lot. I might even name a couple of guys who aren’t technically rookies. But here’s a list of five: Matt Wieters (Orioles), David Price (Rays), Max Scherzer (Dbacks), Tommy Hanson (Braves), Cameron Maybin (Marlins).  And here’s a sleeper: Bobby Parnell (Mets). Lit up the gun in the Arizona Fall League.

Brian Cartwright: The Cardinals selected 3b Brett Wallace from Arizone State with the 13th pick in the 2008 draft. He hit over .400 his last two seasons in college, then .337 in the minors. I project him at 303/369/503, the best of any minor league player this year. There’s debate whether he can stay at 3b with his stocky body, but he can be as good a hitter as Troy Glaus and ten years younger. I expect him to be in the bigs before the end of the year. Matt Wieters would be my runner up. He’s going to be a very good hitter as well, I project 294/373/487

Colin Wyers: If you’ll forgive me a homer choice just this once, I’ll say Jeff Samardzija. The guy’s numbers seemed to keep getting better as he was promoted (one could say rushed) through the minors. Damnedest thing. He’s still very raw and could use work on his breaking stuff (okay, a lot of work), but it’s electrifying to watch him throw the ball.

Eric Seidman: For a legit rookie, Matt Wieters of the Orioles and Lou Marson of the Phillies.  As a non-rookie about to partake in his first full season, my boy Max Scherzer of the Diamondbacks is primed for a very solid campaign.

Pizza Cutter: I could take the easy way out and say David Price.  You do have to appreciate lefties like J.A. Happ (if only for the retro-sounding name) and David Purcey for the 9+ K/9 IP at AAA and sub .700 OPS allowed at AAA.  Should be interesting to see what happens with them over the 2009 season.

Question #3: Since Daisuke received plenty of Cy Young Votes and Jon Lester received NONE, PLEASE make a case for me why Daisuke had a better season.

Jayson Stark: Hey, Dice-K wasn’t exactly Adam Eaton, you know. These voters can be a traditional group, and he did go 18-3, with one of those losses on the last day of the season in a 4-inning tuneup. He had the better strikeout rate. The Red Sox had a better record when he pitched. He made nine starts in which he gave up three hits or fewer. He allowed a lower opponent batting average. And he had a better ERA and ERA-plus. Do I think Dice-K clearly had a better year than Lester? No. But the Cy Young voting is different than MVP voting because the ballot only gives you a chance to vote for three pitchers. And clearly, some of these voters base too much of their vote on W-L record. But if there were more slots on the ballot, Lester would have gotten plenty of votes himself. And deservedly.

Brian Cartwright: Well, of course, Daisuke is much more famous. Everyone knew his name before he ever threw a pitch in North America, then he goes 18-3. Destiny fulfilled. This was only Lester’s first full season in the majors, so most of the BBRAA probably don’t know who he is yet. According to Baseball Prospectus’ pitching runs above average and above replacement, the two were virtually identical, Daisuke 26 & 75, Lester 25 & 79.

Colin Wyers: According to tRA and FIP, Josh Beckett outpiched both of them. I dunno, they don’t ask me to vote.

I just want to take this opportunity to note that this is way too much attention paid to balloting whose results are released on the LIME GREEN PAGE OF DOOM.

Eric Seidman: Only legit way to make a case for Daisuke over Lester involves ERA, but Lester’s advantage in just about every other category, including FIP, is more significant.  It is understandable for him to receive votes based on wins, but Lester went 16-6 as well, so it isn’t as if Daisuke’s 18-3 is THAT much better.  Lester likely would have finished fourth on most ballots, but he should have been ahead of Daisuke as he was clearly the Red Sox ace this season.

Pizza Cutter: Dice-K is Japanese.  He also had a lot of wins.  He’s also short.  It’s important to be short when going for a major award.  Just ask that gritty, plucky, 5’9″ Red Sox guy Dustin Pedroia.  For what it’s worth, Dice-K’s ERA was lower than Lester’s (but Lester had the lower FIP).  They were almost even up in WPA, although Lester beat Dice-K in WPA/LI.  Dice-K struck more gentlemen out, but Lester had the better K/BB ratio.  In other words, Dice-K, won all the stats that make you look good if you ignore context.  And he’s Japanese.

Question #4: Which under-the-radar free agent would best indicate that the team signing him has a clue as to what they’re doing?

Jayson Stark: Great question. It might be easier to pick the ones who indicate teams have NO idea what they’re doing (Oliver Perez, for instance). But to answer your actual question, I think it’s smart to look at those little moves, because in the end, they do as much to help good teams win as the big splashes. (Does the team that “wins” the offseason EVER win the World Series?) I guess in terms of bats, I’d go with Raul Ibanez. Total pro who almost slugged .500 in a pitchers’ park last year. And if I had to pick an arm, I’m going to pick a name you probably won’t hear anywhere else – Russ Springer. Only reliever in baseball to rip off three straight seasons of 70 games or more while allowing fewer than seven hits per nine innings.

Brian Cartwright: Ha! That’s assuming that once you get past Manny and Teix that there’s anyone on the list I’d want to sign. Honestly, I think I’d have better luck with the minor league free agents. Last year Pittsburgh picked up Doug Mientkiewicz, and I think they’d do well to sign him again. He hits about league average, has a good glove at first, filled in at 3b and rf, and is a good ph. Not many dollars, won’t play everyday, but will contribute.

Colin Wyers: Barry Bonds.

Or if for some reason that doesn’t work out for you, I’ll say Jason Varitek. “But OMGZROFLCOPTER, he batted .220 with only 42 RBIs!” I can hear you say. “Get him to the glue factory!”

First of all, we don’t put people in glue factories. Second, Tek was below-average this year but probably a win or so above replacement level. And unless we overweight one year of performance, we should expect him to improve a little next season.

Eric Seidman: Well, Jeremy Affeldt was mighty nice on the Giants behalf given his vast improvements this past season.  The Phillies signing Doug Brocail to a small deal would show promise as well, especially with Tom Gordon’s departure.  Additionally, re-signing Scott Eyre was a good move for the Phillies.  Joe Beimel would also be a nice lefty specialist for several teams currently serving as his suitor.

Pizza Cutter: I was going to say Jeremy Affeldt, but then he signed with the Giants.  I’ll still say Jeremy Affeldt, so apparently, the Giants have a clue.  Affeldt strikes a lot of guys out, and while he’s left armed, he’s not horrible against righties.  He’s the best non-closer reliever on the market (or was) so teams (er, team) won’t have to pay him “closer” money.  I could also see the team that passes up Manny Ramirez and instead invests in Pat Burrell being a good candidate for “has a clue.”

2009 Batter Projections

Not a lot to write today.

I have finished the work on my batter projections. There are 2447 projections currently available. Click here for an xls version or here for a csv version. I do need to finish filling in primary defensive position for many of the minor league players. I will repost the files when that is completed.

  • It includes all batters appearing in 2008 at Class A or higher.
  • For those batters, all levels that they played on in their career are included, including college.
  • Stats are park neutral. To find how a batter would do for a given team, that team’s factors would need to be applied.
  • Also neutralized for level, including college, US minor leagues, and Japan.
  • Projection is then regressed to the highest level the batter appeared at
  • Also added an age adjustment

All these factors are empirically derived from comparing sets of batting data, described in detail in earlier posts.

Now I have 10 years of projections and actual performances to peruse, looking for any patterns, and analyzing the error distribution of actual data compared to the projections. This will allow me to give reliability scores and curves, like PECOTA’s percentile breakdowns.

Probably this wekend I will post a list of the 2008 batters who most over or under achieved compared to the last projections, and are therefor the most likely to regress back towards the middle.

 

 

 

 

A quick look at baserunning

You’re probably looking around going, “Where’s my roundtable?” And you will have a roundtable. Probably Friday. In the meantime, I’m laying out some finger sandwiches and lemonade – a light afternoon snack, if you’d like. Partake if you wish.

So I have a baserunning evaluation metric, measured in runs above/below average. Nothing fancy or special, really. Dan Fox has covered this ground a lot better than I have. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.) So here’s how I dos it:

  1. Start with Retrosheet play-by-play data.
  2. Calculate run expectancy separately for each base, like this, for each season.
  3. Looking only at the lead baserunner, calculate the average destination run expectancy for each event. Everything was broken down by the following categories:
    • Number of outs remaining,
    • Event code (single, double, out, wild pitch, etc.),
    • Batted ball type,
    • Whether the batter was bunting,
    • Whether the ball was hit to the battery (pitcher/catcher), an infielder or an outfielder,
    • Whether the ball was hit to the left or right side of the field.
  4. Compare what a player did to the average.

Let’s say you have a runner on first, no outs. Most of the time a runner ends up on second, some of the time on third, when a ground-ball single is hit into left field. If a runner ends up on second, he gets a (very slight) debit. If he ends up on third, he gets a credit. All of these changes are tracked and totaled up.

Read more of this post

Pitch F/X Audit: San Francisco Giants

If there was one thing that the San Francisco Giants did particularly well in 2008, it involved pitching.  Tim Lincecum emerged as one of the best pitchers in the entire sport, and at such a young age, is primed for several more seasons of similar quality.  Matt Cain continued to perform admirably while receiving next to no run support, meaning he has accrued a W-L record of 15-30 over the last two seasons while performing better than just about 80-85% of all National League starters.  Noah Lowry may have missed the season, but Jonathan Sanchez gave Giants fans hope that LinceCain could someday form LinceCainChez.

After these three, well, Barry Zito was… the new definition of Barry Zito.  His FIP of 4.72 was actually lower than the marks in 2006 and 2007, but his walk rate reached an all-time high.  While he never really struck many batters out, he was able to succeed by limiting walks as much as he could.  This year, Zito threw the least amount of pitches in the strike zone, but was one of the worst at inducng swings on pitches out of the zone.  Add it all up and you get a pitcher who couldn’t possibly meet the expectations earned by his monster contract.

The bullpen was anchored by closer Brian Wilson, a flamethrower somewhat prone to the longball, who was hurt by a .336 BABIP.  Kevin Correia pitched both in the rotation and out of the bullpen, and the triumvirate of Tyler Walker, Keichii Yabu, and Jumpin’ Jack Taschner–my nickname for him–performed quite often.  Brian Sabean has already gone out and added Jeremy Affeldt to the mix, who will, in all likelihood, become the team’s closer when Wilson struggles next year.  They are also looking to bring in Joe Beimel, who would be a welcome addition as well, and help solidify a nice pitching staff.  If only they could score…

But anyways, as always, below are the links to the spreadsheets of splits:

Giants vs. LHH/RHH
Giants with/without Baserunners

I’ll let the links speak for themselves, but one thing to note is that the Giants threw A LOT of fastballs.  In fact, only the Mets, Rockies, and Marlins threw a higher percentage of fastballs than the Giants.  Then again, when you have Lincecum, Cain, and Wilson, all of whom have plus fastballs, what else should be expected?

After we hit the ten-team mark with these year-in-reviews, I will post a data dump with everybody, sorted in different situations.  When this is all said and done, we will be able to see which pitchers changed their approach the most in different situations.

2008 Sabermetric Year in Review: San Francisco Giants

The tour bus takes a trip up to NorCal to visit the San Francisco Giants, who began life without Barry Bonds* in 2008.  Oh, I wasn’t supposed to mention him?  Why not.  During his whole will-someone-or-won’t-someone saga in 2008, he was the most interesting Giants story line, despite not making a single plate appearance (or any kind of appearance) for the Giants at all in 2008.  That might not be fair to a guy like Tim Lincecum, but…

Record: 72-90 (4th place, NL West)
Pythagorean Projection: 68.28 wins

Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs

MVN Blog:
Giants Cove

Other Padres Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors

Overview: Well, I’m not entirely sure what to say here.  They went out.  They played baseball.  They couldn’t hit.  They have mad young pitching.  It doesn’t work to produce a winner.

What went right: Well, Tim Lincecum won a very deserved Cy Young Award.  Lincecum did get a little lucky (low HR/FB, a little high on the LOB%, although a good strikeout rate helps a lot in that category), but that 10.51 K per 9 IP doesn’t lie.  Then there’s the fact that his BABIP was not lucky (.316), and his FIP was exactly in line with his actual ERA (2.62).  This guy really is that good.  And he’s 24.  Imagine what happens when this guy is no longer cost-controlled.

Brian Wilson seized the closer’s job at the end of the 2007 season and doesn’t appear ready to give it back.  Wilson notched 41 saves (while the Giants won 72… that’s 60%… that K-Rod guy saved 62% of the Angels’ 100 wins.)  Wilson will have a special spot in my heart, not for his save total, or for the cheap BNL reference that I always make when I talk about him, but because he’s a guy whom few have heard of and many of your fellow fantasy owners will be scared away from.  Despite notching all those saves, he had a WHIP of 1.44 and an ERA of 4.62.  But, he had a BABIP of .336, which is due for a good regression to the mean.  That means that next year, his WHIP will probably be better (although he does walk 4 guys per 9 IP…) and the ERA will likely come down. The Giants will (still) not have the offense to blow people away, so Wilson will have a lot of close leads to protect.  Wilson would probably be a good second reliever to take for your team.  He’ll get you the saves, and he’s better than his stats make him look.

What went wrong:  The Phillies seemed to really miss Aaron Rowand this year.  Rowand is something of a statistical oddity.  He traded fly balls for ground balls, struck out a bit more, and saw a precipitous drop in his contact rate (#2 and #3 are probably related).  Worse, his swing percentage went up, almost all in the category of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.  Rowand got a little jumpy this year.  Maybe it was the giant (hehe) contract that he signed.  But let’s consider for a moment Rowand’s RC/27 over the last four years.  From 2005-2008, the numbers were 4.55, 4.46, 6.93, 4.53.  Which one looks like the outlier?  Of course, Rowand was one of those gentlemen that happened to profit from the fact that he had his outlier season right as he was gearing up to sign a free agent deal.

Yeah, that about sums it up: The hitters who most often appeared in the 3-4-5 holes (and I use that term precisely in this case) in the Giants lineup were Randy Winn, Bengie Molina, and Aaron Rowand, who between the three of them hit 39 home runs in 2008.

Is there any hope for John Bowker?:  Poor John Bowker.  He has to live with the tag of being the guy who sorta kinda replaces Barry Bonds*.  That’s not fair to Bowker (or anyone really).  Bowker is a hitter built much differently than Bonds, despite being left-handed and a corner player.  First off, Bowker is more of a line drive hitter, which is good if you want good solid base hits.  People might try to point to his season at AA in 2007 in which he hit 22 home runs as proof of his power potential, but take a closer look at those splits.  He hit 15 home runs on flyballs and 7(!) on line drives in 2007.  He had 144 fly balls that year, so he has a real HR/FB rate of around 10%, which is nice, but not the stuff that elite power hitters are made of.  He might pick off a few more hard LD home runs, but maybe you’re looking at a 20 HR guy.  Maybe.  But for what it’s worth, he’ll probably raise that .300 OBP this year and that would be a good start.

The swan song of Omar Vizquel: I’ve been a little heartbroken ever since I took a look through my OPA! numbers and found that while Omar was fun to watch with the glove (or the barehand), when it came down to it, he was little more than an average shortstop in the field.  He was never special with the bat and 2008 was the year that he pretty much became useless with the bat.  There have been a few calls for “Vizquel for the Hall” based on his defense and probably based on the fact that he was beloved by the media.  But, it will mark a brave new day if in five years, when it comes time to write his name on the ballot, a bunch of writers refrain citing some of the studies that have been done over the past few years on fielding.  Then again, in five years, the Vizquel fad might have faded.

Last year, I wrote: Don’t let the record fool you. Cain lost 16 games, but posted an ERA of 3.65.  His weakness is that he walks too many batters (3.56 per 9 innings), but he was also one of the better strikeout starters in the league last year. Take a look at his plot for the amount of break on his pitches. You’ll see that his fastballs are all generally within one blob, suggesting that he has a good idea of where the fastball is going, which is probably why he throws it more than 60% of his pitches. With his off-speed/breaking stuff, on the other hand, there are a few curves and sliders and changes that seem to be little islands unto their own. Cain is 22, and has time to learn to control those pitches. He also gives up a lot of flyballs, but he’s right-armed and lives in a spacious park that is murderous on left-handed power hitters (or at least so the reputation goes). Cain is able.

Well, a year later and his plots for 2008 look a lot like his plots for 2007.  Sure enough, a lot of his peripheral stats look similar from 2007 to 2008, and the end result was the same, including the “don’t let the record fool you” part.  It now looks like Cain is doomed to play second fiddle to Tim Lincecum for the rest of his natural life.  He’s now 23, so there is still room for growth.  If I were a Giants’ fan, I would just have prefered that there would have been more signs of it last year.  Still, Cain posted a VORP of 43.2, which… ain’t bad.  I have to wonder if my perception of him wouldn’t change if he wasn’t living in the shadow of Mr. Lincecum.

Here’s an idea: Last year, my “yeah, that about sums it up” for the Giants was a list of all the hitters under the age of 30 who had received significant playing time.  It consisted of one name.  And that guy, Kevin Frandsen, got one measly at bat in 2008.  The Giants remedied this a little bit by letting guys like Bowker and Fred Lewis have a turn at being regulars and a quick look at the Giants Baseball Reference page will show that they started giving a lot of 20-somethings a good look.  Last year, there was talk of trading a guy like Noah Lowry for a young bat, maybe something like a Delmon Young/Matt Garza trade.  Lowry was hurt and is now a question mark, but maybe someone might be enticed by the siren song of Jonathan Sanchez (he’s young!  he strikes guys out!), who is better than his numbers make him look.  A good pitching-for-hitting trade might be just what the doctor prescribed for medical use only.  (Sorry.)

Outlook: Part of the problem with doing these in reverse order of Pythagorean expectation is that I’m writing a lot of “they’re going to be awful again next year” outlooks.  Well, they are going to be awful again next year.  The thing that would concern me as a Giants fan is that when Tim Lincecum comes up for a real contract, there will be a certain fifth starter still on the books who is eating up $17 million per year in payroll.  That’s going to be the real legacy of Barry Zito.  He’s not going to be a great pitcher again, but if it were just a free agent bust, those things happen.  What happens when his contract causes one of the best young pitchers to come along in a while to become too rich for San Fran’s blood?

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