2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Baltimore Orioles

The tour makes its last stop†in an American League stadium in Baltimore.† It must be frustrating to be an Orioles fan.† Listing off what the Orioles have done in the past few years sounds like a record on repeat (4th, 4th, 4th, 4th…)
Record: 69-93,†4th in†AL East (see there it is again)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):†70.22 wins (756 runs scored,†868 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
MVN Blog:
Oriole Magic
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: If the rumor is true, then Cal Ripken is trying to step in to save the Orioles.† For the Orioles’ sake, he’d be best advised to grab a glove.† Melvin Mora played third last year.
What went right: Erik Bedard and Brian Roberts are really good players and the Orioles are really lucky to have them.† (What’s that?† Oh… yes I see.† Seattle?† The Cubs?† What do you mean it’s not exactly done?)† Well, the Orioles were lucky to have had them.† Erik Bedard has managed to string together a high strike out rate, low walk rate, high groundball rate, low line drive rate, and nary a speck of luck on the BABIP and HR/FB front.† In other words, if you liked what you saw this year, prepare for more of it.† Almost 11 K’s per nine innings.† Roberts is more of the fantasy heartthrob because he steals bases, although a second baseman with an .808 OPS is a nice luxury to have around.
If there is a medal that the Orioles give out for consecutive games played (wonder after whom that one could be named…) it would go to Nick Markakis who appeared in the first 161 games of the season for the Orioles†and then sat out the season-ender.† At 24, most guys are content with being the best guy on their AA team.† This year, assuming Roberts actually finally moves to Chicago, he’ll probably be the best player on his Major League team.† I suppose I could tell you why he’s Sabermetrically very good and how he’s going to get even better (because that’s what guys in their early 20s do).† Someone pointed out that Bill James (I think…) did a study that said if a player at 23 is holding down a regular MLB job, he has a 1/3 chance of becoming a Hall of Fame player.† At 23, Markakis was†putting up All-Star calibre numbers.
Also, the Orioles would make a great fantasy team.† What do fantasy owners spend their nights doing?† Worrying about stolen bases.† The Orioles, thanks to Corey “I can run but not do much else” Patterson, Roberts, and Markakis stole 144 bases and led the American League.† Huzzah!
What went wrong: The Orioles had the idea that if they threw a lot of money at some good middle relievers, this would solve their problems.† They brought in Chad Bradford (who had a pretty good season with some bad luck), Jamie Walker (who had a pretty good season with some good luck) and Danys Baez… who… had an OK season.† They laid out 3-4 year contracts for these guys figuring that they would repeat their past glories.† And they still finished fourth.† It’s not that a strong bullpen isn’t an asset,†simply that it’s hard to leverage it into a lot of wins.† There was also the problem†that Chris Ray got hurt and that the Orioles also had 8(!) guys pitch at least 10 appearances in relief who were functioning below replacement level for relievers.
What the heck happened to Miguel Tejada?† His OBP has been fairly steady over the past few years, but his power stats (SLG, ISO, HR/FB) have been trending downward and he’s progressively begun hitting more and more ground balls.† He seems like a guy whose muscles are withering away.† (…What?)† And now he’s Houston’s problem.
Yeah, that about sums it up: And now a list of Orioles batters who had positive WPA contributions to their team as hitters.† Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, backup outfielder Tike Redmond, Tejada’s replacement Luis Hernandez, Aubrey Huff (barely), Erik Bedard (you read that right), and swingman Brian Burres.† That’s swingman as in sometime reliever sometime starter who had an RBI single in there somewhere in 2007.
Jeremy Guthrie and the Rookie of the Year vote: Did anyone else notice that Jeremy Guthrie led the American League in VORP among rookies?† Guthrie, after fumbling around with the Indians for a few years, figured out that walking people wasn’t a good idea and reaped the benefits.† I was surprised to see that a few ROY votes didn’t wander his way, especially given that everyone’s favorite Sabermetric heart-throb Brian Bannister got a first-place vote.† (Huh?)† Actually, last year when MVN passed around the ballots for the “all the baseball writers vote for the major awards” column†at the end of last season, Guthrie got one vote for Rookie of the Year.† Mine.
They got who?: For Tejada they got Luke Scott (blah), third baseman Michael Costanzo (strikes out a lot, hits a lot of long flyballs), Matt Albers (middling pitching prospect), Troy Patton (did OK in AAA at 21), and Dennis Sarfate (who was just flipped from Milwaukee.† For Bedard, they got Adam Jones (drool), the very under-rated George Sherrill, and a few other spare part pitchers.† For Roberts, they’ll probably get Ronnie Cedeno (an intriguing shortstop with a .900 OPS at AAA), and some young pitching.† Not a bad haul to re-build a team.†
Outlook:†With Tampa Bay on the rise, is this the year that the Orioles finally break their long streak of finishing fourth and instead finish last in the AL East?† In the distant future, they’ve got a lot of really good young kids and can build around that nucleus, but Baltimore fans who surely have been pining for a winning season are going to be disappointed over the next 2-3 years as the kids have some growing pains.


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.

2007 American League SP Analysis

A couple of weeks ago, I presented the Seidman SP-Effectiveness Model, which took into account a large majority of statistics that deem a pitcher to be effective and weighted them with points based on how important/rare they were.† The system is designed to take into account various factors that need to be taken into account in order to level the field of play between those on good or bad teams, those with or without run support, and those either called up/injured or those just plain bad.
Not surprisingly at all, Jake Peavy ended up being first, five points ahead of his competition, but the order of those that followed him turned out to be a bit more surprising than I thought.† Everything made proper sense, though, because the pitcher cannot be blamed for his team not scoring for him or not getting decisions in brilliantly-pitched games.
Essentially, my SP-Effectiveness Model answers the question – What would happen if a pitcher was rewarded every time he pitched well and negated every time he pitched poorly?
I also introduced my statistic, the AQS, or Adjusted Quality Start, which extends the general rule of 6+ IP†and 3 or less ER to also include games of 7.2+ IP and 4 or less ER.† Based on my analysis of innings pitched by starters and the frequency of when they were lifted for relievers, coming one out short of the eighth inning truly merits being allowed to give up that fourth run.
If you have not yet read the NL Article on this same subject, I highly suggest you click the below link – that way you will understand the rubric and reasoning.
To read the NL 2007 SP-Effectiveness article, and see the results, click here.†
In this article, I am applying my model to 2007 American League pitchers.† Just like the NL, there were some expected results, as well as some initially peculiar results that make sense upon further thought.† Additionally, just like with my NL post, I did not apply this to every American League pitcher.† Instead, I selected 1-3 pitchers from each AL team.† Before the 2008 season begins I will plug every pitcher from both leagues into my system to see who was worst – which is always fun.
I will not explain all of the statistics or points values, since I did that in the previous post on the NL, but I will say that I did consider the fact that AL managers did not have to worry about pinch-hitters.† Due to this, I considered making the IP requirements more stringent with the AL, but the fact is that even though they do not need to be removed for pinch-hitters, they are facing an†extra offensive player (not a pitcher in the 9th spot).† They should, in theory, give up more runs and have just as good of a reason to come out of a game.
Overall, though, only a few more AL pitchers had over 225 IP than NL pitchers and so it was not worth changing.† The biggest difference in both leagues was the average IP/game of the selected pitchers.† AL starting pitchers accounted for 66.2% of the total IP in 2007, whereas NL starting pitchers accounted for 63.5%.††Though the numbers are†pretty close, when we are dealing with over 23,000 IP in a league that extra 2.7% equates to approximately 600 IP.

  • To view the raw statistics of all the pitchers used, click here.
  • To view the list of AL SP used in the order of effectiveness points, click here

Again, if you wonder why certain statistics are used and/or why they were assigned certain points, please read the previous NL article linked at the top of the page.
I do not want to post a table of 28-30 pitchers, so you will have to click the link to view the results spreadsheet, but I will list the top†ones below.

  1. CC Sabathia, +84
  2. Dan Haren, +76
  3. Fausto Carmona, +74
  4. John Lackey, +72
  5. Roy Halladay, +68
  6. Johan Santana, +60
  7. Mark Buehrle, +59
  8. Josh Beckett, +58
  9. Justin Verlander, +58
  10. James Shields, +57
  11. Javier Vazquez, +57
  12. Kelvim Escobar, +57
  13. Joe Blanton, +57

In the National League, the odd ranking was Chris Young, whose barometrical statistics suggested he should have been ranked higher.† In the AL, Beckett falls into the same category. The issue here has nothing to do with Beckett’s numbers, but rather the fact that there were other pitchers who were not as lucky as he was in getting run support or solid bullpen help.†
Of the players listed above Beckett, both Santana and Haren had 7 tough losses, Buehrle and Lackey had 5 tough losses, Halladay led MLB in IP/gm and CG, and Carmona had more legit wins and less legit losses.
Essentially, there is nothing wrong with Beckett’s 2007 numbers, however there were other pitchers who happened to perform better in certain areas than he did.
The Red Sox had a dynamite bullpen, so going to Okajima or Papelbon was something that just about any manager would feel comfortable and justified in doing, whereas some of these other teams needed their starters to last longer.†
No, this system does not take into account any sort of clutch factor, where I am sure Beckett would excel, but it does level the playing field to show which pitchers were the most effective, based on the numbers they individually put up.†
Just like the conclusion that was made in the Snell/Zambrano comparison, this is all about consistency.† The quality of Josh Beckett’s AQS’s may have been far greater than those of the other pitchers, however they occurred less frequently compared to the same other pitchers.†† Even though his good-great games may have been astounding, when he was having average or bad games, the other pitchers were still having good-great games.
Beckett had an AQS 67% of the time (20 of 30 starts) while†those†listed were 73% and higher. This is not necessarily a measure of how good a pitcher was in his good games, but rather how often he was good.
One of the major reasons we considered Beckett to have been so good this past season was his record.† If he was only†15-9, like Dan Haren,†there would not have been a Cy Young debate.†
That tends to be a problem because, as I will get into in the next category, W-L records do not differentiate between these Cheap Wins and Tough Losses.† If we gave every pitcher a Win for each Tough Loss, and a Loss for each Cheap Win, Beckett’s record would not have been 20-7.† It would have been 19-8.†
There is not a huge difference between his 20-7 and 19-8, but when we do the same for the AL pitchers above him in points, we get the following records: Sabathia (21-5), Carmona (23-4), Santana (19-9), Haren (21-3), Buehrle (15-4), Lackey (22-6).†
If we are going to use W-L record as a barometer, and include these Tough Losses and Cheap Wins, all of those above records are either better than or equivalent to Beckett’s 19-8.
Based off of just looking at the Adjusted W-L records, if we were to use that as the barometer for the Cy Young Award or the best pitcher, the debate would not be between Sabathia and Beckett – it would be between Haren and Carmona.† I am not saying it should have been between Haren and Carmona, but rather that if we are going to use W-L as an “end-all” statistical solution, we should at least use the Adjusted W-L, or the True W-L.
I described the different types of wins in the NL article but I did not mention the statistic “True W-L Record.”† In order to properly evaluate pitchers, W-L records have to be broken down and examined.† Some pitchers will get tremendous run support and win games even if they only last 5.1 innings and give up 4-5 runs.†
Then there are some who will go 6.2-7.1 innings, give up 2-3 runs, and lose.† After separating these Cheap Wins and Tough Losses from a W-L record, we are left with a record of legitimate wins and losses – games that a pitcher deserved to win or lose based on performance.†
A legit win occurs when you record an AQS and win, and a legit loss occurs when you do not record an AQS and lose.
The difference between True W-L and the†Adjusted W-L†I used in the Beckett comparison is that the True W-L does not include Cheap Wins or Tough Losses.† True W-L only includes games in which the pitcher recorded a win or loss when either decision was merited.
You can see these True W-L Records in the raw statistics spreadsheet, but I have listed the best ones below.† In parenthesis next to the True W-L Records are the Actual W-L Records.

  • Dan Haren, 14-2, (15-9)
  • Kelvim Escobar, 14-3, (18-7)
  • Fausto Carmona, 18-3, (19-8)
  • Josh Beckett, 17-5, (20-7)
  • Chien Ming-Wang, 17-5, (19-7)
  • CC Sabathia, 17-5, (19-7)

Again, we see that if win-loss was to be the “end-all” tool to evaluate a Cy Young Award or the best pitchers, Haren and Carmona would be atop the list.
For fun, I decided to plug some legendary seasons into my system to see what the end results were. Yes, it is impossible to perfectly compare a season from 1966 to one from 1996, but still it is interesting to see how they would rank. To do this, I took the 1968 season of Gibson, the 1995 season of Maddux, and the 2000 season of Martinez. The points results for the three were:

  • Bob Gibson, 1968, +178 pts
  • Pedro Martinez, 2000, +104 pts
  • Greg Maddux, 1995, +97 pts

And there you have it.† By the middle of February I should have a spreadsheet/PDF made up of all NL and AL pitchers plugged into this effectiveness model.† That way we can see who were the absolute worst as I am sure we will find some surprises and unexpected names there.
The biggest surprises to me in both leagues, in a positive turn, were Bronson Arroyo and James Shields.
The most unexpected finishes were Beckett and Chris Young, as I predicted they would be higher.
An interesting thing to look at is how players on the same team ranked next to each other.† In the NL, Zambrano is widely thought of as the #1 of the Cubs, yet Ted Lilly finished much higher.† In the AL, Kazmir is definitely thought of as†the Rays†ace, yet Shields ranked 9th out of the pitchers used here, and Kazmir finished 20th.
And, since the Yankees have to be stubborn, both Pettitte and Wang tied in effectiveness points.†
This model is not the end-all solution to determining who the best pitchers are in a given year, but it is a darn good predictor and estimator since it equalizes the field of play and makes sure it is known that you do not have to be on a great team to be a great pitcher or have a very effective year.††
This measures a specific season,†where some players may be better than others, even if they are nowhere near better in a retrospective look at†their careers.†

A Closer Look at Closers – Part One

Over the course of the next few weeks I will be primarily working with Closers – trying to determine the most effective ways to evaluate talent and quality at an inconsistent position that sure receives some hefty and consistent dollars.
This first part will introduce my opening step to a weighted formula to determine the value of a Closer, as well as discussing what a Closer is, and how we currently evaluate them.
Though this first part will focus solely on 2007, my study also consists of data from 2005 and 2006.
When compiling my data and examining game log after game log, I decided that my study and research should focus on some consistency, which can be hard to find for a Closer.†
I looked at the National League in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and wanted to limit my group to include only those who reached a certain criteria.† Initially I thought that anyone with 25+ saves in all three seasons should qualify.
Then, I actually saw the numbers and realized that would limit my study to include onlyJason Isringhausen, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, and Chad Cordero.
Suffice it to say, I wanted to have some more people in there.† With that in mind, I altered my criteria to simply those who actually were closers during those three seasons.† I also took into account the fact that some were demoted, promoted, or injured, and so†my criteria called for 15+ saves in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
With those numbers, the nine Closers who find themselves under my statistical microscope are – Isringhausen, Hoffman, Wagner, Chad Cordero, Francisco Cordero, Brad Lidge, Jose Valverde, Brian Fuentes, and Ryan Dempster.
Yes, Francisco Cordero was in the AL for 2005 and some of 2006, however he has recorded†103 saves in the last three seasons and 60 of them were in the NL.† Plus, the whole idea of working with Closers stemmed from the idea that an inconsistent one-inning pitcher could receive a 4 yr/40 mil deal.
Simply stated, a Closer is a pitcher called on in the 8th or 9th innings, whose job is to seal the win for his team.† If he does his job he records a “Save.”† If the other team comes back to tie the game, he records a “Blown Save.”†
If you asked anyone about those stats before 1969, though, they would assume you were discussing hockey or soccer since saves are a relatively new statistic.
There are three ways a pitcher can record a save. I know this is a recap for many readers but it is important in the grand scheme of my study. The first way, which is how most people generally describe saves, involves the pitcher entering in either the 8th or 9th inning, with a lead of three or less, and preventing the other team from coming back to tie.
The second way is contingent upon when you enter the game and in what situation.† If you enter the game with the tying run on base, no matter the lead (usually extends it to a 4-run lead), and prevent the team from tying, you get†a save.
The third way, which is how most middle relievers will rack up their 1-3 random saves per season, involves a pitcher going for the final three innings of the game – regardless of the score.† If the Phillies lead the Braves 9-1 and Ryan Madson pitches the 7th, 8th, and 9th, he gets a save.
If there are different types of save categories, doesn’t that mean there are different save types for each category?
Yes.† Plenty.† Think of it this way.† If you enter the 9th inning with only one out to go, and a 5-3 lead and bases empty, and you end the game, you get a save.† If you enter the 9th inning with only one out to go and the bases are loaded, and you end the game, you get a save.† One is clearly harder to do than the other and has a higher risk of resulting in a blown save, yet each ultimately results in the same statistic – a save.
With that in mind, I looked at the 9th inning and thought of all the possible situations that someone could receive a save.† In the 9th inning, there are 72 different ways to record a save, excluding what the pitcher does in the inning.†
If we count what the pitcher does, either giving up a run with a two-run lead or two runs with a three-run lead, and so forth, in the 9th inning there are 144 total ways to record a save.† I will get more into these different ways in Part Two, however the basic idea is that there are eight situations of baserunners (empty, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st and 2nd, 1st and 3rd, 2nd and 3rd, bases full) and 18 different variations of these eight situations.† These variations include entering with 1 out, with 2 outs, with no outs, entering with 1-run, 2-run, or 3-run leads, and more of the same.
144 different ways can a pitcher record a save in the 9th inning, depending on how many outs he records, what the baserunning situation is, and how many runs he gives up.† Yes, this can be said for many other statistics, but Saves generally only span 2-innings MAX, and so the huge number of different types means a bit more here.
I am not dealing with “clutch” in my study.† To read some fascinating insights into relief pitching and relief clutch, read Pizza Cutter’s articles on the subject.
Instead, I am looking at what actually happens and how it happens, not the potential of why it happens.
Many people will look at two, and only two, stats when determining the quality of a closer – total saves, and percentage of successful saves (saves/save opportunities).† It has been pounded into our heads as a barometer and these statistics are supposed to inform us that the “best” closers are the ones with either the most saves or least blown saves.
What I am contending is that if there are 144 different types of 9th inning saves, and the barometer is the sum of all converted opportunities, regardless of the type of save, the needs of your team, and the situation at hand, it is impossible to equate total saves to quality.
Think of it this way – Closer A and Closer B both have 30 saves.† Closer A has 6 blown saves while B has 4 blown saves.† With those numbers, which are usually the only ones readily available, we assume that Closer B was better.† After all, he blew less saves.† What if the 4 saves he blew were all 3-run leads with bases empty and†only 1 out to go in the 9th inning, though, which is the least dangerous save situation of the whole 144.† And what if the 6 blown saves of Closer A were all games he came in with runners on third base and no outs, or games where he entered in the 8th inning.
It becomes very difficult to gauge the “better” factor with just those numbers.
Regardless, even looking at hypotheticals like that, which take into account different types of saves, we cannot determine true quality because it does not take into account the needs of the teams these closers are on – which is ultimately the point of the closer.
When we discuss who the best closer is, what are we asking?† Are we wondering who was best with the most pressure?† Who posted the best numbers?† And if we are talking about numbers, what numbers are the best numbers?
These questions, and more, can cause a headache.† My point here is that we cannot compare closers to each other or determine true quality and effectiveness without analyzing what each closer did for his team.
In order to do this we need to find the number of games that each team won in a save situation (meaning no walk-off wins or 3-inning saves) and add it to the number of Blown Save-Losses because that tells us the true number of save opportunities each team had.† I call that a TSO – Team Save Opportunity.
Jose Valverde had 47 saves this year, leading the NL, however the DBacks had†64 Team Save Opportunities, whereas Ryan Dempster’s Cubs only had†48 of those games – sixteen less than the DBacks.
Dempster had 28 saves, much less than Valverde, but his conversion rate (28/31) was higher.† Valverde had more saves, but he also had more opportunities because his team played a different way and, as a team, played more close games that needed saving.† And even though Dempster’s percentage was higher, he also had less opportunities to blow saves.† If he had the 54 appearances of Valverde, he may have also blown more saves and had a worse conversion rate.
What we need to do here is level the field of play between those on teams with many save opportunities and teams with fewer.† After all, it is not Dempster’s fault that the Cubs had a better offense and blew teams out more than the DBacks.† He was not needed as often as Valverde and so his raw save and blown save totals do nothing but compare one number of Dempster’s to the†overall need†of Valverde and the needs of the Diamondbacks.
To really do this, the effectiveness of one pitcher to his team needs to be compared to the effectiveness of another pitcher to another team.
The DBacks had†64 TSO’s and Valverde had 54 opportunities.† This means that Valverde appeared in 54 of the†64 total save opportunities for his team, or†84.4 %.
That†84.4 % tells us he was durable since the team had so many potential save opportunities and his appearances were so high.
The Cubs only had†48 team save opportunities and Dempster only had 31 attempts.† His appearance rate would be 31 of 48, or†64.6 %.
Yes, Dempster was hurt, but this does make sense because you cannot be more effective (positive or negative) for your team if you are not involved as often as possible.† The fact that other pitchers were involved in over 1/3 of the Cubs save opportunities says that Dempster was not truly effective in making appearances.
To see the order of the nine closers in terms of Appearance Rate, look at the table below. The table shows the saves and save opportunities of the individual, as well as the total real save opportunities of the team, and then the Appearance Rate.

F. Cordero 44 51 58 87.9
Valverde 47 54 64 84.4
Hoffman 42 49 60 81.7
Wagner 34 39 48 81.3
C. Cordero 37 46 59 78.0
Isringhausen 32 34 46 73.9
Dempster 28 31 48 64.6
Lidge 19 27 55 49.1
Fuentes 20 27 59 45.8

Despite this stat being useful to tell us how durable or useful a closer can be in making appearances based on team need, it does not tell us how successful they were in actually converting these saves. Just because Valverde appeared in 54 of†64 team save opportunities for the DBacks does not mean he converted 54 saves – just that he made 54 appearances.
After careful thought, I came up with “Save Rate”, which takes the total number of saves by a closer and divides it by the total number of team opportunities.† This statistic takes the Appearance Rate to the next level.† Since closers can have a high Appearance Rate but low number of saves or low save percentage, Save Rate balances that out.
Save Rate lets us know how successful a Closer was in recording saves relative to the percentage of his team’s save opportunities.† It tells us how successful one was based on how effective he was in fulfilling his team’s need.
Essentially, it rewards those with more saves in less team opportunities, and takes away from those with less saves in more opportunities.
Valverde had 47 saves out of 54 chances, and his team had†64 real save opportunities.† His Save% would be 47/54 and his Appearance Rate would be 54/64.
His Save Rate would be 47 (# of saves)/64 (# of total team chances for a save), which comes out to†73.4 %, meaning that Valverde successfully saved†73.4 % of the DBacks team save opportunities.
Francisco Cordero of the Brewers was 2nd in the NL with 44 total saves.† He also blew seven saves giving him 51 opportunities.† His Save% was 44/51, very similar to Valverde, but his Appearance Rate was higher because the Brewers had six less team save opportunities and he only had three less appearances than Valverde.
His Appearance Rate was 51/58, or†87.9 %.† He appeared in more games proportionate to his team’s need.
His Save Rate would be 44/58, or†75.9 %, higher than Valverde’s.
To see the nine closers in order of Save Rate, look at the table below.† Again, it lists the total saves and opportunities of the individual, as well as the total team opportunities, and then the actual Save Rate.

F. Cordero 44 51 58 75.9†%
Valverde 47 54 64 73.4†%
Wagner 34 39 48 70.8†%
Hoffman 42 49 60 70.0 %
Isringhausen 32 34 46 69.6†%
C. Cordero 37 46 59 62.7†%
Dempster 28 31 48 58.3†%
Lidge 19 27 55 34.5 %
Fuentes 20 27 59 33.9†%

It makes sense that Cordero would be higher because even though his save totals and appearance totals were slightly less, he was involved in a higher percentage of his team’s chances and he converted successful saves at almost an identical number and percent.† Basically, he had less opportunities and still did the same exact thing – not the same ratio, but the same thing.
This does not necessarily†mean Cordero had a better season.† This is merely one part of a two or three part article series and Save Rate is only the first part to a weighted system that should be able to determine who the best Closers are based on statistics that essentially define a good Closer.
Next week I will get into the different types of saves featured in the data sheets and discuss their importance in determining quality and effectiveness. WPA and Win Predictors will be discussed as well.
I will also look at raw numbers to help come up with the Seidman Closer Model to properly evaluate Closers.
In closing (pun very intended), I just want to add that the Closer position has become such a fickle one over the years that these evaluations need to be done on a year to year basis.† Jose Valverde was arguably one of the best NL Closers in 2007, and somewhat of a replacement, or makeshift closer, in 2005.† Brian Fuentes was dynamite in 2005 and still pretty good in 2006, yet so bad in 2007 that he lost his job.
It is remarkable how inconsistent Closers are, and that is one of the primary reasons (along with playoff success) why Mariano Rivera will go down as the greatest ever.
Lastly, of the nine closers used in this ongoing study:

  • Lidge and Fuentes were demoted in 2007
  • Lidge and Valverde were traded to new teams
  • Dempster is likely going back to the starting rotation
  • Francisco signed a huge four-year deal with a new team
  • Billy Wagner changed teams from 2005 to 2006

The only NL Closers that have actually kept their job for the same team between 2005 and 2007 are – Trevor Hoffman, Jason Isringhausen, and Chad Cordero.

Tales of the curve: an analysis of Erik Bedard

Baltimore Orioles ace Erik Bedard had a breakout season in 2007 before being sidelined at the end of August with an injury to his oblique muscle. Prior to his final start, he was receiving strong Cy Young Award consideration with a 13-4 record, a 2.97 ERA, and a league-leading 218 strikeouts and only 135 hits and 52 walks allowed in 176 innings. (His last start, pitching injured, resulted in final season numbers a little worse than these I’ve listed.) Compare his 2007 numbers to his previous career-best season in 2006, when he finished 15-11, with a 3.76 ERA and 171 strikeouts against 196 hits and 69 walks in 194 1/3 innings, and it’s clear he stepped up his game in 2007. How did he do it?
Unfortunately we don’t have any PITCHf/x data from the 2006 regular season, but we can use the PITCHf/x microscope to take a look at what Bedard did in 2007 (in the 701 pitches for which we have detailed data). What does Erik Bedard throw? Let’s take a look at his repertoire by graphing the speed of his pitches versus the direction they break.

Bedard Pitch Speed vs. Spin Force Angle
Bedard has four pitches, as best I can tell. His famous erstwhile pitching coach will tell you he throws four different types of fastballs, but I can only see a four-seamer and a cutter. Either he throws the sinker and the “comebacker” infrequently, if at all, in game action, or they move too similarly to the four-seamer for me to differentiate them using this data.
I mentioned already that Bedard pitched with an injured oblique muscle in his final start of the year on August 26. Most of the fastballs and cutters with a speed below 90 mph were recorded in that start. He averages just over 93 mph on his four-seam fastball and 92 mph on his cut fastball. In his August 26 start, those clocked at 89 and 88 mph, respectively.
When healthy, his four-seam fastball runs 92-95 mph and breaks away from a right-hander by about 7-11 inches. The four-seamer is one his two primary pitches to right-handed hitters; he throws it 34% of the time. Against lefties, it’s his third pitch, used only 23% of the time.
His cut fastball runs 90-94 mph and breaks away from a right-hander by about 2-6 inches. The cutter is his primary pitch to lefties, used almost half the time (45%); against righties, it’s his third pitch, used 24% of the time.
Bedard also throws an occasional 80-83 mph changeup, almost exclusively to lefties (7%). Probably his best pitch is a 76-80 mph curveball, which he uses equally to righties (35%) and to lefties (32%).
Let’s take a look at how all his pitches move, including the effect of gravity in addition to spin-induced deflection.

Bedard Vertical vs. Horizontal Pitch Deflection
The slower pitches like the curveball and changeup drop more because gravity has longer to act on them.
I thought it might also be interesting to show something more in line with what I believe the hitter perceives as the “late break” on a pitch, the deflection of the pitch due to both spin and gravity in the last quarter-second before it crosses the plate. Thanks go to Tom Tango for this idea.
Bedard Late Break
This seems to give a more realistic guess at how a hitter might perceive the drop on a curveball compared to a fastball.
Let’s take a look at how Erik Bedard mixes his pitches in different ball-strike counts.
Bedard Pitch Mix by Count
We can see that he uses his cutter more often early in the count or when he falls behind and his four-seam fastball more often with two strikes. He uses his curveball equally across almost all counts, except for avoiding it on 3-0 and 3-1 and showing some preference for it on 2-1 and 3-2 counts. His changeup shows up mostly on 0-1 and 1-1 counts; he throws it to righthanders 20% of the time on those two counts and only 3% of the time on other counts.
Here’s a table showing the details by count.

Count Fastball Cutter Changeup Curveball Total
0-0 54 62 4 62 182
0-1 20 26 21 33 100
0-2 27 10 0 15 52
1-0 16 22 4 22 64
1-1 18 20 9 23 70
1-2 35 8 1 24 68
2-0 5 10 0 4 19
2-1 11 5 3 20 39
2-2 24 11 0 25 60
3-0 0 4 0 0 4
3-1 8 8 0 1 17
3-2 4 8 0 14 26
Ahead 82 44 22 72 220
Even 96 93 13 110 312
Behind 44 57 7 61 169
0 strikes 75 98 8 88 269
1 strike 57 59 33 77 226
2 strikes 90 37 1 78 206
Ball 0-1 170 148 39 179 536
Ball 2-3 52 46 3 64 165
Total 222 194 42 243 701

Now, letís examine where in the zone Bedard throws his pitches and what results he gets with them.

LHH Ball CStrk Foul SStrk InPlay Avg BABIP SLG HR
Fastball 0.48 0.16 0.16 0.03 0.16 0.600 0.600 0.600 0.000
Cutter 0.26 0.30 0.20 0.11 0.13 0.250 0.000 1.000 0.250
Changeup 1.00
Curveball 0.36 0.09 0.20 0.16 0.18 0.250 0.250 0.625 0.000
RHH Ball CStrk Foul SStrk InPlay Avg BABIP SLG HR
Fastball 0.35 0.20 0.21 0.08 0.16 0.258 0.233 0.419 0.032
Cutter 0.34 0.26 0.24 0.02 0.15 0.300 0.263 0.500 0.050
Changeup 0.54 0.05 0.12 0.02 0.27 0.273 0.200 0.636 0.091
Curveball 0.34 0.18 0.16 0.21 0.11 0.227 0.227 0.318 0.000
Lg. Avg. Ball CStrk Foul SStrk 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
Curveball 0.40 0.19 0.13 0.11 0.16 0.310 0.290 0.471 0.029

The league average information comes from John Walsh’s article, and I’ve adapted his format in presenting this information. His pitch types probably don’t correspond exactly to mine since he lumps sinkers and cutters in with four-seam fastballs and splitters in with changeups. I believe it’s still helpful to use his league-wide information for comparison since I haven’t established a league-wide baseline on my own yet.
Bedard Fastball Location
With the four-seam fastball, Bedard mostly works the outside part of the plate, especially to lefties but also to righties. To lefties, he mostly stays up or away with the fastball, out of the strike zone, and when he does get in the zone, he doesn’t have very good results, although the sample size is small. Against righties, he gets very good results with the fastball, holding them to a .233 BABIP and a .419 slugging percentage.
Bedard Cutter Location
With the cut fastball, Bedard works away from lefties and gets a lot of called strikes and not much good contact, although two cutters in the middle of the zone did go for home runs. Against righties, he’s all around the zone with the cut fastball, and his results aren’t quite as outstanding. He gets a few more foul balls and a lot less swinging strikes, but overall his results with the cutter are still pretty good against righties.
Bedard Changeup Location
Erik Bedard threw one changeup to a lefty, Lyle Overbay, out of the 701 pitches in our data set, and that resulted in a fly ball out. To righties he works the changeup down and away, mostly out of the strike zone. When he gets it in the zone, they make contact. The changeup looks like Bedard’s weakest pitch.
Bedard Curveball Location
Bedard throws the curveball down and away to lefties, and he generates a lot of swings with it–foul balls, swings and misses, and balls in play. Against righties he also works down and away but isn’t afraid to throw it in the zone. He gets a lot of swings and misses and when the ball is put in play, it’s hit weakly (.227 AVG and .318 SLG). The curveball is a great pitch for Bedard; no wonder he throws it so much.
I wanted to add a note at the end here about which pitches Bedard used to get his strikeouts. We have PITCHf/x data for 50 of his 221 strikeouts. Of those 50 K’s, 22 of them came on the fastball, 21 on the curveball, and 7 on the cutter. That lines up pretty well, percentage-wise, with his pitch mix with two strikes on the hitter.
Hopefully, we’ve learned a little about how Bedard dominated hitters in 2007–a strong fastball/cutter combo and an outstanding curveball. His changeup could use improvement, but it’s his fourth pitch, so that’s really a small complaint. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the strong performance in 2008 as well as whether he will be doing so as part of the Orioles or on a different team.