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Tribe Scribe



An in-depth look at everything baseball, with a focus on the Cleveland Indians.



Updated: 2014-10-15T06:34:35.282-07:00

 



How did I do?

2007-11-18T18:46:31.329-08:00

Before the season, I predicted every team's record. Let's see how I did:

Yankees: ACTUAL 94-68; PREDICTED 91-71
Red Sox: 96-66; 91-71
Blue Jays: 83-79; 83-79
Rays: 66-96; 75-87
Orioles: 69-93; 73-89

Indians: 96-66; 91-71
Tigers: 88-74; 86-76
Twins: 79-83; 83-79
White Sox: 72-90; 78-84
Royals: 69-93; 66-96

Angels: 94-68; 86-76
Athletics: 76-86; 83-79
Rangers: 75-87; 81-81
Mariners: 88-74; 76-86

Phillies: 89-73; 90-72
Mets: 88-74; 88-74
Braves: 84-78; 85-77
Marlins: 71-91; 69-93
Nationals: 73-89; 51-111

Brewers: 83-79; 88-74
Cubs: 85-77; 85-77
Astros: 73-89; 80-82
Cardinals: 78-84; 78-84
Pirates: 68-84; 75-87
Reds: 72-90; 74-88

Diamondbacks: 90-72; 91-71
Padres: 89-74; 85-77
Giants: 71-91; 80-82
Dodgers: 83-79 82-80
Rockies: 90-73; 77-85


THE GOOD:

Well, I nailed the AL Central, more or less. My Indians-bias prevented me from picking the Tribe to win more games, but fundamentally they were closer to a 91-win team than a 96-win team. I thought the White Sox were going to be worse than most people thought, but even I didn't think they'd be THAT bad (kudos to PECOTA). I also nailed the NL East...except for Washington. Oops.

I think I also deserve some credit for calling the Blue Jays' and Cubs' mediocrity, and the D-Backs' ascent to the top of the division (although to be fair, they played over their heads). I also correctly predicted the Cardinals' demise and the Dodgers' poor roster management.

THE BAD:

The entire AL West was pretty terrible. I got the winner correct, but vastly underestimated them. I poorly predicted the rest of that division too - even though Seattle played over their heads, it's embarrassing to be wrong by 12 games.

Speaking of embarrassments: few people expected the Rockies to go to the World Series, but I was more down on them than most. This crow I'm eating is delicious.

I overestimated the Brewers and Astros - in hindsight, I'd once again pick the Brewers to win 88, but I'd change the Astros to win less. I don't know what I was thinking when I predicted the Giants to win 80 games.

THE UGLY:

Is it possible to be 22 games off in a prediction? Apparently it is, as the Nationals proved. I have nothing more to say about this.





Prediction update

2007-07-04T11:21:20.273-07:00

Before the season started, I made predictions for the record of every team in baseball, accompanied by some remarks. It's July 4, so it's a good time to take a look at how I'm doing so far.AL EAST:New York Yankees: currently 39-41 (expected 45-35). WHAT I SAID: 94-68, "I can see a lot going wrong for this team, but it’s so hard to bet against them." Must go 55-27 to meet my record. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Sure enough, a lot has gone wrong. However, they're going to make things very interesting over the next three months.Boston Red Sox: currently 51-31 (expected 50-32). WHAT I SAID: 91-71, "this team is loaded at the top, and with only a little bit of luck could win the division." Must go 40-41. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They had more upside than any team in baseball, and much of it has come through. However, they have not been lucky and have had several players underperform, quite a feat considering their current record.Toronto Blue Jays: currently 40-43 (expected 42-41). WHAT I SAID: 83-79, "This record is not so much an illustration of my dislike of the Blue Jays, but rather it reflects the strength of the American League: someone has to lose some games." Must go 43-36. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They have rebounded from a slow start and have weathered some devastating injuries. They're a mediocre, unexciting team.Tampa Bay Devil Rays: currently 33-49 (expected 32-50). WHAT I SAID: 75-87, "the Rays have a respectable staff at the moment (albeit one lacking in upside) that should keep them in enough games to let the offense come through." Must go 42-38. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They looked so good for so long before hitting a wall. They have disappointed me, but I still believe they are very close to being respectable.Baltimore Orioles: currently 36-46 (expected 40-42). WHAT I SAID: 73-89, "offense won’t be terrible, but Tejada is on the decline and the rest of the over-the-hill veterans won’t make up for it." Must go 37-43. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They are simply a bad team with no future.AL CENTRAL:Cleveland Indians: currently 51-32 (expected 47-36). WHAT I SAID: 91-71, "The Tribe will survive on an excellent offense and underrated pitching staff. The starters are not amazing, but Sabathia is excellent, Westbrook very underrated, and there is definite potential amongst the Lee, Sowers, Miller, and Carmona group. However, I worry very much about Jeremy Sowers." Must go 40-39. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Please direct a few props this way. The Indians are playing a little over their head and have a tough schedule in August and September. However, their starting rotation is intact and healthy for the first time all season, and Carmona is for real.Detroit Tigers: currently 47-34 (expected 48-33). WHAT I SAID: 86-76, "A respectable season will be called a disappointment for a team which saw many of its offensive players perform near the top of their capabilities last season." Must go 39-42. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Tigers' offense, and Justin Verlander, are much, much better than I expected.Minnesota Twins: currently 42-40 (expected 43-39). WHAT I SAID: 83-79, "The Twins’ bullpen is outstanding, and Johan is incredible. But they are shooting themselves in the foot, giving many (or any) starts to Ponson, Silva, and Ortiz." Must go 41-39. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They weathered the storm of terrible veteran starters and now have their best pieces in place. However, a run similar to last season is unlikely.Chicago White Sox: currently 36-44 (expected 34-46). WHAT I SAID: 78-84, "they can expect less from nearly every single offensive player on their roster, save perhaps Brian Anderson (although letting Erstad play is probably just as bad)." Must go 42-40. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Can I get some more props here? Their offense has been weaker than even I expected, but I did see a huge regression coming. They have played better recently, and I think they are as likely as any team in baseball to exactly match my prediction.Kansas City Royals: currently 36-48 (expected 38-46). WHAT I SAID: 66-96, "They will score some runs (even more [...]



Indians faltering through easy schedule

2007-07-04T10:48:14.730-07:00

In my last post I commented that the Indians had a very easy stretch in their schedule, starting June 5, for 54 games. The Tribe had lots of home games, and lots of games against bad teams.

We are currently 28 games into that 54-game stretch, and the Indians are not taking advantage. They are currently on a 6-game win streak; however, that has taken them to only 17-11 during this stretch. That is not good enough.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that they are three games up in the Central, and 1/2 game behind Boston for the best record in baseball. However, after the next 26 games, the Indians' schedule gets brutally difficult: many games on the road, and many games against good teams. That means that the Indians can play the same "level" of baseball and see worse results, since their opponents are better.

Therefore, the Indians need a comfortable lead on August 3, when their schedule gets tough. And in order for that to happen, the Indians really need to take advantage of their next 26 games.



Upcoming schedule favors Tribe

2007-06-04T12:43:32.971-07:00

In baseball, who you play is nearly as important as how well you play.

This year, against teams that are currently under .500, the Indians are 18-9. Against teams that are currently over .500 (as well as the Yankees, as I'd be SHOCKED if they finished under .500) the Indians are 16-12. Certainly that is a good mark, but the Indians (rightly) win more against bad teams than they do against good ones.

With that in mind, let's look at the Indians' upcoming schedule.

First of all, the Indians are 19-6 at "home" (including Milwaukee), and 15-15 on the road. From now until August 2, the Indians have 34 home games and only 19 road games. That is, obviously, very favorable.

Of the next 53 games, 24 are against five of the six worst teams in baseball (Kansas City, Cincinnati, Texas, Washington, and Tampa Bay). 33 of the next 54 are against teams under .500.

Of the 19 games against teams over .500, THREE are on the road (and they're in Detroit).

So far this season, the Indians have played 28 games against teams over .500, and 27 against teams under. They have played 30 road games to only 25 home games (three of which weren't even at home). Despite this, they currently sport the fourth best record in baseball.

And now they embark on a 53-game stretch where they play 64% of their games at home; 45% against five of the six worst teams in baseball; and three road games against teams currently over .500.

The Indians need to take advantage of this stretch to build a very large lead in the Central Division. Because if they do not...well, as favorable as their next upcoming 53 games are, their final 54 games are brutally difficult.



Be patient with Marte

2007-05-26T09:54:49.502-07:00

Scouting and statistics are both important in baseball. While we can argue about the relative importance of each, there is no denying that they both play a role in determining which young players can be productive major leaguers.Statistics can tell us that Dan Haren, whose ERAs at AAA were 4.93 and 4.15, would be a very good major league starter. Scouting can tell us that Hanley Ramirez, who had a .271/.335/.385 line with 6 homers at AA would be a very good major league shortstop.Despite cases like these, it is usually true that scouting and statistics often agree on who can become a good or great major leaguer. This makes sense - in general, statistics are a reflection of skills - skills which scouting observes.Baseball is an odd sport, where raw athleticism and strength or speed do not necessarily translate into "baseball abilities." However, when a minor leaguer has scouting "tools" and accumulates solid statistics as well, this is usually a reflection that his chances of becoming a productive major leaguer are quite high.Which brings us to Andy Marte. In 2005, Baseball America had the following to say about him: "Marte’s ability to drive the ball to all fields with plus power is outstanding and getting better. He already shows patience at the plate. His glovework is also above average, as managers named him the best defensive third baseman and top infield arm in the Southern League. He oozes intangibles, showing impressive maturity for his age. Marte’s swing has a slight uppercut and can get a little long when he tires, but the Braves consider those minor problems. Still, his strikeout rate jumped in 2004. His trunk has gotten a little thick over the past two years and might need monitoring. His potential as an impact all-around player is unquestioned."In other words, scouts loved Marte. Even Baseball Prospectus loved him, saying this in 2005: "The best prospect in baseball and a future superstar. As a 20-year-old toiling in the mostly hitter-unfriendly Southern League, Marte hit .269/.364/.525. In only 387 at-bats, he smacked 52 extra-base hits. He's got monstrous power and a broad base of hitting skills. In his prime, expect a few seasons of Adrian Beltre, circa 2004."But what's more is that Marte's statistics backed up this high assessment of his game. At the tender age of 20, Marte put together a line of .269/.364/.525 with 23 homers in AA. Had Marte gone to college, he'd either be a college sophomore or in his first year of professional baseball; instead, he managed an 889 OPS at AA.The Braves promoted him to AAA in 2005, and 21-year-old Marte hit .275/.372/.506 with 20 homers in a home park that depressed homers by 25%. He even reduced his strikeouts by 20% without losing any walks or power.And then Marte was traded. Twice. He went from being one of the best prospects in baseball to a guy that two different organizations decided they didn't want. Of course, fundamentally this changed nothing about Marte; both the Braves and Red Sox had reasons for dealing him that were related more to the team's needs than to Marte himself.With the Indians, at age 22 Marte went back to AAA. Keep in mind, a 22-year-old in AAA is still quite young. Marte's power declined slightly, and he lost some of his patience, leading to a line of .261/.322/.451 with the Bisons. Marte entered June of 2006 with two homers and 51 strikeouts, and proceeded to hit 13 homers and strike out 30 times in June and July, including a 1.057 OPS in June. He was then called to the Tribe, and underwhelmed for the second time in the majors, hitting .226/.287/.421 in 164 at-bats. On the bright side, Marte did not strike out more than he had in the minors (maintaining a steady rate of strikeing out in about 22% of his at-bats), and amassed 21 extra-base hits in 50 games.Scouts love Andy Marte. At age 20, Marte posted an 889 OPS at AA. At age 21, Marte posted an 878 OPS at AAA. Yes, he followed it up with a 773 OPS at AAA, and underwhelming performa[...]



Wedge under-utilizing roster

2007-05-22T11:33:38.805-07:00

It is May 21 and the Indians have scored more runs per game (5.56) than any other team in baseball. This is great; however, Eric Wedge’s handling of the roster has been less than adequate. Mark Shapiro has found an inefficiency in the market for hitters: players with big platoon splits tend to be underpriced. Thus, for less than half of the price of Carlos Lee (865 OPS over the last three years), the Indians can have a left field platoon of David Dellucci (875 OPS against righties) and Jason Michaels (829 OPS against lefties). Never mind the additional money Lee will receive, or the fact that he will be under contract until he’s about 60 years old – the numbers suggest that a Michaels/Dellucci platoon should be as good as Lee this year. The rest of the roster is structured similarly, buffered by Casey Blake’s versatility. However, often times this season Eric Wedge has made some strange decisions, with predictable results. The Indians are weak against left-handed pitching. This makes sense: their two best hitters are lefties. Grady Sizemore struggles mightily against southpaws (his 688 OPS against them this year is right in line with his 669 OPS over the last three years). While Travis Hafner has handled lefties extremely well (912 OPS over the last three years), it’s still not as good as he’s handled righties (1.093 OPS). David Dellucci and Trot Nixon are excellent, underrated hitters against righties (875 and 849 OPS, respectively, against righties the last three years). However, neither can even hold their own against lefties (605 and 620 OPS). Simply put, in order to maximize the Indians’ roster, these guys should receive only minimal at-bats against lefties, in strategic situations (such as against a lefty specialist in the 6th inning it might be worth leaving them in so they can get one more at-bat against a righty later in the game). Additionally, the Indians’ roster is built so as it’s easy to sit both righty-mashers against lefties. Jason Michaels is the logical replacement in left field, as he can OPS 829 against lefties. Casey Blake and his 836 OPS versus lefties can play right field. That leaves Andy Marte at third base against lefties; in Marte’s short major league stint he has struggled, but he has hit lefties pretty well (722 OPS against lefties in the majors, 894 in AAA). Thus, against lefties, the Indians lineup should look something like this: Sizemore – CF Michaels – LF Hafner – DH Martinez – C Peralta – SS Garko – 1B Blake – RF Barfield – 2B Marte – 3B Wedge should not be afraid to use Dellucci and Nixon off of the bench late in the game as well. The lineup against righties, then, should be somewhat like this: Sizemore – CF Nixon – RF Hafner – DH Martinez – C Garko – 1B Dellucci – LF Peralta – SS Barfield – 2B Marte – 3B Garko doesn’t have any platoon splits, so by batting him fifth you don’t lose much offensively but allow left-handed-hitting Dellucci to be sandwiched between two righties. If you insist on playing Casey Blake against righties it won’t kill you, but we know exactly what type of player Casey Blake is, and it is underwhelming, while Andy Marte has a LOT more upside. Trot Nixon has 31 at-bats against lefties this year. David Dellucci has 18. Jason Micheals has 39 at-bats against righties (more than against lefties!). The Indians’ outfield is aligned to maximize potential by exploiting platoon splits; however, Eric Wedge has done a poor job of utilizing these players so far.[...]



First pitch key for Carmona

2007-05-18T14:10:42.354-07:00

Fausto Carmona is off to a fast start. Through seven starts, Carmona is 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA. Last season, Carmona went 1-10 with a 5.52 ERA. What’s changed? The short answer, surprisingly, is not that much. After a tumultuous 2006 season, Carmona made the Indians this year originally due to Cliff Lee’s spring training injury, and did not pitch well in his first start, allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings against Chicago. However, since then Carmona has been amazing. In six subsequent starts, Carmona has an incredible 2.05 ERA. Something seemingly changed. Right? There is little doubt that Carmona is a better pitcher now than he was last year. However, the numbers suggest that he really is not that much better. This is possible for two reasons: 1) last year, he was very unlucky, and 2) this year, he has been very lucky. Both years he has, essentially, been the same pitcher. However, there is one key element that Carmona has added this year: throwing more first-pitch strikes. Last year Carmona allowed a whopping .336 batting average on balls in play – far higher than the league average of .300. This year, however, his BABIP is .233, far below league average. This year, Carmona has stranded 84% of the runners that have gotten on base. Certainly, this has to do with his inordinately low hit rate, as well as additional luck which figures to regress to the mean (last season, Carmona stranded 70% of all runners). Last year, Carmona’s main strength was his ability to induce ground balls: 59.6% of balls in play were hit on the ground. This year, Carmona’s ground ball rate has risen to an extraordinary 62.6%. For comparison, fellow sinker-baller Jake Westbrook’s ground ball rate last season was 60.8%. While Carmona’s strikeout rate remains dangerously low – and is much lower than it was last year – he has managed to reduce his walk rate. In fact, while Carmona is much the same pitcher as he was last year, there is one clear aspect where he has improved: throwing strikes. Thanks to baseball-reference’s, handy pitch data, we can ascertain that this season, Carmona has delivered 58% of his first pitches for strikes, well up from last year’s total of 54%. He has thrown 63% of all pitches for strikes, rather than 62% last year. 17% of all plate appearances result in an 0-2 count (as opposed to 14% last year), and only 6% result in a 3-0 count (down from 7% last year). For Carmona – as for most pitchers – throwing the first pitch for a strike drastically changes an at-bat. This season, in all plate appearances in which the batter has had an 0-1 count, batters have hit .161/.186/.237. In all plate appearances in which the batter has had a 1-0 count, batters have hit .352/.440/.521. Last year saw a similar trend: after 0-1 counts batters hit .231/.293.299, whereas if Carmona’s first pitch was a ball batters hit .383/.474/.625. While Carmona is mostly the same this year as he was last year, the key difference is not just his reduced walk rates and ability to throw more strikes, but his ability to throw first pitches for strikes. While 58% first-pitch strikes is a large improvement over 54%, it still stands much room for additional improvement. For example, fellow Indian CC Sabathia’s first-pitch strike rate this season is a whopping 69%. Think of it this way: if the first pitch Carmona throws is a strike, all batters turn into roughly equivalent of me, who never even played high school baseball, trying to get a hit against him. However, if the first pitch is a ball, all players suddenly become Tony Gwynn. Carmona was unlucky to be so bad last season; however, the silver lining is that his poor performance as a closer caused the Indians to turn him back into a starter, where he is more valuable. This season, he has been very lucky to prevent hits on balls in play (how many great[...]



Sizemore is not a leadoff hitter

2007-05-14T10:29:04.763-07:00

I know people are beginning to get on Sizemore about his batting average, so I wanted to take a look at it. Batting average is highly correlated with line-drive percentage. The more line drives you hit, the higher your BA will be. Of course, if you do not put the ball in play (aka strikeout) you cannot get a hit. Last year Sizemore struck out in 20% of his plate appearances, a high number. Of balls put into play, 34.2% became hits. However, based upon his line-drive percentage, we would have expected only about 31.8% of balls put into play to become hits. In essence, what that means is that Sizemore was "lucky" to receive 11 more hits than he "should have". Had he not been lucky like this, his batting average would have been .273. This year, Sizemore has struck out in a scary 28% of his plate appearances. That means his battting average should fall---but not from last year's "actual" average of .290, but rather from last year's "expected" average of .273. In addition, Sizemore's line-drive percentage has gone down. His actual batting average on balls in play this year has been .297, while his expected is .288. In other words, despite his low batting average this year, Sizemore has not been unlucky. So what does this mean? 1) We should keep in mind that a player with Sizemore's speed should beat his "expected" batting average by a little because he can leg out a few infield singles that a player like Victor Martinez would not get 2) Simply put, the more strikeouts you have, the lower your batting average will be. Last year Sizemore struck out a lot, this year he's striking out too much. 3) Sizemore's declining line-drive percentage isn't a big problem...except when it's coupled with his rising strikeout totals. Something might be off in Sizemore's game. However, Sizemore has not been caught stealing this year (in 12 attempts) and has walked a ridiculous amount of times. My guess is that he is actively trying to hit for more power---at the expense of some line drives. He is seeing far more pitches per at-bat than he did last year, but his percentage of strikeouts that were called versus those that were swinging is the same as it was last year. Also interestingly, Sizemore is swinging at less pitches than ever before, and making contact with even fewer. So compared to the rest of his (short) career, Sizemore is A) Not swinging as often, and B) Not making contact as often when he does swing. SOME CONCLUSIONS: 1) SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!!!! I know it feels like the season has been going on for awhile, but in reality often times even a full season's worth of statistics can be misleading (like Peralta in 2005...or Peralta again in 2006). So a month and a half's stats can be even more misleading. 2) Sizemore is seeing lots more pitches. This leads to many more walks---but also more strikeouts, as he's getting deeper into counts. 3) Sizemore is actively trying to hit for more power. This would explain his lowered line-drive percentage and his lowered contact rates. However, his slugging percentage is really low, too. 4) Something might be wrong with him, physically. I really think it's mainly #1, perhaps with a bit of #2 and #3. I don't think anything is wrong with him physically. And I do think that he will not bat .290 again---I've said that since the off-season. However, I find it unlikely that he will continue to hit .239 as well. There are people---many people---who think of Sizemore as a lead-off hitter. He's not. Just because he's batting there doesn't mean he fits the mold. This is a power hitter with speed. He's not a guy who will hit .300 every season, he's much more of a .260-280 hitter. However, the speed is real (he's gotten caught stealing less and less each year), and the power is real as well. Now, if he can show that the walk-rate is legitimate, his being a .269-.280 hitter won't matter at all. This guy is not Kenny Lofton, he's [...]



Examining the Tribe's hitters' BABIP: Team and individual

2006-12-22T14:06:42.181-08:00

Last season, the Indians’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as a team was .327. The American League average for BABIP was .308; no other team was even higher than .319. In other words, the Indians were extremely lucky in BABIP last season. Nearly every single player who had a significant amount of plate appearances posted a BABIP better than league average---in fact, of players with at least 100 PAs, only Aaron Boone (.288), Eduardo Perez (.275), Todd Hollansworth (.265), and Andy Marte (.265) were below average. That means that Choo (.412), Shoppach (.387), Broussard (.371), Martinez (.345), Inglett (.344), Sizemore (.342), Gutierrez (.336), Luna (.333), Garko (.333), Peralta (.329), Hafner (.326), Blake (.325), Michaels (.320), and Belliard (.317) ALL had above-average BABIPs last season. However, before we get too worried that many of the Tribe’s hitters were extraordinarily lucky last season, let’s take each’s BABIP in the context of the individual hitter. For hitters, BABIP does not hover around .300 in the same way it does for pitchers---generally, some hitters have higher or lower BABIPs. The key in judging “luck” for hitters is to look at other factors---ground-ball/fly-ball ratio, line drive percentage, and BABIP in other seasons---to try to find aberrations. Because they have limited major league experience, we have little with which to judge Choo, Shoppach, Inglett, Gutierrrez, Luna, and Garko. Likely most of them were fairly lucky (especially Choo and Shoppach), but it’s possible some of their BABIPs were legitimate. Ben Broussard seems like a clear-cut case of being lucky---his previous season’s BABIPs were .320 and .287; his BABIP with Seattle after the trade was .279. I’m most interested in the players who will have a significant role with the Tribe next season, namely Sizemore, Martinez, Peralta, Hafner, Blake, and Michaels. Let’s start with Grady Sizemore. Before I get into the details, I would like to stipulate that I’m a huge Grady Sizemore fan. I think his excellent 2006 is just the tip of the iceberg, and Sizemore has a chance to be a very special player. However, it would appear that Sizemore received an inordinate amount of luck in 2006. In 2006, Grady Sizemore hit the ball in the air, a lot. In fact, 46.9% of his balls in play were fly balls, compared to 31.2% in 2005. This is excellent for hitting for power---ground balls cannot possibly become homers, and rarely become doubles or triples. However, while fly balls are more likely to be extra-base hits, they’re also more likely to be outs, generally. Sizemore also had a lower line-drive percentage in 2006 than he did in 2005; in 2006 19.8% of his balls in play were line drives, versus 24.3% in 2005. Line drives, as you might imagine, are more likely to become hits than regular fly balls---in fact, line drives become hits approximately 75% of the time. So Sizemore hit more balls in the air (which are more likely to become outs), but a lower percentage of line drives. And yet, Sizemore’s BABIP increased from .335 in 2005 to .342 in 2006. Yes he’s fast, but speed has little influence in whether fly balls or line drives fall for singles or are caught for outs. Sizemore’s increased fly-ball percentage bodes well for his power---his homer total increased in 2006 despite Sizemore having fewer of his fly balls become homers than in 2005 (only 12% of his fly balls in 2006 became homers, versus 15.1% in 2005). However, coupled with his drop in line-drive percentage, it does not bode well for Sizemore’s batting average. More fly balls means more extra-base hits and more outs. Of course, Sizemore still strikes out a lot---20.4% of his plate appearances in 2006 ended with a strikeout, in 2005 it was 18.7%. However, his minor league track record suggests that this is[...]



Playing the odds

2006-12-21T14:59:51.931-08:00

Nothing in baseball is certain---that’s what makes the sport so fascinating. However, in the course of my writing and discussing baseball, I tend to make statements which sound a lot like certainties. For example, I’m confident that the Indians are going to be a very good team next year, and could win the Central Division. This is far from a certainty, of course. My purpose in making this statement is twofold: 1) I think the Indians are going to be better than most people expect them to be, and 2) I think they have an excellent chance of winning the division, or winning 90+ games, or whatever other standard you choose to invoke. By no means is this a guarantee; in fact, the odds that they will not win the division are pretty high. I acknowledge this in making the statement, and I make the statement anyway. When I make statements of prediction such as this one, I do so with the understanding that there’s a good chance that I’m wrong, however THERE’S A MUCH BETTER CHANCE THAT I’M RIGHT. Take, for another example, a list of players that I was very high on entering the 2006 season. By “high on,” I mean I expected these players to improve a lot and/or play produce a lot better than they had in the previous season---from a fantasy baseball perspective, I thought these guys were undervalued: CC Sabathia Brandon Webb Felix Hernandez Jake Peavy Grady Sizemore Jeremy Bonderman Javier Vazquez Jake Westbrook Vernon Wells Ramon Hernandez Jonny Gomes Matt Holliday Ryan Howard To be sure, I was wrong on a fair amount of players---namely Hernandez, Peavy, Vazquez, and Gomes from that list. I spoke with the same amount of “certainty” about King Felix dominating the league or Javy Vazquez reverting to his Montreal-form that I did about CC and B-Webb being on the brink of stardom. That’s because in each of my assessments, there’s a good chance that I’ll be wrong---however, with enough assessments of, say, a 70% chance of being right, I’ll have a competitive advantage (for the purposes of fantasy baseball) over others. My being wrong about Peavy does not negate the thought-process behind it, when that thought-process produced many correct results. Even now I feel I must add another qualification: I do not necessarily believe my way of thinking is the best way to analyze baseball. To my current knowledge, I believe it’s the best way, as well as the most accurate way someone in my position can analyze and predict. The more data you have access to, the more knowledge you accrue, the more you learn about different aspects of the game, the better you will be as an analyst. As such, I have limited baseball experience---no scouting experience with only a modest understanding of scouting----and I have access only to publicly-available statistics and information. Furthermore, I have the constraints of analyzing baseball as a hobby rather than a profession (something I hope will change in the future), meaning I am not able to dedicate as much time to it as I would like. Moreoever, I know I have much to learn about statistical analysis in addition to the vast arrays of knowledge one can acquire simply by working in or playing baseball. That being said, I am going to continue believing what I believe until someone shows me that I am wrong, or shows me that there’s a better alternative. This does not mean I’m close-minded; just the opposite: I am always on the lookout for new ideas, and I am especially intrigued if these new ideas run contrary to what I currently believe. Does Chien-Ming Wang represent a new way of succeeding as a major league pitcher? What can we learn from examining Wang? I hope to acquire additional information all the time; occasionally, it supplants my old beliefs, but usually it su[...]



The Other Chris Young

2006-12-18T16:19:48.556-08:00

After the 2005 season, Javier Vazquez demanded a trade out of Arizona. Vazquez wanted to be closer to his family, who lived on the east coast. The Diamondbacks obliged, as they were required to do, and dealt Vazquez to the White Sox in exchange for Orlando Hernandez, Luiz Vizcaino, and minor leaguer Chris Young. Why should you care? You should care because Chris Young is about to become a superstar. It’s good to be a baseball player named Chris Young. The other Chris Young (well, the first, the one most people have heard of) is a 6-foot-10 pitcher for the San Diego Padres, who excelled in PetCo Park, unsurprisingly, due to his solid K/BB ratio and his tendency to give up fly balls, which often became outs due to the Padres’ outfield defense, and rarely became homers, due to the Padres’ outfield dimensions. Most people know of Christopher Ryan Young, the pitcher. However, far fewer people know of Christopher Brandon Young, the outfielder. This Chris Young, set to open the 2007 season as the Diamondbacks’ center fielder, has largely flown under the radar, even among people who closely follow prospects. In order to understand why I’m so high on him for this season and beyond, let’s examine Young’s track record so far. Young, who will be 23 during the 2007 season, was drafted by the White Sox in the 16th round of the 2001 draft. He played rookie ball in 2002 and 2003, showing some power and some speed---statistics at such a low level are basically irrelevant. In 2004 he moved up to low-A ball at Kannapolis, posting a line of .262/.362/.505 in 465 at-bats. Young managed 24 homers, 31 doubles, and had 31 steals (in 40 attempts). Young also received excellent ratings in center field---Baseball Prospects rated his CF defense as a +7 for the season. On the down side, Young struck out 145 times---meaning that 43% of the outs he made were strikeouts, an astronomically high number, especially considering he was facing rather unpolished pitchers. However, Young’s combination of speed, power, patience, and defense still made him an intriguing prospect; after all, he was only 20 years old. There is one interesting element to add to Young’s season at Kannapolis. Young hit 24 homers as a 20-year-old, which is excellent (even with his high strikeout totals). However, according to three-year weighted minor league park factors (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/oracle/discussion/34611/), Kannapolis was a tough park to hit home runs in: it deflated homers by 24%---the same amount that PetCo Park deflated homers (much to the benefit of Pitcher Chris Young). Basically, had Young played in a neutral park (let alone a park which favored hitters), he could have expected to hit 24% more homers at home, without doing anything differently. In 2004, the White Sox bumped Young all the way to AA, bypassing high-A ball. Young spent the season with Birmingham, posting a line of .277/.377/.545 in 466 at-bats as a 21-year-old. Young amassed 26 homers, 41 doubles, 32 steals (in 38 attempts), walked four more times than he had in 2003, and struck out 16 less (although Ks still accounted for 38% of his outs). In other words, after a very solid season a Low-A ball in 2003, Young skipped a level, was extremely young for his age, and improved his OBP, SLG, homers, doubles, steals, stolen-base efficiency, walks, and struck out less. All of this sounds pretty good. Let’s incorporate one additional factor: yes, in 2003 Kannapolis was a tough home ballpark to play in. However, in 2004 Birmingham made Kannapolis look like Coors Field. Birmingham’s home ballpark depressed home runs by a whopping 45%. It’s almost twice as hard to hit a home run in Birmingham’s park than it is in Kannapolis’s home park. And yet Young[...]



Major League IV: Seattle Mariners

2006-12-15T17:35:51.122-08:00

Bill Bavasi, the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners, must love the movie Major League. Bavasi is obviously attempting to worsen the Mariners in any way possible, in a secret effort to cause the group to unite and prove everyone wrong. If this is not Bavasi’s Master Plan, I have no explanations for why he still has a job. The Mariners’ two latest moves have been met with a resounding “HUH?!?” by the baseball community, and for good reason. However, these two moves are not the only questionable moves Bavasi has made. Let’s examine. 1) Signing Adrian Beltre. Beltre’s OPSs with the Mariners have been 716 and 792---directly in line with his OPSs in every other season except for 2004. Yes, he was excellent in 2004, but few people believed that Beltre had indeed found a new level of ability. Steroid speculation abounded (fairly or unfairly), but more likely was that Beltre simply had a career year in 2004. It’s sure looking that way now. 2) Keeping Willie Bloomquist on the roster. Perhaps Mike Hargrove is more to blame than Bavasi for this one, but Bavasi deserves some blame. Bloomquist is almost adequate (almost) as a utility defensive replacement; however, there is no excuse for his accumulating exactly 500 at-bats over the last two seasons. His OPSs have been 622 and 619 over those seasons, and it’s not like his defense is the best in baseball. Bloomquist might be a small mistake in terms of wins and losses, but he’s a big mistake in that it was easily avoidable. 3) Signing Carl Everett. Okay, Everett doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. That’d be alright if he could still hit. However, once again against many analysts’ opinions, Everett was signed to DH during the 2006 season. Perhaps Kenny Williams gave him a Darwinian pep-talk before sending him on his way, but Everett ended up hitting .227/.297/.360 line in 308 at-bats as a DH before being cut. 4) Trading Shin-Soo Choo and Asbrudal Cabrera for Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez. Bavasi acquired the Indians’ first base platoon of Benuardo Perssard in exchange for two AAA minor leaguers. Sure, Choo probably wasn’t a center-fielder and couldn’t hit lefties; but Choo was a solid right-fielder and did destroy righties. Sure, Cabrera was a miserable hitter in 2006, but he was a 20-year-old in AAA, having skipped AA, and profiled to have plus-plus defense at shortstop. Broussard and Perez, meanwhile, were both playing well above their abilities; even if they maintained their pace after the trade, the Mariners were going nowhere fast in 2006 with or without Perssard. 5) Trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez. This was a real doozy. How do you think the conversation went with John Schuerholz? “Hey John, this is Bill. How about I give you Rafael Soriano for Adam LaRoche, Andruw Jones, and Tim Hudson. No? Okay, then how about Soriano for Horacio Ramirez.” Rafael Soriano is an extremely dominant reliever when healthy, as evidenced by his 177 strikeouts (and only 53 walks) in 171 major league innings. While injuries are a concern, he appears to have set his arm troubles behind him (for now), and is recovering well from the literal and psychological head injury after getting hit by a Vladimir Guerrero line drive last season. Meanwhile, Ramirez had one span of 9 starts in 2004 where he posted a 2.39 ERA, despite walking 30 and striking out 31 in 60 innings. His career K/BB ratio is 248/200, and he gives up 1.12 homers per nine (65 in 521 innings). And now he’s moving to the American League. It’s not a good idea to trade Rafael Soriano at all; I can’t possibly believe that Bavasi couldn’t have gotten a LOT more if he had looked. Can you imagine what Cleveland, Boston, Florida, or Arizona wou[...]



Getting defensive

2006-12-10T15:17:01.655-08:00

Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER) measures the percentage of balls in play that are converted into outs by a team’s defense. The better the defense, the higher the team’s DER, and the lower their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against. DER + BABIP = 1. In 2006, the Indians were 25th in baseball, posting a DER of .686---meaning their BABIP was a very high .314 (remember, league average is generally around .300). This would explain a lot of their pitching problems in 2006, especially considering that they were 29th in pitching strikeouts (only the Royals had fewer). So the Tribe had a ton of balls in play and an inordinate amount of them became hits. That’s not a good recipe for success. However, in 2005, the Indians ranked 3rd in DER, at .720 (meaning their BABIP was .280). Their 2005 pitching staff was pretty similar to their 2006 staff; more importantly, their 2005 and 2006 defenses were very similar. Grady Sizemore (CF), Casey Blake (RF), Jhonny Peralta (SS), Ronnie Belliard (2B), Aaron Boone (3B), and Victor Martinez (C) played most of both seasons at their respective positions. The main change came in left field, where Jason Michaels replaced Coco Crisp; however, Michaels was a centerfielder by trade and had a reputation of being a solid defender. So what happened to raise the Indians’ BABIP from .280 to .314 in one season with basically the same defense? Well, there are a couple of possibilities: 1) the pitching staff got tremendously worse; or 2) the defenders simply did not perform as well. Let’s examine the first idea first. Surely, the Indians’ pitching was not nearly as good in 2006 as it was in 2005. In 2006, their staff ranked 6th in the AL with a 4.41 ERA. The starters were 3rd in the league with a 4.31 ERA, but the relievers (as you likely know) were awful, finishing 11th in the AL with a 4.66 ERA. In 2005, the Tribe was tied for first in the AL with a 3.61 ERA. Their starters were 5th, with a 3.96 ERA, and their bullpen was 1st, with a 2.80 ERA. Despite Kevin Millwood’s departure and Jason Johnson’s awful stint in 2006, the Indians’ starters remained very good, thanks to CC Sabathia’s improvement, Jake Westbrook’s regression to the mean (in a good way), and Jeremy Sowers’s strong performance. The bullpen was definitely a lot worse. However, “worse” does not necessarily equal giving up more hits on balls in play; as we know, generally this is a luck-based statistic. Therefore, while the bullpen was definitely worse, this does not account for the change in BABIP from 2005 to 2006. More likely, it would seem that the Indians’s defense in 2006 was a lot worse than their defense in 2005. If this is true, we’d expect to see a significant difference in the BABIP’s of pitchers who were on both the 2005 and 2006 staffs. Let’s see: (2005 BABIP is listed first, then 2006 BABIP) CC Sabathia: 284-291 Jake Westbrook: 287-322 Cliff Lee: 277-296 Bob Wickman: 269-292 Rafael Betancourt: 294-273 Jason Davis: 325-345 Fernando Cabrera: 277-293 As you can see, of the pitchers who logged a significant amount of innings in front of both defenses, only one (Betancourt) had a better BABIP in 2006. It looks as if there was a significant difference in defense. How did the defense get that much worse? Two reasons: 1) many of the players performed a lot worse in 2006 than they did in 2005; and 2) Coco Crisp performed much better in 2005 than Jason Michaels did in 2006. Let’s evaluate. Baseball Prospectus offers a defensive stat called Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR). This is defined as “A fielding statistic, where a replacement player is meant to be approximately eq[...]



A lesson taken to Hart

2006-12-07T17:15:41.908-08:00

In the early 1990s, Indians General Manager John Hart acquired many young, talented players, such as Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and more. He then signed them to long-term contracts, guaranteeing the player a good payday in return for a long-term commitment.Mark Shapiro worked under John Hart, and has taken this lesson to heart (pun intended). Last season, the Indians were, for all intensive purposes, an 89-win team, according to their expected win total. The only players they lost were Aaron Boone, Ronnie Belliard, Bob Wickman, Eduardo Perez, and Ben Broussard---and they received decent returns on Belliard, Wickman, Broussard and Perez in trades.Thus, the Tribe is left with a very young team that essentially was worth 89 wins last season. The scary thing is, this bunch of Indians is locked up for a LONG time. Here is a list of their roster. Accompanying each player is their (age) in parenthesis, and then the last year they're under contract for. For example:Grady Sizemore (24) 2012Means that Grady Sizemore is currently 24 and cannot become a free agent until after the 2012 season. Here's the rest of the team (in alphabetical order, mostly):Josh Barfield (23) 2011Rafael Betancourt (31) 2009*Casey Blake (33) 2007**Paul Byrd (36) 2007Fernando Cabrera (25) 2011 Fausto Carmona (23) 2011Shin-Soo Choo (24) 2012Jason Davis (26) 2010David Dellucci (33) 2009Ryan Garko (25) 2012Franklin Gutierrez (23) 2012Travis Hafner (29) 2008Joe Inglett (28) 2012Cliff Lee (28) 2010Hector Luna (26) 2010 Andy Marte (23) 2012Victor Martinez (27) 2010Jason Michaels (30) 2007Jhonny Peralta (24) 2011CC Sabathia (26) 2009Kelly Shoppach (26) 2011Jeremy Sowers (23) 2012Jake Westbrook (29) 2007**Joe Borowski/**Aaron Fultz/**Roberto Hernandez are all signed only for 2007*Arbitration-eligibe after 2007 season**Club option for 2008The key thing to note is that while the Indians might have seven free agents after the 2007 season, arguably only one is of any importance (Jake Westbrook), while every single other one is fairly easily replaced. Furthermore, many of these players have club options which would keep them under control for 2008 as well, if exercised. Additionally, none except Westbrook are going to be expensive to retain, should the club want to keep the player. Finally, these seven free agents will clear approximately $24 million off of the books, meaning the team will have $24 million to spend without increasing payroll by one cent.After 2008, Travis Hafner will be a free agent. However, no one else of the current roster will be a FA. Thus, the Indians should have the financial flexibility to make a very significant offer to keep Hafner.Notice how many of the Indians' key players---their best players, who are likely to get even better---are signed through 2010 or beyond. Not to mention additional youngsters who are likely to make an impact in 2007 and 2008 (and all of whom will have six years before they're eligible for free agency) such as Adam Miller, Trevor Crowe, Tony Sipp, Chuck Lofgren, and Brian Barton.The Indians could theoretically go into a shell for three years and maintain a competitive team throughout that span. Of course, they won't, and will likely improve the team during that span. Furthermore, because they haven't handed out any ridiculous contracts this offseason, they are more likely to be able to keep Travis Hafner, one of the few players who would be worth the astronomical amounts of money it would take to keep him around.Not only are the Indians good, they're also young and they're all going to be around for a long time.This is just another piece of evidence showing why Mark Shapiro is one of the very best general managers [...]



Dissecting Bullpen Usage

2006-12-04T16:57:48.133-08:00

Bullpens are tricky creatures. They're awfully fickle, largely because of the extremely small sample sizes involved, and the self-selection of matchups created by managers. Furthermore, "traditional" stats---even the more advanced ones like K/BB ratio or basic ERA---often don't measure a reliever's true effectiveness. Consider the following scenario: The Indians lead 3-2 in the 8th inning when CC Sabathia runs out of gas. Eric Wedge leaves him in two batters too many, and Sabathia gives up consecutive line-drive singles to begin the 8th. The opposing team has runners at first and third base, with no outs. Wedge brings in Reliever A. Reliever A proceeds to give up a fly-out, then gets a ground-ball double play. However, the fly-out just deep enough for the runner at third base to score. The pitcher's raw line looks very good: 1 inning, o runs. Did he do his job? Yes and no. His ERA will go down. Someone will cite that he has the ability to generate double-play ground-balls. And yet, the game is now tied. It doesn't matter who the tying run is charged to, the thing that matters is that it scored at all. Thus, bullpens, while certainly fickle, aren't even able to be evaluated easily. Baseball Prospectus has some some excellent advanced statistics which more properly evaluate a reliever's contribution. However, there does not appear to be an easy way to measure or predict the advanced-statistic using traditional stats of any sort. Beyond the pitchers that are obviously very good, there are some that contributed more or less to their team than their raw statistics would suggest.So how do you maximize your bullpen's effectiveness? What kind of pitcher do you want to bring in the game in the 8th inning of the above example? Intuitively, it makes sense to me that you want a reliever who's going to strike a lot of batters out. While many teams see the value in these types of relievers, I believe they are vastly misused. Here's how: Using the above example, you want the reliever who you bring into the game in the 8th inning to be able to strike a lot of batters out. You don't just want any kind of out in that situation, you want a strikeout; any other kind of out risks tying the game in the form of a sacrifice fly or the like. Only with a strikeout can you guarantee that the runner from third does not score. Furthermore, because the score is close, the situation is very important, even though it's not the 9th inning. This is the ideal situation where teams should use their "closers" (who tend to be their best reliever, and probably the one most likely to get a strikeout). Most teams bring in their closers to work the 9th inning. Usually, they bring in the closer when no one is on base, at the beginning of the inning. The closer needs to get three outs, but it does not matter how he gets these outs---in this situation, a strikeout is no more valuable than a ground-out or a fly-out. Thus, it's a waste to use your best strikeout-pitcher in this situation. Furthermore, wouldn't you want your best pitcher in the game when the game is most likely to be won or lost, such as in the situation above? If you choose to "save" your closer for only save situations, you are likely costing yourself some games which are lost prior to becoming save situations in the first place. The best bullpens are the bullpens that teams stumble on to accidentally. The 2006 Tigers are a perfect example of this. Their closer, Todd Jones, was arguably their third or fourth best reliever, and he did not record many strikeouts. However, he did record outs anyway, and thus earned saves. However, their best relievers---and the relievers most likely to record a strikeout---were the set-up men,[...]



Building a Better Bullpen

2006-12-04T16:42:45.684-08:00

The Indians recently signed lefty Aaron Fultz to a one-year, $1.65 million contract, and righty Roberto Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. Both deals include club options for 2008. Reports are also that the Tribe is close to signing Joe Borowski to a one-year deal, with terms currently unknown.

None of these three guys are particularly good, although each has the chance to be pretty decent. However, the key is that every one of these deals is only for one year. When you don't have much money to spend, the best way to minimize your risks is by handing out short-term deals. That way, if the player falls off of the planet before pitching one inning, your losses are minimal, and you maintain enough flexibility to deal with problems that arise in the future.

The Indians' bullpen is a lot better with Borowski, Fultz, and Hernandez in the mix, although there is no guarantee that any of them will duplicate the success they've had recently.

The key for the Indians is regression to the mean...in a good way. Nearly everyone in their 2006 bullpen performed well below their capabilities and track records---especially Rafael Betancourt and Fernando Cabrera. Is it reasonable that both of these pitchers, especially Cabrera, will improve in 2007. Cabrera has a chance to be one of the best relievers in the AL. Furthermore, there are enough live arms in the group that includes Tony Sipp, Ed Mujica, Tom Mastny, Jason Davis, et al that a few of them will have solid years.

Last season a lot went wrong with the bullpen, but the group is a lot more talented than they showed. A little regression to the luck (and maybe even a little good luck, for a change?) and the Indians' bullpen could even be a relative strength in 2007.



David Dellucci and the joy of splits

2006-11-30T14:19:42.607-08:00

The Indians are about to sign outfielder David Dellucci to a contract, reported to be worth $11.5 million over three years. The deal is likely to be announced at the winter meetings once Dellucci passes a physical. Dellucci, 32, is a left-handed hitting left fielder with a career line of .263/.348/.449, for a career OPS of 797. Dellucci has posted OPSs of 880 and 899 over the last two seasons with Texas and Philadelphia, hitting 42 homers in 699 at-bats (granted, in very homer-friendly parks) and posting OBPs of .367 and .369. So what’s the catch? Why isn’t a hitter of Dellucci’s caliber getting a longer contract worth more money? Well, for one thing, Dellucci tends to hit a for a low batting average (.263 career), even though his OBP and SLG are stellar. More importantly, Dellucci has extreme platoon splits; in other words, he’s a MUCH better hitter against right-handed pitching than he is against lefties. In 2006, when Dellucci had an OPS of 899, all but 20 of hit at-bats were against righties (incidentally, his OBP was .375 against righties, and .292 against lefties). In 2005, Dellucci had only 33 at-bats against lefties, and had a poor 706 OPS. From 2004-2006, Dellucci has 949 at-bats against righties, compared with 81 against lefties. His OPS is 875 against righties, but only 605 against lefties. If only the Indians had another left fielder capable of hitting left-handed pitchers. He wouldn’t even have to be able to hit righties, Dellucci can take care of that. If only… Jason Michaels’s 2006 season with the Indians looks pretty bad. Michaels posted a measly 717 OPS---bad for any hitter, but downright awful for a left fielder. However, this is misleading: Michaels was terrible against right-handed pitchers, managing only a .252/.312/.354 line, for an OPS of 666. However, against lefties Michaels hit .291/.341/.450, for an OPS of 799. The reason his overall OPS is only 717 is that Michaels had 305 at-bats against righties, while only 189 against lefties. Furthermore, over the last three seasons, Michaels has an 829 OPS against lefties, including a .385 OBP (in 403 at-bats) and a 720 OPS against righties. If used correctly, the combination of Jason Michaels (against lefties) and David Dellucci (against righties) in left-field is going to be a very productive hitter. This got me thinking about platoon splits. The Indians have no set right fielder going into 2007 either. However, the candidates are fascinating, because of their platoon splits. Shin-Soo Choo was solid in his debut with the Tribe. He seems to be a much better hitter against right-handed pitchers than against lefties. In the majors, his OPS was 836 against righties, as compared to 628 against lefties (granted, in only 18 at-bats). His minor league splits back this up further: in AAA Choo absolutely destroyed righties to the tune of .361/.433/.578 (that’s an OPS of 1.011, kids), while he struggled against lefties, batting only .192/.256/.218 (for an OPS of 474). Now that’s an extreme platoon split. If only there was another right-fielder Choo could platoon with… Franklin Gutierrez’s 2006 season with Buffalo was encouraging, but not incredibly impressive. Gutierrez hit .278./.373/.433 with the Bisons, which is solid for a 23-year-old. He then stunk it up with the Indians in limited action. However, his platoon splits reveal something interesting: Gutierrez was much better against lefties than he was against righties. With Buffalo, Gutierrez hit .320/.413/.583 against righties (996 OPS) and only .269/.362/.378 against lefties (740 OPS). Let’[...]



Analyzing Jeremy Sowers, Part III

2006-11-28T18:01:06.880-08:00

It is quite likely that you are at least skeptical of Voros McCracken’s DIPS theory (or perhaps you simply don’t believe it). Perhaps Sowers is simply an exception, assuming the theory is even true on the first place. One theory put forth as a possible explanation of “exceptions” to the DIPS theory is that pitchers who strike a lot of batters out might also be able to get lots of weakly hit balls that are easily converted into outs. Whether or not this is true, it surely does not relate to Sowers. Sowers’s stuff is barely even average. His fastball sits around 88, and he lacks any plus-plus pitches. Furthermore, his strikeout rates reflect this---in an at-bat, Sowers is not overwhelming a hitter with his stuff. Sowers struck out only 3.57 batters per nine innings, a figure that ranks him third-to-last in all of baseball. The only pitchers who struck out fewer batters were Carlos Silva (who had a 5.94 ERA, a walk rate much lower than Sowers’s, and generated 30% more ground balls than fly balls) and Chien-Ming Wang (who survived on his ability to generate 306% more ground balls than fly balls). Okay, so Jeremy Sowers is not a power pitcher. If you’ve ever seen him pitch, you don’t need me to tell you this. Perhaps we can compare him to other “crafty” or “finesse” pitchers who seem to thrive on getting weakly-hit balls. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Jamie Moyer come to mind as pitchers that fit this mold. In fact, I’ve even heard Sowers compared to Glavine. Here are their BABIPs for the last three seasons: Maddux: .261, .299, .290 Glavine: .284, .288, .318 Moyer: .268, .296, .327 Fairly random, and once again, all higher than Sowers’s BABIP. Furthermore, despite his reputation of being “crafty”, Tom Glavine has struck out 5.38 batters per nine innings. Glavine’s career BABIP-against is .282. Although he does seem to be good at controlling balls that are put in to play, his BABIP is still significantly higher than Sowers’s. Maddux’s career BABIP is .283. Moyer’s is .284. All are very good. All are much higher than Jeremy Sowers’s .256 with the Indians, or .263 with Buffalo. So what do we make of a pitcher who doesn’t strike anyone out and gives up far fewer hits than we expect him to? In short, he was lucky. The sample size was small, and over a longer period of time regression to the mean would occur, and Sowers’s ERA would be a lot higher. This might indeed be the case. However, Sowers’s track record is still short. ERA aside, his 2005 and 2006 were very different years: he was legitimately excellent in 2005, striking out many, walking few, and giving up few homers. In 2006, he also gave up few homers, but he didn’t strike out as many and walked more. Sowers will certainly survive on his command and control (yes, these are different). He’s likely an exception to the general rule that power pitchers are the best kind of pitchers. However, his apparent ability to prevent balls in play from becoming hits is at least somewhat of a fluke. Thus, in order to maintain success going forward, he will need to preserve his ability to prevent homers, and increase his ability to strike batters out. If he is able to do this, he will likely be a very good #3 starter in the majors, a guy who you can expect to pitch 200 innings and maintain an ERA of around 4.00-4.50 (perhaps a little bit better if he can really improve his K-rate). However, because much of his 2006 was attributable to luck, Sowers is a prime candidate for the infamous Sophomore Slump, which, in actuality, [...]



Analyzing Jeremy Sowers, Part II

2006-11-27T08:40:10.795-08:00

Before proceeding with my analysis of Jeremy Sowers, I would like to take a brief detour. One of the more interesting and controversial theories in sabermetrics was put forth by sabermetrician Voros McCracken. McCracken’s Defense Independent Pitchig Statistics (DIPS) theory suggests that “major-league pitchers don't appear to have the ability to prevent hits on balls in play.” In other words, pitchers can control whether they strike a batter out, walk a batter, or give up a home run; however, if the batter makes contact with the ball (but it remains in the park), the pitcher has no control over whether the batted ball becomes a hit or an out. This makes sense intuitively on one level. How often do we see a hard-hit line-drive fall into a well-positioned fielder’s glove? How often do we see a weakly-hit blooper drop over the shortstop’s head? Surely there is some luck involved. However, to say that all pitchers do not have control over any batted balls does not make sense. Surely some pitchers can induce weakly-hit balls (which are then converted into outs) more often than other pitchers. Right? Wrong. Pitchers are able to control strikeouts, walks, and home runs (as these tend to correlate strongly from one year to the next), but not hits allowed. McCracken suggests that the league average for BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is around .300, and any significant deviation from this figure is due mainly to luck. For individual pitchers, BABIP does not correlate from year-to-year. In other words, a pitcher’s BABIP in one season does not suggest or predict his BABIP next season. McCracken’s theory has been written about a lot. The theory has also been tweaked a lot, but the general idea remains: pitchers cannot control whether balls in play become hits or outs. With that theory out of the way, let’s continue with our evaluation of Sowers. In 2005, Sowers was legitimately excellent. His overall K/BB ratio was an impressive 145/28 in 153 innings. He also gave up only 13 homers. In short, he did everything you hope a pitching prospect would do: he kept the ball in the yard, struck out almost one batter per inning, and walked virtually no one. In 2006 Sowers’s ERA while at Buffalo was 1.39. No pitcher is this good, no matter who he is. Obviously, there was some luck involved to keep Sowers’s ERA at such a miniscule level. However, beyond that, Sowers’s indicators were very poor at Buffalo, especially in comparison to his stellar 2005 numbers. Sowers struck out only 59 in 97 innings, a strikingly low figure of 4.99 strikeouts per nine innings. While this by itself is worrisome, Sowers’s excellent control seemingly worsened, leading to 29 walks (or 2.68 per nine innings). To his credit, he only gave up one home run, an excellent sign. So how did Sowers manage to post a 1.39 ERA? One thing really stands out: if you were going to get a hit against Sowers, it was going to be a single. Period. Opposing hitters slugged a paltry .287 against Sowers. For comparison’s sake, anemic-hitting Jason Tyner’s career slugging percentage is .315. One of the reasons for this could be Sowers’s ability to generate ground balls. Pitchers who generate a lot of grounders (such as Chien-Ming Wang, Derek Lowe, Jake Westbrook, and Brandon Webb) tend to allow fewer extra-base hits, as ground balls cannot become homers, and rarely become anything other than singles. This might make sense, except for one little fact: Sowers is not a ground ball pitcher. In Buffalo, he allowed 156 ground ball[...]



Analyzing Jeremy Sowers, Part I

2006-11-26T17:19:02.795-08:00

It’s too bad that Daisuke Matsuzaka will be considered a “rookie” in 2007; otherwise, Indians pitcher Jeremy Sowers would be a shoo-in for the Rookie of the Year award. Right?

Well, Delmon Young notwithstanding, not so fast. While Sowers’s 2006 performance gives hope to a bright 2007, his underlying indicators suggest otherwise. I will do my best to analyze Sowers and assess his prospects for the future.

Jeremy Sowers was selected by the Indians as the #6 overall pick in the 2004 draft. At the time, Sowers was viewed as a polished pitcher whose ceiling was not necessarily that of a #1 or #2 starter, but who had an excellent chance of being a solid major league pitcher. Beyond that, Sowers was not expected to need much more seasoning in the minor leagues.

Sowers soon proved that he was nearly a finished product. His began his professional career at age 22 in 2005 at High-A ball in Kinston, where he made 13 starts. Sowers had a 2.78 ERA and 75/19 K/BB ratio in 71 innings, giving up only 5 homers and 60 hits. His performance soon earned him a promotion to AA Akron, where his dominance continued. Sowers again made 13 starts, this time posting a 2.08 ERA and 70/9 K/BB ratio in 82 innings, whilst allowing only 8 homers and 74 hits.

Expectations were justifiably high for Sowers as the 2006 season began. He started the year with AAA Buffalo. Sowers made 15 starts at Buffalo, and posted a ridiculous 1.39 ERA in 97 innings (he allowed only 15 runs!). Sowers struck out 54, walked 29, allowed only one home run and gave up only 78 hits. His performance (and Jason Johnson’s terrible pitching) enabled the Indians to promote him to the big leagues.

With Cleveland in 2006, Sowers made 14 starts and finished with a 3.57 ERA in 88 innings. He struck out 35, walked 20, and gave up 10 homers and 85 hits. After the all-star break, Sowers’s ERA was a phenomenal 2.72, the second-best in the AL during this span (behind Johan Santana).


Tomorrow I will look at the underlying indicators of Sowers's performance, which suggest that we can attribute much of his success in 2006 to luck.




Trades are a two-way street

2006-11-23T10:18:32.462-08:00

Most fantasy leagues have that one player who consistently makes annoying trade proposals. The trades are annoying because they’re always lopsided in his favor, but not blatantly so. Usually this type of deal involves him giving up three or four decent players in exchange for one superstar. The total production of the decent players may well exceed that of the star; nonetheless, it is still a lopsided deal which you would never accept. Alas, these types of potential trades are not limited to fantasy baseball. Indeed, many fans---especially those of big market teams---like to believe that similar deals could occur in real life. Witness Mets fans consistently spouting the idea of packaging together spare parts that they don’t want (Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman, and a “prospect”) in hopes of obtaining Dontrelle Willis. Sorry, Mets fans: the Marlins can do a lot better if they want to trade Willis. In this piece (cited by ESPN’s Buster Olney), the writer, John P Lopez, presents a logical, reasonable argument for why the Astros should not sign Carlos Lee. He illustrates a tough paradox that the Astros are facing: either they can choose not to sign Lee (probably a smart move) and continue to be called “cheap” or “not committed to the fans;” or they can sign Lee and likely waste a lot of money. This level of in depth thinking and recognition of the complication of issues is unusual for sports-writing. However, Lopez then suggests that rather than sign Lee, the Astros should trade for Toronto’s Vernon Wells or Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford. He makes the same argument that Mets fans make: let’s piece together several admittedly-pretty-good players Lopez suggests Jason Hirsh, Adam Everett, and Chris Burke) and offer them in exchange for a superstar. After all, the guys we’re giving up are pretty good. Who cares if they will suit the needs of the team receiving them? I will probably return to this point other times, as it’s a personal gripe of mine, but I will say it once and for all: if you want to trade for a star player, you’re going to have to give up a lot of talent. If you feel comfortable offering a package of three players for a star without hesitation, then chances are this is not even CLOSE to a good enough package. If you really want to pry a player like Vernon Wells or Carl Crawford loose from their teams, you’re going to have to give up so much talent that it hurts. In order to receive Josh Beckett (and Mike Lowell, the “salary dump” who outperformed Beckett last year), the Red Sox gave up the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, a rookie pitcher who threw a no-hitter, and another two prospects who struck out more than one batter per inning in the minors. Yes, this is an extreme example, considering how quickly the players the Marlins received became good (as well as how poorly Beckett pitched). However, this is the type of trade “big-market” teams are going to have to expect to make if they want to get stars from small-market teams---especially if those stars aren’t too expensive (this is especially true in the case of Carl Crawford---his contract is affordable by anyone’s standards, even Tampa Bay’s. They have no NEED to trade him). Not that this is necessarily a bad thing for your team; after all, to get good players you have to give up good players. But you cannot hope to throw together several “pretty-good” players and hope it’s enough to get you one star player. Just like in fantasy baseball, trade[...]



Matsuzaka Math

2006-11-22T17:53:12.824-08:00

The Boston Red Sox spent more money for the right to try to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka than the Royals, Pirates, Rockies, Devil Rays, and Marlins spent on their entire 25-man rosters in 2006. Furthermore, Matsuzaka himself has not received one cent of the money; his agent, Scott Boras, will seek to extract every nickel from the Red Sox’s already-depleted pockets. How can this possibly work out well for the Red Sox? I would argue that winning the rights to Matsuzaka---even at such an exorbitant sum of money---is a smart decision for the Red Sox. Here’s why. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the Red Sox sign Matsuzaka to a contract. Both the Sox front office and Scott Boras (and, by extension, Matsuzaka himself) have too much to lose by simply walking away. While both sides could potentially have a lot of leverage should they choose to play hard-ball, it is unlikely that Matsuzaka will return to Japan next season. Thus, the sides will come to a reasonable (if you can call salaries in baseball “reasonable”) deal before their deadline. As such, it’s likely that, when all is said and done, the Red Sox will end up spending around $100 million on Matsuzaka, including the posting fee and his contract, which likely will be for no longer than 5 years. How can this possibly make sense? First of all, there is the baseball aspect of this deal. From all accounts, Matsuzaka is one of the “best 5-10 pitchers on the planet” according to Keith Law. A conservative estimation is that Matsuzaka would rank amongst the top dozen American League starters (Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson tied for 11th best AL ERAs in 2006, with a 3.94 figure). However, it’s much more likely, as evidenced HERE, that Matsuzaka will be better than that. His 2005 Japanese League statistics were translated into their Major League equivalents by more than one person, and each came up with approximately a 3.40 ERA (see THIS and THIS). That would have ranked fourth in the AL, behind CC Sabathia and ahead of Mike Mussina. Matsuzaka is likely to be a legitimate #1 starter---a workhorse who will post one of the best ERAs in the league. He will complement the Red Sox’s staff perfectly. With Matsuzaka anchoring the rotation, every other starter will move back one slot. Curt Schilling is a solid #2 starter; Jonathan Papelbon, if healthy, is likely to be an excellent #3; Josh Beckett will probably at least be a solid #4; Tim Wakefield is a serviceable #5. The Red Sox’s rotation, previously a question mark, will have morphed into a legitimate strength, with the potential of being the best staff in the AL. Furthermore, Matsuzaka is only 26 years old. While his arm has already logged many innings in Japan (apparently, rumors of his 250-pitch complete game as an 18-year-old are true), he has also never broken down. Additionally, scouts are confident that his body-type and work-ethic will allow him to maintain his health, at least for the foreseeable future. While is seems likely that Matsuzaka will be an excellent starter for at least the next couple of seasons, it still seems unreasonable for the Red Sox (or any team) to spend $100 million on him, especially considering his contract is unlikely to be longer than 5 years. Think about this: if Johan Santana were a free agent, what kind of contract would he expect to receive? Johan has a career 3.20 ERA in over 1,080 innings. He’s struck out more than one batter per inning in his career. He’s [...]



If Josh Barfield plays poorly, will he earn the nickname "J-Barf"?

2006-11-21T17:50:01.642-08:00

Back on November 8, the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres made an interesting trade. The Indians sent 3B/1B Kevin Kouzmanoff and reliever Andrew Brown to the Padres in exchange for 2B Josh Barfield. Let’s break down this deal. THE PLAYERS: Josh Barfield was drafted out of high school in Texas. He is now 6 feet, 185 pounds. Son of former major leaguer Jesse Barfield, Josh spent 2006 as the Padres regular second baseman, accumulating 539 at-bats over 150 games. Barfield’s line of .280/.318/.423 was solid by any standard, especially for a rookie who played half of his games in PetCo Park. His home/road splits illustrate just how tough a park it is for hitters; Barfield hit .241/.279/.361 at home, but .319/.355/.484 on the road (keep in mind, the NL West has two other parks that are tough on hitters: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Furthermore, Coors Field was not its normal hitter’s haven in 2006). Barfield also hit 13 homers and stole 21 bases in 26 attempts. Barfield’s line in 2006 is exactly what we would have guessed his rookie season would look like, judging by his minor league number. At AAA in 2005 he hit .310/.370/.450 with 15 homers and 20 steals (in 25 attempts). Thus, while Barfield has only one season’s worth of a “track record” at the major league level, his minor league statistics suggest that 2006 was well within his abilities as a hitter. Defensively, Barfield used to have the reputation as a rather mediocre defender. However, most reports I’ve read seem to indicate that Barfield has made strides recently, and is now at least average, perhaps slightly above average. He possesses good athleticism and decent range, as well as an excellent arm. Barfield’s plate discipline has never been a strong suit: last season he struck out 81 times while walking only 30 times. In 2005 in AAA his K/BB ratio was 108/52. However, he’s shown the ability to hit for solid average in the minors---despite being young for his league at every stop along the way, Barfield’s career minor league batting average is exactly .300. While batting average is a fairly volatile and luck-based statistic, Barfield has shown a consistent ability to hit for an above-average batting average. Kevin Kouzmanoff put up some incredible statistics in 2006 in the minor leagues. However, he it will be tough for him to overcome his legacy of being the first person ever to hit a grand slam on the very first pitch he saw in the major leagues (not that this is something he’d like to forget). Kouzmanoff, currently 25 years old, was drafted by the Indians in 2003, and he has done nothing but hit since joining the Indians’ organization. When healthy, that is. Various ailments---usually having to do with his back---limited him to 68 games in 2005 and 110 games in 2006. In 2006, Kouzmanoff started the season in AA Akron, where he hit .389/.449/.660 (in a pitcher’s league no less!), earning a promotion to AAA Buffalo. In Buffalo, Kouzmanoff continued raking to the tune of .353/.409/.647. He accumulated 22 homers and 28 doubles in a mere 346 at-bats between the two levels, and had a K/BB ratio of 46/33. After making an excellent first impression on the very first pitch he saw, Kouzmanoff slumped to .214/.279/.411 in 56 at-bats with the Tribe, and had a recurrence of some of his back issues which cut into his playing time. Kouzmanoff is a third baseman by trade, although the Indians tried him out at fir[...]



No Morneau!

2006-11-21T16:31:48.431-08:00

If you read any relatively enlightened baseball analysts---such as ESPN's Rob Neyer or Keith Law, or Rotoworld---you will probably have heard the arguments as to why Justin Morneau is such a poor choice for the AL MVP.

And, needless to say, I agree. My argument for why this is so would not differ much from any of the aforementioned people's argument. He was the third best player on his own team, let alone less of a valuable commodity than many other AL players.

The question is, should we even care anymore? Many people fret about these awards, even though they really do not mean much---players would probably gladly trade them for team achievements, and they have no lasting impact on much of anything. Yet, personally I always hope the "best" candidate wins, or at least one of the best (Albert Pujols was a more deserving candidate than Ryan Howard, but at least Howard was fairly deserving too).

I think Rob Neyer said it best in his ESPN chat today: "The up-side is that there's clearly still plenty of room in my business for young men who enjoy facts."

Whenever I get discouraged because I think baseball has evolved enough that people with my viewpoint are already very prevalent, I can remember that Justin Morneau was voted as the 2006 American League MVP.



Juan and only

2006-11-20T17:57:34.358-08:00

What do Luke Scott, Josh Bard, Mark Teahen, Josh Willingham, Rich Aurilia, Esteban German, Kenny Lofton, Wes Helms, Chris Duncan, Jose Valentin, David DeJesus, David Ross, Brandon Phillips, Mark DeRosa, Casey Blake, Greg Norton, Emil Brown, Ty Wigginton, Marcus Thames, Ryan Theriot, Andre Eithier, Aaron Hill, Ryan Church, Jose Lopez, Jamey Carroll, Stephen Drew, and Mark Grudzielanek all have in common?

They are part of the group of 141 major league baseball players who had a higher VORP in 2006 than Juan Pierre (and keep in mind that VORP takes into consideration at-bats).

You might think that this is a fluke. Perhaps Pierre had an unusually poor season. Let’s see.


First of all, he was playing for the Chicago Cubs, who play in a pretty good hitter’s park. He hit .292/.330/.388, stole 58 bases and was successful in 74% of his base-stealing attempts. His career line is .303/.350/.377, with a SB success rate of 73.6%. It would appear that Juan Pierre, in 2006, had a very Juan Pierre-like season.

Thus, the Los Angeles Dodgers have decided that the approximately 142nd-best player in major league baseball is worth $45 million to them over 5 years. Pierre is going to be 30 years old in August. Accordingly, not only is he unlikely to improve, he’s also likely to begin his decline during the contract. His 2004 line of .327/.374/.407 is looking more and more like a career year. Furthermore, he will be going from Wrigley to Dodger Stadium, which will not help his batting average. Without a solid batting average, Pierre is an even worse player, considering he doesn’t walk much and has zero power. Pierre is generally considered an average defender in center, nothing special, but nothing wrong with him either. Will this still be the case three or four years into his contract?

After losing JD Drew, the Dodgers have, in essence, “replaced” his contributions to the team with Juan Pierre, a FAR inferior player, for a similar cost (and more years). For those wondering, Drew was 59th in VORP in 2006.

It remains to be seen whether the strong farm system that Ned Colletti inherited (thanks to Logan White) and solid core of players including Brad Penny, Derek Lowe (thanks to Paul DePodesta) will catapult the Dodgers into success, or whether Colletti’s valiant attempts at dragging them down into mediocrity will overcome their surplus of excellent young players.