Thursday, May 24, 2007
Pitcher A: 3.66, 124, 6
Pitcher B: 3.79, 120, 4
I’m not interested in breaking down their careers, but rather the perception that surrounds them in New York. The media, and many Yankee fans by extension, consider one of these pitchers a “Big Game Pitcher” and the other “soft.” Generally, such labels are based on the small sample sizes of postseason play and then attached to regular season games as writers see fit.
So, let’s throw sample size to the wind and see if we can at least spot where one of these guys might be considered “Big Game” and the other “soft.” In deference to the New York media’s conjured image, we will only look at the postseason numbers these two pitchers have put up with the Yankees (I’m sure by now, most of you have figured out which two pitchers these are, so you know they’ve both been to the postseason with two teams).
Career postseason with the Yankees:
ERA, BB/9, K/9
Pitcher A: 3.80, 1.75, 8.68
Pitcher B: 4.05, 2.51, 5.69
Pitcher A has an edge in all metrics, but both have acquitted themselves just fine.
We can’t stop there. If I show this to my Yankee fan friends, they’ll tell me that the “Big Game Pitcher” has a knack for always stepping up after a loss. Here are their numbers in starts following a Yankees postseason loss:
ERA, BB/9, K/9
Pitcher A: 3.18 , 1.59 , 6.88
Pitcher B: 3.42, 2.73, 6.72
Pitcher B closes the gap in strikeouts while both shave their ERAs by nearly two thirds of a run. Even though this is intentionally disregarding sample size, I should mention that Pitcher A only has three starts after a Yankees postseason loss. This is due, in part, to the fact that he has started the first game of so many series. Pitcher B has been inconsistent in these starts. He’s put up seven quality starts out of 12—including four starts of at least seven innings and allowing one earned run or less, and two starts where he’s failed to get out of the fifth inning. Upon inspection, neither of these guys has a demonstrated knack for always stepping up or any apparent softness.
Many Yankee fans might still say that with the season on the line, they prefer “Big Game Pitcher.” Let’s check the numbers in starts where the Yankees faced elimination—and make the mockery of sample sizes complete—in pursuit of the origin of these images.
ERA, BB/9, K/9
Pitcher A: 4.66, 1.86, 6.52
Pitcher B: 5.19, 2.60, 6.75
Those numbers represent two starts for Pitcher A and three starts for pitcher B, one quality start each. As a team the Yankees went 1-1 in Pitcher A’s two starts in this group and 1-2 in Pitcher B’s three. Pitcher A also added three scoreless relief innings in a game seven (not included in the numbers above).
I’m sure you know where this is going, so here it is:
Pitcher A: 5 -7
Pitcher B: 13-8
For those of you who still can’t figure it out (how did you find this blog?), Pitcher A is Mike Mussina and Pitcher B is Andy Pettitte. These two have both pitched similarly for the Yankees in the postseason, but Pettitte has a huge edge in Win-Loss record. One last stat:
Yankees Runs Scored/Game
When Mussina starts: 3.27
When Pettitte starts: 4.37
As another Yankees-Red Sox series goes in the books, keep this in mind when you read about Mussina coming up small again and hear the pundits add another feather in the cap of “Big Game Andy.”
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
While reading my favorite blog, I got to thinking about one of my favorite players from childhood, Fred McGriff. There are two things that stand out when I think of McGriff.
First, I think of the countless tennis instructors I used to irritate with my McGriff impression. If a ball came in high toward my normally two-handed backhand, during a routine drill, I would yell, “CRIME DOG!” Then I would release my top hand and belt the tennis ball on to the roof of the gymnasium behind the fence. As far as I know, my parents were never billed for those balls.
Second, Fred McGriff is not going to get into the baseball Hall of Fame. Sure, he hasn’t even made it to the ballot yet, and I haven’t polled any Hall voters, but some things you just know. I know McGriff isn’t getting into the Hall of Fame. If you know it too, please continue.
At peace with McGriff’s inevitable quick slide off the ballot, I’ve decided to try to immortalize a personal favorite in an unconventional way. So, as I lay out a case for McGriff’s candidacy, rest assured, I am not turning this into a Bert Blyleven campaign or a Davey Concepcion campaign. Blyleven belongs in the Hall and Rich Lederer’s campaign for him has become quite influential. Davey Concepcion is a more borederline candidate, with a campaign whose influence will only be seen when Omar Vizquel—a lesser candidate than Concepcion—gets in.
McGriff has credentials that can make him the poster boy for reversing an ugly trend. Voters are very fond of voting for a player because he’s better than a player already in the Hall of Fame. As a fan of stricter Hall of Fame standards, I’d love to convince voters to use the negative side of that logic. Don’t vote for Player A, because he was not better than Player B and Player B is not in the Hall of Fame. Fred McGriff makes for a perfect Negative Player B.
Here are a few things that fairly hurt McGriff:
*He played during the same era as better first basemen (Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Will Clark and later Thome, Helton, Giambi).
*His defense was horrible, no matter what Tom Emanski would have you believe.
*He held on too long to reach 500 home runs in a transparent attempt to cinch up a spot in the Hall—and came up short. He isn’t the only Hall of Fame level player who hung on too long to compile counting stats. I’m convinced that Craig Biggio was a lock for the Hall of Fame five years ago, but he too decided to go “all in” on his Hall chances by hanging on way too long to reach a milestone that will guarantee him a spot.
The unfair part of McGriff’s case is due to a career that spanned two eras. Like his most direct peer at first base—Rafael Palmeiro—McGriff came up in the relatively punchless 1980s and played through the offensive explosion of the ‘90s. Unlike Palmeiro, McGriff put up his best seasons before the offensive explosion (1988-1992). Therefore, while McGriff’s numbers were very strong relative to the league he played in, they are not nearly as gaudy as the home run and RBI totals of Palmeiro. If you compare the two using Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Average, you have Palmeiro with a career EQA of .308 to McGriff’s .307.
A few years ago there was sentiment that a voter couldn’t vote for Palmeiro without also voting for McGriff—the traditional “If Player A then Player B” logic. Then two things happened: Palmeiro badly outplayed McGriff during the last few years of their careers and Palmeiro was disgraced by a positive steroid test. Considering Mark McGwire didn’t get elected with stronger credentials and never failed a drug test, Palmeiro shouldn’t hold his breath.
The collateral damage here is McGriff, who will come up for election in an era when some players might not get into the Hall of Fame because writers can’t decipher who did or didn’t use steroids. McGriff will be the first guy that nobody suspects of steroid use to have his candidacy trashed because of someone else’s use. Being almost as good as a contemporary, who now won’t get in because of confirmed steroid use, is a tough spot to be in.
So, Fred McGriff becomes Negative Player B. If you look closely, he’s perfect for the job. Three of my favorite standards for judging Hall of Fame candidates are Jay Jaffe’s JAWS and Bill James’ HOF Standards and HOF Monitor. Here’s how McGriff stacks up:
Average Hall of Fame first baseman: 84.5
Average HOFer: 50
Likely HOFer: 100
Like I wrote before, I know Fred McGriff isn’t getting into the Hall of Fame. But let’s immortalize him as a bridge between the insular stathead community and the insolent BBWAA (I flipped a coin over which group got which adjective. They should really share both). Sure, some writers are coming around to things like HOF Standards, HOF Monitor and maybe even JAWS. But for those who don’t come around, Fred McGriff provides a familiar, human face.
Which do you think you’re more likely to read from your local member of the BBWAA?
I’m not sure I can vote for Player A because his JAWS score is only 81 and the Average HOF first basemen is 84.5.
I’m not voting for Player A because he was not better than Fred McGriff and Fred McGriff is not in the Hall of Fame.
And just like that, the Crime Dog becomes the Guard Dog for the Hall of Fame.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
That's right, Lino Urdaneta.
Today Major League Baseball announced that Urdaneta has been suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.
Urdaneta entered 2007 with a career ERA of infinity. In his one cup of coffee with the Tigers he allowed six earned runs without recording an out. Had he retired one batter, he could have given himself a more calcluable ERA of 162.00.
No doubt feeling pressure to improve, Urdaneta--either intentionally or not--took something that contained a banned substance. We have to say that the results are evident. Not only did Urdaneta record one out in his very brief time with the Mets this year, but he got a full inning's worth of outs while allowing only one more earned run. His career ERA+ is now six.
Shame on you, Lino.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
In the same vein, statheads doubt that there is a connection between team chemistry and winning. There is much more negative evidence here. One only has to look at the 1970s, when Reggie Jackson divided clubhouses on both coasts, in the early part of the decade in Oakland and the end of the decade in the “Bronx Zoo,” on the way to multiple world championships at each stop. But like the clutch hitting argument has Ortiz, the team chemistry argument now has Roger Clemens.
Roger Clemens’ ability to leverage his value in a way that allows him to come and go from the team has drawn criticism from a wide array of current and ex-players. Now, I don’t think for a second that Clemens’ special arrangement will cost the Yankees a single win this season. However, his arrangement looks even worse when it’s juxtaposed with the cross-town Mets’ new team haircut. I don’t think the Mets getting their heads shaved together will win them any more games than Clemens’ arrangement will cost the Yankees. But there’s something to be said for appearances. While the Mets have Tom Glavine—no Clemens, but a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his own right—willing to shave his head, at the suggestion of a teammate who was eight-years old when Glavine won his first Cy Young Award, just to be part of the team, the Yankees can’t get Clemens to go on a team plane.
In all likelihood none of this has anything to do with winning. But if the Yankees find themselves in a losing streak in August, forgive Yankee fans if they find that they have the same lump in their throats that is normally reserved for the bottom of the ninth—when David Ortiz is walking to the plate.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Certainly this is not the first time that the NFL has handled things its own way. I'm not the first, or the last, to bring up this double standard. But it's up to people--writers, media, bloggers, anyone--to keep pointing out this double standard. So, here it is:
What would happen if an MLB team invited Justin Gatlin to spring training? You don't have to answer that. But please keep asking.
Friday, May 4, 2007
Today, after reading Patrick Sullivan’s engaging article on the year of the shortstop over at Baseball Analysts, and noticing the ease with which he put together his research, I took the plunge and signed up for the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Naturally, the first thing I did was check my list of pitchers who fit the 206-inning and 119 ERA+ line. Lo and behold, I missed a few. Joining my original lists are Esteban Loaiza and Chan Ho Park on the right side (each one-hit wonders) and Mike Hampton on the left side (three times, beginning at age 25). And if they reemerge, Joe Mays joins the left side as a righty complement to Odalis Perez, and Ryan Drese joins the right side as a potential buddy for Ryan Franklin. The conclusion of the original piece is unchanged, if not bolstered, by these additions.
Coincidentally, I was planning to go to the Mets game on Monday, after I finished the Cabrera piece. I decided against it because I didn’t want to waste my time or money watching Park get bombed. Never would it have occurred to me that he was once on this list, especially adjusting for Dodger Stadium.
Well, today I used that saved ticket money to subscribe to Play Index, and I couldn’t be happier.
Thank you Sean Forman.
P.S. Thanks to Will Carroll for the mention in Under The Knife .
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Alomar’s first year with the Mets, at the age of 34, saw him put up a line of .266/.331/.376, boosted by a glimmer of false hope in July. The All-Star Roberto Alomar was gone forever.
This year, a few October hopefuls have been dealing with atrocious starts from players they’re counting on as much as the 2002 Mets were counting on Alomar. If you had suggested after Alomar’s April 2002 line of .267/.325/.390 that he was done, it would have seemed insane. At this point sample size warnings are in full effect, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow our local color commentator’s rosy “you know at the end of the year he’ll have his numbers” prognostications. With that in mind, let’s remember the Alomar and look at three key players, all over the age of 30, for teams that entered the season with better chances at October than the 2002 Mets.
Below the players’ names are their career AVG/OBP/SLG and 2007 numbers, including their PECOTA collapse rate, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus 2007.
Carlos Delgado, 35
2007: .196/.284/.265 Collapse: 45%
Delgado threw a scare into Mets fans last season when he essentially went 0 for May. He rebounded to have a strong second half and left fans with a .351/.442/.757 postseason to savor over the winter. This season, the ball has not jumped off his bat at all as he’s struggled to slug his weight. Worse, he’s looked downright old—on a team that has Julio Franco, no less. As the Mets wait for David Wright’s power to return, they’re going to need Delgado to bounce back once Shawn Green comes back to Earth and Moises Alou takes a month off for a Hamptons summer.
Paul Konerko, 31
2007: .202/.294/.383 Collapse: 35%
The good news for White Sox fans is that they’ve been here before. In 2003, at the age of 27, Konerko put up a putrid .234/.305/.399 line. It was suggested in some sabermetric circles that he was a hitter with “old player skills,” whose peak may have come and gone. Konerko responded by belting 116 home runs over the next three seasons. The White Sox are Jim Thome’s rate stats and Mark Buehrle’s contract push away from battling the Royals rather than being contenders in a stacked AL Central. They need Konerko to start hitting enough for us to take a good look at Jermaine Dye’s similar but lesser struggles.
Manny Ramirez, 35
2007: .227/.330/.330 Collapse: 41%
Ramirez’ slow start has been overshadowed by the fact that they’re in first place. Helped by All-Star level starting pitching from two guys who didn’t require a posting fee, and the Yankees only being up to plague seven, they’ve been able to open up a comfortable lead on their hated rivals. Eventually the Yankees will start playing up to their underlying metrics, and the Red Sox won’t be able to carry a shell of Manny, especially while J.D. Drew is enjoying rush festivities at the Abreu Sigma Giles fraternity of stathead darlings who lose their power. A winning streak from the Bronx Bombers will have the Boston media clamoring for “Manny being Manny” to come back and replace “Manny being Robby.”
I’m not suggesting that any, let alone all three, of these guys are done. But one of my favorite things about PECOTA is the distribution for the results of its forecasts (75% of players reaching their 25th percentile, 10% reaching their 90th percentile, etc.). All three of these guys came into the season sporting collapse rates over 35%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one out of these three will collapse. But given the awful starts and the collapse rates, it’s fun to guess who might pull a Robby.
Of the three, I’ll go with Konerko, based on 2003 and his inferior track record.
Anyone else care to hazard a guess?
(ed. note: Stats are as of the beginning of play on Thursday. Nice game, Manny.)
The other night, John Kruk and Steve Phillips were asked to name their player of the month for April. Phillips chose A-Rod, but Kruk chose Vladimir Guerrero because he didn’t want to pick the obvious choice.
(That argument got overshadowed by the surreal debate over the Indians sending Fausto Carmona down to the minors. When Phillips (pro) asked Kruk (con) how he would feel if returning from injury he lost his job to someone with a couple of good games, all Kruk could do was huff. The hard feelings were palpable the rest of the night.)
Wednesday night, apparently it was Kruk’s turn to be reasonable. Kruk and Fernando Vina—who sometimes looks at the camera as if it’s Albert Belle’s forearm coming at him all over again—were asked to rank their top three aces in baseball, setting aside salary. Kruk chose Santana, Halladay and Oswalt. Vina chose Colon, Willis and Beckett. He was being serious. Apparently, it’s not a fireable offense for a retired second baseman to think Johan Santana isn’t one of the three best pitchers in baseball, but it would be if he consoled Santana with a hug.
I know it would be boring if they just sat around agreeing with each other, but rather than disagreeing over something that should be obvious, wouldn’t the producers be better served to scrap the segment in favor of something truly divisive?
I can’t wait to see what happens when the Indians recall Carmona.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Every five days or so, my cognitive dissonance flares up. I’ve been dealing with this condition since Thanksgiving 2004, when my cousin and I began discussing the Orioles’ upcoming 2005 season. Little did I know it was a conversation that would last nearly two-and-a-half years.
My cousin the Orioles fan, and eternal optimist, tried to convince me that if some of the Orioles young pitchers were good, they might contend. The one pitcher who became the center of the debate was Daniel Cabrera. I saw a pitcher who had just walked more batters than he struck out. He saw a raw pitcher with electric stuff who had just one season in the majors. We were both right.
From that point we traded taunts based on Cabrera’s performances. A typical exchange would go something like this:
Cousin Optimist: Cabrera looked good last night.
Me: It’s one start, his numbers are still iffy.
CO: Yeah, but he’s still young.
Me: He was born the same week as Jake Peavy and Carlos Zambrano.
CO: Yeah, but those guys are really good.
Me: Yes, they are.
And around it would go, even as Cabrera raised his strikeout rate in ’05, but then improbably raised his walk rate even higher in ’06. I’m as tantalized as my cousin by Cabrera’s physical ability, but I feel like he should’ve taken the next step by now, his age 26 season. Given my hunch that good pitchers become good before they’re 26, and bolstered by the thoughts of those smarter than I am, I took a quick and dirty look into it.
The first step was defining good. Rather than setting the bar at guys who became mega-millionaires this past winter, I defined a good starting pitching season as a season good enough to be a number two starter on a generic playoff team. With the help of baseball-reference.com, I looked at the eleven 162-game seasons that have been played in the wildcard era. I took the number two starters from the 88 playoff teams over that period and created a composite number two starter on a playoff team based on the average number of innings and the weighted mean adjusted ERA+ of the 88 pitchers. The 88 pitchers were selected by simply taking the pitcher with the second highest adjusted ERA+ among pitchers who made at least 25 starts for the team that year. That number was picked to restrict the list to pitchers that were more likely to have been in the team’s original plans for contention at the beginning of the year (the one exception was the 2002 Cardinals who only had one pitcher make that many starts due to injuries, trades and the passing of Darryl Kile. Jason Simontacchi defaulted into the spot). The 25 start requirement excluded trade deadline acquisitions like Randy Johnson (1998 Astros) and some household names who became instant stars mid-season (Oswalt and Santana to name a couple). On the other hand it also dethroned Shawn Chacon as the ace of the 2005 Yankees.
(At this point, I’d like to remind anyone reading this that this started out as a quick look at a debate, but, without giving away the end, I’m sufficiently intrigued by the results that I’d be thrilled if someone with more experience in this area chose to take this and run with it to give us something even more precise.)
The 88 pitchers gave me a composite number two starter on a playoff team who pitches 206 innings with an adjusted ERA+ of 119. The list of 88 provided some interesting observations.
The 88 pitchers ranged in adjusted ERA+ from 80 (Brian Lawrence, 2005 Padres) to 174 (Andy Pettitte, 2005 Astros). Steve Trachsel made the list of 88 twice with an adjusted ERA+ under 100 both times. Trachsel made the list once in 1998 with the Cubs, when Kerry Wood didn’t have enough starts to qualify, and once with the 2006 Mets’ patchwork starting rotation. The list also nicely illustrates how many different ways there are to get to October. The 2005 Astros had an extremely top heavy pitching staff. The 2006 Mets and 1996 Orioles relied more on their offenses and bullpens. The 2006 Tigers didn’t have a single starting pitcher reach 206 innings and an adjusted ERA+ of 119, but they had four who came respectably close. And, of course, the 2005 Padres won by playing in Quadruple-A.
Next, I took my composite number two starter from a playoff team and made a list of active pitchers who’ve had at least one season of at least 206 innings and an adjusted ERA+ 119 or higher (top, right). There are 54 active pitchers who meet that standard. With Daniel Cabrera in mind, I divided the list into two groups. On the left side are the pitchers who had their first such season at age 25 or younger and on the right are the ones who did it at age 26 or later. For all pitchers I included the number of times they’ve reached the No. 2 bar and their age when they first did it (as always age is as of July 1).
Some notes and observations:
· If Roger Clemens comes out of retirement, he tops the list on the left with 13.
· Peavy won the NL ERA title in 2004, but was well short of 206 innings. In 2005 he again cleared an ERA+ of 119, but missed the list by 3 innings.
· Colon, who resides on the right-hand list, missed the mark by 2 innings in 1998 and 1 inning in 1999, his age 25 and 26 seasons (though we thought they were his age 23 and 24 at the time).
· Garcia missed making the left side by 4.7 innings when he was 24. He missed time the next year and then hit the mark at 26 before settling into his role as an inning eating number 3.
· Carlos Zambrano’s four number two seasons entering his age 26 season is amazing. When Greg Maddux became a free agent after 1992, at the age of 26, he had done it three times. It’s no wonder everyone in baseball wants the Cubs to wrap him up now—except possibly Yankees fans.
· Jamie Moyer, Jamie Moyer, Jamie Moyer. To hit the mark for the first time at 35 and then hit it four more times is incredible. But the only thing he has in common with Daniel Cabrera is they’ve both pitched for the Orioles.
· Generally speaking, the left side is made up of power pitchers and groundball pitchers, most of whom also have above average control. Garland and Perez would probably fit in better with the right side group.
· On the right side, the one-hit wonders breakdown into guys who didn’t get their real shot until they were a little older (Arroyo, Harang and Wang), and non-strikeout guys who had career years with control (Towers, Pavano, Byrd, Washburn, Hernandez, and Moehler) or HR rate (Davis and Ortiz). Westbrook was a blend of the last two groups. Jennings pitched at altitude and then pitched with humid balls.
· I can’t explain Franklin.
· Wood, the only real power pitcher of these one-hit wonders, never stayed on the field and productive other than 2003.
· Lackey lowered his HR rate and raised his strikeout rate at age 26 to become a star.
· Lowe, Rogers and Wells didn’t become full-time starters until their late 20s.
· Schmidt and Carpenter teased people with their ability before putting together their full, healthy and productive seasons.
These lists seem to indicate that pitchers who achieve sustainable success as frontline starters usually do it by their age 25 seasons. Where does that leave Daniel Cabrera? He’s not a soft-tosser, he already has a good HR rate, and with 82 career starts through age 25, he’s had plenty of opportunity already. But there’s still the matter of the outlier at the top of the list.
Of the pitchers on the list, Cabrera has the most in common with Johnson. They’re tall, power pitchers, with nasty stuff that they couldn’t harness in their youth. Cabrera doesn’t have nearly the strikeout rate that Johnson had even before he broke out, but he also, amazingly enough, isn’t nearly as wild. Johnson walked 416 batters in 631.3 innings, 5.93 BB/9, in the three years before his breakout. Cabrera has walked 280 batters in 457 innings, 5.51 BB/9, over the last three years.
Does that mean Daniel Cabrera will be the next Randy Johnson? That would be surprising. The clock on him is ticking louder and louder and having more in common with Johnson than the others doesn’t change that.
But I also won’t be surprised if my cognitive dissonance returns this weekend.