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Utility Pitchers II: Alternate Definition January 3, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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In the previous post, I discussed utility pitchers, which I defined as players who primarily play a defensive position who are called on to pitch. It never occurred to me that Bleacher Report had previously defined it otherwise – as a pitcher who can perform well in any role.

How can I quantify that? Well, it seems to me that a sign of quality as a starter is the vaunted quality start (game score above 50, or six innings with three or fewer runs allowed, depending who you ask), and a sign of quality as a reliever is the save. Thus, a good utility pitcher is one who can muster at least one quality start and at least one save in a given season. It’s not perfect, since it relies on the manager being willing to insert a primary starter at the right point in a game to earn a save (or starting a primary reliever, as Joe Girardi did with Brian Bruney back in 2008). Nonetheless, eight pitchers managed that feat this year.

By far the most versatile was Hisanori Takahashi of the Mets. Tak managed six quality starts, a handful of appearances as a left-handed specialist, and eight saves when he stepped in as the Mets’ closer after Francisco Rodriguez became unavailable.

Mike Pelfrey also represented for the Mets, although he made only one relief appearance (in the crazy 20-inning game against the Cardinals).

Matt Garza of the Rays made some news this July when he showed his versatility by starting and saving games in the same series.

The other five pitchers were Bruce Chen, Nelson Figueroa, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Harrison, and David Hernandez.

Shockingly, Carlos Zambrano wasn’t among the pitchers listed, even though he spent some time in the bullpen for the Cubs and some time as a starter. (Big Z was briefly the highest-paid setup man in the league.)

My guess for the 2011 season? Neftali Feliz of the Rangers was among the best closers this year but has the ability to start games as well. Most likely, though, it’ll be someone like Pelfrey, who was pressed into service in relief for an extra-inning game.

Burnett, Hughes, and Playoff Rotations October 12, 2010

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There was much discussion of the Yankees’ specialized playoff rotation for the American League Division Series. As is conventional in the ALDS, Joe Girardi went with a three-man rotation. CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were locks; the third starter could have been A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, or Dustin Moseley. Girardi went with young All-Star Phil Hughes in the third slot. That, of course, led to a sweep of the Minnestoa Twins to advance to the American League Championship Series.

First of all, I think it was probably the right decision. Hughes pitched 176 1/3 innings and gave up 82 earned runs, for an ER/IP of about .47. In Burnett’s 186 2/3 innings, he allowed 109 runs for an ER/IP of about .58. Surprisingly, Burnett allowed 9 unearned runs for a rate of about .048 unearned runs per inning pitched, whereas Hughes had only one unearned run for a rate of about .006, but of course those numbers probably don’t say anything significant. With 730 batters faced, he allowed about .11 earned runs per batter, or about 1 earned run every 9 batters faced, while Burnett’s 829 batters faced mean he had similar numbers of .13 earned runs per batter and 7.69 batters.

Most importantly to me, Hughes was much more predictable. Burnett faced, on average, 4.68 batters per inning pitched, with a variance of .92. Hughes faced over half a batter less per inning – 4.13 – and had a variance of .33. That means that not only did Burnett allow more baserunners, but when he was off, he was very off. Although the decision gets tougher when you have a higher BF/IP and a lower variance, Hughes was both better and more consistent in a similar number of innings, so he has to get the nod.

(That said, it’s shocking that such similar numbers produced one 18-8 pitcher and one 10-15 pitcher.)

The only question now is what order to pitch the announced four-man rotation for the ALCS. Of the choices,

OPTION 3
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte
Burnett
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte

seems clearly superior to me. It allows Burnett to start but avoids starting him twice, gets Hughes in play quite often, and puts the very reliable Andy Pettitte in play for a potential Game Seven. The linked article lists as a con that Pettitte is considered the number 2 starter, but at the Major League level a manager can’t be concerned with such frivolities. Besides, Pettitte is an established company man. I’d be surprised if he balked at a rotation that both maximized the team’s chances to win and put him in position to be the clutch hero.

Incidentally, this option lends itself to using the same rotation in the World Series. Option 2:

Sabathia
Pettitte
Hughes
Sabathia
Burnett
Pettitte
Sabathia

leaves Sabathia unavailable to start Game 1 of the World Series and might put Pettitte on short rest depending on the schedule to start Game 1. I can’t see starting the Series with Hughes or Burnett.

The Best Game Ever July 30, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Two of my favorite things about baseball happened during tonight’s game between the Yankees and the Indians.

First of all, in the top of the ninth inning, corner infielder Andy Marte pitched for the Indians. Marte pitched a perfect ninth and coincidentally struck out Nick Swisher, who was brought in to pitch for the Yankees in a similar situation last year and struck out Gabe Kapler of the Tampa Bay Rays. I can’t promise it’s true, but I think that puts Swisher at the top of the list for involvement in position player pitcher strikeouts.

Marte’s presence was necessary because the Indians used seven other pitchers. Starter Mitch Talbot went only two innings, and the Indians got another two out of Rafael Perez. Frank Hermann took the loss for the Indians during his 1 1/3 innings. Tony Sipp pitched another 1 1/3, and Joe Smith managed to give up four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning before being removed for Jess Todd for an inning. In the bottom of the 9th, Marte was all the Indians had left.

Not to be outdone, Joe Girardi gave up his designated hitter by moving his DH – funnily enough, it was Swisher – into right field as part of a triple switch. Swisher moved to right field; Colin Curtis moved from right field to left field; Marcus Thames moved from left field to third base;  finally, pitcher Chan Ho Park was put into the batting order in place of Alex Rodriguez, who came out of the game.

Finally, A-Rod is up to 33 plate appearances without a home run. Assuming his standard rate of .064 home runs per plate appearance, the likelihood of this happening by chance is .936^{33} = .113 \approx 11.3 \% . I stand by my belief that there’s something other than chance (i.e. distraction or other mental factors) causing Rodriguez’s hitting to suffer.

So why doesn't Nick Swisher pitch every night? April 15, 2009

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Nick Swisher pitched for the first time in the major leagues on Monday night during the Yankees’ 15-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. As you can see from the box score, Swish pitched pretty well. In fact, in 22 pitches, he gave up only one hit and one walk, threw 12 strikes, and struck out a major-league batter (left-fielder Gabe Kapler). So, will Yankees manager Joe Girardi tap him in relief again soon?

No, of course not. Find out why behind the cut.

(more…)

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