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July 18, 2014: Tales of Interest July 19, 2014

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  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis has a .580 slugging average. Let me put that into slightly different terms for you. When Kirk walks up to the plate, assuming he doesn’t walk, he’s averaged over HALF A BASE. ASSUMING HE DOESN’T WALK. And that’s including his rough start! In 37 plate appearances since returning from Las Vegas, he’s at .656.
  • Another day, another intentional walk for Ruben Tejada. Ruben’s OBP is .358, and in the 8th position (usually with the pitcher behind him) it jumps to a filthy .375. Yeah, it’s a bit inflated, but even if you removed his ten intentional walks from the season entirely, you still end up with 92 times on base and 287 plate appearances for a .320 OBP. The median OBP for qualified shortstops is .317; I never would have guessed Tejada for an above-average batter. Yeah, yeah, he’s got the pitcher behind him. He’s also costing us less than $4,000 per plate appearance (and falling).
  • Bobby Abreu‘s OBP, meanwhile, is .377. I’m so glad we have a credible threat off the bench. The man’s even got a bunch of doubles, which would be triples if Kirk were hitting them.
  • Lucas Duda (.482), Curtis Granderson (.422), David Wright (.416) and Daniel Murphy (.408) are qualified and have SLG above .400. On the other hand, since coming back from the disabled list, Juan Lagares hasn’t walked at all in 63 plate appearances. Last night, Juan was 1 for 4 with 2 RBIs.
  • Since moving to relief, Jenrry Mejia has a 2.25 ERA, including his two blown saves. That’s 2.95 in save situations, but 0.69 in successfully converted saves. When it rains, it pours.

Have I made a “roll the Daisuke” pun yet? I haven’t? Good. May 6, 2014

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I like what Terry Collins is doing with Daisuke Matsuzaka. I know Daisuke had never pitched in relief in his career, but Terry broke him in with a couple of clean-inning appearances that probably felt a lot like starting a game. Matsuzaka was also useful as long-relief in one of the extra-innings games and in providing a solid backup plan for Zach Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia in case they get wild, and for Bartolo Colon‘s back.

Daisuke had a rough game last night, coming in to relieve Jon Niese in the eighth to set up the Mets’ *sigh* closer, Kyle Farnsworth. In 10.1 innings pitched, Matsuzaka had allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and 6 walks, striking out 13 for an ERA of 1.74 on an average 1.3 days rest. On one day’s rest, Daisuke opened the inning with two walks and a single, followed by a crushing error by Omar Quintanilla that kept Casey McGehee alive. Granted, the game looks different if McGehee was out, and Terry probably wouldn’t have been as quick to hook him and put in Kyle Farnsworth. Still, in a game that was tied going into the 9th, it’s hard not to look at that unearned run as a game-changer. Mastuzaka left with three runs, two earned, and no outs; his ERA doubled, spiking to 3.48.

Matsuzaka isn’t the only pitcher in that position this year; in April, Nate Jones of the White Sox appeared in two consecutive games and faced a total of five batters. He failed to make any outs, walking three and allowing two hits. Each day, he was responsible for two earned runs. Though Jones is no longer with the White Sox, his zero innings pitched and four earned runs give him the theoretical infinite ERA (4/0; remember your baby calculus class? 4/x has a limit of infinity as x approaches 0). Jones had back surgery yesterday and will be off the mound for the foreseeable future.

On the other end of the scale, Shawn Tolleson appeared as a Dodger only once in 2013, walking two batters – neither of whom scored – before going out for back surgery that shut him down for the season. Since neither batter scored, Tolleson’s ERA is undefined, as a 0/0.  Tolleson’s having a much more normal season as a Ranger this year.

It’s great to have Lagares back, but he could walk a little more. May 5, 2014

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Juan Lagares spent the last couple of weeks of April on the disabled list. He rejoined the team for the series against the Rockies and promptly showed us why he’s so valuable in the lineup.

Although Lucas Duda leads the team in OBP with a .361 mark on the season, Lagares is right there with him at .360 on the season. Lagares gets on base around the same amount, but his team-leading .507 SLG outpaces Duda’s .447 mark considerably. That’s because in 22 fewer plate appearances, Lagares has three more doubles and one more triple than Dude; only Daniel Murphy, with 129 plate appearances to Lagares’ 75, has more doubles (8 to Juan’s 7), and Eric Young has two triples to Lagares and Murphy’s one. In fewer plate appearances, Lagares has more total bases than Murphy, Duda, and David Wright – 38% of his hits are for extra bases.

Strikeout-to-Walk ratio appears to contain a strong random element.

Strikeout-to-Walk ratio appears to contain a strong random element.

In fact, Lagares had a great series in Colorado, hitting four singles and four doubles but striking out six times in 20 plate appearances. He does, however, lead the team in KBB – he averages about 6.33 strikeouts for every walk he takes, more than double the league average of 2.72. On the other end of the scale you have players like Travis d’Arnaud and Ruben Tejada (whose plate discipline has been mentioned before on the World’s Worst Sports Blog), who average 1.33 and 1.5 strikeouts per walk, respectively. Moneyball seemed to indicate that it’s tough to teach plate discipline, and taking a look at Murphy and Wright’s numbers seems to indicate a substantial random element in KBB ratio. Angel Pagan and Curtis Granderson also round out the graph at left, which tracks strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past ten years.

Is there much hope of improving Lagares’ KBB ratio? Perhaps. Granderson’s spiked up and was on a downward trend for a while; on the other hand, Murphy’s has climbed steadily as he’s improved as a hitter. There are definitely some deeper relationships that merit further investigation.

Mets, Game 21: Tales Of Interest April 24, 2014

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Three interesting things happened last night:

  • Kyle Farnsworth earned his second save of the year. Thus far, both saves have come against the Cardinals. Kyle is the third Met to earn a save this year, behind Jose Valverde and Carlos Torres; had Bobby Parnell converted his only opportunity, the Mets would have four and be tied with the Yankees for the lead in this category – four Yankees (Shawn Kelley, David Phelps, David Robertson, and Adam Warren) have converted save opportunities, with Adam Warren blowing more saves than he converted. Like the Mets, the Yankees suffered from closer David Robertson disappearing to the DL, with David Phelps and Carlos Torres each being the odd long man to earn a save. Last year, the Mets were in heavy competition for this as well – they used seven pitchers to earn saves (including Vic Black and Frank Francisco, each of whom had only a cup of coffee in the majors last year). Only the Astros, with 8, had more individuals earning saves.
  • The Mets also used five pitchers and no pinch hitters last night. Jon Niese went 6 2/3, striking out twice and walking once. He came out in the top of the seventh after making the second out in the sixth; the game ended with the pitcher’s spot on deck for the Mets. Daisuke Matsuzaka finished the seventh; Carlos Torres and Scott Rice combined for the setup and Farnsworth saved the game after allowing three hits and striking out one in his inning. I was surprised to see DiceK in a short relief role, but he’s handling it very well so far.
  • Michael Wacha had a fascinating game – for the first three innings, every out came via strikeout. He then got a bad case of the yips in the fourth, and though he made it through the inning allowing only two runs, Kolten Wong hit for him in the fifth. Wacha’s final line was 4 IP, 3 H, 2 R (both earned), 4 BB, 10 K. Danny Salazar of Cleveland actually bested Wacha, striking out 10 in 3 2/3 innings pitched back on April 10th. Felix Hernandez also struck out 10 in a four-inning start last year, in the infamous “bee game.”

Everybody’s Stupid Except Me April 21, 2014

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Or, why is there a guy being paid to manage the team when I already do it?

There have been quite a few extra-innings games this year for the Mets. The pitching situation has been stressed a couple of times; thankfully, yesterday’s 14-inning monstrosity against the Braves worked out okay. This is due almost entirely to Dan Uggla‘s status as one big walking, talking error. His Jeter-esque defense ticked me off in the All-Star Game a few years ago, but it’s been hilarious since.

Poor Gus Schlosser took a bullet for the Braves, pitching nearly four innings before giving up the game-winning sac fly to Curtis Granderson (who can’t even get a hit when he’s playing hero) after a previous career-high 1.2 innings earlier this year. Schlosser was the Braves’ sixth pitcher of the night. Jose Valverde got the win for the Mets, their seventh pitcher of the night. Valverde was an odd choice to go to in a high-leverage situation, since Jeurys Familia hadn’t pitched the previous day. Gary Cohen speculated that Familia was simply unavailable, meaning that we’ll find out today that he’s healthy as a horse but was getting a drink of water when the phone call came. Gonzalez Germen had a rough third of an inning, but Scott Rice cleared it up for him.

Terry Collins did a few very strange things. First, he pinch-hit Andrew Brown for Omar Quintanilla and immediately used Ruben Tejada to pinch-hit for the pitcher, apparently counting on Brown to get on base and planning to use Tejada to bunt him over. Of course, using a pinch-hitter for your shortstop counting on the pinch-hitter to get on base is risky, and Brown didn’t, leaving Tejada to pinch-hit when Travis d’Arnaud and Kirk Niewenhuis were still sitting on the bench. Granted, it worked out okay, since Tejada hit a nice single to get on base, but Quintanilla has had a .375 OBP this year; unless he was injured or something, using Brown to hit for him is weird. Forcing Tejada into the game was weirder, since letting Quintanilla hit and then allowing the game’s situation to dictate the double switch would have allowed Terry a bit more control over the situation. As it is, Terry used Quintanilla in the top of the ninth, Brown to hit in the bottom of the inning, and then Daisuke Matsuzaka in the same slot to start the tenth. Considering that the Mets were at the end of their bench by the end of the game, keeping Brown around to hit for someone later in the game would have been a more conservative move with no smaller an upside.

Second, and much less sinfully, he benched Anthony Recker as part of a double switch in the 13th to 14th to make room for Papa Grande. Recker was exhausted, certainly, and was in the ideal spot to allow for the double switch. However, suppose Granderson hadn’t hit his sac fly but had grounded out to leave Eric Young and Kirk Niewenhuis at second and third, respectively, with two outs. That requires David Wright to get on base, and then (if Schlosser made the reasonable decision to walk Wright and pitch to Daniel Murphy) you’re counting on Murphy to make a clean hit. At that point, you have a choice – either you ask Valverde for a second inning, you ask Familia to pitch even though he seemed to be unavailable, or you ask a starter to pitch. Leaving Recker in at first base and removing Lucas Duda would have put Valverde in the #4 slot instead of the #5 slot, but would have maintained Recker’s eligibility to pitch. Granted, that still involves moving an outfielder to first and having a starter play the corner a la Kyle Lohse and Roy Oswalt a few seasons ago; on the other hand, if Quintanilla had been allowed to bat for himself, you then also have either Ruben Tejada or Andrew Brown on the bench, in which case Brown has experience at first and Tejada has experience at second, allowing Daniel Murphy to take over at first.

I did, however, love using DiceK in the long-reliever role in extra innings. I’m glad Terry had him on hand, and I’m thoroughly impressed with Matsuzaka’s ability to adjust to the relief role.

Side note: the Mets have actually been outscored game for game in extra innings, 23-22, leading to a weird .480 Pythagorean expectation. Small sample sizes and walkoffs make that a bit difficult to draw real conclusions from.

Conflicts April 14, 2014

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You’re trying not to smile, aren’t you?

- My wife on Saturday morning

Although the Dodgers are currently my favorite California team, it’s tough – I’m a huge Angels fan. It all started in 2004, when Josh Paul forgot to tag A.J. Pierzynski …. but I prattle on. Suffice to say, I was a terrible Mets fan this weekend.

Bartolo Colon took one for the team yesterday, going 5 innings but allowing nine earned runs (four of them home runs). After two extra-inning games, it was nice to get some length out of Colon, even if it will destroy his stats for the rest of the month. Although this would have been an excellent time to allow professional pinch hitter Ike Davis to show off the stuff that made him Arizona State’s closer, Terry Collins opted to allow Scott Rice, Jeurys Familia, and John Lannan each toss an inning. Familia was a bright spot, since he doesn’t seem to be taking his loss on Saturday too hard.

I was really pleased to see Lannan used as a potential long man on Saturday night. Although both Lannan and Rice pitched in the night game Saturday and the day game Sunday, Rice had been used in the left-handed specialist role before being asked to eat up an inning on Sunday. Lannan was finally used in extra innings as a second starter; he ended up only needing to go two innings, but I’m sure Terry was glad to have a sixth starter on the bench for his second straight extra-innings game. Gonzalez Germen is also doing some excellent work these days. Hopefully we won’t be on the hook for Kyle Farnsworth in the setup role for too much longer. I’m not sure what kept the Professor out of the high-leverage game on Saturday night – I’m glad, don’t get me wrong, but he had only tossed a third of an inning the night before, and Terry seems to think he’s useful.

Jose Valverde finally blew a save. It’s been almost a year since he did – he blew three saves in 2013 for Detroit, all within a one-month span starting on May 12th. Of course, June 12th was his last save opportunity.

Cueto sits on bench, sobs April 6, 2014

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Johnny Cueto is having a tough year so far. In yesterday’s game against the Mets, he pitched to a game score of 65, allowing two earned runs in seven innings; he left with a lead, followed quickly with a hold by Sam LeCure and a blown save by J.J. Hoover, who surrendered a pinch-hit grand slam to professional pinch hitter Ike Davis1. 65 is a solid game score; the sabermetric definition of a quality start is a pitcher who adds value to his team by pitching to a game score above 50. In his first start of the year, Cueto threw seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out eight, pitching to a 74 game score and surrendering only one run. Unfortunately, that day, Adam Wainwright threw seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out nine, pitching to a 76 game score and surrendering no runs. Neither bullpen surrendered much, and so Wainwright took the win and dealt Cueto one of the toughest losses we’re likely to see this year.

Let’s give the devil their due – although it’s been easy to criticize the Mets’ bullpen, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres combined for a perfect inning and two thirds yesterday, keeping the score close enough that Ike was able to knock in the winning home run.

Meanwhile, Juan Lagares‘ slugging percentage is still up at .765, and with 13 total bases on 21 plate appearances he’s averaging about .62 bases every time he steps to the plate. Lagares’ slide into second yesterday was important for Ike’s hit to be a grand slam; if he’d been out, Ruben Tejada could easily have grounded into a double play and kept Ike out of the batter’s box. Still, Tejada’s OBP is at .389, and if he can keep that up, a shortstop who gets on base almost eight out of every 20 plate appearances is a valuable person to have on your roster.

_______
1Davis’s first pinch-hit home run, and, according to Greg Prince via Twitter, the first come-from-behind walk-off grand slam in the history of the Mets.

Not the bullpen again… April 1, 2014

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In the “Stuff Gary Cohen Says” pile, let’s add “When you score six runs, you expect to win the game.” Why he said that, specifically, I’m not sure, since at the time he said it, the score was 5-5.

Offensively, the Mets had a great game yesterday. In any just universe, two homers in regulation giving a five-run score should have won the game; last year, only 308 teams lost in 9 innings or less with 5 or more runs scored, compared to 1697 teams that won in regulation with at least five. This, of course, isn’t a just universe; it’s Queens.

Dillon Gee had a quality start by game score (53), if not under the official definition, allowing 4 earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched. That was a little long, and the Mets’ commentary team pointed out that Warthen and Collins seem to plan to let their starters work a little longer this year. Given the bullpen’s performance, I’m not shocked by that – although Jose Valverde pitched a perfect inning and a third (striking out three), two of the Mets’ relievers walked their only batter faced. Bobby Parnell blew a save, giving up a crucial double to Denard Span in the 9th and showing velocities that were surprisingly low. Aside from Valverde, the bullpen looked as unreliable as it did last year.

Parnell had an injury-marred season last year. It’s important not to take too much out of a single appearance. That said, I’ve never been a big fan of Parnell. Valverde isn’t the answer – he may not even be as consistent as Latroy Hawkins was last year, judging by his spring performance – but the Mets have an inexperienced bullpen and they desperately need some consistency from the pen. Parnell’s neck still raises concerns, as does his seeming inability to handle pressure. There’s no reason the Mets should be relying on Jeurys Familia in the tenth inning on opening day.

It’ll take a few weeks before the system shakes out, of course, and we’ll see whether the Mets’ pen steps up and develops over the early season. That said, the closer position will definitely need some attention.

Ike Davis and his 12% raise January 21, 2014

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So, Ike Davis was pretty lousy last year. He batted .205/.326/.334 in an injury-shortened season with 106 total bases on 377 plate appearances, meaning he expected to make it to first a bit over a quarter of the time. Throw in his paltry home run figures and a handful of doubles, and you’re not looking at a major-league first baseman; his 0.2 wins above replacement put him in the company of Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to point out that Overbay played 142 games and Jones played 144; Davis definitely presented more bang for your buck than those two, especially since he was earning $3.125 million. He’ll be getting a 12% raise this year, having re-signed for $3.5 million. Again, his numbers were pretty lousy.

But if you add up all of Davis’s appearances as a starter, you’ll see that the Mets scored 354 runs in those games, and allowed 376, meaning that the Pythagorean expectation for those games is 0.46989 – that corresponds to an expectation of about 76 wins over a 162-game season (or 41 wins over Davis’ tenure). The Mets’ overall winning percentage was .457 (74 wins), and their Pythagorean expectation was about .45, corresponding to around 73 wins; but without Davis, the team scored 265 runs and allowed 308, leading to an expectation of .425 and around 69 wins on the season. Additionally, the team actually won only 39 of the 87 games Davis started, for about a .45 winning percentage – right on with their season-long expectation, and two wins below expectation.

Now, there are some caveats. When Davis was active, the team was still doing its best to win, and players like John Buck and Marlon Byrd were still active. Toward the end of the season, the Mets moved more toward development and away from trying to win every game. It’s therefore entirely possible that the effect of having Davis start the game are wrapped up in the team’s changing fortunes. Still, the team would have been expected to perform better with Davis in the lineup, at least according to the Pythagorean expectation formula, and actually underperformed.

Comparing Contracts: Parnell and Gee January 20, 2014

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A few days ago, Bobby Parnell and Dillon Gee both re-signed with the Mets; though there are some incentives in Parnell’s deal, he’ll be making $3.7 million to Gee’s $3.625 million. Those numbers were oddly close (and the contracts similar despite the difference in position), so I decided to check out the players’ recent statistics. Since the players are each negotiating one-year deals, and these players are neither very old or very young, it seems reasonable to treat the best predictor of future performance as the players’ most recent performance.

Gee started 32 games (almost exactly every fifth game) in 2013 to a 3.62 ERA and a .301 opposing BABIP. The median numbers for starters with 162 or more innings pitched were about 3.51 and .295, so Gee is performing almost exactly like a full-time starter (and thus presumably a bit better than your average pitcher). Gee’s performance corresponds to 2.2 wins above replacement, a shade below the median of 3.0 for full-time starters.

I’m not Parnell’s biggest fan, and his season was shortened by an injury (causing him to miss all of August), so I expected the numbers not to operate in his favor. However, his 2.16 ERA is well below the median of relievers with 40 appearances or more, and his 0.7 WAR is right on the median. Oddly, his BABIP at .268 is much lower than the median of .290, indicating that he’s benefiting, to some degree, from good fielding behind him. If we restrict the numbers to only pitchers with 15 saves or more (all 32 of them), those medians adjust to 2.645, 1.4, and .277, respectively, keeping him on the good side of ERA and BABIP but cutting his WAR performance considerably. Let’s see if we can extrapolate – in 104 team games, Parnell played 49, meaning that he played in about 47% of the team’s games. At that pace, he probably would have been put into about 27 more games, meaning his current stats are about 65% of what his season stats might have been. In that case, let’s hold his BABIP and ERA constant and extend his WAR to 1.08 (by dividing by .65). That would have ranked him with Huston Street and Addison Reed – much better company than his current competition. It also, interestingly, would have put him much closer to Gee’s WAR, at a higher-leverage position.

Again, I’m not Parnell’s biggest fan, and I was skeptical about this deal. Assuming that the injury hasn’t harmed him, though, Parnell’s contract really does make sense compared to Gee’s.

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