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Chad Billingsley’s Home Run June 6, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Chad Billingsley had what was by all accounts an unremarkable start on the mound last night: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, all of them earned, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 HBP. Considering that the Dodgers have seven tough losses already (only the Rays and the Nationals have more), this would ordinarily be a short entry commenting on how Billingsley needs some work.

Actually, scratch that. I wouldn’t make that entry – the folks over at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness would.

Billingsley managed to earn a mention last night by hitting the second home run of his career (solo in the second) and going 2 for 2 with a walk. Billingsley’s Win Probability Added (WPA) from the plate was a team-leading .215 (Matt Kemp was second with .168). Of course, he evened that out with actually subtracting WPA as a pitcher. Still, his walk in the third forced Casey Blake in for a second RBI, and his double in the fifth brought James Loney home and ultimately pulled Reds starter Travis Wood out of the game.

Oddly, Wood himself managed a three-RBI night back on May 9, as did the Diamondbacks’ Zach Duke on May 28. Like Billingsley, both of them took the win in those games.

The most stylish home runs by pitchers happen when the player doesn’t even know he’s a pitcher, though – on April 13, 2009, Nick Swisher hit a home run in the top of the fourth inning while playing first base and then was called on to pitch the bottom of the 8th in a 15-5 loss to the Rays. He’s the only player in the last 10 years to start the game as a position player, hit a home run, and pitch. Admittedly, that’s a weird set of conditions. Luckily, there’s another instance that almost fits, so I don’t feel like I’m cheating. Keith Osik didn’t start on May 20, 2000, but came in as part of a triple-switch in the top of the 8th to play third base. Osik hit a two-run homer to bring Mike Benjamin home in the bottom of the 8th, then gave up 5 earned runs on 5 hits in the top of the 9th.

Hopefully Billingsley will repeat his performance at the plate and will continue cleaning up on the mound. Last night was his first Cheap Win of the year, and he already has two Tough Losses. Not a bad showing as far as ability goes.

The Spectrum Club December 28, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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This year, I get to induct two more players into the prestigious* Spectrum Club.
*not a guarantee

The Spectrum Club is the elite group of players who play, in one season, at both ends of the Defensive Spectrum. At the end of a season, a player is inducted if he pitches in at least one game and appears as designated hitter in at least one game. As it stands, that leaves about ten pitchers who only served as placeholder DHs but never made a plate appearance on the rolls, but that’s okay.

Three players have joined the Spectrum Club twice – Jeff Kunkel in 1988 and 1989 for Texas, Mark Loretta in 2001 for the Brewers and 2009 for the Dodgers, and Wade Boggs in 1997 for the Yankees and 1999 for Tampa Bay. Baltimore leads the club in inductees with six.

This year’s first inductee is Aaron Miles of the Cardinals, who actually pitched twice (August 3 in a loss to  Houston and September 28 in a loss to Pittsburgh). Making it more impressive, Miles DHed only once, in an interleague win over Kansas City on June 26. Miles is an experienced pitcher, having tossed twice in 2007 and once in 2008. Tony Larussa has quite the commodity there, and I bet he wishes he’d had Miles on hand for that crazy 20-inning game against the Mets on April 17.

The second player to join the club is Andy Marte of Cleveland. Marte DHed twice, once on July 10 in a loss to the Rays and once on September 7. His single inning pitched came as part of the Best Game Ever, a July 29 loss to the Yankees in which the Yankees lost their DH and Marte struck out Nick Swisher.

Who’s the smart money on for Spectrum Club inductions in 2011? Joe Mather and Felipe Lopez are both reasonable hitters and both pitched for Tony Larussa in the Mets-Cardinals game. If Lopez stays with the Red Sox, he might be called on to DH an odd late game, and Terry Francona has been known to use position players in emergencies. Ike Davis may well be asked to DH interleague games for the Mets, and he was a closer in college, so he’d be a solid emergency reliever. If I had to guess, though, I’d figure that the next Spectrum Club inductee will be Nick Swisher getting his second induction for the Yankees.

Home Run Derby: Does it ruin swings? December 15, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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Earlier this year, there was a lot of discussion about the alleged home run derby curse. This post by Andy on Baseball-Reference.com asked if the Home Run Derby is bad for baseball, and this Hardball Times piece agrees with him that it is not. The standard explanation involves selection bias – sure, players tend to hit fewer home runs in the second half after they hit in the Derby, but that’s because the people who hit in the Derby get invited to do so because they had an abnormally high number of home runs in the first half.

Though this deserves a much more thorough macro-level treatment, let’s just take a look at the density of home runs in either half of the season for each player who participated in the Home Run Derby. Those players include David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Chris Young, Nick Swisher, Corey Hart, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Holliday, and Vernon Wells.

For each player, plus Robinson Cano (who was of interest to Andy in the Baseball-Reference.com post), I took the percentage of games before the Derby and compared it with the percentage of home runs before the Derby. If the Ruined Swing theory holds, then we’d expect

g(HR) \equiv HR_{before}/HR_{Season} > g(Games) \equiv Games_{before}/162

The table below shows that in almost every case, including Cano (who did not participate), the density of home runs in the pre-Derby games was much higher than the post-Derby games.

Player HR Before HR Total g(Games) g(HR) Diff
Ortiz 18 32 0.54321 0.5625 0.01929
Hanley 13 21 0.54321 0.619048 0.075838
Swisher 15 29 0.537037 0.517241 -0.0198
Wells 19 31 0.549383 0.612903 0.063521
Holliday 16 28 0.54321 0.571429 0.028219
Hart 21 31 0.549383 0.677419 0.128037
Cabrera 22 38 0.530864 0.578947 0.048083
Young 15 27 0.549383 0.555556 0.006173
Cano 16 29 0.537037 0.551724 0.014687

Is this evidence that the Derby causes home run percentages to drop off? Certainly not. There are some caveats:

  • This should be normalized based on games the player played, instead of team games.
  • It would probably even be better to look at a home run per plate appearance rate instead.
  • It could stand to be corrected for deviation from the mean to explain selection bias.
  • Cano’s numbers are almost identical to Swisher’s. They play for the same team. If there was an effect to be seen, it would probably show up here, and it doesn’t.

Once finals are up, I’ll dig into this a little more deeply.

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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