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He’s baaaaaaaaack. April 11, 2018

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Yes, we’re talking about Hansel Robles.

Robles struggled through spring training; his statistics last y

ear were inconsistent at best. In a 7-5 season, he put up a 4.92 ERA with opponents slashing .226/.332/.418. Nevertheless, he had flashes of adequacy: in July, he went 2-0 in 6 games with a 1.35 ERA over 6 2/3 innings pitched, and although he was 1-4 with a blown save in August, he put up an acceptable 2.81 ERA with an opposing slash line of .135/.308/.192. For a guy with a .52 GB/FB ratio and a reputation as serving up homers, going a month and a half with only two home runs was quite an improvement.

In his small sample size this year, Hansel has shown a .22 GB/FB ratio – that is, the vast majority of the contact made results in fly balls, making him a liability within Citi Field. (Surprisingly, he had a .281 SLG against at home, compared with a .585 on the road – shocking considering Citi’s short fences.) Still, manager Mickey Callaway called him up when the team needed a reliever and has been using him somewhat regularly – Hansel is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five games so far.

Choosing Hansel’s appearances carefully seems crucial: the graph above shows Hansel’s OBP-against by batting order position, compared with the league’s. Gary Cohen last night noted that Callaway seems to be bringing Hansel in primarily against the bottom of the order, and in fact in 2018 he was significantly more effective against hitters hitting sixth or later than the National League average.


2017: One last chance to question the official scorer. November 2, 2017

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In game 7 of the 2017 World Series, neither starter lasted long. Yu Darvish left after only 1 2/3 innings, and Lance McCullers lasted only 2 1/3. Even though McCullers left with a 5-0 lead, that short start left him ineligible for the win. Behind the cut, I’ll examine the relevant rules for determining which pitcher should be credited with the win, and why I don’t agree with the official scorer’s decision to give Charlie Morton the win.


How has hitting changed this year? Evidence from the first half of 2017 August 22, 2017

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It’s no secret that MLB hitters are hitting more home runs this year. In June, USA Today’s Ted Berg called the uptick “so outrageous and so unprecedented” as to require additional examination, and he offered a “juiced” ball as a possibility (along with “juiced” players and statistical changes to players’ approaches). DJ Gallo noted a “strange ambivalence” toward the huge increase in home runs, and June set a record for the most home runs in a month. Neil Greenberg makes a convincing case that the number of homers is due to better understanding of the physics of hitting.

How big a shift are we talking about here? Well, take a look at the numbers from 2016’s first half. (That’s defined as games before the All-Star Game.) That comprises 32670 games and 101450 plate appearances. In that time period, hitters got on base at a .323 clip. About 65% of hits were singles, with 19.6% doubles, 2.09% triples, and 13.2% home runs. Home runs came in about 3.04% of plate appearances (3082 home runs in 101450 plate appearances).

Using 2016’s rate, 2017’s home run count is basically impossible.

Taking that rate as our prior, how different are this year’s numbers? For one, batters are getting on base only a little more – the league’s OBP is .324 – but hitting more extra-base hits every time. Only 63.7% of hits in the first year were singles, with 19.97% of hits landing as doubles, 1.78% triples, and 14.5% home runs. There were incidentally, more homers (3343) in fewer plate appeances (101269). Let’s assume for the moment that those numbers are significantly different from last year – that the statistical fluctuation isn’t due to weather, “dumb luck,” or anything else, but has to be due to some internal factor. There weren’t that many extra hits – again, OBP only increased by .001 – but the distribution of hits changed noticeably. Almost all of the “extra” hits went to the home run column, rather than more hits landing as singles or doubles.

In fact, there were more fly balls this year – the leaguewide grounder-to-flyer ratio fell from .83 in 2016 to .80 this year. That still doesn’t explain everything, though, since the percentage of fly balls that went out of the park rose from 9.2% to 10%. (Note that those are yearlong numbers, not first-half specific.) Not only are there more fly balls, but more of them are leaving the stadium as home runs. The number of fly balls on the infield has stayed steady at 12%, and although there are slightly more walks (8.6% this year versus 8.2% last year), the strikeout rate rose by about the same number (21.5% this year, 21.1% last year).

Using last year’s rate of 3082 homers per 101450 plate appearances, I simulated 100,000 seasons each consisting of 101269 plate appearances – the number of appearances made in the first half of 2017. To keep the code simple, I recorded only the number of home runs in each season. If the rates were the same, the numbers would be clustered around 3077. In fact, in those 100,000 seasons, the median and mean were both 3076, and the distribution shown above has a clear peak in that region. Note in the bottom right corner, the distribution’s tail basically disappears above 3300; in those 100,000 seasons, the most home runs recorded was 3340 – 3 fewer than this year’s numbers. In fact, the probability of having LESS than 3343 home runs is 0.9999992. If everything is the same as last year, the probability of this year’s home runs occurring simply by chance is .0000008, or roughly 8 in 10 million.

Quickie: Jay Bruce is off to a very wonkish start. April 14, 2017

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In an earlier post, I noted that Jay Bruce would have been expected to accumulate about .0838 walks per plate appearance (whether that’s estimated using a linear time trend or a quadratic one). It’s interesting to note that Bruce hasn’t merely hit more home runs and taken more walks so far, he’s also struck out significantly less.

Using R, I simulated 1,000,000 46-plate-appearance streaks, using a binomial trial system (simulating only “struck out” or “didn’t strike out” as outcomes). Choosing what rate to use for Bruce’s expected rate of strikeouts per plate appearance (K/PA) was a challenge. Last season, he had a historically low K/PA rate of .2139 (one strikeout ever 4 2/3 plate appearances) – bested only by his 2009 season (.1938). His rate with just the Reds was .2065 and his rate with just the Mets was .2299. Estimating a time trend was difficult because Bruce has fluctuated quite a bit, yielding .2429 for a linear model and .207 for a quadratic model. His total strikeouts through the end of 2016 (1239) divided by his total plate appearances (5189) give a rate of .2388. A simple average of his yearly K/PA numbers gives .237.

Since the condition I’m testing is whether Bruce has improved markedly, I’ll take the logical measure that contains the most likely bias – that is, I’m going to take a low one. I went with his .2139 mark from last year, since it combines his likely unusual rate with the Reds with a more reasonable, but still good, rate with the Mets. (I know, it’s wild that he was more disciplined than he’d been most of his career during the time he was being crucified in the media, but so it was.)

Those 1,000,000 streaks of Bruce’s 46 plate appearances yielded a distribution clustered around 9 and 10 strikeouts. The mean was 9.841 and the median was 10. About 28% of the distribution was contained in the 9- and 10-strikeout blocks. As for his actual number, Bruce has only struck out 4 times. The likelihood he’d have 4 or fewer strikeouts at this point is only about .02, meaning it happened about 2% of the time. That figure would be even smaller if we assumed a higher rate of strikeouts.

When strikeouts decrease at the same time walks increase, there are a few possibilities. It could be that the small sample size is emphasizing Bruce facing worse pitchers than usual, or umpires who are more batter-friendly than usual. Ruling out those possibilities would simply require examining how the rest of the Mets are faring compared with previous years. It’s also possible Bruce is simply on a hot streak and will cool down to his expected levels soon. Nevertheless, he’s been batting smart this year, including finally bunting through a shift last night in a crucial play to come back from an early deficit.

Mets Game 10 Commentary: Won’t someone please think of the Bullpens! April 14, 2017

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In 16 innings, the Mets defeated the Marlins to extend their record to a division-leading 7-3. This is especially promising because the Mets went 1-2 in their first series against the Marlins last week, including losses to last night’s starter (Wei-Yin Chen) and losing pitcher (Adam Conley). Both teams depleted their bullpens, with the Mets using starter Jacob deGrom to pinch-hit and the Marlins using Conley, who started in all 25 of his appearances last year, as emergency relief. Neither team had any relievers left in the bullpen or any hitters left on the bench.

Surprisingly, neither team has made a roster move as of the time of writing.  EDIT: The Mets called up lefty Sean Gilmartin  several minutes after this posting. The Mets sent reliever Pat Sewald down before the game to make room for center fielder Juan Lagares, so Sewald wasn’t eligible to come back up, but New York had relied on Sewald and reliever Corey Taylor for saves in the spring. Taylor is pitching in Binghamton with an ugly 7.71 ERA in 2 1/3 innings over three appearances. Making a roster move would also rely on having a player to send down, but the bench is thick with players and few if any of the bullpen pitchers are expendable. However, Hansel Robles has pitched in four straight games and is undoubtedly unavailable tonight; Fernando Salas has pitched in two straight, and Addison Reed in three (2 innings last night). Meanwhile, Jerry Blevins has pitched in the last 2, totaling only 17 pitches. With three innings last night, Josh Smoker is likely to be unavailable, but Josh Edgin is well-rested despite a difficult appearance last night and a 4.15 ERA. Rafael Montero may make a second consecutive appearance tonight, although he’ll have all Mets fans biting their nails if he comes out of thrower jail. I’d be unsurprised to see Jacob deGrom make an appearance in relief, although it’s early in the season to play that game. (It’s times like this that I wish we still had Bartolo Colon.)

In a head-scratcher, the Marlins used a starter (Conley) while leaving reliever A.J. Ramos on the bench. Ramos had, as Marlin Maniac points out, pitched in the two previous games, tossing 2 innings and allowing one run. Every other bullpen pitcher pitched, including Brad Ziegler in his third straight game. Sadly, the bullpen seems to be well-rested enough that we won’t get to see Ichiro Suzuki pitch tonight.

Late in the game, I realized I don’t know who the Mets are likely to use in emergencies: Rene Rivera came in to play first base in a double switch in the 12th, so the backup catcher was in the game. Generally the emergency catcher would be a backup infielder, so T.J. Rivera would be the logical choice, but he’d come out of the game in a platoon maneuver to make room for Lucas Duda at first. Rivera or Jose Reyes might be a logical emergency pitcher, but it seems the new Blue Jay Ty Kelly might have filled in those positions. Judging by the state of the bullpen, we may find out tonight who Terry has slated to pitch in an emergency.

Quickie: Jay Bruce’s Walks April 10, 2017

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In an earlier post, I ran a quick regression (with very few datapoints) to determine that Jay Bruce‘s expected walks per plate appearance this year should be about .0838. In other words, he should walk once every 12 or so plate appearances.

So far (before the Mets’ 7th game of the season), Bruce has walked 5 times in 25 plate appearances, a .20 rate. That’s more reasonable than his .31 rate entering the weekend, but he still walked once in 12 plate appearances. How unlikely is that? I fired up R and ran a simulation of 50,000 25-plate-appearance streaks, modeling them as binomial trials – in other words, I’m simulating only the outcomes “Walked” or “Didn’t walk.” The graph:

Bruce’s 5 walks are unlikely – the probability that he’d have below 5 is .947. Exactly 5 would happen with probability of about .038. It’s not completely unheard of that Bruce would be at his expected level and have a streak of luck at the beginning of the year. However, it’s likely that Bruce has been spending extra time in the batting cages and has been working on his plate discipline.

Mets Game 3 Commentary: Jay Bruce Continues To Surprise April 7, 2017

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Jay Bruce in August 2016. Photo: Editosaurus via Wikimedia Commons.

Before yesterday’s game, I speculated that Jay Bruce might be a good bet to sit against a left-handed starter, even suggesting Ty Kelly would make a good stopgap corner fielder due to Kelly’s strong numbers against lefties. Nevertheless, Bruce started the game and Kelly saw no action – by the time a pinch hitter was needed, right-hander Chaz Roe was in and lefty Michael Conforto was the clear choice off the bench.

Last year, Terry Collins wasn’t happy with Bruce, famously allowing Eric Campbell to pinch hit for him in the September stretch run. It’s clear that Bruce has regained Collins’ favor, since he started against a left-hander last night and has performed well. However, he didn’t perform especially well against Jaime Garcia, as his fifth-inning walk was his only time on base last night.

While it’s a bit early to rest a starting outfielder, Ty Kelly has fantastic numbers against left-handed pitching and I’d like to see him get more chances to demonstrate whether he’s been lucky or really has a read on the pitching. Playing Kelly would have still left righty infielder T.J. Rivera and righty backup catcher Rene Rivera – no relation – ready to come up in a pinch. Bruce’s defense has been decent; he logged two putouts and no errors last night. Still, Collins is showing confidence in Bruce, who many speculated wouldn’t even be a Met on opening day.

Jay Bruce’s yearly walk and OBP numbers before this season.

Bruce has seen a recent uptick in his on-base percentage, famously a crucial measure of contribution to the team. Currently, he’s sitting on an OBP of .538, driven in large part by 4 walks in 13 plate appearances. At .31 walks per plate appearance, he’s nearly triple his highest previous career season (.11) and over tripled his career mark (.09). He’s unlikely to sustain this; however, his OBP has climbed the past two seasons from a historical low of .281 in 2014 to a so-so .309 in 2016. It’s possible that Bruce is showing an early hot streak that is, nonetheless, a sign of growth at the plate.

If Bruce were following a normal trend, we’d expect him to be at about .0838 walks per plate appearance. As noted, he’s at .31. In any 100 streaks of 13 plate appearances, he should be somewhere between .00 and .25 95 times. Although this is a very small sample size, it’s likely that Bruce has made some changes in his approach at the plate, especially since those walks haven’t been intentional.

I’ve included a line chart of Bruce’s season walks and OBP over his time in the majors.

Mets Game 2 Commentary: Sometimes, you just know. April 6, 2017

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Hansel Robles entered last night’s game looking nervous. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and promptly gave up a tying run.

Hansel’s a tough pitcher to have in your bullpen, and we saw why last year and during the World Baseball Classic. Despite a thoroughly impressive outing in the Mets’ opener, he seemed easily shaken last night and allowed a Nick Markakis triple that turned into a run. He promptly walked Brandon Phillips, allowed an Adonis Garcia double on which Phillips was thankfully held at third, and then plunked Kurt Suzuki. Though Hansel has had his anger issues in the past, this one wasn’t intentional; Terry Collins removed him for Jerry Blevins because Hansel was having one of his trademark meltdowns.

You never know before the game which Hansel will come in, but he was visibly shaken when he got started. I’m starting to wonder, especially after the Mark Texeira incident, whether he should be on a beta blocker or something.

Despite a strong hitting performance by Jay Bruce (3-5, HR, 2B), 0-4s from Lucas Duda and Asdrubal Cabrera and 0-5s from Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson meant that the team couldn’t recover from Robles’ one run and Blevins’ cleanup. Though the backbone of the bullpen – Fernando Salas and Addison Reed – got us through the regular innings, lefty specialist Josh Edgin uncharacteristically had to work a full inning and the Mets went to erstwhile long man Rafael Montero. Montero was so-so, allowing three walks (one intentional) and three hits in an inning and 2/3.

Matt Harvey starts tonight against Jaime Garcia. Harvey has held Freddie Freeman to a .167 OBP in 18 plate appearances but has had considerably more trouble with Ender Inciarte and Jace Peterson. Curiously, Chase d’Arnaud is 1-3 against Harvey, but probably won’t be wedged into the lineup tonight. Meanwhile, Garcia has allowed OBPs over .400 to Lucas Duda (.750), Asdrubal Cabrera (.500) and Wilmer Flores (.429). Bruce has seen the most of Garcia but fared poorly – .224/.235/.306 in 51 plate appearances. It’s too early in the season to play mix and match, especially with Michael Conforto the main option to relieve Bruce against the lefty Garcia – not going to happen. I wouldn’t be stunned to see Ty Kelly start the game in the field, since he’s got a very good numbers in a small sample against left-handers (.368/.500/.474 in 12 plate appearances), but the blowback against that decision and the chance it would disrupt Bruce’s positive reception make that unlikely.

Mets Game 1 Recap: It’s Good To Be Back In The Balkans April 4, 2017

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Robert Gsellman, closer, apparently

Although the absence of Jeurys Familia loomed large for the Mets, the bullpen didn’t end up being as much of a concern as many of us expected for the first several innings of the Mets’ first game of the season. Although Hansel Robles pitched a perfect inning to relieve Noah Syndergaard in a 0-0 game, by the time Fernando Salas came in the game was well in hand. Fifth starter Robert Gsellman closed the game, presumably on his throw day, to avoid using an additional reliever to finish off a game that was already over.

This was a three-part story: first, the Mets’ productive batters; second, the Braves’ depressing bullpen; and third, bullpen pitchers stepping up.

Asdrubal Cabrera hit in 3 of 5 plate appearances and stole a base, totaling a .191 increase in the Mets’ win probability. That was more than double the next best Mets hitter, the surprisingly patient Jay Bruce, who added .073 win probability going 0-1 with three walks. Bruce currently has a .750 OBP and a .000 batting average, but he’s never been much of a walker: his OBP-BA split was .059 last year and has hovered between .06 and .07 for most of his career.

As soon as Julio Teheran handed the reins to lefty Ian Krol in the seventh inning, things started to unravel. Catcher Rene Rivera singled, followed by pinch hitter Wilmer Flores getting on via fielder’s choice and swiping second, Jose Reyes walking, and Cabrera driving Flores home. In a weird matchup decision, righty Chaz Roe came in and walked Yoenis Cespedes, only to be immediately lifted for lefty Eric O’Flaherty to face Curtis Granderson. A sac fly later, Reyes was home. The aptly-named Neil Walker took first on balls after Cespedes stole second. Bruce walked to force Cabrera in, Lucas Duda doubled the bases clear, and Travis d’Arnaud walked. Jose Ramirez came in to pick up the pieces, and despite a passed ball by Tyler Flowers, he coaxed a groundout from Flores to end the six-run, four-walk inning.

O’Flaherty had a difficult 2016, and despite being a left specialist, he was nothing special against either group of batters: he allowed lefties a .288/.329/.439 slash line, and his numbers against right-handers were even worse.

Hansel Robles and Fernando Salas both acquitted themselves admirably, Salas with two strikeouts and Robles with two groundouts and a K. Those two groundouts are key for Robles, who struggles with the longball. He allowed 7 homers in 77 2/3 innings with around a .44 ground/fly ratio on a close-to-average .308 BAbip. In a small park like Citi Field, that low ground/fly is a dangerous number, so it was great to see him keeping the ball down.

The Mets are idle today and line up against Bartolo Colon on Wednesday. Expect a similar bullpen, with Robles in high-leverage situations to keep closer Addison Reed fresh, and probably expect to see Reed either way.

Is there anyone else you want up with the bases loaded? (Mets Game 133 Review) September 1, 2016

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Photo: slgckgc

Kelly Johnson. Photo: slgckgc

The Mets tweeted this out last night when Kelly Johnson cleared the bases with a double to Jeff Francoeur:

Including last night, Kelly has made six plate appearances as a Met with the bases loaded. In those appearances, he’s 2 for 6 with a 1.000 SLG: the expectation is that he should get exactly one base. As a team, the Mets hit .245/.242/.436, pretty abysmal; MLB in general hits .264/.299/.414. The Mets’ lower on-base percentage and higher slugging average indicates that hits are comparatively rare but are more likely to go for extra bases than the league as a whole. Kelly is better than other Mets and better than the league.

24 Mets have appeared with the bases loaded; 14 have hits. Justin Ruggiano hit a grand slam in his only appearance; Travis d’Arnaud hit singles in both of his and Alejandro De Aza is 3-4. The next three OBP leaders are David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Neil Walker, all of whom are out for the season. James Loney comes in at a .286 OBP, followed by Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes at .250, before things get ugly.

Travis hit .333/.556/.333 last year in 9 bases-loaded appearances; Cespedes was 2-5. So is there anyone else you want up? Maybe d’Arnaud – I still believe if he stays healthy he’ll make an excellent hitter, even though it will require moving him to another position to make it happen. Of course, it would have been impossible for d’Arndaud to come up, since he was on first base. (Cespedes was on third and Curtis Granderson was on second.) Given that, Johnson was the best we could have hoped for, and he delivered.

The Mets close out their series against the Marlins tonight with Jacob deGrom starting against Jose Urena and, with any luck, a bunch of September callups in the Marlins lineup.