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Quick thoughts on the Mets August 11, 2012

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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  • So, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but way back on August 4, Mike Baxter tied the National League record for most walks in a 9-inning game with 5. 5 was, incidentally, his total number of plate appearances. That was unusual in part because prior to August 4, Baxter had made 82 plate appearances (mostly as a pinch hitter) and walked in 8 of them, for a rate of .0972 walks per plate appearance. That makes the probability of having five consecutive plate appearances all end in walks about .09755, or a little under 9 in every million five-PA strings. In total this year he’s walked 52 times in 342 plate appearances, for a rate of about .15 walks every appearance. The Pride of Whitestone seems to be normalizing upward.
  • R.A. Dickey pitched a complete game gem Thursday afternoon. Batters facing Dickey have a .277 batting average on balls in play, compared with a league average of .299. Dickey may be benefiting from a slightly lower-than-expected BABIP, but he’s helping himself avoid the unpredictability of balls in play with a league-leading 166 strikeouts (tied with Stephen Strasburg). He’s leading the league in WHIP with just 1.004 walks plus hits per inning pitched. It’s a shame he’s on this year’s squad, or he’d be receiving serious consideration for the Cy Young. As it stands, Strasburg has a much better case on player value grounds.
  • Just as a side note, A.J. Ellis of the Dodgers has had two games where  he walked in every plate appearance – both of them were 4-plate-appearance games. His stats are otherwise pretty similar to Baxter’s. He just likes to bunch them up a bit more.

Quickie: R.A. Dickey Does It Again September 13, 2011

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Last night’s Mets game offered a familiar situation: R.A. Dickey started the game and pitched seven strong innings. He allowed only three runs. He was also the losing pitcher.

By any measure, his 7 innings, 3 runs (2 earned), no walks and 7 strikeouts were a quality start. (They gave him a game score of 58, and matched the 6-inning, 3-run criterion MLB uses for a quality start.) Three innings was enough, though, to give the Mets the loss. The Mets have given up an average of 4.57 runs per game this season, putting them .39 above the NL average and 13th in the league. That’s not too bad – except that they only score 4.44, and that extra 13% of a run adds up over time. (Note that when I crunched numbers for home field advantage, the Mets’ home advantage was quite high, at 1.4 more runs scored at home, so last night’s performance was quite a letdown.) The Mets weren’t running a September callup lineup, either – Mike Nickeas was at catcher, but the rest of the lineup was pretty consistent.

Dickey’s had a rough year. A loss in a quality start is called a Tough Loss, and he’s had six of them. That doesn’t lead the league – Hiroki Kuroda and Jeremy Hellickson split that honor with eight each – but it’s tough to pin all of the blame on Dickey when he’s pitched to six tough losses. Worse, he has seven Quality No-Decisions, which are, predictably, no-decisions in quality starts. Those are more common, but it means that of Dickey’s 30 starts, with 19 of them quality starts, a whopping 13 of them haven’t gotten him a win. By contrast, of his 8 wins, only 2 came in non-quality starts. (We call those Cheap Wins.) That kind of breakdown shows a lack of support from the team.

It’s not like the Mets are this unsupportive all the time, though – Dickey’s six Tough Losses were over one-third of the 17 Tough Losses earned by the team this year, and his seven Quality No-Decisions are around one-third of the Mets’ 22 quality starts with no-decisions for the pitcher. His two Cheap Wins? The Mets have sixteen.

Dickey just can’t get lucky this year.

Spitballing: Blanton in the Phillies’ Rotation February 25, 2011

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The Phillies have one of the best rotations, on paper, in baseball today. Although some people are measured in their optimism, including Jayson Stark, I think the important thing to remember is that we’re arguing over whether they’re “the best ever,” not if they’re going to be competitive. Rotations that bring this kind of excitement at the beginning of the year are few and far between. The Mets, for example, aren’t drawing this kind of expectation – guys like R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey are solid, but they don’t have the deserved reputations of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton.

I’m hardly the first to say it, but Joe Blanton seems to be the odd man out. He’ll be making about $8.5 million next year. Blanton faced 765 batters last year, fourth behind Halladay, Hamels, and Kyle Kendrick. Immediately behind Blanton was Jamie Moyer with 460 batters faced. For the record, the fifth-most-active pitcher faced 362 batters in 2009 (Chan Ho Park) and 478 in 2008 (Adam Eaton). Let’s take that number and adjust it to about 550 batters faced, since Blanton will get more starts than most fifth starters and he’ll stay in longer since he’s a proven quantity. In a normal year, the Phils face about 6200 batters, so that means Blanton’s 550 will be about 9% of the team’s total. (That figure is robust even in last year’s Year of the Pitcher with depressed numbers of batters faced.)

According to J.C. Bradbury’s Hot Stove Economics, this yields an average marginal revenue product of 3.15 million. This figure is based on the average rate that pitchers prevent runs and the average revenue of an MLB team. Obviously, Blanton is a better than the average pitcher (ignoring his negative Wins Above Replacement last year) and the Phillies make more money than most teams, but this is a pretty damning figure.

The other thing to take into account is that Blanton’s marginal wins aren’t worth as much to the Phillies now that they have a four-ace rotation. He won’t get every start and he won’t be a 20-game winner. Even if he were, he’ll be providing insurance wins – he might have an extra ten wins over a AAA-level replacement, but chances are that those wins won’t make the difference between making the playoffs and missing them when you figure in the Phillies’ solid bullpen and run production.

Instead, let’s say Blanton goes to the White Sox, just to pick a team. Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson combined for 765 batters faced, so plug Blanton in for Freddy Garcia with 671 batters faced – a worst-case scenario. That would be 10.85 % of the batters faced, bringing him up to about 3.8 million. In this case, though, you have a team who finished 6 games back and missed the playoffs. If you replace Garcia with Blanton, you stand a very good chance to make the playoffs. That’s another way of saying that the Phillies’ 6-game lead over Atlanta (the NL wild card team) was worth less than the Twins’ 6-game lead over the White Sox (when neither team had as many wins as the AL wild card).

Economists would refer to this as a diminishing marginal returns situation – when you have fewer wins, around the middle of the pack, each additional win is worth a little less. This captures the idea that taking a 110-win team and giving them 111 wins would cost a lot of money and not yield much extra benefit, but a 90-win team making 91 wins might let them overtake another team.

The upshot of all of this? Trade Blanton for prospects. Rely on the bullpen and develop a future starter. Roy Halladay won’t be competitive forever.

Cheap Wins July 16, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The opposite of the Tough Loss discussed below (which R.A. Dickey unfortunately experienced tonight in a duel with Tim Lincecum) is a Cheap Win. Logically, since a Tough Loss is a loss in a quality start, a Cheap Win (invented by Bill James) is a win in a non-quality start – that is, a start with a game score of below 50 (or, officially, a start with fewer than 6.0 innings pitched or more than 3 runs allowed).

The Chicago White Sox’ starter, John Danks, picked up a Cheap Win in Thursday’s game against the Twins. Although he pitched six innings, he gave up six runs (all earned) in the second inning, leading to an abysmal game score of 33. Danks had two of last year’s 304 Cheap Wins. Ricky Romero led the pack with six, and Joe Saunders and Tim Wakefield were both among the six pitchers with five Cheap Wins. Even Roy Halladay had two.

Through the beginning of the All-Star Break, there have been 136 Cheap Wins in 2010. That includes one by my current favorite player, Yovani Gallardo. John Lackey is already up to 5, and Brian Bannister is knocking on the door with 4.

It’s hard to read too much into the tea leaves of Cheap Wins, since they’re not all created equal. In general, they represent a pitcher sliding a little bit off his game, but his team upping their run production to rescue him. To that end, Cheap Wins might be a better measure of a team’s ability than Tough Losses, since, while Tough Losses show a pitcher maintaining himself under fire, Cheap Wins represent an ability to hit in the clutch (assuming that run production in Cheap Wins is significantly different from run production in other games). That’s hard to validate without doing a bit more work, but it’s a project to consider.