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The Mets’ Magic Number is Alex Cora (Game 154 Preview) September 25, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Sports.
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Alex Cora

Alex Cora

With a win over Josh Smith‘s Reds and a Nationals loss to the Orioles, the Mets have pushed their magic number to clinch the division down to 3 (Alex Cora). The Mets are duly thankful to Matt Wieters for bringing Steve Pearce home in the late innings to give the Os the lead, and to Darren O’Day for nailing down the save.

Even assuming the Nats don’t lose another game, the Mets can now clinch in a variety of scenarios:

  • Sweep the wretched Cincinnati team for their remaining 3 games.
  • Give 1 to Cincinnati, take 1 from Philadelphia.
  • Lose two to the Reds, simply win the series against Philadelphia.
  • Lose the next three to the Reds, sweep Philadelphia.

In other news, the Dodgers lead the Mets for home field advantage in their series, assuming both clinch their divisions. The Dodgers are 2 games ahead of the Mets with a Dodgers magic number of 9. Assuming the Mets give up 1 game to Cincinnati, 1 to Philly and 1 to the Nationals, that means the Dodgers have to win six of their final 10 games to clinch home field advantage. The Mets own the head-to-head tiebreaker 4-3.

Noah Syndergaard starts for the Mets in a hitter’s park. Watch Noah’s control numbers – he’s thrown 73 strikeouts to 15 unintentional walks since the All Star Break. Don’t be alarmed if he gives up a few runs, particularly with 2016 American League All Star Designated Hitter Daniel Murphy starting at second base. Noah’s had a solid .273 BAbip, so he may give up a few tonight. Ruben Tejada is starting at shortstop. Ruben has been a sleeper in September, hitting .390/.457/.537 since September 1st in 46 plate appearances, albeit on a .455 BAbip.

Anthony DeSclafani starts for the Reds. In his last five starts, he’s 2-2 with a 2.97 ERA and an 8.0 KBB, despite a .349 BAbip. DeSclafani, like Tejada, is a dangerously unsung part of the team and it’s imperative that our hitters get to him early. #4 hitter Jay Bruce is hitting .229 on the season.

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Chad Billingsley’s Home Run June 6, 2011

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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.

Complete Game Shutout… PSYCH! May 30, 2011

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Jered Weaver pitched a brilliant game Saturday night for the Angels against the Twins. He’s had a strange opening to the season, starting with six straight wins and then beginning May with four straight losses followed by a no-decision. Saturday, on four days rest, he pitched nine scoreless innings with 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, no hit batsmen, a Game Score of 88, and a career-high 128 pitches. It’s a good thing he grabbed another win… wait, no he didn’t. The game went into extra innings, the Angels lost, and Weaver walked off the mound with a no decision.

Put another way, if anyone had managed to hit a home run, or if Hank Conger had singled instead of popping fly to third in the eighth, Weaver would have a two-hit complete game shutout, and we’d be talking about how he still had it. Instead, he gets a no decision, and the Angels lost the game.

That doesn’t happen a whole lot, but it does happen enough to take notice. For example, on May 12, a 2-1 win for the Orioles over the Mariners was 0-0 into the 12th. So, both the Mariners’ Jason Vargas (9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, o ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 76 GSc) and the Orioles’ Zach Britton (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 86 GSc) left with complete game shutouts that weren’t.

Similarly, last year, on July 10, Roy Halladay was outpitched by the Reds’ Travis Wood in an 11-inning 1-run loss. Wood managed a game score of 93 on one hit, no walks, and 8 strikeouts, whereas Halladay had a paltry 85 on 5 hits, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts. Neither man got the win, which went to Phillies reliever Jose Contreras.

Wilson Valdez, Utility Pitcher Extraordinaire May 26, 2011

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Interested in position players who pitched? Check out The Best Game Ever and a previous post on what I like to call Utility Pitchers.

So, the Phillies and the Reds went into extra innings last night and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. His line: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR, 4 BF on 10 pitches. He did have a hit batsman – Scott Rolen – but that’s not surprising, since Valdez has never pitched professionally at any level.

First of all, let me say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the way both managers managed the game. Ordinarily, a 19-inning game is full of spot relievers going a few innings each and at some point the managers seem to lose control of the situation and start panicking. The most common solution is to throw starters in on their throw day, which is how Mike Pelfrey got his save last year. Instead, Reds manager Dusty Baker seemed to know that Carlos Fisher, who has never started a game at the Major League level, had 5 2/3 innings of starter-quality stuff in him. Similarly, the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel relied on Danys Baez, who hadn’t pitched more than four innings since the Bush administration, for five innings that would have made any manager happy. To offer some perspective, if Baez had pitched his five innings at the beginning of the game and been lifted, his game score would have been 67; Fisher’s would have been 58 had he been removed from the game at the moment he gave up his run. That’s not only a quality start for each pitcher, but both of the relievers put together a higher game score than their team’s starter.

Oh, yeah, and the Phillies’ starter was Roy Halladay.

Also, Wilson Valdez had an incredible night. In addition to becoming the first position player to be the winning pitcher since 2000, Valdez started the game at second base and went 3 for 6 with a walk. To compare, when catcher Brent Mayne was the Rockies’ winning pitcher in 2000, he came in off the bench and didn’t bat at all.

Hats off to Charlie Manuel and Dusty Baker for managing a smart game, and bravo to Wilson Valdez for solid inning pitched and a great night at the plate.

Micah Owings and Cobb-Douglas Production July 22, 2010

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Micah Owings, who is one of the best two-way players in baseball since Brooks Kieschnick, was sent down to the minors by the Cincinnati Reds yesterday. As big a fan as I am of Micah (really, look at the blog), I think this was probably the right decision.

Owings was being used as a long reliever. For a big-hitting pitcher like Micah, that’s death to begin with. Relievers need to be available to pitch, so the Reds couldn’t get their money’s worth from Owings as a pinch hitter, since he wouldn’t be available to re-enter the game as a pitcher unless they used him immediately. They also weren’t getting their money’s worth as a pitcher, since, as Cincinnati.com notes, the Reds’ starting pitching was doing very well and so long relief wasn’t being used very often.

Letting Owings start in AAA will give him the best possible outcome – he’ll have regular opportunities to pitch, so he won’t rust, and he’ll get to bat at least some of the time. Owings needs to be cultivated as a batter because that’s where his comparative advantage is. I doubt he’ll ever be at the top of the rotation, but he could be a competent fifth starter. If he pitches often enough to get there, he’ll add significant value to the team in terms of his OBP above the expected pitcher. He’ll get on base more, so he’ll both advance runners and avoid making an out.

A baseball player is a factory for producing run differential. He does so using two inputs: defensive ability (pitching and fielding) and offensive ability (batting). In the National League, if a player can’t hit at all, he’s likely to produce very little in the way of run differential, but at the same time, if he’s a liability on defense, he’s not likely to be very useful either. Defense produces marginal runs by preventing opposing runs from scoring, and offense produces marginal runs by scoring runs. Having either one set to zero (in the case of a pitcher who can’t hit at all) or a negative value (an actively bad pitcher) would negatively affect the player’s run production. This is similar to a factory situation where labor and equipment are used to produce goods, and that situation is usually modeled using a Cobb-Douglas production function:

Y = K^{\alpha} \times L^{1 - \alpha}

with Y = production, z = a productivity constant, K = equipment and technology, L = labor input, and \alpha is a constant between 0 and 1 that represents relatively how important the input is. K might be, for example, operating expenses for a machine to produce widgets, and L might be the wages paid to the operators of the machine. This function has the nice property that if we think both inputs are equally important (that is, \alpha = .5) then production is maximized when the inputs are equal.

In general, production of run differential could be modeled using the same method. For example:

RD = P^{\alpha} \times F^{\beta} \times B^{1 - \alpha - \beta}

where P = pitching contribution, F = fielding contribution, B = batting contribution, and \alpha and \beta are both between 0 and 1 and would vary based on position. For example, David Ortiz is a designated hitter. His pitching ability is totally irrelevant, and so is his fielding ability outside of interleague games. The DH’s \alpha would be 0 and his \beta would be very close to 0. On the other hand, an American League pitcher would have an \alpha very close to 1 since pitcher fielding is not as important as pitching and his hitting is entirely inconsequential in the AL. Catchers would have \alpha at 0 but \beta much higher than other positions.

The upshot of this method of modeling production is that it shows Owings can make up for being a less than stellar pitcher by helping his team score runs and be a considerably better investment than a pitcher with a slightly lower ERA but no run production.

At the other end… June 22, 2010

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Although AJ Burnett had a bad first inning last night, the Oakland As had a bad tenth inning. After taking a 2-2 game into extra innings, the Cincinnati Reds knocked three out of the park against pitchers Michael Wuertz and Cedrick Bowers. The first was hit by Ramon Hernandez; Joey Votto and Scott Rolen went deep back to back. Although extra-inning home runs aren’t very rare (there have been 35 so far this year), only three pitchers have surrendered more than one, and neither of the other two (Chad Durbin and Matt Belisle) gave them both up on the same night.

Last year, everyone’s favorite balk-off artist, Arizona’s Esmerling Vasquez, gave up two home runs in extra innings against the Texas Rangers on June 25th. Those were two of 83 free-baseball homers in 2009. Extra-innings home runs are more common in the tops of innings, because in a tied game a home run for the home team is a walk-off whereas the road team will get the chance to capitalize on their momentum, but I would have expected the proportions to be much more different than they are. In 2009, for example, of those 83, only 44 were hit by the away team with 39 hit by the home team (and 33 of those were game-enders).

So far, no batter has more than one extra-innings home run this year, but last year there were several. Andre Ethier led the pack with 3, with a bunch of batters who had 2.