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Don Kelly, Utility King June 30, 2011

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Super utility dervish Don Kelly is this year’s second inductee into the prestigious* Spectrum Club, which loyal readers if any will recognize as the group of players who have played both pitcher and designated hitter in a given season. Kelly pitched a perfect third of an inning (for those keeping score at home, that’s one out) against the Mets last night during a 16-9 Tigers loss.

Kelly’s lifetime pitching statistics: 0.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 BF. That batter was Scott Hairston, who flied out to Austin Jackson at center.

Kelly came in after David Purcey, the Tigers’ last arm in the bullpen, pitched the last out of the eighth and the first two of the ninth. In his one inning, Purcey gave up five hits, four runs (all of them earned), two walks (one intentional), and no strikeouts. Purcey’s ninth inning started promisingly when Justin Turner grounded out and Carlos Beltran flied out, but David then gave up a double to catcher Ronnie Paulino, walked Jason Bay, and then allowed Angel Pagan to double, scoring Paulino. At that point, Jim Leyland called on Kelly, who took care of Hairston to end the inning.

That makes three utility pitchers thus far this year. Of the position players who pitched, Wilson Valdez, Mike McCoy and Don Kelly have each played at least three non-pitching positions. Valdez has  played at second base, third base, and shortstop; McCoy has played second, third, shortstop, center field, and left field; and Kelly has played first, third, left, center, and right. They’re three of the four pitchers with fifty or more plate appearances. (Roy Halladay is the fourth, with exactly 50 PA this year.)

Over the course of his career, Kelly has been a utility ubermensch, playing every position except catcher. As a lifetime .242/.287/.341 hitter, Kelly needs to be versatile defensively to keep himself working. That’s essentially the same way Mike McCoy keeps his job. Kelly had never pitched professionally before.

*not a guarantee

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.

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.

Matt Garza, Fifth No-Hitter of 2010 July 26, 2010

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Tonight, Matt Garza pitched the fifth no-hitter of 2010. He joins Edwin Jackson, Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden, and Ubaldo Jimenez in the Year of the Pitcher club.

As I pointed out when Jackson hit his no-hitter, no-hit games are probably Poisson distributed. Let’s update the chart.

The Poisson distribution has probability density function

f(n; \lambda)=\frac{\lambda^n e^{-\lambda}}{n!}

Maintaining our prior rate of 2.45 no-hitters per season, that means \lambda = 2.45. Our function is then

f(n; \lambda = 2.5)=\frac{2.45^n  (.0864)}{n!}

The probabilities remain the same:

n p cumulative
0 0.0863 0.0863
1 0.2114 0.2977
2 0.2590 0.5567
3 0.2115 0.7683
4 0.1296 0.8978
5 0.0635 0.9613
6 0.0259 0.9872
7 0.0091 0.9963
8 0.0028 0.9991
9 0.0008 0.9998
10 0.0002 1.0000

And though the expectation (E(49)) and cumulative expectation (C(49)) remain the same, the observed values shift slightly:

E(49) Observed C(49) Total
4.23 5 4.23 5
10.36 11 14.59 16
12.69 8 27.28 24
10.36 17 37.65 41
6.35 1 43.99 42
3.11 5 47.10 47
1.27 1 48.37 48
0.44 0 48.82 48
0.14 1 48.95 49
0.04 0 48.99 49
0.01 0 49.00 49

The tailing observations (say, for 4+ no-hitters) don’t quite match the expected frequencies, but the cumulative values match quite nicely. There might be some unobserved variables that explain the weirdness in the upper tail. Still, cumulatively, we have 47 seasons with 5 or fewer no-hitters, which is almost exactly what’s expected. This is unusual, but not outside the realm of statistical expectation.

Adventures in the Mets Bullpen: One-Run No-Decisions and Vulture Wins July 19, 2010

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A close cousin of the Tough Loss discussed earlier is what Jayson Stark of ESPN calls the Criminally Unsupported Start. Stark defines a CUS as a start in which the pitcher pitches 6 or more innings but the offense scores one run or less in support. Johan Santana didn’t fit that definition last night, but he was close: he left the game with a 2-1 lead after 8 innings pitched and ended up with a no-decision. (A friend of mine liked to call that “the ol’ Roy Halladay” back when Doc was pitching in Toronto.) Just as he was the centerpiece of Jayson Stark’s CUS standings back in 2007, Santana currently leads the league in starts with 6.0 or more innings pitched, at most one run allowed, and no decision. He has six such games, and no other pitcher has more than four. (Yovani Gallardo, however, has a respectable 3.)

In all of 2009, no one hit the six-game mark in one-run no-decisions. Surprisingly, this year the Mets aren’t leading the league in these one-run no-decisions – the Cubs are, led by Randy Wells and his impressive 4, along with Ted Lilly with 3.

Francisco Rodriguez also picked up his third Vulture Win of the year last night. A vulture win is the combination of a blown save and a win in the same game. Usually, that happens when a hometown closer blows the save in the top of the 9th and his teammates score in the bottom for the win. Frankie blew the save in the bottom of the 9th last night, but they left him in to pitch the bottom of the 10th and he held on (despite Phil Cuzzi’s hissyfit and some questionable umpiring going in both directions). Tyler Clippard leads the league in vulture wins this year with four.

Cheap Wins July 16, 2010

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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.

Tough Losses July 8, 2010

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Last night, Jonathon Niese pitched 7.2 innings of respectable work (6 hits, 3 runs, all earned, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 2 home runs, for a game score of 62) but still took the loss due to his unfortunate lack of run support – the Mets’ only run came in from an Angel Pagan solo homer. This is a prime example of what Bill James called a “Tough Loss”: a game in which the starting pitcher made a quality start but took a loss anyway.

There are two accepted measures of what a quality start is. Officially, a quality start is one with 6 or more innings pitched and 3 or fewer runs. Bill James’ definition used his game score statistic and used 50 as the cutoff point for a quality start. Since a pitcher gets 50 points for walking out on the mound and then adds to or subtracts from that value based on his performance, game score has the nice property of showing whether a pitcher added value to the team or not.

Using the game score definition, there were 393 losses in quality starts last year, including 109 by July 7th. Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren led the league with 7, Roy Halladay had 6, and Yovani Gallardo (who’s quickly becoming my favorite player because he seems to show up in every category) was also up there with 6.

So far this year, though, it seems to be the Year of the Tough Loss. There have already been 230, and Roy Oswalt is already at the 6-tough-loss mark. Halladay is already up at 4. This is consistent with the talk of the Year of the Pitcher, with better pitching (and potentially less use of performance-enhancing drugs) leading to lower run support. That will require a bit more work to confirm, though.

Edwin Jackson, Fourth No-Hitter of 2010 June 25, 2010

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Tonight, Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitched a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s the fourth no-hitter of this year, following Ubaldo Jimenez and the perfect games by Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay.

Two questions come to mind immediately:

  1. How likely is a season with 4 no-hitters?
  2. Does this mean we’re on pace for a lot more?

The second question is pretty easy to dispense with. Taking a look at the list of all no-hitters (which interestingly enough includes several losses), it’s hard to predict a pattern. No-hitters aren’t uniformly distributed over time, so saying that we’ve had 4 no-hitters in x games doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about a pace.

The first is a bit more interesting. I’m interested in the frequency of no-hitters, so I’m going to take a look at the list of frequencies here and take a page from Martin over at BayesBall in using the Poisson distribution to figure out whether this is something we can expect.

The Poisson distribution takes the form

f(n; \lambda)=\frac{\lambda^n e^{-\lambda}}{n!}

where \lambda is the expected number of occurrences and we want to know how likely it would be to have n occurrences based on that.

Using Martin’s numbers – 201506 opportunities for no-hitters and an average of 4112 games per season from 1961 to 2009 – I looked at the number of no-hitters since 1961 (120) and determined that an average season should return about 2.44876 no-hitters. That means

\lambda =  2.44876

and

f(n; \lambda = 2.44876)=\frac{2.44876^n  (.0864)}{n!}

Above is the distribution. p is the probability of exactly n no-hitters being thrown in a single season of 4112 games; cdf is the cumulative probability, or the probability of n or fewer no-hitters; p49 is the predicted number of seasons out of 49 (1961-2009) that we would expect to have n no-hitters; obs is the observed number of seasons with n no-hitters; cp49 is the predicted number of seasons with n or fewer no-hitters; and cobs is the observed number of seasons with n or fewer no-hitters.

It’s clear that 4 or even 5 no-hitters is a perfectly reasonable number to expect.

2.448760831

NL Cy Young: Heating up early May 31, 2010

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There’s considerable debate, following Roy Halladay‘s perfect game, as to whether he or Ubaldo Jimenez should be considered the top contender for the National League’s Cy Young Award. Of course, it’s way too early to make those sorts of decisions, but let’s take a look at some of the data quickly.

Jimenez is sitting at 3.7 Wins Above Replacement and 38 Runs Above Replacement in 10 starts:

Year Age Tm Lg IP GS R Rrep Rdef aLI RAR WAR Salary
2010 26 COL NL 71.1 10 7 45 0 1.0 38 3.7 $1,250,000
5 Seasons 577.2 93 241 362 0 1.0 121 12.2 $2,392,000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/31/2010.

Halladay has considerably less, with 22 RAR and 2.4 WAR:

Year Age Tm Lg IP GS R Rrep Rdef aLI RAR WAR Salary
2010 33 PHI NL 86.0 11 23 45 3 1.0 22 2.4 $15,750,000
13 Seasons 2132.2 298 893 1407 19 1.0 514 49.8 $88,991,666
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/31/2010.

Of course, 10 or 11 starts is far too small a sample to draw conclusions from this early in the season. Halladay has a perfect game; Jimenez has a no-hitter. Still, there’s no reason to believe that a perfect game, in and of itself, is enough to get Doc a Cy Young Award. After all, Mark Buehrle didn’t win the Cy last year, and Dallas Braden isn’t even in contention.

If both players keep pitching at or near this level, Halladay becomes a realistic contender, because at that point his marginal contribution may make the difference between whether the Phillies make the playoffs or not. As it stands right now, the NL East is entirely too volatile to make that decision.

(Incidentally, I love Baseball-Reference.com’s new stat sharing and player link tools!)