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Good news, everyone! April 5, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Perhaps I’m just giddy with the excitement of the Mets notching their first win of the season last night. Everything seemed to fit together – Jenrry Mejia was solid early on, and despite two brushes with injury, he pitched six excellent innings (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R (earned), 4 BB, 8 K) before turning it over to the bullpen. John Lannan is struggling as a reliever, credited with a hold despite allowing two runs on as many hits (one home run) and striking out one in his 2/3 of an inning; Kyle Farnsworth pitched a baffling perfect inning and a third before Jose Valverde came in and struck out one, walking one, to get his first save of the inning.

Professor Farnsworth was similarly perfect in nineteen games last year. Those include three appearances with one batter faced, four with two batters faced, thirteen complete innings, and one five-out situation. Three of the complete innings were finished games for Pittsburgh, where he finished seven games, most of them losses. Shockingly, Farnsworth blew only one save, earning two saves in Pittsburgh and two one-out holds in Tampa Bay. That means with last night’s hold, Farnsworth is halfway to last year’s mark. Hopefully, Farnsworth won’t be pressed into service as an emergency closer this year: His time in Tampa Bay had a 5.70 ERA and a .337 batting average on balls in play against a .298 league average BAbip. Since Tampa Bay’s team BAbip was .286, that means they got a little lucky, and Farnsworth got unlucky sometimes. When he headed to Pittsburgh, though, it was like Farns was a totally different player – and he was. Against an NL with a league average .296 BAbip, and playing for Pittsburgh with a team .289 BAbip against, Farnsworth’s BAbip was a surprisingly low .250. That’s a .087 drop from his Tampa Bay average, or about 2 hits every 23 balls in play. Hopefully, Farnsworth can keep up the luck in 2014, but frankly the better news would be if we had a more reliable setup man.

Carlos Zambrano, Ace Pinch Hitter? June 21, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Earlier this year, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella experimented with moving starting pitcher and relatively big hitter Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen, briefly making him the Major Leagues’ best-paid setup man. Zambrano is back in the rotation as of the beginning of June. I’m curious what the effect of moving him to the bullpen was.

The thing is that not only is Zambrano an excellent pitcher (though he was slumping at the time), he’s also a regarded as a very good hitter for a pitcher. He’s a career .237 hitter, with a slump last year at “only” .217 in 72 plate appearances (17th most in the National League), which was 6th in the National League among pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances. He didn’t walk enough (his OBP was 13th on the same list), but he was 9th of the 51 pitchers on the list in terms of Base-Out Runs Added (RE24) with about 5.117 runs below a replacement-level batter. Ubaldo Jimenez was also up there with a respectable .220 BA, .292 OBP, but -8.950 RE24.

It should be pointed out that pitcher RE24 is almost always negative for starters – the best RE24 on that list is Micah Owings with -2.069. Zambrano’s run contribution was negative, sure, but it was a lot less negative than most starters. Zambrano also lost a bit of flexibility as an emergency pinch hitter (something that Owings is going through right now due to his recent move to the bullpen) – he’s more valuable as a reliever, so they won’t use him to pinch hit. As a result, he loses at-bats, and that not only keeps him from amassing hits. It also allows him to get rusty.

It’s hard to precisely value the loss of Zambrano’s contribution, although he’s already on pace for -6.1 batting RE24. It’s likely, in my opinion, that his RE24 will rise as he continues hitting over the course of the year. His pitching value is also negative, however, which is unusual. He’s always been very respectable among Cubs starters. It’s possible that although he was pitching very well in relief, the fact that he has the ability to go long means that it’s inefficient to use him as a reliever. This is the opposite of, say, Joba Chamberlain, who is overpowering in relief but struggles as a starter.

As a starter, Zambrano has never been a net loss of runs. He needs to stay out of the bullpen, and Joba needs to stay there.