Archive for Game Preview

Analyzing the Umpires: World Series Edition

Yesterday, the names of the World Series umpires were released, with John Hirshbeck serving as the crew chief. Like I have done for the first two rounds in the playoffs, I will examine each umpire’s strike and ball calling tendencies. Overall, the group is pretty solid, with the exception of Bill Miller, who calls one of the league’s largest strike zones.

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Analyzing the Umpires: ALCS Edition

After examining the National League Championship Series umpires yesterday, I will look at the American League Championship Series umpires today. Even though the ALCS umpire crew is led by fan “favorite” Joe West, they are generally neutral in their strike calling.

For each umpire, I have include their 3-year average K%, BB% and Zone% for both left-handed and right-handed hitters. To get the Zone%, I looked at the number of called strikes and balls in the league average called strike zone. The strike zone used is the same one that is used for FanGraphs hitter and pitcher Pitchf/x Zone% values.

Also, I have created a 100 scale which shows how much more or less an umpire’s values are compared to the league average. A value over 100 is always pitcher friendly (a lower BB% means a higher value).

Additionally, I have included a heat map of the umpire’s called strike zone compared to the league average zone. It subtracts the percentage of called strikes divided by the total of the called balls and strikes of the umpire from the league average. For example, if the umpire called a pitch in the zone a strike 40% of the time and if the league average is 50%, the output would be -10% (40%-50%) or 0.10.

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Analyzing the Umpires: NLCS Edition

With all the Division Series now over, it now time to give a quick look at the League Championship Series umpires. I will look at the NLCS umpires today and the ALCS umpires tomorrow.

For each umpire, I have include their 3-year average K%, BB% and Zone% for both left-handed and right-handed hitters. I have created a 100 scale which shows how much more or less an umpire is than the league average. A value over 100 is always pitcher friendly (a lower BB% means a higher 100 value).

Additionally, I have included a heat map of the umpire’s called strike zone compared to the league average zone. It subtracts the percentage of called strikes divided by the total of the called balls and strikes of the umpire from the league average. For example, if the umpire called a pitch in the zone a strike 40% of the time and if the league average is 50%, the output would be -10% (40%-50%) or 0.10.

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Analyzing the Umpires: ALDS Edition

After examining the National League division round umpires yesterday, I will look at the American ones today. I will look to see if they have any unique strike calling patterns and post their 2013 K/9 and BB/9 scaled to the league average strikeout and walk rates. Again I have included images of their called strike zones compared to the league average called zone.

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Analyzing the Umpires: NLDS Edition

It is time to look at the third team on the field for the National League division round, the umpires. Each umpire is given a quick look to see if they have any unique strike calling patterns. Also, I posted their 2013 K/9 and BB/9 rates which I scaled them to the league average strikeout and walk rates. A 100 value is league average and a 110 value would be a value 10% higher than the average. Additionally, I added images of their called strike zones verses right and left handed hitters (from catchers perspective) compared to the league average. The scale is the percentage difference where -0.1 means 10% points less than the league average

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Analyzing the Umpires: Play-In Games Edition

Here is a quick look at the called strike zone and strikeout and walk rates for the three home plate umpires over the next three nights.

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The Two Doug Fisters

The big mystery in Thursday night’s Game 2 of the World Series is what the Giants might get from the struggling Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner posted strong overall numbers this year, but he seemed to wear down. Now the Giants say they’ve worked on a mechanical tweak and he should be more effective. It’s certainly intriguing, although one recalls that the Tigers said they worked on a mechanical tweak with Jose Valverde, and then Valverde did what he did in Game 1. Sometimes it’s nonsense. Sometimes it’s not nonsense, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s a mystery, basically, again.

Less of a mystery is what the Tigers might get from Doug Fister. As Justin Verlander and Barry Zito have established, there’s always mystery when you’re talking about individual starts, but Fister is more of a known entity at the moment than Bumgarner is. Fister’s just a guy who’s quietly become one of the better right-handed starting pitchers in all of baseball. As bad as the Tigers might feel about losing a Verlander start, they have the consolation of knowing the rest of their starting rotation is really good, too.

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A Gerry Davis Game 1 Preview

Read any game or series preview and most of the focus will be on the teams and the players. As it ought to be, as games and series are competitions between teams made up of players. What we always want to believe is that the team with the players who perform better will emerge triumphant. But of course, what we know is that there are not countless variables, but there are more variables than we would like to count. It matters what the environment is. It matters what the weather is. It matters what other things are. And it matters who the home-plate umpire is. Because home-plate umpires are human, not all home-plate umpires are identical, so not all home-plate umpires will have the same effect on any given game.

It’s worthwhile, then, to talk a little bit about the home-plate umpire in anticipation of the start of the World Series. For tonight’s Game 1, the crew chief and guy behind the plate will be Gerry Davis. You might remember Gerry Davis for drawing some strike-zone criticism in last year’s playoffs, from the Yankees. You might alternately remember Gerry Davis for just being an umpire you’ve heard of, or for being a guy who lives on your block if you live near him. For the remainder of this post, we’re going to examine Gerry Davis’ average strike zone. For Justin Verlander, Barry Zito, and many of the rest of the Tigers and Giants, this is going to be some sort of factor.

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Barry Zito to Have Some Chance

The 2012 World Series begins in just some hours, with the Tigers trotting out their ace in Justin Verlander. The Giants will respond by trotting out a guy who might have been an ace once many years ago in Barry Zito. I was tasked with the project of writing up a Barry Zito Game 1 game plan, and to me it couldn’t be more simple. Zito’s Wednesday night strategy:

  1. do what Justin Verlander does
  2. maybe do it better?

All right, so that is a physical impossibility, unless Verlander suffers a crippling injury between now and then and still somehow is allowed to start. A more realistic Barry Zito Game 1 game plan:

  1. hit all of the spots
  2. do not miss any of the spots

See how easy this is? Barry Zito might well win tonight just so long as he pitches perfectly. If he doesn’t make any mistakes, at all, then surely he’ll have the Tigers’ hitters off balance and maybe the Giants will score a run against Verlander or the bullpen and, presto, there’s a World Series advantage! I guess my work here is done, sooner than I expected it to be.

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Aubrey Huff: Championship Factor

The Washington Nationals had under contract one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball, and they decided against using him in the playoffs, where they lost. The decision was talked about for weeks and months in advance. It’s probably still being talked about somewhere, and it’ll be a topic for years. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants have under contract one of the better hitting outfielders in baseball, and they’ve decided against using him in the playoffs, where they’ve advanced to the World Series. With the stakes at their absolute highest, the Giants are still committed to going forward without Melky Cabrera. The Cabrera situation and the Stephen Strasburg situation are very different, with little to do with one another, but I needed an intro and I feel like this served the purpose.

So here’s where we are: the Giants are in the Series, and while they have home-field advantage — in part thanks to Melky Cabrera’s performance in the All-Star Game! — they need to identify a designated hitter for Games 3 through 5 in Detroit. Were Cabrera on the active roster, this decision would be pretty easy. He’s not, so it isn’t, because the Giants’ bench is bad. Still, there has to be a best of the worst, so let us discuss in some depth.

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Partisan Rain Deals Yankees Further Damage

There’s a thing about rain-outs. Actually, there are two things.

  1. They suck.
  2. In theory, they should offer neither team an advantage.

The first one’s pretty evident. Where once there was supposed to be baseball, now there is no baseball, thanks to the rain, and that sucks. The second one seems pretty evident as well. Instead of there being baseball between two teams on one day, there will be baseball between the two teams the next day, with each team having been identically inconvenienced. But the reality is that the inconveniences aren’t always identical, and that’s what we observe in the ALCS between the Tigers and the Yankees. Rain delayed Game 4 by a day — so far, at least — and this has without question worked out in the Tigers’ favor.

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Yankees Game 3 Game Plan: Pray

The New York Yankees find themselves in the unenviable position of trailing the Detroit Tigers two games to zero in the ALCS, having given away home-field advantage. The Yankees do have the consolation of not yet having lost with ace CC Sabathia, who could still make two starts. But then, the Yankees have the anti-consolation of not yet having lost to Justin Verlander, who could still make two starts. It’s Verlander who’s taking the hill Tuesday night, as the Tigers look to take a truly commanding lead in the best-of-seven.

The Yankees have struggled to hit in the playoffs so far, and they’ve struggled to hit against a bunch of pitchers who aren’t the best starting pitcher in the world. I don’t need to tell you that Justin Verlander is a little excellent. On top of that, he’ll be pitching Tuesday night at home, against a struggling lineup, on a cool October evening that should only depress offense even further. Tigers fans couldn’t possibly be happier with the way things are set up. Yankees fans, therefore, couldn’t possibly be less happy.

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Yankees, Tigers Make American League Feel Normal Again

Of the four teams that made it into the American League Division Series round, two were lovable underdogs, teams no one expected to get anywhere close to that far. Around spring training, the Orioles were projected to finish last in the AL East, as they are just about every year. The Athletics were projected to finish last or close to last in the AL West, well behind the elite-level Rangers and Angels. No one expected the Orioles or A’s to make any noise, so when they did, people got swept up, and they were two incredibly easy teams to root for in the first series round of the playoffs.

And both of them got eliminated, leaving us with the Yankees and the Tigers to fight over the AL pennant. The Tigers played in the ALCS as recently as 2011, and the Yankees played in the ALCS as recently as 2010, so something about this matchup doesn’t quite feel so fresh. Granted, the Tigers and the Yankees have faced their adversity, too. The Tigers were multiple games out of a playoff spot in the middle of September. The Yankees not only had to fight off the Orioles, but they also had to deal with major injuries to Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, and Andy Pettitte. It’s been an easy road for neither team, but because people long expected both the Yankees and the Tigers to make the playoffs, this matchup doesn’t feel as appealing as it could’ve been.

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Reds, Giants to Play Meaningful Baseball

Major League Baseball’s six divisions were won by one, two, three, four, eight, and nine games. The Giants finished eight games ahead of the Dodgers, and their lead reached double digits on September 20. The Reds finished nine games ahead of the Cardinals, and their lead reached double digits on September 11. Suffice to say, for both teams, it’s been a while since they played what felt like a legitimately important game. Saturday, the important games resume all of a sudden, as the Giants and Reds are squaring off in a National League Division Series.

Incidentally, one wonders about the effects. Some people argue that it’s better to have to play at full intensity all the way through to the end, while other people argue there are benefits to being able to relax. Both the Giants and the Reds have more or less been able to relax, their playoff spots long secure, and we’ll never know how much this mattered, if it ends up having mattered at all. If it does matter, maybe it’ll matter about the same for both, since they’ve both been in similar situations. Nothing’s getting settled in this paragraph so here comes the next one.

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Braves Change a Battery

We’re to the point now of there being less baseball, which means we’re to the point now of there being more important baseball. The stakes are the highest they’ve been, and all those little managerial decisions people love to complain about during the regular season might at last be worth actually complaining about, because the leverage of everything is suddenly through the roof. Every little decision now could conceivably contribute to a team winning or not winning the World Series. Thursday, we all got news of one decision in particular — for Friday’s Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals, the Braves will start David Ross at catcher instead of Brian McCann.

It feels weird to imagine the Braves deliberately benching McCann at a time like this, where one game will decide whether there are subsequent games. McCann’s long been the regular in Atlanta, up to and including this season, and by and large he’s been a terrific one. You’d think that a team would go with its trusted regulars in a one-game playoff, no matter how much it also trusts its backups. But it’ll be David Ross catching Kris Medlen and the relievers, and more, the decision seems sound.

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MIA-PHI Match-Up: Pitch Type Linear Weights

I have been toying around with an idea for pitcher-hitter match-ups based not on prior head-to-head performance or platoon splits, but rather pitch type linear weights.

For those that are unfamiliar, pitch type linear weights basically takes a batter or pitcher’s performance on each type of pitch they throw or face during the year (e.g. four-seam fastball, slider, etc.) and converts that performance into runs created or runs saved relative to average. At FanGraphs, we show both the total runs created or saved for each pitch (e.g. wFB) and a normalized version for the value per 100 pitches thrown (e.g. wFB/C).

I thought it would be interesting to compare the starting pitcher’s pitch type linear weight performance against the lineup he is facing. To do this, I calculated the difference in run value between each pitch type for each starting pitcher and the hitters they might face. The difference is shown in the tables below. Green coding denotes an advantage to the pitcher, while red indicates an advantage for the hitter. I used the normalized version of each pitch type (i.e. run value per 100 pitches thrown/faced) to control for playing time, pitches seen, etc.

The tables below show the match-ups for tonight’s game between the Marlins and Phillies (7:05pm EST) for both Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay:

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Game 7 Preview: Chris Carpenter vs. Matt Harrison

Chris Carpenter is starting tonight on only three days rest, while Matt Harrison hopes to do better than the shellacking he took in Game Four. Both pitchers will need to change up how they’re attacking hitters if they want to be successful.

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WS Scouting: Colby Lewis vs. Jaime Garcia

How wonderfully awkward.

The last time Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia faced off, we were treated to one of the best pitcher’s duels of the World Series. Jaime Garcia shut down the Rangers for seven innings while striking out seven hitters, and Colby Lewis very nearly kept pace by lasting 6.2 inning and allowing one run.

How did Lewis and Garcia attack hitters in that start? What can we expect from them tonight? Let’s find out.

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Game Preview: Chris Carpenter vs. C.J. Wilson

Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson face off tonight in Game 5 of the World Series, in a rematch of Game 1. How did each pitcher attack the other during their first start? Should they try anything different tonight?

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NLCS Scouting: Gallardo vs. Carpenter

Just look at that lovely mug.

Tonight’s NCLS matchup, pending the game isn’t rained out: Yovani Gallardo vs. Chris Carpenter.

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