I Hate to Travel in Winter: On Gio Gonzalez and Felipe Paulino

It may or may not interest the reader to know that I’m writing these words from Aix-en-Provence. Yes, in France. No, I’m not joking. Yes, c’est totally vrai.

As to why I’m here, I can’t say exactly, on account of how unimaginably low down on the Down Low it is, but I can tell you this: My wife lives here. Is she a spy, sent here by the US government to learn more about stinky cheese and arrogance? Obviously, I’m not at liberty to answer that sort of question.

But one more thing I can tell you is this: While milady speaks the native language fluently, my own French — to put it lightly, and probably also wrongly — is pas bien. As a result, I don’t do a lot of the old “talking” here. Mostly I spend my time indoors, imbibing all manner of fermented beverage, and pruning my awesome fantasy basketball team so’s to make it even awesomer. (Actually, I should add: I also try to read L’equipe, a real-live sporting daily that, despite being a little light on quantitative analysis, appears to be a legitimately awesome paper.)

So, like I say, I don’t parle the Francais real great. Still, one thing I know for sure how to say — perhaps the first phrase I ever learned — is Je deteste voyager en hiver. For those of you following along at home, that means (en anglais), “I hate to travel in winter.” I don’t know why or how I learned such a thing, but I’m glad I did, on account of I actually do hate traveling in winter. And not just that, but there are like thirty other things I hate to do in winter — things like going outdoors and paying the gas bill and also just being awake. Cold = my worst nightmare.

As much as that might be the case, I’m quite sure the reader didn’t come here to get bummed the frig out by Carson Cistulli. Which, that’s why I’m proud to announce that there are also a number of winter activities I enjoy — activities like drinking hot toddies and drinking mulled wine and drinking hot cider.

Oh, and also sorting statistical leaderboards like a mother.

One such leaderboard to which I’m particularly looking forward is the wRC+ one. When FanGraphs Overlord David Appelman adds it to these electronic pages, I can tell you right now that I’m gonna sort the crap out of it.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about is how today I was sorting through the tRA* leaderboard — that is, regressed tRA — over at our own Matthew Carruth’s StatCorner.

If you sort tRA* for the starting pitchers who recorded at least 150 xOuts — that is, expected outs based on the tRA outcomes — you get a lot of the usual suspects. For example, here are the top 10 finishers in tRA*, compiled in an embarrassingly sophisticated table (with tRA, so you can see the difference):

Last First tRA tRA*
Lincecum Tim 2.52 3.31
Carpenter Chris 2.77 3.45
Greinke Zack 2.35 3.48
Vazquez Javier 3.19 3.60
Haren Dan 3.25 3.67
Kuroda Hiroki 3.34 3.71
Pineiro Joel 3.42 3.74
Hernandez Felix 3.28 3.79
Jimenez Ubaldo 3.33 3.81
Wainwright Adam 3.47 3.82

There are no real surprises here, except maybe the fact that Greinke is third and not first. Having said that, among starters with at least 50 IP, xFIP has him at sixth overall — largely due to an inflated strand rate (79.3%, the highest among the top 10 xFIP-ers) and very friendly HR/FB rate (4.5%, about half his career figure of 8.7%). Still, third versus first or sixth isn’t exactly crazy city.

No, in fact there are no real surprises on this list until we get down to numbers 44 and 45, where we find Messrs Gio Gonzalez and Felipe Paulino, respectively. Regard:

Last First tRA tRA*
Gonzalez Gio 4.62 4.42
Paulino Felipe 4.63 4.42

Of course, in and of itself, that’s not unbelievable, but consider two of the other pitchers that the duo beats out (place/tRA/tRA*): the very topical John Lackey (46th/4.07/4.44) and equally topical Cliff Lee (52nd/3.72/4.50). Now, this is not to say that Gonzalez and Paulino are definitively better than either Lackey or Lee. That would be irresponsible, obviously. But it’s interesting to note that two pitchers who are widely regarded to have had disappointing seasons (Gonzalez and Paulino) finished around two other, highly sought-after veterans.

So, what’s the deal with these guys? Let’s take a look.

You probably know a little about Gio Gonzalez, and if you don’t, then RotoGraphs’ David Golebiewski can fill in the friggin blanks. The basic facts are (a) he’s a lefty with velocity, (b) he’s been traded three times already, and (c) he’s got nasty, if mercurial, stuff. Even knowing that Gonzalez has such nasty stuff, I was a little surprised to see he’d struck out 109 in only 98.2 IP. Granted, owing to his control problems, some of those are loooonng innings, but still, a strikeout is a strikeout.

In 2009, Gonzalez made 20 appearances, 17 of which were starts. He finished with a 6-7 record, 5.75 ERA, and 14 HR-allowed in just a hair under 100 IP. In short, he wasn’t exactly in line for Cy Young honors. But, as you might guess given his tRA numbers, he was the victim of Outrageous Fortune. The 13.9% HR/FB rate isn’t a huge departure from league average, nor the 67.8% LOB-rate, but together they’re significant enough to affect the bottom line. Combine that with a .369 BABIP and there’s reason to believe that Gonzalez could be better than some of his numbers indicate. Interestingly, Gonzalez only allowed BABIPs of .300, .308, and .300 in this three most recent stints in the minor leagues, where BABIPs are generally higher. Gonzalez acquits himself well in xFIP, too, finishing 35th among 183 starters with 50+ IP with a 3.85 mark.

For me, Paulino was almost a non-entity during the season. A 3-11 record, 6.27 ERA, and 20 HR-allowed across 20 appearances (17 starts, 97.2 IP) will do that for a guy. Probably playing for the Astros isn’t so great, either. In the final analysis, he looks like a young-ish (26-year-old) pitcher finding his way back after missing an entire year due to injury. And yes, that’s what he was to a certain extent: Paulino missed all of 2008 with a veritable mélange (that’s right, I said “mélange”) of injuries. But there are some things for which injury can’t account. For one, he had a .368 BABIP-against. For two, he had a slightly below-average strand rate of 67.6%. And finally, for three, Paulino got punished on fly balls, as exhibited by his 16.9% HR/FB rate.

That said, all other systems appear to be a go for the young Dominican, as R.J. Anderson noted around the end of the season. He (i.e. Paulino, not R.J.) featured a fastball that averaged 95.4 mph, struck out 8.57 per nine, and — unlike Gonzalez — kept the walks in check with a 3.41 BB/9. Paulino does well by xFIP’s standards, as well, finishing 43rd out of 183 starters with 50+ IP, with a 3.97 mark.

How well do you think Gonzalez and Paulino will perform in 2010? Enter your Fan Projection here.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

21 Responses to “I Hate to Travel in Winter: On Gio Gonzalez and Felipe Paulino”

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  1. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Kudos on a great read Monsieur Cistulli. What might be some reasons why the commonly high-thought-of Lackey and Lee were not so highly ranked by tRA*?

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  2. Adam Reynolds says:

    The duo beat out Cliff Lee’s 22 Indians starts, but not his 12 Phillies appearances.

    Gio is quite good. His stuff is great enough to make him a clear breakout candidate in ’10.

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      Cliff Lee has had a ridiculously low HR/FB rate for two years running. I’d expect him to continue to outpitch his tRA*, but probably not by as much.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    You’re in France, with your lady … and you’re scouring baseball stats leaderboards?

    Wow, just wow. *big grin*

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  4. Kampfer says:

    Why is no one surprise to see Kuroda on this list…
    Is it just me who don’t know Kuroda the Great?

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  5. Ewan says:

    I went to Aix-en-Provence in the summer! Very scenic area of France. How random.

    Nice article btw

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  6. Ken Arneson says:


    Je veux dire que Gio has great stuff. He’s just a wee bit, shall we say, emotional. Something goes wrong, and then he gets visibly upset, and then he starts–*gasp*–consciously thinking about how things are going wrong, and a little misfortune blows up into a big misfortune.

    That is to say, because he loses his cool too easily, the hits and walks he gives up aren’t as randomly distributed as the average player. He had a number of really, really bad innings.

    That’s probably something he can learn to control with experience. I expect his ERA to start resembling his peripheral stats more and more as he gets older and wiser, and those six-run innings become two- or three-run innings.

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    • Danny says:

      “That is to say, because he loses his cool too easily, the hits and walks he gives up aren’t as randomly distributed as the average player. ”


      That’s a common knock against Gio, but the numbers don’t really support it (at least not this year). Gio’s major league ERC in 2009 was even higher than his ERA, which suggests that distribution of hits and walks wasn’t really a problem for him. Further, his splits show that he was at his best with RISP. He also pitched much better in high and medium leverage situations than in low leverage situations.

      His AAA splits from 2009 also run contrary to the idea that he’s a headcase who loses it when guys get on. He had a 5.07 FIP and .295 BABIP with the bases empty, a 3.05 FIP and .234 BABIP with runners on, and a 2.83 FIP and .233 BABIP with RISP.

      His AAA splits from 2008 show the complete opposite trend, as he got beat up pretty badly with men on base.

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      • BX says:

        Could the AAA 2009 splits have something to do with a smaller sample size…

        Just my wild guess at explaining the phenom.

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      • Danny says:

        Sure, I’m not saying his splits prove anything one way or another. I’m just saying there doesn’t seem to be any evidence–at least in 2009–that Gio’s a headcase who loses it when things start to go badly. If anything, his 2009 splits suggest the opposite.

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  7. radiohix says:

    A ma connaissance il ne couvrent pas les nouvelles du baseball dans le journal L’Équipe!

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  8. AthleticsBraves says:

    So is tRA* vs. tRA like xFIP vs. FIP? It is just more of a future predictor than the picthers actual results?

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    • Michael says:

      They are significantly different beasts, but they both involve regression. xFIP only regresses HR/FB to the mean, and regresses it 100%. tRA* has a more complicated set of regressions, and it regresses all components to the league mean. I believe xFIP regresses to 11% HR/FB all the time, whereas tRA* regresses to a league mean for that season alone.

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  9. Patrick says:

    Salut Carson,

    J’espere que vous passiez un bon sejour en France… Je suis jaloux, moi. J’ai passe pas mal de temps la-bas et la France me manque beaucoup.

    L’Equipe c’est pas mal – Ils ont tres bon site internet aussi, mais il faut aimer le foot ou le rugby, ou peut-etre le tennis… Ou le F1. En grand, il faut aimer autre chose que le baseball, parce que le baseball? Le baseball n’existe carrement pas en France. C’est triste.

    J’aime bien vos articles, mais quittez l’internet, amusez-vous avec votre femme, et rejouisiez-vous de bon temps qu’il fait la bas (certainement).

    Du vin, du fromage, les jollies francaises, et le joli temps qu’il fait. Je suis encore jaloux!

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  10. CJ says:

    As an Astros’ fan, I have been very positive on Felipe Paulino’s chances to break out as a good young starter. He will be given the opportunity to become a regular in the Astros’ rotation next year. Paulino was jerked around by his manager (Cooper) last year, and that may have affected his transition into the majors. After a stint of good starting performances, Paulino was moved to the bullpen so that Cooper could insert an older mediocre veteran pitcher in his spot. Paulino, who had never come out of the bullpen in his minor league career, struggled as a relief pitcher. You will note a significantly worse result for his relief work, compared to his starting work. Paulino was eventually jerked back and forth between the rotation, the bullpen, and AAA. However, he ended up the season starting again and put up some decent performances. With a new manager and a commitment to giving him a good shot at the rotation, I think there is reason for optimism with Paulino.

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  11. Dan Budreika says:

    Anyone find it odd that tRA* expects “regression” on each top 10 tRA pitcher that was listed in the table?

    I guess that’s why Paulino and Gio are so special because tRA* didn’t show up over their actual tRA…

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  12. Patrick says:

    Dan, not at all…

    That’s the idea of tRA – It’s got a built in regression (See StatCorner: http://www.statcorner.com/glossary.html).

    The idea of that is that any performance has an element of luck in it, and we should assume the pitcher’s “true talent” (our best guess of what “should’ve done”/should do in the future, excluding again) is closer to average than it showed, whether it was really good or really bad.

    This is just a basic element of baseball statistics, and regressing to the leauge mean is something that gives better predictive results. Not always and everywhere, but done appropritely, it improves the overall quality of predictions… Which causes us to believe that it’s giving a better estimate of true talent.

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  13. Patrick says:

    Sorry, where it says “is closer to average than it showed” should read “is closer to average than their performance in a given year suggests”

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  14. Patrick says:

    One other thought, look at it another way:

    A pitcher has an absolutely amazing season. Take Zach Greinke for example.

    Is he more likely to have a better season or a worse one next year?
    A worse one, of course. Probably still really good – and he might be better yet – but it seems unlikely. He went a number of starts in a row without giving up an earned run, and a longer stretch still without giving up a home run. That’s not something that is at all likely to happen again, however good Zach is.

    And a pitcher who has a disaster of a season but is still considered good enough to stick in the major leagues… Is he more likely to be better or worse next season? Well, assuming he’s not ancient or injured, we figure next year will be at least a bit better.

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  15. saltybiscuits says:

    Anyone else see Kuroda come in at #6 in this tRA ranking? Anyone care to shed light into this? Seems the most puzzling placement of them all.

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