Jamie Moyer Is Not Pitching Well

Yesterday, Corey Seidman (no relation to Baseball Prospectus writer Eric Seidman…oh wait, yes there is. They’re brothers) and I were discussing Jamie Moyer over Twitter. Needless to say, just about everybody loves Moyer:

“I don’t know about other people, but I know I’m amazed at what he can do,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “That shows his love, his passion and his desire for the game. I don’t mind giving Jamie Moyer the ball, because I know he’s gonna give you everything he’s got when he goes out there.”

“He’s a great pitcher. That’s the best way to put it,” Jeter said. “Whether you’re throwing 95 [mph] or 65 [mph], there’s still an art to hitting your spots, and he’s mastered it as good as anyone.”

I wanted to take a look at Moyer to discuss some deeper things:

2010: 5.19 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 4.13 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 4.40 xFIP, 4.26 tERA, 1.0 WAR

So, is Jamie Moyer pitching well this year? There’s no question that his walks are way down, which is a huge asset for a guy that does not strike many people out. His ERA is okay, his FIP is mediocre, and his xFIP is solid. But why hasn’t Moyer declined after aging another year (insert “Jamie Moyer is so old that…” joke here) and posting a 5.08 FIP last year? Maybe because of his insanely low BABIP. Hitters are reaching on hits on just 24.4% (.244 BABIP) of the balls put in play against Moyer this year, which is due to regress any minute now.

Many people will say that Moyer is producing a lower BABIP because he is giving up fewer line drives:

2010: 14.3 LD%, 45.9 GB%, 39.8 FB%
2009: 19.0 LD%, 41.0 GB%, 39.9 FB%
Career: 19.9 LD%, 39.7 GB%, 40.4 GB%

So Moyer is giving up fewer drives, which means he’s pitching better, right? No, not really:

I would make another bold prediction at this point, except for one caveat. We really don’t know how persistent the ability is among major league pitchers to manage the number of line drives allowed. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen would indicate that, once a major league pitcher reaches the major leagues, his line drive-stopping capability is pretty much the same as every other pitcher’s.

In other words, the line drive is usually a result of the batter’s skill, and not a lack of the pitcher’s.

That was Dave Studeman in a piece at The Hardball Times from 2005. Here’s Tom Tango:

…MGL, in his fantastic DIPS Primer article from 7 years ago showed the correlation in two things:
(i) frequency of LD per BIP among MLB pitchers, and the r was low, something like r=.05

(ii) the rate of outs per LD, and the r was quite high, something like r=.35; getting r=.35 on a low frequency denominator like LD is fantastic.

So, you can look at half the equation and say “little skill in frequency of line drives”, and ok, let’s accept that with some provisions. But, the other half, the quality of each line drive shows a definite skill. And that you can’t ignore.

We don’t believe an Albert Pujols line drive is the same as a Juan Pierre line drive. While not to that extent, we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that pitchers have their own quality level on line drives.

So while the quality of line drives can be measured, I agree with the findings of Tango, Studeman, and some others (I think Matt Swartz at BP comes to mind), that the rate at which they occur is pretty random.

If Jamie Moyer is an old dog learning new tricks, then he’s bucking the trend. I think he’s just getting lucky with his line drive rate, and I think you’re going to see him get beat up soon.




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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat


44 Responses to “Jamie Moyer Is Not Pitching Well”

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  1. AB says:

    Tufts sucks

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  2. don says:

    He’s not getting that lucky. The difference between his XFIP and ERA (not counting yesterday) is 0.27. I doubt that’s in the top 25 among starters. His BABIP is really low, but his strand rate is pretty low too, which is offsetting. I doubt at this point in his career Moyer has forgotten how to pitch from the stretch.

    Although his BABIP last night was still low. DINGERS got him.

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  3. bikozu says:

    LD rate isn’t part of the FIP/xFIP equation, why would a higher line-drive rate mean he’ll get “beat up” soon? His LOB% is as unlucky as his LD rate anyway, at 65.4%…
    And seriously, out of all the possible pitchers to predict to regress you pick the guy with an ERA slightly HIGHER than his xFIP? Sorry, just not seeing the point of this article… He’s pitching well for a guy who is 48 in three months, and he’s slightly below average as a major league starter. That’s pretty incredible, and to say he’s “not pitching well” is just wrong. Yeah, he’s been lucky with balls in play, but he’s been equally unlucky with men on and allowing homeruns.

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    • Chico says:

      It would make more sense if he were pitching to a ~2 ERA with a mid-4’s FIP and xFIP, but hes not. So I agree, I don’t understand the point of this article at all. Jeff Niemann might have been better target……

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  4. Thomas says:

    this seems poorly put together. Of course he’s pitching well. He deserves a major league rotation spot.

    I don’t see the point in pouncing on a guy with a 4.13 ERA saying he’s getting slightly lucky. Everyone already knows what Jamier Moyer is.

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  5. Bill says:

    I don’t quite get it. So the low BABIP is luck but the low LOB% and HR/9 are not?

    Not to get all “watch the games” on you or anything, but Moyer has been very inconsistent this season. He’s allowed 2 or fewer runs in 9 of his starts this year, and 4 or more runs in 8 starts. It’s a strange thing – he’s either been remarkably successful given who he is, or been pretty much pounded.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      The low LOB% is mitigating, I agree, but the .244 BABIP is way worse. His xFIP has been better than his FIP in every year but one as a Phillie because he constantly is giving up a HR/FB rate higher than the MLB average. At this point of his career I’d consider it more a matter of “skill” than “luck” (although some of each is surely involved).

      All I am saying is that I think he’s due for regression from even his mediocre performance (0.7 WAR on the season). I think he’s going to get beat up in a few of his upcoming starts (and it started last night, and as you can tell I wrote this article before he got shelled).

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      • don says:

        Someone isn’t “due to get beat up”. Regression doesn’t work that way.

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      • Pat Andriola says:

        don, I understand that it’s a logical fallacy to believe that just because someone has gotten lucky that does not indicate that there has to be some evening out, and that the future odds are completely independent about what actually transpired before. This is Stats 101.

        When I say “beat up,” I mean what will happen when he begins to pitch like I believe his true level indicates, which is about a 5.00 FIP, and when you combine that with a small ballpark, bad things can happen.

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      • don says:

        Of course you also know the small ballpark is already taken in to account in FIP since FIP doesn’t regress HR rates. So if Moyer has a 5.0 ERA & FIP going forward rather than 4-4.5, sure, I don’t think that would surprise too many people. That’s one extra run every 2-3 starts. I guess you can call that getting beat up if you want.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      One more thing:

      The main point of the piece was not to beat up on Moyer, but to talk a little about the ability of a pitcher to control their LD%.

      One of the main reasons I think Moyer is going to suffer is because his LD% is going to regress. If he can only put up these numbers with a LD% rate of 14.3%, then I think he’ll do much worse when that numbers approaches his career rate of ~20%.

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    • Not David says:

      His HR rate is about right where you’d expect it to be.

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  6. MikeS says:

    Jamie Moyer must continue to pitch well enough that he is not tempted to retire. As long as there is one major leaguer older than me, I am not old.

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  7. PhillyFriar says:

    Agreed on everything… except the title. Kind of harsh, no?

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      I guess I go for to-the-point titles, but as a Mets fan and someone who hasn’t made tens of millions of dollars, I won’t lose sleep over possibly insulting Moyer :)

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      • PhillyFriar says:

        Ahhh a Mets fan, I thought I’d smelled something. ;)

        I’ll admit I get my back up about Moyer a bit, as he’s one of my all-time favorite players. In the interest of fairness, I just like to acknowledge what he is: a guy who’s still chugging along as a dependable #4-type starter. By that definition, I’d say he’s pitching just fine, but I suppose it’s all semantics.

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      • JamesDaBear says:

        Maybe you should… because rivalries aside, Moyer is one of the true good guys in all of professional sports… might be in the Hall of Fame of good guys. And whether or not he’ll get beat up, it’s not like he’d be the worst starter in baseball. He’d do much better to move to a team with a pitcher-friendly park such as San Diego (or even back to Seattle). If he still wants to pitch, there should still be a job for him somewhere in a MLB rotation.

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  8. Rondo says:

    Pat, any chance at the top of every article you write could you please note that you are a Mets homer and you take any and every chance to talk shit about any of the other NL east teams? I’m sure most of us have realized this at this point given the rest of the drivel you’ve written but there is a chance some new kid comes to the site and starts reading your stuff. Either that or start writing about a different division so your biases don’t overshadow your points. You probably could have picked a number of starters for this article, instead you took pot shots at a guy you don’t like.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Rondo, I apologize if I’ve gotten under your skin, but I only chose to write about Moyer because he was the topic of discussion between Corey Seidman and me and it’s what got me thinking about LD%, which is what I hoped would be the main point of the article.

      I actually do like Jamie Moyer as a ballplayer. Everything I write about baseball I try to be as objective and analytic as possible. If you could show me where my bias has come up specifically in terms of faulty facts or anything, please call me out on it.

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  9. Brian J. says:

    Hitters are reaching on hits on just 24.4% (.244 BABIP) of the balls put in play against Moyer this year, which is due to regress any minute now (edit: it regressed last night when the Braves trounced Moyer).

    Really? Hate to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Pat, but Braves hitters were 4-for-17 (.235) on BIP last night. Not much regression there! Unless, of course, the mean is somewhere around the Mendoza line.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Brian, thanks for that! I saw the stat line and assumed BABIP must’ve been up, but incredibly it was lower for the game. I’ll fix it. Thanks!

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    • PhillyFriar says:

      On the other hand, 3 of 12 fly balls left the yard last night (25%). And while his BABIP is still unsustainably low (.244), his other “luck” statistics are trending the other way: HR/FB (12.6%); and LOB (65.4%).

      All in all, I’m seeing a guy whose current ERA (4.51) is right in line with his xFIP (4.46) and tERA (4.53).

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      • PhillyFriar says:

        Whoops, missed that discussion above. My bad.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Curt Schilling was very successful despite giving up a lot of solo home runs.

        The two homers to Prado were of the solo variety.

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      • Franco says:

        Re Circle,
        The beauty of Schilling never walking anyone. If he fell behind, here’s a high fastball at 96 MPH.. have fun.

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  10. TheUnrepentantGunner says:

    As an (admitted) Phillies fan, i wanted to poke holes in this, especially because something Dave and I can both agree on is that Jamie Moyer is extremely easy to root for, etc etc.

    However the premise is solid, until you look at the numbers. My gut tells me Pat is right, but at some point you wonder if it isnt something more.

    Jamie Moyer has faced 350 batters this year that didnt strikeout/walk by my very crude calculations (and i might have done this wrong but the point shall remain the same).

    He has conveniently allowed exactly 50 line drives, for his current LD rate. His liftetime LD% rate is 20% (ok 19.9 but im rounding up here!)

    So he should be expected to yield 70 line drives. but he yielded 50.

    So how lucky is he?

    Well you study math at Tufts, and Tufts doesn’t exactly suck like the unfortunate first commenter pointed out.

    So lets calculate the standard deviation.

    .2 * .8 * 350 = 56. Standard deviation of that is 7.5

    95% confidence interval (which includes everything that isnt a 40-1 outlier on either side) = 55=85 line drives.

    Jamie is almost 3 full sigmas away. You know the odds of that are nearing the point of being too slim to be random chance. Maybe he altered his approach again. Maybe he hasn’t, but i wouldnt bet on a something over a big enough sample size that is 2.7 standard deviations away being just luck. There rapidly becomes a number where it’s too big to be lucky. Maybe 2.7 isnt that number, and i dont know exactly where it is, but I feel comfortable saying the number is less than 4.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Thanks for the research, and although I love math, I don’t study it at Tufts (history major represent).

      However, I find it hard to believe that in a 350 BiP sample size a difference of Expectived LD- Actual LD of 20 would indicate a change in skill rather than luck, especially when you look at the LD% leaderboards and see that it has many pitchers who seem to just be giving up less line drives despite career normal rates (CC, Hudson, etc). Maybe someone with better math skills than I can crunch the numbers.

      But anyway, I’d go Occam’s Razor on this one and say it’s luck before skill, but that it could possibly be a combination.

      Fortunately for us, we’ll see!

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    • Mark says:

      The binomial analysis is nice, Unrepentant One, but also consider the multiple comparisons issue here. There are ~330 pitchers at any time in the majors. If we look at all of their LD rates, one or two of them are bound to be that out of whack just by random chance (I’m back-of-the-napkinning here as I don’t have any tables handy, but I imagine 2.7 gives a p-value on the order of .003 or less). Maybe Moyer is that guy.

      Even if you accept that LD prevention is a possible skill (in debate still it seems), what could you possibly learn at age 47 that escaped you during the first 20-some years of your career? I.e., is there a putative mechanism here for the underlying phenomenon?

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      • TheUnrepentantGunner says:

        Mark, these are fair points… I think we can agree he could be the 1/280, and that his age might preclude him from changing his approach. However Jamie is very much a thinking man’s pitcher, and its quite possible he adapted. The next step would be to take a look at all pitchers over 1000 innings that have career ld rates, and see how many are outliers from their rate.

        Pat: i think you missed the point. I just crunched the #’s!

        350 at bats with an expected line drive rate of 20% means that 95% of the time a pitcher should be within 15 line drives of their rate, and the odds of being an outlier on either side of the equation are 2.5% (2.5% for below, 2.5% for above, 95% for in the middle).

        Jamie is almost a 3rd full standard devation away. The odds that it is “just luck* is .35%, or about 1/280

        Mark’s raising valid questions. You…. not so much.

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  11. phillies07_08 says:

    Moyer didn’t pitch well last year because he was HURT. Not many people can be pitching this good at age 47. He is pitching extremely well this year. He keeps his team in the game and with the Phillies offense which is suppose to be good, he is perfect for this team.

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    • ykw says:

      “[E]xtremely well”? He’s certainly performing well enough to take the mound every fifth day for just about any team in baseball (leaving the whys and wherefores to other comments in this post), but his performance is at a level that’s at or slightly below the average ML starter. (Aggregate numbers for starters on middle-tier [#s 11-20] ML teams’ xFiP range from 4.24 to 4.48; Moyer slots in here with his 4.46.)

      He’s hardly awful, and certainly doesn’t merit being described as “[n]ot [p]itching [w]ell”, but neither is he exactly Leake or Strasburg.

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  12. bvillebaron says:

    There is another reason why Moyer continues to be successful: he won’t throw a strike unless he absolutely has to. Most nights, the umpires let him get away with it. When they don’t; it is batting practice city.

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    • Franco says:

      I remember the washed up Glavine days on the Mets. It really seemed like good/bad Glavine depended on the ump’s borderline strike calls.

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  13. Godfather says:

    Pat,

    Everytime i read your articles three questions come to the forefront of my brain.

    1. Did you really graduate Tufts?
    2. Did Pat A put this article together in a mere twenty minutes just so I could see Pat is contributing to fan graphs today?
    3. Did I, ol’ Godfather, learn anything today from Pat?

    A: 1.Yes? 2. Possibly 3.No.

    Pat,

    I’m really not trying to hate on you because its admireable how much you really do contribute to the Fangraphs journo. If there were more pats in the world I would simply read your posts all day instead of working. My real point is when I read most other authors posts, it seems they really went deep into their work, like a prime-denzel. I WANT TO SEE THAT FROM PAT. THATS ALL.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Haha I’ll take that comment in good stride, Godfather. I am admittedly rushed this week because I have the GMAT coming up tomorrow (I am a rising college senior, so I actually haven’t graduated yet).

      I appreciate the criticism and will keep it in mind. Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Bobby Mueller says:

    As others have mentioned, Jeff Niemann would have been a better example for this topic. His ERA (2.65) is much lower than his FIP (4.32) and xFIP (4.32), and he has a very low LD% (14.7%). Plus, he’s not 47 years old, so it wouldn’t seem like your picking on a senior citizen. :-)

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  15. Marley says:

    Awful title.

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