Archive for November, 2008

Like Father Like Son

Pittsburgh Pirates’ and Houston Astros’ right-hander Doug Drabek was one of the better National League pitchers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In total, he won 155 games over the span of 13 seasons, which also included two seasons in the American League with Chicago and Baltimore. He won the 1990 National League Cy Young award after going 22-6.

Doug and his wife celebrated the beginning of his second season in the Majors by conceiving son Kyle Drabek in the spring of 1987. He was born on Dec. 8 of that year. Eighteen years later, he was selected 18th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2006 amateur draft out of a Texas high school (Father Doug was selected by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the 1983 draft out of the University of Houston, after turning Cleveland down in the fourth round out of high school).

Doug spent just over three seasons in the minors before making his pro debut. Kyle, three years younger when he made his pro debut, has already spent three seasons in the minors but he missed part of 2007 and most of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has looked impressive upon his return.

Kyle allowed just 17 hits in 32.1 innings of work and posted rates of 2.66 BB/9 and 4.43 K/9 in four starts in Short Season ball (He also made four starts in Rookie Ball) this past season. The strikeouts are down, but he allowed just one home run in the 32.1 innings. Needing more work, the Phillies organization sent Kyle to the Hawaii Winter Baseball league after the World Series concluded. There, facing many players older and more advanced than him, Kyle allowed just eight hits in 20.2 innings. He walked four and struck out 19 batters. The right-hander also followed his season trend of inducing almost two ground ball outs for every fly ball out.

Kyle certainly has the stuff to succeed. Prior to the surgery, he was touching 97 mph with his fastball and his out-pitch was a wicked curveball. He is also working to develop a reliable change-up as his third pitch. With his combination of an electric repertoire, a heavy ball and a lifetime around the game, Kyle is well on his way to making his own name in Major League Baseball – perhaps as soon as 2010.


Top Pitching WPA Games, 2000-2008

Much has been discussed over the last few days regarding the lists I have brought forth involving single-game WPAs exceeding 1.0, as well as the top performances of the year via the same win probability metric. I wanted to clear something up: just because Jon Lester’s and Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitters do not show up in the top ten, does not mean that these games were inferior to those on the list. To truly determine which games were the best, something as simple as the Game Score would be just fine. The point of the previous posts, though, was to show interesting occurrences of WPA and which performances in 2008 added the most wins to a team.

Some great points evolved in the comments thread of the two-part series evaluating the top ten pitching WPA performances of the season. It is very difficult for a pitcher to post a single-game WPA above 1.0, counting only pitching, unless he manages to log 12+ innings. As we saw last night, of the 13 pitchers to accrue a WPA above 1.0 since 1974, only two featured pitchers logging under 8.2 innings. In fact, one threw 10.2, two threw 11, and five threw 13!

Mark Mulder’s 2005 game was mentioned in the thread as well; in that game, Mulder tossed a 10-inning complete game shutout. He only managed to amass a 0.832 WPA, leading us to wonder which pitchers have come closest in recent history. Was Mulder the closest? Below are the top ten WPA performances from 2000-2008:

Roy Halladay    9/6/03   10 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB,  5 K   0.936 WPA
AJ Burnett      6/26/05   9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB,  7 K   0.904 WPA
Jason Schmidt   5/18/04   9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 K   0.856 WPA
Brad Penny      4/4/02    9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB,  3 K   0.834 WPA
Al Leiter       4/18/02   9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB,  8 K   0.834 WPA
Johan Santana   8/12/05   9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB,  9 K   0.834 WPA
Mark Mulder     4/23/05  10 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB,  5 K   0.832 WPA
Steve Trachsel  5/6/00    9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K   0.818 WPA
Brad Radke      9/17/00   9 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 1 BB,  4 K   0.815 WPA
Curt Schilling  6/7/07    9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB,  4 K   0.811 WPA

All of these were complete-game shutouts, with Schilling and Schmidt coming within pitches of a no-hitter. Schilling’s game was the one during which he shook off Jason Varitek before surrendering his lone hit at the end of the game. Mulder’s 2005 game may be the most recent wherein a pitcher logged ten or more innings while shutting the opponent out, but Halladay did the same thing two years earlier, earning about a full tenth of a win more than Mulder.

What happens when we incorporate the Game Score? Looking at the top game scores from 2000-2008, Schmidt’s performance in 2004 ranked ninth, with a 97 GSC, and Halladay’s 2003 performance ranked 97th. None of the others in the top ten via WPA finished amongst the top 100 game scores this decade. When evaluating single-game performances, the game score is likely the best way to do so, or at least the WPA/LI, but it is nevertheless interesting to see which games brought with them the most added wins to a team.


Pitching WPA > 1.0, 1974-2008

This morning, we took a lot at a good portion of the 38 instances since 1974 during which a hitter amassed a WPA total exceeding one full win in a single game. While 38 might not seem like a whole heck of a lot of instances, it is nearly three times the amount of like-games for pitchers. Since 1974, which I will forevermore refer to as “the Fangraphs era,” only 13 pitchers have been able to add one or more wins to their team in one game. Interestingly enough, all 13 of these games occurred 1974 and 1986, meaning nobody has done so in over twenty seasons.

Seven of the pitchers to accomplish this rare feat were starters, meaning the remaining six did so out of the bullpen. Even though the starter/reliever designation was virtually split amongst this group, the least amount of innings pitched is 6.1, and five pitchers threw 13-inning complete games. Now it might make more sense as to why nobody has been able to do this since 1986, with pitchers rarely even reaching the 7-inning mark these days. Here are the relief outings:

Juan Agosto    5/18/84     7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K  1.01 WPA
Gary Serum     9/17/77   6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K  1.05 WPA
Claude Osteen  9/11/74   9.1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K  1.14 WPA
Dave Tobik     6/9/82    8.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K  1.17 WPA
Len Barker     9/17/77   9.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K  1.17 WPA
Dick Tidrow    8/25/76  10.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K  1.27 WPA

In case you have not noticed, Serum and Barker managed to be worth more than one win on the same exact day; while only thirteen pitchers have done this over the last 30+ years, two did so at the same time. And the starters:

Wilbur Wood     5/7/74   11 IP,  2 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 10 K  1.03 WPA   
Bert Blyleven   8/27/75  11 IP,  6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 K  1.05 WPA
Jim Colborn     9/27/74  13 IP,  8 H, 0 ER, 6 BB,  9 K  1.05 WPA
Frank Tanana    9/22/75  13 IP,  6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 13 K  1.13 WPA
Charlie Hough   6/11/86  13 IP,  8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB,  7 K  1.14 WPA
Dave Freisleben 8/4/74   13 IP,  8 H, 0 ER, 3 BB,  7 K  1.15 WPA
Tommy John      9/14/83  13 IP, 13 H, 0 ER, 0 BB,  6 K  1.22 WPA

I think it is pretty safe to say that no starting pitcher, in a game started, will ever reach wins added levels seen above. Hough’s game was the most recent, and it occured over 22 years ago, in the only game listed in this article to involve earned runs allowed. It has been much easier, historically, for a pitcher to record a single-game WPA of -1.0 or below than the inverse, and I see no reason to think this trend will change.

Using the Bill James Game Score, Tanana’s game earned a 105, the second best in the span of 1974-1986. Wood comes in at #6, with Blyleven at #13, and Freisleben at #26. Nobody else fell in the top thirty, leading me to the conclusion that WPA may be interesting to use in terms of seeing how many wins a pitcher added in an individual game, but actually rating the games should be left to the WPA/LI, perhaps, or the Game Score.


Tommy Hanson Will Help Atlanta in 2009

It wasn’t long ago that the Atlanta Braves organization had the best pitching in baseball, with a staff that included John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, among other talent hurlers. The starting rotation, to a degree, has fallen into disarray in recent seasons.

But help is on the way.

Right-hander Tommy Hanson was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft out of Riverside Community College. He signed as a draft-and-follow (a now extinct process) prior to the 2006 season and made his pro debut that same year in a Rookie Ball league. He then spent 2007 split between two A-ball affiliates.

Hanson entered 2008 in the rotation for the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He allowed just 15 hits in 40 innings, over seven starts. He walked 11 batters (2.48 BB/9) and fanned 49 (11.03 K/9). Atlanta then promoted the talented hurler to face more challenging situations in Double-A. He allowed 70 hits in 98 innings. Hanson’s control wavered a bit and he posted rates of 3.77, with 10.47 strikeouts per nine innings. One obvious downside to his 2008 numbers was the fact that he was an extreme flyball pitcher and had just a 32 GB% during his first stop of the season and 41 GB% in Double-A.

Although he was not quite as dominating in Double-A overall, Hanson showed he was on the cusp of helping the big league club. Sensing that, the organization sent Hanson to get some extra work in the Arizona Fall League – which pits some of the best prospects in baseball against one another for more than a month. Players also receive extra instruction and drills to help further develop their skills. Hanson decided to make his fellow prospects look foolish.

In seven starts, he allowed 10 hits in 28.2 innings. Hanson struck out 49 batters and allowed just seven free passes. He was also lit up for just one home run. Right-handed batters hit .090 against him, while lefties managed just a .143 average. With runners in scoring position, Hanson held batters to a .067 average and struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced.

The Atlanta Braves’ 2009 starting rotation currently features only two pitchers guaranteed of roles: Jair Jurrjens and Jorge Campillo. As a result, Hanson has a legitimate shot at breaking camp with the club in April, although a little more development time in Triple-A certainly would not hurt. Either way, as long as he stays healthy, Hanson should make his Major League debut in 2009.


Batting WPA > 1.0: 1990-2008

In case anybody out there has failed to notice, I have been particularly obsessed this month with WPA and interesting situations involving the metric. We have explored the ten best offensive plays of the season via shifts in win expectancy, the ten best pitching performances via single-game WPA, as well as instances when hitters and pitchers either exceed +1.0 WPA, or fall below -1.0, in a game. When discussing hitters who have been worth one or more wins in a single game, our focus was on Kurt Suzuki and Cody Ross, both of whom accomplished the rare feat in 2008.

There are, however, 35 other players who have done so at one point in their career, and it just felt natural to share these players and their great games. From 1990-2008, 19 players were so great in a single game that they actually contributed more than one win to their team. First, here are the players from the Y2K era:

6/20/08   Kurt Suzuki      1.002 WPA   4-5, 1B, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI
6/7/08    Cody Ross        1.133 WPA   2-4, 1B, HR, BB, SB, 3 RBI
6/29/07   Mark Loretta     1.002 WPA   2-3, 1B, HR, BB, 2 RBI
9/7/05    Ryan Langerhans  1.115 WPA   3-4, 2 1B, 2B, BB, 3 RBI
6/11/04   Todd Helton      1.071 WPA   4-5, 1B, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI
8/24/03   Brandon Inge     1.032 WPA   3-5, 2 1B, HR, SB, 3 RBI
8/21/00   Brian Daubach    1.273 WPA   3-5, 2 1B, HR, 4 RBI
5/10/00   Midre Cummings   1.023 WPA   1-2, HR, 3 RBI

Not exactly your standard list of all stars, eh? Sure, Cody Ross and Brandon Inge have power, and Mark Loretta has been solid offensively his whole career, but outside of Todd Helton this list is not all that impressive. And yet, these eight hitters put together arguably the top single-game performances of the whole decade. To top things off, Daubach’s game in late August of 2000 was over one-tenth of a win better than the next closest player. Did Brian Daubach really have the best game of the decade?

Now, let’s take a trip back to the 1990s, when Alanis Morisette and Hootie and the Blowfish hogged the radio, South Park began its first season, pogs were popular, and people knew who Jon Nunnally was:

4/8/99    Raul Mondesi     1.055 WPA   4-5, 2 1B, 2 HR, BB, 6 RBI
6/13/98   Travis Lee       1.036 WPA   3-5, 1B, 2 HR, 5 RBI
6/10/98   Dante Bichette   1.074 WPA   4-6, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI
9/10/96   Steve Finley     1.063 WPA   4-5, 2 1B, 2B, HR, SB, 3 RBI
9/2/96    Mike Greenwell   1.029 WPA   4-5, 1B, 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI
8/24/96   Fred McGriff     1.093 WPA   5-5, 2 1B, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI
6/11/94   James Mouton     1.005 WPA   2-4, 2 1B, BB, 2 RBI, 3 SB
8/12/91   Barry Bonds      1.103 WPA   2-4, 2 HR, BB, SB, 4 RBI
5/10/91   Roberto Alomar   1.042 WPA   3-4, 1B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 2 RBI
4/16/91   Dave Henderson   1.082 WPA   5-6, 2 1B, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI
6/23/90   Dwight Evans     1.147 WPA   3-5, 1B, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Okay, so yes, Dante Bichette’s game was a cycle, let’s clear that up first. And, yes, Mike Greenwell knocked in nine runs on that fateful September 1996 day. Fred McGriff is the only player not to be retired. Also, Dwight Evans, whose game actually led all 1990-1999ers, appears to be the least interesting, at least relative to the stats posted next to the WPA. Which brings me to the next point: Evans’ WPA of 1.147 is 0.126 wins, behind Daubach’s 1.273. Did Brian Daubach really have the best game offensively from 1990-2008!?

Via WPA, which counts certain plate appearances as worth more than others, due to the clutchiness factor built in, it appears so: Brian Daubach had the best offensive game relative to shifts in win expectancy over the last nineteen seasons.


Best Pitching Performances #5-#1

This morning, our topic of discussion involved the bottom half of the top ten pitching performances of 2008, as determined by single-game WPA. As mentioned then, no pitcher accrued an individual game WPA above +1.0 this season, but there were still some absolutely fantastic outings. For posterity’s sake, numbers ten through six were:

10) Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Hou:   0.660 WPA, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
9)  Roy Oswalt,     9/6 @ Col:    0.676 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
8)  James Shields,  5/9 vs. LAA:  0.685 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
7)  Jeff Karstens,  8/6 @ Ari:    0.695 WPA, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
6)  Matt Cain,      7/24 vs. Was: 0.707 WPA, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

And here are the top five:

#5: Cliff Lee, 5/12 vs. Toronto
Cliff Lee had a remarkable season. After having to fight for his job in Spring Training, Lee went onto win the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. Without attempting to stir any discussions about Lee/Halladay, his top performance of the year, via WPA, occurred on May 12, against Doc’s team. Lee pitched a complete game shutout, scattering seven hits and two walks over nine innings, striking out five in the process. At the end of the day, Lee was putting the finishing touches on an incredible streak to start the season, earning a 0.715 WPA.

#4: Josh Banks, 5/25 vs. Cincinnati
Jeff Karstens seemed a tad out of place on this list, but at least there are plenty of people who have heard of him. Banks, however, is not well-known, and did not have a very solid 2008 season, yet he somehow managed to harness everything he has into the fourth best performance of the season. For those that do not remember, this 5/25 Padres/Reds game was the one that went 18 innings. Banks pitched six fantastic relief innings, surrendering five hits and no runs to go with two walks and four strikeouts. His work earned him a 0.718 WPA.

#3: Jesse Carlson, 4/16 vs. Texas
Keeping with the theme of relievers earning high WPA marks, Jesse Carlson of the Blue Jays found himself in quite the predicament against the Rangers early in the season. BJ Ryan had blown the save in the ninth inning, and the Rangers were again threatening in the tenth. Brian Wolfe allowed the first three batters to reach base safely, and was lifted in favor of Carlson. Jesse entered into a bases loaded, no outs, situation, and managed to get out of it, recording a “Houdini” in the process. He would pitch two more scoreless innings, limiting the baserunners to one hit and two walks, while striking out four. The Rangers would win the game, but Carlson recorded a 0.721 WPA for his stellar work.

#2: Ben Sheets, 9/6 vs. San Diego
Ben Sheets has always been the guy with the ridiculous “stuff” and potential to be fantastic if he could stay healthy. We got to see a lot of him this year, and he didn’t disappoint, but none of his games were better than the one on September 6. Against the Padres, home at Miller Park, Sheets tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, walking one and fanning seven. His 0.729 WPA for the day placed him second on our list, though quite the distant second behind the best performance of the season.

#1: CC Sabathia, 6/10 vs. Minnesota
How could a list like this not have Sabathia? An eventual teammate of second-place Sheets, Sabathia’s game on June 10 actually occurred before he was sent to Milwaukee. Back when he was a member of the Indians, CC tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, with no walks and five strikeouts. His single-game WPA, the best of any game for a pitcher this year, was 0.775, significantly better than everyone else on this list.

Nobody may have produced single-game WPAs above +1.0, but it is tough to imagine, after seeing these games, what someone would have to do to accomplish such a feat.


A Minor Review of 2008: The Diamondbacks

The Graduate: Max Scherzer | Born: July 1984 | Right-Handed Pitcher

Max Scherzer found much success at the Major League level in 2008, which was made all the more impressive by the fact he held his own regardless of the role assigned to him. He started seven games and also made nine relief appearances. In total, he allowed 48 hits in 56 innings of work. Scherzer posted rates of 3.38 BB/9 and 10.61 K/9, along with a 3.33 FIP. One warning sign with his season, though, is a high line-drive rate at 28.1%. Scherzer certainly has the stuff to have a dominating career, with a fastball that averages 94.2 mph, as well as a slider and change-up.

The Riser: Cesar Valdez | Born: March 1985 | Right-Handed Pitcher

A recent addition to the 40-man roster, Cesar Valdez split the year between High-A ball and Double-A. In total, he used his fringe fastball and excellent secondary pitches (curve and change) to strike out 140 batters in 160.1 innings of work. Valdez’ plus control, though, struggled a bit upon the promotion, as it increased from 1.50 to 3.22 BB/9. His K/BB ratio also dropped from 5.00 to 2.61. The 2009 season will be a big year for Valdez as it will help to determine whether his stuff will play against more advanced hitters.

The Tumbler: Barry Enright | Born: March 1986 | Right-Handed Pitcher

A 2007 second-round draft pick out of college, Barry Enright made his pro debut that same year out of the bullpen and did not allow an earned run over three minor league levels (15 innings). Moved back into the starting rotation in 2008, which is the role he held in college, Enright struggled in High-A ball and allowed 185 hits in 164.1 innings. He posted rates of 1.92 BB/9 and 7.83 K/9. His fastball is in the upper 80s and peaks at 92 mph. His slider is his second best offering and the change-up is lacking. Enright is probably best suited for the bullpen.

The ’08 Draft Pick: Bryan Shaw | Born: November 1987 | Right-Handed Pitcher

The Diamondbacks’ second round selection in 2008, Bryan Shaw had an up-and-down debut. He started his pro career in Rookie ball but struggled by allowing 24 hits in 17.1 innings. Shaw was then promoted to A-ball, where he improved by allowing 18 hits in 22.1 innings. The reliever also walked six and struck out 16. Shaw should begin 2009 in High-A ball, where he could dominate with a mid-90s fastball and wipe-out slider.

The ’09 Sleeper: Evan Frey | Born: June 1986 | Outfielder

The Diamondbacks organization has had a lot of success with developing outfielders and Evan Frey is no different. The speedy outfielder stole 37 bases between two A-ball levels. At High-A ball, Frey hit .297/.395/.402 with an ISO of .105. A left-handed batter, Frey understands the value of getting on base to utilize his speed. He posted rates of 13.9 BB% and 20.1 K%. At the very least, he should be a valuable fourth outfielder at the Major League level.

This concludes the two-month, 30-team review of the 2008 minor league season. Thanks for reading!


Meet the ORPOFWSADs

Every free agent class has positions of strength and weakness. For reasons that are nothing more than cyclical, there’s always a group of similar players who hit free agency at the same time. This year is no different – there is one player type that is found in abundance, and that is the Overrated Run Producing Out Fielder Who Sucks At Defense. The ORPOFWSAD is the new black.

Obviously, the main attraction is Manny Ramirez. His monster finish to the year in Los Angeles has Scott Boras calling him a franchise player and talking about a contract that runs into his 40s. Manny can obviously still hit – Marcel has him projected at a .389 wOBA, which translates into 30 runs above an average hitter over 600 plate appearances, but his defense is miserable. Even if you charitably call it -15 runs over a full season, he’s giving back a huge chunk of his value with his lack of range. While Manny may get paid like a superstar, in reality, he’s more like a +3 win player.

For those who aren’t into the Manny Being Manny show, you can move right along to Adam Dunn. Like Manny, he can hit (Marcel projects a .372 wOBA), but his defense is miserable and he really should sign with an AL team where he can DH. Since he’s not as good a hitter as Manny but has similar struggles in the field, he ranks as a league average player (+2 wins compared to replacement level). You can bet he’ll get paid more than the $10 million or so he’s worth, though.

For owners who don’t want Manny’s antics or Dunn’s strikeouts, have no fear, there’s always Pat Burrell. Like Dunn, he makes up for a low average with a lot of walks, and he’s a pretty solid offensive player whose defense makes him a league average player overall. Not a bad guy to have on your roster, but if teams continue to overpay for RBIs like they have in the past, he’s not going to earn his money for his next employer.

If that’s enough options, or you just don’t like any of those three, Bobby Abreu might appeal to a team that wants a guy who can get on base and has some power. He isn’t the longball threat that the first three are, but he’s every bit as bad with the glove. He’s a decent enough hitter (Marcel projects him at .357 wOBA), but not good enough to be more than a slightly below average player.

Last, and probably least, Raul Ibanez has been lumped in with this group despite being a massively inferior hitter. He hits for a higher average, but he doesn’t have the same kind of power or patience as the others, and Marcel projects him for just a .344 wOBA in 2009. Combined with atrocious defense, Ibanez is a below average player in the +1 to +1.5 win range, but his reputation as a good clubhouse guy, hard worker, and run producer will get him a contract that he just doesn’t have the ability to live up to.

Historically, this player type gets paid very well in free agency. Guys like Carlos Lee and Jose Guillen have cashed in the last two winters, and their teams have simply not benefited from their presence as much as they expected, because this is probably the single most overrated player type in all of baseball. The good hit/bad glove corner outfielder is simply not an impact player, and almost always commands more money than they are worth.

If you find your favorite team bidding for one of these guys, you have my sympathy.


Best Pitching Performances #10-#6

Last night, we took a look at the four games from 2000 or later in which a pitcher accrued a WPA of -1.0 or worse, thereby costing his team one or more wins in a single game. Prior to that, our discussion centered around the brilliant games of Cody Ross and Kurt Suzuki, who, in the span of three weeks managed to become the only two offensive players to post a WPA equal to, or greater than, +1.0 in a single game. Unfortunately, no pitcher in 2008 had a performance good enough to be worth one or more wins, but there were still some fantastic outings. Today, we will examine the ten best pitching performances of 2008, sorted by the WPA earned.

#10: Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Houston
Arroyo might not be an all star but, over the last four years, has been average at worst (-0.12 WPA this year), while logging 200+ innings each season. His BABIP, LOB, BB/9, and WHIP have trended in the downward direction, but even pitchers in the decline phase can toss out a gem here and there. On August 26, in Houston’s bandbox stadium, Arroyo went the distance, earning a complete game, surrendering just five hits and one run, walking two and striking out three. While it may not seem all that amazing, he earned a WPA of 0.660 for his efforts, the tenth most individual game WPA for pitchers this season.

#9: Roy Oswalt, 9/6 @ Colorado
If you thought Arroyo may have had a tough time pitching a gem in Houston, how could Oswalt pull off an even better game in Coors Field? Roy had an interesting season, getting off to an extremely un-Oswalt-like start, before finishing extremely strong, racking up some pretty impressive numbers. His ERA and FIP may have been higher in years past, but his xFIP, which normalizes the home run rate, is actually right in line with these seasons. On September 6, Roy was in the midst of a brilliant streak of games; none, however, were as brilliant as his performance against the Rockies. On the day, he pitched a 9-inning complete game shutout, giving up just one hit, walking two, and striking out six. All told, his individual game WPA of 0.676 takes the ninth spot on our list.

#8: James Shields, 5/9 vs. Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of California
In 2008, James Shields continued to stake claim as the Rays #1 starter with a season very similar to his breakout 2007 campaign. He pitched 215 innings in both years, posted FIP marks between 3.82 and 3.86, ranged from 1.51-1.67 in BB/9, and produced identical .292 BABIPs. On May 9th, home against the Angels—ironically, this is the first home game on our list so far—Shields was so dominant that dominant doesn’t even describe his performance. He tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just one hit. Excellent with control, Shields walked nobody and struck out eight Halos hitters. His WPA? 0.685, good enough for the eighth best pitched game of the season. How could it get better than that you might be thinking, but hold on, we’re moving on up.

#7: Jeff Karstens, 8/6 @ Arizona
I remember a few years back, while working minor league baseball telecasts for CN8, getting to see Jeff Karstens pitch on a regular basis. He always seemed to have the poise and “stuff” that should translate into major league success. Suffice it to say, things have not panned out the way that I, or other Yankees fans, imagined, and Jeff found himself a member of the Pirates in 2008. He did post a 4.03 ERA in his nine starts, but he K/9 was ridiculously low and his 4.77 FIP does a better job of explaining his performance level. Still, in his first two starts, he looked fantastic. On August 1st, he held the Cubs scoreless over six innings, surrendering only five hits. In his next start, against the Diamondbacks, he pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout, with two walks and four strikeouts. Though this game does not feel better than Oswalt’s or Shields’, Karstens earned a WPA of 0.695. Couple that with his 0.360 in the Cubs game, and Jeff was worth over one whole win after his first two starts of the season. A shame it all went downhill from there…

#6: Matt Cain, 7/24 vs. Washington
For those who have followed my writings over the last year and a half or so, you will know that I have some crazy manlove for Matt Cain. I don’t know if it’s due to the criminally low run support he receives, or how dominant he looks most of the time, but I tend to watch all of his starts, which is something I only did (watch starts for non-Phillies players) for Greg Maddux, and Sabathia’s crazy stretch this season. Overall, Cain once more logged 200+ innings of performance under 4.00 in the ERA and FIP department, with a K/BB above 2.0. Unfortunately, he rarely is credited with a win because his team refuses to support him. On July 24, he actually did record a win, pitching a complete game shutout against the Nationals. Cain surrendered just four hits, walked nary a hitter, and fanned four, earning a 0.707 WPA.

Tonight we will continue by examining the five best pitching performances of 2008.


When WPA Attacks

This past weekend, while out watching an absolutely dreadful Eagles game, I found myself explaining WPA and WPA/LI to some friends. They were curious about the site, but perhaps embarrassed to express their lack of knowledge with regards to certain areas. I explained that WPA is basically, as Studes calls it, the story stat: it tracks the positive and negative shifts in win expectancy over the course of a game, and accumulates these measurements for the entire season. The single-game part of the explanation piqued their interest moreso than the overall seasonal total.

“So, in theory, could someone be worth more then one win in a single game?” Bill asked.

Sure, I responded, though as we saw earlier this morning, the instances of such an event are so few and far between that it is pretty remarkable when someone can accomplish such a feat. My friend Ryan then chimed in:

“Could it go the other way, too? Like, could someone technically blow more than one game’s worth of games in a single game?”

I had never really thought about it like that, but I didn’t see why not, given that it is merely the opposite of the aforementioned scenario. I assumed that these instances would also be few and far between, but still existant. Luckily, when David sent me the information regarding players recording a WPA of 1.0+ in a single game, from 1974-2008, he also sent along pitchers who have recorded a WPA of -1.0 or lower in an individual outing.

There have been 26 games over the past 35 years during which a pitcher has cost his team more than one win in a single game; interestingly enough, there have only been 13 games in this same span wherein a pitcher’s WPA met or exceeded +1.0. It’s much easier to be awful.

Just a small number of these games have even taken place recently, as well, with just four occurring between 2000-2007. No pitcher exceeded a +1.0 WPA or fell below a -1.0 WPA in 2008. None at all. The most recent terrible outing took place on June 1, 2007, when Todd Jones of the Tigers blew a save on the road against the Indians. In his three appearances prior to the June 1st outing, Jones had given up five runs in 2.1 innings, without a strikeout, raising his ERA from 2.37 to 4.22 in the process. Clearly, with a WPA below -1.0, things did not improve against the Indians.

Jones would face 12 batters in his one inning of work of June 1, 2007, surrendering seven hits and two walks, en route to five runs and a -1.01 WPA. His ERA skyrocketed from 4.22 to 6.04.

The next most recent game on our list took place almost five years to the day before Jones’ fateful outing. On June 5, 2002, Hideki Irabu made the fifth worst outing since 1974. In his final season, then with the Rangers, Irabu entered in the ninth inning, attempting to preserve the win for Ismael Valdez—who had a stellar game. The Rangers led the Angels, 4-2, but Irabu wanted to make things interesting. After retiring Garret Anderson on three pitches, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Brad Fullmer and Tim Salmon, throwing just one pitch to each hitter.

The game was now tied at four, but the Rangers did score in the top of the tenth to go ahead by a run. Now, Irabu was in line for the blown save win. Adam Kennedy led off the bottom of the tenth with a double, and moved to third on a David Eckstein single. With two on and nobody out, Darin Erstad grounded out, scoring Kennedy in the process. Once again, the game was tied, but this time, the Angels still had a runner on base. Four pitches later, Troy Glaus knocked the ball into the stands to give the Halos a 7-5 victory, and Irabu a -1.21 WPA for his efforts.

The other two games this decade took place in May, and July 2000, respectively. The first saw Jason Isringhausen give up four runs on five hits in 1.1 innings, while the second involved Jeff Brantley getting tagged for three runs on four hits in a mere one-third of an inning. Both outings resulted in a -1.09 WPA. Tomorrow we will take a look at like games that took place prior to 2000, but now you have an interesting trivia question moving forward, in that the game in 2000 or later that cost his team the most in terms of win expectancy involved Hideki Irabu on June 5, 2002.


Heilman to the Rotation?

Tired of being pigeonholed as a reliever, Aaron Heilman has demanded a trade from the Mets, as he wants them to find a team that will give him a shot to return to his roots as a starting pitcher. Other teams have found success moving relievers back into the rotation, Ryan Dempster being the most recent success, and Heilman was a first round pick as a starter in 2001, so there will probably be a team out there that believes that he’s worth a shot as a starter.

How successful will the conversion be? First off, let’s try to determine how good of a reliever Heilman has been.

Over the last four years, Heilman has tossed 357 innings, walked 131 batters, struck out 322, and allowed 29 HR, which adds up to a 3.67 FIP. That’s solidly above average for a reliever, but doesn’t make him a true relief ace. However, he wasn’t consistently above average all four years.

From 2005 to 2007, he ran a K/BB rate of between 2.61 and 3.15, showing good enough command of his fastball/change-up combination to throw strikes while missing a decent amount of bats. He sustained a pretty low HR/FB rate, which helped him keep the ball in the yard even though he’s not a dominant groundball pitcher. His FIP for those three years was 3.34, and he was a very good setup man.

Last year, however, his walk rate went through the moon, jumping from 2.09 to 5.45, and his HR/FB rate spiked, causing him to be a bit home run prone. It could be random variation, where he just had a rough year finding the strike zone, but a quick look at his pitch selection reveals an interesting change – Heilman started throwing a lot more sliders last year, throwing them in 12% of his pitches versus just 0.4% a year prior. The change-up dropped from 37.9% to just 24%, as the slider made him more of a three pitch guy and less dependent on the change.

The slider may have helped him miss a lot more bats, but he got those gains in strikeout rate by throwing way too many pitches out of the strike zone, and the end result was a jump in walk rate that was more detrimental than the jump in strikeout rate. If the rise in use of the slider was the cause the of dramatic jump in both BB and K rates, it appears to have been too detrimental to be worth it.

It will take a full breakdown of Pitch F/x data for us to determine whether the slider was the cause of the command problems, but it seems likely that the rise of the slider usage wasn’t a coincidence.

What does this mean for Heilman as a starter? Well, there aren’t that many successful starters who rely on strictly a fastball/change-up to get by. Almost every starting pitcher has some kind of breaking ball that they can use to change the plane of a hitters eye, and if Heilman just can’t command his slider, that could be a real issue in moving him into the rotation.

As a fastball/change-up guy, he was a very good reliever. As a fastball/change-up/slider guy, he was something of a mess. It’s not enough to conclude that he doesn’t have a chance as a starter, but I’d call this a buyer beware situation.


The Joy of wOBA

Last night, David announced that FanGraphs is officially carrying wOBA as our newest statistical addition. For those of you who have read The Book, you’ll be familiar with wOBA, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a brief introduction and some reasons why you should give this new, funny sounding stat a try.

First off, wOBA is a linear weight formula presented as a rate statistic scaled to On Base Percentage. Essentially, what that means is that average wOBA will always equal average OBP for any given year. If you know what the league’s OBP is, you know what the league’s wOBA is. Usually, league average falls in the .335 range – it was .332 last year, but offense was down around the game in 2008, which may or may not continue.

So, why should you care about wOBA? What makes it better than OPS or any of the more famous rate statistics that measure offensive value? The beauty of wOBA lies in linear weights. Essentially, every outcome has a specific run value that is proportional to other outcomes – a home run is worth a little more than twice as much a single, for instance. What wOBA does, as all linear weights formulas do, is value these outcomes relative to each other so that they are properly valued.

OPS, as you probably know, significantly undervalues the ability of a hitter to get on base. It treats a .330 OBP/.470 slug as equal to a .400 OBP/.400 slug, when the latter is more conducive to scoring runs. wOBA gives proper weight to all the things a hitter can do to produce value, and is a more accurate reflection of a hitter’s value.

For a practical example, let’s look at Ryan Ludwick versus Hanley Ramirez. Ludwick had a .966 OPS versus a .940 OPS for Ramirez – not a huge difference, but one most people would consider significant. If you put a lot of stock in OPS, you’d probably argue that Ludwick had a better offensive season.

However, Ramirez actually had a slightly higher wOBA, .403 to .401. This is due to the fact that Ramirez posted a .400/.540 line compared to Ludwick’s .375/.591 mark. Ramirez’s 25 point advantage in OBP was slightly more valuable than Ludwick’s 51 point advantage in SLG, and wOBA reflects this.

The other great advantage wOBA has is that it’s extremely easy to convert into run values. Simply take a player’s wOBA difference from the league average, divide by 1.15, and multiply that by how many plate appearances he got, and you have a run value above or below average for that player.

For instance, using Ramirez, who we already said had a .403 wOBA, which is 72 points higher than the 2008 NL average of .331. 0.072 / 1.15 = 0.063. 0.063 * 700 = 43.82 runs above average.

wOBA – league average wOBA divided by 1.15 times plate appearances = runs above average by linear weights. Simple, easy, and accurate. This is the joy of wOBA.

If you want a solid, context-neutral statistic that values hitting properly, wOBA is a great place to start. Some of the other great stats here on FanGraphs, such as WPA/LI and WPA, take context into account to add or subtract value based on how a hitter did in certain situations, but there are times when you just want to know how a batter did at the plate, regardless of who was on base or what the score was at the time. For those, wOBA is the perfect answer.


Individual Game WPA > 1.00

A few weeks ago, I ran a series here detailing the ten biggest offensive plays of the 2008 season, based on shifts in win expectancy. That is, the ten instances where the team’s probability of winning the game increased the most due to the occurrences in a single plate appearance. David DeJesus, if you recall, took home the honors of producing the top play of the season with his July 12th walkoff home run against Brandon Morrow of the Mariners.

Though several great threads developed in that series of articles, one in particular piqued my interest. This specific commenter wondered if there were any games this season during which a player accrued a WPA over 1.00; as in, was anyone worth one or more wins, in one game? Luckily, Senor Appelman was accomodating with the data, probed from the Fangraphs database, and I now have in my possession every instance from 1974-2008 during which a player’s single-game WPA met or exceeded 1.00. There are only 38 such batting games, but two of them occurred during this very season.

The bigger of the two games took place on June 7, and belonged to Cody Ross of the Florida Marlins. This also happened to the game featuring a walkoff home run from Ross that ended up #4 on the list of the biggest offensive plays of the season. Ross went 2-4 on the day, with a single, the three-run homer, a walk, and a stolen base. All told, his efforts resulted in a 1.13 WPA for the game. Ross had a solid season, especially from a power standpoint, hitting 22 home runs with a .488 SLG and .804 OPS. His seasonal WPA was 1.56, 1.13 of which belonged to this game. Essentially, outside of this game, his positive and negative win advancements amounted to a net of +0.43.

The other such instance took place two weeks later, as Kurt Suzuki of the Oakland Athletics produced to the tune of a 1.00 WPA. Suzuki went 4-5, with a single, two doubles, and a home run, en route to five runs batted in on the day. His overall WPA for the season was -1.61, meaning that outside of this game, his win advancements amounted to a net of -2.61. Even poor offensive players can win a game for their team every now and then, it seems.

Despite Ross’s advantage in the WPA department, when evaluating these two games in terms of run expectancy, the edge shifts to Suzuki. Kurt amassed 4.55 BRAA in this game, good enough for 0.509 wins based on run expectancy. Ross, however, contributed 2.62 BRAA and a 0.258 REW. And there you have it: Cody Ross not only produced the fourth biggest offensive play of the season, but that particular game saw him become one of just 38 players to produce a WPA greater than, or equal to, a full win, in a single game, since 1974; and even though Kurt Suzuki had a very poor season at the plate, he essentially won one whole game for the Athletics back on June 20.


wOBA

The statistic wOBA (weight on base average) is now available in the player pages, leaderboards, team pages, my team pages, and the projections.

wOBA, created by Tom Tango, is a version of linear weights that has been weighted to fit an OBP scale. The weights have been properly adjusted by season and for the minor leagues by season and by league. For more information about wOBA, check out the links below:

Weighted On Base Average or wOBA
wOBA year-by-year calculations
Getting to Know wOBA


The Mop Up Award Goes To…

Over the last few days we have had plenty of time to consider which relievers for our respective teams are true mop up men. First, I asked you to help me out by identifying which relievers fit the bill, before testing those results against a neat little formula devised by TangoTiger. The formula multiplied the number of games pitched by the quotient of leverage index divided by innings pitched. The smaller the number, the more mop-uppy the pitcher. This formula produced an interesting list of pitchers that included many of the same relievers initially identified by the readers.

There were also a bunch of pitchers on the list that, according to the commenters, did not belong. It seems that many teams did not have a true mop up man, persay, but rather a few pitchers who, individually, failed to meet the 40-IP qualifier. That being said, 16 relievers still remained after removing those who did not belong: Darren O’Day, Seth McClung, Josh Rupe, Aquilino Lopez, Boof Bonser, Gary Majewski, Clay Condrey, Joel Peralta, Jon Lieber, Lance Cormier, Jason Hammel, Franquelis Osoria, Luis Vizcaino, Buddy Carlyle, Brian Tallet, and Mike Timlin.

With the list narrowed down, the next step involved determining which of these mop up men performed at the highest level in 2008, thereby earning the Fangraphs Mop Up Man of the Year Award. If this award were designated for hitters, then WPA/LI would be a very appropriate evaluative metric. Unfortunately, pitchers create their own situations, and relievers enter into previously designed situations, meaning WPA, which factors in the crucial natures of certain situations, is a much better tool. For measure, though, I also included the WPA/LI, because the true winner of this award should post good marks in both categories:

Darren O'Day      (LAA) -0.35 WPA   -0.24 WPA/LI
Seth McClung      (Mil)  0.11 WPA    0.38 WPA/LI
Josh Rupe         (Tex)  0.87 WPA    0.71 WPA/LI
Aquilino Lopez    (Det) -0.09 WPA   -0.54 WPA/LI
Boof Bonser       (Min) -0.63 WPA   -0.67 WPA/LI
Gary Majewski     (Cin) -0.19 WPA   -1.15 WPA/LI
Clay Condrey      (Phi) -0.20 WPA   -0.31 WPA/LI
Joel Peralta      (KC)  -0.93 WPA   -1.42 WPA/LI
Jon Lieber        (CHC)  0.00 WPA    0.02 WPA/LI
Lance Cormier     (Bal)  0.12 WPA    0.10 WPA/LI
Jason Hammel      (TB)   0.63 WPA   -0.41 WPA/LI
Franquelis Osoria (Pit) -1.07 WPA   -0.99 WPA/LI
Luis Vizcaino     (Col) -0.73 WPA   -0.76 WPA/LI
Buddy Carlyle     (Atl)  1.14 WPA    0.99 WPA/LI
Brian Tallet      (Tor) -0.34 WPA    0.64 WPA/LI
Mike Timlin       (Bos) -1.12 WPA   -1.08 WPA/LI

Four pitchers stand out, in particular: McClung, Rupe, Hammel, and Carlyle. Let’s take a closer look at these four:

          WPA   WPA/LI     ERA    FIP   WHIP                    
Carlyle: 1.14     0.99    3.59   3.58   1.24  59 K/26 BB in 62.2 IP
Rupe:    0.87     0.71    5.14   4.99   1.56  53 K/46 BB in 89.1 IP
Hammel:  0.63    -0.41    4.44   5.46   1.52  29 K/23 BB in 50.2 IP
McClung: 0.11     0.38    3.67   3.92   1.46  37 K/26 BB in 41.2 IP

Honestly, this isn’t even a contest, as Buddy Carlyle is, far and away, more deserving of the honor than anyone else on this list. Because of this, Buddy Carlyle of the Atlanta Braves—do a drumroll in your head—is the recipient of the 2008 Fangraphs Mop Up Man of the Year Award. Congrats, Buddy: you may not have worked out as a starting pitcher, but nobody can clean up messes or preserve the lead/deficit the way you did this past year.


Renteria to SF

There are a few things that come every winter – Chrismas, cold weather, and Brian Sabean signing a free agent over the age of 30. It never fails, as the Giants GM continues to believe the best way to rebuild is to bring in players who are heading towards the end of their careers. So, it’s tempting to look at the report that the Giants have signed Edgar Reenteria to take over at shortstop and think that this is just more of the same, but let’s take a closer look at his abilities anyway.

Renteria was a huge disappointment in Detroit last year, hitting .270/.317/.382 and posting a .308 wOBA just a year after a huge season in Atlanta. The big culprit was the loss of 62 points off his batting average – as a guy who doesn’t walk a lot and has gap power, he can’t afford to hemorrhage that many hits. At 33, such a significant drop off is the kind of thing that ends careers. However, there are reasons to think that Renteria’s got something left in the tank.

For starters, he’s one of the most consistent line drive hitters in baseball. For the last five years, his LD% has never been lower than 22.2% or higher than 23.3%. Predicting Renteria’s line drive rate is perhaps the easiest thing to do in baseball. In fact, his batted ball profile was – across the board – almost exactly equal to his career averages. Check this out:

GB%: 2008 – 45.8%, Career – 46.2%
FB%: 2008 – 32.0%, Career – 31.0%
LD%: 2008 – 22.2%, Career – 22.8%
IFFB%: 2008 – 8.5%, Career – 8.0%
HR/FB%: 2008 – 7.1%, Career – 7.4%

That’s some pretty remarkable consistency. If you can find why we should believe that Renteria fell off a cliff in ’08 in that batted ball profile, you’re a better man than me. Even the projection systems that don’t care at all about batted ball data, and just use the results of the last three years (such as the Marcel projections published here on FanGraphs) don’t believe that Renteria is finished.

His Marcel for 2009 has him projected as a .285/.345/.417 hitter, good for a .336 wOBA. That makes him, essentially, a league average hitter while playing shortstop. That’s not easy to find and quite valuable.

However, there’s the issue of how well he plays shortstop. His offense wasn’t the only thing slipping in 2008, after all. The +/- system from the Fielding Bible has Renteria dropping to -9 plays last year from -1 the year before, with his range going from average to a real problem. At 33, we wouldn’t expect Renteria to still be the same defender he was 10 years ago, so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

However, even if we project him as a -10 run defender at shortstop in 2009, his league average offense still makes him a +2 win player compared to a replacement level shortstop. Given a rumored price of $9 million per year for two years, the Giants are essentially paying $4.5 million per win on a short term deal, which is about what free agents were going for last winter.

For San Francisco, this isn’t a bad deal – they get a guy who should rebound and re-establish some value without any long term risk, and they fill a hole with an average player while waiting for the kids to develop.

This is also yet another sign that perhaps the 2009 market isn’t going to be a very good one for sellers, as we’ve seen no evidence of any price inflation in the transactions completed so far. The buyer’s market continues.


A Minor Review of 2008: The Rockies

The Graduate: Ian Stewart | Born: April 1985 | Infielder

Only 23, Ian Stewart has been on the prospect radar since being selected 10th overall in 2003 out of a California high school. His ceiling is not as high as it used to be, but Stewart still has a lot of promise and should have a full-time gig in Colorado in 2009 at either second base, third base… or maybe even first base… depending on how the off-season plays out. In 2008 at the MLB level, Stewart hit .259/.349/.455 with an ISO of .195 in 266 at-bats. To have long-term success, he needs to produce better rates than those he accumulated in 2008: 10.1 BB% and 35.3 K%.

The Riser: Jhoulys Chacin | Born: January 1988 | Right-Handed Pitcher

In just his first full season in North America, the Venezuela native absolutely exploded and spent the second half of the season in High-A. Jhoulys Chacin will likely open 2009 in Double-A at the age of 21. This past season, he allowed just 82 hits in 111.1 innings with rates of 2.43 BB/9 and 7.92 K/9 at A-ball. Upon a promotion to High-A, Chacin allowed 61 hits and rates of 1.63 BB/9 and 8.41 K/9 in 66.2 innings. Although he was a little more hittable against better competition, his BABIP increased from .268 to .317 and his K/BB ratio was an eye-popping 5.17. With improving command, a low-90s fastball and developing secondary stuff, he has the potential to be a dominating Major League starter.

The Tumbler: Chaz Roe | Born: October 1986 | Right-Handed Pitcher

A supplemental first round selection from the 2005 draft, Chaz Roe has recently been passed by a number of pitching prospects in the system. He struggled through some injuries in 2008, a year after pitching a career-high 170 innings. Roe spent the majority of the season in Double-A, where he allowed 98 hits in 105.1 innings with rates of 2.91 BB/9 and 5.98 K/9. His walk rates have improved each of the last three seasons, but his strikeouts rates have dropped over that same period. Roe may be suited to the bullpen with a low-90s fastball and plus curveball. His change-up is lacking.

The ’08 Draft Pick: Delta Cleary | Born: August 1989 | Outfielder

Delta Cleary is your basic high-risk, high-reward player. He went undrafted until the 37th round of the 2008 draft out of junior college and the Rockies organization got him under contract thanks to a $250,000 investment. In his debut in Rookie Ball, Cleary hit .276/.315/.400 with an ISO of .124 in 105 at-bats. He posted rates of 5.4 BB% and 18.1 K%. He has a lot of work to do, but Cleary has 30-30 potential.

The ’09 Sleeper: Eric Young Jr. | Born: May 1985 | Second Baseman

Eric Young Sr. patrolled second base for the Rockies for parts of five seasons beginning in 1993 and son Eric Young Jr. could be next in line for the second base job in Colorado. The younger Young missed some time with injuries in 2008 but still managed to hit .290/.384/.392 with 46 stolen bases in 403 at-bats. He has hit more than .290 in each of the past three seasons and stolen 87 bases in 2006 and 73 bases in 2007. Young embraces the small-ball game, gets on base and is a smart base runner. After the 2008 season, he headed to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .430/.504/.640 with another 20 stolen bases in 31 games.

Up Next: The Arizona Diamondbacks


Varitek’s Value

Scott Boras is known for his ridiculous assertions in an effort to boost his client’s worth on the free agent market. We’ve already talked about his hilarious Oliver Perez as Sandy Koufax argument, so today, we’ll look at his claims that Jason Varitek’s defense is so valuable behind the plate that he’s worth “Posada money”, or about $13 million a year.

The heart of Boras’ claim is that Varitek has a significant, positive influence on Boston pitchers, far more so than any other catcher, and this influence directly translates to wins on the field. He presents the ’08 Red Sox .608 Winning Percentage with Varitek behind the plate versus just a .524 Winning Percentage when he didn’t start as evidence. It doesn’t just stop there, however – if you look at the pitching performances in those respective games, there’s a massive difference.

In games where Varitek started behind the plate, the Red Sox pitching staff had a 3.94 FIP. In games where anyone else started behind the plate, the Red Sox pitching staff had a 4.80 FIP. That’s a pretty striking difference, and FIP is obviously a better measure of the team’s pitching than winning percentage. So, is Boras on to something in regards to ‘Tek?

Maybe, but the macro view of the two statistics just presented don’t help us find out. There’s all kinds of problems with using the data just presented as evidence that Varitek helps his pitchers, starting with the fact that games started by Varitek isn’t a representative random sample. He caught all of Josh Beckett’s 27 starts, 30 of 33 Jon Lester starts, and 27 of 29 Daisuke Matszaka starts. Of the 89 starts made by the Red Sox top three starters, Varitek caught 84 of them. Of the 73 starts made by the various #4 and #5 starters that Boston cycled through, Varitek only caught 36 of those.

If the Red Sox hadn’t performed better with ‘Tek behind the plate, it would have been a massive upset. When 70% of your starts come with one of the big three on the mound, it’s a virtual lock that the team will have a lower ERA with you behind the plate than when you’re not, simply due to the talent level of the pitchers that you’re catching.

So, instead of looking at the macro approach, let’s look at how each individual pitcher fared when ‘Tek was catching compared to when Kevin Cash was behind the plate. There were some huge dropoffs among some pitchers when Varitek wasn’t catching.

David Aardsma: 3.33 FIP w/Tek, 6.71 FIP w/Cash
Hideki Okajima: 3.13 FIP w/Tek, 6.06 FIP w/Cash
Julian Tavarez: 3.06 FIP w/Tek, 5.62 FIP w/Cash
Craig Hansen: 3.76 FIP w/Tek, 6.08 FIP w/Cash
Jon Lester: 3.64 FIP w/Tek, 4.60 FIP w/Cash

On the other side of the coin, the swings weren’t as large, but perhaps more interesting.

Mike Timlin: 6.37 FIP w/Tek, 3.48 FIP w/Cash
Bartolo Colon: 4.54 FIP w/Tek, 3.37 FIP w/Cash
Clay Buchholz: 4.86 FIP w/Tek, 3.90 FIP w/Cash
Daisuke Matsuzaka: 4.12 FIP w/Tek, 3.80 FIP w/Cash

Three starting pitchers did better with Cash than with Varitek, while only one did better with Varitek than Cash. If Varitek really was significantly better at calling pitches and helping his pitchers improve, wouldn’t that be manifest most strongly with the guys he prepares with ahead of time, rather than the ones that come into a game without much notice?

Still, though, the sum difference of the FIP by the pitchers that Varitek and Cash had in common was +.252 when Varitek was behind the plate. That’s a huge difference, worth about 28 runs over a full 1000 inning catcher season. If we could actually prove causation, and not just correlation, Boras’ argument for Varitek wouldn’t be all that crazy after all.

Unfortunately, we just can’t. We just don’t have precise enough tools to judge whether the performance fluctuation can be credited to Varitek, or if it was just random variation. So, while there is some evidence that the Red Sox pitchers did quite a bit better when he was behind the plate, we just can’t say with any kind of certainty that it’s a sustainable skill that will go with him wherever he plays in 2009.

Buyer beware – if you pay a significant amount of money for Jason Varitek’s catching skills, hoping that your pitching staff will magically improve, you’re betting on a hope.


More Mopping Up

Yesterday began our discussion regarding mop up pitchers, the ones that enter into blowouts and accrue innings to prevent the unnecessary usage of higher-leverage relievers. I asked for some help identifying the mop up men for several teams, as only a few existed off the top of my head, and got great feedback. One of the comments on the thread, from TangoTiger, suggested we apply the formula: GP*(LI/IP). The minimum amount of innings would be set to 40, in order to ensure these pitchers logged ample enough time to qualify.

The LI component, for those unaware, is Leverage Index, developed by the aforementioned TangoTiger. The stat essentially measures the stress level of the situation at hand. An average LI is 1.00, so when dealing with supposed mop up pitchers, of interest are the average LIs for pitchers equal to, or below, the average. Plugging it into the above formula, dividing by innings pitched, and multiplying that quotient by the total number of games pitched should, in theory, help us narrow these mop up guys down. Basically, the lower the number provided by that formula, the more mop-uppy the pitcher.

Below are the results, with the mop up number next to the name. I was only looking for the mop-uppiest pitcher on each team, so certain players with lower scores than others mentioned will not appear below:

Darren O'Day         (Angels),         0.251
Seth McClung         (Brewers),        0.279
Josh Rupe            (Rangers),        0.289
Aquilino Lopez       (Tigers),         0.301
Brian Bass           (Twins/Orioles),  0.334
Boof Bonser          (Twins),          0.343
Gary Majewski        (Reds),           0.361
Clay Condrey         (Phillies),       0.365
Joel Peralta         (Royals),         0.414
Robinson Tejeda      (Rangers/Royals), 0.426
Jon Lieber           (Cubs),           0.436
Lance Cormier        (Orioles),        0.445
Billy Sadler         (Giants),         0.464
Ryan Rowland-Smith   (Mariners),       0.478
Jason Hammel         (Rays),           0.509
Franquelis Osoria    (Pirates),        0.514
Luis Vizcaino        (Rockies),        0.523
Jeremy Affeldt       (Reds),           0.531
Buddy Carlyle        (Braves),         0.543
Nick Masset          (White Sox/Reds), 0.551
Jesus Colome         (Nationals),      0.558
Cory Wade            (Dodgers),        0.603
Doug Waechter        (Marlins),        0.624
Brian Tallet         (Blue Jays),      0.627
Chris Sampson        (Astros),         0.660
Mike Timlin          (Red Sox),        0.660
Mike Adams           (Padres),         0.763
Jensen Lewis         (Indians),        0.788
Edwar Ramirez        (Yankees),        0.799
Santiago Casilla     (Athletics),      0.926
Juan Cruz            (Diamondbacks),   0.969

This is the list generated by the suggested formula. If there are players above that you disagree with, please comment below your case for disagreement, as I would like to have a concrete list to evaluate for Monday. Then, we can identify which mop up pitcher was the best at his job in 2008, and get cracking on sending he, or his agent, an official award. Also, remember, not every team may have a specific mop up man, so some of the players on this list, especially towards the bottom may not belong in the discussion. Curious to hear your thoughts.


A Minor Review of 2008: The Jays

The Graduate: Jesse Carlson | Born: December 1980 | Left-Handed Pitcher

Southpaw reliever Jesse Carlson finally reached the Major Leagues at the age of 27 and in his second tour of duty in the Jays’ system. Originally a 15th round selection out of college by Detroit, Carlson bounced around the minors for parts of seven seasons and spent four seasons at Double-A. He received his first MLB promotion early in 2008 and ended up appearing in 69 big league games. He allowed just 41 hits in 60 innings of work with rates of 3.15 BB/9 and 8.25 K/9. A fastball-slider pitcher, Carlson actually used his slider more often than his fastball in 2008 (42.7% to 56.1%). Bill James’ projection for 2009 expects Carlson to remain a productive left-handed reliever, leaving the Jays with four quality left-handed relievers: Carlson, B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, and Brian Tallet.

The Riser: J.P. Arencibia | Born: January 1986 | Catcher

A 2007 first-round draft pick, J.P. Arencibia is arguably one of the Top 3-5 catching prospects in all of baseball, with the Orioles’ Matt Wieters firmly at No. 1. Arencibia split 2008 between High-A ball and Double-A and hit 27 home runs and drove in 105 runs. He also significantly improved his defence and will have no problems remaining behind the plate, which was a concern during his college career. Arencibia needs to work on his patience at the plate if he is going to hit for a respectable average at the Major League level. He walked less than four percent of the time this past season and often swings at the first pitch, which is something experienced pitchers will exploit.

The Tumbler: Trystan Magnuson | Born: June 1985 | Right-Handed Pitcher

A late-blooming college reliever, Trystan Magnuson was nabbed by the Jays in the 2007 supplemental first round as a college senior for his impressive fastball. Moved to the starting rotation in 2008, Magnuson was brutal in the first half and posted an 11.85 ERA in five May starts. He settled down in the second half of the season. Overall, he allowed 91 hits in 81.2 innings and posted rates of 3.86 BB/9 and 5.40 K/9. He’ll turn 24 in June and will probably begin 2009 back in A-ball so it might be wise to converted him back to a reliever in the hopes that he can accelerate his timetable to the Majors.

The ’08 Draft Pick: Tyler Pastornicky | Born: December 1989 | Shortstop

The Jays jumped back into the prep drafting pool in 2008, after finding success in 2007 – the first year the organization had spent heavily on drafting high school players in five years. Taken in the fifth round, Tyler Pastornicky was a little more advanced than the Jays had expected and he hit .263/.348/.356 with 27 stolen bases in 50 Rookie Ball games. He also took 21 walks, while striking out just 21 times. Impressively, his offensive numbers improved in each month, from June to August, as he made adjustments. Pastornicky showed solid hands in the field too, and he made just six errors in 38 games at shortstop.

The ’09 Sleeper: Brad Emaus | Born: March 1986 | Second Baseman

There weren’t many players that improved their stocks more in 2008 than Brad Emaus. The second baseman, in just his first full season, impressed offensively despite skipping over A-ball and beginning the year in High-A ball. Emaus hit .302/.381/.463 with a .161 ISO during the regular season and then dominated the Hawaii Winter Baseball league by hitting .333/.447/.494 (and taking 17 walks compared to just seven strikeouts) in 26 games. The Jays now have some depth up the middle, as fellow second base prospect Scott Campbell also had a breakout season in Double-A. At worst, Emaus should be able to have a similar career to former A’s infielder Scott Spiezio.

Up Next: The Colorado Rockies