Archive for October, 2009

Breaking News: Chan Ho Park Is Good

This afternoon, I talked about the reasons why Derek Jeter laying down a bunt in the seventh inning was a good idea (until there were two strikes, anyway). One of the common responses to the support of the bunt in that situation is that Jeter should have been swinging away because, to paraphrase the argument, Chan Ho Park was pitching and Chan Ho Park stinks.

I’m sorry, but this is one of those cases where I just have to scratch my head and wonder how reputations can gain such traction when they are so remarkably wrong. The idea that Park is a bad pitcher, especially out of the bullpen, is downright crazy.

Over the last two years, Park has thrown 179 innings with a FIP of 3.90, good for a value of +1.8 wins. He’s done it by racking up 152 strikeouts while also posting an above average groundball rate, which is a classic recipe for success. Just based on that performance, we’d have to conclude that he’s something like a league average pitcher.

However, those numbers don’t reflect the actual level of Park’s effectiveness as a reliever. They also include his failures in the rotation, where he was unable to sustain his velocity and got pounded as a result. When moved back to the bullpen, his stuff improved by leaps and bounds, as you can see in his velocity chart below.

1267_P_FA_20090916

Park’s FIP as a relief pitcher this year? 2.10.

Now, a good chunk of that absurdly low mark is a 0.0% HR/FB rate that isn’t his actual talent level, but even when you adjust for that, he was still a lights out reliever this year, running a 3.25 K/BB rate and holding opposing hitters to a .231/.296/.280 line.

Additionally, Park is a right-handed pitcher with a significant platoon differential established over his entire career. RHBs have hit him at a .227/.311/.355 mark over his career, compared to .271/.368/.447 for LHBs. Jeter, being a right-handed hitter, was up against a right-handed relief pitcher who performs significantly better against same handed batters.

The idea that Jeter should have been swinging away because Chan Ho park was on the mound and a big rally was likely is the opposite of the truth. In reality, he’s a very good relief pitcher with the platoon advantage, and the match-up wasn’t likely to end well for Jeter.


Defending the Jeter Bunt

Over the last 10 years or so, one of the truisms that has been associated with statistical analysis is that bunting is bad. And it’s mostly true – a lot of sacrifice bunting is unproductive and wasteful, and teams would be be better off letting their hitters swing away rather than giving up outs to try to increase their odds of scoring one run. However, as MGL noted in War And Peace his post the other day, laying one down is a correct play more often than a lot of us will admit.

So, with that said, let’s talk about Derek Jeter’s decision to try to move the runners over in the 8th inning last night. The Yankees had just taken a two run lead on Jorge Posada’s single to center, which put runners at first and second with nobody out. At that point, the average win expectancy for a major league club is 92.0 percent. For the Yankees, with Mariano Rivera ready to pitch the 8th and 9th inning, it was almost certainly higher than that.

Rivera, as everyone knows, is not an average closer. He’s probably the best relief pitcher of all time, and he’s in the conversation for greatest postseason pitcher in the history of the game as well. In 85 playoff games, he’s thrown 130 innings and has an ERA of 0.76. He’s given up more than one run in exactly two of those appearances, and in one of them, the Yankees had a four run lead and won anyway.

Every other appearance he’s ever made in the postseason, it’s been zero or one run allowed. So, with a two run lead and Rivera ready, the Yankees were already sitting pretty. Getting one more run would have pushed the average win expectancy to 96 percent, and again, the Yankees real odds would have been even higher than that, thanks to their robo-closer.

Jeter successfully laying down a bunt in the 8th inning would have increased the Yankees odds of scoring one more run from 61.8 percent to 68.9 percent. Moving the runners over would have added seven percent to the odds of Melky Cabrera scoring – that’s a real benefit. The cost of the sacrifice bunt is in the reduced chance of a multi-run inning, but in that situation, there really wasn’t a tangible difference between a three run lead and a 10 run lead. Those additional runs that could have scored in a big rally would have been essentially worthless.

The first two Jeter bunt attempts will be criticized by members of the statistical community as part of the reflexive don’t-bunt-ever strategy that has gained too much popularity, but they were the right play. The two-strike bunt attempt really was a bad idea (the additional cost of a foul turning into an out reduces the odds enough to make swinging away more likely to produce a single run, which was the original goal), but the first two stabs at it, Jeter was making the right play.

Playing for one run can be the right move, especially when you have Mariano Rivera ready to come into the game.

By the way, since I’ve been so hard on Girardi in the playoffs, let me just say that using Rivera for the six out save was absolutely the right call, and an important one to get right. Kudos to him for not letting an inferior reliever start the inning.


Colletti’s Answer Is Under His Nose

Los Angeles Dodgers GM Ned Colletti discussed some of his offseason priorities on the Dan Patrick show on Thursday (which can be heard here). Colletti discussed, among other things, addressing second base with offseason moves. After all, it is hardly surprising that any team starting Ron Belliard at 2B in the playoffs would look to improve at that position.

The free agent market at 2B is pretty bare. R.J. already discussed Felipe Lopez, who is a type A free agent who just completed a career year at age 30. Placido Polanco will be the only other type A free agent to hit the market, assuming San Francisco picks up Freddy Sanchez’s option. Akinori Iwamura is another interesting option. Iwamura is coming off of injury and his 4.25M option will likely be too expensive for the Rays to exercise, especially given Ben Zobrist’s rise.

Iwamura’s skills play as those of an average 2B, or a rough 2.25 win player. There is one other free agent who won’t cost the Dodgers any draft picks and plays at or above that level. That player, Orlando Hudson, was on the Dodgers roster this season. His one-year, incentive-laden contract expired, leaving him again in the undesirable position of a type-A free agent in a declining market. Hudson’s contract incentives earned him just under $8M overall. As a 3 win player, that’s roughly $4 million in surplus value.

Hudson is 32, but his type A status will allow the Dodgers to make a move for a team-favorable one-year deal. His .342 wOBA was his worst since 2005, but with park adjustment, his offensive contribution equaled his contribution in 2008, when he had a .358 wOBA with Arizona. His fielding in recent years doesn’t stand up to his time with the Blue Jays (+27 UZR in four years), and has slipped below average in recent years. Still, his hitting well outweighs any defensive shortcomings. He hasn’t been below 2 WAR since 2003. He gives you consistency at the plate and in the field, and most importantly, the Dodgers are in an excellent position to bargain with Hudson.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to give away draft picks and sign Placido Polanco or take a chance on a 30-year-old average player coming off injury in the form of Akinori Iwamura, there is really only one option for Los Angeles. Re-sign Orlando Hudson, and maybe play him this time if they make it back to the postseason.


The Red Sox/Jason Bay Rumor

The Red Sox may employ the smartest front office in baseball, which is why this tweet from Jon Heyman makes little sense. Heyman suggests the Red Sox are willing (and able) to offer Jason Bay a four-year deal worth approximately $15M per season.

Bay turned 31 about three weeks ago and is fresh from his best season in years. Since moving to the American League in July 2008, Bay has seen his strikeout rate leap in upwards to 30%. Bay strikes out, walks, and hits home runs. Two of those qualities are great to have and make the third tolerable. The problem begins with his age. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and while he does play in a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark, his bat is likely to decline over the next four years instead of remain static or (somehow) improve.

This would be fine if Bay’s value was supplemented by playing a key defensive position or at least playing defense moderately well. Instead, Bay is anything but a black hole in left. Bay has posted negative UZR in each season since 2004 with the exception of 2006. His arm has never been good, and whatever range he has left isn’t enough to make up for it.

Over the last three seasons, Bay has been wroth 3.4, 2.9, and 0.1 WAR. In dollar terms, he’s been worth more than 15 million exactly once. Maybe Boston has a defensive evaluation system that says Bay is better than UZR gives him credit for. Fans of the Red Sox certainly don’t see it that way, as they ranked him near Raul Ibanez and Alfonso Soriano in the Fans Scouting Report.

Boston has the resources to overpay for someone they really want, which is why settling on Bay before making a run at Matt Holliday is a bit bewildering. Yes, Scott Boras is the agent for Holliday and if the Yankees get involved things will get out of hand, but since when has that mattered for the Sox? Maybe Boston just wants to get this out of the way so they can focus their attention on Adrian Gonzalez or Felix Hernandez or whoever, but it still doesn’t make it the right move.


WS Coverage: Girardi Screws Up The Line-Up

Someone warn PETA – a dead horse is about to get kicked again. That horse, of course, is Joe Girardi and his never ending ability to put a less than ideal Yankee team on the field in critical situations.

If you haven’t heard, tonight’s Yankee line-up features both Jerry Hairston Jr playing right field in lieu of Nick Swisher and Jose Molina catching instead of Jorge Posada. Now, ordinarily, this would just be a bad move, an overreaction to last night’s poor offensive showing against a great pitcher. But, given the match-ups, this is borderline malpractice.

The Phillies are sending Pedro Martinez to the hill tonight. Pedro, as you probably know, is right-handed. Also right-handed? Hairston and Molina. You know who has the ability to hit from the left hand side? Posada and Swisher. If you’re going to put Hairston in for Swisher, you essentially have to do it against an LHP, where the disparity in talent is minimized. If only a LHP like Cole Hamels was starting game three on Saturday. Oh, wait, he is.

Against a lefty, at least the two sub-par reserves have the platoon advantage. Putting Hairston in for Swisher against a right-hander is just nutty.

The Molina thing perhaps shouldn’t be as surprising, since A.J. Burnett takes the hill for New York tonight. Girardi has tied those two together due to an irresponsible reliance on catcher ERA – if ever there was a stat that showed the misdiagnoses of correlation and causation, this is it – even as Burnett got bombed with Molina behind the plate in the first inning of his last start. However, Joe thinks that the comfort of his starting pitcher is more important than having a good hitter in the line-up.

The problem, however, is that the Yankees took Francisco Cervelli off the playoff roster before the World Series began. Now, New York is only carrying two catchers, taking away the safety net that allowed Girardi to pinch hit Posada early in previous games that Molina began. If he does that again tonight, he’s essentially gambling that Posada will not get hurt after he enters the game, because with Molina already out of the game, there’s no viable replacement for Posada at that point.

Regradless of whether he takes that risk or not, the cost of starting Molina is higher without Cervelli on the roster. Girardi had to know he was going to do this in game two, so then swapping out Cervelli for Brian Bruney doesn’t really make much sense. Of course, that just makes this fit in with the rest of Girardi’s postseason maneuvers.

The Yankees are still likely to win tonight. But man, their manager seems intent on tying their hands behind their back. You don’t get points for degree of difficulty, Joe – just put your best team on the field and get out of the way.


Breaking Down Burnett

A.J. Burnett, the veteran starter with the New York Yankees, has made three post-season starts in 2009. The right-hander has gone from quite good to OK to pretty bad in his three starts, which makes a person wonder just what to expect in Game Two of the World Series. With the Yankees having lost the opening game of the series, this is an important match-up for the top team in the American League. The squad needs to take at least one game at home before heading to Philadelphia for Games Three, Four and Five.

Let’s breakdown Burnett’s best post-season performance — against the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 9 (.205 WPA) — and his worst game — against the Angels on Oct. 22 (-.350 WPA). Hopefully, we can can a feel for what to expect from Burnett in Game Two of the World Series.

Oct. 9 – A.J. Burnett (vs Minnesota)

(Note: __/K means the pitch was a strike a foul ball or put in play; the absence of /K means it was a ball)

1st Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | CB/K | FB/K (fly out)
Batter 2: FB/K | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB (walk)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 9 Strikes (14 total)

Observations: Burnett had success when he was able to get ahead in the count. The heater was his preferred method of beginning an at-bats.

2nd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: CB/K | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 3: FB/K | CB/K | FB | CB/K (ground out)
Batter 4: FB/K | CB | FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 3 Balls | 12 Strikes (15 total)

Observations: Burnett again went to the fastball to get ahead and utilized his curve as his out-pitch. He was showing enough curveball command to wipe out a fastball-hitter in Delmon Young on three straight curves. Burnett’s nearly unhittable when he’s commanding that curveball.

3rd Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 2: FB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB/K (fly out)
Batter 4: FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout looking)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 7 Strikes (12 total)

Observations: Burnett loves the heater but the command of it escapes him at times, usually early in the half-inning after he’s been sitting.

4th Inning:
Batter 1: CB/K | CH/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB | FB/K (pop up)
Batter 3: CB | FB (hit batter)
Batter 4: CB/K | FB | FB (hit batter)
Batter 5: FB/K (single, runner thrown out at third)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 5 Strikes (10 total)

Observations: Burnett lacked command with the fastball in the fourth inning but instead of taking a couple pitches, the fifth batter swung at the first pitch after watching two players get plunked. He went first-pitch curves to a couple of fastball hitters.

5th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout looking)
Batter 2: CB/K | CB/K | CB | CB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB | CB (walk)
Batter 4: CB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 5: FB/K | FB | CB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 13 Balls | 12 Strikes (25 total)

Observations: The fastball command got away from Burnett and he struggled with just two pitches. He continued to use his curveball against weak breaking ball hitters.

6th Inning:
Batter 1: CB/K (ground out)
Batter 2: CB/K | FB | CB/K | CB | CB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 3: CB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB/K (triple)
Batter 5: FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 7 Balls | 11 Strikes (18 total)

Observations: Burnett still did not have his fastball command in the sixth inning so he relied heavily on the breaking ball by throwing seven of them during his first 11 pitches of the inning.

Overall, Burnett allowed just one run in six innings of work. He gave up three hits and five walks, while striking out six batters. Burnett allowed eight ground balls and three fly balls in the game. Once his ability to command the fastball disappeared, the night was over for the veteran hurler.

Oct. 22 – A.J. Burnett (vs Los Angeles)

1st Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (Walk)
Batter 2: FB/K | FB/K (Hit)
Batter 3: CB/K (Hit)
Batter 4: FB/K (Hit)
Batter 5: SL(?) | CB | FB/K (Hit)
Batter 6: FB/K | CB | CB/K | CB | CB/K (Fly out)
Batter 7: FB/K | CB/K | CB | CB/K (Double play)
Pitches: 9 Balls | 12 Strikes (21 Total)

Observations: The two first-pitch hits suggest that the hitters were pretty comfortable with the scouting report and Burnett and had a good idea what was coming. Once he was able to get ahead in the count with batters six and seven, Burnett had success. He’s established that he’s trying to pitch off of the fastball and finish hitters off with the curve. The slider is a possibly a show-me pitch, or more likely a misdiagnosed curve.

2nd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: FB/K (double play)
Batter 3: FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 2 Balls | 5 Strikes (7 total)

Observations: This is a case of the Angels batters being too aggressive. Batter 1 had a nice approach and took some pitches but the second and third hitters both jumped at the first pitches in each at-bat, even though Burnett was on the ropes. The pitcher kept to his game plan and threw first pitch fastballs in all three at-bats.

3rd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: CB | CB | FB/K | CB | CB (walk)
Batter 3: FB/K | FB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB/K (fielder’s choice)
Batter 4: FB\K | FB | FB/K | CB/K | FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 9 Balls | 11 Strikes (20 total)

Observations: Good things happen when you get ahead in the count. The Angels batters did a nice job of taking some pitches.

4th Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | CB/K (ground out)
Batter 2: CB/K (fly out)
Batter 3: FB/K | CB\K (double)
Batter 4: FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 1 Ball | 8 strikeouts (9 total)

Observations: With all four batters, Burnett threw first-pitch strikes with positive results in three cases. He’s established his ability to throw strikes with two plus pitches. We have yet to see his third pitch. And again we see the pattern of fastballs early in the count and curve balls to close it out.

5th Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB/K | CB | CB | FB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB/K (single)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 7 Strikes (12 total)

Observations: Burnett goes first-pitch heater with the first three until he gives up a hit. He then switches gears with the curveball.

6th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | CH(?) | FB | FB/K | FB\K | CB/K | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB\K (ground out)
Batter 3: CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 3 Balls | 8 Strikes (11 total)

Observations: To have a pitcher throw nine pitches to the first batter and then get out of the inning with just 11 thrown is ridiculous. The Angels batters were far too aggressive again. We also see the first changeup from Burnett… perhaps a sign that he’s feeling fatigued? The heater was still touching 96 mph, although not quite as consistently as earlier in the game.

7th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: FB/K | CB/K | CB | FB | CB | FB (walk)
Batter 3: Pitching change
Pitches: 5 Balls | 4 strikes (9 total)

Observations: First pitch fastballs again, but Burnett was then unable to put away the second batter after getting ahead 0-2.

Overall, Burnett allowed six runs on eight hits and three walks in six-plus innings of work. Two of the runs charged to him scored after he left the game in the seventh inning. He struck out three batters, while inducing 10 ground balls and five fly balls.

* * *

Here is what we know: Burnett is going to throw you either a fastball or a curveball. He’s going to try and get ahead with the fastball before finishing batters off with a curve. He tends to stick with the fastball until (a) he gets two strikes, or (b) the hitters start to make contact with the heater on foul balls. If he gives up a hit on the fastball, he tends to come back with a first-pitch curveball in the next at-bat. If Burnett is facing a batter that is a strong fastball hitter but with a weakness for off-speed pitches, then he’ll put the heater in his back pocket.

If Burnett is commanding both the fastball and the curveball, then it’s going to be a long night for the Phillies hitters. However, because he only throws two pitches, the loss of command on just one pitch can cause havoc for Burnett. If his command starts to falter, the hitters must show some patience against the right-hander, which the Angels club failed to do; as a result, they were unable to hammer the final nail in Burnett’s coffin and get into the bullpen. The lefty-heavy Phillies lineup is in tough considering the Yankees pitcher’s regular-season splits (.217/.310/.344 vs left-handed batters, .282/.366/.450 vs right-handed).


Cliff Lee, Ace

Regardless of your rooting interests last night, you had to be impressed by the complete domination of Cliff Lee. The Yankees have a great offense, but he made them look foolish all night, keeping all-star hitters off-balance with a mix of pitches that don’t look like they should be that hard to hit. He set the tone from the first hitter of the game, striking Derek Jeter out with this three pitch sequence:

Fastball, 91 MPH, foul
Curveball, 75 MPH, foul
Cutter, 85 MPH, strikeout

This was just a clinic on how to pitch. He changed speeds, eye level, and movement, finally putting Jeter away on a pitch up in the zone that, on it’s own, is pretty hittable. You generally don’t want to throw 85 MPH at the top of the strike zone, but Lee had set that pitch up perfectly with his first two offerings, and got a good contact hitter to swing right through it.

He had everything working last night, including a nasty curveball that Fox never tired of talking about. But for me, it was Lee’s change-up that was his true out pitch last night, and the reason he was able to shut down a line-up with some really good right-handed hitters. He threw 21 of them on the evening, 18 of which went for strikes, including five swinging strikes where the opposing hitter was just badly fooled. Actually, let’s just look at all of those change-ups.

1st inning, Mark Teixeira, ball.
2nd inning, Jorge Posada, foul.
2nd inning, Hideki Matsui, swing and a miss.
2nd inning, Robinson Cano, flyout.
3rd inning, Nick Swisher, swing and a miss.
3rd inning, Melky Cabrera, called strike
3rd inning, Johnny Damon, called strike.
4th inning, Mark Teixeira, called strike.
4th inning, Alex Rodriguez, swing and a miss.
4th inning, Alex Rodriguez, swing and a miss.
5th inning, Nick Swisher, ball.
5th inning, Nick Swisher, flyout.
6th inning, Melky Cabrera, flyout.
6th inning, Derek Jeter, ball.
7th inning, Jorge Posada, groundout.
8th inning, Nick Swisher, called strike.
8th inning, Nick Swisher, called strike.
9th inning, Mark Teixeira, groundout.
9th inning, Alex Rodriguez, swing and a miss.
9th inning, Jorge Posada, called strike
9th inning, Jorge Posada, foul.

The final total: three balls, five swinging strikes, six called strikes, two foul, five in play outs. Lee’s change-up was almost perfect. He used it against the power hitting Yankee right-handers, but also mixed it in to lefties effectively as well.

The “spike” curveball might have been the more interesting story for Fox to focus on, but the change-up was what led Lee to pitch one of the best games in World Series history.


WS Coverage: Philadelphia’s Lineup Construction

Here’s how the Philadelphia Phillies lineup card read for the opening game of the World Series last night.

1.Jimmy Rollins, SS
2.Shane Victorino, CF
3.Chase Utley, 2B
4.Ryan Howard, 1B
5.Jayson Werth, RF
6.Raul Ibanez, DH
7.Ben Francisco, LF
8.Pedro Feliz, 3B
9.Carlos Ruiz, CA

It’s possible that nothing here jumps off the page. Rollins and Victorino are typical 1 / 2 hitters; Utley is the Phillies best hitter; Howard fits the cleanup spot perfectly, and the rest of the lineup just sort of falls into place.

However, this is what we see when we look at the handedness of the batters: S-S-L-L-R-L-R-R-R Specifically, what stands out is the fact that Charlie Manuel is unnecessarily batting two left handed batters in a row: Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Right now, the Yankee bullpen has two left handed relievers in Damaso Marte and Phil Coke, both of whom are more than adequate against left handed batters. Joe Girardi should have no qualms about using either of these pitchers against Utley and Howard in the middle or late innings. This is the situation an opposing manager dreams of with regards to the LOOGY – you can use one of your lefty specialists to get out two batters in a row – in this case, the opponents two best hitters – and still have another one for another situation later in the game.

One of the potential arguments against this line of reasoning is that Chase Utley doesn’t show much of a platoon split and even showed a reverse platoon split this year (see graph). However, from The Book, left handed batters tend to show a platoon split of almost .027 points of wOBA. With the amount of variation present in this statistic, 1,000 PAs – roughly the amount that Utley has vs. LHPs in his career – are required to regress the observed platoon split halfway to the mean. So we should still assume that Utley will perform lower against left handed pitching.

And then consider the fact that Manuel leads his lineup off with two switch hitters. Switch hitters, intuitively, have a tiny platoon split compared to non-switch hitters. Then there’s the simple solution of merely switching Victorino and Utley in the lineup. It breaks the duo of left handed batters, and as an added bonus, batting Utley in the second spot leverages his talent slightly better. In the second spot, Utley will receive more PAs per game and will be less likely to bat with nobody on and 2 outs, as frequently happens in the first inning of games.

This decision had a minimal impact on Manuel’s Phillies in Game 1, as New York’s bullpen pitchers of either hand were ineffective. There is no reason, however, to continue to give your opponent a competitive advantage such as this, and Philly fans should hope to see a lineup change in Game 2.


Atlanta and Hudson Near Extension

Two weeks ago it appeared Tim Hudson was on his way to the land of free agents; however, Ken Rosenthal is now reporting that the 34-year-old has agreed in principle to a three-year extension worth roughly nine million per season. The deal makes sense for both sides. Hudson is a well-established pitcher capable of producing the 2 WAR necessary to make this deal worthwhile on an annual basis, yet injury concerns required Hudson to value security higher than a higher potential payout.

During his last healthy season, Hudson was worth 5.3 WAR. It’s unreasonable to expect him to return and duplicate a season that good, but barring unforeseen setback or re-injury, the Braves have hitched their wagon to Hudson as one of their five opening day starters. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson figure to be in the same boat. That leaves Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Jo-Jo Reyes battling it out for the final two rotation spots. Unless I’m missing something [I was, Reyes has one option remaining]. hat leaves the three starters who only joined the Braves last winter.

Lowe has three years and $45M remaining on his deal; Vazquez is in the final year of his contract worth $11.5M; Kawakami has an additional two seasons of $6.7M per left. That disparity probably keeps Kawakami in Atlanta, meaning it’s a battle of Lowe and Vazquez. Over the last three seasons Vazquez has posted xFIP of 2.89, 3.96, and 3.85; Lowe of 4.18, 3.43, and 3.50. Both had seasons uncharacteristic of previous years in 2009. Those numbers are not adjusted for league difficulty, Lowe has not been nearly a half run per nine innings better than Vazquez over 2007 and 2008.

There are cases to be made for trading either, but what it really comes down to is whether the Braves soured on Lowe (and sweetened on Vazquez) within a span of 12 months.


A Brief Review of Recent World Series

The last time I truly felt this apathetic about a World Series was the 2000 Subway Series. Usually team loyalty transfers over in cases like this, yet there is no lesser evil. The Phillies stole a world title from the Rays grasp with an assist from Mother Nature. The Yankees are the Yankees and they signed ol’ Nature to a contract especially for the post-season it seems. So maybe it comes as a relief when I state that everyone knows about the Phillies and Yankees to the point of ad nauseam and rather than previewing those two teams explicitly I wanted to look at the last 10 World Series and circle some interesting – if completely irrelevant – factoids to watch for in this Fall Classic.

Before leaping into the numbers, some notes on the data set.

As previously noted, this only includes World Series from the year 1999 until 2008. I went through the old game logs and noted the margin of victory and the total runs scored. With that data in tow, we can produce – hopefully – entertaining notes. For those in need of a refresher on what teams were involved, they are as follows:

1999: New York Yankees defeat Atlanta Braves
2000: New York Yankees defeat New York Mets
2001: Arizona Diamondbacks defeat New York Yankees
2002: Anaheim Angels defeat San Francisco Giants
2003: Florida Marlins defeat New York Yankees
2004: Boston Red Sox defeat St. Louis Cardinals
2005: Chicago White Sox defeat Houston Astros
2006: St. Louis Cardinals defeat Detroit Tigers
2007: Boston Red Sox defeat Colorado Rockies
2008: Philadelphia Phillies defeat Tampa Bay Rays

First up is the length of each series. No matter the results of games one-through-three, we will have a game four. The real fun – or lack thereof lately – is when games five, six, and sometimes seven are needed to decide a champion. Four series have ended in clean sweeps (1999, 2004, 2005, and 2007); three more have only gone five games; one has endured six games; and the memorable 2001 and 2002 series went all seven.

The average margin of victory is about three runs throughout, with the highest concentration of run differential coming in game ones. Not sure if there’s any significance there, but game ones also generate the highest run per game average as well. That seems a bit odd considering of the 15 games to have 10 or more total runs scored, only three came in game ones; games two and three also appeared on that last three times and game two features the 2002 series in which 21 total runs were scored.

Surprisingly, those 21 runs combined for a one-run game which is more than what most of the blowouts can attest to. In 2001 the Diamondbacks and Yankees combined for 17 runs, but the undercard D-Backs held a 13 run lead at the end of the game – which marks the highest margin of victory in the set. 2002 (game five) and 2007 (game one) tied for second with 12 run disparities. Oddly enough, those are the only three series to feature a margin of victory over 10 runs, and three of the six to see a margin of victory exceed more than five runs.

Of the 51 World Series games, 22 have been decided by a single run and 37 by three runs or fewer. Not all fit under the standard definition of a save situation – i.e. some were come-from-behind or extra inning walkoff victories – which lessens the significance that the two closers could play in the decision.

I’ll echo Dave’s statements from earlier when I say seven closely contested games would be pretty fantastic and the Pedro Martinez fan that lies beneath would enjoy seeing him pitch one more time like it’s 1999.


Bad Contract White Elephant

For fans of the Phillies and Yankees, this is an exciting week. For fans of the game in general, this could be a lot of fun. But for a pretty significant group of fans, they really only care about their team, and anything that does not involve their team isn’t particularly interesting. For those people, the playoffs can’t end soon enough, so that their team can go about making trades and free agent signings and the like. Right now, they’ve got nothing.

So, I have a proposal. Since Fox wants to drag out the playoffs with interminable off-days that serve no purpose to the fans, let’s create something for the fans of the other 28 teams to enjoy during the end of October. And what do fans enjoy more than hot stove roster mongering? Thinking up ways to get rid of the one guy on the roster they hate more than anyone else.

The solution is obvious – the 28 teams that don’t qualify for the World Series send their General Manager to a large conference room, not unlike what the NFL uses for the draft. Each GM brings one contract, places it in a pile, and prepares for Bad Contract White Elephant.

You’ve all participated in some kind of White Elephant Christmas exchange, I’d imagine. This would be just like that, only the “gifts” would be albatross contracts. Alex Anthropolous would bring Vernon Wells’ commitment. Brian Sabean would bring Barry Zito’s deal. Jim Hendry would show up with the Alfonso Soriano contract. You get the idea.

Can you imagine how much fun it would be watching Billy Beane reach into a stack of contracts praying to come away with one of the more innocuous deals (Pat Burrell?), only to end up pulling a budget buster like Todd Helton, and then spending the next several hours trying to convince Josh Byrnes to steal Helton in order to not risk getting stuck with Wells, Soriano, or Zito?

Watching the strategy play out would be amazing. Does Dave Dombrowski dump the $10 million he owes Dontrelle Willis that will return him no value or the $18 million he owes Magglio Ordonez that will return him some value? If you have the opportunity to swap Jose Guillen for Carlos Lee, do you take on the extra money in order to get a player who can actually help your team, or do you reach into the stack and hope to come away with something better than either? What GM actually puts a good player in the pot just because he’s not particularly good at judging player value? (Okay, this would probably be Dayton Moore).

Seriously, who wouldn’t watch this? Bad Contract White Elephant would be a ratings bonanza. They could even set it up where all the ad revenue generated through the television rights would be applied directly to the bad contracts themselves, giving baseball a way to get revenue from guys who are generally despised by their fan base.

Make it happen, Bud – this could be the single greatest innovation of your reign as commissioner.


WS Preview: The Yankees Are Good

It’s finally here. Baseball takes the stage with two worthy contenders for the title, as the defending champs match up with the best team in baseball. The Phillies and Yankees both deserve to be here, and hopefully, we’ll get our first really good series of the playoffs.

That said, there’s an ugly possibility lurking for those hoping for a seven game, knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish – this Yankees team is capable of making this a very quick knockout.

The Phillies are a good offensive team, with some terrific hitters and a deep lineup. But the disparity in run production is still significant. The Phillies posted a .340 wOBA as a team, good for fifth best in baseball. That translates to +62 runs above average as a team, the best mark of any club in the National League. They are a good group of hitters.

The Yankees posted a .366 wOBA, which translates into a staggering +198 runs above average. The Red Sox were the only team within 100 runs of the Yankees in wRAA, checking in at +122. New York was 110 runs ahead of the third best offense in baseball, by linear weights. The 26 point gap between the Yankees and Phillies in wOBA is essentially equal to the gap between the Phillies and the Astros.

The disparity won’t be quite that dramatic in the head to head match-up due to the same rules being applied to both teams in regards to the DH, but that just diminishes the difference from ridiculous to huge. As good as the Phillies lineup is, the Yankees are just better.

Philly will have to make up that gap with their run prevention, but that’s easier said than done. The biggest flaw on the Yankee team is the back end of their rotation, which is the part of the roster most marginalized in a playoff series. The Yankees managed to hand 83 percent of their ALCS innings to CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, while leaving just 17 percent for everyone else. They probably won’t be able to repeat that mark in the World Series, but Philadelphia hitters should still expect to see that quartet 75 percent of the time.

The one real area where the Phillies have a distinct advantage is on defense. Their defenders will bail their pitchers out of jams, while Yankee hurlers are left to do that on their own. But that alone won’t be enough to overcome the advantages New York has – the Phillies are just going to have to get some guys to play over their heads.

In a short series, anything can happen. Even with the talent advantage on the Yankee side of things, the Phillies still have something like a 40 percent chance to win the series. But as much as I’m hoping for a classic series with seven close games, there remains a distinct possibility that the Yankees could just blow the Phillies out of the water. They’re that good.


World Series Coverage: Phillies Look to Repeat

The 2008 World Champions are back in the World Series in ’09, but the club faces a huge challenge in the form of the New York Yankees, a club that boasts the largest payroll in Major League Baseball. Both clubs, though, have paid a hefty price for their success and both clubs have benefited from the free agent and trade markets.

In fact, neither Game 1 starter was with their respective teams one year ago. Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee was playing with Cleveland, while C.C. Sabathia signed with New York prior to the ’09 season as a free agent. He began ’08 with The Tribe, but was later traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. The two hurlers were teammates for six-and-a-half seasons, so you can bet each pitcher has given extensive scouting reports to their respective offense.

Both aces have been dominating throughout the season and in the post season:

Regular Season
Sabathia: 3.39 FIP, 7.71 K/9, .233 AVG, 6.0 WAR
Cliff Lee: 3.11 FIP, 7.03 K/9, .273 AVG, 6.6 WAR

Post Season
Sabathia: 2.44 FIP, 7.94 K/9, .210 AVG, 0.79 WPA
Cliff Lee: 1.82 FIP, 7.40 K/9, .169 AVG, 0.86 WPA

Sabathia has dominated opponents with a very good fastball-changeup combination, while mixing in some average sliders. Lee, on the other hand, relies heavily on a good fastball, while mixing an assortment of average pitches and maintaining excellent control. Who has the edge? My gut says New York, mainly because the hitters have, on average, seen a lot more of Lee than Philly has seen of Sabathia.

New York has yet to announce who will pitch in Games Two and Three, but Philly will follow Lee with veteran Pedro Martinez — who has seen a lot of the Yankees during his time in Boston — and the disappointing Cole Hamels. The Phillies club has also activated pitcher Brett Myers for the World Series. The free-agent-to-be was on the NLCS roster, but he was removed for the NLDS. Utility player Miguel Cairo was deleted from the active roster.

Through the nine-game post-season, the hottest hitters for the Phillies have been:
Shane Victorino (.361/.439/.722)
Jayson Werth (.281/.395/.813)
Ryan Howard (.355/.462/.742)
Carlos Ruiz (.346/.500/.500).

The biggest disappointments have been:
Jimmy Rollins (.244/.279/.317)
Pedro Feliz (.161/.212/.355).

In order to repeat as World Champions, Philadelphia will have to get to the Yankees’ top starters, including Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. In the bullpen, both Mariano Rivera (eight appearances) and Joba Chamberlain (seven) have been overworked in the nine-game post-season. As well, outside of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, the offense has been inconsistent. But as any American League fan can tell you, New York’s offense is always one at-bat away from exploding.


Andre Ethier’s Offensive Defense

Andre Ethier has been a keystone in the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup during their playoff runs over the last two years. He has been an above average hitter since reaching the major leagues in 2006, but in 2008 he took a major step forward, becoming a legitimate offensive star. His 53.3 wRAA since 2008 ranks 24th in the major leagues.

Over the last two seasons, there are 10 players within 6 wRAA of Ethier’s 53.3. Of these players, the average WAR is 8.4, or 4.2 per season. Evan Longoria leads this impressive pack of players at 12.6 wins, having contributed 37.7 runs of defensive value.

At the bottom of the list is our subject, Andre Ethier. As he plays the corner outfield positions, he already starts out with a position adjustment of -13.9 runs. Combine that with a -21.7 UZR over 308 games in the outfield, and Ethier has cost the Dodgers 35.6 runs with the glove.

Ethier’s first two seasons suggested some defensive talent. Over his first 271 games (212 starts), Ethier compiled a +6.5 UZR in the outfield. Of course, this is not the only example of a UZR sample of this size showing a significant deviation from the following two seasons. However, we can ask: what changed?

First of all, let’s look at the biggest component of the statistic: range. Ethier showed fantastic range in 2007 after showing average range in 2006. His range fell off a cliff then in 2008 and 2009, at -6.6 and -6.9 runs, respectively.

Similarly, Ethier’s arm looked fantastic in 2006, at 6.8 runs in merely 92 DG (defensive games adjusted for attempts). He has not shown that skill since, and his arm dipped below -5 runs above average this season. It is possible that his arm was better suited to left field – his ARM in 154 DG is +4.1 in LF vs. -6.9 in 371 DG in RF.

It appears that we have two major outliers skewing his results from 2006 and 2007. Ethier’s +6.8 ARM rating may have been a product of both his time in left field as well as random variation in the statistic. Since his move to playing primarily right field in 2007, his arm has rated as nearly 10 runs below average, the ninth worst overall mark over the past three years.

The other outlier is Ethier’s +5.2 range score in 2007. Ethier has never showed the skills of a fast player. He’s been caught stealing (16 times) nearly as many times as he’s stolen a base (17). His 32 infield hits since 2007 is nearly average among qualified players, and he’s only attempted one bunt since 2007 and didn’t get a hit on. As mentioned above, Ethier’s range score in 2008 and 2009 was a combined 13.5 runs below average, a far cry from his excellent 2007 mark.

Ethier now has a sample of 371 DG in RF and 525 total OF DG. That’s a sample of roughly 3.5 total seasons and roughly 2.5 RF seasons. A better guess than looking at last year’s -15 season is to look at his career as a whole. Ethier now has a -4.4 UZR/150 for his career, but a -6.8 UZR/150 in RF. The Fan’s Scouting Report rates Ethier as a roughly average fielder. Given these two sources of data, we can conclude that Ethier is probably a below average fielder, but probably not as bad as 2009 would suggest. A conservative projection would probably call Ethier a -3 to -5 run fielder in RF going forward.

This is not to say that Ethier has not been a valuable player for the Dodgers. His 7.6 WAR since 2007 place him in the top 100 position players in the league. With 30 teams, players of Ethier’s talent level are difficult to find and are an asset for any team.


Gabe Kapler Re-Signs with Tampa Bay

Last season, the Rays signed Gabe Kapler to platoon with Gabe Gross in right field. Yesterday the Rays re-signed the righty bopper to partake in a similar role, this time likely with Matt Joyce. The details of the contract are pretty minor; it’s a one-year $1.05M deal, which represents a slight raise over Kapler’s salary of $1,000,018 last year.

The Rays are a glutton for outfielders. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton are two of the best defenders in baseball, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez are serviceable, and there’s always Joyce and the highly touted Desmond Jennings to join the fray sometime next year as well, so re-signing Kapler may raise some eyebrows. He’s older and more susceptible to false praise about how hard he runs or devoted he is to working out. Still, Kapler holds some quantifiable attributes that should help the 2010 version of the Rays out.

For one, he hammers left-handed pitching. Over his last three seasons against southpaws – seasons, instead of years, since Kapler was busy managing in the minor leagues in 2007 – Kapler has maintained OPSs of .931 (145 AB), 1.001 (82 AB), and .749 (68 AB). Kapler is less effective against righties, but Joe Maddon used him efficiently last season and there’s no reason to believe Maddon will suddenly become liberal in his substitution patterns based on platoon splits. Kapler should get around 200 plate appearances with at least 75% coming with a platoon advantage. He should also have a higher OPS against right-handers next than .357 (aided by a BABIP near .200).

Kapler is better than pedestrian as a defender, too. The raw UZR numbers account only for the playing time he receives, so the last three seasons (from most recent to oldest: 6.2, 3.2, and 1.5) aren’t entirely telling of his talent level. His UZR/150s during that same time period are 9.7, 11.4, and 6.1; that makes him an above average defender and one capable of manning the occasional post in center if needed.

Watching Kapler is entirely captivating yet, at times, maddening. He plays the outfield and runs the bases like a spider on LSD – which is to say he appears to have eight legs and lacks basic control of each – and he looks like your typical jockhead with big muscles, a shaved head, eye black, the occasional pair of high socks. Then you listen to him talk and he comes off articulate and personable. Jonah Keri swore by this after spending some time talking to him last spring training, and I was in disbelief until hearing him in a post-game interview.

Quite a bit has been made locally about the Rays ignoring clubhouse chemistry and all that jazz, yet if the Rays win this season or in 2010, I guarantee Kapler would be praised as one of the glue guys. There’s enough grit and hustle to captivate the casual fan, yet still a pinch of underrated charm to endear the more sophisticated crowd.

Given the low cost and likely production of Kapler, this has the looking of an easy win on the Rays end.


Pedro Meets The Yankees Again

The last time Pedro Martinez faced the New York Yankees in the post-season came back during the 2004 American League Championship Series. Some may recall that series because (a) it launched a million annoying Red Sox fans and (b) Pedro appeared in game seven as a reliever, pitching an inning and giving up a few runs. Five years later, many things have changed. The Yankees’ trophy cases are empty since – Boston’s case is not – and Pedro has only appeared in one playoff game since leaving soon after.

Needless to say, the old rivals will have some catching up to do prior to Pedro’s first start – whether that comes in Game Two or Three is anyone’s guess at the moment. The Yankees side of things seems to be well-covered, so let’s focus on Pedro and what he works with nowadays.

Fastball

No longer the ethereal and (at times) deadly projectile of times past, Pedro can still get over 90 MPH, just not with any sense of regularity. That doesn’t stop him from using the pitch nearly 60% of the time. The lack of top-end velocity hasn’t stopped batters from swinging and missing 9.3% of the time either. Left-handed batters, of which the Yankees have a few, still went contact-less about 9% of the time. Pedro’s fastballs still flash some decent movement too, just at a reduced pace.

Change-up

The Isis to the fastball’s Osiris, Pedro’s change is quite the miss. Despite a whiff rate of 18%, it does have a negative run value; however, the figure could be a benefactor of shoddy luck rather than a staple of ineffectiveness because of defensive dependence. The Phillies were one of the three best defensive teams in the National League as told by UZR and their pitchers combined for a .304 regular season BABIP (for reference: Pedro’s regular season BABIP was .315). Looking for the actual hit data against the change-up to corroborate the ‘it’s just luck’ assortment serves no help to Pedro. The pitch was put into play on 41 occasions and 25 turned into outs. That’s a .390 BABIP on 46% groundballs and a wee bit misfortunate. The question becomes whether a pitch can generate that many whiffs and yet still be extremely hittable. Maybe it was location or good guessing by the hitters or maybe it’s just small sample sizes magnifying everything.

Breaking pitches

Pedro’s curveball gets the second most whiffs of his pitches. There’s some debate as to whether he throws a slider or cutter. The pitch goes in the low-80s, so I would call it a slider. It doesn’t induce many empty swings, no matter what you call it.


The Most Delusional Man On The Planet

Gary Matthews Jr is not a good baseball player. He’s also completely unaware of this. Here’s a quote from the LA Times:

“I don’t expect to be back; it’s time to move on,” outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said as he packed his belongings in the team’s Angel Stadium clubhouse today. “I’m ready to play for an organization that wants me to play every day. This organization has other plans, and that’s OK.”

And about that contract of his?

“It’s definitely not as big as it was a year ago,” Matthews said. “Obviously, there are some teams that can’t afford it, but when I’m playing every day, I feel I can be a top-line center fielder, and that, I would think, is what a lot of teams want.”

.

Well, he is right about one thing – his contract is not as large as it was a year ago. It’s still a boat anchor of a deal for a player who has basically no chance of ever starting for another major league team again. Over the first three seasons of his contract with Anaheim, Matthews has been worth -$5.3 million in salary. That minus sign is not a typo. Given his performance relative to the value that could have been found by playing any random Triple-A guy instead, Matthews owes the Angels $5.3 million for taking wins off the board. Even without the contract, he’d have a hard time convincing anyone to employ him in 2010 after two straight seasons of below replacement level production.

The contract makes it impossible for the Angels to trade him, so in the end, they’ll just end up releasing him, at which point Mr. Matthews may be shocked to learn that other teams do not share his optimism about his ability to still be a top-line center fielder. He’s 35 years old and hasn’t shown any ability to hit or field since 2006. The market for aging veterans has collapsed the last few years, as useful players such as Kenny Lofton, Ray Durham, and Frank Thomas have been forced into early retirement against their wishes. Teams simply aren’t willing to use roster spots on players that they feel will create problems in reserve roles, choosing instead to give opportunities to hungry twenty somethings who will work their tails off to live the dream.

Over the last three years, Matthews has proven that he’s not worthy of a starting job and not willing to accept a reserve role, so in the end, he’s probably going to find himself with a new job entirely – one that has nothing to do with playing major league baseball. Sorry, Gary, but you probably just talked yourself right out of the game.


A Minor Review of ’09: Houston Astros

Prospect ranking season is just around the corner. In anticipation of that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The popular series is back for a second year.

Houston Astros

The Graduate: Felipe Paulino, RHP
Paulino is a perfect example that velocity is not everything. Despite having a heater that averaged out at 95.4 mph in ’09, the right-hander’s fastball value was just -2.36 wFB/C. His curveball and changeup (both of which were used infrequently) were also ineffective. His slider was a quality pitch, but it was easy for MLB hitters to lay off of it because nothing else was working for him. As a result, Paulino was hit hard: 1.84 HR/9 rate and 126 hits allowed in 97.2 innings. He’ll need to improve his repertoire if he’s going to have success in ’10.

The Riser: T.J. Steele, OF
An excellent athlete, there were serious questions about Steele’s hitting ability when he sign out of the University of Arizona in ’08. Lancaster can do wonderful things for an offensive prospect. In 194 high-A at-bats, the outfielder hit .345/.385/.562 in 194 at-bats before injuries wiped out his season. Impressively, Steele trimmed his strikeout rate from 32.1 to 20.6%. Despite getting caught six times in 14 attempts, he has plus speed, and the .216 ISO makes for a dangerous combination (unless that was strictly a result of playing in high-A Lancaster).

The Tumbler: Brad James, RHP
James is one of the more perplexing players in the system. The right-hander has a solid sinker/slider combo, but his sinker has lost effectiveness over the past two seasons. In ’09, James struggled mightily although he still posted a ground-ball rate of 54% and limited line-drives to just 13%. He had trouble finding the plate in ’09 with a walk rate of 5.18%. His strikeout rate of 4.60 K/9 did inspire much hope either.

The ’10 Sleeper: Leandro Cespedes, RHP
On first blush, the 22-year-old right-hander’s numbers do not look overly special. But Cespedes was pitching in Lancaster, which usually destroys young hurlers. His ERA of 5.06 is not terrible for the league but, more importantly, his FIP was just 3.95. He posted a reasonable 3.55 BB/9, but the 28 wild pitches are worrisome. His strikeout rate dropped from 9.48 in ’08 to 7.93 K/9 in ’09. Cespedes survived Lancaster despite a 38.7% ground-ball rate. He has a fastball that touches the low-90s, as well as a splitter and slider.

Bonus: Koby Clemens, C
Clemens was highlighted in the ’08 series as the Astros’ sleeper prospect for ’09 and he made us look smart (playing in Lancaster did not hurt). His ISO jumped from .155 in ’08 to .291 in ’09 and he posted a 1.055 OPS. Clemens also led the minor leagues with 121 RBI. The former third baseman still remains raw behind the plate and he also saw time in left field at Lancaster. Clemens allowed 18 passed balls and threw out just 20% of base stealers. If he keeps hitting like he did in ’09 (which is unlikely), it won’t matter where he ends up in the field.


Ryan Howard Against LHPs

One interesting match-up in the upcoming World Series is all of the great left handed Phillies hitters against a Yankees’ rotation that features two solid left handed pitchers, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The Phillies will face a lefty starter in at least half of the World Series games no matter if the Yankees go with a three or four man rotation or how many games the series goes.

The biggest issue for the Phillies is Ryan Howard, who is a very bad hitter against LHPs.
2154_1B_season__lr_mini_8_20091006
On the splits page, you can see that the biggest difference is in his ISO and K rate. On the other hand, in recent years, the difference in his walk rate against LHP and RHP has decreased. Looking at a pitch-by-pitch basis he takes more called strikes against LHPs than RHPs (13% of pitches versus 11% of pitches). His whiff rate increases from 28% against RHPs to 38% (Mark Reynolds territory) against LHPs. Here is how his whiff rate varies by horizontal pitch location:
x_whiff
Interestingly, he whiffs less on inside pitches from LHPs than RHPs. Next, let’s check out his slugging on balls in play:
x_powbip
Here you see a big difference. Against RHPs he maintains high power across most of the plate (it peaks in the middle of the plate, not surprisingly). But against LHPs his power is relegated to the middle-away, and it falls off sharply inside.

Putting the graphs together explains his overall weakness against LHPs. On inside pitches, he doesn’t whiff that often, but has little power. On the outer portion of the plate, he can hit for some power, but he whiffs at a huge rate.

If you project Howard as roughly a .450 wOBA hitter versus RHBs and roughly a .300 wOBA hitter against LHPs that works out to a 0.13 run difference per at-bat. That is over half a run every four at-bats, an enormous difference and significant cause for concern for the Phillies in the games they face Sabathia and Pettitte.


Were the Yankee Sac Bunts in the 8th Inning Correct?

The answer to that question is complicated. There is no easy yes or no answer and that is not so much because there are so many variables we don’t know the answer. It has to do with game theory. Oh, in case you didn’t watch the 6th game of the ALCS or you forgot, in the 8th inning with the Yankees up 3-2, Swisher bunted with a runner on first (and no out of course) and when he reached on an ROE, Melky bunted with runners on first and second.

Many people, including those who are sabermetrically inclined, typically decry the sacrifice bunt – why give away outs? The conventional (and lazy) sabermetric wisdom used to be that sac bunt attempts were almost always incorrect – at least ever since The Hidden Game of Baseball told us so and legions of sabermetric fans and even sabermetricians looked at the RE and WE tables and noticed that the game state after an out and base runner advance was worse than before – hence the sac bunt is wrong.

The problem of course is that that is a ridiculously simplistic way to answer the question on two fronts. One, the WE or RE before and after a “successful” sac bunt, using a standard table, is based on an average batter in an average lineup against an average pitcher and defense in an average stadium on an average Spring day. At least some analysts recognized that in different contexts, those numbers would have to be revised. However, most of them also noted that the gap was so large between the “before” and “after” state (in favor of the “before” state – which assumes hitting away most of the time), that it would take an enormously bad hitter -like a pitcher – to make it correct to bunt. They would basically be right.

Now, there is a more important and pertinent reason why looking at RE and WE charts and comparing the “before” and “after” numbers do not help you in answering the question as to whether a sac bunt (by a non-pitcher) is correct in any given situation. And that is because a sac bunt attempt obviously does not lead to an out and a base runner advance 100% of the time (or even close to 100%); in fact the average result from a sac bunt attempt is not even equivalent to an out and a base runner advance. Also, the average result varies a lot with the speed and bunting skill of the batter and whether and by how much the defense is anticipating the bunt or not (among other things).

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