Archive for October, 2010

World Series Game 3 Live Blog


Contract Crowdsourcing Results: First Baseman

Well, you guys certainly don’t see much of a difference between the second tier free agent first baseman. The results of our afternoon crowdsourcing:

Average length:

Paul Konerko: 2.43 years
Carlos Pena: 2.25 years
Aubrey Huff: 2.20 years
Lance Berkman: 1.68 years
Lyle Overbay: 1.44 years

Average salary:

Konerko: $10.96 million
Pena: $8.94 million
Huff: $8.80 million
Berkman: $7.70 million
Overbay: $4.80 million

Median contract:

Konerko: 2 years, $20 million
Pena: 2 years, $16 million
Huff: 2 years, $16 million
Berkman: 2 years, $16 million
Overbay: 1 year, $5 million

Standard deviations:

Konerko: 0.90 years, $3.73 million
Pena: 1.00 years, $3.44 million
Huff: 0.76 years, $2.88 million
Berkman: 0.69 years, $2.85 million
Overbay: 0.70 years, $2.24 million

The Berkman result is, to me, the most surprising one yet. I’ll take the under by a good margin on his deal, as I think he ends up settling for something like 1 year, $5 million. I’ll take the under on Huff as well, though I could see the Giants rewarding him for a good 2010 season after getting the World Series. If they let him test his market value as a free agent, though, I don’t think he’ll get 2/16, given his history of inconsistency. I’ll take the over on Konerko’s average salary, though I agree that two years is probably all he’ll get. Pena and Overbay sound about right.

Add in the availability of Adam Dunn, along with guys we didn’t project like Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche, Nick Johnson, and Russell Branyan, and the market for first baseman is going to be very crowded this winter. I don’t think anyone’s going to land a big deal as teams will have too many other options to get tied into overpaying any one player.


Should Cain Have Been Pulled for a Pinch Hitter?

It is difficult criticize a manager’s decisions when his team wins 9-0. This is particularly true when his counterpart puts on a managing performance so memorably horrible. Yes, I bravely hold the position that Bruce Bochy is out-managing Ron Washington this series. Indeed, Washington’s decisions (or lack thereof? It’s really hard to tell) from Vladimir Guerrero in Game One to the eternal eighth inning of Game Two have been so bad that my response has gone from baffled to amused to sad to thinking they are so obviously bad they aren’t worth arguing about. So I won’t dwell on Washington’s various mistakes, but on what some think is one of Bochy’s: not pulling Cain for a pinch hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on second and the Giants only leading by 2-0.

Given the Giants’ seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered either way, but obviously Bochy couldn’t have known that would happen. That is why there is some traction to the notion that Bochy should have hit for Cain. Like most pitchers, Cain is a terrible hitter, so much so that we don’t need to worry about the pinch-hitting penalty from whomever would have come in. With two outs, a bunt wouldn’t have done any good, so Cain had to swing away. A two-run lead isn’t impregnable, even with Cain pitching well. With no game on Friday night, the bullpen was available, why not use them for the last two innings? These reasons for pulling Cain after a job well done make sense, and seemed pretty persuasive when, with a runner on, Josh Hamilton came up to the plate in position to tie the game with one swing. Bochy ended up going to the bullpen and bringing in Javier Lopez to face him.

On the other side of the argument, just as it’s unfair to consider that the Giants ended up blowing out the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth in evaluating Bochy’s decision, it’s also a not the right move to judge it from the standpoint of Hamilton coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game. We have to go from the information Bochy had available to him at the time. While a two run lead is far from insurmountable, Cain had indeed been pitching well. Perhaps he hadn’t been as dominating in the sixth and seventh innings as he had been earlier, but despite the overall lack of strikeouts, he appeared to be handling the Rangers hitters well for the most part. Whatever stock one puts into pitch counts, Cain wasn’t over 100 at the time he came up to bat. Moreover, the beginning of the eighth didn’t look to be that challenging — Bochy knew Cain would be facing a pinch-hitter (who turned out to be the noodle-batted Julio Borbon; but even Vladimir Guerrero still would have faced both the platoon disadvantage and the difficulty of hitting off of the bench), then Elvis Andrus (who has been hot in the playoffs, but still isn’t much of a hitter), and then Michael Young. Hamilton would only come up if at least one runner got on, which is what happened. However, Bochy still had the option to use Lopez versus Hamilton, which he did. Bochy may not have wanted to bring in closer Brian Wilson because, other than the two innings issue, he still wanted to be able to bring in Wilson later if necessary. One could make an argument for say, Sergio Romo at the beginning of the eighth, but even that’s a judgment call based on how Bochy and his coaches felt Cain was pitching.

I can see the arguments for both sides, and things did get tense once Andrus got on base. But one more bit of data: the leverage index for Cain’s plate appearance was on 0.55. In terms of the Giants chances of winning at that point, the situation wasn’t all that crucial. I can see the arguments for pinch-hitting for Cain and using Romo to start the the eighth inning, but given the low leverage of Cain’s plate appearance, his chances against the likely Rangers hitters, and the availability of Lopez to face Hamilton if he were to come up, if I can’t heartily endorse Bochy’s decision, I have a hard time criticizing it. Given how the game turned out, I realize my position doesn’t take much courage, but hey, I’d say the same thing if Hamilton had homered, right? Uh, right.


Cain’s Pitch Type Usage in Game 2

Matt Cain’s seven-and-two-thirds inning, four-hit performance last night leaves him with 21.1 innings of playoff ball having allowed just a single run (and it was unearned). With all the other amazing playoff performances, Cain has flown a little bit under the radar. Part of Cain’s inconspicuousness might be because he hasn’t done it with overpowering stuff – just 13 strikeouts – but instead by inducing weak contact. This is a skill Cain has shown throughout his career, with a BABIP of 0.274.

I was mostly interested in last night’s game because, looking at the pitchf/x numbers, Cain was throwing a drastically different mix of pitches than he usually does. Cain is a four-pitch pitcher, and his fastball, slider, curve and change distinctly cluster in horizontal movement vs velocity space — making them easy to classify. Here are his pitches for 2010 and last night.

You can see how clearly Cain’s pitches cluster out, so there is little ambiguity in classifying them. Last night, compared to the season as a whole, Cain threw more changeups (26% versus 15%), more sliders (20% versus 10%), fewer fastballs (52% versus 62%) and many fewer curveballs (under 2% versus 13%).

I wanted to know whether the difference from his average pitch usage was anything out of the ordinary compared to other games (i.e., was it just standard fluctuation between games or a real shift). Here are the fractions of Cain’s non-fastballs over the course of the 2010 season for each game, with the same color-code: purple for curves, red for sliders, and yellow for changeups.

It looks like last night’s game was the continuation of a trend in decreasing curveball use, throwing the fewest curves of any game this season. On the other hand he threw the greatest fraction of changeups of any game this season, and there have been few games where he has thrown as high a fraction of sliders.

It is interesting that Cain would so drastically change his pitch usage during the World Series — and the playoffs in general, where we see the decrease in curves — but, obviously, the results have been good for him.


Contract Crowdsourcing: First Baseman

Since Major League Baseball made the step of beginning free agency just five days after the World Series ends – a terrific move to get the off-season going earlier, by the way – and the Giants are threatening to end the postseason sooner than later, I figure that we have some catching up to do on contract crowdsourcing. So, instead of doing them one by one, we’re going to start categorizing them by position, save for a few of the more interesting players we haven’t covered yet – Cliff Lee will get his own post, for instance.

Today, first baseman. We’ve already covered Adam Dunn (who was projected for 3/36), but there are quite a few alternatives for teams who want to go another direction. The forms are after the jump, and we’ll cover the results later today.

Read the rest of this entry »


My Bryce Harper Experience

Spending this week at the Arizona Fall League has been a great opportunity to check an item off my Baseball Bucket List, but from a practical standpoint, an equally great opportunity to try and match reputation to reality with many of the players I write about. No player in this league comes in with a reputation larger than Bryce Harper, so to see him play one game and take two batting practices has been a good chance to decide how much of what I’ve read is hyperbole. Turns out, not much. I didn’t get to see Harper at this best — he was 0-for-4 with 2 Ks in the game — but the process is worth writing about. I realize that at this point Bryce Harper stories are a dime-a-dozen, but until you all have had a chance to see him, you should pain yourself to read another.

To me, one of the most amazing parts of seeing Bryce is seeing the amount of attention he draws from his opponents. When I saw him take batting practice in Scottsdale on Tuesday, the other team was stretching on the third base side when Harper entered the cage. Each time he was up, a number of players stopped what they were doing to watch him take batting practice. You can’t help it. And, during the game on Wednesday, his approach on the opposing pitchers is palpable. Starting pitcher Robert Carson hit 94 mph only twice during the game, both during his lone shot at retiring Harper. In his next at-bat, this time against Chris Carpenter, we saw the Cubs prospect pull back and hit 98 on the fourth pitch of his at-bat.

The other thing worth pointing out, that has nothing to do with his physical tools or swing, is that it’s clear that Harper is a baseball rat. What Jason Grey wrote on Twitter Monday is absolutely true: “You can tell Bryce Harper not used to sitting – for multiple games constantly on front step of dugout fidgeting with a glove & ball or a bat.” When the Scottsdale offense registered the third out, Harper was always the first out of the dugout. When he was not up at the plate, he was always on the top step, and the most vocal of any player. Normally, make-up stories don’t do it for me, but I think Harper being a baseball rat is going to be a massive help in marrying his potential with his ultimate results.

Because, in case you haven’t been told this when things get hyperbolic with Harper hype, there is work to be done. The most glaring is the new position, right field, which Harper is clearly still learning. His reads of balls off the bat are still slow, as they are going to be while he learns to judge angles and distance from a new place on the field. The physical tools are more than enough to succeed at the position, however, and my belief in his work ethic gives me confidence the move will work. We saw Harper’s arm on a couple occasions, the most impressive of which is when he threw out Kirk Nieuwenhuis at home plate when the Met prospect tried to tag from third base. It’s either a 60 or 65 grade on the 20-80 scale, which means that it’s more than enough to be an asset in right.

The other thing that needs development is Harper’s approach, which will be hard to help much with two games a week in the Arizona Fall League. Harper swings too often: the last seven pitches he saw on Wednesday were all swings. He flied out in the last pitch of the Carpenter at-bat, then three straight swings (two of which were misses) in a strikeout against Brian Leach, and three straight swings in a groundout against Chris Kissock. Harper will find that his great power is much easier to use when he gets in good hitter’s counts. It will be interesting to see how often he walks in a full season league next year.

The weakness you’ve probably read about, which is true, is that Bryce Harper is going to strike out. Probably a lot. Power hitters often do, and Harper is no exception — he swings incredibly hard at the baseball, and sometimes goes after pitches that he shouldn’t. What I will point out, though, is that we should not be worried about his strikeout rate. Because Harper swings so hard, and is so strong, what was clear in batting practice is that he is going to hit a ton of line drives. Like he will with home runs, he will be among the top of the Major League leaderboards in that category one day. All this leads me to say that we safely project Harper to have BABIPs above league average, which will help mitigate a strikeout rate north of 20%.

I saw Bryce Harper go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. I saw him take a batting practice where he failed to hit a single home run. And I can say, unequivocally, that Harper is the best player I saw in Arizona, and one of the two best prospects in baseball. Swings this mature, with the balance, the extension, the load and the transfer, don’t find themselves with teenagers often. But there I go, telling you something you’ve already read again.


Szymborski’s MLEs: Five Notable (Triple-A) Batters

Yesterday, after talking at length about godknowswhat, I introduced five notable pitcher zMLEs — that is, minor league translations courtesy of beloved Pole Dan Szymborski.

Though, as Szymborski shouts at the top of his lungs, the numbers are subject to all manner of caveat, they still provide an interesting point of departure for developing ideas about players come 2011.

Below are five notable batter zMLEs, with notations of varying helpfulness. As to what constitutes “notable,” there’s no hard definition, but I’ve generally looked for hitters with at least 100 ABs and have omitted more well-known prospects — like Carlos Santana or Mike Stanton, for example.

Ages are as of today, October 29th. The wOBAs (for the MLEs, that is) are approximate; players, ordered according to author’s whim. The reader will also note that all of the following are Triple-A players. Five Double-A players will appear in this space next week.

Name: Marquez Smith, 25, 3B
Organization: Chicago (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 341 PA, .314/.384/.574 (.358 BABIP), .412 wOBA
zMLE: 341 PA, .278/.340/.502 (.317 BABIP), .366 wOBA
Notes
• So far as I can tell, has never, ever, never, ever, never been on a prospect list of any sort. Or, at least not recently he hasn’t.
• Per Scout.com, was drafted a total of four times: 36th round of 2003 draft by Twins, 46th round of 2004 draft by Angels, 35th round of 2006 draft by Cubs, and, finally, by Cubs in eighth round of 2007 draft from Clemson University.
• Finished at +15 runs afield in 2008, per TotalZone, and +22 runs in 2009.
• Is native of Panama City, Florida, home of Shuckums Oyster Bar.
• Shuckums: “We Shuck’um, You Suck’um.”

Name: Danny Dorn, 26, 1B
Organization: Cincinnati Level: Triple-A
Actual: 319 PA, .302/.398/.545 (.387 BABIP), .409 wOBA
zMLE: 319 PA, .250/.342/.468 (.333 BABIP), .355 wOBA
Notes
• Is a “poor defensive player,” per our man Marc Hulet.
• As of August 20th of last year had .197/.239/.394 career mark against southpaws in his career, but .293/.358/.475 against right-handers.
• Slashed .313/.420/.562 against righties in 2010, only .259/.306/.483 against lefties.
• Small sample, small sample, small sample.
• Blocked at the ML-level by Joey Votto who, in addition to being a better hitter than Dorn, is also way more Italian.

Name: Justin Turner, 26, 2B
Organization: New York (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 348 PA, .333/.390/.516 (.351 BABIP), .395 wOBA
zMLE: 348 PA, .288/.340/.434 (.308 BABIP), .343 wOBA
Notes
• Is graded as -9 run true-talent fielder by Sean Smith’s most recent CHONE projection.
• A good thing is how he struck out in only 12.2% of his plate appearances at Buffalo this season.
• That ranked him 20th among batters in the International League with at least 100 PAs.
• Was claimed by Mets off waivers after being DFAed by the Orioles to make room on the 40-man for Scott Moore.
The Scott Moore.

Name: Chris Nelson, 25, MI
Organization: Colorado Level: Triple-A
Actual: 356 PA, .317/.379/.498 (.348 BABIP), .384 wOBA
zMLE: 356 PA, .280/.331/.443 (.311 BABIP), .341 wOBA
Notes
• On the one hand, played more innings at short this year than any other position.
• On the other, is rated as a -19 run fielder by the most recent iteration of CHONE.
• Was originally considered a top prospect, but then kind of a bust, but now kinda good again.
• Broke his hamate bone in 2008, thus stalling his development for a time.
• The hamate is neither a ham, nor a mate: discuss.

Name: Cord Phelps, 23, 2B
Organization: Cleveland Level: Triple-A
Actual: 273 PA, .317/.386/.506 (.357 BABIP), .388 wOBA
zMLE: 273 PA, .271/.335/.409 (.312 BABIP), .331 wOBA
Notes
• Without even checking, I’m gonna guess he’s from the American South — with a name like that, I mean.
• Ack. Wrong. California.
• Had zero home runs through first two college seasons at Stanford (278 AB).
• Had 13 his junior year (259 AB).
• Is on zero prospect lists, so far as I can tell.


The Girardi Extension

Along the way, a person hatched the idea that being the New York Yankees’ manager was the most difficult job in the land. The validity of this statement was at its peak back when George Steinbrenner was at his feistiest. Nowadays the job experience seems different in the Bronx. There is such a thing as job security, even after a “down” season. One couldn’t tell by the reaction to Joe Girardi’s three-year extension.

Girardi is not the game’s best tactician. He makes mistakes like every other manager in the world. He also makes his share of good decisions while receiving more blame on various non-decisions than he should – not pinch hitting for Lance Berkman with Austin Kearns comes to mind. Evaluating just how good Girardi is presents itself as a nearly impossible feat for an outsider. Even if he is only average tactically, there are other aspects of a manager’s job that need to be taken into account. The two flaws that Girardi’s detractors seem to be railing upon right now are: 1) he uses a binder during games to make decisions; 2) he failed to replicate Joe Torre’s early success.

Pretend for a moment that Girardi’s binder contains information about platoon splits and the basic rundown of data that a manager should be equipped with for in-game decisions. Whether this is the case or not is unbeknown to outsiders, but just pretend. Is there any downside to a manager having the information on hand with which to consult? Perhaps if the information itself is trivial or useless (i.e. how batters fared versus lefties over the last week or on Sundays), then Girardi is hurting the club, otherwise it’s hard to think of a downside.

Assuming that is not the case, the mocking of Girardi’s binder highlights the weird juxtaposition of the media’s treatment toward baseball managers who use information and prep work and their football counterparts who absorb film and schemes. Using numbers does not make Girardi a great manager, but it also does not make him a nincompoop. If he acknowledges that his gut and experience in the game does not hold all of the game’s answers, then he might be more self-aware and conscious than quite a few of his managing counterparts.

The ghost chasing aspect involved in the Girardi hate is equally weird. Torre’s first three seasons as Yankees’ manager included two World Series titles and regular season win totals of 92, 96, and 114. Girardi’s Bombers have only won a lone World Series and 89, 103, and 95 games. Torre is a better manager by that analysis, right? Well, no, because there are so many other variables in play that a direct comparison requires a lot more context.

But if the above analysis is believed to be true, then Jim Tracy deserves a ton of credit. Tracy’s first three seasons as Dodgers’ manager were also his first three as a manager at the Major League level, meaning he was a total novice. Yet those three seasons actually resulted in more wins than Torre’s first three seasons with the Dodgers. Not a soul out there claiming Girardi is inferior to Torre would be as bold in proclamation that Tracy is superior to Torre – and why should they? Rosters change, other teams change, luck changes, and even managers themselves change.

Evaluating managers is difficult, and whether Girardi is worth the money is probably beyond our analytical means. That he looks at a binder and is not his predecessor should not factor into the equation.


Giants Rewarded For Good Decisions

In the seventh inning, Bruce Bochy put Nate Schierholtz in the game for defensive purposes in order to give his team the best possible chance to win. Two batters later, Schierholtz rewarded him with a great running catch in the gap to save an extra base hit in a one run game.

Ron Washington used four relievers in the eighth inning, none of whom were Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando, probably his two best bullpen options. He couldn’t use Ogando after having him pitch two innings in a blowout yesterday, and he didn’t use Feliz because he was saving him for a situation that would never exist. The Giants put up seven runs and the game turned into a blowout.

Life doesn’t always reward people fairly for their decisions. Tonight, it did. Bochy put his best players on the field, Washington did not. The Giants deserved to win that game more than Texas did. The result matched the process.


World Series Game 2 Live Blog


Vlad, Murphy, And Potential Second Guessers

Ron Washington has released his lineup for Game 2, and, as Dave suggested and as many suspected, it will not include Vladimir Guerrero. There was a time that Vlad was a competent or even good right fielder, but a combination of years on the knee-destroying turf of Olympic Stadium in Montreal have rendered him effectively useless in the outfield. If you don’t believe me or didn’t catch the game last night, you can see it quite plainly in the videos of Guerrero’s two errors at the link in the first sentence.

Guerrero’s decline in the field evokes memories of Ken Griffey Jr late in his career, at least for me. Particularly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vlad was now a -25 or -30 outfielder, as Griffey was with Cincinnati in 2007, at least according to UZR. With David Murphy as an aveage fielder and a comparable hitter, if not better, against right handed pitching, the decision is a no-brainer: Murphy should be in the outfield, and Vlad should be on the bench.

That said, if we count the difference in fielding as 30 runs per 150 games and call them equal hitters, the difference over the course of one game is a mere 0.2 runs. Obviously, a manger should want to wring every bit of extra win expectancy out of his roster as he can, but there’s a significant chance that this move ends up meaningless and it may even look poor if Murphy chokes. In the latter case, the second guessers will swarm the internet by the time the last out is recorded.

Just think – what if Murphy goes 0-4 with a key strikeout or double play? If Murphy makes an error in the outfield and the veteran and potential Hall of Famer in Vlad remains on the bench, what then? What if Murphy makes the last out with Vlad on the bench, or, even worse, in the on-deck circle?

These points would probably carry more weight if Murphy had received the start in game one, as at least we now have it burned into our eyes that Guerrero just can’t hack it in the outfield. Also, I have confidence in most baseball fans and much of the media to keep a level head and to realize that the process here was correct and that the results simply didn’t break correctly for Texas. Still, for all the logical, level-headed columnists, writers, bloggers, and fans, we also have those who are reactionary and refuse to look at these decisions with perspective.

The simple truth is that Washington has already made the correct choice. From here on out, it’s on the players. If Murphy doesn’t play up to his talent level, and he makes an error or fails at bat in a clutch situation, that cannot be blamed on Ron Washington. With this decision, he has given the Rangers a better chance to win, and any second guessing will simply be posturing with the help of hindsight.


Game Two Starters

In some ways, C.J. Wilson and Matt Cain are polar opposites. Wilson’s a lefty, while Cain throws with his right hand. Cain throws a ton of fastballs, while Wilson has basically abandoned his this year. Wilson is a guy who gets a lot of grounders, while Cain is one of the most prolific flyball pitchers in the game.

In how they achieved success this year, however, they are quite similar. Cain had the fifth-lowest BABIP (.260) of any starter in the National League. Wilson’s .271 BABIP was fifth lowest in the American League. His 5.3% HR/FB rate was lower than any other qualified AL starter, and while Cain’s 7.4% rate was only the 12th lowest in the NL, he’s posted well below-average rates in every single year of his career.

Both of these guys kept runs off the board by getting people to hit the ball at their defenders and by keeping their fly balls in the yard. As any regular FanGraphs reader can tell you, these are not things that are usually considered repeatable skills, as history has shown that most pitchers simply can’t sustain the kinds of performances that these guys put up this year.

In fact, when skeptics of xFIP want to point out why they don’t like the metric, Cain is invariably the first guy they point to. His career 3.45 ERA is nearly a full run lower than his 4.43 xFIP, and at 1,100 innings pitched, the sample size is getting fairly large. For various reasons, some of which we understand (park effects, batted-ball profile) and some of which we don’t, Cain’s continually outperformed his peripherals. Wilson was also able to pull that off this year, though he clearly doesn’t have Cain’s track record at succeeding this way.

The differences will be obvious. The similarities will be a bit more subtle. But, in the end, it should be a good match-up and a fun game to watch.


Okay, Time for My Surgery! Heading for the Doctor After Getting Bounced from the Playoffs

Within a few days of their seemingly invincible teams getting bounced from the playoffs, Placido Polanco and C.C. Sabathia announced they’d undergo near-immediate surgery, Sabathia on his knee and Polanco on his elbow. “[It] nagged me all year,” said Sabathia of the pain in his right knee. Of Polanco, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “It was the middle of August, between his third and fourth cortisone injections, when Placido Polanco first acknowledged he’d probably need surgery on his left elbow following the season.”

Baseball players are taught to minimize pain, while castigated for hiding an injury. Ultimately, this philosophy isn’t particularly good for the players’ health, and it isn’t good for the team, either, when a player playing hurt botches a play. The logical tension may not be quite as stark as Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison’s telling recent admission, “I don’t want to injure anybody… I try to hurt people,” but it’s a similar attempt to create a bright line out of a grey area. What’s worse, an article in yesterday’s New York Times reviews a study in the medical journal The Lancet that suggests that cortisone may actually have deleterious long-term health effects. (According to the study, “Corticosteroid injections reduced pain in the short term compared with other interventions, but this effect was reversed at intermediate and long terms.”) So Polanco may be paying for his four cortisone shots well down the line.

There are two issues to consider with pain and injury, then: the long-term health consequences, and the short-term game consequences. Will Carroll’s efforts notwithstanding, player health is still one of the less-understood areas of baseball analysis. We have an imperfect understanding both of the causes of injury and of the effects of playing through pain and injury. Players are lauded for playing through pain — Sabathia and Polanco had fine seasons, despite Sabathia’s carrying his 300-pound frame on an injured knee all year, and Polanco playing with bone fragments and chronic tendon damage in his elbow — but we don’t really know what the long-term consequences of playing through injury will be. (Alan Schwarz has done admirable work examining the effects of concussions, but that’s only one of many types of injuries that baseball players are likely to receive in the course of the job.) Because Sabathia is younger and is signed to a longer contract, the Yankees have a greater incentive to protect their investment than do the Phillies. But neither team has any financial incentive to worry about their player’s health beyond the length of their contract: it’s in their interest to patch the players up and get the maximum utility of them for the duration and no longer.

The short-term game consequences may be a more persuasive reason for the teams to take their players’ injuries more seriously. Sabathia obviously didn’t pitch well during the playoffs, allowing 11 runs in 16 innings, and going six innings or fewer in each of his three playoff starts — that, despite having gone more than six innings in 26 of his 34 starts this year. So, with the usual caveats about small sample size, it seems plausible that the injury that nagged him all year may have affected his stamina and effectiveness in the playoffs. Likewise, Polanco’s 6-for-29 in the LDS and LCS may suggest that he was playing at appreciably less than 100 percent. The Phillies have him under contract until 2012, so they have to weigh their need to win now — especially in the playoffs, when the end of the season is always perilously close — with their needs to keep him healthy for the next two years. Obviously, neither Sabathia nor Polanco was the biggest reason the Phillies and Yankees lost. Still, it’s easy in hindsight to say, if they were going to lose anyway, they might as well have benched them. That’s a facile conclusion, but the premise is inarguable: the players were playing through chronic pain, they played poorly, and the teams lost.

Obviously, what we need most of all is a better understanding of health and pain. Clubhouses would benefit from encouraging players not to ignore pain but to acknowledge it, and openly and honestly assess whether they’ll play better tomorrow if they sit today. There’s no way to play a completely pain-free 162 games of baseball, but there are ways to make the pain more manageable. The first thing that needs to be done is to acknowledge the realities and consequences of that pain. Only then can teams make informed and educated decisions about their players’ health.


Szymborski’s MLEs: Five Notable Pitchers

Yesterday, in these electronic pages, I discussed briefly the significance of the offseason to the baseballing enthusiast — namely, as a time both to (a) process the season that was and (b) begin to acquaint oneself with the season that will be.

Over the next four or five months, we will be treated to a surfeit of data: projections (dependable and not so much), roster and depth-chart changes, rumors, etc.

In fact, some of the aforementioned data has already been made available. Almost two weeks ago now, beloved Pole Dan Szymborski released for the public’s consideration the minor league translations (zMLEs) that inform, in part, his ZiPS projection system. Though, as Szymborski shouts at the top of his lungs, the numbers are subject to all manner of caveat, they still provide an interesting point of departure for developing ideas about players come 2011.

Here are five notable pitcher zMLEs, with notations of varying helpfulness. As to what constitutes “notable,” there’s no hard definition, but I’ve generally looked for pitchers with more than 10 starts and have omitted more well-known prospects — like Jeremy Hellickson or Travis Wood, for example.

Ages are as of today, October 28th. FIPs are approximate; pitchers, ordered according to author’s whim. Five hitter zMLEs will appear in this space tomorrow.

Name: Daryl Thompson, 24, RHP
Organization: Cincinnati Level: Double-A
Actual: 51.0 IP, 12/12 GS/G, 9.18 K/9, 1.94 BB/9, 0.53 HR/9, 2.63 FIP
zMLE: 46.3 IP, 12/12 GS/G, 7.38 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 4.31 FIP
Notes
• Was 0-5 with a 3.71 ERA despite those fine peripherals — which, that makes him a good buy-low candidate so far as investing one’s affections goes.
• One thing about him: his groundball rates have tended to be in the mid- or high-30s, which is quite low.
• One other thing about him: he had shoulder surgery last season and pitched less than 30 innings in 2009 as a result.
• Also missed time in 2010 with shouder tightness and the like.
• Is pitching for Peoria in Arizona Fall League as we speak. Literally, right now. Believe me!

Name: Tommy Milone, 23, LHP
Organization: Washington Level: Double-A
Actual: 158.0 IP, 27/27 GS/G, 8.83 K/9, 1.31 BB/9, 0.57 HR/9, 2.57 FIP
zMLE: 151.3 IP, 27/27 GS/G, 6.78 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, 3.92 FIP
Notes
• Is a “soft-tossing lefty,” according to John Sickels.
• Has an “excellent changeup,” also according to John Sickels.
• Will likely someday own Boston-area watering hole and install former pitching coach as bartender.
• Will also marry Mary Steenburgen, probably.
• Actually, just checked: already is married to Mary Steenburgen. My B.

Name: Scott Diamond, 24, LHP
Organization: Atlanta Level: Triple-A
Actual: 56.1 IP, 10/10 GS/G, 5.27 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 0.32 HR/9, 3.34 FIP
zMLE: 53.0 IP, 10/10 GS/G, 4.59 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 4.26 FIP
Notes
• Also pitched 102.1 IP at Double-A. Produced slightly more Ks, slightly more BBs, slightly higher zFIP.
• Has induced grounders at above a 50% rate in minors.
• Will almost definitely be cause of regrettable headline “Diamond in the Rough” — if he hasn’t been already, I mean.
• Prediction: Will finish career with higher total WAR than Thomas Diamond.
• Hails from Guelph, which is either (a) a Canadian hamlet or (b) a placename in every C.S. Lewis novel.

Name: John Lamb, 20, LHP
Organization: Kansas City Level: High-A
Actual: 74.2 IP, 13/13 GS/G, 10.85 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 0.12 HR/9, 1.69 FIP
zMLE: 67.3 IP, 13/13 GS/G, 6.68 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, 0.40 HR/9, 3.33 FIP
Notes
• I’m sure there are even more caveats about Class A pitchers than the two higher levels, but Lamb’s numbers are striking.
• Was ranked ninth-best in Royal organization by our man Marc Hulet prior to season.
• Was ranked 10th by John Sickels prior to 2010 season and fifth after it.
• Finished year with Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, which, it deserves to be noted, is a strange name for a team.
• Another thing that deserves to be noted: Naturals is maybe not quite as strange as “Thunder Chickens,” the name that finished second in an online fan poll.

Name: Bryan Augenstein, 24, RHP
Organization: Arizona St. Louis (courtesy reader WY) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 120.2 IP, 22/22 GS/G 7.53 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 3.86 FIP
zMLE: 123.7 IP, 22/22 GS/G, 6.33 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, 4.62 FIP
Notes
• John Sickels (a) calls him a “srike-throwing innings-eater” and (b) is smarter than me.
• That said, he (i.e. Augenstein) featured one of the better translated K/BB differentials in all of the minors.
• He also seems to’ve sustained average-y groundball rates.
• Had a .385 BABIP-against and 58.2% LOB rate, largely because Reno (and the PCL, generally) is a nightmare.
• Studies find that Reno is a nightmare for a number of other reasons.

Groundball rates are courtesy of StatCorner and First Inning.


Cliff Lee Was Not Living on the Edge

Sometimes a graphic can make the obvious even more obvious. Anyone watching last night knows that Cliff Lee did not look like the guy who took the Rays and the Yankees to school. A look at his pitch plots makes the reason clear.

First, against the Yankees, you’ll notice that Lee avoided a particular part of the zone:

There is that one conspicuous cutter sitting dead center, but nothing else comes even close to it. You see, for the most part, cutters in the bottom half of the zone, change-ups low and away to righties, and curveballs low in or below the zone. If you happen to find someone with baseball savvy who had not watched this game and showed him this strike zone plot, he’d probably be able to tell you that the pitcher had great success.

And then there was last night:

There are a number of concerning aspects of last night’s strike zone plot, not least of which is the number of pitches near the center of the zone. The top-right portion of the plot is also concerning. As you can see, those four curveballs had no chance. Just three of the 11 curves he threw were strikes, none swinging, while against the Yankees he threw eight of 16 for strikes, including one swing and miss. Last night he managed just two curveballs low, while he did it consistently against the Yanks.

What further hurt Lee was his lack of a changeup. Against the Yankees he threw it 14 times and got nine strikes, three of them swinging. Last night he broke it out just five times, and each time it came early in the count. Three were strikes, but none generated swings and misses. Each time the Giants swung at the change, they put it in play.

Finally, the cutter caused him some problems, too. In both games he kept the cutter mostly in the lower half of the zone, but the difference was in how he painted the edges. Against the Yankees you can see the black dots spreading pretty far to each side of the zone. Against the Giants there aren’t many cutters on the outer thirds. The Giants, unsurprisingly, put far more cutters in play, 22.6 percent, than the Yankees did, 15 percent, even though they whiffed more (16.1 percent to 10 percent).

No pitcher, not even Cliff Lee, can be perfect every time. After three incredible postseason starts, he finally had a game where he didn’t have complete control of his pitches. Sometimes aces can gut through starts like that. Other times they’re going to get hit around. The Giants had their moment in Game 1, but unless they can complete the sweep this won’t be the last they see of Lee. In Game 5 I’d expect Lee’s strike zone plot to more resemble his ALCS start than his first World Series one.


As an end note, I think Tim Marchman nails it with this parody quote:

“I didn’t have my good stuff going tonight,” he said. “But I doubt that made a difference. I’m not a six-sided die, but mathematically I act like one and function with surprisingly little agency. Any game I pitch is just an expression of my true talent, that of my opponents and something that isn’t quite what the average person means when they say ‘luck’ but works more or less the same way. I hope for a 90th percentile outcome every time out, but to me it’s really all about sticking near my mean outcome and giving the guys a chance to win.”


Rangers Can’t Do That Again

In the grand scheme of things, Vladimir Guerrero didn’t matter last night. The Giants would have won that game no matter who was playing right field. But after watching Guerrero stumble around, Washington cannot put him back in the field this series. Right? Maybe not.

“No, I don’t,” Washington said when asked if he’ll have to reconsider the idea of using Guerrero in the field with the designated hitter not in effect. “A couple balls got by him.”

That is one way to describe what happened when the ball was hit his way. I think most people would go with something a bit more accurate, like “That was the worst outfield defense anyone has ever played.” This wasn’t just a ball dropping in that we think Murphy could have gotten to – last night was simply confirmation that Vladimir Guerrero should never wear a glove again.

The first inning pop-up that Kinsler caught and turned into a double play was a routine fly ball – Guerrero wasn’t anywhere close to it. If the Rangers’ second baseman doesn’t make a tremendous play, the Giants would have been on the scoreboard in the first inning. Then there were the obvious miscues – the inability to cut off a ball down the line; the horrifying misplay of Renteria’s base hit that gave him two extra bases; and then kicking around the ball in the corner. It was painful to watch. And, if Ron Washington is trying to win this series, we can’t see it again.

Joe has already laid out the case for why David Murphy is a better player against right-handers than Guerrero, and that should be fairly obvious to everyone at this point – he hit better against RHP this year, and the defensive gap is enormous. Guerrero’s problems are probably big enough that it would be smarter to start Jeff Francoeur or Julio Borbon over Guerrero if they were the only option.

Last night, Guerrero playing the field didn’t change the outcome. Tonight, or in Game 6 and 7, it could. The Rangers do not have the luxury of hoping that Guerrero’s inability to field the position doesn’t end up costing them games. It’s the World Series – put your best team on the field and give yourself the best chance to win.

The Rangers best team does not include Vladimir Guerrero wearing a glove.


At Game 1 of the World Series: Overflow Media

If you think that there’s a pecking order for media in postseason, well, you’d be right. The BBWAA directs the process with writers that covers clubs daily getting a place, with outlets that have daily writers for the two clubs that are playing getting more slots.

So, where does everyone else go?

For AT&T Park, overflow media is parked far away from the comforts of the regular pressbox perched above home plate.

You’ll see us… We’re the green set of seats at the very top of the 300 level just off the third baseline from the foul pole. Who’s sitting here? Well, I’m parked next to ESPN’s Jim Caple and just to his left, SI.com’s Jon Heyman is taking it all in. To my right, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez is just now Tweeting away. A few rows even higher than I, Steve Phillips is perched.

We’re all exposed to the elements…. Now, it’s San Francisco and a balmy 62 at game time, but there’s clouds… every once in a while I keep thinking I feel a sprinkle. No one is griping, for heaven sake… it’s the World Series. But, it shows that for the writers, it is work. Even if it’s covering a kid’s game.


World Series Game 1 Live Blog


FanGraphs Audio: Playoff Preview Pod, Vol. 3

Episode Fifty
In which the panel, like Rintrah, roars and shakes its fires.

Headlines
Unfettered Vitriol (Part One Million)
The Psychology of the Ron Washington
Cliff Lee and the Future: Two Immovable Forces
… and other startling declarations!

Featuring
Dave Cameron, Full-Time Employee
Matt Klaassen, Resident Philosocator
Joe Pawl, Our Man in NYC

Finally, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio on the flip-flop. (Approximately 35 min play time.)

Read the rest of this entry »


At Game 1 of the World Series: Prelude – Different Is Good

As I settle into the overflow pressbox here at AT&T Park (no joke, it’s at the top of the 300 level… Look for the green section at the top of the ballpark up the 3rd baseline when the game begins to air) two things  strike me: This World Series is affirmation for Bud Selig, and it’s a different world than the last time the Giants were in the Fall Classic.

Over and over, the idea that the Yankees were beat by the Rangers and to a lesser extent the Giants winning over the Phillies means that – in a nutshell – variety is the spice of life.

Or is it, money doesn’t always trump smarts?

On the latter, consider… The Rangers Opening Day payroll of $55,250,544 – the 27th ranked payroll out of all 30 clubs – is almost $600,000 less than the Opening Day payroll the Rangers had… in 2005. And that’s not accounting inflation. For the Giants, they beat the Phillies, who fielded MLB’s 4th highest Opening Day payroll ($141,928,379), but still ranked 9th out of 30 at $98,641,333. Opening Day payroll for the Giants this season increased 19 percent from last year from $82,616,450. Still, the fact that you have two teams with an Opening Day payroll that was under $100 million is good for the overall. “Hope” is no longer some foreign concept.

This isn’t to say that another Yankees-Phillies World Series wouldn’t have been good, rather that the unexpected nature of the two clubs that made it to baseball’s premier event is a sign that the game, as a whole, will benefit.

I don’t blame FOX, TBS, and ESPN for flooding their MLB schedules with Yankees-Red Sox tilts. They are generated from ratings, meaning fans are the ultimate decider in what you watch.

But, as MLB Network makes its way into more homes, and the idea that yes, you don’t have to have the biggest, baddest level of player payroll to be competitive on a given year, average fans will start to shift from their zombie state into the full palette that is offered by 30 clubs as opposed to just a handful.

As for the Giants, the sea of orange and black that is descending on AT&T Park is focused far differently than in 2002 when Dusty Baker handed the game ball to Russ Ortiz in Game 6, and thus, in a most superstitious way, jinxed the Giants from winning their first World Series since jumping coasts in 1958.

Then, the focus was Barry Bonds. Where it was “chicks dig the long ball”, if you excuse the sexual innuendo, 2010 may go down as “chicks dig the slider.”

Instead of a slugging-based club with an alleged steroid user at the helm, its heroes are a Freak of a pitcher (Lincecum), and a player snatched up on waivers (Cody Ross). The roster at least feels more functional than dysfunctional than that 2002 team and fans seem as jacked – possibly more – than when they were in the Series the last time.

The one thing about this Series is it will be historic. No matter the outcome, you either get a winner for a franchise that had never won a postseason series, let alone a World Series (Rangers), or a storied franchise who has had to point to their days in New York as glory finally getting to say that their relocation partner from the ‘50s in LA isn’t the only one to win a Fall Classic.

So, if you only watch the World Series, and haven’t been bit by baseball’s regular season bug unless it’s been the Red Sox or Yankees, you’re in for a treat. This one feels different, and in that, it’s all good.