Author Archive

Johnny Damon’s Extra Swings in 2011

On Tuesday, Joel Sherman reported that some teams are wary of signing Johnny Damon because of how close he is to 3,000 hits. Three executives told Sherman that they were concerned Damon’s quest for the milestone has made him less patient at the plate, trading walks for chances to get a hit — an idea that was first observed by JC Mitchell at DRaysBay back in July. Sherman even cited FanGraphs data to show that in 2011 Damon swung at more pitches out of the zone than any other year for which we have the data. His walk rate took a hit, dropping to 7.9% — his lowest since 2005 and second-lowest since 1996.

The Pitchf/x data show an increase in out-of-zone swings, but not quite as drastic as the BIS data. Although, if I use the left-handed batter-specific zone reported by John Walsh, I see a jump from 26% O-swing from 2007-2010 to 29% O-swing in 2011. I think the best thing to do is look at exactly where the extra swings are coming from. Here are swing-rate contours for Damon comparing 2007-2010 to 2011. Inside the 50% contour he was more likely than not to swing at a pitch, outside of it less likely than not. Pitches inside the 60% contour he swung at over 60% of the time.

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First-Year Candidates’ Effect on the Rest of the HoF Ballot

This year’s Hall of Fame ballot had a very weak pool of first-year candidates. Bernie Williams was the leading vote getter with just 9.6% of the vote, and the only member to break the 5% cut off to stay on the ballot. At the same time the 14 returning candidates saw their vote total increase by an average of 7.1%, and five had increases of over 10%. Many have suggested that there is a relationship between these two facts; that is, with few good first-year candidates to vote for there were extra votes for the returning candidates.

Last year David Roher at Deadspin/Harvard Sports Analysis Collective noted that over the 2000s the average number of votes per HoF ballot was fairly constant, between 6.6 and 5.35. This would suggest that in years with strong first-year candidates there would be fewer votes for returning candidates and vice versa. I wanted to more explicitly test this relationship and see whether it extended further back than just the 2000s.

I looked at every Hall of Fame vote from 1967, when the current voting rules were put in place. Along the x-axis is the average number of first-year candidates voted for. Along the y-axis is the average change in vote share for returning candidates compared to the previous year (here an increase from 60% to 65% would be denoted by 0.05).
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Brian Wilson’s Two-Seamer

Early in the season Eno Sarris introduced us to Brian Wilson’s flithy two-seam fastball, a pitch Wilson claims to have added this year. Sarris’s GIF showed Jamey Carroll flailing wildly at Wilson’s newest offering. Wilson, 29, already had three years as a solid closer for the the San Francisco Giants, so the idea of him adding another nasty pitch is intriguing. With over half the season books and Wilson effective again this year — though his peripherals have taken a step back — I wanted to check in on that two-seamer.
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Derek Jeter and the 3000-Hit Club

Today with a single and a home run Derek Jeter got his 2999th and 3000th hits, joining a group of just 27 other players to do so. Jeter is the fourth youngest player to reach the mark, having turned 37 on June 26th. Ty Cobb did it as a 34-year old while Hank Aaron and Robin Yount as 36-year olds. Pete Rose got his 3000th hit at age 37 and 21 days, a few days older than Jeter. Inspired by Steve’s HR-pace graph — and this great New York Times career-HR pace graph — I wanted to see how Jeter’s hit pace compares to the other members of the 3000-hit club.

Below is a graph showing hits accumulated by seasonal age. The graph is interactive, so that you can hover over and click on the names at the left to compare the pace of different players. It is a canvas element so it only works in modern browsers (i.e., no IE8 or older). Here is a sample image if it doesn’t work on your browser.

The age is seasonal age not actual age. So in the graph Tris Speaker and Stan Musial get to 3000 hits faster because they did it sooner in their age-37 season even though they were older when it happened. The data come from Retrosheet. Where available it is daily, but for pre-1918 seasons it is just yearly (see Ty Cobb for an example of yearly versus daily data).

Looking at Jeter you can see he got a relatively late start, but then he accumulated hits at a very good clip. By 30 he had more hits than most of the 3000-hit club members did at that age. Since then he hasn’t slowed down as much as most, and he is way ahead of the pack for his age. Given his legend-like status and contract through the 2014 season (with the player option) — even with his talents diminished — he should get a good number more plate appearances before he retires. He should almost surely move into the top ten (by passing Eddie Collins at 3315 hits) and maybe the top five (by passing Tris Speaker at 3514 hits). Until then congratulations to a guy who has already had a great career.

MLB Team Travel

One interesting aspect of the proposed realignment is the effect it will have on team travel. As Dave Cameron noted without division there would be fewer games between geographically close teams, and more between teams farther way from each other — travel will increase. Last Thursday On the Forecheck, a hockey blog, posted the total distance each NHL team will travel in the upcoming 2011-2012 season (hat tip Tango). That made me think that, in light of realignment, it would be interesting to see how much teams are already traveling — and how much variation is there between teams — as a baseline for the current system.

I wanted to get a broad picture of travel distances for each team under the current system, so rather than use just one year’s worth of data I looked at all seasons from 2005 (when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals) to 2011. I counted how many miles each team traveled and also the number of miles traveled on trips taken without a travel day (i.e., back-to-back games). Since this no-off day travel should be especially grueling. Here are the results averaged over the seven years, thanks to retrosheet for the data:

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How Would Realignment Affect Playoff Races?

Over the weekend Buster Olney reported that Major League Baseball and the players’ union discussed a possible plan for realignment. The plan would move the Houston Astros, or possibly the Florida Marlins, to the AL so that both leagues would have 15 teams; eliminate the three divisions within each league; have the top-five teams from each league go to the playoffs; and require an inter-league game every day (because of the odd number of teams in each league). There is lots to consider with such a realignment — fairness, logistics, etc. — but I wanted to look at a single aspect: how will this plan would affect the number of competitive playoff races at the end of the season?

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Jair Jurrjens: Slower Fastball, Better Results?

Jair Jurrjens is having a great year so far. Obviously, he is getting lucky as he doesn’t have the talent of his league-leading 1.51 ERA. Still, his xFIP of 3.47 is considerably better than his career xFIP of 4.22. This is largely thanks to a big drop in walks, from his career rate of 3.24 to just 1.51 this year. This success is even more striking because his fastball is 1.5 mph slower than he has previously thrown it — usually not a sign of improvement.

Carroll Rogers reported that Jurrjens, 25, picked up a new grip on his two-seam fastball from Jonny Venters, and has been using it since his April 16th start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the velocity is down on both his two-seam fastball, from 91.4 mph to 89.4 mph, and his four-seam fastball, from 91.4 mph to 89.7 mph. So I don’t think the change in two-seam grip is responsible for the slower fastballs. He is throwing his two-seam fastball at about the same frequency as he has previously.
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James Loney’s Problems at the Plate

James Loney is having a horrible start to the 2011 season. His wRC+ of 58 is by far the lowest of his career and is the seventh worst in the league. That kind of performance from first basemen is unacceptable. But the Los Angeles Dodgers have started him in every one of their 51 games this year (@truebluela notes that Loney has started in the past 120 Dodgers games). With Loney at first for the foreseeable future it is important to see what are the causes of his problems.

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Diagnosing Aroldis Chapman’s Wildness

Yesterday, in a game against the Houston Astros, Aroldis Chapman entered the game in the top of the 8th inning and faced four batters; he walked three of them and hit the other. That leaves Chapman with a league-leading 11.37 walks per nine innings, 16 walks and two hit batsmen in 12.2 innings. In his 15 innings last year (including the playoffs) he walked just five batters and hit one.

Obviously these are tiny samples of innings, but going from three walks per nine to over 11 is alarming. His BIS-reported Zone% is down from 43% last year to 38% this year. Here are the locations of his fastballs to right-handed batters in 2010 and 2011 to see where he is missing:

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What’s Wrong with Derek Jeter?

At 36 and just after signing a three-year deal, Derek Jeter is off to a horrible start in 2011. With 120 plate appearances Jeter has a wRC+ of just 57, and the main reason is his complete lack of power. Of his 27 hits only two have gone for extra bases — both doubles — leaving him with an ISO of 0.019, the worst in baseball.

The culprit for Jeter’s lack of power is his league-leading 72% ground-ball rate. In fact, since the start of 2010 Jeter has hit two thirds of his balls in play on the ground. That is far and away the most of any major league player, and considerably higher than the 57% he has averaged since 2002. WIth this big change in ground-ball rate I assumed that Jeter was swinging more at pitches low in the zone, but that is not the case: Read the rest of this entry »

An Entirely Different Matt Garza?

In yesterday’s One Night Only Carson Cistulli observed that Matt Garza is throwing his two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup about twice as often this year as previously — making him entirely different pitcher. Pitch F/x-guru and Cubs-fan Harry Pavlidis, with his own reclassifications of the Pitch F/x data, came to Carson’s aid and found that Garza is indeed throwing more sliders and changeups, but not any more two-seam fastballs. There are improvements in the Pitch F/x’s internal classification system during the offseason and that is probably responsible for the shift Carson saw in two-seam fastball frequency.
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Roy Halladay Throwing Tons of Cutters

Yesterday Roy Halladay continued the excellent start to his 2011 season, striking out 14 batters — tied for a career best — and allowing a single run over 8.2 innings. Five starts into the season Halladay leads the league in WAR and is second in xFIP and FIP. Halladay, 33, is continuing a trend started in 2004 throwing more cutters and fewer two-seam fastballs. Early in the season he is throwing the most cutters (47%) and fewest two-seam fastballs (26%) of his career.

Halladay has always thrown his cutter more often to left-handed than right-handed batters, and it is no different this year as he has thrown it 58% of the time to left-handed batters. His command with the pitch has been other-worldly:

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Dan Haren’s Commanding Start

The Angels’ Dan Haren pickup is looking great; early in the 2011 season Haren has been one of the game’s best pitchers. He has been the beneficiary of some BABIP and HR/FB luck. Still, the underlying peripherals are amazing, including a league-leading 13.5 K/BB and 2.80 xFIP.

Through his first four starts, and one appearance out of the pen during an extra-innings game, Haren is throwing his cut fastball much more than he did in the past. By my classification of the PitchFx data he is throwing it just under 40% of the time (the BIS classifications for yesterday’s game have not been updated at this time). Here are the locations of all those cut fastballs so far this year.

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Edwin Jackson’s Great Start

In a matchup against his former team – although not against many of his former teammates – Edwin Jackson carved through the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday afternoon. Over eight innings he struck out 13 while allowing just four hits, a single walk and an earned run. His first start against the Cleveland Indians wasn’t as good, but he did get seven strikeouts over six innings. Needless to say, Jackson has had an encouraging first two starts.

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Kershaw’s Hard Slider

As Dave Cameron wrote earlier today, Clayton Kershaw dominated last night’s Opening Day pitching matchup with Tim Lincecum. Over seven innings he struck out nine while giving up just four hits, one walk and no runs. Dave noted that in the broadcast Orel Hershiser mentioned that the Dodgers were looking for Kershaw to throw his slider with more velocity this season. Plus, during the game, the slider looked great to me, so I wanted to turn to the trusty PITCHf/x data to see what was going on.

It does look like those sliders were faster than the ones he threw last year on average. Last night’s sliders average 84.0 mph compared with just 81.4 mph last year. On top of that a third of them last night were faster than 85mph, compared with only a handful of last year’s slider over 85 mph. None of Kershaw’s sliders last night was under 80mph compared to a fair fraction last year. On the other hand Kershaw did have three games last year when he average at least 84mph on his slider: April 13th, April 24th and May 4th.

So compared to his average slider last year he was throwing quite a bit harder, though not outside of the realm of what he did during some extreme games last year. As Dave noted maybe this hard slider (almost cut fastball) could be more effective against right-handed batters than a big sweeping slider. Last night that was certainly the case; Kershaw threw 12 sliders to right-handed batters and got three swinging strikes, three fouls, two called strikes, two outs in play and two balls.

Obviously, that is a tiny sample size. But this potential hard slider is definitely a thing to keep on eye on with Kershaw in the 2011 season, because if he does develop an effective secondary pitch against right-hand batters (his changeup isn’t great) he could erase part of his huge platoon split.

Michael Saunders’ Struggles with Outside Pitches

At USSMariner, Dave Cameron posted a rundown of his projected Mariners opening day roster. He thinks that the Mariners should (and it appears the team will) start the season with Michael Saunders back down in AAA. Saunders, Cameron notes, has a problem with his swing that make it tough for him to hit the ball to left field, which makes it hard for him to deal with outside pitches. The Mariners are trying to rework Saunders’ swing to address the problem, and that would be best done down in AAA where he can get regular at-bats. I wanted to see if the pitchf/x data backed up Dave’s evaluation of Saunders’ problem.
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Knuckleballs and Grounders

News out of the Red Sox camp (h/t Neyer) is that the Red Sox might finally part ways with Tim Wakefield. The season is still is ways off, so there is time for injuries to come up and Wakefield find a way into the rotation. But if this is the end of the line for Wakefield with the Red Sox — only seven wins shy of 200 and 13 away from the franchise record — it would be too bad. For one thing, last year was a rare one when two knuckleballers got a substantial number of innings: Wakefield and R.A. Dickey.

Looking at the two pitchers’ numbers I was struck by their very different ground-ball rates, 55% for Dickey versus just 37% for Wakefield. My main frame of reference for a knuckleballer has been Tim Wakefield, so l always assumed that there was something about the knuckleball which led to lots of fly balls. But with Dickey’s high ground-ball rate maybe it is just Wakefield’s knuckleball.
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The Fans and Marcel in 2011: Pitchers

Monday, I looked at how the 2011 Fans and Marcel projections compared for position players, and today I will do the same for pitchers. For position players the fans project more playing time than Marcel. The fans also project higher rate stats (wOBA) for most players , but for below-average players actually project a lower wOBA than Marcel. Most of this can be explained by a the fans not regressing towards the mean as much as Marcel does. Let’s see whether the same holds for pitchers.

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The Fans and Marcel in 2011: Position Players

With the Super Bowl over and pitchers and catchers reporting in a week, baseball season is finally in sight. For me one of the most interesting parts of the offseason is the Fans projections. I think they offer an incredible collection of information on what the crowd thinks about the coming year. As the offseason transition to spring training I wanted to take stock of these projections.

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Chamberlain’s Stuff as a Starter

Yesterday, while doing a question-and-answer session with WFAN, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was asked about Joba Chamberlain’s role with the Yankees. Chamberlain has bounced back and forth between the pen and rotation several times, but spent all last year in the pen. Now with the Rafael Soriano signing and questionable back-of-the-rotation options (which Paul Swydan outlined earlier) many have wondered whether Chamberalin would start next year.

But Cashman said the Yankees view him solely as a reliever. “I don’t think his stuff is the same since he hurt himself in Texas [August 4th 2008] … The stuff plays up better in the pen.” Cashman continued, “His stuff doesn’t play out of the rotation anymore like it did before prior to his shoulder.”
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