Author Archive

Johnny Cueto’s Twist

Johnny Cueto came off the disabled list and started for the Reds last night. He had been on the disabled list due to a sore right oblique; it was the same injury he experienced during last season’s playoffs. His unique twisting windup seems to be the reason that he’s suffered the same ailment twice now, and he has said he might consider changing his delivery to correct the problem in the future.

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Busted Batters’ Backs Are Bad

Several high-profile hitters have been slowed by back injuries this season. The Yankees’ Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list with a sprained back for the third time in his career. Shane Victorino missed eight games from late April to early May because of a bad back. Jose Bautista missed about a week of play with back spasms. When back problems occur to hitters, fans should not be surprised to see a marked loss of future production from those players.

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Is Big Game’s Game Breaking Down?

James Shields was traded this off season from the Rays to the Royals. He has been known for his durability over the years. Spanning the last two seasons, he is first in complete games with 14. Also, he is second to Justin Verlander in innings thrown. The durability and consistency he is known for may be coming to an end. At the end of the last season, he showed signs of breaking down because he was not able to throw strikes and wasn’t able to maintain a consistent release point.

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1960 Salina Blue Jays: The Year Satchel Paige Came to Town

A small a bigger story sometimes hides behind a bit of information. That bit came in this line I read a few years ago in Larry Tye’s book, Satchel:

In 1960 he [Satchel Paige] threw for the Salina [Kan.] Blue Jays ….

I had no idea. Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was arguable one of the best 10-or-so pitchers who played baseball. He was a Hall of Famer on the field, but he was an even better showman. What was one of the greatest players doing playing on a team in Kansas?

I’m a Kansas native. Throughout my life, I’ve had a deep connection with Salina. I lived less than an hour away from the city when I was growing up. Some of my family members still live there. Heck, I was even married there. Because of that, I needed to know what brought Paige to the middle of nowhere to play baseball one summer so long ago.

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Tim Lincecum Needs to Learn How to Pitch, Not Throw

Tim Lincecum‘s resume contains the following items: 2 time Cy Young award winner, 4 time All-Star and twice World Series Champion. With all the achievements over the last 5 seasons, he was relegated to a long relief once the Giants made the playoffs because he was no longer effective as a starter. Lincecum’s problem is he can no longer just throw the ball across the plate and hope a batter just swings and misses. If he wants any hope of returning to be the starter he once was, he now needs to learn how to pitch.

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Shut Out of the MVP Voting

The big news associated with the MVP award announced today will be the winners, especially this year with the Trout vs. Cabrera debate. Besides the winners, the below average players who receive votes get a bit of press. Today, I will look at another group of hitters, those who had a good season, but may not get a single MVP vote.

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Batter Traits That Cause Infield Fly Balls

The infield fly ball is the second worst outcome for a hitter besides a strikeout. With almost 100% of all popups turning into outs, a hitter, who is prone to skying the ball into the infield, will generate more outs and therefor a lower batting average. Several factors make a pitch more likely to be hit as an infield fly ball, but the key factor is the batter’s mechanics.

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Injury Chances for Strike-Throwers

In the Oct. 15 issue of ESPN the Magazine, Tim Kurkjian wrote this when talking about young pitchers with injury histories:

GM Billy Beane doesn’t require power, he wants outs without walks. Plus strike throwers generally have good mechanics that help prevent injury. Beane also isn’t afraid to go with young pitchers, what at least in theory are less likely than older ones to get injured.

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2012 Disabled List Summary

I have finally had enough time to muddle through the 2012 MLB transaction data and have compiled a complete disabled list (DL) data set for the year(second link). Let’s get right to the data.

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Wilin Rosario: Estimating BB and K Using Plate Discipline

In September, teams are allowed to expand their rosters and the Rockies did that in 2011 by calling up Wilin Rosario. Rosario showed a bit of pop, but had some problems making contact. Going into 2012, questions about his ability to not strike out existed. By using a small sample size of a hitter’s swing and contact values, a better estimate of his walk and strikeout rates can be estimated.

The Rockies began the 2012 season with Ramon Hernandez as their #1 catcher and Wilin Rosario was slated as the backup even though Rosario was a highly touted ranked prospect (#49 in 2011, #87 in 2012). The main reason the Rockies didn’t have any faith in Rosario was his plate discipline. In the minors, his BB% ranged between 4.5% and 8.7% and his K% between 19.2%-29.9%. In 57 MLB plate appearances, his BB% was 3.5% and his K% was 35.1%. These values forced people to have reservations about him being able to stick in the majors.

In the 2011 FG+ fantasy preview, Paul Swydan wrote the following on Rosario:

Swinging at every pitch thrown to you is only a good strategy for a hitter if you have enough bat control to hit or foul off nearly every pitch thrown to you (see Guerrero, Vladimir). Wilin Rosario is not this type of hitter, and his acceptable plate discipline in the low minors has steadily worsened as he has moved up the Rockies’ organizational ladder.  ….. Rosario still needs to fine tune his game — particularly his plate discipline — and is unlikely to contribute to your team no matter where he starts the season.

Instead of using BB% and K%, a player’s estimated K% and BB% can be determined by using swing and miss values. To get an idea of this value, I created a formula using (See Appendix) O-Swing%, K-Swing%, O-Contact% and K-Contact% plate discipline values.

By plugging Rosario’s 2011 plate discipline numbers into the spreadsheet, his 2011 plate discipline numbers would be 22% K% and 6% BB%. While the BB% is fairly close to his actual value (4%), the K% is off by 13 percentage points.

With questions surrounding his plate discipline in 2012, he saw is K% end up at 23%. This was within 1% point of what his 2011 estimated K%. With reasonable plate discipline, he was able to put up a decent season (1.8 WAR in 426 PA). Using a second method to calculate a Rosario’s K% and BB% helps to get a better picture of his true talent level.

Rookies, like Rosario, are called up and get a small number of plate appearances. By using a player’s plate discipline numbers, the player’s walk and strikeout rates can be estimated. The estimate can help determine if the player’s talent level is significantly different than their stats suggest.

I wanted a formula to help estimate a player’s K% and BB% using the plate discipline values available at FanGraphs. The formula create wouldn’t be a prediction (as it contains no regression) or stat that stabilizes fast.

I took every player that had over 200 PAs in a season from 2002, when plate discipline numbers are first available at FanGraphs, to 2012. I ran a linear regression against over 3500 seasons and came up with the following two formulas:

BB% = -0.228 x O-Swing% -0.139 x Z-Swing% – 0.030 x O-Contact% -0.257 x Z-Contact% + 0.437
R-Squared = 0.45

K% (K/PA)
K % = 0.248 x O-Swing% -0.345 x Z-Swing% – 0.153 x O-Contact% -0.837 x Z-Contact% + 1.169
R-Squared = 0.79

I have gone ahead and saved people some time and uploaded a spreadsheet to the Google Docs that will automatically do the calculations.

To use the sheet.

1. Download the spreadsheet by using the “Download As” feature under File.
Go to the players page at FanGraphs, minimize minor league data, go to the Standard stat area and copy the all the data going back to 2002.

2. Go to the downloaded spreadsheet and paste the data with the upper left corner being the left yellow box.

3. Go back to the player’s FanGraphs page and copy the (non-Pitch F/X) Plate Discipline values.

4. Go back to the downloaded spreadsheet and paste the data with the upper left corner being the right yellow box.

5. Once the data has been added to the spreadsheet, the player’s real and estimated K% and BB% will be calculated.

Cespedes Not Missing

While many baseball players are not able to live up to the expectations created before they arrive in the big leagues, Yoenis Cespedes has lived up to and probably has exceeded the expectations created around him. When he first started seeing major league pitching in spring training, some baseball experts expected that he may have problems with plate discipline. Cespedes has answered the critics by making more contact with non-fastballs.

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Orioles Defying the Odds

Over this past weekend, the Orioles split a 4 game series with the New York Yankees. Baltimore was able win 2 games and stay only 1 game behind the Yankess in the AL East standings, even though they were outscored 31 to 23. This trend of winning while being outscored is not uncommon for the Orioles this season.

The most remarkable part about the Orioles keeping pace with the elite teams in the AL is that they have done it with a negative run differential, (608 Runs scored vice 637 Runs Allowed). It may seem that it would not be too uncommon for a team to be a few wins over .500 and have a allowed a few more runs then they have scored, but it isn’t. Only the San Francisco Giants achieved the feat in 2011 (86-76, -17 runs) and no teams in 2010. Since 1962, when both leagues went to 162 games, 54 teams have been able to reach this feat, or just about 1 per season. The average run differential for the teams was -18.6 runs and the average number of games over .500 was 6.8 games.

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Physics to Mark Teixeira: Don’t Dive

Most people will remember the bad out call of Mark Teixeira by Jerry Meals from Saturday’s game against the Orioles. While Teixeira was obviously safe on replay, but perhaps the entire thing could have been avoided if Teixeira had simply run through the bag instead.

There have been a multitude of scientific studies on the merits of running through the bag or diving, including this recent one from ESPN’s Sports Science. The video is worth watching, but the conclusion is definite – running through the bag was 10 milliseconds faster on average than diving, and the difference can be significantly larger if the dive results in too much kinetic friction due to landing in the dirt too early. How good was Teixeira’s dive? Let’s take a look.

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Andruw Jones: All-Star to Replacement-Level Player

Andruw Jones was having a brilliant career, that is, until he turned 31 years old. Since that point, he’s barely been a league-average player. He went from an all-time great player, to an iffy hall-of-fame candidate.

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Breakout Impossible: Don’t Compare Jose Bautista to Others

Jose Bautista came out of nowhere two-and-a-half seasons ago and hit 54 home runs at the age of 29. At a time when most players’ careers are declining, Bautista’s taking off. In fact, his  breakout has been completely unprecedented for someone his age.

Since the start of the 2010 season, Bautista has accumulated more than 18 WAR. In the history of baseball, only 38 hitters* have reached that kind of production during their age-29 to age-31 seasons. The most amazing part of Bautista’s statistical climb is how it was totally unpredicted.

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Pitcher Aging Curves: Maintaining Velocity

Bill Petti published the first two parts of a series on pitcher aging. Bill’s first article focused on pitchers, in general, and the second was on the difference between starters and relievers. For the third installment, I’ll look at aging patterns for pitchers who maintain a relatively constant velocity from year-to-year.

From the previous articles, the average pitcher loses about 4 mph from their fastball from ages 21 to 38. In essence, most pitchers’ stats degrade as their fastball speed drops. Using the same methodology, I wanted to know how pitchers age when they don’t lose velocity on their pitches.

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10 Year Disabled List Trends

With disabled list information available going back 10 years, I have decided to examine some league wide and team trends.

League Trends

To begin with, here are the league values for trips, days and average days lost to the DL over the past 10 years.

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2011 Disabled List Spreadsheet and Team Information

I have gone through all of the 2011 MLB transactions and compiled the disabled list (DL) data for the 2011 season. I have put all the information in a Google Doc for people to use

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Effects of Intentional Walks on Non-Intentional Walks

Intentional walks (IBB) are usually given to good and/or unprotected players in a lineup. Pitchers would rather face the next, weaker hitting batter. The IBBs lead to an inflated walk rate (BB%) for hitters. By removing IBB from a player’s BB%, a true walk rate emerges. A problem I noticed was that when a player’s IBB% increases so does their non-intentional walk rate (NIBB%). Here is an attempt at putting some numbers behind the assumption.

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Mile Fly City?

Recently, one of our readers, Simon, noted that the Rockies might be targeting fly-ball pitchers with the recent additions of Guillermo Moscoso, Jamie Moyer and Jeremy Guthrie. I decided to examine if going after fly-ball pitchers was a practical method for limiting runs at Coors Field.

In an ideal world, the Rockies would love to have all extreme sinker-ball pitchers. The Rockies GM, Dan O’Dowd, stated this stance recently on Clubhouse Confidential.

In an ideal world, every single guy in Colorado would be a heavy sinker ball guy who would have a tremendous ground ball to fly ball ratio.

It is not an ideal world and he knows it. He goes on further to state:

Unfortunately not all of our decisions are made in an ideal world. When we balance fly ball rates, we really try to balance soft and hard.

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