Archive for September, 2015

Hardball Retrospective – The “Original” 1979 Montreal Expos

In “Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises”, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original team. Therefore, Tony Perez is listed on the Reds roster for the duration of his career while the Red Sox declare Wade Boggs and the Rockies claim Troy Tulowitzki. I calculated revised standings for every season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition.  Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.

Expanding on my research for the book, the following series of articles will reveal the finest single-season rosters for every Major League organization based on overall rankings in OWAR and OWS along with the general managers and scouting directors that constructed the teams. “Hardball Retrospective” is available in digital format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay, iTunes and KoboBooks. The paperback edition is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace. Supplemental Statistics, Charts and Graphs along with a discussion forum are offered at TuataraSoftware.com.

Don Daglow (Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, Tony LaRussa Baseball) contributed the foreword for Hardball Retrospective. The foreword and preview of my book are accessible here.

Terminology

OWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “original” teams

OWS – Win Shares for players on “original” teams

OPW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “original” teams

Assessment

The 1979 Montreal Expos          OWAR: 53.9     OWS: 327     OPW%: .572

GM Jim Fanning acquired 88% (23/26) of the ballplayers on the 1979 Expos roster. Based on the revised standings the “Original” 1979 Expos captured the first pennant in franchise history with 93 victories while topping the National League in OWAR and OWS.

Gary “Kid” Carter paced Montreal with 28 Win Shares and 5.2 WAR. The Hall of Fame backstop slugged 22 round-trippers and commenced a run of 10 consecutive All-Star appearances. Third-sacker Larry Parrish (.307/30/82) clubbed 39 two-baggers en route to a four-place finish in the N.L. MVP balloting. Andre “The Hawk” Dawson displayed his five-tool talent, blasting 25 long balls and nabbing 35 bags. Gary Roenicke swatted 25 big-flies while platooning in left field. Warren Cromartie delivered career-highs with 181 base knocks and 46 doubles. Ellis Valentine contributed 21 jacks and Tony Scott swiped 37 bases.

Tim Raines received the proverbial “cup of coffee” in 1979 with six pinch-running appearances. “Rock” pilfered 808 bases during a career that spanned 23 seasons. He ranks eighth among left fielders according to Bill James in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.” Teammates listed in the “NBJHBA” top 100 rankings include Carter (8th-C), Dawson (19th-RF) and Parrish (53rd-3B).

LINEUP POS WAR WS
Tony Scott RF/CF 1.21 13.93
Warren Cromartie 1B/LF 3.28 17.18
Andre Dawson CF 2.74 24.01
Gary Carter C 5.25 28.95
Larry Parrish 3B 4.07 27.34
Gary Roenicke LF 3.33 18.9
Tony Bernazard 2B 0.6 2.56
SS
BENCH POS WAR WS
Jerry White RF 0.79 6.09
Barry Foote C 1.58 12.2
Bombo Rivera LF 0.55 5.17
Ellis Valentine RF 0.4 14.41
Tim Raines 0 0
Terry Humphrey C -0.22 0.21

Steve Rogers (13-12, 3.00), the Expos first-round selection in the June 1971 Amateur Draft, hurled a League-leading 5 shutouts and achieved his third All-Star invitation. Dan Schatzeder posted a 10-5 mark with a 2.83 ERA. David Palmer fashioned a 2.64 ERA with a record of 10-2 in his rookie campaign. Scott Sanderson contributed 9 victories along with a 3.43 ERA. Byron McLaughlin collected 7 wins and 14 saves working in a variety of roles while portsider Shane Rawley saved 11 contests.

ROTATION POS WAR WS
Steve Rogers SP 3.78 16.61
Dan Schatzeder SP 3.31 13.13
David Palmer SP 2.25 11.23
Scott Sanderson SP 1.89 10.21
Balor Moore SP 0.01 5.7
BULLPEN POS WAR WS
Byron McLaughlin SW 1.29 11.04
Shane Rawley RP 0.78 7.84
Bill Atkinson RP 0.22 2.08
Dale Murray RP -1.09 3.15
Bill Gullickson RP 0.02 0.14
Gerry Hannahs SP 0.03 0.74
Bob James RP -0.21 0
Craig Minetto SP -2 0.47

The “Original” 1979 Montreal Expos roster

NAME POS WAR WS General Manager Scouting Director
Gary Carter C 5.25 28.95 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Larry Parrish 3B 4.07 27.34 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Steve Rogers SP 3.78 16.61 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Gary Roenicke LF 3.33 18.9 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Dan Schatzeder SP 3.31 13.13 Jim Fanning Danny Menendez
Warren Cromartie LF 3.28 17.18 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Andre Dawson CF 2.74 24.01 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
David Palmer SP 2.25 11.23 Jim Fanning Danny Menendez
Scott Sanderson SP 1.89 10.21 Charlie Fox Danny Menendez
Barry Foote C 1.58 12.2 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Byron McLaughlin SW 1.29 11.04 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Tony Scott CF 1.21 13.93 Jim Fanning
Jerry White RF 0.79 6.09 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Shane Rawley RP 0.78 7.84 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Tony Bernazard 2B 0.6 2.56 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Bombo Rivera LF 0.55 5.17 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Ellis Valentine RF 0.4 14.41 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Bill Atkinson RP 0.22 2.08 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Gerry Hannahs SP 0.03 0.74 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Bill Gullickson RP 0.02 0.14 Charlie Fox Danny Menendez
Balor Moore SP 0.01 5.7 Jim Fanning
Tim Raines 0 0 Charlie Fox Danny Menendez
Bob James RP -0.21 0 Jim Fanning Danny Menendez
Terry Humphrey C -0.22 0.21 Jim Fanning
Dale Murray RP -1.09 3.15 Jim Fanning Mel Didier
Craig Minetto SP -2 0.47 Jim Fanning Mel Didier

Honorable Mention

The “Original” 1985 Expos     OWAR: 55.8     OWS: 320     OPW%: .556

Montreal claimed the National League East division title by a five-game margin over New York while pacing the Senior Circuit in OWAR and OWS. Tim Raines stole 70 bases in 79 tries and batted .320 with 115 runs scored. Raines (35 WS) and Gary Carter (33 WS) surpassed the 30 Win Share plateau as the “Kid” blasted 32 moon-shots. Tim Wallach dialed long-distance 22 times and earned his first Gold Glove Award. Tony Bernazard supplied career-bests with a .301 BA, 169 hits, 17 home runs and 73 RBI. Andre Dawson collected his sixth consecutive Gold Glove Award and drove in 91 runs. Bob James anchored the bullpen staff with 32 saves, 8 victories and a 2.13 ERA. Shane Rawley provided 13 wins with a 3.31 ERA in 31 starts while Joe Hesketh delivered a 2.49 ERA and a record of 10-5 in his freshmen year.

On Deck

The “Original” 1977 Pirates

References and Resources

Baseball America – Executive Database

Baseball-Reference

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, NY.: The Free Press, 2001. Print.

James, Bill, with Jim Henzler. Win Shares. Morton Grove, Ill.: STATS, 2002. Print.

Retrosheet – Transactions Database

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive


Appreciating Oakland’s Big Three

The news that Barry Zito has been called up to start against Tim Hudson, with Mark Mulder in attendance, has rightfully thrown the baseball world into a mini-frenzy. Jonah Keri covered the meat of it spectacularly here. Here’s a dirty secret though: as we evaluate pitchers today, they weren’t great pitchers. An even dirtier secret: I don’t think it matters.

Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were undoubtedly good pitchers, racking up a Cy Young trophy and four more top-10 finishes in their time in Oakland. But were they great pitchers? Let’s take a look at their FIP- during their Oakland careers:

FIP-

At their peak, they were well above-average pitchers, but, combined, they only had two top-10 finishes in FIP-, with Mulder finishing 10th in 2001 and Hudson 10th in 2004. Good, but not transcendent. If that’s worse than you remember, it’s probably because their ERAs consistently undershot their FIPs:

ERA - FIP

The Big Three were among the last players before sabermetrics exploded in popularity with casual fans, and our analysis of them reflects that. If they had come up today, would we label them as three guys who are above-average, rather than the cultural phenomenon they became? It’s very likely. That the cultural relevance of the Big Three has carried into the sabermetric era is a delightful reminder of how recently we crossed the frontier.

Does the fact that their accomplishments don’t hold up as well in the FIP era diminish their place in baseball history? I say no. Even though baseball has seen a number of better three-man rotations, the “Big Three” label feels at home in Oakland. In 2008, Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, and Randy Johnson, averaged a 76 FIP- for the Diamondbacks, better than any year of the real Big Three. But would Dan Haren starting against Brandon Webb on Saturday be a headline event (forgetting about the medical miracle required)? I doubt it. Zito, Hudson, and Mulder evoke something in us beyond their raw performance.

I always recited the order as Zito, Hudson, Mulder. Zito always comes first because as a fellow lefty who didn’t throw very hard, but thought he had a big hook, I emulated him both in real life and in MVP baseball, where I spent countless hours dropping his curve in against hapless computer foes. Zito was my guy and Hudson and Mulder fell in line after. Everyone had their own order relative to their personal biases. The combination of youth, talent, and personality made them relatable in a way that other greater pitchers just weren’t.

The Big Three were also the rock on which Moneyball was built. For fans of small-market teams, they represented what was possible. If your team scouted, drafted, and developed well, you too could have your own set of homegrown stars. The 2001 A’s-Yankees ALDS was, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the era. Zito, Hudson, and Mulder combined to throw 28.2 innings and give up just five earned runs, but it wasn’t enough. The 2001 A’s were one of the most likable teams of all time and the Big Three were the dominant reason why.

Although they had their best years in Oakland, when they were forced to move on, there was a sense when that they were headed for greater things. The potential they left behind in Oakland still tantalizes. Although the greatness never materialized in their new homes, it still feels like they left something on the table when they left. We never had the closure of seeing them grow old and decline together which is why finally getting our closure on Saturday feels so comforting.

You will note that Keri’s article does not once mention FIP. It’s a defensible choice because that’s not how we evaluated them at the time so it’s not how we remember them now. None of the reasons why we loved them are because they were the very best pitchers in the game or sabermetric darlings. It was a confluence of harder-to-quantify factors.

Baseball is a funny game. None of the Big Three ever had a season as good as Jake Arrieta’s this season. But ask me who I’m going to remember in 20, 30, 40 years? No contest. Baseball is an analytical nostalgia factory, a game that runs on both numbers and feelings without ever feeling like it contradicts itself. Perhaps no one represents that dichotomy better than the legendary Big Three.


Free Agent Projection: Chris Davis

Baltimore Orioles first baseman, Chris Davis, is in the final year of his contract where he is making $12 mil/yr. At age 29, Davis has had a roller-coaster of a career starting in Texas where he burst onto the scene hitting 17 & 21 homers in his first two seasons. After which, he declined dramatically the next season hitting just under .200 for Texas. The following season he was traded to Baltimore where he revived his career and met his long-awaited potential. Today, Davis is one of the biggest power hitters in the game. He hit 53 homers in 2013 and 43 homers thus far in ’15. With Davis on the market we know clubs will be interested in his bat along with some other big FA names such as Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon.

Photo by Algerina Perna

Photo by Algerina Perna

The problem with Chris Davis is that he’s somewhat inconsistent. As a power hitter we can take a look at his slugging percentage, which will give us a better indication of his extra-base hits and power numbers. In seasons with at least 300+ at-bats he slugged an average of .507 but has a standard deviation of .091. It seems he has struggled to find consistency with his hitting, especially last season when he hit .194, with 23 homers and a slugging mark of .404. Compared to his .286/53 HR/.634 campaign in 2013, it is a huge difference.

If we take a look at a similar power hitter in Nelson Cruz, in his seasons with at least 300 ABs he slugged a similar average of .515 with a SD of only .04. Cruz is more of a model of consistency and has been less risky than Davis. Besides his one season of slugging .460, Cruz was always in the mid-.500s. Which is great for a power hitter. This is a big reason I am not a huge fan of Chris Davis. He just hasn’t shown a high level of consistency.

Another is his strikeout rate, which is extremely high. Since his first full season in Baltimore, Davis struck out 169, 199, 173, 182 times over the last 4 seasons. That’s good for a 31% K-Rate. Easily one of the worst in the league. His 196 strikeouts this season also happen to lead the league! Although he strikes out a ton, he gets the job done by driving in runs. Which at the end of the day could be seen as more important. Davis drove in 138 runs in 2013, 86 in ’14 and so far 110 in ’15. Did I mention he’s also eighth in the league with 118 runs created. A stat used to measure how valuable a player is to contributing runs to his team. So with great power comes great responsibility. Davis may strike out but he can really drive the ball. To me, he’s a high-reward/high-risk guy.

images-1

Interested teams:
Chris Davis is so valuable to the Orioles in terms of producing runs it’s hard to imagine him being let go without a fight. I think the Orioles will absolutely make him an offer. He’s already making $12m/yr and the O’s have a lot of money coming off the books this winter (Orioles’ Payroll). Only $41m is committed to next season ($119m payroll this year). So I can see them raising their price tag to about $18m/yr. The O’s are in a position to win now with Machado/Jones and a fairly young team so if they aren’t getting Davis they will no doubt be spending on others.

Other teams I can see having interest in Davis would be Seattle, San Diego, and Houston. Seattle is the kind of team to pay up for hitting; I could see them doing that with Davis as they did with Cano/Cruz. They need offense but they already have Trumbo at first base who has been decent. If they could move Trumbo I could see them making a play for Davis. Having Cano-Cruz-Davis would be quite powerful. They’re losing some money with Rodney & Jackson coming off the books. Seattle could be really interesting to watch.

The Padres I could see showing some interest but only if they lose Justin Upton and keep Wil Myers in CF. I think they’ll try to re-sign Upton who has had a good year playing in Petco Park. They’ve played Myers at 1B occasionally because of his injury concerns. With no DH, it’s harder to maneuver players around. Yet, again, AJ Preller is a magician so no one can really predict what he will do next. I think the Padres’ concern would be as Davis gets older he could regress on the defensive side of the ball and offensively. Petco Park is a pitcher’s palace so if Davis’ power dropped off his value would really take a hit. Putting Davis in as a full-time DH later in his career would help him maintain his power and consistency like it has for David Ortiz and A-Rod.

The Astros are a wild card I think. I said in the Cespedes post, they have a ton of cash to spend but only if they’re willing to spend it. They love guys who hit home runs. That’s basically their back end of the lineup (Carter, Valbuena, Rasmus). Their 1B Chris Carter ($4.5m) is a mini Chris Davis (low avg/high power) and he will be headed to arbitration. But in the offseason I think they will look to upgrade. They’ll obviously want to replace him with someone more improved. But Davis will cost them a lot; as a more analytics front office I’m not sure if they would see the value in paying up for him. Then again, pairing Davis, who hits lefty, with Correa/Altuve would really help them score runs along with mixing and matching their lineup.

Honorable Mentions: 
The last two teams I looked into with 1B trouble were the Cardinals and Pirates. St. Louis has Matt Adams coming off the DL and we’re not sure if he’s 100% just yet. We know Brandon Moss is not a long-term solution. The Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez has been super inconsistent with Pittsburgh. I think they’ll look to upgrade or float around some other names during the offseason. To be honest, I think Adam Lind would be a great addition to the Cardinals or Pirates instead of Davis. Adam Lind has a club option for $8m this offseason; he hits lefty and has had a solid year for Milwaukee. Overall, I don’t think these two teams will end up throwing money at Chris Davis but they may need 1B help next season. Its baseball, anything can happen.

images

In the end, I believe Davis enjoys playing in Baltimore. Due to his success there, the favorable ballpark and the DH factor I think he should stay. For his long-term career he should seriously consider staying in the AL with the DH factor. But I think another club will come in and make a play to acquire Davis. Power/RBIs come at a premium these days. Dan Duquette, GM of the Orioles, has experience and knows what he’s doing. If the price tag became too high I think he will definitely consider looking elsewhere on the market. Possibly an Adam Lind or Mark Trumbo.

Similar players such as Nelson Cruz signed a 4yr/57m (14m AVV) at age 34 and Albert Pujols signed a 10y/240m (24mAAV) in 2011. This sets a decent basis for Davis. In terms of his contract, I think Davis could get a 5-year deal worth about $18-21 million a year. His WAR for this season is 4.2 which puts him in the ballpark for this. So, it’s near our estimation. Personally, I would not give Davis $20m for 5 years. I think that’s going overboard but some teams are more into his skill than others. Power really comes at a premium in today’s game and Davis has a ton of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to 6 years, but I just don’t see as many teams bidding on Davis right now. Scott Boras is his agent which will probably drive up the asking price. That may turn off the Orioles which could lead to another club coming in and swooping up Crash Davis. I think it’s favored to be the Orioles or Mariners come signing day.

Projection: 5 years, $100 million


Towards an Inside Edge Runs Saved

There is a treasure trove of data sitting on FanGraphs which to my (limited) knowledge is little used. These data are the Inside Edge fielding stats. We have UZR and DRS, but no IERS (Inside Edge Runs Saved), despite the general availability of the data.

UZR essentially guesses, based on batted-ball profile, what the probability is that a play will be made, which given the lack of true batted-ball data will take time to stabilize. Inside Edge has the benefit of stacking each play in a probability bucket. Here is a list of the probabilities by POS, Probability Bucket and Year that we have IE data:

I then took each player’s stats and based on their position and year, computed the expected number of plays they should have made and compared that to the actual number of plays they had made. In other words, a RF in 2014 should make 86% of his plays in the 60-90% range, so if he had 100 plays there and made 92, he made 6 extra plays. Here’s what 2015 Top 30 looks like in that lens:

Note that IE seems to like Arenado and Longoria a lot more than DRS, however the list is pretty consistent with DRS, esp with Simmons and Hechavarria in the 2/3 spots. I didn’t control for team bias in the results, so it may be favouring certain teams (Jays players seem to be getting a large boost, see Martin, Revere, Pillar, Tulo and Donaldson all on the top 30). Go Jays Go! Yankees Suck!

The next step is a little less mathematical, in that I attempt to ascribe an average run saved based on position. Based on linear weights, a single is worth roughly .5, a double roughly .75 and a triple roughly 1. Thus, a catcher and pitcher can save at most .5 runs each play they make. Second basemen and shortstops will save .5 on most plays, but will get a bump when they convert a double play. A third baseman will prevent some doubles as well as convert some double plays. Outfielders will be preventing some mix of singles, doubles and triples (and the occasional home run). So, based just on my gut feelings on the matter, I ascribed the following run values to each position:

C/P: .5 Runs Saved

1B/2B/SS: .6 Runs Saved

3B: .65 Runs Saved

OF: .75 Runs Saved

Based on these values (estimated runs saved), these are the top fielders (catchers excluded) from 2012-2015 and 2015, respectively:

And the Worst (2012-2015 followed by 2015):

 


How Game Theory Is Applied to Pitch Optimization

The timeless struggle between pitcher and batter is one of dominance — who holds it and how. Both players use a repertoire of techniques to adapt to each other’s strategies in order to gain advantage, thereby winning the at-bat and, ultimately, the game.

These strategies can rely on everything from experience to data. In fact, baseball players rely heavily on data analytics in order to tell them how they’re swinging their bats, how well they’ll do in college, how they’ll perform at Wrigley versus Miller.

Big data has been used in baseball for decades — as early as the 60s. Bill James, however, was the first prominent sabermetrician, writing about the field in his Bill James Baseball Abstracts during the 80s. Sabermetrics are used to measure in-game performance and are often used by teams to prospect players.

Baseball fans familiar with sabermetrics, the A’s, and Brad Pitt have likely seen Moneyball, the Hollywood adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book. The book told the story of As manager Billy Beane’s use of sabermetrics to amass a winning team.

Sabermetrics is one way baseball teams use big data to leverage game theory in baseball — on a team-wide scale. However, by leveraging their data through the concepts of game theory on a smaller scale, baseball teams can help their men on mound out-duel those at the plate.

Game theory studies strategic decision making, not just in sports or games, but in any situation in which a decision must be made against another decision maker. In other words, it is the study of conflict.

Game theory uses mathematical models to analyze decisions. Most sports are zero-sum games, in which the decisions of one player (or team) will have a direct effect on the opposing player (or team). This creates an equilibrium which is known as the Nash equilibrium, named for the mathematician John Forbes Nash. What this means is that if a team scores a run, it is usually at the expense of the opposing team — likely based on an error by a fielder or a hit off a pitcher.

In the case of pitching, game theory — especially the use of the Nash equilibrium — can be used to predict pitch optimization for strategic purposes. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight advocates using big data and sabermetrics to analyze each pitch in a hurler’s armory, then cultivating the pitcher’s equilibrium — the perfect blend of pitches that will result in the highest number of strikeouts, etc.

Paine has gone so far as to create his own formula, the Nash Score, to predict which pitcher should throw which pitches in order to outwit batters.

In perfect game theory, the Nash equilibrium states that each game player uses a mix of strategies that is so effective, neither has incentive to change strategies. For pitchers, Paine’s Nash Score uses their data to find the optimal combination of pitches to combat batters, including frequency.

Paine does point out that creating this kind of equilibrium in baseball can be detrimental to a pitcher. He is, after all, playing against another human being who is just as capable of using game theory to adapt strategies to upset the equilibrium.

If a pitcher’s fastball is his best, and his Nash Score shows that he should be using it more often, savvy hitters are going to notice. “ . . . In time, the fastball will lose its effectiveness if it’s not balanced against, say, a change-up — even if the fastball is a far better pitch on paper,” writes Paine.

In this case, a mixed strategy is the best — in game theory, mixed strategies are best used when a player intends to keep his opponent guessing. Though pitch optimization using Paine’s Nash Score could lead to efficiency, allowing pitchers to throw fewer pitches for more innings, it could also lead to batters adapting much quicker to patterns, thus negating all the work.


Salary Arbitration Projection: Matt Harvey

In his first year of being eligible for arbitration, Matt Harvey will be able to substantially increase his salary for the 2016 season. Since beginning his career with the New York Mets in 2012, he has taken off to become an All-Star pitcher and fan favorite. His agent, Scott Boras, and the front office of the Mets will negotiate a one year salary based off his success in 2015. We’ll cut right to the chase and get into the hard numbers which will help us identify a rough projection of what we would expect Matt Harvey to receive this coming winter.

For more background on arbitration cases, read my previous article which discusses what is allowed/not allowed.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 16: National League All-Star Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets pitches during the 84th MLB All-Star Game on July 16, 2013 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The American League defeated the National League 3-0. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 16: National League All-Star Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets pitches during the 84th MLB All-Star Game on July 16, 2013 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The American League defeated the National League 3-0. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Overall performance:
Since 2012, Matt Harvey at age 26 has a career 2.59 ERA with 24-17 win/loss record. During his 2013 season Harvey was on a tear with a 2.27 ERA and became one of the leading NL Cy Young candidates before his injury. He also started the 2013 All-Star game which happened to be in Citi Field that year. After tearing his UCL and missing the entire 2014 season, Harvey came back strong this year and has pitched in 26 games thus far with a 2.88 ERA through 171 innings (11th best in league). He has a 12-7 win record and gives up less than a hit per inning (which ranks 9th in all of MLB). His WHIP is also one of the top 10 leagues best at 1.03 so he rarely allows runners on base and is averaging 8.6 strikeouts per game.

His W/L record this season does not show his true value, as the Mets started the first half of the season with one of the worst offenses in the league. After acquiring premier Major League hitters such as Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Uribe, the Mets have led the league in runs scored giving Mets starters big run support. Since those acquisitions, Harvey has pitched in 7 games winning 3 and losing 0. But the Mets’ bullpen blew Harvey’s lead in 3 other games in which he had outperformed the other team. Had it not been for a mediocre bullpen, Harvey could have been 6-0 in 7 games since August 1st. Clearly, Harvey is an ace to this team and is the backbone of a staff that has propelled the Mets to first place. He is a consistent pitcher and does not show signs of letting up even after having TJ surgery. Without Harvey, the Mets would lose a dominant, consistent ace which is obviously hard to come by.

Leadership/Public appeal:
As one of the older members on the New York Mets’ young pitching staff, Harvey is one the leaders on this team. After fighting his way back from injury rehab, he has become a consistent stronghold to the Mets’ rotation. Although Dr. Andrews, who performed Tommy John surgery on Harvey, has stated he should not exceed 180 innings due to his injury, Harvey is continuing to pitch on an innings watch to help the Mets win, especially through the postseason. Even if it hurts his chances at re-injuring himself, he is going out there to pitch.

As a leader, you need to show guts and heart; Harvey has definitely displayed that, battling out there everyday. Matt Harvey also is a fan favorite.  He ranks 9th in all of Major League Baseball and 1st with the Mets in 2015 top jersey sales. Many fans across the country are purchasing his jersey, thus showing how popular he is with people. When he returned to the mound this season to pitch, his first game back drew the biggest crowd (39,000 fans) for the second home game of the season since Citi Field opened in 2009.  That was 10,000 more fans in attendance than last year and 20,000 more than two years ago. During the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field, which Harvey started, the Mets drew their most fans in history at 45,000. When he’s the night’s starting pitcher, fans flock to the ballpark to see Matt Harvey. At the same time he’s able to strikeout hitters, captivate a crowd and draw extra revenue in from ticket sales than if he wouldn’t be pitching. The Mets fans also have a popular nickname for Harvey: The Dark Knight. Symbolizing his leadership skills and journey back from Tommy John surgery, Harvey symbolizes the 2015 Mets team and has dramatically changed the mood of the fan base since his arrival/return. There’s no denying this.

harvey600

Injury history:
As stated earlier, Matt Harvey missed all of 2014 season undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL. His recovery has been a success thus far but is always a case for concern in the future. But arbitration cases do not quite debate the future; only his previous success. He has shown no discomfort and has spent 0 days on the disabled list this year. To combat future problems the Mets’ pitching staff went to a 6-man rotation, which has caused Harvey (and other Mets pitchers) to skip a couple starts. Harvey has constantly said he feels good and does not show any signs of slowing down unless the Mets management shut him down.

Performance of club:
The Mets are currently in first place by 6 games and it looks like it will stay that way come October. Largely in part due to Harvey’s success on the mound, the Mets would not be in the same situation without him or his 12 wins this season. When the playoff schedule arrives, Harvey will easily be the game 1 or game 2 starter depending on how he finishes the season.

Record of the players past compensation: 
Harvey made MLB’s minimum salary in 2013 at $498,000 and this year at around $510,000. This will be his first eligible year of Arbitration 1. His value to the team over the last couple years has been sky-high but he’s been grossly underpaid.

26harvey-superJumbo

Comparative salaries:
Tyson Ross was arbitration 1 last year for the San Diego Padres. In his 2014 campaign he pitched to a 2.81 ERA / 1.211 WHIP with 13 wins in 191 innings pitched. He also struck out 9 hitters per inning and was named an All-Star that same season. But Ross pitches in a heavily favored pitcher’s ballpark. His stats at home included a 1.88 ERA with an 8-5 record but his away stats included a 3.79 ERA with a 5-9 record. Clearly, Ross does not pitch better on the road and his starts could have been affected by where he pitched. Compared to Harvey’s career numbers, he pitches more consistently than Ross at home (12-7, 2.15 ERA) and away (12-10, 3.14 ERA). From our previous numbers we know that Harvey has been a better pitcher overall this season in ERA, WHIP, wins and many other pitching statistics than Ross had in his 2014 season. Following Ross’ 2014 year, he was able to negotiate a 1yr/$5.25m deal in January. Ross is not as consistent and skilled as Matt Harvey. Since Harvey surpasses Ross in success we can see he is due much more in salary as well.

Chris Tillman is the next player we can compare to. Although a little less successful, Tillman was able to get a 1yr/$4.3m deal. The season prior to his arbitration, Tillman had a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA and struck out only 6.5 K/9 in 207 innings. Tillman is on the lower end of the comparison as he agreed to almost a million dollars less than Tyson Ross.

Summary:
These players give us the best guideline and recent examples in terms of numbers/dollars that can help us estimate what Harvey should be owed for the 2016 season. Harvey is definitely much better than Ross and Tillman. He brings more to the table than just numbers as he is a figurehead in New York, one of the largest markets in baseball. The first-place Mets could not be where they are if it was not for Harvey. His health was a concern earlier this year but he hasn’t had any setbacks this entire season except for skipping a start here or there. We can expect Harvey to easily surpass Tyson Ross and his $5.25m deal.

Due to the pizzazz of the Dark Knight, the revenues generated from his starts/jersey sales and the recent success of the team, Harvey should be able to negotiate himself around a 1yr/$6.3m deal. If we talk about fairness in terms of his contract, I think this is “fair” to both parties. We have to take into account everything that Harvey brings to the table and I think he’s more valuable than Ross and most previous pitchers who went to arbitration 1 and did not sign a multi-year deal. The one factor that could haunt Harvey’s dollar amount is his elbow due to TJ surgery. If that happens to wear out during the last couple of weeks in September and postseason, we can easily make a case that he should be owed less. But as for now he’s been Harvey-esque and back to where he was before the surgery. Next year his innings limit should be lifted or increased dramatically so there won’t be too much of a cause for concern compared to if he spent time on the DL this season. Obviously, he isn’t a sure bet that he will remain healthy but arbitration does not greatly take into consideration future success/problems, only previous. That is why we project him to get approximately $6.3m.

Overall, both sides will negotiate and the Mets will offer less than what I project. I could definitely see the Mets’ offering $5.5 to $6m. But Scott Boras will clearly try to get more for Harvey — I think around $7m. Both arguments will be justified. In the end, I think an arbitrator would agree that 1yr/$6.3m is common ground, a good midpoint and fit for an agreement by both parties. Stay tuned for more…

Projection: 1yr/$6.3m

…because he’s the hero Queens deserves…

matt-harvey-si.vadapt.620.high.75


Contact-Quality Data and Its Application

Since Baseball Info Solutions’ contact-quality data was uploaded here on FanGraphs, many attempts have been made to predict BABIP using said data without a great deal of success. So I tried breaking down the data by type of ball in play using the splits function on the leaderboards and results seem promising (for fly balls at least).

Data from 2012 season onward was used for hitters with minimum 250 PA as a qualifier (completely arbitrary).

Data on fly balls showed the best r-squared at 0.79 with the control variables being hard%, soft%, pull% and speed scores.

The equation:

xAVG(FB) =.7387*hard% + .0989*soft% + .0596*pull% + .0015*Spd – .0809

The usual suspects top the xAVG list: Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera. But the most puzzling fact was Mike Trout’s .266 xAVG vs a .342 AVG. What does Trout do differently to beat the formula? I don’t know.

xAVG on groundballs correlated less well with average on grounders with an r-squared of 0.48. Though if one sets the PA qualification to 600 r-squared improves to 0.52. The lower r-squared on groundballs probably has to do with the fact that success on groundballs depends on not only hitting them hard but also hitting them in the gaps in the infield and no variable captures that effectively.

xAVG(GB) =.5096*hard% – .0012*soft% – .0036*pull% + .2328*oppo% + .0096*Spd + .0892

Mike Trout is restored to the place where he belongs, the top of the xAVG list with A.J Pollock, Adam Eaton, Carlos Gomez and Willie Bloomquist in the top five. Yasiel Puig’s xAVG shows the biggest difference from his average, probably because he has mastered hitting balls in the gaps.

Data on liners was the least promising with an r-squared of 0.21 between xAVG and average. Moreover the constant in the linear equation was the biggest term, meaning average on liners is mostly random. So there is only a slight positive effect on hitting liners hard and having a high average on liners.

Overall, contact-quality data is promising and we can get better estimates as we get more and more years’ worth of data. Data from 2002-2010 wasn’t used because it was manually collected and results-based while 2011 seems to differ from 2012-2015 data as league-average hard% seems to be 5% lower than normal.


A New Predictive Model for Determining Arbitration Salaries

My name is Rich Rieders and I am a 2015 graduate of Rutgers School of Law. Over the winter, I participated in Tulane University’s 9th Annual Baseball Arbitration Competition and we finished in 2nd place overall out of 40 teams. The arbitration cases used in the competition were Jenrry Mejia v. New York Mets, Lorenzo Cain v. Kansas City Royals, and Mark Trumbo v. Arizona Diamondbacks. My team represented the Royals, Mets and Mark Trumbo in those cases. It was a great experience and I learned a tremendous amount. Those of you who are in law school should absolutely participate. Being in New Orleans is an amazing bonus as well! You can read more about the competition from Tulane’s website and Jerry Crasnick’s ESPN article.

Instead of explaining how arbitration works, I highly recommend reading this article as it will give you an excellent basis for understanding the arbitration process. Just ignore the part about free agency since that’s been done away with now.

In order to prepare for the competition, I created a database (going back to 2008) consisting of all arbitration awards and players who signed 1-year contracts avoiding arbitration along with their respective statistics (Note multi-year contracts are not allowable as player comps for arbitration purposes). Using regression analysis, I was able to determine which statistics correlate most with salary.

Here on FanGraphs we pride ourselves on the use of metrics and the abandonment of traditional stats. That all goes out the window for the arbitration process. The arbitrators jointly selected by league and the union have a background in labor law, not baseball. And those that are baseball fans probably aren’t avid FanGraphs readers and their exposure is likely to be limited to Wins, Losses, ERA, H, HR BB, SO, etc. Each side gets 30 minutes to present their case, plus another 15 minutes of rebuttal. You simply don’t have time to teach the panel sabermetrics and argue your case at the same time. And as I will discuss later, the use of predictive stats largely fall outside the scope of an arbitration hearing anyway. However, by using regression analysis we can pinpoint exactly which stats correlate most with eventual salary and which ones don’t.

  • SP: W (.6099), IP (.5401), SO (.5368), RA9-WAR (.5166), GS (.4598)
  • RP:  SV (.7302), SD (.4980), SV% (.3237), SO (.2716), WPA (.2491)
  • Hitter: XBH (.7318), RBI (.7188), R (.6382), HR (.6031), PA (.5934)

These stats correlate among the least with future salary:

  • SP: ERA (.1018), FIP (.0592), xFIP (.0765), BB% (.0202), HR/FB (.0046)
  • RP: ERA (.0202), FIP (.0846), xFIP (.0962), BB% (.0218), LOB% (.0406)
  • Hitter: BB% (.0175), BABIP (.0346), Z-Contact% (.0113), UBR (.0035), Def (.0202)

Now that’s not to say only the stats with the highest RSQ matter. Traditional rate stats like K/9 and ERA are still important. Try arguing to a casual fan that a pitcher with an ERA of 2.50 was not as productive as pitcher with an ERA of 4.00 ERA and see how that goes.

What we can take away from this is that:

  1. Traditional stats have a strong correlation, metrics do not.
  2. Counting stats have a strong correlation, rate stats do not.
  3. Offense, particularly power have a strong correlation and defense and baserunning do not.
  4. The more playing time you receive (PA, IP, G), the more money you are likely to make.

In essence, the overarching principal behind baseball arbitration is that salary is almost wholly dependent on the accumulation of traditional counting stats with traditional rate stats used to highlight the difference between the comparable players and serves in my formula to help prevent outliers.

Individual awards also matter a great deal. In my hearing, it was extremely difficult to try and argue against Lorenzo Cain when he won the ALCS MVP with his breakout postseason fresh in everyone’s mind. Those type of factors are extremely difficult to overcome. For a real-life example, I heard a story from one of our judges that the Giants were planning on going to arbitration with Tim Lincecum in 2010. Lincecum showed up with a Cy Young Award under each arm and within a few hours, a two-year contract was agreed upon.

Also keep in mind that for players going through arbitration for the first time, we also consider their career numbers as well. The correlations are fairly similar for career stats, but with slight improvement for career rate stats. For players going through the process for a second, third or fourth time, we pretty much ignore career statistics.

Before I introduce the model, I want to stress the importance of understanding the purpose of the baseball arbitration process. During the final round in Tulane, we represented the Kansas City Royals against Lorenzo Cain. One of our principal arguments was that Lorenzo Cain had an unsustainable .380 BABIP (highest in MLB mind you) which is why he batted .300 and that his BA (and the rest of his offensive numbers) would likely regress towards his career averages. The expected regression along with his low walk rate would limit his value to the club going forward. An argument most of us on FanGraphs would surely have made at the time, but Lorenzo Cain’s awesomeness is a topic for another day.

While this type of logic works perfectly well for free-agent signings or whether to acquire the player via trade, it does not work for arbitration purposes. The underlying purpose of the arbitration process is to compensate the player for his performance in the previous season, NOT to compensate him based on what we expect he will do the following season. This is absolutely critical. Hence, for arbitration purposes, the fact that a player was lucky, his performance was unsustainable or anything along the lines of “he won’t be as good as he was last season” is not permissible. This works the same for underachievers too as teams will get the benefit at arbitration when a player was “unlucky.”

Keeping all this in mind, what I have been able to do is determine which statistics (and other factors) matter the most when it comes to arbitration salaries and have created a formula that can accurately predict the salaries of future players by plugging in certain statistics. You may have seen similar work featured on MLBTradeRumors.com, however, the raw numbers produced by my formula are more accurate and contain less variance than their model’s adjusted projections. The 2015 arbitration projections on MLBTradeRumors featured an average error of $303,061 with a standard deviation of $334,102. My unadjusted projections yield an average error of $283,094 with a standard deviation of $255,174. Not to mention that my formula does not have any built in restraints or adjustments, which would certainly help increase its accuracy even more.

You can see a side-by-side comparison of the results here.

While these projections aren’t perfect, we can get a pretty good idea of what arbitration-eligible players will receive. Using these projections we should be able to not only predict a player’s salary for the upcoming season, but with good long-range statistical modeling, we can reasonably project a player’s subsequent arbitration salaries as well.

  1. How much will Matt Harvey earn before he reaches free agency? How many millions will TJS wind up costing him?
  2. Should Kris Bryant sign an extension this winter or should he try to reach free agency as early as possible? What should each side do? What about someone coming to arbitration for the first time like Nolan Arenado?
  3. How much money does a team stand to save by avoiding Super-2 or delaying free agency by a year? Should the type of hitter/pitcher influence the decision?
  4. Were the Reds or Todd Frazier better off by agreeing to a 2-year, $12-million deal this winter instead of going through arbitration twice? What about a defense-first player like Juan Lagares?
  5. How much money is a rebuilding team like the Phillies costing themselves over the next few years by using Ken Giles as a closer instead of as a “high-leverage reliever?” Should the Marlins not make Carter Capps their closer in 2016?
  6. Which teams do the best when it comes to arbitration? Which ones do the worst? (More on that next time). What about the agencies?

Using my formula, these are the questions we can begin to answer now.


Free Agent Profile: Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes will be one of the most watched upcoming free agents this winter. He has become a coveted player on the market that has earned a huge payday. Cespedes defected from Cuba and signed a 4yr/36m deal (’12-’15) with the Oakland A’s in 2011. He immediately burst onto the scene as an offensive force hitting 20+ home runs, driving in at least 80 runs and slugging .450+ in each of his three seasons. After his success in Oakland, he became a journeyman over the last two seasons being traded to Boston, Detroit and then to the New York Mets this past July.

As a Met, he’s hitting .302 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 42 games after a week of hot hitting. Cespedes has totaled 2.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with the Mets and his 6.9 WAR for the 2015 season ranks in the top 10 in the major leagues between both pitchers and hitters. Cespedes is a free agent this off-season but is a special case, as he can’t receive a qualifying offer for a draft pick. When Oakland signed Cespedes as a free agent out of Cuba, they took a significant gamble that he would be major-league ready, inserting him into their lineup right away. Cespedes’ contract requires that he be released after the season without the qualifying offer. The Mets would’ve retained exclusive negotiating rights for the first five days following the conclusion of the 2015 World Series. After that, they couldn’t negotiate with Cespedes until May 15, 2016. But due to the recent success and big gamble of a new payday from New York, Cespedes waived that part of his contract and will now be able to sign with New York at any time in the FA period.

Career Numbers

Cespedes’ value with the Mets is astronomical. After acquiring him on July 31st the Mets have scored the most runs (311) in the majors since that time. Before the acquisition the Mets were 28th in the league! They had what was considered a minor-league offense. Although they did acquire Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, none have made more of an impact than Cespedes. What Cespedes brings to a team is power and pure run support. He became a catalyst for a struggling team and propelled them into first place. Almost all the hitters in their lineup have boosted numbers since that time as well. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around batters in front of Cespedes. More guys are getting more pitches to hit resulting in more men on base for Cespedes to drive home. He also plays average defense and has a cannon for an arm.

metsweb2s-3-web


INTERESTED BUYERS:
I can see Cespedes re-signing with the Mets if they have a successful postseason. The fans along with the media would grill the front office/ownership if they did not get him back. That was the case this past trade deadline when GM Sandy Alderson was scrutinized for not making any moves until the final days leading up to July 31st. Roc Nation has the rights to negotiate his contract and as we saw from Cano’s FA market in 2013, they may try to get the most lucrative deal by waiting it out and reaching out to all interested teams. If the Mets want him back they are going to have to give him a big payday.

Some other clubs I can see having interest in Cespedes could be Baltimore, Houston, Miami, and San Diego (if they lose Justin Upton). I think the ones that just makes the most sense are Houston and Baltimore — they need to have more consistency, especially in their OF positions. Houston has Rasmus, Gomez and Springer. But Rasmus is a FA this offseason and Gomez has struggled. I think Cespedes provides that jolt to an offense that’s hard to find. He produces runs, which any offense needs. They could have Altuve, Correa and Springer/Gomez hit in front of Cespedes. That would be an incredible lineup. Throw in their great young staff and a decent back end of a lineup. That’s a scary team. Plus, they have the payroll to go out and get him. Right now its only about $72,000,000, but we’re not sure if ownership wants to go out and spend on one guy. They may try to find value elsewhere for cheaper which is something that General Manager Jeff Luhnow likes to do.

As for the Baltimore Orioles, they have Adam Jones in CF and could sign Cespedes to play LF. He has better defensive numbers in left and if the Orioles cannot sign 1B Chris Davis back I think they will strongly consider Cespedes. Baltimore has a ton of money coming off the books having only $41 million committed to next year so it seems as if they will have a lot of changes coming their way.

San Diego could be a good fit only if Justin Upton signs elsewhere, otherwise he’d be useless on a team that has three solid outfielders and no DH. We know AJ Preller could wave his magic wand at any moment and make something happen. Lastly, Miami could be a dark horse. They cut back on their spending in the last couple years but could look to make another “Marlin splash” with Yoenis Cespedes. Miami plays in a big Hispanic market and considering they are located not too far from Cuba, that could be influential in their decision-making.  The excitement from the fans and a power-filled lineup would be tremendous. Just imagine facing a lineup with Dee Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton…someone call Jack McKeon to manage this squad.

In the end, I think Cespedes does sign back with the Mets, especially if they have a deep postseason run. The Orioles are the second favorite. I think the fans/media will get on the front office/ownership to sign him back. The Wilpons might be cheap but after seeing this postseason run they are going to ask themselves, how could they not? Cespedes seems to like being the top dog on a team; with the Mets he’s exactly that. As Reggie Jackson would say, “the straw that stirs the drink.” Without him, they are very vulnerable, as shown before his acquisition.

In terms of his deal, I think he will get around $26 million average annual value (AAV). The big part is how many years he will be able to get. After seeing Roc Nation get Cano to sign for 10 years, I don’t think we will see another double-digit figure like that. It seems that most teams are trying to shy away from that long-term deal and rather give a 6/7/8yr contract with more AAV. So I believe Cespedes will most likely go for about 7 years but higher AAV. Although I don’t think we will be surprised if a front office came up to 8-9-10 years…it’s not every day a .290, 30+HR, 100+RBIs, 7 WAR guy comes on the market.

Similar players we can compare to: Shin Soo Choo – 7yr/130m (18m/AAV) and Jacoby Ellsbury – 7yr/153m (21m/AAV). Cespedes has better numbers than both these players, especially in the power department. Choo was a guy known more for getting on base and Ellsbury had his average/legs/defense behind him. There’s no doubt in our minds Cespedes will get more than these two. If we also take into consideration that for every 1 WAR, a player usually gets $7-8 million/yr. Cespedes this season already has 6.9 WAR. That’s incredible but he’s more likely not to keep that up and fall back to his career average of about 4-5 WAR per season. With that being said, 4-5 WAR equates to a very high salary. The Mets/other teams will probably go a bit overboard and give on the higher end as usual. I think he will get to 7 years/182m for 26m AAV. I don’t think any of these teams will go to 8 years or longer because of the history of longer contracts not working out. If anything this deal will contain more AAV.

As Jerry Seinfeld tweeted: “A Cespedes for the rest of us.”
A Cespedes for the rest of us
PROJECTION: 7 years, $182 million with Mets or Orioles.


Why IP Is a Poor Indicator

Innings pitched (IP) seems to be the standard for judging a player’s workload. Sure it will tell you how deep into a game a pitcher went and it’s often used as a measure of pitcher durability, but it tells you nothing about a pitcher’s effectiveness. A far more useful stat is the pitch count during each particular outing, or even better pitches per innings pitched (P/IP). I think we can all agree that all innings are made differently. A pitcher can throw three pitches or it can take 61 pitches as evidenced by Steve Trachsel (1997 – Chicago Cubs) and still get credit for 1 IP. Actually I think it’s possible to throw zero pitches and get 3 outs, but I don’t have the motivation to look up the rule at this particular moment.

Here are some stats for three players in the 2015 season.

Player GS W L IP
Player 1 27 11 10 159.2
Player 2 26 12 7 171.2
Player 3 30 12 10 169.1

All the players in the table above have very similar peripheral statistics, aside from an IP difference of 12 between players 1 and 2. From looking at these stats it’s a toss-up as to who has had the most successful season — do you choose player 2 since he has the most IP or player 3 since he’s made the most starts? In the table above Chris Heston is player 1, Matt Harvey is player 2 and Yovani Gallardo is player 3. What really separates the players is the pitch counts and P/IP.

Chris Heston – 2461 Pitches and 15.4 P/IP

Matt Harvey – 2533 Pitches and 14.8 P/IP

Yovani Gallardo – 2959 Pitches and 17.5 P/IP

Chris Heston has 12 IP less than Harvey but has thrown 72 fewer pitches this season. Harvey and Gallardo have thrown about the same amount of innings, but Gallardo has thrown 426 more pitches this season. The reason I chose Harvey as one of the pitchers for this comparison is due to the very public feud between the Mets, Boras and Harvey. In case you missed it, there was a disagreement with the innings limit imposed on Harvey in his first season after Tommy John surgery. Boras wants the Mets to stick to 180 IP while the Mets thought it was more of a soft cap. I wanted to look at the relationship between the IP in a season and the total number of pitches thrown. Luckily this data was readily available for download via FanGraphs, but only pitch counts back to 2002 were available. Below is a plot showing all pitchers who threw more than 100 innings in a season compared to their pitch counts. The data has a linear relationship, with the red line showing the mean and the outside black lines are the prediction intervals where we would expect 95% of the observations to fall within.

Now based on the 180 IP limit imposed on Matt Harvey, a linear model predicts that a pitcher would throw 2867 pitches in a season with an upper limit of 3158 and a lower limit of 2576. Now this means that at 180 IP we can reasonably expect a pitcher to throw between 2576 and 3158 pitches. Now for a guy coming off a major surgery, doesn’t a range of 582 pitches seem a bit extreme? It basically amounts to a difference of 5 complete games’ worth of pitches. In the plot below I also highlighted an innings range based on the range of innings where a pitcher throws 2867 pitches in a season. Now most importantly this range extends from 160 to 200 innings.

The medical team could just have easily set a limit anywhere between 160 and 200 IP. This is why an innings limit doesn’t work well in this situation; there is just too much variability in the data. In the future it will probably be a better idea for team officials and the medical staff to discuss a pitch limit over a season instead of an innings cap. Since the main goal of limiting a pitcher’s workload is to reduce stress on his arm I think the plot above does a good job showing that innings limits will have very little effect on actually managing a pitch count. Harvey is obviously thinking about the long term here because I know he doesn’t want to go through another surgery. After a second Tommy John the chances of a pitcher returning to the majors drops to somewhere around 30%, not to mention the drop in potential future earnings.

So I’ve shown you why I don’t think IP is a good indicator and now I’m going to show you why I think pitch counts and P/IP should be more important statistics.  Based on the linear model shown in plot 1 the formula to predict pitches in a season is as follows: Pitches = IP*14.5 + 256.9. Now the intercept for this model is 256.9 which suggests that if you don’t throw a single inning in a season you would still be expected to have thrown 257 pitches. Obviously there is something going on at the lower inning totals, but we are going to ignore that for the purpose of this article. As an added note, the lower prediction interval from plot 1 has an intercept of -33.975, so we are very within range of showing 0 pitches for 0 IP from this model.

Player IP P/IP P/IP Rank Actual Pitches Expected Pitches Difference Predicted IP
Chris Heston 159.2 15.4 24 2461 2565 -104 152
Matt Harvey 171.2 14.8 11 2533 2739 -206 157
Yovani Gallardo 169.1 17.5 84 2959 2708 251 186.1

Heston and Harvey both rank very high in P/IP among qualified starters while Gallardo is dead last among qualified starters. Efficiency is key here. Should Harvey be directly compared to Gallardo based on IP? No, absolutely not, Harvey is among the most efficient pitchers in the game this year. He has been able to get through innings while keeping his pitch count down and most importantly reducing stress on his arm. An inverse prediction based off pitch counts was used to predict the IP in the table above. Based on their pitch totals from this season Harvey and Heston have “thrown” less than their IP totals suggest and Gallardo has actually thrown quite a bit more. This has a big effect on that innings cap imposed on Harvey for this season. His stats show that he’s thrown 171.2 IP, but based on the number of actual pitches he’s thrown in game situations his number may be closer to 157 IP. Does that mean he should have the equivalent of 23 IP left in the tank for this season? Well that’s not up to me, but IP should less important than total pitches.

One thing I didn’t look at this article was the proportion of pitches thrown throughout the 2015 season. It’s been in the back of my mind, but I don’t have a reference for what the most stressful pitches are on a pitchers arm. I think it’s safe to assume that all pitches are not equal. Let’s think a Dickey knuckleball vs. Chapman fastball. The amount of effort needed for each pitch type is likely highly dependent on the pitch speed and type, but to simplify things here I’ve just assumed that all pitches are equal. We also need to realize that all pitchers are not equal, whether it be mechanics or individual variation in abilities. I was curious to see where Mark Buehrle’s pitch count (leaderboard here) lined up with all other pitcher since 2002 and lo and behold he’s thrown the most pitches since records became available. Obviously he doesn’t throw as hard as many of the other guys in the league, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a workhorse and one of the most effective pitchers over the last decade.