Archive for December, 2016

Derek Norris, 2016 — A Season to Forget

While it may not be the most exciting Nationals story of the offseason, Wilson Ramos signing with the Rays and the subsequent trade for Derek Norris to replace him is a very big change for the Nats. Prior to tearing his ACL in September, Ramos was having an incredible 2016, and he really carried the Nationals offense through the first part of the year (with the help of Daniel Murphy, of course) when Harper was scuffling and Anthony Rendon was still working back from last season’s injury. Given Ramos’ injury history it makes sense to let him walk, but Nationals fans have reasons to be concerned about Norris.

After a few seasons of modest success, including an All-Star appearance in 2014, Norris batted well under the Mendoza line (.186) in 2016 with a significant increase in strikeout rate. What was the cause for this precipitous decline? Others have dug into this lost season as well, and this article will focus on using PitchFx pitch-by-pitch data through the pitchRx package in R as well as Statcast batted-ball data manually downloaded into CSV files from baseballsavant.com, and then loaded into R. Note that the Statcast data has some missing values so it is not comprehensive, but it still tells enough to paint a meaningful story.

To start, Norris’ strikeout rate increased from 24% in 2015 to 30% in 2016, but that’s not the entire story. Norris’ BABIP dropped from .310 in 2015 to .238 in 2016 as well, but his ISO stayed relatively flat (.153 in 2015 vs. .142 in 2016). Given the randomness that can be associated with BABIP, this could be good new for Nats fans, but upon further investigation there’s reason to believe this drop was not an aberration.

Using the batted-ball Statcast data, it doesn’t appear that Norris is making weaker contact, at least from a velocity standpoint (chart shows values in MPH):

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 9.50.27 PM.png

Distance, on the other hand, does show a noticeable difference (chart shows values in feet):

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 9.53.45 PM.png

So Norris is hitting the ball further in 2016, but to less success, which translates to lazy fly balls. This is borne out by the angle of balls he put in play in 2015 vs. 2016 (values represent the vertical angle of the ball at contact).

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 9.56.55 PM.png

The shifts in distance & angle year over year are both statistically significant (velocity is not), indicating these are meaningful changes, and they appear to be caused at least in part by the way pitchers are attacking Norris.

Switching to the PitchFx data, it appears pitchers have begun attacking Norris up and out of the zone more in 2016. The below chart shows the percentage frequency of all pitches thrown to Derek Norris in 2015 & 2016 based on pitch location. Norris has seen a noticeable increase in pitches in Zones 11 & 12, which are up and out of the strike zone.

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 10.11.19 PM.png

Norris has also seen a corresponding jump in fastballs, which makes sense given this changing location. This shift isn’t as noticeable as location, but Norris has seen fewer change-ups (CH) and sinkers (SI) and an increase in two-seam (FT) & four-seam fastballs (FF).

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 10.15.10 PM.png

The net results from this are striking. The below chart shows Norris’ “success” rate for pitches in Zones 11 & 12 (Represented by “Yes” values, bars on the right below) compared to all other zones for only outcome pitches, or the last pitch of a given at-bat. In this case success is defined by getting a hit of any kind, and a failure is any non-productive out (so, excluding sacrifices). All other plate appearances were excluded.

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 10.21.20 PM.png

While Norris was less effective overall in 2016, the drop in effectiveness on zone 11 and 12 pitches is extremely noticeable. Looking at the raw numbers makes this even more dramatic:

2015                                                     2016

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 10.23.19 PM.png                       Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 10.23.38 PM.png

So not only did more at-bats end with pitches in zones 11 and 12; Norris ended up a shocking 2-for-81 in these situations in 2016.

In short, Norris should expect a steady stream of fastballs up in the zone in 2016, and if he can’t figure out how to handle them, the Nationals may seriously regret handing him the keys to the catcher position in 2016.

All code can be found at the following location : https://github.com/WesleyPasfield/Baseball/blob/master/DerekNorris.R


Kinda Juiced Ball: Nonlinear COR, Homers, and Exit Velocity

At this point, there’s very little chance you are both (a) reading the FanGraphs Community blog and (b) unaware that home runs were up in MLB this year. In fact, they were way up. There are plenty of references out there, so I won’t belabor the point.

I was first made aware of this phenomenon through a piece written by Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh on FiveThirtyEight, which noted the spike in homers in late 2015 [1]. One theory suggested by Lindbergh and Arthur is that the ball has been “juiced” — that is, altered to have a higher coefficient of restitution. Since then, one of the more interesting pieces I have read on the subject was written by Alan Nathan at The Hardball Times [2]. In his addendum, Nathan buckets the batted balls into discrete ranges of launch angle, and shows that the mean exit speed for the most direct contact at line-drive launch angles did not increase much between first-half 2015 and first-half 2016. He did observe, however, that negative and high positive launch angles showed a larger increase in mean exit speed. Nathan suggests that this is evidence against the theory that the baseball is juiced, as one would expect higher mean exit speed across all launch angles. I have gathered the data from the excellent Baseball Savant and reproduced Nathan’s plot for completeness, also adding confidence intervals of the mean for each launch angle bucket.

Figure 1. Mean exit speed vs. launch angle.

At the time of this writing, I am not aware of any concrete evidence to support the conclusion that the baseball has been intentionally altered to increase exit speed. This fact, combined with Nathan’s somewhat paradoxical findings, led me to consider a subtler hypothesis: some aspect of manufacturing has changed and slightly altered the nonlinear elastic characteristics of the ball. Now, I’ve been intentionally vague in the preceding sentence; let me explain what I really mean.

Coefficient of restitution (COR) is a quantity that describes the ratio of relative speed of the bat and ball after collision to that before collision. The COR is a function of both the bat and the ball, where a value of 1 indicates a perfectly elastic collision, during which the total kinetic energy of the bat and ball in conserved. The simplest, linear, approximation of COR is a constant value, independent of the relative speed of the impacting bodies. It has long been known that, for baseballs, COR takes on a non-linear form, where the value is a function of relative speed [3]. Specifically, the COR decreases with increasing relative speed, and can vary on the order of 10% across a typical impact speed range. My aim is to show that, for some reasonable change in the non-linear COR characteristics of the baseball, I can reproduce findings like Alan Nathan’s, and offer yet another theory for MLB’s home-run spike.

In order to explore this, I first need a collision model to incorporate a non-linear COR. I want this model to be relatively simple, and also to be able to account for different impact angles between bat and ball. This is what will allow me to explore the effect of non-linear COR on exit speed vs. launch angle. I will mostly follow the work of Alan Nathan [4] and David Kagan [5]. I won’t show my derivation; rather, I will include final equations and a hastily drawn figure to explain the terms.

Figure 2. Hastily drawn batted-ball collision.

The ball with mass is traveling toward the bat with speed , assumed exactly parallel to the ground for simplicity. The bat with effective mass is traveling toward the ball with speed , at an angle  from horizontal. We know that in this two-dimensional model, the collision occurs along contact vector, the line between the centers of mass, which is at an angle from horizontal. This will also be the launch angle. Intuition, and indeed physics, tells us that the most energy will be transferred to the ball when the bat velocity vector is collinear with the contact vector. When the bat is traveling horizontally and the ball impacts more obliquely, above the center of mass of the bat, the ball will exit at a lower speed. These heuristics are captured with the following equations, where COR as a function of relative speed will be denoted , and the exit speed .

                                                             (1)

                                                   (2)

                                                               (3)

                                                                              (4)

                                           (5)

Now all we must do is choose a functional dependence of the COR on relative speed. Following generally the data from Hendee, Greenwald, and Crisco [3], and making small modifications, I produced the following models of COR velocity dependence:

Figure 3. Hypothetical non-linear COR.

Note that, for the highest relative bat/ball collisions, the “old” and “new” ball/bat collisions will result in similar amounts of energy transferred, while in the “new” ball model, slightly more energy will be transferred to the ball in lower-speed collisions. This difference seems to me quite plausible given manufacturing and material variation of the baseball. It is also worth emphasizing that this difference need only be on average for the whole league; some variation ball-to-ball would be expected.

Taking the new and old ball COR models from Figure 3 and plugging into equations (1)-(5) allows us to simulate the exit speed across a range of launch angles. I have assumed a bat swing angle of 9 degrees. Calculations and plots are accomplished with Python.

Figure 4. Exit speed as a function of launch angle for non-linear COR.

The first thing to note about Figure 4 is that the highest exit speed is indeed at 9 degrees, which was the assumed bat path. The second is the remarkable likeness between Figure 4, the model, and Figure 3, the data. Clearly, I have cheated by tweaking my COR models to qualitatively match the data, but the point is that I did not have to make wildly unrealistic assumptions to do so. I have not looked deeply into the matter, but this hypothesis would also suggest that from ’15 to ’16, a larger home-run increase would be expected for moderate power hitters than from those who hit the ball the very hardest. In fact, Jeff Sullivan suggests almost exactly this [6], although he also produces evidence somewhat to the contrary [7].

There is certainly much complexity that I am ignoring in this simple model, but it is based on solid fundamentals. If one accepts that baseball manufacturing could be subject to small variations, and perhaps a small systematic shift that alters the non-linear coefficient of restitution of the ball, it follows that the exit speed of the baseball is also expected to change. Further, the exit speed is expected to change differently as a function of launch angle. That a simple model of this phenomenon can easily be constructed to match the actual data from suspected “before” and “after” timeframes is at least interesting circumstantial evidence for the baseball being juiced. Perhaps not exactly the way we all expected, but still kinda juiced.

 

References:

[1] Arthur, Rob and Lindbergh, Ben. “A Baseball Mystery: The Home Run Is Back, And No One Knows Why.” FiveThirtyEight. 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Aug. 2016.

[2] Nathan, Alan, “Exit Speed and Home Runs.” The Hardball Times. 18 Jul. 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.

[3] Hendee, Shonn P., Greenwald, Richard M., and Crisco, Joseph J. “Static and dynamic properties of various baseballs.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 14 (1998): 390-400.

[4] Nathan, Alan M. “Characterizing the performance of baseball bats.” American Journal of Physics 71.2 (2003): 134-143.

[5] Kagan, David. “The Physics of Hard-Hit Balls.” The Hardball Times. 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 23 Aug 2016.

[6] Sullivan, Jeff. “The Other Weird Thing About the Home Run Surge.” FanGraphs. 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

[7] Sullivan, Jeff. “Home Runs and the Middle Class.” FanGraphs. 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.


Examining Net Present Value and Its Effects

Going back to January 2016, Dave Cameron wrote an article detailing the breakdown of money owed to Chris Davis over the life of the deal he signed last year. For myself, this provided insight into how teams value long-term contracts, but more importantly it led me to more questions about how money depreciates over time. Fast-forward to the present and we start to see some articles and comments with people speculating about how much money teams are going to throw at Bryce Harper when he reaches free agency in a few years. The numbers have been pretty incredible; $400 million? $500 million? Even $600 million? Then someone threw out an even larger number: $750 million.

The best thing to do is ignore these numbers because we are still a couple of years away from free agency and he just had a down year where he was “only” worth 3.5 WAR, which gave the team a value of $27.8 million. At some point the numbers don’t even make sense because the contract values are getting so inflated. But at the same time, good for him, maybe he’ll buy a baseball team once he retires, or a mega-yacht. But unfortunately we will need to wait until after the 2018 season before we find out the value of this contract. In the meantime, speculation will run rampant and the media will throw out inflated numbers for the amusement of the masses.

Now, the purpose of this article is not to predict the value of Bryce Harper’s future contract, but to examine a few scenarios as to the actual value in present-day dollars. To do this I will use the concept of Net Present Value (NPV) from Dave Cameron’s Chris Davis article and then use some of the numbers from his article predicting a contract for Bryce Harper. Let’s set a couple rules; (1) Match the length of contract given to Stanton — 13 years, (2) use nice round numbers and get as close to the total values as possible, (3) use a discount rate of 4%, (4) this is an exercise in futility and not to be taken too seriously and finally (5) to estimate NPV for a massive contract.

Here are the scenarios for a 13-year contract totaling in excess of $400M, $500M and $600M.

13 Year Contract Structure
Year Age
2019 26 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2020 27 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2021 28 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2022 29 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2023 30 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2024 31 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2025 32 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2026 33 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2027 34 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2028 35 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2029 36 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2030 37 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
2031 38 $31,000,000 $38,500,000 $46,500,000
Total $403,000,000.00 $500,500,000.00 $604,500,000.00
NPV $309,555,083.25 $384,447,442.10 $464,332,624.87

Over the life of this contract, the value of each in NPV is significantly less than the actual amount signed. That’s because $5 today won’t buy you as much five years down the road. To get a little more numerical, 13 years from now currency will lose ~40% of its value. Quoting the Chris Davis article again, the league and the MLBPA have agreed to use a 4% discount rate to calculate present-day values of long-term contracts. Since important people within the industry take this into account, that’s likely why we don’t see too many contracts with a significant amount of deferred money.

Since players are taking — and I use this term very lightly — a “hit” when they sign a long-term deal, I wondered what kind of contract structure would benefit a player the most. Again, I wanted to use nice round numbers, so I settled on a 10-year, $100M contract, looking at an equal payment structure, a front-loaded contract, and a back-loaded contract. Here’s what I came up with:

Hypothetical 10 Year $100M Contract
Year Equal Front-loaded Back-loaded
1 $10,000,000 $14,500,000 $5,500,000
2 $10,000,000 $13,500,000 $6,500,000
3 $10,000,000 $12,500,000 $7,500,000
4 $10,000,000 $11,500,000 $8,500,000
5 $10,000,000 $10,500,000 $9,500,000
6 $10,000,000 $9,500,000 $10,500,000
7 $10,000,000 $8,500,000 $11,500,000
8 $10,000,000 $7,500,000 $12,500,000
9 $10,000,000 $6,500,000 $13,500,000
10 $10,000,000 $5,500,000 $14,500,000
Total $100,000,000 $100,000,000 $100,000,000
NPV $81,108,957.79 $83,726,636.52 $78,491,279.06

There’s not a huge difference, but a player would gain just over $5M by signing a front-loaded contract as compared to a back-loaded contract. It seems as though the agents and the MLBPA are more concerned about total dollars rather than NPV since they probably want to drive up total contracts.

And in case you’re wondering what those annual salaries would look like in NPV from the table above, I’ve created another table to show what those salaries actually look like in NPV over the life of our hypothetical 10-year contract.

NPV Of Hypothetical 10 Year $100M Contract
Year Expected Equal Front-loaded Back-loaded
1 $10 $9.62 $13.94 $5.29
2 $10 $9.25 $12.48 $6.01
3 $10 $8.89 $11.11 $6.67
4 $10 $8.55 $9.83 $7.27
5 $10 $8.22 $8.63 $7.81
6 $10 $7.90 $7.51 $8.30
7 $10 $7.60 $6.46 $8.74
8 $10 $7.31 $5.48 $9.13
9 $10 $7.03 $4.57 $9.48
10 $10 $6.76 $3.72 $9.80

What I was hoping to show you next was a cool interactive plot similar to the table above, but instead of showing you the annual salaries it will show cumulative earnings as the life of our 10-year/$100M contract as time progresses. Well unfortunately I am unable to get this plot to show up on this webpage; it has something to do with WordPress being unable to use Javascript. If you’ll bear with me, you can click the link below (it just opens a new window and shows the plot).

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19qGcrwGmdZemmYG_LaP_Ay6_5g6hL3VKT8z-Q3-PWXI/pubchart?oid=422413074&format=interactive
Front-loaded contracts seem to have the most benefit to the players themselves since they actually get more value out of any long-term contracts they might sign. For a player to maximize their career earnings it looks like it would be way more beneficial to sign shorter-length contracts with higher AAV than those long-term contracts. Maybe that is why we are beginning to see more deals with opt-out clauses in them.


Batted Balls and Adam Eaton’s Throwing Arm

Adam Eaton, he of 6 WAR, is now on the Nationals and there is a lot of discussion happening regarding that.  It would seem that maybe 2 – 3 of those WAR wins are attributable to his robust defensive play in 2016. 20 DRS!

In Dave Cameron’s article “Maybe Adam Eaton Should Stay in Right Field,” Dave points out that Eaton led MLB with 18 assists and added significant value by “convincing them not to run in the first place.”

What Dave and most of the other defensive metrics that I’ve seen on the public pages tend to ignore is the characteristics of the ball in play, i.e. fielding angle and exit velocity, and these impacts on the outfielders performance.  So with only a bit of really good Statcast data I understand this is still hard to do, but it’s time to start.  You can easily envision that balls hit to outfielders in different ways (i.e. launch angle and velocity) can result in different outfield outcomes.  Whether it is the likelihood of an out being made on that ball in play, or whether it is how that ball interacts with runners on base.  Ignoring this data has nagged me for a while now, as I love to play with the idea of outfield defense (just look at my other community posts).

So can some of these stats explain Adam Eaton’s defensive prowess this season?  Maybe it’s possible.  I had downloaded all the outfield ball-in-play data from the 2016 Statcast search engine so I fired it up.  I have cleaned the data up to include the outfielder name and position for each play.  Using this I can filter the data for the situation Dave describes, which is:

A single happens to right field with a runner on first base.

Before we go into the individual outfielders, let’s look in general:

 

By looking in general at the plays, you can see that a player is significantly less likely to advance from 1st to 3rd on a single to right field if the ball is hit at 5 degrees vs 15 degrees.  It’s nearly double from ~20% at 5 degrees to ~40% at 15 degrees.  Wow. That’s huge, and with an R-squared of nearly 50%, we’re talking half of the decision to go from 1st to 3rd can be tied to the launch angle.  (The chart is basically parabolic if you go to the negative launch angles which do appear in the data set, but with much less frequency, which is why I removed those data points.  But it makes sense that it would be way.)

I did this same analysis using exit velocity and it wasn’t nearly as conclusive, though there was a trend downward, i.e guys were less likely to advance on singles hit at 100mph then they were for singles hit at 60 mph. The r-squared was ~13%.

So now that we see that the angle the BIP comes to the outfield can make a big difference, who were the lucky recipients in the outfield of runner-movement-prevention balls in play?  When filtered to remove anybody who made fewer than 20 of this type of play, you end up with Eaton at No. 2 with an average angle of 4.44 (Bryce Harper, his now-teammate and also mentioned in Dave’s article in conjunction with his similarly excellent runner-movement-prevention, comes in at No. 3.  Possibly not a coincidence.)

 

You may notice my total number of plays for Eaton doesn’t match the total referenced by Dave per Baseball-Reference. I filtered out the plays where Eaton was in center field (which were several).  I believe that my analysis from the Statcast data had Eaton with 48 plays of this type (I think Dave’s article mentioned 52 per BR? Not sure what the difference is).

So in conclusion, I do think it’s very possible that Adam Eaton’s defensive numbers this past season, in particular with regards to his “ARM” scoring, could have been dramatically influenced in a positive direction simply by the balls that were hit to him and the angle they came.  Clearly this is something he has absolutely no control over whatsoever and it could fluctuate to another direction entirely next year.  I do think this area of analysis, in particular for outfield plays, whether it’s catches, assists, or even preventing advancement for runners, is a very ripe field for new approaches which in time should give us a much better idea of players’ defensive value.

That said, in this simple analysis the angle only accounted for ~50% of that runner-movement-prevention and that still leaves arm strength and accuracy as likely significant contributors, both of which I believe Eaton excels at.  And of course he did throw all those guys out.  So Eaton should be fine, likely well above average, but just don’t expect those easy singles to keep coming to him.


Where Bryce Harper Was Still Elite

Bryce Harper just had a down season. That seems like a weird thing to write about someone who played to a 112 wRC+, but when you’re coming off a Bondsian .330/.460/.649 season, a line of .243/.373/.441 seems pedestrian. Would most major-league baseball players like to put up a batting line that’s 12% better than average? Yes (by definition). But based on his 2015 season, we didn’t expect “slightly above average” from Bryce Harper. We expected “world-beating.” We didn’t quite get it, but there’s one thing he is still amazing at — no one in the National League can work the count quite like him.
Read the rest of this entry »


wERA: Rethinking Inherited Runners in the ERA Calculation

There are many things to harp on about traditional ERA, but one thing that has always bothered me is the inherited-runner portion of the base ERA calculation. Why do we treat it in such a binary fashion? Shouldn’t the pitcher who allowed the run shoulder some of the accountability?

As a Nationals fan, the seminal example of the fallacy of this calculation was Game 2 of the 2014 Division Series against the Giants. Jordan Zimmermann had completely dominated all day, and after a borderline ball-four call, Matt Williams replaced him with Drew Storen, who entered the game with a runner on first and two outs in the top of the 9th and the Nats clinging to a one-run lead. Storen proceeded to give up a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval to tie the game, but he escaped the inning when Posey was thrown out at the plate. So taking a look at the box score, Zimmermann, who allowed an innocent two-out walk, takes the ERA hit and is accountable for the run, while Storen, who was responsible for a lion’s share of the damage, gets completely off the hook. That doesn’t seem fair to me!

I’ve seen other statistics target other flawed elements of ERA (park factors, defense), but RE24 is the closest thing I’ve found to a more context-based approach to relief pitcher evaluation. RE24 calculates the change in run expectancy over the course of a single at-bat, so it’s applicable beyond relief pitchers and pitchers in general, and is an excellent way to determine how impactful a player is on the overall outcome of the game. But at the same time, it does not tackle the notion of assignment, but simply the change in probability based on a given situation.

wERA is an attempt to retain the positive components of ERA (assignment, interpretability), but do so in a fashion that better represents a pitcher’s true role in allowing the run.

The calculation works in the exact same way as traditional ERA, but assigns inherited runs based on the probability that run will score based on the position of the runner and the number of outs at the start of the at-bat when a relief pitcher enters the game. These probabilities were calculated using every outcome from the 2016 season where inherited runners were involved.

Concretely, here is a chart showing the probability, and thus the run responsibility, in each possible situation. So in the top example – if there’s a runner on 3rd and no one out when the RP enters the game, the replaced pitcher is assigned 0.72 of the run, and the pitcher who inherits the situation is assigned 0.28 of the run. On the flip side, if the relief pitcher enters the game with two outs and a runner on first, they will be assigned 0.89 of the run, since it is primarily the relief pitcher’s fault the runner scored.

Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 9.35.13 AM.pngLet’s take a look at the 2016 season, and see which starting and relief pitchers would be least and most affected by this version of the ERA calculation (note: only showing starters with at least 100 IP, and relievers with over 30 IP).

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 9.39.40 PM.png

The Diamondbacks starting pitchers had a rough year this year, but they were not helped out by their bullpen. Patrick Corbin would shave off almost 10 runs and over half a run in season-long ERA using the wERA calculation over the traditional ERA calculation.

On the relief-pitcher side the ERA figures shift much more severely.

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 9.40.37 PM.png

Cam Bedrosian had by normal standards an amazing year with an ERA of just 1.12. Factoring inherited runs scored, his ERA jumps up over two runs to a still solid 3.18, but clearly he was the “beneficiary” of the traditional ERA calculation. So to be concrete about the wERA calculation – it is saying that Bedrosian was responsible for an additional 9.22 runs this season stemming directly from his “contribution” of the runners who he inherited that ultimately scored.

The below graph shows relief pitcher wERA vs. traditional ERA in scatter-plot form. The blue line shows the slope of the relationship of the Regular ERA vs wERA, and the black line shows a perfectly linear relationship. It’s clear that the result of this new ERA is an overall increase to RP ERA, albeit to varying degrees based on individual pitcher performance.

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 10.04.15 PM.png

While I believe this represents an improvement over traditional ERA, there are two flaws in this approach:

  • In complete opposite fashion compared to traditional ERA, wERA disproportionately “harms” relief pitcher ERA, because they enter games in situations that starters do not which are more likely to cause a run to be allocated against them.
  • This does not factor in pitchers who allow runners to advance, but don’t allow that runner to reach base or score. Essentially a pitcher could leave a situation worse off than he started, but not be negatively impacted.

The possible solution to both of these would be to employ a similar calculation to RE24 and calculate both RP and SP expected vs. actual runs based on these calculations. This would lose the nature of run assignment to a degree, but would be a more unbiased way to evaluate how much better or worse a pitcher is compared to expectation. I will attempt to refactor this code to perform those calculations over the holidays this year.

All analysis was performed using the incredible pitchRx package within R, and the code can be found at the Github page below.

Baseball/wERA.R


The Homer Numbers of a Hypothetically-Healthy Giancarlo Stanton

Giancarlo Stanton has missed significant playing time since his MLB debut in 2010 and has never played more than 150 games of a 162-game season (145 and 123 games being his next two highest totals). In spite of his injury-shortened seasons, Stanton has still been among the league home-run leaders in 2011, 2012, and 2014 (his 150, 123, and 145-game seasons, respectively).

Giancarlo Stanton Since Debut (June 2010)
Season Games PA HR HR MLB Rank Injury Report
2010 100 396 22 T-55 ——
2011 150 601 34 9 Hamstring issues limited time
2012 123 501 37 7 15-day DL: Arthroscopic knee surgery
2013 116 504 24 T-31 15-day DL: Strained right hamstring
  2014* 145 638 37 2 Season-ending facial fracture
2015 74 318 27 T-25 15-day DL: Season-ending hamate (hand) fracture
2016 119 470 27 48 15-day DL: Strained left groin
*=finished 2nd in NL MVP race (Clayton Kershaw)

Career-wise, Stanton has amassed a total of 208 home runs, good enough for 16th-most of any player through their age-26 season and among the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Jose Canseco.

HR-leaders through Age-26 season
Rank Player HR
1 Alex Rodriguez 298
2 Jimmie Foxx 266
3 Eddie Matthews 253
4 Albert Pujols 250
5 Mickey Mantle 249
6 Mel Ott 242
7 Frank Robinson 241
8 Ken Griffey, Jr. 238
9 Orlando Cepeda 222
10 Andruw Jones 221
11 Hank Aaron 219
12 Juan Gonzalez 214
13 Johnny Bench 212
14 Miguel Cabrera 209
14 Jose Canseco 209
16 Giancarlo Stanton 208

Given Stanton’s injury-plagued career, his career home-run numbers are a lower bound on what he may have accomplished had he played full, injury-free seasons following his debut. To quantify how Stanton’s injuries have suppressed Stanton’s career power numbers thus far, I extrapolated the home-run totals of Stanton’s injury-shortened seasons into full-season hypothetical home-run totals (hHR) using the formula below:

hHR = FLOOR(HR/G * 162)

The formula simply assumes that Stanton maintains his HR/G rate through a whole 162-game season and then conservatively rounds down. We can now compare home-run totals between the real Giancarlo Stanton and our hypothetical Giancarlo Stanton. I excluded his 2010 debut from the extrapolation.

Real Giancarlo Stanton vs. Hypothetical Giancarlo Stanton
Season Games HR HR MLB Rank hGames hHR hHR MLB Rank
2010 100 22 T-55 100 22 T-55
2011 150 34 9 162 36 8
2012 123 37 7 162 48 1
2013 116 24 T-31 162 33 T-9
2014 145 37 2 162 41 1
2015 74 27 T-25 162 59 1
2016 119 27 48 162 36 T-16

The real Stanton never led the MLB in home runs, but our hypothetical Stanton climbs into the MLB lead in three of his hypothetical seasons (2012, 2014, and 2015).

Career-wise, our hypothetical Stanton would have hit 275 total home runs. This hypothetical Stanton adds 67 home runs to his real total, jumping from 16th to second place on the Age-26 leaderboard, only 23 home runs behind the far-away leader, Alex Rodriguez.

HR-leaders through Age-26 season
Rank Player HR
1 Alex Rodriguez 298
2 Giancarlo Stanton (hypothetical) 275
3 Jimmie Foxx 266
4 Eddie Matthews 253
5 Albert Pujols 250
6 Mickey Mantle 249
7 Mel Ott 242
8 Frank Robinson 241
9 Ken Griffey, Jr. 238
10 Orlando Cepeda 222
11 Andruw Jones 221
12 Hank Aaron 219
13 Juan Gonzalez 214
14 Johnny Bench 212
15 Miguel Cabrera 209
16 Jose Canseco 209
17 Giancarlo Stanton (real) 208

Of note, using the same formula to calculate Stanton’s career strikeout totals predicts a whopping 1271 strikeouts for our hypothetical Stanton. His 977 strikeout “real” total through age 26 (second-highest) balloons and surpasses Justin Upton‘s age-26-leading 1026 for a clear command of first place.

In reality, Stanton is a three-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger (2014), and a Home Run Derby champion (2016), and he historically ranks among the best in home-run totals for his age, all while facing injury issues in all of his first six full big-league seasons. Our hypothetically-healthy Giancarlo Stanton greatly improves his career numbers and garners himself a few MLB home-run crowns, giving a glimpse into how much larger his career numbers could be today had his first six full seasons been injury-free. As Stanton’s career progresses, it will be interesting to see where his home-run totals end up, and, unfortunately, how much greater they could have been.

Credit to Baseball-Reference for all publicly available data.


The Reds Have a Spin Rate Problem

With baseball’s annual winter meetings taking place this past week near Washington D.C, I want to take a look at the Cincinnati Reds and a potential way of looking to improve upon a historically bad pitching staff in 2016.  While they did just post the worst WAR by a pitching staff since 1900, they were completely average somewhere else, which likely aided them towards the path of history no team wants to make.  The Reds threw the highest amount of average four-seam spin-rate fastballs in 2016.

We are just scratching the surface on spin-rate research.  While we can’t say much for sure about ways to improve spin rate or why it differs from pitcher to pitcher, we do have a pretty good idea it’s good to be different.  The ultimate goal of pitching is to disrupt timing, create mis-hits and have swings and misses.  The more deception a pitcher can create by being further away from average spin on either the high end or low end of the spectrum, the better off they appear to be.  This was a major problem for the Reds last season as the they threw a whole bunch of average towards the plate.

Taking spin-rate data from baseballsavant.com, I looked at all 30 teams and their four-seam fastball data.  I set a minimum of 50 four-seams thrown by a pitcher to be included in the data set.  Team-by-team totals show that the Reds threw the fifth-most four-seam fastballs in 2016:

  1. Rays: 10823
  2. Diamondbacks: 10667
  3. Marlins: 10606
  4. Rockies: 10102
  5. Reds: 9991

The average spin rate for the four-seam fastball in 2016 was 2241 revolutions per minute.  This season, the Reds pitching staff was pretty close to the MLB mean at 2232 RPMs. Only the Astros, Athletics and Mets were closer to the mean (2240, 2245, 2248 respectively).  Now, let’s create a bucket we will call “four-seams around average” and see what we collect. This bucket will include pitches that were 50 RPMs higher than 2241 and 50 RPMs lower than 2241 for a 100-RPM range of 2191-2291. Next, I’ll use data from the 10 teams closest to the MLB mean, the most “average” spin teams, to determine who threw the most “average fastballs.”  Here are the top five totals:

  1. Reds: 3165
  2. Mets: 2674
  3. Athletics: 2072
  4. Angels: 2056
  5. Braves: 1973

As you can see, the Reds ran away with what we have designated as “average fastballs” with nearly 500 more than the Mets and over 1,000 more than the third-place A’s.  You could be saying to yourself that the Reds may have thrown so many average-spin fastballs because they threw the fifth-most four-seams in the majors this past season.  And you would be right since a larger sample size obviously affords the chance of more average pitches to be thrown (especially if the data follows a normal distribution like ours does). So I’ll bring in another measurement to further support that the Reds were very average in 2016: standard deviation

I’m sure most people are familiar with standard deviation (SD) so I won’t waste time going into formula, but an easy explanation is it’s one way of measuring dispersion in a given data set.  The lower the SD, the closer all the data points are to the mean.  Looking again at our 10 average spin-rate teams and the standard deviation for each team’s data set, here are the five lowest teams in terms of SD:

  1. Reds: 123.99
  2. Mets: 138.56
  3. Angels: 142.838
  4. Astros: 153.105
  5. Cardinals: 157.645

There are the Reds leading the way again!  Let’s attempt to put all 10 teams on an even playing field by taking a sample of 1,000 four-seam fastballs from each group.  The mean of this sample is our random variable.  In R, we will use the replicate function to generate 10,000 of these random variables to learn about its distribution.  After running the simulation, the random variables follow normal distribution which is something we already knew.  What I was interested in is if the team with the lowest standard deviation would have changed after each team had the same sample size. Here are the lowest five teams in SD after 10,000 simulations:

  1. Reds: 3.68
  2. Mets: 4.106
  3. Angels: 4.126
  4. Astros: 4.472
  5. Cardinals: 4.637

No change. By having the lowest SD in the group that was deemed to be the closest to the MLB mean in four-seam spin, and a test of a random sample of 1,000 pitches simulated 10,000 times, this further supports that the Reds pitching staff has a spin-rate problem, and is not just a product of a larger sample size.  In fact, the Reds had the lowest standard deviation of all 30 teams!

So where can the Reds look over the rest of the offseason to improve upon a pitching staff in need of upgrades in spin rate?  Well, a lot of the work in finding spin value from this year’s crop of free agents was done a few weeks ago on this site.  While Cincinnati won’t be in on the top-tier free agents available, there are more than a few options available that shouldn’t cost any more than $5-6 million in annual value that the Reds can afford to not only improve the bullpen, but move further away from the average spin that may have caused them problems all season.


Eric Thames: The Ideal Gamble

It was in November, yet we may already have the most fascinating free-agency signing of the offseason. Traditionally, free agency is for contending major-league clubs looking to overpay players in hopes that they can deliver a championship. The Milwaukee Brewers went off the beaten path and may be using free agency as a vessel to help their rebuild.

This year’s free-agent class, headlined by Edwin Encarnacion (34) and Carlos Beltran (39), has a shortage of quality bats. The 2016-2017 free-agent class will more than likely be defined by complementary players rather than typical studs who will impact a pennant race. This lack of possible assets forced the Milwaukee Brewers to get creative. The Brewers’ signing of KBO baseball star Eric Thames, four years removed from his last MLB at-bat was…genius?

First, let’s see how we got here.

The Brewers were unhappy with Chris Carter manning the first-base position. It is not often a team will cut a player after he hit 41 home runs, but that is exactly what happened. Carter’s overall lack of production outweighed the power output. Posting a .218 batting average, coupled with a 33.1% strikeout percentage, Carter performed slightly better than a replacement-level player. After cutting ties with Carter, Milwaukee looked at its free-agent options.

With his coming off a 47-home-run season, it is unrealistic for the Brewers to sign All-Star Mark Trumbo (30). The only other impact bat would be Mike Napoli (35). Napoli should benefit from the scarcity of sluggers this offseason. In 2016, Napoli had a nice bounce-back campaign, launching 35 home runs and making headlines such as “Party at Napoli’s.” However, the party stops at first base. Napoli is a below-average baserunner and defender, causing his VORP (Value Over Replacement Level Player) to total just 1.0.

aging-curvesThe Brewers would have to be in love with Napoli’s ability to swing the stick for the club to decide to pull the trigger. But a 35-year-old slugger with poor defense is likely not a good fit for any National League team, let alone the rebuilding Brewers.

As for the rest of the free agents, there is a theme of mediocrity. Moreover, each of them will be over the age of 30 by opening day. Even if the remaining players are able to defy the odds and maintain their levels of performance, it will be nothing more than a stop-gap signing.

After a 73-89 campaign in 2016, the Brewers are not in “win now” mode. Over the past two years, the Brewers have sold, sold, and sold some more. Each trade Milwaukee made brought in quality talent, and according to MLB.com Milwaukee now has MLB’s #1 farm system. Milwaukee has eight players cracking the top-100 prospect list that will be making themselves known as soon as next year. So for a team in rebuilding mode, why sign Eric Thames? Low risk; high reward.

Per Adam McCalvy, Thames will make $4 million in 2017, $5 million the year after, and $6 million in 2019. The team also holds an option on his contract for 2020 for $7.5 million, with a $1-million buyout. That totals out to $16 million guaranteed. Fiscally, it boils down to this: Approximately $25 million for two years of Carter or 3-4 years of Thames for $16-$24.5 million, including bonuses.

In 181 major-league games, Thames posted a .250 batting average with 21 home runs. He had a respectable .727 OPS in that time. This bodes well in comparison to recent Cubs signee Jon Jay who had a similar .774 OPS in his first two seasons. Thames found himself out of the league, while Jon Jay continued his successful career. After 2012, Thames found work in the aforementioned KBO. Over three seasons, Thames averaged 42 home runs while hitting .347 and earned an MVP award in 2015. Oh, and there’s a 30-minute highlight reel of just home runs.

Pitching in Korea cannot be compared to the talent in Major League Baseball. There is a big difference between putting up numbers in Korea and doing so in MLB. However, Jung Ho Kang and Hyun Soo Kim are supporting evidence that succeeding can be done. One thing is evident when watching Thames swing: he has raw power to all fields.

If Thames performs similarly to his 2011-2012 form, then Milwaukee has lost nothing. The deal would simply mean they swapped two replacement-level first basemen while simultaneously saving money. But if Thames shows that he truly is a new player, Milwaukee will once again be front and center during the trade deadline. Thames could be the premier left-handed bat on the trade market while also having a dream contract for contending clubs. The value of his bat along with contractual control over him through 2020 at only $16 million guaranteed could bring in multiple top prospects. This is the dream scenario of course, but hey, it can’t hurt to dream.


Hardball Retrospective – What Might Have Been – The “Original” 2013 Marlins

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. 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 teams with the biggest single-season difference in the WAR and Win Shares for the “Original” vs. “Actual” rosters for every Major League organization. “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

AWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “actual” teams

AWS – Win Shares for players on “actual” teams

APW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “actual” teams

Assessment

The 2013 Miami Marlins 

OWAR: 33.0     OWS: 255     OPW%: .468     (76-86)

AWAR: 18.5      AWS: 185     APW%: .383     (62-100)

WARdiff: 14.5                        WSdiff: 70  

 

The “Original” 2013 Marlins tied with the Phillies for last place, yet the ball club managed to school the “Actuals” by a 14-game margin. Miguel Cabrera seized MVP honors for the second consecutive season and notched his third straight batting title. “Miggy” produced a .348 BA, dialed long-distance 44 times and knocked in 137 baserunners. Adrian Gonzalez swatted 22 big-flies and reached the century mark in RBI for the sixth time in his career. Matt Dominguez drilled 25 two-base hits and blasted 21 round-trippers. Giancarlo Stanton supplied 26 doubles and 24 four-baggers as a member of the “Originals” and “Actuals”.

  Original 2013 Marlins                              Actual 2013 Marlins

STARTING LINEUP POS OWAR OWS STARTING LINEUP POS OWAR OWS
Josh Willingham LF 0.23 9 Christian Yelich LF 1.34 8.34
Marcell Ozuna CF/RF 0.16 6.68 Justin Ruggiano CF 1.11 9.23
Giancarlo Stanton RF 3.14 16.66 Giancarlo Stanton RF 3.14 16.66
Adrian Gonzalez 1B 4.12 21.17 Logan Morrison 1B 0.32 6.16
Josh Wilson 2B -0.11 0.54 Donovan Solano 2B 0.44 6.95
Robert Andino SS -0.26 0.82 Adeiny Hechavarria SS -2.33 4.28
Miguel Cabrera 3B 6.8 33.13 Ed Lucas 3B 0.42 7.2
Brett Hayes C 0.17 1.01 Jeff Mathis C -0.17 3.22
BENCH POS OWAR OWS BENCH POS OWAR OWS
Matt Dominguez 3B 0.84 11.34 Marcell Ozuna RF 0.16 6.68
Gaby Sanchez 1B 1.91 10.36 Placido Polanco 3B -0.35 5.41
Christian Yelich LF 1.34 8.34 Chris Coghlan LF 0.32 5.35
Logan Morrison 1B 0.32 6.16 Derek Dietrich 2B 0.63 5.29
Chris Coghlan LF 0.32 5.35 Juan Pierre LF -0.27 4.38
Jim Adduci LF 0.03 0.59 Rob Brantly C -0.98 2.61
Alex Gonzalez 1B -0.94 0.32 Greg Dobbs 1B -0.6 2.5
Mark Kotsay LF -1 0.17 Jake Marisnick CF 0.13 1.54
Kyle Skipworth C -0.05 0.01 Miguel Olivo C 0.17 1.17
Scott Cousins LF -0.06 0 Nick Green SS -0.01 1.05
Chris Valaika 2B -0.13 0.58
Joe Mahoney 1B -0.04 0.54
Koyie Hill C -0.55 0.54
Austin Kearns RF -0.13 0.25
Matt Diaz LF -0.14 0.15
Casey Kotchman 1B -0.25 0.06
Kyle Skipworth C -0.05 0.01
Jordan Brown DH -0.06 0
Gil Velazquez 3B -0.01 0

Jose D. Fernandez (12-6, 2.19) merited 2013 NL Rookie of the Year honors and an All-Star invitation while placing third in the NL Cy Young balloting. Portsider Jason Vargas contributed 9 victories with a 4.02 ERA to the “Originals” rotation and Henderson “The Entertainer” Alvarez fashioned a 3.59 ERA and 1.140 WHIP for the “Actuals” in 17 starts. The Marlins’ bullpen featured Steve Cishek (2.33, 34 SV). A.J. Ramos whiffed 86 batsmen in 68 relief appearances.

  Original 2013 Marlins                             Actual 2013 Marlins 

ROTATION POS OWAR OWS ROTATION POS OWAR OWS
Jose D. Fernandez SP 5.57 16.22 Jose D. Fernandez SP 5.57 16.22
Jason Vargas SP 2 7.04 Henderson Alvarez SP 1.89 6.19
Tom Koehler SP 0.46 3.96 Nathan Eovaldi SP 1.39 5.63
Brad Hand SP 0.4 1.43 Ricky Nolasco SP 1.13 4.92
Alex Sanabia SP -0.33 0.6 Jacob Turner SP 0.87 4.56
BULLPEN POS OWAR OWS BULLPEN POS OWAR OWS
Steve Cishek RP 1.62 12.99 Steve Cishek RP 1.62 12.99
A. J. Ramos RP 0.34 5.23 Mike Dunn RP 1.06 6.64
Ronald Belisario RP -0.9 2.61 Chad Qualls RP 1.22 6.22
Sandy Rosario RP 0.24 2.53 A. J. Ramos RP 0.34 5.23
Dan Jennings RP 0.08 1.95 Ryan Webb RP 0.6 5.02
Ross Wolf SW 0.14 1.92 Tom Koehler SP 0.46 3.96
Arquimedes Caminero RP 0.16 0.95 Kevin Slowey SP 0.46 3.15
Logan Kensing RP 0.02 0.1 Dan Jennings RP 0.08 1.95
Josh Johnson SP -1.25 0.04 Brad Hand SP 0.4 1.43
Josh Beckett SP -0.81 0 Arquimedes Caminero RP 0.16 0.95
Chris Hatcher RP -0.93 0 Alex Sanabia SP -0.33 0.6
Chris Leroux RP -0.17 0 Brian Flynn SP -0.59 0.14
Edgar Olmos RP -0.68 0 Steve Ames RP -0.02 0.02
Chris Resop RP -0.6 0 Duane Below RP -0.19 0
Chris Volstad RP -0.49 0 Sam Dyson SP -0.59 0
Chris Hatcher RP -0.93 0
Wade LeBlanc SP -0.41 0
John Maine RP -0.66 0
Edgar Olmos RP -0.68 0
Zach Phillips RP -0.03 0
Jon Rauch RP -0.71 0

 Notable Transactions

Miguel Cabrera 

December 4, 2007: Traded by the Florida Marlins with Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for Dallas Trahern (minors), Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo. 

Adrian Gonzalez 

July 11, 2003: Traded by the Florida Marlins with Will Smith (minors) and Ryan Snare to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina.

January 6, 2006: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Terrmel Sledge and Chris Young to the San Diego Padres for Billy Killian (minors), Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

December 6, 2010: Traded by the San Diego Padres to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later, Reymond Fuentes, Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo. The Boston Red Sox sent Eric Patterson (December 16, 2010) to the San Diego Padres to complete the trade.

August 25, 2012: Traded by the Boston Red Sox with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for players to be named later, Ivan De Jesus, James Loney and Allen Webster. The Los Angeles Dodgers sent Rubby De La Rosa (October 4, 2012) and Jerry Sands (October 4, 2012) to the Boston Red Sox to complete the trade. 

Matt Dominguez

July 4, 2012: Traded by the Miami Marlins with Rob Rasmussen to the Houston Astros for Carlos Lee.

Gaby Sanchez

July 31, 2012: Traded by the Miami Marlins with Kyle Kaminska (minors) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gorkys Hernandez.

On Deck

What Might Have Been – The “Original” 1985 Expos

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

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at “www.retrosheet.org”.

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive