Archive for Head to Head

Bullpen Report: August 27, 2017

Another messy outing for Greg Holland on Saturday. With a three-run lead in the ninth, he allowed two singles and a home run and was pulled with one out and the Rockies clinging to a one-run lead. Jake McGee was brought in to put out the fire, and he induced a game-ending double play.

After the game, when asked if he would continue to use Holland in save situations, Bud Black said, “Possibly. But maybe not. His next outing might be a closing situation. I can’t answer that right now. We haven’t definitively made that decision.”

On Sunday, again with a three-run lead, Black elected to use McGee to start the ninth, and he delivered a one-two-three inning. This, of course, looks like trouble for Holland and his fantasy owners.

In eight appearances dating back to August 6, Holland has faced 39 batters over 6.1 innings and has allowed 14 earned runs on four homers, 13 hits, and six walks while amassing just four strikeouts. His ERA has jumped from 1.56 to 4.05 over that span, which is a good reminder about the uselessness of past ERA as a predictor of future ERA, especially for relievers who pitch over tiny samples.

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What Happened Cole Hamels?

You wouldn’t know it if you were just focusing on his 3.42 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, but this has easily been Cole Hamels‘ worst season as a Major Leaguer. His SIERA, xFIP, and FIP have all jumped above 4.00 for the first time, while both his xFIP- and FIP- have surged into the triple digits for the first time (higher is worse). Hamels missed two months of action thanks to an oblique strain, but since it was a non-arm injury, we certainly couldn’t blame it for the collapse of his underlying skills. What’s going on here?

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Bullpen Report: August 20, 2017

Another busy weekend for bullpen activity around the major leagues. We’ll start with a few notes from Saturday:

  • Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced on Saturday that Aroldis Chapman was removed from the closer role. Dellin Betances got save later that night, striking out two in a perfect inning. It’s been well documented that something doesn’t look right with Chapman this season, especially lately, and thankfully for the Yankees Betances is more than capable of filling in for the remainder of the season if need be. Despite struggling with command more than usual this season, Betances has an outstanding 40.5 percent strikeout rate, and he’s allowed just one home run this year in 47 innings. He’s been an superb reliever in his career, and this year doesn’t look very different except for the uptick in walks. Girardi didn’t “officially” name Betances the closer just yet (in fact, he said that David Robertson was also in the mix), but Betances should be the heavy favorite. Chapman pitched in the sixth and seventh on Sunday, allowing one walk and striking out two.

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Yasiel Puig Entices Yet Again

Over the last two weeks, the hitter walk rate leaderboard features some usual suspects. Joey Votto is first at 31.7 percent. Mike Trout is third at 25.9 percent. But sandwiched between them is Yasiel Puig at 27.3 percent. 27.3 percent! This is the same player who finished the 2016 season with a 6.5 percent walk rate over 368 plate appearances. This is the same player who swung at this pitch:

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Bullpen Report: August 13, 2017

The Twins blew an 11-6 seventh-inning lead on Saturday. Their new (interim?) closer Matt Belisle relieved Trevor Hildenberger in eighth after Hildenberger allowed a two-run homer with two outs. Belisle got a strikeout to end the inning, but then allowed a leadoff single and a walk-off home run to Justin Upton in the ninth.

The next day, Hildenberger was summoned with two outs in the eighth to face Upton, who represented the tying run. He struck him out on three pitches, then came back out for the bottom of the ninth. He remained very sharp as he struck out two and induced two weak ground balls for his first career save.

The strong appearance, coupled with Belisle’s struggles in the ninth on Saturday, mean that Hildenberger could seize the closer’s role and run with it. His numbers in his brief major league career are impressive: in 23 innings this year, Hildenberger has a 26.8 percent strikeout rate, a 3.1 percent walk rate, and a 58.5 percent ground ball rate. He has a 3.13 ERA/2.79 FIP/2.67 xFIP. He’s allowed just two home runs. He seems more than capable of handling the closer’s role, and he’s probably worth grabbing in all formats before he successfully converts a few more save chances and gains national attention. It’s worth noting that Glen Perkins is expected to return from the disabled list sometime this week, and his presence may further complicate the outlook for Belisle and Hildenberger. Read the rest of this entry »


Bullpen Report: August 6, 2017

Just like last Sunday, another meltdown for the Angels ‘pen was the highlight of the day. With a four-run lead and two outs in the eighth, Blake Parker allowed a single to Jed Lowrie, a home run to Khris Davis, and a double to Ryon Healy. With the lead down to two, he was pulled in favor of Bud Norris, who surrendered a run-scoring single to Chad Pinder (the run was charged to Parker), a double to Matt Chapman that put the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second, and finally he allowed a two-run single to Bruce Maxwell that gave Oakland an 11-10 lead. Read the rest of this entry »


Park-Adjusted Pitcher Strengths of Schedule

In my previous article, I created an approach to examine pitcher strengths of schedule by aggregating the hit frequency projections of the hitters they faced. So, for example, Dee Gordon was projected to hit 0.229 singles, 0.032 doubles, 0.015 triples, etc. against right-handed pitchers when he faced Stephen Strasburg in the first plate appearance of the season. By adding together all of those fractional singles, doubles, and other possible results, I was able to calculate an expected wOBA for pitchers based on the quality of the batters they faced.

If you think of the differences in expected wOBA as schedule luck, then that initial research suggested that the difference between the luckiest and unluckiest pitcher so far in 2017 was pretty small. The former was Patrick Corbin, whose batters faced combined for a .324 projected wOBA against left-handed pitchers. The latter was Ricky Nolasco, whose batters faced combined for a .337 projected wOBA against right-handed pitchers. That difference of 13 points of wOBA is the same as the difference between Kyle Seager and James Loney. It’s something, but it isn’t huge.

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Bullpen Report: July 30, 2017

The Angels bullpen melted down in epic fashion on Sunday, blowing a 10-4 ninth-inning lead against the Blue Jays. Brooks Pounders started the frame by issuing a walk, a home run, and a double. He was then replaced by Bud Norris, who got one out but surrendered two singles, a walk, and a walk-off grand slam to Steve Pearce. It was the second walk-off grand slam against Norris (the first by Edwin Encarnacion) — and the second hit by Pearce — this week. Over his last 1.1 innings (13 batters faced), Norris has allowed eight earned runs on two grand slams, walked six, and recorded just one strikeout. His overall numbers have ballooned to a 3.89 ERA/3.87 FIP/3.59 xFIP in 41.2 innings. Given Norris’s recent struggles, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Halos look elsewhere for their next save opportunity.

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Bullpen Report: July 23, 2017

With the trade deadline fast approaching, there was plenty of relevant bullpen activity on a busy Sunday afternoon…

Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless ninth with the Nationals up by four against the Diamondbacks. He now has two saves and the completion of a four-run win under his belt with his new team, and Ryan Madson has yet to see a save opportunity in Washington. It bears repeating, however, that Dusty Baker has indicated that he may mix and match with those two in the ninth, and that he will be cautious with Doolittle given his history of arm issues. Even if Doolittle is the main closer in Washington, which appears to be the case for now, Madson is probably still worth stashing in holds leagues, and to those desperate for saves, in case Doolittle falters or sustains another injury.

Zach Britton struck out two and walked one en route to his first save since April 14. Orioles ownership has reportedly given management the green light to trade Britton, so his status is worth monitoring closely in the coming days. His successful save conversion on Sunday was a good start, but Britton has missed a lot of time with a forearm injury this season and teams might not be willing to give up what the Orioles would want in return for their ace reliever. If Britton remains with the Orioles, he will likely reclaim the closer’s role in full capacity assuming he can remain healthy. If he’s traded, however, it’s possible that he could be used in an Andrew Miller-type role on a new team.

On Saturday, Hector Neris allowed a run on three hits in what had been a tie game in the ninth, and was saddled with the loss. On Sunday, with a three-run ninth-inning lead, the Phillies went to Luis Garcia for the save chance. He struck out one in a perfect frame. It was his first save of the season and just the third of his career. Despite the rare save opportunity, Garcia’s peripherals don’t suggest he’s a closer in the making, so the grid remains unchanged for now. Neris’ grip on the ninth, however, remains relatively shaky.

Jose Leclerc was brought into a left-heavy section of the Rays’ lineup in the ninth with the Rangers up by one. He struck out two and walked two to secure the save. Leclerc has an exceptional 35.5 percent strikeout rate this season, but he’s also walked 16.1 percent of batters. Along Alex Claudio and Keone Kela, Leclerc is in the Rangers’ ninth-inning mix. Despite picking up the majority of saves for the Rangers recently, Jeff Banister wouldn’t commit to Alex Claudio as his closer, and Sunday’s converted save chance by Leclerc seemed to back that up. Matt Bush, who held the closer’s role for the Rangers earlier this season, pitched a scoreless seventh with the Rangers trailing by a run on Sunday.

Kenley Jansen blew a three-run ninth-inning lead against the Braves. Jansen allowed the first two batters to reach but settled down and got two outs before finally allowing a three-run homer to Matt Adams that tied the game. It was Jansen’s first blown save of the season.

Staying in the National League West, Brad Hand picked up a save against the Giants on Sunday. Brandon Maurer is San Diego’s usual closer, and he blew a save on Friday when he surrendered two two-out baserunners and a game-tying, three-run blast to Conor Gillaspie. If Hand wasn’t likely to be traded, it might be a bigger deal that he got the save chance over Maurer on Sunday. As it is, Maurer will remain in the closer’s spot on the grid for now, and Hand’s future is completely unknown at this time. If he isn’t traded, he could conceivably take over the closer’s role in San Diego. If he is traded, there’s no telling what his role will be. He’s probably worth owning in all holds leagues, as he’s quietly one of the best relievers in baseball.

With the Yankees leading by two runs in Seatlle, Dellin Betances pitched the seventh and David Robertson pitched the eighth. Betances has struggled mightily with command this season to the tune of a 17.8 percent walk rate, and it appears that Robertson may snag the eighth inning role and be next in line for saves behind closer Aroldis Chapman. For now, Betances will remain in his usual spot behind Chapman on the grid, but that could change if he continues to see the seventh and Robertson continues to see the eighth.

There were a few fresh faces in the eighth inning on Sunday: Blake Parker of the Angels, Bruce Rondon of the Tigers, and Jason Grilli of the Rangers all pitched in close eighth innings despite occupying lesser roles recently. Parker and Grilli pitched spotless frames, and Rondon allowed two runs on three hits before giving way to Justin Wilson for a four-out save opportunity. Wilson allowed a home run and a walk in the ninth but struck out three in the outing to secure his 12th save.

Other closer activity: Raisel Iglesias notched a two-inning save against the Marlins. Santiago Casilla allowed a hit but notched his 16th save against the Mets. Kelvin Herrera struck out two in a perfect ninth in a tie game at home. Bud Norris secured a one-run save against the Red Sox. Tyler Clippard was brought into a two-on, no out situation in a tie game in the ninth inning on the road, and he allowed a game-ending single to the first batter he faced, Brandon MossBrandon Kintzler entered in the top of the ninth with the Twins trailing by a run, and he allowed three runs on two hits and two walks. Jim Johnson entered in the bottom of the 10th in a tie game against the Dodgers, and allowed the winning run to score. Aroldis Chapman allowed two hits but struck out one and notched his 11th save of the season against the Mariners.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley JJ Hoover
ATL Jim Johnson Arodys Vizcaino Jose Ramirez
BAL Zach Britton Brad Brach Mychal Givens
BOS Craig Kimbrel Joe Kelly Matt Barnes Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS Tyler Clippard Anthony Swarzak Dan Jennings Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Drew Storen
CLE Cody Allen Andrew Miller Bryan Shaw
COL Greg Holland Adam Ottavino Jake McGee
DET Justin Wilson Alex Wilson Shane Greene
HOU Ken Giles Will Harris Michael Feliz
KC Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Mike Minor
LAA Bud Norris Cam Bedrosian David Hernandez Huston Street
LAD Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez Luis Avilan
MIA A.J. Ramos Kyle Barraclough Junichi Tazawa
MIL Corey Knebel Jacob Barnes Carlos Torres
MIN Brandon Kintzler Taylor Rogers Matt Belisle Glen Perkins
NYM Addison Reed Paul Sewald Jerry Blevins Jeurys Familia
NYY Aroldis Chapman Dellin Betances David Robertson
OAK Santiago Casilla Blake Treinen Liam Hendriks
PHI Hector Neris Pat Neshek Luis Garcia
PIT Felipe Rivero Juan Nicasio Daniel Hudson
STL Trevor Rosenthal Brett Cecil Seung Hwan Oh
SD Brandon Maurer Brad Hand Ryan Buchter Carter Capps
SF Sam Dyson Hunter Strickland George Kontos Mark Melancon
SEA Edwin Diaz Nick Vincent Tony Zych
TB Alex Colome Tommy Hunter Brad Boxberger
TEX Alex Claudio Jose Leclerc Keone Kela
TOR Roberto Osuna Ryan Tepera Danny Barnes
WSH Sean Doolittle Ryan Madson Matt Albers Koda Glover

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]


Pitcher Strengths of Schedule

I’ve always been interested in the contextual differences of player seasons. Take two random starters. Over the course of a season, they will have subtle differences in their frequencies of starts in pitcher-friendly parks and their frequencies of starts versus various teams and divisions. If the two starters are from different leagues, they will face a major difference in the number of designated hitters and pitcher batters that they face. Most of those factors are small on their own, but it feels like they could snowball on each other in extreme cases enough to make a noticeable difference in the difficulty of the pitchers’ strength of schedules.

It has taken me a while, but I think I’ve finally found an elegant way to test for those types of differences. It involves result frequencies and is best illustrated with a specific example. Stephen Strasburg started the season with a game against Miami. The first batter he faced was Dee Gordon. At that time, Gordon would reasonably have been expected to hit a single on 22.9 percent of his plate appearances versus a right-handed pitcher. He would have been expected to hit a double 3.2 percent, a triple 1.5 percent, and a home run 0.7 percent of the time.

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