Monday, 29 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #3

This week's chart is less exciting than last week's and just shows how Ultimate Zone Rating is rather opaque on a week-to-week basis. (I don't think it's designer, The Book author Mitchel Lichtman, intended it to be used the way I am doing.) Revised Zone Rating, meanwhile, shows that the good play in the outfield has continued, although the gains are not as dramatic.*

The story of the week is really the flubs on the infield. The only infielder to post a gain this week was Adam Dunn, who got a few innings at first base after Nick the Sick was hit by a pitch. I've already highlighted an error by Zimmerman in one of my Goats of the Day presentations as having played a significant part in a defeat. That, to me, has taken on symbolic status of how the significance of fielding remains a subject for debate. The average sabermetrically inclined person (i.e., me) can wonder whether the real fault lay in the inability of the Nationals to score runs up to that point? Or was Zimmerman's fielding muff the real culprit in a collapse in morale? Or was it Jesus Colome? Inquiring minds, blah, blah, blah.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change
Zimmerman (3b) 8.8 + 0.4 17.8 - 1.2 .757 -.010
Johnson (1b) -6.9 - 1.0 -11.9 - 0.6 .729 -.004
Guzman (ss) -2.9 - 2.0 -13.7 - 2.1 .743 -.004
Hernandez (2b) 0.9 - 0.7 2.1 - 2.2 .856 -.006
Dunn (lf) -5.7 - 0.8 -13.7 + 1.2 .806 +.006
Kearns (rf) -0.2 - 0.5 - 5.2 - 0.9 .875 n.c.
Willingham (lf) -2.2 - 2.1 - 6.4 - 7.2 .900 +.020
Dukes (cf) -6.0 n.c. -23.7 - 4.5 .897 n.c.
Harris (cf) -5.8 + 0.1 -23.8 + 4.6 .925 +.013
Dunn (rf) -6.5 - 0.2 -33.7 n.c. .756 n.c.
Belliard (2b) 1.6 - 0.5 9.8 + 3.4 .893 -.011
Gonzalez (ss) -2.3 - 1.0 -19.1 - 7.2 .718 -.012
Dukes (rf) -0.2 - 1.5 - 3.5 -14.1 .947 +.009
Dunn (1b) -2.0 - 0.1 -36.8 +10.7 .714 +.114
Maxwell (cf) 1.8 - 0.1 36.9 + 0.5 .833 n.c.

* I really ought to introduce a table showing an average RZR score at each position. I've got acres of space on the sidebars I'm not using.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Stalking Goats

23rd June - Goat Award #19
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Colome -0.480
Tavárez -0.382
Wells -0.138
Villone -0.100
(Zimmerman -0.056)
Hanrahan 0.000

24th June No awards, Stammen hit hard

25th June - No awards, Zimmermann given big lead

26th June - Goat Award #20

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.258
Villone -0.039
Colome 0.000

Call me guilty of playing favourites, but I adjusted Tavárez' effect on Win Expectancy, taking away the cost of an error in the game of 23 June. The fielding muff was charged to Ryan Zimmerman and led to the Red Sox getting a baserunner after Tavárez got the first out in the eighth. Thus, Colome gains yet another Goat award. So does Hanrahan. That's what shocks me about designating Kip Wells for assignment. I had Colome pencilled in as first to go. Does he have pictures of somebody?

It may seem harsh to give an award for yesterday. As you can see,looking at the effect Hanrahan and Villone had on Win Expectancy, there actually wasn't much of the game to lose. Looking at the context, the Washington Nationals' hitters failed against Brad Bergesen, and cost them a win. Nonetheless, I was particularly outraged by Hanrahan's inability to hold down the opposition lead to two runs, in a low-scoring contest. The hitters may have been failing, but no need to take the rug out from under them like that.

I'm preparing a set of 'Goat of the Day' standings, but I won't post them until the next off day. As you might imagine, its a close race, and there's a surprise there for the moment.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #2

Everybody asserted that the Nationals' broke their losing streak because they made more of the plays in the field they should have done. I'm not going to report that this is wrong; it's very right. Here's some numbers, showing Ultimate Zone Rating, Ultimate Zone Rating Adjusted to 150 Games (both from Fangraphs), and Revised Zone Rating (from The Hardball Times). I've also put in columns showing the changes from last week.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change
Zimmerman (3b) 8.4 + 0.4 19.0 - 0.9 .767 -.004
Johnson (1b) -5.9 - 0.5 -11.3 + 0.9 .733 +.002
Guzman (ss) -4.9 + 0.1 -11.6 + 1.0 .747 +.006
Hernandez (2b) 1.6 + 1.2 4.3 + 0.1 .862 -.006
Dunn (lf) -4.9 - 0.3 -14.9 + 1.6 .800 +.031
Kearns (rf) 0.3 + 0.3 - 4.3 + 1.6 .875 -.004
Dukes (cf) -6.0 - 1.6 -23.7 - 4.5 .897 -.014
Willingham (lf) -0.1 - 0.1 0.8 - 0.7 .880 n.c.
Harris (cf) -5.9 + 1.3 -28.4 +14.5 .912 +.018
Dunn (rf) -6.3 n.c. -33.7 + 0.1 .756 n.c.
Belliard (2b) 2.1 + 0.1 13.2 + 0.2 .904 n.c.
Gonzalez (ss) -1.3 - 0.2 -11.9 n.c. .730 +.008
Dukes (rf) 1.3 + 0.5 10.6 + 6.9 .938 +.038
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 n.c. 36.4 + 0.5 .833 n.c.
Dunn (1b) -1.9 n.c. -47.5 + 0.1 .600 n.c.
Harris (2b) -1.7 n.c. -36.8 + 0.1 .733 n.c.
Milledge (cf) -0.5 - 0.1 - 9.4 - 1.0 .727 n.c.

Some notes.
1) UZR adjusts for other players and shows a +/- in terms of runs; RZR does not and works like batting average. That's why people who didn't actually play still get adjustments. It would help to know average RZR at each position, but instead you'll have to look at UZR to get an idea of how good they are relative to their peers.
2) In spite of all the noise in certain broadcasting quarters, the Nationals' problem with the leather was not on the infield, but the outfield. The top three RZR gains are all from outfielders. Result = 4 wins.
3) Dunn, Harris, Dukes, reading left to right, is probably the first-choice outfield at the moment. KEEP DUKES OUT OF CENTRE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE.
4) Gonzalez, given more playing time, hasn't risen to the occasion. I'd be inclined to abandon my 'groundball pitcher = Gonzalez at short' theory.

Bullpen Awards of the Week

Hmm, I'm not keeping pace with the 'scores on the doors' here.

12th June - Goat Award #15
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.348
Beimel 0.025

13th June - Goat Award #16

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Bergmann -1.194
Colome -0.055
Tavárez 0.092

14th June - Goat Award #17

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Villone -0.650
Beimel 0.057

16th June - Goat Award #18

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Villone -0.825
MacDougal -0.204
Beimel 0.027

17th June - Hero Award #2
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
MacDougal 0.225

18th June - Hero Award #3

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Tavárez 0.101
Beimel 0.059
MacDougal 0.047
Villone -0.034

19th June - Hero Award #4

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan 0.442
Beimel 0.149
Colome 0.149
Tavárez 0.092
Wells 0.065
Villone -0.405

20th June - Hero Award #5

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
MacDougal 0.298
Tavárez 0.296
Colome -0.108
Wells -0.186
Hanrahan -0.401

June 21st" - No awards. (Martis roughed up.)

A bad week for Ron Villone, and from outhouse to penthouse and back again for Hanrahan, but four Hero awards versus four Goat awards, though no more than .500 ball, is an improvement on what we've been used to. I'll be back later today with the fielding weekly.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Primer Cross Post: The Chaos Theory of Sabermetrics

I've decided to cross-post some of my contributions at Primer to this blog. That way I can keep better track of some of my important reflections.

Brian Joseph, who may have been involved with Baseball Prospectus Idol (which I didn't follow, I think the whole idea of 'Idol' is stupid), made a stab at attacking sabermetrics here. It's a pretty poor effort, to be brutally honest; but I think I see where he's going with it. He wants more granularity in sabermetrics. A Primer discussion broke out here.

The most misguided point of Joseph's argument is here:
The notion that sabermetrics is truly objective is silly when there are a number of ways to “objectively” look at a situation statistically depending on your subjectiveness toward the game.

This statement is, I believe, based on a misunderstanding of what it is to be objective. And all the rest of the article's problems arise from here. I suspect that if 'objective' was replaced with 'scientific', the author would not have misunderstood. 'Scientific' refers to a method, nothing more, so history can be scientific. Sabermetrics sometimes is not purely scientific. (Think of James's 'subjective factor' in the New Historical Abstract.) But that's rare.

Joseph then wanders into various specific examples, which unfortunately don't clarify the matter. One problem is that 'neo-sabermetrics', to borrow a term from Don Malcolm, is concerned with evaluating True Talent Level. Joseph is arguing that on a day-to-day level, True Talent Level doesn't actually explain very much. Well, anyone who thought about the matter probably knew that already. But True Talent Level isn't the only way to use use sabermetric studies.

It's always worth reminding ourselves that Bill James didn't start from wanting to know how good players would be, but rather how good they had been. Malcolm and some other members of the Big Bad Annual (BBBA) crowd, which included Primer's own Jim Furtado, were sort of feeling around the theoretical foundation that the game, not the season, is the cornerstone of performance analysis. Then BPro's great success and certain unprofessional characteristics of BBBA strangled that initiative, not quite at birth, but in late childhood. However, many of those basic concepts are still out there. James himself gave us the Game Score for pitchers, but I don't find that helpful. I don't want a number in that way, I prefer the categories of the Quality Matrix. The same with the idea of Leverage for bullpens. Leverage, and the related Win Expectancy, can tell us everything we need to know about what succeeded in a victory or what failed in a loss. Start totting that data up in columns and there's a handy explanation of a team's strengths and weaknesses.

Pecota, Zips, Chone and Marcel are great tools, but they are literally only half the picture.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #1

In two earlier posts, I outlined the sorry state of fielding by the Nationals. Some of the problems in holding a lead are related to the difficulty the fielders have in preventing hits and their propensity to make errors. Although media attention has focused on the infield, the real problems appear to lay in the outfield. The infield is hovering close enough to the league average to make it tolerable. (An exception could be made for Cristian Guzman, who is poor; anyone for shortstop practice?)

It might be a good idea, since this blog is turning gradually into a Nationals' blog, to look at this more systematically, rather than just when some mediot starts yapping. In that spirit, I'm going to start monitoring fielding on hopefully a weekly basis, in order to spot any trends. There are two measures at the moment that are easily available and make use of play-by-play data. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), published at Fangraphs, and Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which can be found at the Hardball Times. For this exercise, I'm going to make use of both UZR and UZR/150. (The latter is an extrapolation of existing data for 150 games.) UZR/150 is good for getting a sense of 'true talent'.

So, here's the ratings for all players who have played at least 40 innings on defence at a given position. They are ranked in order of innings at position.

Player UZR UZR/150 RZR
Zimmerman (3b) 8.0 19.9 .771
Johnson (1b) -5.4 -12.2 .731
Guzman (ss) -5.0 -12.6 .741
Hernandez (2b) 0.4 1.5 .856
Kearns (rf) 0.0 - 5.9 .879
Dunn (lf) -4.6 -16.5 .769
Willingham (lf) 0.0 1.5 .880
Dukes (cf) -4.4 -19.2 .911
Dunn (rf) -6.3 -33.8 .756
Harris (cf) -7.7 -42.9 .894
Belliard (2b) 2.0 13.0 .904
Gonzalez (ss) -1.1 -11.9 .722
Dukes (rf) 0.8 3.7 .900
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 35.9 .833
Dunn (1b) -1.9 -47.6 .600
Milledge (cf) -0.4 - 8.4 .727
Harris (2b) -1.7 -36.9 .733

Why 40 innings? Because I wanted to demonstrate that trading Johnson and moving Dunn to first-base is arguably not a good idea. (Dunn has played 44 innings at first.) Johnson is enough of a handicap at first. Why make it worse?

It's harder to make sense of RZR unless you know what the league average is at each position. Maxwell's relatively low RZR yet excellent UZR reflects his ability to get to balls out of his zone. The same also applies to Gonzalez at shortstop.

As far as fielding goes, this is the lineup I'd want to see based on current personnel in the system:

1b Johnson
2b Hernandez
3b Zimmerman
ss Gonzalez with a groundball pitcher, otherwise Guzman
lf Dunn
cf Maxwell
rf Dukes

As you can see, the odd-men-out here are Willingham and Kearns. If either can play some first, that would be a big help because it would then make more sense to move Johnson in a trade. Kearns is probably worthless on the market given his current problems hitting. Putting a bat like that at first isn't really worthwhile, either. He's a fifth outfielder as things stand. Willingham might have some value, but I don't know if it's all that much. Could he play first? His bat won't give away quite as much as Kearns's would.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

St Claire vs McCatty - Some Data

So, on 2 June 2009 Randy St Claire was fired and replaced by Steve McCatty. There's been some favourable comment about the new regime — allegedly pitching has improved. The trouble with making direct comparisons of 'St Claire 2009' with 'McCatty in the Big Leagues' is that McCatty is working with significantly different personnel over a shorter period of time. So, before it's too late, I decided to take a look while the names they both had to deal with were much the same.

From 2nd June to today is about the same length of time as from 20th May to 1st June. (In fact, McCatty has had an extra game in that time.) By 20th May, Daniel Cabrera had been removed from the rotation, and Scott Olsen was on the disabled list. The youngsters Stammen and Detwiler entered the rotation and have remained since. The bullpen hasn't change dramatically, with Kip Wells going on the disabled list. So 20th May to 13th June involves much the same personnel.

First, let's use the old Big Bad Baseball Annual Quality Matrix (QMAX) to analyse the starters. (I like QMAX, because it actually uses individual starts, as opposed to lumping everything together, and offers a more nuanced picture than the Quality Start.)

Coach       Success (Elite 
Square Square) Hit Hard ---
St Claire 3 0 5 2
McCatty 6 2 1 2

The Elite Square is a subset of the Success Square, so don't add those together. In this case, it's a solid win for McCatty. This makes sense, after a fashion, because St Claire built his reputation working with veteran pitchers, and suddenly there weren't any in the Nationals' rotation. McCatty's more 'instinctual' approach might work better than St Claire's 'technical' methods with younger pitchers still learning the broad principles of pitching.

For relief, I took two elements. The Win Expectancy (WE) situation when the relief pitcher entered the game, and the net plus/minus after comparing the ideal result (no change to the leader's advantage in runs if the change occurs at the start of an inning; or, if the change is made mid-inning, all batters faced make outs) with the actual result.

Coach      Average WE             WE       WE+
at entry effect
St Claire .254 -1.378 -1.79
McCatty .330 -3.230 -2.49

The WE+ is an attempt to translate the win expectancy effect to a common standard. The problem with the raw numbers is that the better performance of the starters under McCatty mean there is more win expectancy to lose than there was under St Claire. (Think of it as a reliever having an 8 per cent better chance of entering a close game under McCatty; there's just more win expectancy to lose to begin with.)

Basically, the bullpen under McCatty is having an even more difficult time than it was under St Claire. Some of that may be down to the fielding. If you take away the 12th June game, lost in part by Nick Johnson misplaying a foul pop-up, the WE+ number comes down to -1.88. Maybe the difference isn't so big.

On balance, from this evidence, the improvement in the rotation probably justifies the switch from St Claire to McCatty. I'd go so far as to say that a pitching coach really must stand or fall on how effective the rotation is.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

STOP PRESS - Acta Rumours

Oleanders and Morning Glories tells of a Ken Rosenthal (RoboThal to the Baseball Primer cognoscenti) report that the Sword of Damocles has dropped lower over Manny Acta's head.

The Washington Times' blog has this quote from Kasten: "And yet, we have a record of 16-43, which is, to me, inexplicable."

Really? What would be explicable with this roster, with its inadequate bullpen and atrocious outfield defence? 30-24? 22-37? 17-42?

I really hate it when top-level management shove the middle-level management under the wheels of a passing bus. We all know Bowden was at the root of the problem, the Bowden that was kept on far too long by ownership. Mr Kasten, maybe you didn't want him, but your associates ensured that he stayed to cause even more damage. Don't blame Mr Acta for failings at your level of the operation.

Nationals' Bullpen Hero of the Day #1

I like to be fair, and given the recent performance of the bullpen, it's about time I started highlighting their successes as well as their failures. The first award is made for the 11th June game against the Reds.

Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Beimel 0.175
Tavárez 0.121

I considered awarding a Goat for yesterday's game, but I decided that the real failing lay with Nick Johnson's foul pop-up error. Sorry, Nick; Ron Villone will be heaving a sigh of relief — there's a pun to end the entry with.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Nationals' Bullpen Goat of the Day #14

I had this post all ready to go yesterday, but then the bullpen came through in yesterday's game I put it on hold. Being the sort of fellow who likes to accentuate the positive, I was going to hide Goat#14 (for the game of 10 June) within a post celebrating yesterday's heroes of the bullpen, but I haven't got a moment to do the analysis just now.

Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Bergmann -0.643
Villone -0.508
Hanrahan 0.034
Beimel 0.021
MacDougal 0.343

I really thought Villone was going to get it.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Defensive Breakthroughs?

It really started here. But that was a blogpost about this. And it was soon followed by something we perhaps didn't know we needed.

While there are many fine new fielding metrics around using PBP (play-by-play data), to me the really important breakthrough is going to come when we get a reliable metric for fielding in the pre-PBP days. That's going to involve some kind of assumption about a piece of information we'll never have for most of baseball history - how many hits was a fielder responsible for.

I suspect it's quite important to start from the team level when calculating the value of fielding. (See Clay Davenport's article in the 2002 Baseball Prospectus for an example.) You then have a choice - either you can calculate the total of opportunities from the assumption that all balls will fall for hits, and thus the caught balls represent runs saved. Or you can look at fielding in terms of runs allowed, by thinking in terms of the number of mistakes. I suspect for a decent 'all of baseball history' metric, we need to think more along the lines of the latter. We need to establish 'expected runs' baseline against which to measure fielding.

I also came to a key realization after reading all this. Looking at the statistics when I was developing my Defensive Winning Percentage, I was surprised at how narrow the band is of fielding effectiveness. This is, I think, a reflection that there's both a floor and a ceiling to the effectiveness of fielders. Some of the credit is all down to the pitcher. All home runs except those inside-the-park, for example, are the pitcher's fault. Only some of the runs scored by those who walk, however, are the pitcher's fault. So there's some fielding input on that. But a walk and home run equals all the pitcher's fault.

Probably, the Fielding Experts will say I'm not being very original here. But I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Draft Day & Unfinished Business

Today is the amateur baseball draft. In the olden days, one didn't know much about it until the next day's papers. Then, started offering the audio of the conference call. I loved that. Great soundtrack for a June afternoon. Now it's one big party. Can't we go back to the olden days?

I also owe this blog some links to very interesting work related to defensive statistics that appeared on the Web recently. It's made me look back over my Defensive Winning Percentage method. I'll get round to it, I promise.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Nationals' Bullpen Goats of the Day #s 10, 11, 12, 13

I've been a bit remiss this week, not awarding Goats of the Day. In part this is because the bullpen has generally improved, and it seems unfair to fault them for problems elsewhere on the team. However, here's the roundup for the eight games prior to Sunday's.

29 May - No award, batting failure.

30 May vs Phillies
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Villone -0.349
MacDougal -0.062
Tavárez -0.009
Colome 0.008
Wells 0.012
Bergmann 0.024

31 May vs Phillies
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Beimel -0.191
Hanrahan 0.017
Bergmann 0.034

2 June - Nats Win!

4 June vs Giants (game 1)
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.187
Beimel -0.022
MacDougal 0.059
Villone 0.062

4 June vs Giants (game 2) - rain stopped play in 6th. No bullpen usage.

5 June vs Mets
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.794
Villone -0.114
Bergmann -0.078
Beimel 0.114
MacDougal 0.153

6 June - Nats Win!

So four more names in the book. Time I ran some standings, maybe.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Nats' xFIP Horror Show

For me, the best thing about the Hardball Times' web site is the statistics. (Well, next to some excellent articles from time-to-time, a subject I shall return to, I hope, over the weekend.)

Of course, if one is a fan of the Washington Nationals, this can create some upsetting reading. When I first stumbled over baseball on 'teh Intertube', as they say at Baseball Primer, DIPS had just hit version 2.0, I think, or was about to. The theory of DIPS is that pitchers have very little influence on the outcomes of balls in play. Out of the DIPS debate emerged FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, a way of calculating an ERA that set to one side the balls in play. And then the chaps at Hardball Times developed xFIP, which adjusts the home runs allowed in relation to the ratio of fly balls allowed by the pitcher. (Their research seems to indicate that a pretty consistent percentage of fly balls go for home runs, once one adjusts for the effects of the ballpark, and random variations.)

The objective of xFIP is to find a number that will more accurately predict a pitcher's future ERA. It works a bit better for starters than for relievers, although you can use it with caution for relievers. So, how about those Nationals?

Pitcher xFIP
Zimmermann 3.36
Hanrahan 3.90
Detwiler 4.46
Colome 4.66
Tavárez 4.81
Lannan 4.92
Olsen 5.04
Wells 5.05
Stammen 5.06
Villone 5.20
Beimel 5.32
Martis 5.61
Bergmann 5.97

Remember, these numbers don't include fielders booting balls, or just not having the range to get to a grounder. This is strikeouts, walks and home runs. It's pretty horrific, especially a closer with a 3.90 xFIP — relievers, to be useful, generally need to be at least half a run better than an average starter, and closers more like a run or more.

Basically, going by xFIP, Zimmermann looks good going forward, Detwiler is about a league average pitcher, and Lannan and maybe Stammen can fill out the back of a competitive team's rotation. And, as of 5 June 2009, that's all Nationals' fans have in the whole bullpen that's really worth keeping.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Day of the Lunkhead

Yesterday, one of the last links to the 2004 Expos, Randy St Claire, was fired. He was philosophical about it all, which is fair enough. He was unlikely to be part of a contending Nationals team, which is probably one more manager away from that destination. Pitching coaches are often cronies of the manager, and it seemed unlikely he'd survive the next change. He'd also had a good run, some seven years as a pitching coach, and built a good reputation. I imagine he'll get a new job soon enough.

In the evening, Broadcaster Dibble, who is chalk to my cheese, started the game preview with a comment that basically said St Claire wasn't really the problem, that the pitchers need to throw strikes. Fair enough. If he'd left it there, I would have had nothing to blog about. But that's the trouble with Broadcaster Dibble, he never leaves well enough alone. Later in the broadcast, he launched into an incoherent ramble that started with pitchers needing to throw strikes, wandered into enthusiasm over Steve McCatty's 'by the gut' approach in contrast with St Claire's cerebral emphasis on game plans and mechanics, highlighted the fact that it wasn't just this year that Nationals' pitching was below league par, and wound up on a note that St Claire couldn't carry the entire can because the talent pitching for the Nationals wasn't up to scratch.

You're left with three conclusions - Broadcaster Dibble doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings; Broadcaster Dibble doesn't like an intellectual approach to the game; Broadcaster Dibble will just say whatever sounds good at the moment. And why not? Broadcasting is a very ephemeral occupation, very much here now, gone in a second. Unless, of course, you can watch the game again on the Greatest Invention Before Matt Wieters,

Then, while listening to the rain delay for tonight's game, I hear Pitching Coach McCatty. He's a sincere enough fellow, it sounds like. However, he was asked some question about video and said something along the lines of 'Yeah, I liked Lethal Weapon.' Now, I ask you — is he being glib or sarcastic? The persona he evinces suggests glib. However, would any modern pitching coach not consult video? Is this just a humourous way to say, Weaver-style, 'that's a @#$%!+\*&/(>< dumb question'? I don't really like bright people who pretend to be stupid, though. It often carries this kind of double-message, and might take advantage of the innocent waïf in a cruel and un-Christian manner.

Finally, the whole business raises some questions about this odd organization. At the AAA level, they had McCatty, who at the very least pretends to a radically different method to St Claire. Once you graduate McCatty Academy, you get to the Collège de St Claire, where suddenly you are asked to learn a whole new approach to pitching. These guys come up from the minors, nervous as a virgin on her wedding day, and they start getting seminars in place of heart-to-hearts? This does not suggest a seamless garment of organizational philosophy from Rookie League to The Show. I think that tells us more than General Manager Mike Rizzo might have intended about The Nationals' Way.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

More Field of Goats

I didn't realize, but UZR (a/k/a Ultimate Zone Rating), another method of rating fielding, is now available through Fangraphs. It's a daunting set of numbers, but the key one to look at is the last column, which measures the number of runs that a given fielder will 'save' over 150 games.

So let's run that ranking I did yesterday again. This ranked each player's fielding rating against those of qualified players in the NL. In most cases, that's about twelve players per position.

1b: Johnson, last
2b: Belliard, 4th; Hernandez, 9th.
3b: Zimmerman, 1st.
ss: Guzman, 11th.
lf: Willingham, 7th; Dunn, last.
cf: Dukes, last; Harris, last.
rf: Kearns, 7th; Dunn, last.

They more or less agree. Zimmerman comes out a lot higher in UZR, Willingham a bit lower. UZR does suggest that Dukes would make a good rightfielder, and Maxwell a GREAT centrefielder. If Mr Acta was channelling the Ghost of Bill McKechnie, he'd put Maxwell in centre, regardless of how he hit. In the circumstances, I think I would, too.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Field of Goats

I haven't decided whether to do a Goat of the Day for the loss today against the Phillies. I have, however, finally done something I've been meaning to do for a while.

Nationals fans don't need to be told that their fielding is poor. The real question is 'how poor?'. Your typical baseball fan looks at the players objectively, in a kind of philosophical way. Babe Ruth or Ted Williams is the 'ideal' major-league ballplayer. Someone like Willie Horton has certain ballplayer qualities, but is not so perfect. Then you have the Sandy Valdespinos of this world, who have been seen with major-league ballplayers, but few would mistake them for one.

However, in practical terms, a baseball 'manager' needs to look at a team relatively, not objectively. Relative to what? Why, to their peers, of course. If your team's players are universally in the lower regions of a skill set, you've got a problem that needs fixing. Compare all your problems, and the worst ones are the ones that most need attention.

Instead of trotting out some numbers, and pretending to be all scientific, I'm going to be wholly empirical. Let me take the RZR numbers from The Hardball Times' fielding statistics, and rank all Nationals' fielders who have played 96 innings against the National League qualifiers at each position. (Catchers don't get an RZR, so we'll ignore them.) Please note that at no position do we have sixteen qualifiers, but usually about twelve or so.

1b: Johnson, 9th.
2b: Hernandez, 8th; Belliard, 1st.
3b: Zimmerman, 5th.
ss: Guzman, last; Gonzalez, 12th (or one ahead of Guzman).
lf: Willingham, 4th; Dunn, last.
cf: Dukes, last; Harris, last.
rf: Kearns, 12th; Dunn, last.

So, any suggestions?

I have two. Use Belliard as a late-inning defensive replacement for Hernandez. He's doing quite well with the leather. Make Willingham the regular left-fielder. On the evidence so far he's a tolerable glove out there. Most everything else is a sinkhole, defensively, except for Zimmerman, and even he's not going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson in a hurry. A centerfielder is probably the most urgent need, since none of the options tried so far (except possibly for Kearns, whose sample size is as yet too small) finish anything but last.