Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sabermetric Christmas

Illness delayed a project to look at the bullpen under Riggleman. Now it'll probably never see the light of day as I'm off to Washington for the annual conference of the Society for American Baseball Research, the sabermetrics' equivalent of Christmas. If I get a chance, I'll blog about some of the things I hear.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Nationals' Fielding 'Weekly' #6

I took a break in posting the Fielding Weekly for the Washington Nationals last week because there had only been four games after the All-Star Break. (Also, I had a lot of work on last week.) This week's figures could be read as giving some support to the notion that Mr Riggleman's new routine is having some effect, nothwithstanding this horror story. The problem with taking that too far is that Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is not so enthusiastic as Revised Zone Rating (RZR). See an explanation for these stats after the table.

The big movers are Dunn, Dunn and Morgan, which sounds like an old-fashioned firm of stockbrokers. Morgan's really made a big difference, and I wonder if he's responsible for some of Dunn's improvement in leftfield this week. Anyone who tells you to trade Nick Johnson and move Dunn to first base should be shown Dunn's RZR. It makes this grown man cry.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman 13.3 + 3.7 19.4 +2.6 .753 +.014 .717
Johnson - 6.4 - 1.8 - 7.8 -1.0 .760 +.008 .783
Guzman - 4.0 - 0.1 - 6.2 +0.5 .767 +.010 .803
Dunn (LF) -12.0 - 0.3 -23.1 +4.3 .849 +.036 .890
Hernandez 1.0 - 0.2 2.0 -0.6 .848 +.004 .816
Kearns (RF) 0.4 + 0.3 - 0.9 +2.3 .887 +.006 .907
Willingham (LF) - 1.3 + 0.5 - 4.0 +1.3 .908 +.003 .890
Harris (CF) - 5.0 - 0.3 -15.0 -0.6 .938 +.002 .933
Dukes (CF) - 5.6 + 0.3 -21.1 +0.7 .898 n.c. .933
Gonzalez (ss) - 4.5 - 1.3 -22.5 -0.1 .689 +.007 .803
Belliard (2b) 1.5 + 2.6 6.8 -0.2 .889 +.020 .816
Willingham (RF) - 1.3 - 1.5 -4.4 -5.9 .977 -.023 .907
Dunn (RF) - 6.7 + 0.1 -33.9 -0.2 .756 n.c. .907
Morgan (cf) 4.9 + 4.2 26.5 +22.0 .969 +.027 .933
Dukes (RF) - 0.2 n.c. - 3.4 +0.1 .952 n.c. .907
Gonzalez (2b) - 1.9 - 1.0 -14.5 -1.5 .794 +.021 .816
Harris (2b) - 2.4 n/a -27.6 n/a .739 n.c. .816
Dunn (1b) - 3.6 - 0.5 -44.5 -1.7 .545 -.055 .783

The table is in order of innings played at the position, with the cut-off at 75 innings.

UZR converts fielding statistics into a +/- rating reflecting the number of runs saved or given away. There is a basic version, which is based on the number of innings played by the player, and a normalized version that assumes everybody plays 150 games. It also is forced to sum to zero, so a player can have his UZR adjusted even when he doesn't play.
RZR is like a fielding 'batting average', dividing the number of plays made by the number of opportunities. Unlike old Zone Rating, it excludes plays made 'out of zone'. (Zone Rating divides the field into zones, and assigns responsibility among the players.) For comparative purposes, I've put at the end of each player's line the MLB average RZR for position.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

So long, Julian

Julian Tavárez, who was really (no, really!) my favourite Washington Nationals' pitcher, has been designated for assignment. People have been a little unfair towards him, as he hasn't been as bad at blowing games as Joe Beimel, but seemed to attract more hostility. Nor do I complain. He's been shockingly poor these last few weeks, finding the plate with difficulty, which is the unforgivable sin in a major-league pitcher. (Kip Wells—another player I liked—got into a similar funk, and was gone even more quickly.) I don't have a positive-scoring outing for him since 27 June.

Ron Villone may be the next to go. The signs are not good. I'd even argue that his stats are worse than Tavárez', although he hasn't committed that unforgivable sin to quite the same degree.

I'm not sure who my favourite Washington Nationals' pitcher is now. Probably Clippard or Mock. Sorry guys.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Zambrano, Ramírez, Fontenot, Bradley

Messing around with the leverage index during yesterday's game and comparing it with the win probability reveals a disagreement. My method of multiplying the 'win value' of an event by the leverage does not have the same results as the win probability effect. Does that mean I'm doing it wrong? Maybe it does.

Player/Event/Inning       WPA        WV*LI
Zambrano/double/2nd 18% 13.9%
Ramirez/homer/3rd 11 4.9
Zimmerman/DP/1st 10 11.9*
Harris/BB/1st 9 7.6
Fontenot/double/2nd 9 8.6
Bradley/GDP/8th 5 7.6

I was a surprised at how the Ramirez homer scored so low in my method, not even as high as the Bradley double play. Curiously, though, it was the point at which the balance of the game shifted towards the Cubs permanently. It may be,in this case, that I'm rating double plays too highly. Are they the same as two outs, or the same as an out plus a caught stealing?
* I'm not sure I call this a double play. I've got two events, the Zimmerman strike out and Morgan being thrown out at third.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

First-Half Nationals' Review: the Pitching

Pitching is 75 per cent of the game. Or something like that. Maybe 52 per cent, but there's some defence in there, too. Actually, where the Washington Nationals and the fabled 'Plan' are concerned, pitching is probably 75 per cent, if not more. As Definitely-Not-Interim-or-Acting President Stan Kasten said the other day, 'It's hard to amass a core of young future starters. That took us time. I've always believed that that was the most important thing, that was Job One.'

And, frankly, it's still a work in progress. There are signs of a rosy dawn in the future, but not necessarily where you'd think. But right now it's still night.

Rather than trot out some traditional statistics, or even some old-fashioned sabermetric ones, I'm going straight to the 21st-century granular approach here. I'm going to talk about LD% (Line-Drive percentage) and HR/FB ratio (home runs as a percentage of fly balls). I'll throw in K/9 and BB/9, just for retro effect.

Basically, LD% has an impact on the batting average by a pitcher's opponents. If the LD% is high, the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) will probably be high, too. Young pitchers who don't make quick progress with getting a high LD% lower are likely to have short big-league careers. HR/FB is pretty constant for most pitchers, so if there's some deviation from the league average there, for a young pitcher it's safer to assume that it will drift towards that league average. Taking the pitchers currently on the 40-man, this is the statistical snapshot.

Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Olsen 6.0 3.6 22.5 13.7
Martis 3.6 4.1 15.4 10.2
Detwiler 5.7 3.8 24.5 5.6
Zimmermann 8.8 2.9 25.3 13.9
Stammen 4.0 1.8 19.1 8.8
Lannan 4.0 3.1 18.7 11.8

League Ave 6.9 3.2 19.2 10.3

Martis, Stammen and Lannan are doing a Mark Fidrych impersonation. If they don't get that K/9 up, their careers will be short. Otherwise, Martis needs to get his walk rate down, and the other two are doing a fine job. You can fit guys like this into the 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, and not complain.

Olsen's a league-average innings eater type, with numbers like that, great for spot 3 or 4 in the rotation.

Detwiler and Zimmermann are supposed to be the future studs. Unfortunately, they look pretty uneven here. Zimmermann's got the Ks, but that LD% worries me. It's remained stubbornly high all season. Detwiler's not quite got the stuff, and also has a high LD%, but something about that line fills me with more confidence that you're looking at a future Scott Olsen type, who might turn into a #2 for a season or two. That's actually pretty good, because one never knows. Sometimes people raise their game even higher. But, being realistic, a young pitcher's best seasons for strikeouts are at the start of their career. Then they go down.

Well, this review is partly about the coming 'Riggleman Era'. My advice? Keep Stammen in the rotation. At one time their was a rumour that he was headed for the bullpen, but he's doing too good a job starting. I think that plan has been set aside with Detwiler's return to the minors, but you never can tell.

As for the bullpen, I'll just go straight to the chart
Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Beimel 5.6 3.8 16.7 6.2
Bergmann 6.2 3.9 23.5 15.3
Burnett 7.1 1.4 11.9 17.0
Clippard 9.0 3.9 10.0 7.8
Kensing 3.6 7.2 29.2 14.6
MacDougal 3.7 7.4 14.3 8.5
Mock 4.2 5.5 10.9 0.0
Tavárez 8.4 6.8 17.2 3.4
Villone 4.9 6.4 20.3 6.2

League Ave 7.4 4.0 18.7 8.8

Well, what a mess. Walks are killing this bullpen. Look at MacDougal, he's got the numbers the wrong way round. 7.4 would be acceptable as a K/9, but as a BB/9 it's a sentence to transportation. Here's where Mr Riggleman has his work cut out for him.

I'd do something like this:

Closer: Burnett
Setup: MacDougal, Clippard, Tavárez, Beimel
Mop-up, Long Relief: Bergmann, Villone.

Villone I'd keep on a short lease. The Nationals have Dave Williams, a former big league left-hander, at Syracuse. If Villone doesn't pick up his game, I'd DFA him and try Williams.

Beimel has tolerable numbers, but his performance doesn't measure up. I believe he's added a few goats to his existing collection.

Tavárez may be done. If he could get his walks down, though, that's a closer there. MacDougal may well be in the same boat, to be honest.

The rest are a bit mix and match at the moment. I have a feeling they are going to miss Kip Wells. He somehow could dial it up for an inning, but he was screwed if he had to go two. Then he got hurt, and didn't come back the same pitcher. They won't miss Kensing, though. Didn't he cost them a real, live player?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

First Half Nationals Review: The Fielding (incorporating Nationals Fielding Weekly #5)

Probably you'd have to go to some forsaken place that knows nothing about baseball, like Ys or Norumbega to find someone who didn't know that the Washington Nationals had the worst fielding in the National League. If that doesn't make you want to go out and fire someone from their job, you've got no future as a senior baseball executive. Let's hold an investigation. Who is to blame for this sorry situation?

One of the things Bill James learned while inventing Sabermetrics was that a lot of what one perceives as pitching is, in fact, fielding. However, one of the things I've learned is that fielding responsibility is very difficult to apportion individually. There are 'fielding theorists' who argue that you have to start at the level of the player, with stuff like fielding percentage or zone rating. I'm more inclined to see it the other way: you have to start from the top, then start sharing out the blame further down. However, nobody knows the truth! Nothing's been proven! How do you evaluate defensive statistics anyway?

Defensive Efficiency Rating was a Bill James' invention, I think, which basically tells you what percentage of balls hit into play against a team are converted into outs. It's a bit deceptive in that not all balls hit are really playable. This demonstrates that some of what one perceives as fielding is, in fact, pitching. It's useful, nonetheless, in giving a rough idea of one team's defence in relation to another's. By this measure, the Nationals rest at the bottom of the league, with a DER of .695. This is very bad, considering the Dodgers are at the top with a DER of .729. That means out of every 100 balls in play, the Dodgers convert three more of them into outs than the Nationals do. Now, realistically, that means about one ball-in-play per game. But over 162 games that's 162 hits, or worth something approaching one Chase Utley per season. Would you like your pitchers to face Chase Ultey in every game?

The Nationals aren't good at turning the double play (13th in the league). They're good at making errors (1st in the league). They're last in putouts (but 4th in assists—they must like helping old ladies across the street). They're also worst in fielding percentage. And that's about all you can say at the team level.

Well, except the good folks at The Hardball Times have published a team Revised Zone Rating. (Kind of like DER, a rate of converting balls in play into outs, but one that allows for those hard-to-reach balls.) Yes, the Nationals are last, at .809. (But Milwaukee's best, at .860.) However, they take it a step further, and break RZR out into Infield RZR and Outfield RZR. Nationals' infielders manage to be 14th in the league, but the outfield is dead last.

So, I'll conclude this analysis with the current Ultimate Zone Rating* and Revised Zone Ratings by player (minimum 60 innings at position), then tell you what I think Mr Riggleman ought to do.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   LgMedian
Zimmerman 9.6 + 2.0 16.8 -1.0 .739 -.018 .716
Johnson - 4.6 + 1.8 - 6.8 +3.6 .752 +.023 .778
Guzman - 3.9 - 0.1 - 6.7 +0.4 .757 +.003 .802
Hernandez 1.2 - 0.3 2.6 -0.6 .844 -.002 .813/.801
Dunn (LF) -11.7 - 2.2 -27.4 -4.1 .813 +.001 .865
Kearns (RF) 0.1 + 0.6 - 3.2 +2.4 .881 +.004 .916/.910
Willingham (LF) - 1.8 + 0.4 - 5.3 +1.2 .905 +.003 .865
Dukes (CF) - 5.9 + 0.1 -21.8 +1.5 .898 n.c. .947/.943
Harris (CF) - 4.7 + 0.2 -14.4 +1.0 .936 +.001 .947/.943
Dunn (RF) - 6.8 + 0.1 -34.1 +1.0 .756 n.c. .916/.910
Belliard (2b) - 1.1 - 2.5 7.0 -2.0 .869 -.012 .813/.801
Gonzalez (ss) - 3.1 - 1.1 -22.4 -7.3 .682 -.036 .802
Dukes (RF) - 0.2 - 1.1 - 3.5 n.c. .952 n.c. .916/.910
Willingham (RF) 0.2 - 0.2 1.5 -4.2 1.000 n.c. .916/.910
Morgan (cf) 0.7 n/a 4.5 n/a .938 n/a .947/.943
Dunn (1b) - 3.1 - 1.1 -42.8 -7.4 .600 -.114 .778
Gonzalez (2b) - 0.9 n/a -14.5 n/a .773 n/a .813/.801

Well, really, I don't see what Mr Riggleman can do that Mr Acta hadn't done already, by taking Dukes out of centre and keeping Dunn out of right. Is there any room to improve the infield? Belliard's numbers were good earlier on, but he's been in sharp decline since getting more playing time. Use him in games with flyball pitchers. Gonzalez is sinking like a stone. He's worse than Guzmán now. Nick Johnson shows some improvement this week, balanced by Zimmerman's decline. My one piece of helpful advice—keep Dunn OFF first base. Don't listen to the Sirens calling for Johnson's trade because Dunn can fill in at first. Hecan'thecan'thecan't.
* Ultimate Zone Rating was developed by Mitchel Lichtman, one of the authors of The Book. (See link to blog at left.) It has to sum to zero, which is why players who get no playing time still see their numbers change each week. It's highly regarded, and gives you a number that represents runs saved (the pluses) or given away (minuses).

Monday, 13 July 2009

First Half Nationals Review: The Lineup

So, here we stand, looking forward to the Riggleman phase of the 2009 Washington Nationals. The team is on pace to lose a hundred games, and on a pace not to win more than 50. Teams with that kind of record more than likely have so many flaws that a mere change of manager won't achieve much. de civitate sabermetricarum takes this All Star Break to review the situation that will welcome Mr Riggleman when he gets back to work. Since there are conveniently three days between now and the return of the team to action, I've divided this survey, like Gaul, into three parts: the lineup, the fielding, and the pitching. What has Mr Riggleman got? What can he do about the areas that need work?

This survey of the batting isn't going to focus on players so much as the lineup. Comparing this to the league will, one hopes, indicate how it contributes to this losing season so far. In spite of an offense not being too bad, in relation to the rest of the league, the Nationals aren't winning. They are not short of baserunners, as the team OBP is second in the league. But it seems that these opportunities are not being converted into enough runs. We know that lately the Nationals are leaving a lot of men on base. In the 86 games played so far, the Nationals have left 699 men on base. Is that a lot?

The National League team with the lowest percentage of its baserunners scoring is San Diego, which has only managed to put 12% of them across the plate. They've left 613 on base. But they also have the fewest number of baserunners to begin with. The best team at driving them in is Colorado, with 16% of baserunners scoring. They've left on base 612 runners. The closest in total number of baserunners with a batter at the plate is the Mets, with 2235 to the Nationals 2317. The Mets have left 660 runners on base. So, the short answer is, yes, 699 is a lot.

Looking at the batting order, and using Runs Created per 27 Outs, the old Bill James formula, we get the following for each batting order position:
1st     4.17
2nd 6.87
3rd 5.67
4th 7.48
5th 5.46
6th 4.16
7th 3.76
8th 4.72
9th 1.83

That leadoff number is a bit of a shocker, isn't it? The leadoff spot's OBP is .317, worse than any other spot except the pitcher's and the guys who have batted 7th. So, chances are there's one out by the time the better performing slots of 2 and 3 get to the plate. It's absolutely vital to get the first man at bat on base to maximize the chance of scoring runs. However, the chances are the leadoff man will only leadoff one or two innings.

Let's do this another way, and track the OBP and SLG of the Nationals' batting order against the league average:

Spot Nationals League
1st .317/.372 .327/.383
2nd .416/.429 .348/.413
3rd .363/.477 .373/.490
4th .384/.541 .351/.472
5th .352/.489 .337/.433
6th .337/.347 .332/.403
7th .310/.379 .316/.399
8th .348/.369 .328/.377
9th .256/.251 .247/.262

Here's another question for you: where do you think the Nationals rank in the league in slugging? The answer is 6th. Pretty good, but when you compare the slugging by batting order, an interesting pattern emerges. The Nationals' slugging is concentrated in a handful of spots in the order. They beat the league average at the 2nd, 4th and 5th, but are behind elsewhere. An awful lot of the Nationals' slugging is tied up in Adam Dunn. The rest of the lineup, with the exception of the 5th spot, is hovering around league average or, in the case of spots 6 and 7, a worryingly amount below.

I think we have an answer here as to why the Nationals are leaving so many men on base. The production is too concentrated, rather than being spread around the lineup. Adam Dunn, with the lion's share of plate appearances in the 4 slot, can't carry the team on his own. That's something Riggleman needs to fix. Sadly, I don't see a solution on the team at the moment.

Manny Acta Fired

The Nationals have fired Manny Acta.

My first reaction is a 'so what'? The team is in such a mess that firing the manager is probably the daftest thing one could do. No bullpen, shockingly bad fielding, inability to drive the runners in - these are not things that a manager can do much about. Those all reflect the personnel who are assembled by the general manager.

On the other hand, Mr Acta did make some queer decisions sometimes. His eagerness to play the infield in, for example. And sometimes you wonder if his bullpen management made matters worse.

I might write some more about this later, once I've finished the mid-season analysis I've started. But I might not.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hilaripus projection from 2002

Looking at Baseball Prospectus from 2002, one finds this projection (a 'Wilton' in the parlance of the day) for Jose Ortiz: .330/.385/.534.

Ortiz was traded from Oakland to Colorado in 2001, after putting up a horrendous .167/.217/.167 in 46 plate appearances.

In Sacramento, before going to the Rockies, he put up .273/.345/.449

Once in Colorado, his line read .255/.314/.495 in 224 plate appearances.

So where did the .330/.385/.534 come from? Well, for that you have to go back to 2000, in Scramento .351/.408/.575. At age 23. In over 500 PAs.

The thing is, this looked way out of line with his production in Vancouver in 1999: .284/.346/.483

Eyeballing the lines, you'd have asked him to do that 2000 season over again before you gave him full credit. Yet the fact is, if you just weight the lines appropriately, and throw in a boost from Coors, you probably would get a .919 OPS.

I wouldn't like to say we've advanced so far in projection that such an error couldn't occur again. I suspect it has something to do with just automating a lot of calculations, and not checking what might appear anomalous. I don't doubt, regardless of whether the formulae are better, that a lot of these outcomes just get spat out of the computer still. But maybe they check them more.

Oh, Ortiz' real 2002 line? .250/.315/.313. In Coors. In 215 PA.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Nationals Fielding Weekly #4

There's no real pattern I can see to the figures this week. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, a method for converting fielding chances into a +/- runs figure, which is complex and is adjusted according to how other players perform as well as to the peculiarities of the park, the non-Zimmerman infield improved sharply. The same sort of applies to Revised Zone Rating, which gives an average like batting average. However, UZR suggests the outfield play deteriorated. As far as I can tell, which isn't very far, these adjustments relate to some of Harris's play, some of Dunn's play and, on the infield, some of Zimmerman's play.*

'Median' refers to the zone ratings at the midpoint of the National League RZR chart at that position. I've put those players who are fielding above this level in bold.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change Median
Zimmerman (3b) 7.6 - 1.2 17.8 - 3.9 .757 -.018 .709-.701
Johnson (1b) -6.4 + 0.5 -10.4 + 1.5 .729 +.011 .781-.776
Guzman (ss) -3.8 - 0.9 - 7.4 + 6.3 .754 +.011 .807-.793
Hernandez (2b) 1.5 + 0.6 3.2 + 1.2 .846 -.010 .820-.806
Dunn (lf) -9.5 - 3.8 -23.4 - 9.7 .812 +.006 .873
Kearns (rf) -0.5 - 0.3 - 5.6 - 0.4 .877 +.002 .912
Willingham (lf) -2.2 n.c. - 6.5 - 0.1 .902 +.002 .873
Dukes (cf) -6.0 n.c. -23.3 + 0.4 .898 +.001 .944-.942
Harris (cf) -4.9 + 0.9 -15.4 + 8.4 .935 +.010 .944-.942
Dunn (rf) -6.7 - 0.2 -35.1 - 1.4 .756 n.c. .912
Belliard (2b) 1.4 - 0.2 9.0 - 0.8 .881 -.012 .820-.806
Gonzalez (ss) -2.0 n.c. -15.1 + 0.4 .718 n.c. .807-.793
Dukes (rf) 0.9 + 1.1 - 3.5 + 9.1 .952 +.005 .912
Willingham (rf) 0.4 n/a 5.7 n/a 1.000 n/a .912
Dunn (1b) -2.0 - 0.1 -37.4 - 0.6 .714 n.c. .781-.776
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 + 0.1 36.9 + 1.7 .833 n.c. .944-.942

* As I've said before, I don't think UZR is really designed to be used in this way. It's more of an end-of-season thing. The best it can do in-season is give a guide as to who is the most valuable fielder on a team, and how he is doing relative to other fielders at his postion.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Adventures in Independence Day Leverage

Yesterday's game is what baseball is all about, for me. The score wasn't too high, the game was dominated by pitching, and neither of the two contending teams gave up on the game.

During the game, I performed an exercise of calculating Leverage x Win Value in order to create a number that would represent the value of each event to winning the game. Instead of using the run value of each event, I used the win value as detailed in Tango, Litchtman, Dolphin's The Book. (Run values are used in the famous linear weights formula devised by Thorn and Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball.)

It was an interesting exercise, because it highlighted how a well-timed single can be far more valuable than a home run, and why on-base percentage is more valuable than slugging.

Dunn's home run in the bottom of the 7th, leading off, was worth 14.76 per cent of a win. But Zimmerman's single in the bottom of the 8th was worth 24.78 per cent of a win. Even Dunn's single in the next plate appearance was worth more than Dunn's homer, at 15.96 per cent of a win. By the time we get to Willingham's single, the cumulative effects of the runs scored up to that point have substantially reduced the leverage, and he only gets 4.62 per cent of a win.

The reason is the multiplier effect of leverage. The base runners and the differential in score added up to making those 8th-inning situations of greater significance. A typical linear-weights formula wouldn't have captured this, and just awarded Dunn a 1.44 runs for his home run and 0.44 runs for each of the three singles. Furthermore, it also accounts better for the effect of piling up baserunners, each additional runner pushes those already on base closer to home plate. Bard would not have scored from first on any of the Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham hits; he had to get to second.

On another matter, anyone following this game would think bunting was a brilliant strategy. A bunt made the Braves' first run possible, and a bunt arguably resulted in the Nationals' being in a position to tie the game quickly, although in the subsequent walk meant the bunt really had no effect. I'm not trying to argue the point, just observing that in this game bunting worked.

Finally, I'm awarding a Hero of the Day to MacDougal, for defending the lead in the top of the 9th.

Primer Cross Post: No to Trades for Trading's Sake

This article in the Washington Post generated this thread on Baseball Think Factory. I've posted an adapted version of my comment here.

I don't see the point of trading a veteran simply because he's got trade value. What you get back is equally important. Either it helps you or you don't do the deal.

Everyone wants the Nationals to trade Nick Johnson and to move Adam Dunn to first base. Dunn has shown no greater ability to play that position than left-field. If anything, he's looked worse. Johnson's injury history is going to count against him in deals, reducing his value to quarters on the dollar. And it's not as if the Nationals have a sure-fire can't miss long-term replacement in the organization.

Nobody talks about Cristian Guzmán much for reasons that are not quite clear to me, but appear to be related to fielding. Are these the same people who want to move Dunn to first? The Nationals actually do have a replacement in the organization for him, although it's a definite downgrade - Alberto Gonzalez, the former Attorney General. He definitely doesn't hit as well as Guzmán, and his fielding seems to be about the same.

The Nationals do have a surfeit of corner oufielders, including the aforementioned Dunn, but only Josh Willingham is at all marketable, unless someone wants Dunn. Nobody accepts Elijah Dukes' good behaviour represents a genuine conversion. (We'll know when they do when we start seeing articles about it in the paper.) Austin Kearns is playing too badly for his contract.

The Nationals have no depth anywhere else, except young pitching. If I were them, I'd see what I could get for Stammen or maybe Balester. But that would probably be an older guy like Nyjer Morgan again.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Manny Being Manny, Jesus Being Jesus, Adam Being...

Yesterday's game was a return to the bad old days of the middle of May. You remember that awful stretch, surely, when the offense was firing on all cylinders, but could not rely on any part of the pitching game (nor fielding for that matter). Actually, I wouldn't blame you if you'd chose to forget.

OK, so let's dissect this a bit.

1. Ross Detwiler stunk. This was without doubt his worst outing since he was brought up. He gave up too many hits, and the only other game where his control was as poor was the 14th June one. Shairon Martis was doing better than him just before he got sent down. Having said all that, my inclination is to give him one more outing. He's got a pattern of following two poor starts with a good one.

2. Let's see, top of the seventh, Jesus Colome trying to defend a tie with runners on first and second. Villone's warmed up in the bullpen, switch hitter at the plate. I remember thinking, 'don't do it Manny, bring in Villone'. Oh well, we know how that ended. Not that Villone would have been much of an improvement, lately...

3. we saw in the very next inning. Villone loaded up the bases. The only out he got was given to him by a sacrifice bunt. I'm not sure how much I blame Villone/Tavárez for the run that came in, though. Villone was ordered to walk Escobar. Tavárez then walked in a run, what proved to be, in the end, the winning run. I think Mr Acta sometimes doesn't help his pitchers, because he gives them no room for mistakes—like not knowing the umpire's strike zone yet. Really, though, although I'm a fan of Tavárez, running through a sequence of Colome/Villone/Tavárez is just asking for trouble.

4. So, then, the Nationals' rally. And Adam Dunn is up. And he pops out! But that's Adam, what the English call a 'success or bust' player. I don't blame him for that. Adam's a very good player to me, with an outside chance at the Hall of Fame. He's got a better eye than most umpires. I've been doing some fiddling with the idea of Leverage, that each given plate appearance has a multiplier that indicates how significant it is. This one was very high, and Adam gave away about ten per cent of the game with it.

For me, the turning point of the game came on that intentional walk to Escobar. Mr Acta has a right to leave Colome in there, and not expect him to give up a home run. He has a right to expect Dunn (or Bard, who made the final out, and also gave away about ten per cent of the game) to come through in the clutch. He doesn't have a right to load the bases for a new pitcher. That's asking a heck of a lot.

Mr Acta has got a reputation as a sabermetric manager, but I think he sometimes overmanages. This is one instance where it bit him. (Unless, of course, it was Riggleman's suggestion.)

Effect on
Pitcher Win Expectancy
Colome -.624
Villone -.140
Tavárez -.081
Clippard -.052
Beimel .010
Burnett .044

Friday, 3 July 2009

Bullpen Tragic Week

The curse of the Nationals' bullpen struck again this week, as they proved unable to defend leads or even to keep the team in the game.

27th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Beimel -.213
MacDougal -.075
Tavárez .054

28th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
MacDougal -.103
Beimel -.053

29th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Villone -.554
Tavárez -.177

30th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Beimel -1.155
Clippard - .163

1st July

Pitcher Win Expectancy
MacDougal -.661
Burnett -.308
Tavárez -.285

I've only awarded Goat status in losses, but making good leads into precarious ones really does deserve some kind of notice, so I've posted the evidence here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The "Big Trade"

When the Nationals acquired Nyjer Morgan yesterday, the reaction from the sabermetric community was almost unanimously negative towards the move for Washington.

Thus Dave Cameron at Fangraphs writes on the trade between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. (The comments are pretty good, too.) I'm a late ballot, but count me as a sabermetric community member who thinks the trade was a good one for Washington.

The big negatives directed at the trade can be reduced to two elements: Lastings Milledge's potential and the idea that Joel Hanrahan can be a good reliever.

I've not seen Milledge play, having last season been following the Detroit Tigers. I've heard of his reputation among the sabermetric community for a couple of years now, but he's a former New York Mets' prospect, and my empirical observations lead me to find Mets' prospects are routinely overhyped. I have, however, seen Elijah Dukes play. I like Dukes. He's not particularly fast, having trouble with the initial acceleration. Consequently, he routinely has problems on the basepaths and in the field. However, he's got an accurate, strong arm. He's a solid, if unspectacular hitter. He'll do in rightfield.

What the Nationals need is a centrefielder who will make up for the defensively challenged Dunn in left and Dukes' mediocrity in right. The Nationals' outfield is a bigger problem than the infield, and easier to fix. As Dave Cameron's defensive analysis illustrated, Morgan is probably about average in centre. This is an improvement and an important one.

Hanrahan is indeed a pitcher with potential, but his experience this season in Washington has just destroyed him. The fans appear to despise him, and management has lost all confidence in him. He may indeed have lost confidence in himself. No lead is safe with Hanrahan on the mound.

The thing is, going forward the Nationals have placed all their bets on a young starting pitching rotation. Tearing up their confidence by having bad defence in the outfield and a bullpen that can't hold a lead is probably the biggest failing of the current roster. Getting rid of Hanrahan and improving the outfield defence are actions that fix the problem. Milledge was surplus to requirements, unless the sabermetric community thinks that it was better to keep Milledge than Dunn. Maybe that's what they do think. But none of them have really addressed this point, that the Nationals have a surplus of corner outfielders. Isn't that what a good GM is supposed to do? Deal from a surplus to fix a problem?

A hearty 'well done, Mr Rizzo' from this corner of the sabermetric community.