Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Breaking a Wand

The firestorm over Rob Dibble's comments on Strasburg's injury scare has simply underlined for me the fact that I can no longer be a fan of the Nationals' franchise so long as they employ Mr Dibble. This isn't the first time my support for the Expos/Nationals has been strained by off-field events, but I don't need to tell Washington fans that it's quite an awkward time when the team you love changes cities.

Federal Baseball published part of a response by Mr Dibble to the alarm expressed by bloggers at his remarks. In it, Mr Dibble appears intelligent, articulate and well-informed. If only he could avoid 'simpleton speak' more frequently, I might have been able to take this latest example with more equanimity.

I've been having difficulty following baseball this season, one even more disrupted by work/personal life, than the last one. So perhaps I am overreacting on account of a more general ennui. Removing myself from the Nationals' blogosphere will not do it any damage at all. Regardless, if I write here about baseball, it won't be about the Nationals.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Nationals' Fielding Review #2

Being five hours ahead of North America is making it difficult for me to keep up with the games, although that's partly because I have to help with homework and read bedtime stories, as well as going up to the University of London during the day.

Anyway, here is some fielding data. I've replaced the in-season cumulative UZR with Chris Dial's Defensive Runs Saved. You can find an explanation of what he's up to here. UZR/150 is the current UZR extrapolated to 150 games. RZR is Revised Zone Rating, which is like a fielding average but counts balls hit into a zone, rather than those the fielder actually reached.

Player              DRS   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman (3B) 4 +2 24.7 +3.0 .755 +.008 .704
Desmond (SS) 3 -2 14.8 +0.2 .833 -.034 .811
Gonzalez (3b) 3 -1 44.0 -1.9 .882 +.007 .704
Maxwell (RF) 2 - 21.6 -6.1 .857 +.018 .885
Harris (RF) 0 - 13.3 -0.7 .852 +.044 .885
Kennedy (2b) 0 - - 4.8 -12.2 .800 -.039 .819
Guzmán (SS) 1 +1 8.9 +1.8 .750 -.017 .811
Willingham (LF) -2 - 5.8 +4.9 .880 +.021 .871
Guzmán (2B) 3 +3 - 2.6 +0.5 .839 +.022 .819
Dunn (1B) -2 +1 - 2.7 +2.4 .776 -.006 .772
Bernadina (RF) 1 +1 -11.3 +3.0 .915 +.015 .885
Morgan (CF) 0 -1 -11.8 +0.3 .883 +.009 .916
minimum 73 innings

Harper commented after the last fielding review on how we need more like three years' data to get a sense of a player's talent as a fielder. This is true, but one of my old-fashioned sabermetric principles is that we should be more interested, as fans, in what happened rather than what we can expect to happen. Over three years, Dunn might turn out to be the worst first-baseman in the league. However, for the moment he's been doing better than I thought we had any right to expect. I'll keep singing praises for his effort and dedication so long as he keeps that up — and even if he starts having difficulties, because he's clearly trying his best. Jolly good show!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Nationals Fielding Review #1

Sorry about the hiatus. I have been working hard and crossing oceans, despite volcanic ash, and then adjusting to new time zones and new routines. Worse, this post is something of a holding action, as I'm off again on Sunday. Hopefully I'll be back on regular posting starting after 6 June.

In the mean time, I'll try to post one or two tidbits, starting with a review of the Nationals' fielding so far, using the same measures as last season — Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Revised Zone Rating (RZR).

Zone Rating involves a person deciding whether a ball was in a notional fielding zone, then noting whether or not someone caught it. UZR converts this data and turns it into a +/- rating in relation to average, showing the number of rns. RZR converts this data into a percentage, while make an accounting distinction between Balls In Zone (which should be caught) and Balls Out of Zone (which are to be regarded as bonuses). There's been a bit of a stink about UZR recently, which included its creator, MGL, behaving most unconscionably towards a critic, Baseball Prospectus' Colin Wyers. I'd link to it but the crucial contributions have been edited out. However, the point is that UZR shouldn't be taken necessarily as the 'Gold Standard' in fielding metrics. For my part, I've always preferred humble RZR between the three, but Colin has had a go at that, too.

The table shows UZR, the anticipated UZR per 150 games, RZR and the NL average RZR for that player's position. I would have liked to have included Chris Dial's defensive runs calculation, but I haven't asked him to send me the data. Maybe next time. In the future, the Change column will show the change from last time.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman (3B) 4.1 - 21.7 - .742 - .698
Desmond (SS) 3.8 - 14.6 - .867 - .800
Gonzalez (3b) 2.7 - 45.9 - .875 - .815
Maxwell (RF) 1.4 - 27.7 - .833 - .898
Harris (RF) 1.1 - 14.0 - .818 - .898
Kennedy (2b) 1.1 - 7.4 - .839 - .803
Guzmán (SS) 0.5 - 7.1 - .767 - .800
Willingham (LF) 0.4 - 0.9 - .859 - .865
Guzmán (2B) -0.8 - - 3.1 - .817 - .803
Dunn (1B) -1.4 - - 5.1 - .782 - .782
Bernadina (RF) -1.7 - -14.3 - .897 - .898
Morgan (CF) -4.3 - -12.1 - .874 - .916
minimum 61 innings

The interesting thing, for me, is how well Dunn is doing at first base. I was quite the sceptic last season, but he's proved me wrong. Complimenti, Adam. He'd be my favourite National if it wasn't for a long-standing appreciation of mine for Pudge. The next interesting thing is Morgan's decline. What's going on? Third, is how the outfield generally is poor. All hail the infield though, as Guzmán has done just as well making the shift to second base as Dunn has to first.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

End-of-Term Catch Up: Why I hate Brian O'Nora

Well, first there was this game, which the play-by-play doesn't note that Brian O'Nora blew the call on the Luis Rivas home run. It was a foul ball.

Then, just recently, he gave the Dodgers' the edge on calling strikes out of zone, as this wonderful graph from Brooks Baseball shows. (Click on it to make it bigger.)

Plus, he called Pudge out at home.

He hates the franchise, so I hate him.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

End-of-term Catch Up: Teach Your Kids to Throw Left-Handed

The end of the academic term is M-U-R-D-E-R on the baseball commentary.

Measuring the Corps of Relievers, after 14 April 2010. (Yes, you remember - Philadelphia 14 — 7 Washington. And Bergmann got the Black Spot.)

Matt Capps      .352
Tyler Clippard .188
Brian Bruney -.056
Jesse English -.074
Tyler Walker -.123
Miguel Batista -.259
Jason Bergmann -.485
Sean Burnett -.509

Those numbers are the cumulative amounts of win probability added or deducted during all the individual relievers' stints between Opening Day and 14 April. Really, Burnett, loser of half a game all by himself, was the man doing the least. (Plus he was more evenly bad, while Bergmann loaded all his bad into one outing.)

But Burnett's left-handed.

So boys and girls, remember — baseball is more forgiving of left-handed pitchers.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

What a difference a year makes?

From 1-10 to 6-5. .500 baseball. Huzzah!

Not to rain on everyone's parade, but this year's start puts last year's in perspective:

Runs Scored Runs Allowed
2009 54 75
2010 53 66

The difference in runs allowed would actually only add up to about half a win.

QMAX is a system from the old Big Bad Baseball Annuals of adding some 'granularity' to the Quality Start, showing that some Quality Starts are better than others. 2009:

Click on the images to make them bigger. The blue area marks the 'Success Square' outings, where the combination of hits allowed and walks surrendered is good enough to mean you should win half the time. The red zone shows the 'Hit Hard' starts, games one is unlikely to win. There's not a whole lot of difference between this year and last: one fewer hit hard and an elite quality start, and that was Livo!'s of yesterday. That one also probably skewed our runs allowed statistic.

The 2009 edition of the Nationals underperformed badly. The 2010 one has overperformed slightly. You could put it down to Mr Rizzo's choice of 'winners' versus Bowden's 'lollygaggers'. You could put it down to a firmer hand on the tiller than last season, when Mr Acta seemed to be on borrowed time from the autumn, and MLB wouldn't let Mr Rizzo shed the 'interim' tag. You could put it down to luck. I know which one I think. How about you?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Dodgy Data?

Colin Wyers' has written an interesting article at BaseballProspectus.com about differences in baseball batted-ball data depending on who is assembling it. Since I never regarded batted-ball data as being anything better than an approximation of longitude while at sea without a chronometer, I'm not undergoing quite the crisis of faith that Wyers is. Nonetheless, it is worth bearing in mind when reading about sabermetrics based on batted-ball data.

Monday, 12 April 2010

3,000-and-some words on Garrett Mock

Garret Mock was sent down to AAA Syracuse today to make room for Livan Hernandez. At first, this move sent me into a momentary despondency. I thought he would get five or six starts, and the final decision of whether he has a future on the Nationals' big-league staff could be made. One start is not enough. Mock was being handled very poorly, in spite of his pitching shortcomings. This is the Big Moan I have about the Nationals, that they seem to handle personnel decisions very poorly.

The more I thought about it, though, the more it made sense in terms of roster strategy. The Phillies just showed us last week we need plenty of relievers. Furthermore, there are good reasons not to give up hope on Garrett Mock. However, pictures speak a thousand words so I'm going to show you a picture:

Then I'm going to show you another picture:

And finally a third picture:

(Images courtesy of the wonderful Brooks Baseball.)

Everybody says Mock has got good stuff. These three pictures highlight what that means in practical terms.

The top one shows the location of Livo!'s pitches in his start yesterday. The middle Stammen's Thursday start. The bottom is Mock's last start for the Nationals.

First I draw your attention to the blue rectangles. These represent the case for Mock. Stammen can't beat bats in that zone. Livo! avoids it altogether. Mock can pitch in that zone, and beat bats. If you study these three diagrams you'll see that batters do best at getting hits in that zone. Mock can challenge hitters; Stammen needs the batters to make weak contact so his fielders can get him the outs. It's much safer to beat hitters, if you can.

Next, I point you to the red circles. What on Earth are all those pitches from Mock doing there? They have no apparent relationship to the strike zone. Note how both Livo! and Stammen managed to keep almost all their pitches closer to the strike zone.

Mock has his objective very clear down in AAA. Stay out of the red circle.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

It's the Lineup?!?!

After handing out a Hero award, I didn't have to wait long at all to hand out a Goat one. Jesse English claimed it, in spite of Tyler Walker making a late run at it.

Why not Batista, who got the loss?

The reality is that the real goat yesterday was the lineup. (You could also argue that Mike Pelfrey, whom I thought pitched very well yesterday, won this game.) Batista gave up one run. The lineup had two chances to get that back. In the top of the fifth, the heart of the lineup went meekly 1-2-3. In the top of the sixth, we had Willingham on third with one out, and neither Pudge nor Desmond could score him.

In the end it made no difference, because Bergmann and English gave up two hits that increased the Mets' lead to two runs, then Walker came out with a flamethrower and an entire P-O-L dump to put the game out of sight.

I'm looking at the Nationals' lineup with some concern now. It's not really working, and it doesn't help that Kennedy is in a funk. This was supposed to be our strongest piece, and it's just not helping.

Friday, 9 April 2010

First Bullpen Hero Award for 2010

Last year my frustration with the bullpen drove me to create the Bullpen Goat of the Day awards, which I later in less churlish mood supplemented with Bullpen Heroes of the Day. I fully anticipated that the first award of 2010 would be a Goat, but Matt Capps managed to snatch the Hero's palm away from Brian Bruney yesterday.

These awards are based on the concept of 'P', the work of sabermetrician Doug Drinen which first appeared in the 1990s-era Big Bad Baseball Annual (previously known as the Baseball Sabermetric and the lineal line of descent from Bill James' original Baseball Abstract series). 'P' calculates the win probability at the moment when a reliever enters the game, and what it will be if he retires the side from that point. I've added the actual result of the pitcher's work, and calculated the difference between the ideal and the actual. Here are the scores from yesterday's game:

Capps         .175
Bruney .127
Clippard -.004
Burnett -.352

Another statistic I have lifted from the Big Bad Baseball Annual stable is QMAX, which is a more sophisticated way of analysing starts than the Quality Start/Not Quality Start binary opposition. The interesting thing is that Craig Stammen pitched the worst kind of start (in the 'Hit Hard' category), and yet the Nationals' still won. That means the lineup and the bullpen were the difference in this game. And with a 1-2 record after three 'Hit Hard' starts in a row, against the tough Phillies' lineup, it shows that the despair that many may have felt going into yesterday's game might be a trifle misplaced.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Astonishing! Yes, It Is!

When Cristian Guzmán took over from Mike Morse in rightfield last night, I was astonished. Yes I was. Weren't we told Guzmán's arm wasn't up to playing at shortstop? It is actions like this that give sober men pause. Now it seems that according to an Adam Kilgore 'tweet', Desmond-of-the-two-errors is going to make way for Guzmán from time to time.

You could look at Fangraphs win probability chart and see that Josh Willingham was our batting star of the game. Or you could look at my own spreadsheet, with my own version of leveraged win value (which cumulatively appears in the sidebar), and see that Josh Willingham was the batting star of the game. This gives me confidence in my own system.

Finally, I'll just comment that despite Federal Baseball's headline, Marquis' outing was actually worse, by my measure, than Lannan's.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Astonishing! Or is it?

Prowling the Internet this A.M., I came across Federal Baseball's report of Bill Ladson's original MLB.com article on the right-field situation for the Nationals.

My first thought, based on reading headlines, was 'How can you be so fickle as to abandon your plan after one game?' Looking at Ladson's article, and doing a bit of NatsTownology™,* I'm in a slightly less censorious mood. It is not at all apparent that the Taveras/Harris platoon is going to be abandoned, although that might happen. The reality is that with Jason Marquis on the mound, and his groundball tendencies (49.8/31.7 GB/FB per cent on career), outfield defence is not as critical as it might otherwise be.†

(Nevertheless, I reserve the right to be disagreeably abusive if they have dispensed with the announced plan after only one game.)
* The twenty-first century's replacement for Kremlinology.
† But once the bullpen comes in to protect a lead, please, please put a glove man out there.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Opening Day 2009 2010

This game was almost the epitome of the 2009 season for the Washington Nationals.
a) The bullpen coughed up enough runs to put the game out of reach.
b) There were costly fielding blunders.
c) The lineup was unbalanced, with half of it seriously underperforming.

On top of that, we had two unwelcome new developments.
d) The starting pitching put in a worthless outing.
e) Some of the top bats went missing.

What really concerns me, having listened to the radio boys talking to Phil Wood after the game, is that some catastrophes hid the existence of other problems. Pay attention, people!
1) It's easy to forget that the Phillies nearly took the lead in the first inning. Desmond's error on Howard's grounder did not lead to a run only because Adam Dunn made a heads-up play to get Rollins at home. Whether that was Adam's or Pudge's idea, I know not; but I do know that Dunn is still learning the position so I'm not counting on him to pull my chestnuts out the fire on a regular basis.
2) It's easy to blame John Lannan's poor showing in the fourth for losing us the game, but it's only because the offense went to sleep about the same time that we really got into trouble. Gonzalez, pinch-hitting in the fifth, grounded into a very costly double play, the worst single offensive event of the game at a point where Jesse English had kept us still in it.
3) It's easy to regard Placido Polanco's home run off Jason Bergmann as the nail in the coffin, but remember that after English had held the Phillies for an inning, Miguel Batista came in and gave up two runs, which combined with the offensive outage the preceding two innings to put a game against Roy Halladay out of reach.

It's also very easy to get carried away with this kind of game. Mark Zuckerman, in his Nats' Insider recap, quotes Ryan Zimmerman to put it all in perspective:
We can't afford to go through those spells like we did last year where we played four, five, six games in a row like this.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Off-Season 2009-10, Final Grade

Spring training is over and the first game is today. Thus, the off-season is officially closed. How do we rate Mike Rizzo's performance?

Rather than moan about what I think he should have done, I'm more interested in interpreting the targets he set himself. Back in January he gave an interview to my favourite punch-bag, Old Leatherpants, and by reading between the lines one can establish some priorities. Here are my grades.

We're trying to get better defensively up the middle. [...] And we think we've helped ourselves with Pudge behind the plate and Morgan in center. Guzzie at shortstop, he's got fairly good hands and fairly good feet but his range obviously has backed up on him a little bit, and we do need to get better at second base

Grade: C+
In this case, Guzmán's shoulder has simply shifted the second-base instability to shortstop. The knock on Desmond has always been his glove. Pudge, Kennedy and Morgan give stability on paper to the other positions, but none of them is a long-term solution, and all of them are injury risks to one degree or another.

the moves like a Marquis and others have given us time for our minor leaguers, the guys that we've grown through our system, to reach their fulfillment in the big leagues

Grade: B+
The Marquis signing, and the return of Livan!, have bought a bit of time for Balester, Martin, Stammen, Martis, Chico and Strasburg. Whether any of them other than Strasburg is really good enough to benefit from the time is a rather different matter. The move I liked best was putting Mock on the 25-man roster. It's time for us to know if he has any long-term future here, regardless of his poor showing last week. That's part of the same overall project of gaining time for younger pitchers.

to get him on a two-year deal kind of gives us a timetable to get our other catching prospect, Derek Norris, into the big leagues. We think the timetable worked out well for us. We needed a guy who was more than a backup, a guy who could play on a every-day level for 80, 90 games, in case Jesus Flores is not coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery that he's had over the winter.

Grade: A
Jesus Flores did not come back from surgery, so Rizzo did a good job anticipating a problem and fixing it with a stable solution that also will potentially lead to a long-term solution. Pudge isn't the All-Star he once was, but he's got leadership abilities to match his ego.

I think that we've improved our bullpen.

Grade: D+
Oh really? Taking a gamble on Capps was a shrewd move, and picking up English shows promise, but Walker had a difficult spring. Last year the bullpen was a trainwreck and the highest hurdle for the Nationals' trying leap away from the dreaded '100' number in the loss column. It tripped them up then, and I could see Capps doing a Hanrahan 2009. The holdovers are a mixed bunch, to be honest. Fixing the bullpen would have required a more solid acquisition than these hopefuls we've got now.

Overall grade: B-
There are still far too many uncertainties in the team, and more worrisome is the mediocrity of the farm system, rated 21st overall by Baseball America. Any gains made this year could easily bleed away as the Nationals lack the young talent in the system to keep the forward march going. The biggest concern to my mind is that few players have been developed from within, which suggests that either development staff or philosophy needs a major overhaul. Low-level prospects seem to stagnate at the A+ and AA stage, and the AAA roster is populated with retreads. Keep things in perspective, though. This was Mike Rizzo's first offseason; a B- grade is a decent showing. His problem is a lack of room to manoeuvre, and he faces a major challenge in offseason 2010-11.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Season of Silence Ends (plus bullpen observations)

You cannot imagine my delight yesterday when, via MLB's GameDay Audio, I tuned into to the splendid efforts of Charlie Slowes and Dave Jagler. Listening to other teams' radio broadcasters just reminds me what a treasure the Nationals' have assembled here. Sadly we only have eight more broadcasts during Spring Training, with another one today.

I promised to write some more observations about the bullpen, which is probably the most intriguing battle going on at Nationals' spring training this year. It's also quite an important one, given the terrific problems the bullpen gave the ball club last year. Here's a run-down of how I think things are going with each pitcher. Remember, I have no inside information, I just listen to broadcasts and note statistics.

Jason Bergmann Poor first showing, giving up a home run, but his second appearance went much better. A place on the 25-man is his to lose.
Brian Bruney He may be feeling some pressure. Although he struck out the side yesterday, it took over 20 pitches; his first outing wasn't very good. He still seems likely to head north, though.
Sean Burnett Roughed up in one outing. Still, he's the first-choice lefty.
Matt Capps His second outing was better than his first. He'll have to maintain a consistent badness to lose his place in the major-league pen.
Tyler Clippard Really laboured yesterday. Like Bruney, he'll get the benefit of the doubt, though.
Jesse English Two outings, one absolutely awful, yesterday's effort wasn't bad. At the moment, he's headed for the minors.
Eddie Guardado First time out, he stunk. Second time out, his fielders let him down. He'll get more chances, but at best he's a long shot for the second lefty role.
Atahualpa Severino One outing so far. He gave up a soft hit, then got a pop-up (as good as a strikeout, in the sabermetric book) and a double play. It actually seemed more impressive than it sounds, because it was all over so quickly.
Doug Slaten Don't see him making it based on his current form. He might be released in the first cut-down.
Drew Storen He's done very well indeed. It's going to be hard to send him to the minors, but I think they will. It would be interesting to bet on who comes up first, Storen or Strasburg.
Aaron Thompson Only one outing so far, sounded strong. Dark horse candidate.
Ron Villone Not looked very good at all. He's got a mountain to climb at this point.
Tyler Walker This is an interesting test case. He did not impress, but he's out of options. I've pencilled him in to go north because so far we've only got one outing to look at; but, like Slaten, he could lose his place if he doesn't show signs of improvement.
Josh Wilkie His stock is rising. He was the first pitcher to get a second look, in Saturday's game, and it sounded like it was an unplanned appearance. He's done well, too, but he'll be a fallback position if one of the men without options flops.
Also running: Luis Atilano (-), Victor Garate (-), Logan Kensing (+), Joel Peralta (-), Ryan Speier (?).

The astute among you will notice that I've only highlighted six names. That's because I think the seventh man will be a starter candidate who will be brought north in the bullpen, someone like Chico, Mock or Stammen.

Mr Riggleman seems to be taking the horrendous showing by the bullpen so far in his stride:
"The first time through everybody struggled," said manager Jim Riggleman. "They didn't really throw strikes so we just give everybody the benefit of the doubt and hope for better outings next time through."

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Setting Up the Bullpen

Let me start by assuming that the five starting pitchers will be backed out of spring training by seven relief pitchers. Of these seven, two will be lefthanders. Preference will be given to pitchers out of options and those signed to major-league contracts in the off-season. So we've got, on that basis, the following men on the 40-man roster:

Jason Bergmann RHP
Brian Bruney RHP
Sean Burnett LHP
Matt Capps RHP
Tyler Clippard RHP
Tyler Walker RHP

That's six places. That leaves left-handers on the inside track for the last position. The 40-man candiates are:

Matt Chico (If he can't make the rotation, he's almost a lock here, I suspect)
Jesse English (Still with two option years.)
Atahualpa Severino (Just added to 40-man this past off-season, still with three options left.)
Aaron Thompson (Ditto.)

By 15th March, it's quite possible that one or two names from my first list will have been let go. I'll be back after today's game with some thoughts about the bullpen story so far.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

36 runs — OW!

Did you know the Nationals had used 21 pitchers in three spring training games so far? That seems... a little high. (2 starters x 2 IP + 4 relievers = 18 pitchers).

Here's an aggregate stat line for the starters (Mock, Martin, Balester, Martis, Batista, Stammen):
IP    H    R    ER   BB   K    HR
10.2 17 13 12 5 3 2

And one for relievers (everybody else):
IP    H    R    ER   BB   K    HR
13.1 30 23 22 9 8 5

Good thing these spring training games don't mean much, eh?

Except they might. I'll be taking particular interest in the second outings of Bergmann, Bruney and Capps.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dinger Danger?

Hurrah! The first broadcasts of 2010 Nationals' games are made today. Even better, there's a choice of two games. At least that's what the MLB media centre tells me, as I find both the Marlins and Astros are listed as giving play-by-play of today's split squad games.

While you are waiting, here's a fun tool to play around with. It allows you to superimpose on any currently in-use ballpark of your choice the balls-in-play hit by a player or given up by a pitcher in a different 2009 ballpark. It's based on mlb.com's HitTracker, I think.

I've translated Jason Marquis from Coors Field to Nationals Park. I've limited my selection to extra-base hits and fly balls. Looks like he might give up a few more home runs.

Hat-tip to Tangotiger at The Book Blog.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Riggleman's Pitch Counts

This study was half-finished a few days ago, but then I went to a conference. I hadn't even planned to do more work with the starting pitching, intending to look at another facet of the Nationals' spring training questions instead. But Mr Riggleman brought up suspicions some of us have had about whether he puts too much stress on his pitchers' arms.

To make a stab at seeing whether Mr Riggleman has adopted a new approach, I used Baseball Reference to assemble game-by-game data for all the starters used during Mr Riggleman's tenure. They included three starters used by Manny Acta, so looking at them together, we might get a sense of it all.

The study found the average pitch counts, the standard deviation of these and, based on the standard deviation, an anticipated maximum number of pitches per start, the number of outings and the number of times the anticipated maxium was exceeded. I also added in the average percent of Win Probability Added, to see whether more successful pitchers were kept on a longer pitch-count leash; and age, to see if older pitchers were allowed to go deeper.

Under Manny Acta:
Pitcher    Age   AvgPC   PCStDev     Max    Out    Max+    WPA%
Lannan 24 95 11.7 107 17 2 4
Stammen 25 88 9.6 98 10 1 -8
Detwiler 23 88 10.7 99 10 1 -12

Under Mr Riggleman:
Pitcher    Age   AvgPC   PCStDev     Max    Out    Max+     WPA%
Lannan 24 94 19.4 113 16 2 -1
Stammen 25 77 20.5 98 9 0 -10
Detwiler 23 75 25.2 100 5 0 12
Mock 26 93 12.4 105 15 3 -11
Martin 26 86 19.5 106 15 0 -3
Balester 23 73 15.7 89 7 1 -13
Livan 34 98 10.5 109 8 1 -8

This isn't quite what I expected to see. The big difference between Riggleman and Acta is not pitch counts (although there is a difference), but whether or not to leave a pitcher in. Acta appears to have quite a strict 'pitch count' mentality, setting a target for a pitcher and pulling him quite quickly once the target is reached, thus being a relatively 'slow hook'. Riggleman, by contrast, was more mercurial in the sense that he might pull a pitcher very quickly (Martin, 25 July, 28 pitches!) or leave them in for a very long time (Lannan, 25 September, 122 pitches!). This isn't in the table, but based on Win Probability, pitchers under both these men were more likely to run up maximum-busting totals if they were not pitching well.

I'd say Mr Riggleman, relative to Manny Acta, is a quick hook. I'm also not convinced that he's learned as much as he thinks.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Pitcher Options

You probably already know that Livan Hernandez has signed with the Nationals. Here's his Marcel projection, in line with those at this entry I posted yesterday. I'll throw in Miguel Batista as a bonus.
            ERA      FIP
Livan 5.29 4.79
Batista 5.28 5.18

On the basis of their projections, Batista looks the weakest candidate. Livan's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which just counts home runs, walks and strikeouts) puts him ahead of Balester, JD Martin and Olsen(!), but his ERA is the worst of everyone's.

I actually came to write a post about rotation candidates with options still available, and the Livan news ensures that I get a longer post than I had planned.

The simple fact is most of our rotation candidates still have options. We can be confident that Lannan and Marquis are set. Olsen seems to be 'a lock' according to Mr Riggleman. The people who fill out the last two spots will presumably be those who do well in spring training, with one caveat — if they are out of options, they have to clear waivers to make it down to the minors.

This may affect two pitchers. One, I'm sure of: Matt Chico is out of options. I also think he's potentially good enough to draw a waiver claim. The other — JD Martin — might have option problems. The option rules are a bit complicated, given the kind of data one can access easily. Martin appears to have been a six-year free agent, so if he's been on a 40-man roster any length of time he can easily have used up his options.

As a consequence, I'm designating Chico as the likely #4 starter. He could get a bullpen role, but there's actually a logjam there. That's a story for another time.

6 March 2010 EDIT: Brian @ Nationals Farm Authority has a full options run-down here. Seems JD Martin still has all his options left.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

All Pitching, All the Time

That's the spirit of Nationals' coverage so far this season. We've had the excitement of Stephen Strasburg's bullpen session combined with the news that Mr Riggleman thinks he'll be starting the season in the minor leagues. We had Mr Riggleman's word that Drew Storen was headed in the same direction. Finally, we have all sorts of rumours.

I did a bespoke projection for Chien-Ming Wang just the other day, but this time, more as food for thought, I'm going to present the straight Marcel projected ERA for Nationals' rotation options as listed by CBS Sportsline. ERA is obviously earned-run average. FIP is one of those relatively newfangled sabermetric stats that gives a value to home runs, walks and strikeouts that can be turned into an ERA value. It has a better predictive ability than ERA. It's worth mentally adjusting it for defence, in that a good defence will reduce the FIP, and a bad one will increase it.
           ERA        FIP
Lannan 3.98 4.58
Marquis 4.23 4.35
Olsen 4.66 4.85 (shoulder injury)
JD Martin 4.41 4.81
Mock 4.76 4.21
Martis 4.37 4.76
Detwiler 4.26 3.95 (hip surgery)
Balester 4.83 4.90 (ribcage woes)
Stammen 4.42 4.45 (elbow chips)
Chico 4.65 4.72 (elbow surgery)
Wang 4.81 4.19 (shoulder surgery)

I've left off a few names, like Jordan Zimmermann, who isn't going to pitch this season, and some of the veterans lurking around the camp.

To say the least, we've got a lot of options. Also, there are some things that are hard to credit based on what we have seen so far, such as Balester posting an ERA under 5. Basically, going forward, one would expect on this basis to open the season with a rotation of:

Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, JD Martin and Mock.

Next man off the cab rank would be Martis, or maybe Chico. What will happen when Wang is fit is anyone's guess.

Of course, player options are going to play a part in the final outcome. And spring training will render these statistics more or less believable. After all, they are projections, not predictions.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Looking Forward to: Chien-Ming Wang

The general consensus is that Wang is a very good deal for the Nationals. He once was a decent mid-rotation pitcher, and his 2009 season looks like an aberration, possibly the result of some injury troubles. (You can find a very good summary of all this here.) Consequently, he projects none too badly, with a Marcel* ERA of 4.86, as the worst case.

We can use some new-fangled sabermetrics to take more measured assessment, perhaps. One of the problems with the widely available projections is that they are mass-produced. They take a bunch of assumptions and throw them at all players indiscriminately. There is nothing wrong with this. Bespoke projections would take a lot of time, and not actually add very much to the accuracy. In the case of someone like Wang, though, it's worthwhile to dig deeper.

Last year, David Gassko of The Hardball Times introduced something he called Luck-Independent Pitching Statistics (work out the unsightly acronym for yourself). I'm going to look at Wang using some of Gassko's ideas, with a leavening of my own 'keep it simple, silly' mentality.

What I'm going to do is to use the ratio of different types of outcomes to a plate appearance. I'm limiting myself to balls hit on the ground, balls hit in the air, line drives, strikeouts and walks. Enough work has been done to tell us what a given batted ball is worth. Using this data, and imposing it on a pitcher's own career patterns, can give us some idea of what is likely to happen.

First of all, what patterns can we deduce from Wang's career so far? The interesting ones for our purposes are a steady fall in groundballs in play, a steady rise in strikeouts and walks. His line drive rate started low and has risen to around the average. His outfield fly ball rate has been in the low 20s except for 2009. My educated guesses based on the data is that these trends are going to produce in 2010 something like:
LD%      GB%      OFFB%      IFFB%      K/9      BB/9      
18.8 52.0 22.4 6.8 7.7 4.9
(MLB 09

For the strikeouts and walks I used the average rate of change on a year-to-year basis and added it to the 2009 ratios. That may overestimate things, especially if Wang alters his approach under a new pitching coach. That's an eye-watering BB/9, and I won't be surprised if he does.

To translate that into something more meaningful in terms of traditional statistics, we need to take a guess as to how much playing time Wang will get. I've assumed 15 starts, which converts on the basis of his past seasons to about 97.3 innings pitched. His worst-case projected Batting Average Against is .279 (Marcel again). That altogether means:
In-Play Outs     Strikeouts     Walks     Non-HR hits     Home Runs
209 83 53 93 10

Yesterday you caught me using Runs Created, but this time I'm going to use a different run estimator, because it's better. This is BaseRuns. Converting those totals of Strikeouts, Non-HR hits, etc into runs, we get an estimate of 57 runs allowed by Wang, in 97.3 innings.

Which works out to an ERA of 5.28. Ugh.

Riggleman's comments are interesting. He's basically saying that he anticipates Wang to be a good fall-back option if Balester and/or Mock don't turn out well. Balester's 2010 Marcel projection (since that seems to be the projection du jour) is for a 6.72 ERA. Mock comes in at 4.81, but his projection doesn't show a full-time starter's innings, and relievers generally have better ERAs than starters. Mock's starting ERA might be a lot closer to 5.28 than 4.81.

Wang's an interesting gamble, but he's still a gamble. If he can cut his walk rate, the Nationals might win the gamble. Otherwise, it's more of the same again in NatsTown.

* Marcel is a very basic projection system, monitored by TangoTiger of The Book Blog.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Looking Forward to: the 2010 Nationals Lineup

I visited Rotoworld today and looked at their depth chart for the Washington Nationals. So, we all want to know, how good is that lineup?

Of course, we all know there are several decent projections systems available. These take three or four years worth of a player's statistics, weight them, average them out, and then adjust for things like age and park to make a guess as to what the player will do during the next season. Out of every seven projections, about five will be reasonably accurate. Projections tend to underestimate good players, and overestimate bad ones. En masse, you're hoping things even up. There's BPro's 'deadly accurate' PECOTA, there's ZiPS at Baseball Think Factory, there's CAIRO at Replacement Level Yankee Weblog. We can use these to take a stab at just how many runs the 2010 Nationals' lineup will produce. In this case, I'm going to work with the CHONE projections, rather than do the proper thing and average them all out. (I'm lazy/busy — take your pick.)

First, though, let's set some parameters here. Using basic Runs Created per 27 outs (as opposed to one of the Tech versions), let's see the average for each position in the 2009 National League:
C          2.7
1b 4.1
2b 3.2
3b 3.2
ss 3.1
lf 3.5
cf 3.4
rf 3.4
Avg 3.3

Now, using the same formula, and the CHONE projections, let's see how Rotoworld's starters compare:
Pudge      1.7
Dunn 3.5
Kennedy 2.0
Zimmerman 4.0
Guzman 2.5
Willingham 2.8
Morgan 1.9
Dukes 2.3
Avg 2.6

The word for it is 'ugh'. The Nationals only beat the average at one position. Worse, they are markedly below average everywhere else.

But, as Charlie Slowes puts it, 'You never know'. Maybe the 2010 Nationals can defy statistical tendencies, and beat enough of those projections that the team can seem respectable.

Capitol Punishment...

...is back. And added to the list, left.

Mr Needham's blog was my first encounter with a real Washington baseball fan, and the one I followed most regularly. Nothing like a bit of East Coast passion.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Looking Forward to 2011: New Triumvir Wanted?

Murray Chass, whom I think is pretty cool, a definite minority view in the Internet world I inhabit, is in fine form with a paean to Bobby Cox. But that got me thinking, the consensus view is that we've got three truly historic managers at work in the Major Leagues at the moment. In addition to Cox, one finds at St Louis the innovative Tony LaRussa, while the Dodgers can boast mild-mannered Joe Torre. If Cox retires, who inherits his place among the triumvirs?

No active managers come within five years' service of Cox' twenty-eight years. Mike Scioscia has the same .556 winning percentage as Cox, and a couple of names beat Tony LaRussa's .535 winning percentage. Lou Piniella has seven playoff appearances, to top the list of those not members of the triumvirate. LaRussa has got the fewest of the three, with thirteen of his seasons ending at some point in the postseason.

Here's a chart, showing all active managers with at least nine years of service and five postseason appearances, in each case roughly one-third of Bobby Cox' totals.

Manager Years Win Pct. Postseasons
Lou Piniella 22 .521 7
Mike Scioscia 10 .556 6
Terry Francona 10 .525 5
Jim Leyland 18 .496 5

Outside of these four, Ron Gardenhire will make the list if he starts next season in a manager's job. Charlie Manuel, Dusty Baker, Cito Gaston, and Bruce Bochy all need to make the postseason as well as keeping a managing job through to next season. But, as with Leyland, the postseason section of the curricula vitarum of the last three will look a bit weak.

Lou Piniella will certainly lay claim to Cox' triumvir status if Cox retires after this season, but whether he'll hold it for long is an interesting discussion point. I don't think he has enough postseasons to make a solid claim, which makes the long-term bets one of Scioscia and Francona. Who do you think is the best claimant? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments box.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Roberto Alomar and the Hall of Fame

A Blue Jays' fan of my acquaintance is cutting up rough on Facebook about the failure of Alomar, just, to reach the 75 per cent threshold for election. He probably feels the same way as Ken Rosenthal. I can't agree, and reproduce on my blog my post at this Baseball Think Factory thread.

This article is a good piece of advocacy journalism, but in its substance is not really that different to the piñatas that regularly get posted here from Chass, Pearlman and whomever.

Rosenthal basically wants to strip people of their votes because they don't put in the work. He says:
I’m still trying to figure out why 143 voters failed to endorse Alomar

He then enunciates the following reasons:
1) The First-Ballot honour - he 'respects' the view that maybe Alomar isn't inner-circle.
2) The spitting incident - yes, people should move on, and they've got 14 more years to do so. Penance involves a penalty.
3) The cliff-diving once he joined the Mets.

Having then described three sound reasons for not voting for Alomar the first time round, Rosenthal appoints himself judge and jury to say
Put it all together, and it’s easy to understand why he might have lost small pockets of support. But 143 “no” votes? Sorry, that number is too high to make sense.

Is it? You don't have to be a New York sportswriter or fan to be annoyed about Alomar's time with the Mets, if you are really being objective about his claim to Fame. It's just as meaningful to anyone who is a real baseball fan.

If this article needs to be written next year, I'm more likely to think he's right, and we need a Pride's Purge of the BBWAA. But at the moment, this is an overreaction.