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... 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.