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.