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.