Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pale Hose Pariah

I'm announcing that I've joined Pale Hose Pariah, and my first article is up right now. I'll still be writing about non-White Sox things here frequently, but I highly recommend you check out PHP as well, as I'm working with Erik Manning, who's a fantastic baseball writer. If you want to keep up with all of my writing from both sites, I suggest following me on twitter at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Damon to the Red Sox?

On Monday the Boston Red Sox claimed DH/LF Johnny Damon off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox have suffered from countless injuries, and currently are without Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Cameron. Damon is yet to announce whether or not he will waive his no trade clause, but assuming he does, how much will this help the Red Sox?

Damon has put up a line of .272/.358/.410 for Detroit this season. His .139 ISO is his lowest since 2007, but is fairly consistent with his career numbers. His 5.6% HR/FB rate is 3.4% lower than his career rate, and if he goes to Boston, don’t expect that to pick up too much, if only because of Fenway’s noted ability to depress left handed hitter’s power numbers with a park factor of 83 for LHB, compared to Comerica’s 92, and New Yankee Stadium’s 121.

The real question is, how much of an upgrade is Damon over the rotating group of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Bill Hall, and Darnell McDonald? Well, one of them is still going to play center field, and it probably won’t be Nava, who has only played left field in his 34 Major League games. It is possible they go with the 22 year old Ryan Kalish, who, while only having 72 MLB PAs, put up a .294/.382/.502 line between AA and AAA this season. The Red Sox could also consider Darnell McDonald, who has played 55 games in center for the Red Sox already, however he’s been a liability in the field, putting up a -15 UZR/150 in 2010. Bill Hall is a more stable defensive solution to the center field situation. He’s only played 7 games in center in 2010, but he’s put up 4.6 UZR/150 in 145 career games in center. Hall and McDonald have put up wOBAs of .342 and .347, so the comparison at the plate is essentially a wash. In the end, the Red Sox have to decide how ready Kalish is to hit major league pitching. If he puts up anything resembling his MiLB numbers, he’s the best option, if not, the Red Sox should run Bill Hall’s plus glove out in center.

While Damon is a nice pickup, he’s not one who’s going to have a huge impact on the
Boston’s playoff hopes. According to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report, the Red Sox have a 21 percent chance to make the post season. With the wild card coming out of the AL East in 99% of BP’s simulations, a Red Sox playoff appearance isn’t improbable, but it isn’t likely, and a 36 year old Johnny Damon isn’t going to change that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Plate Discipline: The Ramifications of Swinging Outside the Zone

In my last article on Pablo Sandoval, I criticized his lack of discipline at the plate, citing his propensity to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). It sparked my curiosity and made me wonder what relationships exist between O-Swing% and various offensive performance metrics. My hypothesis going in was that there would be a strong inverse correlation between O-Swing% and things like wOBA, OBP, ISO, and SLG.

(Note, study performed using the 162 qualified hitters at this point in 2010).

What I found was that wOBA and O-Swing% have a correlation of -.19. This was a smaller relationship than I was expecting, but it makes sense. The relationship between a player’s O-Swing% and BB% is very strong (-.64 correlation), but walk rate is also heavily influenced by a player’s ISO (.38 correlation). The importance of the player’s ISO in determining walk rate is tied into the ‘fear factor’ involved in pitching to a hitter with more power.

The relationship between O-Swing% and on-base percentage was pretty strong (-.42 correlation). This is surely due to the increased walk rate patient hitters possess, as the relationship with batting average was essentially non-existent (.03 correlation). The same goes for SLG, ISO (.05, .04 correlation). Patient hitters possessed better BABIPs, but not by enough to draw much from (-.15 correlation).

Now as any good amateur economist/sabermatician knows, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because O-Swing% doesn’t correlate with ISO, SLG, and BABIP doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant in regards to those statistics. A critical factor here is selection bias. Vladimir Guerrero has consistently been one of the top players in baseball in O-Swing%. Vlad has been able to carve out a place as one of the games better players due to his contact and power skills. Both Guerrero and injured Braves third baseman Chipper Jones have produced .358 wOBAs this season. Guerrero’s average is 34 points higher, and he’s slugging 65 points higher than Jones. However, Chipper’s O-Swing rate is just 21.2% and he’s walking in 16% of his plate appearances, while Vlad comes in at a league leading 46.5% O-Swing rate, causing him to walk in just 6.3% of his plate appearances (despite hitting with good power). The lesson here is that an aggressive player can still be productive, he just has to provide value in other ways to equal the production of a more patient hitter.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ozzie Ball

A Light Sabermetrics exclusive: Gain insight into Ozzie Guillen and his managerial decision making process with the OzzieBall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hey I Like Pandas...They're Endangered Fella!

Pablo Sandoval burst onto the national scene in 2009, with a .330/.387/.556 slash line and an awesome nickname. In 2010 however, Sandoval has come back to earth with a downright mediocre .269/.328/.397. For frame of reference, Sandoval’s .311 wOBA is worse than that of light hitting infielder Omar Vizquel. The Giants have managed to stay in the race behind strong seasons from Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey, but San Francisco was counting on Sandoval to be a solid hitter for years to come. The question we have to ask is if 2010 representative of Sandoval’s true talent level, or is he due for a comeback?

Sandoval’s strikeout and walk rates are almost exactly the same in 2010 as they were in 2009, so the dip in production comes from his BABIP and HR/FB rates. Sandoval’s BABIP dropped from .350 to .295 this season, and he’s currently hitting juts 5.6% of his fly balls for homeruns, down from 14% in 2009. Sandoval’s BABIP drop isn’t only due to regression, but also due in part to his line drive rate falling from 18.6% to 16.2% in 2010. Also, compounding the HR/FB rate issue is the fact that his fly ball rate is actually up this season at 37.6% from 2009’s 36.5%.

I can’t say I’m incredibly surprised by Sandoval’s regression. A .350 BABIP for a player with Sandoval’s lack of speed was going to be nearly impossible to maintain. Sandoval was also due to be exploited considering his poor plate discipline. Sandoval has swung at 43.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone in his short career (his 2010 rate actually matches this exactly, placing him 3rd in the majors in O-Zwing%), and while his contact rate of 83.2% is solid, it’s no surprise that Sandoval isn’t having great success on the balls he puts in play. One trait that most great hitters possess is the patience to get a good pitch to hit. All pitches aren’t created equal, and Sandoval is an example of the importance of patience.

Monday, August 16, 2010

WAR, Luck, and Twins

It’s only natural that in the sport of baseball, luck is going to come into play. The standard metric for measuring a team’s luck is the Pythagorean record. The Pythagorean record takes a team’s runs scored and runs allowed, and gives you the number of games a team with these scoring tendencies would be expected to win under normal circumstances. It’s an interesting measure of luck/randomness, but it’s nothing new, so I thought it would be interesting to try something a little different. I added every team’s WAR and then added the value of replacement players (48 wins per 162 games, so roughly 35 wins per team) to that to give me their ‘WAR record’. Below is a chart, sorted by actual record, with every team’s Pythagorean and WAR records. (Note, I'm terrible at HTML, apparently. Scroll down for more.)

Team Actual Record Pythagorean +/- WAR Wins +/-
Yankees 72-45 72-45 0 68.8 +3.2
Rays 71-46 73-44 -2 68.5 +2.5
Padres 69-47 71-45 -2 67.3 +1.7
Braves 68-49 70-47 -2 66.5 +1.5
Rangers 67-49 68-48 -1 67 0
Twins 68-50 70-48 -2 76.4 -8.4
Reds 67-51 67-51 0 67.9 -.9
Giants 67-52 69-50 -2 69.7 -2.7
Phillies 66-51 64-53 +2 62.3 +3.7
Red Sox 67-52 65-54 +2 73.2 -5.2
Cardnials 65-51 68-48 -3 65.2 -.2
White Sox 65-53 64-54 +1 66 -1
Blue Jays 62-55 62-55 0 66.3 -4.3
Rockies 61-56 63-54 -2 67 -6
Dodgers 60-58 59-59 +1 59.5 +.5
Angels 60-59 58-61 +2 55.2 +4.8
Mets 58-59 60-57 -2 56.3 +1.7
Athletics 57-59 59-57 -2 59.1 -2.1
Marlins 57-59 59-57 -2 61.7 -4.7
Tigers 57-60 54-63 +3 61.9 -4.9
Brewers 55-64 52-67 +3 62 -7
Astros 51-65 47-69 +4 51.7 -.7
Nationals 51-67 51-67 0 59.3 -8.3
Cubs 50-68 52-66 -2 59.5 -9.5
Indinas 49-69 51-67 -2 47.6 +1.4
Royals 49-69 46-72 +3 50 -1
Diamondbacks 47-72 50-69 -3 59 -12
Mariners 46-72 43-75 +3 49.9 -3.9
Orioles 41-77 40-78 +1 45 -4
Pirates 39-78 35-82 4 39 0

Based on WAR, the Twins are baseball’s best collection of talent. With Francisco Liriano, Justin Morneau,, and Joe Mauer coming in with 5.6, 5.2, and 4.2 WAR respectively. The Twins have an astounding 9 players who have contributed 2 or more WAR already. For the sake of comparison, the division rival White Sox only have 6 players of greater than 2 WAR, and John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Alexei Ramirez’s 4.2, 3.9, and 3.2 WAR lead the team. The Twins do have to deal with an injury to Morneau, from which we have no timetable for return.

Another team who has underperformed their WAR is the Boston Red Sox. GM Theo Epstein was met with skepticism when he went into the offseason looking to upgrade the defense. While John Lackey has been a disappointment for Boston, and Mike Cameron has spend as much time on DL as in the OF, Adrian Beltre may have been the best signing of the offseason. Beltre leads the Sox with 5.6 WAR for just $10M.

Based on WAR record, the Nationals, Cubs, and Diamondbacks have drastically underperformed their records. It’s easy to understand why the Diamondbacks have done so poorly, considering the terrible state of their bullpen. The Arizona pen has put up a -1.8 WAR.

The Nationals can be best described as ‘top-heavy’. Washington’s best player has been Ryan Zimmerman. His 6.0 WAR is the best in the National Leauge. The Nats have also received good seasons from Adam Dunn (3.5WAR) Josh Willingham (2.7 WAR) and Livan Hernandez (2.7 WAR). Stephen Strasburg is also skyrocketing up the charts at 2.4 WAR in just 63.2 IP. Beyond these six players, it get a bit sketchy, as the Nationals have 3 position players and 5 pitchers who have provided negative WAR in 2010. While it doesn’t make for a good team this season, Washington’s young core gives them a nice outlook for the future.

The Cubs have the same a stars and scrubs outlook of their own, but it’s mostly restricted to the pitching staff, and more specifically the bullpen. Carlos Marmol has been baseball’s best reliever at 2.2 WAR, and Sean Marshall ranks fourth in reliever WAR at 2.0. Unfortunately for the Cubs, in spite of the efforts of Marmol and Marshall, the team ranks only 16th in Reliever WAR at 1.5. The Cubs have received negative WAR from 12 relievers. The only positive relief WAR other than Marmol and Marshall has come from Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Zambrano.

WAR was not designed to project team wins and losses. The stat was created to give us the neutral context value of an individual player’s contributions, but it does give us a nice overview of which teams have the most talented rosters, and gives us a preview of teams due for a breakout.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Used and Abused: The Most Overworked Pitchers of 2010

Baseball has come a long way in protecting the arms of some of its most valuable commodities. Whether this change was made out of an altruistic desire to protect the players, or just because they have become valuable (expensive) investments, most teams manage the workload of their pitchers far more efficiently than in the past.

I say most teams because even today, we see pitchers put into dangerous positions by managers trying to squeeze a little extra value, or who just reject the concept of pitch counts altogether. I was wondering if there is any sort of recurring theme seen in the players who are abused. I’m using Baseball Prospectus’ Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP= (Pitches Thrown-100)^3), and Cot's Baseball Contract’s contract info for the purposes of this inquiry.

1. Edwin Jackson-Diamondbacks/White Sox
Age: 26
ERA: 4.83
xFIP: 4.15
Contract: 2 years/$13.35M (2010-11)
Avg. PPS: 104.087
PAP: 151650

Pitch counts
≤100: 9
101-109: 5
110-121: 7
122-132: 1
≥133: 1

Edwin Jackson acquired many of his abuse points in a misguided effort to allow him to throw a no-hitter where he threw 149 pitches. In fact, 117649 (78%) of them were from one start. Another factor is that Jackson has been traded from the Diamondbacks to the Chicago White Sox, who have an excellent track record of keeping non-Jake Peavy pitchers healthy and effective. It’s no coincidence, as the highest ranked Sox pitcher on the list is John Danks at 32nd. They seem to have no plans to ride Jackson into the ground (95 pitches in each start), as well they should, considering they’ll be paying him $8.35 million in 2011.

2. Justin Verlander-Tigers
Age: 27
ERA: 3.72
xFIP: 4.02
Contract: 5 years/$80M (2010-14)
Avg. PPS: 111.417
PAP: 106506

Pitch counts
≤100: 3
101-109: 3
110-121: 16
122-132: 2
≥133: 0

Considering the outlier no-hitter that put his former teammate Jackson atop the list, it’s safe to say that Justin Verlander is the most frequently abused pitcher in the major leagues. Under manager Jim Leyland, Verlander has ranked 1st in 2009, 4th in 2008, and 9th in 2007 in PAP (side note: Edwin Jackson was 3rd on this list in 2009 playing for Leyland). Verlander is an interesting case also because of his high strikeout and low groundball rates. Because of this, it takes him more pitches to get through innings than most pitchers. However, considering he threw 240 innings in 2009, the manager has to sake a lion’s share of the blame. Considering Verlander will be making $72.75 million over the next four years, they would be wise to protect the very talented Verlander.

3. Ubaldo Jiminez-Rockies
Age: 26
ERA: 2.55
xFIP: 3.84
Contract: 4 years/$10M (2009-12), plus 2013-14 club options ($5.75M, $8M)
Avg. PPS: 107.478
PAP: 103892

Pitch counts
≤100: 7
101-109: 5
110-121: 7
122-132: 4
≥133: 0

Ubaldo Jiminez was baseball’s hottest pitcher early in the season, and many of his high intensity starts were early in the season, when the Rockies were more viable contenders (including a 128 pitch no-hitter, anyone else see a trend here?). However, Ubaldo has thrown 123, 118, and 122 pitches in his last three starts. Jiminez came in 5th in 2009 in PAP, but other than that he has no history of heavy usage. 2009 is also the first year Jim Tracy was the Rockies manager, so it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues. Considering the value a pitcher like Jiminez could provide over the next four seasons in games that actually mean something, the Rockies would be wise to limit Jiminez’s pitch counts going forward.

4. Roy Halladay- Phillies
Age: 33
ERA: 2.34
xFIP: 2.86
Contract: 15.75M (2010), with 6 million paid by Toronto, 3 years/$60M (2011-13), plus 2014 option ($20M)
Avg. PPS: 109.292
PAP: 88918

Pitch counts
≤100: 6
101-109: 5
110-121: 12
122-132: 1
≥133: 0

Halliday is significantly older than the first three entries on our list. He did throw a no-hitter, but only needed 115 pitches to finish the game. This is Halliday’s first year under Charlie Manuel, but it is clear that Halliday can handle an exceptional workload, ranking 4th in 2009, 3rd in 2008, and 4th in 2007 in PAP. It’s interesting to note that before 2007, Halliday never was in the top 30 in PAP, despite throwing over 220 IP three times. It’s clear that the Blue Jays organization managed his pitch counts well during Roy’s early career. Considering Halliday’s health record, I don’t feel as if the Phillies are going too overboard with their current workload, and being just 2.5 out in the East, and 1 back in the Wild Card, the Phillies are going to have to lean on their ace during the stretch run.

5. Felix Hernandez-Mariners
Age: 24
ERA: 2.81
xFIP: 3.34
Contract: 5 years/$78M (2010-14)
Avg. PPS: 109.36
PAP: 79348

Pitch counts
≤100: 4
101-109: 5
110-121: 14
122-132: 2
≥133: 0

This may be the most egregious offense on this list. Seattle hasn’t even sniffed the AL West title this year, yet for some inexplicable reason, Don Wakamatsu has been abusing the best asset the franchise has (sorry Ichiro, but you’re old) for no reason. Hernandez was only 20th in PAP in 2009, so this is a new phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest. I’m usually under the belief that the impact of a manager is smaller than many perceive it to be, but a manager can do significant damage to a young pitcher if he doesn’t manage his pitch counts well.

John Lackey-Red Sox
Dan Haren- Diamondbacks/Angels
Ryan Dempster-Cubs
Matt Cain-Giants
Jered Weaver-Angels

I think it’s interesting to see how many of the pitchers on this list are not only relatively young, but under contract for giant sums of money. I also find it interesting how many pitchers have been allowed to blow right past pitch count limits because they’re throwing no-hitters. Jackson, Jiminez, and Brandon Morrow (11th in PAP) all risked significant injury in pursuit of a personal accomplishment that, while being impressive, doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of baseball history. It’s something we’ve seen 225 times since 1900, and I’ll bet many of you would be hard pressed to name more than 10 players who’ve thrown one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Settle Down, Stephen Strasburg's Still Really Really Good

Stephen Strasburg had a bad night. In his first start back from the disabled list, Strasberg went 4.1 innings, giving up 6 ER, with 4 Ks, 2 BB, and allowed a home run. The media is unsurprisingly overreacting to this, wondering if the hype for Strasberg is too much. Well, it’s not. Stephen Strasburg is far and away the best young pitcher in the game today, and is already among the best period.

(Note, all ranks are among pitchers with 50 or more IP)

Even after his mediocre start Tuesday against the Marlins, Strasburg has a 2.36 xFIP and a 2.17 FIP, ranks him first and third in those categories. According to Fangraph’s Pitch FX, Strasburg’s average fastball velocity of 97.3 MPH is the highest in baseball His respectable 44.9% groundball rate should continue to limit the number of home runs he allows, even if he doesn’t maintain his current rate of 0.61 HR/9. Strasburg is still striking out 12.12 per 9, second among MLB pitchers behind Carlos Marmol, while walking only 2.61 per 9. Strasburg will have some issues continuing to fan batters at this historic rate, as he ranks 6th in swings on pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing 35.8%), and 18th in Contact on pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact, 84.6%), but don’t expect him to become Nick Blackburn overnight. Strasburg’s walk rate is also relatively stable, as his first strike percentage is at a respectable 60.1%, and with his stuff, he’s always going to get a lot of swings on pitches outside of the strike zone.

The only thing that makes me hesitant to guarantee too much about Strasburg’s future is the position he plays. Starting pitchers are incredibly difficult to project, mostly due to the damage that throwing a baseball 100+ times every 5 days does to a person’s arm. People with a much better understanding of pitcher mechanics than myself have questioned the safety of Strasburg’s delivery, even comparing it to Mark Prior’s. There’s a great likelihood that if Strasburg stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the game’s premier pitchers for years to come.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cleaning Up Kenny Williams' Mess

In spite of a questionable off-season approach to their designated hitter situation and a deadline deal that didn’t fill that vortex of suck, the Chicago White Sox are in first place on the backs of Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko, and most of the pitching staff. After facing Baltimore for one more tonight, they will be going into a critical 3 game series against division rival Minnesota. It doesn’t get us anywhere to look at the past, so the question is what can the White Sox do to maximize the value of the players they have going forward?

The most glaring weakness is still the DH spot. Mark Kotsay has received the majority of the playing time here, and he has also been the team’s least valuable hitter. Kotsay’s has posted a slash line of .228/.305/.378, with a wOBA of .299. Kotsay’s –0/7 WAR is not only the worst on the team, but tied for 4th worst in the
MLB among players with 280 or more PAs. It’s clear that Kotsay isn’t getting the job done, but who is the most viable choice to replace him?

Young Cuban slugger Dayan Viciedo is an interesting option. He’s posting a .361 wOBA (.310/.310/.521) in his first 71 PAs. On the surface, that looks great, but his .333 BABIP is unsustainable for someone as… um… husky as Viciedo. Also, his walk rate of 0% is going to be exploited soon enough (Viciedo’s already swinging at 39.8% of balls outside of the strike zone). It’s clear that even with his incredible power, he’s just not ready for the Majors, and would likely be eaten alive in the playoffs.

Mark Teahen is nearing the completion of his rehab stint in Charlotte, and could be back with the club in the next week. The .255/.340/.387 (.317 wOBA) line he put up while starting at third base isn’t the most stunning, but against RHP, he’s hitting .287/.376/.444 (.363 wOBA).

Andruw Jones has played in the DH role some, while also serving as the 4th outfielder. Andruw’s .204/.312/.444 line gives him a .336 wOBA, placing him in the neighborhood of being a league average hitter. Jones benefits from facing lefties, against whom he posts a line of .235/.350/.515 (.376 wOBA).

So based on those numbers, the answer to the DH scenario appears to be a Teahen/Jones platoon, right? Wrong. Well, half right. The White Sox currently have a right fielder who, while being a good hitter, is just terrible defensively. I’m of course referring to Jermaine Dye Carlos Quentin. Quentin’s line of .232/.328/.488 (.352 wOBA) is solid in it’s own right, but Quentin’s a great candidate to improve that line, thanks to the impending regression of his .213 BABIP. Quentin’s defense in the past two seasons has been quantifiably terrible. Back to back UZR/150s of –25.2 and –34.2 (the former in LF) have shown that Quentin can’t get the job done, and that he’s a DH (or maybe a first baseman, but that’s a discussion for 2011). Teahen in 261 games in right, has a UZR/150 of just –2.0. Jones in 42 games this year has a UZR/150 of 8.6. A platoon of these two players also would help the oft-injured Quentin stay healthy, keeping his dangerous bat in the lineup.

The White Sox are in a position that most didn’t think they could be in after the first two months of the season. The team has had some breaks, but if they’re going to compete with a very good Twins team, they have to utilize their players effectively. Getting Quentin out of the outfield and Mark Kotsay out of the lineup? Well, that’s just smart baseball.