Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Enjoy a Bracing Shot of Nightmare Fuel for New Years

Courtesy of Fangraphs - image links back to source data
WARgraphs are sweeping the internet away today. Hopefully they function as the starting point, not the finishing stroke to many Hall of Fame debates. The most strident nerds among us will use these as crutch instead of an opportunity. In other words, let's not get carried away.

Conversely, dear God the image above makes my skin crawl! That's Vernon Wells career WAR and George Bell's career WAR holding hands and skipping stones in lockstep through history.

I'm not exactly sure how I should take this. Does this make me feel better about George Bell or worse about Vernon Wells? I 'm working on a post praising the sneaky-good nature of Wells in 2010 but this has me reconsidering.

Want to reconsider some more? Consider the guy who was Jose Bautista before Jose Bautista turned into Jose Bautista:

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Jesse Barfield was my favorite player when I was a kid. Quite obviously, I knew what was up. If you take this graph a step further, you see Jesse and Hall of Fame lightning rod Jim Rice with basically the identical career until age 31. Barfield played only one more below replacement season while Rice scared the bejesus out of fickle reporters for a couple extra seasons.

There are sizable holes we could shoot through WAR numbers pre and post UZR, but the fact of the matter is even with a positional advantage, Vernon Wells doesn't hold up well to the glory-soaked outfield of the 80s. Which surprises me.

Vernon Wells will finish his career as the Blue Jays franchise leader in a significant number of offensive categories. I don't begrudge him his place in Jays lore nor do I lament his current contract status. Vernon Wells is, in far too many ways, the perfect modern Blue Jay.

Not only does he toil in relative obscurity, he's probably not as good as we think he is. I think it's pretty clear he isn't nearly as good as we need him to be. Which is too bad. Let's do our best not to hold it against him.

Images courtesy of Fangraphs

Jays End Year, Likely Many Games With a Bang

Despite being in-the-tank apostles of the Mighty Greek Deity, there is a lot for all of us to hate about the Octavio Dotel signing. Mostly because he's pretty awful, most of the time.

One cannot deny his ability to rack up the Ks, a trait I love. But at some point you have to wonder, who cares? He's old, he gives up way too many fly balls and too many walks. The fly balls are the bigger problem, as he induces none double plays while giving up many home runs. The taters soar no matter his ballpark, so there isn't much hope of that improving.

Parkes lays bare the biggest problem with Dotel at Getting Blanked: he can't get lefties out. And, as you can see above, that's not easy in the American League East. It isn't easy anywhere, but the collection of talent in the AL East is nothing to sneeze at.

Whether you put a tremendous amount of stock in one terrible year's worth of numbers or not, it is hard to argue that Dotel has a hard time retiring lefties. In the end game situations he'll (presumably) pitch, that's a problem.

There is no shortage of lethal lefties waiting to emerge from the various dugouts of the Eastern Seaboard. No doubt the draft pick payoff is an easy and convenient way to explain this signing away. But that is no way to live.

Suffering through a well-worn reliever to earn a draft pick down the road is reason enough to overhaul the antiquated compensation system. Sandwich picks don't cleanse the bitter taste of soiled sheets.

Images courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

Friday, December 24, 2010

Make it a Ghostrunner Xmas Once Again

As always, the red hatted & white bearded Man for All Seasons wishes you and yours a safe and work-free holiday. Because that's what Christmas is all about: not going to work.

Let us rub our grubby mitts together and wish for goodies we didn't earn and don't deserve:
  • Ichiro in a Blue Jays uniform.
  • The ongoing success of the San Francisco Giants.
  • Dustin Pedroia coming down with polio
  • Carlos Delgado taking a baby-shaking, hand-kissing role in the Jays FO
  • An adamantium infusion which keeps Scott Rolen playing forever
  • Roy Halladay winning 30 games
  • Mariano Rivera continuing about his business
  • A walkoff walk a week for life.
Have a good weekend, y'all!

Re-borrowed Image courtesy of Gothamist

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Minor League Depth or Sign of Real Progress?

Luckily this is the Age of Blue Jays Enlightenment, wherein we quickly dismiss minor league depth signings like Corey Patterson and move along. Depth signings are depth signings, only the Chicken Littlest among us sees them any different.

However, were this but a few short years ago, with a certain now-retired field boss who gladly shoved ill-fitting players into pre-determined roles with little in the way of reservations, I'd be terrified.

You can bet, starting in spring training and any time a starting outfielder missed time with so much as a hangnail, Corey Patterson would leadoff every single game until Alex Anthopoulos separated Corey's name from the lineup with a crowbar. And as Walkoff Walk determined long, long ago: you do not hit Corey Patterson leadoff.

But we know things now. No need to sweat Corey Patterson, he's just looking for a job. Clarence's meddling paws are long gone and playing kids is the priority. Besides, real Blue Jays fans have much bigger fish to fry.

Image courtesy of the Walkoff Walk t-shirt store, which pre-dates my time there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grant this One Wish, Agios Vassilis

Note: In honour of Bleacher Report receiving six trillion dollars in venture capital, I think I'll write something completely batshit crazy optimistic. Unless, of course, there is a chance it actually happens.

Patience isn't always a virtue. Though I'm willing to sign off on another apparently lost season, a lot of Jays fans do not afford Alex Anthopoulos very much rope. They want results, they want to make a splash, and they want Rogers to deliver on their promise to spend cash when the need arises.

It is no secret the free agent route is a death march to nowhere. Alex Anthopoulos knows this and is very active in the trade market as a result. AA is keen to remain nimble and young, cycling through functional players with an eye on developing the next star.

So trading is preferable to signing free agents, and 2012 looks like as good a year to take a shot. As currently constructed, the Jays lineup needs a little variety, it needs an infusion of speed and craftiness. We all know the Jays need nothing short of divine intervention to reach the playoffs.

My solution: kill two birds with one stone. The Jays need to trade for Ichiro.

Ichiro has two years left on his Vernon Wells-sized contract. At the end of 2012, Ichiro becomes both a) a free agent b) a 38 year old. On the other hand, Ichiro is, well, amazing.

In a recent interview (h/t USS Mariner) he expressed some sadness over the state of Mariners, having lost 100 games in two of the last three seasons.
The whole team had high hopes for the 2010 season because we thought we made good additions to the roster (such as left-hander Cliff Lee and second baseman Figgins). And we ended up like this. From now on, maybe we shouldn't even voice our goals.
You hear that? Can't win, don't try. He's done with Seattle, done I say!

The Mariners pitching staff is Felix and pray for rain. The Jays are lousy with good pitching, especially good left handed pitching that plays so well at Safeco. That stinks like a match to me.

Of course the prize would be sky-high, but such is the cost of competing. Shoring up the shoddy outfield defense, adding a true lead-off hitter who also may or may not be a space alien.

As to the positional conundrum of (re)making questionable defender Jose Bautista the every-day third basemen, who cares! Ichiro! Playoffs!!!11! Happy Holidays!!11!

Image courtesy of

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rocco Baldelli: Future Executive, Blue Jays Fan, Renaissance Man, Hero

In my wildest dreams you could add "Ghostrunner on First reader" to that list of Roccomplishments. There is a very low (but non-zero!) chance he reads this site, yet his comments on Twitter this morning dove tail nicely into my patience post from yesterday.

Rocco is, by all accounts, a very bright guy whose playing career might be over. Spending the bulk of his career in Tampa obviously gives him an up-close and personal appreciation for the Two Monoliths.

The Rays and Jays are becoming more and more similar each day while remaining diametrically opposed in others1. I have a all kinds of respect for the Rays — despite being an alleged hater — and feel pretty good about the Jays following their tack.

But this isn't about the Rays as a whole. It is about Rocco, who clearly gets my cards and letters. Colour me impressed.

1 - Michael Grange made a great point on Prime Time Sports yesterday, claiming the Jays may just be the most undervalued property in pro sports. The full package plus the gigantic latent fan base makes them a twoonie explosion waiting to happen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Be Prepared

We can't officially close the book on 2010 for another few weeks but it feels like this week pretty much ends this chapter of Blue Jays history. The departure of Lyle Overbay and the Kevin Gregg indicate something pretty significant, something a lot of Jays fans don't want to admit: the re-building process is not over, it is only beginning.

Alex Anthopoulos and his crew of chili dog-stained retches set up 2010 as a place-holder year. Most of his moves worked out just as planned: bring in a veteran who can deliver draft picks or a decent piece in trade. Transition the veterans out with longer term solutions moving in. An unexpected 85 win season later and too many people seem to believe the Jays are close. They are not close, they are far.

The roster as constructed for Opening Day 2010 wasn't designed to win or compete for a playoff spot. As it appears, the 2011 roster is less so. Most of the pieces are now in place for 2012 and beyond and with that comes growing pains.

While the Orioles seem to make moves based solely on winning 82 games and celebrating their first winning season in a generation (LOLroche), the Jays have a plan. That plan has little to do with winning in 2011. And that's okay. But the Jays are looking to stay (payroll) lean while letting their kids go and play.

Leaving the bullpen to its own devices, running Adam Lind and E5(E3?) out there every day at first. Getting younger and more versatile while avoiding the many pitfalls of multi-year deals for players who won't help the team when it matters (i.e. ever).

Giving rope to young players on option-heavy deals is a nimble bit of business, too. If Lind or Hill sputter again, now there are viable internal options waiting to take their place.

Truthfully, the team isn't much worse than the one that stood poised to lose 90 on April 1st. The team certainly isn't better, but that's okay. The team is moving in the right direction. Depending on how the impending Jose Bautista Decision plays out, the Opening Day team in 2011 figures to resemble the lineup for years to come.

I like the look of the team. I like that, in my mind at least, they're going to let them run out there and play. The braintrust doesn't seem like it is employing a "sink or swim" attitude, more like "grow or die." Evolve or get left behind. The 2011 Blue Jays look an awful lot like a team which will put its players in the best position to succeed, now and forevermore.

That doesn't mean they're going to win 85 games in 2011. Or 65 games or 95 games. It is about positioning. Is the team positioned to win in 2012? It certainly will be. 2011 looks like the year in which the front office figures out what tweaks are required for The Push. What they need to do in order to Take a Shot.

Can you wait? Can you take another year of rebuilding? So long as what we see on the field looks like a cohesive attempt to compete — really, seriously compete, not just play well to no end — than I feel fine. Let them play, let us hope.

Image courtesy of Dumbo NYC

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Contrast & Compare

After tackling the great WAR divide for positional players, it is only logical we examine the way value is determined for pitchers. Not nearly as uniform or tidy as batter Wins, as we will soon see.

The biggest difference between Fangraphs WAR and Rally WAR is FIP. Fangraphs attempts to isolate the factors controlled by the pitcher1 (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) and work from there. They don't make "corrections" for defense because the figures they incorporate come pre-stripped of defensive meddling.

Rally WAR (pioneered by Sean Smith, a very smart guy who now works for an unnamed big league team) starts with runs allowed and works backwards. rWAR makes adjustment to the replacement level runs based on the quality of defense (Total Zone derived) and ballpark (derived using magic and answering the bridge troll's riddles three.)

While FIP and its brethren are good and runs against seems uncouth and cruel, it turns out run allowed per 9 innings pitched has the greatest correlation for year-to-year performance. So I can see value in each of these methods.

This schism within the nerd herd threatens to split the fraternal brotherhood like nothing since Princess Lea in the Gold Bikini versus the Canadian broad on BSG. The great love of over-complication called out by the simplistic. WHO WILL TRIUMPH???

As it turns out, us. The functionally nerdy benefit from the spastic yelps of socially-bereft savants lurking in dark corners of the computer supply store. Let's see how it shakes down. First is Baseball Reference's version with Fangraphs below. The rWAR sits on both for comparison purposes.

Brandon Morrow146.126769201161.6
Brett Cecil172.2288710900.9222.2
Brian Tallet77.15604500.8-15-1.4
Casey Janssen68.20293800.490.7
Dana Eveland44.29352701-8-0.8
David Purcey340161900.430.2
Jason Frasor63.20303601.160.6
Jesse Carlson13.207800.810.1
Kevin Gregg590243202.181.3
Kyle Drabek1739100110.1
Marc Rzepczynski 63.21237390120.2
Ricky Romero210329813001.1323.4
Scott Downs61.10193301.5141.8
Shaun Marcum195.1318412101373.8
Shawn Camp72.10264001.2141.5
Shawn Hill20.2481201.140.4

Brandon Morrow146.
Brett Cecil172.
Brian Tallet27.3-13.250-1.5-1.4
Casey Janssen0.03.468.70.40.7
Dana Eveland44.
David Purcey0.02.4340.20.2
Jason Frasor0.08.663.70.90.6
Jesse Carlson0.0-2.613.7-0.30.1
Kevin Gregg0.07.8590.81.3
Kyle Drabek170.
Marc Rzepczynski62.70.710.50.2
Ricky Romero2100.00.043.4
Scott Downs0.011.861.31.21.8
Shaun Marcum195.
Shawn Camp0.02.672.30.31.5
Shawn Hill20.

Weep for Brandon Morrow. Deprived of his gaudy components, Morrow is left to rot as a below-average starter. You know that isn't true, and I know that isn't true, but runs allowed shows no mercy.

Notice the lack of defensive adjustment afforded any Jays pitchers. Total Zone ranks the Jays as pretty much neutral, which is hard to argue unless you try. I can't imagine what sort of ballpark factor is included but if it doesn't cut the Jays plethora of lefties a break then consider me highly dubious.

Relievers who pitch loads high-leverage innings benefit greatly under the Rally system. The adjustment for leverage index/saving grace of runs allowed pumps up the value of both Shawn Camp and Kevin Gregg. I prefer to think of relievers as interchangeable, with the replacement bar set very high as other guys on the same staff can often step into bigger or higher-leveraged roles without issue.

One thing both systems — and all of humanity, I trust — can agree on: Brian Tallet is terrible. That Baseball Reference and Fangraphs can join in chorus proclaiming Brian Tallet is fundamentally awful gives me hope through this dark and gloomy holiday season. Hallelujah!

1 - This is contentious assumption number 1 of many. But we soldier on.

Thanks again to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for the data. And Modern Life is War for actually writing a song with a decent payoff.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Compare & Contrast

If you can remember all the way back to Wednesday when I mentioned, at the end of the post, my feelings on the various and sundry defensive metrics. This got me thinking about the ongoing disparity between Fangraphs WAR and Baseball Reference aka Rally WAR.

Are the differences really that striking? We often come across examples of disagreement between the two systems, leading to more confusion rather than increased understanding.

To review - Fangraphs version of WAR uses UZR for the defensive component while the batting runs are based on weighted on-base average (wOBA). Rally uses Total Zone for defense and park adjusted batting runs for offense.

How the sausage is made doesn't really matter for the bulk of us, but we like to know where the flavor comes from sometimes. Below are both WARs, broken down into their compents for worthwhile, contributing Blue Jays. Each numbers is displayed at the end of each row to allow for easier comparison. Let's get nerdy!

Aaron Hill-13.93.719.31.9111.10.8
Adam Lind-5.9-2.720.4-14.5-2.6-0.30.1
Alex Gonzalez5.74.911.63.8262.72.8
Edwin Encarnacion5.5-1.512.21.317.61.81.6
Fred Lewis4-6.116-4.990.90.8
John Buck8.5-314.67.627.62.93
John McDonald-
Jose Bautista55.9-722.8-4.766.96.95.6
Jose Molina-2.536.13.710.31.10.6
Lyle Overbay5.50.120.3-11.314.61.52.4
Travis Snider2.74.210.6-3.514.11.50.9
Vernon Wells21.3-6.421.51.838.343.4
Yunel Escobar-1.4-

Aaron Hill-180 0322080.81.1
Adam Lind-90002-132110.1-0.3
Alex Gonzalez40008412282.82.7
Edwin Encarnacion4000-2112161.61.8
Fred Lewis2100-6-51680.80.9
John Buck800016153032.9
John McDonald-2000716111.10.7
Jose Bautista54100-16-523565.66.9
Jose Molina-400003660.61.1
Lyle Overbay60008-1021242.41.5
Travis Snider20000-41190.91.5
Vernon Wells21-100-10222343.44.0
Yunel Escobar-30002391010.9

Poor Jose. While he tells anyone who listens how much more comfortable he is in the outfield, it doesn't seem to matter. He's basically a Tarantino character roaming around with a rifle in place of his right arm. Total Zone rates him twice as harshly as UZR, which already held a low opinion of Bautista in the field. Vernon Wells' strong season takes a slight hit at the hands of Total Zone, while Lyle Overbay and his agent are sending bouquets of flowers to Sean Smith as you read this.

Nothing revealed here is likely to change your overall impression of any of these players. Whether you think Vernon Wells is a 4 Win guy or a 3.5 Win guy doesn't change the fact that he's a slightly above-average performer. WAR is a descriptive stat, it tells us what happened in 2010.

One year of data doesn't mean to suggest Jose Bautista will continue to put up 5 or 7 win seasons in the future. There isn't any great disparity among the position players. It is when we get to the pitchers (tomorrow) that the fussing and feuding gets serious.

Hat tip to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the info.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

...And Far Away

Watching the internet grab hold of an idea, shaking it until death, really is a sight to behold. A current meme among Blue Jays fans which continuously irks is the "Move Aaron Hill to Third Base" movement. The arrival of the Langley Bard this week seems to say, to most people, that Aaron Hill should shuffle his out-making bones to the hot corner because, well, Brett Lawrie is shinier and newer.

Too many people in our Getting Blanked chats this week closed the book on Aaron Hill's time at thirdsecond base. While some part of this line of thinking could be construed as a compliment to Hill's versatility, I highly doubt it. People either undervalue the impact of defense (at your peril!) or don't appreciate how good Aaron Hill actually is with the glove.

While UZR doesn't love Aaron Hill, nearly all other defensive systems and rankings do. Over the last three years, Hill ranks 4th among second baseman in Dewan's +/-, third in revised zone rating. He ranks 5th in Fangraphs fan scouting report runs in addition to winning two Fielding Bible awards (2007 & 2009). Hill ranks well again this year in the panel vote, picking up first place consideration from the Baseball Info Solutions video scouts a.k.a. guys who watch an insane amount of video.

In other words, Aaron Hill is really good defensively at second. Why take away from that? Why add variables to the defensive mix? Alex Anthopoulos doesn't think much of that idea either:
"Right now, [Hill] is our second baseman," Anthopoulos said. "The only scenario that we would talk about moving him is if we felt that it was someone that was a significant piece."
If you'll permit me to read between the lines/graft my own opinion onto an Alex Anthopoulos quote; I take "significant piece" to mean:
  1. better than Hill or
  2. so bad at every other position as to present no alternative.
As this relates directly to Brett Lawrie, AA himself had a lot to say on Prime Time Sports earlier this week. Many have pointed to Brah-lie's poor footwork as proof of his positionless status, but AA insists The Player is such a strong athlete with great instincts and reflexes. Basically tailor-made for the hot corner.

But this isn't (yet) about finding a defensive home for Brett Lawrie. This is about the value of having a plus defender on your club. As it stands, Aaron Hill is one of a select few. Moving Aaron Hill is silly, because Aaron Hill is good.

While We're On the Topic

With the real Age of Field F/X Enlightenment just over the horizon, I noticed a real uptick in debate over the merits of defensive stats in the darkest, nerdiest corners of the blogoverse. Discussions of range bias skewing video-based metrics and the vagaries in batted ball information punch increasingly large holes in UZR and the like.

It is my view that these numbers, all of them, have value if used correctly. For me, UZR/150 works only when taking a large number and making it small. It is not an accurate or fair way to extrapolate tiny numbers. If you say "over the past three years, Player X has a UZR/150 of Y", you'll get my attention. If you say "in 10 games, Player Z has a UZR/150 of 40", I'm clicking away.

You won't see me use decimals in UZR numbers as that indicates a level of precision the metric simply cannot support. These numbers of course work best when paired with observed skills by your lying eyes.

It is important for all of us to use these tools fairly and honestly if we expect buy-in from the greater baseballing population. Which, I hope, is the goal. For a lot of us, advanced stats aren't anything by themselves, they simply deepen our appreciation and understanding of the game. Which leads to more informed people having more entertaining and interesting debates. Which is what brings most of us here in the first place, right?

Image courtesy of flickr user mittsuniverse via Renaissance Man Matias.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Heart Pumps Kool-Aid

Moving your Opening Day starter and nominal ace takes a certain amount of guts. Doing it in consecutive years while remaining steadfast in building is damn near impossible. Alex Anthopoulos clearly has these guts to make these challenge trades and keep reaching for the Outer Chutlosphere of elite talents.

That's a good thing for a man in his position. Take this money quote from his interview with Jonah Keri for Getting Blanked (read every day, I post twice a week)
Because of the division we play in, the teams they put together, we need to get as much upside as we can. There’s a risk component involved, that’s part of it. But we’d rather shoot high and miss.

If we were in a different division, our strategy could probably be tweaked. But the win totals required to get into the playoffs in the AL East, they’re 95 and above. You can build a very good team, and we have...You certainly can get into the playoffs with 88 wins elsewhere. In this division, you need to be that much better.
I don't think anyone — after spending more than 30 seconds thinking about it — would disagree. That doesn't make it easy. For Anthopoulos and his team, sure. But for us, too.

This age of baseball enlightenment is a great thing but it comes with a price. How much has the average Aware Blue Jays fan invested in Travis Snider? How many hopes have we pined to his barrel chest? How long did the average Blue Jays fan spend talking themself into Shaun Marcum, Nominal Ace?

Like the Tao said on Twitter, we wanted the new regime to be bold. I don't think any of us new exactly what we were in for now that they are. It isn't that I'm attached to Shaun Marcum in any way. The "flu-like symptoms" thing got tiresome though I admire the considerable chip on his shoulder.

It should make for some entertaining interviews in the near future. Shaun Marcum strikes me as a guy who spends most of the day operating at or near "seething contempt."1

But saying good bye to Shaun Marcum is one thing. Loading up a package for Zack Greinke might just be another. Greinke, Upton, any potential game-changer. Loading up a basket full of kids and making a run at it makes my blood run a little cold. It seems so soon! Are they ready?

Obviously the braintrust knows much better than I. Perhaps I like the safety and security of perpetual re-building? Spared from the rigors of contention and the tortures of pennant races; baseball fits my little life perfectly. Making plans, stopping life to suffer through 3.5 hours of potential agony? Yikes.

Call me a coward if you must, but my thick layer of ironic detachment didn't get there by accident. Worse than getting close and missing? Missing all together. Those of us who remember the 2006-2008-era Jays for what they are realize there's no glory in an honourable death.

1 - I know he's saying All the Right Things now, but he's got some hate in him. Book it.

You'll never guess where the image came from. Dogs on Skateboards!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Men Among Boys

I like the National League, I really do. Sure, watching pitchers hit is good for a laugh but I bear no ill will towards the Senior Circuit. The Giants are, by and large, deserving winners of the 2010 World Series Crown. At least I thought.

Blinded by the overt sexiness of the team and the cool NorCal locale, I blinded myself to the insanity (or is it inanity) of the National League West. Over a few days this offseason, teams in the National League West bolstered their playoff chances by signing Juan Uribe and Miguel Tejada. Uribe signed to a multi-year deal, if you can believe it.

Adding these players to your roster isn't evil, so to speak. But signing these creaky old out-machines to play shortstop every day is just about the craziest thing I've ever heard.

Both the Giants and Dodgers have playoff aspirations in 2011. To think they can field these two players at this crucial position makes me more than a little sick. Imagine! Imagine being able to think "I bet Juan Uribe is a good bet at short for next year at least, we can move him around the diamond at $7 mil a year beyond that. I guess." and not have it mean the death of your playoff chances.

Uribe and Tejada are formerly good players — even great, in Miggy's case — but expecting them to hold down such a key role during a push to the playoffs? No shot.

The Jays signed Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop at this time last year. Gonzalez is both younger and frankly better than Uribe and Tejada at this stage of their respective careers. The Gonzalez signing certainly wasn't made with a pennant in mind. That's the biggest difference - the Jays looked to a one year stopgap and potential flip piece. The Giants and Dodgers will likely hit these guys in the middle of the order1.

Please don't take this ill-advised screed as support of expanded playoffs. It isn't. It is just my quarterly frustration with the Jays lot in life. A lot, if seismic shifts in the power structure of the ownership group are to be believed, that doesn't stand to improve greatly in the immediate future.

1 - There is no basis of fact in that statement. It is for entertainment purposes only. They probably won't hit in the middle of the order. Probably.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Roadside Pictures

Monday, November 29, 2010

Keep Kicking Until it Stops Moving

Never one to shy away after stealing a good idea, I thought I'd take the count breakdown idea from the post below and re-purpose it. Instead of looking at pitchers and how they handle counts, why not look at how hitters are pitched by count?

Travis Snider is the candidate at the front of my mind because Travis Snider is the most important batter on the team. Sort of.

The development of Travis Snider is near the top of the "Things Crucial to the Fate of the Franchise" list. Not at the top, but near. What better way to learn how Snider is developing than to examine how he is pitched.

You might notice some tweaks to last week's version of the below graph. All the offspeed pitches are grouped at the bottom. I chopped out a few pitches which barely registered, generally pitches with the word "knuckle" prominently involved. I grouped the sinkers and two seamers, feel free to cast insults in the comment section.

Call me crazy, but learning American League pitchers treat Travis Snider the same way when the count is 0-1 as 1-1 worries me. Isn't 1-1 the biggest pitch of the at bat? I'm moderately shocked he sees that much junk in a 1-1 count. Could this be the window into a tortured soul?

Aside from that, does anything jump out? When pitchers are ahead of Snider, he sees a pretty even mix of breaking balls/offspeed and fastballs. Enough to keep him guessing, we can assume. Lots of heat in full counts, interestingly enough.

One thing I came across as I "researched" this post was Snider faced only eight 3-0 counts all season. Eight! That says, to me, if you throw Travis Snider as strike, he will swing at it. Though he walk rate was down in 2010, Snider's career shows he will walk, so that's good.

While this exercise hardly helps project Snider into 2011 and beyond, it shows me how hard being a big league hitter must be. While Cito's "Have a Plan" approach works for some, I worry over simplifying something staggeringly complex won't work for all. But what does. Anyway, let me know what you think about this in the comments, if you feel obliged.

Data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz, image courtesy of The Fox is Black

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Think Along with Your Favorite Hurler

One of the highest compliments you hear of a control pitcher is his ability to "throw any pitch in any count." Said frequently of Shaun Marcum, it makes these masters of deception especially tough to hit. Think you'll sit fastball when you're ahead 2-1? Think again, clown.

That sounds like something we've all said. Doesn't mean it is the case. Following along the great work on the topic done by Royals Review and Baseball Analysts; I put my (newfound) pivot table proficiency to work and created these graphs, which track pitch usage by count. Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum, at your service.

If you get ahead of Ricky Romero, you can put the curveball out of your mind, that much is clear. As always with Pitch F/X, you can argue or debate the pitch classifications but this makes a lot of sense. Interesting that Romero goes to his devastating change up more in 1-2 counts than 0-2 though the curveball rates stay about the same. What about Marcum?

I think Shaun Marcum's full count pitch selection is my favorite thing of today. What are you gonna get? NO CLUE! Shaun Marcum won't necessarily throw any pitch in any count, but he'll certainly keep you on your toes with the pay-off pitch.

As an added bonus, I took Shaun Marcum's numbers and split them by batter handedness. Behold the glory of The Danks Theory! (Click to enlarge.)

If you are a left-handed hitter, Shaun Marcum will throw you a change-up. This is something I now hold to be true. If you're a left-handed hitter facing Shaun Marcum with a full count, he's going to throw you a change up. Good luck convincing your brain of that as you stand in the batter's box.

It is that very indecision that makes Shaun Marcum effective. So effective that he might fetch a tidy haul in trade anchor this pitching staff again? I'm not quite sure.

Image courtesy of Boing Boing, Pitch F/X data courtesy of the wondrous Joe Lefkotwtiz.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Addressing Speed, Quickly

Considering all the smart takes already filling the Google Readers of the Blue Jays blogosphere, there isn't much insight I can add to the Rajai Davis acquisition. That hasn't stopped me from chiming in before, and it surely won't stop me this time.

There isn't a lot of outrage over giving up two right handed relievers for a fourth outfielder/pinch runner/defensive replacement at worst, starting outfielder at worst. Many are quick to note speed as something sorely lacking from the Jays offensive punch since, oh, forever.

As one of the loudest "you can't steal first" advocates, I'm often quick to denigrate the value of a thief like Davis. Thankfully, the good people at the Red Sox Beacon are much smarter than I and put a useful modern stat - wRC+ or weighted runs created plus - to show value in baserunning. Patrick Sullivan of RSB compared wRC+ to OPS+ to show what a difference speed can make when evaluating players. While OPS+ simply takes on base, smashes it into slugging then adjusts for park; wRC+ uses wOBA (already a superior metric) while incorporating base running.

While their example of Carl Crawford is more extreme (because Crawford is extremely good) a quick look at most Blue Jays shows little variance. Iron Lyle Overbay matches his wRC+ to his OPS+ because by not trying anything on the bases, he doesn't add nor take away. Might this impact the way we view young Rajai?


Once you factor in baserunning, Davis' career year in 2009 looks less like Lyle Overbay circa 2010 (slightly above league average, meh) and a lot more like Scott Rolen circa 2009 (20% above my swooning heart).

This not-so simple tool demonstrates that, yes, speed does have value. The ability to steal bases efficiently does rate with the cold-hearted Nerd Herd. I don't mean to suggest that Davis should play every day. He's as much a right fielder as Fred Lewis, so we should stop the "he can play all three positions!" talk.

If this move hints at bigger plays to come, cool. If not, Davis is still a player able to contribute to the greater Blue Jays good with a skill set quite uncommon in that dressing room.

Image courtesy of Vitascope and excellent idea courtesy of Red Sox Beacon. Numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Canadian Poker Tips from the Pros

The guy you see above is Jonathan Duhamel. He just became exceedingly rich. Duhamel was already a professional poker player, grinding out and learning how tough an easy living can be. Duhamel survived an 8 day tournament, an interminable 4 month wait, and a final table circus to take home a gaudy bracelet and a life-changing paycheck.

In Duhamel's everyday poker existence, he needs to manage his bankroll and take calculated risks. His is a world of increments. He reminds me of another swarthy dude from Montreal, Alex Anthopoulos.

Alex Anthopoulos seems to maintain a very even keel. Based on his first year of calculated moves, I feel as though AA is the type to bide his time. Not one to overvalue his hand to get in deep at a table beyond his means.

The various reports and conjecture about the possibility of acquiring Dan Uggla and/or Manny Ramirez make my head spin a little. Does Anthopoulos sense weakness in the division? Is he rolling up his stake and taking his shot now?

Considering the relative cost to employ both these two offense-only players, it might not be a bad gamble if, IF, everything that went right in 2010 happens again and all the bad things from 2010 go right this time around.

Personaly, I can't see that happening. Acquiring Uggla for one expensive arbitration year (or extending him and hoping 33 year old Dan Uggla is AWESOME) and moving him to third base (as moving Hill would be asinine) as well as signing excellent-if-somewhat-power-stricken Manny? Two moves which would necessitate at least a few more as the message would be clear: the future is now.

Realistically, how much closer do those two moves bring the Jays to competing for a playoff berth? 3 Wins? 4 tops? If Uggla puts up another 5 win season and Manny somehow puts up a 4 Win season as a DH and Adam Lind replicates 2009 without giving too much back with his glove, you could probably put the Jays down for 90 wins.

Guess what 90 wins gets you in the AL East?

Even if you think the Yankees are too old and will overpay Jeter's corpse and the Red Sox don't have any pitching beyond Jon Lester and the Rays will struggle with Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce and God knows who else taking over in the outfield, you can't assume two of those three teams will fail to win 90 games.

It just doesn't seem like that time. There are too many variables. It would be too much like 2006 for too many people's comfort. J.P. took his shot and missed. He paid a premium for a closer, determined to nail down the crucial few wins a lockdown closer represents. He upgraded third base and strengthened his rotation and it didn't end up working. The process was sound (enough), but the results didn't line up.

At the risk of torturing this poker analogy with allusions to bluffing and referencing how going all-in works every time but once, I feel confident in the FO's Zen-like Howard Lederer table image. Alex Anthopoulos doesn't strike me as the type of maniac to shove when he has a coinflip.

Playing in the AL East doesn't afford the opportunity to run around like Brian Sabean, going buckwild against weak players. AA and friends need to build their stack and pick their spots. I just can't see this being that spot.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Add Context for Flavor

There is no real debate as to the most valuable Blue Jay in 2010. Jose Bautista put up a season of epic historical significance. That he he amassed 50 home runs with 100 walks — one of a very select group of players in the game's history — is yet to set in to my slow-on-the-uptake brain.

There remains a sub-sect of baseball fans who rail against players who only put up numbers when the game "is out of reach." Players like Ryan Howard are announced as clutch while Jayson Werth (or Chase Utley) are chumps who strike out when the game is on the line. Their MVP is the guy with the most RBI, or something equally misguided. Last year I looked at an interesting wrinkle in the WAR equation, first suggested by Sky Kalkman (formerly) of Beyond the Box Score.

Rather than calculate Wins Above Replacement using regular or batting runs, we scaled and substituted win probability added. WPA doesn't care about the type of contribution to the cause, only the timing. Walkoff hits count for much more than the solo home runs in the midst of a blowout, much to the chagrin of the angry drunk guy by himself in the bar.

Below are the WPA-tinged numbers for your Toronto Blue Jays. The clutch figure is the difference between their standard batting runs and the new, clutchified numbers. WAR* is the new result, contrast it with the standard WAR numbers right alongside. All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs.

NameWPA RunsBatting(Clutch)FieldingReplacementRAR*WAR*WAR
Yunel Escobar-9.5-1.4-8.1-
Vernon Wells20.521.3-0.8-6.421.537.43.74
Travis Snider-6.42.7-
Randy Ruiz-7.5-4.3-
Nick Green-0.8-1.60.8-0.90.5-1.2-0.1-0.2
Mike McCoy-6.4-5.8-0.65.832.40.20.3
Lyle Overbay7.
Jose Molina-9-2.5-6.536.
Jose Bautista39.355.9-16.6-722.850.456.9
John McDonald-8.5-1.6-
John Buck8.78.50.2-314.627.92.82.9
Fred Lewis1.64-2.4-6.1166.60.70.9
Edwin Encarnacion45.5-1.5-1.512.2161.61.8
DeWayne Wise5.4-
Alex Gonzalez-2.75.7-8.44.911.617.61.82.7
Adam Lind1.5-5.97.4-2.720.44.70.5-0.3
Aaron Hill-24.1-13.9-10.23.719.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for poor Aaron Hill! Not a lot of leaps among the Jays batters. DeWayne Wise, as Mark Buehrle will proudly attest, is as clutch as it gets. Who knew?

Poor Jose Bautista. While he did perform significantly worse in the clutch in 2010, I have a hard time believing he performed 2 Wins worse. Shocking. Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay post better numbers when the heat is on. Nice to see, I seem to remember at least one walkoff for each lily white lefty.

Yu mad? Nope, Yu performed really badly in the clutch.

All in all, not really surprising considering the Jays, as a team, performed worse in high leverage situations for the year. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be a repeatable skill, per se. The clutch-est team in baseball last year? The piss-poor Houston Astros.

One final note on Jose Bautista and his final most valuable player chances - if we used this same formula on the other MVP frontrunners, Miguel Cabrera would slide in front of Josh Hamilton and take the title. Joey Votto only solidifies his case as MVP shoe-in in the NL, as he is both clutch and dreamy. Not to mention dreamy and clutch.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Smartest Guy in the Room

At no point should it be a bad thing to be considered the smartest guy in the room. Being smart (I assume) is awesome. Alex Anthopoulos is clearly a smart guy, with many other smart guys around him to ensure smart, savvy, decisions get made.

Occasionally "the smartest guy in the room" is a pejorative volleyed at those who believe they can outsmart the system and conventional schools of thought. I don't think Alex Anthopoulos and team are to this level yet, but a couple errant arbitration hearings might take the shine off his recent tidy bit of business.

One concern I can't shake, however unfounded, is the powerful players union turning his angry eye towards these manipulations of the system. Exploiting the avarice of professionals with a 12 year earnings window is the exact thing union simultaneously promotes and attempts to protect its members against.

It is a shame that AA can't wryly brag during a conference call about swiping a draft pick from the Rockies, he has to play the game and say All the Right Things, as compiled by the fine Jordan Bastian:
No, and I've been reading a lot of that today. There's a lot of components with that. We didn't talk about the players that we pursued last offseason. When we signed John Buck, we were really agonizing over -- at the time -- Miguel Olivo and John Buck. ... Collectively, we elected to go with John Buck
I wonder if that has to do with John Buck being relatively awesome and Miguel Olivo being, uh, less so. The PA won't stand by and have players market value submarined by the draft pick compensation to the point that they players are worth less than the potential pick. When club options built into deals are sold as an incentive to players, savvy teams are going to decline the options almost every time; independent of that player's performance.

Anthopoulos and crew know this and they plan to make the most of it. The opportunity to bring back Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor on the cheap is a good one for the team (for now), a less than ideal one for the players. Hopefully the clever machinations of the Jays exceedingly-competent front office doesn't attract the wrong kind of attention. Or give the Orioles any ideas. The AL East doesn't need any more well-run teams, thank you very much. Perhaps they should consider the Sabean Approach. I heard it works wonders!

Image courtesy of Padre Steve

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reconsidering Lind

It wasn't even that long ago that I referred to Adam Lind's 2010 as a "season-long slump." While his numbers are disheartening when you take a broad look, looking at his season in chunks we see much more promising results. Promising in a bad way, perhaps. But at least we'd have a better idea of what Lind represents.

There is no disputing Lind's final 2010 line: .237/.287/.425. Good for a .712 OPS and a .302 wOBA. Down 100 points from the year prior. Of course, Lind did manage 58 extra bases hits but that is about it. But together we can make something of this. Let's grab hold of a passing arbitrary end point (the All Star break) and watch things improve drastically!

From the break to season's end, Adam Lind posts a downright respectable .267/.309/.498/.807 line. Include the entire month of July and you get and extra 20 points of OPS. Not catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite the heroics of 2009 and the extensive minor league track record; by True Talent Adam Lind is probably a .830~ OPS guy. Combining Lind's good year and off-year you get a two year average of .825. A season-long number like that puts Lind in the top half for designated hitters in the, um, American League.

So case closed, right? Lind is a good not great hitter without a real position. Not so fast. As I've written before, I believe Adam Lind's all-fields approach and power the opposite way makes him a legit power threat in the American league. I went as far as declaring him slump-proof!

Looking at the previous few 'grafs, you can safely assume Adam Lind slumped at some point during 2010. How about a two month stretch, 200 plate appearances almost exactly, in which Adam Lind put forth one of the worst stretches in recent memory.

On May 1st, Adam Lind strode to the plate sporting his now-traditional .360ish wOBA and .200ish isolated power. 4 home runs to his name, he was in the groove. Fast forward two months; Adam Lind wakes up on Canada Day realizing he his slash line since that fateful May Day of .166/.219/.276! A .495 OPS over 200 at bats. How could this happen?

That's what I'm attempting to find out. What happened to Lind over this span that he can hopefully avoid. A 200 plate appearance sample isn't sufficient in writing off a 27 year old with 80 home runs in fewer than 500 games.

Let's get nerdy and see if we can't pinpoint Lind's spring struggles. First, a plot of all the pitches he faced in May/June. Fans of pitching inside, take cover!

When new manager John Farrell hosted his first press conference, he noted the Red Sox "had a pretty good idea" how to get Adam Lind out. Despite the oppo heroics of 2009, it sure looks like pounding the outside corner is the key to retiring Lind. Or does it. Consider below, comparing Lind's pitches by position during his nasty slump compared to his season on the whole.

Interesting. Lind actually saw fewer pitches on the outside third of the plate during his struggles. The next logical assumption (which may not be logical in any way) is Lind got a little pull happy.

Looking at the batted ball data (as best I can for this time period), Lind sprayed the ball evenly around the outfield but hit lots of balls on the ground to the left side of the infield. Did Lind run afoul of the teachings of Citocity? Trying to do too little with pitches thrown in the middle plate, going the opposite way with nearly every pitch he saw?

At this point, I'm going a long way to say Adam Lind had two crappy months and isn't nearly as awful as he showed in 2010. Lind experienced some criminally bad luck in June both by average on balls in play and home run per fly ball.

As I stated earlier, "future Adam Lind" is a lot more likely to put up strong (but not spectacular) numbers in the .850 OPS/.360 wOBA neighbourhood. The .390 wOBA we saw a year ago is what the kids call "a career year." It happens.

That doesn't mean getting him all the ABs he can handle and all the reps at first base he can stomach isn't Job 1 for 2011. If he struggles through another 200 at bat megaslump, giving the appearance of going out of his way to help pitchers get him out, only then might it be time to re-evaluate.

Lind's team-friendly, option-heavy deal provides the front office enough rope to bide their time and fairly assess if Lind is the right fit for the Jays and the eventual playoff push. If a cheaper or better option presents itself, so be it. Players with Lind's type of pop don't fall out of trees, but they're hardly endangered species either.

AP Image courtesy of Daylife. Pitch F/X data from the ever gracious Joe Lefkotwitz, splits courtesy of Fangraphs.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Doing Work at the Bottom of the Ballot

The announcement of the always-enjoyable Fielding Bible awards is an exciting one. As I explained at The Score (read Getting Blanked y'all!), the list of winners is pretty much foolproof. Other than a few minor quibbles, the list produced by Rob Neyer, Bill James, the Nerd Herd et al is as close to a comprehensive list of the best fielders by position as you're ever going to find.

While no Blue Jays topped their positions, quite a few picked up some stray votes here and there. We bother with the down ballot stuff here because we're down ballot people and, frankly, the bottom of the ballots are the only place the Toronto Blue Jays are getting much love these days.

The Jays infield is well represented with Lyle Overbay ranking 7th among first basemen. The Albino Warlord even garnered a first place vote from Baseball Info Solutions Scout Todd Radcliffe. Overbay's superlative arm and nose for the ball are tough to lose, the Jays pitching staff will come to learn.

Though Lyle is moving on to greener pastures1, the middle of the diamond looks good with both Aaron Hill and Yunel Escobar ranking decently on their respective lists. Esco sits a distant fourth behind Toronto heartbreaker Troy Tulowitki but manages to appear on all but two ballots. Aaron Hill sits in 8th place though Joe Posnanski found it in his infinite wisdom to rank Hill third. Good enough for Joe Poz's bronze is good enough for me.

The most curious yet exciting stray votes were cast for none other than Travis Snider. Having written about Snider's potential in the field, this excites me a great deal. The big man is figuring it out! Smart people around the league can see Snider's skill for what it is...wait, what does that say?

Does that say Pat Burrell picked up three points as well? Is Travis Snider really thought of, by this collection of esteemed baseball minds, to be Pat Burrell's equal in the field? Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

1 - Specifically, Green Monstered pastures. Take that to the lake, tis written in the stars.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Asmythe

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fun with Things That are Fun

Watching Ron Washington go out of his way to hand the Giants the second game of the World Series makes me think we wasted a lot of energy fretting the managerial search. Clearly Manger of the Year Ron Washington's main strategy for 2010 was "hand ball to Lee/Wilson, hope for the best." Pretty sound strategy, until they either lay a minor egg (it happens) or their finger splits in two like an extra from a bad alien invasion movie.

Despite some hostility towards Lee in the past, I can safely say he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has good stuff and throws strikes. Good things all around. The other day I found myself thinking about something. Mind the gap, peep the Player A/B gimmick:
  1. Player A's first two full seasons in the majors
    1. 33 starts, 179 innings, 8.09 K/9, 4.07 BB/9, 33.4% ground ball rate, 1.20 HR/9, 4.63 xFIP, 1.5 WAR
    2. 32 starts, 202 innings, 6.37 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 35.6% ground ball rate, 0.98 HR/9, 4.26 xFIP, 4.0 WAR

  2. Player B's first two full seasons in the majors
    1. 29 starts, 178 innings, 7.13 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 54.0% ground ball rate, 0.91 HR/9 4.09 xFIP, 2.8 WAR
    2. 32 starts, 210 innings, 7.46 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 55.2% ground ball rate, 0.64 HR/9, 3.75 xFIP, 4.0 WAR
Give up? Player A is obviously Cliff Lee in his age 25 and 26 seasons, Player B is none other than our very own Ricky Romero (24/25 FWIW).

Can we expect Romero to follow Lee's rollercoaster path to major league dominance? Not likely. I don't know about must of y'all, but I don't think my heart could take Ricky Romero pitching in HIGH A BALL at any point in 2011. But that's what happened to Lee and look at him now.

But there is certainly hope that Romero can learn to master the strike zone like the unconscious Lee. Might the astute (no pressure) new regime add a cutter to Romero's 4 pitch mix, making him equally tough to touch? We can only hope.

Romero doesn't have the same gravity ball option to make him true death on left-handed hitters, but that doesn't mean he won't. If anything, adding a cutter as discussed above would yield even better results against same-handed batters. Without that big out pitch (other than his fabled "cut change") Romero might even be a Danks Theory candidate for all the overmanagers in the crowd.

This isn't any more reason for you to join "Team Romero" but it is important to note the kind of company he keeps. Making the leap from 4 Win pitcher to 8 is pretty massive, especially for a guy who breaks wild pitch records. When people talk about Romero's makeup — and they do, in glowing terms — Jays fans can feel pretty good about Ricky's willingness to do what he must to join that upper echelon of elite starters.

Image courtesy of via Boing Boing