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