Saturday, February 16, 2013

Relievers by pitch value - Craig Kimbrel is the bomb

I took a look yesterday at qualifying starting pitchers using PitchF/X pitch values to find the top ten and bottom ten values using repertoire as criteria. In other words, if you put together the value of all their pitches, which pitcher had the deadliest set of pitches. Kershaw came out on top with Verlander a close second. Nova came in dead last among the 85 qualifiers with Ricky Romero right ahead of him. These findings were not surprising. Today, I want to put that same test to relievers who qualified. There are more qualifiers with relievers and unlike the starters, the results did not always jive with other standard measures of rating pitchers.

Okay, here is how it works. I took each qualifying relief pitcher and added up the value PitchF/X assigned for each of the pitches each threw. That gave me a total value of all the pitcher's pitches. For example, Jonny Venters of the Braves had a two-seam fastball value of -0.3 runs below average. His sinker was worth -2.6. His slider was worth 3.1 runs above average and his change-up was worth 0.5. Add them all up together and you get a total value of 0.7 runs above average for all his pitches. With 135 relievers qualifying, Venters finished 103rd. This is a bit of a disconnect compared to his finish with fWAR, which was 94th.

Anyway, here are the results, starting with the top ten:
  1. Craig Kimbrel:  27.7   devastating fastball   devastating slider
  2. Fernando Rodney:  26.5    his change-up was the second deadliest pitch among relievers.
  3. Aroldis Chapman:  23.4   His two-seam fastball was the deadliest pitch
  4. Brad Ziegler:  20.2   A bit of a surprise. His sinker is killer.
  5. Grant Balfour:  19.6   The surprises continue.
  6. Ryan Cook:  18.4
  7. Kenley Jansen:  18.3   The best cutter since Rivera
  8. Jake McGee:  17.4   Great fastball
  9. Jim Johnson:  15.6   Throws everything well
  10. Jason Motte:  15.6     Motte the Hoopla
Those results are surprising. The top three are not. The rest, definitely.

Okay, now the ten worst:
  1. Rhiner Cruz:  -11.6
  2. Phil Coke:  -9.2   Except for the ALCS when he looked untouchable. 
  3. Livan Hernandez:  -8.9   How does he keep getting a job?
  4. Matt Reynolds:  -8.5
  5. Jeff Gray:  -8.3
  6. Kameron Loe:  -7   His sinker sunk him.
  7. Chad Qualls:  -5.4
  8. Heath Bell:  -4.3
  9. Chris Resop:  -3.9
  10. Clay Hensley:  -3.7
As I said yesterday, I am not advocating that we rate pitchers by looking at their pitch values. I just find it interesting and an alternative way of looking at pitching results.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rating by pitch values - Clayton Kershaw is really good

Every year I like to look at the pitch values given by PitchF/X. There are lots of ways to look at how valuable pitchers are (or aren't). There is WAR, FIP, and a few others that are in vogue for finding such value. But I like pitch value because it tells you what pitchers use and how successful they are at using it. I like using PitchF/X instead of Fangraphs pitch value data because PitchF/X breaks out the fastballs by type such as four-seam, two-seam and sinkers.

So what I've done is found the 85 starting pitchers who qualified with enough innings pitched. I then exported their PitchF/X pitch value to a spreadsheet. And then I added up the value given to each pitcher's total value for all pitches he throws. For example, Zack Greinke received 10.9 runs above average for his four-seam fastball, 6 for his two-seam, -2.4 for his cutter, 0.9 for his slider, 2 for his curve and -0.4 for his change-up. Add them all together and his pitches were worth 17 runs above average. That was good for 17th best among the 85 starters.

The single most valuable pitch in baseball in 2012 was R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. That makes sense for a couple of reasons. For one, he throws it all the time with only a few fastballs and curves once in a while. And while that pitch was the most valuable, he came in fourth overall among the 85 starters.

The single worst pitch of 2012 was Ervin Santana's four-seam fastball which had a value of -29.3. Wow! That's awful. But his slider was worth 11 among other pitches, so he only finished tenth worst in total value for the season.

Here are the ten least valuable pitchers based on pitch value.
  1. Ivan Nova:  -26. Everything he threw ended up in the batter's sweet spot.
  2. Ricky Romero: -25.4
  3. Bruce Chen: -22.7
  4. Jeremy Guthrie:  -22.1
  5. Ubaldo Jimenez:  -21.9
  6. Luke Hochevar:  -20.2
  7. Tommy Hanson:  -19.7
  8. Rick Porcello:  -18.7    -17.8 on his slider!
  9. Henderson Alvarez:  -17.8
  10. Ervin Santana: -15.9
It must give heartburn to Royals fans that three of their pitchers were in there. I would think that most of Jeremy Guthrie's problems came from his time in Colorado.

The ten highest rated pitchers based on pitch value:
  1. Clayton Kershaw:  40.8  26 on just his two-seam fastball alone!
  2. Justin Verlander:  37.4   Had a positive value on every pitch he threw.
  3. David Price:  36.3
  4. R.A. Dickey:  34.7
  5. Gio Gonzalez:  33.9
  6. Felix Hernandez: 31.3
  7. Jered Weaver: 29.9
  8. Matt Cain:  26.5
  9. Chris Sale:  24.7  positive numbers on all his pitches.
  10. Johnny Cueto:  21.1
By the way, I don't expect this to be the standard way of looking at pitcher value. I just like this as an alternative in an attempt to get a well-rounded look at each pitcher. The spreadsheet I used is below if you want to see the numbers. You can click on it to see it better. Tomorrow, I'll look at the relievers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Adam Wainwright is a projector's dream

When I imagine people who project players for a coming season, I think of huge spreadsheets, fast computers and a lot of trying to figure out how a player is trending. But those who project Adam Wainwright have to consider him like a dream. He has his parameters from year to year that you can count on. Some players are up and down in peaks and valleys. Not Adam Wainwright. He is a projector's dream.

And you would think that would not be the case coming off of a major surgery that cost him his entire 2011 season. But forget the record and forget the ERA, Adam Wainwright was the same pitcher in 2012 that he was in 2010 and 2009. Don't believe me? Here, take a look:

Here are some numbers for his last three seasons starting with 2009 and ending with 2012:

  • FIP - 3.11, 2.86, 3.10
  • K/9 - 8.19, 8.32, 8.34
  • BB/9 - 2.55, 2.19, 2.36
  • HR/9 - 0.66, 0.59, 0.68
  • GB% - 50.7%, 51.6%, 50.8%
  • HR per season: 17, 15, 15

I know that the Cardinals and Wainwright just cut off contract extension talks for the time being. Wainwright says the door isn't closed but that it just didn't work out at this time. But seriously, has any team ever had an easier time knowing what they are paying for? Sure, Wainwright pitched about twenty less innings in 2012 than usual because of the team being cautious with his rebuilt elbow. But still. Negotiations should be easy on this one.

Adam Wainwright did not get the pretty stats in 2012 that he had in 2010. But he was the same pitcher. His results were pretty much the same except his BABIP was higher and more runs scored as a result. But otherwise, he was the same exact pitcher.

His quality start percentage should get back to 2010 and 2009 levels as he is allowed to go deeper into games again. There is no longer a need to baby him a year later. But that doesn't mean he'll have a great spike in all these stats we've talked about. Knowing Wainwright, he'll be the same pitcher he's been for three years now and the win/loss percentage and ERA will depend on what goes on with batted balls and those who play behind him.

Otherwise, Adam Wainwright is about as predictable a pitcher as there is. And that is a good thing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Toradol use by Jon Lester and others is frightening

Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox was quite candid about his frequent use of toradol injections in a recent article. And quite frankly, that's frightening. I first wrote about this last July with help from my wife who was a nurse for decades in hospitals in Illinois and here in Maine. She was horrified that athletes were being injected with this stuff on a regular basis. The article linked above not only states that doctors have been injecting this for Lester and others, but that team trainers, who are not authorized to make such injections are doing so as well.

The key thing to note here is that toradol is typically used after an operation to aid with inflammation. It is not supposed to be used long-term. There are serious side-effects for some patients. In my previous article on the subject, I copied this quote from
"Toradol is used short-term (5 days or less) to treat moderate to severe pain, usually after surgery. It is used alone or in combination with other medicines."
There was also this warning of side effects:
"Toradol can also increase your risk of serious effects on the stomach or intestines, including bleeding or perforation (forming of a hole). These conditions can be fatal and gastrointestinal effects can occur without warning at any time while you are taking Toradol. Older adults may have an even greater risk of these serious gastrointestinal side effects."
So how, then, did this specific model of usage come to professional sports? And does the fact it did show that teams AND players are complicit in finding any "legal" means for subjecting athlete bodies with anything that can aid in the performance of producing a sporting act? I think it does. This is the culture of big-money sports.

And this being the nature of sports, is it any surprise that the constant quest of aiding the body in the performance on the field has led to the PED problem the sport now faces? The only real difference between the PEDs that are legislated against and things like toradol, cortisone and blood transfusions or whatever it is that athletes do is that some are legal and some are not. Lester repeats over and over that toradol is legal.

Yes, it is legal. But is that the point? The only point of legislating against PEDs and its users should not be the "cheating" aspect so often associated with such usage. The point is about the long-term health of the athletes. Putting the focus on the former instead of the latter helps baseball and other sports to overlook the abuse of what are legal drugs used in non-standard ways.

I have watched a bazillion games on television. I have seen the trainers on the Yankees hand out pills and a cup of liquid to all Yankee players before a game, yes, even to Derek Jeter. Perhaps these are only pain killers. But should pain killers be used when there might not be pain? Even over-the-counter pain killers have side effects. Who knows, maybe they are only vitamins or salt pills. But the level of blind trust is the problem. Trainers dispense. Players ingest.

The story from ESPN and the words coming from Jon Lester are frightening. They are also illuminating. They do not make the doctors in the Red Sox' locker room or the pitcher all that much different than some clinic down in south Florida and the athletes that may or may not have used there. Lester and the physicians and trainers in Boston show that the money is so big and the pressure so great that injections of a drug so totally out of its normal usage model illustrates why players take PEDs. Toradol is a PED. Other pain killers and muscle relaxers may be legal, but they are PEDs too.

It's time to stop worrying about who is cheating and start worrying more about what we allow players and teams to risk with athletic bodies. Oh, and that story's disclaimer that there is not a definitive link between the emergency Clay Buchholz experienced and toradol is just another symptom of an eye being covered up just before it gets poked out.

Monday, February 11, 2013

MLB season preview from Big Leagues Magazine

When I was a kid, one of the best parts of the year was going to the store and buying a preview of the upcoming baseball season. It was magical and I devoured those things from cover to cover. If I remember right, they cost about a buck and a half each year. Here it is forty years later and I can actually say that I was a small part of bringing one of these season previews to life. How cool is that? The media is different, of course. Instead of newspaper stock and ink that ran on your hands, the preview is electronic and it is called Big Leagues Magazine. And it is a vast publication!

And the cool part? It only costs $4.95 to read. In today's prices, that is a latte and a doughnut (apparently, Chrome doesn't think "donut" is a word). I wrote the previews for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

Interested? All you have to do is go here and sign in and pay the $4.95 and you will have hours of baseball entertainment. Not only are there team previews, but each team also has features on some fantasy topics and the top prospects. There are also several excellent articles added to make up a huge body of baseball reading heaven. The quality of writers is topnotch too.

I would be honored if you would check it out as I am really proud to be a part of this exciting publication.