Saturday, October 26, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Saturday: October 26, 2013

The World Series has gone two games now and I have been zero for two in picking the outcomes. Such a dismal output is a natural function of the unpredictability of post season baseball. The first and second games were decided on shoddy defensive play and the winning team taking advantage of that play. So what can we expect tonight? Golly if I know.

Naturally, there are always questions. If David Ortiz plays first base, how much will the Red Sox miss Mike Napoli's bat and glove? Is John Farrell finally over his Jonny Gomes fetish and will play Daniel Nava? Which pitcher between Joe Kelly and Jake Peavy will have a good outing when both have been questionable so far this post season?

Well, I need to make a prediction, so here goes. The pick:

  • The Cardinals over the Red Sox: I have no faith in Jake Peavy these days. Since replacing Ryan Dempster, he has turned into Ryan Dempster after a good first month with the Red Sox. The Cardinals get the first home game so if they score early, that crowd will be deafening. Joe Kelly will have to pitch well and if he is on his game, that 94 MPH two-seam fastball will need to result in ground balls and some pop ups. If either starter falters or if both do, I like the Red Sox middle relief better than the Cardinals. I see two possible outcomes here. One is a slugfest with neither starter doing well. If that happens, the Red Sox have the advantage. The other outcome is Joe Kelly pitching well. I do not see Jake Peavy pitching well either way.

Thursday: 0-1
Post season: 19-16
Season: 1393-1083

Friday, October 25, 2013

Man-crushing on Trevor Rosenthal

One tweet last night seemed to say it all when it came to the Cardinals' victory over the Boston Red Sox last night in Game Two of the World Series:

That "old guy" was simply amazing...again.

I find Trevor Rosenthal to be thrilling to watch. There are two great closers in this series. Koji Uehara has also been amazing this season. But he is a different kind of closer. If you look closely at Uehara's statistics, he relies on deception to get the job done. He enticed batters to swing at 43% of his pitches outside the strike zone and throws only 50% of his pitches in the zone.

This means that if a team could set its mind, that team could take a bunch of pitches and make Uehara throw strikes. While that is very hard to do as my bud, Ben Dobbs, points out, it is still doable. It was such a strategy the Red Sox employed to beat Fernando Rodney earlier in the post season.

But no such strategy can beat Trevor Rosenthal. All he does is throw lethal gas that is at times untouchable. He threw eleven pitches and struck out the side...again. He threw two balls and one of them was borderline. The other ball missed by just a couple of inches. His pitches ranged from 96.1 miles per hour to 99.4. He averaged 98. Just look at this pitch chart from

Do you see anything in the middle of the plate? Nope. The Red Sox tried to wait him out like they do with most pitchers. That was a waste of time with Rosenthal. Of the nine strikes he recorded, only three were swung at. None of those swings connected. 

That chart is amazing. How many pitchers can throw that hard and yet still go in and out in the strike zone and not be touched? And the in and out do not appear to be an accident. Let's look at each batter:

Johnny Gomes

In, out, up and down. Paint. No chance. 

The Red Sox had their hands full last night. Michael Wacha threw 65 fastballs with a average of 93.7 and a tops of 96.8 MPH. Then they saw 21 fastballs from Carlos Martinez that averaged 96.5 and a tops of 98.6. And Martinez was brilliant too, no doubt about that.

But it is Trevor Rosenthal that I cannot wait to see. My man-crush is full blown. I love this guy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Thursday: October 24, 2013

Yesterday's pick of the Cardinals could not have been more wrong. The Cardinals played a horrible game and the one thing they did really right cost them their post season hero (at least for the rest of the game). The Cardinals could not field, they could not hit Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright was uncharacteristically high in the strike zone. Put it all together and it was a lopsided and embarrassing loss to start the World Series.

The big question is whether they can regroup against a Red Sox team that cannot seem to do anything wrong. Cardinal fans have to wonder if 2004 is going to happen again as the Cardinals have now dropped five World Series games in a row to the Red Sox.

Tonight will be interesting. First, the Red Sox start John Lackey, who likes to pitch at home. But he is at least a right-hander so there is no excuse for the Cardinals not to hit. Against this "grizzled" veteran with the rebuilt elbow is Michael Wacha who just two years ago was pitching college ball. Will the youngster be dominant? Will Lackey pitch one of his best games of the season? Will Carlos Beltran play?

The pick:

  • The Red Sox over the Cardinals: I really hate to pick against Michael Wacha and if he and the Cardinals lose this game, they are in deep doo-doo. But the Red Sox showed last night that they are ready for this and the Cardinals showed that they were not. The key, I think is John Lackey. If he is effective from the first inning, the Red Sox score a couple and win the game. If Lackey gets toasted, then this pick is all messed up. The oddsmakers have the Red Sox by a large margin. But Wacha can and has made a difference before. Wacha needs to throw his change-up effectively and down to David Ortiz who seems to sit fastball these days and Mike Napoli. It will be interesting.

Yesterday: 0-1
Post season: 19-15
Season: 1393-1082

Oh, and Cardinals fans: Stop making fun of Fenway Park. It is unseemly and very small of youz.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Wednesday: October 23, 2013

A lot has happened since my last pick, a correct one of the Red Sox putting away the Tigers to reach the 2013 World Series. Jim Leyland has stepped down as Tigers' manager. Don Mattingly's bench coach, Trey Hillman, was fired and Mattingly himself considers his options on whether to return as manager. But none of that matters today because the World Series starts tonight at Fenway Park. And this series has it all.

Both of these teams have won World Series within the last ten years. Both teams have proud traditions and incredibly strong fans. Both feature great offenses and good pitching staffs. Both play sound baseball and have low key, but seemingly effective managers. Both teams hit well in tight situations and have scrappy players and iconic post season hitters. It is going to be fun except we have to watch it on Fox with Buck and McCarver.

There are several keys to the series as many have written about over the past several days. To me it is whether the strikeout prone bottom half of the Red Sox lineup can produce anything. One through four, the Red Sox are as tough as they come. With a three-outcome guy at the fifth spot in Mike Napoli and a whole lot of strikeouts the rest of the lineup, the Red Sox will need to have someone or a couple of those guys have a big series. If they don't, the Cardinals have a good chance to win.

But we need to get to today's pick. So here it is:

  • The Cardinals over the Red Sox: Adam Wainwright will be the difference in this game. His big curve should be tough on the no-longer switch hitting Shane Victorino and Napoli in particular. If Wainwright can keep Jacoby Ellsbury off the bases and David Ortiz somewhat neutralized, he will have a great game. Jon Lester is a lefty and the Cardinals had a tough time off lefties during the season. But they beat Clayton Kershaw twice and have seemingly defeated that meme. They might get a big boost being able to use Allen Craig as the DH. If Craig can bring anything offensively, it is a DH weapon that no other NL team could have brought to the table. I think the Cardinals will score against Lester. I am pretty sure about that. The odds are with this pick as those sit at 51/49 in favor of the Cardinals.

Last Game Pick Post: 1-0
Post season: 19-14
Season: 1393-1081

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Defensive statistics are still confusing

I wish I was an analytic savant. I really do. For one thing, in this day and age of baseball writing, such ability is where the action is. I try. But like most, I depend on the major stat sites to tell me what I need to know even if I do not understand how they got there. And in most cases, things make sense. Miguel Cabrera was a better offensive player than Prince Fielder. Clayton Kershaw was a much more valuable pitcher than Bronson Arroyo. But fielding stats still baffle me because the major sites do not always agree with each other.

Oh, the two sites agree on Manny Machado and Andrelton Simmons. The major sites are in agreement within a few percentage points of each other. Both had historically good fielding seasons. The sites agree that Michael Young and Miguel Cabrera were terrible in the field. They differ more widely on the awfulness, but all sites confirm they were bad.

But there are too many others that are so off the charts different that it leaves us neophytes gasping at straws. I want to give you a few examples. But first, the common disclaimer must be made. Just about everyone who is smarter than me says that you have to look at a player's fielding over a three year period to get a fairer view of a player's fielding ability. Don't ask me why. But that is what I hear all the time. And of course, the natural disclaimer that I don't always know what I am talking about.

Let's start with Brett Gardner. As a left fielder in 2011, he was rated highly, so highly in fact that it turned his rather mundane offensive numbers into a pretty good valuation. Gardner lost most of 2012 to injury and then this year took over center field--a position that most thought he was most suited for. So how did Gardner do in center in 2013. Darned if I know. rated him at 1.7 runs above average on defense for eighth best among qualifying center fielders. Baseball Prospectus rated him at seven runs below average for his defense. But then you get to

According to that site, Gardner cost the Yankees more runs on defense than any other player in baseball. According to them, he was 20 total zone runs below average, the most negative number they gave anybody! How can three sites differ so much?

Well, part of that is how the information is displayed that is not necessarily the bottom line. When puts that fielding runs next to a player on that player's dashboard, the number includes positional value and replacement value. For example, if you go to the Value section of Gardner's page there, you will find that they rated him at five runs below average, which is close to what Baseball Prospectus gave him. But that -0.5 was offset by a 1.8 positional value which brings him up to a 1.3. gives him a -20 total zone runs below average, but if you go to where they do their valuations, they give him six runs above average for his fielding and when they add in the positional scarcity equation, he is given 1.1 dWAR based on 18 runs above average. Are you as confused as me yet?

So despite B-R giving him the highest negative on total zone runs in baseball, his defensive valuation is actually higher on their bottom line and as such, they give him 4.2 rWAR compared to Fangraphs' 3.2 fWAR. He received 2.5 WARP from Baseball Prospectus. That is because B-R uses two different fielding systems. One is total zone runs and the other is BIS. More on this in the next paragraph.

Let's take another example. I wanted to see how Shin-Soo Choo made out this year since it was quite a story before the season started that the Reds would make him their every day center fielder. This gets to be quite confusing. actually lists two sources for their fielding stats. One is total zone runs (it has a longer name, but that will do) which is provided by and the other is BIS defensive runs saved above average, which is provided by Baseball Info Solutions.

Choo is given +13 runs above average in total zone runs, the 21st highest in baseball in 2013! But BIS has him at -18 runs saved below average. Choo is given -13.3 fielding runs by Fangraphs and -3.3 by Baseball Prospectus. But again, like Gardner, we need to dig down to the bottom line.

Let's start with Fangraphs. In that site's valuation section, he is given -15.5 for his fielding runs above average. He gets a 1.8 positional adjustment which gives him a total of -13.3 fielding score. Over at Baseball-reference, he get a +13 for his total zone runs but a -18 for his BIS score. In that site's valuation section, they use the -18 number and then add in three for his positional scarcity but still give him a 1.8 dWAR. Baseball Prospectus gives him a defensive score of -3.2. Yes, that hissing sound is my head about to explode.

The bottom line or WAR score for Choo goes like this: 5.2 fWAR, 4.2 rWAR and 6.1 WARP. Ugh.

Let's do one more: Norichika Aoki of the Brewers. gives him a total zone runs of 26, the third highest of anyone! And his BIS score is 13, or half of the other score. Fangraphs gives him a -3.5. Uh. Baseball Prospectus gave him a -3.8. So at least two out of three agree.

Drilling down again to the value sections, Fangraphs actually lists his fielding score at a positive 3.2, but since he played a corner outfield spot, he gets a lot of negative positional hit to bring him down to the -3.5 score and an fWAR of 1.7. gives him a positive 13 number for his fielding (it seems obvious they use the BIS score) and after knocking him some for his positional scarcity, he ends up with a +0.6 dWAR and a 3.0 rWAR. Baseball Prospectus knocks him all the way back to 1 WARP. With a win valued around $5 million (1.7 fWAR = $8.7 mil in value), that is a $10 million swing in the bottom lines.

I am not doing all this to criticize these sites. How can you criticize when you have no idea how the analysis is done? All I am saying is that the uneducated writer like me who tries his darned best to use these metrics, the slope is slippery and very, very confusing.