Saturday, April 05, 2014

Quit yer stallin' for relief pitchers

Although I am on the high side of my fifties, I am in large part still a kid inside. Baseball works very well for that. And when I yell at players on my television screen, I often yell in the voices of Bugs Bunny characters. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. Such an occasion occurred last night in the Blue Jays - Yankees game when Toronto manager, John Gibbons, clearly stalled the game trying to give a relief pitcher in the bullpen a few more reps before he came in to pitch. Out of my mouth, Yosemite Sam's, "Quit yer stallin'!"
This is how it happened. Starter, Dustin McGowan was having a rough night. Gibbons had been forced to start up the bullpen in the first when the Yankees started cuffing McGowan around and had the bases loaded with two runs already in. But McGowan got out of the jam without further damage and then pitched a successful second inning.
Lulled into thinking that McGowan had settled in, despite a walk and a stolen base by Brian Roberts, Both McGowan and Gibbons thought that McGowan got out of the third when Ichiro Suzuki was called out on a close play by the first base umpire. Joe Girardi provided the first stall as he waited by the umpire to hear from his dugout on whether to challenge the call. We'll talk about this problem again in a minute.
Gibbons thought correctly that McGowan was in a compromised position by the call reversal and he desperately wanted to bring in Aaron Loup to take McGowan's place. Loup had just gotten up when Yangervis Solarte boomed a double to score two runs. The problem after this was that Loup still wasn't ready yet.

And so we saw what we see all the time. The pitching coach walks as slowly to the mound as he can without completely stopping in place. He then folds his arm while the entire infield gathers and stays like that until the umpire comes to break it up.
The pitching coach leaves and from the dugout, catcher, Dioner Navarro, is instructed to go to the mound and talk to his pitcher, as clear a further stall as has ever been seen. And in a move probably paid for by Toronto spies, a fan ran onto the field and ran around until he was captured thus giving Loup the time he needed to finish getting ready. For eight to ten minutes, no baseball happened. It was then that I yelled in Yosemite Sam.
I am not picking on just John Gibbons and the Blue Jays. What they did (other than the fan running around) is done every day by managers around baseball. Part of Joe Maddon's "genius" is his mastery of the stall tactic. Remember Sam Fuld warming up to pitch? Tony La Russa was famous for the same thing.
In my mind, such stalling is cheating and not in the spirit of how baseball is to be played. If you read the official MLB rule book, the word, "Delay," appears 23 times. It is obviously something that is frowned upon. Heck, batters are not supposed to leave the batting box and pitchers are supposed to throw the ball within twelve seconds of receiving it. Don't even get me started on these rules not being enforced.
Mound visits are not specified in the delay cycle of the rule book and it should be. But it also says that a team is in danger of forfeit if a manager tries to delay or shorten a game. You could read into this law for enforcement.
If the relief pitcher is not ready, the manager is at fault for not thinking ahead or panicking in time. If the relief pitcher is not ready, the game should resume with what he has on the mound and resume quickly.
Such a stall tactic is being allowed when it comes to the new instant replays. Managers are allowed to shuffle around next to an umpire until getting a signal from the dugout for a yea or nay on calling for a replay. This allowed delay is a flaw of the new system which has been mentioned many times by others. It needs to be fixed.
But the delay for relief pitchers is grievous to me. It is stalling and not in the best interest of baseball or its fans. It is cheating and just as bad as other forms of cheating. It should not be winked at.
The rules should be changed that when the manager does his little hand puppet gesture for the catcher to go talk to the pitcher, the umpire should have discretion to say no. The rule should be changed so that a pitching coach must jog or get to the mound and quickly as possible and not stay more than twelve seconds. And if he does neither a balk should be called.
Stalling is cheating. Saying it is a part of baseball if you want. But that does not make it right.

MLB Game Picks - Saturday: April 5, 2014

Friday was a pretty good day for the picks. There were five that were incorrect. The Pirates had a great game that I did not expect. The Mets and Lucas Duda beating the Reds I did not expect. I thought the Dodgers and Ryu would do well. They were beaten badly by the Giants. But I did make a great pick in the Brewers beating the Red Sox. And my goodness, did you see Giancarlo Stanton's homer? Wow!

The Game of the Day, the A's and the Mariners were rained out. So no tally there today. Here are Saturday's picks (Eight day games!):
  • The Indians over the TwinsKyle Gibson had a great spring for the Twins, but the Indians are really strong right now. Carlos Carrasco is going to get his share of strikeouts. A lot depends what he does in between them, which can be hit or miss.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Losing Mark Teixeira is not great news, but this game completely depends on if Michael Pineda is the real deal or not for the Yankees. R.A. Dickey has problems in the dome. So, that's the pick.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: The Orioles rotation has really laid an egg so far this season. Every one of their starters has an ERA over seven. Ouch. The Tigers will hit Bud Norris too. I predicted a breakout season for Rick Porcello with the defense behind him, so I should stick with my words, eh?
  • The Mets over the RedsDillon Gee is underrated, and he is good at home. I think he will hold the Reds down and the Mets will score against Johnny Cueto. That's a tough call though, because Cueto is so good when he is on.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: The choice of Bruce Chen or John Danks is not a great one. But if you are ever going to pick Chen, it is at home. How about Adam Eaton so far! The guy is raking.
  • The Phillies over the CubsJeff Samardzija was fantastic in his first start and could not get any support. The Cubs are not all. Cliff Lee knows what that feels like. But he should get the win here.
  • The Mariners over the Athletics: The A's will stick with Dan Straily instead of skipping him due to the postponement. The Mariners, on the other hand, will skip their guy and go with Felix Hernandez. That makes a huge difference.
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Who would you choose, Madison Bumgarner or Paul Maholm? I rest my case.
  • The Nationals over the Braves: The Nats never seem to play well against the Braves and Stephen Strasburg never seems to pitch well against them. So why am I picking them? Because this is ridicules. Julio Teheran goes for the Braves.
  • The Pirates over the CardinalsJoe Kelly won the fifth starter job from the Cards and he should have. But I don't think he is as good as Francisco Liriano who can shut down the Cards.
  • The Red Sox over the BrewersWily Peralta can be good at times, but I like Clay Buchholz better. 
  • The Marlins over the Padres: The Marlins came out of the gate smoking. Casey McGehee doesn't even look like the same guy who left for Japan since no one wanted him in the MLB. And Jose Fernandez is pitching at home. I never pick against him there. Andrew Cashner will keep it close though.
  • The Bay Rays over the RangersNick Martinez gets the start for the Rangers. He has looked really good in relief. But will that translate as a starter? Either way, he is staring down David Price, who seems to have his groove on early.
  • The Rockies over the DiamondbacksKirk Gibson is going to blow up into a million pieces soon from his inward anger if the team does not get going. I don't think Brandon McCarthy will pitch well in Coors Field. Jorge De La Rosa might be a stretch too though. Carlos Gonzalez is red hot.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Angels over the Astros: The Angels showed up finally on Friday. Josh Hamilton is back and stoking. Albert Pujols is not yet doing what I thought he would do and will. Tyler Skaggs is a big piece of the Angels' season. He has to pitch well. Dallas Keuchel would probably be better for the Astros if he changed his first name to, "Houston."
Yesterday: 9-5, Games of the Day: 2-2, Season: 39-25

Friday, April 04, 2014

MLB Game Picks - Friday: April 4, 2014

I started yesterday at 0-3, so I was happy to finish up with a 6-4 record for the Game Picks. That Twins - White Sox game was wild, wasn't it? Seattle and Oakland played a great game with great pitching throughout. Coco Crisp does a lot of those walk-off kinds of thing, or so it seems. He hit his homer against old friend, Hector Noesi. There was one postponement, the second of the season, as the Tigers and Royals were rained out.
We are back to a full schedule today. With lots of day games! Yay! Here are the picks:
  • The Nationals over the Braves: The Nats have opened the season with a bang and seem really deep. MLB has a TBO next to who is pitching, but there are reports elsewhere that Jordan Zimmermann is pitching. David Hale goes for the Braves. He was not very impressive this spring.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: It was nice for the Tigers to have Anibal Sanchez held back by yesterday's rain to start this one. He is tough and faces a tough lineup. Miguel Gonzalez goes for the Orioles and should be fine after taking a liner off his shin at the end of Spring Training.
  • The Brewers over the Red Sox: This is a big stretch, but Jake Peavy worries me and Marco Estrada is the kind of pitcher that can shut down Boston. The Brewers get an extra bat in the lineup too.
  • The Cubs over the Phillies: I have zero confidence in Roberto Hernandez. None. Nada. I do like Travis Wood a lot and especially his left arm against the Phillies.
  • The Indians over the TwinsDanny Salazar did not have a good spring, so that worries me. But despite the Twins' win yesterday, they don't look very good. And Mike Pelfrey never scares anyone.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: Neither Juan Nicasio or Randall Delgado set my heart aflutter. So without knowing what will happen, I will settle for the home field advantage.
  • The Royals over the White SoxJeremy Guthrie wins his share of games despite lousy peripherals. And Erik Johnson has yet to translate his winning ways in the minors to the Major League level. This is one of those coin flip games.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Isn't Matt Kemp back today? That will confuse the outfield situation. Who sits? Anyway, Ryan Vogelsong no longer worries me as a pitcher, which is not good. And Hyun-jin Ryu is pitching very well.
  • The Cardinals over the PiratesShelby Miller did not have a very good spring, but he has been a very solid pitcher since hitting the Majors. He and Gerrit Cole are both making their season debuts. I think it will be the Cardinals on top.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: This game confuses me. I worry about Masahiro Tanaka against a lineup like the Blue Jays. I love Dustin McGowen's story, but doubt his ability to succeed as a starter. The Yankees had to fly all night. We'll just have to see what happens.
  • The Reds over the Mets. The Mets look dreadful. It could be a long season. But they have had stretches where they recover. I think they have to make a decision at first base and stick with it. Anyway, Mike Leake over Jenrry Mejia.
  • The Marlins over the Padres: I have no clue in this one. Tom Koehler versus Eric Stults. I don't know. I just picked four visiting teams to win in a row and it made me shake. So I picked the home team here. Yeah, this is weird.
  • The Rays over the RangersJoe Saunders? Oh please, no. I am looking for Wil Myers and Evan Longoria to clean his clock. Jake Odorizzi goes for the Rays an he looks like another good one.
  • The Angels over the Astros: The Astros are better offensively this season. But they still have a long way to go. The Angels have struggled out of the gate. I think Garrett Richards will be better than Lucas Harrell.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: If you want to see something really funny, look up Chris Young's player page on He looks like Peewee Herman throwing a baseball. Dan Straily never does wow me, but I think he will win.
Yesterday: 6-4, Games of the Day: 2-2, Season: 30-20

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bullpen arms and anti-regression velocity

In a post yesterday, I pondered relief pitchers like Chad QuallsMatt Albers and Jake McGee who have unexpectedly increased their fastball velocity with age. Their careers piqued my curiosity. And so I took a look at pitchers who have pitched in relief since 2010 and if their velocity has regressed or not. Let me share what I have discovered.
First, let me disclaim a few things. As always the disclaimer that I am not a math guy with a great handle on how to figure these things out. I am more like Joe Posnanski in knowing enough to be dangerous but not nearly as good at him at writing about my feeble discoveries and calculations.
Secondly, I am using's Pitch Type tool which lumps all fastball types together (4-seam, 2-seam, sinker). While that is inconvenient, it does make it easier than tracking three different pitch types.
And lastly, I am not talking about success rates, movement, the value of the fastball or anything but velocity. As most of us know, velocity has a lot to do with success (ahem, Mr. Sabathia) but not everything (ahem, Sabathia critics). Location and command are just as important.
The first thing I did was look at league averages. Each year since 2010, there has been a fairly consistent total of 135 to 137 qualifying relief pitchers and the averages have been constant. They are as follows:
Year, Ave Fastball for All, Ave Fastball for top 50
  • 2010 - 92.45, 95.00
  • 2011 - 92.50, 94.97
  • 2012 - 92.51, 94.84
  • 2013 - 92.65, 94.94
  • 2014 - 92.47, 94.52 (SSS)
Two things pop up for me looking at those numbers. First, they are remarkably consistent from year to year, so it gives us a framework. And secondly, it is unbelievable that 37% of all relief pitchers throw some pretty serious cheese.
What I am now interested in is those relief pitchers that have pitched in all five of these seasons (or at least four of the five) and how many have had their velocity decrease (regress), increase (progress) and remain constant. And I am only interested in pitchers who have only relieved in that time period.
Going through all five years (that took hours!) I came up with 54 pitchers who pitched either all five or four of the five seasons. I may have missed a name or two, but the idea was to get a decent sample size. The raw numbers do not include factors like injuries, climate changes, etc. Nor does it take into account that in some cases, the fastball is not the relief pitcher's main weapon (think Luke GregersonKoji Uehara).
I considered a significant change anywhere over .5 MPH plus or minus. As you will see from my list below, fifteen saw significant increases in velocity over the time period. Twenty-three pitchers saw significant drops in velocity, which is what you would normally expect. That leaves us with 16 that haven't changed significantly either way, which is a story in and of itself.
The conclusions left still do not answer my question. How are guys like Jake McGee beating the time machine? McGee has added significant velocity in each season! How is Chad Qualls doing what he is doing? How about Matt Albers and his 6.3 K/9 rate suddenly blowing people out with fastballs?
Please don't think I am stirring up controversy. I am not making accusations in this day and age. Gosh, no. It's not that at all. It's just that to me, velocity is age relevant and somehow, fifteen pitchers are resisting arrest...arrested development that is and it sort of messes up my head.
Name20102011201220132014 (SSS)1st to 20132014 age
Jake McGee93.594.895.796.396.92.828
Chad Qualls92.192.693.194941.936
J.P. Howell85.686.58687.484.71.831
Junichi Tazawa91.893.793.592.81.728
Craig Kimbrel95.496.296.896.996.51.526
Logan Ondrusek92.692.993.593.992.81.329
Jeremy Jeffress95.496.894.796.795.41.327
Koji Uehara88.188.888.989.21.139
Matt Albers92.493.693.793.495.1131
Tom Wilhelmsen95.296.396.294.5130
Jason Grilli92.493.693.494.4135
Fernando Rodney95.695.596.196.5930.934
Pedro Strop94.994.396.995.895.50.929
Steve Delabar9494.694.792.60.730
John Axford94.995.696.295.493.10.531
Francisco Rodriguez91.190.391.891.4900.332
Juan Gutierrez94.7949594.70.331
James Russell88.888.189.189.1860.328
Mark Melancon92.892.793.392.9930.129
Joaquin Benoit9493.993.794.195.30.134
Dale Thayer92.992.893.992.992.2033
Joe Nathan92.39492.290.3-0.139
David Robertson91.993.192.291.7-0.229
Jim Johnson9495.194.393.893.4-0.231
Tyler Clippard92.392.792.892.192.4-0.229
Steve Cishek92.592.792.292.390.1-0.228
Jason Frasor92.893.19392.591.4-0.334
Carlos Marmol94.191.89493.794.4-0.432
Aaron Crow9594.594.691.8-0.428
Ronald Belisario94.993.59494.494-0.531
Casey Fien91.592.89192.3-0.531
Drew Storen94.49594.693.992.2-0.527
Matt Lindstrom95.79694.89594.8-0.734
Heath Bell949493.693.290.3-0.837
Wilton Lopez92.391.792.491.590.6-0.830
Cesar Ramos91.992.391.691.189.6-0.830
Fernando Salas91.391.291.890.493-0.929
Sergio Romo88.689.497.787.788.6-0.931
Al Alburquerque95.494.594.393.3-1.128
Joakim Soria91.991.490.889.5-1.130
Aroldis Chapman99.697.997.798.3-1.3
Sergio Santos95.995.394.894.693.7-1.331
Kenley Jansen93.993.391.992.494.9-1.527
Bobby Parnell96.597.295.79592.3-1.530
Antonio Bastardo93.592.591.891.791.4-1.829
Matt Thornton96.195.89594.2-1.938
Chris Perez94.693.49492.793-1.929
Rex Brothers95.395.393.491.8-1.927
Huston Street91.390.18989.488.6-1.931
Addison Reed94.994.692.893.4-2.126
Luke Gregerson90.689.789.288.287-2.430
Jose Valverde95.293.993.492.892-2.436
Jonathan Papelbon94.99593.89291.6-2.933
Santiago Casilla96.693.693.993.494.2-3.234