09 March 2012

ESPN 3 Who to Watch: Weekend of March 9-11, 2012.

by Jeremy Strain



FRIDAY
 3/09 

4:00 PM EST #7 North Carolina vs. #19 Clemson
This could be a great pitching matchup with top prospect Kevin Brady (0-0 1.12 ERA) for Clemson going up against top 2013 draft candidate Kent Emanuel (3-0 1.00 ERA), one of the best young pitching duels in NCAA. 

SATURDAY
3/10       

2:00 PM EST #9 Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina State (Exclusive)
Georgia Tech features a top 2012 pitching prospect in Buck Farmer (2-1 3.32 ERA) and two top OF prospects in Brandon Thomas and Kyle Wren, who is the son of ATL GM Frank Wren.

2:00 PM EST #7 North Carolina vs. #19 Clemson
The Saturday pitching matchups don’t offer any BA top prospects for the 2012 draft, but Clemson 1B Richie Schaffer will be playing.

7:00 PM EST Boston College vs. #13 Miami (FL)
Miami fields three BA top 100 players in C Peter O’Brien, P Eduardo Encinosa, and SS Stephen Perez.

SUNDAY
3/11       

1:00 PM EDT #9 Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina State (Exclusive)
With Farmer pitching Friday, this matchup should be one to watch for the OF prospects Thomas and Wren.  

1:00 PM EDT #7 North Carolina vs. #19 Clemson
With Kevin Brady pitching on Friday night, the prospect to watch in this game will be 1B Richie Schaffer for Clemson, and anyone interested in the 2013 draft should be watching North Carolinas young team where a couple players should emerge as top prospects next year.

08 March 2012

Finding Goose Gossage in Wei-Yin Chen

I was listening to Kevin Goldstein's and Jason Parks' podcast (episode 84: This Show is a Disaster).  They discuss how there was a Major League team that saw Tim Lincecum as a relief ace in the mold of Goose Gossage.  That is, a relief pitcher who could rack up a 150 IP.  It requires a pitcher who is capable of bouncing back rather quickly between outings.  A player with a rubber arm.  There has not truly been a player fitting this mold in 25 years with Toronto's Mark Eichorn.  Eichhorn threw 157 IP, but they were high leverage innings and he managed a 6.4 WAR.  Before him, the seventies and eighties had several relief aces like the aforementioned Goose Gossage, but also Mike Marshall and Bob Stanley.

I think what ended the era of the relief ace was free agency.  Teams used to be more willing to be aggressive with their pitchers.  There were no rigid pitch counts and pitchers would throw several bullpen sessions working on pitches.  Some pitchers were able were able handle this workload.  Others could not.  With the increasing cost of free agent pitchers and pitching prospects, it made financial sense to be more protective of prospects.  However, because the teams could not figure out who had a rubber arm and who did not, approaches were developed to be protective of all pitchers.  The end effect is that the rubber arm pitchers do not have the opportunity to emerge. 

Even more rebellious systems, like the Texas Rangers, do not have a system in place to find this kind of play.  However, there is a system that does: Japanese baseball.  One of the ways in which baseball differs in Japan is the way in which pitchers train.  Daisuke Matsuzaka's training regimen was described in Men's Health.  Between starts, Dice-K would throw three 150 pitch sessions.  He would rarely lift weights, but would do a great deal of cardio and sprints.  Some of Dice-K's more amazing feats include a 249 pitch, 17 inning effort and his four day, 38 IP, and 500 pitch effort in a high school tournament.  Michael Street also wrote a couple of excellent articles on how pitching is regarded in Japan and mentioned how pitchers are often taught to go deep into pitch counts.

The result is that there are starting pitchers that become available as international free agents usually around the ages of 30-35.  Wei-Yin Chen, 26, signed on with the Orioles for roughly 12MM spread over three years.  I am unaware of his throwing regimen, but will assume it is similar to the majority of NPB pitchers.  For a mid or upper tier revenue team, this cost would be fine to try a solid pitcher with a training background similar to many who have gone throw the NPB system.  Chen could be used for high leverage situations every other day and pull in 30-50 pitches in the bullpen and another 30-50 pitches in the game.  The Orioles could target Chen for meaningful innings in close games, maximize his performance by having him throw threw the lineup once, and slide him in where his left-handedness may provide him a better opportunity to be successful.

This will not happen though.  Chen is slated as a starter.  Although I have thought differently, it appears Tsuyoshi Wada does not have a handshake agreement to start.  His 86 mph fastball and his fringe breaking balls and change up may have the opportunity to provide a great deal of innings.  His marginal offerings suggest that he would not fit the mold of relief ace.  Wada could serve as an inning eater in games that have gotten away from the team which would save them from having to use Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, and others in games that are unlikely to matter.

07 March 2012

How Good is an AL Ace?: Mean Performance of Pitchers by Slot

There is a series of articles by Jack Sackman that you can find here.  It is an idea I found interesting an often use when I describe pitchers as a certain type of slot pitcher.  I think in common use a person referring to a guy as a one slot pitcher is more or less actually saying that the guy is a one slot pitcher on a first division team.  In other words, an ace on one of the ten best teams in baseball.  In this series of posts, I plan on going through each division and describing what each slot means and how that relates to teams.
AL East | Central | West
NL East | Central | West | NL Summary
AL Summary of Slots

In this post we will go through and look at four team FIP performances for each slot: median, first division cut off, best, and worst.  The following relates to numbers produced in 2011.

Slot 1
An AL pitcher at this slot could be described as:


Median
3.26
67th
3.47
33rd
3.16
The Epitome of a Slot 1 Pitcher would be the Cleveland Indian's Justin Masterson (3.28 FIP).  Seattle Mariner Felix Hernandex (3.13 FIP) would be the threshold first division ace and fellow Mariner Micheal Pineda would be the closest to a bottom rung ace (3.42 FIP).  In our evaluations, we had the Tigers' first slot as the best last year (Doug Fister 10g 2.52 FIP; Jason Verlander 22g 2.99 FIP) and the Orioles as the worst (Chris Tillman 13g 3.99 FIP; Zach Britton 19g 4.00 FIP).

Slot 2
An AL pitcher at this slot could be described as:


Median
3.71
67th
3.91
33rd
3.51
The average Slot 2 pitcher would be the Texas Rangers' Alexi Ogando (3.68 FIP).  Fellow Ranger Matt Harrison (3.52 FIP) is the threshold first divsion second slot.  A third Ranger, Derek Holland (3.94 FIP) would qualify as a bottom threshold second slot pitcher.  The team with the best slot 2 performance was the Angels (Dan Haren 2g 2.99 FIP; Matt Palmer 3g 3.09 FIP; Jered Weaver 27g 3.20 FIP) and the worst was the Orioles (Zach Britton 9g 4.00 FIP; Jeremy Guthrie 23g 4.51 FIP).

Slot 3
An AL pitcher at this slot could be described as:


Median
4.06
67th
4.25
33rd
3.92
Mr. Number 3 in 2011 would be Detroit Tiger Rick Porcello (4.06 FIP) with Mr. First Division Number 3 as Ranger Derek Holland (3.94 FIP) making his second appearance in this column.  The Indians' Josh Tomlin (4.27 FIP) would be the bottom rung three man.  The team with the best slot 3 performance was the Mariners (Michael Pineda 18g 3.42 FIP; Erik Bedard 14g 3.70 FIP) and the worst was, once again, the Orioles (Alfredo Simon 16g 4.59 FIP; Jeremy Guthrie 9g 4.51 FIP; Tommy Hunter 7g 4.71 FIP).

Slot 4
An AL pitcher here can be described as:


Median
4.36
67th
4.45
33rd
4.24
Bruce Chen (Royals, 4.39 FIP) would be the closest pitcher that embodies the meaning of the fourth slot.  The Twins' Brian Duensing (4.26 FIP) would be your threshold 4 man and Jeremy Hellickson (Rays, 4.44 FIP) would be your lower tier line.  The team with the best slot 4 performance was the White Sox (John Danks 27g 3.82 FIP; Mark Buerhle 5g 3.98 FIP) and the worst was, oh my, the Orioles (Brad Bergesen 12g 4.84 FIP; Chris Jakubauskus 6g 5.00 FIP; Tommy Hunter 4g 4.71 FIP; Jake Arrieta 10g, 5.34 FIP).

Slot 5
An AL pitcher here can be described as:


Median
4.90
67th
5.14
33rd
4.84
The splitting image of the 5 slot pitcher would be the Angels' Tyler Chatwood last year (4.88 FIP).  Your first division fiver was the Twins' Nick Blackburn (4.84 FIP) and the bottom third gate keeper was the Blue Jays' Brett Cecil (5.10 FIP).  The team with the best back end performance was the White Sox again (Zach Stewart 6g 4.84 FIP; Mark Buerhle 26g 3.98 FIP) and the worst was, one more time, the Orioles (Jo-Jo Reyes 5g 7.12 FIP; Brian Matusz 12g 7.66 FIP; Mitch Atkins 3g 8.93 FIP; Jake Arrieta 12g, 5.34 FIP).

AL Average Rotation
1 - Justin Masterson, Indians
2 - Alexi Ogando, Rangers
3 - Rick Porcello, Tigers
4 - Bruce Chen, Royals
5 - Tyler Chatwood, Angels

AL First Division Threshold Rotation
1 - Felix Hernandez, Mariners
2 - Matt Harrison, Rangers
3 - Derek Holland, Rangers
4 - Brian Duensing, Twins
5 - Nick Blackburn, Twins

06 March 2012

AL West FIP and Pitching xWARs by Slot

There is a series of articles by Jack Sackman that you can find here.  It is an idea I found interesting an often use when I describe pitchers as a certain type of slot pitcher.  I think in common use a person referring to a guy as a one slot pitcher is more or less actually saying that the guy is a one slot pitcher on a first division team.  In other words, an ace on one of the ten best teams in baseball.  In this series of posts, I plan on going through each division and describing what each slot means and how that relates to teams.
AL East | Central | West
NL East | Central | West
Methodology
For each team, slots were broken down in 32 starts per slot (for a total of 160 games).  Pitchers were ordered by FIP, lowest to highest.  They were then broken up into slots.  Their FIPs were weighted by inning allotment and a weighted average was calculated for each slot.

An example:
Chris Tillman had an FIP of 3.99 over 11 starts, Zach Britton had an FIP of 4.00 over 28 starts, and Jeremy Guthrie had an FIP of 4.51 over 32 starts.  For the purpose of this study, Tillman's 11 starts all counted for the Orioles slot 1 along with 21 of Britton's 28 starts.  The remaining 7 starts were put into the slot 2 position with 25 of Jeremy Guthrie's starts.  When a pitcher's starts are split between multiple slots, it is assumed that their FIP is equal for every inning thrown and that their IP are equal for every start.
AL West

FIP


The AL West had two things last year: (1) several good pitchers and (2) home runs (which FIP uses) that are suppressed by several parks.

Below is the AL West FIP by Slot Table.



1 2 3 4 5
Angels 2.99 3.18 3.75 4.22 4.91
Athletics 2.93 3.64 4.01 4.18 4.49
Mariners 3.13 3.30 3.54 4.07 5.13
Rangers 3.24 3.50 3.71 3.99 4.54

xWAR

The following graph is simply a predicted fWAR value using only FIP and IP as described in this post.  It serves as an approximation of fWAR worth.


It seems my original idea about many 5 slot pitchers have negative values has not panned out as we go from division to division.  In the AL West not a single team had a negative xWAR.

Below is the xWAR AL West  by Slot Table



1 2 3 4 5
Angels 5.89 5.43 4.07 2.56 0.47
Athletics 5.75 3.98 3.05 2.55 1.59
Mariners 5.62 4.85 4.00 2.94 0.13
Rangers 5.06 4.21 3.53 3.06 1.79

Comparison to Orioles
The Orioles first and second slot pitching could work as these teams' fifth slot pitching.  This is pretty remarkable.

05 March 2012

Eyes on Spring Training: Is Chris Davis the Next Eric Karros?

Chris Davis is slotted in to begin the season as the Orioles' starting first baseman.  He is an interesting player.  He has shown massive power in the minors and has flashed skills in the Majors that could lead to him being a good offensive first baseman.  However, he does not have historical precedence in his favor.  If you do a search for first basemen who had over 1000 plate appearances and a rWAR worse than -2, you come up with the following list:






Player  WAR/pos  From  To  Age 
Chris Davis  -2.4 2008 2011 22-25 
Dan Meyer  -5.6 1974 1978 21-25 
Howie Schultz  -2.7 1943 1948 20-25 
The is not a list to be excited about.  Dan Meyer showed some promising raw power, but was never quite able to make it play in a game situation.  He bounced around from Detroit to the expansion Mariners and then finally the Oakland A's where he was related to a role player and, eventually, AAA depth.  Howie Schultz' offensive success in the depleted minors during WW2 did not translate to the Majors (At 6'6, he was rejected for military service).  When the soldiers came back, it was apparent that he did not have the ability to play baseball and decided to flip over to the NBA where he won a championship with the Lakers.

This looks bad, but it is difficult to look at these players and see a strong relationship to who Chris Davis is.  When your sample size is three, there may be considerable differences between the players and different reasons for struggling may not mean that those reasons are equally challenging to overcome.  Davis' -2.4 rWAR is composed of a below average offensive component and an atrocious defensive component.  Dan Meyer's defense rates similarly to Davis, but his offense is horrendous.  Schultz' -2.7 is similar to Davis', but all of it is a result of an inability to hit.  I have difficulty with these players informing us about Chris Davis' future.

In light of this, I performed a new search looking for first basemen who have had between 1000 and 1500 plate appearances through their age 25 season and who were below average at hitting and fielding.  This resulted in four players:

Player  WAR/pos  From  To  Age 
Ricky Jordan  1.7 1988 1990 23-25 
Willie Upshaw  -0.9 1978 1982 21-25 
Eric Karros  -1.7 1991 1993 23-25 
Chris Davis  -2.4 2008 2011 22-25 
This list is actually a bit more promising.  Ricky Jordan was a platoon player on the platoon crazy early 90s Phillies teams.  He was a big guy who was above average against lefties and was eaten up by righties.  Unfortunately, such a player is not of much use these days with the expansion of the bullpen.  It is difficult to keep a strict platoon first baseman on a roster.  Willie Upshaw broke out in his age 26 season with a 4.3 rWAR and maintained starter production for an additional two seasons.  Afterward, he struggled to produced and went over to Japan.  Eric Karros took until his age 27 season to figure out how to up his contact rate high enough to become a good major league starter.  He had the best career of the players in this group.  There are also some similarity between the two in terms of them both being solid contact based minor league power hitters.  If Davis can match a similar career path as Karros, the Orioles should be happy.

Of course, Davis needs to figure out how to hit pitches that are not just down the middle or down the lower middle of the plate.


As you can see on the heat map above, Davis underperforms when he is challenged high, outside, and pretty much inside as well.  This graph is based only on 836 pitches, but it really gives the appearance of an amazing mistake pitch hitter.  It could be a major reason why he dominates AAA because the pitching at that level is filled with guys whose control is not the greatest.

04 March 2012

Draft Prospects on ESPN3: March 4


by Jeremy Strain

ESPN3 match ups to watch for Sunday March 4, 2012:

1:00 PM EST #23 USC vs. #6 North Carolina
This match up doesn’t feature any top 100 Baseball America (BA) pre-season prospects but it does feature a chance to watch a 2013 top prospect in N. Carolina pitcher Kent Emanuel .

1:00 PM EST #2 Florida vs. #8 Miami (FL)
This is a great game to watch if you are a fan of the draft, with 10% of the top 100 BA’s college prospects playing in one game. Florida boasts the Lion’s share led by position players: C Michael Zunino, 1B Preston Tucker and SS Nolan Fontana, and a deep pitching staff led by Brian Johnson including Austin Maddox, Hudson Randall, and John Magliozzi. Miami fields three top 100 players of its own in C Peter O’Brien, P Eduardo Encinosa, and SS Stephen Perez

2:00 PM EST #3 South Carolina vs. #19 Clemson
South Carolina boasts a lineup featuring draft hopefuls, 1B Christian Walker, OF Adam Matthews, P Matt Price, and OF Evan Marzilli. They’ll be facing a Clemson team that features 1B Richie Schaffer and P Kevin Brady.

3:30 PM EST Houston vs. Texas Tech
This matchup doesn’t feature any draft prospects ranked by BA at this time. 

7:00 PM EST #4 Rice vs. Tennessee
This game features the Rice pitching duo of J.T. Chargois and Taylor Wall, two pitchers to keep an eye on.

03 March 2012

AL Central FIP and Pitching xWARs by Slot

There is a series of articles by Jack Sackman that you can find here.  It is an idea I found interesting an often use when I describe pitchers as a certain type of slot pitcher.  I think in common use a person referring to a guy as a one slot pitcher is more or less actually saying that the guy is a one slot pitcher on a first division team.  In other words, an ace on one of the ten best teams in baseball.  In this series of posts, I plan on going through each division and describing what each slot means and how that relates to teams.
AL East | Central | West
NL East | Central | West
Methodology
For each team, slots were broken down in 32 starts per slot (for a total of 160 games).  Pitchers were ordered by FIP, lowest to highest.  They were then broken up into slots.  Their FIPs were weighted by inning allotment and a weighted average was calculated for each slot.

An example:
Chris Tillman had an FIP of 3.99 over 11 starts, Zach Britton had an FIP of 4.00 over 28 starts, and Jeremy Guthrie had an FIP of 4.51 over 32 starts.  For the purpose of this study, Tillman's 11 starts all counted for the Orioles slot 1 along with 21 of Britton's 28 starts.  The remaining 7 starts were put into the slot 2 position with 25 of Jeremy Guthrie's starts.  When a pitcher's starts are split between multiple slots, it is assumed that their FIP is equal for every inning thrown and that their IP are equal for every start.
AL Central

FIP


What I find exceptionally interesting here is how good the White Sox pitching was last year.  No one was Verlander-esque on the team, but the FIP of the ChiSox 5 slot (predominantly, Mark Buerhle) was right in line with the best non-Sox 3 slot.  Although the ChiSox pitching was so incredible, they finished with 79 wins due to an anemic offense.  Adam Dunn, Juan Pierre, and Alex Rios all had negative WAR and had almost 2000 plate appearances.  What a waste of a rotation.

Below is the AL Central FIP by Slot Table.



1 2 3 4 5
Indians 3.28 3.93 4.26 4.39 4.89
Royals 3.73 4.17 4.33 4.47 5.21
Tigers 2.85 3.44 4.08 4.28 5.14
Twins 3.64 4.10 4.23 4.50 4.78
White Sox 3.29 3.52 3.74 3.85 4.12

xWAR

The following graph is simply a predicted fWAR value using only FIP and IP as described in this post.  It serves as an approximation of fWAR worth.


Again, what the ChiSox did last year throwing the ball was impressive.  Injuries and trading Edwin Jackson (who recorded the majority of the 1 slot outings) did little to affect the quality of the rotation.

Below is the xWAR AL Central  by Slot Table


1 2 3 4 5
Indians 4.94 2.78 2.48 1.98 0.70
Royals 3.63 2.60 2.37 1.52 -0.32
Tigers 6.33 4.39 2.72 2.20 0.02
Twins 3.87 3.08 2.27 1.51 0.93
White Sox 4.75 4.13 3.80 3.52 2.93

Comparison to Orioles
It should be informative that the Orioles' 1 slot pitching performance (2.5 xWAR) is less than the White Sox' 5 slot pitching.  The Orioles' 2 slot pitching perforamnce (2.14 xWAR) is less than the Tigers' 4 slot pitching.  The worse pitching performance (Royals, -0.32 xWAR) is a factor 12 better than the Orioles' 5 slot (-4.04 xWAR).  Not good.