The Mockingbird

Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Bolting the Barn Door on Burnett

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So the lip service from both the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett is finally over and the Jays’ biggest free agent splash of the last decade has duly shuffled over to the Evil Empire just over halfway through his contract, for a boatload more money and time than the Jays were ever seriously considering. Well those grapes were sour anyway! Here is a rundown of the top 5 most statistically similar pitchers to Burnett according to Baseball-Reference through this point in his career, and where their careers went for the next five years from the age of 32 on.

Please note: this is purely meant for Toronto fans suffering through a cold, barren offseason and is in no way an attempt to be particularly scientific or predictive.

1. Pete Harnish

Coming off a career year, Pete put in another quality season at 32, logging 198 innings with an ERA of 3.68. His strikeout rate dropped, bu he won a career-high 16 games. Then his career totally went to hell – he only pitched another 166 innings over two seasons and logged a 5.09 ERA. Pete would tell you it was because he quit chewing tobacco and became clinically depressed, but we know better. He hit his expiry date.

2. Stan Williams

Stan was sent to the bullpen after a lousy April at the age of 32. He bounced back and forth and wound up salvaging a 3.94 ERA on the year, but would only start only one more game in his career after that. He had one year as a lights-out reliever (1.99 ERA), but was again mediocre at 34 and retired 3 games into the next season.

3, Juan Guzman

As I am sure you all remember, Juan’s career was already pretty seriously in the tank at this point. Except for a bizarre AL-leading ERA of 2.93 at 29, he hadn’t done anything since winning two world series in his first three years with the Jays so they dumped him to Baltimore. He managed to pull it together for one full season of 200 innings with a 3.74 ERA and then his career was toast (he was picked up the next season by the Rays, gave up 8 runs in his first 1 2/3 innings, and never pitched again).

4. Erik Hanson

Another familiar face! His velocity was already shot in his first year with the Jays (at 31), which sent his ERA up by about a run. By 32 his ligaments were well and truly spaghettified. After averaging 190.4 innings over the previous 7 seasons, he threw just 15 innings at the age of thirty-two, 49 the next season, and then done.

5. Kirk McCaskill

Similar to Stan Williams, McCaskill went from a really good starter at 31 to bullpen fodder at 32 after a lousy start to the season. And it prolonged his career a few more years as well – but he didn’t get that one more good year to show for it, posting a 5.05 ERA over three seasons in middle relief until retiring at age 35.

The next 5 aren’t much better than that horror show, but you get the idea. Except for a few high-profile automatons pitching into their 40’s lately, power pitchers in their 30’s aren’t really such a great investment. Of course this isn’t such an issue for the Yankees, who just want the cream of the free agent crop right now and can afford to swallow some major busts down the road. But I don’t need some stat dork to tell me that paying A.J. Burnett 16.5 million dollars to pitch when he’s 36 is going to be a farce.

And I’m actually kind of glad Nuke stuck around in the AL East, too – the Yanks would have gotten someone comparable like Derek Lowe anyway, and now we get front-row seats once A.J’s heater starts to lose a few mph and he trots out the old chestnut about how he’s going to start “pitching” instead of “throwing”, promises to bring his changeup out once in a blue moon, and maybe even mixes in his legendary cut fastball as the Bronx Zoo goes positively mental on him.

Written by halejon

December 18, 2008 at 3:46 am

The Right Wrong Call

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There was a strange play in game two between the Rockies and Diamondbacks last night. In the ninth inning with runners on first a third, a potential double play ball was hit to second. J.D. Drew’s brother, Steve, slid into the second baseman hard to break up the double play and the tying run scored. However, Mr. Drew did not notice that he had actually been called safe by the umpire because Tulowitzki was off the bag when he caught the flip from Kaz Matsui, and dutifully trotted towards the dugout, where he was tagged out. The commentators called it a “rookie mistake” and mentioned that the umpire had clearly made the “right call”, and it could have had a very big impact on the game- the difference between first and second with 1 out and they winning run on second, and only a runner on first with two away.

But really, Drew did baseball a favour. He jumped up because he knew he should have been out even if the shortstop was anywhere in the vicinity of the bag. Although he was technically off the bag, the phantom out is something that happens hundreds of times during the year, and is a totally accepted part of baseball. The player fielding the relay at second and trying to turn two just has to brush his foot by the bag somewhere around to the time he receives the ball, so he doesn’t get mauled by the runner coming in hard. It’s even how young players are taught to turn two properly. This is the third time in the playoffs a player has been called safe- it seems like umpires are being more strict about it and that’s just dumb. It’s like calling a textbook strike zone all of a sudden in the playoffs when nobody has done it all year. What are the fielders supposed to do now?? Guess if you’re going to be a jerk about it?

Here’s the play. It’s close enough. Give me a break…he could have touched the bag for sure if he’d had to, it’s not like he was trying to jump the gun. Nobody needs to see a rookie gold glove shortstop take spikes to the inner thigh on a routine out.

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hype it up! :: Digg it

Written by halejon

October 14, 2007 at 4:59 am

Fielding Statistics are Pretty Useless

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Fielding statistics are the cutting edge in baseball statistics right now, full of complicated math and constant developments. There’s been a lot of progress since fielding percentage was the best thing out there. First came Range Factor, a simplistic but surprisingly effective way of looking at a player’s range based on how many times they touch the ball. But the big revolution was when STATS started manually (3 staff members record every game independently) tracking every batted ball and recording where it went based on a number of zones.

zones.jpg

There have been a ton of defensive metrics developed since then (PMR, UZR and +/- are the most popular), but the data they crunch is all gathered in the same way. There are now two companies, STATS and Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), that collect play-by-play data and sell it for thousands of dollars to teams and organizations. Here’s an article talking about the difference between the two and how much they correlate. It mentions that:

During this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Business Conference, Rob Neyer told attendees that the evaluation of major league player hitting, pitching and fielding performance has been adequately addressed, and Bill James agreed with him.

Ok, so we’re done, right? Problem solved? Hardly! While I agree that the systems are ingenious, you don’t have to poke around much to find some huge inconsistencies between the two sources of data they’re analyzing, and it’s not the sort of thing that you can get around by comparing or weighting both sources or multiple systems. I was hoping that I’d totally overlooked something, so I sent in the following question to the Hardball times (ignore my typo, I meant RZR, and they returned the favour by calling me Jonathan G.)

I have a question about UZR. A lot of sites have Troy Glaus’ zone rating at .737, which is the worst in the American League. That makes sense seeing that he has been hobbled by plantar fasciitis this season. However, Hardball Times has his UZR at .706, which is among the best in the AL. He also has more balls fielded out-of-zone than most players, which makes his range look like the best in the AL other than Brandon Inge. I thought that UZR was just ZR separated into two different components. How could it give such a different impression of a players’ range?

- Jonathan G.

I was rather disappointed that the answer wasn’t just that I was being an idiot. As the Hardball Times said in their reply, the difference in Troy Glaus’ zone ratings is due to STATS and BIS (ESPN uses STATS, the Hardball Times uses BIS) recording very different totals for both the number of balls hit into Troy’s zone and how many he fielded; enough to swing his ranking between the second-worst and the second-best third baseman in the league (now, as opposed to when I asked the question originally).

First, the two companies have significantly different definitions of the size of a player’s fielding zone. STATS gives him a total of 281 chances, while BIS shows 204 balls hit into his zone and 48 plays made outside of it, for a total of 252. That’s a difference of 10%, but the zone doesn’t have to be that much larger; it makes more sense that it’s only a little bigger but a lot of balls were hit just outside BIS’s zone, because under their system Glaus leads the league in balls fielded outside of zone and wasn’t exactly known for his diving plays or lightning-quick first step this year.

As long as everyone used the same zones, using larger ones wouldn’t make a difference for figuring out a player’s relative ability. However, the two systems also differ by 15 on how many plays Glaus made, with STATS crediting him with 207 plays (281 chances, .737 ZR) and BIS 192 (144 in zone, 48 outside of it). So who’s right? In the article by Sean Smith mentioned in their reply, he points out that most putouts (which are mostly fly balls, line drives, etc.) don’t count as “plays” for the purposes of Zone Rating (unless a player fields a grounder and steps on the bag). Troy Glaus had 197 assists this season, so according to STATS he made an additional 10 plays by way of the putout. However, according to BIS, he completed 5 fewer plays than assists. In that case there had to be some unusual assists, such as a deflection to John McDonald that would give Glaus an assist but not credit for a play.

Either there’s a lot of human error, or there’s a really different definition of what counts as making a play. The BIS number is closer to the number of assists, but having watched Troy limp around out there and gaze wistfully at balls he would have dove for last year, I find the excellent ranking given by their system a little suspect, especially the huge number of balls ‘out of zone’ (48) he got to. But who knows? That’s one of the problems with secret, proprietary statistics. Unless someone has 10-20 grand lying around to delve into the raw data, there’s no way to know or to break it down and see what’s causing the difference or whose system could be leading to inaccuracies. And if the only two sources for play-by-play data available can report a player on absolutely opposite sides of the fielding spectrum, how can you take the results of all the fancy analysis based on them seriously? GIGO.

Written by halejon

September 27, 2007 at 1:54 am

Jesse Litsch – What Went Right?

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As I mentioned last week, Jesse Litsch has been all over the place as he learns on the mound this year. Fortunately, the good people at pitch f/x managed to capture his latest gem against the Yankees in all it’s glory, so we can dissect it to see what he’s figured out to get over his late-season slump.

Here is a graph of the movement on his pitches that befuddled the Yankees. As could be expected, it looks a lot more like his gem against the Mariners than when he was getting shelled. His changeup is back, and although it’s not dropping as much consistently, he’s throwing it more often than he ever has.

Also of note is that there isn’t much difference, if any, between his two big breaking pitches any more. This is good since his cutter/sinker/whatever has progressively started cutting further down and in this season. It has as much movement as his slider which almost makes that pitch redundant. Instead, Litsch is concentrating on a breaking ball that is halfway between his slow looping curve and faster slider, and throwing it as often as he was those two combined.

He was also getting his curve over for strikes low in the zone, and trying to back-door the Yankee’s left-handed hitters with it. Surprisingly, a lot of hit cutters ended relatively high in the zone, which is why he did get hit hard but for a lot of ground balls. He did manage to keep his tailing fastball low and away.

All in all, a nice way to end the year for the 22 year old – not just because he shut down the best offensive team in the majors, but because he did it with a return to consistency and a slightly streamlined approach that could help him continue that going into next season, wherever he ends up.

Written by halejon

September 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

Somebody Call BJ Birdy

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Because the Jays are getting back to their roots. Next year the Jays will have a second “Home Alternate” uniform:

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in addition to some other changes:

  • Change to road jersey lettering
  • Addition of sleeve patch to road jersey
  • Change to batting practice jersey lettering
  • Addition of alternate uniform (all-sky blue pullover jersey from the 80s)

As you can probably tell from the giant, gaudy banner, I just want to see the old classic logo from time to time instead of the current steel-grey, Tampa-Bay-ripoff garbage (incidentally, the Rays are undergoing a “Complete identity change including Club name and Club colors.” Yeah, that’ll get the fans back!!). Powder Blues were beyond my wildest dreams. I just pray that “alternate” means “every second day”, because those are amazing. I could probably hit a home run if the reward was trotting around the bases looking that fine…

Written by halejon

September 19, 2007 at 7:41 pm

The Call

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After a couple of questionable calls by the walking nightmare that is Kerwin Danley didn’t amount to anything, last night Coco Crisp legged out what looked like a sure double play to end the inning. The Doc cursed at the ump a few times, and then admittedly had a meltdown, giving up a home run on the next pitch followed (after some more cursing at Ellsberg for being a twit as he rounded the bases) by two straight doubles that iced the game.

So was it a bad call? The next inning they showed the only camera angle that you can tell anything from, and here are the important frames:

1) Just before

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You can see the ball just about where Crisp’s foot is, as a streak downwards.

2) Impact

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This is the shot that the broadcast stopped on, and it looks like he’s out. The ball is nowhere to be seen and it looks like Coco’s heel is down but he might not be quite on the bag. However, the ball isn’t in Overbay’s glove yet, it’s hidden in front of the corner of the bag as a white streak- you can sort of see the start of it over Crisp’s shoe. Because in the next shot…

3) After

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The ball is clearly inside Overbay’s glove, but Crisp’s knee is already buckling and he’s clearly touched the bag.

Sorry for the lack of high-def, you may now proceed to stop your eyes from bleeding…anyway, it could have gone either way but this looks like a great split-second call to me. I’ll be back for the next 40 or so weeks with every other @#$@#$ call at first base that HAS been blown for the Jays this season.

Written by halejon

September 5, 2007 at 5:31 pm

K/9 vs. ERA by league

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For all of major league baseball:

mlb-k-rate.jpg

Now broken down by the AL:

al-k-rate.jpg

And the NL:

nl-k-rate.jpg

Written by halejon

September 4, 2007 at 12:35 am

Posted in Analysis, Baseball

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