Closing By Committee Poll: The Results

In my previous post, we discussed the Washington Nationals and their closer situation and did a quick poll/psychology test on who people felt should be closer, based on the statistics of four relievers, Nats or otherwise. If you need to catch up and read part one, you can check it out here.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Did you read it? You didn’t, did you. It’s OK. We’ll move on without you. Thank you to the 21 folks who did vote, even if you did vote for Kenny Powers. To those who ignored my pleas for participation, all I can do is shake my head in mild disappointment:

jim-head-shake

Are you thoroughly shamed? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Undeterred, let’s move on to find out the results of said poll and see who Nats fans think has the stats of a closer.

Let’s briefly recap some things — first, I presented the statistics of four relievers. Two are previous All-Stars, two are current closers, two are non-closer short relievers, and three have 30+ save seasons under their respective belts. A little more information: two are current Nationals and two are non-Nats. So far, so good? OK, the results:

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Player 1 is the resounding winner and it isn’t even close. It appears his combination of stuff, in the form of a good strikeout and swinging strike rate, and success, in the form of his shutdown/meltdown numbers, are what set him apart and led to his vote of confidence by the bullpen committee of you, the readers.

So who was it? Who are the mystery closer candidates?

Player 1 is Sam LeCure of the Cincinnati Reds

Player 2 is Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles

Player 3 is Rafael Soriano of the Nationals

Player 4 is Drew Storen of the Nationals

…and ‘Other’ is the aforementioned Mr. Powers.

Are you wowed? Surprised? Ready to flame me on twitter?

Before flaming, let me discuss the fine gentlemen and the reason why I included the likes of Johnson and LeCure to the discussion.

LeCure, as we learned in my previous post, is similar in style to Storen, not only in approach/stuff, but also place in the bullpen. While from a pure talent perspective, he doesn’t have Storen’s repertoire, he does have a similar pitching style, in the fact that he uses 3-4 pitches and can throw them all for strikes with respectable command of them all. He doesn’t have Storen’s velocity; yet, both pitchers are a rare bullpen breed in using 3+ plus pitches to get batters out. They both also are victims(?) of their situations, in that their managers both manage to the save; they have a designated closer (for the Reds, it’s flamethrower Aroldis Chapman), and from there, the bullpen roles are filled in. Both managers have displayed tremendous amounts of confidence in and leeway to their closers in terms of using them only in save situations and letting them pitch their way out of jams. So, to the 6th through 8th innings, LeCure goes and he has excelled in said role. He has quietly become one of the more reliable relievers in the game and has done so out of the limelight and without much quibbling about where he pitches.

Johnson is not only similar in approach to Soriano in terms of pitching style, but also being oft maligned by his team’s fans. Known to blow a save here and there (he currently leads the AL in blown saves), he still is his manager’s guy, for the most part. While Orioles manager Buck Showalter has shown a propensity to go to the hot hand or to matchups more frequently than Reds manager Dusty Baker or Nats manager Davey Johnson when it comes to managing the ninth inning, he still has publicly confessed that Johnson is his closer. Much like Soriano, Johnson gets by more on contact in the form of a devastating two-seam fastball with a ton of movement and will not induce too many swinging strikes or strikeouts. In this situation, a closer with this approach will be more dependent upon inducing ground ball contact and relying upon his defense to bail him out of tights situations more so than a pitcher who can go to a strikeout pitch to get him out of trouble, so again, we see Johnson and Soriano paired up.

So we have a quartet with a number of similarities and a number of disparities, both within and out of their control. Remember the FIP/xFIP table from the last article? Let’s look at it now, including each player’s ERA:

  ERA FIP xFIP
LeCure 3.12 3.00 3.34
Johnson 3.51 3.94 3.77
Soriano 3.79 3.91 4.17
Storen 5.70 3.84 3.46

Let’s look at this a little closer now and compare/contrast the values here. Previously, we spoke of FIP and xFIP and their relation — when FIP is lower than xFIP, we can infer that a pitcher is pitching better than what his stats project; of course the converse of this is true when FIP is greater than xFIP.

Now, let’s add ERA into this. ERA can be affected more greatly by what the defense does behind you, so when compared to FIP and xFIP, you can get a decent understanding of how much outside forces play a role in a pitcher’s performance. With that in mind, what has each of our four guys done thus far in 2013? First, some quick associations:

LeCure: ERA > FIP < xFIP

Johnson: ERA < FIP > xFIP

Soriano: ERA < FIP < xFIP

Storen: ERA > FIP > xFIP

LeCure has not only outperformed his xFIP, his ERA shows that he might even be a little unlucky in certain instances, but only slightly. Johnson and Storen have both struggled when compared against their own expected performances (FIP > xFIP), but where Johnson has been bailed out by his defense — arguably one of the more talented in the majors — Storen has suffered from the miscues of his teammates at times. Add to it a propensity to give up home runs more so than the other three and you have in a nutshell some of Storen’s  problems this season. Soriano, while not performing to usual standards, is getting a decent amount of help from his defense (ERA < FIP); add to it a low K rate and the occasional home run, and well… I won’t belabour the point.

So what do we have in the end? Overall, there aren’t too many differences between success and perceived failure or struggles; this is where this becomes more psychology experiment than poll. In many ways, labels are just that — labels, and not true definitions or evaluations of worth. It is the perceptions of roles and general success that can sometimes blind a person to a player’s true worth or success — I perceive myself to be the closer, therefore, if I don’t close, I am not successful. My ERA is X, when it should be X-1, therefore, I am struggling. Player X is my closer, therefore, I should not use Player Y in the ninth inning. Player X is my closer, so I shouldn’t use him in the seventh in a bases loaded situation where the batter up to bat is 0 for 25 against my closer, because, it’s the seventh inning. That and no one really likes Soriano.

While my exercise here will potentially fall on deaf ears, it hopefully opens eyes to the notion that success can be found in and defined by many  different combinations of statistics and situations; it’s just a matter of being open to alterations in your perception and the notion that high performers and success come in all shapes, sizes, innings, counts, and pitch types. The fact that many felt a non-closer displayed the most closer-ish stats, even when compared to pitchers labeled as closers, just speaks to this and also speaks to the promise that is left to be fulfilled by pitchers that may not necessarily pitch in the ninth inning.

Closing By Committee Poll

There has been much ado about the status of the Washington Nationals closer role as of late, with the resurgence of Drew Storen, post-AAA assignment and mechanical tweak, and the concomitant tanking of Rafael Soriano, he of the 11.37 ERA, .435 BABIP, and 3 home runs given up in the past six appearances.

While is has been hotly debated as to whether Storen should become re-acquainted with the ninth inning closer’s role that he was so accustomed to and successful in back in 2011 in lieu of the apparently out of gas Soriano, whose efforts thus far in the closer’s role have him tied for second place in the National League for saves, the ultimate answer is sure to conjure up Abraham Lincoln’s quote about not pleasing everyone, every time (I’m paraphrasing here).

The Nationals are a team with an embarrassment of bullpen riches and in reality, they have easily three players who can and have successfully closed games. However, the third member of this trifecta — Tyler Clippard — has been quasi-relegated to setup man duties, so the showdown for the ninth inning comes to these aforementioned flawed fellows. While Storen has shown gumption and some nasty stuff upon his return to DC, his body of work hasn’t impressed in general, and has apparently made manager Davey Johnson a bit gun-shy when it comes to letting him work out of jams. Soriano, while accumulating nice save stats, does not have the fastball/cutter/splitter combo as sharp as has been seen in previous years; overall, Soriano’s repertoire has looked flat in the last few appearances, much to the chagrin of the Nats side of the scoreboard and to the delight of hitters looking for a pitch to drive.

So who wins this arms race? Should there be a changing of the guard? Should things stay as is? Some very emotional and vocal Twitter cries had me thinking about the predicament and I thought this situation is ripe for a poll. Teams have closers by committee, let’s have a closer by poll, yes?

First, let me lay down the groundwork and throw a curve or two just so it doesn’t become a ‘Coke vs. Pepsi’ type of endeavour. I have selected four pitchers — three of them have had seasons with 30+ saves, two of them have been All-Star selections. Two are currently their team’s closer, while two of them toil in the later, non-ninth innings. Who, in your mind, should close? Who, by virtue of their stats, makes you think, ‘yes, this guy can shut things down in the ninth inning’?

On to the stats!

K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% HR/FB GB/FB
Player 1 9.92 3.31 0.73 0.304 79.00% 8.00% 1.02
Player 2 6.87 2.72 0.8 0.323 77.60% 12.50% 2.38
Player 3 6.75 2.14 1.15 0.300 76.80% 9.20% 0.72
Player 4 9.32 2.66 1.33 0.333 60.10% 13.20% 1.17

 
Here, we look at each player’s outcome relevant stats — while they each do things differently in terms of their pitch types and velocities, we can get a good view of where things end up once they release their pitches. Players 1 and 4 strike out a ton of folks. Players 2 and 4 seem a bit unlucky judged by their 2013 BABIP’s. Player 2 gets a LOT of groundballs (GB/FB), but also a lot of home runs (HR/FB%), and Player 4 seems to give up a big, run scoring hit more frequently than he would like, judged by his left on base percentage (LOB%). OK, that’s a nice start, let’s look at some more numbers:

  ERA FIP xFIP
Player 1 ??? 3.00 3.34
Player 2 ??? 3.94 3.77
Player 3 ??? 3.91 4.17
Player 4 ??? 3.84 3.46

 
I will reveal ERAs once I get some poll results as they can possibly reveal who each player is (and what’s the fun in that?), so for now, let’s look at their fielding independent pitching (FIP and xFIP) numbers; xFIP is expected fielding independent pitching, which you can read more about here, if you so desire. In general, pitchers whose FIP is less than their xFIP are outperforming what was expected of them, with the converse being true with their xFIP being less than their FIP. Cool. So Players 1 and 3 are doing better than what FIP expects them to, while 2 and 4 are underperforming. We can take that knowledge and compare it to ERA (once revealed) to look at how much of an effect the pitcher (or defense) has on their performances — typically, if FIP and xFIP are less than ERA, you tend to believe that the defense behind a guy is hurting him a tad. If ERA is lower than both FIP and xFIP, it leads you to possibly think that a pitcher is outperforming his stats, and that the defense behind him has bailed him out a few times. Still with me? Thanks! A couple more tables:

  Swing% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
Player 1 41.00% 73.70% 44.90% 10.70%
Player 2 45.60% 82.40% 42.80% 7.80%
Player 3 49.60% 81.30% 47.00% 9.10%
Player 4 49.70% 78.40% 49.10% 10.40%

 
Here we are looking at how well each pitcher is pitching, with respect to the batters results — are they throwing strikes? Are they good strikes? Do they have a great pitch that generates swings and misses? — and overall, we see Player 1 and 4 are getting swings and misses (SwStr%), typically a hallmark of a good pitch (or pitches). All four players throw pitches in the strike zone less than 50% of the time (Zone%). By the looks of it, Players 2 and 3 generate a lot of contact (Contact%), while 3 and 4 get batters to swing quite a bit (Swing%). When you look at these data compared to the first table, we see a trend — players 1 and 4 have a good bit in common as far as their approaches, while Players 2 and 3 seem to be a comparable pair. Overall, the 1/4 combo have more swing and miss stuff, while the 2/3 combo look to get more hitters out by inducing contact and letting their defense help them out.

  Shutdown Meltdown Pct
Player 1 20 5 80.0%
Player 2 28 11 71.8%
Player 3 22 8 73.3%
Player 4 19 10 65.5%

 
…and last, the shutdown (SD)/meltdown (MD) table. I will leave you to your own devices to read up on what each means (which you can find here); for those click averse, here is the Fangraphs breakdown of the stat:

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 10.47.11 AM

 
So, fellow budding managers, who closes? If you had a choice of one of these players, who would it be for the Nats?

Please note, not all of these players are currently on the Nats, but were chosen for their similarities in terms of bullpen role, success, and fan perception of their success in their given roles.

 

Once I get a few results, I will update the post.

***

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Fanning the Flames

Just when you think a team is on the cusp of putting it all together and playing to their potential and even saying as much, this happens:

images

The dumpster fire I speak of is last night’s convincing 11-1 loss at the hands of Jeff Samardzija and the Chicago Cubs. Convincing in just how toothless the Nats offense can be in generating any runs besides those that come from a home run, which inspired me to do some sleuthing and tweet this:

Just to clarify, since 140 characters can sometimes not be enough to truly express your thoughts on something as big of a train wreck as the Nats offense has been this season – even with a great winning percentage in games when someone hits a homer, the Nats are still about 30 points below league average when it comes to securing victory after securing said runs. When they don’t hit a home run the situation is even more miserable, suffering a terrible record as well as being almost 70 points worse than league average when runs are needed from other sources. Essentially, the Nats offense has devolved, if these numbers are to be taken as ground truth, into one that subsists solely on home runs.

Is that the case? Are the Nats that hapless with bats in their hands — can they generate offense without their power hitters?

Let’s Baseball-Reference surf. First, the good stuff; a table showing Washington’s place in the National League for homers:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.12.54 PM

8th place in a 15 team league – not so bad. OK, so we have an adequate homer hitting team. What else do the Nats have, compared to their NL foes?

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For OPS+, they only outpace the Miami Giancarlos Marlins in terms of overall value of the team’s offense. Ick. Let’s look deeper; how about situational hitting, and some of the more nuanced aspects of hitting that might show the Nats being an adequate small ball team. For this, let’s look at productive outs, which are defined by the PrdOut stat as a sacrifice by a pitcher with one out, any runner advancing with no outs, or driving in a base runner with the second out of the inning. Gritty, gutty, small ball.

How does Washington size up?
Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.19.20 PM

Oh. Dead last in productive out opportunities, and, while not pictured, 13th in the NL for productive out success rate (31%). Add to it the 13th best sacrifice bunt rate in the NL in the third most attempts (a sign that the team is truly trying to find creative ways to get runners on base and to score), and we have a decent explanation for this table and its highlighted stat, runs created per game (RC/G):
Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.16.13 PM

…which again shows the Nats towards the bottom of the pile, but not egregiously so. That’s promising…right?

If you consider that 4.2 value and peek over at the runs scored per game column (R/G) and compare the two, you notice a disparity to the detriment of the Nats — even with the decent number of opportunities to score, they are not all getting converted in the form of plating base runners.

So the team can’t do much of anything in the form of generating runs outside of home runs — is there some bad luck involved, in the form of making contact, but just right at the defense, thereby generating outs? Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) can help us quantify some of that:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.14.58 PM

…and by the looks of it, there is some bad luck involved potentially with the offensive impotence seen with the Nats bats, in the form of a below average .287 BABIP. Looking at raw balls put in play (not pictured), we find the team puts 68% of balls in play, which is exactly league average. Putting these two stats together and luck may not be as strong of an explanation to the Nats woes — it may just simply be Nats fans are watching a below average offense not taking advantage of the inherently few opportunities it generates for itself.

One last stat, just to tie a bow on this turd blossom of a post. Maybe the error here is looking at the parts of a sum, and that the offensive contributions of each of the Nats truly exceed their sums with respect to the hitting situations we have discussed. Maybe the fact that the team has three players in the top 30 in home runs in the NL (Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Jayson Werth) is all that we need to know about the offense, and that all of these fancy maths and stats are somehow misrepresenting the true value of the hitters and the value of the hitting situations encountered thus far in the season. Somehow, the true peak of the offense has yet to be reached, and all of these basement dwelling standings are a mirage.

Here, we have highlighted NL adjusted batting runs (BtRuns), which explains how many runs a hitter contributes to his team above and beyond what a league average replacement player would provide. In other words, better than average players will have positive values, players who deserve to be released or be in the minor leagues will have negative values. Add up all of the values of the team and you hope to have something positive.

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.14.39 PM

Well then. Not only is the NL not that great with respect to this statistic, the Nats are atrocious, over 35 batting runs below league average. A lot can be said about what contributes to this overall value — poor play, poor lineup construction, poor situational outcomes, perhaps Dengue Fever, but in the end, when compared to their cohorts, the Nats have not produced, home run, or otherwise. As an aside and as a way to measure things with this BtRuns stat, the 2012 Nats were third in the NL in the category at 18.5, behind the San Francisco Giants (64.8) and St. Louis Cardinals (59.7).

Flame on, phoenix.

***

*all tables/statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference

I Want a New Drug Hitting Coach: Channeling Your Inner Huey Lewis

Inspiration can, at times, come from surprising places.

Want to run on the field, but need the onus of (electronic) peer pressure to propel you? Look no further than Twitter.

Yes, when you just need that extra oomph to follow through on something, succumb to peer pressure and the tally of a retweet:

The Washington Nationals did a similar thing (in spirit) recently, by firing long time hitting coach Rick Eckstein. In spite of the cries of his followers to keep him on the field, Mike Rizzo let go of Eckstein in the midst of a disappointing season thus far for the Nats, replacing him with minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu. Like our aforementioned twitter dare, the decision was made in an effort to shake things up, to make the unpalatable a little more exciting, and hope that the crowd would become a little more adoring.

The Nats have just about reached the three-week mark since Schu took over the hitting helm; has it made a difference to the offense? Are the Nats better offensively now that Eckstein was relieved of duties?

Broadly, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the 20 or so games they have played with Schu as hitting instructor. With Schu, the Nats are 9-10 and averaging 4.2 runs per game. With Eckstein, their record was 48-50 with a 3.7 runs per game average. Judging by the record and the fact that the National League runs per game average is 4.04, and we are only left with that ‘meh’ taste in our mouths as far as the difference Schu has made thus far to the Nats.

Let’s break it down a little further and look at some stats of the Nats starters along with some bench players to see if the changing of the guard has reaped any immediate benefits, or if the aforementioned numbers are as uninspiring as they appear to be.

First a couple of caveats must be discussed. For gathering data, I approached things in a couple of different ways. With Eckstein, I took individual player stats and looked at what they did this season under his tutelage and also in the last 20 or so games before he was fired. I also took player averages under the Schu regime, but throwing out data from the first series that he was hitting coach. I did this just to give the players a clean slate, so to speak, and remove any potential Eckstein biases on their day-to-day activities. Silly? Probably, but I made the assumption that hitters are humans and they too could require a brief adjustment period to their new supervisor. Who knows, maybe Schu was calling Adam LaRoche Andy, putting him in a funk for a few games until he realized he got the wrong LaRoche. Crazier things have happened.

What we are left with are three datasets for each hitter – season total under Eckstein (labeled Eck_tot), two(ish) week total before Eckstein was fired (Eck_2), and two(ish) week total under Schu (Schu). The two(ish) week totals both ended up being around 55 plate appearances (PA), give or take two or three PAs. While I originally included all players that had at least 100 PAs this season, I ended up throwing out data for Kurt Suzuki, Roger Bernadina, and Chad Tracy because they each had less than 15 PAs under Schu, and I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything about a player with that few of PAs.

That leaves us with the following Murderer’s Row – the starting eight along with Steve Lombardozzi. On to some pretty pictures, courtesy of the awesomely rad software Spotfire. The first five charts are stats (BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, BABIP, and RE24) by player, broken down by the three coaching states; I will leave you to peruse, and add some thoughts after your scroll through the data:

Batting Average

On Base Percentage

Slugging

OPS

BABIP

RE24

The biggest surprise looking at the data is the offensive outburst Jayson Werth has enjoyed – he is more than likely the main generator of the increase in runs per game under Schu and that appears to be driven by his ridiculous BABIP the last month or so (as determined by Eck_2 and Schu rates). Ian Desmond overall has had a consistent season and appears to be pulling out of a slump seen in his Eck_2 numbers; could it be a Schu driven intervention? Maybe.

Adam LaRoche seems to be scuffling a little more than his peers with Schu at the helm. He wasn’t having the most stellar of seasons in general, but some offensive hiccups right before Eckstein was fired seem to have been exacerbated by Schu’s arrival. A similar trend is seen with Ryan Zimmerman‘s output, with a negative RE24 seen in his at plate appearances with the new hitting coach. Lombardozzi seems to be hitting his stride with Schu, with both Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper enjoying an overall positive effect of having Schu around. Knowing that this trio were Nats minor leaguers and have had previous exposure to Schu during his time as minor league hitting coordinator helps explain the possible ‘Schu Effect’ on these younger, home-grown guys.

This final chart is RE24 by coach, and is looking at things at the coaching level versus the player level. Overall, it gives us a quick and dirty way to look at the over effect of the coaching change across the season:

RE24 By Coach

While I leave you to make as many or as few inferences as you’d like with this chart, overall, we see a trend – the last two(ish) weeks of Eckstein and the first two(ish) weeks of Schu look about the same. We have roughly the same amount of guys under performing (a negative RE24) as performing, with a slight nod to Schu overall when comparing things to the final few games with Eckstein. Considering the half run increase in average run output under Schu, the data all jives well with one another.

Despite having our collective hands tied by the chains of sample size, what we have here is a mildly encouraging outlook for the rest of the 2013 season for the Nats bats. While Werth’s BABIP is unsustainable, we do see some players that appear to be on the cusp of breaking out a bit and stringing some good at bats together. While this encouraging outlook is too little, too late for Eckstein, can the same be said for the Nats playoff hopes?

RT for Yes, favorite for No.

Wake up and smell the RE24, Huey.

All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Breeding Familiarity: A Brief Infographic

As we collectively count down the waning hours of the 2013 trade deadline, hoping for a pair of teams to make a big splash before the calendar switches over into August days, one of the not as boring less dull more flashier trades made in the midst of HugWatch 2013 was the trade between the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros. Astros closer Jose Veras was sent to the Tigers for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez in a move that has the potential to be a win-win for the teams. For Detroit in particular, it has the makings of a great move, as they bring in a much-needed arm to their weak bullpen in the form of Veras, who compiled 19 saves and a 140 ERA+ for the ‘Stros.

The 32 year-old Veras is your textbook journeyman, having played for six teams before landing in the Tigers bullpen, all the while possessing a good, live fastball and reasonable strikeout rates as well as some so-so walk rates. Nothing unforgettable, nothing worthy of a shirsey being produced in his honour. Yet something kept tickling the farthest reaches of my mind as I watched Veras pitch today against the Washington Nationals, something that made me cock my head, as if doing so would jog my memory as to what made Veras so familiar, despite his vagabond status. I had seen him before, I had seen it before, in a Tigers uniform, patrolling the 8th inning with a fiery fastball and a painful delivery. To wit, Veras’ delivery:

Ow.

That’s it! This full speed, flailing, herky jerky delivery that, while providing 95+ MPH velocities and an authoritative smack of the catcher’s mitt as a result, has been seen before in the Motor City, with poor results.

Yes, we have seen it before:

Ow ow ow.

The UCL defying, crowd pleasing delivery of Joel Zumaya, reincarnated.

I won’t pile on and go into detail about the medical issues that have felled Zumaya over the years, but I will say that while Veras’ fastball can be electrifying, let’s hope he avoids the foibles of such a mechanically unsound delivery.

Start-ing Over: Some Thoughts On Drew Storen

It’s never easy to have that closed-door meeting, whether you’re giving the bad news or the one receiving it. I won’t go into painful detail regarding the news of Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen being optioned to Class-AAA Syracuse last night after a rough 24 hours that included battling the flu and an appearance against the New York Mets in a bit of a blowout which saw him giving up three earned runs and allowing two inherited runners to score in 2/3 of an inning that for all intents and purposes he had no business being a part of. To be honest, others have done a better job of explaining the gruesome details of Storen’s pitching performance that have sung out the S.O.S. that something was wrong, be it a mechanical flaw or otherwise.

No, for once, I am going to set aside that statistics and just wax unpoetic about what comes next.

OK, I can’t do it – I do have a couple of stats, I just can’t help myself; I promise to be brief.

No matter who he is, how nice he treated your niece, no matter when or how he was acquired, when a player does not perform, very tough decisions must be made; these are especially tough decisions when he is one of the faces of your franchise and one of your much heralded first round draft picks. It stinks. Yet, from a strictly baseball performance and productivity perspective, two saves in seven opportunities stinks, as does the 14.40 ERA in blown saves. A 1.49 HR/9 from a guy who pitched 51% of his appearances in games where his team was either up by one run, down by one run, or tied in the seventh inning or later isn’t cutting the mustard. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

However, let’s look at some numbers that make one feel that a little time away from the spotlight and in situations where a successful outing are in Storen’s favour:

Pitch Contact% Zone% SwStr%
Sinker 86.90% 64.20% 7.30%
Slider 69.30% 49.30% 10.90%
Fastball 82.70% 63.80% 9.20%
Changeup 61.20% 42.40% 22.40%

…and…

Courtesy of fangraphs.com

Courtesy of fangraphs.com

…as well as a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.31 this season – a little over 3 for his career – all tell us something. What, exactly?

Let’s start with the first table, which are Storen’s 2013 contact, zone, and swinging strike rates for his repertoire (thanks to Fangraphs). I don’t include his career rates in the table, but overall his 2013 rates are at or a little better than what he’s done over his career. In short, Storen’s ‘stuff’ is still good – he can miss bats and induce poor contact with his pitches.

OK, sounds encouraging, let’s talk about the second table – his PITCHf/x pitch values per 100, or his pitch linear weights. While there are caveats to looking at this data and then running off with exorbitant assumptions being made by using these values, they are useful with the sample size we have with Storen. While I don’t lend much merit to his 2013 values as being the ground truth, I look at these values more broadly – there are more positive than negative values. The point? Storen has at least three, maybe four, MLB above average pitches in his repertoire.

Add this to a very good strikeout to walk ratio, and we walk away a little more confident in Storen’s abilities and future…

…as a starting pitcher.

It doesn’t happen often, but there are situations where a guy like Storen – who spent has his entire collegiate and professional career as a reliever – can make the adjustment, get his arm stretched out, and become a starter. Hell, the Nats have a guy right now in AAA doing that exact same thing – Christian Garcia. While Mr. Garcia’s 2013 hasn’t been as healthy or productive as everyone had hoped, the fact he is down there and getting the chance to make the conversion from relieving to starting still bodes well for Storen. He is in an organization that still believes in him and is willing to let him make the change and redefine himself and his career.

It’s never an easy road back to the bigs, but hopefully with some of the numbers presented here, a small silver lining has been provided in what has been a stormy 2013 for Storen.

While the disappointment of 2012 may or may not still be looming over the former closer’s head, the ability to come back in a different role than the one that has defined his career and the public’s perception of his pitching talent could be panacea that everyone is looking and hoping for.

 

 

Lies, Damn Lies, and Yasiel Puig’s Age

I get a lot of questions on this blog.

Why are you still writing this crap?
Do bears eat beets?
Who is Doug Slaten?

…and of course – how do I baseball?

I do my best to answer these questions, mostly through nefarious statistical means, thanks to the likes of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Yet, every so often, I get a question that goes beyond the abilities of those fantastic websites, and I am required to fall back on my education in science and medicine to get to the root of the matter, and provide my dear readers the answer they desire when they google their question and inadvertently happen upon this blog ask me the tough questions.

The biggest question I’ve been getting thus far? One that haunts many a player from the Caribbean – how old REALLY is <name here>?

While you can find many instances of players from the Dominican and parts elsewhere to the south of the United States fibbing and whittling off a couple of years off of their actual age in an effort to be more attractive a prospect, in the hopes of getting a bigger signing bonus, one country does occasionally provide us their top-notch talent, along with some additional mystery shrouding the actualities of their biological age due to their political perspectives and the concomitant shrouding of their borders – Cuba.

The latest Cuban to wow the MLB? Yasiel Puig. The latest player to show up in my search history, due to people asking what his actual age was?

Yasiel Puig.

I’m a man of connections and curiosity; I shall use those powers of evil for good, and, with a little help from some medical expert friends of mine, answer this question.

HOW OLD IS YASIEL PUIG? NO REALLY, HOW OLD?

Ready? Let’s get some basics out of the way first…

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Looks good so far…
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Puig is a beast, but could stand to know how to ease those aches and pains, post outfield wall collisions. Let’s get him informed, yes?

Moving on…
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Floss? How often does he floss? Secondhand smoke exposure? Besides the flossing and smoking he does to NL West pitching?

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Obviously the likes of Brandon League and Ted Lilly rely upon Puig to do something for them daily, like bring back homers and lay waste to opponent’s pitching. Hard work. We should list that…

Screen shot 2013-07-21 at 11.40.31 PMHe defected from Cuba then made a bazillion dollars, so points for that. He also had to live in Tennessee, so more points for that hardship… OK, looking good…

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PUIG IS PED FREE I DON’T EVEN…

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OK, looks good. My fellow medical expert buddies, what do we have as a result for Mr. Puig?

Is he REALLY 22?

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Well, there you have it. Expert opinion, expert analysis. Yasiel Puig is actually 19 years old. It’s a scientific and medical fact.

He’s been lying to us all along.