Has it been a month already since I last posted? Oof. Que terrible.
Well, if you’re so inclined, check out some of the things I have written for Parts Elsewhere on the Series of Tubes, yes?
I have written a little more about injuries for Beyond the Box Score as of late. In particular, ulnar collateral ligament tears.
First, I revisited the Medlen/Strasburg debate, looking at whether leverage might have played a role in Kris Medlen’s re-injury, while Stephen Strasburg continues to truck on, almost four years post-Tommy John surgery.
I then take a page out of my old lab notebooks and consider whether tobacco use might play a role in UCL re-tears and poorer outcomes, surgically.
Hot off the presses, I also take a look at the role of the triceps muscle in the throwing motion, through the lens of Scott Kazmir’s recent triceps tightness.
For Gammons Daily, it’s been all about pitching.
For the Athletics fan in your life, I wrote about the move of Jesse Chavez from the bullpen to the starting rotation and what he might do differently pitch-wise in the new role.
Maintaining the California Love, I then had a look at Tyler Skaggs’ Uncle Charlie. Lookin’ good…
Nationals baseball more your thing?
My condolences I have just the thing for you!
For District Sports Page, I’ve covered a numbers of things:
– defensive shifts and their effect on Nats hitters? Got it.
– discussion of some troubling velocity declines for some pitchers? Order’s up!
– Ross Detwiler and some discussion of why he fell short for the fifth starter role (for now)? Enjoy.
– Rafael Soriano? Yes, I have that as well, much to your chagrin.
– Drew Storen and his troubling walk rate during spring training…WITH PRETTY PICTURES? Ayup.
– STRASBURG OUTRAGE AFTER ONE GAME? Embrace it.
– Man crushin’ on Anthony Rendon’s swing? Alright, alright.
Adding to the DSP work, I have been invited to guest blog for MASN, which I am very excited to be a part of.
I started with a comparison of Stephen Strasburg and Tyler Clippard, went from there with a discussion of some quirky stats related to the aggressiveness of Nats hitters early in the season, and went with more velocity decline concerns, this time, with Taylor Jordan.
Lots of words. Lots to discuss. I hope you enjoy them. If you don’t, I welcome your comments (constructive ones, at least) on how to make the words better-er.
In the latest pit stop of their baseball sojourn across the country, the fine, upstanding gentlemen of Baseball Prospectus and Jason Parks came into our nation’s capital to host Baseball Prospectus Day at Nationals Park on Sunday July 7, while also making a stop at independent bookstore Politics and Prose the night before to discuss the latest iteration of their Essential Guide series of annual previews, along with any other baseball related minutiae that the attendees wished to confab about.
Presented with the help of the Washington Nationals, the two events presented an opportunity to
bribe with beer pick the brains of some of the best and brightest of writers, evaluators, and gadflies that cover the game, and appreciate the under-appreciated and oft-overlooked aspects of baseball evaluation and operations. It also provided a rare opportunity to talk shop with some of the decision makers in the Nats organization, and to gauge the intricacies of how the front office puts together the on-field product.
Much like I did in my HDIB? post for Nats Blogger Day, I’d like to take some time and give some ink to the people who made both events a great time and also provide some insight as to what went down for those who didn’t get the chance to participate.
First, here are the BP guys, with Twitter handles and general roles at BP. I am not doing complete justice to the many hats these guys wear at BP and in the baseball community in general, but hopefully this is enough of a start for you fine HDIB? reader(s) to give them a follow and read up on their contributions. I present them in the order they were standing at the Politics and Prose event from where I was sitting, just in case you were wondering.
|Joe Hamrahi||@JHamrahi||President and writer|
|Mike Ferrin||@MikeFerrinSXM||Fringe Average Podcast (@FringeAverage) co-host, Roundtrip with BP/Perfect Game on SiriusXM/MLB Network Radio|
|Jason Parks||@ProfessorParks||Texan, prospects/player development writer, Fringe Average podcast co-host|
|Ben Lindbergh||@ben_lindbergh||Editor-in-Chief, co-host of Effectively Wild podcast, writer|
|Jay Jaffe||@jay_jaffe||Writer Emeritus, quaffer of good beer|
|Mike Gianella||@MikeGianella||Fantasy writer|
|Jason Cole||@LoneStarDugout||Prospects contributor, also Texan|
|Zach Mortimer||@ZachMort||Prospects contributor|
|Chris King||@StatsKing||Prospects contributor, owner of an awesome Twitter wallpaper/background|
Overall, the Politics and Prose event was very informal – it was essentially a free-form Q&A session – while the BP Day at the park was a little more structured. For BP Day, about an hour and a half was dedicated in the (delightfully air-conditioned) Roosevelt Room before the game, and was split between the BP staff and two members of the Nat front office for taking Q&A, which was then followed up with some seats in Section 110 to take in the game against the San Diego Padres. From the Nats, Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti and Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie stopped by to answer
any and all most questions related to the team and their roles in the organization. Lunch was served. Guffaws were had. Mr. Minniti told us unspeakable things that I can’t repeat here; OK, not really. In a delicious twist, Director of Player Development Doug Harris was unable to make it, due to a last-minute change in schedule – now knowing that hours after the game, the Nats traded for Chicago Cubs OF Scott Hairston, well… who knows.
So I’ve set the scene, we have our players (non-uniformed), what was said?
While I did the best to recall as many tidbits as I could, even with quick notes typed into my phone, I know I am missing a lot and might also be misattributing something said to the wrong person. Mea culpa – I hope you enjoy my version of the outing, nonetheless.
Nats prospects – Parks gushed about the future of Lucas Giolito, going as far to say he seriously considered putting him in his Top 50 Prospects list without even throwing a pitch in the minors (Giolito is currently rehabbing back from ulnar collateral ligament replacement – Tommy John – surgery). He projects him to be a legitimate #1 starter prospect, should his recovery and minor league education not be too bumpy of a road; Parks also commented that aside from Giolito and Brian Goodwin, the Nats cupboard did look at little thin, given the graduation of prospects like Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, and Nate Karns to the bigs. He also really liked Rendon as a pure hitter and discussed the nuances of hitting and the neuroscience and psychology behind it, which as a neuro-dork, I lapped up. He did not like Rendon at second base as a long-term solution, given the stresses of the position and Rendon’s lower body health history a bit of a red flag.
‘Best’ front office/organization – by and far, the BP guys loved the things that the St. Louis Cardinals do, but shied away from outright calling them the best, hence the quotation marks. From top to bottom, they, as a majority, felt that things are done in Saint Loo the right way, and with the right things at the forefront of their collective minds. This is not to say that other teams don’t do things the right way, but overall, they felt St. Louis had more talent, top to bottom, in their personnel. It was interesting to hear how they scout amateurs for a particular biomechanical profile* that they feel breeds pitching success, independent of stats or position. Given the horses they have had in recent years – Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller, to name a couple – it’s another interesting approach to drafting talent that has provided the Cards much success. A couple of the BP guys also mentioned how the Cardinals organization is unique because of their scouting and evaluation approach – while they do occasionally go after the Carlos Beltran-type free agent or grab a guy off of the waiver wire as a reclamation project, they tend to makes changes to their roster from within the organization, which is a rare luxury.
Byron Buxton – a question was asked as to who is the best prospect at the moment in the minors and this was Parks’ answer. Go look him up and fall in prospect love.
Catchers and the psychology of a tall receiver – a question was asked about the Orioles (the details escape me), but Ben Lindbergh fielded the question and gave a very thoughtful answer, which then turned to his writing on catchers and their ability to control the game by how they frame pitches. It then went into some of the psychology involved between the catcher and the umpire and how some taller receivers – think Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters – can possibly skew calls against his pitchers, because their height blocks a lot of the ump’s view of the strike zone and can also create additional movement that could skew the umpire’s strike zone. Head over to BP and read more about some of the work Lindbergh has done regarding pitch framing and the effects a catcher can have on the game – it’s eye-opening stuff.
‘Memorable’ minor league parks – An eclectic group of gentlemen – you can read about them over at @CespedesBBQ – were about to embark on a trip to Clinton, Iowa to catch a game, I think Buxton was involved somehow – and they asked what minor league parks were the most memorable, for lack of a better term. Parks and Cole primarily fielded the question, with some input from Ferrin – and it was a resounding vote for Clinton, with special attention given to the smell of the town, due to a dog food plant in the area. Honourable mentions went to Bakersfield, New Britain, Potomac, and Las Vegas. As an aside, I grew up in two of the also-rans – I don’t know whether to be proud of that accomplishment, or to shake my head in embarrassment.
World Series picks – the consensus pick for the AL was the Detroit Tigers, with one vote for the Tampa Rays. The NL participant wasn’t as clear-cut, with votes going to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals, and one vote for the Nationals (Ferrin). An interesting tidbit to come out of the question was how high the BP guys were on the Tigers, in spite of their closer woes; they all felt the Tigers lack of a solid back-end of the bullpen could be easily remedied in the second half of the season.
Nats front office guys– Minniti and Cromie were relatively candid about life in the front office and the hours they put in on a daily basis. Some high points included some discussion about their approach to scouting international players and the role of the international bonus pool money and how different the international scene is for baseball in general and for the Nats in particular, whose troubles in recent years in the Dominican have been chronicled, but are worlds improved under the Rizzo regime. Parks had discussed previously the scene across the MLB with respect to the murkiness that sometimes can be encountered on the international market, and how difficult it can be to scout and produce talent in the Caribbean, in particular. Briefly, there’s a lot of money, a lot of effort, and a lot of question marks encountered in an effort to have just *one* international prospect to see an MLB roster. Moving away from the future and to the present, Minniti intimated that this trade deadline will not be one of lots of moving and shaking from the Nats, as compared to previous seasons; he said that overall, the team will not make too many big splash, high-profile deals. Overall, both Minniti and Cromie lauded Rizzo’s managerial style and how low stress he makes it upon the front office.
As previously mentioned, these are just a few of the points that were touched upon during the outing; this is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, it was a great experience and one that gave me a better appreciation of not only how hard these guys work at their craft, but also how menagerie-like the BP team is, in their personalities and their backgrounds. It was an interesting underlying theme of the events – there are so many places to come from – the financial world, medicine, Brooklyn, wherever – but deep down, all roads lead you to baseball, if you want them to.
Or to Clinton, Iowa – but you don’t want that.
*for lack of a better phrase
A 2-7 record in the games those errors occurred.
11 runs scored as a result of said errors.
No matter how hard you try to paint a rosy picture, full of hope and with an angle that speaks to an analytic stone yet to be unturned that provides an explanation for such a rough showing, sometimes the bare-faced truth is all you can, and should, provide.
Ryan Zimmerman has had better days defensively, manning third base. As the owner of the aforementioned numbers as well as a Gold Glove, much ado has been made of his miscues this season – all but one of them being of the throwing kind – and his seemingly sudden inability to make routine plays in a routine manner. While the fact that he was hobbled last year and earlier this season by throwing shoulder injuries that prompted surgery and some rehab time bought Zimmerman some sympathy votes as to the reason for his defensive follies, he finds himself still looking for the answer and arm slot that will cure his throwing ills.
While I will leave the more intangible and subjective aspects of what is ailing Zimmerman and his typically steady defense, whether they be injurious or mental in nature, for another discussion for another day, I do think that what we see on the surface may not tell the full story of Zimmerman and his defensive hiccups.
Let’s look at 2013 numbers again, this time adding another third baseman to the mix – Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez. I mention Alvarez because he currently shares second place in errors committed in the MLB with San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro, both with nine as of June 3rd. Let’s break down Alvarez’ errors just like we did for Zim:
|L||2||2||throw, force out attempt|
|2 – 7||11||10||*All runs on throwing errors|
|5 – 4||2||9|
Two things jump out at you when you digest this table – Zimmerman’s throwing woes are both pretty egregious and very costly. Even with the same amount of errors committed, it appears Alvarez’ miscues aren’t as costly as Zimmerman’s. Add in to this mix the number of runs the Nats and Pirates have allowed this season – 223 and 199, respectively, and the issues Zimmerman is having with his throws becomes even more magnified. The 11 runs Zim has given up due to his errors account for 5 percent of the runs given up by the Nats so far in 2013; Alvarez’ mistakes account for one percent of the 199 runs the Buccos have allowed. Quite a dramatic difference, in spite of the absolute number of errors not differing by much. While game situations dictate a large part of how costly an error can be – are there runners on base, how many out outs are there when the error is committed, for example – the reality that Zimmerman’s errors are so costly for a team that ranks 27th in the MLB in runs scored compounds the issues at hand.
Let’s move on and have a broader look at Zimmerman’s defense in comparison to some of his 2013 contemporaries, because, let’s face it, errors describe only a small fraction of a player’s overall fielding prowess. For this, I am going to use two defensive metrics that have fallen out of favour for the more robust and descriptive Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), but are still useful tools in describing a player’s defensive abilities – Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and Out of Zone Plays Made (OOZ). I use them here because they still paint an accurate picture of defensive ability and aren’t as sensitive to small sample sizes like UZR tends to be, all while being a little more palatable to the less sabermetrically inclined. For those link clicking averse, briefly, RZR is a way to measure a player’s range and his ability to make the routine plays expected from the position, while OOZ tallies the number of plays that were made and converted into outs on balls outside of the player’s expected zone. When you look at the two in unison, you can get a decent idea of how well a player fields his position as well as his range and his ability to make exceptional plays.
Good with that explanation? OK, now some numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs, looking at what 2013 has brought Zimmerman, Alvarez, as well as the American and National League leaders as far as RZR:
|Name||Team||MLB Rank, RZR||Inn||Balls in Zone||Plays||RZR||OOZ|
Out of 23 qualified third basemen, Ryan Zimmerman ranks 20th in the MLB in RZR, with only Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants ranking worse in the NL. Per Fangraphs, a rough estimate has Zimmerman’s RZR in the ‘awful’ category, which is anything under .700. That being said, no third baseman is considered ‘average’, with no one with a RZR at or better than .835, so as with many other statistical categorizations, caveat emptor. On a more positive (?) note, Zim is tied for 11th place with Evan Longoria, with 12 OOZ plays; Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros leads all MLB third basemen with 25 OOZ plays, followed closely by Pedro Alvarez, with 22.
So what does this tell us?
So far in 2013, Zimmerman’s throwing problems have overshadowed an even larger issue – his apparent decline in defensive prowess. As judged by RZR and OOZ, Zim doesn’t seem to be making the plays that upper echelon defensive third basemen make or the routine ones that all third basemen are expected to make. If we go by just the table above, it appears that Zimmerman may have lost a step, which is hindering his typically elite defensive range.
Let’s not just go by this table – let’s grab some career stats for Zimmerman, and see if this apparent defensive decline is real or just a product of a poor signal to noise ratio. Again, we’ll look at RZR and OOZ, but this time, let’s take a peek at his UZR, now that we have enough of a sample size to look at those values appreciably and confidently. I have included my own innings per error calculation, labeled INN/E; I am also taking the liberty of throwing out his 2005 numbers to keep the data and results as clean as possible, as he only played 15 games that season, one of which was at shortstop.
|Season||Inn||Balls in Zone||Plays||RZR||OOZ||UZR||INN/E|
*italics denote Gold Glove Award winning season
Here, we have a better gauge of how special Zimmerman has been defensively over the years, in particular his 2009 season, where he accrued 102 OOZ plays, which ranks as 1st all-time for third basemen, as well as his 2010 campaign. However, we also see a slow decline in defensive prowess, starting in 2011. Not only do we see a precipitous drop in UZR, going into negative territory, we also see his RZR and OOZ values steadily dropping as well, culminating in the clunker of a season we see him having in 2013. Another red flag we see in 2013 is the enormous jump in error frequency – currently making one every 41 innings played, about a 30 inning shift for the worse as compared to his career average.
No matter how you look at the numbers, the verdict is the same – Ryan Zimmerman’s once superb defensive prowess appears to be failing him. Whether it’s injuries, age, or some other cause, the last three years have shown a gradual progression towards mediocrity and worse at the hot corner defensively for Zim. With the Nationals currently auditioning prospect and career third baseman Anthony Rendon at second base at Class AAA Syracuse in an effort to shore up poor play from Danny Espinosa, it appears that Zimmerman is here to stay, warts and all. While Espinosa’s offense has been atrocious in 2013, he remains an elite defensive second baseman, ranking second in the MLB with a .888 RZR, making the shift of Rendon, a career third baseman, a tenuous one, and one that smacks of desperation from the Nats.
Another stone unturned, another reality better left unspoken.