Time for another update on my non-HDIB? comings and goings, of which there are few, but for good reasons — lots of moving and shaking in my life right now, which has slowed down the usual sabermetric drivel down to a slow drip.
As of late, I have started a small series over at Beyond the Box Score on the best and worst pitches of 2013. You can find my thoughts on four seam fastballs and sliders over at BtB. I used a very sophisticated method as well as an old Cray supercomputer to come up with my algorithm.
OK, fine. I used z-scores based on a handful of PITCHf/x derived values and went from there. On a Mac. Not as lustrous as working on a Cray, but there you go. Once things have calmed down to a dull roar, I hope to pick up the series where I left off by looking at best/worst change ups, cutters, curves, and maybe even split finger fastballs.
Dull roars are a nice segue into my latest article over at Camden Depot — this one is on concussions. Get it? Dull roars, headaches…yeah. Gauche attempts at humour aside, I discuss what a concussion is, how it is treated, and also dig into the little bit of data we have for players who suffered a concussion in 2013 and see how they did pre/post concussion, performance-wise. I hope to grab more data — Jon over at Camden Depot was kind enough to grab a good chunk of the 2013 and 2012 data for me already — and see how things parse out across several years of data. Fun? YOU BET. Analyzing the data, not concussions.
Now, different words, these being of the audio kind.
If you go to Tunes of i, you will find The Shift podcast, courtesy of Beyond the Box Score, with myself included. As we are all busy folks over at BtB, timing and scheduling matters are still being worked out, but we are well on track to be doing a ‘cast weekly, with us hoping for twice weekly sessions. While we are shooting to have guests on periodically, it will primarily be Bryan Grosnick, Andrew Ball, and myself bringing you sabermetric goodness over the airwaves, via a series of tubes. It will mostly be the other two guys, with me being awkward and rambling here and there, so listen to them, and feel free to laugh at my awkwardness. It’s a lot like this:
The fun doesn’t end there! Not only have I been doing the above, but I am also
painfully gainfully employed for the first time in nearly a year. While I wish I could say that it was for a baseball team or baseball related organization, I sadly cannot; hopefully, that day will come, but for now, consulting work in the bioinformatics field will have to help pay the bills for now.
That being said, I am proud to say that I will be working for a baseball organization in the form of a behind the scenes as a contributor -slash- intern for Baseball Prospectus, doing more stats and technology driven endeavours for those powers that be. I am very stoked to be helping out such a great organization and some great folks.
And if that wasn’t enough on my plate to keep me from posting as frequently as I once did at HDIB?, I will also be heading down to Orlando for this year’s Winter Meetings, doing what, I don’t know. Hobnobbing of some sort. If you’re down there, come say hello! I’ll be the pudgy white guy in a shirt and tie — you can’t miss me!
As always, thanks for reading and for your patronage.
It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted here and while I would love to tell you I have spent the time away from HDIB? analyzing the L.O.M.B.O. data and results in preparation for a manuscript that will be submitted to the International Journal of Sport Grit and Want and Desire and Other Things No One Can Truly Measure But Dammit We Try — the IJSGWDOTNOCTMBDWT for short — alas, I have not.
I have however, been busy writing about the Shutdown. Put away the pitchforks and take a look at what Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have done before and after Tommy John surgery and having their innings limited post operatively across a number of stats and categories:
For the Orioles fan in your life, I have lots of prose dedicated to Manny Machado and his MPFL injury and his prospects for a healthy return and what that means for the Orioles in 2014:
Looking to 2014, part of a series over at Camden Depot breaking down 2013 and 2014 by position.
I will be helping out Camden Depot with a couple more of these year in review write ups, focusing more on the O’s bullpen; you can also find more of my nerd math writings over at Beyond the Box Score, if you enjoyed the Strasburg/Zimmermann/TJ bits discussed.
Anyone know what IJSGWDOTNOCTMBDWT’s impact factor is? Might have to shop L.O.M.B.O. around…
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:
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:
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:
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.
In a feckless and lazy attempt at self promotion, I will be taking my cues from the writers of the great USA Network show Psych for this post, and will do a cross promotion with my most recent post for Camden Depot. However, instead of a guest appearance from some WWE
wrassler wrestler, like John Cena or Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, it will be the secret to the success of Orioles closer Jim Johnson making an appearance, channeled by Washington National starter Ross Detwiler.
Probably not. Let me back it up momentarily, with the help of this tweet:
Needless to say Ross Detwiler’s 2013 has started off blazing hot; one run, and at that a debatable one, given up thus far, on the wings of a deadly 1-2 combo of his 2- and 4- seam fastballs. While it isn’t totally unprecedented, Detwiler’s success with essentially one pitch has been turning some heads.
Much like Jim Johnson, Detwiler seems to have finally found his groove after simplifying some things – his mechanics as well as his pitch selection. Much like I did in my Camden Depot article on Johnson, let’s have a look at Detwiler’s most recent outing Wednesday against the Marlins, with the help of Brooks Baseball:
In the 6-1 victory over Miami (good for his first win of the season), Detwiler threw 93% 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs, 74% as strikes, both impressive stats. To compare, Johnson’s career resurgence has occurred simultaneously with an increased confidence and reliance upon his very nasty mid-90s two-seam fastball, which has been tinkered with to get more tailing action into right-handed batters.
To have a deeper look at Detwiler’s transformation, let’s again recruit the help of Brooks Baseball and PITCHf/x. First, let’s look how often he uses each of the pitches in his arsenal over his career:
As we can see, his increased reliance upon his 2- (SI in the chart) and 4- (FA) seamers has been a work in progress, but didn’t really begin to take off until last year. 2012 was also a bit of a watershed year in Detwiler’s young career, amassing a 10-8 record while pitching some gems in the second half of the season. Coincidence? If Johnson’s All Star, 51 save season of 2012, which saw him almost exclusively utilize his 2-seamer, is a useful comparison, probably not.
More tables ahoy!
Now let’s look at Detwiler’s pitching mechanics with respect to his release point:
By the looks of it, Detwiler’s tweaking again has been a work in progress, but it appears that he is now comfortable with a mid 3/4 delivery. With this release point comes changes in how much the ball moves once released – let’s look at those factors now:
Again focusing on Detwiler’s fastballs, we see that the slight mechanical tweaks have given him *slightly* less sink in 2013 on his fastballs, but much more tail of the pitches away from right-handed batters. Again referencing my Johnson article, Big Jim has used an increase in horizontal movement in light of a reduced fastball velocity (about 1 MPH down from 2012). It appears Detwiler is following suit, but in grander fashion, with his 2-seamer averaging about a foot of tail and his 4-seamer around 8 inches of tail in 2013. Like ‘The Janitor’, Det has compromised a little bit of velocity for improved movement, as the 92.5 MPH average for both fastballs this year, compared to his career average of 92.7 MPH for both fastballs, can attest.
Another revelation about Detwiler’s 2013 and career overall in comparison to Johnson’s is neither of them is considered a strikeout pitcher (Detwiler has a career 5.5 K/9, Johnson’s at 5.7) ; both are at their best when they are inducing poor swings and groundballs. How has Detwiler done thus far doing that?
Detwiler is enjoying a lot of groundballs so far in 2013, with rates of 58% on his 2-seamer and 66% with his 4-seamer; for a guy who relies a lot on his fielders to get his outs, this is an encouraging statistic, and again lends credence to the improvement in Detwiler’s fastballs, both in terms of it being a great pitch, but also in terms of his confidence in it.
While I don’t foresee Detwiler relying as heavily upon his fastball the deeper we go in the season as he has in April, I do see him maintaining his fastball frequency in the high 60’s to low 70’s, much like Johnson has from 2011 and onward with his two-seamer. Both Johnson and Detwiler have begun to embrace an unorthodox approach to getting hitters out and are just now beginning to enjoy the fruits of their dedication to becoming one trick ponies, something that is all too often detrimental to the long-term success of a pitcher.
Sometimes familiarity can induce contempt; for Detwiler and Johnson, it induces groundballs.
With the news that Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright will be called up from AAA Pawtucket as an injury replacement, the MLB knuckleball fraternity has increased in size to…2. The call up will have Wright joining Toronto Blue Jay R.A. Dickey, giving the AL East the quirky privilege of having all of the knuckleballers in the MLB.
As I have alluded to previously, those who throw a knuckler are a rare breed and always seem on the verge of becoming extinct in today’s game. Yet, with the help of their senior brethren – Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Tom Candiotti in particular – those who wish to take the bull by the
knuckles horns, most often in an attempt to rejuvenate a stalled pitching career as a fastballer, do trickle in year-to-year, providing *just enough* new blood for the knuckleballer species to survive.
With Wright on the precipice of attaining the goal of every minor leaguer, regardless of arm slot or pitch repertoire, let’s take a look towards the future, and see who remains to carry the torch in the minors and keep the knuckleballer blood lines alive.
Joseph Zeller – Kane County Class A / Midwest League (Chicago Cubs)
The oddball of this group due to his parent organization (more on that shortly), Zeller is your typical knuckleballer, in that he learned it after his pitching career floundered with a more traditional pitch selection. Topping out at AA affiliate Tennessee in 2012, Zeller appears to have been sent back to Class A Kane County this season to further hone his knuckleballing skill set through the mentoring of the aforementioned 25 year veteran and 216 career game winner Hough.
Zach Staniewicz – unknown (Baltimore Orioles)
The most inspirational story in a group of players already defined by their dedication to the game and to making the most out of their talent and opportunities, Staniewicz was recently signed by the Orioles after a tryout. Looking to get back into the game after a few years in the independent Continental Baseball League, Staniewicz sought the tutelage of Phil Niekro while serving in the Air Force Reserve, honing his knuckler skills as a member of the U.S. Military All-Star team. While still a Baltimore farmhand, he doesn’t appear to be on any of their active minor league rosters and could be getting more one-on-one attention from Niekro at the Orioles spring training facility before officially setting out on his minor league career as a knuckleballer.
Eddie Gamboa – Bowie Class AA / Eastern League (Baltimore Orioles)
Another O’s farmhand, Gamboa piggybacked on to Staniewicz’ training in some ways, taking interest in the knuckling wisdom Niekro had to offer Staniewicz; having played around with a knuckleball on the side for a few years, Gamboa took to the pitch fairly easily. A non-prospect up to this point in his career in spite of solid minor league numbers, the UC-Davis product looked to the pitch as many do, as a way to rejuvenate a stalling career. By the sounds of his first outing as a knuckleballer, the future looks bright for Gamboa, even if he still requires some additional seasoning.
On the surface a dying breed, the knuckleball remains alive and kicking in the minors, even with the deserved defection of one of their own to the bigs in the form of Wright. While it doesn’t enjoy the numbers and appeal as a pitching style that it did up until the 1970’s, its novelty will always be alluring to those who are looking for a way – any way – to get batters out. As the family lines are extended by the likes of the gentlemen discussed, they are nonetheless threatened by the lack of older heads to teach the pitch and keep the progeny line moving.
Even with thinning numbers of knuckleballers in the game, the baseball world keeps spinning – in spite of the knuckler’s best efforts.
More Opening Week moving and shaking over here at HDIB? to share with you. I’ve had a couple of articles posted over Camden Depot way, one with an Orioles slant, one without. However, both delve into the seedy world of baseball injuries:
So Cliff’s notes version:
Injuries – bad.
Blogging – good.
Blogging about injuries – delicious.
…and it wouldn’t be a HDIB? post about the Orioles AND injuries without an appearance from our buddy, Nick Johnson:
We miss you, Nick. Hope that golf handicap is treating you well.
If you’ve read this blog with any frequency, you’ll know that I am enamoured with lefty pitchers. Can’t get enough of ’em*. I am also a sucker for a good baseball ‘underdog’ story. 239048th round draft pick who goes on to win MVP? It just got a little dusty in here. Born club footed, but persevered to not only play, but win a stolen base title? YES.
Old lefthander, back in a big league camp, and making waves? OH YES.
While spring training is normally a bit of a slog, this preseason has been a bit more interesting to follow due to the stories of redemption for four lefthanders – 3 former MLB level pitchers and a former outfielder making the conversion to a pitcher. All have had varying levels of success in the past, but find themselves years removed from their last big league appearance, and wearing a high double-digit number in spring training, as non roster invitees. Let’s meet our old friends, shall we?
Scott Kazmir, Cleveland
A 2-time All Star while a starter for the Tampa Rays, Kazmir is easily the most high-profile return from oblivion story of the 2013 preseason. Having made a nice splash in spring training with Cleveland as one part of the Indians plan of trying to catch lightning in the bottle one last time with a former AL East starter (the other being Daisuke Matsuzaka) in an effort to bulk up their starting rotation, Kazmir has already been given the #5 slot in the rotation. While his early 2013 numbers are impressive – a 13 K/BB ratio against 9.2 OppQual opponents per Baseball Reference – his propensity to give up his share of hits, as evidenced by his 12.5 H/9 ratio and 1.46 WHIP, apparently remains from his Tampa and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim days. In spite of this, it is the return of his fastball velocity this spring that has people hopeful that Kazmir can make a triumphant return to the MLB, after 5 IP with the Angels in 2011, and a sojourn to the wilds of Independent League baseball with the Sugarland Skeeters.
Nate Robertson, Texas
A former starter for the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers with ‘meh’ results (career 89 ERA+ and 1.85 K/BB ratio), Robertson nonetheless provided consistent and serviceable innings, to the tune of an average of 31 starts and 191 innings per season, until being released by the Marlins in 2010. While already asked by the Texas Rangers to accept a minor league assignment, the reassignment shouldn’t be misconstrued as a demotion, as Robertson pitched well in spring training, and did so free of the elbow problems that plagued his previous career, and also with a more sidearm delivery. While stats are sparse on Robertson with his new delivery, it can be expected that the opportunity to pitch a few innings as a LOOGY a la Javier Lopez or Clay Rapada, and be a low BABIP, high ground ball rate pitcher is ripe, and that it is simply a numbers and waiting game that is between him and a spot in a MLB bullpen.
Mark Hendrickson, Baltimore
No stranger to the Oriole bullpen, Hendrickson finds himself back in Charm City, which was where we last saw him in a major league uniform, in 2011. Your textbook lefthanded journeyman, Hendrickson, much like Robertson, is looking to make a return to the MLB after a couple of years away, and a revamping of his delivery to a more sidearm release point. Historically, Hendrickson has been a low K/9, pitch to contact type of pitcher, who greatly depends on his defense to hoover up any would be hits, and things are no different now. However, he does look to add more deception and a little more movement to his mid to high-80s fastball and curve combo with a drop in his release point; with this and his 6’9″ stature, Hendrickson has the potential to become a more effective reliever than what he has been historically, inducing ground balls at a rate greater than his career 44% clip, and making lefthanded hitters a little more uncomfortable in the box while facing him. This will come more than likely after a stint in the minor leagues to further hone his delivery, and become more consistent with the new release point. If this spring has shown anything, it’s that Hendrickson is still not completely comfortable with the lower release point, and does tend to drift up to a more 3/4 delivery at times, making him more hittable and prone to a big inning.
Jason Lane, Minnesota
Probably the most intriguing of the four, Lane looks to come back not only at a different position, but also from the longest amount of time away from the big leagues. When we last saw Lane, he was patrolling the outfield for the Houston Astros, primarily in right field. Somewhat overlooked due to the success of teammates at the time, who included Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, and Jeff Bagwell, Lane’s most prolific season was the NL Championship 2005 season, hitting 26 HR and enjoying a 109 OPS+. After a couple of at bats with the San Diego Padres to finish up his 2007 season, Lane was granted free agency, and went on to bounce around the minors for a couple of teams, notably the Toronto Blue Jays. While with the Jays, Lane was occasionally called upon to toe the rubber when he wasn’t playing in the field, with mixed results. After spending the 2012 season with Arizona AAA affiliate Reno, again splitting his innings between the field and the mound, the Minnesota Twins offered him a minor league deal and an invite to spring training. While his professional successes have come from his bat, Lane has always had a good, live arm, and was actually the winning pitcher in the championship game of the 1998 College World Series, as a USC Trojan. This spring training has been a mixed bag for Lane, who shows a good, low 90s fastball with a serviceable curve ball, as he continues to make the transition to a full-time pitcher, and gain command of the strike zone. If his limited minor league numbers are any indication, look for Lane to be an above average K/9 guy, who will give up his share of hits, but will do so without having too many leave the ballpark. Out of sheer coincidence, Lane’s traverse back to the bigs also included a stop in Sugarland, much like Kazmir.
While the odds are against them to fully regain the glory of their younger years, each of these four portsiders are a testament to the resilience of their spirit and their willingness to persevere. Their spring training stories are also a testament to the notion that if you’re lefthanded and have a pulse, you’ll always have a job in baseball.
Cynicism aside, you can’t keep a good man down, handedness be damned.
*Except for Norm Charlton