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.
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:
…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.
Volatility is rampant throughout baseball, but is at its most visible in the bullpen and the player draft. Year to year, each can make or break a team and their evaluators, especially when you consider the high stakes involved with first round draft picks and the money and expectations that are involved with being a team’s first pick. With regards to the bullpen, the year-to-year stability and production of a player is tenuous at best, and it is rare to find a reliever that provides not only elite results – be it saves, holds, or another metric – but results that remain consistent across years.
It is also rare to have first round draft picks in the bullpen; these high-profile selections are typically slotted for players that will perform at higher impact positions than reliever for the foreseeable future, such as starting pitcher. However, it does happen; take for instance Kansas City Royals former starter Luke Hochevar:
As you can gather from Rany Jazayerli‘s tweet, the role Hochevar finds himself in (a multimillion mop up reliever) wasn’t the one envisioned when the Royals made him the first player picked in the 2006 amateur draft. Sometimes, the best laid plans and the information at hand end up not being enough to prevent a poor decision being made; sometimes, things simply don’t work out. Yet, the time, effort and (most importantly) money involved with the development of any player, let alone a first round draft pick, forces a team to make allowances and to give the player an opportunity to succeed in a different role.
Enter the bullpen.
The bullpen is a sanctuary from past failures in many respects. Failure to live up to your starting pitcher billing. Failure to learn a third pitch. Failure to get hitters out with a traditional release point. Whatever the case may be, it is a rare breed of reliever that has spent his entire career in the ‘pen and even rarer to be drafted in the first round – Drew Storen comes to mind as an example of the infrequent player drafted in the first round and projected as a career reliever.
Yet, first round talent is first round talent – and whether it’s to start the game or come in at a high leverage point in the later innings, talent will prevail. With this and Jazayerli’s Hochevar tweet in mind, I began to wonder: do bullpens display a draft round effect? Do teams who employ higher round draft picks in their relief corps enjoy more success than those who don’t?
As we set off to find out if this effect is legitimate, let’s get the details of the materials and methods used sorted out.
First, I used Baseball Reference to determine team bullpens – if they weren’t listed as a starting pitcher and hadn’t started a game thus far in 2013, I included them as a reliever.
Next, I went and collected their draft data – both round and pick. Now here’s where things get a little shaky; I excluded players who were not drafted, which means non drafted free agent signings, guys like Baltimore’s Darren O’Day, for example, are not part of the data set. Another type of player excluded are international free agent signings, so guys like Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney won’t be part of this analysis.
For bullpen rankings, I used Fangraphs, and their positional power rankings articles for relievers, which you can find here.
I also grabbed each reliever’s career Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) from their Fangraphs page as a measure of each pitcher’s ‘talent’; theoretically, the more talented a pitcher, the more readily he can determine outcomes, which would be reflected in a lower career FIP. While FIP isn’t perfect, it’s a nice analog for our purposes here.
OK, on to data!
This chart shows the average round of each team’s bullpen pitcher, as well as how many first rounders they have coming in relief, contrasted with their Fangraphs bullpen ranking. Overall, Colorado leads all of MLB with their drafted relievers, on average, drafted in the first round (actually, 1.25th round), and shares the lead with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Toronto Blue Jays for most bullpen first round draft picks, each with 3. Atlanta’s bullpen was ranked #1 by Fangraphs for 2013, with Houston’s coming in 30th place, with Atlanta doing so with no first round talent.
Right away, we can see the volatility previously mentioned – no real smooth progressions or trends jump out at us. Exemplifying this volatility are 2 teams that have an average bullpen draft round of 20 – the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers – yet New York’s ‘pen is ranked 3rd, while Milwaukee’s is 29th. You would assume ‘lesser’ talent, as judged by average draft round, would mean a lesser relief corps, yet New York’s staff flies in the face of that assumption.
Good stuff already; now let’s look at team average FIP:
Again, we don’t see much of a trend here. Aside from the #1 ranked team having the lowest team FIP amongst its drafted pitchers and the #30 team having the highest FIP, it’s a hodge podge in between. Let’s confirm with a regression.
Regressing FIP by average draft round gives us the following:
f(x) = -0.006x +3.906 and R² = 0.005
This means there is a slight negative trend between FIP and round drafted, which is peculiar; you would assume that as draft round increased, so would FIP, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. However, a coefficient of determination (R²) of .005 means there isn’t a terribly strong association between FIP and draft round. Doing the same exercise, but replacing average draft round with average player draft number gives us the same results – nothing. Strong correlations between data are normally accepted at R² greater than 0.8.
While you could do a regression between FIP and Fangraphs ranking, I don’t include it here, since the Fangraphs rankings included all members of a bullpen, drafted or otherwise, so our dataset doesn’t exactly match with what Fangraphs was working with when they made their rankings. However, you will end up with a very low R² and strength of association; not shocking, given the disparity between the datasets.
Let’s look at things in one more way – is there a significant difference in Fangraphs ranking between teams, grouped by number of first rounders?
Cutting to the chase, there isn’t.
Overall, we see that average draft round or position doesn’t appear to have much effect on a bullpen and being drafted in a low numbered round doesn’t necessarily equate to superior performance. Since non-drafted free agents weren’t included in the analysis, we can’t make too many inferences or come to too many rock solid conclusions about the results, unless we make a whopper of an assumption that the drafted and non-drafted groups are similar enough to assume what we learned from the drafted players can be applied to the non-drafted players. Yeah, let’s not do that. While not an exhaustive exercise, it does lend merit to the notion that so much of baseball is a crapshoot – #1 draft picks flame out, while guys who couldn’t even get drafted in a 50 round format are All-Stars. While the stats don’t necessarily lie in this instance, they certainly don’t appreciably explain or quantify all of the variables that go into determining the career success of those that are acquired by through the amateur draft, at least within the scope of interest I have presented.
In a game already defined by uncertainty, volatility reigns.
Everyone loves a good magic trick.
Quarter from behind your ears? Classic.
Bunny from the top hat? Bravo!
Getting a prom date, looking like me at the age of 17? OK, more miracle and dark wizardry than magic, perhaps benefited by an animal sacrifice, so let’s leave that one out.
Here’s a poorly made gif of the pitch in question – it’s hard to see, but goodness, it was a disgustingly good changeup:
The pitch was started at the hip, and not only did the speed difference fool Wise, even if he didn’t swing, it would’ve been a called strike three with the location. Unreal.
…and what’s more unreal is the pitch repertoire Storen would have if he is able to consistently throw his changeup, offsetting an already devastating high-90s fastball/slider repertoire. It’s rare to find a short inning reliever with 2 plus pitches, let alone 3, but with this new pitch, that’s exactly what the Nats would possibly have in Storen.
This table shows how frequently and how hard he throws each of his pitches over his career; overall, we see a slight downtick in fastball velocity, with an increase in his using the changeup thus far in 2013.
This second table is data gathered from PITCHf/x information and provides us pitch linear weights, or the runs above average for a given pitch, per 100 pitches thrown. It’s a nice way to measure how successful a pitcher has been with a given pitch; the more positive the number, the more success and vice versa.
Look at the ‘wCH/C’ value this year – 11.90 already for his changeup; Storen’s fastball, even though slightly below his career average velocity-wise, is also looking like a great pitch for him thus far in 2013. As a reference, last year Yu Darvish had the highest changeup pitch value, at 5.71. Storen’s changeup is twice as good as the best one seen last year, per PITCHf/x.
While there’s a lot of game left in this season and hopes must remain tempered, this new(ish) pitch for Drew bodes well for him enjoying a dominant comeback of sorts, after his Game 5 NLDS struggles.
The magic is there – as long as you believe.
As the 2012 offseason begins to wind down, so does the list of available free agents, and the number of possible roster spots that the likes of Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse could possibly fill for a team in 2013. It’s a time of desperation, a time of fitting square pegs into round holes, not only for players and agents, but also baseball writers.
With Rafael Soriano joining the likes of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen at the back end of the Washington Nationals bullpen, it appears that, aside from possibly adding a short inning lefty arm to complement Zach Duke, the Nats are set in terms of their relief corps.
Ken Rosenthal doesn’t seem to think so, and mentions a scenario having the Nats signing Kyle Lohse, then sending lefty starter Ross Detwiler to the ‘pen being bandied about. Great idea, right? Add a solid #4/5 starter, then have a great shutdown lefty, in the form of Detwiler – win/win!
As Dan Kolko mentioned in his article, Detwiler was drafted as a starter, and is just now coming into his own as a starting pitcher, after several years of being bounced from the starting rotation to the bullpen. A trip back to the bullpen would send the wrong message to Detwiler, who is just now beginning to live up to the promise he showed when the Nationals made him their first pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, out of Missouri State University. Anecdotally, tall pitchers tend to take more time to develop, as it takes time for them to consistently replicate their pitching mechanics, pitch to pitch. Lefthanded pitchers are also notorious late bloomers, for an assortment of reasons. Knowing that Detwiler is both tall and lefthanded, we simply see the ramifications of the natural progression of a tall lefty; good things come to those who wait.
…and wait the Nationals should – all while exhibiting patience and staying true to their blueprint for 2013, which should have Detwiler as their #5 starter. A return to the bullpen could prove catastrophic for Detwiler and the Nationals, not only from the psychological aspect of a ‘demotion’, but also from a long term perspective. If the Nats need any historical inspiration to keep Detwiler in the starting rotation, they don’t have too look far back into the annals of baseball for a cautionary tale. They only need to go as far back as 2011.
June 16, 2011, Joba Chamberlain had Tommy John surgery, ending his season, and by the looks of it, his career as a starter. Like Detwiler, Chamberlain was drafted as a starter out of college, going back and forth between starting and relieving since coming up to the New York Yankees in 2007. Spending most of 2007 as a reliever, Chamberlain spent 2008 primarily in a bullpen role, mixing in 12 starts throughout the year. In 2009, the Yankees used Chamberlain almost exclusively as a starter, making 31 starts, chalking up 156.1 innings, and enjoying a 9-6 record, with a 1.8 fWAR. After losing out on a rotation spot to Phil Hughes the following season, the Yankees powers that be again changed their minds, and scrapped plans to have Chamberlain as a fixture in the starting rotation, and used him in the bullpen, primarily as a set up man for Mariano Rivera.
Post surgery, Chamberlain has been further relegated, now to a middle inning reliever, pitching 20 innings in 2012 to the tune of a 0.1 fWAR, 11 hits per 9 innings, and 1.55 WHIP. While there is still time for Chamberlain to continue to recover from Tommy John surgery, and to fully accept and acclimate himself to the bullpen role he sees himself in for the foreseeable future, Chamberlain’s career is one indelibly marred by the indecisiveness of the Yankee front office.
Success in baseball remains an exercise in vision and perseverance. For Chamberlain and the Yankees, only one half of this equation was satisfied, and led to the promise of Chamberlain as the keystone of future Yankees starting rotations to be left unfulfilled. For the Nationals, it is imperative for them to stay true to the vision they had in 2007, with Ross Detwiler as a starting pitcher; they cannot be sidetracked by a myopic pursuit that would peg him as a short inning reliever for 2013.
Detwiler’s time is now, and it’s time for him to be a starter.