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.
Earlier in the week, Harry Pavlidis had an article in the WaPo breaking down the changeups featured by the Washington Nationals and a breakdown of each into one of four categories that evolved from whether the changeup generated lots of swings and misses (called a ‘whiffer’) or groundballs (a ‘grounder’). If a pitcher’s changeup did both, it was a ‘double threat’ pitch and a ‘no threat’ if the whiff and groundball rates generated by the pitch were sub par. It comes as no surprise to anyone who watches Nats games that Stephen Strasburg‘s changeup is a double threat and one that Pavlidis admits to arguably being the best in baseball. Also garnering high marks but ultimately labeled a grounder type of changeup was Tyler Clippard‘s change of speed, which he pairs with a fastball that he keeps up in the zone to get batters to produce a large number of strikeouts and flyballs. This pairing as well as the part of the strike zone Clippard lives in is not a common approach to get hitters out, but Clippard’s track record is plenty of proof that it can be effective.
Getting back to the changeup, I had a look at the differences between Clippard’s and Strasburg’s changeup, looking for what made Stras’ a double threat and Clip’s just a grounder. Both fantastic pitches, but what was the secret to Strasburg’s offspeed success? While the velocity differences do show some significant disparity — Clippard’s changeup is of the ‘Bugs Bunny’ variety, with a ton of velocity bled off of it compared to his fastball, while Strasburg’s is closer to his fastball velocity, occasionally touching the low-90’s — perusing the PITCHf/x data of each brought to light another difference between the two elite Nats changeups.
What each of these gifs shows is the overlay of the release points of each of the changeups and fourseam fastballs thrown by each pitcher in 2013. With Clippard, we see a bit of a disparity between the fastball and changeup release points, while with Strasburg, we see all pitches essentially coming out of the same arm slot — both pitches are leaving Strasburg’s hand at essentially the same spot every time, making it difficult for hitters to distinguish between the two, making the changeup even more effective. It isn’t until the hitter has committed to swing at what is believed to be a fastball that they realize it’s not a fastball, but a changeup. From there, the hitter is not only victim to the change of speed, but also the arm side tail and movement of the pitch that makes Stras’ changeup so devastating. While Clippard’s changeup is no slouch, we do see two relatively distinct clusters, which can possibly make his changeup a tad easier to pick up versus Strasburg’s. Could this tiny difference in release point be the difference between a good changeup — either a whiffer or a grounder — versus a double threat? Possibly. Yet, like with so many other aspects of pitching, there’s more than one way to do things and do them well, and with the two Nats pitchers discussed, we see a difference in philosophy and approach that leads to the same result — a bad swing from a confused hitter.
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.
Sometimes, the enemy of good is better, and I sheepishly admit that I fall victim to this thinking quite frequently. I can’t just leave things alone; I must pick, prod, and dig a little deeper, until my curiosity is satisfied, or I have made the thing under my scrutiny completely unrecognizable, unworthy of salvaging. To put it another way, I am the world’s worst Jenga player.
I am at it again.
I have dedicated one post already to the success of Tyler Clippard as the National’s closer, but you know, I just… can’t… let… go…
In between now and the previous Clippard love fest, the Nats have compiled a 19-7 record, and find themselves not only atop the NL East standings, but all of MLB, with a tidy 72 wins, 3 more than the vaunted 2010 club amassed the entire season. Clippard has saved 9 of those 19 victories, bringing his save total to 24, good for a tie for 6th in the NL, and for 10th in the MLB.
While impressive, let’s pick a little more at this oh so itchy sabermetric scab. Much like my previous Clippard foray, let’s use some fancy pants statistics to see how impressive the season Clippard’s having really is. However, this time, let’s have Fangraphs provide us our numbers fix, focusing on some of their stats that are formulated to parse out a pitcher’s true value, and performance, all while removing factors that are out of the control of said hurler- things like park factors, the defense behind them, that sort of thing. I have included some more traditional statistics as well, just to keep things somewhat grounded in baseball statistics terra firma.
For this round of mental gymnastics, I will again set the bar using Tyler’s stats thus far, and see who, if anyone, is having as dominant a season as their team’s fireman.
So howzit look, about 2/3rds of the way into the 2012 season?
|Craig Kimbrel||Braves||31||15.7||0.42||0.98||2.3||2.56||0.92||2.3||31.9 %|
|Aroldis Chapman||Reds||28||16.7||0.47||1.01||3.2||2.4||0.78||2.2||43.5 %|
|Tyler Clippard||Nationals||24||10.9||0.68||3.1||0.9||0.42||3.13||4.1||58.7 %|
Again, we find that Clip is having a lights out season as closer, and is in very rarefied air in terms of performance. To only be bested by Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman in some very critical stats that make or break a pitcher’s season, is an outstanding season.
If we… OK, *I*, want to nitpick further, the disparities between Kimbrel’s and Chapman’s FIP, WPA, and SIERA, compared to Clip’s are probably best explained by Clippard’s propensity to not only walk more batters than the other two, but also by his fly ball percentage, and lower K/9. In essence, more fly balls mean more potential for hits, which means more runners; add that to more walks leading to more runners, and fewer K’s to neutralize those scoring opportunities gives us Clippard’s inflated in comparison peripherals.
This, however, is splitting hairs – in the end, only two closers are bettering Clip for all intents and purposes, and Nationals fans should be happy with this notion, and leave it that.
…You know, I’ve noticed he’s throwing his fastball less frequently up in the zone, I wonder if that, along with him throwing more changeups, and hitters making more contact this year has something to do with his SIERA…
Home runs in two back to back save opportunities aside, I feel that the rush to bring Storen in to close might be an ill advised move, and that the witch hunt for Clippard to be banished to the 8th is unwarranted.
While numbers tend to lie on match.com profiles, in baseball, they rarely ever do, so let’s have a look at what Tyler has done in the closers role, as compared both to Storen’s fantastic 2011 tour of duty, and of other closers in 2012.
So far in 2012, compared to 2011, Tyler has done a great job of exceeding expectations, as seen with his FIP/xFIP numbers. His WAR, as compared to 2011, is also indicative of a solid showing this year. He is also striking out more batters this year as compared to last, while also having half as many fly balls go out as home runs, as compared to last year – even in spite of the shaky outings of late. We do see an uptick in walks, as well as BABIP; however, his 0.235 BABIP of 2012 is still lower than his career mark of 0.241.
Let’s look a little closer at Clippard’s numbers, in his role as the Nats ninth inning stopper:
|in Sv Situ||27||5.2||1||2.7||12||0.160||0.225||0.298||0.523||0.214|
Compare these numbers to his overall 2012 season, both a closer and setup man, as well as his 2011 All Star season. Clippard is more than doing the job closing out wins for the NL East leading Nationals. In fact, he is doing just as well, if not better than last year’s career year. How outstanding is the season Clippard is having as a closer, as compared to his closing peers? Let’s have a look…
For this exercise, I used baseball-reference.com’s Play Index query tool, to find comparable closers, using Tyler’s stats as the bar to surpass. The stats I used to compare Tyler, as full time closer, against other closers were…
ERA+ > 164
SO/9 > 12
Batting Average Against </= 0.160
Saves >/= 15
Well, it’s pretty damning. Damning for Clippard to be an elite closer thus far in the embryonic stages of his life as a closer. To put up numbers that can only be bested by 3 other closers this year, and bests the seasons of many longstanding luminaries of the ninth inning world is a damn good season, back to back gopherball games be damned.
So, now the million dollar question. Yes, Washington has a great fill in closer in Clippard, but does he stay there once Storen returns to full capacity? While the final answer is up to the braintrust of Mike Rizzo, and Davey Johnson, let me throw some Storen numbers at you to compare to Clip’s, and let you play armchair manager.
Here are Drew’s numbers from his fantastic 2011 season:
|in Sv Situ||51||6.7||1.2||2.4||8.6||0.203||0.260||0.359||0.619||0.235|
Elite closer status, elite numbers. However, Storen’s 2011 trails Clip’s 2012 closer output in H/9, SO/9, BAA, BABIP, OPS, and OBP. He does have the upper hand when it comes to home runs, doing a much better job of minimizing the long ball, compared to Clip thus far. He also had a better save percentage: 90% (with 5 blown saves), compared to Tyler’s 88% (two blown saves).
Any other MLB team would love to have Storen or Clippard as their closer. It is an embarrassment of riches to have Storen, the likes of Clippard, as well as Sean Burnett, and Ryan Mattheus – both in their own rights having dominant seasons – in the bullpen, keeping Nats starters in the W column.
However, as we can see, Tyler is more than deserving of maintaining his role as the closer, even as Storen returns to the mound. While creating a conundrum in terms of status, and number of innings to divvy up amongst some very deserving pitchers, it is a refreshing change from Nationals teams of the past, and bodes well for a successful run not only towards the NL East division crown, but also a lengthy run in the playoffs.
In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, we learned that we should ABC: Always Be Closing.
For the Nats, should it Always Be Clippard?