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Monday, July 30, 2007

Playing Catch Up

After a week communing with family and nature up in Estes Park Colorado we're back and struggling to catch up. Here are a few new things...

  • Baserunning Metrics - as promised the leaders and trailers in baserunning are now up on Baseball Prospectus.

  • Stringing - The Rocky Mountain News wrote a little article on Gameday and a little about being a stringer with a few quotes from yours truly. The printed version had a nice picture of Mike Hageman who is the veteran among our crew at Coors Field.

  • Enhanced Gameday Links - Nice summary on a Reds blog of some of the analysis done using the PITCHf/x data.

  • Umpires - Speaking of which, my column last week was on umpire accurracy and named names. It's interesting that in that analysis I identified Doug Eddings as the second most pitcher-friendly umpire (albeit based only on 603 called pitches) behind Jeff Nelson as he gave the pitcher 38 more calls than hitters accounting for 6.3% of called balls and strikes. On Saturday night I took eleven family members to the Rockies/Dodgers game where Eddings was behind the plate and it certainly appeared that Eddings was calling a very low strike zone much to the pitcher's advantage.
  • Sunday, July 22, 2007

    Baserunning Metrics So Far

    I've been asked by a number of people what the baserunning numbers look like for 2007. I recently ran the numbers (thanks to Bill Burke at BP) using the same methodology as last year (and using the same park factors and run expectancies) and so look for the leaders and trailers in all four metrics (EqHAR, EqGAR, EqAAR, and EqSBR) later this week on Baseball Prospectus.

    Before those come out I will let the cat out of the bag a little and reveal that on an individual basis Grady Sizemore leads the majors with 6.92 runs on the strength of 2.48 runs gained on advancing on hits (EqHAR) and 2.24 runs on stolen bases. Chone Figgins comes in a close second at 6.30 runs (he leads in EqHAR at 3.02) after leading the league in 2006 at 9.19 runs and 2005 at 8.29 runs and solidifies his hold on the status of best overall baserunner in the game at the present time. On the flip side Carlos Delgado is dead last at -4.92 runs and Miguel Cabrera is second from the bottom at -4.67. Those two have a fairly commanding "lead" over the rest of the pack.

    From a team perspective the Padres are first at 8.18 followed by the Rangers at 6.90 while the Astros (-13.64) and Mets (-9.42) are way out in front of other teams. At the level of leagues, the AL holds the overall advantage at +11 runs while the NL is at -19 despite having two additional teams. Interestingly, when EqSBR is excluded the AL holds the advantage at +20 versus +13 which is a departure from last year when the NL held a 27 run advantage.

    Finally, the BP piece will not include the following table that shows how many times each team has made outs on the bases (the lead runner getting thrown out) in the various situations where OA H are out advancing on hits, OA A are out advancing on fly outs, and OA G are out advancing on ground outs.

    Team OA H OA A OA G OA
    NYA 6 6 5 17
    MIN 6 4 6 16
    NYN 9 3 2 14
    PIT 2 4 8 14
    CLE 4 7 2 13
    COL 7 3 3 13
    HOU 6 3 4 13
    MIL 4 4 5 13
    SEA 3 4 6 13
    BOS 4 4 4 12
    CIN 4 4 4 12
    KCA 2 6 4 12
    OAK 3 5 4 12
    PHI 7 3 2 12
    FLO 2 6 3 11
    SLN 5 5 1 11
    TEX 3 7 1 11
    CHA 4 4 2 10
    DET 4 2 4 10
    TOR 1 7 2 10
    ANA 5 3 1 9
    ARI 5 1 3 9
    CHN 2 4 3 9
    TBA 3 3 2 8
    BAL 3 2 2 7
    ATL 3 2 1 6
    SFN 4 1 1 6
    LAN 3 0 2 5
    SDN 2 1 2 5
    WAS 1 1 3 5

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Bunting and Izturis

    My column this week extends last week's discussion of bunting for a hit by examining the strategy behind it using run expectancy. I didn't cover all the nuances I'm sure but wanted to make the article a basic introduction to using the break even formula and how that can apply to a strategy. I also answer a few reader questions along the way.

    By the way, hate to say I told you so but in my August 10th column of last year I noted:

    In picking up Izturis and his $3.2 million contract for this year, $4.25 million for next year [note: the Cubs sent $1.4m to the Pirates in the deal] and club but out for $300,000 in 2008 (that they'll likely be exercising), the Cubs have elevated the mistake they've been making with reserves to not one but two starting positions.

    The core problem is that in Izturis they now have a player who, at his best in 2004, recorded a WARP1 of 3.5. This was when his batting line exceeded his career marks by +.28/+.36/+.43 and he won a Gold Glove. His more typical seasons in 2003 and 2005 were at 2.6 and 2.0, respectively, with his offensive performances actually below the level of a replacement player. In 2005 he ranked 30th of 31 shortstops with 300 or more plate appearances in VORP at -4.2 (Cristian Guzman was 31st with a whopping -14.9)--a trend he has continued thus far in 2006.

    Much of the recent hype surrounding Izturis has been built on the strength of a great April and May of 2005 when he hit .342 and earned an All-Star selection. In other words, the likely outcome of the deal is to extend the search for the next Ricky Gutierrez a year and half while enduring Neifi-like production at shortstop to go with above average defense (The Fielding Bible had Izturis at +10, +19, and +4 in 2003-2005 ranking him 7th, 2nd, and 15th respectively and 6th overall during the time period). Of course that's perhaps even optimistic since Hendry and company may also have repeated their Garciaparra move ("fool me once, shame on me…") by obtaining a player fresh off an injury (degenerative arthritis in his right elbow that required Tommy John last September).

    And of course what it also did was relegate Ronny Cedeno first to second base and then to the minor leagues where he is now hitting .369 and showing some power (.562). I'm not convinced Ryan Theriot is the real deal and would like to see Cedeno get another shot this year.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Tip of the Iceberg

    A few more links related to research with the new Gameday data.

  • It’s a Pitch-by-Pitch Scouting Report, Minus the Scout. This article by Dan Rosenheck appeared in the Keeping Score column in the New York Times over the weekend. He references a few of the columns I've written at BP in the following comments:

    Most studies have focused on classifying the characteristics of various pitches — Félix Hernández’s four-seam fastball is usually thrown between 94 and 97 miles an hour and breaks around 8 inches toward a right-handed batter — and using them to generate profiles of pitchers (he only throws his changeup 3 percent of the time versus right-handed hitters).

    Some work has also been done on identifying batters’ tendencies: Iván Rodríguez swings at nearly 60 percent of pitches thrown to him out of the strike zone, and Juan Pierre makes contact with 92 percent of the balls out of the zone he swings at, for example.

    And in talking with Dan as he prepared the piece we discussed the fact that this data provides quantification to concepts that are already well understood in terms of advanced scouting. As Dan says:

    “Will chase curveballs low and away” will become “swung and missed at 73 percent of pitches thrown under 83 m.p.h. with a vertical break of at least 12 inches on two-strike counts on the outer third of the plate.”

    “Slider lacks bite” could be replaced by “slider begins to break 30 feet from home plate.”

    However, it should be noted that pitches aside from the knuckleball do not have early or late break as implied by his comments on sliders and instead break in a uniform way as they travel from the pitcher's hand to home plate.

    Two of the aspects that we discussed that I think are particularly interesting he described this way.

    The data could be used to evaluate prospects, by answering questions like, “Will he ever learn to lay off a breaking ball?” or to better understand park effects, by revealing just how much movement a particular pitcher could expect to lose from his slider at Coors Field.

    By quantifying the characteristics of pitches and building up a historical record we'll be able to ask questions related to age and development across pitch profiles (velocity, trajectory, location, and spin). So for example, it may turn out that certain types of hitters have trouble with certain pitch profiles but that they tend to learn to recognize and lay off the pitch or put it into play with greater success as they age or gain experience. There may be other types of hitters for which this is not true and having the data will at least allow us to ask the question. Of course with historical data the mirror questions can be asked of pitchers as well.

    In addition I think we're learning that there are discernible differences in how pitches behave under the different conditions in various parks. PETCO Park for example with its heavier sea air both causes pitches to decelerate more and allows for greater break on spinning pitches. Understanding just what those affects are may allow us to create "pitch profile park effects" that more accurately enable us to predict how a pitcher might fare in a different environment. I've written a bit on this subject already and have been working some with Alan Nathan, a physicist and head of SABR's Science of Baseball committee from the University of Illinois, on this very question and should have some things to share in the near future.

    Finally, Dan goes on to say:

    But the recent findings represent a tiny fraction of the research that the data will ultimately make possible. Eventually, a large portion of the tasks now done by major league scouts — visually evaluating strengths, weaknesses and trends — will be measured numerically.

    While I agree that at the present time we're touching the tip of the proverbial iceberg, I would simply caution that the ability of researchers to ask these questions hinges on two very important conditions. First, as Dan says the data needs to continue to be made available in some form be it subscription based or free. And second, researchers need to understand the limitations of the system not only in terms of accuracy but also variance between ballparks and how the system is being tweaked to provide more accurate data. For example, the in ital point at which pitches are tracked was changed in early June from 55 feet and then experimented with for the rest of the month, settled at 50 feet in early July, and now fluctuating once again in an effort to increase accuracy.

    And while I also agree that there are many aspects here that will be quantified and overlap with traditional scouting, it will always be the case that these tools compliment and do not in any sense replace what scouts do. Not only will systems like this not be available in the amateur and minor league circuits for quite some time (not to mention bullpens as Dan mentions), they will be used to augment understanding already gained from traditional methods. For example, in terms of its relationship with bio mechanics analysis like that done by Will Carroll, this system starts after the release point and therefore after everything from tempo to leg kick to balance to arm slot have already taken place.

  • Under Pressure. Joe P. Sheehan at Baseball Analysts looks at the relation of pitch types to Leverage - something that had not occurred to me. While it's certainly interesting and he shows, for example, that Jake Peavy relies more on his slider than his fastball in pressure situations, I think you'd also have to normalize the data for the base/out and handedness of the batter. It could be that Peavy relies more on his slider in pressure situations because he relies more on it with runners on base which also happen to have higher Leverage indexes.

  • Strike Zone: Fact vs. Fiction. John Walsh totally steals my thunder by examining the actual dimensions of the strike zone as it is called by major league umpires. What I find interesting is that he notes that right-handed hitters end up having to defend a strike zone that is slightly larger while I've found that left-handers are getting 10% more strikes called against them on pitches out of the strike zone. In looking at John's data I think the reason for this is that left-handers have to defend more territory on the outside part of the plate and pitchers concentrate on this area throwing a disproportionate number of their pitches in that region.

  • Another look at the sinker. Louis Chao at THT looks at contact rates by pitch types and finds, a little surprisingly, that sinkers have higher contact rates than fastballs. My take is that sinkers drop more in accordance with what the hitter is expecting and so they're able to put the bat on the ball albeit typically driving it into the ground. Four-seam fastballs, on the other hand, do not drop as much as would be expected and so batters swing under them. This is supported by the fact that a four-seamer typically drops 10-15 inches less than the theoretical reference pitch while a sinker drops only 2 to 7 inches less.
  • Thursday, July 12, 2007


    After being out of contact for two days camping with the family I watched the All-Star game this afternoon. Another disappointing loss for the National Leaguers to which I am very sympathetic as a life long NL fan. But still, give Ichiro Suzuki his due. During the game 238 of the 292 pitches were captured by PITCH f/x and here are Suzuki's three plate appearances.

    Pena Jr. Sets a Record

    Was alerted to this by my brother. This is my favorite part:

    This is pure wonder. It is hard to play virtually every day for two months and not draw a single walk. How does he do it? Well, Peña Jr.’s secret is simple (pay attention, kids): He swings early and often. He has come to the plate more than 300 times this year, and he has only let a pitcher get three balls on him 25 times. Do you realize how amazing that is? If they changed the rules so Peña only needed three balls to walk, he would still be fifth on the team in walks.

    And as far as Posnanski's comments about not "walking off the island", I did a little research into this general question back in December of 2005. You can read the results here:

  • Take a Walk on the Patient Side

  • Sinister Motives?

  • Patience and Position

  • Taveras On a Roll

    This week on Baseball Prospectus my column focuses on bunting for hits and the remarkable 27 bunt hits by the Rockies' Willy Taveras. At the All-Star break the leaders in bunt hits were:

    Name Bunts Hits Pct
    Willy Taveras 36 27 .750
    Juan Pierre 28 8 .286
    Corey Patterson 14 6 .429
    Gerald Laird 14 7 .500
    Coco Crisp 12 4 .333
    Jose Reyes 12 7 .583
    Joey Gathright 11 6 .545
    Carlos Gomez 11 6 .545
    Alfredo Amezaga 10 6 .600
    Tony Gwynn 10 4 .400
    Reggie Willits 10 4 .400

    What's remarkable is not really how often he's tried to lay one down but how often he's been successful at 75%. I also take a look at how this fits into the historical as well as the strategic and situational contexts. But unlike other weeks, this time the article is free as a part of BP's free preview running from July 9th to the 15th.

    Saturday, July 07, 2007

    Rain Delay Musings

    I'm scoring the Rockies/Phillies game at Coors Field tonight and in the very first inning the rains came causing the game to be delayed. So more to entertain myself than you here are a few random thoughts on the passing scene (to borrow a phrase).

  • Angering the Gods? - Before the rain delay Jimmy Rollins homered to right field on the 3rd pitch of the game from Rodrigo Lopez. After a Chase Utley double off the right field wall with one out Ryan Howard lofted a fly ball down the left field line and it just made its way over the wall for a two-run homer. Before the homer lightning had been evident out beyond left field and I think when Howard hit that ball there was an accompanying roar of thunder. Very strange and more than a little distracting to say the least. Rollins homerun was the 100th of his career and on 6/27 Howard hit his 100th and in the process becoming the fastest player to do so (325 games).

  • More Pitchf/x - A couple more articles on using the Gameday data for analysis were written by Joe P. Sheehan and John Beamer. In Joe's article I love the idea of looking at this data from a consistency standpoint and am not surprised that Joe doesn't see much of a difference between starts. While it's probably the case that there are some pitchers whose success hinges on good stuff on a particular night, those are likely the more marginal pitchers. And my assumption is that location and pitch selection in specific situations would vary more than a measurement of "stuff". Better pitchers like Halladay simply have good stuff and differences between good and bad starts also have a lot to do with simply luck in which balls are hit at fielders and which aren't. This would be a topic to revisit after we have a few thousand pitches for starters in good and bad starts. John, on the other hand does a profile of Tim Hudson much like I've done for King Felix, Tim Wakefield, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. What he adds, and what I'm just getting around to, is sorting out pitch types using a clustering algorithm. I've recently gotten ahold of an implementation of one such algorithm in my programming language of choice so I'm excited to see how it can be modified or customized for this type of data.

  • And a Clarification - Related to PITCHf/x one of the questions I get most frequently and haven't explained very well is just what the measurements of vertical and horizontal movement are relative to. In short, they are measured relative to a theoretical "reference pitch" defined as a pitch thrown at the minimu with the same release velocity and release point but with no spin. Therefore a pitch that has a vertical movement of 11 inches like many four-seam fastballs doesn't actually rise four inches but rather drops 11 inches less than the reference pitch. As a result the way to get a more intuitive measurements of the movement of a pitch, especially vertically, one needs to have a feel for the trajectory of the reference pitch. While this can be inferred from looking at the data I don't possess the parameters for calculating exactly the trajectory of the reference pitch.

  • MLB2K7 Gets a Thumbs Up - I bought this game for XBox 360 a month or two ago and have great fun playing it. Compared to MLB2K6 this is head and shoulders a better game. They've adjusted the way fielding works by allowing you to have your fielders sprint and their reaction times to your movements are much snappier. The graphics are better and there seem to be more signature stances and windups for various players. I've had no issues with the game seeming to go crazy in terms of offense or pitching when playing in franchise mode like I did last year and the various game levels seem to incrementally make the game harder in an appropriate way. I'm playing the Cubs in franchise mode and am hovering at .500 by playing some of the games and managing others. Unfortunately the manager interface has not changed and so it still lacks all of the strategic options of the real-time game play and most annoyingly does not let you warm up pitchers when at bat. One cool thing is that through XBox Live I was able to download Olympic Stadium and they say there will be other retro parks added in the future including the Polo Grounds and Fores Field among others.

  • Ted and Ted - I didn't realize that Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly was named after Teddy Roosevelt who once employed Lilly's grandfather. Very cool.

  • Rox Surge? - The Rockies are now 25-16 since May 22nd (second only to Seattle at 28-15) after last night's walk-off win in extras after a Brad Hawpe two-out, homer to dead center in the bottom of the ninth tied the game. The Rox are now 25-18 at home and 18-25 on the road following that miserable 1-9 road trip where they lost in walk-off fashion four times and that saw Brian Fuentes blow four saves. The offense seems to be firing on all cylinders and it's clear that the addition of Ryan Spilborghs after the John Mabry/Steve Finley experiments failed miserably. Spilborghs has 24 RBI with his 26 hits and is 4 for 5 in his most recent pinch-hitting chances and 7 for 17 overall. One of the things that has most impressed me this season in watching the Rockies is how Willy Taveras bunts. He now has 27 bunt hits on the season with the next closest player having 8. He also has 40 infield hits which leads the majors. I haven't looked it up but my guess is that he's successful around 80% of the time when attempting to bunt for a hit which seems pretty remarkable.

  • The tarp is coming off the field and so we'll be resuming here at some point. Right now, however, the grounds crew is wrestling with the tarp as it catches 20 mph gusts of wind and drags them to and fro.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    The One About the Gyroball

    In an ongoing series on digging into the PITCHf/x data provided by MLBAM's Gameday sysem, this week in my Schrodinger's Bat column I take a look at Daisuke Matsuzaka. The system has captured 586 of his pitches over six starts and so that gives us a pretty good sample to work with as shown in the following table:

    Start Pitches IP H SO BB ER
    4/17 at Toronto 105 6.0 3 10 3 2
    5/9 at Toronto 102 7.0 5 8 3 1
    5/25 at Texas 85 5.0 7 6 3 5
    6/5 at Oakland 55 7.0 7 8 2 2
    6/22 at San Diego 126 6.0 5 9 5 1
    6/27 at Seattle 113 8.0 3 8 1 1

    Interpreting the data to identify his varied repetoire is somewhat more difficult than it is with pitchers who throw "only" three or four pitches but I was encouraged that it could still be done with some degree of accuracy (as checked against the Inside Edge data made available on ESPN Insider). In the article I identify his fastball, slider, cutter, curve, changeup, and forkball/splitter. His hard sinker, or shuuto, apparently behaves much like the forkball and so some of these may be included in the forkball category.

    So what about the gyroball? Well, you'll have to read the article to see if the pitch remains a mystery.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Third Base Focus

    Over the weekend I had the opportunity to take in two Sky Sox games here in Colorado Springs. On Friday night the Sox took on the AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Salt Lake Bees. The game gave me a chance to take a look at two of the better third base prospects in baseball in Ian Stewart for the Sox and Brandon Wood for the Beavers. Both players were promoted to AAA from AA at the start of the season and both have struggled a bit. Last season Wood put up .276/.552/.355 line on his way to being named a AA All-Star at Arkansas. This after hitting 43 homeruns and racking up 101 extra base hits in the California League in 2005. For the Bees he's sitting at .257/.479/.338. On Friday night he struggled making two errors behind starter Kasey Olenberger leading to 4 unearned runs. He also looked a little uncomfortable at the plate and was able to manage only a sacrifice fly. The Bees still won, however, 7-5 behind Curtis Pride who stroked a go-ahead two-run double during a six-run fifth inning. Sox outfielder Alexis Gomez homered for Colorado Springs earlier in the game but in the 8th inning and down 7-5 with two outs he hit a gapper to left-center. However, rather than settle for the double he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out - an absolutely terrible play.

    Stewart was a bit of a disappointment last season hitting .268/.452/.351 at Tulsa with just 10 homeruns (but racking up 41 doubles). This season he's at .296/.472/.376 albeit at a higher altitue and has 10 homeruns at this point. Stewart's defense improved last season and on Saturday night against the Portland Beavers (affiliate of the Padres) he made a diving stop and threw out a runner from his knees.

    In that Saturday game the headlines were stolen by Sox pitcher Kevin Walker who threw a five-hit complete game in a 6-2 Sox win. It was, he claimed his first start in 10 years and his first professional complete game (I've since learned he started games in 2002-2004 but hasn't been a starter since 1998 and it was his fourth complete game, having thrown three for Clinton in 1997), and the first complete game at Security Service Field since 2003. Offensively the Sox were led by former prospect Jayson Nix who went 2-for-4 and hit a grand slam off Beaver's starter Tim Stauffer, his fifth homer having hit one the night before, in the sixth inning. In addition Clint Barmes collected 4 hits in 5 trips including a bunt single and his usual collection of dink hits over the infield. Barmes is hitting .331 and was selected to the PCL All-Star squad but don't look for him in Denver anytime soon. Oh, in first two trips to the plate he was thrown out attempting to steal second after getting hits.