Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014

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Strasburg's K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Ok people, how about getting back to talking some baseball, not arging whether or not we need to fire the manager after 28 games.  :-)

Here’s a monthly feature that I like to do, breaking down the Nats rotation performance and analyzing matchups for the previous month.


Starter “Grades” for the MLB Rotation:

Grade Taxonomy; these are just quick and dirty short hand judgements on the starting stat line for each starter’s performance.   Here’s a rough starting point  for how grades are assigned:

  • Grade A: 6-7+ innings, zero earned runs.
  • Grade B: 6-7 innings, 1-2 earned runs.
  • Grade C: 6 innings, 3 earned runs and run-of-the-mill numbers of walks/hits and strikeouts.
  • Grade D: 4-5  innings, 3-4 earned runs
  • Grade F: 4 or fewer innings, more earned runs than innings pitched.

In each letter grade case, adjustments slightly up or down are made based usually on hits+walks and/or Ks (or lack thereof).   More Ks may push the grade to an N+, a slew of extra hits/walks may drop the grade to an N-, where N is the letter grade division.

(Note: I won’t repeat this each month; it is just for explanatory purposes for the first post of the year in this series).

By way of example; the team had three “A+” outings in April:

  • Strasburg’s 4/10 win over the Marlins.  Line: 6 2/3s, 1 run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 12 Ks.   He gave up the run but 12 K’s pushed him to the A+ rating.
  • Strasburg’s 4/25 win over San Diego: 7 shut-out innings giving up 7 hits and a walk with 11 K’s.
  • Roark’s 4/26 shutout over San Diego: 9 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s.

Here’s the Letter grades for our Rotation in April: (here’s a quick link to the schedule to see each individual game) along with Key Stats lines for the month:

  • Strasburg: C,D,A+,F,B+,A+.  2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.412 whip, 2.30 fip, 53/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings.
  • Roark: C+,D-,C,A-,A+.  2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.163 whip, 3.43 fip, 26/9 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings.
  • Jordan: A-,D-,F,D,B-/inc: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 whip, 4.48 fip, 17/8 in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Gonzalez: A,A,D-,A,C-,C+: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.139 whip, 2.90 fip, 38/13 in 36 innings.
  • Zimmermann: A,F,A-,B,C+,A: 2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.333 whip, 3.09 fip, 35/8 in 33 innings.

Tanner Roark turned around his slower start and has “won” the 5th starter competition, which extended a month into the season thanks to Doug Fister‘s spring training injuries.  Taylor Jordan’s letter grades bely his crummy overall stats; 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, a 1.63 whip and a 4.49 FIP.  Lets hope Jordan can get it turned around in Syracuse and provide cover for the next injury.  Gonzalez leads the staff in ERA while Strasburg leads the staff in FIP on the back of his amazing K/9 rate (53 K’s in 34 innings for an astounding 14 K/9 rate, which leads the league right now for qualified pitchers).  Zimmerman keeps on plugging away, mixing in good outings with bad ones; lets look for more consistency from him in May.

I think its rather interesting that our three power arms are all seemingly abandoning the whole “pitch to contact” mantra so far; all of their K/9s are above a K per inning.  And Strasburg’s is just ridiculous.  Do you think maybe Strasburg is tired of his defense throwing away outs and he’s just saying, “I’ll do it myself” to some degree?  I think if I had to rank our own rotation in terms of effectiveness I’d go Gonzalez, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Roark and Jordan.  In other words, almost identically to our rotation order.

The team finishes the month 16-12, on pace for 93 wins, despite the injuries to the offense and the generally awful defense so far this year.


Now here’s some Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I track of the opposing starter the team faces each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1″ and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Opponent Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 4-3 Gee, Fernandez, Weaver, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright
2 4-2 Colon, Wood, Wacha, Cosart Wood, Kennedy
3 3-2 Wheeler, Alvarez, Oberholzer Harang, Lynn
4 1-3 Miller Hale, Richards, Stults
5 2-2 Koehler, Erlin Koehler, Skaggs
5+ 2-0 Hand (2x)

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team actually holds a winning record against opposing team’s #1s and #2s (which you normally do not see), but scuffled against other team’s #4 starters.  Of course, Shelby Miller and David Hale are not ordinary #4 starters, but you’d have liked to have seen wins against the likes of Clayton Richardson and/or Eric Stults.

The team got a great win over Jose Fernandez but lost twice to Atlanta’s ace Julio Teheran.  Not the end of the world, but they need to do better (obviously) against Atlanta pitching.


Opponent intra-Rotation Ranking Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Fernandez, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright, Richards
2 2-4 Gee, Wood Wood, Harang, Koehler, Skaggs
3 4-1 Colon, Wacha, Koehler, Hand Kennedy
4 4-1 Wheeler, Oberholzer, Miller, Erlin Hale
5 3-2 Weaver, Cosart, Alvarez Lynn, Stults
5+ 1-0 Hand

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-4 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.   This is a slightly better way of seeing how the Nats perform against the opponent’s hottest hand at the time.  Notice here that Aaron Harang is given much higher credit for his 2014 performance than his rotation order rank may merit him.

The team (as one would expect) is struggling against the best and 2nd best guys on opponent’s teams, but are beating up on the rest of the rotation.  This is a good sign frankly; you need to win when you go against the other team’s struggling starters.  As the season goes along the team should stabilize and be able to hold its own against the best guys on other teams.


Opponent League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-1 Fernandez, Wacha Wainwright
2 1-2 Weaver Teheran (2x)
3 5-2 Cashner, Wood, Colon, Wheeler, Miller Wood, Kennedy
4 3-2 Gee, Oberholzer, Cosart Hale, Lynn
5 2-4 Erlin, Alvarez Richards, Harang, Skaggs, Stults
5+ 3-1 Hand (2x), Koehler Koehler

In other words, the Nats are 2-1 against MLB “Aces,” 2-1 against MLB “near aces” or #2′s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers as being #1s, #2s, or whatever.   For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Fister as a #3, Roark and Jordan as #5s.  Aces are few and far between; you’re far more likely to see a bunch of #4s and #5s on opposing teams.  It is of note that a 5+ starter can be a complete crapshoot; he could be a 4-A pitcher just giving the team innings or he could be the team’s #1 starter prospect and can be as effective as a #2 starter right off the bat.

So far, the team has beaten a couple of aces and had expected losses versus the likes of Adam Wainwright and Teheran.  Slightly concerning is the record against what I consider #5 pitchers in this league, though to be fair Harang and Tyler Skaggs certainly are not pitching like #5s right now.

 


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Gio-Colon, Stras-Gee, Stras-Miller, Zim-Oberholtzer, Gio-Cosart, Stras-Erlin, Gio-Alvarez, Stras-Koehler, Zimm-Hand (2x) Stras-Teheran, Zimm-Hale, Zimm-Lynn, Gio-Harang, Zimm-Stults, Stras-Koehler
Even 3-1 Gio-Weaver, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Wheeler Jordan-Skaggs
Opp 3-5 Roark-Fernandez, Roark-Cashner, Gio-Wacha Roark-Teheran, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Richards, Jordan-Kennedy, Jordan-Wainwright

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, the team went 10-6.   I’ve listed the match ups for each case so you can decide whether we really had the advantage.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team went 3-1; this is a good sign.  Three of these four matchups involved Roark or Jordan.

In games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game, the team went an expected 3-5.  Most of these matchup involved either Roark or Jordan.

It is interesting to note that Jordan struggled .. but he also had a number of very tough matchups in April.  He had to go against Alex Wood twice, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Skaggs.   For a guy with just a handful of starts, that was a tough slate of matchups.

 


Per-Starter Matchup Listing:

Nats Starter Opponent Makeup Nats Record under starter
Strasburg two Aces, a #4 and three #5s 4-2
Gonzalez an Ace, three #2s, two #3s 5-1
Jordan an Ace, three #2s and a #5 1-4
Roark three Aces, a #3, a #4 3-2
Zimmermann two #3s, two #4s, two #5+s 3-3
ttl for month: 16-12

So, as discussed above, Jordan has had some tough matchups.  But Roark had to go against three staff Aces in April and still came out with a winning record.  Despite a couple of shaky outings the team was 5-1 when Gio pitched.  Lastly we can see that Jordan needs to be replaced; the team was just 1-4 in his outings and you’d have to think that they wouldn’t have a losing record when Fister throws.


April Conclusion

The Nats have beaten up on weak teams and faltered against good teams.  And it only gets tougher from here; they’ll face Philadelphia’s 1-2-3 in order in early May, then entertain Los Angeles and their two Cy Young winners.  Later on this month they visit the cavernous Oakland stadiums and go up against three different playoff calibre teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Texas.  Lots of good pitching matchups to be seen.

Yordano Ventura: MLB’s newest velocity revalation

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Ventura has some serious heat.  Poto Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ventura has some serious heat. Poto Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I present to you without further ado Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura‘s Pitch F/X stats from last night’s MLB debut start.

According to Pitch F/X, he threw 45 fastballs on the night with an AVERAGE velocity of 99.5mph, peaking at an absurd 102.9mph on one of the final pitches he threw as he finished off 6 shutout innings against the Rays.  He’s 5’11″ and 180 soaking wet.

Lest you think he only has one pitch, he has a sick 89mph change with circle action (i.e., coming back in against righties); he threw 19 of them last night and 13 of those 19 change ups were “SNIPs,” or “Strikes not in play.”  In other words … exactly what a pitcher wants.   He only gave up one ball-in-play on his changeup the entire night.  He also featured a curve that has somewhere in the 16mph range difference from his fastballs (by way of comparison, everyone raves about guys like Strasburg and Kershaw‘s fb-curve deltas, as I talked about in this post from last year, and Ventura is right up there).   He threw a 4th pitch (a cutter in the 96-98mph range) but its awfully hard to tell if it had much action on it, or which pitches Pitch F/X thought were cutters versus just him taking a couple MPH off his fastball.

Fun to watch, absolutely.  Lets hope he’s not a TJ-surgery in waiting.

Written by Todd Boss

April 9th, 2014 at 9:17 am

Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query Baseball-Reference.com for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander continue to be the best bets to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.

 

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012′s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.

 

Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-seasondefensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

World Series Game 6 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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(Editor note: Ha; I forgot to publish this prior to last night’s game.  I would have been right :-)

Well, I was 4-for-4 leading up to game 5 predictions … and was wrong.  I thought St. Louis could break out against the weakened Clay Buchholz.  But they couldn’t do anything against a clearly laboring Buchholz, doing nothing against mid 80s fastballs throughout the night.  Wainwright made some mistakes that cost him (0-2 hanging curve in the 1st, then not pitching around David Ortiz being early, simple examples).

In the end, perhaps trying to predict either Game 6 or a possible Game 7 is fools-gold; I think we now see that Boston is the superior team and has worked around its own offensive deficiencies and a stitched-together rotation.  They get Mike Napoli back in the middle of their lineup now that they’re back in the AL park using DH rules, and at some point this will make the difference.

Game 6: Michael Wacha versus John Lackey; Simply put, I think Wacha’s amazing run of unhittable-ness may end tonight.  You have to think Boston’s going to go back to the film, look for a weakness, and try to exploit it.  Lackey probably puts in his typical quality start; 6 innings, 2 or 3 runs.  It just seems that fate is going to go Boston’s way after they clawed 2 of 3 in St. Louis.

I’m going with Boston closing out the series tonight in a memorable night for Boston fans, finally clinching a World Series on home soil.  Oritz is your obvious World Series MVP and bolsters his eventuall Hall of Fame case.

Written by Todd Boss

October 30th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

World Series Game 5 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Four games into this World Series, and we’re tied up at 2 games a piece.  Boston got their must-win victory last night on the strength of the unlikely Jonny Gomes (former Nat) and on 85mph fastballs from Clay Buchholz.  Lance Lynn didn’t pitch badly; in fact his stuff looked pretty good early on.  But one bad pitch to Gomes and the game was over.

Game 5: Jon Lester versus Adam Wainwright.  a repeat of the Game 1 matchup, though this time the tables are reversed in terms of road team/home team.   In four career home playoff starts Wainwright has conceded exactly four runs.   Lester had a .500 record and a 4.21 ERA on the road this season.  Despite St. Louis’ inability to hit lefties, I don’t think Wainwright is losing tonight.

Expect a close game, with St. Louis perhaps coming out on top with a 2-1 victory.  And since we’ve already had two rather rare game-ending baserunning mishaps (an obstruction call and a pick-off), i’m calling for Game 5 to include something like a running out of order, or a missed base being called out on appeal or something random.  Maybe we’ll just get a hotly contested balk.

Written by Todd Boss

October 28th, 2013 at 8:15 am

World Series Game 4 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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So far, the World Series has played out the way I thought; St. Louis up 2 games to 1 (albeit on rather odd circumstances last night) and heading into the most difficult match-up to predict: game 4.

Starters: Clay Buchholz versus Lance Lynn.  Neither guy has pitched well this post season (both have identical 5.40 ERAs this post-season).  Neither guy looks like he’s going to be able to keep the opposing offenses down.  And I sense this game is going to be a 4.5 hour marathon going deep into each team’s bullpen and likely featuring early appearances for 5th/neglected starters for Boston such as Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront.  Meanwhile St. Louis’ forgotten man Shelby Miller has thrown a grand total of 1 inning this off-season; against the Pirates on October 4th.  Could he possibly now feature more than three weeks later in a pivotal situation?

For all the grief the 2012 Nationals got for voluntarily sitting Stephen Strasburg … why has there not been similar outrage for the Cardinals removal of their #2 starter all year from their post-season plans?  If the Red Sox bomb Lynn tonight and end up taking the series, is there going to be similar outrage facing the Cards’ management that Mike Rizzo took for sitting Strasburg and “costing” his team in the playoffs?  Because clearly Lynn is the Card’s #5 pitcher, the starter that normally wouldn’t even be on some post-season rosters and clearly wouldn’t be getting a post-season start.

How much will Buchholz’ “shoulder fatigue” play in to tonight’s game?  How much will Lynn’s hittability factor in?

I see a slugfest, and I see Boston coming out on top tonight.  Which is good for Boston, because I can’t see them beating Wainright tomorrow night and they need this game to get the series back to Boston for games 6 and 7 (where Wacha looms for a possibly classic Game 7, if they can get there).

Written by Todd Boss

October 27th, 2013 at 10:29 am

World Series Game 2 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Game 1 went as I thought; Adam Wainwright may be unbeatable at home, but he’s shown that he’s vulnerable on the road (see the Nationals’ destroying of him in last year’s Game 5 start).  Boston jumped on him early and cruised to an 8-1 victory.

(I don’t know what that green substance was on Jon Lester‘s glove … but i’m sure we’re going to a) be reading all about it and b) it won’t be there when he pitches again in Game 5).

Game 2: Michael Wacha vs John Lackey.   Without doing a bunch of analysis, as badly as St. Louis hits lefties is as well as they hit righties.  Wacha has been unbelievable this post season (a 0.43 ERA).  Lackey has been competent but not un-hittable.  I feel like St. Louis gets a split and goes home with the series tied 1-1.

I think Carlos Beltran will be fine.  I think all the nerves and errors we saw in Game 1 will go away.  St. Louis has been here before and should be able to rebound from the series of bone-head plays that led to many of Boston’s runs.

(btw; interesting piece in the Post today about Wacha, who was drafted a few picks after the Nats took Lucas Giolito.  Lots of second-guessing going on by everyone who skipped him in the 2012 draft.  It is what it is; you setup a draft board, and if you get to your pick and Giolito is ahead of Wacha you pick him.  Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick; sometimes you miss on amateur guys.   Per the story, if Giolito had been gone the team would have taken him).

Written by Todd Boss

October 24th, 2013 at 11:53 am