Category Archives: Baseball

Flopping FIPers as a Formula for Victory?

Lefties hit righties and vice versa and I don’t mean that in a political way. The effects of hitters playing in their home park versus away from home is marginal improvement, at best. With all the data flying around out there in the sports world, I refuse to believe there’s no way to determine if a hitter is going to hit safely. In my first full season of MLB.com’s Beat the Streak, I’m going to put on my analyst’s hat and try to come up with an algorithm to predict if a batter will hit safely.

There may be tweaking going forward but here’s what I surmise right now: choose hitters who have above average Weighted On-Base Averages, or wOBA, against starting pitchers who have below-average Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers. Since I’m not looking to project a full season, I only want to cover a narrow scope so I’m only including data over the past seven days.

FIP

For today, the two starters I’m targeting are Masahiro Tanaka and Jhoulys Chacin who, over the past seven days, have the third and fourth highest FIPs. (In case you’re wondering, the first and second highest FIP starters are not in action.)

In addition to Home vs. Away and Left vs. Right, here’s what else I’m NOT targeting in this first algorithm:

    • Batting average
    • Earned-run average
    • Head-to-head matchup
    • Strikeout rate
    • Contact type generated (e.g. fly ball, ground ball, etc.)

The hitters I’m targeting, Adam Jones and Brandon Belt have above average wOBAs. While it’s a small sample size to examine, I’m hoping to ride their hot streaks a little bit longer before they regress to the mean.

Let’s see what happens.

Playing Hit and Run With Line-Drive Rates

Balls in play can travel one of three ways: on the ground, on a line drive (minimal arc) or on a fly ball (deeper arc). In its description of batted balls, FanGraphs says: “Generally speaking, line drives go for hits most often, ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, and fly balls are more productive than ground balls when they do go for hits (i.e. extra base hits).”

Do line drives really go for hits most often? For argument’s sake, let’s just say they do. That being the case, I proposed this thesis:

1. The team that hits the most line drives will also score the most runs in their respective league.

After some research, I found that only three times since 2012 has a league line-drive percentage leader also finished in the top five in runs scored (Detroit Tigers in 2013 and 2014, and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013).

So there went that theory. But I wanted to dig a little deeper (shocker, I know) and came up with a revised thesis:

1a. Line drives are directly responsible for more runs for a team than their fly ball or ground ball counterparts.

I tested this statement in the American and National Leagues, using a small, seven-day sample size. The Tigers and the San Francisco Giants were the teams I chose since they were leading their respective leagues in line-drive percentage at the time this data was compiled.

I also took some liberties when considering what batted balls to count. For example, I didn’t count pop ups or line drives to an infielder, since neither of those outcomes typically result in a run scored. Sacrifice flies were counted as fly balls, even if the ball’s arc was flat. As far as what constituted a line drive and what constituted a fly ball, I based it off MLB.com’s play-by-play application.

Here were my results, displayed in a chart:
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Phils’ Relievers Keeping Hitters Off-Balance With High K/9

Most baseball experts would agree that the strikeout is the worst possible result for a team batting – an out is recorded, no runs score, and no base runners advance. While ERA is the “sexy” pitching stat, it’s strikeouts-to-innings pitched that can tell you how effective a relief pitcher is at keeping runs off the board and base runners where they stand.

Rick Ingalls, a scout with the Cincinnati Reds, prefers strikeouts-to-innings pitched, or K/9, to similar metrics to gauge the efficacy of relief pitchers. “It means there must be a fastball or a slider or split-finger, whatever the pitcher throws, [and] he’s missing bats,” said Ingalls. “If a reliever has a plus fastball (velocity) and a plus slider, they have a chance to pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues because their stuff is above average.”

Of course a team’s relievers’ K/9 metric won’t determine overall success or failure, but the Phillies relief corps has been a surprising bright spot this season. So I wanted to see where the team’s relievers stood in K/9 through March/April this season and last season, with respect to the March/April National League averages.

Source: Fangraphs

As you can see from the chart, the Phillies relievers are above average so far this year for K/9, ranking third in the NL behind the Cubs and Mets.

While not taking any credit away from the Phils, their relievers’ K/9 may be slightly inflated. They’ve pitched against two teams so far (Brewers and Padres) whose plate appearances end in a strikeout a quarter of the time (25.9% and 25.3% respectively). These numbers are also worst in the NL.

Can the Phils’ relievers keep this pace up with respect to K/9, or will it normalize to league average by the All Star break? Let me know what you think.

7 Phillies Pivotal for an Improbable Playoff Push

Phillies fans know the next parade we can look forward to in Philadelphia will be the one that takes place next month. But revelers fans will be decked out in green instead of red for St. Patrick’s Day.

The staunchest of Phillies’ fans knows the odds of a World Series victory in 2016 are slim to none. A playoff spot, however, is entirely within reach and here’s why.

According to projections from USA Today, the 2016 Phillies will win 61 games this season, finishing 27 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wildcard spot (88 wins). Fangraphs, a baseball statistics website, is a bit more bullish, projecting the Phightins to win 66 games, finishing 19 games behind the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets for the second wildcard spot (85 wins).

For argument’s sake, let’s just say the Phils perform much better than expected and post a high-70/low-80 win total. Then let’s say those three teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Mets, have underwhelming seasons and end up in the high-70/low-80-win range. The playoffs don’t seem like such a long shot if things break this way, do they? Minor and major injuries are an almost certainty in a 162-game season, so let’s remove them from the equation. Injuries aside, here are seven key players whose performance could determine the team’s success in 2016.

Offense

  • Continued Improvement of 3B Maikel Franco – his walk rate (+6.1%), strikeout rate (-6.9%), and hard-hit ball percentage (+19.4%) all improved in 2015 over his September 2014 debut. If he can hit better to the opposite field (something Ryan Howard had problems with in his career), that would bode remarkably well for the team’s run production.
  • 1B/OF Darin Ruf Finally Gets It – Fangraphs doesn’t think he’ll “play enough to hit double-digit home runs” but I couldn’t disagree more. All signs point to him serving as the right-handed counterpart in a first base platoon with Ryan Howard. Last season, Ruf hit eight home runs against left-handed pitchers in limited action. If he gets every opportunity to hit lefties, as I suspect he will, he could easily double his HR output from last year.
  • El Torito Is the New Flyin’ Hawaiian But Better:
    • Shane Victorino’s 1st full season (2006): 462 plate appearances, .287/.346/.414, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 70 R, 4 SB, .128 ISO, .334 wOBA, 12.5 Def, 2.7 WAR
    • Odubel Herrera (2015): 537 plate appearances, .297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 64 R, 16 SB, .121 ISO, .333 wOBA, 11.7 Def, 3.9 WAR

Statistically they’re eerily similar. Much like Victorino, Herrera is a prototypical leadoff man, but his strikeout percentage is way too high (24%). The Phils need El Torito to show more patience at the plate in 2016. He needs to cut his strikeout percentage in half, at least, and take more walks per plate appearance. The more he’s on base, the more potential runs he can score on hits by the middle of the batting order. While he can certainly steal a base to get into scoring position, he absolutely has the speed to score from first on an extra-base hit.

Of course three players don’t make a team. They’ll need help from the entire 40-man roster, including relief pitchers.

Pitching

Word on the street is the Phillies bullpen is going to struggle this year. The idea is plausible considering they lost one of the best young closers in the game, Ken Giles, in a trade with Houston. To remedy that situation, the Phils brought in four veteran arms to help stabilize the back-end of the bullpen – guys who have been successful there in the past: Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri, and David Hernandez.

  • All Star Return to Form – Bailey was an All Star in 2010 with the Oakland A’s. According to Fangraphs, he had success throwing his fastball 69% of the time and his cutter 20% of the time. He had similar success with those splits in 2011 (76%/16%).In 2012, he started to unravel. Those splits became 57%/30% in Fenway Park in Boston. Bailey wasn’t able to locate his cutter for strikes as his walks-per-9-innings went from 2.59 to 4.70, a significant increase for him.

    In addition to control problems, he was also the victim of bad luck. What were fly ball outs in Oakland became home runs in hitter-friendly Boston as his 3% jump in HR-to-fly ball ratio suggests.

    The good news is that, while pitching for the New York Yankees last season, the velocity on his fastball was around the same as it was in 2010 (about 1 mph less). If he can throw his fastball more and use his curveball, not his cutter, as his secondary pitch, he may be a key cog in the bullpen this season.

  • Watch the Relievers FIP Out – ERA is one of the common metrics used to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness but it doesn’t isolate their performance. That’s where Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) comes into play.While they’re similar metrics, FIP only considers what a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs allowed. Anything that requires the defense to make a play (e.g. fly ball, ground ball) is removed from this equation.

                                      2010       2011       2012       2013       2014       2015                                 FIP                          3.99        3.83        3.79        3.70        3.60      3.68

    Ernesto Frieri        2.92        3.28           X             3.72        X           6.39

    Edward Mujica      3.88        3.20        3.65        3.71        3.70        5.12

    In 2010 and 2011, these two relievers had outstanding FIPs. One of them should be able to handle the setup role this season for the new closer, David Hernandez.

  • Closing Time – Depending on how he performs in spring training, Hernandez will likely get the nod as the Opening Day closer.The disparity between his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings has been good throughout his career (9 K to 4 BB). In 2012, his secondary pitch, the curveball (34%), was an above-average pitch. In 2013, a down year for him, he didn’t make any changes to those fastball-curveball splits so I think he became predictable to hitters.

    While he doesn’t need to have Ken Giles’ fastball to rack up saves, I think the team could benefit from him mixing up his two-seam fastball (50%) better with his four-seam fastball (11%).

Even if these seven players outperform expectations, the Phillies are and should be considered long shots for the playoffs this season. The fact that personnel decisions are now being made by someone with half a brain, though, should give us fans much hope for seasons beyond this one.

We — we — Need New Ownership of the Phillies

“Ruben is not on the hot seat,” Montgomery explained during a back-and-forth with season ticket holders. “I think we have somebody whose experience working under two general managers served him well and positioned him to be very effective at his job. We — we — need to do better.”

This quote from Phillies owner David Montgomery tells me two things, neither of which is good: Montgomery is either completely full of crap or he’s a very sick man.

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Aging Gracefully in Section 426

10271606_10203834544412103_2083958341796465289_nI’m proud to say that in 40 some odd posts in a little more than a year, I haven’t made myself a focal point.

Until now.

If you haven’t figured it out yet (and someone like Ruben Amaro probably hasn’t), my blog name is derived from my birthday 4/26.

Now that that’s cleared up, here’s a topical post to celebrate the day: Since 2000, which Phillie has the most hits on April 26? Here’s the top 20 (with a minimum of 2 hits).

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If ‘The Big Piece’ Finds Patience, Could the Phils Find the Playoffs?

Coming off a 2013 season where he swung and missed at a career-high 16.9% of pitches, Ryan Howard is displaying a better eye at the plate so far in 2014. Through 62 plate appearances (or 15 games), The Big Piece’s swinging-strike percentage is down more than 50% over the same amount of plate appearances last year. If nothing else, it’s an excellent sign for a team that, as a whole, has been undisciplined at the plate over the past 3 seasons.
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It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, But Which Phan Club You’re In

Howard struck out three times with runners in scoring position? Bummer. But you were sitting with The Asche Trays when Cody Asche drove in the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. #phanclubsareback #losingcanbefun

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Better Gauge Players’ Value To Avoid Overpaying

I think Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has taken his already difficult job and made it even harder, thanks in large part to his inability to leverage the baseball analytics that’s at his fingertips.

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Do MLB Players Get Better or Worse as they Age?

Life is full of questions that don’t have an easy answer:

Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?

Why are there 90 feet between home plate and first base?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Life has a funny way of balancing itself out though. As proof, these types of questions are balanced out by those with more obvious answers. To demonstrate what ‘more obvious answers’ are, here is a commercial from AT&T’s ‘It’s Not Complicated’ ad campaign.

If you don’t have 32 seconds, it goes like this: a man asks a group of elementary-school-aged kids a simple question like, ‘which is better: bigger or smaller?’ and why. In another spot, he asks the kids if being faster or slower is better.

This got me thinking: Phillies GM Ruben Amaro and his front office personnel should be forced to sit in a room. A moderator walks into the room and asks the group: ‘Is it better to flush money down the toilet or spend it wisely?’ Amaro et al. may collectively agree that it’s better to spend money wisely, but based on the contracts they’ve given out to “the core” in the past three years, it would be hard to take this ownership group seriously.

Start with Ryan Howard. Forget about the fact that Amaro offered him the contract a year and a half before he was set to hit free agency. In a nutshell, Ryan Howard could have gone 0-for-the-next- year-and-a-half and his value would have dropped considerably. As a result, Amaro could have offered Howard much less than the 5-year, $125 million contract extension he signed. He didn’t go 0-for-the-next-year-and-a-half but you get the point. Ryan Howard’s first full season with the Phils was 2006. His on-base percentage was .425, and his slugging percentage was .659. By 2009, his OBP had dropped .065 points and his SLG had dropped .088 points. In and of itself, there was nothing wrong with the drop.  As hitters age, their skills begin to diminish. That’s life. The problem arises when you reward a declining 29-year-old player with a long-term contract and guaranteed money. Since the beginning of his contract extension in 2010, Howard’s OBP fell another .034 points to .319 while his SLG fell .040 points to .465.

Okay, it happened once. Amaro learned his lesson and it won’t happen again, right? Wrong. Yo, Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey from Saturday Night Live, can you back me up on this one?

Jimmy Rollins’ peak OBP occurred when he was 29. His peak SLG occurred at age 28. Not only was a 32 year old Rollins rewarded with a three-year contract three years after his SLG peaked, he was actually given a $2.5M raise per season. Again, player performance goes down while pay goes up. Why does the Boob keep doing that? Just flush the money down the toilet.

The Boob did the same thing to Chase Utley this season, offering the soon-to-be 35 year old second baseman a two-year contract, with performance incentives that can keep him a Phillie through 2017. While I don’t think two years is too much to offer Utley at this stage of his career, I do think $13.5 million a season could be better spent elsewhere.

Catchers Carlos Ruiz (age 34) and Erik Kratz (age 33) have seen their SLG drop over .100 points to .326 and .403, respectively. Outfielder John Mayberry Jr.’s (age 29) OBP has dropped .080 points in three years, while his SLG has dropped more than .400 points.

I’ve made some predictions in blog posts before, and I feel very comfortable making this one: these three guys over the age of 29 – Mayberry, Kratz and Ruiz – will all be on the active roster come Opening Day 2014.

I’m one of thousands of Phillies fans familiar with Ruben Amaro’s (or Ruin Tomorrow’s) penchant for throwing money at players whose skills are diminishing. Maybe if the team had been competitive since 2012, we could look past some bad contracts. But they haven’t so we can’t.

If we can see it, why can’t Phillies’ ownership?

Now there’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer.