Table of Contents

Thursday, July 24, 2014

That Roadtrip: Setback, or Correction?

The Reds were on quite a tear as they finished their schedule leading into the All-Star break, and pushed their playoff odds to 50% for the first time since the season began.  They were seven games over 0.500, 1.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Brewers, and unquestionably right in the thick of the NL Central race.

We're six games into the second half.  And a lot seems to have changed.  Six games in July shouldn't have that big of an effect on the season.  That said, it's hard to feel anything but beat down after what happened.  The Reds were swept twice, and are now in their worst losing streak of the season.  They are now just one game over 0.500, a full 5.5 games behind the Brewers, and three games behind the Pirates and Cardinals.  Their playoff odds have similarly dropped by a whopping 30% this week:

Yes, that 7-day delta on the Reds is EASILY the worst among any team in baseball.  The next worst are the Mariners and Cardinals at -10.4% each.

I'm trying to decide if I believe the magnitude of those changes.  30% seems high, and I've felt all season that these playoff odds seem to be a bit overly sensitive to the ups and downs of the baseball season.  But the Reds have fallen at the same time that the Brewers and Pirates have surged.  Getting swept by the team you're chasing hurts, especially when it cements a 6-game losing streak.

What makes this particularly painful is that it largely undoes much of the good that happened in July and early July.  BPro hasn't changed their rest-of-season projection for the Reds: they still see them as a 0.500 ballclub.  FanGraphs is a bit lower, but still has the Reds right around 0.500 the rest of the way.  From that perspective, one could argue that this losing streak is more a correction toward true talent levels than a temporary setback for a genuine playoff team.

The Reds aren't out of the race...but are far more of a longshot than they were just a week ago.  sigh.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Update on Latos Velo

Just a quick update.  I wrote last week about Mat Latos's drop in velocity so far this season.  While his most recent start was not particularly inspiring, I was pleased to see that his fastball velocity was up!

He also showed better swinging strike rates (9.5% vs. 7.5% for the season...still below his career average), and better strikeout rates (5k's in 5 IP).  Lots of fly balls, and obviously too many home runs...but if you wear the Rose-colored classes, it's a step in the right direction!

Reds playoff odds over 50% at All-Star Break

With the Reds' series win over the Pirates this weekend, their playoff odds have risen to over 50% for the first time this season!  At least, they have according to Baseball Prospectus:

The Reds are currently on pace for 87 wins.  BPro sees a slight regression over the rest of the season, and projects them at 85 wins.  The Brewers are projected for virtually the same record.  That means they are splitting most of the non-Cardinals NL Central division winner berth with the Reds, along with whatever chances 85 wins gives you at a wild card (quite good, it appears, about 25%).

FanGraphs isn't quite as optimistic.  This seems to be driven by more pessimism about the Reds' rest of season winning percentage (0.491 vs. 0.506) as well as more optimism about the Pittsburgh Pirates (0.517).  FanGraphs puts the Reds' over/under at 84 wins by the end of the season, which means the Reds will usually miss a playoff spot (37% chance).

With so many teams in the Central within a few wins of each other, and with whoever loses between the Braves/Nationals and the Dodgers/Giants also in contention for a wild card, these percentages are all pretty volatile right now.  But we've seen the Reds playoff chances fall below 10% this season, so to be in the 37-51% range is pretty exciting.  It's been a very up-and-down season thus far, but it's nice to go into the All-Star break with a certain degree of optimism about this year.  

Really, after the way this team began in April, just being in contention for a playoff berth into September would be a pretty decent success.  It's pretty exciting that the Reds have already been able to undo so much of the damage they did to their record.  Let's hope they still have a bit more in the tank for the second half!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Should we worry about Mat Latos?

Outside of his ERA, Mat Latos's numbers
are concerning.
Photo Credit: SD Dirk
In my series preview today at Red Reporter, I noted that Mat Latos's season numbers are a little bit concerning:
I wonder if we should worry a little bit about Mat Latos?  His fastball velocity is down 2 mph compared to prior years, he's not striking guys out, and he's allowing a lot of fly balls.  About the only thing he is doing well is avoiding the walk.  It could be that he's still not up to full strength after dealing with so many injury troubles earlier in the year.  It's a small sample, so I dunno, but I have my eyebrow raised.

Here's his line at FanGraphs.  Sorry for the size, but I wanted to show the whole table.  Click on it to make it bigger.

Everything comes with small sample size warnings.  His ERA looks good.  But everything else is well off pace.  He's showing a 2.4-mph drop in his fastball velocity thus far.  His strikeout rate is way down, his ground ball rate is down, and his swinging strike rate is way down from his career norms (7% vs. 10%!).  The only positive thus far is his walk rate, which has been very good.

I'm less concerned about the strikeout and walk rates.  Sometimes, I think I've seen pitchers show increases or decreases in both rates over small sample sizes.  That might be about their approach to pitching: maybe guys are trying to "fill up the zone" over a stretch of 5-10 starts, and as a result are getting more contact and avoiding walks.  If the Luck Dragons have been going Latos's way, he might be content to pitch to contact not go for the strikeout.  When the winds change, the might try to miss bats a bit more.

The velocity drop worries me, though.  Here it is graphically:

That's a big drop in fastball velocity.  And it's been consistent in each of his five starts this year.  This is not a matter of small sample sizes (at least not in terms of measurement--I'm not saying it's predictive).

Latos did not have a normal offseason due to his elbow surgery, and missed most of spring training due to the torn meniscus in his knee.  He didn't even have a "normal" rehabilitation due to forearm tightness and the calf issue that flared up in his second-to-last rehab start.  For all of these reasons, it makes sense that he is not at his best this season.  And that means I'm not particularly worried about him long-term.  But in the near-term, I'm a bit concerned about how long it will take for him to get back up to speed--or whether that is possible during the regular season.

The Reds need a strong Mat Latos in the rotation, and I'm not sure that they really have that right now.

Ben Lindbergh leaves Baseball Prospectus

Ben Lindbergh announced today that he is stepping down as Editor-in-Chief at Baseball Prospectus, passing the reigns to his fellow Effectively Wild podcast host, Sam Miller.

Since I failed so miserably at doing so on twitter, I wanted to take a moment to just recognize what Ben did for Baseball Prospectus during his tenure there as editor.  Baseball Prospectus was hugely important to sabermetrics as it got off the ground in the late-90's and early-2000's, but my perception is that by the mid-to-late oughts it had begun to fall behind.  Some of the old guard authors seemed overly antagonistic, archaic, and even elitist (to me, anyway)as they continued to cling to metrics they'd created and relied upon a decade before.  Outside of a few, important authors there, like Dan Fox (now with the Pirates), they seemed slow to acknowledge the work of talented new authors at the Hardball Times and FanGraphs.

That seemed to change over the last five years or so.  I could have sworn that I wrote about it at the time, but I can't find it.  In any case, they've now made a habit of grabbing some of the top minds and writers in the blogosphere, including many who have already moved on to work for teams.  The list is getting really long, but includes names (in no particular order) like Mike Fast, Colin Wyers, Russell Carleton, Harry Pavlidis, Dan Brooks, Jason Parks, and Max Marchi.  Once a place of stasis, BPro is now a leading source for pitchf/x data (thanks to their affiliation with Brooks Baseball), salary information (affiliation with Cot's Contracts), roster information (affiliation with mlbdepthcharts), and catcher framing information.  Not all of that happened under Lindbergh's tenure, but I think a lot of it did.  He has been quick to embrace The New, and to make sure that Baseball Prospectus is positioned as a leading source of innovation and insight in baseball.

On top of all that, I think the thing that might be most important about Ben is his humility.  He's a smart guy, and has accomplished a lot despite being quite a bit younger than I am (and I still consider myself young...ish, anyway).  He has a critical mind, and has done neat work in catcher framing.  But whereas past generations might have come off as haughty, Ben always came off as a guy without much of an ego.  He was respectful to those he disagreed with (at least in public!), and always seemed more helpful and inquisitive than abrasive.  
I've listened to Ben and his replacement, Sam Miller, for well over a year on their superb podcast, Effectively Wild.  I'm relieved that the two of them will continue to podcast there, as they are a mandatory, daily listen.  Sam is a great guy, and shares many of Ben's qualities.  I hope that Baseball Prospectus continues on this path of innovation, research, and humility.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Sabermetric Voice in the Reds' Front Office

This week in SABR 101x featured an interview with Lewie Pollis, a young sabermetrician with good ideas.  I enjoyed watching this interview with him, especially given that he is now an intern in the Reds Baseball Operations department.

Mentioned in the interview is this piece at BPro that echoes the importance of being reluctant to throw aside sabermetric principles for apparent outliers.  It follows nicely from the work by MGL and Dave Cameron last month talking about the importance of in-season projections.

He also mentions his senior thesis, which attempts to place a value on front office personnel.  I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's something I've along been interested in doing (e.g. this poor attempt of mine to evaluate Wayne Krivsky from long way was poorly done, lacked controls or comparisons, etc).  I'm interested to see how he attempted to control the innumerable confounds needed to evaluate front office moves!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

My afternoon at GABP

I was in town visiting my parents this week, and my dad surprised me with tickets to today's game.  And not just any tickets: we had tickets within the Champion's Club.  It was an amazing experience.  Free food everywhere.  Everywhere!  Fare ranged from hot dogs and pizza to a surprisingly good sesame chicken over rice, pulled pork sandwiches, and a chicken and pasta dish.  Nothing was gourmet, but it was all tasty.  The kids enjoyed the chance to just eat her way through a game.

The seats were terrific, offering a great view from just up the first base line.  Devin Mesoraco made two phenomenal tags at the plate (and clearly was out of the baseline each time prior to the throw!), and we had a great view of those plays.  They weren't very good seats for telling pitch types, except for when Bailey buried a splitter and had hitters way out in front.  

In any case, no grand insights here, just had a great time and wanted to post about it.  Bailey threw pretty well, Jay Bruce broke Mark Reynolds' glove, and for about two seconds I thought Frazier had tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with that drive to center field.  Tough game for the Reds offense once again.  But a great night for a ballgame.