Table of Contents

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reds swap Heisey for Matt Magill

So long to Chris Heisey
Photo credit: Keith Allison
With Chris Heisey set to hit his third year of arbitration and likely clear the $2 million mark, the Reds flipped him for Dodger pitcher Matt Magill.  Heisey was someone that the blogosphere loved as he came up.  A 17th-round pick, he was usually not rated very highly on prospect rankings, but he played his way to the big leagues.  Although he's shown decent power in the minor leagues (along with decent patience, sometimes), he surprised a lot of us in his 2011 campaign when he smacked 18 home runs in part-time duty, often as a pinch-hitter.  Nevertheless, he never really secured a full-time job.

We definitely saw Heisey become increasingly aggressive during his years with the big league club, and more contact-oriented.  His walk rate 7% to 6% to over around 4-5% from 2010-2014, his swing % increased from 48% to 53%.  He, strangely had a bit of a reversed split over his career (0.295 wOBA vs. LHP, 0.323 vs. RHP), which made it harder to leverage his offensive talents via a platoon.  So, what we have is a very nice 4th outfielder who could play all three outfield slots effectively, provide some power off the bench, and someone who could (theoretically) fill in for an injury whenever needed.  Unfortunately, it always seemed like the times that Heisey did get a chance to play every day as an injury replacement were the same times he fell into bad slumps.  The wrap on him was that that he became exposed as his playing time increased, and there might be some truth to that.

I've always liked Heisey, even if I never really bought into him as a full-time player.  His main argument for playing time, in my view, was a slightly-better-than-replacement bat coupled with plus fielding (average in CF, above-average in a corner).  He's frankly carved out a nice little career; I'm sure most teams would take 50 career home runs from a 17th-round selection any day.  I hope he finally gets a full-season worth of at-bats and performs well, even if it's a Brennan Boesch-like flash in the pan season.  Here are his final Cincinnati stats:

Chris Heisey Career Stats

In return, the Reds acquired Matt Magill.  Magill was also a late-round selection (31st), and pitched his way onto folks' radar.  Coming off a nice AA-campaign in 2012, Mike Newman wrote this about him at FanGraphs:

I saw Magill while sitting with a veteran scout who said, “Magill has more stuff than Kevin Slowey.” And while I can hear the whistling of thousands of index fingers twirling in the air in unison, that’s a pretty impressive feat considering Magill was a 31st round pick. With an 89-92 MPH fastball and slider which flashed plus, Magill has the ceiling of a number four starter with the floor of an excellent ROOGY. Prospect followers will want to point to the lofty strikeout totals as an indicator he has more in the tank, but his slider is a real out pitch against minor league hitters and just won’t be as effective against big league hitters.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at AAA, Magill has encountered what appear to be tremendous control issues, walking ~6 batters per 9 innings across 160 innings in AAA in 2013-2014, posting a lovely 9.1 bb/9 in 27 innings with the Dodgers in 2013.  Yikes.  For someone who doesn't throw particularly hard and doesn't have a reported overpowering secondary offering, it's not very encouraging.

So, yeah.  Shrug.  Maybe someone in Cincinnati thinks they can fix him.  And what do you expect in return for someone you were about to non-tender anyway?

Matt Magill stats:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Misery of Jay Bruce

I hadn't looked at FanGraphs' Cincinnati Reds team page lately.  Too painful.  But I popped over there tonight to have a look.  After momentary smiles at what Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have managed this year, and a nod of "yeah, pretty solid" at Billy Hamilton, I found myself scanning through the rest of the numbers with predictable dismay.  I knew it would be bad, and hence my need to stay away until now.  But it is a story of despair and agony.  Cozart's .259 wOBA.  Phillips' injury-shortened season with rate states still down from last year's disappointment.  Votto's 272 PA's.

As I scanned, though, I realized that I was missing Jay Bruce.  I looked again, and couldn't find him.  Finally, I realized that he was on page 2.  Jay Bruce.  -11.7 offensive runs vs. average.  -16 runs in the field by UZR.  -1.3 WAR.  

To call it the worst season of Bruce's career is a massive understatement.  Bruce has always been at least "solid."  This year, he hasn't just been average or disappointing.  He's been disastrous.  With the exception of his base-stealing totals (I haven't looked, but I'm guessing that was from earlier this year?), everything in his line has shown decline.  Walk rates are down.  Strikeout rates are up.  OBP is down.  ISO is down.  BABIP is down.  HR/FB is down.  It goes further:

Bruce's ground ball rate is WAY up.  His fly ball rate is down.  His line drive rate is down.  Bruce has become a groundball machine, which prevents his power from helping him do anything productive...and hence the low ISO.

Earlier this season, he was talking about trying to improve his approach, becoming more selective and looking for his pitch to hit.  His plate discipline profile doesn't match that anymore:

This year, Bruce has swing at more pitches outside the zone, and fewer pitches in the zone, thanany year of his career.  His overall swing rate is down, but that's mostly because pitchers aren't throwing the ball in the zone as often as they did in 2013--if he'll swing out of the zone, they don't have to challenge him.  He's making contact at a decent rate, but it's clearly not hard contact; he's hitting the ball into the ground.

Pitchers aren't throwing that much differently to him.  

A few more fastballs (by pitchf/x, that increase is mostly two-seamer fastballs).  A few more change-ups.  Fewer sliders.  It looks to me like pitchers just aren't as concerned about him this year.  One of the classic ways to get Bruce out was to bury a slider down and in on him, but it's as if pitchers no longer have to rely on that pitch to get through the at-bat.

Earlier this season, I wrote about how Bruce was going to the opposite field more often in 2013.  This year, well:

It's pretty tough for me to say without some summary statistics, but it looks like more of a pull-oriented distribution this year.  For one thing, while he had a nice number of home runs scattered between center field and left field in 2013, every single one of his home runs this year was to his pull side.  Similarly, his ground ball outs (purple) to the infield are all clustered to the pull side.  In the outfield, I'm not sure that I see a specific pattern, and looking only at ground balls, line drives, or fly balls didn't really help (not shown here).  

::sigh::  There's no insight here from me (as usual).  It's been a miserable season, and I certainly don't see anything here that I can identify as something that Bruce needs to do to get better.  He just needs to get better at everything.  My hope is that a big part of the problem has been his leg injury, as Bryan Price has alluded to several times this month.  With an offseason to heal, hopefully Bruce can be in line for comeback player of the year honors in 2015.  If he doesn't I don't see a way to expect much improvement from the Reds' offense...even if they are able to bring in some help.  

How pessimistic should we be?  Well, Bruce's ZIPS projection entering the season was for him to hit .254/.329/.485 with a .344 wOBA.  His updated projection?  .240/.312/.444 with a .328 wOBA.  According to the algorithm, there's still reason to expect him to be a solid hitter.  That's encouraging, despite how bad he's been this year.  But that's a far less intimidating line than he projected to be before his struggles this year.

...I'm not even going to talk about his fielding.  I'm just hoping that's short term injury + fielding stat volatility.  The key word there is hoping.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Using Sound to Scout Players

Sorry for my absence.  Part of it is that the Reds have frankly been rather hard to watch over the past month.  But the issue is that my family and I are living in France for the semester.  We arrived a few weeks ago, and are starting to find our way.  I'm traveling with my university's students in their study abroad program.  It's an amazing experience, but it definitely is hard to keep up on baseball when 7pm EST games start at 1am local time.

In any case, I was listening to Effectively Wild today.  Robert Arthur was on a few weeks back talking about his study that evaluated how the audio signature of the crack of the bat related to the result of the batted ball.  It's great stuff.  His principle finding was that the peak frequency (i.e. pitch) differed substantially between ground ball outs, ground ball hits, line drives, and home runs.  Better-struck balls result in higher frequency sounds.  That makes sense, because those sounds are the result of faster bat speed and more energy being put into the ball.  It's really exciting stuff, and indicates that there's probably quite a lot to the claims that we hear from Baseball People about the sound of balls coming off bats.

The potential applications of these data are really exciting.  The most exciting thing is that these data could be used as another way to evaluate hitters.  Bat crack data should be able to tell us some combination of how hard, and how squarely, batters are hitting balls.  Only those with exceptional power should be able to achieve the highest pitch of bats cracking, once we controlled for bat type and (maybe) pitch type.  Better hitters should have consistently higher pitch than poorer hitters.  My guess is that pitch data should be less noisy than BABIP data, and so they might be useful when we're trying to make "Bonafide or Bonifacio" judgements.

This could be used to evaluate pitchers as well.  Are pitchers really inducing weaker contact?  Or are hitters squaring up the ball well, but just hitting it to defenders unusually more often.

The challenge is the data collection.  MLB compressed games will help, but it's still a lot of data to gather, isolate, sort, and then analyze.  Hopefully some young, enterprising people will go after this, as it has enormous potential.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Many Runs Makes a Win?

I'm sort of gearing up to do some historical work on the Reds (I hope!).  One of the questions I wanted to answer was how many runs equals a win.  We did something like this in SABR 101x, but something about the algebra didn't seem right at the time, and the estimates we were finding seemed low.

In any case, I decided to instead generate this estimate in a fairly inelegant way called the "+1 method" (mentioned here by Patriot, though in a different context).  The approach is:

  1. For each year in baseball history, find the average PythagenPat record based on average runs scored and runs allowed per team.  This will, obviously, be a 0.500 record, unless there is a clerical error.
  2. For each year, find the expected PythagenPat record if you add 1 run scored to the average team.  This will be, barely, a 0.500+ record.
  3. Figure the expected number of wins each year based on those two records.  This will vary depending on the number of games, and, of course, the expected record.
  4. Calculate the difference between the "0.500 record" wins and the ".500 record +1 run" wins.  This gives you the wins per run.
  5. Take the reciprocal of wins per run.  This is runs per win.
I actually added 0.1 runs instead of 1 run, just to avoid changing the run environment.  It probably doesn't matter.  I also tried it using +1 run allowed or -1 run scored, and it really didn't change the estimates.

Here are the results!

In addition to my run per win estimate (the blue line), I've also added straight-up total runs scored per game (i.e. runs scored + runs allowed for each game).  In the past, I've advocated just using total runs scored per game as a shorthand for the runs per win estimate.  You can see that it tracks pretty well (although it consistently underestimates the correct number over most of baseball history.

To get away from the noise of the 1800's, let's just look at the live ball era:

Ok, so from this you can see that runs per win (again, focus on the blue line) tracks between 9 and 10 runs pretty consistently.  But it definitely does vary with run environment.  As runs per game increases (orange line), so too does the number of runs you need to score to win a game.  That makes sense.

When I was working on my player value series, and as the WAR frameworks at FanGraphs and Baseball Reference were being developed in the mid-2000's, you often heard people say that 10 runs = 1 win.  That was pretty much true from 1993-2009.  But as the run environment has plummeted over the past several years (the strikeout era?), the runs needed per win has decreased as well.  In 2013, I have it at 9.07 runs per game.  It's a small thing, but something to keep in mind as we look at different eras over baseball history.

Also, different leagues unquestionably differ in runs per win.  The AL should always require more runs per win than the NL, at least since the debut of the designated hitter.  But I just wanted a blanket per-year conversion, so...

I'm sure these numbers are available elsewhere, but for those interested I'm posting a spreadsheet with these data on google docs.  If you use those data for a project that is published somewhere, please link back to this post.  All data pulled from the Lahman Database.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Reds History, Graphically

I had a fun idea for a graphic that summarized the Reds' regular season winning percentages, playoff appearances, and top players over their history.  Here is the result:

You can click it to make it larger.

Some Takeaways:

Winning Teams

Based on a five-year moving average, the Reds have had six collections of winning teams: the late 1890's, the late 1910's-1920's, the late-30's-early-40's, the teams of the 60's and 70's, the 1990's, and the current 2010+ teams.  All but one of these winning stretches have at least produced one playoff appearance.  The playoffs weren't a thing in the 1800's, although the Reds never finished in first place in the National League until 1919.  Of the successful stretches of Reds teams during times when the World Series was an annual event, only the current incarnation has not won a World Series.

The highest winning percentage in Reds' history is not the Big Red Machine's peak in 1975, but rather the 1919 Reds team that won the World Series in the Black Sox scandal.  They went 96-44 (.686 WPct in 140 games).  That was a brilliant team, and the fact that their victory was tainted by what happened with the Black Sox just make that episode all the more irritating.  There's no reason to think that they couldn't have won that series anyway.

For the stat-minded Big Red machine fan, though, fear not: the 1975 Reds have the best PythagenPat winning percentage in Reds history (their mark of .662 just edged out the 1919 team's .654 PythagenPat).  The best PythagenPat winning percentage for the current Reds' squad was last year, 2013, at .576 (2010: .567; 2012: .558).

Losing Teams

The Reds have also have really only gone through four extended stretches as losing teams.  These include the 1900's, the 1930's, the mid-40's/early 50's, and then Jim Bowden-era from the late 1990's through the 2000's.

Great Players

I listed the top-26 players by rWAR (courtesey of Baseball Gauge).  I would have included more, but I ran out of space (sorry, Frank McCormick!).  Not surprisingly, the 1960's and 1970's, the most successful stretch in Reds history, were home to a lot of the great players from the Reds' past.  But I was surprised at how many of the great Reds players appeared not just during the peaks in the 20's and late 30's (as would be expected), but also during the big swoon in the early 30's.  That said, when you look at it, most of those greats were either finishing up their careers, or just starting out during that time...and many of them were responsible for the successes of 1938-1944.  I'm looking forward to digging into those teams a bit more.

The Cost of the Strikes

In 1981, because of a player strike, MLB played a shortened season.  And for some reason, the justification for which seems lost to history, they opted to take the winners of the first half and the second half as the teams that made the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Reds, who had the best record in their division overall, went home in October.

In 1994, the Reds were in first place when the season ended, again due to a player strike.  That team would repeat their success and go to the playoffs in 1995, but it's hard not to wonder what might have been.

I tend to side with players over owners most of the time these days when it comes to financial disputes. I might not like that players make bazillions of times more money than people who do more important work outside the entiertainment industry.  But society has made its choices on how it spends its money, and I'd much rather the players share in those profits than it stay in the pockets of owners.  That all said, the strikes have come at awful times for the Reds.

Afterthought: I have no memory of writing it, but I found this somewhat similar post from 2009 after writing this article.  Funny when that happens!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Chapman abandons change (mostly)

So, less than two weeks ago, I wrote about how Aroldis Chapman's improvement this year can arguably be traced to the debut of his change-up.  Well, as Jeff Sullivan noted, almost coinciding with when I wrote that, Chapman now seems to be moving away from using his change-up.  In fact, he's thrown the pitch in only 1 of the last 5 games, and 2 of the last 8:

The reason appears to be that he has a hard time throwing the change-up for strikes.

The good news was that while he was not throwing it for strikes, he was usually missing down (assuming he was even trying to get it in the zone).  Nevertheless, it does look like the pitch has fallen out of favor.  So much for my last piece on him! :)

I personally hope that he can continue to work it in, even as a show-me pitch.  Hitters can catch up to his fastball if they know that it is coming.  The slider is a fantastic pitch, and I'm sure he can be quite successful as a fastball/slider reliever.  But a third pitch against right-handers, at least, would be one additional thing that hitters need to keep in their minds as they step in to face him.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reds do nothing at trade deadline.

So the trade deadline has come and gone, and we have no news of any sort coming out of the Reds front office.  There were rumors that the Reds were in the mix for Alex Rios (who was not traded), and were dangling Mat Latos (I wonder if folks have injury concerns?) and Ryan Ludwick (who would take him?) on the market.  In the end, though, it looks like there won't be a big blockbuster deal of any sort for the Reds until the offseason.  Yes, there can be smaller deals on players who squeak through waivers.  But we won't see big impact deals.

Normally, I am not the sort who will argue to do something for the sake of doing something.  But in this case, I think the Reds really needed to make a decision: are they going for it, or are they done?  For reference, here are BPro's playoff projections, which have usually been among the more optimistic for the Reds this season:

15% isn't completely out of it.  But this is a team that had 50/50 shot as recently as the all-star break.  They've really collapsed, and frankly I think a 0.500 team is more indicative of what the Reds are than where they were at the all-star break.  Maybe I'm just feeling pessimistic.

In any case, here are the Reds options:

They're Going For It

If the Reds are going for it, I think it's almost impossible to look at their current active roster and think that what they have will be enough.  They are currently starting Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena, and Chris Heisey in three of their starting spots.  I can live with Heisey in left field because of what he does with the glove, but Schumaker and Pena are not acceptable solutions for a playoff team.  It's no surprise, then, that the Reds' offense has been miserable for the past several weeks.

To have any kind of reasonable shot at the playoffs, they needed to add a significant bat.  There really just was no alternative.  I don't know what was available, and maybe there wasn't much out there.  But if you want to go for it, but can't find a good bat, then I think you have to conclude that the Reds aren't going to make it.  In which case, they should go for option two:

Concede the Season

The Reds do not have any major free agents leaving this fall.  But they have a large group of players who would leave the following season: Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon.  Furthermore, they have at least one player who has played vastly above the level at which one could reasonably expect him to ever again in Alfredo Simon.  They also have a substantial increase in payroll coming in 2015, thanks to many of their young infielders coming up for arbitration eligibility, and several of their other players getting incrementally more expensive on their contracted deals.  With the market willing to pay for pitching, I think this was a missed chance to sell a part (especially Simon!), pick up some prospects that can help the team in 2015 and 2016, and, perhaps most importantly, re-tool the team to make it more financially viable and flexible next year.

But, they didn't do that.  So we're left with a season that is close to lost.  And really, I'm not sure how much better we can hope that the Reds will be in 2015.  So while I guess I'm glad they didn't do anything disastrous today, I think this was a missed chance to improve the Reds moving forward.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The New Aroldis Chapman

The Reds' worst-kept secret is how amazing Aroldis Chapman has been this year, and the story of what he is doing differently to become so dominant.  Chapman is arguably in the midst of the best season of his career:
(sorry about the size of that one--click to make it bigger).

I know he had the 1.51 ERA is 2012.  But his strikeouts are at to 2 k/inning (18 k/9) on the season, his walks are stable, and he's allowed just one home run on the year.  He's been ridiculous***.

***This calls for a graph dump!

So how has he done it?  Well, part of it is that his velocity is up about two mph this year after averaging "just" 98 or so the prior three years.  Here's Brooks' Baseball's graph of that:
Aroldis has had months in which he has averaged over 100 mph.  But he's never had three consecutive months like this before in terms of sheer power.

The other thing that appears on this graph, of course, is that Aroldis is throwing his change-up again for the first time since 2010.  Here's a look at all of his games on the year in my favorite plot for identifying pitches:
It's pretty straightforward.  Chapman throws crazy-hard, with a fastball that breaks back away from a right-handed hitter while traveling at roughly the speed of sound.  And on top of that, he has a change-up that breaks almost 10 inches away from a righty, and then a slider that breaks in toward the right-handed batter's back foot.  The change-up and slider break opposite directions and travel roughly the same velocity.

Chapman is throwing both of his secondary offerings much more often this year:
After living almost exclusively with this fastball at times from 2011-2013, he's dropped his usage of that pitch into the high 60% range.  Instead, he's now throwing a quarter of his pitches as sliders, and is working in change-ups at a consistent, low rate.

The change-up has been very effective for him:
When he first started throwing it in May after coming back from the DL, batters had no idea what to do with it, and were swinging and missing 50% of the time he threw it.  They've since learned to lay off it (because they can't hit it: the pitch has a 95% whiff rate when they do swing on the season!!), and so we're seeing that whiff rate decline.  But, concurrently, we're seeing a spike in his fastball whiff rate.  So far in July, his fastball has induced the highest percentage of strikeouts of any month in his career.  It's correlational, but it sure looks like the use of his change-up has strengthened the impact of his fastball.  'Cause the fastball wasn't already an amazing pitch....

One last thing: on a recent Redleg Nation Radio, Bill Lack asked whether Aroldis gets beat more often when pitching down in the zone than when pitching up in the zone.  Here is are opposing batters' slugging percentages against Chapman in different parts of the zone.

First, left-handed batters:
(also known as "good luck, fella").  Lefties have gotten good wood on the ball when throws in the strike zone down and away, but otherwise are basically hopeless against him.

Now, right-handed batters:

Bill's perceptions hold true here.  When Chapman is throwing in the bottom half of the zone against righties, he's actually been hit pretty well during his career.  When he elevates the ball, however, it's been pretty much lights out.  And this isn't the pattern you always see either.  Here's a link to Cueto's graph; he gets it up in the top part of the zone as well.

Chapman seems to have noticed.  This year, he's throwing up in the zone more than in prior years, especially with his fastball:

All of Chapman's success this year is made all the more amazing by the fact that he suffered a serious head injury in spring training.  He's been one of the bright spots on the team thus far.  I don't know if he'll still be on the team by the end of the year, as he would seem to be a nice trade chip if Jocketty decides the Reds need to sell off some parts.  I think someone would overpay for him.  But it's fun to enjoy him while he's still a member of the Reds.

All graphs courtesy of the amazing Brooks Baseball.

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.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

My 2014 All-Star Teams: American League

Yan Gomes has earned my nod for starting
American League catcher.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
Continuing what I started with the National League....

American League

Bold-faced players did not make my 2013 All Star Team


Starter: Yan Gomes, CLE (4.4 WAR)
Reserve: Salvador Perez, KCR (4.6 WAR)

Perez might have the advantage in fWAR, but Gomes is a much better pitch framer than Perez.  That more than makes up any disparity.  I think it's surprising to see him tabbed as the best catcher in the American League, but he's hit well and played fantastic defense, even before considering the framing.  He's also supplanted last year's reserve AL Catcher, Carlos Santana, on the Cleveland Indians.  Perez's offensive prowess, however, still gets him on the all star team.

First Base

Miguel Cabrera, DET (5.6 WAR)
Edwin Encarnacion, TOR (4.8 WAR)

Miguel Cabrera isn't having a great year, by his standards.  But he's still got a .390 wOBA.  And he was freaking amazing last year.  Edwin Encarnacion is a long warm-fuzzy player for me, and it's thrilling to see him doing so well.

Second Base

Robinson Cano, SEA (5.8 WAR)
Brian Dozier, MIN (5.0 WAR)

I really wanted to take Dozier over Cano, because I love the underdog.  But Cano has just been too good, with nearly a full win lead over him despite 60 fewer PA's.  Dozier has the power, but Cano is the better hitter.  Still, it's neat to have him on this list.

Third Base

Josh Donaldson, OAK (7.4 WAR)
Adrian Beltre, TEX (5.4 WAR)

I still don't think I've completely grasped how good Josh Donaldson is.  We all expected a pretty big regression this year.  And he has definitely regressed, losing nearly 40 points off his wOBA.  But he's still an above-average hitter and a borderline elite fielder at the hot corner.  Sounds a lot like what Adrian Beltre has been throughout most of his career.


Alexei Ramirez, CHW (3.8 WAR)
Elvis Andrus, TEX (3.7 WAR)

It seems to me that Alexei Ramirez gets very little respect for what he has done.  He's a very aggressive hitter, which probably reduces his nerd love a bit.  But he makes enough contact that he can still get on base at a fair clip, has decent power for a shortstop (even if not what he once had), and posted 3-4 win seasons in three of the prior four seasons, and is on pace for 3 WAR again this year.  He's not great.  But in a crop of AL shortstops that currently has no clear standouts, he might be the best performer over the past year.  Elvis is right there, of course, as is Erick Aybar (not listed).


Starters: Mike Trout, LAA (10.7 WAR), Alex Gordon, KCR (6.3 WAR), Jose Bautista, TOR (5.1 WAR)
Reserves: Adam Jones, BAL (5.4 WAR), Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY (4.4 WAR), Yoenis Cespedes, OAK (4.0 WAR)

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, same as last year.  But man, Alex Gordon rates well.  Most of that is fielding, but he ranked 2nd in the AL last year as well.  I gave Bautista the nod over Jones for the last starting spot, mostly because I love the OBP machine he has become...and Trout can cover center field.

Designated Hitter

Starter: Edwin Encarnacion, TOR (158 wRC+, +2 BsR)
Reserve: Victor Martinez, DET (158 wRC+, -8 BsR)

Edwin is our reserve first baseman, but I'm giving him the nod here over Victor Martinez as the best available offensive player who hasn't yet earned a starting job.  Edwin's had a pretty improbable career.  I always thought he would be a good hitter, but I never anticipated that he'd produce the kind of power he has.  The move from third base has been a major boon to his value.  He's quite fortunately hit well enough--easily well enough--to justify the position shift, and he's only a few clicks below average over there.

Starting Pitchers

Felix Hernandez, SEA (7.2 WAR)
David Price, TBR (6.6 WAR)
Yu Darvish, TEX (5.7 WAR)
Max Scherzer, DET (5.8 WAR)
Jon Lester, BOS (6.4 WAR)

King Felix is just so good.  I remember a time when we (or I, at least) was worried he might be starting to slip.  Nope!  He's 28 years old, in his 10th season, and has compiled 46 fWAR in his career already.  Hall of fame, right?


Koji Uehara, BOS (3.4 WAR)
Greg Holland, KCR (3.0 WAR)
Sean Doolittle, OAK (2.7 WAR)
David Robertson, NYA (2.1 WAR)
Fernando Rodney, SEA (2.2 WAR)

Koji!  Also of note, I think, is Sean Doolittle, who has been especially ridiculous for the A's this year (13 k/9, 0.5 bb/9...that's lol'able).

Pats on the Head

Dallas Keuchel, HOU, SP (3.3 WAR)

It was between Keuchel and Jose Altuve.  As much as I love Altuve, Keuchel has been a revelation this year: he's become this unreal ground-ball machine (63% GB%) who walks no one (2.3 bb/9), while getting respectable strikeout rates.  While I try to avoid overreacting to small samples, Keuchel's xFIP wasn't that far off from where it is this year.  It's just that this season, he's getting much better results.  I'd love to see him make the team, even if he's a far cry from the track recover of the other starting pitchers.

Team Summary

(not including the pat on the head)

BAL: 1
BOS: 2
CHW: 1
CLE: 1
DET: 3
KCR: 3
LAA: 1
MIN: 1
NYY: 2
OAK: 3
SEA: 3
TBR: 1
TEX: 3
TOR: 2

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

My 2014 All-Star Teams: National League

Todd Frazier gets my nod as the starting
National League third baseman.
Photo Credit: Andrew Mascharka
As I've been publishing annually for many years now, here are my picks for the 2014 All-Star team.  While I get the opposing view, I prefer that All-Star teams be composed of the best players in baseball...not just those who have had the best first three months.  That said, while in the past I've used projections, I've softened a bit and how prefer to use the past calendar year performances.  This, I feel, is a nice compromise between avoiding ultra small samples and recognizing new, exciting young players.  And, of course, I'm holding out the option go with my own whims.  So, without further adieu:

National League

Bold-faced players did not appear on my 2013 teams.

Starter: Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (6.2 WAR)
Reserve: Yadier Molina, STL (3.8 WAR)

For all the fanfare about Molina as a possible MVP candidate one of these years, Jonathan Lucroy has more than a 2-WAR lead on him over the past calendar year.  Two. WAR.  That's insane.  Both are excellent pitch framers as well.

First Base
Starter: Freddie Freeman, ATL (5.6 WAR)
Reserve: Paul Goldschmidt, ARI (6.0 WAR)

Despite Goldschmidt's marginal lead in WAR, I'm giving Freeman the nod here because he's been so terrific both this and last year...while Goldschmidt has struggled a bit this year.  Freeman is a player that I always underestimated, but he's sure looking worth his extension this past offseason.  He has posted nearly equal offensive numbers to Goldschmidt's over the past 365 days, while at the same time playing in a weaker offensive environment in Atlanta.

Second Base
Starter: Matt Carpenter, STL (6.4 WAR)
Reserve: Chase Utley, PHI (4.6 WAR)

I know that Carpenter has moved over to his "native" 3B this season, but I'm giving him the nod at second base for arguably homer-ic reasons that you'll see in a moment.  You could make a great case for Chase Utley, who is still an excellent player and a long-time crush.  But I'm giving it to Carpenter, who has just been so amazing over the past year...and because I want to give third base to someone with more WAR than Chase Utley.

Third Base
Starter: Todd Frazier, CIN (4.8 WAR)
Reserve: Anthony Rendon, WAS (3.5 WAR)

Todd Frazier has had a terrific season this year, but the secret seems to be that he also had a very good season last year.  His batting average was low last year (luck dragons?), but his other numbers--while a step down from 2012--were still pretty solid, and resulted in dead-on league average production (100 wRC+).  For the reserve, I'm passing over Juan Uribe (4.5 WAR in limited play) because I'm a little skeptical of the +20 fielding rating.  Instead going with young stud Anthony Rendon, who has been terrific this season after a solid rookie campaign last year.

Starter: Troy Tulowitzki, COL (6.7 WAR)
Reserve: Hanley Ramirez, LAD (5.7 WAR)

Hanley had an amazing second half last year, and has been pretty good this year.  But nothing compares to what Troy Tulowtizki has done over his past 145 games...during which he's been healthy!  Tulo is the bestest.

Starters: Andrew McCutchen, PIT (8.4 WAR--wow), Carlos Gomez, MIL (6.6 WAR), and Giancarlo Stanton, MIA (5.7 WAR)
Reserves: Hunter Pence, SFG (5.6 WAR), Yasiel Puig, LAD (5.5 WAR), and Jayson Werth, WAS (5.4 WAR)

The player with the second-most WAR in all of baseball is Andrew McCutchen.  I knew he'd been amazing, but I had no idea that he was second only to His Greatness.  I've written about my love of Carlos Gomez, and and I gave Giancarlo Stanton the nod over Hunter Pence because I love Giancarlo a lot more the Pence.  But I'm nevertheless incredibly impressed that Pence is where he is.  Puig seems pretty likely to crack the starting lineup by next season, but deserves to be here.  The last player, Werth, gets the nod over Jayson Heyward because I trust Werth's negative defensive rating less than I trust Heyward's positive rating.  Werth is player who often has popped up in this exercise over the past, but rarely gets much consideration for the actual team.

Starting Pitching
Clayton Kershaw, LAD (6.7 WAR)
Adam Wainwright, STL (5.1 WAR)
Stephen Strasburg, WAS (4.0 WAR)
Zack Greinke, LAD (3.9 WAR)
Jordan Zimmermann, WAS (3.7 WAR)

Kershaw should not be a surprise, nor really should any of the names on this list.  The biggest "snub" that visitors of this blog are likely to notice is Johnny Cueto, who clocks in at 2.9 WAR over the past calendar year.  This is the "cost" to opting to include the second half of last year's data in these rankings, but I think it's the right call.  Otherwise, where is the recognition of second-half performances?  Just my opinion.

Craig Kimbrel, ATL (2.9 WAR)
Aroldis Chapman, CIN (2.1 WAR)
Steve Cishek, MIA (2.5 WAR)
Kenley Jansen, LAD (2.3 WAR)
Tony Watson, PIT (2.0 WAR)

I'm giving Chapman a bump because of playing time and homerism.  But wow, I had no idea that Steve Cishek was doing what he's been doing.  It's a nice (refreshing?) indication of how far removed I am from fantasy baseball that I didn't even realize that he was Miami's closer.  He's been amazing, though, and on par with these other guys.  Tony Watson narrowly got the nod over his fellow Pirate Mark Melancon, but I went with Watson because his numbers are (very slightly) better, and it's nice to have another lefty.

Pats on the Head 

(token team representative that didn't make the real cut)
Daniel Murphy, 2B, NYM (4.4 WAR)
Andrew Cashner, SP, SDP (3.1 WAR)
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC (2.8 WAR)

Were it not for my movement of Carpenter to 2B to get Frazier a job, Murphy would have gotten the reserve 2B job.  The others are good, quality players, who might be even better in the future.  But they're not really in the same conversation as the guys who did make the cut.

Team Summary

ARI: 1
ATL: 2
CHC: 0
CIN: 2
COL: 1
LAD: 5
MIA: 2
MIL: 1
NYM: 0
PHI: 1
PIT: 2
SDP: 0
SFG: 1
STL: 3
WAS: 4
(not including the pat-on-the-head selections)

(next up: the American League)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Zimmerman's Tommy John Primer

Ulnar Collateral Ligaments
are fragile when you throw
really hard.
The Reds have fortunately managed to largely avoid entanglement in ulnar collateral ligament repair surgery this year, but it is a major topic of interest in baseball because of the recent spike in the surgery that we are seeing.  Jeff Zimmerman penned the first part of an excellent primer on Tommy John Surgery at Hardball Times.  Of note: 20% of pitchers who have the surgery just don't make it back, velocity does NOT increase in the years following the surgery, and pitchers typically struggle their first year back.

The latter is probably well-known.  But the first point is not well appreciated, and the second is an important myth.  A few month ago, on Effectively Wild, Stan Conte, the VP of Medical Services of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was on for an interview about pitcher injuries.  One of the points he made is that the myth of increased velocity resulting from Tommy John surgery has resulted in some ridiculous scenarios.  Among them are stories of fathers requesting the surgery for their completely healthy sons in hopes of helping them to add velocity.  Can you imagine?

Zimmerman's next piece will investigate probable causes of the injuries.  The biggest culprit in conversations I've read and heard are fastball velocities, which continue to rise.  I'm looking forward to seeing the data on that, and whether those claims hold up.

I received this tweet last night.  It provides two great links to Jon's work that addresses my last paragraph:

Update #2:
Here's Zimmerman's second part, with an excellent summary of his findings (all of which I agree with):
  1. Pitchers are developing their shoulders better. This leads to a pitcher’s elbow giving out before his shoulder.
  2. Pitchers are throwing at a higher velocity, which means more stress on the elbow. More stress means more of a chance for a snap or rip.
  3. Younger pitchers are putting undo stress on their arms at too early an age, with too many innings and not enough rest time. The pitchers are damaged goods before they make it to the majors.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Branch Rickey & Allen Roth in 1954

In the history track in Sabermetrics 101 this week (the 4th week), we read an article by Branch Rickey that appeared in Life Magazine in 1954 describing his and Allen Roth's efforts to develop a model that would predict team success.  Here's the model that is at the heart of the article:
To break it down:
  • The top row is the Offense term.  It is essentially OBP + 0.75*ISO + Clutch.  Clutch was a catch-all term that tracked how often a team scored once runners were on base, and includes clutchiness, baserunning, luck, etc.
  • The bottom term is the Defense term.  It includes opponent batting average, the Walk+HBP term of opponent OBP, Opponent "Clutch", and a strikeout term (weight 1/8th...this was presumably necessary because it's just the extra value of a strikeout over and above what is already tracked in the batting average term).  F is fielding (independent of the other values), which Rickey & Roth basically punted.  In fact, they have a great line in the article: "There is nothing on earth anybody can do with fielding."  They just assigned it a zero and moved on, hoping it wouldn't matter that much.
Therefore, the equation amounts to:

Offense (O) - Defense (D) = G

Where G is a stat that will track run differential quite well.

Neat, right?  

There are some problems that I see.  First, it seems like the ISO term is confounded with the R term, because a lot of the value of extra-base hits lies in driving runners home (and vice versa).  The second is unquestionably the over-emphasis on BABIP when tracking pitching performances (especially when they start relating this to individual pitcher performances; this was pre-Voros McCracken, after all!).  And there's also the lack of separation of the unique effect of the home run.  And finally, the units are sort of a mish-mash of arbitrary ratio units, rather something that has immediate meaning like runs or wins.

In short, it's not Base Runs.  But it seems to work pretty well, based on the work they did on it in the 50's.  The article itself is a great read, with a ton of great quotes.  I highly recommend it.  It's neat to think that this kind of thing was happening 60 years ago...and how hard it must have been to do the analysis, before the days of excel, mysql, and statistical packages!***

***At one point in the article, they mentioned sending off their data for six weeks(!) to a stat department at an institution for "correlation analysis."  What would have taken a couple of hours today (mostly just getting the data together) took WEEKS of work using mechanical calculators, slide-rules, and lots of paper computation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reds Odds Rising

Just because I wanted to capture it...the Reds are back to 0.500 entering today's game, and  playoff odds are at their highest since the season began:

They have a tough opponent coming to GABP for tomorrow's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  And they're still a bit of a long shot.  But it's fun to start dreaming again. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Brayan Pena having great year behind the dish

Early on, the story with Brayan Pena was the surprising offensive performance the Reds got from him during April.  His bat has cooled off a lot since then, and his overall hitting numbers are now more or less on par with his career numbers: 80 wRC+ in 2014, 73 wRC+ career, 80-81 wRC+ projected by ZiPS and Steamer over the rest of the season.  That's good for something like a 0.3-0.4 WAR catcher by the end of the season.

I noticed this today, however:

Pena (highlighted) is already at +9.5 context-specific runs saved by his framing skills!  If you remove context (specific count), he's only +3 overall.  But that's still very solid when we're just over a third of the season played.

Entering the season, Harry Pavlidis projected Pena at +4 runs from framing alone.  Therefore, he's probably already shot past that projection.  This is great to see, and is consistent with what some of the twitter-verse told me as the season began.

Pena's other fielding numbers have been good: 36% CS rate (26% league average), and +4 runs by Chris Dial's catching system against stolen bases, passed balls, and errors.  I don't like him that much as the team's backup first-baseman, but he's been everything you could ask in a backup catcher.  And, very clear, he has been a terrific guy in the clubhouse.

Quick bit of prognostication: if we split the difference between the context-specific and context-neutral framing numbers (+6 runs), give him +4 runs for his other fielding performances, that gives him +10 runs on the season.  If he can double that, he'd end up a +20 fielder, which is worth 2 WAR.  I don't know if he'll do that, but even 1-1.5 WAR by season's end would be a solid performance from a backup!

Pirates Series Preview

Today I previewed the Pirates series at Red Reporter.  They're kind of the anti-Reds: great offense, lousy starting pitching.  The net result is pretty much the same; both teams are a tick below .500.
The Pirates were forecasted by many to regress from their fairy-tale season last year, and they have.  They sit a game below 0.500, a consequence primarily of their struggling pitching staff. While their rotation was a strength last season, they have struggled this year to put together good outings.  Even more problematic, their top two starters, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, recently found themselves on the disabled list with a strained oblique and shoulder fatigue, respectively. 
The good news for the Pirates is that their offense has been dynamite.  Their 105 wRC+ is the second-best in the league, and the arrival of Gregory Polanco might mean they could get even better.  The Reds' pitching staff could well have their hands full trying to contain the Pirates' bats.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Replay Is Working, but Not For Reds

The implementation of expanded replay has come under a fair amount of fire this year.  We've all seen a scenario like this: after the obligatory dawdle while his video guy looks at the play, the manager challenges a ruling on the field, and we all watch a number of angles at home while the umpire at MLBAM makes his decision.  The replays seem to clearly show that the call was incorrect...but, after a minute or two of a wait, the call in the field is upheld.  The reason?  No clear and indisputable evidence that the call was wrong, despite it being pretty clear that it actually is.

This scenario has both hurt and helped the Reds this year, but either way it is maddening to watch.  Replay is supposed to help get calls right.  If it's upholding the wrong call, then what is the point of going through this?

On this point, I saw this tweet come across my twitter feed a few days ago:
I thought it was a really good point.  Replay isn't perfect.  But with every overturned call, we're seeing mistakes being fixed that otherwise would have been upheld.  Umpires still blow calls, and replay still fails to correct some of them.  But we've already seen hundreds of incorrect calls fixed this season.  Hundreds!

The link in that post is to Baseball Savant, which is happily tracking all of the replay challenges this year via pitchf/x data.  It's a great resource.  As of now, the number of overturned calls has risen to 246 calls, which is 47% of all challenges.  Here's how that number has evolved this year:

The blue line is a cumulative average for the entire season.  What we can see is that the rate of calls being overturned started at or around 40% in April, but then rose steadily through May and has flat-lined around the current 47%.

The 9-day moving average is a bit more revealing.  It seems as though the replay umpires began the season being pretty conservative for the first two weeks.  Then, they started to routinely overturn just over half of the calls from that point on...with a strange dip that occurred at the end of May/beginning of June (~23 May through 3 June).  I don't know what happened during that dip, but the rate of overturned calls dropped down to 30% for a brief period.  I'm going to speculate that the umpires are still making adjustments to their internal criteria for when to overturn calls.  Therefore, we might have seen a short-term adjustment to be more conservative, which was then quickly relaxed.

Replays and the Reds

So, if the MLB average is that just shy of half of all challenges are successful in getting a call overturned, why does it seem like the Reds almost always lose their challenges?

Probably, it's because the Reds have almost always lost their challenges.  The Reds are tied for the fewest challenges in all of baseball with 9 (the highest are the Cubs & Rays with 23 each).  They have won just 2 of their challenges (22%).  In contrast, the teams the Reds have played have made 14 challenges against the Reds, and have won 8 of them (57%).  Replay has not been kind to the Reds thus far.

Who is to blame?  The Reds' video guy?  Small sample sizes?  Bad luck?  I'd lean toward the latter explanations.  But...yeesh, let's hope their luck changes soon.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Optimism, Carlos Gomez, and Projections

I surprised myself with a surprisingly upbeat preview of the Brewers vs. Reds series today:
Going into their game against the Mets last night (as I wrote this), the Brewers had a 7.5-game lead on the Reds.  Now, one can't really hope for a sweep.  But can you imagine?  That'd suddenly put the Reds 4.5 games back.  With the Cardinals still hovering around 0.500, the Reds have an opportunity here.  I like the Reds pitching match-ups in all three games.  If the offense can build on what it did the last two games of the Dodger series, this could be an exciting weekend for the Reds.  Here's to optimism! Go Reds!
Somewhere recently, I saw someone write (I think for another team) that it's more fun to be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.  I'm trying to adopt that view. :)

Carlos Gomez: A lesson on the importance of
patience, scouts, and tools.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
I also wrote a bit about Carlos Gomez.  He fits into the mold of a former top prospect who had been given up on by nearly everyone, only to discover himself.  Others include Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, although to his credit, Gomez was never DFA'd.
Some of Lucroy's best competition in the MVP race is his center fielder, Carlos Gomez.  I think Gomez is fascinating.  I find it almost impossible to believe that he's only in his age-28 season, because it seems like he's been around forever.  He was the key acquisition in the Twins' deal that sent Johan Santana to the Mets before the 2008 season.  Despite playing in the majors as a 22-year old, he was largely considered a flop in the aftermath of that trade.  He earned a strong reputation as a great defensive center fielder, but he didn't hit a lick.  The Brewers acquired him in exchange for J.J. Hardy, a deal that many (myself probably included) panned.  Hardy was often-injured, but he was a quality offensive shortstop coming off a bad season, while Carlos seemed like the definitive no-hit defensive center fielder.  Then, something happened in the second half of 2012: Gomez started to hit for power.  From July through September, Gomez slugged 15 home runs (previous season high was 8).  He continued to show that power through last all of last season, and FanGraphs estimated his season value at 7.6 fWAR (though that might be a bit inflated by a +24 run fielding rating...though b-ref gave him +38 runs in the field and 8.9 WAR, so....).  He's one of the best players in baseball.
This is the kind of thing that has taken me forever to wrap my head around.  I am a projection guy, and rely on them to guide my evaluations of players to avoid getting overly excited about new changes in performance.    In fact, MGL just wrote a great piece on the importance of this approach, which was then summarized by Dave Cameron.  But there are guys for whom I am bound to miss with this approach, and Carlos Gomez (and Bautista and Encarnacion) are cases in point.  Therefore, while I use projections, I also try to keep an eye out for toolsy guys who seem to finally be figuring it out.  In my view, the lesson is to trust your projection tools, but to still be cautiously conservative in their ability to forecast the future.  I'll always have a blind spot for this kind of player, but hopefully I'm not as blind as I once was.

Brandon Phillips might have been my first lesson in that.  Here's what I wrote when the Reds acquired him:
Previously a highly-touted prospect out of the Montreal farm system, this guy is apparently going to sit on our bench this year. He is out of options, and the Reds seem to have acquired him from the Indians because they didn't want to lose him via waivers and he's not good enough to be on their team. Phillips had a very good half-year as a 21-year old in the then-Expos' AA franchise, hitting 0.327/0.380/0.506/0.886 in 245 at bats in '02. But that's the last time he had a really outstanding, prospect-like season. He was probably rushed a bit to the majors in '03, but was thoroughly ineffective there and hasn't done a whole lot since. His '04 campaign with the Indians' AAA affiliate was decent (0.353 OBP), but he regressed a bit in '05. Krivsky mentioned in his rain delay interview with Marty Brennaman today that Phillips hit 15 homers last year in AAA, which is good. But his slugging percentage was a fairly poor 0.409, particularly given those HR totals. Overall...I wouldn't expect much from this guy's bat this season, and perhaps not ever.
Phillips might be overrated by some of the Cincinnati media, but there's no question that I missed the mark badly on this one.  Phillips has posted five seasons as an above-average hitter during his time with the Reds, has played legitimate gold-glove defense, and has topped 3 WAR five times (and posted 2.9 fWAR a sixth time).  He's been an excellent player for the Reds since almost the first day he donned the Reds' uniform.  The scouts were right.