Open Thread

August 31, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 222 Comments 

Okay, it’s an off day, Derek’s in Europe, and Jason, Jeff, and I are too busy to put up any kind of substantial content for the afternoon. If we leave last nights game thread as the top post, that’s going to turn into an off topic bandwidth nightmare, so, against my better judgment;

Here’s an open thread for those of you who constantly complain about our requirements that you stay on topic. Want to post your roster construction ideas? Take potshots at the engineering community? Need to rant about Hargrove walking Adam Kennedy to get to Howie Kendrick (seriously, what was he doing)? You a lurking Red Sox fan who still hates me because of the Papelbon/Lester thread and wants to gloat?

Knock yourselves out. These opportunities won’t present themselves very often. Talk about anything you’d like within the comment guidelines – the general rules still remain, so no politics, no steroid innuendo, and be nice to each other.

And for those of you who are cringing reading this intro, I suggest skipping the comments section. We’ll have real content for you guys again tomorrow.

Game 133, Angels at Mariners

August 30, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 227 Comments 

Lackey vs Woods, 7:05

Jake Woods has given up just 1 run in the 10 2/3 innings he’s pitched since moving into the rotation. The lesson the Mariners should be learning from this is that replacement level pitchers are literally everywhere, it really isn’t that hard to find a guy who can get major leaugue hitters out with smoke and mirrors for a little while, and there is no reason to pay big money to end-of-rotation starters just because they’re proven to only kinda sorta suck.

The lesson the Mariners are learning from this is, instead, that Jake Woods is a pretty good pitcher. So, without being rude to Woods, I hope he gets pounded tonight, and the Mariners win 10-9. Because we really don’t need this organization failing to get us a real major league pitcher this offseason because they were fooled by the likes of Jake Woods.

Ultimate 2006 Mariner Line-Up, Take 2.


August 30, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 111 Comments 

Lots of things to cover this morning.

1. Get well, Raffy.

Obviously, we’re all nuts about the Mariners, and we take this team way too seriously. But it doesn’t take much to remind you that this is, after all, just a game, and the line drive off Rafael Soriano’s head brought that perspective back to the light. I don’t care if the M’s go 0 for September, as long as Rafael Soriano is okay and is able to lead a long, healthy, productive life. We’re all pulling for him.

2. Doyle!

Need I say more?

3. The Price of Pitching Just Went Up

Yesterday, on his 29th birthday, Roy Oswalt agreed to a 5 year, $73 million extension. While Roy Oswalt is a legitimately terrific pitcher, a five year commitment to any starting pitcher is borderline folly, and when he’s a year away from becoming a free agent… well, lets just say I see a lot of downside in this move. It also helps set the market for pitching this offseason. If you thought Jason Schmidt had any chance of being a bargain, that just went out the window.

Eventually, teams are going to realize that these kinds of contracts are not good ideas. They’re just not going to realize it this offseason.

4. Game Ball

If you haven’t been following, the Rainiers staff has been decimated lately, between callups and injuries, and they’ve barely been able to field a team. Jason Snyder was called up from rookie ball to start on Monday, and he lasted just four innings before a shoulder problem forced him from the game. Baek and Huber are in the majors, Clint Nageotte is out for the year, and the team’s rotation is a giant question mark.

So, last night’s performance from Rich Dorman was just what the doctor ordered. 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K. He’s 27 and not a real prospect, but for one night, he was Tacoma’s savior.

5. Hello flaws

Remember when Michael Wilson was killing the ball in San Antonio, and I begrudgingly added him to the Future Forty because he just wouldn’t stop hitting?

Yea, that seems like a long time ago. He’s hitting .162/.207/.333 in August with 6 walks and 41 strikeouts (!) in 105 at-bats. I think Double-A pitchers have finally found the holes in his swing.

The game has changed

August 29, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

From a May 18, 1997 Chicago Tribune article by Mike Reilley on Ken Griffey Jr.’s possible pursuit of the single-season home run record:

Still, Bonds doesn’t realistically believe Maris’ record will fall.

“Not unless you make it mandatory for a starting pitcher go eight innings,” he said. “Baseball has changed.”

Game 132, Angels at Mariners

August 29, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 354 Comments 

Weaver vs Washburn, 7:05 pm.

For various reasons, I’d really, really like to see the M’s put a beatdown on Jered Weaver. He’s going to have a 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R performance sooner or later, and I’d love for it to be sooner.

M’s run out the ultimate 2006 Mariner line-up:

1. Ichiro, CF
2. Snelling, RF
3. Beltre, 3B
4. Ibanez, LF
5. Sexson, 1B
6. Broussard, DH
7. Johjima, C
8. Lopez, 2B
9. Betancourt, SS

For the first time in, well, this year, the team isn’t running out an automatic out somewhere in the line-up. 1 through 9, everyone can hit, at least a little bit.

Evaluating Pitcher Talent

August 29, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 91 Comments 

The discussion of what statistics are useful in evaluating a pitcher came up in the game thread, again, last night. This issue comes up quite a bit around here, since I use a lot of non-conventional numbers, and new readers often don’t know what they mean, where to find them, or why they should bother. So, last night, I decided to write something of a primer on why I like to use the statistics that I use, what their usefulness is, and why I don’t really care about things like ERA, WHIP, or batting average against.

All the stats referenced, by the way, can be found at the Hardball Times, and detailed game logs using these numbers can be found at Fangraphs, which are two of the most awesome sites out there right now.

The mainstream tools for evaluating a pitcher’s success and abilities are won-loss record and earned run average, with fantasy baseball players often add WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) to the discussion, since it’s one of their categories. These statistics attempt to sum up pitcher effectiveness in total, giving an overview of the totality of his performance with just a few numbers.

I, personally, think they fail in that regard. ERA and WHIP group together a large string of individual events made by multiple players, making it extremely tough to separate out the credit for the pitcher, hitter, or defense. WHIP and ERA tell you there is no difference in an inning where three batters drive the ball to the fence and end up with three long flyouts or an inning where a pitcher strikes out the side. Clearly, they’re drastically different, but WHIP and ERA fail to account for the actual contributions of the pitcher. So, if the goal is to actually find out how well a pitcher threw, why not look at a micro level, instead of a macro level? That’s what I prefer to do.

For instance, what are the possible events in an at-bat that can occur?

A pitch can be thrown for a ball.
A pitch can be thrown for a strike.
A pitch can be swung at and missed.
The ball can be hit on the ground.
The ball can be hit on a line.
The ball can be hit in the air.

On any given pitch, those are the options. There are a few sub-categories under those options (outfield fly or infield fly, bunt grounder or normal grounder, etc…), but we can sum up every possible outcome of each pitch with those six options. Those outcomes might lead to wildly different events, but we’ll get to that later.

Which of these six outcomes are positive for the pitcher? Called strike, swinging strike, and groundball.

Which of these six outcomes are positive for the hitter? Called ball, line drive, and flyball.

If we can effectively determine which pitchers maximize their value in the “good outcomes” and minimize their harm in the “bad outcomes”, we can get a pretty firm grasp on who has pitching talent and who does not. Thankfully, Dave Studeman wrote a fantastic article called “Whats A Batted Ball Worth” in the 2006 Hardball Times Annual, and it includes the following run value chart. This chart will give a context to those good and bad outcome categories:

Line Drive: .356 – in other words, an average line drive is worth 35% of one run.
HBP: .342
Non-Intentional Walk: .315
Intentional Walk: .176
Outfield Fly: .035
Groundball: -.101
Bunts: -.103
Infield Fly: -.243
Strikeout: -.287

These run values were taken from real life play-by-play data, so this is an actual representation of events, not some theoretic formula. As you can see, a hit-by-pitch is a better event for the offense than a walk, even though they both simply put the batter on first base. Why? Because a hit-by-pitch is pretty much random, and can occur both at times when it is a critical situation and times when it isn’t. A walk, conversely, is far more likely to put a runner on first base in a run scoring situation, lowering it’s run value compared to the HBP.

As you can see, the difference between an outfield fly and a groundball isn’t huge, but its real, and it adds up over the course of the season. This is why, all things equal, a groundball pitcher is better than a flyball pitcher. All things are almost never equal, and flyball pitchers tend to have higher strikeout rates than groundball pitchers, but the theoretical best pitcher alive would be a groundball pitcher, not a flyball pitcher.

Also, bunting = bad.

So, now that we have some understanding of the possible outcomes and their relative value, instead of using statistics like ERA or WHIP that leave out critical information, our best bet is to try to quantify the six potential outcomes, and the events that result from those outcomes as best as we can.

BB% (Walks per Total Batters Faced) does a nice job evaluating how often a pitcher throws the ball in the strike zone. The average walkrate is 8% for a major league pitcher, though the DH makes the AL a higher walk league than the NL. Anything under 5% is tremendous, and anything over 11% is a problem. The Hardball Times publishes BB% and K% in a slightly different manner, calling it BB/G or K/G to make it scale more like the per nine innings numbers people are used to seeing. BB/G (and BB%, its derivitive) is more effective than BB/9 because it accounts for the actual amount of batters faced rather than using a proxy like innings pitched. It’s just more accurate.

K% (Strikeouts per Total Batters Faced) does a decent job evaluating how often a pitcher induces swings and misses or called strikes. 16% is league average, with 20% being terrific and 12% being a problem.

GB% (Groundballs per Balls In Play) does a very good job of telling us how often a pitcher induces a groundball. 42% is league average, and anything over 50% is terrific, with the best sinkerball pitchers posting rates in the 60-65% range, while anything below 35% can be a problem if its not offset with a high strikeout rate.

LD% (Line Drives per Balls In Play) does a very good job of telling us how often a pitcher gives up line drives. 20% is league average, 17% is good, and 23% is a serious problem. Because of the way line drives have been scored by Baseball Info Solutions the past couple of years, this number is hard to use for year to year analysis, and right now, it’s not a very effective tool. We don’t use it very often.

FB% (Flyballs per Balls In Play) does a very good job of telling us how often a pitcher gives up flyballs that leave the infield, and is basically the corollary to GB%. 36% is league average, while 32% is good and 40% could be a problem.

So we have five statistics that cover each of the six possible outcomes pretty effectively. Not perfect, but they do a credible job. They aren’t park adjusted (and yes, parks have an effect on things you might not expect, such as walk rates, strikeout rates, and groundball rates), but they’re pretty close for the majority of cases.

Thanks to the work of guys like Voros McCracken, Tom Tippett, Keith Woolner, and Dave Studeman, we also now know that the result of a particular ball in play is also not very consistent, and is due more to the actions of the hitter than the pitcher. So, when evaluating pitcher’s talent, we need to adjust for outlier type performances on converting outs on balls in play. If a pitcher has a lot of flyballs that are being caught on the warning track, or groundballs that are going right to infielders, that’s not likely to continue, and we shouldn’t assume that it will.

Not all balls in play are created equal, however, and so when we’re adjusting for outs on balls in play, we need to make sure we’re adjusting back to the type of ball in play the pitcher is giving up, since we’ve noted that they certainly do have control over their groundball or flyball tendencies.

An outfield fly becomes an out 77.7% of the time. A groundball becomes an out 74.8% of the time. A line drive becomes an out only 26.4% of the time, which is why it’s the worst possible outcome for a pitcher. An infield fly becomes an out 98.8% of the time. Because of this, flyball pitchers will post more outs on balls in play than groundball pitchers, and it won’t be a fluke. However, the non-outs that flyball pitchers give up are more harmful, and thus, the quality of the hits against flyball pitchers outweighs the relative lack of quantity. This is shown in the run value chart above, where an average groundball is a positive event for the pitcher and the outfield flyball is not.

Infield flies are automatic outs, essentially, so it’s best to separate them from outfield flies for analysis like this. Since evidence has shown that pitchers don’t have a strong year to year control over their infield fly percentage, however, when evaluating true talent levels, it’s best to assume something like a normal infield fly percentage for a pitcher, rather than the one he’s posting at the moment.

Two other big factors that we’ve identified that can have a great effect on run scoring are home run rates and stranding runners. In general, flyball pitchers give up more home runs than groundball pitchers, which is why a groundball is a positive event for the pitcher and a flyball is not.

We’ve seen very little evidence that major league pitchers have significant control over how often their flyballs go over the wall, so occassionally you’ll see a wild swing in performance that is not indicative of a players true talent level, simply because a pitcher is having more or less flyballs go over the wall than should be expected. Felix Hernandez in April and May of this year was a great example of a guy who allowed a lot of home runs per flyball, and that rate has steadily dropped as the season wore on. The average major league pitcher gives up home runs in about 11-12% of his outfield flies – significant variation from that is probably not an indicator of talent for a major league quality pitcher.

Stranding runners is also a big key, and a bit of a different animal. Naturally, good pitchers will strand more runners than bad pitchers. Since they’re good pitchers, they’re more likely to create an out in any situation, including with men on base, than if they weren’t a good pitcher. While the league average Left on Base Percentage is 70%, the bad pitchers often live in the low-to-mid-60% range, and the good pitchers live in the mid-to-high-70% range.

However, it’s not uncommon for bad pitchers to have flukily high strand rates that significantly lower than ERAs, and vice versa. Jarrod Washburn’s 2005 ERA was almost completely due to his high strand rate, as he posted the highest LOB% in the American League. That hasn’t held true in 2006, and we’ve seen his ERA rise a full run because of it. So, when you find a pitcher who is stranding runners at an unexpected rate when compared to his talent derived by BB%, K%, and GB%, it is prudent to expect that rate to regress back towards a more normal rate in the future.

So, looking at this breakdown, we see value in BB%, K%, GB%, HR/FB%, and LOB%. Those five statistics will tell you almost everything you need to know about what goes into why a pitcher is performing like he is, and all these statistics are easily available at The Hardball Times. There’s nothing that ERA or WHIP will tell you that those component statistics do not, but ERA and WHIP certainly leave a lot of the underlying information out.

However, it is understandable that people want one number that sums up pitcher performance. If you really prefer to not look through the prism of BB/K/GB/HR-FB/LOB percentages, you can always use FIP, or Fielding Indpendent Pitching (which I often call Fielding Independent ERA, since its scaled to look like ERA), which gives you an expected ERA for a pitcher based on his walk, strikeout, and home run rates. FIP isn’t perfect, either – it assumes that HR/FB is indeed a skill, and it assumes that all pitchers are equal at stranding runners, neither of which are true, but it’s better than ERA for summing up a pitcher’s total contributions to run prevention.

If you want to get really crazy, you can even use Expected FIP, or xFIP, which substitutes the league average home run per fly ball rate for the pitcher’s actual home run rate, giving a more accurate picture of how we’ll expect a pitcher to perform going forward as his HR/FB rate regresses towards the mean.

As I said, both FIP and xFIP have flaws, especially when it comes to evaluating relief pitchers, but if you’re insistent on using one number to sum up a pitcher’s contribution to run prevention, those would be your best bet.

In this age of wonderful information, there’s just no reason to use ERA and WHIP for serious analysis of a pitcher’s ability. We have better tools at our disposal. We’re doing ourselves an injustice if we continue to lean on inferior information.

It’s over

August 29, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 22 Comments 

Last win against an AL West team: August 28th vs. Angels to open a three-game series.

But still…
1-15 versus Oakland
2-8 versus Texas
8-9 versus Anaheim LA.

Game 131, Angels at Mariners

August 28, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 277 Comments 

Julio Mateo is out for the season with a broken left-hand. The Mariners have purchased the contract of Jon Huber from Tacoma, adding him to both the 25 man and 40 man rosters. He has had a very good year for the Rainiers, but has marginal, Mateo like stuff. He’s not part of the future here, but the M’s are just swapping out one replacement level reliever for another.

Escobar vs Hernandez, 7:05 pm. Feliz Dia de Felix!

I’m surprised no one has mentioned this in the local media, but the Mariners have lost 20 consecutive games to AL West opponents. If the M’s are going to break that streak, they’re going to have to do so against a quality pitcher and a line-up that is significantly better than it was earlier in the year. With the addition of Howie Kendrick and the realization that Juan Rivera is an everyday player, the Angels offense has improved tremendously since the last time the Angels rolled into town. They’re no longer Vlad and the eight dwarves.

Escobar, meanwhile, is a lot like Current Felix – inconsistent command leads to bouts of wildness, but high strikeout rate keeps runners from scoring and he’s generally effective. Either one has the ability to toss a shutout tonight, though with the M’s running out a line-up including Doyle hitting second, the M’s aren’t nearly as likely to go down helplessly as they were before his arrival.

This could be a fun game. The M’s just got to put an end to Boston’s season over the weekend, and now they have a chance to do that to the Angels as well.

Great line-up 1-8:

#9: Bloomquist, SS

Seriously, Felix is pitching, Mr. Ground Ball, and you give Betancourt a night off? Just insane.

So Long, Pocket Lint (super exciting dual post!)

August 27, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 100 Comments 

An era is offically over in Seattle – Bob Finnigan has written his last story for the Seattle Times. After 20 years covering the team as the beat writer, today is day one of his retirement. As a farewell gift, lets bring the USSM-critique-of-Pocket-Lint column out of retirement.

Read more

Game 130, Red Sox at Mariners

August 27, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 272 Comments 

Baek vs Snyder, 1:05 pm.

Edit: The M’s optioned T.J. Bohn back to Tacoma before the game, recalling Mike Morse to take his place.

M’s go for the sweep. If the team wins, there will be a post game ceremony where J.J. Putz and Adrian Beltre will carry an oversized commemorative fork and stick it into the backs of the Red Sox roster.

Kyle Snyder’s an RHP, so, let’s try this again: Huzzah for Doyle!

1. Ichiro, CF
2. Snelling, RF
3. Beltre, 3B
4. Ibanez, LF
5. Sexson, 1B
6. Broussard, DH
7. Betancourt, SS
8. Rivera, C
9. Hole, 2B

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