When Access Is Detrimental To The Truth
I’m going to disagree with Geoff Baker’s most recent blog post in a second, so let me begin with the standard caveat; I like Geoff, he’s a good guy, he’s a good beat writer, and the Times baseball coverage has improved dramatically since he was hired. This isn’t anything personal against him – he just wrote another post that lacks reality, so I’m going to add a little truth to the discussion.
After last night’s game, Baker talked to Carlos Silva about why his results were so much better than his first couple of months as a Mariner. Silva pulled out the trusty old mechanical change, which, as we’ve noted before, pitchers use all the time to take credit for positive results they have nothing to do with. Here’s the whole quote:
Silva has been working all year to figure out why his sinker isn’t working the way he’d like. It isn’t sinking much. That’s a big reason why he needed 100 pitches to get through five innings against the Tigers last Thursday.
It turns out, Silva made a between-starts mechanical adjustment. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, an ex-sinkerballer himself, felt Silva was squeezing the ball too hard. So, instead of holding his hands up near his chest as he began his windup — which Silva felt caused his arms to press together and his fingers to grip the ball tighter — he held them at waist level tonight.
“We’ve been trying so many things,” Silva said of the work he’s done between starts with Stottlemyre. “We’ve been working so hard.”
Silva had even apologized to Stottlemyre after one recent loss, figuring all his hard work had been wasted by a poor outing.
Silva needed a few innings to get used to the mechanical change tonight. Unfortunately for him, that’s when all the game’s runs were scored. But a team needs to score to win. That’s not his fault. By the middle innings, though, he felt as relaxed on the mound as he has all season.
As always, Baker took what Silva said at face value and printed it as fact – remember the “Silva learned a split-finger” stuff that he was pushing during the off season, which was complete crap, as Silva hasn’t thrown a single splitter as a Mariner – laying the blame for Silva’s early season struggles directly on the lack of movement on his sinker and giving credit for the mechanical change to helping his sinker dive more tonight, which was the cause of his improved performance.
Unfortunately, it’s just not true. Thanks to Pitch F/x data, we can quantify just how much Silva’s pitches move both horizontally and vertically, and we have the data for both 2007 and 2008. The vertical movement is “movement in z” in PFX terminology, with a lower number indicating more vertical movement (thinking of it as an axis helps). The sink on his fastball is virtually identical to what it was last year.
In fact, if you go game by game, you’ll see how the reality just doesn’t match the theory – Silva had far more sink on his fastball in games he got shelled (May 4th vs NY, July 3rd vs DET) than he did in games where he got outs (June 28th vs SD, July 8th vs OAK).
You don’t even have to look at Pitch F/X data if you want to explore whether Silva had more sink than usual last night – just look at where Oakland hitters put the ball. He got all of 8 groundouts against 11 flyouts. Apparently, all that extra sink helped the A’s hit the ball in the air, except that runs completely against everything we know about sinking fastballs.
And what about his April performance, where Baker wouldn’t stop talking about how great an acquisition Silva was because he worked deep into games and was a true seven inning pitcher? In April, he ran a 47% GB%. Since then, when he’s been routinely pounded, his GB% has fallen all the way to 46%. Oh, wait, that’s the same.
And, for all this talk about how his sinker hasn’t been working, in his three starts from June 10th to June 22nd he racked up GB% of 64% (vs TOR), 60% (vs FLA), and 63% (vs ATL). He was getting groundballs left and right for that three game stretch, and with the sinker working, he posted a 5.02 ERA during those three games, not even getting out of the 5th inning in two of those starts.
I’m sure Carlos Silva actually did make a mechanical adjustment – I’m not accusing him of lying. I am saying that trying to draw a correlation between the mechanical adjustment, increased movement on Silva’s sinker, and the results he got tonight is total crap, and the kind of completely wrong analysis of pitchers we’ve come to expect from the M’s and most of the local media. Silva didn’t get a bunch of outs tonight because he lowered his hands – he got a bunch of outs tonight because the A’s have a bad offense, and as we’ve been telling people for years, pitch to contact strike throwers are wildly inconsistent from game to game, as the results of their performance are almost completely in the hands of their opponents.
Now, maybe it’s not as good of a game story to say that Silva got a bunch out outs because he faced a line-up where Emil Brown was hitting cleanup, but Geoff, can you stop accepting whatever people on the team tell you at face value and printing it as fact when it’s easily refuted by actual evidence? If Miguel Batista goes out there on Wednesday and throws a no-hitter, then explains in the post-game interview that the success was due to a new found secret that will revitalize his career and make him an ace at age 37, are you going to print that too?
Oh, wait, I’m sorry, you already did that a few months ago.
Silva’s off season splitter, Batista’s magical discovery, Washburn’s phone call to his college coach, and now Silva holding his hands lower… how many explanations are we going to have to sit through before everyone just says “hey, wait, this stuff is crap and never amounts to anything”?
Carlos Silva is what he is – a guy with a mediocre sinker and no outpitch whose entire approach to pitching is throw-the-ball-over-the-plate-and-pray-it-doesn’t-get-whacked. On those nights where it doesn’t get whacked (and he will have those, just like Washburn will, simply due to the randomness of balls in play), we don’t need to be given a new excuse for why this time it’s actually something they can continue to do.
Just call a spade a spade – a bad pitcher threw a bunch of mediocre sinkers to a bad offense, and tonight, they hit a lot of flyballs that the outfielders could catch. That’s it – that’s the game story.