When Access Is Detrimental To The Truth

Dave · July 9, 2008 at 12:02 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

37 Responses to “When Access Is Detrimental To The Truth”

  1. DrivelineKyle on July 9th, 2008 12:16 am

    I agree, for the most part – but the mechanical changes might give the pitcher a psychological edge and a better feeling of control. Being comfortable and having repeatable mechanics go a long way in improving performance.

  2. Typical Idiot Fan on July 9th, 2008 12:20 am

    This all stems from people still believing that a pitcher has full control of where the ball goes once it collides with the batter’s bat. Wasn’t there a huge argument amongst the SABR community about it as well?

    Well, it’s bullshit, and people need to drop this line of thinking first before they’ll accept that pitching to contact is generally a bad idea.

  3. fret_24 on July 9th, 2008 12:30 am

    Fantastic post Dave.

    I wonder if the mechanical adjustments have helped to improve clubhouse chemistry too?

  4. Vlad on July 9th, 2008 1:55 am

    1 – good point.
    Totally agree with you. If you make your pitcher believe that putting a golf tee behind his ear will make him strike out 10 in a game, he will most likely do it, simply because he believes himself and he forgets what a non scoring offense he has behind him.

  5. LH sock puppet on July 9th, 2008 2:42 am

    A note about your headline. There is a typo. Shouldn’t it read:

    When access is dentrimental to the tooth?

    g’night!

    LL Jeff has a similar post–also enlightening reading.

  6. terry on July 9th, 2008 5:14 am

    And the irony…. the reality and the argument supporting it is about 100-fold more compelling to read and think about than the easy story trumping the myth….

    I’m not sure why more beat writers haven’t pounced on this central truth that “the blogosphere” continually demonstrates. At some point, a reasonable person has to start assuming the “lack of pounce” is due to either obstinance, laziness, or a general lack of passion/motivation to become a student of the thing they write about.

  7. windwardtrades on July 9th, 2008 6:14 am

    Silva is exactly what he was in Minn. Maybe the M’s ought to register as users here so they might learn something.

  8. smb on July 9th, 2008 6:36 am

    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.

    What a zingtastic post! Thank God I don’t get paid to do a job that someone else does as a hobby way better than I do as a professional. My fragile Bus-esque ego couldn’t take it…and then no one would be safe from my powerful blame-deflection forcefield.

    So Silva apologized to Stottlemyre…that’s sweet. When is he going to apologize to the fans for being grossly overpaid and underachieving?

  9. CCW on July 9th, 2008 6:38 am

    Geoff Baker is not an analyst. He is a reporter. He is missing the time, intelligence and/or willingness to actually dissect and process the information that comes out of a player’s mouth the way an analyst would. Every time Geoff opens his mouth or puts pen to paper and attempts actual analysis he says something old-school and ridiculous. I actually read Geoff’s post before Dave’s and I knew what was coming, because this is one of those cases where Geoff has given us evidence that he doesn’t even read USSM (or if he does, he doesn’t understand it). If there’s one thing that really causes me to despise Geoff Baker’s role here (he may be a good guy, but what he does is really really annoying) it is that he apparently does not even read USSM. If you cover baseball in Seattle, and don’t read and understand USSM, you are an idiot. A reporter does not need to be an analyst, but in this day and age he must make an attempt to understand what the analysts are saying. I know this is possible because I am not an analyst yet I could refute much of what Geoff says based entirely on what I’ve learned from reading sites like USSM and Baseball Prospectus.

    All that said, with the exception of one line in his blog post, Geoff does not “print as fact” what Silva said. He essentially just reports it, and that is actually his job. He does himself appear to attribute Silva’s problems against Detroit as the result of not getting enough groundballs, which is clearly not true. Other than that, though, he is really just quoting Silva. In order to correct his piece, all Geoff would need to do is fix that one line, and maybe also add that the data might not actually support Silva’s thoughts on the matter. As a reporter, that would actually be fine. Leave it to USSM to do the analysis.

  10. Paul B on July 9th, 2008 6:48 am

    4 -

    If you make your pitcher believe that putting a golf tee behind his ear will make him strike out 10 in a game, he will most likely do it, simply because he believes himself and he forgets what a non scoring offense he has behind him.

    Reread what Dave wrote.

    If Silva did something to improve his performance, if something psychological actually resulted in improved performance, it would show up in the predictive measures.

    So, we’d see more K’s or a higher percentage of ground balls.

    Recall that BABIP is not a repeatable skill. So don’t look at hits allowed on balls in play to determine a change in performance.

  11. argh on July 9th, 2008 7:16 am

    Yes, Geoff Baker is a nice guy, yaddayaddayadda. But he would violate no journalistic canons were he to report facts directly contradicting Silva’s post-game nonsense, and some might even say it is his responsibility as a professional journalist.

    However, embarrassing the product isn’t what Baker’s corporate masters at the Seattle Times hired him to do (at least for anything less than a Pulitzer), nor is it something that their counterparts at Mariners headquarters would tolerate for long if he did. So, in lieu of being locked out of the clubhouse and losing his job, Baker dutifully jots down the night’s standard issue post-game babble and puts it in his column each morning. After all, his kids (or maybe just his cat) have to eat too.

  12. Elwood P. Dowd on July 9th, 2008 7:23 am

    People, in general, really like the idea of cause and effect. We will find it where it doesn’t exist. If you suggest something is due to random variation, or “Luck”, you will be seen as a shallow thinker. Rest assured that if Silva gets hammered by a good hitting team his next outing some other “Reason” will be found.

  13. qwerty on July 9th, 2008 7:25 am

    Geoff does not “print as fact” what Silva said. He essentially just reports it, and that is actually his job. He does himself appear to attribute Silva’s problems against Detroit as the result of not getting enough groundballs, which is clearly not true. Other than that, though, he is really just quoting Silva

    Thank you. Silva probably believes it and Baker reported it thusly.

  14. Steve T on July 9th, 2008 7:50 am

    Great post, Dave.

  15. sass on July 9th, 2008 7:58 am

    Also, Silva has given up the second most hits in the American league, second only to…wait for it…Livan Hernandez.

    Check it out.

  16. Steve T on July 9th, 2008 8:01 am

    Poor Baker must just weep when he reads his comments. Gems like “Will all you idiot`s please quit calling for Johima to be traded.he was signed by Lincon Armstron who want to keep him for the japanese revanue dollars.Are you blogger`s really thats tupid as to thin they would trade a guy they just gave a 36 lillion contract too? Wake up.Get a girlfriend or boyfriend and get a life.East coast baseball fan`s would laugh at your ignorence.”

  17. NJ Ms on July 9th, 2008 8:07 am

    So Silva gets to pitch agains another weak lineup in Kc which could give him 2 ‘good’ starts in a row after his magical mechanical adjustment.

    Maybe the holding the hands lower really is helpful in that it distracts the hitter. Hitter may be thinking ‘Wow look at that big belly, I can’t believe a pitcher can be that big..o crap here comes the pitch’ By distracting the hitter and holding his hands by his large belly Silva gains an advantage by the hitter not being prepared for the pitch.

    Good mechanical adjustment!!!

    Now if we can only figure out a way to distract the pitcher when Turbo and MegaTurbo bat?

  18. party4marty on July 9th, 2008 8:16 am

    I think you refuted the idea that a mechanical changed helped, however, I dont think Bakers article was that big of deal. He simply relayed what he was told by player and pitching coach. I dont think he was agreeing with that, taking it as gospel, or overhyping it. It was relatively small part of the article anyway. I think this title should have read “sorry Silva and stottlemyre, you are wrong”.

    Baker, is Baker, is Baker.

  19. Some Dude on July 9th, 2008 8:26 am

    Great post Dave, one of the better current analysis ones I’ve read here in a few weeks.

    I don’t think there’s really a bone to pick with Baker, however. His job and your “job” (hobby, whatever) are two totally different things. If I want decent analysis of PFX data, I come here. If I want the latest clubhouse gossip and quotes, I read the Times. The guy’s a reporter and not an analyst.

  20. bunk_medal on July 9th, 2008 8:28 am

    12 – very true, though if anything in the sabermetric community there’s a tendency to go too far in the opposite direction and start reducing every change in performance to random variance from a “true talent level”.

  21. argh on July 9th, 2008 8:41 am

    The guy’s a reporter and not an analyst.

    The problem with that formulation is that when a reporter covering a story reports on only some of the available facts and regularly ignores other contradictory ones, then the reporter is, in fact, engaging in a sly kind of analysis by omission. Presenting the reader with a set of factual predicates that, if true and if complete, lead the reader to a firm conclusion is a form of analysis as well as a form of argumentation. It’s typical sports journalism of course but it’s also dishonest flackery.

  22. Jeff Nye on July 9th, 2008 9:02 am

    The guy’s a reporter and not an analyst.

    He’s not reporting, though. He’s trying to be an analyst, and he’s trying very hard; he’s just very bad at it.

    When he starts presenting weird, speculative theories about why Silva doesn’t REALLY suck, he’s not just a beat reporter anymore.

    If he wants to be “just a reporter”, he should stick to that; but he can’t throw out half-assed attempts at analysis and then hide behind “just a reporter” when people call him out on the stupid things he says.

  23. Steve T on July 9th, 2008 9:02 am

    Which gets back to the “access is detrimental to the truth” argument. Access is about protecting access. If Baker wrote the truth, which is that Silva’s sinker is just as bad as it was before he fixed it, and that he’s still the same lousy pitcher he was before, he wouldn’t get to talk to Silva again. Or anyone else, probably. He’s traded the right to enter the clubhouse for the right to talk sense. A common tradeoff, but not a pretty one.

  24. Jeff Nye on July 9th, 2008 9:08 am

    Honestly though; who cares if Silva, or any of the other sucky players, decide not to talk to you anymore because you won’t lie about them sucking?

    The players always say the same things anyway, so you could just make things up.

    “I really established my fastball tonight,” Washburn said. “I kept the ball down and concentrated on making my pitches. Burke called a great game, much better than that guy Koji or Murray or whatever the heck his name is.”

  25. AuburnM on July 9th, 2008 9:28 am

    As usual, I basically agree with your analysis, but disagree with your extreme characterization of players you think the Ms overpaid for.

    Silva “a bad pitcher?” Really? Isn’t it more accurate to say that he is a solid back of the rotation guy who the Ms squandered too much money on? His WHIP and ERA numbers don’t look “bad” to me.

  26. smb on July 9th, 2008 9:37 am

    Not the same situation but somewhat relevant…remember when the Royals yanked press credentials from two radio personalities? This statement from the team pretty much explains the thin-skinned dynamic of the average fan-screwing club when it comes to press/reporters/paying fans of dissenting opinion…

    The tone of your questions about how and why we are badly bending our loyal fans over are totally inappropriate!!!ONE!!1

  27. Steve T on July 9th, 2008 9:37 am

    An ERA of 5.59 in a 3.92 league doesn’t look bad to you? A WHIP of almost a buck-and-a-half? And are you sure that ERA and WHIP are giving you the answers you seek? I’m not.

  28. Jeff Nye on July 9th, 2008 9:40 am

    Silva “a bad pitcher?” Really? Isn’t it more accurate to say that he is a solid back of the rotation guy who the Ms squandered too much money on? His WHIP and ERA numbers don’t look “bad” to me.

    I’m not even going to address the use of WHIP/ERA, since by now people either get that or they don’t.

    But your description of Silva might have been accurate if the Mariners had the 2007 version of Silva; now that his sinker (which was the only thing that brought him UP to that level) isn’t sinking anymore, he just plain sucks.

  29. Steve T on July 9th, 2008 9:44 am

    OK, that must have been sarcasm, because Silva has the worst ERA of any pitcher in the league, and the eighth-worst WHIP. So, yeah, “bad” is the word you want.

  30. AuburnM on July 9th, 2008 9:56 am

    I was looking at his career #s.

    The guys is 28 years old. I think he is going to be our 3rd or 4th starter for the next few years and I am totally fine with that.

  31. NODO Dweller on July 9th, 2008 10:26 am

    AuburnM –

    You clearly have no interest in understanding anything other than the ERA, WHIP, etc metrics you already know. This is clear by reading most of your posts over the last several months. Why do you keep coming back when you have no interest in any of the advanced metrics which this site is dedicated to? Are you just a better-than-average spoken troll, or just like being contrarian?

    Which career numbers are you looking at – ERA/WHIP? If so, it’s just one more example of you being unable/unwilling to understand. Neither of these are very good for:

    1) Evaluating a pitcher, as the rest of the defense and a host of other factors contribute to them
    2) Future performance

    Take a look at the post about Silve when he was aquired to see all the very good reasons why you’re wrong (he’s a #5 at best) and shouldn’t be happy about him being on the team going forward (he’s expensive and bad).

  32. Jeff Nye on July 9th, 2008 11:05 am

    While I sympathize with the frustration when people keep bringing up things like ERA and WHIP as if they have analytical value, let’s not have a big dustup about it in this thread, please.

  33. gps on July 9th, 2008 11:38 am
    The guy’s a reporter and not an analyst.

    He’s not reporting, though. He’s trying to be an analyst, and he’s trying very hard; he’s just very bad at it.

    If he wants to be “just a reporter”, he should stick to that; but he can’t throw out half-assed attempts at analysis and then hide behind “just a reporter” when people call him out on the stupid things he says.

    Amen. Interestingly David Postman, politics reporter/blogger for the Times, writes occasionally about the traditional view of the reporter as someone who simply writes down the quotes accurately, versus the notion of the reporter as expert analyst. In our context, who better to have a chance to become an expert analyst than someone who sees every game and travels with the team, and has the luxury of being able to read USSM daily at work and chalk it up to research?

    And, yes, who cares if the players don’t talk to you? Tom Paciorek may have been the last really interesting M’s interview! And there’s little likelihood the club will pull a reporters credential for being critical. The club is more in need of the coverage, and, according to the old PR advice, one should never pick a quarrel with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

    I enjoyed Baker for a while, but now he just seems like a whiner about all the mean bloggers who disagree with him. Alas. With a season like this, we could use J. Michael Kenyon to liven things up a bit….

  34. Xteve X on July 9th, 2008 12:23 pm

    “I was looking at his career #s.”

    Yeah, because what a guy did three or four years ago in a totally different park or in some cases a completely different league is completely relevant to what he’s doing now.

    That Willie Bloomquist sure is a hell of a hitter AuburnM! Did you know that three years ago he hit .455/.526/.576?

  35. Karen on July 9th, 2008 1:23 pm

    People use that “career #s” fallacy when they explain why they want their favorite Yankees player (yes, you Yankee fans) like Jason Giambi voted onto the All-Star Team this year;
    or why a spectacular 1st-half by a rookie should be ignored in favor of more “popular” veterans;
    or why there should be more (fill in team name) players than (fill in team name) players on that AS roster;
    or why (fill in name) should be the MVP rather than (fill in name).

    Gag me.

  36. skyking162 on July 9th, 2008 1:25 pm

    Why do people give pitchers credit for being a solid 4th or 5th starter? Thats like saying a second baseman is solid because he is the 20th best in the league.

  37. Jeff Nye on July 9th, 2008 1:27 pm

    Gag me.

    Like, oh my god!

    *runs away*

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