Mariners and NERDs

Carson Cistulli · June 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Before we get to the post, you’ll notice a new name up there in the heading. This is the first post here at USSM by Carson Cistulli, who is part of our crew over at FanGraphs, and one of the most unique voices writing about the game today. He’s not a Mariner fan, so he’ll be the first outsider to ever be part of the site, but he has some interesting insights on the game and a writing style that will hopefully remind you of the departed (and sorely missed) DMZ.

Carson will be contributing here once a week, and I think he’ll add something new that the site hasn’t had before. I hope you enjoy his work, and if you don’t, well, keep it to yourself, because I became a fan of Carson’s on the night that he engaged my wife in conversation for several hours to distract her from the fact that she was at dinner with ten of the nerdiest guys on the planet. He’s a good guy, and I’m really happy he’s agreed to contribute here.

First, I want to say this: Hello, USS Mariner community. I enter your site as humbly as possible and with an awareness of what you and your keepers have created here. It’s a great place, and I’m honored to contribute.

Second, below is a piece I submit for your consideration and/or enjoyment. Hopefully both. Thank you.

One of my primary concerns as a baseball writer is exploring that place where quantitative analysis and aesthetics meet. Contrary to the popular fallacy that baseball nerds hate watching the game and only feel comfortable in the warm embrace of their little spreadsheets, there are reasons to believe that baseball nerds actually begin wandering down the path of quantitative analysis because they love watching baseball so much.

Even so lofty a figure as Bill Simmons has recently seen the wisdom in such thinking.

In my work at FanGraphs — much of which I publish when editor Dave Cameron is sleeping, in hopes he doesn’t notice — I have sought to understand what it is, exactly, about advanced stats that you and me and everyone we know finds so exciting.

The most recent episode in this quixotic journey has found yours truly attempting to answer a challenge issued by Rob Neyer — a challenge, that is, to develop a points system that would inform the fan of what game(s) might be most aesthetically pleasing on any given night.

I’m quoting myself when I say these two things:

1. It’s a big-ish task, this, to devise a points system for every possible aspect (pitching, hitting, uniform design, stadium, broadcast team, etc.) that might contribute to the viewing experience.

2. Despite the verity of point 1, it seems as though we can say with some certainty that pitching matchups — because the pitchers are constantly playing — go the greatest way towards making a game either compelling or not. Therefore, that’s where I’ve elected to start.

Thus it was, in a recent post at FanGraphs, that I introduced NERD — i.e. a number that attempts to bring together certain pitching components of interest to the baseball nerd in one tidy number, on a 0-10 scale.

The original components of NERD, alternately weighted, were:

• Pitcher Ability (xFIP)
• Strikeouts (SwStrk%)
• Strike Throwing (Strike% of Total Pitches Thrown)
• Luck (ERA-xFIP)

In the meantime — in response to reader feedback and the faculty of common sense — I’ve also added:

• Velocity (Average MPH of Fastball)
• Pitcher Age (Youth and Whatever Jamie Moyer Is)

What I want to tell you in this post is where your Seattle Mariners rate and why. In what follows, I include each of the Mariner starters for the season so far (minus young Luke French) and then anticipate — and answer — three or so questions a Mariner fan might have about the NERD score in question.

Boo-yah:

Cliff LEE (10)

Why am I not surprised?

Because Cliff Lee is really good. He’s second among qualified pitchers in xFIP. He throws way more strikes than everyone else. That makes him awesome.

If I pray hard enough, will Cliff Lee magically stay with the Mariners for zero dollars?

Unfortunately, no. Sorry.

Please?!?

Sorry, dude. Cliff Lee wants to make that paper.

- – -

Felix HERNANDEZ (9)

Hey, how come he’s not a 10?

For two reasons. One, because only 6 of 163 pitchers have perfect 10s. Two, because his strike rate (63.4%) is basically league-average (62.5% or thereabouts) at the moment.

Doesn’t his youth help him?

Yes, he gets a one-point bonus for being 24.

What about how he has a cool nickname?

Unfortunately, that’s not something that’s part of NERD at the moment.

- – -

Doug FISTER (4)

That seems a little harsh. What’s the deal?

It’s true, Fister has a decent xFIP (4.23), but he neither gets whiffs (about a standard deviation below the mean) nor does he throw as many strikes as you might think (64.9% of pitches).

That last point is ridiculous. He only walks 1.29 per nine innings.

True, but walks probably have more to do with the percentage of balls in the zone. Fister ranks more highly there.

How the frig is that different?

Better pitchers can generate swings on pitches outside the zone. Like, Cliff Lee has the fifth-highest O-Swing% among pitchers on the NERD list (that is, starters with 20+ IP). Fister is like 67th of 163.

- – -

Jason VARGAS (3)

Hey, you’re doing the same thing to him that you did to Fister.

Actually, they’re pretty different. Yeah, Vargas’s walk total is pretty low (just 2.58 BB/9), but he actually gets a pretty decent amount of swinging strikes.

I already know that. I’m a Mariner fan, duh.

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

But seriously, what gives with Vargas?

His ERA (3.05) is pretty far below his xFIP (4.90). That xFIP’s not too great, man.

- – -

Ryan ROWLAND-SMITH (0)

Man, that’s not too good.

Yeah, he’s got a 5.88 xFIP. That’s not really helping him out.

What about how he’s Australian and has a hyphen in his surname?

He should try and have a groundball rate above 33% instead.

I don’t think it works like that.

You’re probably right.

- – -

Ian SNELL (0)

How come I’m not surprised?

Probably because you’ve had to watch Ian Snell pitch a whole bunch. My condolences.

Comments

30 Responses to “Mariners and NERDs”

  1. greymstreet on June 16th, 2010 11:14 pm

    This is great! Have you considered incorporating something like average time taken between pitches? Really makes a difference… then again, Snell doesn’t need more points deducted

  2. lailaihei on June 16th, 2010 11:15 pm

    Welcome to the site, Carson! I’ve been a fan of your writing for a while and look forward to your contributions at USSM. This is a good, interesting first piece. Oh how we will miss Cliff Lee…

  3. flashbeak on June 16th, 2010 11:28 pm

    Welcome to USSM, Carson. All I can say is that after reading this fantastic debut piece of yours, I am really looking forward to your future contributions to the site. Any chance Fangraphs will add NERD to each pitcher’s stats dashboard?

    And just out of curiosity… what is your favorite team?

  4. draketw206 on June 16th, 2010 11:28 pm

    this is both informative and entertaining, thank you for your post, look forward to reading further posts

  5. seattlecougar on June 16th, 2010 11:41 pm

    Welcome, Carson! Enjoy your stuff at FanGraphs and glad to see you here at USSM. I have a small nitpick to make, out of my total OCD over grammar, which is to point out that “Nerds” needs no apostrophe, as it is simply stating a plural (More than one nerd is many nerds).
    An apostrophe implies either possession (Cliff Lee’s tenure in Seattle is coming to an end); or a conjunction between the noun and the word is (Your new stat’s a wonderful thing – I really like NERD and the related series on FanGraphs).
    Hope this isn’t taken the wrong way, or moderated out completely. Looking forward to seeing more of your work here!

  6. NV M's fan on June 16th, 2010 11:45 pm

    Loved it, thanks. Are you planning to post scores on your site to compare games nightly then? Would be interesting.

  7. Islets of Ryan Langerhans on June 17th, 2010 12:24 am

    Have you considered incorporating something like average time taken between pitches? Really makes a difference…

    James Baldwin FTW!

  8. hark on June 17th, 2010 12:27 am

    @flashbreak

    This Cistulli character is a BoSox fan! [Gasp! Shock and dismay!]

    Re: the article itself…I’ve loved the NERD breakdown on Fangraphs.* I kind of figured that the pitchers would pan out this way, and given the reader overlap between USSM and Fangraphs, I’m not sure this was new or informative. But it was fun. If this is how it’s gonna be, an aesthetic breakdown of watching the Mariners…oh, man, these articles are going to be painfully hilarious. Or hilariously painful depending on how you look at it.

    And with the departure of DMZ leaving us with Mr. Cameron (sabermetric genius, fantastic fan that he is)–who is self-admittedly “not very funny”**–in a disaster of a season, this brings some much needed levity. Welcome, Carson. I look forward to your contributions.

    *This is partially because NERD loves Brandon Morrow, whereas the vast majority of the Seattle blogeratti have turned on him over the last year. As one of the few remaining fans of Mr. Morrow (as Carson would phrase it, I love Brandon Morrow so hard), this is just refreshing.

    **He leaves the Mariners humor to Lookout Landing. He admitted this on a Fangraphs podcast.

  9. Typical Idiot Fan on June 17th, 2010 12:31 am

    How long until USS Mariner and Fangraphs just become one website.

  10. Liam on June 17th, 2010 1:03 am

    How do any of these pitchers compare to a Colby Lewis?

  11. mattlock on June 17th, 2010 1:20 am

    How do any of these pitchers compare to a Colby Lewis?

    Pschh, he sucks. *ducks* Whoops, sorry Carson, didn’t see you standing there.

  12. terry on June 17th, 2010 4:31 am

    USSM has jumped the shark.

  13. gag harbor on June 17th, 2010 6:02 am

    And I thought all the Italians were only thinking about the Azzurri this month… Glad to have your posts Carson!

  14. msb on June 17th, 2010 7:51 am

    I hope they gave Ian his NERD rating as they ushered him out the door.

    USSM has jumped the shark.

    [tries to imagine Dave on waterskis, wearing a black leather jacket]

  15. sparky on June 17th, 2010 7:54 am

    If you’re talking aesthetics and fan experience, wouldn’t it make sense to account for time of game/time between pitches? I know it’s not as nerdy, but the difference in game experience b/t watching Steve Trachsel and Mark Buehrle is substantial.

  16. DMZ on June 17th, 2010 8:24 am

    As the first comment suggested, yes.

  17. Klatz on June 17th, 2010 8:26 am

  18. Carson on June 17th, 2010 8:53 am

    Well, I suppose I’m not the smartest Carson ’round these parts anymore. Even if it was only by default before, I took it.

    Great post, nice information.

  19. greski4job on June 17th, 2010 9:07 am

    A first time commenter to the site. First of all, thanks Dave et al. for this site, its a great place to catch up on Mariner news and rumblings. Carson, great post. Confirmed what I thought recently about RRS. He is just not very pleasant to watch.

  20. champoux99 on June 17th, 2010 9:16 am

    More Carson in my daily reading schedule? Woo hoo! My (google reading) life just got a little bit brighter.

    Seriously man, welcome. You rock the party that rocks the body.

  21. BennyG on June 17th, 2010 9:17 am

    Ha. Seems like a pretty low scoring system and I hate to think that RRS and Snell are both 0s… but I can’t come up with anything from this year to dispute that…

    Snell probably should have another scoring system created for him.

    What about negative numbers? Or at least irrational numbers.

  22. Dennisss on June 17th, 2010 10:16 am

    Vargas isn’t bad to watch though. Maybe that’s because he gives our outfield a chance to show off.

  23. Gomez on June 17th, 2010 10:29 am

    Carson will be contributing here once a week, and I think he’ll add something new that the site hasn’t had before. I hope you enjoy his work, and if you don’t

    And I don’t think you need to worry about that because if Carson’s average USSM piece is this good then I think he’s going to fit in just fine.

  24. Snuffleupagus on June 17th, 2010 10:44 am

    Can this scale work in reverse if you want to see hitting?

    You seem to be presuming a desire to see a pitchers duel, of sorts at least. What if a fan wants to see the ball smacked around a lot? Can we just invert the idea (so a zero-zero matchup would be ‘entertaining’).

    Personally, I’m not sure it would quite work like that. I could see a fan enjoying a pitcher like Fister more than a ‘better’ pitcher, because there will be lots of bat on ball contact, even if they don’t always generate hits.

    As someone pointed out above, more bat on ball contact gives more opportunities for defensive plays, which are pretty exciting to watch.

  25. Hernandez on June 17th, 2010 10:52 am

    This was a nice, humorous change of pace from some of the recent USSM content (understandable given the team’s performance). Look forward to the next one!

  26. Carson Cistulli on June 17th, 2010 12:07 pm

    Dudes (and Ladies?): Thanks to the max, both for the warm reception and the feedback in re NERD. I think time between pitches is definitely the next step for NERD. Unfortunately, implementing that change will probably require someone more data-savvy than yours truly. Alas.

    One note I want to make: flashbeak asked which team is my favorite. While I grew up in New England and have traditionally been a fan of the Red Sox, this isn’t really the case anymore. For a lot of reasons I don’t understand, the 2004 playoff run — while an amazing experience in itself — went some way towards curing me of my Boston fandom.

    There’s good and bad there. The bad is that I maybe don’t reach the frenzied heights of joy that I once did. The good? I can officially ignore any- and everything written by Dan Shaughnessy.

    Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I can enjoy teams that are well-run and players with interesting profiles. Though 2010 has surely been a disappointment for Mariner fans, the Jack Z-led front office is an exciting one.

    Anyway, thanks again. Till next week!

  27. MKT on June 17th, 2010 12:29 pm

    I agree that time between pitches is an important part of the aesthetic experience, and one that is overlooked by NERD.

    I’d add walks also … yes Strike% gets at some of that, but while a single ball is by itself not a big deal, the extent to which the pitcher lets those balls pile up into BBs is a deal, both aesthetically and in pure WPA terms.

    The NERD scale seems to consist solely of integers from 0 to 10 … that’s way inferior to a continuous scale. Worse, there’s a hint that the variables which go into the scale are being added as integers (Felix getting a 1 point bonus). One of the first rules of statistics is not to lose information by needlessly putting continuous variables into categories. It’s okay at the end of the process to do some rounding and report pitchers as 3, 4, 10 etc. But if Felix ought to get a 1.2 or a 0.7 due to youth, then use 1.2 or 0.7, don’t introduce measurement error by pigeonholing him as a 1.

  28. Fritz on June 17th, 2010 12:46 pm

    This may be a dumb question, but how do I actually look up a pitcher’s NERD rating on fangraphs?

  29. Wallingfjord on June 17th, 2010 1:32 pm

    Nice, Carsten!

    Another vote from your public to say: for aesthetics, I agree with the first comment and say the pace that the pitcher works at really influences my enjoyment of the game. That’s one of the (admittedly not statistically relevant, other than he might get elevated defensive support) things that makes watching Cliff Lee so great. He throws a pitch, he gets the ball back, he throws another one.

    Pitchers that perform well, but spent forever stomping around the mound, fixing their pants, and collecting and recollecting their thoughts just kills the rhythm for me as a spectactor. My level of engagement drops. Truthfully, I even wish Felix wouldn’t take his signature “I’m a badass, watch me swagger” walk around the mound after he whiffs someone.

    When Cliff and Roy strike someone out, they just wait for the next batter – they don’t worry about making sure everyone noticed what just occured. Gotta love that.

  30. henryv on June 17th, 2010 1:47 pm

    Thank you very much for this great post. It is one of my favorite of the year.

    How valuable do you think a AAA/AA player’s NERD in the minors projects to the bigs?

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