Mariners and NERDs
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.
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.
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.