Luetge and Leverage

marc w · April 27, 2012 at 12:39 am · Filed Under Mariners 

This morning’s game in Detroit featured an appearance by the M’s 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick, Lucas Luetge. And not just typical mop-up duty – Luetge came in with the tying run in scoring position and one out in the 7th. As if that weren’t enough, Miguel Olivo upped the ante by allowing the runner to move to 3rd. This isn’t a spot I figured we’d see Luetge, even if Charlie Furbush had already pitched. I suppose I’m too used to Luis Ugueto and Sean White so the idea that the M’s might treat this year’s Rule 5 kid as a full-fledged member of the pen and not just the designated garbage-timer caught me by surprise. de

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference both track the average leverage of every appearance by a pitcher. This measures how important the situation (or group of situations) is; essentially, it uses Win Probability to show which plate appearances or situations most affect the outcome of a game. Given the nature of the beast, the later in a game, the higher the leverage. The closer the score, the higher the leverage. This is one of the handy statistics that essentially gives a number to something that any casual fan can see; this is operationalizing common sense. We know that a reliever getting out of a bases-loaded, 1 out jam in the 7th inning of a tie game has done more for his team than a pitcher who comes in with a three run lead to start the 9th, but everyone loves saves, and teams still pay handsomely to those who’ve racked them up.

Today’s appearance by Luetge came in at 3.42, compared to an average of 1.0. As you’d expect, this was considerably more tense than most relief appearances, and certainly more tense than anything Luetge’d faced before. For reference, his appearance in yesterday’s blowout registered a 0.03, and his first major league win (in Texas) came in at just 0.29. He’d had two higher leverage, late-inning appearances, but nothing on this level (both were below 2.0). This got me to wondering which Rule 5 picks had faced situations like this before; which guys were entrusted with crucial plate appearances instead of being saved for blowouts. I decided to look at the highest pLI (the average leverage index of each plate appearance in a pitcher’s outing) for all Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. This is somewhat tricky, as I don’t have a PBP database, and I’m not sure how to flag Rule 5 guys if I had one. So I’ve tried to do this manually, which is why I stopped relatively recently, and why I may have missed someone who may have been pressed into duty in a 16 inning game and who I’ve unfairly overlooked. If you find some, let me know. If you know of others from the 80s/90s, say so.

From what I can see, Luetge’s 3.42 ranks a mere 20th in the highest leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. That’s pretty surprising to me, actually, and I can’t even blame it on a peculiar Mariner penchant for keeping Rule 5 guys in the back of the pen: it’s not the highest LI for a MARINER Rule 5 guy since 2000. When I mentioned my question about Rule 5 pitchers and high-leverage appearances on twitter, Kenny Ocker immediately came up with Joakim Soria, who became the Royals closer in his Rule 5 year in 2007. Indeed, Soria’s high of 4.8 came in a save situation in May – a save that Soria blew. That’s easily higher than Luetge’s, but it’s not as high as Aquilino Lopez’s 5.91 in May of 2003. Lopez was a Rule 5 pick by the Blue Jays from the Mariners, and you may remember Lopez from his great 2002 season with Tacoma. Lopez had a great 2003, and actually racked up 1.1 WAR with a sub-4.0 FIP for the Jays, but never recaptured that form again. On August 8th, he entered a game against the Rangers with 1 out in the 9th with a 5-3 lead, the bases loaded. A strikeout and a groundout later, he had himself a save and the second-highest leverage appearance for a recent Rule 5er.

The top spot belongs to another Royal, Sammamish, WA. product Andy Sisco. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a team that would give the closer job to a Rule 5 guy a year later would entrust Sisco with so many high leverage appearances, but Sisco had 3 3.0+ LIs by the the time April was out, and it was barely May when he entered a 1-0 game against the White Sox with two on and one out in the 8th. He got a groundout that moved up the runners, then walked the bases loaded….and then walked in the tying run. He was pulled, and the next reliever walked in the go-ahead run and a Zach Greinke gem turned into a very Royals loss (every M’s fan shakes their head knowingly). The pLI for that appearance? 6.34.

I mentioned earlier that Luetge’s escape wasn’t even the highest leverage appearance for a Mariner Rule 5 reliever. I’d completely blanked this, but just ahead of Luetge in 19th spot sits Kanekoa Texeira who put up a 3.51 pLI in his very first appearance in an M’s uniform. Texeira got the loss in a 2-1 defeat to Oakland on April 6th, 2010. He was the 4th pitcher for the M’s, and the game went to extras, so the M’s didn’t have a whole lot of choice, I suppose. He came in to start the 9th in a 1-1 game and escaped trouble after allowing a single and a double. The A’s got to him in the 10th, however, with three singles – the last of which was a Mark Ellis walk-off. I think what makes this particular game so hard to remember is the fact that the M’s starter – the guy who gave up 1 run in 6 solid innings – was Ian Snell. I’m sure I watched this game, and I’m looking at the box score which I don’t think’s been altered, but I literally can’t imagine an Ian Snell start so efficient and effective. When I think of Ian Snell, he’s looking hard-done-by and handing the ball to the manager. I know he had talent and I remember watching his first Seattle appearance excitedly (it was after a USSM event at Safeco, I think), but I simply don’t remember anything good coming from his time in this organization. I seriously have trouble imagining him getting a routine fly ball. This is my problem, not yours, and I’ve already sullied a rather focused piece with this nonsense. I’m sorry.

Let’s wrap up with a couple of leaderboards. First, here’s the top 5 (that I found) leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000:
1: Andy Sisco, 5/5/05 – 6.34
2: Aquilino Lopes, 8/2/03 – 5.91
3: Joakim Soria, 5/20/07 – 4.80
4: DJ Carrasco, 4/30/03 – 4.67
5: Jay Marshall, 5/15/07 – 4.49

And here’s the highest average LI over the course of the season for Rule 5 relievers- here’s who was trusted in key spots consistently, as opposed to pitching solely in blowouts:
1: Joakim Soria, 2007 – 1.64
2: Andy Sisco, 2005 – 1.29
3: Aquilino Lopez, 2003, 1.24
4: Pedro Beato, 2011, 1.23
5: DJ Carrasco, 2003, 1.15

2003 really was a great year for Rule 5 pitchers. Lopez had the biggest year, but two Rule 5 pitchers are still (somewhat) active – Carrasco’s on a rehab assignment in the Mets system and Javier Lopez is a key member of the San Francisco Giants bullpen. What about the most famous Rule 5 pitcher of his generation, Johan Santana? Well, Santana was used pretty much the way I expected most would be used – he got garbage time relief appearances before making a couple of starts late in the year. Starts generally have lower LI, so Santana ends up with a very low average LI and a very low high pLI game. The average high pLI game was 3.22, and the average season gmLI was 0.77.

Seriously, Ian Snell? 6IP, 1R, 4H? Really? This really happened?


14 Responses to “Luetge and Leverage”

  1. Paul B on April 27th, 2012 6:57 am

    I remember watching his first Seattle appearance excitedly (it was after a USSM event at Safeco, I think),

    I was there, too.

    Our excitement was very short lived, as I recall.

  2. diderot on April 27th, 2012 9:06 am

    Stupid question: is leverage measured only at the exact moment a reliever enters the game…or for his entire appearance?
    For example, closer comes in to open the ninth with a one run lead. But then he proceeds to walk the bases loaded (hello, Heath Bell!). That’s obviously a much tougher spot…so has the average LI increased?

  3. msfanmike on April 27th, 2012 10:05 am

    ^ That’s not a stupid quesiton. That’s a good question.

    Essentially, can a pitcher put himself into a high leverage situation that did not previoulsy exist and then be given credit for getting himself out of the situation he created?

    Can I start an argument at home with my wife, over nothing – in order to create the opportunity to leverage a mutually beneficial way to make up?

  4. Kazinski on April 27th, 2012 11:10 am

    Sure a player can put the put the team in a high leverage situation and then get credit for getting us out of it. Miguel Olivo’s passed ball increased the leverage by allowing the runner to get to third, then Olivo’s veteran leadership got the two groundouts to end the inning and preserve the lead.

  5. Kyle Miller on April 27th, 2012 1:27 pm

    Just saw the lineup:
    Montero (DH)
    Liddi (3B)
    Olivo (C)

    Why is Wedge punishing Kyle Seager?

  6. msfanmike on April 27th, 2012 2:01 pm

    It has more to do with Liddi (his performance recently and whether or not they decide to keep him when Carp comes back) than it being any punishment of Seager IMO. I think the 7th man in the bullpen would be a likely target too. And, perhaps a more viable target. If Seager could play SS maybe he would be in the lineup today. If he could play catcher, well … That horse has already been beaten. I think the team is just trying to get a real good look at Liddi because he has opened a few eyes.

  7. Kazinski on April 27th, 2012 2:10 pm

    If Wedge isn’t punishing Kyle Seager maybe he should be. Seager has a .279 OBP, and an Olivoesq 1.6% walk rate.

    You can talk about who should or should not be getting playing time, but if you hate Olivo for his terrible plate discipline, then Seager should be beginning to get some hate too.

    Seagar has more power than either Figgins or Ryan, but it is hard to make a case that Seagers .679 OPS is significantly better than Figgins .659. Its a little better that Ryan’s .629 OPS, but that is being held back by Brendans’s ridiculously, unsustainably low .189 BABIP. And its really no contest with Casper Wells who plays great defense and is sporting a .794 OPS in just 20 PA.

    So I’m with Wedge on this one, Seager needs some pine time and Wells deserves to be playing more. Other than Olivo gettng swapped out with Jaso, this is a pretty good lineup. I’m even ok with Ryan hitting second, his OBP is .323. Wedge should get some credit for ignoring Ryans .163 BA, and rewarding his team leading 17.7 BB%.

  8. caldog on April 27th, 2012 2:19 pm

    Where did you see the lineup at?

  9. marcus_andrews on April 27th, 2012 2:58 pm

    The line-up is on ESPN.

    Kazinski I think that a couple flaws with that is that Seager doesn’t swing and miss as much as Olivo and also has potential to improve on his issues but I think it’s more just that we’ve faced a lot of lefties and Liddi is hitting well. It’s hard to justify sitting a righty who is hitting well in favor of a lefty who is doing OK at best, against a lefty.

    And I think Ryan’s BABIP will go up, but not as much as you’re thinking. He doesn’t hit that many line drives or hit that many balls that hard. He will probably always be below league average in BABIP even if not quite as drastically as he is now. (BTW I love Ryan and don’t think he should be removed from the lineup at all, I’m just pointing this out to you).

  10. Paul B on April 27th, 2012 3:04 pm

    If Wells and Liddi are both in the lineup, it’s a good bet that they are facing a lefty starter.

    I’m OK with Liddi and Seager platooning at third.

  11. Westside guy on April 27th, 2012 3:09 pm

    Figgins is sitting, so I’m happy.

  12. Kazinski on April 27th, 2012 4:38 pm

    I don’t think Wedge is sitting Seager because he is being too aggressive at the plate. I just wish that was the reason. He is sitting Seager to get Liddi in the lineup, of course.

    Seagar has a pretty amazing 98% in the Zswing%, and even his 73 % OSwing is comparable to Olivo’s 76.3 % Zswing which is pretty stunning when you think about it. But Seagar also swings at 33% of the out of zone pitches which is way too high.

    Last year Seager walked at 6.5% rate which isn’t great but it was enough to push his OBP up over .300 even though he only hit .258. This year he is hitting a little better and his power is up measurably, but that .279 OBP isn’t going to cut it for long.

    Ryan’s career BABIP is .290 and this season its .189, so basically he’s owed another 5 hits, which would push his BA up to .265, and his OBP to .387.

  13. kimalanus on April 27th, 2012 6:27 pm

    Points to Marc: the TV crew just put up a graphic of Luetge’s Leverage Index last night, explaining (badly) what it is and admiring it’s height. They are reading your stuff.

  14. marc w on April 27th, 2012 11:04 pm

    That was really cool, actually. A source would’ve been nice, but god knows they do this to Dave’s posts all the time.

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