Game 125, Not Felix’s Team at Felix’s Team
Hisashi Iwakuma vs Zach McAllister, 12:40pm
Dave’s summed up last night’s celebration well, but I wanted to echo something that Jeff Sullivan mentioned – last night’s game was probably the best promotion in M’s history (and I say this as someone who looked forward to bat night as a child like other kids looked forward to Christmas). The execution was perfect, the sea of yellow providing the backdrop for some of the best Felix photos I’ve ever seen. But the promotion would’ve fizzled without the Safeco crowd’s enthusiasm. I pretty much expected a happy, content crowd last night – like a larger, yellower version of any other M’s game crowd. That’s not what happened; the crowd took the set-up of the promotion and absolutely ran with it, and it was something to see. Well done Felix, well done M’s, and well done to everyone who attended last night’s game.
Ok, let’s talk about a mid-week game featuring Hisashi Iwakuma and Zach McAllister! This is actually going to be fun, if your idea of fun is wandering down the rabbit hole of rWAR vs fWAR. Yeah? All right!
Dave’s recent post on Hisashi Iwakuma performance as a starter talked about his very good xFIP – which is now 3.93. This fielding-independent metric strips out luck and defense and attempts to measure a pitcher’s true talent. One of the ‘luck’ elements it removes is a pitcher’s actual HR/FB rate; the metric uses a league-average figure instead, under the theory that HR/FB is volatile and not entirely controllable by the pitcher. That’s important, because as we’ve talked about, Iwakuma’s *actual* HR/FB has been terrible, and it’s led to quite a few HRs. Thus, his FIP – which assumes strikeouts, walks and HRs, are more or less under the pitcher’s control, is pretty bad: it’s at 4.92. Thus, his WAR at fangraphs, which is based on his FIP, is 0.0. If you think his HR/FB is a worthwhile piece of information, if you think it illuminates some aspect of Hisashi Iwakuma’s true talent, you might think he’s been fairly lucky. If you think it’s a tiny sample and that pitchers can’t really control their HR/FB, you’d think his results match up pretty well with his true talent. His rWAR (Baseball-reference’s WAR implementation based on RA) is 0.5 in his 71 innings, meaning he’d be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter. This is the mystery of Hisashi Iwakuma, and something that the M’s have a short time to ponder before they decide to re-sign him.
Zach McAllister’s another pitcher whose rWAR and fWAR diverge dramatically, but in his case, it’s not about homers. Instead, the key is unearned runs. McAllister’s K:BB ratio this year is somewhat absurd. It’s over 3.5, as he’s posting a higher K% than he has since short-season ball, and his walk rate’s below his career average, and below what he put up in the minors this season. He hasn’t given up too many home runs, which means his xFIP and FIP are pretty close, and both are excellent: they’re at 3.91 and 3.45, respectively. Thus, by fWAR, McAllister’s nearly notched 2 WAR already, despite only pitching 84 innings. These figures match his ERA, too, which stands at 3.64; by most measures, McAllister’s been one of the best pitchers in an Indians uniform this year. And yet his rWAR is…-0.4?
McAllister’s given up 34 earned runs, and a staggering *18* unearned runs, for a total of 52. His ERA’s 3.64, but his RA is 5.57. The culprit has been a terrible strand rate (56.9%), which is the worst in baseball among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 80 innings. Ultimately then, McAllister’s either been fantastically unlucky on balls in play, and his “true” talent is closer to his FIP, or, you could argue that McAllister’s never really learned to pitch from the stretch, and you could find evidence to support that. As is so often the case, it’s really up to you to decide what you want to do with these stats. What do YOU think a pitcher controls? How important are a pitcher’s splits with men on? How many innings does a pitcher have to throw before you’re comfortable saying that he’s got a gopher-ball problem?
These are really interesting questions, and there’s ultimately no right or wrong answer. They’re things we can debate, or they’re things to look at and forget. I’m not here to say that I think one WAR implementation’s definitively better – I (obviously) like looking at both. What I’m here to do isn’t argue for or against McAllister’s quality using WAR, I’m here to argue against McAllister’s quality because in McAllister’s 2nd major league appearance, he gave up 10 runs (including 2 unearned ones!) against the M’s and essentially gifted Anthony Vasquez a win in his major league debut. This is the sort of thing that sticks with you. As first impressions go, it’s a pretty forceful one. Who is Zach McAllister? Oh, you know, the guy who was out-pitched by Anthony Vasquez. I believe his RA is “true” and his FIP is “LOL” because of what happened one year ago tomorrow. This is not how baseball analysis is supposed to work, but it’s how it’s going down today.
The M’s line-up looks like this:
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Montero (C)