Zack Greinke Is Awesome

November 17, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

The next time that you try to sell someone on FIP and that they tell you that its a load of crap reserved for nerds who have never played the game, tell them Zack Greinke disagrees.

Bannister, a right-handed starter, is known for his appreciation of modern pitching metrics, which emphasize the factors for which pitchers are essentially responsible: walks, strikeouts, home runs and hit batters. In Greinke, he found a like mind.

“He’s extremely bright, and he’s really picked up on using all the information out there to make his game better,” Bannister said by telephone. “He’s always had the talent. His confidence level, which is extremely high, combined with his knowledge of the numbers behind the game now, definitely makes him one of the best pitchers in the world.”

Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.

“David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

The reigning AL Cy Young winner, quoting FIP in the interview after he won the award. Welcome to the 21st century of baseball. This isn’t some kind of weird math for the lunatic fringe anymore.

JA Happ and Why Velocity Matters

December 5, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

J.A. Happ’s Fangraphs page does not make for encouraging reading. A fly-balling left-hander sounds like a good fit for the park,* but ideally the M’s would want a bit more than a generic label in exchange for a good cost-controlled OF, whatever his injury history. Happ’s home parks have hurt, no doubt, but it’s the combination of high walk rate and high home run rate that have really made his career FIP a mess. Unlike, say, Chris Young, Happ doesn’t have a history of beating the fielding-independent stats – he did, rather famously, back in 2009, but that looked like a fluke, and at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to call it one.

There is something worth talking about here – a reason for hope beyond the generic “lefty in Safeco” tag. Happ’s throwing a lot harder than he used to. This is something I talked about when he faced the M’s last year, and it’s something Jeff’s mentioned in his analysis of the deal over at Fangraphs. When he debuted with the Phillies, Happ’s fastball averaged around 89-90. Last year, it was around 93, well above average among qualified starters. Just to be clear, Happ is 32 (he played last year at age 31). This isn’t supposed to happen, but it keeps happening – Brandon McCarthy threw 89-90 in 2008, then 91 with Oakland, and last year, at the age of 30-31, started sitting at 93, and touched 95 occasionally.

But so what? Happ used to throw 89 and was bad. Last year, he threw 93 and was still pretty bad. Is this another case of people overrating velocity? Well, it matters because hitters, as a group, fare much worse against fastballs thrown faster than 92. This isn’t earth-shattering research or anything. But it’s not just whiff rates – batters slugging percentage drops when velocity increases.** Here’s a table of league-wide slugging percentages off of hard pitched (four- and two-seam fastballs, plus cutters) both faster than 92 and slower than 92 (data from BaseballSavant):

League Ave SLG% on FB> 92 SLG% on FB<92
2009 0.410 0.477
2010 0.402 0.459
2011 0.389 0.456
2012 0.402 0.472
2013 0.393 0.459
2014 0.382 0.442

That’s an average gap of about 65 points of slugging, and as you can see, the trend is downward, especially for the faster fastballs. Despite league-wide velocity rising a bit, hitters are still having more trouble with plus-velo, or what used to be plus-velo and is now a shade above average velo.

Ah, but that’s cheating, you say. By slicing it that way, you add in all of the high-octane relievers and elite power arms like Strasburg, Fernandez, Richards and Harvey. Let’s look at some pitchers whose fastball averages around 92 and see what THEY look like with the same criteria – slugging percentage on fastballs above and below that 92mph mark:

Player SLG% on FB> 92 SLG% on FB<92
JA Happ 0.361 0.459
Roenis Elias 0.39 0.626
Phil Hughes 0.395 0.495
James Shields 0.477 0.482
Felix Hernandez 0.349 0.396
Clayton Kershaw 0.349 0.409
Sonny Gray 0.344 0.508
Henderson Alvarez 0.420 0.414
Brandon McCarthy 0.277 0.433
Greinke 0.383 0.468

Same thing. The range is a lot higher, but the pattern is very consistent (except for Henderson Alvarez, who remains baffling to me). Happ and McCarthy fit the pattern, though obviously the sample size differences are huge (they just recently became capable of throwing 92). Felix is awesome in every context, which is why we love him. But look at Sonny Gray and Phil Hughes! Elias’ splits are hilarious, but again, the sample is tiny. Or look at Kershaw, whose splits here mirror the league-wide numbers, albeit shifted lower. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but maintaining good FB velo should help Happ.

So why didn’t it help him last year? In part, it’s because he had some bad luck on his other pitches. In part, it’s because he pitched in the AL East, home to a number of good hitters’ parks (his road stats were worse than his home line). In part, it’s because, despite the velocity, he’s not a great pitcher. Still, given the overall numbers, you can see why the M’s might see Happ as a good fit. The value of the pick-up is still, uh, debatable given salary, control and Saunders, but Happ may be better than he’s looked.

* So, about those park differences. You all know that Toronto inflates HRs to LF while Seattle suppresses them, but Tony Blengino’s granular batted ball park factors – something we get glimpses of in his articles at FG, are still something to behold. In this piece on Michael Cuddyer, Blengino includes a table of the park factors for fly balls to left center field. Toronto inflates production on such fly balls by just shy of 30%, as fly balls produced about 130% more runs than expected, given velocity and angle. Safeco? Safeco annihilates such balls in play, as actual production was just *36%* of expected given their launch angle and initial speed. 36%! To be fair, Happ’s HRs came more down the line than in the alley, but Safeco *also* suppresses doubles, which Happ also struggled with.

** This makes some sense, but may be counterintuitive to those who grew up on people saying the “pitcher supplies the power” and watching replays of Mark McGwire’s 500’+ HR off of Randy Johnson.

Game 161, Angels at Mariners

October 2, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Haren, 7:10pm

Welcome to the final night game of 2012, a contest between two teams just playing out the string. This year’s been terrible for Seattle, but I bet last night was difficult for Angels fans – Pujols and Wilson brought in, Greinke acquired, Mike Trout having an historic season – and they’re knocked out of the (expanded) playoffs by the Oakland A’s, a team that could make its annual payroll with whatever’s in Vernon Wells wallet right now.

I think this hypothetical Angels fan would console himself with the fact that their team has the aforementioned Trout, Greinke, Pujols and Wilson and the cable TV revenue to keep them happy and surrounded by a talented supporting cast. But for an evening, they may have felt as snakebit as one of us. They just get to forget about it the next day, and get to think about how to improve a 90-win roster. We…uh…Justin Smoak looks better, and you know, Hisashi Iwakuma’s outpitched Dan Haren, and…ah, nevermind.

Really, the Angels playoff hopes have been materially harmed by the following, which I will enumerate because schadenfreude’s all I have for game 161:
1) Starting Mike Trout in AAA. This was undoubtedly a move based on his team control, but man did this blow up in the Angels’ face. Trout first suited up for the Angels this year on April 28th. On April 27th, the Angels were 6-14 and had lost 5 straight. Since his call-up, the Angels are 81-57. Before his call-up, Vernon Wells was the starter and compiled a .696 OPS over that stretch (as a left-fielder). The Angels didn’t miss by much, and replacing a, er, replacement-level player with a 10-win one, even for just a month, would’ve been huge.
2) The Angels play in the AL West. OK, this isn’t their fault, but in all the MVP debate about Cabrera willing his team to the playoffs, people have tended to overlook the fact that the Angels are, by pretty much any measure, *better* than the Tigers. It’s just that playoff spots aren’t awarded to teams that excel in stat-nerd/philosophical nonsense like “having more wins” or “being better” but in the concrete currency of being the best amongst one of two loose geographical groupings.
3) Horrible luck in the bullpen. I don’t mean that their ERAs were worse than their FIP; as a group, the reverse was true. But this was a group that the Angels counted on, especially after 2011’s solid season (especially after jettisoning Fernando Rodney, who was clearly past his prime. I bet that guy’s not even in baseball anymore). Sure, Ernesto Frieri has been solid, but Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, and LaTroy Hawkins have had down years, and the bullpen’s WPA’s tumbled. As many have pointed out, this highlights how hard it is to build a consistently great bullpen, and how volatile individual bullpen arms can be.
4) Homers have killed them. The Angels have the best position players in baseball, but they’ve given up the 5th most HRs in the league. This is why their FIP-based WAR is the lowest in the division, despite having what looked to be a historically awesome rotation (before adding Zack Greinke). This can’t happen when you play half your games in a ballpark that limits HRs, and then you play intra-divisional games in Safeco and the Oakland Coliseum. Ervin Santana’s astonishing late-season run pushed him past Jason Vargas for the most HRs allowed, and tonight’s starter Dan Haren’s tied for 13th.

Since this match-up just happened a week ago, I’m not going to rehash what I’ve said about Harenthe last time he faced off against Iwakuma or the time before that. Both Iwakuma and Haren are slightly homer-prone starters in homer-suppressing environments. Iwakuma’s kept that particular problem under control recently, and he’s quietly putting together an excellent rookie season. Here’s hoping he sticks around, and that the new Safeco dimensions don’t trouble him.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Wells
3: Seager
4: Jaso (C)
5: Smoak
6: Montero (DH)
7: Saunders
8: Robinson
9: Kawasaki
SP: Iwakuma

Still no Gutierrez, which is sadly unsurprising. Shut him down and tell him to avoid strenuous activity, sharp things, large people and dogs, cooking utensils and anything capable of producing heat above 100 Fahrenheit this offseason. In a chat this morning, Jeff Sullivan idly wondered how much his UZR would suffer if he played in full football pads. Something for Tony Blengino’s group to take a look at, I think.

I suppose I waded into it above, so I may as well come out and say that if I had an MVP vote, it would go to Mike Trout. I can’t imagine that’s too controversial at a site like this, but the debate’s certainly been as contentious as I can remember. I think writers as diverse as Geoff Baker and Colin Wyers have tried to stress that both are deserving – Baker’s pushed the view that the writers themselves determine how to measure “value,” and that seems true enough. But I think too often this debate has been about the decimal places in WAR, or about those communist defensive ratings, or the differences between Fangraphs’, Baseball Prospectus’ and Baseball-Reference’s WAR stats. As of today, Mike Trout has produced more batting runs than Miguel Cabrera. Put defense aside – put your own numbers to it, throw them out, whatever. Just looking at batting, Trout’s had the superior season. That’s because Trout’s numbers have been compiled in a pitcher’s park whereas Cabrera’s have been racked up in a hitter’s park. This isn’t just some Fangraphs thing, either. BPRo’s stats show the same thing, as do BB-Ref’s. Adding defense to the equation just stretches Trout’s lead, and the argument that Cabrera carried his team to the playoffs while Trout didn’t doesn’t hold much water with me given the strength of the two divisions.

All of that said, I think a vote for Cabrera isn’t the end of the world. I think some writers legitimately feel that Miggy’s 2nd half stats and what he did during the Tigers’ run to pass the White Sox should be a thumb on the scale and overcome the clear and nearly-universally acknowledged performance gap he faces. The question is how heavy is that thumb? How much do we want to weight 2nd half performance, and will we do so consistently in the future? In the end, I think Cabrera wins the award going away, and I won’t whine too much if the same writers saying that Cabrera’s batting stats in August/September give him the edge turn around and make the exact opposite argument next year.

I’m just glad that we’re not going to have an actual travesty of an MVP winner. We debate these things openly now, and beat writers lay out their reasoning ahead of time, which is actually quite cool. I grew up in the 1980s, when we got a series of bizarre awards, like George Bell in 1987, or Don Mattingly in 1985 and almost no one saw that as weird. This continued into the mid-90s with the notorious 1995 AL MVP award to Mo Vaughn, a player transparently worse in every way than Albert Belle and Edgar Martinez (both of whose teams made the playoffs). The excuse in 1995 was that Belle was kind of a jerk to the press sometimes. Seriously. At this point, I was about done with the MVP, but the following year A-Rod was snubbed because Juan Gonzalez had more RBIs and that was essentially that. It’s the nature of the internet that the debate’s gotten so loud (and so intemperate), but I can’t fathom ‘outrage’ about the outcome of the 2012 AL MVP.

Pitch Type Leaderboards

March 16, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

If you didn’t already think fangraphs was awesome, they’ve now gone and really done it – they’ve added pitch type and velocity data from Baseball Info Solutions for every pitcher in the game. They even included a leaderboard.

Among pitchers who threw 100 innings last year, Felix Hernandez’s fastball clocked in #1 at 95.6 MPH. His slider also clocked in #1 at 88.3 MPH. His curveball? #1, 82.2 MPH. His change-up slacked off, coming in #3 (86.6 MPH), behind A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. Moral of the story? Felix throws really hard.

Also, being able to throw a hard change-up is a tremendous asset. Here’s the list of 100 IP guys that throw their change at 84.0 MPH or higher: Burnett, Beckett, Felix, McGowan, Cain, Edwin Jackson (USSM approved offseason acquisition), Millwood, Escobar, Sabathia, Gaudin, Ramon Ortiz (the hilarious outlier on this list), Penny, Sheets, Lincecum, Billingsley, Peavy, Cabrera, Sosa, Smoltz, Snell, Greinke, and Bannister. That’s one hell of a list.

The patron saint of mixing up his pitches – Jesse Litsch. 19% fastballs, 11% sliders, 40% cutters, 16% curveballs, and 13% change-ups. The only other guy I found that came close to throwing five different pitches at least 10% of the time – Shaun Marcum. Marcum and Litsch are teammates in Toronto. Raise your hands if you think that’s a coincidence.

Speaking of Jesse Litsch, he’s the only guy who threw more cutters than Miguel Batista last year. If you’re wondering why Batista’s groundball rate fell in 2007 from his previous career norms, the cut fastball is why. He threw it 28% of the time in 2005, 26% of the time in 2006, and 39% of the time last year. Also, if you look at Batista’s velocity readings over the last three years, he’s clearly losing a tick off each of his pitches. We’re watching the evolution of a guy learning to pitch differently as his stuff deteriorates.

Mariano Rivera: 26.7% fastballs, 73.3% cutters. The average velocity on the fastball is 93.2, and the average velocity on the cutter is 93.6. 99.9% of the time, Mariano Rivera is going to throw a low to mid 90s fastball with movement, and hitters still can’t do anything with it. It’s really incredible.

And, finally, if you don’t think the M’s have an organizational mental image of what a reliever looks like, I present this page. Among the top 24 relievers in percentage of fastball thrown, we find Brandon Morrow, Jason Davis, Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz, and Rafael Soriano all in pretty close vicinity to each other. All five also throw a power slider, while Putz and Morrow mix in some splitters. Putz, Thornton, and Davis all have the same body type to boot. If you’re 6’5, throw hard, and have a slider, the M’s are probably interested in sticking you in the 8th inning of ballgames.

Jeff Sullivan has some more fun Mariner tidbits from this stuff over at LL. I heart fangraphs.