Thursday, December 8, 2011

Will Jim Leyland Use Octavio Dotel Properly?

It looks like the Tigers are about to consummate (with full carnal knowledge) a deal with Octavio Dotel .  According to the fine work done by Jon Paul Morosi, Enrique Rojas, and Danny Knobler, it appears to be a one year deal with a vesting option (most likely based off of 2012 appearances) for a second year.

Since I am not yet sure of the price (or the years) involved in this deal, I am not ready to declare it a good/bad/neutral signing.  However, I am sure of this much:

Octavio Dotel should be a right-on-right guy exclusively.

In 2011, Dotel yielded a .198 OBP and a .211 SLG to righties.  Against lefties, he surrendered a .345 OBP and .500 SLG.  In 2010, Dotel handled righties to the tune of .245 OBP and .331 SLG, while lefties threw up a .331 OBP and .517 SLG.  2008: .297 OBP, .355 SLG vs righties; and .422 OBP .577 SLG vs lefties.

So, in short, Doc Oc Dotel is a premier relief option vs righties and a downright liability vs lefties.  So, he profiles as a right-on-right guy who never has to face lefties.  Because of this, he will pair up nicely with Daniel Schlereth (the much maligned Tigers reliever who is quite adept as shutting down lefties [seriously, check his splits]).

Most bullpens could not afford to have a guy whose only job was to get out righties in the 6th or 7th inning, but the Tigers are blessed to have a clear 8th inning and 9th inning guy (and by "blessed" I mean that they brutally overpaid for each of those spots).  Because of this, the Tigers can afford to dedicate a roster spot to Dotel.  Furthermore, the presence of Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque (aka 'Padre K'), who can each get out both lefties and righties also allows for a Dotel-type.

Here’s hoping Jimmy Leyland understands Dotel’s strengths (and clear limitations), and uses him where he can excel – against right-handed hitters (remember him dominating righties throughout the 2011 playoffs? quote my buddy…"Dotel made a mockery of Braun in the playoffs”), and almost never against lefties.

After seeing Jimmy misuse Schlereth and Pauley in 2011, however, I fear Jimmy will overuse Dotel, negating much of his value.  So, here’s an open request to Jim Leyland…


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How are the Marlins Going to Pay for All These Players?

The Miami Marlins have now signed their third premier free agent in Mark Buehrle.  Along with inking Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, the Marlins have committed 191 million dollars to new free agents.   
This raises an important question:

How in the world do the Marlins intend to pay for all these guys?

Consider the Marlins’ payroll the last 12 years:
  • 2011: $ 57,695,000
  • 2010: $ 47,429,719
  • 2009: $ 36,834,000
  • 2008: $ 21,811,500
  • 2007: $ 30,507,000
  • 2006: $ 14,998,500
  • 2005: $ 60,408,834
  • 2004: $ 42,143,042
  • 2003: $ 45,050,000
  • 2002: $ 41,979,917
  • 2001: $ 35,762,500
  • 2000: $ 19,900,000
For 2012, the Marlins payroll is already projected to be 80-85 million.  But even that is a bit misleading, as Jose Reyes’ deal is heavily backloaded.  His deal breakdowns by year as follows:
  • 2012: 10 mill
  • 2013: 10 mill
  • 2014: 16 mill
  • 2015: 22 mill
  • 2016: 22 mill
  • 2017: 22 mill
  • 2018: 22 mill option or 4 mill buyout
Given the many signings for a team who historically has never given out too many large deals, and given the backloaded nature of Reyes’ deal, it seems clear that the Marlins are expecting massive revenue increase in the upcoming years.  This belief probably derives largely from the new stadium that the Marlins are opening in 2012. 

But, the history of sports in Florida has shown that Florida residents (for a whole host of reasons) do not tend to offer much financial support for their professional sports teams, even when they are winning.

The Rays' struggles with attendance and fan support are widely recognized, and the Rays have been a great team for three years.

Furthermore, even when the Marlins won it all in 2003, they averaged less than 20,000 fans per game.  The following year?   More of the same.

So, the Marlins are expecting massive revenue growth, but it seems unlikely to occur.  Sounds like a repeat of 1996-1997, when, even after winning the World Series, the Marlins could not keep their team together.

If anyone believes that there is good reason to expect massive revenue growth, I would love to hear it.  Because as it stands now, I am not sure where that growth will come from, other than the vague hope that Miami fans (particularly Latin American ones) will start coming out in droves.   

Yet, there is little in Marlin history (or even Florida sports history in general) to support this hope.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Introducing a New Pitching Stat: ppERA (Part 1 of 5) - Motivation

(This is Part 1 of a five part series.  Part 2 will be an explanation of ppERA.  Part 3 will feature examples.  Part 4 will discuss the benefits of ppERA.  And Part 5 will consider objections and offer replies.)

The flaws with traditional ways of measuring a pitcher’s performance (such as Wins, ERA, Saves, etc.) have been exposed through decades of sabermetric analysis.  In the place of these stats, sabermetricians offer stats such as the following:

  • FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching):  Focuses on that which a pitcher has most control of – home runs, strikeouts, and walks.  This removes that which a pitcher largely lacks control of – whether batted balls fall for hits or not
  • xFIP:  FIP with an adjustment to stabilize HR/FB rate, which studies show is not something that seems to be within a pitcher’s control
  • tERA (True ERA):  Basically, tERA calculates the runs a pitcher is expected to give up over the number of outs he is expected to get.  This is done by figuring out the run and out expectancy for each PA ending event (K, BB, HBP, HR, Line Drive, Outfield Fly Ball, Groundball, Infield Fly Ball).

There are, of course, many more advanced stats that attempt to evaluate pitcher performance.  Each stat, however, shares an important common characteristic – each one calculates only actions that end plate appearances.  Anything that happens before the final pitch of a plate appearance is ignored.

This is a strange result.

Justin Verlander threw 3,941 pitches last year.  2,485 of those pitches did NOT end a plate appearance.  That’s 63.1% of the pitches he threw.  Even for a stat like tERA, which accounts for all PA-ending events, 63.1% of the pitches Verlander threw were irrelevant for the evaluation of his performance.  And for a stat like FIP, even less of his pitches (8.48%) mattered.

Intuitively, it seems that, on average, a groundball in an 0-2 count will be more weakly hit than a groundball in a 2-0 count (and thus results in a hit less often).  If we ignore everything that happens before the groundball, we have no way of accounting for this.

Furthermore, sabermetricians correctly attempt to remove irrelevant context.  Just as a stat like ERA incorrectly rewards/punishes pitchers for Strand Rate and team defense, every advanced stat rewards/punishes pitchers for a strike or a ball happening to occur when there were already two strikes or three balls, respectively. 

In other words, sabermetricians view each pitcher-hitter confrontation as an isolated event, correctly ignoring irrelevant context such as whether there are men on base.  It is my contention that this ignoring should be extended even further.  Each PITCH should be treated as an isolated confrontation between pitcher and hitter, and count should be disregarded.  (I understand that this is a controversial claim.  I will consider objections and offer replies in Part 5 of this series).

This is my motivation for the introduction of Pitch-by-Pitch ERA or ppERA, which is really just a variation of tERA.  ppERA, however, will count every pitch that leaves a pitcher’s hand. 

It will not be my contention that ppERA should be the only stat used for evaluating pitching performance.  Rather, I believe it should accompany the other (many) stats one considers when evaluating pitchers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What FIP Critics Do and Do Not Say

On Fangraphs today, Noah Issacs refuted an argument against FIP.  The argument that Issacs attempts to refute can be formalized as follows:

P1.  If there are players who consistently outperform their FIP, then FIP is a failed stat.
P2.  There are players who consistently outperform their FIP.
C.  Therefore, FIP is a failed stat.

This argument is certainly valid (modus ponens...If A, then B; A; thus B).  So, Issacs argues against the soundness by attacking P1.  He correctly notes that one should expect a certain number of players to consistently outperform their FIP, as there is a 50% chance that any given pitcher will outperform his FIP in any given year.  Hence, there is a 25% chance that any given pitcher will outperform their FIP for two consecutive years, a 12.5% chance he will do so three consecutive years, and so on.

In other words, the presence of players who consistently outperform their FIP is to be expected even over a 5+ year sample size.  That is, FIP's standing as a perfect stat is consistent with the presence of statistical outliers.

Consider the following example.  If there were 100 people flipping a coin, we would expect about 50 of those to flip heads.  Of those 50, we would expect 25 to flip heads the next time, 12-13 to flip heads three times in a row, about 6 to flip heads four times in a row, and about 3 to flip heads five times in a row.  This is all consistent with the fact that there is a 50% chance of flipping heads on any given flip.  With a large enough sample size, you can expect statistical extremes.

Issacs' argument works off the same basic reasoning pattern.  We should EXPECT outliers like Matt Cain who consistently outperform FIP, as our sample size is large enough to reasonably expect extremes.  So, P1 is false.  We can not conclude that FIP is a failed stat just because there are players who consistently outperform their FIP.

The problem with Issacs, refutation, however, is that few critics of FIP make the claim found in P1.  That is, few critics of FIP believe that the mere existence of statisical outliers refutes FIP as an important stat.

Rather, critics of FIP try to offer an explanation for why certain pitchers outperform FIP beyond the expectation of statistical extremes in our sample.  For example, many FIP critics claim that pitchers like Tom Glavine are able to control their BABIP and/or HR/FB ratio through skill, something that FIP assumes is not possible (as FIP assumes BABIP is fully the function of luck).  A FIP critic looks at Glavine, who, after his breakout year in 1991, outperformed his FIP 16 out of 18 years, and offers an explanation for why this is so: Glavine could control his BABIP (career .280) and/or his HR/FB ratio.

A sample argument of this sort may look as follows:

P1.  If pitchers can control their BABIP in a meaningful way, then FIP is a failed stat.
P2.  Pitchers can control their BABIP in a meaningful way.
C.  Therefore, FIP is a failed stat.

This is the sort of argument FIP critics make.  So, this is the sort of argument that FIP defenders need to address.

Issacs' article, while certainly correct in its refutation, is merely attacking a straw man argument.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New CBA and the Misuse/Overuse of Pitching Prospects

Both Dave Cameron and Keith Law did a splendid job recapping the highlights and lowlights of the new MLB CBA (sadly there are a great deal lowlights).  I believe, however, that one negative aspect of the new CBA has not been discussed sufficiently.  In short, by enticing more players to go to college, the MLB is putting their prospects in the wrong hands.

This goes beyond the fact that, on average, college coaching staffs are not as skilled as professional coaching staffs in terms of developing prospects (especially in developing the sort of specific players a specific team may be looking to develop).  On average, the best coaches are in the professional ranks, so putting these future prospects in the hands of inferior coaching for 3-4 years inhibits their baseball development.  However, this negative aspect of the CBA is not my focus here.

Rather, my focus is on how college pitchers are misused and overused.  For a college coach, a new pitching recruit is simply a three or four year investment.  For a professional coach, a new pitching prospect can be a 10+ year investment.  Who is going to be concerned more for the pitcher’s long-term health and development?  Well, obviously it is going to be the coach who has more invested in the player.

I have two roommates who pitched at the same Mid-American Conference school.  Both of them were right-handed pitchers and both were viewed as low-level pro prospects at some time or another (one was drafted out of high school, and both attended several professional tryout sessions).  Each experienced a period of dead arm, where their low to mid-90’s fastballs were suddenly sitting in the mid 80’s range.  What did coaches do?  Well, of course, their coaches turned both of them into side-armers, making them right-on-right specialists.   In fact, this was (and still remains) standard practice at the school for any player who experiences dead arm.  It is the best way to squeeze out every ounce of value before the pitcher graduates.

Now, ask yourself, “What would a professional coach do in this situation?”  Well, simply put, a professional coach would shut the pitcher down for an extended period, seeing if he could help bring the velocity back.  If that failed, he might then move on to other methods (long-toss program, etc.) in hopes of bringing the pitcher’s velocity back.

Now, it is not as simple as the college coach acting selfishly and the professional coach acting selflessly.  Both are actually acting selfishly.  For the professional coach, the selfish thing to do is whatever best helps the player become as good of a player long-term as possible.  So, he will take a long-term approach with the player.  The college coach is not afforded such a luxury.  Rather, the college coach must win and win now in order to keep his job.  So, in order to achieve this goal, he squeezes every ounce of short-term value he can out of a player.

This is not a problem merely at the lower level (i.e. the MAC, where the anecdote I recite occurred).   Many remember Austin Wood, the Texas pitcher who threw 169 pitches (a day after throwing 30) in a 2009 NCAA Regional game.  If a coach in the New York-Penn League (or some other low minor league system) used a top prospect like this, what would happen to that coach?  Obviously he would be fired or severely reprimanded.  If you do something like this in college, you are rewarded, because you are doing whatever it takes to win.  It should surprise no one that Wood only pitched 1.1 innings in 2010 (his first full MiLB season) because of injury.  This type of overuse is not all that uncommon.  In fact, during 2009 alone, a pitcher threw 150 or more pitches 25 times!

So, as more pitchers are enticed to go to the NCAA ranks, more pitchers will be misused and overused in ways that would get professional coaches fired in they treated the players in such a way.  

College coaches get rewarded for it.  That’s why MLB teams should want these kids under their control.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tigers Must Offer Wilson Betemit Arbitration

Wilson Betemit may have disappointed in the playoffs (often missing pitches by what looked like three full feet), but the Tigers have to offer him arbitration.

Betemit would almost certainly decline, as he only made one million dollars last year and would likely be in line for a bigger contract if he went out on the open market.  If he does decline, the Tigers get a supplemental first round pick (likely somewhere between 40 and 60 overall).

If, for some reason, Betemit accepted arbitration, the Tigers would only owe him between 1.5 and 2 million, a very reasonable amount for his skill-set.  Betemit would then be used as a platoon third baseman (to limit Inge’s playing time) and second baseman.

So, there would be no downside, regardless what Betemit decided to do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Offseason Acquisition Series: Tigers sign Gerald Laird

Here in Detroit, the standard reaction to the Gerald Laird signing was something along the lines of:


As you can imagine, I did not find this reaction to be very reasonable.  So, why do Tigers' fans universally despise Gerald Laird?

Game 163.

In Detroit, those two words point to only one thing.  2009.  Twins vs Tigers.  In what MLB Network declared the 20th best game of the last 25+ years.  As a Tigers' fan, it was simultaneously the most exhilarating and frustrating game of my life.

Gerald Laird's line in that game: 0-6, 2 K's, 10 LOB.  All of that with future All-Star Alex Avila sitting on the bench as a sparsely used rookie.

Because of that one game, Detroit fans hate Gerald Laird.  It is really as simple as that.

Of course, this is about as small a sample size that you can get when evaluating a player, and most Tigers' fans would admit that their disgust with the Gerald Laird signing derives from their arational, emotional reaction to Laird.

So, let's be rational and objective and view Gerald Laird for what he is.

Quick Summary:

  • Terrible hitter vs righties
  • Below-average hitter vs lefties (most of his appearances will probably be vs lefties, as he is playing behind a lefty in Avila)
  • Average to above-average defensively
  • Above -average (for his position) in terms of speed and base-running
  • Accustomed to catching Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Coke, Papa Grande, and Ryan Perry among others

    A backup who will only be asked to play about 30 games this season, assuming Avila stays healthy

    For all that he will provide, Laird is a fine signing for a piddling one million dollars.

    Even if it may take years to get the bad taste of game 163 out of Tigers' fans' mouths.

    Offseason Acquisition Series: Phillies trade for Ty Wigginton

    The Phillies gave up virtually nothing in this trade, as they surrendered only a Player To Be Named Later (who is expected to be inconsequential), while the Rockies are picking up two million of the four million dollars Wigginton is owed in 2012.

    So, the financial investment is minimal, but there is another important investment that often gets ignored.  In short, the Phillies must invest one of their 25 roster spots in Wigginton.  Anybody who has followed a team throughout a whole season knows how valuable each roster spot is.

    Perhaps you are wondering why Wigginton isn’t a good guy to give a bench spot to, considering he can play all four infield positions, as well as both corner outfield spots.  Isn’t this type of versatility that you look for in a bench position?

    Yes.  You want someone who can play multiple positions.  The problem with Wigginton is that he is a significantly below average defender at every position he plays.  His UZR is negative for every position except right field, where he has only played 46.3 innings in the last four years (i.e. an insignificant sample size).  You want a versatile player to back up a bunch of positions, but you don't want someone like Wigginton who is likely a downgrade everywhere he plays.  In this case, Wigginton's versatility is highly overrated.

    His bat is also lacking, as he has posted a wRC+ of 92 or less each of the last three seasons.  Add in his below replacement level base-running, and you are left with a guy who can “play” 6 positions, is a below average hitter, a below replacement runner, and just turned 34 years old.

    Is this the sort of player the deep-pocketed World Series hopeful Phillies should have on their 25-man all year?

    Forget the monetary investment, Wigginton isn’t even worth the investment of a roster spot.