I agreed to participate in this month’s United Cardinals Bloggers activity. In case you didn’t know, we’ve created an e-mail chain in which we’ve been exchanging questions/answers about various Cardinals-related issues. You can find the full set of links HERE.
Today is my turn at hosting and I posed the following question to my fellow bloggers:
Jaime Garcia set a strong precedent for seasons to come in his rookie campaign: 2.70 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.27 K/9, 3.53 BB/9, and 55.9 GB%.
Marcel (Tom Tango’s projection system) puts Garcia at 3.36 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.43 K/9, and 3.39 BB/9 for 2011.
Would you take the over or under on Marcel’s forecast? Why?
Since this roundtable project includes a wide array of Cardinals blogs, I suspect that there might be a few more readers visiting today who are unfamiliar with sabermetrics. Welcome! For those of you interested in learning more about sabermetric principles, check out the collection of links that Steve compiled in Gas House Graphs’ “Saber 101 & Saber 201″ tab… or you can peruse the ever-growing FanGraphs library. Here’s a specific entry dealing with the various projection systems, including Marcel, which follows the most basic model.
By the way, if you still have questions about certain sabermetric principles, maybe we can help. Feel free to use the new Gas House Graphs mailbag set up by Steve yesterday to ask us questions.
Blogger reactions are after the jump. My insightful (or boring… you decide!) analysis can be found at the end.
Daniel Shoptaw (C70 At The Bat): I think one could take the over and still expect Garcia to have a solid campaign. We’ve seen a lot of players (granted, usually the scrappy position players) come up, have a strong first year, then slip and be gone in a couple of years. I don’t expect that for Garcia, but I still am cautious about honking too loudly for him. So put me down for a little bit over, but still a very good year.
Michael Metzger (Stan Musial’s Stance): I’ll take the over, meaning I think he’ll perform slightly worse than projected in all categories (higher ERA, WHIP, and BB/9; lower K/9). He was slightly less dominating the second half of the season, and I think that will carry forward into his sophomore campaign (although I will not call it a ‘Sophomore Slump’).
I think the bigger impact on his performance will be the Cardinal defense. I believe they are weaker overall, especially up the middle, now than they were in 2010. Theriot will not get to everything Ryan did, and Schumaker is Schumaker. Garcia’s splits are pretty even as you mention (55/45 GB/FB in 2010), but the step back defensively will hurt him.
Dennis Lawson (Pitchers Hit Eighth): I’d take the over on this one, and that’s mostly due to the likelihood that Jaime will be pitching deeper into games and hopefully pitch a full season. 163 1/3 innings over 28 games in 2010 was a great start, but he wasn’t asked to push through many rough patches. Based on Tango’s numbers, it seems that the projection has Jaime at almost the exact same H/9 (8.3) that he had last year, and that’s fairly encouraging. That indicates to me that the increase in ERA is probably due to a combination of a slightly more porous defense and getting hit a little harder. In that light, an extra .66 runs per 9 innings isn’t all that bad.
Nick (Pitchers Hit Eighth): The certified Jaime Honk™ in me wants to take the under – WAY UNDER. The realist in me thinks it’ll be the over, but not by much.
I don’t think what we saw from Garcia was a flash in the pan by any means, but there is also certainly some regression to mean in order. Hitters becoming more familiar with him, not as much luck, perhaps a declining defense behind him, etc.
That said, his arm is also another year stronger and he’s not having to potentially over-exert himself this spring trying to prove he’s healthy and win a roster slot. I think the team did the absolute right thing for 2011 by shutting him down at the end of a lost season for the team in 2010.
Looking forward to this kid growing as a big league pitcher…
Dathan Brooks (Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Goodnight): Gonna have to take the over. Not because Jamie’s skill set has worsened, but because of one thing: Video. I imagine young pitchers in Springfield, Memphis (our organization, but others too)…etc, will watch video on hitters & scout them out before hitting the bigs. Advantage: Pitchers. Once they’ve taken the mound for a half season, or full season, then you wake up one morning & there’s a collection of video for the hitters to watch.
Adjustments are made on both sides of the ball, and it never ends. The truly great are constantly making adjustments–stop me if you’ve heard this one: Hitters hit & Pitchers pitch. The reason I’d take the over is because I see the video catching up with Garcia, and a respectable, but less-than-stellar April, and maybe part of May happen “to” him before he makes his 2011 adjustments (aka sophomore slump–but don’t think his lasts all year). The numbers drop slowly throughout the rest of the year, but he may very well spend the whole season trying to deflate the numbers posted in the first 6 weeks or so of 2011.
Dustin McClure (Welcome To Baseball Heaven): I’m also going to take the over, but not by much at all. He had such an outstanding rookie season last year it’s natural to expect him to regress somewhat. Dathan and Nick spoke of the use of video and also the fact that hitters are just going to be more familiar with Jaime (pitch selection, situational tendancies). I’m right there with them. I’m confident he’ll make the necessary adjustments and I still look for an ERA in the mid 3’s. Still plenty to honk about in 2011.
Tom Knuppel (Cardinals GM): We are almost all in agreement… I will take the slight over on Garcia. He was a pleasant surprise in 2010. I am hoping for another surprise somewhere along the way in the pitching department.
Finding a good comparison for Garcia is tough. Not many young pitchers have the assortment of pitches and the command of them that Garcia displays. Larry Jaster basically repeated his rookie season, but had an All Star infield behind him. Steve Carlton did the same. It wasn’t until he mixed in a slider that he became a dominant pitcher – and Garcia already has a pretty good one.
Looking outside the organization, Fernando Valenzuela basically followed the Tango projection for Garcia, and he won 19 games and almost won a second Cy Young award. Johan Santana was brought along much more slowly than Garcia, but when he finally pitched an entire season, he did win 20 games and a Cy Young award.
I’ll stick with the slight under. I don’t think his ERA will rise as high as the projection. While the other teams have video to study Garcia, Garcia also has 4 exceptional pitches (fastball, slider, curve and change-up) and I think the coaches (and Yadier Molina) will be mixing them more this year, making him just as effective, if not a bit more than last year.
Me (Gas House Graphs): No doubt, Jaime’s numbers were better than anyone could have hoped last season. At first glance, I’d have to join the ranks of my blog-mates and take the over as well. Let’s take a look at some of the stats provided at FanGraphs to see how much luck he might have enjoyed in 2010.
Research has shown that pitchers have little control over balls in play (thanks, Voros McCracken!). Consequently, some statistics have been created that represent the outcomes over which pitchers do exert some control, such as strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns. One of those stats, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), measures just that, and scales the result to ERA so that it’s easier for the casual fan to interpret. A derivative of FIP, xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching), has the same calculations, but swaps a pitcher’s home-run per fly ball for the league average rate (10.6% HR/FB). There are more stats like this (e.g. tERA & SIERA), but let’s keep this basic. Believe it or not, statistics like FIP and xFIP are actually better at predicting future ERA than ERA itself… well, at least up until a sample-size of 500 innings pitched according to Sky Kalkman and Baseball Prospectus (link behind pay wall).
So… how did Jaime fare? Since pitchers have little control over balls in play, it’s worthwhile to take a glance at their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) to determine if it was abnormally high. While each pitcher has his own baseline for BABIP, most hover around .300. Since Jaime’s BABIP was .292, and it fits the profile of the batted ball data (percentage of line drives, ground balls, fly balls, etc.) of the hitters he faced, there doesn’t seem to be much luck there. Take a closer look (as Bill Baer did this morning at BP; again, behind pay wall), however, and we find that Jaime’s BABIP on ground balls (35 points) and fly balls (40 points) were way below league average while his BABIP on line drives was slightly elevated (14 points). Also, his home run per fly ball ratio was somewhat depressed (7.3% HR/FB). Together, all of this has the making of a pitcher who’s likely to experience some negative regression. But… considering the league average FIP was 4.08 in 2010, his 3.41 FIP was still very solid, and we can expect him to remain a valuable pitcher in 2011.
While some of the bloggers expressed concern about hitters making adjustments to Jaime’s style of pitching, I’m comforted by his vast assortment of pitches. Jaime threw four separate pitches (fastball, cutter, curve ball, and change-up) more than ten percent of the time: FB (56.4%), CT (18.5%), CB (12.4%), CH (12.7%). Anecdotally, it seemed like he could pick which pitch he relied on from game to game last year. And, according to pitch type run values (again, provided by FanGraphs), each of them were above average pitches.
Of course, one of the things represented in a player’s ERA is the defense stationed behind him. Some of these statistics would suggest that Jaime was the benefactor of some quality fielding last year. The Cardinals made a decision to sacrifice defense for offensive upside (Berkman) and clubhouse chemistry (Theriot and Berkman) this winter. Don’t be surprised if that development casts a shadow on the numbers of Cardinal pitchers.
In short, I’m a believer in Jaime Garcia, but I’m going to join the ranks of my fellow bloggers by betting on the over. I’d be thrilled with a 3.5-ish ERA and something closer to 200 innings pitched.