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Is it good to have boxscores to look at again, or what? Today, $41-million man (whoops!) Kyle Lohse will be taking the hill for the Cardinals in a spring exhibition game against the Houston Astros. An afterthought before the sky fell on Wainwright’s right elbow, we are left hoping for something that resembles a comeback season for Kyle Lohse.

Lohse relies on his slider often, throwing it roughly 20% of the time over the course of his career. In his tenure with the Cardinals, it had been a plus pitch (0.65 runs/100 pitches in 2008 and 1.06 runs/100 pitches in 2009) until it fell to -1.77 runs/100 pitches in 2010. This isn’t to say that he’s never struggled with the pitch before – it had negative run values in 2003, 2005, and 2006 – but none were as damaging as pre-surgery (forearm) last season.

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I hadn’t really done much investigation/research on the Cardinal’s two newest hitters other than some cursory looks at seasonal wOBAs etc. With the help of pitch f/x though we can go much further. We’re able to generate data that resembles a scouting report, which I thought might be helpful for Berkman and Theriot. Yes, we’ve all seen them play since they’ve been in the division, but we likely haven’t seen them play every day. Thus, the data will likely be more telling than the “eye test”. Today I’ll show some Berkman data. Theriot will have to wait until later. The first two charts are heat maps by pitch location. The number represents the run value per 100 pitches. Data is only from swings.  Charts are from the catcher’s perspective.

First vs RHP

Then vs LHP

When hitting left handed (i.e. the vs RHP graph above) Berkman appears to kill the ball middle away (may be some home park bias there), but is vulnerable middle in.  Also, contrary to most LH hitters, he appears to hit the high ball better than the low one.  As a RH hitter he appears more conventional, hitting the inside and high pitches better, but is an overall worse hitter.

Along with that scouting report style data, I was also curios if there was any evidence of aging/a slowing bat.  The following table would point that way.  Values are rv per 100 again

2008 2009 2010
mph <93 1.82 0.82 1.18
mph >93 1.92 1.79 0.91

It appears (sample size is problematic) that Berkman is having a tougher time with the higher velocity fastballs (table is limited to fastballs only).

That’s it for now. I’m sure as the year goes on, Berkman will be the topic of more pieces such as this. For now I’ll leave you with a question. What do you expect from Lance at the plate this year?

After the Cardinals lost to the Marlins on Monday (9/20/2010), I knew that I wouldn’t have to search long or far to discover one of my biggest pet peeves in baseball analysis.  Florida scored all of their runs in this 4-0 loss on one swing of Brad Davis’ bat.  Anytime this happens in baseball, it inevitably begets these types of post-game comments:

From FoxSports:

Carpenter gave up five hits and struck out six in six innings, but made one giant mistake to Davis.

And it isn’t always the writers; La Russa in the P-D:

“One rally. One ball that got in the wind. But that’s four runs,” La Russa concluded. “(Carpenter) wasn’t perfect that one inning, and they got four runs. That shouldn’t be enough to beat us.”

These kinds of comments insinuate that the starting pitcher only threw one bad pitch the entire game.  Of course that’s never true.  And, in the form of pitch f/x location data (from Brooks Baseball), here’s the proof:

It’s easy to see that Carpenter made many “mistakes” that night. There were plenty of pitches in the middle of the strike zone. This isn’t an indictment on the quality of his pitching that night, it’s just what happens when a grown man hurls 100 baseballs towards an imaginary zone… they aren’t machines and it’s impossible for them to paint the corners with every pitch.  Obviously, this explains one reason about why it’s imperative that pitchers change the speed of their pitches.  Of course they are going to miss location from time to time (if not most of the time) and they have a better chance for the opposing hitter to make poor contact if they are off balance.  In short, Brad Davis could have easily missed that 2-0 offering (86 mph cutter; black dot approximately 2.4 vertical & 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) and, assuming that the rest of the game played out identically, the Cardinals could have ended up in extra innings.

When people comment about a pitcher making, “one mistake,” that cost their team the game, they never seem to refer to the type of pitch thrown but fixate upon its location instead.  Carpenter faced Brad Davis again in the fourth inning and, after falling behind 2-0 (again), he delivered a change-up (yellow dot approximately 2.2 vertical and 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) that had very similar location to the cutter that Davis deposited into the left field seats previously; this time, however, Davis hit a pop fly to center field.

So here we have two pitches with nearly identical location thrown by the same pitcher to the same hitter… yet one becomes known as a mistake and the other is overlooked as success… a rationale that roots itself entirely upon the outcome of the pitch.  I’m willing to concede that the pitch might have been a mistake… but the notion that the rest of Carpenter’s pitches that night were flawless is bogus.  A quick glance at the location of his various pitches that night blatantly reveals that other pitches had even worse location.

Furthermore, if you really think about it, Carpenter’s “mistake” wasn’t really a mistake at all… it was actually a pretty good pitch.  Carpenter fell behind two balls and no strikes on a guy that has yet to accumulate 100 big league plate appearances with a decent but not great AAA line of .267/.333/.423 in 313 plate appearances; to Davis’ credit, he laid off a pretty touch 1-0 pitch just low and outside.  Tell me how Carpenter could have made a better pitch in that situation.  Should he have tried to be too fine, he would have risked digging an even deeper hole by going 3-0 with the bases load.  Rather than becoming dangerously close to giving the Marlins a free run (by walking Davis with the bases loaded), he decided to take his chances by leaving a pitch over the plate to an unproven hitter.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The baseball myth of pitchers making, “one mistake,” is misguided.  It annoys me.  Maybe the hitter should be given credit rather than the pitcher penalized; that certainly seems to be the case in this situation.

There’s been lots of discussion about Colby Rasmus and TLR recently. A lot of it was centered on his approach at the plate, so I thought it would be good to spend the next couple of posts digging into the information that we have at hand that describes his approach.
One common statement is that he tries to yank every ball out of the park. I read that as folks think he’s trying to pull too many outside pitches. Here’s the data, first the break down for any pitch from the dead center of the plate out.

Percent
Oppo 30%
Middle 31%
Pull 39%

and then for the outer quarter and beyond.

Percent
Oppo 35%
Middle 34%
Pull 31%

Unfortunately I do not have any league averages in front of me, so these numbers are slightly out of context. All we can really conclude is that he pulls about 1/3 of the outside pitches he sees. Is that good/bad/ or indifferent. One way to get some insight into this question is by looking at his batted ball profile by field. First for all pitches on the outside half

FB% GB% LD% IFF%
Oppo 56% 12% 25% 7%
Middle 54% 28% 15% 3%
Pull 15% 65% 20% 1%

And then for just the outer quarter

FB% GB% LD% IFF%
Oppo 54% 11% 31% 5%
Middle 47% 33% 19% 2%
Pull 7% 81% 12% 0%

As with most hitters, more pulled outside pitches = more GBs. In general (small sample size applies) those pulled GBs are going for less hits than the GBs hit either up the middle or the other way.

An interesting tidbit to note is that embedded in the 15% of fly balls that he pulls on pitches from the middle of the plate out are 9 HRs. That equates to around a 40% HR/FB ratio which is clearly unsustainable no matter who you are. I point his out because there is some chance that this is causing something of a confirmation bias for Colby.

All this being said, Colby is clearly the best option to be playing right now. Could he add some points of wOBA by taking a few more balls the other way (especially the ones on the outer quarter)? Yes. Does it make a big enough difference that it makes other less talented players better performers than him? Probably not. Does it make him not one of the three best options for the Cardinal outfield? Of course not!

In a later post I’ll try to frame the strikeout discussion.

I’ve spent the last day and a half digging into Felipe Lopez’s offensive season to date. I’ve been looking for any possible explanations of his recent slump. Unfortunately that search has come up fairly fruitless. He’s swung at a couple more pitches off the plate away and a couple more above the zone, but I there definitely hasn’t been any “light bulb” moments. That being said I did find one interesting piece of information when looking at last season compared to this one. Last year he had a rv100 of ~21 on air balls (LD+FB). This year it is ~11. Some of it could be BABIP luck, some maybe decreased power and some other explanations. I don’t have the answers this time, but I thought you might find the fact as interesting as I did. I’m also open to potential explanations that I may have missed.

As a reference I pulled the following spray charts from Texas Leaguers

With Kyle Lohse likely to get the start against the Cubs on Sunday, I thought we could take a moment to ponder his potential impact on this club along with some other general observations.  Given the Cardinals’ reputation with projecting pitchers’ returns from injury, I had little hope that Lohse would take the mound again in 2010, especially since his injury was apparently so rare amongst other pitchers.

Much of the Cardinals’ fanbase developed unreasonable expectations for Kyle Lohse when he had a career year in 2008 (200 IP, solid 3.89 FIP, 3.1 WAR)… all for a bargain price of $4.25 million.  Unfortunately, the front office bought into the hype and extended Lohse through 2012.  According to Cot’s Contracts, he’ll make a guaranteed $11.875 million (each year) in the final two years of the deal.  From a value standpoint, assuming that a free agent win costs around $4 million, he’d have to perform at his career peak in 2011 and 2012 to justify future paychecks.  Not a likely proposition for a guy that’s only been worth 1.6 WAR in 2009 and 2010 combined.

First, let’s take a look at the three guys at the back end of the rotation: Lohse, Suppan, and Hawksworth.  What is the makeup of each player’s arsenal of pitches (taken from Fangraphs)?

They all go to the fastball between 56-59% of the time.  The major differences are in their secondary offerings: Lohse has a slider (-1.77 runs/100 pitches), Hawksworth has a changeup (-1.64 runs/100 pitches), and Suppan has a mish-mash of other junk (changeup being only pitch with positive value at .8 runs/100 pitches).  Remember that pitch values do not account for pitch sequences so a negative value does not necessarily mean that a pitcher has lost something on a given pitch, or that the pitch itself is bad.  Sure, it could indicate either of those scenarios… but it could also simply be a matter of hitters knowing when (specific pitch count, always follows another pitch, etc.) a given pitcher will throw a certain pitch.  In other words, if the hitter is expecting any given pitch, he likely has a better chance at hitting it hard regardless of its velocity or movement.

Since Lohse’s other offerings for 2010 season are pretty much in line with career norms (FB and CB slightly below average; CH above average), I’m mostly interested in his slider and how it has changed (if at all) since it had been an above average offering since 2007 (until now).  The table below was generated with numbers from Joe Lefkowitz’s site which provides awesome pitch f/x data (though 2007 data was unavailable).

Kyle Lohse’s Slider
Year Velocity Horizontal Vertical Swing-Miss%
2008 84.4 2.34 0.08 14.3
2009 83.8 3.3 -0.77 16.1
2010 83 1.7 -0.47 15.4

Though his velocity has decreased on the pitch since 2008, it’s not by a lot.  Seems doubtful that a pitch only .8 mph slower than last year would cause it to suddently be a below average offering.  However, it does appear that Lohse’s slider has been noticeably flatter in 2010 as evidence by less horizontal movement.   Furthermore, Lohse has thrown the slider much more often in 2010 to both RH (32.3%) and LH (12.8%) batters.  For comparison’s sake, he threw sliders to RHB 25.7% and LHB 4.5% of the time in 2008.

Given the flatter nature of the pitch, perhaps hitters are making more solid contact when they do connect even though their swinging strike percentage is stable.  Another possibility is that hitters are able to sit on the pitch more often since he has thrown it more often this year.  At any rate, seems like a poor combination for a pitch to be thrown more often despite having less movement and (however slightly) decreased velocity.  Maybe the forearm injury can provide another explanation.  Seems reasonable to allow that it may have been harder for him to throw off-speed pitches given their more complicated grips.  It’ll be interesting to see if some of that horizontal movement returns now that he’s supposedly healthy.

With that said, it is important to remember that Lohse’s struggles probably cannot be explained by his less effective slider or even the injuries that have complicated his past two seasons.  In reality, it’s more likely that Lohse’s ability just doesn’t match the numbers that he managed to accumulate in 2008.  Though he may not be as good as he was then, he may not be as bad as we’ve seen since.  I guess that’s the silver lining.

The question for 2010, of course, is how much better does he make the Cardinals than if Jeff Suppan or Blake Hawksworth were taking the ball every fifth day?  Utilizing Fangraphs’ seven part win value series on pitching WAR (scroll to bottom of page) and Nick Steiner’s VEB fanpost as guides, I calculated the difference in projected WAR between these three pitchers.  I utilized ZiPS’ rest of season projections (FIP) and gave each player eight remaining starts at their average innings per start in 2010.  My calculations had Lohse, Hawksworth, and Suppan at .49, .32, and .08 WAR respectively for the rest of the season.  Unsurprisingly, Lohse is apparently the best option of the three.

Earlier in the year there was some discussion around the internet about Carp’s decreased velocity (to include a piece here).  At the time I never investigated the relationship between velocity and effectiveness.  Here’s a chart that attempts to get at that aspect for Carp.

According to rv100 there does appear to be a trend that more velocity equals better results for Carp (data from both 2009 and 2010).

For terms and presentation basics check out my Wainwright VEB post if you’re unsure of any of the language I use in the post.

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Westbrook looks like he’ll fit in nicely with Papa Dunc.  Here’s a chart showing fastball vertical movement compared to rv100

For this chart the more negative the rv100 the better, so the clear trend is that Westbrook’s fastball is better when he has more sink on it.  Similarly here’s a vertical location chart

At the bottom of the zone is good for him, but he wont get many chases below the zone it looks like (high rv100 because of balls).  Just a couple of things to watch for before tonight’s start.

It’s no secret that Brendan Ryan is and has been struggling with the bat.  Anecdotally it seemed to me that he was hitting a ton of pop ups, so I wanted to check the data and see if my eyes were deceiving me.  Before we get to that though let’s take a quick look at his results in vertical and horizontal slices.  First the vertical

There’s nothing too dramatic here.  Yes, the 2-2.5 slice is interesting but not overwhelming.  The general trend is pretty solid.  Horizontal slices are a little more interesting

That’s abysmal hitting in the middle of the plate.  I will note that these are based on results, so there could be batted ball luck at play in these charts.  That being said, let’s check my earlier premise by looking at some batted ball data.  First on those pitches in the middle of the plate

and on fastballs

Both of these show less GBs and LDs and more FBs and especially more IFFs.  I have to think that this is a by-product of working with Big Mac, but I have nothing to back that up with.  Either way I’d be much happier if Ryan got back to hitting more ground balls (and clearly more LDs too) and it would likely lead to more success

Used as the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter the past two seasons, Skip Schumaker is finding himself in one of the worst funks of his career. His .292 wOBA combined with sub-par defense (-6 runs according to UZR) means that he’s been a replacement level second baseman so far on the season, not at all what we were hoping for out of Skippy this season, to say the least.

So what’s wrong? Looking at his plate discipline numbers, it doesn’t seem he’s seeing the ball very well. His strikeout rate is up 1% and his walk rate is down 1%. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but digging a little deeper we see that he has been hacky, so this trend of more K’s and less walks could continue to get worse. Schumaker is swinging at 33.1% pitches out of the zone so far this season, a 6% increase from the season earlier. What’s he swinging at?

By the looks of things, Skippy is having trouble discerning letting a few pitches that are wide outside and low outside. It’s particularly amusing to how low some of these pitches are that he’s swung at.

If Schumaker wants to go back to leading off, or for that matter keep his job as the every day second baseman when Freese returns, he’ll need to show a little better discipline than he has this year so far.

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