Albert is good.

The stats that follow are from BEFORE today's game. Albert Pujols has a 7.3 WAR. It's his lowest since 2002 (5.7 WAR). Albert Pujols has a .313 BA. It's the lowest of his career. Albert Pujols has a .415 OBP. It's his lowest since 2002* (.394 OBP). Albert Pujols has a .598 SLG. It's his lowest since 2007 (.568 SLG). His next lowest SLG was in 2002. Albert Pujols has a .420 wOBA. It's his lowest since 2007 (.414 wOBA). Albert Pujols had a Fld. rat … Read More

via Four Posts Above Replacement Level

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.

I’ve added an About page where you can read me ramble about myself for a couple of paragraphs.  Email contact info is there too if you need that for any reason.

Additionally I’ve added a Data page.  The stuff that had been linked on the sidebar is moved there.  This is where we’ll put links to the various files we create for public consumption.

I’ve seen a few things around twitter the last couple days that I found warranted a little discussion.  Most of these topics revolve around the idea of clutch hitting or hitting with RISP (I’ll use the two interchangeably although there are slight differences).  The general line of conversation goes something along the lines of:

Old school guy:  Holliday (or Rasmus) is a horrible clutch hitter. Look at his numbers with RISP (insert one year sample here)

Saberist nerd:  Shut up old man.  Clutch is a myth, it doesn’t exist.  Holliday has a 0.385 wOBA and Rasmus’ is 0.360 they’re the 2nd and 3rd best hitters on the team

Old school guy:  Having a good wOBA (whatever that is) doesn’t matter if they aren’t helping to produce runs

I have a couple of comments on this general line of discussion.  First when the saberist speaks of clutch not existing he does not mean that clutch performance doesn’t exist.  Clearly Holliday has been sub-par with RISP this year.  It happened and is factual (luck factors in here, but you get my drift).  The saberist is talking about clutch skill when he says clutch is a myth.  By skill I’m referring to something that is repeatable and predictable.  The statistical evidence points to this skill being either non-existent or too small to measure (read too small to care about).  The basic experiment in The Book concluded that the player’s generic wOBA (i.e. generic hitting skill) is more predictive of future RISP performance than a player’s past RISP performance is of future RISP performance, so basically good hitters project to hit well in the clutch and bad hitters project to hit poorly.  Holliday and Rasmus both qualify as good hitters, and are therefore pretty likely to be good in the clutch going forward.

I’ve seen the word, “bipolar,” tossed around when characterizing the 2010 Cardinals’ version of offense.  Borrowing from a graph created by Steve in this VEB post, I generated a similar one that portrays frequency of runs scored by the Cardinals in games dating back to 2006.

To me, the most noticeable difference between the 2009 team (only one to make playoffs since 2006 World Champions) and this year’s model are the amount of games in which three runs were scored.  The Cardinals scored three runs 33(!) times in 2009 but only 9 in 2010.  Conversely, the 2010 Cards scored 8-10 runs 21 times; a feat accomplished by the 2009 team only 13 times.  It’s easy to wonder how the Win/Loss record would look if their 2010 runs scored were more evenly distributed.  Would it be enough to compensate for the seven games they’re trailing the Reds?  Of course not.  TLR has written out too many questionable lineups  (see today) and Mozeliak has made too many confounding acquisitions (see Miles, Feliz, Suppan, trading Ludwick, etc.).  I planned on airing out more rants on these matters but I’ll save them for another day.

For a baseball team to have bipolar offensive tendencies suggests that its fans may never know what to expect in terms of runs scored on any given day.  They may put up 7 earned runs against a stellar pitcher like Chad Billingsley (3.33 FIP) one day but inexplicably roll over when facing a lesser-known foe in Bud Norris (4.04 FIP) the nextor the next.  As an aside, did anyone else notice Bud’s respectable FIP?  He’s quietly posted an impressive 9.2 K/9 over 118.1 IP; not one pitcher (including starters and relievers) on the Cardinals achieve K’s at that rate.  Nevermind that 60% of them have come against the local nine… I digress in jest.

But, seriously… this post isn’t about Bud Norris.  Being that I studied psychology in school, I’ve found myself pondering the term, “bipolar,” quite a bit.  In the mental health field, a bipolar diagnosis indicates that an individual has drastic fluctuations in mood ranging between major depression and full-blown mania that occur within a span of days, weeks, or  even months.  Of course, this is a baseball blog, so I’ll spare you from the boring nuances of the diagnosis (unless you’re interested).  As is custom within the field of sabermetrics, I started wondering whether statistics could quantify a traditionally qualitative term.  Quick Google searches left me empty handed and, honestly, I have no ideas other than teams’ standard deviation of runs scored per game.  I’m turning my internal meanderings over to you, the reader; I assume that you’re smarter and more creative than I am.  Any ideas?  I’m hoping that maybe this will lead to interesting discussion for me to revisit at times during the off-season… which, apparently, will start in October rather than November for Cardinals’ fans.

In the last post I looked at Colby’s propensity to pull outside pitches and what effect it may have.  Another common criticism/complaint about his approach is the high number of strikeouts.  Clearly in a vacuum striking out less would be a good thing; however there is likely to be a trade-off with power.  In an effort to frame the argument I wanted to look at the relationship between striking out more/less and adding/subtracting power.   To that end I took 3 yrs of matched pairs (2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010) and ran a regression on the delta in strikeout percentage and the delta in ISO.  The results were that the two were very weakly (adjusted r squared of ~0.01) positively correlated (coefficient of 2.2 that was significant to a p of 0.01).  That basically means that in general adding 1% to a players strikeout rate added 2 pts of ISO.  Clearly this wasn’t a deep mathematical study, but I found the results to be fairly intuitive and somewhat interesting.  Colby himself has followed the general trend too as his strikeout rate went up by ~10% and his ISO went up ~70 pts.

Now is power everything?  Of course not.  However, I just wanted to point out that there are likely trade-offs to be made if you want him to cut down on his strikeouts.

If you haven’t already done so, please head over here and vote in Tango’s Fans Scouting Report.

The basic idea is you give scouting grades on players defensive abilities and Tango aggregates them into the FSR.  I (among others) use these in defensive projections and they are a good way to sanity check the advanced defensive metrics.  So please participate.

If you don’t follow Erik, Steve, and me on Twitter, then you are unfamiliar with PAH9′s reaction to the Cardinals’ acquisition of Pedro Feliz.  In summary, I think it’s fair to say that we each joined in on the collective disapproval voiced within the sabermetric community.  In truth, however, one really doesn’t need to be an avid number-cruncher to look upon this move critically.  The Cardinals, in the midst of a pennant race, are looking to a 35-year-old displaced veteran on a horrible Astros team to correct their own problems at third base.  If that seems counter-intuitive, it’s because it is.

In yesterday’s P-D, Feliz claimed that his poor offensive numbers in 2010 were a reflection of the difficult situation in Houston rather than a true measure of his ability.  Below is a monthly breakdown of Feliz’s wOBA since the beginning of 2008.  I did not include any years before 2008 because he was relatively successful (from a power stand point) hitting at least 20 HRs in four straight seasons.

It’s true that Feliz’s horrid 2010 campaign has been pitiful even by his own standards.  July 2010 was clearly Feliz’s worst month within this span of time; he only accumulated 30 plate appearances (PAs).  But even if we give Feliz the benefit of the doubt and bought into the idea that his productivity truly did suffer because of inconsistent playing time, what excuse is there for the rest of his underwhelming career?  Since 2008, he’s played in seventeen months worth of baseball and has posted (at least) an average-ish wOBA in only four of them.  Even in seasons where Feliz has displayed a decent amount of power, he’s only managed to approach league average wOBA (roughly .330) twice — in 2003 & 2004.

He has contributed in three games for the Cardinals thus far going 6 for 13  with 2 RBIs.  But it really doesn’t matter if he had hit 6 HRs already.  Over a career of 4400+ PAs, Feliz’s skill set is well-established.  His only positive value with the bat is that he will hit a few HRs; he’s never hit for average and rarely takes a walk (career BB% is 5.1%).  He doesn’t strike out a lot (highest K% is 12.7% since 2007) but that doesn’t matter when he has such weak contact on balls in play (2010: 13% LDs and 15.1% IFFBs).

Of course, much of Feliz’s perceived value is in his defense.  Over his career, how much has it atoned for his poor offense?

Pay attention to the purple line as it represents Feliz’s total RAR.  For Feliz to have the value of an average major league player, that purple line must approximate the +20 horizontal grid line.  Over the course of his career, he has managed to do that about six times (just short in 2009).  He only touched +30 Total RAR (or ~3 WAR) once and it was in his best defensive season when UZR graded him as a stellar defender at the hot corner (worth 23.8 runs); for reference, Scott Rolen has recorded +20-run seasons with the glove only twice.  As the graph shows, his defense has been in decline since 2007 and, in 2010, has dipped into negative values for the first time.

Combine Feliz’s historically awful bat with a glove that’s trending downward and it’s hard to believe that the Cardinals don’t have equal or better internal options.  Below is a chart comparing Pedro Feliz’s value going forward against the Cardinals’ internal options at third base.  Each player’s offensive contributions were based on ZIPS ROS (rest of season) projections for wOBA found at Fangraphs and defensive value was generated by prorating  UZR/150 for games remaining.

I made some adjustments in order to be very conservative with these numbers.  First of all, Allen Craig did not have ZIPS ROS projections at Fangraphs, so I assigned him a roughly league average wOBA (.330).  I killed him on defense using Ryan Braun’s UZR/150 at 3B in 2007 when he must have been playing with bare hands (he was worth -41.5 RAA).  UZR/150 sees Felipe Lopez as a much better defender at 3B than the rest of Cardinal Nation listing him as near average (-.7 RAA); because I figured this wouldn’t fly with readers and since UZR is an imperfect defensive metric, I downgraded his defense to be worth -8 RAA (or nearly one win).  I did the same for Tyler Greene since there is such limited data available to judge his ability at 3B.  Lastly, I gave Pedro Feliz a huge benefit of the doubt since his lowest UZR/150 was 8.9 before this year.  Instead of assigning him -7.9 as rated by UZR/150, I allowed him a hypothetical +6 UZR/150.

There you have it.  According to my calculations, the Cardinals would have been better suited to pass on this acquisition.  Rather than improve a stagnating team, Mo has hypothetically made this team worse as Felipe Lopez would have likely offered equal or better value from the hot corner.  Worse yet, if Feliz’s defensive decline is reality, then he might be closer to Aaron Miles or Tyler Greene than Felipe Lopez.  At least Tyler Greene would have offered upside as a young player that has hit well in limited duty this year.  Apparently, improving on defense was a desperate enough proposition that the Cardinals were willing to downgrade an already struggling offense.  Yet here we are three days into the Feliz era and Felipe Lopez is playing SS over Brendan Ryan or Tyler Greene.  Combined with questionable roster management (adding Miles, Suppan, etc) and still unsettling trade of Ludwick, I’m starting to question the process.

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.

The Cardinals made a surprising move today by trading Ryan Ludwick at least one-half season in advance of what was expected (if at all).  It made sense for the team to gauge others’ interest in the slugger given Pujols’ (likely?) extension and Ludwick having only one year left of team control.  In 2011, Ludwick would have either had an arbitration case, signed another one-year deal to avoid arbitration, or signed a contract extension to keep him in Saint Louis beyond 2011.  No matter what, Ludwick’s salary was going to increase from 5.45 million one-year deal he signed in 2010 and the Cardinals decided their money could be wiser spent elsewhere.  This decision clearly places a feather in Jon Jay’s hat and, if he doesn’t work out to be an everyday player, Allen Craig is always waiting to take some platoon ABs against left-handed pitchers.

The decision to trade Ludwick is rational but the timing of the move is questionable given the Cardinals’ middling wOBA (.325; 15/30 MLB teams) and impressive xFIP (4.10; 4/30 MLB teams).  To avoid flippantly airing my own knee-jerk reaction, I’ll just post some bullet points addressing pros/cons of the deal.

The arguments in favor of the trade:

  1. The Cardinals free up cash for another trade that will upgrade their MIF.  The trade deadline is drawing near and time will tell whether this rational played a factor in the swap.  Regardless, it frees up money for 2011 and beyond which, again, is important for potential Pujols extension.
  2. Difference between Westbrook and Suppan/Hawk is more than difference between Jay/Ludwick. Therefore, the 2010 team is better (in terms of WAR).  See full details of this rationale by Azruavatar at Viva El Birdos.

Arguments against the trade:

  1. According to MLB TradeRumors’ most recent Elias Rankings Update, Westbrook will not even qualify for Type B (worth sandwich pick) free agent status after 2010 season meaning that the Cardinals will not reap benefits of other young players in this deal when he presumably signs with another team.  Meanwhile, Ludwick is listed as a Type A (worth 1st rounder and sandwich pick) free agent.  Given his reliable production over the past 2.5 seasons, I think it’s reasonable to assume his Type A status will stick.
  2. The Cardinals could have kept Ludwick and still traded for Westbrook.  The player Cleveland obtained for Westbrook was Corey Kluber; a guy whose ceiling Kevin Goldstein describes (subscription needed) as, “a back-end starter.”  Surely, the Cardinals could have matched this without compromising their thin minor league system too much.  Such an approach would have allowed the Cardinals to trade Ludwick in Winter 2010; what kind of return would he have netted?  We may never know but it seems reasonable to assume that the return would have been more valuable to the Cardinals than two months of Westbrook and another guy that hasn’t yet made it to AA.
  3. Instead, the only “prospect” the Cardinals are  getting for Ludwick is Nick Greenwood (22 years old; still playing A ball); Erik provided this take on the player at Future Redbirds:

Nick Greenwood is 22 years old, left-handed and has a 6 K/9 in the Midwest League. He was a 14th round pick in last year’s draft. He did not make Baseball America’s Top 30 Padres list last season, for what it’s worth, and it’s unlikely he rates very highly in our system either by seasons end. He has fringe stuff, save for a decent change-up, but he has good command. He’s a C grade pitcher, arms of his ilk are a dime a dozen.

Hopefully, this is a pretty thorough review of the discussion being had right now about Ludwick’s abrupt shipment out of Saint Louis.  In my opinion, the move seems like a wash (at best) for what it provides the Cardinals this season unless, of course, it precedes another deal for a middle infield upgrade over Skip or Boog.  But that seems unlikely; today’s deadline has come and gone.  We’ve heard the term, “Year of the Pitcher,” thrown around the MLB this year.  Whether it is league wide or not, it may have to be in Saint Louis if the Cardinals are going to last deep into October.

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