For the sake of efficiency, I’m abandoning the usual format of discussing each game’s “good, bad, and/or ugly/impressive” moment. Instead, I’ll just make some brief comments before the NLCS kicks off today.
Game Four

True to form, the Cardinals continue to trick me into writing them off. Before Edwin Jackson had even recorded an out, their win expectancy dropped to 27.9%. Thanks to a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play, Jackson quickly escaped from the inning and proceeded to lead the pitching staff by adding 12.7% win probability while striking out four and only walking one batter – good for 2.19 FIP.

Some have likened Edwin Jackson’s role in 2011 to Jeff Weaver’s in 2006 (only have one link). Is that true? How do they compare as pitchers? Well, 28-year-old Jackson is probably better right now than Jeff Weaver was at any point in his career, though it was admittedly closer than I would have guessed. While their overall FIPs are comparable (Jackson – 4.34; Weaver – 4.41), Weaver peaked in his early years while Jackson has improved with age. At first glance, you’d probably think Weaver posted the best overall season in 2002 when he performed 16% better than league average (FIP- of 84), but he didn’t give up as many homeruns that year as he probably should have since pitcher’s have relatively little control over the amount of homeruns they surrender per fly ball allowed. Weaver was 25-years-old in 2002, and his performance steadily regressed thereafter. Considering his post season success, it’s easy for Saint Louis fans to forget that his performance was pretty terrible leading up to October (5.71/5.11 FIP/xFIP for Cardinals in 2006′s regular season). While he did pitch somewhat better in October (slightly improved K/BB ratio), his results were exceedingly improved, suggesting that there was probably some luck involved. Maybe the defense helped him out, but the Cardinals weren’t exactly a great defensive team that year. He also had an unsustainable strand rate (84.4%).

Point? While their overall numbers might not be too far off, the Cardinals acquired Jackson at a much more favorable point in his career. In contrast to Weaver, Jackson struggled as a young pitcher but has spent the last three years improving his strikeout to walk ratio and has started coaxing more ground balls. He has career best numbers to show for it (3.55 FIP in 2011).

28-year-old Edwin Jackson is not the same as 29-year-old Jeff Weaver. Edwin Jackson may not end up with better results than Jeff Weaver’s memorable October in 2006, but he is the better pitcher.

Take a look at the above graph and you’ll notice that two of the largest swings in win probability have little notes about the hometown hero, David Freese. His 2-run double in the 4th and 2-run homer in the 6th added 38.2% in win probability alone.

As the 2011 season has unfolded, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how strange Freese’s career has looked thus far. I’m not the only one who thinks so; see Dan Moore’s late-September post at VEB. After posting a .538 slugging percentage in more than 700 triple-A plate appearances, his power has dropped 100 points as a major-leaguer. You’d think that such a power drop-off would lead to less productivity, but that hasn’t really been the case as he’s still been well above average with the bat (.348 wOBA in 667 plate appearances). While his impressive line-drive rate might allow him to float above the usual .300 BABIP watermark, his career .356 BABIP just seems unreasonable. Having said that, statcorner’s wOBAr adjusts for batted ball rates and park effects… and Freese still looks pretty good (.332 in 2010 and .355 in 2011). Maybe I’ll take a more in-depth look at this in the future.

Game Five


When the green line hovers right around the 50% mark, you know you had yourself a pitcher’s duel. Sometimes, Chris Carpenter just looks like he makes a decision to throw a shut-out… and then does it.

Objectively, I’m not sure Carp really outpitched Roy Halladay. He certainly left more to chance as Halladay allowed fewer balls in play with 7 strikeouts (compared to Carpenter’s 3). At least two of those balls looked like serious trouble off of the bat, but instead of being game-changing home runs in late innings, they fell safely into the gloves of Lance Berkman and Jon Jay who each had to retreat to the warning track.

Overall, however, one might say that Carpenter’s balls in play were less dangerous since 66.7% of them stayed on the ground while Holliday only induced 40% grounders.

This all resulted in a fantastic pitchers duel and, for Cardinals fans, it was a special moment to behold.

If you told me the Cardinals would trail by two runs before Chris Carpenter even recorded an out, I’d be hard pressed to imagine a scenario in which the Cardinals were victorious. It certainly wouldn’t have looked like last night.

The Good: The offense continued hitting and ended up tying Cliff Lee’s previous career high in hits allowed (12). At Crashburn Alley,  Bill Baer argued that Lee had fallen prey to poor luck on balls in play. That is, the Cardinals twelve hits were a function of luck in that they did not seem particularly hard hit but just managed to find holes in the defense. There’s certainly some merit to this position. After all, Lee pitched well in some aspects. He was missing bats (9 K’s in 6 IP), throwing strikes (only 2 BB’s), and compiled a 1.03 FIP in the process. At one point, Bill tweeted:

The Cardinals have put 20 balls in play. Arguably two of them were well-struck.

Obviously, some of the hits were lucky (e.g. Pujols’s broken bat single, Berkman’s bloop to RF), but I can recall at least five that were hit very hard: Furcal’s triple to lead off the game, Theriot’s double down the left field line, Craig’s triple that was misjudged by Victorino, Pujols’s single to score Craig, and Berkman’s groundout that Polanco snagged and saved a run.

As a whole, the offense accounted for 23.7% of the win probability. Jon Jay lead the hitting group with a .300 WPA. In that respect, maybe the Cardinals were a little lucky since Jay’s 2 RBI’s both came on seeing eye singles that he grounded through the infield defense. So maybe a little luck was involved, but when isn’t that true of baseball?

The Bad: It seemed rather obvious that starting on three days rest did bother Chris Carpenter. He was uncharacteristically falling behind in the count and walked more batters (3) than he struck out (2). Per Joe Lefkowitz’s site, Carpenter’s velocity was down compared to the rest of 2011. I wonder if he threw fewer warm up pitches before the game in order to preserve his arm to compensate for going on short rest. He did have an efficient third inning of work and started throwing more strikes as the game progressed. Should this series reach a fifth game, I’ll look forward to seeing the real Carpenter take the mound. Unfortunately for us, he’ll probably oppose the real Roy Halladay.

The Impressive: The Cardinal bullpen only allowed one hit in six innings. The transformation of this unit has been remarkable. Azruavatar had a nice piece about it on VEB the other day. It’s no longer composed of “control” guys or “experience” guys, but players with discernible skills. Several of them can light up the radar gun and they’re missing bats in the process. Jason Motte (11.9%), Scrabble (11.7%), Fernando Salas (11.2%), and Dotel (13.4%) all induce above average swinging strike rates. Boggs has resurfaced after a baffling year of (non)use. Dotel has been incredible against right-handed batters (1.43 FIP). Add Eduardo Sanchez and Lance Lynn to this mix (possibly subtracting Dotel) and it’s easy to imagine the bullpen to mature into a veritable strength in 2012 and beyond.

As for last night, the bullpen was good for .59 WPA. Boggs entered the game at the most crucial moment, getting out of an inning that started with Scrabble hitting Utley with a pitch. The Cardinals were only leading by one run and Boggs got the first out of the inning when Pence grounded into a fielder’s choice. Motte accumulated the most win probability out of the bullpen (.235 WPA) by recording the final four outs.

And with that, the Cardinals won their first playoff game since finishing off the Tigers in the 2006 World Series. Let’s hope they make it a winning streak tomorrow night, eh?

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As mentioned in my post from Saturday, we have reached the point in the season where some sample sizes are becoming significant in that we can infer trends in change of approach/skill for certain statistics. Since the Cardinals’ starting pitchers each have 150 total batters faced (TFB), it’s an opportune time to check in on their rates for strikeouts, ground balls, and line drives.

Keep in mind that I generated this graph on Saturday morning, so McClellan and Lohse’s most recent performances were not included. Of course, you can check out their respective pages at FanGraphs for updated statistical profiles. As with the batters, each pitchers’ career rates are shaded more lightly in the below bar graph.

McClellan’s results have been fantastic thus far (3.99/4.17 FIP/xFIP in 43.2 IP), but there is some cause for pessimism found in his greatly diminished strikeout rate. While it’s normal for a pitcher’s strikeout rate to drop when converting from the bullpen to the rotation, it shouldn’t by this much. I’m sure it’ll improve, but it’ll be interesting to see by how much (ZIPS’ updated projection has him at 6.25 K/9 for the rest of the season). There’s also some luck found in his HR/FB (7.3%) and strand (79.2%) rates.

Part of Lohse’s success in 2011 has been generating 6% more ground balls. That and rarely issuing walks has helped lead him to a refreshing 3.20/3.73 FIP/xFIP. Maybe he’ll justify some of that contract after all.

Looks par for the course for Mr. Westbrook despite his ugly results thus far (6.14 ERA in 36.2 IP). If he can harness a little bit more control (4.66 BB/9) and continue to generate ground balls, he should be fine. It should be noted that his 4.35/4.10 FIP/xFIP are relatively close to his career norms (4.17/4.00 FIP/xFIP).

Jaime Garcia’s batted ball profile looks similar to last season, and that’s a good thing. What’s so impressive though is that he’s added a strikeout per nine innings pitched to an already respectable career number (7.37 K/9) while reducing his walk rate by an equally impressive amount. That results in a stellar 4.00 K/BB ratio (this number doesn’t stabilize until 500 TBF) to start his sophomore campaign and it’s helped him craft a team leading 2.36/2.60 FIP/xFIP. Other fans around baseball are starting to take notice.

It’s easy to see why Carpenter hasn’t been the perennial ace that we’ve been accustomed to since he’s been allowing more line drives and fewer ground balls. With that said, he’s also been the victim of a high HR/FB rate (16.2%) as evidenced by his 4.26/3.43 FIP/xFIP.

Between McClellan’s competence, Lohse’s resurgence, and Garcia’s emergence, you can see how the Cardinals have somehow managed to withstand Wainwright’s season ending injury. We’ll see if I can write the same sentence in another month or two.

I’ll keep revisiting these thresholds as a majority of players meet them throughout the season. Next up for pitchers: Fly ball and GB/FB rates stabilize at 200 TBF.

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Sorry we went all AWOL for a few days. These game analytics are a little more fun when they’re done individually.

At any rate, follow the jump for shotgun analysis of Carpenter’s return to form, Westbrook’s ongoing struggles, Lohse’s dominance, closer controversy, and Pujols-ian slumps.

Also, the Cardinals are above .500; and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time this year.

Continue reading »

Hello offense!

Game 10

The Good: Kyle McClellan led the team with another strong outing (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 4 SO, 1 R; .264 WPA). Despite not having his best stuff – as evidenced by worse control and fewer strikeouts – McClellan pitched two-thirds of the game and minimized damage. So far, he’s defied the odds of maintaining his unsustainable strand rate from last year (89.6% in 2010; 90.4% in 2011). Look for that to change.

Lance Berkman’s home runs didn’t offer much in the way of win probability (.037 WPA), but I think we were all a little relieved to see him poke a couple over the opposite field wall, and without the Crawford Boxes (damn you, Minute Maid Park) nonetheless!

The Bad: Albert Pujols did not join the offensive breakout. He was one of three starters who posted negative win probability… not to mention he grounded into another double play. See Steve’s post about Albert Pujols and small sample sizes from the other day; and Steve Slowinski posted another article at FanGraphs today on the matter (haven’t read that one yet). My analysis? Pujols will eventually be Pujols. There’s no reason to believe otherwise yet. Believe it or not, there really are some fans worried about this… I overheard a 70-ish year-old couple talking about it at dinner last night to prove it.

Game 11

The Good: David Freese had a solid game (2-4, 1 BB, 1 HR, and 2 RBIs; .202 WPA). His home run wasn’t cheap either as it cleared the elevated wall in CF. That was the second day in a row that Berkman hit back-to-back jacks; his wOBA creeped above the .390 mark.

The Bad: The pitching staff as a whole had a miserable performance, combining for -.751 WPA despite the offense’s best attempts to keep them in the game. And their pride wasn’t the only thing hurt since Augenstein and (probably) Tallet are expected to hit the DL. I’m happy for Salas’ promotion given his competence last year; he didn’t do anything wrong in Jupiter this spring either. I’m also excited to see Eduardo Sanchez get an opportunity; he’s struck people out at a pretty decent rate (2010: 9+ K/9 in AA and 10+ K/9 in AAA).

The Ugly: Chris Carpenter was alone responsible for -.495 WPA. I was going to take a look at his pitch f/x stuff compared to his first start to see if there was anything noteworthy, but my internet screwed up, and now I don’t have time. Let’s just chalk that forgettable performance up to a random blip and move on.

Hey, we’re still in Arizona! Maybe the offense will stick around for another night.

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FanGraphs‘ win probability graphs for games five and six:

Game Five:


Link to page
I don’t have time to go through the good, the bad, and the impressive for yesterday’s win, but I’ll offer some quick commentary:

  • Clearly, that was an impressive debut in the rotation for Kyle McClellan. Not only did he settle down after giving up two first inning runs, but he added 7 K’s and 1 BB. With that said, it seemed like he left a bunch of pitches over the heart of the plate, especially early… so it’ll be interesting to see how his season unfolds.
  • Pujols led the team with .221 WPA (1-2, 1 BB, 2 RBI). Unfortunately, one of those RBIs came on a ground ball through the left side; a foot in either direction, and it could have easily been another inning ending double play.

Game Six:

Link to page

Again, bullet-point commentary:

  • Again, the offense takes the blame (-.539 WPA). They have only scored 14 runs. Of the seven teams that have played six games, the Cardinals rank last among them in runs scored; they trail the next closest team (Mariners) by 6 runs. I count 8 extra base hits in 218 total plate appearances. Yikes. For perspective, however, the Brewers and Rays have only scored 13 and 7 runs respectively in five games a piece. I have faith in those teams rebounding… so perhaps I should suspect the same of the Cardinals… but it’s easy to feel paranoid about your favorite team.
  • Carpenter had another strong outing (6 IP, 8 H, 0 BB, and 6 K); he touched 95 mph with his four-seam fastball.
  • Believe it or not, Brian Tallet led the team in win probability added (.032) despite only facing one batter. He induced a ground ball from Lyle Overbay with guys on first and third to end the seventh inning. Tallet has looked very capable early on.
  • Though Jason Motte has yet to strike out a batter, his velocity looks fine. According to Brooks Baseball, his four-seam fastball averaged 96 mph; another pitch was qualified as a two-seamer that averaged 94 mph. Spring Training struggles aside, I suspect he’ll be fine going forward.

 

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I must admit I only caught a little bit of the game between work and then chasing after the little guy, so I’m only going on numbers until I watch the DVR’ed copy later tonight.  First the WPa chart courtesy of Fangraphs

Link to page

A game the Cardinals seemed to dominate fell the other way, not the way you want to begin the season.

The Good:

Matt Holliday’s home run 0.305 WPA

Trever Miller getting Brad Hawpe to fly out 0.139 WPA

The Bad:

Albert Pujols grounding into a DP in the 10th -0.167 WPA

Matt Holliday’s caught stealing in the -0.124 WPA

The Ugly:

Brian Augenstein giving up the single to Maybin in the 11th and Theriot committing an error -0.407 WPA

Ryan Franklin giving up a home run to Maybin in the ninth -0.368 WPA

Albert Pujols’ combined WPA of -0.429

 

Commentary:

On the bright side, Albert Pujols will likely not have another game like that until he’s in the last year of the ten year deal some team is going to give him.  Interestingly we had the first Kyle McClellan bullpen outing and it went to Miguel Batista, not surprising given Tony’s love for the proven vet, but not a good sign of things to come either.  Franklin worries me independent of the results, but we’ll clearly give him a few more outings before we analyze anything there.

 

Pitch FX portion of the program

Carp’s fastball velocity was about right where it should be compared to last year given that it’s the first start of the year.  The following table summarizes

Year + 1 SD AVG - 1 SD
2010 92.7 91.5 90.2
2011 91.9 91.0 90.2

 
I’ll be trying to get as many of these game recaps up as I can throughout the season (maybe with the help of the rest of the guys). Clearly once we start to develop some sample sizes I’ll start to do more analysis.

 

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4 posts in 2 days. Look at PAH9 go. The following post is indirectly related to my Brendan Ryan post. You also should check out Andy’s pet peeve and my top 7 Cardinal prospects.

One of the common criticisms (especially among Cardinal fans) of DIPS pitching stats is that all batted balls are not created equal. Specifically, all GBs are not equal, all FBs are not equal etc. With that thought in mind I wanted to compare a couple of Cardinal pitchers to see if there was a discernable difference in their GBs. To level the playing field I only looked at RHB when Brendan Ryan was playing. I looked at Out+Error rate, making the assumption that the pitcher had no control over the error part. The following table summarizes the results across all hit angles (GBs only)

Out+Error Rate BIP
Carpenter 0.820 311
Wainwright 0.799 328
Lohse 0.731 186

And then across the SS area of responsibility (since that was who we held constant)

Out+Error Rate BIP
Carpenter 0.870 154
Wainwright 0.887 151
Lohse 0.818 88

And in chart form

So what can we attribute the differences to?

Ground ball quality – I would guess that harder hit ground balls would be more likely to make it up the middle (-7.5 in the chart) and through the hole (-27.5). The anecdotal evidence in the data above seems to agree. I’d guess that Lohse gives up the hardest hit balls of the 3.

Defense – Yes Brendan Ryan was in the field, but that isn’t to say that he played identically (both in reaction time and positioning) behind all 3 of these guys. As samples increase this effect would likely decrease.

Park effects – Infield speed isn’t constant across all parks (can adjust for these, but haven’t)

Stringer/Scorer Bias – Are these all groundballs? What is the difference between GBs and LDs? Is the hit location recorded accurately? Is there Hit/Error bias?

Luck – Bad hops, deflections etc.

The real question is what weight you put on each of those factors. I’m not sure we’ll get at the answer to that until we get Field F/X data (if we get field f/x data). For now I’d hesitate to weight the first one (which is what would be ideal to measure) as any more than 50% of the difference. There’s just too much other stuff that could be at play.

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 talk across the internet via various folks twitter feeds and blogs about Carp’s velocity being down this year.  I had looked into it a little earlier in the year, but figured now was a good time to look again.  I thought the following chart might tell the story

It has velocity across the x axis and the frequency at which he hits that velocity according to pitch f/x up the y axis.  Clearly, as has already been discussed many times, he’s sitting at 91-92 this year as opposed to 93-94 last year, but more interesting to me is he hasn’t had the 95-97 in the holster when he’s needed it this year.  All that being said, I wanted to see how this year compared to other years in Carp’s history.  Looking at his pitch types info on Fangraphs, it looks like last year was the aberration as back in 04-06 he was averging around 91-92 on his fastball, which is in line with this year so far.

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