According to research from Pizza Cutter, pitchers’ strikeout percentage per plate appearance (K/PA) stabilizes after they have faced 150 total batters. It just so happens that all five starting pitchers in the Cardinals’ rotation have recently surpassed this threshold, so I thought it would be fun to create a visual that pits their 2012 K/PA against career rates. The graph is below followed by some brief commentary (after the jump).


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I was lucky enough to be in attendance for game three. TLR has been questioned extensively for several decisions he made over the course of the loss and I wanted to spend some time sorting through all of the second guessing.

In the bottom of the 6th inning, Jaime Garcia was left in to hit for himself despite having men on first and second base. At FanGraphs, Jack Moore argued:

“…if any situation calls for Matt Holliday – he of the 154 wRC+ – it was the bottom of the sixth… When Garcia came up to the plate against Hamels, there was a leverage index of 2.51, the highest of the game to that point. By leaving Garcia in, he effectively conceded the baserunners, assuming his pitching staff could hold the Phillies down long enough for the Cardinals to start another rally.”

He goes on to explain other ways in which TLR’s decision-making process was flawed:

  • The Phillies bullpen (namely, Bastardo, Worley, Lidge, and Madson) are nearly as difficult to hit as Cole Hamels. By forfeiting the inning, TLR will require his offense to start a whole new inning against pitchers nearly as talented.
  • The attempt to save the bullpen was unnecessary since Cardinals’ relievers were relatively fresh despite covering six innings in game two.
  • TLR’s decision to leave Jaime in to pitch suggested that he was managing in regular season mode rather than taking a win-now approach where leads are sought as immediately as possible.

Jack brings up some fine points, but I’m not sure that I completely agree. Let’s take them one at a time.

  • Should TLR have pinch-hit Jaime Garcia in the bottom of the 6th inning since Matt Holliday was available? This is kind of splitting hairs, but that situation actually wasn’t the most crucial moment of the game to that point; that happened in the top of the sixth inning when Jaime induced a grounder from Ryan Howard with runners on first and second base. And overall, it only rated 7th or 8th by the time the game had ended. When Holliday did eventually pinch-hit, the leverage index was 2.29; that’s not too far off in terms of importance when compared to allowing Jaime to hit for himself. Maybe TLR kicked himself from withholding Holliday when it all played out, but he managed to use him in a potentially game-changing moment later on anyways. Offensively for the Cardinals, the most crucial moment (6.05 leverage index) occurred in the 8th inning when Allen Craig game to the plate with the bases loaded. He hit the ball about as hard as he could, but it headed right towards the sure-handed Utley, who turned the double play. What can you do? This one decision didn’t cost the Cardinals the game. I count at least seven other times when the leverage index was higher than 2.53.
  • Yes, by forfeiting the inning, TLR required his offense to start a whole new rally. But guess what? They did. In fact, they did so each of the next three innings. The offense had their chances. If you have to hang the loss on somebody, pick the luck dragon, the Phillies making quality pitches, or the Cardinals hitters for failing to deliver more often.
  • The suggestion that TLR was trying to save the bullpen is an assumption I’m not ready to make. I think it’s entirely possible that TLR simply wanted to leave his best pitcher in the game as long as he was dealing. Up to that point, Jaime’s pitch count was still relatively low and he had yet to allow any runs. Jaime’s had a 3.44 FIP in 2011. Other pitchers with better FIPs that were available that night included Octavio Dotel (3.23 in 54.0 IP), Jason Motte (2.48 in 68.0 IP), Scrabble (3.14 in 62.0 IP), and Fernando Salas (3.16 in 75.0 IP). Jaime Garcia pitched 194.2 innings this year with comparable results. As a general rule, you want your best players on the field as much as possible in October, right? In that regard, it’s hard for me to blame TLR. It would have been more difficult to cope with the decision to pull Jaime prematurely only to lose the game with less talented pitchers on the mound.

Others have questioned whether TLR should have opted to pitch to Carlos Ruiz rather than challenge Ben Francisco. In principle, I’m against awarding the opposition free base runners. Honestly, though, if you take a look at the win expectancy after TLR’s decision to walk Ruiz, it only dropped from 52.4% to 51.1%. Now, win expectancy assumes that the players involved are average. Intuitively, TLR knows that he has created an unnecessarily dangerous situation in which three runs could score instead of two in the worst-case scenario (the guy at-bat hits a home run), but he decided that Francisco is a considerably worse hitter than Ruiz to the extent that he was willing to take that chance. Francisco has a career .333 wOBA (approximately league-average) over 1514 plate appearances. Ruiz has a .327 wOBA over 2164 plate appearances. Neither of them have demonstrated trending platoon splits over that time, so they have each been nearly as successful at hitting lefties as righties. Their productiveness as hitters is nearly identical, and that suggests that TLR made the wrong call in pitching to Francisco over Ruiz, even if it only meant a 1% chance difference in winning the game.

Furthermore, I do take issue with TLR’s reasons for intentionally walking Ruiz:

“Well, if you follow our club with Ruiz over the years, he’s gotten as many big hits as the guys in the middle of the lineup. He just terrorizes us, and he’s already hit two balls hard. The matchup we liked, I liked. I made the decision. Francisco has had a tough time with Jaime, so it really wasn’t a tough call.

Ruiz’s “success” against the Cardinals has come in all of 100 at-bats. As for Francisco, he had faced Jaime in all of 6 at-bats. The most frustrating part of TLR’s decision-making process is that it is often based in ridiculously small sample sizes rather than larger career arcs that provide more meaningful data. It’s disheartening to realize that the guy calling the shots for the team that we’re hanging our hopes on this October is turning to these types of numbers for spur of the moment decisions. I wouldn’t argue against TLR being a good manager. He’s won a lot of games and has taken this team further than I believed it could go. I’m appreciative of that. It’s irrational to discredit his role in the Cardinals’ resilience. But decisions are magnified in the playoffs, and I hate the thought of their season hanging in the balance of a decision resting on an inconsequential 6 at-bat sample size. The implications could be profound.

And that brings us to the last talking point: Should he have brought in Dotel to face the right-handed hitter? Here’s my logic. For TLR to walk Ruiz suggested that he had doubt in Jaime’s ability to get him out. And for all practical purposes, Ruiz and Francisco are similarly productive batters. Dotel has a career 2.92 FIP against right-handed batters and has been particularly effective lately (striking out six times as many right-handed batters than he walks). If TLR had any doubt in Jaime’s ability to retire either of these average hitters, bringing in Dotel was probably the correct play. In that sense, it’s conceivable that it would have been better for Dotel to face Francisco since Ruiz puts the ball in play more often.

All in all, this was an extremely winnable game. My concerns about TLR’s decision-making process aside, I don’t think he’s deserving of blame for this particular loss. While he had to make some tough calls, none of them were obvious transgressions in my estimation.

I was planning on writing a reaction to game four as well, but I think I might be all blogger-ed out for the night. We’ll see. Feel free to leave comments if you agree/disagree with my thoughts.

I’m downright giddy about watching Carpenter oppose Halladay tomorrow night. Hope this crazy season continues.

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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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I told you they’d win at least one game this year. FanGraphs‘ win probability table:

Link to page

The Good:

Yadi’s hits have counted so far this season; he’s only had two singles, but they each brought someone across the plate. His RBI single in the fifth inning (.081 WPA) helped him lead the offense (.062).

The Bad:

The offense didn’t help Jaime’s cause today; the hitters combined for negative win probability (-.123).

The Impressive:

Jaime Garcia dominated the game, contributing .623 WPA all by his lonesome. He went the distance, generating 12 ground balls, 3 fly balls, and 4 line drives; the complete game included 4 H, 2 BB, and 9 K.

Commentary:

Today’s game offered about as clear an indication as any that Spring Training numbers offer zero insight into regular season performance. Despite giving up 25 runs (16 earned) in 23.0 IP down in Florida, Jaime’s 2011 regular season debut was a beauty. As Pip (Fungoes) noted on twitter, his Fielding Independent Game Score (FIGS) was 68. For context, his best performance of 2010 netted a 71 FIGS.

Although Theriot picked up an RBI with a single in the eighth inning, his overall offensive contributions were negative (-.014 WPA). Two of his four at-bats were leading off an inning, and he made an out each time.

We’re three games in and the Cardinals have yet to score more than three runs. That’s partly because Albert hasn’t done much damage, but this roster was constructed in such a way to sacrifice defense in order to offer a deeper lineup less reliant on production from Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether Berkman is poised for a bounce back year, Theriot will be able to revert back to his 2008 form, Skip will be luckier, or Freese will stay healthy all season, but the first three games have been less encouraging than, say, the Texas Rangers, who have scored 28 runs in their first three games.

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Jaime Garcia on July 20, 2008

Image via Wikipedia

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.

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