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).
Well, the Cardinals league-leading offense trumped the Phillies league-leading pitching staff… and they still lost game 1 of the NLDS. After surrendering a 3-run blast to Lance Berkman in the first inning, Roy Halladay morphed into a better version of himself and finished eight innings while easily disposing of his final 21 batters.
The Good: The Cardinals jumped Roy Halladay for an early lead on Berkman’s 3-run homer in the first inning. Berkman’s blast was good for .239 WPA (win probability added) and left the Cardinals with a 78% chance of winning the game before they’d even made their second out. He lead the team with an overall .225 WPA.
Rafael Furcal alleviated fears about his game being compromised by a hamstring injury when he singled and stole a base to lead off the game. Even with Punto’s solid play (when healthy) this season, his career wOBA (.296) suggests that even a decline phase Furcal is probably the better option (.323 wOBA in 200+ plate appearances with Cardinals).
There’s no shame in scoring three runs against Roy Halladay. And when he exited the game, the Cardinals immediately resumed hitting by posting a crooked number on the board in the ninth.
The Bad: TLR replaced David Freese with Daniel Descalso in the bottom of the 7th inning when they were only trailing by 3 runs. Why? I understand it was a double-switch hoping that Scrabble could pitch more than one inning, but the Cardinals were still within striking distance of a win and Freese’s bat (.348 wOBA) is clearly superior to Descalso (.296). If TLR was intent on making a double-switch, it would have made more sense to pull Skip Schumaker (who had made the last out of the previous inning) in favor of Nick Punto.
And while we’re addressing this issue, why has it become commonplace to replace Freese with Descalso at third base anyways? Does the eye test grade Descalso to be demonstrably better than Freese with his glove at the hot corner? The metrics don’t make this argument. UZR/150 has Descalso at -6.6 while Freese is +3.9 at 3B. Total Zone also considers Descalso to be inferior to Freese with the glove. So why do we keep seeing this happen in games?
The Ugly: When the bottom of the sixth inning started, the Cardinals still had a 76.8% chance of winning the game and Lohse seemed to be cruising pretty easily. Lohse’s disastrous sixth inning resulted in a 69.1% upswing in Win Probability for the Phillies. This game lacked in suspense. Once upon a time, the Cardinals had a three-run lead with good Kyle Lohse on the mound and then they suddenly trailed by three. The Cardinals squandered an opportunity to win game one and are now left relying on TLR’s desperation gamble to pitch Carpenter on short rest in game two.
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.
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.
The Cardinals now rank second in the league in team wOBA (.356). This is not a joke. Since I wrote that piece about their slow start offensively merely one week ago, they started scoring runs at a torrid pace. Their BABIP has jumped 61-pts (.324)! They have hit fewer ground balls (48.8%), more line drives (20.2%); their fly ball rate hasn’t changed much (31.0%), but they’ve cleared the fence at a more realistic rate (12.9%). While they’ve started walking a little less (7.9 BB%), they have the third lowest strikeout rate in the league (16.7 K%). Altogether, the Cardinals have transformed from an unlucky team to a surprisingly fortunate one in the span of seven days. Fans, let’s keep our cool. Much like we shouldn’t have panicked when the offense was seemingly MIA after one week, we shouldn’t be quick to anoint them league leaders either. Perspective, friends; you can either have it now or the long season will eventually force it upon you.
With that said, it has been a lot of fun watching Lance Berkman hit 6 home runs in the span of 5 games.
Let’s take a look at the past few games…
Another loss, another eh performance by the offense.
Berkman showed the solid on base skill that the Cards need from him over the long haul drawing two walks to add to his single.
Kyle Lohse got more swings and misses (7 according to Brooks Baseball) than I had anticipated.
Berkman made his first error of the year, to continue a trend of less than stellar defense out of the club. We all knew the defense was going to be rough in some places, but hopefully things will improve some.
Theriot continues to struggle at the plate, as does the team in general. Is it too early to panic? Clearly not, but I’m not overly optimistic about Theriot turning it around.
The 6 and 7 spots in the order (Freese and Molina) combined to go 0-8 and a combined -0.390 WPA.
The team seems to be pounding the ball into the ground so far this season, and this game was no exception, 19 of the 24 balls in play were ground balls, including 15 of 17 against Charlie Morton. Coming into the day the Cards had hit over 51% of their balls in play on the ground, “good” for 5th in baseball. Nothing to be alarmed about yet, but something worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. I’m sure it’s something we’ll look at with pitch f/x if the trend continues.
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.
Before the season, CHONE projected the Cardinals were on course to win 91 games and enjoy a cake walk in a relatively easy division. Someone will run off with this and say, “see, this is why projections are worthless”. But before you go off an anti-metrics rant, let’s remember what projections are. In a nutshell, among other things, projections use regression to the mean, age adjustments and weighted averages to derive their results. Projections are “50th percentile” projections; there are always players who are exceptions to the rule due to good or bad luck, or some sort of overhaul to their swing mechanics (hello, Jose Bautista!) or injury. It’s not divination.
It’s common for a team to have several players under or overshoot their projection. It’s just that in the Cardinals case, the under achievers have been particularly damning to the team. For this post, let’s just take a look at the hitters. The cut off is 100 plate appearances. I took the players individual CHONE projections and then adjusted them for their plate appearances and not their projected PA’s. Then I did a little color scaling for your eyes, because I’m a nerd like that.
- The infield trio of death of Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker and Felipe Lopez has really hurt this team. All three were not expected to be some sort of offensive force behind Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus, but neither were they expected to hit for sub-.300 wOBAs, either. (Schumaker is at .301, being fair). I thought Flip was a good Freese-insurance signing, and instead he pooped the bed. Ryan and Schumaker picked a bad time to do the same thing.
- Molina and Pujols also both were one WAR apiece worse than projected. Molina’s bat backslid after two good seasons, and Pujols has been a little off from his normal numinous standard. And yet he’s still an MVP candidate.
- The sheer waste of roster space of the likes of Feliz, Winn, Miles and Stavinoha has been pretty frustrating to watch.
- The most pleasant surprise has been Matt Holliday, who is doing his best to show that he earned the ginormous contract he got this past winter.
All told, the Cardinal’s hitters are five wins worse than we would have expected. Combine that with losing Brad Penny for the year, and Kyle Lohse being hurt and then horrible, you have a recipe for a pretty disappointing year. It’s really not that hard to figure out.
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)
And then across the SS area of responsibility (since that was who we held constant)
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.
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).
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.