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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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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Cardinals Last Spring Training Game - Pic 57

Image by BattlefieldPortraits.com via Flickr

Last week, I expected McClellan’s rotation conversion to be official before I had a chance to produce the third installment of this series. While that hasn’t happened yet, Joe Strauss confirmed that the writing is on the wall:

If he works like a starting pitcher and his schedule gets rearranged like a starting pitcher, then Kyle McClellan is finally a starting pitcher, even if his manager withholds final approval.

And Rick Hummel concurred:

Manager Tony La Russa, asked if McClellan would be in the bullpen March 31 on opening day, replied “no.”

This is as much an admission as La Russa will give that McClellan, who has given up one run in 17 innings this spring, will be starting the fifth or sixth game of the season.

As if it weren’t clear enough already, Lynn, Dickson, and Valdes were assigned to minor league camp today. Continue reading »

Kyle McClellan

Image via Wikipedia

As detailed last week, I’ll be monitoring the competition for the fifth starter spot. Here are the ERAs for the contenders in week number two:

  • Kyle McClellan – 1.29
  • Lance Lynn – 5.14
  • Adam Ottavino – 0.00
  • Brandon Dickson – 7.50
  • Bryan Augenstein – 1.50
  • Raul Valdes – 12.00

The Cardinals threw me a curve ball by scrimmaging the Braves in a B-game on Wednesday, March 9th. Since the data from that game was not made available through Gameday, most of the players were minor leaguers, and the numbers were not even included on players’ overall stat lines at MLB.com, they aren’t represented in the graphs here either.

Derrick Goold provided us with the following numbers:

The lines for the pitchers:

Snell … 3 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 K, 2 groundouts.

Valdes … 2 IP, 1 H*, 0 BB, 0 Ks, 3 groundouts.

* Infield hit that ricocheted off of him.

Ottavino … 2 IP, 0 H, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 2 groundouts*.

* One on a bunt back to him.

Today, Strauss narrowed the competition:

La Russa initially claimed 6-7 arms were in the fifth starter competition; however, two of those, P.J. Walters and Adam Ottavino, were optioned out of major-league camp Friday. Prospect Brandon Dickson remains after laboring through a three-inning appearance March 8 against the Boston Red Sox.

That still leaves us with five of the six names we’ve been monitoring: Kyle McClellan, Lance Lynn, Brandon Dickson, Bryan Augenstein, and Raul Valdes. Since Ottavino is no longer being considered by the club, he will not appear in the graphs below. The good news is that he still has a proud mother who loves him, as evidenced by her comments in last week’s installment.

Remember, all of these numbers are subject to small sample size and not necessarily indicative of players’ true talents. All of these pitchers are pretty close together in skill, and their opportunity to win a spot in the rotation is based on a very brief window of observation. Such is the nature of Spring Training.  Onwards to the graphs… Continue reading »

Dave Duncan

Image via Wikipedia

The contenders’ ERA at the end of week one:

  • Kyle McClellan – 0.00
  • Lance Lynn – 0.00
  • Adam Ottavino – 0.00
  • Brandon Dickson – 3.00
  • Bryan Augenstein – 2.25
  • Raul Valdes – 12.00
  • Shelby Miller – 0.00

I spent some time tracking numbers in MLB’s Gameday feature to bring you the following graphs. I plan on recreating them once weekly until a fifth starter has been declared. It might be fun to see how the graphs transform between weeks… and to see how opinions/impressions change… not that I’d ever make a decision based on Spring Training performance. Never! But, in truth, this might be one of few (only?) scenarios in which it might be acceptable to evaluate players on small sample size performance. Would you argue that any of the candidates, in their short careers, have clearly distinguished themselves as the superior option? As Steve showed in an earlier post (Internal Options), the projection systems have lumped these guys together, none offering much more than the other. The Cardinals need a guy to step up and rise to the occasion. The opportunity is there. Maybe this can serve as motivation that allows one contender to reach a new level in his game. Continue reading »

The chart summarizes the bullpen usage in 2010 in terms of Levearge Index.  High, Medium and Low discriminators are pulled from baseball reference and are as follows: High 1.5+; medium 0.7 to 1.5; low less than 0.7

 

Nothing too out of the ordinary there.   Might prefer than Boggs gets a few more looks at high leverage opportunities especially if K-Mac starts.

 

And a table about how the high leverage opportunities broke out.

 

Ryan Franklin 19%
Jason Motte 18%
Trever Miller* 17%
Kyle McClellan 15%
Dennys Reyes* 14%
Mitchell Boggs 11%
Fernando Salas 3%
Blake Hawksworth 2%
Mike MacDougal 2%
Other 1%
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Andy already wrote up a summary of the reactions and analysis in the blogosphere on the Wainwright injury.  Check out his piece and the pieces he links to get a good feel for how the sabermetric community is viewing the injury.  With that said while there has been some analysis done on possible replacements/replacement scenarios, I figured I’d throw my 2 cents in as well.  This first piece will look at the internal candidates.  I limited the look to three options: Bryan Augenstein, Lance Lynn, and Kyle McClellan (you could argue PJ Walters, but he projects worse than Lynn and is therefore uninteresting analytically).  The following table summarizes each pitchers respective ZIPs and PECOTA projections

Zips ERA Zips WAR PECOTA ERA PECOTA WAR
Bryan Augenstein 4.35 2.05 4.92 1.01
Lance Lynn 4.87 1.1 4.39 1.97
Kyle McClellan (St) 4.58 1.43 4.75 1.12

The projection for McClellan is his reliever ERA + 1 (ref this post).  WAR assumes 160 IP.

That’s not the end of the story however; as shifting McClellan to the rotation has an impact on the bullpen as well, so this table is of interest also

Zips ERA Zips WAR PECOTA ERA PECOTA WAR
Fernando Salas 3.79 1.08 3.86 1.01
Kyle McClellan (Re) 3.58 1.33 3.75 1.13

Now we have to combine those two pieces of data to see which course of action has the best WAR. Additionally we have to account for the remaining 50 or so starters innings to get from a number of 210 IP to the 160 I have allotted to these guys. It is assumed that the other 50 would be filled by the next best option of Lynn or Augenstein. That COAs look about like:

Zips WAR PECOTA WAR Avg WAR
Bryan Augenstein 3.7 2.8 3.2
Lance Lynn 3.1 3.5 3.3
Kyle McClellan 3.2 2.7 2.9

WAR represented is the 5th starter spot plus the one reliever slot (modeled at a Leverage Index of 1.4 at 75 innings)

Using the projections as stated above, it appears that the best COA would be to use Lynn as the 5th starter, with Augenstein as a fill in if need be.  That said the numbers are pretty close all the way around, so if you think McClellan could hold his stamina better than the normal reliever making this switch (and thus not losing the 1 run of ERA) then any option is probably pretty close.

Earlier I looked at how Kyle McClellan might fare as a starting pitcher. I’m still not sure the answer is crystal clear. We’ve established his has the arsenal through looking at his Pitch F/x numbers. Translating his numbers from relief to starting, I think he’d range somewhere in the 4.4-4.8 FIP range. Per 150 innings – which I feel is a reasonable estimate; figure 30 starts, an average of 5 innings per – that comes out to 1 to 1.6 WAR. So it seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

The big question of course would be about his endurance. Mac underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has only started four games since then, all of which were in the minors. The most innings McClellan has ever thrown is 128, all the way back in 2004. So I definitely understand the concern, it all boils down to conditioning. The Cardinals did have success with prepping Looper to handle an increased workload, so it can be done.

A reader brought up the issue of McClellan fading as the season went on. Sure seemed right to me, as far as I could recall, so I decided to look it up. Here’s a graph -

This is both his ’08-’09 seasons combined. July is when he seems to hit a real rough patch, but he comes back strong. As far as his stamina goes, I don’t think his month-by-month numbers prove he can’t hack it, per se. He’s reportedly been working very hard to get in the proper condition. He’s years removed from any major surgery, and his mechanics seem to be mostly clean, although I’m not the expert in the field by any means. I think there’s only one real way to tell, and that’s by finding out.

I’m warm to the idea of putting McClellan in the rotation, and I’ll explain why I like it. First of all, McClellan does seem to have the repertoire of a starting pitcher. Here’s a look at some of his Pitch F/x data proving he has enough weapons to succeed as a starter. The data comes courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.

Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Vertical (in) Horizontal (in) Spin Angle (deg) Spin Rate (rpm)
FF 483 44.40% 91.4 7.2 -7.79 227 2,136
CU 278 25.50% 75.8 -8.02 6.53 40 1,688
SL 153 14.00% 87.7 3.43 0.72 172 755
SI 95 8.70% 90.8 6.54 -9.15 235 2,220
FC 60 5.50% 88.5 5.3 0.19 180 1,090
CH 20 1.80% 84.6 5.54 -7.61 233 1,769

So what does this prove, exactly? Well, first of all it proves that I like making tables even though I stink at formatting them, that much you already knew. Getting on point…in order to succeed as a big league starter, there are some ingredients you must have, unless you’re a freak. Those ingredients are at least one “plus” pitch, two average pitches and average command. Looking at this chart, Mac has the pitches. And we’ve all seen him pitch dozens of times, I think our eyes tell us he has the goods.  (Some quick clarification  - sinker/fastball, same thing. Bad Pitch F/x algorithm! Bad! Same goes for his cutter/slider).

Anywho, his two-seam fastball is average. He doesn’t generate tons of sink, but the pitch has good “tail”. His cutter/slider and his curveball can both be very good pitches at times.

Let’s look at his results -

Type Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 65.20% 45.30% 3.50% 21.50% 20.30%
CU 48.60% 32.00% 10.40% 10.40% 11.20%
SL 56.20% 45.10% 9.80% 17.00% 18.30%
SI 61.10% 41.10% 6.30% 14.70% 20.00%
FC 66.70% 50.00% 5.00% 20.00% 25.00%
CH 45.00% 35.00% 10.00% 5.00% 20.00%

A fair share of whiffs on the curve and slider. His command is fair enough, although he did walk a few too many hitters last year.

So I hope I’ve established that he has the pitches to start, how exactly would he do? Sean Smith did a study on pitchers from 1953 up to 2008, and found that when switching from starting to relief and vice-versa, a pitcher’s walk rate would stay static, while their hits went +/- 5%, their homers went +/- 15%, and their strikeouts went +/- 16%. Let’s apply those numbers to McClellan and see what we come up with. First, here’s his 50th percentile CHONE projection as a reliever:

Name IP HR BB HBP K FIP
McClellan 63 5 25 2 48 3.99

Now let’s see what we come up with for 150 innings for McClellan as a starter, take it for what it’s worth -

Name IP HR BB HBP K FIP
McClellan 150 14 61 5 102 4.42

150 innings, 4.42 FIP is a 1.6 WAR pitcher, which is a little over 3 times higher than what his projected WAR would be coming out of the bullpen with an average leverage index of 1.3; in other words him pitching as the primary set-up man. That’s Nick Blackburn/Jon Garland territory, which is serviceable. Let’s put it this way – if the Cardinals had Nick Blackburn, would you prefer they started him or put him in the bullpen? You’d want them to start him, of course.

But wait, to who does Mac’s innings as a set-up man fall to? Yo-yo and unproven arms like Motte, Hawksworth and Boggs pitching in the 8th inning is a scary proposition. Let’s just say for now that McClellan’s innings would fall to Jason Motte. His CHONE projection calls for a 4.4 FIP. The bad news is no non-LOOGY reliever is very likely to do better. And one of those pitchers would be taking Motte’s spot, and so forth. If you give his innings to Motte, that’s a loss of 0.4 WAR, and an increase in sales of garden tools…I mean angry mob supplies in the greater St. Louis area.

Let’s not also forget Jaime Garcia. He’s not projected to fare as well (4.69 FIP), but as a 5th starter, that’s fine and it’s feasible he plays better than projected. Garcia also is a talented arm. With the way the bullpen is set-up now, given the chaining, putting McClellan in the bullpen or in the rotation ends up being closer to a wash than I would have imagined, and that’s assuming he’d succeed according to the numbers I laid out. So is it worth it?

Speaking from a long-term perspective, I’d say heck yes. It would be more beneficial for the Cardinals to have a nice, cost-controlled pitcher in their rotation than one in their bullpen. If the Cardinals think Mac is even close to being the real deal, they need to upgrade the bullpen with someone available for cheap like Kiko Calero or (I can’t believe I’m about to type this) Chan Ho Park. It would be a worthy investment to develop a nice, young starter while saving your team some unnecessary angst in the late innings.  And hey, if he bombs as a starter, there’s no harm in having some extra depth in the bullpen, anyways.

Sign Kiko. Give Mac a long look.

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