Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fastball Velocity and Pitcher Projections

Pitcher projections are an exercise in futility. Pitchers are very hard to predict, and a lot of that probably has to do with not knowing who is going to get hurt, which is a common result when you abuse your arm by throwing a baseball. Beyond the problems of trying to project any pitcher, it seems to me that minor league stats are not quite as reliable as major league stats.

I often read scouts or analysts dismiss some pitchers who have good minor league numbers because they do not have dominant stuff. The theory goes that these pitchers are able to fool bad and inexperienced minor league pitchers, but will be hit hard by major league hitters. Other pitchers supposedly with big league stuff will translate better. Their numbers won't suffer so much in moving from the minors to the majors.

Now that David Appelman has made it easy to find pitch velocity even for those of us who don't download pitch f/x, I combined 2007 pitching results with the CHONE projections and average fastball velocity. I'm looking only at pitchers who had fewer than 50 major league innings going into 2007 (therefore most of their projection is based on pitcher MLE's), and who I actually ran a projection for.

What I want to do is see if, given a pitcher's projection from his MLE, whether fastball velocity tells us any more useful information for his projection. In other words, do fireballers beat their projections? Do soft-tossers fail to live up to theirs?

These inexperienced pitchers had a combined ERA of 4.81 in 2007. The CHONE projections, prorated to their actual innings, had a 4.46 ERA. A big part of that is an error I found in my baseruns formula, which under-calculated the ERA. Also, I may have been too generous to the minor leaguers, not using harsh enough MLE factors or regressing to the wrong mean. The baseruns error probably accounts for most of it, I think it was about .3 runs on average. Anyway, I'll just multiply all the projected ERA's by 4.81/4.46 to make it easier to compare, as I'm interested in relative ERA and not absolute.

I have 142 pitchers who meet the criteria of the study. I grouped them into hard-throwers, with greater than 91.5 average fastball velocity, soft-tossers who throw under 88.5, and a middle group.

The Soft-tossers, 43 of them, pitched a combined total of 1664 innings. Their adjusted projected ERA was 5.08. The actual ERA? 5.03

The middle group projected at 4.66. The Actual ERA was 4.70. There were 61 pitchers here and they threw 2381 innings.

And the Flamethrowers projected to a 4.74 ERA. The actual ERA was 4.76, 38 pitchers and 1790 innings.

Without breaking out the old college stats book, I'm pretty sure these tiny differences are insignificant. The conclusion is, in the words of Officer Barbrady, "Move along, Nothing to see here". Knowing a pitcher's velocity doesn't tell you anything about his chances of success that you didn't already know by looking at his minor league numbers.

This is not to say that we can't improve pitcher projections by quantifying a pitcher's "stuff". There's more to stuff than fastball, though let's be honest, a prospect with a big fastball gets a lot of baseball people excited. Maybe some of the guys who work with pitch f/x will be able to use more detailed data (like quantifying a curveball by its break) and add to pitcher projections. But then again, maybe not.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Where do we go now?

How to recover from a disastrous series in the home of one of baseball's best teams? Here's what I would do if I was calling the shots:

1. Reggie Willits plays everyday, and in the outfield. He's an on-base machine, and we need him there. He should hit 1st or 2nd behind Figgins. If he's in the lineup, he's a better defensive player than Anderson, Guerrero, Matthews, Rivera...pretty much anybody except Hunter. So playing him at DH makes no sense on the field. It makes sense in that the high priced veterans complain, say "I'm an everyday player, not a DH" while Reggie will not complain, knowing that the team has options to send him back to Salt Lake City any time. He's just happy to be in the big leagues, and happy if he's put in the lineup. But if we don't put our best offensive and defensive configuration out there, we are costing ourselves games. Do we want to give this division to Oakland or claim what is rightfully ours?

2. Juan Rivera needs to be traded. Rivera will get his bat going when he's given regular playing time. That is not happening on this team, and he's unlikely to get hot playing once or twice a week. He's not in our 2009 plans, as he's a free agent after the year. His value isn't high, but deal him now, for a minor league pitcher we can roll the dice on or something.

3. That puts Vlad, Hunter, and Willits in the outfield everyday. The last spot goes to either Anderson or Matthews, depending on who you like better that day. I see a lot more time on the bench for these two. Right now it would be Anderson playing and Matthews sitting. Consider getting a real DH to fill that last spot as well. I won't bring up he who shall not be signed again, but there are other options. Good hitters without a position are always available. Get a Duncan (Shelley from the Yanks or Chris from the Cards), Nelson Cruz, Dan Johnson, Ben Broussard, Mike Piazza, Joe Dillon...I could go on for days listing guys. Maybe let our latest PCL batting superstar, Matt Brown, try out the DH spot.

4. Justin Speier, I've seen enough. Mopup work only for him. That leaves only 3 trustworthy relievers (Oliver, Shields, K-Rod). It may be time to see what we can find in a trade. Does Baltimore want to hold onto George Sherrill now that their illusions of contending are over? San Diego is headed nowhere, perhaps we can interest them in a prospect or two for Heath Bell?

5. Fear not for the rotation as Lackey will be back soon.

6. Erick Aybar. Love the defense, but he's not a #2 hitter. Let him bat 9th. Top of the order options, depending on who's healthy: Figgins-Willits, Figgins-Kendrick, Willits-Kotchman.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Some Defensive Numbers

From the Hardball Times defense pages, I figured the runs above and below average for every player. The methodology is simple: Compare plays made/ balls in zone to league average for your position (figure AL and NL averages separately) and the out of zone plays per inning compared to league average.

For the Angels, the defense has been good, +10 runs so far as a team. Leading the way are Casey Kotchman (+7) and Erick Aybar (+6). Please, let there be no broken bones in Aybar's hand. Figgins is +2 at third and Vlad a surprising +2 in right (he has made some nice catches on the line and in foul ground lately). Torii Hunter's Stats zone rating and BIS revised zone ratings are not great, but his 19 out of zone catches help him, and his overall rating is an acceptable -1. Gary Matthews Jr is -4 in left (-3 overall among 3 spots) and Matt Brown managed a -2 rating based on one game. He made one play, two errors, and another BIZ went for a hit.

The St Louis Redbirds of Missouri at +26 have the best team defensive rating. Mostly, it's the infield. Pujols is +5, Kennedy +5, Izturis +4. These guys usually rate well. Then at 3rd base Troy Glaus has a +9 rating! Who would have thought he'd be playing D like Scott Rolen? It may be a fluke, or a shortcoming of the zone rating stats, who knows.

Others having standout defensive years are Carl Crawford (+9), Adrian Beltre (+8), Chipper Jones (+8), and Carlos Gomez (+7). At the bottom is Vernon Wells (-15), usually a good CF. His RZR (67/81) is not great, but what really kills him is only 8 out of zone plays, about 10 below average.

No shame in loss to the Rays

Pretty bad game for the "offense", getting one hit, no runs, and losing Erick Aybar when a pitch hit his hand (hope nothing is broken). Then we get beat in the 9th by a desperate housewife. Now that it's over and we lost I kind of wish the Rays had scored earlier so I could see our old buddy Troy Percival. No shame though, because we just lost to the most talented team we've seen all year. These guys can play.