One of those moments when you’re like “yeah, I love baseball”

Right here

Check out the Seattle newsreader kicking out a Nate Silver reference as well! This is pretty much a perfect Youtube clip.

Sign stealing’s Zapruder tape

A minor, and for some much needed, distraction from the business end of the baseball season came this week in the form of a video uploaded to YouTube. The video, from the second part of Detroit’s double-header against Minnesota on Tuesday, claims to show Twins catcher and MVP candidate Joe Mauer on 2nd base tipping pitches to teammate Jason Kubel.
From watching the video it’s pretty clear that Mauer is doing something, whether that is pitch tipping or not I guess is up to your own interpretation. Strangely. the consensus across the articles and blog posts I’ve read this week seems to be that Mauer probably is guilty but everyone does it and it’s not really cheating. I’m fine with that, I’ve never played baseball and I’m not exactly a seaonsed veteren when it comes to watching it. Sign stealing being common place, though, did surprise me somewhat.
At the end of the day I guess you’d be hard pushed to find an example of someone stealing signs and changing the outcome of the game. Perhaps the fact that this story even made the news is only due to the stigma around the words ‘sign stealing’ that have made bigger stories in other sports.
What I did find amusing was this story about the Twins reactions to the allegations and, in particular, this Ron Gardenhire quote:

“That’s why we’re three games back,” he said. “We scored two runs last night. We’re stealing a lot of signs.”

Gardenhire shook his head.

“Chrysler! ” he said. “You’re giving people too much credit here boys.”

Chrysler!? Thats…what? An exclaimation? Unsubtle product placement? A colloquialism I’m not familiar with? If anyone could fill me in I’d be grateful
.

“Where bad sports journalism came to die” back to life!

A joyous day for certain sections of the baseball blogging world as ‘junior’, the man who inspired the name of this very blog, writes a critique of one unfortunate blogger’s “Ten scrappiest players in baseball”
david-eckstein-looks-back-400a-103006.jpgChoice sample: ‘If Eric Byrnes were a cop, it would say this on his Wikipedia page: “He
is also known for discharging his weapon willy-nilly into seafood
restaurants and school buses when there is no crime occurring.”‘.

I strongly urge you to read this and spend days of your life pouring over the archives at www.firejoemorgan.com.
Also, in a rather Ken Tremendous-esque fashion, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs challenges Joe Morgan’s assertion that the Oakland Athletics (last in the AL in home runs, 4th in stolen bases) should stop trying to hit so many home runs and start trying to steal some damn bases!

EDIT: I just noticed that this is not a one-off column, but rather one in a series of blogs on what is Fire Joe Morgan reunion day! This is literally excellent.
Going here for a quick introduction is not only advised, it’s practically mandatory. 

EDIT, EDIT: OK, after having read all of the FJM posts (as should you) I feel I have learned a few things:
-Derek Jeter should be AL MVP, partly because of an advert he did last decade; regardless of him being, like, the 5th best hitter on his team.

-I feel my posts could be more vitriolic if only MLB.com didn’t have this pudging swear filter.

- The final paragraph of the ‘Jesus is the Derek Jeter of Christianity’ post is possibly the funniest thing I’ve read on the internet.

-FJM is awesome. Although we already knew this.

More of stuff I’ve actually written myself in the next few days.

How do the Tigers win games?

As I write this the Detroit Tigers sit on top of the AL Central, 5.5 games ahead of the Twins.
leylandsmoking2.jpg At this point I think we can be reasonably confident of seeing the boys from Motown in the postseason (Baseball Prospectus gives them an 85.97% chance of winning the division).
A look at the Tigers lineup, however, shows a list of players hitting mainly somewhere between .230 and .270…and Miguel Cabrera

NEW tigers.jpgThe team ranks, overall, 9th worst in baseball in terms of average, 10th worst in on base percentage and fifth worst in slugging.
Can it really be just the work of pitchers Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Jarrod Washburn that have got the Tigers where they are, then? Or are there other factors at play?

Defense
Obviously, the strength (or lack of strength) of the division helps the Tigers a lot. Their record would be good enough only for 3rd place in the AL East and AL West. Where they are miles ahead of those in their division is in their defense.
Fielding is one aspect of baseball that is hard to quantify with statistics. Helpfully, Michel Lichtman of Baseball Think Factory came up with UZR (ultimate zone rating) which is essentially, using the definition from Fangraphs, “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined”. For a far greater explanation I would recommend reading Lichtman’s articles here and here.
In terms of UZR the Tigers infield scores, by my calculations, a combined 22 UZR. For some context I compared that, first to the other teams in their division, and then to some other teams in baseball. Here is how they scored, remember this is just the infield (1B, 2B, 3B, SS):    

Tigers 22
White Sox -4.1
Twins -9
Indians -8.5
Royals -33.6

Red Sox -3.2
Yankees -7.1
Cubs 5.7
Dodgers 10
Mariners 12.1
Rays 19.9
Phillies 23.5
Angels 30.5
Mets -23.2

As we can see, the Tigers have by far the best defensive infield in their division and are bettered only by the Angels in the teams currently holding down playoff spots. The only player with minus UZR is Ramon Santiago with -0.9 at 2B and -2 at shortstop.

If we expand on this and add in the outfielders UZRs we can see that the Tigers have an even greater advantage over their divisional rivals:

Tigers OF UZR 21.8, total (OF UZR+infield UZR) 43.8
Twins OF UZR -23.6, total -32.6
White Sox OF UZR -18.8, total -22.9
Indians OF UZR -13.8, total -22.3
Royals OF UZR -8, total -41.6

This could, then, go towards showing us how the relatively light-hitting Tigers have taken control of this rather weak division. Detroit’s fielding looks even more important when shown in the context of their pitching.

Pitching
One of the major factors in the Tigers winning games this year has been the presence of a rejuvinated Justin Verlander combined with Edwin Jackson, aquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, fulfilling his potential. This has been backed up by better than expected pitching of rookie Rick Porcello and servicable outings from Armando Galarraga and Jarrod Washburn. Here’s a look at the Tigers starting pitchers for most of the year (I haven’t included the newly recalled Nate Robertson). The stats I have used in this table are those that seem to relate closely to Detroit’s excellent fielding: BABIP (batting average, balls in play – how many balls that are hit fair have fallen in for hits, a high BABIP indicates a pitcher has been unlucky or had bad fielders behind him, a low BAPID might be the reason for a pitchers low ERA or indicate they are backed up by good fielders); GB/FB (groundball to fly-ball ratio); GB% (percentage of ground balls) and then how often each starter throws each of his pitches and that pitches average velocity:

tigers pitchers.jpgnb. FB=fastball, SL=slider, CH=changeup, CB=curveball, FB%=percentage of pitches that are fastballs, FBv=average velocity of fastball. etc.

We can find more clues to the Tigers’ success in these numbers. Porcello, for instance, has benefitted from that 22 UZR infield. His 2.00 groundball to fastball ratio is 6th in all of baseball. It seems reasonable, therefore, to assume that Porcello’s groundball tendencies, coupled with his teams excellent infield defence is a good recipe for keeping hitters off the bases. [Sam Page on Amazin' Avenue made the excellent point that the ability of a pitcher's infield teammates can sometimes have a large bearing on their ERAs and, consequently, how they are perceived using a comparison of Porcello and Mike Pelfrey, two groundball pitchers, one playing in front of an excellent defence, one playing in front of a poor one.]. This perhaps also gives the rookie Porcello more confidence in using his fastball (75.3% of the time), knowing that even if the batter can hit the ball there is a good chance his fielders can still make a play.
With this in mind, it is a bit surprising to see that there aren’t other pitcher’s in Detroit’s rotation that have high groundball to flyball ratios.
What I did find interesting was Jarrod Washburn’s very low BABIP. This would seem to indicate that Washburn has been almost freakishly lucky that fielders have been able to make plays on balls he’s allowed to be hit in play (or, hitters against Washburn are very much not “hitting ‘em where they ain’t”). But we can also take into consideration that Washburn has played in front of, not only Detroit’s good defence, but that of the Mariners (12.1 infield UZR+52 outfield UZR = 64.1 team UZR(!)). So we can say, at least, that Washburn found a team that suited him when he was traded in July. This could explain Washburn’s low ERA which does not seem to equate to the pitcher I am watching whenever I’ve seen him pitch for Detroit.
It also looks like Verlander has been unlucky with balls hit in play. I would guess that this number is skewed due to how fantastic a pitcher Verlander is and the number of strikeouts he gets, ie. he doesn’t allow balls in play as often as Washburn.

I think that’s probably enough for now. What I’ve basically tried to do is show reasons why a team with mainly average batting averages can still be a good team and a fun team to watch. The factors that keep Detroit atop of the AL Central are seemingly excellent defence and a combination of excellent and lucky pitchers which is something a lot of other teams would love to have. I still think that they may not get very far should they make the playoffs but I’d really like to be proved wrong.

[all stats from what is truly one of the best resources in all of Internetland, http://www.fangraphs.com/">http://www.fangraphs.com]

Greinke should be your Cy Young, end of.

September is the time of year when everybody suddenly has an opinion on teams in baseball they haven’t watched all year. Otherwise known as the ‘who is going to be the Cy Young/MVP’ debate.
greinke09topps.jpgThe NL Cy Young running is a pretty close race. I’d pick Lincecum but both him and Carpenter (not to mention Adam Wainwright and Matt Cain) have a few starts in them to cement their place. In my opinion the American League race is a far less close thing – so why does no fool agree with me?!
If I were voting on personality alone it could only be Zack Greinke. The guy overcame personality issues to do with shyness and depression that would have been taboo in baseball days of yore and may have put an end to his baseball career before it had even started. Couple this with the fact that Greinke this year has been simply awesome and you have the story of the year. Want more non-numbers related reasons? The Royals made a really cool t-shirt to celebrate his immenseness.

Want some more statistically based reasons?
 
American League ERA leaders 2009:

Greinke (KCR) 2.31
Hernandez (SEA) 2.65
Jackson (DET) 3.08
Halladay (TOR)  3.12
Lee (CLE) 3.13

American League WHIP leaders 2009:

Greinke (KCR) 1.07
Sabathia (NYY) 1.13
Washburn (SEA/DET) 1.41
Baker (MIN) 1.444
Halladay (TOR) 1.447

American League Strikeouts per 9 innings leaders 2009:

Verlander (DET) 10.2
Lester (BOS) 10.1
Greinke (KCR) 9.5
Hernandez (SEA) 8.6
Beckett (BOS) 8.5

Greinke (202) is also second to Verlander (215) in total Ks, is second (5.05) to Halladay (6.60) in strikeout to walk ratio and leads the league in complete games pitched (6) and shutouts (3). (all stats from www.baseball-reference.com).
So why do I tune into Sunday Night Baseball and hear Joe Morgan calling for Sabathia to be MVP because “he has been more consistant than Greinke”? I’m not good enough to go all Ken Tremendous on you here but in what way does Greinke’s appearance in at least the top five of every main statistical pitching category, in many of them ahead of CC, show that he lacks consistency? Perhaps it is because Joe Morgan more consistantly watches CC Sabathia pitch for the Yankess than he watches Zack Greinke pitch for the Royals? I don’t know. In a ‘screw you’ to the bain of my Sunday nights Greinke then went on to stike out 15 in his next start.
In case you were wondering Greinke also excels in the more advanced pitching metrics. He leads all of baseball in VORP (69.5) and leads the AL in FIP (2.39).
Unless something sensational happens in the remainder of the month it can only really be Greinke for the Cy Young award.

Manuelball: Platooning Thole

Mets catching prospect Josh Thole will make his big league debut this afternoon behind the plate in Colarado. As far as September callups go this ranks some way behind Buster Posey but is a rare event to look forward to in what has been a pretty dismal season for Met fans.
A prospect making his big league debut is always something quite exciting. It is understandable, therefore, that Met fans have been frustrated at not yet seeing Thole despite his being with the major league team since Tuesday. Jerry Manuel’s decision to keep Thole out of the lineup against left-handed pitchers has drawn criticism from some but is his decision justified or is it another case of Manuel being over cautious when it comes to lefty-lefty matchups?
platoon2.jpg
I take my cues here from the always fantastic Amazin’ Avenue, where Eric Simon wrote on Tuesday:

Jerry Manuel has hinted that Thole might be limited to playing against righties, which of course doesn’t make any sense because:

(d) Thole is hitting .333/.392/.395 vs lefties and .327/.397/.436 against righties.

So, Thole actually has better numbers against lefties in AA ball this year than he does against righties. To expand on this, according to minorleaguesplits.com, Thole, overall, is hitting .328/.395/.422 in 380 at bats at AA Binghampton this year.
114 of these at bats have been against lefties, compared to 266 ABs versus righties. So you have a smaller sample size to work with in his ABs versus lefties. You can only guess that Thole may perhaps occasionally have been pinch-hit for against leftie relievers late in games or been given a day off against lefty starter pitchers, indicating his AA coach may have a Manuel-esque aversion to lefty-lefty matchups. The discrepancies in the spltis are relatively minimal as we can see:

OBP: .392 v LHP/ .397 v RHP
SLG: .395 v LHP/ .436 v RHP
OPS: .787 v LHP/ .833 v RHP

but would perhaps excentuate over time. To get a better indication of how Thole will fair against lefties over time we can look at his career splits (again, taken from minorleaguesplits.com):

v LHP (319ABs): .317/.399/.376
v RHP (995 ABs): .284/.375/.378

Once again we see that Thole has better numbers against lefties but has seen considerably less plate time against southpaws than their righty counterparts. What we can basically take from these numbers is this conclusion: Josh Thole looks to be at least competant against LHPs but his playing time against them appears to have been limited. This could be down to organisational hesitance in using a young lefty hitter against lefty pitchers or simply because of the ratio of lefty to righty pitchers in the leagues he has played in.
You can understand Manuel limiting Thole’s playing time in some respects, regardless of what sort of numbers he put up against minor league leftys as he may find it hard enough just to adjust to major league pitching full stop. It is, however, hard to argue with Eric Simon when he writes “Thole might be part of the answer and should get exposure to all pitchers”. The Mets hope Josh Thole will be, at least, their backup catcher of the future and he is undoubtedly the best catching prospect in the whole system so why not throw him in at the deep end and at least see how he fares against lefty pitching?
I await with baited breath Thole’s debut tonight and hope that someone, somewhere can come up with a good nickname for him, cos I can’t.

Scenes from a Baseball Game

Sunday August 23rd 2009.
Citi Field, New York

Philadelphia Phillies @ New York
Mets

Bottom of the ninth: Phillies 9 Mets
7

1st batter: Angel Pagan:
grounder to first, error on 1b Ryan Howard, Pagan reaches 3rd.
0 outs.

2nd batter: Luis
Castillo: grounder to second, error on 2b Eric Bruntlett, Pagan
Scores, Castillo on 1st. 0 outs.

3rd batter: Daniel
Murphy: grounder to second, Castillo on 2nd, Murphy
reaches 1st. 0 outs.

Jeff Francoeur at the plate.

test.JPG

My mind is a flip
chart right now. On each of it’s white pages is laid out an
eventuality, a way this at-bat will end, a way this game might end.
The first page is the page I cling to, the page I have sunk all my
hopes into; this page has Jeff Francoeur hitting a three run homer
and me celebrating a Mets walk-off win.

I find when I watch
baseball my mind races with these scenarios all the time. The home
run is certainly the most common, I skip forward a few batters and
think ‘if he could get on base and then the next guy hits a
homer…’.

So this is where my
mind goes first when Francoeur steps up. I’m a realist though. I’ve
watched enough unsatisfactory sporting endings that the self-defence
part of my mind now tries to set the rest of me up for
disappointment. I’ve also watched enough of Jeff Francoeur to know
that a strikeout is a distinct possibility. But still, page one of
the flip-chart is at the forefront of my thoughts.

The rest of the
pages are kind of a descending order of events based on my
preference. Somewhere near the bottom, behind even Frenchy striking
out, is Francoeur grounding into a double play and killing this
little slice of fortune the Mets have serendipitously slipped into
just at the right time.

Yesterday was the
celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1969 miracle
Mets, the unlikeliest of World Series winners. The mantra of everyone
who experienced that seemed to be something along the lines of
“nothing is impossible, look at the ’69 Mets!”. Compared
to that, scoring three runs in one inning right here is nothing.

What would make a
Mets win even sweeter is the fact that Brad Lidge is pitching for the
Phillies. Every time someone tells me they think the Phillies are
going to win the World Series again I say “no, of course they’re
not! Look at Lidge! How can you win the World Series with a closer
who’s ERA is around 7?!”. I was also very begrudging towards
Lidge’s perfect season last year (converting every save opportunity
that was presented to him), “well, yeah of course it looks
impressive but really it’s just luck, I mean, if you look at his
home runs to fly balls ratio…”. And here stands Brad Lidge right
now on the field in front of me, the tying runs on base, facing down
another blown save this year. I knew his luck couldn’t last!

Right from the
start this had seemed like a lost cause. The sporting pessimist
inside me, what a strange guy he is! It almost feels like he wants
things to go badly. The starting pitchers today were Oliver Perez for
the Mets and Pedro Martinez for the Phillies. Pedro would surely be
out to show the Mets what they were missing out on by not signing him
again this year. Ollie would be terrible, I was sure.

Sure enough the
first time we saw Pedro was not when he stepped onto the pitcher’s
mound but when he came out to bat with the score at 6-0 Philadelphia
in the top of the first, 0 outs. Ollie got as far as a 3 balls 0
strikes count on the former Cy Young winner before, bizarrely, Jerry
Manuel saw enough and removed Ollie mid at-bat. Oh yes, just as I
expected, another embarrassing outing from the man the Mets will owe
another $24m to over the next 2 years. 6-0 down before Pedro had even
thrown a pitch. Well, there’s clearly no way back from here.

Except, Pedro
looked mortal today. All of a sudden I was reminded not of the
myth of Pedro – perhaps the greatest pitcher who ever lived, but of
the Pedro I knew as a Mets fan, the Pedro who can struggle, the Pedro
who’s lost velocity, the Pedro who relies on his changeup. And the
Mets could handle him alright! If only Ollie had been just a bit bad
in the first inning! If he could have just given up maybe 2 runs!

So maybe I should
be just enjoying the fact that, right here in the bottom of the
ninth, we even have an exciting ending. Except, as I’m sure you
know, that’s not the way it works. We’re greedy by our very nature as
sports fans. Very rarely, if ever, do we take stock and think “I
don’t care how this ends, I’m just glad to even be here at this
point”. Being competitive is our bare minimum expectation, winning
is what we desire, no matter how unrealistic.

So here is Jeff
Francoeur, and there was a brief summary of what I was thinking as I
sat in the Sunday sun at Citi Field. The pitch comes in from Lidge,
Francoeur makes solid contact, he lines it up the middle, the runners
are in motion, Eric Bruntlett comes into focus, a blurry haze on the
horizon of my conscience. I just sit there, speechless.

You know what happened, right?


Pedroad Trip!

pedro.jpg
Well, I won’t be writing on here for a week or so as I’m making a trip to New York to see the Mets play three games against the Phillies. This isn’t going to be the pennant race extravganza I had in mind when booking the tickets in February but it will be memorable for at least one reason – I finally get to see Pedro Martinez pitch! Only it’s for the Phillies!
Oh well, it’ll still be good to see one of the best pitchers who’s ever lived take to the mound (against Oliver Perez, what a contrast).

See you next week, hopefully with photographs and tales of Citi Field’s eateries.

In the meantime check out:
-wezen-ball opines that this could actually be one of the greatest baseball seasons ever.

-John Smoltz’s next start and whether he can be better than Beyond the Boxscore’s pessimistic prediction.

-The Wright Stache enjoys some burgers at Citi Field. Queueing for two innings though, is it really worth it? The answere is probably yes, with the current lineup.

-Cardboard Gods is still pretty much my favourite baseball blog.

Junichi Tazawa – Baseball San

Junichi Tazawa made his much-awaited starting debut for the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. Tazawa had a limited number of starts at AAA before being fast-tracked to the big leagues, due partly to John Smoltz being DFA’d.tazawa.jpg
The 23-year-old pitcher out of Japan’s college system had his first taste of the show on Friday night, where he gave up a walk of home run, snapping a 0-0 tie in the 15th inning to the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez.
Pitchers from Japan usually come to the big leagues with a number of years pitching already under their belt. Tazawa was different in that he had opted out of Japan’s amateur draft in order to be signed as a free agent in America. For these reasons Tazawa’s debut as a starter was one of the more unique that we will see in baseball.
The young man had a rought start, giving up 3 runs in the first inning, mostly down to Nick Green and Dustin Pedroia’s inability to turn a double play. Tazawa, however, did not seem to let this shake him, pitching with remarkable composure, even when he was sat on the bench for nearly half an hour after a bench clearing brawl in the bottom of the second inning, which resulted in Kevin Youkilis and Rick Porcello both being ejected from the game (which actually spoilt what would have been an excellent pitching match-up between the two rookies).
Brooksbaseball.net is a rather awesome resource for in-depth pitch f/x data, from which I have stolen this scattergraph thingy that shows the location of Tazawa’s pitches in relation to the strikezone.
location.php.png

As you can see Tazawa was tight around the zone (if you want some sort of perspective, compare his locations to those of Oliver Perez, pitching for the Mets last night against the Diamondbacks), the home plate umpire was farily generous in calling the scattering of fastballs and sliders to the right of the zone as strikes, resulting in Tazawa getting some key backwards Ks. Brooks clocked his pitch types as a fastball (2 and 4 seam), a curve and a changeup; although I would argue Tazawa mixes a slider in there as an out pitch. Tazawa primarily uses his chanegup outside the zone which takes marginally longer to reach the plate than his other pitches, excluding the curveball. The curveball was the pitch that really impressed me and demonstarted the variety in Tazawa’s stuff, throwing it for strikes 57.89% of the time (according to Brooks’ gameday tracker). He did get away with leaving a couple hanging tantalisingly towards the middle of the outside edge of the plate but, hey, the kid’s a rookie!
After the first inning Tazawa pitched rather brilliantly and looked like he could be a solid part of the Sox’s rotation. Fangraphs also notes that, judging by his minor league numbers, Tazawa has success against left-handers striking out 25% of the lefties he faced and walking only 8%. This is a particular assett for Boston after John Smoltz got frankly murdered by lefties, particularly in his last start at Yankee stadium where they were 9 for 13 against him.
Judging from this first outing (and I’ll be watching JT’s next few starts to see how he continues) I’d rather have Junichi Tazawa in my rotation than John Smoltz, and it’s not even that close!

The breaking in Flushing 1-2-3

Mid-game post: Mets are 7-0 up on the Cardinals, all is well…or is it?

niese.jpg

ONE – Last night Luis Castillo injures himself falling down the dugout steps. People will remember Luis Castillo’s 2009 as the year he dropped a pop-up fly to lose a game and the year he injured himself falling down some steps. Rather than the year he had a .400+ OBP in the month of July. This is a shame.

TWO – Jonathon Niese injures himself in the second inning and then injures himself a bit more by trying to throw a warm-up pitch straight afterwards with Manuel and medical staff looking on. Torn hamstring.

THREE – This is probably my favourite, due to the back story. Nelson Figueroa hits Albert Pujols with a pitch. Cardinals reliever Brad Thompson then retaliates by throwing a pitch at David Wright’s head which Wright narrowly avoids. The rights and wrongs of these actions are not for me to sum up – I’ll leave that to Gary Sheffield.
Sheffield steps in after Wright, takes a couple of pitches then stands at the plate pointing to his head and shouting at Thompson. His point was presumably something along the lines of “you don’t throw at a guys head”. Sheffield then stands in to bat and hits a single into the gap in left-centre field. Sheffield then leaves the game with a tweaked hamstring. Rumours that he walked off the field saying “my work here is done” are yet to be confirmed.

All in all, it’s been a pretty fun game to watch although Niese getting injured is particularly disappointing.

The only logical conclusion any rational person can draw is that this is somehow responsible.

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