Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jake Peavy’s Off Year

If I had to pick one thing that prevents the casual fan from truly understanding baseball, I would say it’s the continued existence of the stat BA (batting average). Coming in second place would be the continued prevalence of ERA as an important stat. In a fairly recent pole OPS was actually cited very highly in a list of most looked at baseball statistics, a refreshing development indeed. However, for pitching stats, ERA was still listed as the one looked at most for evaluating a pitcher’s performance. Earned Run Average is a more indicative stat than Batting Average (assuming an appropriate sample size for both), but it’s still pretty poor. It’s especially not good because people judge pitcher’s solely on that stat, labeling them a bust or success based on their final ERA.

Beyond all of the luck involved, pitchers can even (to some extent) fake their ERA, which can’t be said for BA. For instance, among average starters, ERA is tied somewhat to innings pitched. A pitcher averaging less innings due to a strong bullpen/arm concerns/etc can achieve a lower ERA by not having to go through the same lineup as many times, whereas the horse of the staff may end up giving up a substantial number of 7th or 8th inning runs. That’s one of the reasons Jaret Wright can keep his ERA below 6, he’s never allowed to face hitters a 4th time. Conversely Curt Schilling, a guy whose job description includes eating up innings to save the bullpen, over the last 3 years has allowed a 717 OPS in his first 90 pitches but allowed a 829 OPS from pitches 91 to 135. His ERA takes a hit for working those extra innings. His strikeouts per 100 batters faced (a better indicator of pitching ability) stays very constant however, at 23K (per 100 BA) over his first 90 pitchers and actually rising to 25K (per 100 BA) over his final pitches.

The point of all this is that really a few mistakes or misadventures during the year can really affect one’s ERA severely, while other indicators like SO/9, WHIP, etc. more precisely set the bar for one’s expected pitching production. Those are the stats to look at together to form a complete picture of a pitcher’s ability. A stat like 3 run home runs allowed will greatly affect ERA while not affecting WHIP nearly as much. Further, a guy allowing a lot of home runs one year will not necessarily be so home run prone the next year, unless many other of his stats also reflect the fact that he’s getting hit hard often.

These considerations should mean everything for people drafting for fantasy leagues when it comes to ranking Jake Peavy. His ERA of 4.09 last year stands out after finishing at 2.27 and 2.88 in 2004 and 2005 respectively. As does his Won-Loss in 2006 (11-14) compared to 15-6 in 2004 and 13-7 in 2005. Look at K/9 through those three years though: 9.36, 9.58, 9.56. And BB/9: 2.87, 2.22, 2.76. And WHIP: 1.20, 1.04, 1.23. If anything, the main difference between 2006 from the other years was that he was allowing more balls hit in play to be hits, and more runners who reached base ended up scoring, 2 factors that aren’t necessarily greatly a reflection of a pitcher’s ability. Even after getting hit a little harder than you would expect in 2006, Peavy still finished 1st in MLB in K/9 (in front of Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano) and 16th in WHIP, above many other aces. Barring unforeseen arm troubles I would expect him to be right near the top of all MLB pitching stats in 2007, with an ERA in the mid 2s in the NL West. It will be seen as a great bounce-back season by many, but actually will merely be a statistical regression to the mean of excellent ability.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Oriole Way

As much as I want to keep things interesting and say the Royals or Pirates are the worst pitching staff in baseball, Alex is sure right that the Nationals have the worst. The key for the former two is that they are both very likely to be noticeably better than last year, while the Nationals are very likely to be just as bad. This is not to say that the Royals’ future is bright enough where shades may be required, but they certainly have added a bunch of league average starters who qualify as giant upgrades to their collection of 2006 stiffs. And if Greinke has truly found what he was looking for, then their collective ERA will be safely towards the middle. The Pirates for one are young and moderately talented, and two are in a weak hitting division in a weak hitting league, so their raw numbers at least will not be too ugly. As for the Mariners, King Felix is going to be so ridiculously good so soon that everyone will forget about his “massively” disappointing first full year (at age 20) where he only threw 191 innings allowing a .262 BAA, striking out 176 and tossing in 2 CG and a SHO.

So far in this discussion though the darkhorse for worst staff is missing. You guessed right, it’s that team nestled safely out of last place just above the Devil Rays, and just below respectability, your 2007 4th place Baltimore Orioles. Now before you start filling my inbox with dreams of Erik Bedard’s MVP season, Leo Mazzoni, and magic pixie dust, I will concede that the Orioles’ starting staff does have some talent. One problem is that the AL East is murder on pitching staffs. Another problem is that most of the talent is still very rare. Conlusion: they very well could rival some of the bottom-dwelling Nationals’ pitching stats. I was kidding by the way, my inbox isn’t filling up anytime soon nomatter how bad I trash the O’s. For this discussion, I’m going to break up the probable Orioles starters into the “talent”, the garbage, and the rest.

The “Talent”
Erik Bedard: Far, far, far and away the ace of the staff, Bedard continued his sluggishly steady rise towards #2 starter status in 2006. His BAA, ERA, and WHIP were all solid and he got through 33 starts. He averaged under 6 IP a start both due to the Oriole’s careful usage of him and the couple of times where he got blown out early. His strong second half leads me to believe he’ll have further success in 2007. His Orioles jersey leads me to believe he’ll break his arm or regress in some other way very soon.

Adam Loewen: More talented because he throws left handed than because of the inherent nastiness of his stuff, Loewen had a semi-rough introduction to MLB hitting in 2006. He made 19 starts and a couple of relief appearances to finish with a 5.37 ERA in 112 IP. The hits per inning and strikeouts per inning are encouraging, but of course your hits per inning are always going to look nice when you manage to walk almost 5 per 9 innings. Maybe an Andy Pettite clone in 5 years, but not in 2007. He might have a lower ERA over a full season if he manages to quickly hone his control, but not by much.

The Garbage
Daniel Cabrera: That’s right Danny, you’re garbage! If everyone else is afraid to say it, I will. Always listed under the “talented, but wild” column, I’m just going to say this guy is not about to put it together anytime soon. I defy anyone to take a successful pitcher and find any MLB game in their career where they walked 6 in an inning, as Cabrera did on April 7th last year. All of his extensive work with Leo resulted in 104 walks in 148 innings and a 4.74 ERA, a notch below his 4.75 career mark. Those walks would have put him 2nd in baseball, if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. There just have not been that many pitchers who have suddenly found control after being so wild for so long. If he stays in the majors this year, he’s not going to have an ERA under 4.5.

Jaret Wright: Why does this guy get paid to pitch in the majors? It’s not quality (1.55 WHIP, .283 BAA, 4.49 ERA which was actually much lower than his career 5.07 ERA), and it’s certainly not quantity (barely over 5 IP per start). He won’t be any better in 2007, and in all likelihood he is due for another career ending injury very soon.

The Rest
Hayden Penn: Well, he could be talent, in that he is a good, young prospect and did very well in AAA recently. And he could also be garbage, since he’s made two brief trips to the show so far and given up more walks than strikeouts on both occasions. In his brief 2006 try, he gave up double the number of hits as innings and had a 15.10 ERA. No doubt he’s much better than this, but his stuff really is more suited to be a reliever. Now he’s most likely forced into starting given Kris Benson’s injury. I don’t think the results will be pretty.

For 2007 this is how I see standings for worst starting rotation ERA finishing up:
30th Nationals
29th Orioles
28th Royals (Barring heroic Greinke return)
27th Pirates

Labels: ,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Today, ESPN posted its article on predicting MLB's top rotation for 2007. Its choice of Boston seems OK to me; this time, there was no choice for worst rotation, unlike the previous hot stove articles. I've known what the worst rotation in baseball is for a few months, so here's a fine place to write about it!

First, let's take a look at the usual suspects -- Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburg Pirates and Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- and why they AREN'T the worst.

Kansas City: As questionable as the signing of Gil Meche may be, he's still young and has great potential. $11 million worth? Maybe not, but maybe so! Besides him, the Royals have some live arms (Zack Greinke, Jorge De La Rosa and Luke Hochevar) whom I've heard hype about at least once, and a few vets who were once decent (Odalis Perez, Scott Elarton).

Seattle Mariners: Overrated (or are they UNDERrated??) vets Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver are joining, and even if people question their $8 million-or-so-a-year salaries, those are the same sorts of people who happily pay car loans for years at exorbitant interest rates, so what do they know? Regardless, these additions (plus untouchable 20-year-old Felix Hernandez) makes Seattle starters not-worst!

Pittsburg Pirates: It was a rough year for the Pirates, but a trio of promising young starters (Zach Duke, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm) all put in 30+ starts and got that first full year in the majors under their belts. The Pirates also dumped 6.60+ ERA guys Oliver Perez and Kip Wells, adding Tony Armas and Shawn Chacon.

Tampa Bay: Pretty close, but Scott Kazmir automatically makes this team at least one better than the worst. If he falters, at least the Devil Rays have a few guys who have at least have significant time in the majors, like Casey Fossum and Jae Seo.

So, while these teams may be in for a rough time, they all have bright, or at least a candle flame in a yawning abyss, spots. The one team that is doomed rotation-wise, though, is clear: the Washington Nationals.

Is it telling that three starters from last year (Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz and the aforementioned Armas) have jumped ship? Or that the team dumped a bunch of other warm bodies in November? Or that the ace of the rotation is John Patterson, who made eight starts last year after getting wrecked by injuries? After him, there isn't even a mix of overrated veterans and promising-but-erratic prospects. The only guy I've even heard of is Billy Traber, a former Mets prospect who went to Cleveland as part of the Roberto Alomar deal back in the day. With him are the likes of Mike O'Conner (he went to George Washington in D.C., earning him a facebook fan group from that school and a special cheering section at RFK no doubt), Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann, who may only be penciled in because they're just the guys who were starting at the end of the 2006 season (Hill made only six major league starts last year).

So, unless the young guys become Hudson/Mulder/Zito, the rotation is going to cause some to gouge their eyes out. At least they're all cheap (Patterson and the Nats went to arbitration Monday, though), and the rest of the team looks pretty promising. And with the Nationals finally having owners, it could be acceptable that the team is just treading water until the new ballpark opens. But without a doubt, our nation's capital is where to be to see the worst rotation in baseball in 2007.

Labels: ,