The lucky, the unlucky and Joba

Moving on the pitching:

It’s a bit more complicated for pitchers—but the numbers I prefer to focus on are BABIP (same as above), LOB% (the rate at which a pitcher strands his baserunners, league average is slightly above 70%), HR/FB (the rate at which fly balls turn into home runs), and E-F (ERA-FIP, the difference between the pitchers ERA and his fielding independent pitching statistic). All four of these, at the extremes, can indicate good and bad luck.

In some cases, this can be confusing. For instance, take a look at Boone Logan, who has been a touch lucky with his strand rate (78.4% is very high), and with his HR/FB rate (6.3% is low), but a bit unlucky with his BABIP (.329 is high). In the aggregate (as shown by his E-F) he’s been lucky…but not ridiculously so. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't care one bit about your fancy-schmancy stats and color-coded tables, Will.  Logan has to go.  He's the Yanks' white flag: When you see Logan, the game's over.]

What stands out the most here is that Joba Chamberlain has been excessively unlucky this year (save on his HR/FB rate, which is quite low). How unlucky? Joba’s E-F of 2.99 is the highest of any pitcher in the American League with at least twenty innings pitched, driven mostly by the combination of his high BABIP and his extremely low strand rate.

David Robertson has also been very unlucky—he’s 9th amongst AL Relievers in E-F. Even Chan Ho Park is in this group—all four of the indicative statistics above indicate that he’s in for a boost in the second half.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a number of the Yankees core contributors have been lucky thus far in 2010, with Andy Pettitte being the main target. His BABIP is very low at .265, and his strand rate is almost 10% above league average. CC is in the same boat—his BABIP is basically the same as Andy’s and while his strand rate is a touch lower, it’s still well higher than average.

Mariano Rivera, who has been one of the few pitchers in baseball to consistently manage a significant below average BABIP (career .274) and HR/FB rate (career 6.4%) has thus far gotten stupid-lucky, with only 19% of his batted balls falling for hits, and 3.3% of his fly balls ending up over the fence.

Don’t get too scared about Mo—while he’s been lucky, his FIP stands at a sterling 2.27. His true performance is a tick worse than that, somewhere between the 2.27 FIP and his 3.08 xFIP. It turns out it’s pretty rare to see a pitcher with a 1.05 ERA who hasn’t gotten lucky.

Marte is the last name that needs highlighting. His 4.08 ERA seems respectable—but the guy has a .175 BABIP—that’s about as unsustainable as it gets. His true performance is somewhere between his 5.0 FIP and 6.0 xFIP—he’s been decent against lefties (3.11 FIP, 3.99 xFIP), but not good enough to justify a LOOGY slot.

And in the “not really important” department, Mitre and Gaudin are the two luckiest dogs on the team (per E-F)—which is no big deal, as the Yankees weren’t expecting much from these two scrap heap pickups anyhow.

If you take anything from this…anything at all, it is this: Stop freaking out about Joba. Stop. Stop. Stop. Dude will be fine.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: If you say so, Will.  Me, I am much more concerned about Joba than you are. By a lot.]

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.

19 thoughts on “The lucky, the unlucky and Joba

  1. Larry@IIATMS

    Jason, Jon, I would have agreed with you guys in a discussion over a few beers.  But look at Will's numbers!  A .380 BABIP is sick.  It's like every guy who steps to the plate against Joba is Ichiro on a good day.  That's a crazy number of batted balls finding holes.  Worse is that E-F of 3.  I don't even understand how that's possible.  The E-F DIFFERENCE is high enough to be a marginally unacceptable ERA.  I'm going to have to consult my sabermetrics library.

     

    Jon, we shouldn't go by facial expressions.  For example, Phil Hughes either looks disappointed, or like someone who thinks he's about to be disappointed, like a kid on Christmas morning after his father has lost his job.  It does not seem to affect Phil's pitching.  Yes, I'd love every pitcher to look like Goose Gossage out there, but Mo manages to do the job without scaring small children half to death.

     

    (Folks, it's kind of fun to mention Boone Logan to Jason.  His eyes spin around in his head, and his face turns a color of red found nowhere else in nature.  You don't even have to say Boone's name directly to Jason, you can just bury Boone's name in a chart.  It's a little bit what happens in "Young Frankenstein" when you say the name "Blucher" around the horses.)

  2. Patrick M.

    Larry- lol @ the Young Frankenstein reference.  Although I share the same feelings as Jason when I hear that Mr. Logan is taking the mound.

     

    I was just talking to somebody about how it seems like Joba has been very unlucky this season. and this chart has confirmed what I've thought.  I just wish his bad luck would run out already.  As far as his "face" is concerned, I don't think he's unfocused or confused, I think he's just growing up and settling down.  He's probably just learned to contain his emotions.  I don't doubt he's disappointed in his performance so far this season, but I don't think that's the issue.

     

    Jon- Andy Pettite has always had that quiet, murderous look in his eye, that's just his deal lol.

  3. Greg

    I think an xBABIP column would be useful in that first chart.

  4. jon

    Sry bout the eye thing – but I've been stuck on that ever since I got my first big-screen.  Afaic, you can tell a lot – I'll tell anyone who will listen, Mo had a funny look in his eyes in both of the games he gave away – the Game 4 to the Sox and the final game in the Diamondback series.  He just didn't look good.

     

    You guys do have MLB, I'm sure.  Go back, check out Mo when he's right, and dealing, then look at him in the game where he gives up the Grand Slam.  I swear, Mo looked like he was going to blow it, even before he did.  (after all, who would know how he feels – knees, oblique, etc, better than he does, himself?  Doctors look at your eyes to see how you feel – given the right light, the right camera angle, a big enough tele, we get to do the same thing with players.)

     

    All that said – I sure hope Joba gets lucky pretty soon.

  5. jon

    I have to agree with EDITOR here – Joba hasn’t looked right for much of the season.  He looks to be soft, ill-prepared, and out of shape; he appears to be easily distracted, and at times, not really ready for prime time.
     
    I have used italics because I sure as heck don’t know. For all I know, he could be a terrier, full of burning determination, who has just been unlucky.  But what I see is a lapdog who knows he has a bowl full of Gravy Train waiting for him, knowing he is going to get paid to waddle out and throw an inning (or less) every few days for years.
     
    I’ll make it simple – Will – do you see Andy’s fire and determination in Joba?  I’m not a writer, haven’t met him, haven’t talked to him.  But from what I see on a 10′ wide HD screen, Joba’s eyes look soft, unfocused, maybe a bit confused?  Andy always looks just plain scary.  Big difference.

  6. Jason@IIATMS

    Full disclosure: I am the editor (shocking, I know).  Will and I have discussed Joba via email a-plenty. 

    Jon, I agree; I don’t see that fire that we saw last year or before that.  He looks confused.  He can’t put away hitters when he’s ahead and once a guy is on first, the focus shifts WAY too much towards the runner and away from the batter.

    But Will’s a damn smart guy and more than willing to give his analyses the benefit of the doubt.

  7. I suppose I won't fight too much on this topic–I think we're all wired a bit differently, and some people just won't accept the stats (not saying they're wrong, by the way!).

    I'll make one point to Jon, above. Joba would be pretty silly to not care because "he is going to get paid to waddle out and throw an inning (or less) every few days for years knowing he is going to get paid to waddle out and throw an inning (or less) every few days for years". He currently makes the league minimum–which is more than most of us make, by a ways. But if he makes it to free agency and is a desired target, he might turn that 450k paycheck into a $15 million paycheck (or more!). So it's not as though he is incented to just lay back and collect his check.

    More importantly–the strand rate specifically doesn't care how "into it" he is…unless he cares less when there are men on base. Maybe that's worth a whole 'nother post, later.

    Thanks for commenting, either way. We love the discussion (even if it's disagreement with what we're suggesting).

    Will

  8. bronxbrain

    I've never checked out this blog prior to this evening.  This thread contains some of the most intelligent, open-minded, and courteous discussion I've ever witnessed.  I find it especially refreshing not to have to decipher or ignore a spate of inside jokes and coded references.  As an outsider, I feel welcomed.

    I agree with Jon that much can be read by watching a player's eyes.  I would add that body language in general tells us much.  Perhaps Larry is correct, that we tend to make observations of this sort after the fact, and that we cannot predict much by reading a performer's eyes.  But eyes, facial expression, and body language provide the sort of information that I find useful and valid.  Sabermetrics don't figure much in my analysis of the game (perhaps because my non-mathematical mind doesn't easily grasp the advanced numbers).  But my gut (not very scientific, I know) tells me–frequently–that Joba lacks the focus, grit, and preparation that lift Pettitte and Jeter beyond the common lot.  Greatness, I believe, lies in the intangibles.  And the intangibles play little role in Joba's performance on the mound.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong.

  9. BronxBrain,

    Welcome to IIATMS! We're glad to have you.

    My sense is that "focus and intensity" don't particularly correlate to results. I bet you that Pettitte has looked just as intense when doing well as when doing poorly his entire career. In fact, I'd suggest that one of the points made up above (but not well articulated) is that Joba has, in fact, been better than Pettitte this year (Joba's FIP is just under 3, Pettitte's is just under 4), regardless of who is being more intense.

    Just my two cents on the matter.

    Will

  10. Larry@IIATMS

    Jon, are you SURE you’re reading the “eye thing” BEFORE you know how Mo’s or Joba’s performance turned out?  We all do that sort of thing after the fact — first Joba pitches badly, then we want to figure out why.
     
    What I’d say is, do it scientifically.  When you’re viewing a game, have a watch and pad of paper at hand.  When Joba is on the mound, get to work.  Before each pitch, record your subjective impression of Joba’s face on a scale of 1-10 (1 = Cal Schiraldi game 6 1986 World Series, 10 = Bob Gibson any day of the week).  Also record the balls and strikes and game situation at the time of each pitch.  See if there’s a relationship between your face ranking and how Joba actually performs.
     
    I’m not saying that the relationship does not exist.  But until I see some proof, I’m going to give a strong preference to Will’s analysis over yours and Jason’s.
     
    I don’t expect you to actually DO what I’m suggesting.  But if you do, please feel free to share the results with us.
     

    Jason, you can do the same thing.  Separate scales of 1-10 for “fire” and “confusion”.

  11. Jason@IIATMS

    BronxBrain: Great to have you here.  We're not the biggest site out there, but what we specialize in is solid all-around, unbiased (as much as possible) MLB/Yankees coverage along with deep-dives into topics guided by solid statistical and financial data, understanding and analyses.

    Each of us who write here bring a different voice, tone and talent, so keep dropping by and commenting.  We're all here for the conversation.

  12. Shieldsfive

    I just starting visiting IIATMS this season, and I have to tell you I have really enjoyed it.  Great work all around.  I have to question Will's assertion that Swisher has been "very" lucky this season.  Granted, I also believe .341 BABIP is unsustainable, but I don't think .320 is out of the question.  I realize numbers don't lie, but how can we account for a hitter/pitcher who has made a concrete adjustment that leads to greater success rates?  I am talking directly about Swisher's adjustments at the plate this year, but there are other cases where this plays out. Alex Rios comes to mind.  Pitchers have also been known to develop a new pitch that leads to better results.  I know you've been focusing on Joba, but even with the naked eye you could see that his luck has been bad…not every baserunner he allows can possibly score, right? 

  13. Larry@IIATMS

    Shieldsfive, welcome to IIATMS!  I hope you'll continue to comment here, particularly given the quality of your last comment.

     

    Will may disagree, but I think that there's much to what you have to say.  I think that Will's basic point is dead-on accurate: we should question the sustainability of any hitter's performance when that hitter has a BABIP significantly above .300, or significantly above that hitter's historic BABIP.  Swisher's BABIP qualifies on both counts: he's carried a low BABIP for his career.

     

    However, there are some pretty smart people who think it IS possible for a baseball player to change his approach to hitting in a way that will boost his long-term BABIP.  For example, you might take a look at Joe Pawlikowski's terrific article on Swisher and BABIP yesterday over at River Ave Blues. &nbsp ;http://riveraveblues.com/2010/07/nick-swisher-and-babip-32029/.  Joe agrees with you — he thinks that Swisher has changed his approach at the plate and that he should be able to hit for a higher BABIP.

     

    Personally, I'm not sure that a batter can do much to raise his BABIP on a long-term basis.  I am not a sabermatrician, but the factors that I think affect BABIP most are (1) speed (the ability to turn outs into hits by getting to first base in a hurry), and (2) hitting a high percentage of line drives (which are statistically more likely to turn into hits than any other kind of batted ball).  Swisher's lost some weight this year, so he may be marginally faster, but I don't think that would account for a dramatic increase in his BABIP.  So, is Swisher hitting more line drives than usual?  Actually, he is: FanGraphs shows Nick with an historic 18.9% line drive rate, but this year he's hitting line drives at a 22.4% rate.  That may not sound like a huge improvement, but it is.  Line drive rates over a long period vary between around 16% and 23%, so a 3.5% increase in line drive rate is a BIG increase.  A 22.4% line drive rate places Nick in 7th place in the American League.

     

    Interesting.  On FanGraphs, if I look at line drive percentage over the past 3 calendar years, every hitter with a line drive rate over 20% also has a BABIP over .300 (Marco Scutaro and Lyle Overbay are at .298).  My rough calculation is that these high line-drive hitters average out at about a .320 BABIP.

     

    This question deserves more focus than I have time to do today!  But when you say that a .320 BABIP is not out of the question for Nick Swisher, I think there may be something to that number.

  14. Shieldsfive

    Larry, thanks for the response.  I have read Joseph Pawlikowski's article on Swish and I appreciate the link.  I agree it's a great piece.  I also want to thank you for doing all the heavy lifting regarding my opinion.  Those are some pretty compelling numbers.

  15. Jonathan

    Did anyone ever think of measuring the velocity of the Batted Balls in Play? That might have to do with the different rates of success as opposed to just pure luck.  I'm sure guys like Cano and Thames are hitting the ball harder than older guys like Posada and Jeter.

  16. sjg

    How about Joba's line drive rate?  Unless that's buried in there somewhere and I'm just too slow to see it.  My impression this year has been that he's been giving up more hard-hit balls, which might explain some of the elevated BABIP.

  17. Jonathan,

    I played around with Hit FX when it first came out–was one of the first folks to write about it, actually. Since, though, I haven't found a place that has the data easily usable. Do you know of one? Educate me!

    SJG–Joba has roughly the same LD% as he did last year (21.7% compared to 21.3%). His career LD%s: 22.4%, 14.2%, 21.3%, 21.7%. One of these things is not like the others, right?

    Will

  18. Jonathan

    Will,

     

    I don't have anything to back up any sort of theory that I might have suggested in my previous post. Obviously the velocity of the ball put in play cannot be the only thing to measure how a pitcher is being hit. There are so many variables when contact is made that I hardly think it is possibly to account for all of them. There are ground ball pitchers; there are fly ball pitchers; there are guys who just make hitters miss.

     

    Against Joba, opposing hitters are hitting the ball relatively hard. (.380 BABIP) His seemingly unlucky E-F (2.99) is not so unlucky, but is a result of the great contact that has resulted in his high BABIP.

     

    So I have concluded with Joba that what has sidetracked his once  Strasburg-esque promising career is a lousy pitching coach who told him that he'd need to be more efficient with his pitches to be a starter and that he needed to start pitching to contact. Rather than build stamina, Joba has given up velocity (he throws 91-94mph now as opposed to 96-99 in his 'pen year).

     

    This is just my theory, so tell me what you think. Again I don't have a ton of solid evidence, just thinking about the stats and what I've seen.

     

  19. Well, Jon, it turns out that BABIP isn't tremendously correlated to how hard the ball is hit. Or at least, I don't think it is, and here's why.

    One of the first things I did when I got my hands on a month's worth of HIT F/X data was to run correlations between various statistics, and the oddest thing that I found, was that line drives and speed off the bat didn't correlate.

    Odd, I know, because we've always talked about how line drives are "hard hit balls". It turns out line drives occur from good contact, not necesarily HARD contact. And we know that line drives turn into hits more than twice as often as fly balls and ground balls. So, how hard he's getting hit shouldn't correlate to how many hits he's giving up. It WOULD correlate to his HR rate…but his HR rate is low.

    Also, these BABIP studies are done across all players–so it's really unlikely that ONLY JOBA is affected by the "hard hits = BABIP" phenomenon.

    Again, he's amongst the least lucky of all players in the league by the statistics above.

    Thanks for commenting, though! Feel free to prove me wrong!

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