About Will@IIATMS

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.

Quick Hit: You Can’t Predict Baseball, Royals Edition

arod-300x3007

The Royals have just gone 8-0 against three of the best teams in baseball, and they’ve done it under the brightest lights on the most important nights. This team is flat out fun to watch, and more fun to root for, precisely because they are, in fact, significant underdogs (the last eight games be damned). You’ve heard this so often that it’s nearly cliche: The playoffs are a crapshoot. This Royals team is the most clear example of that meme that we have seen in my lifetime.

Consider a few statistics:

Athletics Angels Orioles Royals
Team WAR 23.4 30.3 29.0 22.6
Team OFF Runs 10.4 68.7 23.3 -40.8
Team ISO .137 (13th) .140 (11th) 0.166 (2nd) .113 (30th!)
HR per game PS 1.0 1.3 0.9 1.0
R per game in PS 8.0 2.0 4.7 5.3
FIP (AL only) 3.67 (6th) 3.57 (3rd) 3.96 (11th) 3.69 (8th)
Run Differential 157.0 153.0 112.0 27.0

The Royals were the bottom quarter of the league offensively, and flat last in power, well behind the Angels, O’s and A’s.

The Royals were around average in terms of pitching, slotting in at 16th amongst all teams, and 8th among the 15 AL teams. The Angels, O’s, and A’s were 3rd, 11th, and 6th (so at least they’re now on the statistical scoreboard versus the O’s. No naked lap required).

Most important, the Royals were a tic above average versus the league over the course of the year via run differential. The A’s, Angels, and O’s were exceptional.

But the scoreboard beckons, and it reads as follows:

Royals: 8
Rest of World: Nothing

That’s a lot of naked laps. Get your bets in — next roll coming. Continue reading Quick Hit: You Can’t Predict Baseball, Royals Edition

Something to Get Excited About

masahiro-tanaka

So, we’re eight starts into the new legend of Masahiro Tanaka, 58 innings, and history is already being made. Per Michael Kay/David Cone of YES: No pitcher in major league history has struck out as many as Tanaka has and walked as few in his first eight starts. Taking down 6 wins over that time frame is outrageous as well. But looking more granularly, over that time frame, he’s had the fourth highest strikeout rate of any AL starter, AND the second lowest walk rate of any AL starter (combining for the 2nd best K/BB, behind David Price). Let that sink in for a second. All that adds up to the lowest xFIP of any qualifying SP in the majors (2.19) – the only thing that hasn’t been working for the Yankees’ new ace has been his HR/FB which is an outrageous 16.7% (second highest in the league – miles behind the 23.3% of CC Sabathia). Looking at now often quoted-SIERA (skill interactive ERA) we find that Tanaka is the best pitcher still going this season – Jose Fernandez put up an outrageous 2.22 before being sidelined for Tommy John surgery, but Tanaka is a few inches behind at 2.28, and the next best is David Price….all the way back at 2.54.

Let’s dig further. Amongst qualified starters, Tanaka currently has the best split finger in the game by quite a ways – generating 2.82 runs per 100 pitches (next best is Ubaldo Jimenez…barely positive at 0.11) to go along with the 5th best slider in the game (2.48 runs per 100 pitches). He is generating the HIGHEST whiff rate in all of baseball (batters swing and miss a whopping 15% of the time, next best is Felix Hernandez at 12.5%). For reference, Yu Darvish led all of baseball last year…at 12.6%. In 2012 it was Cole Hamels at 12.9%.

I’m just waiting for someone to raise the spectre of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and his 18 wins in 2007, followed by……well, what it was followed by. Here’s what I’ll point to: In that season, Matsuzaka’s ERA was a whopping 2.90, but his FIP and xFIP were over 4. In other words, he was lucky. So, it’s worth asking ourselves: Has Tanaka gotten lucky so far? The answer is: Not much.

We look at luck in several ways. BABIP (which should in general, be around .300, barring odd LD% distribution) is at .273, a tick below normal (and a sustainable level if he continues to be able to generate weak contact at a higher rate than league average). His LOB% (the rate at which he strands baserunners) is at 88.2%, which is extremely high, relative to league average of 70%. But his HR/FB% is also outrageously high, at 16.7%, and it’d be very surprising if this stabilized over 12% long run, even pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium. That’s why FIP, and more importantly xFIP and SIERA love the guy. When you add these up, he’s either been a tick lucky, or right around even, depending on how you weight the HR/FB versus the LOB% factors (ERA roughly equals both xFIP and SIERA, and is a chunk below his FIP). So, how lucky you think he has been so far, is related directly to whether you think he will be homer prone (if so, he’s been lucky) or league average in that department (in which case he hasn’t been lucky at all).

Let’s now dig into how he’s doing all this:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Location Frequency, All Pitches[/caption]

Tanaka has outrageous control. Flat out, the guy lives at and (even better) right below the strike zone. And because of the movement on his pitches, let’s take a look at how quickly he’s getting swinging strikes in each zone.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Swinging Strike Frequency, By Location[/caption]

That’s crazy. So, the area in which he throws the most of his pitches, he gets swinging strikes somewhere around 25-30% of the time. And this is one of the few places we could identify the possibility of regression – as of now it seems like players are swinging at his pitches that are slightly below the zone at high rates (and missing a ton of the time) and it’s possible that the league could adjust and stop swinging at pitches that are low (even taking some pitches low but in the zone on a more regular basis). But then again, even when he throws the ball up in the zone, he’s still getting a heady whiff rate. Dead center pitches, up but still in the strike zone, are being swung through more often than any pitcher (ex-Tanaka division) in all of baseball. The headline here is that batters just don’t see the ball that well out of Tanaka’s hand, or they’re not prepared for its specific brand of movement, and they are swinging and missing at nearly historic levels all over the zone.

Guys, let’s get excited. We have this guy under contract for the next 6.5 years, through the end of his peak, but not far past it. This is the guy we thought Sabathia was, who we wanted Mussina to be, who Clemens actually was and then wasn’t. Even as injuries pile up on the Yankee ledger, Tanaka provides a reason to be excited about what’s coming, this year and in the future. Continue reading Something to Get Excited About

Say It With Me Now

The Yankee pitching staff is very good.

That’s right — even though common narrative over the last two weeks has revolved around the Yankees’ pitching woes, the gentlemen trotting in from the Yankee bullpen are just fine, thanks. There’s one big reason why they haven’t looked that great over the course of the first three weeks, and it’s striking. The Yankees’ pitching staff currently sports a .345 batting average on balls in play as a team.

That’s a crazy statistic.

Let’s define how crazy it is, though. How’s this: If extended over the full season, that number would be the highest for any team since the Spiders, who pulled it off in 1899.

[let’s pause a moment to meditate how cool it is that we can pull that sort of number up on a whim…]

But that’s over the course of a full season — fair enough. So how does it compare to the other teams this season? The second place team is the Brewers, who are currently batting .322 on balls in play. This statistic tends to stabilize between .290 and .310. There are six teams between .316 and .322, and none between .322 and the Yankees, at .345.

(click “view full post” to read more) Continue reading Say It With Me Now

Is Jorge a Hall of Famer?

As has long been predicted, Jorge Posada, one of the cornerstones of the Yankees dynasty of the 90s and 00s, is hanging ’em up prior to this coming season. His bat and leadership in the clubhouse will be missed. Well, perhaps that’s dishonest–in fact, they were already missed during 2011, as the five time silver slugger saw his offensive contributions fall to a mere .235/.315/.398 slash line, producing his first sub-100 OPS+ since the clock ticked 2000, and he publicly clashed with management over his dwindling playing time.

As with most great players, his retirement comes due to the deterioration of his skills–it’s very rare for players to “go out on top” ala Mike Mussina, after his 20 win campaign in 2008. Much more common is the Bernie Williams approach, one that was similarly painful to watch (of course, Bernie still hasn’t officially retired, and it wasn’t until Andy Pettitte‘s retirement press conference that he actually acknowledged he was probably done — five years after his last official ML at bat. He went hitless in 5 ABs for Puerto Rico during the 2009 WBC).

But as Posada rides off into the sunset, it seems appropriate to look back and appreciate what was really a spectacular career. From 1997 until 2011, Posada generated a .273/.374/.474 slash line, to go along with 275 HR, 664 XBH, 20 SB (wait, what?) and a 121 OPS+, numbers that play pretty much anywhere on the field, and he did it while playing perhaps the most premium of defensive positions, catcher. I could put in a line about the fact that Jorge played his entire career in the same uniform (which is becoming rarer and rarer), but that probably has as much to do with the team he started on as anything else. There wasn’t exactly another team to outbid the Yanks for his services via free agency.

But following yesterday’s news, the question looms: Was Jorge good enough (for long enough) to be seriously considered for a plaque in Cooperstown? Keep on reading.

(click “view full post” to continue reading) Continue reading Is Jorge a Hall of Famer?

Bring on the Tigers

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. The summer heat fades away; jackets, sweaters and scarves make a comeback; the leaves crisp, color, and then hue the ground. People start carving pumpkins and planning Halloween costumes.

More importantly, Autumn is when the Yankees play postseason baseball. This year, the Bombers will open the playoffs against the Detroit Tigers, a team with two legitimate top tier MVP candidates, a very strong 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation, a solid bullpen, and a number of under-the-radar position players who have turned in impressive 2011 seasons. Make no mistake, the Yankees will have their hands full in the first round.

(click “view full post” to read more)
Continue reading Bring on the Tigers

Bartolo silencing his skeptics

When Bartolo Colon was signed this offseason, he wasn’t expected to be, well, anything. Luminaries such as Sergio Mitre and Mark Prior seemed to be above him on the depth chart. Clearly, he’s been much more than the Yankees could have hoped for, 2-1 thus far, with 26 strikeouts in 26 innings against only 6 walks and 2 HR.

But we’ve been through this before. It’s not uncommon in small samples to see pitchers outperform their expectations– it is uncommon for their fan bases to temper expectations. Just as you’ll find written at the bottom of any mutual fund track record, past performance is not indicative of future results. And so when I see outsized (heh) returns from a pitcher expected to be crappy, I start digging. For once, this has led to good news.

Bartolo Colon’s results this year are, for the most part, legit and repeatable. First off, he’s not benefiting from a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play–his mark of .300 is right around league average, and is actually 8 points above his career average. He is benefiting from a bit of luck on timing of hits–his LOB% is a bit too high at 77% (league average is 72%, and his career is average is 73%). That essentially means that he’s giving up hits when there aren’t men on base, or the hits he’s giving up aren’t allowing runners to score at the rate they typically do, either against him, or against the broader MLB. He’s allowed 30 baserunners so far this season–this means that by his historical rate he’d have allowed either one or two more batters to score. He’s also benefiting from a  low HR/FB rate (8%)–that is probably unsustainable, especially pitching in Yankee Stadium. But it’s not out of the question low. The reversion upwards will occur, but it won’t be severe.

And this is all backed up by his ERA/FIP/xFIP line. To clarify, FIP is a fielding independent form of ERA, and xFIP is the same fielding independent version of ERA adjusted for his expected HR/FB rate. While it’s not the only indicator, it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to check for unsustainable performance–if the numbers are off by a wide (heh) margin, then the results are probably not repeatable. Bartolo Colon’s line this year? 2.77/2.84/2.97. That’s as close to spot on as you’ll find.

(click “view full post” to read more) Continue reading Bartolo silencing his skeptics

What does 18 wins buy you these days?

The lone jersey I own to this point is Robinson Cano’s, and I purchased it in the middle of 2008, a year in which he mustered a mere 0.2 WAR. I didn’t pick Cano because I thought he was the best player on the team–I picked him because I felt as though I had grown up with him. I had watched him take his nascent steps on the major league stage, cheered his accomplishments, defended his seeming lackadaisical play, analyzed his swing, and hoped on his future. I’ve considered buying a few different jerseys since then–but the massive expense has always held me back. I had planned on this being the day that changed.

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Look Out, Joe!

In sad news, ex-Yankee iron man Scotty Proctor has been released by the Atlanta Braves. He was last seen heading towards MLB’s Park Avenue office in New York, muttering under his breath and holding a picture of Joe Torre.

For those of you who have just started paying attention to the Yankees in the last year or so, Scott Proctor was probably the  most abused arm out of Joe Torre’s bullpen, first in New York and then in Los Angeles, where the two reunited. Thesportshernia has the story of what happened prior to that joyful meeting. Continue reading Look Out, Joe!

And The Rich Get Richer

We’ve all heard the stories regarding baseball players coming out of Latin America, where players are strongly incentivized to lie about their age in order to garner more significant signing bonuses. It’s common enough that no one really blinks when new stories surface of identity fraud amongst new prospects. Which is why you the story of Juan Carlos Paniagua may have passed you by. Thankfully Ben Badler didn’t let it slip between the cracks. (hat tip to everyone’s favorite Shyster)

Originally signed on May 8, 2009 for the princely sum of $17,000, Paniagua (then presenting himself as Juan Carlos Collado) made 18 DSL appearances, putting up a pedestrian 4.55 ERA and striking out 33 batters in 29 innings (unfortunately he also distributed 15 walks). In early June of that year, his true identity surfaced, and as a result he was suspended for one year due to fraudulent paperwork.

Now, when I say suspended, what I really mean is that his original contract was annulled, and he was not allowed to re-sign until a year later. Which turned out to be a very good thing for young Juan Carlos, as in the interim he went from throwing 92 MPH to throwing 98 MPH (with some scouts apparently reporting even higher readings). This past Thursday, he signed his new contract, this time for a cool $1.1 million.

Sucks for his team, right? You have no idea. Because the team that originally signed him was the Arizona Diamondbacks–and the team that signed him this time around was the Yankees, leaving the Dbacks to wonder why they didn’t get to keep their young fireballer (the suspension was handed down by MLB, without consulting the Dbacks at all) for his original contract, which you have to imagine they’d have been happy to honor.

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