Is Defense Undermining The Yankee Pitching Staff?

Yankee starting pitchers have a 6.08 ERA, almost a full run worse from the terrible Boston Red Sox. Given the personel on the staff, this should be a surprise. Kiroda, Nova, and Sabathia were reasonable good bets entering the season, and are still reasonable good bets going forward, to be very strong contributors to the Yankee starting rotation. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia were more questionable, but I don’t know anyone who expected them to both be this spectacularly bad.

I don’t want to take away anything from how bad the starters have been, but I think something else could be at play here. The Yankee defense could be just as spectacularly bad. Very small samples, even at the team level caveats apply, but the Yankees have an UZR/150 of -13.1, fourth worst in the league. They have a DRS of -16, third worst in the major leagues. Despite an overall team ERA of 4.49, 5th worst in the majors, Yankee pitchers hold a much more respectable 3.97 FIP (16th best) and 3.46 xFIP (4th best).… Click here to read the rest

On Framing Pitches, Revisited: Looking At Russell Martin

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a fascinating bit of ongoing research from Max Marchi of THT regarding framing pitches. Today, he released updated leaderboards for the last 3 seasons as well as some more explanations regarding his work, and some of the names therein should be interesting to Yankees fans:

One thing that Marchi pointed out and I thought was important to see was the recurrence of the same names on the leaderboard from season to season. While you would expect some players to have good or bad years in any particular skill due to health and other factors, in general you would like the model to reflect the fact that intuitively, you would expect most catchers to consistently perform to their skill level when it comes to framing pitches. Seeing the same names on the leaderboards each year gives me more confidence that the model is measuring what it purports to measure.

Putting that aside, let’s first look at the negative side of the ledger and note that by this metric, Jorge Posada cost the Yankees more than two wins over his last two seasons as a catcher simply by being poor at framing pitches.… Click here to read the rest

Links: Injured Players, Defense, Posada, Logan, and "Pitchers They've Never Seen"

There are a bunch of of stories and blogposts that I wanted to highlight today, so let’s do a link-around:

1) Larry Rothschild watched Phil Hughes throw a bullpen session yesterday, and sounded encouraged by the results:

“There was a clear difference with the way the ball was getting to the plate,” Rothschild said. “Now it’s just a matter of going through kind of a spring training type thing to get ready. We’re not going to rush it but when he’s ready he’s ready.”

Bartolo Colon also threw some pitches over the weekend:

“I heard he threw all of his pitches, he threw well. He’s going to throw somewhat of a simulated game on Monday and then we’ll see how he’s feeling after that,” manager Joe Girardi said on Friday. “Hopefully that goes well and we can continue to move forward with him too.”

It sounds like Colon and Hughes are both getting close to returning, which could serve the Yankees like a midseason trade might.… Click here to read the rest

On Framing Pitches

Max Marchi of THT posted a fantastic bit of research this week that could go a long way towards quantifying one of the more difficult to measure elements of catcher defense:

According to this analysis the top catchers can win a ballgame per season (even playing fewer than 100 games) only with the skill of framing pitches.

If you think that’s a lot, I’m with you.

Anyway, let’s look at that from a different perspective. Please re-read the last sentence of the previous section. The fact that umpires and catchers have a similar range of variation implies that playing with a receiver who is good at framing pitches is the equivalent of having a pitcher friendly umpire calling the game. Now, suppose you are allowed to have every game called by an average umpire when your team is at the plate and by the most pitcher-riendly umpire when your team is pitching. Does an extra win per season seem an acceptable effect of having such an advantage?

Click here to read the rest

The Informational Divide Between Fans And Teams

In his excellent interview with John Sickels, Mark Newman made a passing remark that caught my eye:

I don’t worry about his glove, Romine can really catch. He turns bullets into marshmallows. His arm is strong and accurate. By the internal defensive metrics we use, Romine rates as a very strong defender, and Montero isn’t far behind him.

Many clubs are using internal metrics at this point, and I have no inclination to pat Yankee management on the back for utilizing tools that even casual fans access in some form on a regular basis. However, I do think that Newman’s comment highlights the informational divide that exists between fans and the teams. It is quite possible that Newman is lying through his teeth to Sickels here, and the internal metrics are actually down on both Romine and Montero. Putting the veracity of his statement aside, the fact that they are using internal data to make player evaluations means that we are unlikely to ever know exactly how they value players when making decisions.… Click here to read the rest

Measuring Catcher Defense: Framing Pitches

One area of sabermetric analysis that is still very much in its “rough draft” stage is the effort to measure defense. Even popular statistics such as UZR have plenty of detractors, and it seems that little agreement will be reached on this issue until Field f/x provides more accurate data to build statistics upon. However, even within the frameworks of the existing statistics, it is widely accepted that there are elements of catcher defense that are not even addressed by the metrics. Game calling and pitch framing, for example, are not included in any measure that I can think of, primarily because they have proven very difficult to quantify. However, Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus has begun to work at measuring pitch framing by using Pitch f/x data, and released a stunning article yesterday that attacked this issue:

For example, as mentioned earlier, the zone for left-handed batters is shifted toward the outside. Do umpires have some bias against left-handed hitters?

Click here to read the rest

Manuel: Montero Can Be Adequate Defensively

John Manuel of Baseball America recently did an interview
with NoMaas, and made a number of interesting statements over the course of his remarks. The one I found most compelling was his opinion on Jesus Montero’s defense:

The consensus is (and frankly has been for the last two years) that Montero has improved, but will never be an average defender.
He’s got plus raw arm strength, but a slow, inconsistent release. He’s become more flexible and agile behind the plate, but is who he is — a behemoth for a catcher. He’s just big, in a better way now, but still big. I believe he can catch in the majors, but it would always be “adequate,” and he would be an asset for his offense, not his defense.
Comparing him to Mike Piazza, he has a better arm but is a lesser receiver. He’s never been held up as a guy who is great at handling pitchers, either.

Check out the remainder of the interview, as Manuel is very candid in his assessments and NoMaas asks some strong questions.… Click here to read the rest

Jeter’s Gold Glove translates into another philosophical debacle

Last night, several members of the Yankeeist faithful were discussing (and subsequently torn on) the legitimacy of Derek Jeter’s defensive evaluation. Evidently, Jeter’s peers (comprised of managers and players) felt his defensive performance on the field warranted a fifth Gold Glove award. As to be expected, a significant portion of baseball fans and analysts wholeheartedly disagreed. Unfortunately, this dichotomy is clearly exasperated by intrinsic differences in defensive philosophy.

Those who concur with the decision are quick to note El Capitán’s .989 fielding percentage (a career high) along with his minuscule error total (6, a career low) which ranked lowest among all Major League shortstops with a minimum of 110 games. The ever-popular “eye test” led Mick Kelleher (Yankees infield coach) to comment, “It has all come up to a very high level. Whether he’s fielding ground balls right at him, a slow roller going to his right on the backhand, popups into the outfield, balls to his left, the double-play pivot.… Click here to read the rest

Addressing Defensive Metrics And Derek Jeter

Ever since Derek Jeter was handed another Gold Glove award yesterday, the old debate about fielding metrics and their value has once again come to the forefront of baseball discussion on the internet. The statheads have decried Jeter being awarded the honor, pointing to practically every available metric to show that Jeter is an awful defensive player. The traditionalists have basically retorted with “he’s not that bad,” stating that he has legendary instincts on the field and rarely makes mistakes, as evidenced by his low error count and league-leading fielding percentage.

Mark Feinsand spoke to one scout who had the following to say:

“In my opinion I think he’s well-deserving,” the scout said. “I know his range is not as good as a lot of other guys, but aside from that, I still think he’s above average.”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that his range is declining, but that’s age,” the scout added. “He’s still very good.

Click here to read the rest