June 23rd, 2011 by czar

Myth: John Lackey’s 2011 is made worse by the fact that he also pitched poorly in 2010.

See, even that isn’t true. From June on (his last 147.2 IP):

K/9: 7.1
BB/9: 2.4
HR/9: 0.6
K/BB: 2.93
BABIP: .318
FIP: 3.30

He sucked during the first two months, but after that he was actually (somewhat quietly) a very good pitcher (those rates are nearly identical to his 2009 season, except his FIP was higher then). This year you’d be hard-pressed to find a single peripheral that hasn’t nosedived.

What’s weird, though, is that his peripherals haven’t nosedived at all compared to the same point last year–but the results have. In almost every specific category, his performance has been eerily similar to his first 11 starts of 2010. He’s been virtually the same pitcher as he was up to this point in 2010, except his ERA: 4.95 / 7.36. How can you be almost identical in nearly every specific aspect of performance over two 60+ inning stretches, and yet give up half again as many runs in one stretch as the other?

His strand rate the first two months of last year was around 73%. This year it was almost 10% lower. A huge part of that ERA discrepancy has resulted from him inability to induce LOB. His FIP and xFIP are both right around 5.00 this year. He’s been bad AND he’s doing a bad/unlucky job of allowing hits/walks/HBP in poor situations.

He had a 4.22 ERA from June on. More like “he sucked the first two months and was mediocre from then onward.” While we would take that now, he’s never been the guy they were hoping to get.

Stats like FIP and K/BB are more predictive on a pitcher’s future performance than ERA. He was not mediocre from June onward last year, he was a well above-average pitcher for ~70% of the season last year. In fact, the only pitcher with a lower FIP than him after 6/1 last year was Lester, and it wasn’t by a whole lot.

None of this absolves him of his current, 2011 suck (which is fully justified given his #’s) but it’s not like we’ve gotten 280 IP of garbage from Lackey since we signed him.

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June 22nd, 2011 by czar

So the difference between his 2.33 ERA last year and 3.48 ERA this year? Simply the fact that he’s giving up a ton of more homeruns than last year. HR/FB rate up to 10.1% from 5.6% last season. He’s already given up 1 more homerun (10 to 9) than all of last season in 90 less innings. So he’s essentially been the same pitcher, with an improved K and BB rate, just not as lucky in the HR department. Found these numbers interesting and thought I’d share.

Not to be overly nitpicky, but these are cumulative numbers. He really HASN’T been the same pitcher in 2011, oddly enough. I covered this a couple times before his injury, but since the beginning of May, Buchholz is (peripherally) on the best 50+ IP stretch of his career.

Buchholz – 2011 Peripheral Splits

Before 5/1 27 5 5.3 0.9 2 1.85 6.52 5.44
After 5/1 55.2 7.3 2.4 3 0.7 1.03 3.2 3.4

We’re still really, really nibbling around iffy sample sizes here, but the benefit of hindsight shows us his current string of fantastic starts is being offset by a horrendous first few starts to the season when you just look at his 2011 totals (all 82.2 IP). Assuming he is more like the May/June pitcher going forward (this may be up for debate given the fact that we are dissecting < 100 IP), we should see more and more separation between 2010 peripherals (like the ones you posted above) and 2011 as time goes on.

Can anyone speak to whether or not one can be “lucky in the homerun department?” I would consider the ability to keep a hitter from squaring up a ball and knocking out of the park a skill, not an issue of luck. See the difference between say, Ricky Nolasco and Greg Maddux. One has better stuff but gets hit a lot harder and the other is a Hall of Famer.

xFIP is just really FIP but instead of having #HR in the formula you put in [ FB% * (HR%/FB%) ] where the former is the pitchers actual FB% and the latter is a constant for flyballs (independent of pitcher) in ballpark X. Studies have shown xFIP is a better predictor of ERA than FIP, so logically there is a degree of luck to HR/FB that isn’t adequately captured by FIP. Essentially, you can argue that since the number of HRs in any given season is pretty small, rates are prone to wild swings depending on which side of the fence “just enough” or “just not enough” flies fall.

This is only saying pitchers may experience at least some “luck” in their HR/FB rates, NOT the total number of HR given up (which is where you’d obviously see difference between good and bad pitchers). I (personally) believe that pitchers probably can exert SOME control over HR/FB rates, but to my knowledge, no one has attempted to document whether or not that’s true. Regardless, it seems unlikely that that would be the dominant control over HR/FB given the fact that xFIP exists (and is a better predictor of ERA than non-normalized predictors) to begin with.

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June 16th, 2011 by czar

I’m thinking there’s got to be some correlation between BABIP, swinging strike rates both in and out of the zone, and LD rates that could give us a better idea of how much of the BABIP variation can be attributed to pitcher performance. It won’t help us in evaluating Miller today, since such data isn’t readily available in the minors. But the guy’s allowed only two HRs this year along with 9 doubles and 4 triples for an opponents’ SLG of .280 and a .099 ISO, so it seems he hasn’t been getting tattooed by gappers. In addition, 7 of those 15 XBH (and 11 of the 23 extra bases generated by them on 4 doubles, 2 triples and 1 HR) have come in just the past 3 games — during Miller’s 22/1 K/BB mastery. One might expect to see robust contact more frequently when a pitcher keeps virtually everything around the plate.

You can actually explain a huge amount of BABIP variance by just looking at batted ball profiles (so LD/GB/FB breakdown for example). All things considered equal, a pitcher who induces 10% less LD’s has a significantly lower “luck-normalized” BABIP (~xBABIP) since the BABIP for LD is something like ~0.710.

Unfortunately, without batted ball data in the minors, it’s tough to determine whether a drop in BABIP, from say .310 to .270, is luck-induced or the result of a pitcher having improved control/stuff. In Miller’s case it seems likely to be a little of both.

You’re just transferring the “this is a skill” assumption from BABIP to LD% when you do this. Yes line drives are more likely to be hits, but there isn’t a ton of data showing pitchers have major control over their line drive rates.

While it’s true that pitcher’s can be “lucky” with regard to batted ball profiles, they are still (at least moderately) well correlated on a year-to-year basis for individual pitchers (moreso than BABIP) which gives them more skill in explaining pitcher performance than blindly regressing BABIP alone.

Again, I’m NOT making this argument for Miller since we have no AAA batted ball data (well, without potentially parsing the game logs). I was just responding to mbd’s query of “how can we explain BABIP outside of just saying “every pitcher regresses to .300!”?”

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June 11th, 2011 by czar

Buchholz’s 2011 K/BB, while not otherworldly, (1.96 over 77.2 IP) is the highest for any season since his 22 IP in 2007. It has been 3.80 since that whole rain-delayed ordeal against the Twins at the beginning of May. To put that into perspective, he has only had one month in his entire career with a K/BB > 2.50 (2.91 in Sept 2009). His K/9 (7.8) has been a full strikeout and a half better than his 09-10 average. Since the Fangraphs “Buchholz, Don’t Buy Low,” piece (5/4), his SwStr% is a hair below 10% (which lines up nicely with boosted K/9). During this same stretch, his xFIP is south of 3.40 and his FIP is near 3, both almost a full run below his career averages.

Even including that clunker against Oakland, he is in the midst of the best 7-8 game run (peripherally) of his career. This is interesting, because I’d argue it doesn’t FEEL that way; especially when you consider a couple of the stretches he had last year. I think the key difference has to do with the fact that he’s been succeeding greatly (lately) without the aid of huge BABIP/xBABIP splits or criminally low HR/FB rates this time around. Ideally, this should project a lot more confidence in Buchholz going forward as well as help continue to dampen the “REGRESSION!!!111″ crowd that was so vocal during his first few starts of 2011.

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June 6th, 2011 by czar

Since May 1st, Saltalamacchia has a .257/.304/.541/.844 slash. That’s with a .267 BABIP which (if anything) is a hair too low given his batted ball profiles. If you want to really cherry-pick, he’s sporting a .300/.352/.680/1.032 since May 11th (54 PA, .278 BABIP)

His plate discipline hasn’t gotten any better (16:4 K:BB since 5/1, 9:3 since May 11– although this means K% is down and way down since April) but he his cumulative stats now have him mid-pack in AL C OPS (with April #’s included) and he’s been a top 2 AL catcher (by OPS, only behind Olivo of all people) during the outburst detailed above.

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May 27th, 2011 by czar

FWIW, Aceves’ xERA before today was 4.71. He’s gotten very lucky — his BABIP was .190 — and his K/BB ratio was a very poor 1.4/1. So he probably is “a decent fill-in starter but not much more.”

This isn’t just a 2011 thing, his career BABIP is .230 and career xFIP is 4.41 It’s not really a matter of inducing a low BABIP either as his career xBABIP is .287. None of this is to say he’s useless, but he is due for regression in his stats at some point. His ERA for the rest of the season will probably be closer to 6.00 than 2.00.

In fact his current WHIP of 1.058 becomes 1.221 (xWHIP) if we assume a regression in BABIP to his xBABIP.

At what point is his chronically low BABIP sustainable?

Well, this isn’t even regression to a “standard” expected BABIP (some people use a flat .300), this is to an xBABIP that’s calculated based on his batted ball profiles, so unless he’s giving up “softer” line drives than most pitchers or directing his GB right at fielders there’s not a lot of wiggle room there. While it’s impressive that it’s (BABIP) been pretty low over his whole career, 148 IP is maybe 3/4 of a season for a decent SP. I am very confident in saying some regression is in order over, say, his next 150 IP. In addition, there is probably a bit of regression built into SP Aceves vs. RP Aceves.

None of this means he was a bad signing or is a bad pitcher, but people expecting a ~3.00 ERA going forward are probably way too optimistic. Mid 4′s seems about right, and his career xFIP agrees with that. Nothing at all wrong with league average production for a cheap contract.

So, it looks like a legitimate .226 BABIP helped by a little luck. A .226 BABIP is unsustainable only because no one is that good in the long run, but it’s been legitimate just as Crawford has legitimately been insanely good the last two games– none of those hits was remotely cheap.

This is very different than a guy with his same numbers where we can find, say, 8 lucky outs instead of 2. That would tell you that he’s not really capable of pitching that well for two months. But Aceves has shown that he is capable of being very nearly this good for this many consecutive innings.

I don’t think the best argument for Aceves regression is that his 2011 BABIP doesn’t match his 2011 xBABIP– my main concern is that he’s getting 8% of his BIP as LDs while his 2008-2010 seasons are 17%, 17%, are 20%.

I guess I just don’t see a tremendous amount of predictive value in saying “well, he wasn’t lucky via batted balls in 22 IP so far, ergo he’s a good pitcher.” First it’s a tremendously small sample size relative to his career burden and secondly you’ve proved he’s been only marginally lucky when those balls are in the air, but I’d argue that’s not the same as proving he’s hasn’t been lucky in the way that– say– 3 or 4 guys got just under a hanging curveball and sent them to CF instead of a liner up the middle for a base hit.

To me, saying he’s “capable of being this good” and projecting it forward would require similar stretches of this throughout his career (batted balls wise) of which there are none.

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May 10th, 2011 by czar

Or, since it’s Lowrie’s bat we’re trying to get in the lineup and his glove we’re trying to get out, maybe he spends more time as the post-Papi DH than Youk and AG. At the very least, he’s in that mix.

The issue is, for every Jed Lowrie who can OPS @ DH ~0.800, there are probably five Luke Scotts who can do the same thing better and cheaper.

Lowrie as a DH isn’t really an option. I’m honestly not as disgusted with Lowrie’s play at SS as others because I don’t think he’s quantifiably burned us as much as people think this year. But regardless what I think– if the Sox come to the conclusion that he just can’t play 3B or SS adequately, I’d rather trade him to some IF-needy team than use him at DH on a regular or even semi-regular basis. At least there they can get some value in return (especially if he finishes 2011 anywhere near the marks he is at now) and then figure out how to allocate their resources to rearrange the IF (whether that is sign a no-field, all-hit DH or sign a mid-hit, all-field 1B and move Gonzalez to DH– whatever).

Lowrie as the DH just seems like a sub-optimal solution unless he turns out to be an amazing hitter and a horrendous defender but he probably won’t reach either extreme in the spectrum.

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February 4th, 2011 by czar

Velocity has climbed each of the last four years (89.6, 89.8, 90.0, 90.2). More of a “not a negative” than a “positive” for a lefty reliever on the wrong side of 30, but I think that at least bodes well for a chance of a return to circa 2008-2009 rates (hopefully no injury involved in metric dropoff). LD% was way up in 2010 (at the expense of FB%) although BABIP didn’t reflect it relative to 2009. GB% was actually up a bit.

I’m pretty happy– less upside than Miller or maybe even Hill, but looks like a much more stable investment, especially on a MiLC. Would guess he’s now the odds on favorite to be the 2nd lefty on the ML roster Opening Day unless Miller/Hill really blow the staff away in ST.

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June 18th, 2010 by czar

David Golebiewski over at Fangraphs recently published (before his Monday start) an article entitled “A Buchholz Breakout?”  He makes light of the fairly sizable xFIP-ERA split (4.33 – 2.52 = 1.81, as of the time of the article) as well as his pitch selection and contact profiles/rates.

I commented:

The real question is whether or not you think his HR/FB is sustainable as low as it is. His FIP is still 3.42, which is good for being inside the top 10 in the American League. It’s when the HR/FB (3.9 %) is normalized that we see the 4+ xFIP number.

While xFIP has been shown to be a slightly better predictor of performance than FIP, it also needs to be noted that of the top 10 GB pitchers (2010, to date) in the majors this season (Hudson, Masterson, Lowe, Garcia, Cook, Romero, Pinerio, Carmona, U. Jimenez, and King Felix) only two (Masterson and Pineiro) have lower FIPs than xFIPs, implying there might be a sliver of truth to the idea GB pitchers are able to suppress their HR/FB rates (whether it’s by inducing weak contact or keeping FB on a lower trajectory or what) below a more average (by batted ball profile) counterpart.

Dave’s right, Buchholz hasn’t been mid-2.00 ERA good peripherally and will likely see some regression if his rates stay the same; however, I think it’s doing him a disservice to imply that he’s on pace to pitch like a mid-rotation starter for the remainder of 2010. His BABIP is only about .020 pts below his career avg and his strand rate is right where it should be. He can very easily be a mid-3’s for the remainder of the season, especially if he continues to refine his pitch selection like he has over the last 12 months.

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June 15th, 2010 by czar

Chad Qualls sucks.  We shouldn’t trade for him.

While it’s extremely concerning to see Qualls’ LD% go up and up and up for the last 4 years, he’s not pitching as bad as his counting stats indicate. Velocity is still there and 51.4% LOB and .474 BABIP (vs. .361 xBABIP — concerning) imply the 8+ ERA should come down somewhat.

That’s not to say I want him, but I’d consider him if he’s someone you could get for “essentially nothing.” The problem is it honestly wouldn’t make sense for AZ to trade him for that because while he’s bad, he’s not “essentially nothing” bad so it’d be a losing proposition from their view.

No really, Chad Qualls is garbage and is of no use to the Sox.

Chad Qualls actually has a lower xFIP than Heilman and a comparable FIP. Heilman’s sub-3.00 ERA is buoyed by an 85% strand rate. In fact, Heilman actually has a worse LD% than Qualls and allows double the fly balls. While fly balls have a higher BABIP than ground balls, they also result in proportionally larger increases in (simply put, more OFH are 2B, 3B, and HR than GBH). Qualls’ HR/FB rate is nearly twice that of Heilman but it’s only a few points above his career norms while Heilman is about 3 pts below his. How much those will normalize really depends on your philosophy regarding how much control a pitcher has over the total number of HR in any given park, but Qualls will probably give up a few less HR going forward and Heilman a few more. Honestly, it’s probably a lateral move assuming everyone’s peripherals stay on the same track.

That’s not to say Qualls shouldn’t be demoted or even that anyone in the Arizona bullpen has actually been good (only 2 relievers have a true ERA under 6, Qualls actually has the lowest xFIP!), but if you can buy low on the FA-to-be Qualls and get him for a song I’d venture a guess that he’d perform better than the rotating Atchinson/Nelson/Bonser triumvirate for the balance of 2010.

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