Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘stats’

Stat of the Day: Closers in Non-Save Situations

Posted by Fred on April 30, 2008

In last night’s Cleveland-Seattle game, the Tribe trailed 2-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, and scored once to make it a tie game going into the ninth.  When faced with this situation (tie game in the ninth at home), conventional baseball wisdom suggests a manager should put his closer in to shut down the opposition in the top of the ninth, and try to win it in the bottom half of the inning.  Eric Wedge is nothing if not a follower of conventional baseball wisdom – in 2007, Joe Borowski entered a tie game in the ninth inning or later nine times, and gave up a run (or more) three times.  In came Rafael Betancourt, who proceeded to give up a 3-run homer to lose the game, which ended up a 7-2 Mariners victory.

Which leads us to the baseball question of the day – is the conventional wisdom correct?  In 2007, 23 relievers earned 20 or more saves, ranging from Bob Wickman’s 20 to Jose Valverde’s 47.  13 of 23 had higher ERAs in non-save situations than in save situations, an average difference in ERA of 1.39.  15 of the 23 had a higher OPS against in non-save situations than in save situations, an average difference of .103 in OPS.  The entire group of closers performed the same in non-save as save situations, primarily because a few were significantly better when no save was on the line (Trevor Hoffman, for example, did not give up an earned run in a non-save situation).  But for the majority of closers, the fact remains that they pitch better when used in their traditional role, something with which Tribe fans are intimately familiar (Borowski’s inflated ERA in 2007 was driven largely by his 9.60 ERA in non-save situations, as his 3.73 ERA in save situations places him more or less in the middle of this list rather than the very bottom).

When pitching in a tie game, 12 of the 23 had a higher OPS than they did overall, and the group as a whole had a slightly higher OPS in tie contests (.624 vs .618).  There is some inherent bias in that number, as it includes games where the closer had a lead and blew the save, resulting in at-bats with a tie score.  In that situation, it is reasonable to believe the OPS would skew higher – those are games where the closer didn’t have his good stuff, after all.

So is the conventional wisdom right? The answer is a definite maybe. Some closers clearly shouldn’t be placed in non-save situations if at all possible:

Player (non-save record) Save ERA Non-Save ERA Difference
Joe Borowski (2-4) 3.73 9.60 5.87
Ryan Dempster (2-5) 3.48 5.80 2.32
Brett Myers (4-4) 1.84 4.12 2.28
Jason Isringhausen (3-0) 1.82 3.23 1.41
Dave Weathers (1-4) 3.02 4.36 1.34

Other closers excel in non-save situations, and putting them in a tie game makes a lot of sense (an argument can even be made that some of these guys should pitch the eighth and not the ninth):

Player (non-save record) Save ERA Non-Save ERA Difference
Trevor Hoffman (3-1) 3.77 0.00 -3.77
Francisco Rodriguez (3-2) 2.96 0.25 -2.71
Brian Fuentes (3-1) 4.18 1.86 -2.32
Jeremy Accardo (4-2) 2.83 1.39 -1.44
Takashi Saito (2-0) 1.87 0.43 -1.44

Which group is Betancourt in?  I have no idea, given that the sample size is so small.  But Wedge should figure it out, rather than assuming that his closer should always enter the game if the score is tied in the ninth at Progressive Field.

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A tale of two pitchers: Sabathia and Lee

Posted by Fred on April 22, 2008

Call it the circle of blogging – first Jason Kottke posts an ode to the knuckleball.  Then I pointed him toward the fascinating pitchf/x charts Josh Kalk has compiled from the Sportvision/MLB data, and Jason posted that.  Then I ended up finding a bunch more pitchf/x resources.  MLB posts the raw data in a bunch of XML files that you can parse via Excel (crudely) or SQL (more sophisticated).  I took a look at Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia to see if there are any trends that may explain why C.C. is winless with a 13.50 ERA and Cliff is undefeated with a 0.40 ERA, when by all accounts those results should be reversed.

Here is some pitch location data for their last respective starts, courtesy of Dan Brooks (Jnai from the Sons of Sam Horn board) and his Totally Unofficial PitchFX Graph Tool.  For C.C., it’s the 11-2 thrashing by the Tigers, in which he got lit up for 9 runs again.  For Cliff, it’s a dominant 4-0 win over the Twins, in which he gave up no runs and struck out 8 in 8 innings:


C.C. is on the left and Lee on the right.  The sense we all have that Sabathia can’t find the plate would appear to be true.  Further, he is invariably missing belt-high and up on both sides of the plate.  Lee’s pitches are largely in the strike zone, and when he misses he is missing inside to righties and low.  Some of this is undoubtedly explained by Sabathia’s reticence to throw his slider – his percentage of sliders has dropped from 22% in 2007 to 12% this year – and reliance on his changeup.

When C.C. has thrown his slider, it has significantly less break than it did last year.  Here is the horizontal and vertical break data for C.C. in 2007, from Josh Kalk’s data:


Here is the same data for 2008 to date:


Some of this can be explained by the smaller sample size, but the general trend seems clear.  Sabathia’s pitches don’t have the range of movement they had last year – his slider is breaking horizontally out of the zone, but it’s staying essentially flat vertically.  A slider that doesn’t slide is just asking to be turned into a screaming line drive.  Lee’s pitches, on the other hand, are anything but flat.  He doesn’t throw very many sliders (6 so far), but his curve, fastball and change are all breaking vertically and horizontally (as we examined yesterday), making him more effective even though his fastball is 5 MPH slower:


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Stat of The Day: Who Should Close For The Tribe Now?

Posted by Fred on April 15, 2008

In what will come as a huge relief to Cleveland Indians fans everywhere (though perhaps not to their cardiac surgeons), the Tribe placed embattled closer Joe Borowski on the 15 day DL, supposedly with an injury to his triceps.  It was clear that he had lost some velocity this year, which is not a good thing when you don’t have much velocity to begin with.  Manny Ramirez says he still doesn’t know if the pitch he hit last night to win the game was a changeup or a fastball.  I have extreme doubt about two things: (1) that JoBo is actually injured and (2) that he will ever close a game again in the majors.

Borowski’s troubles last year were well known.  yes, he saved 45 games, but he did so with an ERA over 5.00, constantly pitching out of trouble of his own creation.  His other stats show just how bad he was.  I ran some quick numbers on closers during this decade with more than 45 saves and ERAs under 2.00.  There are more than 25 of these, but here are the top 10, plus JoBo in 2007:


  Year Sv ERA BB/9 K/9 WHIP HR/9 OPS
E. Gagne 2003 55 1.20 2.19 14.98 0.69 0.22 .375
M. Rivera 2004 53 1.94 2.29 7.55 1.08 0.34 .567
E. Gagne 2002 52 1.97 1.75 12.46 0.86 0.66 .537
M. Rivera 2001 50 2.34 1.34 9.26 0.90 0.56 .516
F. Cordero 2004 49 2.13 4.02 9.92 1.28 0.13 .594
J. Valverde 2007 47 2.66 3.64 10.91 1.12 0.98 .611
F. Rodriguez 2006 47 1.73 3.45 12.08 1.10 0.74 .609
C. Cordero 2005 47 1.82 2.06 7.39 0.97 1.09 .554
A. Benitez 2004 47 1.29 2.71 8.01 0.82 0.78 .477
J. Isringhausen 2004 47 2.87 2.75 8.48 1.04 0.60 .584
Average 2.00 2.62 10.10 0.99 0.61 .542
J. Borowski 2007 45 5.07 2.33 7.95 1.43 1.23 .768

Clearly, then, Borowski gave up too many hits and the hits he gave up were often for extra bases.  27% of JoBo’s hits were doubles or HR.  of the above list, only Valverde and Rodriguez are comparable, and they made up for it with strikeouts.  Borowski’s OPS was a full 150 points higher than that of any closer with a truly great performance.  As a closer, you can’t get away with allowing one and a half baserunners per inning if you’re not coming with heat.

The question then becomes who should close now that the Borowski era appears to be over.  Among current relievers, the leading candidates appear to be Rafael Betancourt, Jensen Lewis and Masahide Kobayashi (who was a closer for the Chiba Lotte marines in Japan).  Here are their 2007 stats for the same categories (Kobayashi’s are actually for 2006, as I couldn’t find complete stats for 2007):

  Year Sv ERA BB/9 K/9 WHIP HR/9 OPS
R. Betancourt 2007   1.47 1.02 9.08 0.757 0.45 .485
J. Lewis 2007   2.15 3.07 10.40 1.229 0.31 .616
M. Kobayashi 2006 34 2.68 1.34 8.05 1.062 0.67  

Kobayashi’s OPS is unknown because the Japanese stats don’t report 2B or 3B so I couldn’t calculate slugging percentage.  Opponents hit .246 against him, as opposed to Borowski’s .289.  Statistically, Betancourt should be your closer. his WHIP of 0.76 is lower than any of the above closers except Gagne’s superhuman 2003.  His .485 OPS is better than everyone except Gagne and Armando Benitez in 2004.  He gave up HRs at a better pace than 7 of the 10 closers.  Lewis, on the other hand, had a higher WHIP than any of the 10 (although still lower than Borowski) and an OPS higher than any (still lower than JoBo by 152 points).

Despite all this, I’d still consider closing with Kobayashi instead of Betancourt. He has proven success as a closer, his stats in Japan were pretty good, and his performance this year has been above average (2.08 ERA in 4.1 IP).  More importantly, it would keep Betancourt in the setup role in which he excelled in 2007, particularly important given the subpar 2008 for Rafael Perez (8.31 ERA in 4.1 IP).  Kobayashi’s .683 OPS is a bit troublesome, but he’s trending in the right direction – over the last 3 appearances, it’s .398.

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Unwarranted conclusions drawn from 0.6% of a baseball season

Posted by Fred on April 1, 2008

There’s one game in the books, so time to play Bad Inferences Drawn from Microscopic Sample Sizes.  Hey, it works for Eric Wedge in drawing up a lineup, so it works for me to criticize it.  Yesterday, I predicted big years for Grady Sizemore, Ben Francisco and Franklin Gutierrez.  Sizemore and Gutierrez came through:

Sizemore 4 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1.400
Gutierrez 3 3 2 0 1 3 0 1 3.000

Wedge, true to form, chose to platoon Jason Michaels against a lefty (Buehrle) and announced that Michaels would bat second against lefties.  Michaels went 0-4, scoring a run after a walk, striking out once and leaving 3 on base.  In 2007, Michaels was marginally better in the 2 hole against lefties than anywhere else:

Batting 2nd 42 12 3 1 9 0 6 .286 .747
Anywhere Else 94 27 3 4 16 0 15 .287 .734

Cabrera was better elsewhere than in the 2 hole:

Batting 2nd 120 34 7 2 15 0 25 .283 .692
Anywhere Else 39 11 2 1 4 0 4 .283 .744

Does this mean Michaels should bat 2nd against every lefty and Cabrera 7th?  I say no.  As is well known by now, Cabrera’s trends after he was installed as the permanent 2B were positive. In addition, whatever the truth about Cabrera, Francisco was awesome this spring, and deserves to play (3HR, .979 OPS).

In other news, Sabathia was horrid (at least against Thome), the Rafaels not that great, Martinez suffered another season opening leg injury, and Casey got a bases-loaded double, making us almost forget his .190 AVG with RISP in 2007.

Small sample sizes mean little, but I’ll take more like the 1 when they play the other 161 (plus the Tigers bullpen was bad, which is another bonus)

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