I can’t play for 4-6 weeks because my knee is TOAST

January 29, 2008

The latest on Paul Lo Duca’s knee surgery is that he is going to be out 4-6 weeks, and back in time for opening day. Of course, without the benefit of any non-prescription medicine, that could be longer. Actually, he probably won’t be hurt too much by this setback, he is a veteran player who starts off strong at the beginning of the season. Hey, maybe this will push his annual second-half statistical skid to late August or even September. In fact, with most players of his age, you wouldn’t mind them sitting out a couple of early games. This could be a blessing in disguise. With Lo Duca unable to play, Flores will get much more time in spring training. He’ll get a great deal of good game time experience, even if it is in the grapefruit league.

The other side is that we still don’t know what sort of punishment, if any, Lo Duca will receive for his love letters. But if he get suspended say, 2 weeks, and basically shows up at the end of April without having gone through spring training, without having played since September, the Nats may need an additional backstop. On top of that, one presumes that Lo Duca wasn’t brought in because of his power bat, or his friendship with Lastings Milledge, but because of his ability to handle a pitching staff. It isn’t much of an extrapolation to believe that the powers-that-be in the Nats organization think he can help groom a young inexperienced pitching staff. Well that’s gone for almost all of spring training now – while he will most likely be present, that can’t substitute for in-game experience working with the pitchers. All in all, the Lo Duca era in Washington has started off about as poorly as it could.

Of course, Damien Miller is still out there (and maybe Lieberthal could unretire)…


Chief of the Bullpen?

January 24, 2008

Last time, we looked at how Cordero stacked up against other closers in the league. I thought as someone in the bottom half of the pool, he was a bit overpaid. However, the availability of other pitchers with his abilities are limited, so a team like the Nats, with plenty of room on the payroll, aren’t necessarily wrong for overpaying a bit. Clearly, there aren’t too many stud closers out there, and as a team that is trying to rebuild, closer is arguably one of the last positions you want to waste free agent money on anyway. But there is one source where the Nats may find a better option, and that’s internally. So I thought it would be best to examine the bullpen guys who could make a case for themselves as setup men or closers, just to see. Again, I included ERA just because it makes people feel all warm and fuzzy, seeing a stat they know.

Nats Bullpen

It’s interesting to note, that none of my usual sources (espn, cnnsi, baseball-reference, Cot’s) knew Rivera’s or Colome’s salary this year or last. I sound like a pretty crappy columnist to leave those as N/A, but I’m a blogger, not a columnist. I doubt they played for free, so let’s guess they are among those sub-$500 K payroll guys. Anyway, with all the previous warnings about WHIP not being the best predictor stat, we dive right into it.

WHIP Nats

As my intuition told me, Cordero’s abilities to give me a heart attack by letting people on base are very real. It is a credit to him that he has maintained his abilities to get in and out of trouble, in part because he can strike people out, and in part because he usually comes in with the bases empty, giving him to room to let a few people on. On to the ever important strikes per walk ratio. This is the measure of pitcher’s control, and is alot more accurate than just looking at number of strikeouts. This is as good as any a time to mention why I’m using ratios not absolute numbers. The counting stats are obviously highly dependent on two things: number of innings pitched, and these ratios. With relievers, the number of innings can vary greatly depending on how their manager uses them, and it is hard to see how the counting stats (strikeouts in particular) played out. The ratios allow us to see exactly how they perform, without worrying about usage.

Nats KBB

Cordero is toward the bottom of this list, which isn’t too surprising considering how low he was on the league list. Again, he isn’t too bad compared to most pitchers, what’s interesting to see is how well the bullpen actually stacks up. Ayala is in the same group as Corder, while Schroder and Rauch have a 50% chance of having an ERA within a half a point of 4.00. In total, this statistic helps build the case that the Nats have an above average, talented bullpen. On to K/9, which is best used in conjunction to K/BB to really see if a guy is a soft tossing control pitcher, a real strikeout pitcher, or Rick Vaughn pre-glasses.

Nats K9

As we can see there, Cordero ranks among the top of the list, with Schroder looking quite impressive. Of all the members of the bullpen, Schroder is the best strikeout pitcher, at least according to these stats. Rauch and Cordero are right up there as well. As we said last week, anything above 6 or 6.50 is considered good, so nobody raises a red flag as bring completely unable to strike people out, but Colome and Ayala are close. And I checked, Ayala’s K/9 ratio was about the same before the injury, but his lowest K/BB before that was 2.86, above 3.00 the other 2 seasons. So that may improve from ’07 to ’08. The last ratio we’ll look at will again be groundball/flyball. Again, this is interesting especially for us Nats fans, as we can assume that a couple of fly ball outs will turn into HRs next season in the new park. Remember, the higher the number, the more grounders (which we like) and actually Cordero is considered neutral.

Nats GF

A couple of things jump out here, mostly that 3 of the 6 guys are flyball pitchers. The one that surprised me was Rauch, as he has done so well on all of the other ratios. Does this mean Rauch and Schroder are gonna let up alot of HRs now? Not necessarily. While the likelihood of these guys giving up homers is increased with a small park, it is increased across the board. It is something to keep an eye on, however. On to WXRL, which gives us a type of VORP for pitchers.

Nats WXRL

Cordero leads this category, but it’s not only usage. He isn’t tops in innings pitched, but he tops WXRL because he is used in high leverage situations, but also because of the results he had. His ratios may not be perfect, but his results were great. I found this exercise enlightening for several reasons. Cordero is not the best closer out there, and he doesn’t dominate among his own bullpen. But that doesn’t make him expendable. There isn’t another person in the bullpen that dominates every category, nobody that screams “closer”. Not that Cordero does either. They all have their weaknesses.

Cordero seems to be good enough for now, although if a trade offer does come down the wire, the team should seriously consider it. We can see here that much of the rest of the bullpen can compete as a closer, and for much cheaper. While nobody is a sure thing, they are certainly promising. When he is beyond arbitration, and ready for a long-term contract, he should become much more expendable, all the more reason to seek out trades before that happens


Chief of the Closers

January 21, 2008

With the New Year upon us, I guess it’s time to get back into some meaningful analysis. The lastest news is that Chad Cordero recently signed a 1 year $6m+ deal with the Nationals, avoiding arbitration. His salary is pretty high, although not astronomical for a closer. It got me wondering, how does Cordero actually compare to other closers?Chief I decided to compare him to others in the league, and I cut the number off at 19 saves. The number was arbitrary, but as you get below 20 saves, you really get a glut of part-time closers and guys that spent much of the season injured. Street and Gagne had 16, so I certainly didn’t want to go that low. At 19 saves, you had Lidge, Corpas and Hennessey, all part-timers, but I was curious about how Lidge and Corpas performed, so I used that as the cutoff.

In terms of the stats I used, well I started with saves. Saves are actually a pretty terrible assessment of value. The requirements are somewhat ridiculous. Most major league pitchers could get a save if they come in with the bases empty up by 3 in the 9th, and Wes Littleton famously “earned” a save in that Rangers 30-3 blowout of the O’s. However, it is a very good indicator of how managers use players, and WHO is the closer. Hence I used it to rank guys. I included ERA because I’m sure people want to see it, but it is also a bad indicator of a reliever’s performance. If a reliever comes in with the bases loaded, gives up 2 hits and 3 RBI then gets out of the inning, his ERA would be 0.00. Meanwhile, the inning load is so light that even giving up one run can look real bad. Since the salary was what made me start this little discussion, I included that information as best as I could. For those listed with a range, it means they are in arbitration and those are the team’s and players request for salary. Several have 2007 salary listed, but if it’s under a $1 million, it means they are too young for arbitration, so the 2008 salary would also be under $1 million. I honestly don’t know the story with Saito on the Dodgers, and Bob Wickman is a free agent.

Closers with Salary

Cordero is in the top 10 in salary, and Nathan, Lidge, Valverde and Fuentes should have similar salaries next season. Alright, enough of the non-predictor stats, on to the real thing. First, I wanted to look at WHIP. It is a simple stat, Walks + Hits/IP, but it has it’s issues as well. The big one, algebraically, is that the numerators units don’t match the denominator. This isn’t a picky issue, it would make more sense to be Walks+Hits/PA. This would help normalize the stat, make it more consistent across the board, but such is life.

Closers WHIP

So Cordero is pretty low on this chart. It indicates that he lets alot of runners get on base, which may indicate my level of heartburn whenever he pitches. Another big one we like to look at is K/BB ratio. The folks at Baseball Forecaster call this “Command Ratio” and there is a high correlation between command and ERA. Obviously the higher the better, and I go into more detail in the stats section of this site, but anything above a 3 is pretty good for most pitchers.

K BB Closers

Of course, closers are held to a higher standard, as the best reliever is usually put in that role. Cordero is a little low on this list, although he is really more of a mid-level command guy, we’re just comparing him to studs on this list. The next good indicator is strikeouts per 9 IP, or K/9. This is called “dominance” by the Baseball Forecaster guys, and works in conjunction with K/BB to provide better predictive ability of performance. According to them, K/9 “helps to highlight the limited upside potential of soft-tossers with pinpoint control. The extra [K/9] makes a huge difference”

K9 Closers

Cordero is towards the bottom half of this list, but a K/9 above 7 is actually still very good. While his numbers don’t compare favorably with other closers, it is good enough to not complain and anything above about a 6 or 6.5 is considered pretty good. Had enough of ratios? Well too bad, cause I got one more. It’s the infamous groundball-to-flyball ratio. This is a very key indicator because groundball pitchers don’t give up many home runs. This may be useful to look at for the Nats, who are obviously moving to a smaller stadium.

GF Closers

This isn’t so nice to see, but it’s not as bad as it looks. In fact, Baseball Forecaster call anyone with a ratio above .84 a “groundball pitcher” (possibly because liners certainly don’t scare you into thinking HR so it shouldn’t be held against them?). So anyway, Cordero isn’t a flyball pitcher, he’s actually neutral according to them, and practically a groundball pitcher. All 3 of these ratios work in conjunction to help assess a pitcher, and they have such a clear and relatively concise writeup so I will quote BF

Pitchers with higher strikeout rates had better ERA’s and WHIP’s than pitchers with lower strikeout rates, regardless of ground ball profile. However, for pitchers with similar strikeout rates, those with higher ground ball rates had better ERA’s and WHIP’s… Pitchers with higher strikeout rates tended to strand more baserunners… Fly ball pitchers tended to strand fewer runners that their GB or neutral counterparts within their strikeout profile

What they’re saying makes sense, it follows what we would instinctively believe. But it’s always nice to see stat guys putting actual evidence behind what we think we know. With all of these ratios, Cordero is not bad. He is clearly an above average pitcher for the most part, the problems come in when you start comparing him to other closers. He holds his own compared to them, but barely, and doesn’t have the impressive peripherals that they do.

One final stat I wanted to look at was WXRL. It is somewhat like VORP in that it’s cumulative, and it is expected wins over a replacement pitcher. Don’t get confused here, this isn’t the pitchers definition of a “Win” it is the wins the team got by using this guy over a replacement level player. Whether it undervalues the role of a 1-inning closer can be debated, but since we are comparing apples to apples here, it is good for that exercise.

WXRL Closers

Cordero is relatively high on this list, and it is in part because it is cumulative. He pitched alot of innings, more than anyone on this list other than Corpas, Weathers, and Gregg. Corpas, who was stellar this year, is the highest of those guys, while Weathers and Gregg has similar seasons to Cordero and rank just below him.

Next time, we’ll look at the rest of the Nationals bullpen, and see how these guys stack up compared to Cordero. My gut feeling says they compare favorably, but Cordero will still be just barely better than them.


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