The BABIP Question

February 28, 2013

The Nats starting pitching staff was perhaps the best in MLB in 2012. Some of that was expected, Stephen Strasburg for sure, and Jordan Zimmermann was repeating past performance. Edwin Jackson was good, and had been good before. Gio Gonzalez was a question mark, but was spectacular. And to many, especially those outside of the Nats fanbase, Ross Detwiler was a big surprise.

The question for 2013 is whether this success is sustainable. One stat that might raise eyebrows regarding Gio and Detwiler is their BABIP. BABIP is defined here - pitchers with a low BABIP in any given year are red flags, at least in your fantasy draft. Keeping in mind that a .300 BABIP, give or take, is league average, below is the list of the 16 pitchers with the lowest BABIP in 2013, using a minimum of 125 IP to weed out the relievers:

SP BABIP 125+ IP top 16

There were a total of 117 pitchers with the 125+ IP, and one thing I can tell you is I’d be worried about Jered Weaver as Cy Young candidate next year. And considering how well things went for Ervin Santana despite being #2 in BABIP, it might not be a longshot to think he’d be even worse (just based on these two stats). But let’s get back to that later, and examine the Nats that are on this list.

Gio and Detwiler are both on this list, and the first reaction is to worry. Detwiler definitely had his best year, and didn’t have very many strikeouts. The interesting thing about his numbers are that his BABIP have improved by around .020 every year. Interesting, but probably not particularly meaningful. More meaningful would be that he does rank very high on this list, and some sort of regression wouldn’t be surprising.

Gio ranked in the middle of the pack with a .287 in 2011, which isn’t exactly high. But was also low in 2010 with a .274, ranking 29th out of 122 on that same list. It may be that Gio is one of those pitchers that is an exception to the rule of pitcher’s not being able to sustain low BABIPs a la Matt Cain. Perhaps there is something about Gio that makes hitters have a tough time squaring up the ball and hitting it well. Or maybe it is just luck, and we should expect a regression.

There is a reason I listed the 16 lowest BABIPs and not the 15 – with 16, there are three Braves on this list. Does that mean the Braves are also in line for a major regression? Tim Hudson isn’t one of those guys who has a low BABIP every year, his career number of .282 is a little low, but is very far, on this scale, from .270. So should you take consolation in the fact that if Gio and Det suck, so will Hudson, Medlen and Minor? Well, sure, you could, but there’s more at play here.

The Other Factor

The one thing that goes into BABIP other than luck is team defense. Pitchers in front of great defenses tend to have good BABIPs. And according to fangraphs, guess who were #1 and #2 in team defense? The Braves and the Angels. The Nats defense ranks 12th on that list, which is above average, and relatively strong compared to those below it. And that is just one measurement. Baseball Prospectus’ defensive efficiency measurement puts the Angels at #1, the Nationals at #5 and the Braves at #7.

The defense does aid this team’s BABIP. Edwin Jackson ranked 30th, and Jordan Zimmermann ranked 47th. That’s 4/5 starters in the top half of the league. Strasburg, on the other hand, ranked all the way down at 100 out of 117. I wonder if that means he has room for ERA improvement, or if it’s hard to play defense behind him, or if players hit the ball hard when they guess fastball and actually hit it. I’m just not sure about that one.

But I am sure that while Detwiler’s BABIP is probably a sign that some sort of regression is in order, that’s not the whole story. The fact that Gio usually has pretty low BABIPs helps his case for next year. And more importantly, this team’s good defense has helped these pitchers have low BABIPs, and consequently low ERAs. The defense should should be even better in 2013 with the addition of Span, more PT for Werth, and much more time for Suzuki and Ramos.

I do not expect Detwiler to have an ERA of 3.40 again, and Gio’s 2.89 might not happen again either. But if you think that their low BABIPs relegate them to serious regression, you’re not seeing the whole story.


What about these bench players?

February 26, 2013

Tyler Moore is a great player for the Nats to have. He is a bench player who had a .840 OPS with 10 HR in only 171 PAs last season. PECOTA actually predicts him to have 13 HRs next year in 251 PAs, which is a lower rate, but still works out pretty good for the playing time.

His projected numbers for 2013 don’t look bad, unless you compare them to his 2012 numbers. But I don’t think the projections of .248/.298/.477 is that crazy for him, considering what he did in the minors. Even if he’s slightly better than that, he’s not a starting caliber 1B or LF (unless you really believe in the 2012 #s), so he’s essentially a strong bench player.

Having a strong bench is important, especially in the face of injuries, but the question is how important. If the Yankees, after the injury to Granderson, panicked and offered Michael Pineda for Tyler Moore, would you take it? Obviously, the Yankees aren’t going to do that, I’m just using them as an example.

I want to reiterate – I don’t think Pineda for Tyler Moore or Michael Morse would ever happen. But the injury got the wheels turning. At what point does the strong bench give way to something better?

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The Nationals Review Podcast Episode 16

February 21, 2013

washington-nationals

On this weeks exciting spring training edition, Nationals Review Episode 16, Colm and Charlie discuss:

5 Nationals on Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects List

The Nats and PECOTA Projections

Strasburg impresses in first spring batting practice

Spring Training Report

Surprise players in 2013


The Nats and PECOTA Projections

February 20, 2013

Oh poor Nats… they are just not as good as we all thought. At least that might be your first reaction if you look at the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus. They are projected to finish 87-75 (after rounding) despite winning 98 next year. And while they are projected to win the NL East, they have the lowest playoff percentage chance of any projected division leader at 67.9%, and the lowest chance of winning the World Series of any of them as well, at 7.6%. What gives?

Ok, before you go storm the offices of Baseball Prospectus (for which, I assume, you’d need some help from ENCOM) let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, the Nats are forecast to win the NL East, not come in second. The Braves are forecast to be the second place team at only 82-80, which would give the Nats a comfortable lead. And all of this is based on PECOTA, which has some quirks that are worth noting. That doesn’t mean PECOTA is worth ignoring, its just important to know what the issues might be.

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Zimmermann and Deep Counts

February 14, 2013

Baseball Prospectus had a great article yesterday in their series of mock arbitration hearings, focused on the Nats own Jordan Zimmermann. It’s a pay site, so I won’t get into the whole meat of the argument, but I personally think PECOTA and this article alone are worth the subscription to any Nats fan. Heck, I won’t even tell you who they voted to win the arbitration hearing. Partly because it is a pay site, and partly because I don’t care that much about things like that.

What I will share, is some of the great info they had about JZimm. There was some stuff you might already know. His July, where he earned NL pitcher of the month, went 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA. His 6th highest average fastball velocity in the league (among starters). Even his ability to swing the bat. His great season ERA and quality start total. But as I said, there’s a good change you knew all of this data.

What I found most interesting was the comparison to Matt Cain – not so much in that they are the exact same pitcher, just that at similar points in their careers, they were underappreciated, at least by the Cy Young voters. How many votes did Zimmermann get for the 2012 Cy Young award? None. That’s not a single vote, despite double digits Wins, a winning record, a sub-3.00 ERA, and the Nats making the playoffs. According to BP:

The only other pitcher to do the same in the last several seasons is Matt Cain, who’s a lot like Zimmermann in some other respects. Both are right-handers with similar heights and builds. Both throw the same assortment of five pitches at roughly similar rates (Zimmermann uses his changeup more often). Both throw hard with excellent control, but neither gets many strikeouts. Both Cain in 2009 and Zimmermann in 2012 had modest win totals and were overshadowed by other pitchers on their own staffs

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Prepping for Position Rankings

February 7, 2013

It’s February, which means pretty soon, it’s gonna be March. And every year I rank the players on the teams in the NL East position by position. I’ve done it for a few years already, but last year I picked a musical theme and used a song for each entry. I know not why I picked BritPop, but I enjoyed it. I’m doing it again, but I need help deciding which style of music to use this time. Here’s what I’m thinking, you can go vote and determine it

  1. 70s/80s Early pre-metal – Basically stuff that would be played on Ozzy’s Boneyard, leaving out some of later tunes. Lots of pre-glam metal era. Think everything that led up to, but not including, Metallica. Examples: Led Zeppelin, UFO, Iron Maiden, Nazareth, Motorhead, Diamond Head, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, early Queen
  2. Blues Rock – Not really talking about a time frame, but I mean really bluesy rock here, not just the awesome late 60s classic rock which had the influence. Examples: Savoy Brown, Ten Years After, Rory Gallagher, Govt Mule, Allman Brothers, Blackberry Smoke, Anders Osborne, Robin Trower, Cream… Led Zeppelin again
  3. Fusion-ish Rock – Ok, I was gonna write prog rock, but then all you might think about would be Yes or the Moody Blues, and I’m going for something a little different. Mostly hard rock not just based on standard blues progressions. Examples: Pink Floyd, Tool, Dream Theater, Dixie Dregs, King Crimson, Rush, Queensryche, Jeff Beck, Deep Purple, probably some Queen and Zeppelin here has well

Remember when you make your choice, you’re here to learn something. And don’t quibble about which band goes where. Only AC/DC sounds the same in every song and they could really fit in either of the first two categories.


5 Nationals on Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects List

February 5, 2013

ESPN’s prospect guru Keith Law listed his Top 100 Minor League prospects today, and 5 Nats made the list. For a shallow farm system (ranked 21st by Law), the fact that there are so many high end guys is good, and a little surprising. So let’s see who he put here, and why:

#17 Anthony Rendon

This one isn’t too surprising, most places list Rendon as the team’s best prospect. The fact that he’s top 20 in the minors is nice, and he would be higher for certain if he wasn’t so damn fragile. But Law like his swing and his ability to hit for doubles, even if he doesn’t see him as a big HR guy. Rendon is 22, and hit .233/.363./.489 throughout the minors last year, finishing up in AA. He dominated the other leagues, but wasn’t great in AA, so he’ll start 2013 in Harrisburg.

#44 Brian Goodwin

Goodwin has been moving up prospect lists over the last few seasons, but to be a top 50 prospect… that’s impressive. Heck, he wasn’t even on Law’s list last year. Goodwin was highly regarded back in college but several factors caused him to slip out of the first round, and out of elite prospect status. Law says he has “plus-plus speed, quick bat, and surprising power” and using the Mike Cameron comparison (speed, defense, power… and strikeouts) that we’ve already seen for Goodwin. Goodwin is 22 and hit .280/.384/.469 in A+ and AA last year. Like Rendon, he wasn’t so spectacular in AA to force the Nats to promote him, so expect him in Harrisburg this spring as well. Road trip, anyone?

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