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.


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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Nats Needs in 2013 – Starting Pitching Depth

January 15, 2013

The Nats currently have what may well be the best rotation in the entire Major Leagues. Nobody is going to rank them any worst than 3rd or 4th in MLB, and even that might be considered low by everyone. However, if there is one knock on the group, it’s the lack of depth. They have 3 studs in Strasburg, Gio and JZimm, but there are questions after that.

It would be great if Detwiler is as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, but in reality all he has to do is be good enough to be a #4 or #5 guy and start most of the year. We don’t really know if he can do that, although I suspect he will be that and more. As for Haren, that move is exciting for the potential to have a top flight guy at the bottom of the rotation. But it is also a little scary due to injury history and a poor 2012.

Regardless of the health of the rotation in general, and even if Haren starts 30 games, it is highly unlikely that they will only use 5 starters the whole year. John Lannan was their first backup plan, but now that he’s gone, who do they have?

The first choice might be Zack Duke, who started 26 games in AAA last year and has been a starter all of his career. Unless he ends up being their only reliable lefty relief man, in which case he’s going to be needed elsewhere. Christian Garcia is another option – a converted reliever who was successful in a limited 2012, but hasn’t recorded a start in 2 seasons. Of course, there’s Yunkesy Maya, who had a decent 2012 in AAA, but was nothing special there. Almost all of his MLB appearances have been pretty rough. Jeff Mandel started some games and did well in AAA, so could get a shot as well. That’s about all I see from the obvious choices. Another route would be to go after a free agent.

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Nats Get Their 5th Starter and Maybe More

December 4, 2012

Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Nats signed Dan Haren to a one year, $13M contract. The Nats needed another starting pitcher, and while some advocated trading some of their key position players for a starter, I always thought it would be unwise to do so. With the rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, I worried that any more real investment in the rotation might add a few wins during the year, but would be of no use in the playoffs. I worried that bolstering a rotation by taking away from their position players was trying to make an already top 3 rotation number 1 in the league, and it was unnecessary.

So what did the Nats do? HarenHesitationIt appears they threw more money at Haren than most were willing to do, without any long term commitment. This is what their payroll flexibility allows them to do. They end up getting a pitcher who is only 32, had been great up until last year, and was willing to sign short term. He isn’t totally healthy – what was worried to be a bad back (his issue this summer) actually ended up being a bad hip.

That bad hip is certainly of concern, but it didn’t affect him so much that he didn’t pitch well all year. Yes, he had a bad season. His final numbers from 2012 included a 4.33 ERA (87 ERA+) and only 142 K (his lowest total since 2004, when he wasn’t a full timer), but he sat out for a back injury, and pitched most of the year. He wasn’t so hurt that he couldn’t start most of the season, even if the hip was an issue. He ended up starting 30 games, with 176 2/3 IP, and only issue 38 BB. But his season numbers don’t reflect what he was able to do after coming back from injury. What may be more interesting to Nationals fans is how he performed after being put on the DL.

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Big Improvements in 2012 – Part 1

October 16, 2012

2012 was quite a season for the Washington Nationals, and there are big things that happened this year which should get you fired up for next season. This season was a huge step forward, 18 more wins than 2011, so there are a ton of good things that happened. I’m going to focus on the things that are big steps forward, and very likely to make next year another great season. Since there’s so much, I’ll start with the pitching, and move on to the position players in the next post. I’m not purposely going position by position, I’m really just trying to talk about the big, sustainable improvements from previous seasons. So the first thing we found out this year, that should excite us going in to next season is…

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Opinions That Matter

August 29, 2012

As you probably have noticed, I like tables. I know, people love them some infographics, but give me a good table and it gives you all the info you need to know. So here’s a table based on today’s Sports Bog post, where it says Bill James is comfortable with shutting Strasburg down. At the bottom of the post, Dan Steinberg is kind enough to compile links to plenty of other opinions on the situation.

The table below show whether or not all these people agree with shutting down Strasburg, according to the article. If they think his innings should be creatively limited so he can be available in the playoffs, I put them in the “Not OK” with shutting him down camp. Here’s how it shakes out so far, with color coding:

Now, another thing I love to do is take the same table and organize it differently. So here is that same table, with the colors remaining the same (those who agree with the shutdown are in green, those who are disagree are in red).

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The Nats and Future Power

August 23, 2012

ESPN put out their annual Future Power Rankings today, and it ranks the Nats 11th overall. I normally don’t worry about these things too much, but there is something I find a little curious about how they rank them. Check out what they did:

Majors – I get that their Majors score is only 26/30, despite the whole best-record-in-baseball thing. Frankly, they aren’t the offensive juggernauts as of yet, and the lack of a true CF or leadoff hitter is mentioned in the text. Plus 26 points is actually 4th best, behind only the Yankees, Rangers, and Angels, so I can certainly buy that.

Minors – Frankly, while this looks low, they don’t have a ton of true top level talent. Rendon could still end up being the best hitter in last year’s draft, and he’ll have time to show it this fall, but as for now, he’s barely played. Giolito is about to have TJ surgery before the end of the month. There are some others here and there, but it isn’t exactly deep or full of top level sure thing talent right now.

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Can the Bullpen Success Last?

August 20, 2012

Everyone knows how good the Nationals’ starting pitching has been – they’ve had the best ERA in the league on the backs of those starters for almost the entire season, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to change that. But quietly, the bullpen has been very successful, too. They rank 6th in the NL among bullpens, which, considering how good the starters have done, makes for quite an effective pitching staff. Here’s how they stack up:

This is all well and good, and they actually rank 6th in strikeouts as well. As I said, this team has such dominant starting pitching, that a slightly above average bullpen, which is what this indicates, is going to make them pretty impossible to beat. Except for the unfortunate fact that it might be pretty tough to sustain.

On to the Bad News

Now, we often talk about pitchers or hitters regressing to the mean – being successful (or unsuccessful) in relatively short amount of time despite their career numbers showing them to be a different player. And non-traditional statistics indicate that they will eventually go back to what they were, and they almost always do. Well, that’s not what I’m talking about here at all. I’m talking about something much less complicated than that. Let’s look at this bullpen sorted by a different, very traditional statistic:

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On Strasburg

August 16, 2012

I haven’t said much in this space about Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit, and that is on purpose. I’m not sure why people would think that Mike Rizzo, after assuring us that Strasburg would be shut down, would change his tack. But here we are with the end of his season staring us in the face (OMG it’s only 20-40 IP away! OHNOZ!) so the discussion begins anew. Or it never ended.

I figured as a responsible blogger it was a requirement for me to give me opinion on this subject. Otherwise they might not invite me back to Blogger Day, and that’s half the reason I still do this thing. So I’ll lay it out in simple terms: I AGREE WITH MIKE RIZZO. I’m not saying that this decision is an easy one, or that it is going to definitely work out, but I truly believe it is the safest opinion. The only time (I think) I addressed this situation in the last few months was around the trade deadline, when I compared the Nationals to Apple Stock

I got mine at $200. It’s worth $600 now. I could have sold it at $300 or $400, and made money. But I believe in the future of the company, so I’ll keep going with it, because I believe there will be a better payoff for me in the end. And that’s how I feel about this Nats team.

If my analogy wasn’t perfect, I apologize, I studied engineering not English in college. My point is that, it’s easy to say “hey, the Nats are in first place, THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! Pitch Strasburg and win the damn thing!” And maybe they’d win the World Series, and flags fly forever. So you wouldn’t fault them for doing that. And if I traded in my Apple stock for a $200 per share profit, you wouldn’t have faulted me for doing that either.

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Bringing Back the Pitcher’s Win

July 24, 2012

Most baseball fans know that the pitcher’s W doesn’t mean as much these days (as opposed to the team W, which means everything). At least, logically, we all understand that a pitcher getting a W is dependent on too many things outside of his control to be a good indicator of his ability. But there is something ingrained in our psyche, perhaps, that makes us appreciate the numbers. Yes, most people were ok with Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 with a paltry 13-12 record. But the W still holds a special place in our hearts, and Nats fans get to appreciate them, despite their obsolescence, this year more than ever.

Yes the pitcher’s W is a dated measurement, but it’s not completely useless. You can glean some very important information by looking at it. It does give you at least a general idea of the health and productivity of your starting pitching staff. Take a look at the list of Nats pitchers with 10 Ws or more since they’ve been in town:

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