Harper’s Projection Problem

March 14, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I dissected the PECOTA projections for the Nats, and mentioned why I thought some of them might be inaccurate. BryceswingThe first one I discussed as probably being a bit off was Bryce Harper’s to which I said

This would be an incredible stat line for any 20 year old… human. But since Harper is superhuman, I’m guessing there’s nothing in the code to deal with that, and his age is hurting his predicted performance

I didn’t go much beyond that, but Matthew Kory did. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are a few highlights as to why he thinks Harper will do better than the 259/.324/.442 PECOTA says he will. When trying to come up with an actual comparable player to Harper, he notes the biggest issue with projection systems, which “projects player performance based on comparison with historical player-seasons.”:

This illustrates the problem with projecting a player with Harper’s specific skill set at so young an age. Where projection systems can usually be very precise, with Harper they can’t; the data just doesn’t exist. Therefore projection systems can’t be as certain, and the range of possible outcomes is much greater than it normally would be.

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USA and Gio Get a Win

March 13, 2013

Team USA started out the second round of the WBC with a big win over a strong Puerto Rico team. This was thanks in no small part to two NL East stars from last year – David Wright and the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez. Wright broke the game open in the 8th with a bases clearing double to bring a 4-1 lead all the way up to 7-1, and that was probably the hit that will be remembered from this one. But Wright had two other RBIs, one off a groundout to make it 2-0 in the third, and one off a single in the 5th to bring the lead to 3-0.

The game never got closer than a 3 run differential after that, and the biggest reason the PR team couldn’t score was Gio Gonzalez. WBC Puerto Rico US BaseballGio wasn’t brilliant, but he was very good in 5 innings. He didn’t quite hit the 80 pitch limit imposed in a round by the WBC, but hit 69 pitches made his removal in the 5th logical, and will likely keep him out of the remainder of this round.

Gio did his job and then some, striking out 5 in those 5 IP, and walking (gasp!) none. He only gave up 3 hits, and only got into any sort of trouble in the 4th, when Carlos Beltran doubled off the wall in center. After a a groundout by Yadier Molina to move Beltran to third with two outs, Mike Aviles came up and smashed the ball to RF, but Giancarlo Stanton made a great catch to rob him of extra bases, and PR of a run. Gio didn’t have all of his best stuff, according to Harry Pavlidis (Founder of Pitch Info, contributor to Baseball Prospectus & Washington Post):

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Catching up with The World Baseball Classic

March 12, 2013

If you haven’t watched any of the World Baseball Classic, you’re not alone. The ratings haven’t been great, but alot of the games certainly have been. There have been quite a few highlights from this WBC already, but here are a few that are worth catching:2013-World-Baseball-Classic

The Netherlands sports a fun lineup that includes Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (a probable non-prospect for the Nats), and the Braves young SS Andrelton Simmons who could be the MVP of the entire tournament, hitting .370/.400/.704. Also impressive on the team has been Andruw Jones, and Curt Smith, a Miami Marlins farmhand who is Sir-Not-Appearing-on-this-Page when it comes to any top 10 prospect list I’ve seen, but is so far hitting .375/.467/.542.

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Rendon’s Spring Success

March 6, 2013

Anthony Rendon is doing just what he wanted to do in Spring Training – get noticed. Of course, ranking 17th on Keith Law’s prospect list and 35th on Baseball Prospectus’ list, its safe to say he had already been noticed. But you get my point. He’s hit .400/.428/1.000, with 3 HRs and 3 doubles in 21 PAs after Wednesday’s game, which is, needless to say, a good start.

We know that spring stats are to be taken very lightly. RendonAnd even if they were more valuable, the sample size is so small that his numbers seem much less impressive. It’s a great week, not much more. But because he is only 22, and because he has less than 200 pro PAs, this is still very encouraging to see. It’s clear he can hold his own against high end pro pitching, even if he isn’t facing aces all the time.

No matter how well he hits in the spring, though, there should be no question where he belongs to start the season. He has less than half a season of pro baseball under his belt, and there isn’t a hole in the lineup waiting for him. So he’d be resigned to the bench, which is probably the worst place for a hitter with his experience. He needs to hit every day if possible, because he still needs to learn every day. But that isn’t the end of the conversation with him. Read the rest of this entry »


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 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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