Friday, June 02, 2006

Tigers 7, Yanks 6 -- Howdy Ho, Kyle!


PlayerWEPitcherWE
Posada.212Proctor.310
Phillips.166Rasner.131
Cano.081Myers-.042
A-Rod.010Wang-.264
Giambi.010Farnsworth-.800
Cabrera.004
Damon-.008
Cairo-.137
Long-.172


Another winnable game; another set of decisions based on shaky logic; another bullpen meltdown.

It sounds downright greedy of me to get pissed over not sweeping the Tigers. But once again, it was a winnable game, so winnable that we were within two outs of calling Scruffy the Janitor out onto the field. But Professor Farnsworth had other ideas.

[MORE]After game, a reasonable reaction would be to lambaste Farnsworth, as this is the third game he’s blown in a week. And while I think 80-90 percent of the blame rests on Farnsworth’s slider-throwing arm, Joe Torre is certainly a culprit as well. This was The Professor’s seventh appearance in 10 days. Even the most badass guys have their limits with fatigue, and it appears Farny is well past his threshold. The sooner we see Octavio Dotel, the sooner we see Farnsworth’s appearances and innings decrease, the sooner we see a spike in his performance. Or at least that’s how my theory goes.

The saddest part of the night was that Chien-Ming Wang once again proved himself unreliable, twice loading the bases with none out. The second time was the most deadly, as it resulted in the Tigers pulling to within one. And while Darrell Rasner was the man who surrendered the two-run single (to Magglio Ordonez, whom I hate), he went on to retire the next five in order before being inexplicably removed in favor of Mike Myers. I like Myers and all, but Rasner was rolling, and he had the bases empty with two outs. Why not let the kid – a guy we need to evaluate on the Major League level – toss to Granderson? If he gets him out, Myers is saved for a later inning, higher-pressure lefty-lefty matchup. But instead, Joe’s lack of trust in young arms proves hurtful, as Scott Proctor is necessarily summoned to complete the sixth. And seventh. And eighth.

Where was Ron Villone? And where was Ron Villone on Tuesday night? The guy is pitching very well, sans some control issues. You know how you work through control issues? You work consistent innings. Unfortunately, no matter how much Joe tells the media he’s going to use Villone more often, the latter still sits in the bullpen with the scarlet “distrusted” embroidered on his uniform. The ninth inning should have been his, and that’s not just some two-bit second guessing. Farnsworth needs rest; Villone needs work. How is Torre not making this connection?

I know it sounds borderline ridiculous for a Regular Joe fan to be questioning the manager’s decisions so feverishly. But the truth is that we’ve known Torre’s strategic weaknesses for quite some time now. His “trust” and “distrust” of certain relievers, and his ridiculously ineffective “bullpen formula” make no sense, and have hurt the team on multiple occasions. Take, for instance, his usage of Mariano Rivera for three innings on Tuesday night:

“If I put him [Villone] in and he gets wild or something, I have no one to go to.”

Okay, so I understand that he was trying to give Villone a day off because he had tossed two the previous game. But to blatantly distrust him like that is just outlandish. Further, what Torre COULD have done was put – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Scott Erickson into the game. I realize that he’s not a very good pitcher, but I don’t think he’d surrender five runs in an inning. Over six appearances and 7.2 innings this year, he has allowed two runs once (in a two-inning appearance vs. Texas), one run twice, and no runs thrice. Why unnecessarily burn out Mo? And why show such concern for Villone getting a day off when you don’t show the same regard to Kyle Farnsworth’s rest?

I just hope Mo is available for the weekend.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Winning With the B Team


PlayerWEPitcherWE
A-Rod.178Mussina.484
Giambi.057
Phillips.052
Long.012
Posada.007
Williams-.052
Cano-.055
Cabrera-.073
Cairo.108


Screw Magglio Ordonez. And that’s all I have to say about that.

What more could you have asked for last night? Everything went right for the Yanks as they continued their pummeling of the Tigers, 6-1. All this, as you know, without Sheffield, Damon, and Jeter, all out with various injuries. Of course, I had the reaction of an irrational fan when I glanced at the lineup.

“Well, I guess Moose is going to have to toss a gem. We’re not scoring more than two runs with this lineup.”

I was obviously blind to the middle of the order, which boasted Giambi, A-Rod, Posada, and Cano. Because had I seen them, I wouldn’t have made such a ridiculous statement. The only problems with the lineup, really, were 1) Miguel Cairo batting second and 2) Terrence Long batting anywhere. Other than that, they were prime to plate a few.

[MORE]But they didn’t need to. Moose was magnificent, marred only by A-Rod’s error and a mistake up in the zone to Magglio Ordonez. The complete game was not only a boost for Mussina, but precluded Torre from wasting a bullpen arm – though he visibly wanted to following the Ordonez hit. Thankfully, Mussina knew that he had enough to finish the game and save Torre from himself.

What is Joe Torre’s aversion to the complete game? Why, after an error and a single, did he want to remove Moose from a 6-1 game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth – when he was still under 100 pitches? It’s not only baffling, it’s frustrating to see him constantly go to his bullpen when the move is not only unnecessary, but possibly detrimental to a relief corps that’s going to be in higher demand come August and September.

There is a solution to this, however. Joe Torre is a good manager of men and the media. He keeps the reporters in order, and knows how to deal with his players. But when it comes to in-game strategy, he’s a senile old man. He mistakenly has no trust in his starters to pitch more than seven innings at a time, and will only use certain relievers late in games, no matter what the score. Joe Torre is very comparable to former Jets coach Herman Edwards in that they both know how to manage the players. Also like Torre, Edwards has a gaping strategic flaw: he can’t manage the clock. What did the Jets do to amend this problem? Hired a clock guy. It’s clear that Cashman should be posting Help Wanted signs for a bullpen guy.

This will end our Torre bashing session.

Tonight’s game kind of scares me, mainly because rookie Justin Verlander is on the mound. He’s 7-3 with a 2.55 ERA, and looks all sorts of nasty. With Jeter and Damon back in the lineup (speculatively), maybe the Yanks can muster a few runs off this guy. That puts the pressure on Chien-Ming Wang, not only to hold the Tigers but to save the bullpen further wear and tear. I’m not expecting much, though. The Tigers are, as they say, due.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Importance of Defense (And Why The Tigers Are Winning)

The argument can be made that Detroit Tigers starter Nate Robertson is coming into his own this season. After two straight seasons of relative mediocrity, Robertson has stampeded out of the gates this year, catapulting him to the forefront of the team’s rotation. And all the while, he looks like the same guy on paper – hell, possibly worse even – than the past two years.

Most sabermatricians will attribute this to luck and defense. The most consistent measure of a pitcher is his peripherals (strikeouts per nine, walks per nine, homers per nine, strikeouts to walks, etc.), and when a pitcher outperforms those peripherals, the word “luck” begins circulating. And, by all appearances, Robertson is getting rather lucky this year. But how can we predict if this luck will hold up?

[MORE]Other than luck, the other assisting factor for a pitcher is the defense behind him. Defensive statistics at this point aren’t the most efficient measures, but there are certain statistics that can help us determine which teams play the best D. The best of this crop, in my opinion is Defensive Efficiency, as compiled by Baseball Prospectus. Simply defined, it is the rate at which a team converts balls in play into outs. And, surprise surprise, Detroit is ranked No. 2 in the Majors, first in the American League. And wouldn’t you believe it, the White Sox are second in the AL, followed in order by Toronto, the Yankees, and Boston. The bottom teams: Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Baltimore. One glance at the standings, and you’ll get the point.

Let’s step back to last year for a second. Detroit ranked eighth in the AL in Defensive Efficiency, converting 2.4 percent fewer batted balls into outs. And just to put that 2.4 percent into perspective, the difference between the top team in the AL – Detroit at 72.8 percent – and the bottom team – Minnesota at 64.7 percent – is 8.1 percent (as if you couldn’t do the math yourself). For a large sample size study, the difference between last year’s top defensive team, Oakland, and the bottom team, Kansas City, was 4.8 percent. So yes, that 2.4 percent rise is a rather significant one. And, just because it will have relevance later in this analysis, Detroit converted 69.6 percent of batted balls into outs in 2004, right around their 2005 mark.

As a digression, a defensive improvement has vastly benefited the Yankees this season as well. Sitting at 10th in the AL last year, the Yankees converted 69.8 percent of batted balls into outs. And just to make another digressing point, Boston was right behind them with 69.2 percent. This year, the Yanks are at a 71.4 percent conversion rate, a more than modest improvement. And it’s shown, as the pitching staff has performed much better to date. And Boston, for all their perceived defensive upgrades, is at 70.9 percent this year. Basically the same improvement rate, but they’re still worse than the Yanks. That is kind of sad, considering all the defensive moves Boston made this winter, countered only by the addition of Johnny Damon by the Yanks. Digression over.

Let’s take a look at Robertson’s peripherals from the past three years, followed by his output (i.e. ERA):

YearK/9BB/9HR/9K/BB#P/BFGB/FBERA
20047.063.011.372.353.611.674.90
20055.583.001.271.883.461.594.49
20065.733.410.891.653.891.583.02


Quite simply, he’s doing everything worse this year, except he’s keeping the ball in the park at a better rate and he’s kept his ground ball to flyball ratio on par. But to offset that, he’s walk rate has increased to a greater degree than his strikeout rate, and he’s throwing more pitches per batter faced. All of these factors would point to a downward movement. So it appears that Robertson is the beneficiary of a combination of luck and defense.

For a luck and defense factor, we can turn to Batting Average on Balls in Play, a statistic – as shown by the studies of Voros McCracken – that is largely based on luck and defense. The idea is that pitchers have little to no control over what happens to a ball once it is put in play. In 2005, Robertson was the bearer of a .285 BABIP, which is right around the normal number (defined by Baseball Prospectus as .290). This year, he’s lowered it by a full percent, sitting at .275. Rise in defensive efficiency, drop in opponent’s BABIP. It all seems to make sense.

Here’s where things become a bit more perplexing. As my fascination with the plethora of statistics over at Baseball Prospectus grows, I’ve been homing in on the quality of batters faced by a pitcher. This takes the BA, OBP, and SLG of the batters faced by a particular pitcher to determine the quality of the hitters they face. This helps weed out early spurts of greatness, as many pitchers face an easy schedule early, and falter once they start to face better hitters. One would think that given Robertson’s situation, he would be facing lower caliber hitters. That would explain the status quo peripherals and the improved outcome. But…

Robertson’s 2005 Quality of Batters Faced: .264/.328/.417
Robertson’s 2006 Quality of Batters Faced: .267/.338/.428

So while he’s keeping his peripherals on par with years past, he’s facing tougher hitters and allowing them fewer hits on balls put in play. This is quite remarkable for a guy who doesn’t boast a high strikeout rate and sits on rather average strikeouts to walks and groundball to flyball ratios.

As noted, the defense certainly plays a part in this. Teammate Mike Maroth is another example of the defensive benefit, as he’s maintained his peripherals from last year (actually, his K/BB and GB/FB ratios have plummeted) and is seeing much more success in this campaign. And, as with Robertson, he has been facing hitters of a higher caliber (.260/.323/.409 last year vs. .267/.334/.422 this year).

Furthering the idea that the Tigers defense has been the key this year is Jeremy Bonderman. Unlike Robertson and Maroth, Bonderman is a strikeout pitcher. And, as could be expected from a 23-year-old, he has seen a spike in his peripherals this year, most notably in strikeouts per nine (6.91 to 7.42), strikeouts to walks (2.54 to 3.05), and GB/FB (1.52 to 1.72). Yet, Bonderman’s ERA has stayed relatively the same (4.57 to 4.61).

The easy answer is that the increase in quality of batters faced has more adversely affected Bonderman than his teammates. But, uh, there’s a problem with that; he’s faced relatively equal talent from last year to this year.

2005: .267/.335/.428
2006: .266/.336/.423

This may be slightly attributable to luck, seeing as Bonderman’s BABIP has gone up .013 points this year, which has amounted to roughly four more hits to this point.

Obviously, a more in-depth study is warranted for these Detroit Tigers. The wisdom we’re seeing across the Internet these days is that strikeout pitchers are highly preferable to finesse pitchers, yet the Tigers finesse crew has seen a vast improvement this year while their strikeout guy has been relatively on par as far as output goes. The guys who rely on defense are winning, mainly because the team defense has improved, and the guy who relies on his own arm is ho-hum. And while we don’t have data from last year to put things in a better perspective, rookie Justin Verlander is looking to be of the finesse type, and he’s having wild success this year. Same goes for good old Kenny Rogers.

If the Tigers defense continues to reel in balls in play and they can swing a deal for another finesse pitcher before the trade deadline, they could rise from “yeah, they could maybe pull this off” to “now we’re in control baby!” status. This notion is furthered when you take a look at the Quality of Batters faced for the defending champion White Sox.

John Garland: .258/.320/.412
Jose Contreras: .261/.324/.409
Javy Vazquez: .266/.331/.420

That’s good for the lowest, second lowest, and fourth lowest in the AL for OBP, and third, first, and 18th in SLG (both respectively). It should also be noted that Mark Buehrle is the sixth lowest in SLG faced, while Freddy Garcia is 16th. Once they get into the meat of their schedule, the White Sox could be headed back to Earth.

The cliché is “Defense Wins Championships,” and the Detroit Tigers are out to prove it.

Burning Out The Arms


PlayerWEPitcherWE
Giambi.242Rivera.283
Cabrera.167Proctor.108
Williams.074Small.034
Phillips.055Erickson-.051
Posada.050Farnsworth-.197
Stinnett.023
Long.011
A-Rod-.064
Cano-.098
Jeter-.147


Looks like everyone is all over Farnsworth for allowing the Tigers to tie the game in the eighth inning last night. Not me. It was his fourth outing in five days, and sooner or later he’s just going to lose the oomph in his throw. But, because Torre has his inexplicable formula of using only Farny in the eighth inning when the Yanks have a lead, he was forced into action.

[MORE]Remember in 2004, when Quantrill aptly came out of the bullpen for the seventh inning when the Yanks had a lead? And remember how trigger happy Joe got with him, tossing him 95 innings in 86 appearances? And remember how he broke down around late August, leaving the Yanks with an even slimmer bullpen come playoff time? You’d think he would have learned from this mistake, but no. Tom Gordon pitched 90 innings that year as well, though he didn’t show the same fatigue down the stretch. Oh, but in the playoffs he sure showed the wear and tear, posting a 6.97 ERA. Still, no learning from Torre.

Torre has another guy he’s going to kill, and that’s Scott Proctor. The Yanks are now 50 games deep into the 2006 season, and Proctor has appeared in half of them, tossing 34 innings. Extrapolate that over an entire season, and you’ve got 81 appearances for a total of 110 innings. And that’s only if Proctor makes it that far without his arm falling off. Sure, he’s pitched over 90 innings in two of his professional seasons, both in the minors. But in those seasons he was a starter, pitching every fifth day as opposed to this year, where he’s pitching every other day.

Farnsworth and Proctor are good relievers. Ron Villone is a good reliever. Mariano Rivera is the greatest reliever to play the game. Why isn’t Joe more evenly splitting the time? Hasn’t his formula been proven fraudulent? We have a good bullpen! Can’t we please get some effectiveness out of it?

Strapped for time today, but on a final note, I would just like to point out to the other 29 teams that there is a surefire way to put away Alex Rodriguez. Throw at his head. Just once, first pitch of the at bat. He’ll be so rattled that he’ll flail at the subsequent pitches. And should he make contact, it will be so menial that it’s a sure out. Simple as that, folks.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Randy Wards Off Old Age, Tosses Six Shutout Innings


PlayerWEPitcherWE
Damon.061Johnson.249
Posada.058Villone.104
Cano.043Farnsworth.018
Cabrera.009
A-Rod.009
Giambi.000
Phillips-.003
Cairo-.003
Jeter-.012
Sheffield-.022
Long-.028


Randy…pitched…well. Very well, even. And while this kind of performance is more than welcome, it does beg the question of whether he’s got a few more of these in his back pocket. I guess it’s best to table those worries for another four days. We have bigger things to worry about for the time being, like Aaron Small pitching tonight.

[MORE]Little scare from Jeter yesterday, jamming his right hand while sliding into second. He says it’s nothing and that he’ll play today, which is reassuring when you hear it from Jete. What bothers me is that it took four innings for the YES commentators (sans Michael Kay, yay!) to inform us. It’s not like he was headed to the hospital for an MRI; he just had to throw some ice on it to reduce the swelling. They likely had an ice pack waiting for him upon his removal in the fifth, and it’s just baffling that we can’t get that information until the ninth inning.

Would it really be a Yankees game if someone didn’t complain about Joe Torre’s bullpen usage? I questioned his decision to remove Randy in the seventh (he had been pitching brilliantly to that point, and the leadoff double wasn’t hit particularly hard), but he knows more about the physical condition of the pitchers, so I’ll defer to his decision making on that one. The fact that he brought in Ron Villone made me happy, too. But Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth inning of a 4-0 game? Scott Erickson can’t handle that kind of situation? Or what about Matt Smith, who has aptly rotted away since being recalled last week? Farny has now been used three times in four days, meaning he’s unavailable tonight, maybe tomorrow. Give him the day off yesterday, however, and you have him for the rest of the week.

This is your daily reminder that Terrance Long has no place on a Major League roster, even an injury-depleted one and especially that of the Yankees. I know we’re still in small sample size territory, but Long is sitting pretty at .200/.273/.200. These numbers are especially telling because Long’s duty has been at the corner outfield positions and DH, three of the most premium offensive positions. I’d honestly rather have Kevin Reese on the bench at this point (well, I’d really rather have Kevin Thompson, but I’d be arguing a moot point there).

As for the rest of the week: there’s no excuse to not beat up on Roman Colon tonight. Nate Robertson is riding a long string of luck, or at least that’s what his peripherals will tell you. He’s slightly up from his 2005 K/9 mark (5.63 this year vs. 5.55 last year), and is actually walking more batters – 3.41 per nine – than last year – 2.95. His groundball to flyball ratio is right on par, though he has done a better job of keeping the ball in the park in 2006 – 1.29 HR/9 last year vs. 0.89 this year. But the Yankees have a propensity for the long ball, so that’s a good sign.

Then we get into Justin Verlander, and I just don’t have a good feeling right there. His only kryptonite comes in the form of averaging four pitches per batter faced. This is fine for high strikeout pitchers like Scott Kazmir, Johan Santana, and Mike Mussina (!!), but for the finesse guys, Verlander just doesn’t stack up. Other low strikeout pitchers, such as Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Roy Halladay, and even the aforementioned Nate Robertson, have Pitches per Batter Faced numbers down around 3.5. The patient Yankees should take advantage.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Some Weekend Notes

I’ve got a few minutes before I have to head out for work (yes, on Memorial Day. But I get out early. And it’s my last week working in retail EEEEVVVVVVVEEEEEERRR. So I’ve got that going for me.), and I figured why not drop a little post-weekend post, since the Yanks are inexplicably not playing on freakin’ Memorial Day. This makes sense how?

As far as Friday night goes, well, let’s try to put that one behind us. I’m getting fired up just thinking about the sight of Kyle Farnsworth and his home run ball to Angel Berroa. Yes, he who has a mere 40 home runs in 1983 Major League at bats took Kyle Farnsworth deep with two out in the eighth inning of a tie game. I’m kind of wishing I could get a better quality feed from MLB.tv so I could take a gander at the consistency of his release point. I’ve got a shiny penny saying that it’s all over the place, especially on his slider. Guy looks like he’s trying to throw too hard and holding onto the ball toooooooo long. But that’s just what my eyes are telling me, and we all know how deceptive that can be.

It seems that I’m going to tangent off the weekend games in just a minute, so I want to throw this little ditty in where it’s still kind of relevant. But did anyone else listen when the Yanks commentators were talking about the Royals organization this weekend? This is why we need regular dudes calling games: they won’t suck up to piss poor clubs that care zero about their fan base. An excerpt:

“The Royals are a team rebuilding with a lot of young prospects.” Are you kidding me? Their farm system is rated 23rd by Baseball America, and have not ranked higher than 15th since 2001. They have a total of three prospects on the Top 100 list, one of which was with the Major League club this year. You’d think that’s good, except the fact that of the 16 days he was with the club (we’re talking about 1B prospect Justin Huber here), he appeared in five games, amassing a mere 10 at bats. And yes, he was benched in favor of Doug Mientkiewicz, bearer of .253/.333/.361 batting line, which puts him among the worst first basemen in the Majors.

If there are outfielders worse than Terrence Long, I must find them, just so I can say, “look, we’re not giving starter at bats to the worst outfielder in the majors; just the second/third worst.” Should he play Tuesday, it will be his seventh game with the team; it took Tony Womack seven games to record his first extra base hit. If Long fails to do so, well, I guess that speaks volumes about him.

Speaking of Womack, how did it get under my radar that he signed with the Cubbies? And how has no one pointed out the hilarity of Tony Womack playing for a team owning a 5-23 record in May, worse than the Kansas City Royals. Oh Tony, your sad attempts to pass as a ballplayer amuse me.

Final note. Here’s Melky’s line thus far: .294/.379/.333. Matsui’s line before breaking his wrist: .261/.353/.454. I know Melky is subject to a small sample size (as is Hideki), but from a mere production standpoint, there’s not too much of a dropoff here. A little bit of power, yes, but that’s why you have Sheffield, A-Rod, and Giambi in the lineup. This bodes very well for next year.