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In God we trust. Everybody else needs data. - Rick Peterson

Friday, March 12, 2004

 

I Can Try With a Little Help from my Friends

I'm looking for a bit of help from my readers.

I'm finishing up my preview of the Mariners bullpen, which meeans that I need to make some guesses about who is likely to make the cut. Right now I need to decide: Kevin Jarvis, does he make the team, or will the Mariners cut him and eat his contract?

What are your thoughts? Please email me - noslenblog"at"hotmail.com. (Replace the "at" with @)

Thursday, March 11, 2004

 

Will Carroll responses to Mariners Team Health Report Questions

Will Carroll has responded to questions provided by readers about yesterday's Mariners Team Health Report at Baseball Prospectus (premium subscription required). Below are the questions and Will's replies:
  1. Can a pair of ruptured eardrums be blamed for Freddy Garcia's hideous performance the past 18 months? And can he be expected to return to his 2001 form now that he's taken care of that? Is the local media just playing the random cause/effect game with this?

    Has there ever been a deaf pitcher? I know there have been deaf players. Maybe Freddy just couldn't hear what the coaches were telling him and he couldn't lip-read "miss more bats." I don't have a good explanation for what's wrong with Freddy. For someone to go so far south so quickly without an injury would be nearly unheard of, but I don't know what's wrong.

  2. I'm curious that Joel Piñeiro rated a green light, and Ryan Franklin got a yellow light. Does Franklin receive any credit for his age?

    A bit, but what really kicked Franklin up was the increase in innings. He went up nearly 100 innings last year and there's a major increase in injury risk with so sudden a jump. He pitched 180 in AA and came back okay, but it's definitely a risk that he comes up lame this season.

  3. What were the factors that led Martinez to be rated yellow instead of red? If Jamie Moyer rates a yellow due mostly to his age, wouldn't Marinez rate a red due to age+injury history?

    It's very hard to rate Edgar because there's just no other player like him. He's not as hobbled as Harold Baines and he's not as spry as his new hitting coach was late in his career. He's not really at risk for something worse than a hamstring and he's dealt with those his whole career. Yes, he'll likely be hurt, but it's the cost of the injury that keeps his light yellow.

  4. What about Eddie Guardado's knee condition? Was that too late to make the THR? This is apparently a recurring condition:

    Recurring, but he's dealt with it. It's not a Milton or Johnson situation. It swells, the medical staff deals with it, life goes on. Known quantities like this are better than new injuries in most cases


 

It's All About Tools, Jeff

Today's Seattle Times Mariners Notebook has this quote from BoMel:
Our bench may not look as strong as last year,' Melvin said, 'but it will be more functional.
I think you can go one of two ways with this. The first, and most healthy, response, is gales of laughter. Jeff Shaw at San Shin, however, opts for paroxysm:
Does he mean 'as opposed to dysfunctional?' Will the backup position players huddle up in the dugout to talk about feelings?

I'm scared. Hold me.
Jeff - it's all about tools. Last year the clubhouse wasn't right, but BoMel didn't have anyone on the bench with tools to fix it. This year, when doors stick, cabinets snap, or exercise gear breaks down, BoMel has guys on the bench with tools who can fix it right away. And if one guy can't get it fixed, he's got other options he can turn to. That's functionality that BoMel didn't have last year.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

 

Mariners Team Health Report Posted at Baseball Prospectus - Send in Your Questions for Will Carroll

Will Carroll has the Mariners Team Health Report posted at Baseball Prospectus (premium subscription required). As noted previously, Will graciously offered to do a short Question and Answer session for each MLB team the day after that club's Team Health Report appears. Mariners Wheelhouse is pleased to be hosting the Question and Answer session for the Mariners.

E-mail to me questions that you would like Will to answer. I will pass along to Will the five to ten best questions, and he will provide SHORT (his emphasis) answers to the questions. After I hear back from Will, I will post the questions and his answers here at Mariners Wheelhouse. In relaying the questions to Will, I may combine several similar questions into one single question to help us get as many topics covered as possible.

 

There is No Burden Heavier than Great Expectations

The principle of not criticizing players in the news media is deeply established among baseball managers, generally breached only by the most volatile in fits of anger and frustration (see Martin, Billy; Bowa, Larry; and Piniella, Lou). A controlled and disciplined guy such as Bob Melvin seems one of the least likely managers to violate that principle. Therefore, let's consider for a moment that Melvin's comments yesterday about Ben Davis' pitch calling were calculated and not a lapse in judgement. ...

Most likely, of course, is that Melvin is simply trying to get Davis' attention. Certainly, Melvin and others have discussed game calling with Davis in the past. If the Mariners don't think Davis has taken the advice seriously, Melvin's public comments could be a way of trying to add some additional impact.

But, in having Melvin comment as he did, the team might also be getting fans ready for a roster move involving Davis. With Melvin's comments, even the average fan is aware the Mariners are not happy with Davis' pitch calling, on top of his poor offensive production.

In past discussions about Davis, the Mariners have promoted Davis' presumed great potential, so as the team reverses course, many fans are likely to question why the Mariners are suddenly giving up on such potential. So the cynic in me observes that Melvin's comments would shift the perceptions of many fans from Davis' potential to Davis' failures.

So, if this premise is correct, what options might the Mariners be considering? Yesterday, I breezily offered the notion of a trade for Jason Kendall. But today another thought occurs to me. What if Wiki Gonzalez has a good spring? How eager might the Mariners be to disregard all of his history and decide he belongs on the roster?

It looks to me as if the Mariners brain trust may believe they have covered all of the options now. If Davis improves, the problem is solved. If Davis doesn't respond and Gonzalez looks good, Davis leaves and Gonzalez is added to the 25-man roster. If Davis doesn't respond and Gonzalez is Gonzalez, it's either a trade or Pat Borders.

Melvin's comments make sense if considered as a dual ploy both to get Davis' attention and to do PR for a trade. I suspect that right now the Mariners would not hesitate to add Davis to a deal to get the coveted "big bat". If they did deal Davis, they would also free up $1 million in salary.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

 

Oakland A's Bullpen Review by Athletics Nation

Tyler Bleszinski at Athletics Nation has posted his preview of the A's 2004 bullpen. Tyler did a nice job; it's crammed with useful information.

This is the latest installment in the AL West blogger all-stars collaborative review of the Divison. Look for similar reviews of the Rangers, Angels and Mariners bullplens over the next few days from Texas Rangers blog, Fire Bavasi, and Mariners Wheelhouse. And sometimes 6-4-2 -- an Angels/Dodgers double play blog gets into the act as well.

 

Comments from Row 20, Seat 19, Section 306

Strike 1: San Shin takes on David Cameron's comment that Ralph Wiley and Rob Ryder are in a dead heat for worst columnist in the history of ESPN. Come on guys. how can you rationally exclude Phil Rogers from that debate?

Strike 2: We also have the new, aggressive Bob Melvin's words about Ben Davis still echoing through the blogosphere, even as the rumor mill demands yet more grist from it's faithful scribes. If Ben Davis doesn't get himself into Melvin's good graces soon, he'll become the latest "Mariner who must be traded no matter what it takes". So when do the Ben Davis for Jason Kendall (with Pittsburgh probably keeping half of Kendall's salary) rumors start up?

Monday, March 08, 2004

 

WILL CARROLL MARINERS' TEAM HEALTH REPORT

Will Carroll will post his Team Health Report for the Mariners at Baseball Prospectus on either the 11th or 12th of March. As noted previously, Will graciously offered to do a short Question and Answer session for each MLB team the day after that club's Team Health Report appears. Mariners Wheelhouse is pleased to be hosting the Question and Answer session for the Mariners.

The day that Will posts his team health report, you can e-mail to me questions that you would like Will to answer. Will has asked me to pass along to him the five or ten best questions, and he will provide SHORT (his emphasis) answers to the questions. After I hear back from Will, I will post the questions and his answers here at Mariners Wheelhouse. In relaying the questions to Will, I may combine several similar questions into one single question to help us get as many topics covered as possible.

I think that Will also made the same offer to Jeff Sullivan at Fire Bavasi, so maybe Mariners fans will get a double dip.

 

Supporting Your Local Orthopod

"Our goal is to keep him healthy." So says Benny Looper, the Mariners' vice president of player development and scouting, speaking of Felix Hernandez ...

From an article today at mlb.com on Prime Prospect: Felix Hernandez:
"He could have made a full-season Class A club last year," Looper said, "but we wanted to baby him and not give him too many innings. After pitching here (U.S.) during the summer, he went back to Venezuela and made a couple of starts. He was competing well for Lara up until Dec. 1 and we asked them to shut him down.

"Our goal is to keep him healthy."
The Mariners have an abysmal record in preventing debilitating arm injuries to young pitchers. Despite their sorry record, the Mariners don't hold their medical staff accountable for their failures. Instead the Mariners have the same staff subjecting players to the same proven failure techniques. Now Felix begins his turn with Royal Brougham roulette.

Is it unrealistic to suggest that the Mariners swallow their hatred for all things Beane-ish, and send Felix and their other prized young pitchers to James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham to have their motions video-taped and analyzed before they break down - while something can be done to prevent it? Is it medically impossible to do a complete examination with MRI at the end of every season - or maybe event twice per year - to detect damage before it happens?

Or should we continue to expect that three out of every four legitimate pitching prospects in the Mariners organization will get sliced by an orthopod?

 

On Flotsam, Jetsam, Finnigan, and Griffey

Rob at 6-4-2 -- an Angels/Dodgers double play blog thinks I'm having a hard time coming up with material to post. That's based on an e-mail I sent to him and Tyler Bleszinski about creating some type of a unified blog site. While I appreciate Rob's concern, rest assured, that I have no shortage of topics to address ...

I strive to provide add new thoughts regularly, and I get frustrated sometimes when I can't provide regular updates for several days due to work commitments.

Rob also comments about me not picking up on the Griffey rumors. I actually did have a post on Finnigan's article this morning, but I deleted it. I think Finnigan is a reliable source of information about trades and roster moves; the Mariners apparently feed him that information because he so faithfully repeats their other dissemblings. After rereading the story, I decided there were so many qualifiers that it was clearly speculative and not worthy of further comment.

I was also sure that other, more capable bloggers, would fill the breach. Sure enough, the estimable David Cameron at USS Mariner came through with a critique of a Griffey-Winn trade that states it much better than I ever could have.

David does pass on the financial aspects, so I will merely note that if a 27-year old Tejada (who consistently logs 160 games per year) is barely worth five years and $45 million (the Mariners reported best offer), an injury-prone 34-year old Griffey is certainly not worth five years, $66.5 million, let alone adding a valuable player such as Randy Winn to the deal. On the other hand, as the McCracken-Colbrunn and Guillen-Santiago deals show, the Mariners don't let silly concepts such as receiving value for value interfere with desired roster moves.

If the Mariners are actually seriously considering a Griffey deal as described by Finnigan, this would further demonstrate Bavasi's inability to properly comprehend the free agent market. Having overvalued Ibañez, Bavasi undershot the market with Tejada. If the Finnigan story is true, the Mariners are about to react to all of that by overshooting with Griffey.

Fortunately for Mariners fans, I think Finnigan's report is only one small increment above idle speculation. If there were some actual substance, Finnigan would not have qualified it as heavily as he did. But we should watch any future stories on this issue carefully. If some of Finnigan's qualifiers start disappearing, we will know that the deal is actually being discussed. Until then, there is nothing to see and we can all just move along.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

 

You Can Lead a Man to Data, But You Can't Make Him Think - Part II

A gentleman named David Brennan has apparently decided that statistics is nonsense, and has started a blog entitled SABR Blows. Unless I've missed something, Mr. Brennan believes that intelligent thinking also blows ...

As nearly as I can tell after working my way through the site, Mr Brennan has decided that using statistics in baseball is meaningless. He then tries to prove that thesis using statistics. Now, if I were starting up another blog, I can easily derive at least 55 more promising premises from which to proceed. But since it's Mr. Brennan's blog, not mine, he has every right to start from a bad premise.

Proceeding down this improbable path, Mr. Brennan then exquisitely establishes that his limitations are more fundamental than just a bad premise. Case in point is Mr. Brennan's post from last Thursday, Controlling Your Emotions Is Impossible. In this post, Mr. Brennan's thesis is that the story of Freddy Garcia in 2003 can be wrapped up in Freddy's decision of May 22 to stop trying to control his emotions. I'll let Mr. Brennan state his case:
Freddy Garcia was stinking up the joint. His performance was so pathetic he might have even been hoping that 2,500 people would be killed so that his approval ratings would skyrocket. It was May 22 of 2003 and his ERA was higher than Snoop Dogg in Amsterdam (Ba-Zing!). He was getting rocked more than an adulterer in Arabia (Double Ba-Zing!).

Why was this happening? Why was this man, eighteen months removed from an ERA crown, getting hit so hard? Well, if you're Paul DePodesta, statistical outliers have no cause. They just happen. All the hitters that go on tears after their children are born.....FLUKE!!! Ichiro Suzuki's .449 AVG. with RISP in 2001.....FLUKE!!! DePodesta and Michael Lewis being spotted together at a San Francisco courthouse....TRUE!!! (I Keed, I Keed.)

Now, during this awful slump of Freddy Garcia's, he's being given the usual advice about how to break out of it. The advisors all told him he needed to "control his emotions." Some so-called experts were even saying that Freddy Garcia's opponents were "feeding" off of his temper.

As he would soon learn, his trying to "control his emotions" was the very source of his failure. It was as if Woody Allen were being told that his movies would be hits again if he'd just have more talking in them.

So what's struggling, polarized Freddy to do? Simple. Quit pretending to be a machine and be a man. He is a man, not the the Architect. Quit trying to control how he feels, and instead just control what he actually does. This is how his line looked the first 10 starts of the season, when he was trying to "control his emotions":

ERA: 5.90
IP: 58


This is how his line looked after he was quoted saying this: "I have to be more emotional. (Unemotional) is not Freddy. Maybe it's someone else, but it's not me. If people don't like it, there's nothing I can do about it. It's all about winning."

ERA: 3.64
IP: 69.3
Mr. Brennan also references this story on Freddy Garcia as background for his piece: Notes: Garcia (re)turns emotional.

So. let's look at Freddy's 2003 and see if May 22 was the great watershed Mr. Brennan would have us believe. The chart below shows Freddy's Game ERA for the 2003 season, with that magic May 22 date marked by the vertical red line. (Game ERA is Freddy's ERA computed based on that particular start - so if a pitcher goes 6 innings and gives up 2 runs, his Game ERA for that game is (2/6)*9, or 3.00.)

Freddy Garcia Game ERA for 2003

My, that certainly establishes Mr. Brennan's argument doesn't it.? I'm groping for words here to describe the idiocy of Mr. Brennan's post - I would say it's Reagenesque, but even that would be overly complimentary to Mr. Brennan!!

Apart from the situation that Freddy's record pretty much contradicts Mr. Brennan's statement, we're also left with Mr. Brennan's absurd attempt to "lay blame" at the feet of his perceived SABRmetric devils. Mr. Brennan himself is contending that pitchers should use their emotions as allies. But are Brennan's SABR-metric devils the ones who are telling Freddy to control his emotions? Hardly! The people who railed at Freddy for not controlling his emotions (Dan Wilson, Bryan Price, Pat Borders, Bob Melvin, and Pat Gillick) are each about as far away from the SABR-metric camp that Mr. Brennan opposes as could be imagined.

Borrowing from William Buckley, I would like to take Mr. Brennan seriously, but I'm afraid that to do so would affront his intelligence.

Fortunately the Mariners blogosphere has sites such as Olympia Mariner that intelligently discuss the non-numeric of sports and baseball. Tyler states eloquently:
It is a simple thing, baseball-- a bunch of men playing a boys’ game. Every time I hear of a coach putting in a pitcher to face a single batter due to left or right-handedness, I cringe. Every time I see a manager get excited about a L-R-L-R batting lineup I get shivers like fingers on the chalkboard. I don’t buy it. I don’t set my lineup that way. I set it up so my best hitters are at the top regardless. I make decisions based on disrupting the other team yes, but not to the point of disrupting my own. Let’s hope if the M’s vaunted L-R-L lineup stutters, Mr. Melvin adjusts accordingly.

So while the stat guy may say “We shouldn’t keep Jarvis or Myers or Villone due to (fill in statistical weakness here),” I have to say—keep the best and play the best. I never dreamed of not having my best five on the floor at the end of the game. There is no statistic for clutchness, nor is there in my mind a logical argument for not playing your best possible player at the moment that you need him most, even if the statistics dictate otherwise. Bases drunk, 3-2 count, who do you want at the plate or mound? The guy with the statistical advantage or the guy with the mental toughness?
Although I do often use numeric data here at the Wheelhouse (and in my life), I really don't think I'm a stathead. (I do concede though, that in making that statement I might be delusional. If forced to choose, though, think I would prefer delusional to illogical, for the same reasons that I vastly prefer a bottle in front of me to a frontal lobotomy.)

I am an engineer by training, so I am comfortable working with numeric data. I know that data describe, but don't inform. I also know that objective data are critical in removing biases and assumptions - that's why I always look for data to test my hypotheses and assumptions. In my life far too often have I been stubbornly convinced I was right and that I didn't need objective data to make decisions. I've wounded far too many people and caused myself too much misery simply because I've been convinced of "truths" that weren't. Regardless of how convinced I am of something, I now know there is nothing wrong in insisting on objective and verifiable data to support ideas and beliefs. NY Mets (and former Oakland A's) pitching coach Rick Peterson has good advice, "In God we trust. Everyone else needs data."

While I might ask Tyler to prove to me that his guy with the mental toughness actually does deliver more in the clutch, never for a moment do I doubt that some people are more reliable in the clutch. But I also know that when my team is in those clutch situations, my adrenaline and emotions are highest. I also know from hard experience that those are the exact situations in which I have made the rashest judgements and hurt the most people. Being solidly prepared with data better equips any manager of any team, athletic or otherwise, to make reasoned intelligent decisions that combine both the head and the heart.

 

Changeups to Spare

A nice article on changeups in the St, Paul Pioneer Press today: Changeups to spare.
"The only way a hitter can hit the changeup good is if they're looking for that particular pitch", says former Twins great Tony Oliva, whose hands were quick enough as a hitter to make him dangerous against any offspeed pitch. "If he's looking for a change, and it's a change, that's OK. If he's looking for a change and the pitcher throws a fastball, he's in trouble. "
Jamie Moyer's change is so good, though, that Moyer gets outs even when the batter is looking for the change.

 

Facing a Royal Flush

Rob at the 6-4-2 Angels/Dodgers blog is concerned about the projected staff "ace" for the Dodgers this year, Hideo Nomo. And well he should be ...

After looking at Rob's review of Nomo's stats for the last three years, I took a few moments to chart some of Nomo's career numbers and compare them with Rob's comments. The stats I looked at are:
  • H/9 = hits per nine innings
  • HR/9 = home runs per nine innings
  • BB/9 = walks per nine innings
  • SO/9 = strikeouts per nine innings
  • BABIP = batting average on balls in play
  • PO% = pitcher out percentage
The charts are shown below:






BABIP is the percentages of batted balls handled by fielders that fall for outs. PO% measures the efficiency of a pitcher in getting batters out without any help from his fielders.
    PO% = (SO-HR-BB-HBP)/(Total batters faced).
For more info on BABIP and PO%, see this post.

These charts should worry any Dodgers fan. The decline in Nomo's peripheral stats noted by Rob is part of a career long descent, interrupted only by an apparently fluky 2001 yseason.

Nomo's strikeout rate has been declining steadily since 1997, but he has not improved his walk rate to offset the declining strikeout rate. The last several years his BABIP has declined to the lowest level of his career outside of his rookie season. Since a pitcher has little control over BABIP, the low BABIP indicates that Nomo has benefited from considerable good fortune the last couple of years. That good fortune on BABIP undoubtedly contributes to the poor DIPS ranking for Nomo that Rob mentions.

The decline in PO% is also telling. Early in his career, Nomo was quite efficient in handling batters on his own. Through the years, Nomo's PO% has declined to levels where continued success usually requires a walk rate closer to one walk per nine innings than the four walks per nine innings typical of Nomo's career.

Nomo posted an excellent 2001 season, in which his SO/9 climbed back to 10. He also posted a lower hit rate per nine innings, and got some additional help from a lower BABIP in 2001 as compared with 2000. Since 2001, Nomo's key stats have resumed their long term decline. Fortunately for Nomo, his BABIP has declined significantly the last two seasons as his other stats have fallen apart. so the breakdown has not been too apparent. Unfortunately for Dodger fans, Nomo's BABIP is not likely to remain as low as it has been the last two seasons.

If Nomo's BABIP does increase this year, what should Dodger fans expect Nomo's performance to be like? To get some comps, I ran a screen to identify all pitchers since 1980 meeting the following criteria:
  • at least 100 innings pitched in the season
  • H/9 between 7 and 9
  • HR/9 between 0.9 and 1.4
  • BB/9 between 3 and 5
  • SO/9 between 6 and 8
  • BABIP between 0.27 and 0.29
The search returned the following pitchers:
  Player     Team  Year   H/9    HR/9   BB/9   SO/9   BABIP    PO%    ERA

----------- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----- ----- ----
T Armas Jr. MON 2002 8.16 1.20 4.27 7.17 0.272 3.40% 4.44
D Robinson PIT 1982 8.44 1.03 4.08 6.54 0.275 3.38% 4.28
R Salkeld CIN 1996 8.84 1.40 4.19 6.36 0.275 0.79% 5.20
R Person TOR 1997 8.77 1.33 4.21 6.94 0.277 2.65% 5.61
R Pavlik TEX 1993 8.17 0.97 4.33 7.09 0.278 3.93% 3.41
E King DET 1987 8.61 1.16 4.66 6.91 0.278 1.95% 4.89
W Alvarez CHA 1995 8.79 1.08 4.78 6.07 0.280 0.26% 4.32
R Sutcliffe CHN 1986 8.46 0.92 4.89 6.22 0.281 0.92% 4.64
R Sutcliffe CHN 1987 8.46 0.91 4.02 6.60 0.283 3.95% 3.68
C Eldred CHA 2000 8.28 0.96 4.74 7.79 0.285 4.27% 4.58
D Burba CIN 1997 8.83 1.24 4.11 7.37 0.287 3.82% 4.72
T Lollar SDN 1983 8.71 1.13 4.35 6.92 0.289 3.17% 4.61
That's not a very impressive set of comps. If Nomo is the team ace, he's probably going to face a royal flush.

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