Friday, June 24, 2011

The Vindication of Josh Willingham in 20 Plate Appearances

Don’t EVER get into internet arguments with idiotic baseball fans.

I spent about an hour gathering stats to prove a stupid argument in which I don’t even believe because the OTHER guy is making an argument even dumber. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I came thisclose to arguing that Josh Willingham is clutch.

I don’t actually think Willingham is clutch, but I also don’t think he is anti-clutch, and not just because I don’t believe in clutch as a concept. I think he’s probably just like every other major leaguer in that he performs roughly the same in close-and-late situations as he does in the rest of the game. Which I guess is actually just not believing in clutch as a concept.

That would be simple to argue, that Willingham performs the same in stressful and non-stressful situations. But that wasn’t what was on the table. I won’t quote here exactly what was said, since the Facebook group from which this issue originated is not public (you can join, however -- formerly known as Fire Bob Geren, it is now known as Now that Geren’s Gone, It’s time for some Hope! -- beware of terrible spelling, cringe-worthy grammar, and idiocy), but I will give you assertions and parameters eventually given to me by, well, we’ll call him AJ:

Assertion 1: Willingham does nothing but strike out in clutch situations.
Assertion 2: Willingham strikes out in late game clutch situations. Every time AJ has seen Willingham hit in the 7th inning or later, he more than likely strikes out or gets out in general.*
Assertion 3: Willingham is one of the league leaders in strikeouts. (True!)
Assertion 4: Most of Willingham’s strikeouts come late in the game.**
Assertion 5: According to AJ’s eyes, Willingham has hit better when the team is winning than when the team is losing.
Assertion 6: If you looked at Willingham’s last 10 at bats with the team losing, and his last 10 at bats with the team winning, he probably strikes out more with the team losing.

This is where I come in. This seemed too good to pass up. I had AJ define ONE LAST TIME what he meant by “late” (I didn’t want to do a bunch of research [no baseball-reference sub] and then have him move the goalposts again) and started in. He said the 9th inning, maybe 8th depending on when he came up in the order. I added in the 7th because … well, if I didn’t, I could be looking at games back into April and I am not that dedicated to this argument.

In order to find the last 10 Willingham plate appearances*** with the A’s losing, I used the games played on June 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14. He played on June 15-17, but no plate appearances while the team was losing.

In order to find the last 10 Willingham plate appearances with the A’s losing, I used the games played on May 14, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, June 3, 4, and 16. June 15 and June 17 had no eligible plate appearances, since he was injured on June 17 and did not come to the plate in the later innings on the 15th. Since the A’s have been terrible lately, you can see it took a lot more games to get those plate appearances in winning situations.

Okay, results. I’m sure you’re all waiting with bated breath. Not baited breath, because that would be gross.

In games that the A’s were losing, Josh Willingham struck out 5 times, hit one single, walked once, and flew**** out thrice to right field. Eight of Willingham’s plate appearances while losing resulted in outs.

In games that the A’s were winning, Josh Willingham struck out 3 times, reached on a fielder’s choice once, hit one double, one home run, walked twice, lined out to short, and popped out to first. Six of Willingham’s plate appearances while winning resulted in outs.

The first of those losing strikeouts was on June 14th in the 9th inning to end the game. Willingham saw 6 pitches, the last of which was a called strike. I took score in that game and noted that the called strike was actually a ball. There’s no way of knowing what Willingham would have done in what would have been a 3-2 count, but that brings the strikeout ratio a little closer.

On the surface, with these ridiculous parameters and definitions, AJ is infuriatingly right. But that’s like saying someone is right who says Barack Obama is a bad president because gas prices are too high. Yeah, okay, maybe he’s a bad president, but it’s not because of gas prices! This is when someone can be right but also so trrbly, trrrrrrrbly***** wrong.

Small sample size, first of all. No one besides, like, Tim McCarver should care what Josh Willingham has done in his last ten plate appearances while the team was winning or losing. I briefly considered going through and logging what he’s done in those situations for the entire season, but then I realized I could make shit up and it wouldn’t make a difference to AJ.

Second of all, for this to really be effective (rolling my eyes here, because honestly, what am I trying to prove?) I should look at the same stats for another Athletic, preferably a fan favorite. Ryan Sweeney? Hideki Matsui? Matsui might be fun, because he had a stretch there under Geren where he didn’t play very often and when he did play, my eyes tell me he was bad. In fact, on June 4th after Willingham struck out looking with one on and no outs losing 3-5, Matsui didn’t strike out. No, he grounded into a double play, ending the inning. Which at bat was more costly? The Willingham one, or the Matsui one? Well clearly the Matsui one, since he made two outs and Willingham only made one. Perhaps we should be looking instead at which of the Athletics ground into more double plays close and late? Or have the most “unproductive” at bats. See Willingham’s 9th inning F9 on June 14th, moving Conor Jackson from second to third. Jackson scores on a single in the very next at bat, but the A’s still lose.

Over a thousand words, plus footnotes, to say that 20 at bats is not a large enough sample size from which anyone can extrapolate anything meaningful about Josh Willingham’s close-and-late performance.

Of course, you knew that.

Thus ends my best imitation of a collegiate psychological study, where no conclusive evidence is found to support the hypothesis. As they tell us, inconclusive results can be just as important as conclusive ones, they’re just not as flashy.

Oh, and AJ made a post to say he quit the group because he was tired of arguing with me because I can't seem to shut my mouth. Perhaps it escaped his notice that I typed everything? I could be a mute, for all he knows.

Alas, I should stop taking people so literally.


*To which I say, no shit! When failing 7 times out of 10 is considered good, even the best are making outs “in general” in the 7th inning or later. But that, I have learned, is taking things too “literally.” But damn, even Skye is not psychic!

**Previous definition of “late” by AJ is 7th inning or later, and also, false!
Innings 1-3: 18K
Innings 4-6: 30K
Innings 7-9: 27K

*** AJ said at-bats, but I’m pretty sure he meant plate appearances.

**** I HATE “flied out” as the past tense of fly out. No.

***** Say this like Charles Barkley would say it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fun Fact

Vladimir Guerrero has had 91 at bats this season (22 games) and hasn't drawn a single walk. History tells us he should get one pretty soon, though. While Vladdy Daddy is widely considered as a notorious free-swinger, he has managed a good OBP over his career (.382) and about 45 walks per season. However, in 2010 he received the lowest number of free passes in his career with 35 (in seasons where he played at least 100 games).

It's almost certain that Guerrero will draw a walk within the next week or so. Nevertheless, I'll be keeping an eye out to see if he can break Craig Robinson's illustrious record of 146 at bats without a walk.

55 more AB's!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Creepy Kind of Love

Last week I bought the The Hardball Times 2011 Baseball Annual. I wasn’t planning to buy it when I got to the bookstore, but I was frustrated with my inability to find any other book I wanted to purchase. I scanned through the table of contents to ensure that I would be interested in at least a handful of articles, and the section on the future of fielding sold me.

Today, I flipped open to a random page in the back and about had a heart attack when I saw “The Curious Case of Barry Zito” by Max Marchi. If I were to show you the extent of my fascination with Zito’s career from 2006 (when I started watching baseball and the A’s, telling myself from day one that I would never be a Zito fan and then failing miserably) until now, you might suggest that I look into hiring a therapist. Or perhaps not, since you’re reading this blog. People seem to tolerate the eccentricities of others when they themselves are interested in the ephemera.

Starting into my life as a baseball fan, Zito captivated me with his curveball. I’m sure that others of you, whether you want to admit to it or not, have admired that old 12-6 of his. I used to say, “When he’s got that curve looping and his fastball locating, he’s one of the best in baseball.” I may have been exaggerating a little, but come on. You haven’t experienced baseball until you’ve watched some accomplished slugger watch that curve fall in for a low strike, caught looking, and that baffled expression settled across his face as he walks to the dugout.

So I eagerly dove into this article over my lunch break, stopping to explain to co-workers why I was so excited for this piece. “I’ve been keeping track of his fastball velocity since 2008, I’ve analyzed his starts the best I know how, read everything anyone’s written about him, and listened to everything he’s ever said to the media. Here’s someone who’s taken the time to look deeper into the numbers than I have the ability to do, and I want to see if we’ve come to the same conclusions.”

Yeah, I got some strange looks.

I, like everyone else in baseball, was of the general opinion that the 7-year, $126M contract the Giants offered Zito was absolutely ridiculous.* Despite being an irrational fan of his, I couldn’t see anything he offered the Giants, even off the field, to be worth that much. I checked up on his numbers after the deal was announced and was flabbergasted to see that he’d somehow managed to notch up 16 wins. Surely the Giants weren’t looking solely at that?

Marchi notes that if we look at statistics which actually mean something, Zito’s 2006 year was actually the worst of his career. Stupid San Francisco, right? His 2007 and 2008 seasons were pretty bad, but not as bad as ESPN made them out to be -- which is where I jump in to say I told you so -- and the shocking thing was that in 2009, Zito got better. And not just better, but arguably good.

What Marchi is really after, however, is figuring out why this happened. Going in, I had my guesses. One doesn’t read, hear, and see everything Barry’s done in the baseball world since 2006 and not have a pretty decent grasp of what’s going on with his numbers. His velocity increased, despite pitchers’ tendencies to throw softer as they age and Zito’s being on the wrong side of 30. Marchi doesn’t make a guess as to why the velocity increased from 2008 to 2009, and only tosses out “one wonders whether Zito had some minor physical problems during that period” as something to consider. I’ve had particular interest in fastball velocity** so I’ll focus my comments on velocity, not the difference in movement of Zito’s pitches from 2008-2010.

So here’s where my scary memory comes in. There are three things I’d like to mention, gathered from various places around the web, but all mentioned at one time or another during The Unicorn Hour, a radio show Zito periodically does with Mychael Urban.

1. Regarding Marchi’s throwaway comment about a possible injury, Zito had a wrist injury in late 2007. I remember being shocked that he mentioned it with Urban [at 10:30], not having read anything about a wrist injury in specific or any injury ever.*** That immediately explained away a lot of the confusion I’d had about just why he was so bad in 2007. Then I had two thoughts that made me think a little harder. The first was me wondering why he hadn’t admitted earlier that he was injured, in a get-off-my-back-I’m-hurt-that-explains-my-suckitude kind of way. The second thought was that of course he didn’t talk about the injury, because then it would seem like he was making excuses. So there’s that.

2. Zito spent the 2008-2009 off-season training with none other than Brian Wilson. They cite long toss sessions over canyons as one way they kept in shape for baseball. It’s a well-documented fact that typically, Zito doesn’t do a lot of off-season workouts. He’s been quoted multiple times as saying, “You can’t pull fat.” (Maybe Rich Harden should take that advice?) I have to imagine that one off-season of actually working out could be at least partially responsible for an increase in velocity.

3. The New Windup premiered in Spring Training of 2007 was ditched that same day. Marchi seems to make the claim that that particular new delivery was the same one he used throughout 2007 and 2008. Zito says [at 2:14] that his 2008 windup was the same one he’s always done and that everyone knows. Now, Urban does quote Rick Peterson as saying Zito’s a tinkerer, but it’s unclear if Marchi is aware that the infamous failed delivery change died a quick death a few moments after it was debuted. (For what it’s worth, Zito has always seemed bitter about this whole incident.) Zito did, however, remove the over-the-head hand movement that he used with the A’s, but still kept the high leg kick. Marchi presents convincing evidence that Zito’s release point has dropped and I won’t argue with that.

I can’t express in words how excited I was to see a whole 7 page article dedicated to Barry Zito’s turnaround. As far as the numbers go, I was not surprised by anything presented. I’ve been keeping track of Zito’s fastball and curveball velocities from 2008 literally pitch by pitch, so seeing the velocity jump from 2008 to 2009 was not at all surprising to me. It seemed a bit incomplete, however, without the references to Zito’s minor wrist injury in 2007, his 2008-2009 off-season workouts, and the 2007 Delivery Debacle. But that’s all fixed now!

Next up: A complete analysis of Barry Zito’s hitting and how it’s improved from 2007-2011.

(Totally kidding.

Or am I?****)

*Listing his reasons for choosing the Giants, Zito claims in Part One of The State of the Union that there was more money on the table with another team. I choose to believe him because I’m a sucker, but just about everyone else I’ve talked to about this has called bullshit. [You can download from that link, FWD to 10:36] Additionally, I’d like to comment here that Zito was dead-on about the Giants being a championship team in a few seasons.

**In particular, Zito’s velocity in relation to how well he pitches, and Rich Harden’s velocity in relation to how healthy he is.

*** Clearly I missed the Spring Training article I cited above, which I hadn't read until today. I've spent about three hours listening to various Zito/Urban interviews trying to find that quote in particular and only found it after I'd given up. The audio for the August 24, 2008 interview, taped live, was running in the background of my clackity-clacking keyboard tapping elsewhere about Rich Harden's Italian sportscar body. Yeah, what? Exactly.

****You totally thought I’d forgotten to close my parenthetical, didn’t you?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's Make Lemonade!

You gotta love Angels' fans. They always have a way of looking at the bright side of things, even if what they're looking at is a pitch black, bottomless abyss filled with falling DMV clerks and Pennywise the Clown. Yes, I'm talking about the recent trade of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for the worst contract in baseball (aka Vernon Wells) during the worst part of said worst contract. This is the site. The author of the article is Lyle Spencer and it's an official MLB blog for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim entitled "Rally Monkeys." Disney and monkeys. Doesn't get any cuter than that right?

Here's the title of the article:

Seriously, what's not to like?

Oh yeah. Let's do this.

Predictably, the Angels' acquisition of Vernon Wells at the expense of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera has the critics howling. They do that largely because that's what they're paid to do, and you can't really fault a person for that. It's the carping of fans that is somewhat baffling.

First of all, critics only say bad things about things that they think are bad. I have not heard a single person say that the Blue Jays made a bad move in getting rid of roughly $81 million and a 32 year old, .329 career OBP-hitting outfielder. Second of all, fans ARE the toughest critics, so why is this so baffling to you?

The Angels just landed a three-time All-Star at 32,

Cool. Made the All Star team once in the last four years, but whatever.

with four years on his contract, for two players who might not have had starting jobs but will get shots to play every day in their new environment. You have to be reaching hard not to like that.

Here's how I look at it. First there's Juan Rivera. Okay, he was not very good last season (injuries notwithstanding), but let's compare a couple players--just for fun.

Rivera Career Statline: .280/.328/.461
Player X Career Statline: .280/.329/.476

Rivera Career OPS+: 106
Player X Career OPS+: 108

Rivera 2006-2010 Statline: .278/.327/.466
Player X 2006-2010 Statline: .275/.329/.469

Rivera 2011 Salary: $5.25 Mil
Player X 2011 Salary: $23 Mil

You will never guess who player X is so don't even try. It's Vernon Wells. I know. Crazy shit!

Now let's take a look at Mike Napoli.

Last three seasons: 2008-2010 (Ranks Among Catchers Min. 1000 PA)
.341 OBP (4th in AL)
.502 SLG (T-1st in ML)
.361 WOBA (3rd in AL--.001 behind Posada)
.244 ISO (1st in ML)
8.2 WAR (3rd in AL)
66 HR (1st in ML)

In case you're curious, Wells has the same number of homeruns as Napoli over the last three years--with about 580 more plate appearances. Napoli also beats him in OBP, SLG, WOBA, ISO, and WAR. And Wells is going to make about $18 mil more than Napoli this year.

Sidenote: The fact that Jeff Mathis (Angels other catcher that platooned with Napoli) has gotten 818 PA's over the last three seasons is probably the single greatest piece of evidence that Mike Scoscia is not nearly as smart as people think he is. Mathis has a .200/.264/.303 statline since 2008. The Angels' justification for playing him over Napoli? His awesome defense.

Mathis UZR: -2.0
Napoli UZR: -5.2

That's pretty damn close. They both aren't very good defensively. Not terrible, but not great either. How about their offense?

Mathis Offensive Value: -48.6
Napoli Offensive Value: +36.8

Okay. That was off topic. This isn't about Scoscia's terrible, overthinking catching decisions... Back to the original topic.

This trade is shitty.

The big talking point is Wells' huge contract, which wouldn't have been an issue back in the day when it was the game that mattered, not economics.

Economics have always mattered. The more money you have to spend on good players, the more money you have to spend on GOOD players. This logic has always been put into play with every MLB team, save maybe the Yankees and their unlimited supply of payroll.

The game does matter. Money is part of the game.

The statistical focus has been on a decline in Wells' metrics defensively, his struggles against left-handed pitching in 2010, his home/road splits showing a significant preference for Toronto cooking, and his career-long struggles at Angel Stadium.

Sounds like some pretty legitimate statistical concerns. This game's played on a field, though, not on a stats sheet. People seem to always forget that!

The author, Lyle Spencer, then goes on to list all these excuses why Wells has played poorly, basically a lot of excuses/assumptions about how the Toronto turf fucked up his knees (which explains why he just had his best season in the last four years, right?). Anyways, back to the good stuff.

Now, on to Wells' statistical oddities in 2010.

You sure about this? Citing statistics does not seem like a good way to support your particular side of the argument.

He flourished at home, with a stat line (batting average, on-base, slugging) of .321/.363/.628 compared to .207/.301/.407 on the road. It happens to every player over the course of a career. His career numbers are closer: .286/.339/.505 at home; .274/.321/.446 on the road. He has hit 124 homers in Canada, 99 in the U.S. If he performs better in front of his family, that's not necessarily such a terrible thing.

I was right.

You reiterated the fact that Wells is coming from the 8th ranked hitter's park in 2010 to the 27th ranked hitter's park in 2010. The general discrepancy between home/away splits according to Baseball-Reference is roughly 40 points in OPS, favoring the home side. Over the course of his career, Wells is 77 points better at home than on the road. That's pretty significant.

What we really should be looking at, however, are his career numbers at Angels Stadium, which I'm sure are most certainly better.

And, yes, he has not hit to his customary level in Anaheim, where his slash line for his career is .226/.267/.340. But he would say that has more to do with the likes of John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields and friends than the ballpark, which he happens to love.

Lyle, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Logic. Lyle, Logic, Logic, Lyle (shakes hands with irony).

Here's a simple piece of information, kids. It shouldn't be too hard to follow: THE ANGELS HAVE THE SAME PITCHERS AT HOME THAT THEY DO ON THE ROAD. Get it? Good job. You are smarter than Lyle Spencer. Citing the pitchers as a reason why Wells hit poorly at Angels Stadium doesn't make sense unless he also hit poorly against those same pitchers at home. Let's take a look:

Career at Angel Statdium vs. Angels
.226/.267/.340--.607 OPS
Career at Home (Rogers Centre) vs. Angels
.258/.312/.474--.786 OPS

Nice try, Lyle. That's a 179 point difference in OPS. Among road parks in which Wells has played at least 17 games, Angels stadium is the home of his worst OBP (Jacobs Field possesses his only lower OPS). I applaud your attempt at a simple-minded, poorly thought-out, deceitful justification though.

Here are the numbers that should be the focus with respect to Wells' 2010 All-Star season if you are an anxiety-ridden Angels fan:

Oh hell yeah! More stats. This has worked out well for you so far.

.515, ninth in slugging in the AL;

.331, 40th in On-Base Percentage in the AL.

Also, his SLG was 58 points lower over the last 100 games.

31 homers,

One of those went to right field. Kinda nitpicky, I know, but being a dead pull hitter never bodes well, which is probably part of the reason he has a .329 career OBP.

44 doubles, 304 total bases, seventh in the AL in each category; 460 feet, fifth longest homer in the AL;

WHOA WHOA WHOA! WHAT??? Did you just say this fool hit a ball 460 feet?!?!?! Holy shit! I am in utter disbelief right now. That is some legendary, Ruthian-like power right there. Seriously, this is unbelievable. I literally do not believe this.................

so crazy....

(looks up info so friends can share in his amazement)

so amazing...

wait a second...

Oh. That's why I can't believe it. Because it's not true. Mother f*cker made it up.

Wells' farthest home run in 2010 was 453 feet, 42nd longest in baseball and 18th in the AL. I feel cheated. This trade is shitty.

1.000, his fielding percentage as one of two regular outfielders in the Majors (151 games played) to commit not a single error, Seattle's Franklin Gutierrez being the other.

-6.4, his 2010 UZR, good for 56th among 74 eligible Major League outfielders (28th out of 35 AL OF's).

One more Wells fun stat line from 2010: 6-for-10, four homers, seven RBIs in three games. That's what he did at Rangers Ballpark, back home in Arlington.

Yes. This was the very first series of the season. He hit the shit out of the ball that month. Not that this is super relevant or anything, but if you take away the first and last months of the season, here's what Wells' numbers look like:


104 Games
15 HR

To be fair, his first and last months were very, VERY good. It's just kinda weird that more than 50% of his homeruns came from 2 out of the 6 months of the season. I don't really know what to make of this other than the fact that he was embarrassingly horrible for about 65% of the season.

The man is a weapon, a pro's pro. By all accounts, he's a calm, generous individual who distinguishes his profession on and off the field.

Good character off the field is very important. Napoli and Rivera were child molesters.

My advice to fans who have endured a fitful, angry winter is to calm down and get ready to enjoy the show. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it could be something to behold. It's a lot healthier to take that attitude than to drive up your blood pressure needlessly.

Glass is half full. Love it. Too bad that half of the glass is filled with $81 million of mediocrity.

Btw, Napoli was just traded from Toronto to Texas. So Halo Heaven gets to experience hell twenty times a year now. Oh snaps!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The All Kick-Ass Century Team

Who says you can't make up an All Century Team eleven years into the century? Answer: Everybody. So if you fall into the category of everybody you can just think of it as the all 2000-2010 team. That's catchier anyways. Here we go!

1st Team

C- Jorge Posada
1B- Albert Pujols
2B- Chase Utley
3B- Alex Rodriguez
SS- Derek Jeter
LF- Barry Bonds
CF- Andruw Jones
RF- Ichiro Suzuki

SP- Roy Halladay
SP- Randy Johnson
SP- C.C. Sabathia
SP- Johan Santana
SP- Roy Oswalt
RP- Mariano Rivera
RP- Billy Wagner
RP- Joe Nathan

2nd Team

C- Joe Mauer
1B- Lance Berkman*
2B- Jeff Kent
3B- Chipper Jones
SS- Miguel Tejada
LF- Manny Ramirez
CF- Carlos Beltran
RF- Vladimir Guerrero

SP- Curt Schilling
SP- Andy Pettitte
SP- Javier Vazquez**
SP- Mike Mussina
SP- Tim Hudson
RP- Jonathan Papelbon
RP- Francisco Rodriguez
RP- Francisco Cordero

*Berkman split about half his time between the outfield and first base. Most of his defensive value came from first base, so I chose to put him there.
**Before you crucify me, you should know that if I strictly went by Fangraphs' WAR, Vazquez would actually be on the first team. Yeah, he's THAT good. However, I gave Santana the nod over him because Vazquez's only real advantage over him was innings pitched. Santana has easily been the more dominant pitcher.

So there you have it. The best players of the century. I expect both these teams to hold up all the way until year 2100, as there will most certainly not be a better shortstop than Miguel Tejada or a better reliever than Francisco Cordero over the next 89 years.

Keep this post bookmarked. Your great, great grandchildren will be impressed by my prophecy.