Tagged: Stat Theory

The James Loney Call Up

TheDodgers called up James Loney from Triple-A Las Vegas and designated Brady Clark
for assignment. Loney is a solid prospect but didn’t get the call based on
merit having posted a .279/.345/.382 performance in the Pacific Coast League
with one home run and 48/25 K:BB ratio in 56 games.

 
I’m unsure what’s going on in Los Angeles as
playing time has become a commodity with Matt Kemp having been recently
recalled to go with prospect Tony Abreu, Andy LaRoche having been demoted. Abreu
–- a second base prospect — is the starter at the hot corner at present over Wilson
Betemit, Kemp fights for time with Andre Ethier, possibly moving to centerfield
as the Dodgers have become disenchanted with Juan Pierre’s inability to get on
base or play the position  to the
standard of a centerfielder earning $44 million through a five-year stretch. Loney
could play the outfield in a pinch but is best suited to first base, where
veteran Nomar Garciaparra can be found struggling with offensive woes, one home
run and a .273 batting average in 231 at-bats.

 
Nomar and
Vlad Guerrero are the anti-Christs to the plate discipline disciples. In the past
10 years both have used their unique abilities — profound eye-hand coordination
in combination with superlative reflexes – to ignore the notion of taking
pitches; hitting for both average and power without the need for a strike to be
thrown. But has Nomar’s time come and gone? I’ve long suspected age-slide
issues would be quick and severe for these two, Nomar more than Vlad for a host of
reasons. There’s a case to be made Nomar, at age 33, has begun to deteriorate.

 
I’ll help
disclaim this incidental statistical analysis by pointing out I’m comparing two
months of data against three years, at times 10. Small sample size disclosed, here are the
results….

 
As
mentioned Nomar annually displays a hit-first approach, and is normally on the
bottom of the pitchers per plate appearance stat, one that can be used to point
to an age-slide; as a player’s reaction slow or his eye becomes less than, he’ll
have a tendency to take more pitches and this increase, in combination to a contact
rate reduction, and possibly a swing in his usual GB/FB rate, is an indication his
best is behind him. Ignoring his small sample rookie call up, his 3.49 pitches
per plate appearance is higher than any of his prior years, well above his
career average of 3.19. He’s a notorious first-ball hitter, his average this
year is .405 on 0-0 counts –- career .336 –- yet he’s made contact just 16.02 percent of the time, again well
below the 22.75 percent he posted the three years subsequent. These in
combination with a groundball-skewed rate of 1.46, the highest of a career that
has averaged a highly neutral 1.01 suggest his career is in quick-slide.

 

Perhaps
the Dodgers are hoping to trade him the Loney call up seems to indicate
something is afoot.

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Positions

Often we at this end of the business discuss positions like they’re given, trying to second-guess and come up with the preferable lineup. I was recently struck by how little most of us on the outside know on the topic. I spend a great deal of time studying development issues, the why and how shortstop Gary Sheffield wound up in right field. Sometimes it’s organizational need; other times it’s growth and development. Yet despite the countless hours spent in research and the decades watching the game I miss.

In a recent Reds dissection I pontificated on Adam Dunn and his lacking as a left fielder, making the leap to Dunn as the first sacker and Triple-A Chris Denorfia coming up and playing the outfield. But a very knowledgeable person that knows the team well has just taken me to task. He makes the point that Dunn cannot adequately play the position. We tend to oversimplify the offense-only player by assuming he plays first when no other position is available for his deficiencies. But is this correct?

And the answer is no. Miscues and deficiencies are more visible in the outfield but are actually more lethal at first base. After all, which position is more involved in the defense? I find it curious that we as a group make this one common assumption when it goes against the grain of our Little League experience. Think about that – was the last kid picked on the schoolyard put at first or sent to left field, the wasteland pre-teen ball? It’s true the first base position requires less speed making the spot ideally suited to the big man; particularly those very tall like Dunn at 6-foot-6. But that doesn’t automatically make him capable of positioning, reacting or bless him with the footwork necessary to excel as a major leaguer at the position. In fact, he’s right handed and southpaws tend to move to their right better, throw to the second base double play with greater ease and make a longer target to the right, one of the few positions that skews to the glove on the right hand. In this case I made an erroneous assumption — at least according to one expert whom I believe – one that is common place but not any more forgivable.

Will Carroll produced an exercise on The Juice where he took a list of Gold Glove players, one at each position, and asked they each be reassigned to a different position to form the optimal defensive alignment. A majority of those that responded chose Greg Maddux to be reassigned to second base. I found this astonishing given it’s my contention that the second sack is the one position that is unique in the type of athlete that excels defensively and it has the lowest mortality age with only a couple over the age of 35 currently playing the position regularly. I used to play the position pre-teen as a southpaw, at a time when the double play was an anomaly, forced to move to centerfield later (a short, light-hitting centerfielder that had a predictably short tenure retiring to the gridiron as a running back in high school). Now 40ish, I couldn’t make a pivot without tearing up an abdominal muscle yet many believe the position requires a glove as a post ala Maddux.

As a fact it’s a position that has the shortest player averaging less than 5-11. Of the major league sample only three were over six foot, Mark Grudzelanek, Jeff Kent and Chase Utley, all 6-1 and known for their offense and considered limited defensively. In development there are few moves to second base from any other position except shortstop and the general rule of thumb for a failed defensive second sacker is a shift to the outfield, often to centerfield.
In prospecting it’s the most difficult position to project, with many of the top shortstops moving to second base by the time they reach the majors. It has been terribly predicted for decades with the highest failure rate, mainly due I believe to the notion it skews to the smaller man defensively, and prospecting is 75 percent offense oriented. In fact, I’ve taken to ignoring the low minor second baseman  — who routinely fail at the higher levels –- for my prospect list, instead looking at indicators from Double-A and above expecting the rare top prospect that is too good to pass on ala Rickie Weeks and Josh Barfield.

All in all the most under analyzed, under predicted and underappreciated position in baseball.

Dan Quon

Minor Musings April 25

Radhames Liz P Orioles – He’s the talk of the high Single-A Carolina League right now posting a 33/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just three starts and 15 innings, allowing a trio of runs on seven hits.

Many are touting him as the next uber pitching prospect ala Felix Hernandez with “electric stuff.” He does have a live arm throwing in the mid-90s with great life but honestly the assessment is a bit over the top. The fastball is not in question breezing through stints in the New York Penn and South Atlantic Leagues in 2005 with a 137 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 and a third innings. I hate being the voice of dissention but he was 21 years old through that trial, now 22. He has a reported plus curve but is a bit behind in his development as an overage signing from the Dominican Republic. He isn’t struggling as a mature player and you’d have to think this year’s eye-popping totals is an indication he’s having success developing his secondary pitches, but we’ll see how he handles the high minors before making any wild prognostications. A Daniel Cabrera comparison might be more apt as Hernandez is already in the majors and two years younger.

A pitching prospect can post great numbers in A-ball with a two-pitch repertoire but it usually causes a bump at Double-A or Triple-A. Liz needs a changeup and reports are he has a slider in the works as well. If these don’t come to fruition he’ll gain the future closer tag. I always take issue with “electric stuff,” in reference to one pitch. Matt Anderson, former Tigers No. 1 and dismal flop, always comes to mind when I hear it in the one-pitch context.
I believe the future is bright for Mr. Liz and I’m anxiously anticipating his promotion to Double-A so I can get a look, at the very least on MiLB’s television coverage (The Carolina League is just a bit out of my Pacific Northwest zone). But I’ve seen many of these types flame out at the higher levels or get injured. Of note is a scouting report that says it’s in a fluid motion, a good indicator the latter is less of a factor. I’m hoping he’s all that but I’ll need convincing at a level of his peers. 

Movement
Cole Hamels (Phillies) gets promoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barrie. I wrote on him last week in this blog and the level jump shouldn’t come as a surprise. I mentioned injuries have hurt his development but it may not matter that much. His short time at Double-A last year (three starts) was good, but don’t be surprised if he struggles a bit initially. The International League is full of older hitters, and many have been major league bench players. It’s a big leap from dominating the Florida State League.

Angel Guzman (Cubs) gets promoted to the majors and may start on Wednesday. I like him more than most feeling he’ll be a solid major league pitcher.  He shouldn’t suffer with the same nibblitis that plagued Jerome Williams, who lost his trademark confidence and has faltered since. The best thing for him would be the same success he had in the Pacific Coast League as a 21-year-old.

With Kerry Wood on the mend I’m not certain how long Guzman’s stay will be. A successful start on Wednesday could go along way in determining the length. Long term I think he fits into the back of the Cubs rotation for a couple of years, and has the makings of a good major league pitcher, if not an excellent one.

Howie Kendrick (Angels) gets promoted to the majors after lighting up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in April with a .386/.403/.586 performance , 13 RBI in 16 games.
He is the best second base prospect without question, but I’m not sure of his role with Adam Kennedy hitting well at present. I think he’s ready for the majors but don’t see him being anything more than a platoon player with the current Angels’ roster. It seems the Macier Izturis hamstring injury might be a long one, and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to have the 22-year-old Kendrick sitting and not getting regular at-bats somewhere.

Minor Annoyance
I continue to harp on Internet baseball analysis in the area of statistical evaluations. Today’s rant is again on plate discipline and the strikeout-to-walk ratio. The K/BB ratio is directly related to the issue of plate discipline but is one measure and not the most important one; a result of, not the actual means of measurement.  The true measure of plate discipline is in the pitches per plate appearance. The notion of plate discipline is not simply to take a lot of pitches looking for a walk, but rather to take pitches waiting for the pitch to hit. The old school truism –- waiting on a pitch you can drive — reveals itself in new age stat analysis. The more pitches taken increases the likelihood of a mistake pitch coming your way. Statistics 101 — the probability calculations.

A low walk rate combined with a high strikeout rate and a high volume of pitches taken does not infer a lack of discipline. It can mean a host of things including just being an example of who is hitting around you. More often than not it’s a symptom of aggression in power hitters, a stereotypical example of young sluggers with strong plate discipline skills. The walk totals rise for these types with more experience. Also of note is the aging power hitter who has begun to lose reaction time. He starts to take more pitches, knowing what he can get to and what he can’t, but generally this leads to a greater number of walks and strikeouts. It’s a decent stat for determining when a player has begun the inevitable age-slide.   
There should be a basic stat-skill test for writers posing as analysts. Stop condemning players and making dispersions based on things you know nothing of. Not only would it help address the accountability/responsibility issue, but also my heart rate would remain stable and my quickly escaping hairline might last another season.

Dan Quon

Scouting Methodology – Eye At The Plate

One of the things I dislike about the fantasy industry – one of my many pet peeves — is the pretend sabermatrician, those that have read just enough Bill James to make them dangerous. They insist on looking at the strikeout rate and the strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB rate) for hitters and lumping all players that strikeout a great deal in one category, making a sweeping generalization that falls more than a stone throw away from accuracy. This season I’ve again been forced to endure the “eye at the plate,” comments for different players’ slow starts, most notably Jeff Francoeur.  Jose Guillen and Aramis Ramirez were labelled same in the later part of last decade, a few of the many examples that erroneously use of the term over the years.

“Eye at the plate,” is actually a reference to the ability to find the release point and recognize the pitch within the split-second time frame required for a major league hitter. If you see a guy taking a big cut at a slider far outside, then watch as a big curve fall into the middle of the plate, you may have a pitch recognition issue. However, if you witness a player swinging at his toes for pitches low and inside, and taking rips at the sky for the eye-level fastball, you probably have something called plate discipline, particularly if they’re fouling off the out- of-zone pitches. This is a completely different problem. Jose Guillen sees and identifies the pitch, he simply chooses to swing at it, following Raul Mondesi and a host of Latin players led by Vlad Guerrero in the well-known colloquialism, you don’t walk off the Island. For the record – there is less truth to the collaquialism in the majors than in the minors, and it’s not a fair representation of every Latin player by any means. But it does represent the many who initially come to pro ball without a lot of coaching and organized structure, and Latin players are over-represented in that sample group. It isn’t racist or a stretch to consider the different social settings which comprise the now International group of professional ball players,  and the largest population of those are in the minors and under the age of 26.

I abhor those that make references to the eye at the plate issue for players like Francoeur, who I’ve written on often for his raw skills and associated problems, but have never questioned his talent in this area. This term is more indicting for my academic studies reveal it’s not really teachable. The trait, necessary for major league success, is evident in the K/BB rates but it takes physical scouting to make the determination. If a player can’t recognize a pitch fast enough, there isn’t much that can be done. Experience and repetition can hone the natural ability, but not teach it.

But plate discipline can be taught, and those that suffer with the problem and yet reach the high minors with success, often have a well-tuned eye. Guerrero is the prime example, a player that likely recognizes a pitch as quickly as Tony Gwynn as it takes that spit-second advantage to get his bat on the ball outside the zone, something he’s accomplished with eerie consistency throughout his career. And it only takes a modicum of discipline for these types to eventually succeed. Use Jose Guillen’s career path as the model for this theory.

Most of you now know who Chris Shelton is but I’ve been following his career for some time. A 33rd round draft pick who destroys the low minors should get the attention of anyone who professes to have knowledge or interest in prospecting. When he was exposed in the Rule 5 draft I wrote it was a horrible move for the Bucs, and you should also note that two of the Latin players mentioned, Guillen and Ramirez, were also Pirates prospects. I’ll let you draw your own inferences on the organization, as there are three phases to this element of the business, scouting, development and management. The Pirates obviously did one of them well through this time period.

Now that you’ve all seen Shelton, can anyone aptly compare his athleticism to the likes of Barry Bonds? Shelton is a combination of discipline and eye, and looking at the two physical specimens I’d guess a comparison at the same age would have the young Tiger picking up the pitch a fraction quicker than Bonds but reacting to it slightly slower. If you look at both of them as 25-year-old’s could anyone not believe Barry would have better reaction time? The eye issue is the great equalizer, the reason a rotund aging player like Gwynn could lead the league in batting average a few years back, hitting over a younger physical specimen like Gabe Kapler by a 100-plus points.

I never question the eye without a full analysis for it’s not something to treat lightly. I’ve made it for Xavier Nady, whose career has always better early in the season before the pitchers get their breaking stuff working at 100 percent and before advance scouting starts to pay dividends. He returns to the minors — fastball leagues – and destroys them, only to come back again and eventually struggle. If you take a hard look at the numbers in this analysis, you’ll see he’s very close but routinely fails this one issue despite the physical tools and power potential that should have him a top player. As mentioned here, I see the same issue in Brad Eldred and don’t think he’ll ever reach the heights many of you envision.
There’s thousands of words on this topic as to why and whom, the issue of genetics, but for another time. Does anyone hold a superior theory?
Dan Quon

High Minor Pitchers

It’s been a rough couple of days on major league pitching
prompting me to write a fantasy article on bad projections based on age versus
control. Here I’d like to extend the conversation to the minors by reviewing a
couple of teammates at Triple-A.
Triple-A Buffalo – Jeremy Sowers versus Fausto Carmona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IP

 

 

H

 

 

R

 

 

ER

 

 

W

 

 

K

 

 

Pit

 

 

Strikes

 

 

GB/FB

 

 

Sowers

 

 

6

 

 

6

 

 

1

 

 

0

 

 

3

 

 

5

 

 

87

 

 

59

 

 

10-2

 

 

Carmona

 

 

4

 

 

3

 

 

2

 

 

1

 

 

0

 

 

3

 

 

57

 

 

39

 

 

5-4

 

Both of these lines are decent, the antitheses of what we were
witness to in the majors the past couple of days. Carmona posted a 2.17-to-1
strike-to-ball ratio against Sowers’ 2-to-1, both numbers are acceptable, very
good against Matt Cain’s 1.35 major league performance Friday night. Carmona is expecting a call up next week. But why do I, a
prospect guy that likes stuff and K-rate more than any other, prefer Sowers to
Carmona for the long haul?

Carmona has better stuff/velocity and sound control, but has
given up more hits than innings pitched in his four-year minor league career
and his strikeout-per inning ratio has declined at each level sitting at 5.31
last year at Buffalo. Note the ground ball to fly ball ratio. Sowers’ 10-2 line
might be an aberration but Carmona has been a guy who gives up his share of fly
balls. That in combination with the hits yielded as a minor leaguer despite the
glowing scouting reports, and the stadium, league, and competition within the
AL Central doesn’t bode well for his success. CBS Sportsline made a recent
comparison to Ervin Santana suggesting he’ll have the same impact, but frankly,
I don’t know how they justify it. They’re both from the Dominican Republic and
have interesting names? If I were to draw a statistical comparison it would be
to Carlos Siva,  2-3 years away from the current Twins’ stats. But nobody wants to here that!

I prefer Sowers for the long haul as a guy who doesn’t have
the same stuff, but has out-performed Carmona through his minor league career.
He shouldn’t be the next in line as he had but one Triple-A start prior to
Friday, and needs at least a half-season of the higher competition. And despite
the hype of a sixth overall college pick in 2004, he’s not an ace in the
making. History lesson of note – In 1983 the first overall pick was collegian
Tim Belcher, a decent number two/three at his peak who had a long and solid
journeyman career. Another 18 picks and 10 pitchers later we come to the Red
Sox’s pick and the arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, one Roger
Clemens.

Sowers looks like a left-handed number two at his peak. I’m
not going to make a comparison to David Wells as same pitcher type or athlete,
but that’s his basic projected career profile statistically. He relies on
smarts over pure stuff and is a safer bet than Carmona. The real ace in the
making is Adam Miller who made a splash in his Double-A debut pitching six
shutout innings on three hits and walk while striking out seven.

I think many have Carmona profiled on stuff believing he will be one of the guys that out does his minor league stats in the majors. I believe that title will eventually go to Cubs’ Angel Guzman and don’t see Carmona in the same league eventually. But he does throw strikes, something lacking at the back of the major league staffs thus far in 2006.
Dan Quon

Projections And Projectors

In Sam Walker’s book, Fantasy Land, he wrote stats are only able to predict the performance of ballplayers with about 60 percent accuracy, at least according to the people at NASA he hired for this analysis. Let me first qualify this by stating I don’t have the analysis and data to verify this and quantify my thoughts. NASA minds in combination with their computer power seem like a safe bet for information accuracy, but I would like to know the range factor for determining failure. Maybe I should attempt to contact Mr. Walker, but that doesn’t seem like something I’d do. Sixty percent seems awfully low. If I were to have that success rate for financial projections — a less volatile environment but not without its human factors and market variables — I would have been unemployable a decade ago. Back when I used to do projections for fantasy, before the minor leagues and writing consumed the time, I believe I had a much higher success rate, but again, have no proof without the range factor.

Projections can be handled in numerous ways, and thus not all projectors are equal. I could run each projection through three separate and unique formulas altered for baseball from my finance methods to arrive to a set of mean numbers, but that would be cost inefficient given I’ll need to run this for each of roughly 650 players at a minimum. And I’d need to check each one individually, and adjust one-third for being inaccurate due to historical sample size, as well as all the variables created by movement and changes to rosters etc.

Some projectors like to do this from the get-go, relying totally on instinct whereas others prefer to let the program do the prognosticating. I believe most of the fantasy professionals have to manually perform at least a percentage of them for the nature of the beast is competition against one another. I personally go back to my professional training and use methods that permit substantiating the claim, and then try and find an apt player comparison to justify my intuition choices.

With that knowledge one projector will certainly not be equal to another, and some will ultimately prove to be better over the long haul, producing the higher percentage of accuracy consistently. If you have the time and, or, money, I’d suggest picking up various projections and use an average, throwing out the high and low from each one, like Olympic judged events. Or, if you’re new to the notion of projections and don’t have the time, find the projector who best represents what your instincts are telling you and run with that.

Dan Quon