Archive for April, 2008

Time to go

April 26, 2008

Thursday I heard fifteen minutes of the game on the radio while driving home. It was a controversial moment, a ball that Josh Hamilton said was interfered with by a fan, but the umpires changed the call to a home run. Washington comes out to discuss it. The guys on the radio said “if he’s ever going to get tossed, it’s going to be now”. At that moment I got home, ran inside and turned on the tv. And they were in commercial. I don’t know if he got tossed, but none of the reports on the game mentioned him being tossed, in fact none of them even mentioned that play.

Tonight, the Rangers finally win after seven losses in a row. They all run out on the field, like they just won the freaking World Series (this is probably about as close as most of them will get), and we see Ron Washington high-five Ben Broussard, then turn around looking for someone else – and there’s no-one there. Eventually a couple of coaches notice he’s been left hanging, and high-five him.

Ron Washington has lost this team.

There was a blog post today saying that the big brass was meeting today (Hicks, Ryan, Daniels), and suggested they were going to fire Washington. I don’t know if that was true or not. Obviously they didn’t, but they should. He’s a tired old man, who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and the players know that.

This is the guy they could have, and should have gotten. Telling quote #1: “Had Hillman laid back and dismissed it as an early mistake in spring training, how could he command his players’ attention in August?” Washington laid back since he got to Texas. Telling quote #2: “If you get somebody who comes to be 10 games better than last year, I’ll show you somebody who’s not very passionate about what they’re doing.” Washington said in spring that the Rangers can be ten games better than last year.

Fire Ron Washington.

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Oops! Sorry Vinny, I didn’t mean it.

April 23, 2008

If there are any Ranger players reading this (yeah right), stop right now.  I can’t afford to say anything that might cause you to stop hitting, or pitching, or fielding.  Lord knows you’re already doing it badly enough.

First I cursed Michael Young on Opening Day, and he proceeded to go 0 for a week. Then, just two days ago, I praised Padilla, and said I hoped I wasn’t jinxing him. Sure enough, he went out and had an abysmal performance against the Tigers (who, despite a slow start, will be there or thereabouts at the end).

The collapse of the Rangers continues. Ron “Mr Fundamentals” Washington clearly has no idea what he is doing. Someone asked me the other day if he was asleep during the games, because he doesn’t appear to have any idea what’s going on, let alone show any kind of emotion. I’m not a big Mike Scioscia fan, mainly because his team usually beats us, but I’d sure rather have a guy who cares, not someone who looks like he should be in his rocking chair in the retirement home, telling us about how players in the old days were so much better, that they could run and steal and bunt and forget all this newfangled nonsense about getting on base, or maximizing your roster to it’s full potential.

We were leading I think 3-1 against Boston the other day (I’m pretty sure it was a 2 run lead), in the middle innings, we get the first man on, and Washington calls for a bunt. Because, you know, against some useless team like Boston, bunting the man over so someone can drive him in (or not, in the Rangers’ case) gives us that extra run, and that will make all the difference. Washington, you’re an idiot. You know what the Red Sox can do (you certainly do now). This is the American League. You don’t play for one run, you play for five or six. Remember the saying, don’t kick a man when he’s down? Doesn’t apply to baseball! Not only should you kick him, you should beat him with your bat.  Because if you don’t, he will.

The Rangers led 5-0 in the middle of the 7th on Sunday.  Win expectancy for the Red Sox is 0.039, which surprisingly enough is about 1 in 25.  I would have expected it to be much lower than that.  On the other hand, that means the Rangers should have won that game 24 out of 25 times.  I was astounded when Millwood came out for the 7th inning – I had seen his pitch count at the end of the previous inning (104 I believe) and said “okay, he’s done for the day”.  When I saw him come back, it was like “uh-oh, nothing good can come of this”.  If I can think that, what on earth were Washington and Connor thinking?  104 isn’t too many, they might have hoped to get another inning from him, but he hadn’t really been great anyway, he’d given up 8 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings.  Of course, with the bullpen collapsing, what else can you do?

Think Washington will be fired before the end of the year? I do. Those geniuses in the front office gave him a one year extension last year, through 2009. Which means when he’s fired in June or July, and Art Howe gets the job, we’ll be paying him an extra year of salary for nothing.

Not that Tom Hicks really cares right now – he’s too busy trying to save his skin in England, where the fans hate him so much the police told him he should not go to a Liverpool soccer match. We may think he sucks, but at least we wouldn’t try and kill him. Unless, that is, he tries waving his scarf and singing along with the fans.

Yes, the Boston massacre was embarrassing, and humiliating.  A coworker came into my office this morning and said “well…”, and before he could go any further I said “think they’ll manage 50 wins this year?”, and he laughed and left.  Believe me, there is no taunting that can make a die-hard Ranger fan feel worse about the team.

On Opening Day I commented about Ben Broussard being lackadaisacal in the field, comparing him to the all-out effort that Teixeira would give. Broussard’s lack of attention cost us dearly against Boston on the weekend, as he sauntered away after thinking he had made the play at first, totally ignoring the guy who kept on running and scored the go-ahead run. You know Tex would have been watching for anything like that. It’s not just his bat we’re missing.

In the Star-Telegram today there was a line from Washington about how he and Jon Daniels had talked and agreed to get Jason Botts more playing time.  My guess is that JD did all the talking in that conversation.  There was also a “kick the tires” comment on Frank Thomas.  Yeah, that’s what we need, a 40 year old washed up first baseman.  We already have a 30 year old.  Maybe we can get Bonds, too, then we can block two future players at the same time.

Loved seeing Pudge catch that foul popup, then smile at the cameras. Wish he was still doing it for us.

I forgot to save the link, but sometime in the last week or so someone wrote that Trey Hillman is outstanding at getting the young guys to improve their game.  What could have been, huh?

The Rangers are leading their opponents in something:  they’re ahead about 25-9 (I forget the exact number, and I’m not going to look it up) in errors committed.  Fundamentals.

Here’s a thought: You know those $10 Fox Box tickets? They’re $12 this year, with a $2 donation to the Boys and Girls Club. I’m all for the B&G Club (except for having A-Rod as a spokesman), but I’m really opposed to this kind of forced donation. I have charities I donate to (this is my favorite) already.  Having some multi-millionaires try and make me give money somewhere is ridiculous.  Make the tickets $12, and if the Rangers want to donate some money, do so.  Funnily enough I was just watching Bono on tv last night, talking about charity.  He said (and I paraphrase) that if it’s done publicly, it’s not charity, it’s PR.  In this case, it’s definitely PR.  There was a quote in the paper a few weeks ago about how the team has lost the fans (or rather, the franchise has lost the fans, it’s not so much to do with the team itself), and they’re trying anything to get them back.  Ironic that their new neighbors are going to charge tens of thousands for a seat license – and sell out.

Jeez, do I sound like Larry King, starting a paragraph off with “here’s a thought”?

Okay, two last lines:

John Danks: 2-1, 3.04 ERA.  17 hits (0 HR), 16 K in 23.2 innings.

Edinson Volquez:  2-0. 1.17 ERA.  12 hits (0 HR), 16 K in 15.1 innings.

And one last comment:  that’s 40% of our 2010 rotation.  Maybe, just maybe, the Chris Young/Adrian Gonzalez deal isn’t going to go down as Jon Daniels’ epitaph after all.

Finding Padilla

April 21, 2008

Vicente Padilla has been outstanding so far in 2008. This may be my attempt to jinx him, but he has been effective at the “bend, don’t break” strategy the Rangers have been working on (personally I think it should be “don’t bend or break”, because that leads to fewer collapses like the ones we’ve had the last few days in Boston). Today, I want to look at what he was doing last year and compare it to this year, using Pitchf/x data.

Through mid-June 2007 he was 3-8, 6.69, and went on the DL. He came back for eight starts in August and September and was 3-2, 3.86. When I was checking these numbers, it surprised me, I did not think he had pitched that well in the second half. Combining that with his early numbers in 2008, and it strongly lends itself to the idea that he was injured for the first half of 2007, which caused his bad numbers.

After four starts in 2007 he was 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA, and stinking up the place. His last four starts in 2007 were 2-1, 2.12. This year, with four starts down, he is currently sitting at 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA. I decided to use these three group of four starts to look at what he has changed in that time, to get clues as to his improvement. His pitch counts for the groups ranged from 284 to 335, so they are all in a similar quantity which should help us note differences visually.

Note that I wrote about the Rangers rotation back in June 07, just before he went on the DL, and those charts include the first half of last year’s data for him. The data I am working with now is the same, but utilizes several techniques that Pitchf/x researchers have developed more recently. In particular, the spin charts shown were first used (I think) by Alan Nathan and then Mike Fast, and it was a spreadsheet posted by Mike (created by Tangotiger, I believe) that contained the spin chart that I have adjusted for my use here. Much credit to all of them for their work on this.

Starting with the early 2007 chart:
Padilla early 2007 Spin

First, this polar plot maps the spin speed vs the spin angle. The angle is shown simply by it’s rotation around the circle. The speed is shown as distance from the center. In this case (and the others in this blog post) the center of the circle is 50mph, and it increases by 10mph at each step away from the center, until you get to the outer ring which is 100mph.

In my review last year, linked above, I said that Padilla was showing a fastball, curve, and slider, although the results were so mixed that it was hard to tell what was what. Reportedly he has a changeup as well, but I could not pick it out from this data. In fact, here you can see I have split the fastballs into 2 and 4 seam versions, that is something I was not able to do until working with the polar plot and some other tools.

The late 2007 chart shows some differences:
Padilla late 2007 Spin

Not only can you see much more distinction between the groups of pitches, you see the numbers have clearly changed. The groupings are much tighter than before, and the sliders (red) are clearly differentiated from the fastballs. The one thing I do have trouble with here is the curve, it appears that there are two distinct groups, suggesting one is a different pitch. None of the other charts I have show this difference, so I have left it all as a curve, but at two different speeds (the group closest to the center is around 60mph, the other is between 70 and 80 mph, which is kind of fast for a curve so is more likely to be a different pitch).

Let’s look at the early 2008 chart, then compare the three:
Padilla early 2008 Spin

Here you see a chart much more similar to the late 2007 than early 2007 one. If anything, the groupings are even more compressed this time around, and the distinction in the curve has pretty much disappeared. Of course, the curve has almost disappeared too.

So, let’s look at the differences:

Much tighter groupings of pitches as time goes on. The suggestion I would have for this would be mastery of his pitches – as he has learned to throw each one, he’s gotten better at it and is more consistent. This would be more believable if he hadn’t been pitching in the majors for ten years – if he was 22 or 23, I might find this a convincing argument.

Ratio of pitch types has changed considerably. The slider has stayed almost constant at 12-14& of pitches, the fastball (both kinds) has grown from 73% to 81%, and the curve has disappeared, from 13 and 14% last year to 5% in 2008. The ratio of 4-seam to 2-seam fastballs has stayed roughly 2-1 in favor of the 4-seam, although late last year he threw more 2-seamers than in the other time periods.

Fastball speed is down. In late 07 and early 08, his top speed was 96.5mph, second best was 95.8. He beat 95.8mph 31 times in early 07, peaking at 98.6. This drop of peak speed is about 2mph, which curiously is not reflected in the overall average for the fastballs, which stayed just about the same for all groups, in the 91-92 range. He had a much bigger spread for the fastballs, but the average remained the same. Again, this leans toward someone learning how to throw more consistently.

The slider was more focused around the 80mph mark, instead of being spread around in the mid 80s. Like the fastball, he got better when he threw more consistently.

If I give you this link, you can go back and check out his release points for the first half of 2007. It contains a very ugly image, but the gist is that he was releasing over a very wide area, well over a foot square, and on a slope from bottom-left to top-right.

Compare it with this one, for the first part of 2008:
Padilla early 2008 release points

You see here a much cleaner release area. About 3/4 of a foot wide by a little over a half a foot tall. It is also very circular in pattern, compared to the angled release last year.

My conclusion is simple: Padilla was hurt early last year, and after a couple of months on the DL in the middle of the year came back and pitched much better at the end, and much better to begin 2008. He is releasing the pitch in a smaller area, suggesting he is not trying to compensate for where it hurts to move his arm. He is producing much clearer patterns of pitches, suggesting he has more confidence in what he is throwing, and better ability to throw it how and where he wants.

All-in-all, the much-maligned (especially by me) Vicente Padilla is probably a poster child for pitching healthy. I remember a lot of talk about how he wanted to pitch even when he was hurt, because he felt that was what he needed to do to be part of the team. This study shows that when pitching hurt, he (and presumably other pitchers) are not as effective, to the extent that they are hurting their team as much as themselves. Repairing the damage is a better option than pitching through it. As I recall, there were a number of complaints from his teammates about how slow he was at pitching, which disrupted their own rhythms of being in the game. Could it simply have been a case of him having to step off the mound after each pitch for long enough that his arm would stop hurting enough so he could throw again?

I’m still not convinced about Padilla’s ability, because every time he pitches I’m still expecting the roof to fall in at any moment. It will take a while for me to lose that fear, if ever. But at least when things are going wrong for him these days, I have some hope that it’s explainable, that he can work through it, and not just because he’s injured. This use of Pitchf/x was very helpful to me to understand why something happened, and not just accepting my own opinion that Padilla sucks.

Coming soon, I’m going to give the same treatment to Millwood, who has shown a surprisingly similar pattern to Padilla from last year to this. It will be interesting to see if we can discern something that explains his struggles and improvement as well as we could for Padilla.

Pitch f/x Confidence levels

April 17, 2008

One of the things I’ve been promising for a while now is a look at the confidence levels in the Pitch f/x data this year. If you don’t already know, MLB added a pitch type to the data, and a confidence in that type. So, for example, you’ll see it say FA for Fastball, and 0.86 for the confidence.

I thought this was a pretty neat thing for them to have added, so I’ve been crunching some numbers on it. Others have looked at the pitch type, and not been greatly impressed with the results, and I’ve been working on the confidence intervals themselves.

While doing this work (and the reason it has been so delayed), I discovered, to my chagrin, that I shouldn’t concentrate so much on the Rangers pitchers (and their opponents), but rather I should be looking more league-wide when I do things like this. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, when, for example, you’re directly comparing two pitchers in a game. In that case, even if the values are off for some reason, they’re likely to be the same for both pitchers, in which case comparisons can still be made. But if you start to stretch things out, by, say, looking at all of Kevin Millwood’s starts this year, you suddenly discover how your analysis doesn’t scale.

You see, for the first part of this I had manually downloaded the xml files for the Rangers pitchers and their opponents (in the opening Seattle series) and then scattered others, principally Millwood’s starts. Once I expanded, I discovered one critical change: the scale of the confidence level. In the initial files I looked at, the confidence levels ranged from about .4 up to about .98 or so, which I took to mean that they were basing their confidence in the call of a pitch type on a scale of 0 to 1, 1 being completely confident they had it right, and lower numbers indicating how unsure they were.

When I looked at Millwood’s later starts, I suddenly discovered that he was getting confidence levels over 1, ranging up to almost 1.5. At first I thought it might be a mathematical problem, and worked on that a little, but then I realized that no, the values had pretty much been multiplied exactly 1.5 times compared to his initial start. That was oddly suspicious, so this past weekend, for the first time this season, I ran my automated process for downloading the files, and my program to install them into SQL Server. I then started crunching numbers.

Here’s a picture of a waterfall for you to enjoy:
Confidence Maximums

Okay, so really it is the confidence value from all games through 4/15. Sorting it by date and then by the home team, it kind of separates each game into a distinct (in some places) vertical line. If you can read the numbers at the bottom, it’s simply a number from my spreadsheet, sequential pitch number. Doesn’t mean anything other than a sort of representation of time.

What we see is, for the first half of the numbers (through about pitch 30,000, which happens to be around April 8, that the vast majority of games had a maximum confidence level at about 1. This maps perfectly with what I discovered in the first few files from the Rangers starts in Seattle. Oddly, though, there are about twenty or so games in that early part of the season where they spike up to 1.5. This also coincides with what I saw happening. There is a single odd game where it spikes to 2 (which happens to be Cleveland at Anaheim on 4-8), and then right around that 4-8 date all of a sudden every game goes to a 1.5 maximum.

So what happened? Take a look at this chart, which although colorful is not nearly as pretty as the other one:
Confidence Max by Team and Day

As clear as mud? This is a table showing the maximum confidence level for each game, based on the home team (horizontally) and date (vertically). The red shows days where the confidence was below 1, the yellow is around 1.5, and the sole green one is the 2. What does all this mean?

I believe that MLB changed their algorithm, and released it publically on 4/8 or 4/9. Everything after that date is using the 1.5 maximum, everything prior is using the 1.0. No it’s not, I hear you say, prior to 4/9 it is mixed! This is true, but why? Now, I believe that the yellow days on the left side are days when they were testing their new algorithm – and not necessarily live, but with old data. It is interesting to me that the three days in the middle where the data is all red are a weekend (Saturday-Monday, to be precise), which is exactly when a programmer may not be working on the changes. I think perhaps some of these games were processed live with the 1.5 maximum, but some of them they went back and ran on the data later. Why do I believe that? Because I had manually downloaded some of those games, and can compare what I got on the day of the game, to what I downloaded this past weekend, two weeks after the games were played. There would be no reason for them to go back and change those games – except if they were testing a new algorithm. Although why it would then go into a live directory instead of a test I don’t know.

So, what changes were made? Let’s take a look at the ones I manually downloaded and see what happens:

On 3-31 I got the xml files for Millwood and Bedard, who opened the season in Seattle. My manual file has a maximum around 1, but if you look really closely in the chart above you will see the file I downloaded later has a 1.5 maximum (it’s the only yellow one in the first column).

What changed for the two pitchers? With one exception, for both pitchers the pitch type stayed exactly the same, and the pitch confidence multiplied exactly by 1.5. That sole exception was the one FS pitch ( a splitter in their nomenclature) thrown by Millwood, where the pitch stayed as a FS and the confidence stayed the same.

Okay, so evidence their algorithm increased some or most pitches by 1.5 in confidence, not necessarily a big deal, right?

On 4-1 I got Felix Hernandez and Vicente Padilla’s files manually, and later automatically. They were identical.

On 4-2 I got Jason Jennings’ and Brian Burres’ files, and they showed radical changes. Many of the pitches simply showed the 1.5 increase. But – and this is the most important finding, I think – a number of the pitches (18, to be precise) changed their confidence by different values, and also changed the pitch type. CH, CU and FC pitches (changeups, curves and cut fastballs) changed to fastballs, sliders and splitters, and in no direct relationship (e.g. the changeups didn’t all change to fastballs).

I would keep going, but I think you get the point: in the first few weeks of the season, MLB changed the values not only of the confidence levels, but also the pitch types they were showing. This was probably in part influenced by articles about the lack of quality in the pitch types, such as the one I linked above, which suggested they were only getting about 70% right. I’m sure it was also influenced by their own continual desire to improve the data, and the results they are giving. For all I know, they may have been intending to do this, as they got more and more data.

I have not attempted to find which games Mike Fast analyzed in his Hardball Times article, but it is reasonable to assume that some of them might have been affected by this problem. With 18 out of 61 games in the first five days, that’s about 30%, and if Mike had downloaded the night of the game, he might not have seen these changes (it took me two weeks to discover them). Thus, it is possible that at least some of the pitches may have changed with the new algorithm. It would be interesting to see how many were affected. Given that the first Millwood game had a single pitch change, and the Jennings game had 18 pitches changed, there probably would not be a big change in Mike’s results, perhaps only a percentage point or two.

This has all been interesting for me because it underscores the real-time and transient nature of Pitch f/x. It is exciting to be looking at this stuff, it is like being on the frontier of a new science (or at least of a new way of measuring things). As time goes by it will only get better and better, and we can answer so many questions we have now. Recognizing these changes and riding along with them will be very interesting. Not as interesting as watching the Rangers win a 14 inning thriller after leaving 20 men on base, but interesting nonetheless. I hope to introduce more study of the pitch type and confidence in the near future.

You Gotta Believe

April 16, 2008

Most baseball fans will recognize the title of this blog post, one of the more famous sayings in baseball history, going back to the early 70s Mets and their rallying cry to believe in themselves and that they can win.

The 2008 Rangers do not believe.

They can’t hit.  They can’t field.  They can’t pitch.  They can’t throw.  They can’t run the bases.  They don’t know what they’re doing on the field.  They are the Bad News Bears of baseball.  They do not believe in themselves – and if you hear any of them saying they do, remember that they’re paid to say they do.  They don’t.

It’s been a horrible week in Rangerland.  The Opening Day fiasco.  Sweeping a double-header from Baltimore, who had won something like six straight, and were suddenly being anointed as contenders – apparently everyone forgot that this was Baltimore.  The team with an almost identical record to the Rangers over the last decade, identically mediocre, that is. Having Baltimore win six at the start of the year and be contenders is like having Detroit lose six at the start and be toast – you know which will be at top and which at bottom come the end of the season.  It’s like some nobody hitting three or four home runs in the first week – think Ben Broussard – and suddenly he’s a star who will end up hitting 50, not the mediocrity who will end with about 20 and a .230 average.

And then the roof fell in, metaphorically of course, because the idiots who designed the Ballpark in Arlington weren’t smart enough to put up a roof, figuring that the pitchers wouldn’t have any problem in 110 degree Julys and Augusts.  Yep, being swept by Toronto, a decent team who would be a contender in pretty much any division except the one they’re trapped in.  Then, the last two days, the disaster of losing two at home to division rivals Anaheim, who we had somehow surprised enough to win two in their place a week before.

We know they can’t hit, they’re about the bottom of the league in hitting in most every category you can think of, especially with RISP.  We know they can’t pitch, some of the guys in the rotation started well but you know they’re acting just like Baltimore, they’ll end up with their 12-12 record with a 4.89 ERA (assuming they can get it under 5 this year).  They have their little hot streaks, and maybe Millwood is on his three year rotation of good seasons (trade him if he is, his value will never be higher), but fact is even if they’re pitching like #1 starters this month, they’ll finish like the 4s they really are.

We didn’t know they couldn’t field or run the bases.  Yesterday Hamilton tossed one in which allowed a runner to score, and Marlon Byrd completely missed one that rolled to the fence.  Michael Young has had half a dozen errors or simply misses in the field, and watching those you realize why he is consistently ranked as the worst fielding shortstop in baseball.  Milton Bradley got tagged out at home because he tried to score on a ball which rolled about two feet from the catcher.  Today Murphy got out in a rundown because Byrd decided to stop at third – I’m not going to assign blame, whether it was Byrd for stopping when he was being waved (possibly with an injury) or Murphy for not watching what the guy in front was doing (to their credit, both tried to accept the blame) – but we’ve seen some funny things, and I use the word funny without any humor being connotated in it.  Hamilton was thrown out in the ninth, trying to advance to second base on a wild pitch, when his team was down by three runs.

When Ron Washington was hired he was hyped as being the guy for the fundamentals.  He has done nothing to show he knows anything about fundamentals, or about coaching.  I’m starting to wonder if maybe the real Ron was abducted by aliens, because the guy we have is nothing like the guy he was advertised to be.  Quote from the Rangers site today:  Washington had “an extended postgame meeting with general manager Jon Daniels.”  Think something might happen?  Not so sure, since Tom Hicks is still distracted by the impending collapse of his sports empire in Europe.

Throw Jason Jennings out with the bathwater right now.  He was 2-9 last year, and it wasn’t a fluke.  He is living proof that pitchers who spend time in Colorado never recover.

Was Scott Feldman really the right person to bring up to start on Sunday?  He made a decent start, but still, not only was the risk high, there were other choices to make that start.  Kam Loe, AJ Murray, even Jamey Wright, who was already in Arlington.  Heck, bring up Ponson, or even Tejeda (there’s probably some rule that wouldn’t let Tejeda do it) or Eric Hurley.  Maybe even Danks or Volquez?  But Feldman’s fear should be his arm falling off, like Willie Eyre’s did last year.  You take a reliever, try and convert him to a starter, then rush him too far, and see what happens.

Jason Botts is not only being used sparingly (five PAs in two weeks), but stupidly.  Yeah, nice going Ron, have a guy sit for a week then stick him in with the bases loaded and two outs.  If he succeeds you’re a genius for putting him in, if he fails then it’s just more proof that he’s not worth being on the team.  I hope Jon Daniels realizes this is what he’s doing.  Otherwise Mench will be up in a month or so, after Botts has ten at-bats.  I thought this kind of petty vindictiveness would have disappeared with professional management.  Oh yeah, that’s right:  professional and Ron Washington do not belong in the same sentence.

Week One:  OPS 1.094.  Week Two:  OPS .422.  You think David Murphy likes that he got them in that order, instead of the other way round?

Week One:  OPS .071.  Week Two:  OPS .946.  You think Marlon Byrd wishes he could have gotten them the other way round?

If you can believe it, the Rangers are actually a game worse today than at the same time last year.  5-9 now, they were 6-8 after 14 in 2007.  They were also only 1.5 out, today they are 3.5 out.  Yes, things can change, but right now it is shaping up to be an even worse 08 than 07, and you wouldn’t have thought that possible, would you?

At this rate Washington’s career managerial record will end with the proud record of just one single day with his team over .500 – last week when we were 5-4 after the double header.

Still, no matter how dark things get, you can always think of it this way:  my three year old loves his dot race t-shirt, and in our living room baseball game he hits half a dozen home runs (playing as “Joshua Hank Blalock Michael Young”) and the Rangers win every night.  If only he was for real.  It’s both amazing and hilarious what a young mind can come up with – I have to have a very particular stance if I’m playing catcher, just the same as Gerald Laird does, and I’m not allowed to lean back against the couch, because I need to leave room for where the umpire stands ( or rather, “the man in black who stands back there”).  And I have to wear my hat backwards, not because I’m a football player (it’s been at least a year since he started wearing his Rangers cap backwards “like football players do”), but because that’s what catchers do.  Today we were playing pop-ups, because he saw the catcher go after one yesterday.  In the time it takes him to throw off his helmet, then carefully remove his sunglasses (yes, in his world catchers wear sunglasses and take them off to catch the ball and if you tell him they don’t then he’ll cry until you let him) and place them inside the helmet , then turn around to find the ball, I think even Marlon Byrd might have been able to score.

Jason Jennings’ Opening Day start analysis

April 10, 2008

Quote from yesterday’s game report on the Rangers site: “Jennings had trouble right from the beginning and the Rangers weren’t particularly happy that he couldn’t get a few pitches called his way from home-plate umpire Brian Gorman.”

I’m always intrigued when we see quotes like this, because with Pitchfx we’re now able to take a look at what happened, or at least what was recorded as happening. Given the limitations of the system, we can see if there was some kind of problem, if the umpire was calling different pitches for each side, or if the pitcher was just making excuses.

Jason Jennings threw 84 pitches, of which 81 were logged in Gameday. My breakdown shows 39 fastballs, 24 changeups and 18 sliders. My analysis is fairly simplistic, and he is a fairly complex pitcher, so my numbers do not match what Gameday called the pitches. I would point out their confidence levels on many of the pitches were very low (more on that coming soon).

The biggest problem I saw was that his fastest pitch went 88.9 mph, and the slowest 78.6. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, and he doesn’t have a slow pitch, specifically a curve, so there is a relatively narrow band of speed that he is throwing in. I suspect this is the biggest contributor to his problems, as he had arm surgery last year, and may not have fully recovered.

Looking at the strike zone (perspective from the catcher), and only balls and called strikes, we get a view of what the umpire called without other interference (e.g. batters fouling or swinging and missing):

Jennings SZ 4-8-08

The box is my “typical” strike zone profile, being 1 foot left and right, and from 1.8 to 3.3 feet up and down. This is a rough estimate based on looking at many pitch graphs and various other people’s analyses of the strike zone as it is called, but it gives a reasonable measure to work from and to compare pitchers to.

Jennings was mainly throwing inside to the right-handers, and many of the pitches were missing inside. He could fairly argue (based on this strike zone) on about two or three balls being in the zone (one on the bottom corner), but could also fairly argue that he got a couple of calls outside the box, two to the left and one a little high. This is, to me, a wash, and doesn’t seem to support his argument. He was close on several pitches, but close isn’t good enough.

The other method I have used for the strike zone is to take the most outside strike in each direction and use that as the boundary – meaning, in this case, that if he got a call on that pitch 1.2 feet outside, anything closer to the center of the plate should also have been called. If that were the case, he could properly argue that there were half a dozen balls called that should have been strikes – although then we would be seeing the other team argue that the umpire had a very wide strike zone.

It is most instructive to compare to the other starting pitcher, and see if the same strike zone was used for both sides. Here is Brian Burres’ strike zone from yesterday:

BurresSZ 4-8-08

Quite a difference, in approach at least.  Burres threw a lot of pitches down and in – at least, down and in as it would be to a right-hander.  The Rangers are loaded with lefties, so many of these pitches are actually down and away.  I haven’t broken down by batter hand to see which is which.

Burres threw 81 pitches, 48 strikes, very similar to Jennings’ 84-46, and yet with markedly different results.  The strike zone box here is in the same position as before, and you can see there isn’t much of a problem with what was called for him.  There are a couple of pitches that might have been strikes instead of balls, but nothing bad.  His effectiveness was keeping the ball out of the zone (11 pitches inside the box, versus 13 for Jennings) and in facing an opponent which has been swinging pretty poorly in the first week of the season.

Burres, by the way, changed speeds between 68.6 and 90.2 – again not an overpowering fastball, but a much wider range.  He also changed pitches much more, he showed a fastball, curve, changeup, and slider, and there was possibly another pitch (a variation on the fastball perhaps).  This was a much different guy to the one who began the 30 run game against us last year.

In conclusion, I don’t think Jennings has much of a case.  If there were pitches he didn’t get the call on, there were others where he did and shouldn’t have.  Ultimately I think he’s just throwing a bunch of junk up there and trying to avoid the bats, and not succeeding.  I’ve already formed an impression of him, after just two starts, and it’s not a good one – it’s that of someone who has lost whatever they had, and is now making excuses and whining about it.  I hope I’m wrong.

Here’s a thought to ponder for Jennings:  after so many years in Colorado, has he adjusted his style to that park, so that he’s unable to pitch in other places?  His breakdown doesn’t suggest he was that much worse in Colorado (5.41 there vs 4.51 elsewhere for his career, not such a big difference given the park factor), but he’s certainly dropped off since leaving.  It could be just his arm problems though – in which case, given enough time, he’ll either get healthy and start pitching well, or he’s done.  As someone who will not be relied on for when the Rangers start to win, the only factor for me is that he’s taking innings away from someone who could use the extra experience in a couple of years.

Buzzkill

April 9, 2008

Well, that one didn’t go too well, did it?  Took all of five minutes for the first boos to appear at the Ballpark this year.  By the third or fourth inning, that’s all there was.  Every time the Rangers got a rally going (and when I say every, I don’t mean to imply there were many of them) someone came along to snuff it out.  On the other side, every time the Rangers got a rally going, there was a pitcher there to make sure that Baltimore wouldn’t have any trouble.

A sell-out for Opening Day, but in the eighth inning we estimated that about a third of the crowd was still there, those of us masochists who like to hang around for the bitter end.  Tomorrow night I’m guessing there’ll be about 30,000 there, if that, and even that will shrink if the weather doesn’t cooperate, like the weatherman say it won’t.  As I write we’re going through thunderstorms, which were predicted for this afternoon but held off until late in the evening.  Tomorrow they’re supposed to be earlier in the day, so ballgame time.

Not that there’s much likelihood of any kind of thunder happening in Arlington.  It very much surprised me to see we had nine hits today, I would have guessed at about four.  Once again the offense was lackadaisacal.  They noted on tv tonight that the Rangers have alternated wins and losses every game so far, so tomorrow we’re due to win, but sooner or later that offense will catch up.  Michael Young is flailing around like he is Richie Sexson.

The Rangers are 4-7 in the home openers I have attended.  They started off 2-2, then have slumped to 2-5, which is pretty much indicative of how the team has performed over the years.

In the second inning, with a runner on first, a ball was hit down to Ben Broussard, he fielded it, stepped on first, then turned and tossed it to the pitcher.  I couldn’t help comparing that to Teixeira, who every time he got a ball he was always spinning around to check where the runners were, to make sure they weren’t trying to get an extra base on him.  He’d always take a couple of steps towards the runner, too, just in case.  I guess that’s the difference between a gold glover and a run of the mill first baseman.

We sat behind a couple with a baby today, the mother said it was one month and two days old.  Josh’s birthday is September 30, so he was six months old before he got to go to his first Opening Day (today was his fourth).  But yeah, I would have taken him at one month, too.  I was a little worried for them when the flyover was about to happen, because of the noise, but I was surprised that it wasn’t that loud this year, it was probably the quietest flyover ever.  Suggestion was that there was only one, but I can’t imagine two made that big a difference.

Tom Hicks says that traffic is going to get worse around the ballpark over the next few years, as they do a lot of construction.  I have to say that it wasn’t too bad getting in today, in fact it was easier getting in than out.  We got there pretty early though, driving in around 11am.  Note to Hicks:  quit worrying about the traffic.  We know you have your limos and helicopters, you don’t have to deal with it like we do, so don’t pretend you care about it.  We’ll be happier if you pretend to care about getting some pitching.  PS:  Liverpool sucks.  And they hate you.

Umpire watch:  credit again, after calling a home run, they talked about it and changed the call to a ground rule double.  I haven’t seen it anywhere, so I’m not sure, but I never thought it was a home run when I saw it at the game (I was on the third level, first base side).  What I said at the time, as they took about five minutes to talk about it and explain it to both sides, was that if they’d watched a replay on tv they would have taken 30 seconds and actually been sure they got it right.  Still, at least they talked about it, instead of ejecting someone for arguing.  The interesting part was that Washington and Byrd ran to argue with the first base umpire, who stood there talking to them.  The second base umpire came halfway to first, and obviously had something to say about it, but in the bizarro world of umpires, he’s not allowed to say what he actually saw unless the other umpire asks him first.  Transparency and common sense, that’s all we ask for.

Couldn’t even get Jason Botts into the game in the 9th inning, down by seven?  Count the days until he is out of here, sent to a team that will use him and discover the next Travis Hafner.  Those days will also be counting the Mench arrival.

Finally, a big thank you to a fan who gave my son a ball today.  We were walking through the concourse just after noon, and he stopped us and handed Josh a ball, and said that Aubrey Huff had just hit it for a home run in batting practice.  How believable is that?  It’s a white ball, slightly scuffed, so I have no reason to doubt it.  Either way, Josh enjoyed playing with it during the game and at home tonight, so whoever you were, thank you very much.

Six months down, one night to go

April 8, 2008

A lot has happened since I last wrote, and it’s only been four days. The Rangers won a series in Anaheim (could have had a sweep if the bats were awake), and come home 3-3, and after this amazing start people are already starting to say positive things. I guess everyone expected them to go 0-162.  I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon, because those people jumping on will jump off again as soon as they feel the slightest bump, and I don’t want to get in their way. Remember, the Rangers were 5-5 last year. I would say I’m a glass half empty kind of guy, but then I’d also say that it depends on if you’re filling or emptying the glass – and I hope the Rangers are filling.

My biggest fear is that the Rangers get slightly into contention in midsummer, and abandon the long-term plan again, doing some panic deal like bringing in Carlos Lee for a few months of nothing, and getting rid of someone with actual value to the team. This is why I’d rather they stay well out of the race, get eliminated by say June 1 (kind of like last year) and then concentrate on the kids.

Everyone’s been talking about the pitching, since the hitting has been doing little.  I can only say what I’ve said a hundred times before, small sample size.  Even a blind dog does something or other now and then.

No, phooey to that, let’s go half full for a moment.  Come on pitchers!  Jason Jennings, you can do it tomorrow!  Win one for my son, that’ll make us all happy.  He is so excited to be going to the ballpark again.  Me too, I’m looking forward to a ballpark hotdog, and a new shirt (I hope they have Salty shirts available by now), and the chance to pay ten bucks to leave my car a mile away for a few hours.  Reports are for rain, I hope they don’t affect the game.

I said prior to the opening game that Washington had said he wouldn’t use Botts, and it was true. One at-bat all week, it’s ridiculous. He even said he is going to use Byrd tomorrow, to get the platoon advantage, and move Murphy to DH. Okay, Murphy may need to be in the lineup because of the way he is hitting, but how do you reconcile that with Botts sitting on the bench while Broussard plays against a lefty? I guess it’s the three home runs keeping him in the lineup, it’s sure not the 4-for-21 performance.  And more to the point, how do you justify putting Murphy at DH, he is looking better every day at the plate, and in the field.

I’ve complained about the umpires enough, here’s some credit for one: In Friday night’s game, Mike Scioscia came out to argue something, and Derryl Cousins stood there and listened patiently and politely. He clearly respected Scioscia’s right to say something, he didn’t yell at him or stare him down, he listened, let him have his say, said a few words and then they were done. This was a very professional attitude from the umpire (and indeed from Scioscia, not something I would always say). To my surprise, as I was checking the facts on this (making sure which day it was) I discovered this photo of the moment on ESPN.com.  I should point out that Scioscia’s finger is not in Cousins’ face, it is pointing off to the side.  But just look at the way the ump is listening attentively, not just saying screw you like we’ve had other guys do already this season.  Bravo Derryl Cousins!

On the subject of Pitchfx, I said last time that I’d try and write up something about the first few games of the season. Well, as usual, I started digging into the data as I went, and found more and more stuff I wanted to write about, and ended up writing nothing. My most interesting result was on the new fields in the data, the pitch type and the confidence in that pitch, and how they seem to be being interpreted as they went along. Here’s a question for you: who do you think the algorithm would have more confidence in, Millwood or Padilla? And don’t think for a second that it relates to confidence in their actual ability! More on that, including the answer, very soon.

Gabbard had such a terrible spring that he was on the verge of being sent down, I think.  It was only thanks to the lack of bodies available that he made the team, but he put it all together the other night.  Just one start, but certainly hopeful, as was the way Millwood and Padilla pitched on the weekend.  Do you get the feeling Millwood was going to go a complete game no matter what, just because everyone had talked about the Rangers setting the record for most games without one?  Oh yeah, what does this do to their arms, pitching for long periods so early in the season?  I’ve always heard that their pitch counts are kept down to start the year because it’s cold, and they’re still working their way up to full strength after the winter.  Remember, if arms start falling apart again in a month or two, you heard this theory here first.

Edinson Volquez struck out eight in 5 1/3, gave up one run and got the win, in his debut for Cincy.  John Danks had five no-hit innings going, ended up giving up one run in 6 2/3 (no decision), last week against Cleveland.  Just sayin’.

Opening Day at home at last, we’ll be there. Look for me, I’ll be the guy in the blue McCarthy shirt, with the red cap. You ought to be able to find me, just look for the three year old bouncing off the walls as he drags me around the ballpark.

Flat

April 3, 2008

Just three games in, and I’m already in a baseball funk.  The Rangers played tonight like they are, too.  Hopefully the day off tomorrow will help – although it’s a bad sign, looking a day off in the first week of the season.

I only watched about half the game today, first couple of innings, bits and pieces in the middle, and the end.  It couldn’t hold my attention for very long, because there was literally nothing happening (no, not literally).  If you were someone who didn’t like baseball, you would point at this game as a prototypical example of boring baseball.

Jennings wasn’t too bad, four runs in five innings is a fairly typical Rangers start, and really apart from the two home runs he didn’t do much wrong.  But he also didn’t do much right – there was no dominance, no striking out the side, in fact, only 48 strikes in 91 pitches.  Bland.  Can he do better?  Maybe.  His track record from last year doesn’t suggest he can though.  I think he’s on schedule to throw the home opener on Tuesday (hey, Josh Lewin, when’s the home opener?  Tell us again, for the four thousandth time, even though if we don’t have tickets already we’re out of luck), which after watching this game, does not fill me with great excitement.

As for the rest, Ben Broussard’s home run was the highlight of a three hit attack.  Carlos Silva stayed in way too long (116 pitches) for a first start of the season, and toward the end there he was looking a little shaky, but he did enough to keep us off base.

I am so mad at the tv people though.  Last night they missed the first pitch of a Josh Hamilton at-bat, which happened to have him grounding out, but all we saw was him crossing first base.  Tonight they went far worse, missing the first three pitches of the game, including the Kinsler double.  I understand they’re trying to squeeze as many ads in as they can, but come on!

Josh Lewin also treated us to the surprising news that the yellow line marking home run territory is not necessarily the home run line, according to umpires.  It’s just an indicator, he said.  Firstly, it doesn’t indicate much if they get so many of those calls wrong, and secondly, this will come as news to every single fan who has ever watched a game, and 99% of the broadcasters.  Is this yet another case where the umpires are making things up as they go along, to try and insert themselves into the game?

Speaking of umpires, I had no problem with them tonight, after a couple of bad displays the first two games.  Maybe I should keep track of that stat:  bad umpire plays, or maybe games ruined by jerks in blue suits.

Everyone will point out that the Rangers haven’t won an opening series since 2001.  I will point out that they seem to start on the road every single year, so they’re automatically given a tougher start than they could have.  Once again this week people are talking about the weather interruptions (Jays at Yankees were rained out, if only it had been Yankees at Jays then it would have been in a dome).  If that’s the case, the Rangers should get more early games in the season, because we’re having some pretty nice weather right now, no snow or 50 degrees like in Seattle.  Who makes up those schedules, anyway?  (Do I remember reading about some old man and his wife who’ve been doing it for umpteen years?  Or am I crazy?)

8 runs for and 13 against will give us a Pythagorean winning percentage of .274, or about 45 wins.  Remember, small sample sizes tend to distort things.

You know how the Rangers have the “You could use some baseball” theme going?  It could be worse:  the Mariners’ theme is “Mojo Risin'”.   I’m sure that means something to someone.  Actually I’m only guessing that’s their theme because it’s in the same place on their mlb.com page as the Rangers theme.  The other teams I checked didn’t have one.  Which may be another pointer – you have to be a pretty lame team to need a theme (that is, a theme other than “we’re going to win”).

I’ve been meaning to mention all series about how the Mariners are kind of the model for the Rangers.  By that I mean that while the Rangers have been floating along, winning from 71-80 games every year but one in the 2000’s, the Mariners weren’t afraid to tear their team down, from 116 wins in 2001 to 93 in 2003 to 63 in 2004, and then climbing back again.  The Rangers committed to mediocrity, or just below mediocrity, and the Mariners went back to basics and quickly jumped back into contention.  Who would you rather be right now?  A team with an average offense and no rotation, or a team with below average offense and one of the best rotations in baseball?  Their pitching is going to carry them close to the top, whereas ours is going to lead us back to 75 wins.

I’ve been looking at Millwood and Bedard’s PitchFX data all week, trying to come up with something to say about.  Since tomorrow is an off day, maybe I’ll get it written up, perhaps even expanded to cover all six starters.  We’ll see how it goes, but keep an eye out for it.

Game 2: Throw it away, hit it back

April 2, 2008

That was a good one. Then a bad one. Then a good one again.

I swear I wasn’t really expecting Michael Young to go hitless when I wrote that yesterday. And even though I said Murphy will soon overtake Byrd on the depth chart, I didn’t expect that to happen so soon. Murphy was outstanding again today in every aspect. He clearly deserves a good shot at being fulltime.

Surprised that Padilla was allowed to get to 110 pitches, but then it usually takes that many for him to get through six innings.  Eight hits and three walks, and only one run allowed.  Amazing.  I still have little faith in him though, I spent the whole night just waiting for the other shoe to drop and see hit after hit and run after run.  It’s going to take a long time to believe in Vinny Padilla.  Even if the rotation has an 0.75 ERA so far this year.

King Felix was very very good, but he suffered the problems the Rangers have, not getting offensive support.  He’ll have a Cy or two or three by the time he’s done.

Bad inning for Jack Benoit, but not a big deal, certainly not in the end. He was victimized by fielding of course, which is why only one of the three runs was earned, but he wasn’t very sharp himself. But that was yet another ball in the dirt that Laird should have blocked. Had to block, given the go-ahead run was on third.

Okay, so a few of those guys have flu or flu-like symptoms (I have a cold myself right now) and they’re sucking down pills to keep playing. But really, Kinsler’s now 2 for 9, maybe he should have rested and let his backup play. Oh yeah, his backup is Vazquez. Never mind.

Hamilton’s first, definitely not the last. I wasn’t happy when he was acquired, I still don’t think I am, but he’s certainly doing all he can to bring me round. Two excellent catches, maybe we finally have someone who can play good center field in Arlington. My three year old yesterday, when seeing Hamilton sans hat for the first time, said “he has crazy hair”. Today, at one point when he returned to the dugout and took his helmet off, I looked at him and thought “wow, Will Farrell plays for the Rangers”.

Kinsler thought Broussard was safe at second, and yelled about it.  No big deal, until the camera pans over to Tim Tschida at second, looking across like he was going to toss Kinsler if he said another word.  I talked about the aggressive attitude from the ump yesterday, to see it again today was irritating to say the least.

The guys on tv were very charitable towards Michael Young after the final out, saying how it was good the ball was hit to him so he could end the game. Me, I was going “oh no oh no oh no” all the way until it hit the glove. Speaking of, his error, that wasn’t a good throw but Tex would have dug it out, not jumped away from the ball like it was a bull and he had a red flag. How long has Broussard been a first baseman?

So glad to see Brad Wilkerson continuing the great run of form he had for us. Want to read something funny? Try this piece on the Mariners site. Apart from the great line “So the Mariners’ new right fielder is being asked to just be Brad Wilkerson”, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone, note that nowhere in this pretty long article does it even mention he played in Texas. And then there’s this quote: “Midway through last year, I was getting back to where I was before I got hurt,” he said. “The last half of the season showed what I’m capable of doing.” Just for fun, I checked out his stats on Baseball Reference: the first half last year he had an OPS of .817, the second half .749. 14 HR 42 RBI in the first half, 6 and 20 in the second (in only 20 fewer PA). So yeah, I think I agree with him when he showed what he’s capable of in the second half.

Richie Sexson is done.

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but Tom and Josh were talking about how the statheads were ruling out the Mariners, saying their 2007 was a fluke. Since they allowed more runs than they scored last year, their record should have been like 79-83 instead of 88-74. Josh and Tag were dissing this thought, and I swear Tag said something about this being calculated as part of some complex system called Pecota. If that’s really what he said, then I’m disappointed that not only did he diss statheads (of which I am one), but that he did it wrong. Pecota is not what he was talking about, it is a player projection system created by the guys at Baseball Prospectus, who are pretty much the smartest people around when it comes to talking baseball stats. What they were actually talking about is Pythagorus, which is the much simpler idea that your ratio of wins to losses correlates very well with your ratio of runs scored to runs allowed.  To have the guys on tv slam stats like that is really annoying in this day and age, when we see teams like the A’s and Red Sox winning using these theories, and teams like the Rangers struggling to integrate it into their system.

Is there anyone out there who believes the Rangers when they say that using Nolan Ryan’s beef in the hamburgers has nothing to do with him becoming president? Or that the 75 cent price increase won’t go straight into his pocket? Come on, do you think we’re stupid? It’s like that Cowboys exec, bought land around the new stadium a couple of years ago and sold it to the Cowboys last week for a handsome profit (while the taxpayers give them hundreds of millions of dollars). Or like the oil execs in Congress today, who said that they’re really sweet lovable guys who hate the fact that we’re rapidly closing in on four buck a gallon gas. Rich folk have figured out that they can lie about anything, and we the people will sit here and say thank you, may I have another?

Hey, we’re at .500.   Haven’t been there since we were 5-5 last April (not counting the 0-0 from October to March).  Better yet, the hoped for split on this road trip is looking much more possible.