Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gettin 'Er Duen

What do the Twins need this second half? They need a bunch more “Brian Duensings.”
This week I got to participate in the Sports on Demand web show on Fox 9 (which you can see here). On of the midseason awards we presented was the Twins Most Valuable Player, which belonged to Justin Morneau, who was chosen unanimously. This is not a surprise.
But second place, at least on my ballot, should surprise.

When I look at MVP, I like to look at a statistic called Win Probability Added. WPA isn’t like most of the advanced offensive metrics: you’re not taking a bunch of other stats and adding them or dividing them together. WPA just measures how much each player impacts the probability of their team winning a game. So, if a player who comes to bat with his team having a 47% chance of winning a game, and leaves the at-bat with his team having a 51% chance of winning the game, he gets .04 points. If they have a 44% chance of winning the game when he’s done with his at-bat, he loses .03 points. That’s it.

I like WPA because it places a player’s performance inside the context of their situation. Pitching a scoreless inning in an 8-1 blowout doesn’t help your team much. Doing the same thing in a tie game does.

You find out that players with higher WPA scores are often fan favorites. Why? Because fans watch the game, and understand that this guy’s impact on their season was far higher than their numbers might indicate. For instance, if you liked Orlando Cabrera last fall, you had good reason. His stats were good, but his WPA was excellent. His impact far exceeded his time here.
If you look at WPA this season for Twins hitters (you can find them here), Morneau is where you would think he would be – atop the list and by a far amount. If you look at the list of pitchers, you find Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch and Francisco Liriano, but you find them in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Guess who is at the top of that list…

A: Brian Duensing

How does one become one of the team’s most valuable players as a middle-innings reliever? The SOLE answer is consistency. Duensing has appeared in 38 games. Only in five of them has he decreased the team’s chances of winning. Those five are:

6/19 at Philadelphia – This was Saturday’s “comeback” game in Philadelphia. He gave up a solo home run in the 7th when the Twins were down 8-4. Because the lead was already large, it didn’t have much of an impact. Total percentage impact: -1.2%

7/4 vs Tampa Bay – With the Twins already down 5-1, Duensing took over for Nick Blackburn with one out in the seventh, inheriting runners on first and second base. He got out of the inning but the two runners scored on a double by Gabe Kapler. Again, team is already losing, so a small impact. Total percentage impact: -3.4%

6/10 vs. Kansas City Royals – The Twins had been down 8-1 but had closed the gap to 8-6 as Duensing pitched the top of the ninth. After getting two quick outs, he gave up a home run to Wilson Betemit and a single before being placed to Matt Guerrier. The Twins continued their comeback in the bottom of the frame, but lost 8-9. Total percentage impact: -3.9%
Now we get to the one’s that hurt, because the game was close.

6/23 at Milwaukee – With the Brewers leading 3-2 in the seventh inning, Duensing walked a batter, got an out, intentionally walked a batter and hit Prince Fielder with a pitch. One of those runners eventually came around to score. Total percentage impact: -7.5%

5/22 vs Milwaukee – This was the Saturday game at Target Field, where the Twins grabbed an early lead, the Brewers tied it in the ninth, and the Twins finally won it in the 12th after missing all kinds of previous chances to win it. I expect to find out that Duensing was the main culprit for that comeback. Nope. He just started the seventh with a single and a walk when the scores was just 4-2. Then he was pulled. Guerrier got him out of the inning without any runs scoring. Total percentage impact: -13.6%

Bu that’s it for negative WPA. By contrast, he has impacted 31 games positively (two were neutral). But what is amazing here is that these are not Herculean endeavors. These are a guy doing his job in a close game. Here are the five games he impacted most positively:

5/12 vs Chicago White Sox – The Twins were clinging to a 3-2 lead and Duensing started the 8th. He struck out Juan Pierre, and got AJ Pierzynski to ground out to second. That’s it. Guerrier got the third out of the inning and the Twins eventually won the game 3-2. Total percentage impact: +9.9%

5/1 at Cleveland – The Twins blew a 4-2 lead to lose this game 5-4 in the 11th inning when Jesse Crain was unable to clean up a mess that Alex Burnett created. Duensing pitched a scoreless 7th with a 3-2 lead. Total percentage impact: +10.9%

4/24 at Kansas City – Duensing entered the eighth inning of a tie game with one out and a runner on first. He walked David DeJesus but got a line drive double-play to get out of the inning. This one was mostly luck. Total percentage impact: +11.3%

4/17 vs. Kansas CityNick Blackburn had given up 5 runs in five innings, but the Twins had matched it. Duensing pitched the 6th and 7th innings of the tie game. He actually got a “W” for this one too, because Orlando Hudson hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The Twins won the game 6-5.

4/9 at Chicago White Sox – This was the first game versus the White Sox, and the big question was what Liriano would look like away from Fort Myers. But the pitchers that carried the team that night were Guerrier and Duensing, who each pitched two scoreless innings in a 3-3 game. Duensing shut down the 9th and 10th frames, and also got the “W” when JJ Hardy singled in Joe Mauer in the 11th inning.

There are another 25 examples like that.

Brian Duensing is never going to be a Cy Young winner, and is probably a longshot to make it to an All-Star game. But he’s doing his job on a consistent basis, and the impact it is having on the team is overwhelmingly positive. The Twins have more than enough talent on this team already. If they can coax more players to perform like Duensing – day-in and day-out positive impacts – this pennant race can still be over early in September.

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12 comments:

walter hanson said...

John:

I believe that the stat you're quoting is way overrated. With all due respect to what you wrote it's quite obvious that the second most valuable player if not the most valuable player is Michael Cuddeyer!!!!!!!

Lets look at the case.

One, he's been healthy all year. This is an automatic qualifier for any MVP, but it's part of the next point that I want to make. Keep in mind if I'm right six infielders and our catcher have been on IR or kept on the roster not playing draining a precious bench spot or two away.

Two, he's so valuable because of how he can play in the field. He's play third base so we can keep Jason Kuebel and Jim Thome in the lineup at the same time. Whatever numbers you run I think that gives the Twins a great deal better chance of winning the game even before it starts. He filled in at 2B for one game when we had no choice because we didn't immediately put Orlando Hudson on the IR (that health issue again). Right now who is playing first base? Is it our MVP from the first half. No it's Michael.

Three, especially in the light of the play that allowed Michael to score the winning run he has too the best of my knowledge fielded four positions without costing the Twins a game.

Duens has been important, but you horribly overrated how important he has. Michael should have been a no brain choice for second except for somebody who follows a worthless stat that shouldn't be kept.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

walter hanson said...

Stupid question I forgot to ask. How can you say Duens is the second most valuable player on your ballot when he's not even the most valuable pitcher on the roster.

Obviously you want to ignore the impact that Pavone (who would've thought when we were ranking him at best as the fourth starter at the start of the season) we will write that.

That phony stat which you used obviously can't measure throwing a complete game after the bullpen gets beat up two days in a row, defeating aces on the road when the team isn't winning.

So get your act togehter.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Anonymous said...

Walter:

How about yesterday? Hmm... I would say Brian Duensing -- the stat is enlightening and, every once in awhile, it takes real life form.

D.Y. has been pretty damned important to this team as well and he also had a role in a comeback which we all hope will yet define the Twins' season.

Cory
a.k.a WolvesGeek

Jarid said...

Walter - I think you are onto something, at least a bit, in that WPA pretty much always overrates relief pitchers. The reason is pretty simple - great successes or failures late in a game have a bigger impact on win probability than those in earlier innings, mostly because there are less opportunities to come back from an epic late-game failure. For starting pitchers, too, the WPA is bounded by the fact that it's always 50-50 when they come into the game, and since they don't put out fires that they didn't start themselves, it seems like it's much more difficult for them to put up high positive WPA than high negative WPA (although I suppose I could be wrong about that).

I don't think WPA is a completely useless stat, but I don't really know how much I value it for comparing across position groups (relief pitchers, starters, and position players).

Dr. Truth said...

Walter, the fact that you believe Cuddy is the 2nd most valuable or even most valuable leads me to believe you have never watched a Twins game, ever. In your mind, he's so valuable because he hasn't been hurt, he plays a couple positions, and he hasn't blatantly cost us a game denfensively. Your expectations for players is dreadfully low, I must say.

Cuddy is LAST on the team in WPA - that's right, beneath Butera, beneath even Punto. He's the least clutch hitter perhaps in all of baseball, he is terrible defensively at 3rd, poor at 1st, and below average in RF.

Cuddy is basically the definition of "average-at-best". To suggest otherwise is plain ignorant. His value to the team is somewhere between Kevin Slowey and Nick Punto.

walter hanson said...

Doctor Truth:

Since you're obviously a liar (I have watched lots of Twins games including yesterday) so if you want to pretend that you're doctor truth that's okay with me even though you're doctor liar.

Part of the trouble that Cuddeyer has been having (if you have been watching those games that you claim that I haven't been watching) is that Target Field has been hurting a lot of hitters. Cuddyer has hit the ball very hard and unfortunately they're have been load outs. Mauer is going through a similar stretch at Target Field.

If you have been watching those games which you claim you haven't been watching Cuddeyer has been fielding those positions at a good standard. He has been making his plays which is he what is suppose to do.

Michael got his to that game 163 last year and the Twins will win this division because of the contributions that Michael makes.

The fact that you think Nick Punto has been far more valuable to the Twins (one of those IR infielders by the way) shows you don't know what you're talking about at all.

So it's time for an apology Doc.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Truth said...

Walt, again, you stated that Cuddyer has been the #1 or #2 most valuable player for the Twins this year. I vehemently, vehemently disagree. There isn't a word in the English language for how much I disagree. Even the biggest Cuddy fans in town would stop short of such asinine proclamations.

So no, I'm not going to apologize for thinking Cuddy is not the #1 or 2 most valuable player on the team. It's simply a fact.

walter hanson said...

Doc:

Part of the trouble with your attack is that you're not taking into account part of my comments have been aimed at the overrating of Duensing as the team MVP.

You will certainly agree at a minimum that there are at least two Twins who deserve spots (Justin M. and Carl P.) on the ballot before Duensing. Mind you I have Mike at 2 and Carl at three which is part of our dispute.

Furthermore I was trying to show John that he was over using this stat. He was trying to promote how this stat has shown that Duens has helped shows how Duens has been needed.

This lineup has survived because of Mike! We needed a second baseman for one night and he played it! Gardy wants more offense and gets it when Mike plays third for him! With rosters sometimes having thirteen let alone twelve pitchers with at least one bench spot being a catcher and having a player who unfortunately is a DH or pinch hitter (Thome) you have a crippled bench. Mike functions as the first baseman helps make the roster work.

Stuff like that wasn't being measurered by John's stat or to put it frankly you!

You ability to judge talent is in question. After all you seem to think Nick Punto (who has been on the IR and it certainly looks like when I watch the games fails to get his clutch hits) or Kevin S. who has been trying to destroy the pitching staff let alone the team with his performances have done more to help the Twins win than Mike.

GET REAL!!!

I look forward to that apology which you clearly owe me even though your pride will stop you from typing it.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Truth said...

Walt, just give it a rest, man. Cuddy is an average player. His value to this team is average. Just because Gardy puts him at different positions doesn't change the fact that he isn't good defensively or offensively.

Also, I said I put Cuddy's value above Punto. Not sure where you're coming up with that one. But while we're at it, Punto can play different positions too. Why no MVP talk for him?

Keep holding out hope for that apology Walt!

walter hanson said...

Doctor:

You were the person who said that I don't watch Twins Games and you claim that you're "Doctor Truth"

Just because you don't like Mike and what he has done gives you no right to take it out on me.

That's why an apology is the honorable thing you should do.

So I'm sorry until you apology you're not Doctor Truth.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Truth said...

I'm sorry that you apparently do watch Twins games and still come out of them with the impression that Michael Cuddyer is one of the two most valuable players on the team.

walter hanson said...

Doctor:

Thank you for the apology. Fans can disagree on what player is most valuable, but they shouldn't be disagreeing about do they watch the games and rout for the Twins.

Hopefully for the sake of all of us Twins fans Mike and the others will have a great second half to win the division and hopefully win three playoff series.

Walter Hanson