Friday, May 28, 2010

Too Good To NOT Show

For two years I've been saying Justin Morneau was the captain of this team. Apparently he does have at least a little captain in him.

-- Post From My iPad

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Maybe Bert is Right (Part 1)

Pitch Counts May Be BS

(This is the first of a 3-part series that I’ll be running on the TwinsCentric blog and at Part 2 will be published on Memorial Day and Part 3 on June 3rd.)

Let’s be honest: for the first one hundred years or so of major league baseball, the players were chattel. That’s the biggest reason that starting pitchers were allowed to throw until their arms fell off. Management didn’t really give a damn if they fell off or not.

That’s also why things have changed. With the introduction of guaranteed contracts, a fragile arm can sink an entire front office. (Just ask Omar Minaya next fall.) So teams, coaches, agents and certainly players are looking for a way to protect those investments. Pitch counts seemed like a good place to start. And 100 is such a nice round number.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking there is any science behind it. Or at least that it isn’t paper thin. The current wisdom that 100 pitches is some kind of limit is an overly simplified interpretation of very specific studies that weren’t afraid to point out their own limitations.

The initial and most significant research on pitching abuse was a pair of essays in the 2001 edition of Baseball Prospectus. The first is called “Re-Thinking Pitcher Abuse” by Rany Jazayerli, which gives a brief history of his attempts at studying pitching abuse and summarizes a new measurement called PAP3. The second is “Analyzing PAP,” written by Jazayerli and Keith Woolner, which details the study that led them to develop the new measurement.

Both essays are very candid about what they found and what their limitations are, mostly without an ax to grind. Unfortunately, the measurements they created have been misinterpreted and oversimplified to become some deranged gospel of truth that doesn’t exist. So let’s take a look at what we REALLY know about pitch counts from those essays.

Re-Thinking Pitcher Abuse Essay
Jayazerli introduces both essays by explaining his original theory: that all pitches are not created equal. In particular, pitches thrown later in a game, once the arm is tired, are more damaging than those thrown earlier in a game.

When Jayazerli had proposed that idea earlier, he also devised a statistic to try and measure it called Pitching Abuse Points, or PAP. The original idea was that the first 10 pitches over 100 would be worth one point each. The next 10, two points each. The next 10, three points each, and so on. The more points, the worse the risk to the pitcher.

(In the later essay, Jayazerli says he chose 100 as a starting point because of research dating back to Craig Wright’s The Diamond Appraised, which suggested the 100-pitch limit for developing pitchers. I’m afraid I haven’t procured a copy of that book to see exactly where it came from.)

Jazayerli had thrown out this statistic as a starting point, but was exploding in popularity at that time, and he noted that a strange thing happened:

“And for two years, I have tried to use PAP as a framework in which to center the ongoing discussion of pitcher usage. In the process, though, PAP became more than a framework for measurement; it became the standard for measurement. Which it was never intended to do.”

Jazayerli then points out that he had never found any evidence that this PAP score is tied to injuries. He explains that it is a very difficult thing to measure because of all the confounding factors. So he enlisted Keith Woolner’s help and they conducted another study (detailed in the second essay) which resulted in a new measure called PAP3.

PAP3 was similar to PAP except that the points increase exponentially once you get over 100 pitches. Basically, you cube the number of pitches over 100, so 105 pitches would be 5^3 or 125 points. But 110 pitches would be 10^3 or 1000 points. And 120 pitches would be 20^3 or 8000 points.

You can see, that creates some very scary looking numbers in a hurry. However, the standard for what was truly damaging was also raised considerably. So they also included a table which listed the pitch counts along with their risk. Anything below 105 pitches was “virtually none.” Anything under 122 pitches was “moderate” and anything over 133 pitches was “severe.”

So let’s review what this essay just said. First, it explains that there was never any evidence that a previous metric (PAP) was ever valid. It pushes any significant risk in pitch counts up to 120+ pitches. And finally it explains a new metric (PAP3) for evaluating pitcher risk.

Of course, the basis for PAP3 and those conclusions are in the second essay, and we’ll start evaluating that in Part 2 on Monday.


I really, really, really cannot believe that I haven’t covered this next item yet. I’ve just been distracted by some life stuff. Many of you may have heard that one of the TwinsCentrick authors, Parker Hageman, has been designing some t-shirts for Twins fans. His initial one is a “Thome is my Homey” t-shirt and the first batch already sold out, but they’ve ordered a second batch. You know you’re going to want to rock this shirt at your next Twins game, so get it now, because I don’t think there will be a third batch.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Endgame Talk

You may have heard about the Atlanta Braves big seven-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth last week versus the Cincinnati Reds. It ended on a grand slam that gave the Braves a 10-9 victory.

But one thing I didn't know about was that the Reds, leading 9-3, missed out on chances to add to the score in both the eighth and ninth inning. In both cases, the Reds had runners on first and second base with no outs, but the third batter hit into a double play and the fourth struck out. It seemed unimportant at the time - up until the Braves remarkable comeback.

The lost opportunities were a topic of analysis in the local SABR forum. (I'm including the link because I think you can sign up, and I'm guessing most of my readers probably would like some of the topics. I hope you can sign up. I'm not really sure how - it's been so long since I joined. And please, be nice.) The question is whether the Reds should have tried playing "smallball" to push an extra insurance run across in those two innings.

I replied:

Some folks may find this interesting. Below is the URL for something called the Win Expectancy Tracker, which shows the probability of winning a baseball game in various situations, based on historical results.

Using it, I find that from 1997 through 2006, there were 1993 games where the home team entered the bottom of the ninth losing by six runs. They won three of them. So the visiting team won in that situation 99.85% of the time.

How much more would an extra run have helped? During the same time period, there were 4224 where the home team entered the bottom of the ninth losing by seven OR MORE runs. (Sorry about the OR MORE, but the tool just lumps everything over 6 together.) The home team came back to win just four of those, so they lost 99.91% of the time.

So getting that extra run across would've helped in approximately 0.06% of all games, and that's being generous. How insignificant is that? Let's take a look at another seemingly trivial situation and see how it would rank.

If the lead off batter of the visiting team just gets on base at the beginning of the first inning, he's improved his team's chances of winning 4.4%, or about 70 times more than that single extra run should've helped in the ninth inning.

One could do a similar analysis on the question raised yesterday - at what point do you really need a closer? So, if there wasn't a "save" statistic, at what point does the percentage chance of winning a game justify putting in someone other than your best reliever? So let's use the Win Expectancy Tracker to see historically what percentage of games were won by the home team carrying various leads or deficits into the top of the ninth.

Leading by 5 - win 99.7% of the time
Leading by 4 - win 98.8% of the time
Leading by 3 - win 98.0% of the time
Leading by 2 - win 94.5% of the time
Leading by 1 - win 86.6% of the time
Tied - win 52.2% of the time
Losing by 1 - win 15.2% of the time
Losing by 2 - win 6.3% of the time
Losing by 3 - win 2.9% of the time
Losing by 4 - win 1.3% of the time
Losing by 5 - win 0.6% of the time

Looking at those odds, I suppose you can make a pretty good case that whoever tries to hold a three run lead should be the same guy that tries to hold a four run lead. But I would argue that you don't need your best reliever to try and hold a three-run lead, either. 98% of the time a three run lead is safe, for chrissakes.

For the home team, the times a closer should be used include holding a one-run lead and a two-run lead. It also certainly includes a tie game, where giving up a single run decreases the chances of winning by 35%. I suppose one could even make a case for using him when losing by a run, since that second run decreases the chances of winning the game by almost 9%.

So I think it's a fair question to ask what the difference is between protecting a three-run and a four-run lead. But to claim that a closer needs to be used to protect a game that is already won 98.8% of the time seems a little severe.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gardy's Late Inning Decisions

Is that where we are now? We can be frustrated by a near sweep?

Yeah, that's right, and I'm not going to apologize for it. The Twins seemed like a vastly superior team compared to the Brewers. Maybe that was due to the party-like atmosphere of Friday night. Maybe it was the quick start on Saturday. Even the Brewers late-inning comeback on Saturday felt like a fluke, and you had to love the pitching matchups for Sunday.

So even though the Twins finished with the same results we should have expected (I doubt the Twins were favored throwing Kevin Slowey versus Yovani Galarado), it left me frustrated, and I'm not going to apologize for it. Listening to the post-game audio for the game, the manager and players sounded like they were frustrated too.

One aspect that is bound to be analyzed after a couple of one-run games is the late-inning decisions, and the last two games provided more than their share for manager Ron Gardenhire. In fact, he's all ready drawn a little second-guessing from Patrick Reusse. So let's review them quickly:

1. Saturday, top of the ninth - 6-2 lead - Ron Mahay starts the inning over Jon Rauch.

This is the move that Reusse not only criticizes, but ponders whether Gardenhire learned from it. I'm sure his argument resonates, seeing as it provides an opportunity to trash managing to a fairly useless statistic, the save. Reusse (probably correctly) postulates that Rauch didn't start the inning because it wouldn't have resulted in a save.

I guess. To, if you're going to criticize the blown lead, it falls 10% on Gardenhire and 90% on Mahay and Rauch. There needs to be some dividing line - you're not going to have Rauch hold a seven run lead - and three runs is as good as any. The southpaw Mahay has been one of the Twins more reliable relievers this year and he got to start an inning where the first and third batters were batting left-handed. Oh, and he got to face the bottom of the Brewers order.

A priori, there was no reason that the Twins should have felt like they needed Rauch there. It was only after Mahay laid a major egg - and Rauch contributed a few extra-base hits himself - that it was a move that merited any criticism.

2. Saturday, bottom of the ninth - having Jim Thome pinch hit for Trevor Plouffe - and get intentionally walked.

It was a tie game with one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd when Gardenhire used the last bullet in his holster for what everyone knew would be an intentional walk. Of the three moves here, this is the most debatable in my mind, but still pretty defendable.

Gardenhire had two choices: he could either choose to have Plouffe bat with runners on second and third (and again, one out) or he could have Nick Punto bat with the bases loaded and one out. To me, the second is a defensible choice, and probably the one I would make. But it is a choice that can easily drawn two criticisms.

The first is that the Brewers would've walked Plouffe anyway to load the bases, which would've allowed Thome to bat with the bases loaded. Maybe, but not intentionally. Brewers manager Ken Macha has a decision to make too, and his is a lot easier to figure out. Would he rather face Plouffe with runners on 2nd and 3rd or Thome with the bases loaded? There is no doubt they pitch to Plouffe.

The second criticism is that it's a fairly incremental upgrade from Plouffe to Punto and the price for it is too high - it's Thome. That's a fair criticism, but I can only fault Garenhire so much for being aggressive in that situation. And it turned out that over the next couple innings, the Twins had good players at the plate in the high-leverage situations anyway. He ended up not needing Thome on his bench.

3. Sunday, bottom of the ninth - trailing by one run, Thome replaces Brendan Harris and is walked so Plouffe needs to drive in the winning run. He strikes out to end the game.

In this situation, Gardenhire had another choice to make. With two outs, he had to decide between batting Harris with runners on the corners or Plouffe with the bases loaded. Again, he went with the bases loaded, which means that the batter only need to draw a walk, instead of get a hit.

The problem wasn't where Thome pinch-hit. The problem was that Gardenhire had two spots where he needed a pinch-hitter and only one Thome. If one really wants to second-guess Gardenhire, the place to start might be to ask why there wasn't another option on the bench, cuz there coulda been. Joe Mauer was available until an inning earlier, when he had been inserted for Sal Butera. That was with one out and the bases empty, a much lower leverage spot. But, of course, Gardenhire couldn't see that another, better option would be coming an inning later.

The problem is that all three moves failed, and the last one led to a loss. The frustration we feel about the series might magnify them, but I can't say I disagree with any of the moves.