Friday, May 28, 2010

Ron Santo and the Hall

The stated motto of the Baseball Hall of Fame is: "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations." So right away, I think I should acknowledge the caveat that the Hall of Fame is not necessarily nor primarily a reward to players who accumulate the greatest assemblage of statistics. The hall does not just honor excellence, it also attempts to catalog the story of the sport and to transmit that story to later generations. That's why -- despite his amazing ability -- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is not in the hall. He was a cheater, so his story undoes his excellent statistics (Jackson, before getting banned, was on pace to join the ranks of Ruth, Aaron, and Mantle).

However, as I've discussed before, the statistics are part of that story and are the measurement of excellence. So let's examine the venerable Ron Santo:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Concerning Bob Howry

A few days ago, when it was first announced that the Cubs would be signing Bob Howry, our colleagues at Another Cubs Blog did a great job of criticizing the general outrage towards the signing:
In Howry's 3 seasons with the Cubs, he threw 228.2 innings, allowed 29 home runs, struck out 202, walked 49 (12 intentional) and hit 16 batters. That's a 3.78 FIP. To put that into a little perspective, Carlos Marmol's FIP since 2008 is 3.60. Yes, Carlos Marmol over the last 2+ seasons has been .18 runs per 9 innings better than Bob Howry was with the Cubs.

I don't expect most Cubs fans to understand this. FIP? F*** that s***, bro. ERA all the way, b***! OK. Bob Howry's ERA's with the Cubs 3.17, 3.32 and 5.35. He struggled in 2008. There's no doubt about that. It wasn't a good season. He did rebound a bit in 2009 though. Cubs fans ignore that and focus only on 2008 because, well, they're brains aren't large enough to process information they don't want to process. Howry's ERA with the Giants last year was 3.39 and his FIP was 3.85. Carlos Marmol last year? 3.41 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Yep.
I whole-heartedly agree with mb21's assessment. Howry is a good, not great, pitcher, and the Cubs will have him on the cheap, which is excellent.

I would like to throw one caveat in with the discussion, however. As well as Howry has been in his career, there is that off-chance that, at the age of 36, Howry is beginning to show signs of the end. For example, his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) over the last six years:

xFIP is really, in my opinion, the best, all-in-one evaluator of pitching talent because it normalizes defense and it normalize HR/FB rates. With that in mind, things are certainly trending the wrong way.

It must be noted, however, that each of these seasons constitute about a full load of innings for a reliever, except 2010, where he has thus far pitch only 14 innings (which is not much at all).

Secondly, it is also worth noting how his luck has been over this stretch. For pitchers, the best metric for evaluating luck is LOB%, or Left on Base Percentage:

While he was quite lucky in 2004, he's been twice as unlucky in 2010. In other words, the 2010 data really is not worth the HTML on which it is printed. (LOB% tends to normalize very close to 70%, regardless of a pitcher's skill or ability.)

Bob Howry is not a great pitcher, by any stretch; nor is he The Solution to bullpen "problems." But, I think it's a nice signing with low costs. There is a potential that, with age, Howry will be less effective than we might hope; but I seriously doubt he will be significantly terrible or that we'll have to cut him.

If the Cubs were serious about bolstering their bullpen, they should follow the guidelines I outlined in the comments at Cubby-Blue:
That being said, I still think that if the Cubs really wanted to improve their bullpen they would:

1. Hire John Smoltz, make Marmol the roving bullpen ace.

2. Move Lilly or Silva to the pen, make Big Z start again.


4. Still add Howry, because -- like Maria noted -- we can pay him next to nothing and cut him on a whim.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Ever Changing Carlos Silva

It was almost a month ago that Lou and Hendry fatefully moved Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. Since then, I have examined the other Carlos, Carlos Silva, not once, but twice. This is because I feel that said second Carlos would best assist the Cubs in relief. However, Mr. Silva clearly reads this blog and has made adjustments according to my suggestions.

In other words, Silva has -- over his last two starts -- surrendered way fewer fly balls (which often become home runs) and collected buckets of ground balls (which rarely go for home runs). The result:

...Carlos Silva has become much more in line with his career norms. However, his career norms are still inferior to Carlos Zambrano's career norms, so by the Principles of Economic Profit, I continue to declare the Zambrano move foolish, at best.

If we look at the detailed graphic of Silva's latest trends, we can see how dramatically his performances have changed (note the last two dots on the far right, each is moving in the best possible direction):

What does this mean? Well, apparently the Cubs are starting to stretch Zambrano out, getting him ready for a possible return to the rotation. However, there is also the lingering possibility that Lou has just lost confidence in Big Z and is instead just making him a long man in the pen so that John Grabow can see more high-leverage situations. In which case, Lou is clearly just trying to see how often he can make me post:

Back to Silva: If ol' Carlos Silva can maintain this new, great GB/FB ratio, I'm perfectly content with moving Ted Lilly to the pen in favor of Silva and Zambrano starting. Of course, Lou will probably, instead, move Randy Wells to middle relief, bring John Grabow -- LOOGY-extraordinaire -- to the rotation, and put Zambrano on the bench for pinch hitting and so that the media can abuse him more easily.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Psychology and the Necessity of Statistics

After the Cubs lost yet another winnable game today, I decided to hammer out some of the things I had been cultivating in my head for the past few weeks. Those interested can read it over at Another Cubs Blog. It is entitled:

On Psychology and the Necessity of Statistics


This games was as awkward as this looks. Source

Silva Revisited

A few weeks ago, I said this regarding Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva:
In the words of every action movie:


Silva is poised for a painful regression while Zambrano is poised for an all-smiles regression -- but now people will falsely think: "Hey, y'all, look at that! ZOMG, Lou dun fixed our angry piture!"
Usually when I quote myself, it is because: (a) I'm about to proclaim myself a prophet, or (b) I'm about to apologize for getting something wrong. Today, I think I'll take a little from column (a) and a little from column (b).

Three weeks ago, when we first discussed the Carlos Zambrano-to-the-bullpen move, I presented this chart of Carlos Silva's batted ball data, courtesy of Fangraphs:

As I noted before, Carlos Silva is a sinkerball pitcher. He needs to get a ton of ground balls to be effective. And the more fly balls he gives up, the more homers, and in turn bad outings he will have. So what has happened over these last three weeks?

He has given up fewer line drives (which is amazing!), fewer fly balls, and more ground balls. This is really a great sign. In fact, his StatCorner page reports that he's giving up 31% flies and 42% grounders, compared to the Frangpraphs-reported 36.8% grounders. So, we find the interesting possibility of misinformation in the previous Silva analysis.

HOWEVER: Carlos Silva has started four times since the move, and he has put up these inconsistent lines:

4/26:  7  IP, 3 ER, 3 SO, 1 BB (good)
5/1:   5  IP, 5 ER, 6 SO, 3 BB (bad)
5/7:   5  IP, 4 ER, 3 SO, 1 BB (ugly)*
5/12: 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 SO, 2 BB (good)

*I call this ugly because, in all fairness, it's not terrible. It's sub-optimal, but survivable.

So was I right? Did Silva improve? Let's first look into the specifics behind those previous batted ball charts:

More specifically, we must investigate these:

Silva has had a handful of really great, just-what-we-expect-from-a-good-sinkerball-pitcher type games, but the majority of his starts have been red flags. Red flags of future failure. When we last looked a Silva, I warned of his xFIP, which was worse than Carlos Zambrano's. This has not changed, it's only gotten worse(Silva xFIP 4.25 vs. Z's 3.42).

In other areas, though, Carlos Silva continues to exceed my expectations. He is getting a lot of swinging strikes, which has resulted in a career high K/9. Also, the really low line drive rate is very good -- maybe unsustainable, but very good.

All in all, I'm still HIGHLY in the PUT IT BACK!!! PUT IT BACK!!! opinion. Carlos Silva can be a decent starter for us (his pace of wins will fall off, for sure though), but he is in no way superior to Carlos Zambrano. In economic terms, we have an accounting profit from Silva, but an economic loss -- as long as Zambrano is wasted in the 8th inning*.

*Esmailin Caridad anyone?

Note: While I was working on this, Pitch F/X genius Harry Pavlidis looks at those increased whiffs. Apparently, it's trending downwards:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 Aramis Ramirez, in a Picture

If you are a Cubs fan, and you do not visit Tim Souers' Cubby-Blue site, you are committing a great disservice to yourself. Souers is the Novocaine that keeps us Cubs fans from the pain of our root-canal-like seasons.

Concerning Aramis Ramirez, I think we can safely say that he will return to form sometime soon. Right now, he's sporting a ridiculously terrible .183 BABIP, meaning he's been very unlucky. His plate discipline numbers are not too far from where we expect him to be, but the results have been fewer line drives, fewer ground balls, and way more fly balls -- yet those flies have not left the yard like they used to.

Ramirez will get back to his powerful ways; the tragedy is that I don't think it will matter. :(

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Castro Gets the Call, Twitter Says Hello

Pretty much every Cubs fan at this point knows the name Starlin Castro. He made his debut yesterday and promptly exploded the Cubs Kingdom, hitting a 3-run homerun in his first at bat and then a 2-run 3-run triple in his third.

This is exciting. Very exciting.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a Ryan Theriot fan. He's a great value at shortstop -- he has decent fielding (according to UZR), has a decent bat, has decent speed, and has a decent contract. He's sort of slightly above-average all-around, which is great in baseball. However, at second base, his defense likely goes from okay to great. Additionally, if he can move to second while the SS position adds output as well, that would be awesome.

However, I don't think Castro will have as great a 2010 season as he did last night. Last night was magic; the days to come may not be. On Twitter, many of us were already preparing mentally for future Castro whiplash. Per Tony Almquist:

Yeah, it's a funny comment, but it's also going to be not funny when, in a week or month or so, the media and fans start to ask, "Where has Castro's power gone? He must be a bust because he had two errors last week, right?"

No. Castro is a work in progress. He's not the final product, but he's good. I think we can enjoy watching him play -- even though it will inevitably come with some rough spots. Above all, though, we should not overestimate his importance. We can't say -- assuming the Cubs start playing to their real potential -- that the Castro has to save the season. As I noted last night:

Last night, the Cubs scored more runs than they had since 1943, or something, but only 5 6 of those runs can be attributed to Castro -- and even then, his hits would have meant very little if on-base-machine Geovany Soto wasn't swinging the pine right in front of him. Castro did great, but Mitch Smith got it right:

In other parts of the web, Cubs fans welcomed Starlin Castro in their own unique ways:
Berselius gave us the pros and cons of the Castro call-up.

Harry Pavlidis took a rare break from pitching analysis to break down Castro's batting tendencies.

And Joe Aiello of View from the Bleachers took a moment to bask in the new era.
Welcome to the bigs, Castro. We hope you have fun.

Side note: Carlos Silva is still garbage. I'll address him later.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Good, but Not Yet: Part 2 (the Ryan Braun Comparison)

Brad wrote a great post on the goodness of one Tyler Colvin. Is Tyler good? Yes. Is he Ryan Braun good?

Let's analyze...

Colvin: .365/.600/.408
Braun: .438/.588/.457

Edge: Braun

Colvin: 5.1
Braun: 5.4

Edge: Braun

Outside Zone Swing%
Colvin: 35.5%
Braun: 23.7%
League Av.: ~25.0%

Edge: Braun

Outside Zone Contact%
Colvin: 53.7%
Braun: 76.0%
League Av.: ~60.0%

Edge: Braun

Total Contact%
Colvin: 73.2%
Braun: 79.3%
League Av.: ~80.0%

Edge: Braun

Swinging Strike%
Colvin: 13.4%
Braun: 10.0%
League Av.: ~8.0%

Edge: Braun

Fielding (UZR - LF)
Colvin: 0.4
Braun: -12.9

Edge: Colvin*

*Yes, I know his sample size is smaller...but I don't think over the long term, Colvin will be worse than Braun in LF. Especially considering he plays all three outfield positions decently.

Steakhouse Ownership

I recently heard about Ryan Braun's Waterfront Grill which from my friend's opinion is very posh and has decent food. I am surprised that the Milwaukee slugger is getting into the restaurant business considering in Chicago this was tried by "his airness" and failed closed after he retired.

But considering Braun does NOT hold a degree in business, nor culinary arts, it's clear who the edge goes to...

Edge: Colvin

Fugly T-shirts
Colvin: Zero fugly t-shirts owned
Braun: Owns a fugly t-shirt company AND wears $80 fugly t-shirts

Edge: Colvin

What does it all mean? Braun is clearly the better player. But in some instances Colvin could equate Braun's production (in defense, maybe even surpass). Colvin needs to work more on his outside zone swing%, and outside zone contact%. Will he be as good as Braun? Perhaps. Maybe a couple more years with our magical hitting coach will turn him into a monster (one can only hope).

But WAIT-there's more!

Lets compare rookie seasons!!!

Ugh, Braun is still better.

But in the category of steakhouse ownership and fugly t-shirts, Colvin gets the slight edge.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Whither Art Alfonso Soriano, Version 2009?

The recent resurgence of Alfonso Soriano has really brought to mind the dismal season he had last year in 2009. In the first month of that year, Soriano had looked rock solid too. In the first 21 games that year, he enjoyed a .402 wOBA line, but then hit in the mid-.200s after that.

Fangraphs gives us hint as to what happened:

Soriano's wOBA crashed...

When his BABIP crashed.

Now, we have to keep in mind a few truisms about BABIP:

1) BABIPs tend to decline when players age -- they can't run out grounders as fast.
2) BABIPs tend to decline when players undergo leg-related injuries, for the same reason as #1.
3) BABIPs don't normalize quickly, but don't tend to shift quickly either. In other words, you get old slowly.

Can we expect the mid-season BABIP slump to return? Is this great Fonzy a foretaste of an impending 2009-like bad Fonzy? It's hard to say, but I think that 2009 is an aberration -- possibly a function of his injuries, maybe a function of a changed approach (also possibly caused by injuries). In other words, I think and hope Alphonso Soriano may be back.

In other news, Aramis Ramirez is hella-unlucky right now. Take a look at his BABIP chart and tell me which season doesn't look like the others:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gorzo Looks Great, Fonzy Looks Young

Going in to this season, the pitcher I was most excited to watch was not Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Carlos Silva, or the young Randy Wells. It was the volatile, oft-forgotten Tom Gorzelanny. Today, he showed the northside why I was excited:

7 IP, 3 BB, 10 K, 1 HR

Despite one bad pitch, Gorzo threw an absolutely wonderful game. The best part of it all (for the organization, not necessarily for Gorzo) is that he's earning less than $1M and he's got two more years (arbitration years) left! Last year, in very limited time, he was worth $3M according to Fangraphs. So far, he's already been worth $3M. That's pretty sweet.

Of course, I must mention his xFIP (as of yesterday) was ~4.00, which is a touch better than Carlos Silva. Today that normalized a little when he gave up his first homerun of the year, but it's still not as elite as his results would indicate. So, in the long run, I don't think we can expect Gorzo to go 7 IP with 10 K very often, but I do think he will continue to be the best fifth starter in the NL -- and one heck of a great value.

In the meantime, Alfonso Soriano discovered the fountain of youth and has been being just plain mean to pitchers lately. That continued today when he turned in:

H/AB: 3/4, 2 HR, 1 2B

My man vladimir breaks this new old Soriano down for us at Another Cubs Blog:
I think everyone is relieved to see that after a little bit of a slow start, Alfonso Soriano turned it on and had a pretty good April - presently, he's sporting a .406 wOBA and has been worth half a win above replacement. He's doing it without a crazy BABIP - it's .328, which is above his career numbers but not by a ton. Take his numbers out to 500 PAs and he'd be worth about 3 WAR - not superstar numbers but above average. I, at least, would be alright with that production.