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Thursday, September 25, 2008
Todd Jones announced yesterday that he would be retiring from baseball. Since he's been closing games for four years in a row, this announcement has some fantasy implications. Let's first look at Jones' numbers.
+------+------+----------+-----------+-------+------+---------+-------+-------+----+-----+ | YEAR | ERA | LIPS ERA | DIPS WHIP | K/9 | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB% | HR/FB | SV | SV% | +------+------+----------+-----------+-------+------+---------+-------+-------+----+-----+ | 2005 | 2.10 | 2.96 | 1.08 | 7.64 | 1.73 | 0.59 | 53.50 | 3.77 | 40 | 89 | | 2006 | 3.94 | 4.55 | 1.30 | 3.94 | 1.55 | -0.35 | 51.58 | 6.15 | 37 | 86 | | 2007 | 4.26 | 4.76 | 1.47 | 4.84 | 3.38 | -0.49 | 46.83 | 4.48 | 38 | 86 | | 2008 | 4.97 | 5.72 | 1.63 | 3.02 | 3.89 | -1.07 | 45.81 | 9.80 | 18 | 86 | +------+------+----------+-----------+-------+------+---------+-------+-------+----+-----+
Jones has clearly been in a free fall since 2005. Both his Strikeout/Walk Run Impact (K/BB RI) and his expected groundball rate (xGB%) have dropped every year since 2005. In 2008, he walked nearly one batter more per inning than he struck out. That is simply awful, yet he has managed to outperform his LIPS ERA each year.
This is due in large part to his HR/FB rates. Starting pitchers deviate very little from the league average of 11 percent, but some relievers seem to have an ability to keep it lower. Despite his poor peripheral skills, Jones seemed to be one of those guys. We see that in 2008, however, it was much closer to league average at just under 10 percent, finally causing Jones' actual ERA to approach 5.00.
Still, Jones has consistently converted his save opportunities at an 86 percent clip, and it isn't inconceivable that some team would have seen that Jones is a "proven" closer and given him another a chance to pitch the ninth. It's possible Jones could have been closing again for the Tigers at some point in 2009. But because these are no longer options, let's check out who has been affected by his decision.
Fallout: The Tigers
With Jones gone, here are the viable in-house closer options for the Tigers in 2009 (along with their 2008 stats for the team):
+------------+----------+-----+-------+----------+-----------+-------+-------+---------+------+ | LAST | FIRST | IP | ERA | LIPS ERA | DIPS WHIP | K/9 | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB% | +------------+----------+-----+-------+----------+-----------+-------+-------+---------+------+ | Rodney | Fernando | 37 | 5.11 | 4.40 | 1.57 | 10.46 | 6.81 | 0.30 | 45 | | Zumaya | Joel M | 23 | 3.47 | 5.28 | 1.89 | 8.49 | 8.49 | -0.56 | 40 | | Farnsworth | Kyle | 16 | 6.75 | 3.75 | 1.38 | 10.13 | 2.81 | 1.03 | 30 | | Dolsi | Freddy | 47 | 3.83 | 5.46 | 1.66 | 5.17 | 5.17 | -0.76 | 53 | | Seay | Bobby | 54 | 4.17 | 3.94 | 1.31 | 9.00 | 3.67 | 0.55 | 40 | | Lopez | Aquilino | 75 | 3.60 | 4.34 | 1.35 | 6.84 | 2.64 | 0.19 | 29 | +------------+----------+-----+-------+----------+-----------+-------+-------+---------+------+
Of the candidates listed above, Fernando Rodney looks to be the favorite to begin 2009 closing games. He is closing for the team now, although his control is atrocious and he's converted only 11 of 17 saves thus far. The team has hesitated to let him close in the past, and the Tigers can't be thrilled about the prospects of him closing in 2009.
Joel Zumaya is another option, though he has struggled mightily with injuries. Plus, he wasn't very good even while healthy this year (though his ERA was lucky) with absolutely horrific control. The potential is there for him to be dominant, though, and the team would love for him to step up and solidify the role for years to come.
Kyle Farnsworth will be a free agent and might not return, but he showed the best skills of anyone in Detroit's bullpen this year and might be the best option. He's unfortunately gotten very unlucky, and the team's decision to stick with Rodney this long might indicate either that the Tigers trust Rodney more or don't intend to bring Farnsworth back. If they do bring him back, it seems unlikely they'd hand him the role over Rodney out of spring training.
Darkhorse options include Freddy Dolsi, Bobby Seay and Aquilino Lopez. Seay had the worst ERA but the best LIPS ERA of the group, although the team might be highest on Dolsi. Some beat writers this season have said that the team could view him as the closer of the future if Zumaya can't get things together. He pitched just 20.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before jumping to the majors, and he didn't dominate even at High-A, where he did get some innings. I wouldn't be too excited about Dolsi, but keep him on your radar if the Tigers' decision-makers like him.
The team also could look externally for a closer, but the Tigers currently have roughly $130 million tied up in player salaries next year, so spending big on a Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes seems very unlikely since the team will probably be trying to cut salary. It is possible, though, that Detroit could trade a player like Magglio Ordonez and receive a potential closer as part of the return.
One more option for the Tigers might be to sign someone like Brandon Lyon to a cheap, incentive-laden, one-year deal and hope that among him, Rodney and Zumaya, someone emerges as a healthy, viable candidate. If not, the Tigers would have Dolsi to fall back on.
Fallout: The market
We briefly discussed some teams that might be looking for closer a couple weeks ago, but now we know that Jones won't be an option for any of them.
There's also no longer a chance of the Tigers going into 2009 with Rodney as the closer, seeing him blow up, and going back to Jones in the middle of April because "Jones has done it before" and is "proven." Now that they don't have Jones to fall back on, it might force the Tigers to have a more solid plan for the ninth inning and better allow fantasy owners to prepare for a Tigers situation that they've gotten wrong a couple years in a row now.
Had Jones not retired, he would have fallen into the "Lyon group" mentioned earlier: guys who have previously enjoyed success but are either coming off bad seasons or have been plagued by injuries. This group might include guys like Lyon, Chad Cordero (if non-tendered), Jason Isringhausen, Luis Ayala, Damaso Marte, Bob Howry, Al Reyes and Joe Borowski.
That's a pretty large group, and I probably missed a few, but Jones' retirement makes it that much more likely we'll be seeing one of these guys closing for someone come April, or at least competing for a job.
Teams that could consider going this low-cost route include Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas, Cleveland (as competitor for Jensen Lewis), Colorado (as competition/insurance for Manny Corpas) and Florida (as competition/insurance for Matt Lindstrom). Add Kansas City if Joakim Soria is converted to a starter, the Royals don't splurge for a closer, and they don't go in-house with Ramon Ramirez or Leo Nunez).
Posted by Derek Carty at 11:24am (0) Comments
Friday, September 26, 2008
As of this moment, the Cubs have the best record in the National League and are dueling with the Angels for the best in the majors. They have been carried by their potent offense, which has scored the most runs per game of any NL team at 5.33 per. Not to go unmentioned is their pitching, specifically their starting rotation, which has an ERA of 3.46. Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Jason Marquis have certainly been getting the job done, but one name is ominously missing from that list, the name of a pitcher who in the preseason was thought to be the ace or at least the number two of the Cubs pitching staff.
That name is Rich Hill. Most people have probably forgotten about Rich Hill, except for those beleaguered souls that drafted him, probably in the late single-digit rounds, only to get 19.2 innings of 4.12 ERA. If you even held onto him that long. Although his ERA doesn't show it, Hill was having massive control problems and disastrous outings. In those 19.7 innings he issued 18 walks. In other words, he walked one of every five batters he faced. Completely unacceptable.
After a 0.7 innings pitched with four walks performance on May 2, the Cubs felt they had seen enough and optioned Hill down to Triple-A where he brought his control problems with him. In 26 Triple-A innings, Hill remarkably managed to raise his BB% two points to 22 percent. Realizing that their pitcher had completely forgotten how to pitch, the Cubs wisely sent Hill all the way down to Rookie League to work on his... well everything.
Before I move forward with things, first I'd like to take one step back. Hill was drafted in the fourth round of the 2002 draft. In his first two years of pro-ball existence, Hill toiled away in different classes of Single-A. Then came 2005.
Year Level IP ERA BB/9 K/9 2003 A-/A 97.2 3.87 6.27 13.73 2004 A+ 109.1 4.03 5.93 11.20 2005 AA 57.2 3.28 3.28 14.06 2005 MLB 23.2 9.13 6.46 7.98 2006 AAA 100 1.80 1.89 12.15 2006 MLB 99.1 4.17 3.53 8.15 2007 MLB 195 3.92 2.91 8.45
That year, Hill made the jump from Double-A to the majors as a September call-up. He started 2006 in Triple-A where he flat-out dominated, most notably walking just 1.89 batters per nine innings. When initially called up to the majors in May of '06, Hill struggled and was sent back down. By July however, Hill was back in the majors and found success. His walk rate did creep up to a slightly alarming level, but Hill had pitched well enough to secure himself a spot in the rotation next year.
Any doubts remaining about Hill were erased completely in 2007. He managed to curb his walk rate to an above-average 2.91 per nine while increasing his already impressive strikeout rate ever so slightly. To anyone looking at Rich Hill coming into the 2008 season, he looked very, very good. Great numbers were expected of the tall lefty entering his prime.
As we know, that didn't happen. Here's what Hill's 2008 season looked like, if you can even call it a season:
Year Level IP ERA BB/9 K/9 2008 MLB 19.2 4.12 8.24 6.26
It looks like a completely different pitcher, even though the sample size is just twenty innings. The first thing that jumps out at you is the 8.24 BB/9. Anytime a pitcher's walk rate is higher than his strikeout rate, you know there's trouble, like with Fausto Carmona this year. It is important to note that it was not luck indicators like BABIP or Left On Base percentage that caused his demise—Hill actually benefited a lot from these (.214 BABIP, 78.8 LOB%)—and if anything they helped keep his ERA down at the palatable 4.12 that it was. Instead it was his walk rate, strikeout rate, and his fly ball rate—which jumped seven percentage points up to 50 percent—or in other words, his skill indicators that deteriorated. Hill simply forgot how to throw the ball in the strike zone and get batters out.
This offseason Hill is obviously going to have to "re-learn" how to pitch again. I'll admit, I have no definite reason why, but I feel Hill will reinvent himself in the winter and will prove himself again next season. He probably will start 2009 in the minors but if he starts off well, I don't think the Cubs will waste much time in promoting him back to the majors. He has already proven himself at this level, so it won't be anything new for him.
I don't believe anyone has started mock drafting for next season—at least I hope nobody has—but I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Hill falls all the way out of most drafts. That makes him a player to watch as the offseason progresses; Hill could end up being a good sleeper you can pick up in the last rounds of drafts. In the last rounds, after all, it is all about getting upside, and Hill has plenty of it.
Posted by Paul Singman at 11:03am (0) Comments
Monday, September 29, 2008
In my last post I introduced the risk management process I hope to use in the future when evaluating player risk. In that article, you'll notice that most of the risk assessment takes a qualitative approach. This might seem kind of weird considering that this could be considered a sabermetric site. There are a few reasons why I am taking a qualitative approach with risk.
First of all, the quantitative tools for risk management are just not that advanced right now. PECOTA produces a beta score, Marcels has a reliability score, and Baseball HQ uses a reliability score. Besides that, there is not that much else we can use for risk management. Secondly, even if we did have more advanced statistical programs that could measure risk, I'm not sure it would help us that much, since they would likely use past risk to project future risk.
I believe this approach would just lead to incorrect evaluation of risk as we cannot project risk like we can player performance. Most projection systems now take a weighted average of a player's past performance, regress that to the mean, and then make an age adjustment. This generally works fine and we can get a pretty solid estimate of a player's true talent. Risk, however, does not work like this.
The Wall Street debacle is a perfect example of this. You can look at past risk as much as you want, which some Wall Street risk management systems did, but that is not necessarily going to tell you how risky something will be in the future. This sort of crisis, while it may seem shocking, cannot be considered all that rare on Wall Street.
Anyone who has read the Black Swan knows that somewhere Nassim Taleb is shaking his head at how surprised people were of the latest Wall Street events. This is because finance does not follow the predictable bell curves taught by many statistical classes. Rather, it has large jumps that go up and down. And when those large jumps go down, seemingly shocking things can happen.
So how does this all apply to baseball analysis? I don't think risk management for baseball is quite as random as the areas in the financial markets, but I don't think it's quite as predictable as a something that follows a bell curve distribution. Therefore, I don't think developing a statistical model for risk management will alone be able to help us solve our risk management needs.
With that being said, there may be some areas that statistical methods can be applied to. For example, Sig Mejdal, now of the St. Louis Cardinals, has developed a regression model to predict injuries. Also, Will Carroll has developed a statistical injury risk system. Still, I don't think we're quite at the point where we can quantitatively predict all areas of risk. This is why I have begun to use more qualitative analysis.
I hope we'll be able to develop some quantitative tools in the future but for now this qualitative approach is going to be the center of my basic approach for managing risk. I hope to write a series of player risk profiles in the future, similar to the Troy Tulowitzki article, to help provide you all with a framework for measuring the risk of players. Also, I hope to write about how we can actually use risk ratings to effect the evaluation of player value and ranking.
Remember that managing risk doesn't necessarily mean we'll eliminate risk, it just means that we use risk to give us preferrential situations. If you have any comments or ideas, I'd love to hear from you.
Posted by Victor Wang at 2:13am (0) Comments
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Everyone has been in that league—you know, the one where in August or maybe even July the people toward the bottom of the standings stop updating their lineup. This is how Chien-Ming Wang and Eric Byrnes find their way into starting lineups, even when they've been declared out for the year months ago. I've even been in public leagues where people treat the leagues like mock drafts; they draft and quit. There is Mock Draft Central now people! And it's not public leagues I'm talking about; plenty of private leagues, even money leagues, suffer from the same quitting problem
Most of the time people quit because they feel they no longer have an impact on the league. They aren't going to win anyway is what they say. But the truth is that once they stop following, they have a huge impact on the league. Kind of ironic. In roto leagues, teams can easily gain points they wouldn't have if everybody was following in the counting categories like home runs and strikeouts. It changes everything. What bothers me the most though, is that a substantial amount of players cannot be acquired as they are left to rot on the roster of an owner that has quit. It is hard enough to find a team that is compatible with you for trading, and when your options are narrowed down it is just that more difficult.
You would think, however, that an "experts" league would be followed religiously and fought to the death over. That was not the case with a league of bloggers that Bob Taylor of Fantasy Hurler was in, and he was not shy about calling out the experts who stopped following. A couple of them did have a legitimate reasons for not following, but as Taylor pointed out, an explanation would have been nice.
Now, it is nothing new for bloggers to talk all the talk and not follow their own walk, but it raises the question, how seriously should we take fantasy baseball? Do we have a right to get angry and upset over those who quit, or are we acting too uptight and becoming too emotionally attached to something that is "just a game"?
About a week ago the same Bob Taylor raised that exact question, and here's an excerpt on what he had to say:
Anyway, the point of playing fantasy baseball -- as with all games -- should be to win. And the best leagues, the ones that make playing fantasy baseball worthwhile, are the ones where every manager takes the game that seriously. A league with at least 12 managers who play hard from April to September will inspire intense rivalries, hilarious smack talk, legends of fierce championship battles from seasons past and all the things that make fantasy baseball great.
I agree with that statement whole-heartedly and I don't think it could have been put any better. It is not because we are uptight, no-life losers that we desire leagues to be competitive, but rather because it's those competitive, claw-and-scratch-with-your-nails-to-win leagues that bring out the most fun. And in the end, that's a big part of what we're after when we play fantasy sports: fun. The pursuit of happiness, if you will.