Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Look at Casey Crosby

The Tigers just placed Doug Fister on the DL and have called up Casey Crosby to make his ML debut on Friday. I had ranked Crosby #4 on Tigers prospects. Here's what I had said about him:
Crosby has already missed some time with Tommy John surgery, however scouts still like him. He has 3 pitches, a mid-90s fastball, an above-average curveball and a changeup. All could be plus pitches for him, but command and control is still an issue and the high walk rate this year shows that it is still a problem. If he can command his pitches, he could end up as a mid-rotation starter, but he may be destined for the bullpen.
Crosby has battled injuries, but has been healthy the last 2 years after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Here are his stats the last 2 years:

2011 - (AA) 131 2/3 IP , 4.10 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 8.27 K/9, 5.26 BB/9
2012 - (AAA) 50 2/3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 10.13 K/9, 4.62 BB/9

Courtesy of Minor League Central , we can take a deeper look at the stats along with some splits. Unfortunately, they haven't updated to Crosby's latest start, which was one of his best ones all year (7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K).

2011 (AA) - 4.32 FIP, 4.18 SIERA, 15.5% LD, 53.7% GB, 27.2% FB, 3.5% Unknown, .314 BABIP
2012 (AAA) - 3.60 FIP, 3.48 SIERA, 16.9% LD, 48.3% GB, 30.5% FB, 3.4 Unknown, .292 BABIP

I combined bunts with groundballs and Outfield fly balls with Infield fly balls to keep the standard LD/FB/GB splits. His FIP and SIERA have improved, but he's getting less groundballs in AAA.

L/R Splits:

L - 159 PA, .244/.367/.351, 32 K, 22 BB
R - 411 PA, .256/.357/.386, 89 K, 55 BB

L - 47 PA, .214/.283/.500, 19 K, 4 BB
R - 143 PA, .226/.322/.315, 31 K, 18 BB

2011 & 2012:
L - 206 PA, .237/.348/.387, 51 K, 26 BB
R - 554 PA, .248/.348/.368, 120 K, 73 BB

He seems to get righties out just as well as lefties, although that .500 SLG against lefties in 2012 seems worrisome. Although it's probably an anomaly due to small sample sizes.

There's a ton more stats on the site . I'm anxious to see how he'll perform at the ML level.

Ryan Raburn and Bad Starts

Ryan Raburn was just sent down to AAA Toledo. He was hitting .146/.209/.211/.420 with a homer and 7 RBI, so it wasn’t a big surprise. Ryan Raburn has a reputation of getting to notoriously slow starts. So how does this year compare to recent past seasons?

2012 – 135 PA, .146/.209/.211/.420, 1 HR, 7 RBI
2011 – 170 PA, .197/.238/.325/.563, 4 HR, 15 RBI
2010 – 69 PA, .177/.261/.290/.551, 0 HR, 5 RBI

Yikes! Those are bad numbers. 2012 does seem to be the weakest of them all but I have to imagine that the Tigers would have sent him down even if he had a .550 OPS like the last 2 years. The Tigers as a team aren’t horrible on offense, they are only averaging 4.35 runs/game, a tick below league average of 4.40 runs/game. But they are way below expectations. Here’s how other Tiger hitters are doing:

Brennan Boesch - .243/.282/.373/.655, 5 HR, 18 RBI
Delmon Young - .252/.299/.374/.674, 3 HR, 16 RBI
Ramon Santiago - .197/.279/.250/.529, 0 HR, 6 RBI
Don Kelly - .164/.261/.164/.425, 0 HR, 5 RBI

Boesch and Young have picked it up recently, but still below what people were predicting. Of Raburn, Santiago and Kelly, Raburn still had an option remaining, so they were able to send him down while keeping him under control.

For whatever reason, Raburn has been great in the 2nd half of the season:
June/July/August/September/October (regular season):

2012 - ???
2011 – 248 PA, .296/.337/.504/.842, 10 HR, 34 RBI
2010 – 341 PA, .301/.356/.511/.867, 15 HR, 57 RBI

In fact, it was these numbers that made the Tigers think that Raburn can be an everyday player. He just can’t hit in the first half. Random variance will tell you that it’s just a coincidence and one of these years he’ll have a great first half, but the evidence to the contrary is right there. I hate to go the mental route, but maybe there’s something psychological going on. In any case, the Tigers need another spark in their offense, so they turn to…

Omir Santos – 3rd string catcher.

Huh? Santos was up with the Tigers briefly last year, hit .227/.227/.227/.455 with 0 HR and 0 RBI in 11 games. Now he was hitting .310/.315/.417/.731 at AAA, but at 31 years old, I doubt he suddenly figured it all out. Maybe Avila or Laird has minor injury and won’t be able to play for a few days. This is a mind-boggling move for sure, especially when it took them a half a day to announce his call-up. Makes me wonder if they were working on a trade and it fell through.

Getting back to Raburn, my prediction is that he’ll rake in AAA and the Tigers will be forced to call him back up within 2 weeks and he’ll continue to do what he did the last 2 years in the 2nd half. Unfortunately, the Tigers won’t have the option to hide him AAA until the 2nd half next year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tweaking xFIP

FIP is an ERA estimator.  You can read about it more here and here

FIP = (13*HR+3*(BB+HBP)-2*K)/IP + Constant

The constant brings FIP on the same scale as ERA.  The constant so far for 2012 is 3.00. 

The FIP for the 5 Tigers’ starters so far this year is:

Justin Verlander – 2.38
Doug Fister – 3.82
Max Scherzer – 3.96
Drew Smyly – 4.03
Rick Porcello – 4.37
This gives a pretty good indicator of how these pitchers have truly pitched this year, at least better than what ERA would tell you.  However, there is a further step that can be taken to give you xFIP.  To quote FanGraphs:

Home run rates are generally unstable over time and fluctuate around league-average, so by estimating a pitcher’s home run total, xFIP attempts to isolate a player’s ability level. A pitcher may allow home runs on 12% of their flyballs one year, then turn around and only allow 7% the next year. HR/FB ratios can be very difficult to predict, so xFIP attempts to correct for that.
xFIP = (13*xHR+3*(BB+HBP)-2*K)/IP + Constant

The only difference between FIP and xFIP is the HR rate.  FIP uses true HR while xFIP adjusts it to the league average HR/FB ratio.  The league average HR/FB ratio so far this year is 10.9%.  The HR/FB ratio so far for the 5 Tigers’ starters in 2012 is:

Max Scherzer – 16.7%
Doug Fister – 15.4%
Rick Porcello – 13.0%
Drew Smyly – 12.5%
Justin Verlander – 5.2%

Except for Verlander, the Tigers’ starters have been very homer happy.  Scherzer, Fister, Porcello and Smyly have allowed HR at a higher rate than the league average.  This should average out as the season progresses and according to xFIP, it should be closer to the league average. For example, Max Scherzer has allowed 10 HR so far this year on 60 fly balls, (10/60 = 16.7%).  However, the league average HR/FB ratio is 10.9%, so he should have only allowed about 6.54 HR (10.9%*60).  I know it’s impossible to allow a fraction of a HR, but that’s how the calculation works.  Substitute 6.54 in for the 10 HR and his FIP is reduced.  The xFIP for the 5 

Tigers’ starters so far this year is:

Max Scherzer – 3.13
Justin Verlander – 3.14
Doug Fister – 3.37
Drew Smyly – 3.79
Rick Porcello – 4.12

There you have it, Max Scherzer has been just as good as Justin Verlander when you adjust for their HR rates.  Er…eh, no.  I’m not buying it.  There is one major flaw when adjusting for the league average HR rates.  To quote FanGraphs again:

While HR/FB ratios are generally unstable over time, some pitchers are still more prone to allowing home runs than others. If a pitcher has a long history of over- or under-performing the league average with their HR/FB rate, then you can reasonably expect them to perform closer to their career average than the league-average. In cases like this, xFIP may overestimate or underestimate a player’s true talent level by assuming a league average HR/FB ratio.
Over their careers, Justin Verlander has a significant lower HR/FB ratio than Max Scherzer.  

Career HR/FB ratios:
Doug Fister – 7.5%
Justin Verlander – 7.7%
Max Scherzer – 11.4%
Rick Porcello – 11.4%
Drew Smyly – 12.5%

So instead of using the league average 10.9%, what would be the harm in using their career rates?  I think this gives a better idea on what to expect instead of using the league average.  Verlander and Fister have shown to give up less HR than the league average, so expecting that to continue is not out question.  

Justin Verlander – 2.71
Doug Fister – 3.04
Max Scherzer – 3.20
Drew Smyly – 4.03
Rick Porcello – 4.18

Now, those numbers I believe.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Time to Get Excited for Quintin Berry?

Quintin Berry just did something that no Tigers player has done since 1918: get a hit in 5 straight games to start his MLB career. He went 3-4 with a walk in his 5th game to give him a stat line of .381/.458/.476/.935. Start him every day! Give him leftfield! Keep him in the leadoff spot!

It's only been 5 games.

His BABIP is .533 and has a 77% ground ball rate. Those are unsustainable rates that happens when dealing with small sample sizes. I don't think anyone believes that he was going to continue to hit .380 anyway, but a little perspective is nice. He's hit only 2 line drives according to FanGraphs. It's hard to have a high batting average when all you are doing is hitting ground balls.

He's 27 years old and is just now getting his first taste of ML baseball. He didn't even touch AAA until last year, and that was only 4 games. His career minor league batting line is .267/.358/.338/.697 with only 20 HR in over 3000 PA. He does have 261 SB, reaching 40+ SB in 3 separate years (he also 3 for the Tigers). It's hard to get excited about a guy who has a higher OBP than his SLG. I get it, some players are late bloomers and Berry has always had a decent OBP, and was hitting .270/.368/.321 at AAA Toledo before the Tigers called him up.

Quintin Berry should stick around for a while even when Austin Jackson comes back. But he shouldn't be handed an everyday job...yet. Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young haven't exactly been having career years. Is Quintin Berry really better than both of them, though?

Don Kelly is batting .145/.234/.145/.445 and Ryan Raburn is batting .151/.215/.218/.434. Both are expendable at this point. Berry has given this offense a spark including a nice defensive catch and the Tigers should ride that for as long as they can.

But it's only been 5 games.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

2012 Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects

I’m going by rookie status, so I still consider Drew Smyly a prospect, even though he is pitching in the majors right now.
1.     SP Jacob Turner
Age: 21
Current Level: AAA Toledo
2012 Stats: 39 2/3 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

Ranked #22 overall by Baseball America, Turner was a candidate to claim the Tigers’ 5th starter’s job in Spring Training.  However, an injury caused him to miss some time and was sent to High-A Lakeland.  He started 4 games with a 1.66 ERA before being moved to AAA, where he’s started 4 games with a 5.00 ERA. Turner’s best pitch is his 94-95 MPH fastball.  He also has a plus 12-6 curveball and changeup that needs more development but could also turn into a plus pitch.  He has good control of the strike zone, but he still lacks command of his secondary pitches.  With the lack of a plus-plus pitch, his ceiling is only as a #2 starter.  He could see some time in 2012 if an injury occurs to one of the Tigers’ starting pitchers with a permanent fixture in the rotation by 2013. 

2.     3B Nick Castellanos
Age: 20
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 203 PA, .419/.478/.559/1.036, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 19 BB, 32 K

Ranked #45, Castellanos has raked in High-A and it’s only a matter of time before he is called up to AA Erie.  He’s not a great fielder, but he shouldn’t be forced to switch positions.  Castellanos is still a few years away from reaching the majors but with Victor Martinez’ contract ending by then, Miguel Cabrera can slide to the DH role making room for Castellanos at 3B.  Castellanos is projected to hit for power once his body fills out and if he can cut down on his strikeouts, he could also hit for a high average. 

3.     SP Drew Smyly
Age: 23
Current Level: MLB Detroit
2012 Stats: 48 2/3 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9

Smyly earned the 5th spot in the Tigers’ rotation and it appears to be the right decision as he’s been very good so far this year.  He has four pitches, a 91 MHP fastball, a cutter, a slider and a splitter.  He has very good command of all of these pitches, which explains how he was able to rush through the minors.  None of his pitches are overpowering, so he’s only projected to be a mid-rotation starter. 

4.     SP Casey Crosby
Age: 23
Current Level: AAA Toledo
2012 Stats: 43 2/3 IP, 4.33 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9

Crosby has already missed some time with Tommy John surgery, however scouts still like him.  He has 3 pitches, a mid-90s fastball, an above-average curveball and a changeup.  All could be plus pitches for him, but command and control is still an issue and the high walk rate this year shows that it is still a problem.  If he can command his pitches, he could end up as a mid-rotation starter, but he may be destined for the bullpen. 

5.     SP Andy Oliver
Age: 24
Current Level: AAA Toledo
2012 Stats: 49 2/3 IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 10 K/9, 6.9 BB/9

There is much debate over Oliver’s ceiling.  Some scouts see him as a reliever, while others think he can be a back—end starter.  He has a 95 MPH fastball, but a still in progress slider and changeup.  He lacks command and that shows with his very high walk rate.  However, his strikeout rate is fantastic, so if he can get at least one of his secondary pitches under control, he could be a great reliever for the Tigers in the future.

6.     C Rob Brantly
Age: 22
Current Level: AA Erie
2012 Stats: 163 PA, .305/.350/.457/.807, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 9 BB, 15 K

More of an offensive-minded catcher, Brantly is holding his own at the catcher position defensively.  The Tigers are aggressively moving him up in the minors, and he could be ready to contribute in the majors as soon as 2013.  However, this aggressiveness could be limiting his defensive abilities.  He doesn’t have a lot of HR power, but he should show gap power and hit for a good average.  He doesn’t strikeout much, but he also doesn’t walk much either.  He is not projected to be a starting catcher in the majors but should be able to stick as a backup.  The Tigers don’t have an immediate need for a catcher and also have another catcher prospect in James McCann, so Brantly could be trade bait at the deadline. 

7.     SS Eugenio Suarez
Age: 20
Current Level: A West Michigan
2012 Stats: 215 PA, .278/.379/.400/.779, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 26 BB, 47 K

A very slick defensive SS, Suarez is also showing hitting ability, something of a rare combination in the Tigers farm system for middle infielders.  Although he is doing this at a low level so it’ll be interesting if he can keep this up as he advances to the higher levels.  Being a switch hitter might give him an advantage, though.  I’m hesitant to say that his ceiling is an everyday SS in the majors, but he’s looking like he might stick at least in a utility role once he’s ready in a few years.    

8.     SP Brenny Paulino
Age: 19
Current Level: N/A
2012 Stats: N/A

Paulino must be in extended Spring Training because I can’t find any information on what he’s doing in 2012.  Last year he made it as high as High-A Lakeland, but only made 2 starts giving up 13 ER in a little over 5 innings after spending most of the year in rookie ball.  Scouts like Paulino’s raw talent, though.  He has an above-average 95 MPH fastball, but a below-average curveball and changeup.  He lacks command and control right now which could move him to the bullpen if he can’t develop his secondary pitches.  If he can’t command his secondary pitches, he’ll get moved to the bullpen but if he can, his status will quickly rise.    

9.     C James McCann
Age: 22
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 144 PA, .260/.313/.313/.625, 0 HR, 17 RBI, 6 BB, 24 K

James McCann has very good defensive skills but his hitting ability is somewhat lacking.  If he can show average hitting ability, he could end up as a starting catcher at the ML level.  Many scouts are projecting a low average for him and some gap power.  He currently isn’t hitting for any power so far this year.  Right now, because of his defensive skills, he’s projected to just be a backup at the ML level. 

10.   OF Tyler Collins
Age: 22
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 198 PA, .287/.364/.414/.777, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 19 BB, 23 K

Collins doesn’t have the best tools in the Tigers system, but all he’s done is hit since the Tigers drafted him.  He doesn’t have much power but has good bat control and doesn’t strikeout a lot, so he should be able to hit for a good average.  He struggles against left-handers, so he’s only projected to be a 4th OF at the ML level. 

11.   1B Aaron Westlake
Age: 23
Current Level: A West Michigan
2012 Stats: 198 PA, .230/.313/.397/.710, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 21 BB, 41 K

Drafted as a senior in college, Westlake was projected to move rapidly through the Tigers’ minor leagues.  However, they decided to put him back at Class-A West Michigan instead of High-A Lakeland and in AA by the end of the year as many were predicting.  Many scouts project that he’ll be ready for the majors by 2013.  However, he’s struggled so far this year and as a 23 year old in Class-A, that is worrisome.  His best tool is his power, although he should also hit for a decent average.  If he can’t dominate in this level, he might never reach his full potential.  Defensively he’s average at 1B, and he’s also played some RF since he’s currently blocked at 1B by Prince Fielder.

12.   SP Alex Burgos
Age: 21
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 48 2/3 IP, 5.55 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 6.5 BB/9

Burgos showed very good success at West Michigan last year but has failed to carry that at the next level.  He has an 88-89 MPH fastball with an above-average curveball and changeup.  He is able to keep the ball down and induce a lot of groundballs, which is a good thing for a pitcher.  His ceiling is a back-end rotation starter, but currently it looks like he fits the mold of Casey Crosby and Andy Oliver with that high walk rate.  Hopefully it’s just nerves adjusting to a new league as the FSL is usually a pitching dominate league.       

13.   SP Kyle Ryan
Age: 20
Current Level: A West Michigan
2012 Stats: 54 1/3 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 1.3 BB/9

Kyle Ryan throws a fastball, slider and changeup with very good control as shown in his walk rate.  He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but as he matures and gains better command of his pitches, he should stick as a back-end starting pitcher.  As he adds velocity to his fastball, the strikeouts should increase. 

14.   SP Brian Flynn
Age: 22
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 57 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9

Flynn has an overpowering 95 MPH fastball.  He also has a slider and a changeup.  He has shown better command than scouts initially gave him credit for.  If he can stick as a starter, his stock will rise, but he might be destined for the bullpen.  Being left-handed with a powerful fastball, he’ll get his chances.

15.   RP Bruce Rondon
Age: 21
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 15 1/3 IP, 2.35 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 14.1 K/9, 4.7 BB/9

Bruce Rondon has an above average fastball that has reach triple digits at times, but mostly tops out at 98 MPH.  He also has a slider in progress.  The fastball allows him to have an above average strikeout rate, but he has control issues which gives him a poor walk rate.  If he can develop an average slider while working on his control issues, he should finish the year at AA.  Injuries have been a problem, though.    

16.   OF Avisail Garcia
Age: 21
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 183 PA, .304/.339/.468/.807, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 7 BB, 35 K

Garcia is an odd one to rank.  He does have some good skills, he’s good defensively, he has good speed and his bat control is good.  The downside is that he hacks at everything, resulting in a poor walk rate as a high strikeout rate.  Until he learns better plate discipline, his ceiling isn’t very high. 

17.   OF Daniel Fields
Age: 21
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2012 Stats: 84 PA, .250/.310/.395/.704, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 6 BB, 22 K

Scouts love his tools, but they haven’t translated yet on the field.  In fact, he went backwards in 2011.  He’s only projected to be a 4th OF at this point, but is still being projected to hit for good power and a decent average that could steal as many as 20 bases.  Perhaps the Tigers ruined him by putting him at such a high level at such a young age; this is his 3rd year at High-A Lakeland.  Defensively, he was a SS in high school, but the Tigers moved him to CF.  He’s still adjusting, but could turn into an above-average defender.

18.   OF Tyler Gibson
Age: 19
Current Level: N/A
2012 Stats: N/A

I think Gibson is in extended Spring Training as he hasn’t played anywhere yet this year and was only in rookie ball last year.  He doesn’t have much pro experience but scouts like his tools.  He has plus power, plus-plus speed.  His ceiling is high right now, but it’s hard to get excited about someone who doesn’t have a ton of experience. 

19.   OF Danry Vasquez
Age: 18
Current Level: A West Michigan
2012 Stats: 112 PA, .162/.218/.222/.440, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 7 BB, 20 K

Another OF that scouts love the tools, but hasn’t translated yet on the field except for his .272 AVG last year.  He has gap power right now that could turn into HR power as he fills out.  His plate discipline is his biggest weakness.  Defensively, he should be an above average RF.  Tigers might have rushed him by putting him in A West Michigan at such a young age as he is struggling mightily.      

20.   SS Brandon Loy
Age: 22
Current Level: A West Michigan
2012 Stats: 199 PA, .243/.304/.318/.622, 16 BB, 36 K

Brandon Loy is a very good defensive SS, but only has the ceiling of a utility infielder.  He has been described as having “small ball” skills and a “grinder” so that along with his defensive skills could make him reach the majors.  If he can improve on getting on base and hit for a decent average, say around .250, he could be a starter for a few years.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Max Scherzer’s Strange Season

Scherzer pitched a great game on Sunday, 7 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 15 K.  Those 15 strikeouts propelled Scherzer to the top of the leader board in K/9 at 11.65.  Scherzer also leads in another category, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at .394.  This is a main reason why his ERA is an unimpressive 5.73, even though there are several ERA predictors that say it should be lower (3.88 FIP, 3.34 xFIP, 4.19 tERA, 3.00 SIERA).

One of the things that made Sunday’s start so impressive was that all 15 strikeouts were swinging strikeouts.  His swinging strike percentage* (12.5%) has been high all year, currently tied for second only behind Cole Hamels (13.0%).  Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson also have a 12.5% swinging strikeout percentage.

*Swinging strikeout percentage is the number of swing and misses divided by total number of pitches.

Looking further in PITCH f/x data, batters have swung at 47.9% of his pitches.  Only 79.3% of those swings has contact was made, which is currently 4th lowest in all of baseball behind Anthony Bass, Edwin Jackson and Cole Hamels.  Batters have swung at 68.1% of the pitches that were in the strike zone, but again, batters haven’t been making a lot of contact, only 79.3% of those swings contact was made (3rd lowest in the league behind Justin Verlander and Matt Moore). 

So, Scherzer has done a great job of deception; lots of swings with very little contact.  The contact that has been made has been damaging….or has it?   Not all balls in play are equal.  Line drives are base hits more often then fly balls and ground balls.  Ground balls are preferable because they lack the extra base potential that fly balls have (for example it’s impossible to hit a home run when hitting a ground ball).

Scherzer’s breakdown is:
2012 – 20.3% LD, 37.6% GB, 42.1% FB, 0.89 GB/FB
2011 – 20.2% LD, 40.3% GB, 39.5% FB, 1.02 GB/FB
Career – 20.2% LD, 40.6% GB, 39.2% FB, 1.04 GB/FB

The line drive rate is the most important one, as most damage is done with that, but Scherzer’s rate is nearly identical to what he’s always done.  He is allowing more fly balls than ground balls, which is the opposite of what he usually does.  In fact, fly balls are base hits less often than ground balls, so this reversal should show a lower BABIP, not a higher one.  This is the reason why his ERA predictors are lower than his actual ERA.

There are two things against Scherzer.  His BB rate has never been higher, currently at 3.51 BB/9.  And he’s allowed more home runs than ever before, he currently has a 14.3% HR/FB ratio.  However, neither of these stats show up in BABIP; walks aren’t hits and home runs aren’t “in play.”

One conclusion is that the Tigers defense is awful…and well, it is.  The Tigers are 24th in defensive runs saved at -18, and 29th in Ultimate Zone Rating at -15.7.  So, therefore, the other Tigers pitchers must be experiencing high BABIP, right?  No, not really.

Justin Verlander is 3rd in all of baseball with the lowest BABIP at .221.  Verlander has been just as good as Scherzer in deception.  He’s tied for 5th in all of baseball in lowest contact rate at 74.3% (Scherzer is 4th at 73.9%).  Verlander leads all of baseball in lowest contact rate in the zone at 77.9% (Scherzer is 3rd at 79.3%). 

Verlander is better at limiting the damage of contact:
Verlander – 18.9% LD, 40.5% GB, 40.5% FB, 1.00 GB/FB
Scherzer - 20.3% LD, 37.6% GB, 42.1% FB, 0.89 GB/FB

However, that’s not a dramatic difference and certainly not one that should result in a 173 point difference in BABIP.  So what is making Verlander’s BABIP so low and Scherzer’s so high?  The only logical explanation is that this an aberration resulting in a small sample size.  Scherzer has only pitched a little over 48 innings this year and if he continues to do what he has been doing, everything should equal out by season’s end.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An In-Depth Look at wOBA

wOBA is “weighted on base average.” It takes the different types of ways on how to get on base and weighs them appropriately. It’s designed to look like OBP, a stat that is widely considered understandable to the common baseball fan.

Slugging percentage kind of deal with weights; they give singles a “weight” of 1, doubles a “weight” of 2, triples a “weight” of 3 and home runs a “weight” of four. There is a flaw to this thinking. Are doubles really worth twice as much as singles? Are home runs really worth twice as much as doubles and four times as much as singles? Of course not. This is the biggest flaw of using slugging percentage.

On base percentage does not deal with weights. They treat a home run and a walk the same, as well as a double and triple; get on base any of these ways increases your on base percentage the same amount. One big advantage from using on base percentage is that it does include walks, something slugging percentage ignores. Add on base percentage and slugging percentage and you get OPS. OPS is the best of both worlds, you have the weights of singles, doubles, triples, home runs as well as including walks. OPS does a very good job of showing overall offensive production. However, there must be a better way to properly weigh each stat. And that’s what wOBA attempts to do.

wOBA uses a thing called linear weights to determine how much each event is worth. This is the most confusing part of wOBA. You almost have to be a computer programmer to figure this out. From what I understand it takes the actual number of runs scored in a season and breaks it down to specific events and looks at how likely a run scored in that event, relative to an out. Like I mentioned, this is very complicated and there are even different ways to do this that will give you slightly different results.

Tom Tango, the developer of wOBA, did this and came up with these values:

HR = 1.70

3B = 1.37
2B = 1.08
1B = 0.77
NIBB = 0.62

He wasn’t satisfied with these results as the average wasn’t close enough to OBP. So he scaled it by adding 15% to each event.

HR = 1.95

3B = 1.56
2B = 1.24
1B = 0.90
NIBB = 0.72

He also decided that HBP and RBOE were also important enough to include:

HBP = 0.75
RBOE = 0.92

Multiply each event by these coefficients and then divide by plate appearances, and you’ll have wOBA. Well, one version of wOBA. I’ll use Miguel Cabrera’s 2011 as an example:

(0.72*NIBB + 0.75*HBP + 0.90*1B + 0.92*RBOE + 1.24*2B + 1.56*3B + 1.95*HR) / PA

(0.72*86 + 0.75*3 + 0.90*119 + 0.92*6 + 1.24*48 + 1.56*0 + 1.95*HR)/688 = .429

If you go to FanGraphs, you’ll notice that this isn’t exactly the same value that they have, which is .436. The reason for this is that wOBA has been tweaked since this original formula. The main reason is that the run environments are different year-to-year. A single isn’t always worth 0.90 runs; a home run isn’t always worth 1.95 runs. The other reason is that FanGraphs decided to add in SB and CS to the formula. Now Matt Klassen at Beyond the Boxscore did an amazing job at showing these coefficients through the years, up to 2010:

However, if you work out the formula you might not get exactly the same amount as on FanGraphs, probably mainly due to rounding. But they come pretty darn close.

The problem with this is that they haven’t, and probably won’t, update it to include recent years. Well, I found a wOBA calculator in the form of an Excel worksheet:

The great thing about this calculator is that it subtracts out pitcher’s hitting stats (which is exactly what FanGraphs does). Not including pitcher’s hitting stats excludes their weak bats and you’re left with the “true” hitters. Putting in Miguel Cabrera’s stats still gives us .429. The difference this time is that this still doesn’t give SB/CS consideration and it’s possible that they use a different linear weights method. If you notice on the Excel spreadsheet, lines 20-37 are hidden. This is where the linear weights calculations are being performed. You can unhide this to see exactly how complicated this method is. Don’t ask me any questions about it, because I don’t know either.

Now would be a good time to discuss the flaws of wOBA. First of all, why in the heck are reached base on an error included?!? The reason why IBB aren’t included is because the hitter didn’t do anything special to get on base; it was the pitcher (or more specifically the manager) who decided to put him on. The same philosophy can be used for RBOE, the hitter didn’t do anything special to get on base; it was the fielder who messed up. The best reason I can think of, is that there is a direct correlation to guys getting on base due to an error and scoring that isn’t shown in IBB. Also, guys rarely get on base on an error (Omar Infante got on base the most due to an error in 2011, a whole 13 times or 2% of his PA). You can chose to not include it if you like (this is part of the “tweaking” but it doesn’t really effect the numbers much). Also, IBB weren’t officially kept as a stat until 1955, so wOBA might overrate some older players as their total BB are used.

Secondly, some people chose not to include stolen bases and caught stealing, as in the Hardball Times calculator. They want to use wOBA as a true hitting stat, and stolen bases aren’t a product of hitting. Some people want to use it as stolen bases are a part of offense and want to use wOBA as a total offensive stat.

Now from wOBA, we can create 3 other stats, wRAA, wRC and wRC+.

wRAA is weighted runs above average and is pretty easy to calculate, (wOBA-lgwOBA)/scale*PA. Division by the scale is important because initially we added a percentage to make wOBA look more like OBP. Doing this brings it back to runs value. 0 is average, therefore anything above 0 is above-average, anything below 0 is below-average.

Using Miguel Cabrera again:

Cabrera’s wOBA = 0.436
League wOBA = .316
Cabrera’s PA = 688
And from what I can tell, the scale = 1.26.

So, (0.436-0.316)/1.26*688 = 65.5 wRAA. FanGraphs shows a wRAA of 65.6, so there’s a rounding issue here.

wRC is weighted runs created. Bill James created Runs Created. Tom Tango took his theory and applied it to wOBA. wRC = wRAA+((LgRuns/PA)*PA). Basically you’re taking the league’s runs/PA and multiplying it by the player’s PA and adding in the player’s wRAA. This eliminates the “above average” part of wRAA.

2011 League runs = 20808

2011 League Plate Appearances = 185245
League runs/PA = 0.112

Using Miguel Cabrera again, wRC = 65.6+(0.112*688) = 143 wRC. Which is exactly what FanGraphs shows.

wRC+ is weighted runs created, adjusted to the league and ballpark. wRC+ = ((wRAA/PA)/(lgRun/PA)+1*100*a ballpark adjustment.

From what I can tell, the ballpark adjustment for Comerica Park is around 0.95 (again, rounding issues could prevent you from getting exactly the number as FanGraphs gets, but it’s close enough).

Using Miguel Cabrera one more time, wRC+ = ((65.6/688)/0.112+1)*95 = 176. FanGraphs has his wRC+ at 177, so there’s the rounding issue.

A 0.95 ballpark adjustment means that Comerica Park was slightly a hitter’s park in 2011 and therefore wRC+ had to be scaled down a little.