June 6, 2013

Ryan Howard Hits a Triple

Lost in the hoopla surrounding Cole Hamels finally getting another win and Domonic Brown hitting yet another home run was the performance of another home-grown Phillies lefty. The title of this post totally takes away the element of surprise, but Ryan Howard managed to hit a triple Wednesday. It was his first one of those since April 22, 2011, a span of 258 games and 1068 plate appearances.

Photo shamelessly stolen from Ryan Howards
Google+ account
To put that in perspective, Mike Trout only has 1049 career plate appearances, and he's already managed 14 triples. I feel like I should make a joke about Mike Trout running around the bases 14 times before Howard can get around once, but I'll save that for your imagination. But if you'd like to know an interesting fact, Ryan Howard actually has 17 triples in his career, including five in 2010 and four in each of 2008 and 2009.

Anyway, what we witnessed today was a rare treat, at least lately, and it deserves my attention. Whether or not it deserves your attention is your call, but if you're reading this, I'll assume it deserves your attention too.

Now I guess I wasn't being entirely truthful, because Ryan Howard did not "leg out" a triple. As you read the title of this post, you probably thought, "I bet some outfielder misplayed it." And you're right! Marcel Ozuna misplayed it. And not only did Marcel Ozuna misplay it, the centerfielder Justin Ruggiano also decided to lackadaisically throw the ball to the cutoff man, and Ryan Howard still almost got out.

I decided to time Howard's race to third with the stopwatch app on my phone, which I realize is not the best method, but it's the only method available to me without having to get up, so deal with it. For Ryan Howard to run from home plate to third base took approximately 12.4 seconds. For a full video, click here, because for some reason the MLB refuses to let me embed videos until a couple of days after games and my gif-maker can't handle videos longer than 10 seconds.

I was kind of curious if there was a major difference in speed between his last triple and his triple Wednesday afternoon, particularly because of his injury at the end of 2011 and how terrible he looked trying to run last year. So I looked up the video and timed the 2011 version of Howard at 12.2 seconds. Now that I have my data, I realize that I have absolutely no idea if a difference of 0.2 seconds is significant at all. Maybe that's a lot, or maybe it's not so much, so I thought I might compare him to an average runner hitting a triple.

I really don't know how long it takes the average runner to hustle out a triple, so I did some investigating. Rather, I asked Eric Longenhagen of Crashburn Alley (@longenhagen) to let me know of a few perfectly average runners. One name he came up with was Stephen Drew, a fellow lefty who already has three triples this year for the Red Sox. I watched videos of his triples, but only one of them required him to hustle all the way to the bag. I timed that triple at 11.3 seconds.

It's a real pain to find videos of players running out triples all the way to the bag. For the most part, they can coast in because there was a play at the plate, or the camera angle doesn't show the runner actually get to the bag. For this reason, I'm comfortable using 11.3 seconds as my average time, even though I probably shouldn't be.

So now we have some numbers. In 2011, Ryan Howard was .9 seconds slower than the average runner legging out a triple. Now, he's 1.1 seconds slower, an increase of 22.2%. That sounds like kind of a lot. I don't really know, because I have no qualitative knowledge to back my numbers up. The only thing I could qualitatively say with any degree of certainty is that Ryan Howard took longer to get to third base in 2013 than he did in 2011.

Congratulations on the triple, Ryan! If you ever hit another one, I'll probably time that one too.

June 4, 2013

The Yo-Yo of Jimmy Rollins

Still my favorite picture of Jimmy Rollins
Last year, I wrote a post about Jimmy Rollins. Well, last year I wrote several posts about Jimmy Rollins, but I'm talking about one in particular in which I described an apparent change in Jimmy's approach. Click here if you wish to read the whole thing, but the blurb form of it is that Jimmy was striking out more, walking less, getting on base less, but hitting for more power.

The difference in overall performance was negligible, as his wRC+'s in 2011 and 2012 were 103 and 101, respectively. Rollins had just changed forms; he essentially molted into more of a power hitter.

Well so far in 2013, it looks like Rollins has molted once again. This season he has settled into an average of his 2011 and 2012 forms, and his wRC+ has stayed relatively constant at 102. For those of you who like graphs, I've prepared this graph describing Jimmy's performance over the past few years. OBP+ denotes Jimmy's OBP relative to his average from 2011-2013, with 100 as exactly average and 103 being 3% above his own average. SLG+ and OPS+ are calculated the same way. They are not relative to league average.

And for those of you who prefer tables:

The Phillies are truly lucky that Rollins has been aging so gracefully, as he posted a combined 8.4 WAR over his age-32 and -33 seasons, the highest total among Phillies position players. This year, he's well on his way to another three-win season, and given his penchant for finishing strong, I'll take the over on that estimate. From where I'm standing, his 3-year/$33M contract really looks like a bargain.

Domonic Brown's Historic Pace

Domonic Brown is the talk of baseball right now. After several years of struggling, his massive potential is now turning into massive home runs. He leads the NL in home runs and has an ISO of over .300. Basically he's been hitting the crap out of the ball.

But one thing Brown was well-regarded for as he came up through the minors and in his short tenure in the Major Leagues is not present thus far in 2013. Brown has just a 5.0% BB%, just half of his career walk rate entering the season. It is uncommon for power hitters to walk so infrequently. Take, for instance, numbers two through six behind Brown in the NL in home runs in 2013:

*Stats are as entering Tuesday's games
Double-digit walk rates are the norm for the highest home run hitters in the National League. The only one who is in single digits is Tulowitzki, but he plays for the Rockies, and if I played at Coors field, I would probably swing a lot too. According to StatCorner's Park Factors, Coors Field increases right-handed home runs by a whopping 23%. 

So that got me thinking about the historical rarity of a power hitter who doesn't walk. This led me to use FanGraphs' filters to search for any player with an ISO (Isolated Power) at or above of .290 (Brown's is .301) and a walk rate at or below of 6.0% (Brown's is 5.0%). These are the results:

Who doesn't remember the great Rockford Forest Citys of 1871? I guess 92 PAs was enough to qualify in 1871, considering they only played 25 games 4-21 record. John Bass had a .337 ISO and only three home runs. That high ISO was mostly due to his 10 triples. As for modern players, George Bell never walked and hit a lot of home runs, but 1987 was a pretty extreme outlier. His next highest home run total was 16 dingers fewer the year before. His career ISO was only .191.

Andres Galarraga, though, shows the progression we all hope Dom shows. He hit 47 homers in 1996, then had two consecutive seasons of a higher walk rate and a higher wRC+, peaking at 9.7% and 156 in 1998 with the Braves. He was worth 5.0 WAR that season. A similar event happened with Juan Gonzalez, who increased his walk rate to a respectable 8.1% in 1999, posting .400+ wOBAs in '98 and '99.

I should also note that Domonic Brown has the lowest walk rate among these modern players, and while his wOBA doesn't stack up with any of the other three modern players, his wRC+ is about the same as Bell's was in 1987 and much better than Gonzalez and Galarraga, due to the changing offensive landscape.

If he can keep these rate stats through the rest of the year, we could be looking at a historically rare season. Brown is combining the walk rate of Juan Pierre and the power of Jose Bautista. What a weird combination.

June 2, 2013

Ryan Howard Has No Arm

Ryan Howard can't throw the ball. This is nothing new to long-time Phillies fans, but it is something I want to talk about nonetheless. Howard's arm is relevant on a day like today, because you are all presumably Phillies fans and Ryan Howard is on the Phillies; therefore, Ryan Howard's arm is on the Phillies. But it's also relevant because of a play that happened in Sunday's game, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I don't really know how to quantify Howard's arm in terms of run value, but I am going to try to put his arm in perspective with a few simple invented statistics. I went on FanGraphs and used the standard fielding section to pull these numbers. I should premise this by saying these are not meant to be absolute perfect measures of throwing ability. I guess there is no real way to quantify throwing ability, even for pitchers. We can measure pitches with PITCHf/x and infer certain things, but there's no way to measure intended target vs actual location. We have even less data for position players, but I decided to take a stab at it anyway.

The first of these fake statistics is cleverly titled Throwing Error Percentage (TE%). It's the number of throwing errors divided by the total number of errors. Using errors to derive any valuable insight into defense is a fool's errand, so feel free to take these numbers with a grain of salt, or even a portion of a grain of salt, or even a piece of a portion of a grain of salt. But as I said before, these aren't going to be perfect, or even good, but I'm writing it, and you're reading it, so let's go to the graph:

So Howard apparently had no throwing errors in 2005 and has no throwing errors so far this year. But in between he really did some damage. Overall, from 2005-2013, 34.4% of Howard's errors were of the throwing variety, well above the league average of 24.0% for the time frame. And this is not a result of Howard having very few errors, which could cause a small number of throwing errors to show as a large percentage. Howard has averaged an error roughly every 105 innings of his career, while the league average first baseman averaged an error every 150 innings. Ryan Howard is not a good defensive first baseman.

Another fake statistic I wanted to look at was something I call Double Plays Started Percentage (DPS%) which, as its name would imply, is the number double plays a player started divided by the total number of double plays in which he was involved.

Ryan Howard does not start a lot of double plays, and this could be for a variety of reasons, but one of them, as you'll see momentarily, is his terrible arm. On average, Ryan Howard has started double plays at just 3/4 the rate of the average first baseman. Again, this is not just a mirage of the Phillies turning more 6-4-3 double plays than average, as Howard has started a double play once every 175 innings, while the average first baseman does so once every 130 innnings.

Now that I've done my best to show statistically how bad Howard's arm really is, I'm going to turn to Sunday's game against the Brewers. The Phillies were cruising through seven innings, ahead 7-0 off a near-cycle by Domonic Brown and a masterful pitching performance by Cliff Lee. In the eighth, Lee seemed to fall victim to the BABIP fairies that have been haunting Cole Hamels all season, and the bullpen couldn't close the door on the Brewers once he departed.

So Jean Segura stepped up to the plate with no outs in the ninth and runners on first and second, the Phillies up just 7-5. Antonio Bastardo got Segura to hit a ground ball to first on an inside fastball, which set Ryan Howard up for a perfect double play ball:

Ryan Howard catches the ball with ample time to gun down Jeff Bianchi heading for second, as Bianchi is only about three steps out of his lead when Howard catches the ball. In this situation, too, it's key to get this lead runner because, remember, the Phillies are only up two. If Howard can get this guy at second, it'll take a double to tie the game, instead of a single. Assuming Bastardo covers first quickly enough, the Phillies might even be looking at a double play in this critical situation. If that were to happen, it would take a home run to tie the game.

But Howard chickened out.

Now before you get all worked up; don't worry, the Phillies still won. Bastardo was able to induce two weak fly balls to end the game. But this bad defense could have cost the Phillies the game. It's gotten to the point where Howard's weak arm is making him gun-shy, and he's unable to get the ever-important lead runner in an critical situation. 

This is the exact reason why an error doesn't tell the whole story. In this situation there was no error because there was no attempted throw because the potential thrower is a chicken. It wasn't an error, but it surely was not the ideal play. At some point, the benefit from aggressively pursuing the ideal play becomes significant enough to negate the risk of the error. When does that happen? Is it when a player is accurate 75% of the time? 90% of the time? Well I dunno. I guess for Howard, it never happens.

May 29, 2013

Hamels Dominates, Allows Five Runs

Cole Hamels' 2013 season has not been what one might call "good," given expectations. He was coming off three straight seasons with an ERA below 3.06 and a FIP below 3.67. He was considered to be in neck-and-neck competition for the title of top free agent pitcher with Zack Greinke before he signed a six-year $144-million extension in the middle of last year.

This season things have been much different. Hamels entered Sunday's start with a 4.45 ERA and a 4.35 FIP to match. The Phillies had lost all but one of his ten starts, but he was coming off a game that he absolutely dominated, despite getting handed a loss. It was seen as a possible building block for him to return to All Star form. Unfortunately, Hamels found himself on the bench Sunday against the Nationals, having allowed five runs.

Hamels cruised through six innings, striking out 6 and walking none, before running into a wall in the seventh. He got lifted after six batters and four runs, having recorded only one out. Justin De Fratus allowed one of the runners he inherited from Hamels to score. The wall Hamels ran into, though, was not the Nationals' offense; it was the Phillies' defense.

Note: This is a gif-heavy post, so I put a jump in for your browser's convenience.

April 30, 2013

An Ominous Cloud Approaches

Sunday, April 28 was a good day. Carlos Ruiz, fresh off his adderall suspension, had just come off a decent season debut, going 1-for-4 with a double. While his double didn't factor much into the outcome of the game, the Phillies celebrated his return with a 5-1 victory over the Mets.

Chooch has been one of the most beloved Phillies on a team whose string of 5 consecutive division titles was unmatched in Phillies' history. Unfortunately, that streak ended last year, but Carlos, at 34, has only gotten better with age. One wonders if the outcome of Sunday afternoon's game would have been the same without him.

Cole Hamels was exceptionally wild in his first win of the season, walking six batters in six innings after walking just over two per nine innings last season. Yet Hamels allowed just one run in those six innings against a team with the third-highest wRC+ in the NL thus far in 2013.

I don't mean to imply that Ruiz is the reason Hamels was able to keep the Mets in check, but that it probably was a factor in his success. After all, there have been rumblings and grumblings from pitchers about the ability of Ruiz's primary replacement, Erik Kratz, to call a game. While he has graded out pretty positively in terms of pitch framing, he has thrown out just 33% of base-stealers, and in terms of game calling, he just can't hold a candle to Chooch.

So the Phillies were riding high going into their off day followed by a short series with the Cleveland Indians, when out of a nowhere, a wild Delmon appeared! Practically crushing all the good feelings created by the much-heralded return of the Phillies star catcher, Delmon Young will make his the-opposite-of-heralded debut in the Phillies lineup tonight.

If you want to know about Delmon, the person, I'd read this post from Crashburn Alley's Eric Longenhagen. I'm pretty sure that's the second time I've mentioned that in a post, but it's really good, so check it out.

Delmon Young couples his fantastic set of tools with an atrocious approach and an inability to adjust to opposite pitchers. He couples his immense raw power with little patience and a physique befitting a retired plumber. And when it comes to fielding, if you thought Dom Brown was bad, you're in for a treat. With his serious makeup concerns. He has been worth negative WAR over 7 seasons with the Devil Rays, Twins, and Tigers.

It is going to pain me to see Young on the Phillies, especially if he starts taking PAs away from fellow former uber-prospect, Domonic Brown, who is finally getting his shot at regular playing time. But with Brown struggling through 93 PAs and fellow corner outfielder John Mayberry hitting well (for the time being), that is looking increasingly likely.

That is to say, I hated the Delmon Young signing. That is not to say that I hope he plays badly. I want the Phillies to win, and if Delmon Young is part of the God of Baseball's Divine Plan, then I guess I'll cheer for him. But I should say, I won't cheer as hard as for Rollins or Utley or Brown, or especially Chooch.

April 27, 2013

Small Sample Size In Action

Oftentimes when people cite early season statistics, they offer a disclaimer about those statistics being unreliable based on the noise within a small number of plate appearances. Especially on television, they might immediately disregard that disclaimer and make bold statements on how that player is doing.

This is of note because Domonic Brown entered play Saturday with a .286 wOBA, an 80 wRC+, and -0.2 WAR. Those results look ugly. Much has been made of Dom's struggles early this season by people who need something to talk about, but in reality he was within one good game of being an average hitter.

Then Saturday happened. Dom went 2-for-5 with a single and a three-run home run to break the game open in the fifth. His wOBA went up to .304 and his wRC+ to 92, slightly below the NL averages of .307 and 94. 2-for-5 with a single and a home run is a good game. On Saturday, April 27, Brown had a .596 wOBA. Good job, Dom! You had a good game!

But on Saturday, April 27, there were three games that started at 1:05, and in those three games, ten players had a higher wOBA. It was a good game, but it was not the type of game that everyone will remember. It was a regular, old, run-of-the-mill good game, and it boosted his stats from Wilson Valdezian to roughly NL average.

It's early in the season. Stop caring so much about statistics. Instead, be happy that Chooch will be back tomorrow.