Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogging Elsewhere

Good News and Bad news.

Bad news first - I will no longer be blogging here.

Good news - It's because I am now blogging for Fansided at Tomahawk Take

Come read stuff from me and my fellow writers there!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's time for Huddy to Stop Bunting

Last night, Tim Hudson pitched a gem against Clayton Richard and the Padres. And while he has been quietly building an excellent career, he has also been quietly putting up fantastic offensive numbers. I was watching his at-bats last night with a hope that - however unlikely it was - Fredi would refrain from calling a sac bunt when runners were on. In Hudson's first at-bat, he swung away with no runners on, hitting a sharp grounder to third. In his second at-bat, he fell to two strikes attempting to lay down a sac bunt before lining out to right field.

In both instances, he hit the ball squarely and fairly hard. And that game isn't anomalous for him. He's been on an offensive tear for a while. Since June 1st, Hudson has been one of the Braves' most potent offensive weapons in games he plays, hitting .292 with a .345 OBP and .375 SLG in 12 games and 31 plate appearances. Understandably, offensive contribution is a highly overlooked part of any pitcher's game. Pitchers have far fewer opportunities at-bat to even make an impact (Johnny Cueto leads this year with 62), and when they do get chances, they are horrible and/or asked to bunt.

But Tim Hudson has been making a strong impact. His solid June numbers have gotten exponentially better. Since the All-Star break, Huddy has posted a .357/.400/.500 slashline. Yes, this has only happened over 7 games and 16 plate appearances, but the offensive he has provided is still quite valuable. This year, according to Baseball Reference, Tim Hudson has accumulated 1.0 WAR from pitching, and .4 WAR from hitting. His value increases by 40% when you take hitting into account.

Yes, that is a small sample size. But to me, Hudson has shown enough skill that swinging away will be more beneficial than sac bunting. Sac bunts are rarely ever useful for a team, as demonstrated here, here, and here. Its true that sac bunting with pitchers might generally be the better way to go because they are so damn bad at hitting, but Hudson has been just a little better than pitchers in the league (hitting .130/.166/.162). Moreover, Fredi doesn't necessarily use the sac bunt wisely. This year, Hudson has attempted 7 sac bunts (not including ones where he gets two strikes and then must swing away). Of those, 4 were successful, and each one decreased the Braves probability of winning. According to Baseball-Reference, all of Hudson's "successful" sac bunts together managed a -10% Win Probability Added.

That all said, there may be times when Hudson should sac bunt. But those times should be very few and far between. According to this post at Baseball Prospectus, "any batter hitting below .075 should always sacrifice, while any batter hitting better than .243 should never sacrifice." But it all depends on who bats afterwards. On the Braves, its Michael Bourn. With Bourn's .292/.353/.428 slashline, Timmy would need to  hit at least roughly .175 (his 2012 batting average is .211) in order for sac bunts to be detrimental to run expectation. This may waver in late-game, high-leverage situations, but it would almost always be smarter to bring in a pinch-hitter than to sac bunt in that situation.

But I don't see Timmy getting a free pass to swing any time soon. Managers hate deviating from traditional baseball strategy. In fact, Fredi Gonzalez made it clear that he wants Hudson off the base paths. Someone should let him know that not all pitchers are created equal at the plate. Tim Hudson isn't Tommy Hanson, who has one hit the entire year, and taking the bat out of his hands is actually a net-loss for the Braves.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Just how valuable is Chipper Jones?

Forty-year old Larry Wayne has been putting on a show, despite having no knees, being incapable of lateral movement, needing a wheelchair to push him around the bases after a home run several nagging injuries and a decaying body.  In his final year with the Braves, Old Man Jones is reminding everyone just why we considered him a future HOFer. With a .316/.391/.513 slashline, Chipper has exceeded even the lofty expectations people have set for him. The Braves will certainly miss him next year, and many argue that the value he brings is irreplaceable.

And in many ways, it is. It will be impossible to replace his legacy, his iconic status, and his leadership. His presence in the lineup has a reassuring feel, kind of like seeing Dad in stands during a little league game, and everyone else seems to perform just a little better when he's in the lineup. Nevertheless, it may be easier to replace his on-field production than it initially seems. Yes, he rakes the ball - but only when he plays. So far, of the 105 games the Braves have played, Chipper has only played in 66 (and only started in 58). At that rate, he will have only started in 90 games by the end of the season. Of course, he did spend a stint on the DL in the first half, so he may play games at a higher rate for the rest of the season (even though his record and age show he's liable to go on the DL at any second). Even if he ends up playing 120 games, he will still have spent approximately a quarter of the year on the bench, tremendously diminishing his overall value to the team. Even with his surpassing rate stats, his accumulated offensive value is lower than you would expect. So far this year, Chipper has 46 Weighted Runs Created (wRC), which is a metric that quantifies a player's offensive value and attempts to measure it by runs. This is tied with players like Kelly Johnson, Norichika Aoki, and Pedro Alvarez - who hit at way worse clips - simply because they can provide offensive value nearly every game.

So far, Chipper has been replaced by Juan Francisco or Jose Constanza in about 45% of the games. In games that they have started at 3B or LF (when Martin Prado moves in to 3rd to take Chipper's spot), they have accumulated 18.4 wRC. This makes Chipper and his replacements responsible for 64.4 wRC, which is around the number that players like Corey Hart, Derek Jeter, David Freese, Buster Posey, and Aaron Hill are putting up. That isn't to say the Braves would need a player of that caliber to replace Chipper because bench production, whether from Francisco, Reed Johnson, or another TBD backup outfielder will remain a constant next year. At his current pace - if, if he plays 120 games - Chipper will produce approximately 84 wRC. Last year, that mark was nearly matched or beaten by players with significantly worse rate stats: Dan Uggla, BJ Upton, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Young, Carlos Pena, and Torrii Hunter.

This is all overlooking Chipper's maybe average defense (yes, he's great at charging, but pretty pathetic laterally), and poor performance on the base paths. Find a player who can be as good or better in both areas and it really shouldn't be as hard as it seems to replace his production, if only because that player will actually be in the game much more. A quick look at the players who produced 80-85 wRC last year, and they hovered around .780 OPS (compared to Chipper's .904) with about 580 PA.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do the Braves have the best All-Time Rotation?

Recently, I was thinking about how awesome historical Braves pitchers have been and I began to wonder if they have the best 5-man rotation with their historic franchise players. That is, are the 5 best pitchers in Braves history better than the 5 best in any other franchise? Given that our top 5 are either Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Famers, I figured that we were definitely in the discussion.

So, I compiled a list of the top 5 franchise pitchers for each team and their stats while with that franchise. The pitchers chosen were those who accumulated the most WAR with the given franchise to account for both awesomeness and longevity. For instance, I didn't want the Blue Jays to get credit for more than just 2 years from Roger Clemens. For the sake of comparison, I used only pitchers that played the majority of their careers after 1900 and only used their stats while they were with the team. After compiling all the data from Baseball Reference, I chose the following several teams   for whom cases could be made. So with that, lets actually see where the Braves rank. 

Greg Maddux 63.7 11 2526.2 2.63 163 1.051
Warren Spahn 85.6 20 5046 3.05 120 1.189
Phil Niekro 85.1 20 4619.1 3.20 120 1..227
John Smoltz 63.2 20 3395 3.26 127 1.17
Tom Glavine 55 16 3344.2 3.37 123 1.29
352.6 87 18930.5

Phillies WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Steve Carlton 60.5 14 3614.1 3.02 123 1.198
Grover Cleveland Alexander 58.2 7 2492 2.12 143 1.066
Robin Roberts 65 14 3739.1 3.46 114 1.171
Curt Schilling 35.1 9 1659.1 3.35 126 1.12
Jim Bunning 29.6 4 1191.2 2.48 141 1.039
248.4 48 9081.4

Roger Clemens  77.7 13 2776 3.06 144 1.158
Pedro Martinez 51.9 7 1383.2 2.52 190 0.978
Cy Young 63.2 8 2728.1 2.00 147 0.97
Lefty Grove 42.5 8 1539.2 3.34 143 1.321
Lius Tiant 34.1 8 1774.2 3.36 118 1.201
269.4 44 10200.7

Brooklyn/LA Dodgers WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Dazzy Vance 59.8 11 2706.2 3.15 130 1.209
Don Drysdale 57.4 14 3432 2.95 121 1.148
Sandy Koufax 50.3 12 2324.1 2.76 131 1.106
Don Sutton 46.6 15 3729 3.07 111 1.117
Nap Rucker 45.5 10 2375.1 2.42 118 1.175
259.6 62 14566.4

Athletics WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Eddie Plank 69.5 14 3860.2 2.39 120 1.127
Lefty Grove 61.2 9 2401 2.88 151 1.278
Eddie Rommel 46.2 13 2556.1 3.54 121 1.351
Rube Waddell 44.5 6 2961.1 1.97 135 1.102
Tim Hudson 40.5 6 1240.2 3.30 136 1.222
261.9 48 13018.6

White Sox WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Red Faber 61.9 20 4086.2 3.15 119 1.302
Ted Lyons 60.7 21 4158.2 3.67 118 1.348
Ed Walsh 59.6 14 2946.1 1.81 146 0.995
Wilbur Wood 49.1 12 2524.2 3.18 114 1.232
Eddie Cicotte 47.2 9 2322.1 2.25 123 1.154
278.5 76 16036.8

Twins/Senators WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Walter Johnson 144.7 21 5914.1 2.17 147 1.061
Bert Blyleven 46.3 11 2566.2 3.28 119 1.186
Brad Radke 42.6 12 2451 4.22 113 1.260
Johan Santana 34 8 2019.1 3.22 141 1.128
Camilo Pascual 30.8 13 2930.2 3.66 106 1.295
298.4 65 15880.6

Christy Mathewson 91.1 17 4788.2 2.12 136 1.058
Carl Hubbell 65.3 16 3590.1 2.98 130 1.166
Juan Marichal 58.9 14 3507 2.89 123 1.101
Gaylord Perry 34.6 10 2294.1 2.96 119 1.152
Joe McGinnity 31.7 7 2151.1 2.38 118 1.116
281.6 64 16330.5

As you can see, determining the top all-time rotation is a very subjective process. It all comes down to what you value the most. The Giants have the lowest rotational ERA with every pitcher posting a sub-3.00 clip, but I hesitate to call them the best because ERA by itself can be misleading. ERA must be understood in the context of the run environment of each pitcher's day. A pitcher can benefit tremendously from pitching in an offensively poor era or in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. ERA+ adjusts for those factors, and is set to a scale where the average ERA+ is 100 and an ERA+ of 125 is 25% better than average, etc.

Looking at ERA+, the Red Sox come out #1 by far. Their 3rd lowest ERA+, Clemens, is higher than anyone's on the Phillies, Dodgers, or Giants. And they had Pedro Martinez, who's first 6 years with the Red Sox might have been the best 6-year stretch by any pitcher in baseball history. The problem with the Red Sox, however, is that their best pitchers were with them for only short amounts of time. Almost every one of their pitchers spent parts of their prime on other teams. Their pitchers have pitched the fewest years (44) and second fewest IP of any of the above teams. If ranking the rotations by ERA+, without having done the math, it appears an absurdly close race between each other team above for second place.

If you want to place an emphasis on greatness and longevity with a team, I think the Braves are the clear #1, accumulating more than 50 WAR greater than the next best team (Twins). Spahn, Niekro and Smoltz each pitched 20 years with an ERA+ of 120 or greater, suggesting, at the very least, extreme reliability and consistency outside of their peak years. The really impressive thing about this rotation is that each pitcher spent the entirety (except for 1 Maddux-year) of their quite-lengthy primes with the Braves. And if longevity is a major determinant in the rankings, then I think 2nd place is close between the Giants, White Sox, and Dodgers. You could make an argument for the Twins here, but the majority of their strength comes from just 1 pitcher - Walter Johnson. As transcendent as he was, he remains an outlier on an otherwise below average (amongst the above lists) staff.

Of course, there are other ways to rank pitching rotations and evaluate pitchers careers. One very common way is to only look at each pitcher's prime, his top 6-8 consecutive years while on the team, to bracket out rocky rookie seasons and sub-par, often injury-riddled, career twilights. The pitchers to make the cut would definitely change - for example, I'm sure Catfish Hunter would make it for the A's. Of course, that method would emphasize strength of prime over length of prime, and little credit would be given to pitchers who managed to stay great for a decade or more. Its hard almost impossible to predict who would come out on top in that method. Greg Maddux and Warran Spahn had amazing primes. But then again, so did Clemens and Martinez, and Carlton and Alexander, and Koufax and Vance, and Grove, Plank and Waddell, and Mathewson, Hubbell, Marichal and Perry. Let's not forget Walter Johnson.

Whichever method you choose, I think the Braves stack up against the best of the best. Ranking and arguing about ranking players is always fun.