Archive for Pitching

Does Clutch Pitching Exist?

As a follow-up to my little clutch hitting study, I thought it would be interesting to look at clutch pitching using the same methodology. Though I don’t believe there is good reason to expect clutch performance among hitters, I think it’s plausible that pitchers may have some clutch skill. Pitchers have to regulate their effort throughout the game and often change the way they pitch with runners on base (employing the stretch). Theses factors leave room for pitchers to perform differently when the stakes of the game change. Pitching better with runners in scoring position (RISP) may not be “clutch” in the Platonic sense of rising to the occasion, but it’s a skill worthy of examination.

I looked at individual RISP plate appearances in 1992 and estimated the impact of past clutch performance controlling for the overall pitcher performance in each area (allowed AVG, OBP, SLG, strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate), the skill of the batter in each area, and the platoon effect (platoon = 1; 0 = otherwise). I used RISP performance in 1989–1991 to proxy clutch ability—if pitchers have clutch skill, past clutch performance should correlate with present clutch performance.

The table below lists the coefficients (reported as marginal effects) and robust z-statistics of regression estimates in seven performance areas. I used the probit method to estimate binary outcomes (outcome = 1 if an event occurred, and 0 otherwise) of individual plate appearances for hits, on-base (hits + walks + hbp), strikeouts, walks, non-intentional walks, and home runs. I used the negative binomial method to estimate the impact of the variables on the number of total bases resulting from a plate appearance.

	Hit	On Base	TB	K	BB	BB-IBB	HR
Overall	1.1801	0.8815	0.9702	0.8695	0.7657	0.6890	0.5808
	[8.61]	[7.20]	[8.06 ]	[12.34]	[8.78]	[8.66]	[6.31]
RISP	-0.0239	-0.0022	-0.1192	0.0845	0.1305	0.0797	-0.0383
	[0.29]	[0.03]	[-1.69]	[1.39]	[2.16]	[1.43]	[0.73]
Batter	1.0148	1.0737	0.9816	0.9242	1.1108	0.9558	0.5831
	[13.61]	[17.42]	[15.62]	[25.56]	[23.54]	[22.49]	[16.13]
Platoon	0.0165	0.0332	0.0428	-0.0246	0.0266	0.0039	0.0071
	[2.77]	[5.35]	[4.29 ]	[5.30]	[6.73]	[2.79]	[1.96]
							
Obs.	21,096	23,872	21,096	23,872	23,872	23,872	23,329
	Probit	Probit	Neg Bin	Probit	Probit	Probit	Probit

Past RISP performance is not a statistically significant predictor of 1992 RISP performance. Walk rate appears to be an exception—with pitchers consistently performing worse with runners on base (and having a z-stat > 2)—but the higher probability of walks seems to be caused by the increase in intentional walks issued with the hope of turn out a double play. When IBBs are removed, pitcher RISP walk performance loses its statistical significance.

The results do hide one thing: pitchers perform better in RISP than non-RISP situations, except when walks are involved. The table below shows the average of outcomes for all events. All differences are statistically significant.

	No RISP	RISP
Hit	0.255	0.249
TB	0.380	0.368
BB	0.075	0.089
On Base	0.315	0.321
K	0.150	0.157
HR	0.021	0.019

The numbers remove intentional walks, therefore the worse performance in preventing walks, which also shows up for on-base probability, could represent “intentional unintentional-walks” or pitchers losing control a bit when runners are in scoring position. But if the latter were true, I would expect the numbers to be worse in the other areas. Also, because the numbers below are the percentages of all outcomes, the better numbers in RISP may also reflect better relievers entering the game for such situations.

The main story here is that the regression estimates indicate that after controlling for several relevant factors pitchers don’t appear to have any special skill over other pitchers in performing in RSIP situations. A pitcher’s overall performance level does a fine just of predicting performance, and knowing past clutch performance doesn’t appear to add useful information.

Rebunking “Wins”

I happened to run across a BTF link to a post at Rays Index that I had to read because of its curious conclusion.

In fact, in the absence of other stats, Wins is a very good, if not great, indicator of a pitcher’s value. So next time you hear somebody say Wins is a crappy way to evaluate a pitcher, throw a drink in their face and then make them read this post.

As someone who would need a towel if readers followed this advice, I believe a response is in order. Now, the author Cork Gaines (“The Professor”) does acknowledge that Wins is not the best statistic to use for evaluating pitchers, but that’s not really news. When ever is there a situation when anyone is going to have to choose using Wins or nothing to value a pitcher? After reading the post, I maintain that Wins is a poor statistic to use for valuing pitchers. In fact, the statistical evidence used in the article shows the opposite of what the author thinks it shows.

Gaines uses regression estimates of Wins and Win% on ERA+, finding R2 values of 0.51 and 0.54 to justify the usefulness of Wins.* Those values are indeed statistically significant and reveal a real positive correlation between Wins and run prevention. But more so, they reveal why Wins are such a bad statistic to use for valuing pitching quality. How is showing that good pitchers get more Wins than bad pitchers busting a myth? Greg Maddux didn’t luck his way to 355 Wins, and no one who pooh-poohs Wins thinks his Win total is a result of randomness, unrelated to his ability. It’s the magnitude of the correlation that is important here.

The R2 reveals the percentage of the change in the dependent variable (ERA+ in this example) explained by changes in the independent variable(s) (Wins or Wins%). The remainder is due to explanatory factors not included in the model. Now, R2 can be tricky to interpret and it is sensitive to sample size; but, in general, the results indicate that 50% of the difference in ERA+ across pitchers can be explained by differences in Wins. That’s the problem, not evidence to the contrary. The main knock against Wins is that pitchers have control over only one half of the game: half the game is defense (50%) and the other half is offense (50%). An R2 of close to 0.50 confirms rather than debunks this notion.

When choosing performance metrics, it is important to use three criteria:
1) How well does it correlate with output? — Wins doesn’t do so bad here: Wins are correlated with run prevention. Still, other metrics of pitcher performance are far superior, and the life-boat circumstances when someone might need Wins to value a pitcher don’t happen. Why bring this up? No one has suggested that Wins and ability are uncorrelated.

2) How well does it measure ability? — It measures ability, but it is heavily polluted by outside factors (offense and fielding). This is the criterion used to justify using DIPs over ERA. If you want to know the statistic that most strongly correlates with run prevention for pitchers, it’s ERA by a longshot. It is almost a pure recording of the runs pitchers give up, so of course the correlation will be strong. The problem is that pitchers themselves don’t have much control over a major component of ERA: balls that are put into play. ERA fluctuates significantly from season to season for pitchers because it is so dependent on balls in play. DIPS measures are preferred over ERA because they more accurately capture actual pitcher contributions to run prevention, not because they correlate more strongly with run prevention. Similarly, Wins capture some aspects of pitcher ability, but a huge chunk of the contribution is determined by something beyond pitcher control. And the regression estimates that the explained variance of ERA+ are consistent with Wins reflecting half of what pitchers contribute to generating this metric.

3) How well does it match our intuition as to what matters? — -This criterion isn’t all that relevant in this case, and is reflected in the analysis in criterion 2. I use this rule in situations where correlations yield counterintuitive values. For example, strikeouts and home-run hitting are positively correlated; however, suggesting that a hitter should strike out more to increase his power would be wrong.

Gaines is right that Wins includes some useful information regarding pitchers, but the pollution impacts of outside factors are so large that in cases where we see Wins deviate from ERA or DIPs performance expectations that it is Wins that contains the misleading information. There is no reason to use Wins to evaluate pitcher ability. It is neither a very good nor great indicator of a pitcher’s value.

* A footnote to the article states that R2 ranges from -1 to 1 with greater positive (negative) values indicating a stronger correlation. This is incorrect. R2 ranges from 0 to 1. I was curious if the author was using a correlation coefficient R, which does range from -1 to 1 but has a different interpretation in terms of measuring explained variance. However, the graphs and intuition make it look as though the descriptive footnote is incorrect, not the main text of the analysis.

This Is Getting Ridiculous

Kerry Wood was in Cleveland on Wednesday night to take the physical needed before he can finalize a two-year deal with the Indians worth about $20 million.

$10 million a year for Kerry Wood?! And I thought the K-Rod contract was excessive. Kerry Wood was a more valuable pitcher ($5.72 million) than Francisco Rodriguez ($4.62 million) in 2008, but he was limited by injuries during the four previous seasons. Assuming that Wood pitches exactly as he pitched in 2008, I estimate he will be worth approximately $6.5 million per season for the next two years. I reiterate: this assumes that one of the most injury-prone players in the league performs as he did last year. He made $4.2 million pitching for the Cubs last season, and the Cubs didn’t even offer him arbitration. Given his injury history, I think that was probably the right call.

I consider the Indians to be one of the smartest organizations in baseball—in my book I rate Cleveland to be the best-managed franchise in the American League—therefore, this move shocks me even more. What could be going on? I can think of only one explanation: Kerry Wood has been able to demonstrate such good health that teams think he can start. If Kerry Wood can get back to his 2002–2003 form he would be a $14 million/year pitcher over the next two seasons. Maybe his agent has been shopping his potential as a starter.

Wisely Spending on CC

Apparently, CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees have agreed to a seven-year $160 million contract, which is just under $23 million per season. [Update: Tim Brown is reporting the deal is for $161 million (exactly $23 million per year) and has an opt-out clause after three years.] Previously, I had projected Sabathia to be worth $24 million in a six-year deal. (Since I made that initial estimate, I corrected a minor error in my model that resulted in a very slight undervaluing of Sabathia.)

For the next seven years, I have Sabathia valued at just under $26 million a season, so the Yankees are paying about what he is worth.

Wasting Money on K-Rod

I continue to be amazed by the over-valuing of closers in the baseball labor market. Yesterday, the New York Mets and Francisco Rodriguez agreed to a 3-year, $37 million contract. The deal also includes an option for a fourth year for $13-$14 million based on easily-attainable criteria. What an absolute waste of money. I have K-Rod valued at $6 million per season over the next three years.

I’ve been saying for a while that closers are overpaid. Rodriguez has been a very good closer, but the problem is that closers don’t pitch much. Over the past three seasons, K-Rod has faced 4.7% of the team’s opposing batters; a decent starter will face three times as many batters. While we see K-Rod pitch at the end of games, often when games are on the line, he’s not pitching much. The Met’s would have been better off spending that kind of money on a good starter who would prevent run scoring over many more batters. A few more million a year could have brought in A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe whose superior pitching would prevent situations that closers can rectify.

Addendum: I received a question about the role of leverage—the difference in the importance of when a pitcher typically appears within a game—in determining values. I’ve been asked it before, and my answers have been scattered over several different locations. So, here is my e-mail reply explaining why I value all innings pitched the same.

I have considered the impact of leverage, but I don’t think leverage can explain the vast differences in my estimates and what is happening in the market. Leverage is a product of outside factors when a pitcher faces the same rules during all times of the game. The quality of his pitching is the same in the 5th inning as it is in the 9th. (There is the argument about pressure, but I don’t buy this explanation at this level of competition.) Now, the fact that he is good enough to pitch in a high-leverage situation is worth something; however, I don’t believe the value is twice the average. And the fact that a pitcher has pitched in high or low leverage situations doesn’t mean he ought to get all the credit for it.

For example, take Scott Linebrink and Francisco Cordero. Last year, both pitchers signed four-year deals for $19 million and $46 million. I estimated that Cordero was worth about $2 million more than Linebrink, yet he was paid more than twice what Linebrink got. The only difference in their pitching histories is that one is considered to be a middle reliever and the other considered a closer. It’s the performance that matters and ought to determine their salaries, not when they pitch. If Cordero is worth $46 million because he pitches in high-leverage situations, then Linbrink should have received a similar salary to reflect his opportunity cost—he could have pitched in high-leverage situations, but he didn’t. I think the market is putting too much value on the “Closer” label.

Another factor is that better pitchers in earlier innings affect the leverage in later innings. So, a good starter preventing runs as an impact on reducing leverage later in the game by creating bigger leads. I’m not sure exactly how to value that. So, I believe that the proper method is to treat all pitcher innings the same, while acknowledging that some elite relievers have some extra value in that they could be used in more valuable spots. But this value doesn’t necessarily come from when they pitched in the past.

I’m also a believer in patchwork bullpens. Take a bunch of bad castoff starters, platoon them, and tell them to pitch as hard as they can.

Baseball’s Most Valuable Pitchers (2006–2008)

Here is a list of the top-25 most valuable pitchers in baseball over the past three seasons. Estimated values are the sum from 2006–2008 in 2007 dollars.

Rank	Player		Estimated Value 
1	Brandon Webb	$49.65
2	C.C. Sabathia	$48.62
3	Roy Halladay	$46.33
4	Johan Santana	$42.32
5	Danny Haren	$41.50
6	Roy Oswalt	$40.15
7	Javier Vazquez	$38.81
8	Aaron Harang	$38.27
9	Derek Lowe	$37.95
10	John Lackey	$37.85
11	Josh Beckett	$37.40
12	Andy Pettitte	$36.68
13	Jake Peavy	$36.05
14	Mike Mussina	$34.87
15	Bronson Arroyo	$34.70
16	Joe Blanton	$34.60
17	Aaron Cook	$34.06
18	Greg Maddux	$33.76
19	Matt Cain	$33.70
20	Mark Buehrle	$33.43
21	Gil Meche	$33.36
22	Ervin Santana	$33.04
23	Jon Garland	$33.02
24	Tim Hudson	$32.64
25	Felix Hernandez	$32.45

Is There Something Wrong with Tim Hudson?

On Saturday, Tim Hudson had a poor three-inning performance against the Mets. It was his second bad start of the season, and its similarity to the first bad start may be cause for concern. Hudson’s velocity was down in that game, which might indicate an injury.

The initial problem occurred in Hudson’s April 16 start against the Marlins, when he lasted only three innnings. According to the AJC, Hudson could get nothing on his pitches.

Hudson’s fastball velocity was down about 5 mph all night. He said he threw a pitch as hard as he could to Mike Jacobs in the third, and Jacobs scorched the mere 85-mph fastball to the right-field seats.

Hudson allowed six hits and four runs while looking nothing like the pitcher who entered with a .167 opponents’ average and National League-leading .181 opponents’ slugging percentage.

“I felt fine physically,” Hudson said. “Just one of those nights I went out there and just couldn’t get anything behind the ball. It was kind of a weird feeling. My heater [fastball] is normally a lot better than that. Just wasn’t coming out of my hand good, for whatever reason.”

Hudson (2-1) was weakened by flu symptoms last week in Colorado. That game was snowed out, and he rebounded to pitch eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball Friday in a win at Washington. Which made his Wednesday performance only more surprising.

“It wasn’t coming out [of his hand] really good tonight,” manager Bobby Cox said pulling Hudson after three innings. “I thought it might be a good time to give him a break. … His arm was kind of dead.”

The NL East-leading Marlins (9-5) took a rare opportunity to feast on Hudson, who was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six previous starts at Dolphin Stadium.

“It could be some residual effects from the flu that’s just catching up to me, but I don’t know,” Hudson said. “I’m not one to make excuses like that. Just one of those things where consistently my heater was 84, 85, 86. That’s not gonna get it done, for me.”

But there was good news in his April 21 start against the Nationals, as he appeared to have regained his form. The AJC reported the following.

Tim Hudson’s velocity issues were fleeting, as was, apparently, the bad karma from the Braves’ recent road trip.

The Braves won their fifth game in a row Monday night, beating the Washington Nationals 7-3 behind 6 2/3 solid innings from Hudson, who bounced back from an oddly ineffective start.

Five days earlier, Hudson had topped out in the mid-80s from lingering effects of the flu. He was back throwing in his usual low 90s throughout the game Monday and working the Nationals into a familiar trance. He scattered 10 hits but allowed only two runs, to move to 7-1 with a 1.13 ERA in 11 career starts against them.

“Little more normal this time out,” said Hudson, now 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA. “It’s hard to put your finger on what the cause was last time. It must have been the effects of the flu bug finally catching up. It was nice to go up there today and look up there and see [velocity readings] with a 9 in front of it, instead of an 8.”

Hudson only recently realized he’d lost about five pounds while he was sick. That helped explain why he threw as hard as he could in Florida and came up with only 84 mph.

And this brings us to Saturday’s game against the Mets. The general impression was that Hudson’s poor showing was not a product of diminished velocity.

“I was missing with my location and they were hitting it,” said Hudson, who allowed four runs and seven hits in three innings, including three extra-base hits and two singles in the fateful third to give New York a 4-2 lead.

“I don’t know what to say. It was a tough inning. I gave up some hits.”

Hudson (3-2) gave up four runs and six hits in three innings April 16 at Florida, and afterward conceded that weight loss from a recent bout with flu symptoms might have contributed to that performance.

This time, he wouldn’t make any excuses and said he felt “great” physically. Unlike in the Florida game, the radar-gun readings on his fastball didn’t seem out of kilter Saturday, consistently in the 90-92 mph rage.

“He just couldn’t locate,” said manager Bobby Cox, who replaced Hudson after three innings. “He just could not hit his spots. I thought it was best to give him a breather. [The season] is a long haul.”

Asked again about Hudson’s health and whether he was sure the pitcher was not injured, Cox became perturbed and said, “He missed his spots. He’s fine.”

I happened to have followed most of the Braves games on MLB Gameday this year, which makes it easy to monitor pitch speeds. I was surprised to see this response, because I thought I had remembered Hudson’s pitch speeds on Saturday to be similar to the speeds in his April 16 outing in Florida. So, I opened up the Gameday archives and had a look.

Here are some summary statistics of Tim Hudson’s fastball speeds as recorded by MLB’s Gameday for the first three innings of his last three starts.

Start	4/16		4/21		4/26
Mean	88.81		90.58		88.53
Median	89		91		89
Mode	89		90		89
Min	85		85		84
Max	91		92		91

The April 16 and 26 pitch speeds are almost identical, while April 21 speeds were 1–2 MPH faster than the other two starts. Now, this doesn’t mean Hudson is injured—if he was, I would suspect that April 21 would have looked worse—but it does show that the starts on the 16th and 26th have more in common than has been reported.

For the Braves’ sake, I hope these are just normal blips that a pitcher has over the course of the season. According to Fangraphs, Hudson’s fastball velocity is down slightly (90.4) from last season (90.), but it is similar to his average from the previous three seasons (90.3). It’s too early to worry, but I will keep my eye on Hudson’s pitch speeds for the next few starts.

Valuing Joe Nathan

Yesterday, Joe Nathan agreed to a four-year, $47 million extension with the Minnesota Twins. I’ll get right to the point, I have him valued at $27.31 million over the life of the contract—$20 million less than what he is actually getting.

What is going on in the reliever market? I think high-end relievers/closers are getting way more than they are worth in the free agent market, as I have stated before (also see here and here). When I see one of my projections differ from the market outcome, I normally err on the side of thinking my projection is incorrect. But, in this case, I cannot fathom why teams are paying such a premium for closers, when there are decent set-up men out there making a lot less who could pitch in the same role.

I don’t get it. A guy who pitches a third of the innings of starters is getting decent starter money. And it’s not like the Twins are one piece of way from being something special. If he is so valuable, why not trade him and his $6 million salary to get some prospects with the surplus value?

Note: Please don’t bring up leverage in the comments unless it relates to a new take on the issue that I haven’t previously discussed. I’ve addressed this possible explanation in my previous posts, and why I don’t think it is sufficient to justify these contracts.

Mariners Release HoRam

Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners released former Brave Horacio Ramirez. I was never a big HoRam fan, largely because the Braves always issued favorable HoRam talking points to reporters who repeated them to the public. He was a quietly polarizing player: you could divide Braves fans according to their opinion of him. (I know it seems hard to be “quietly polarizing” but if you were around when HoRam pitched for the Braves, I think you would agree with the term.) It was obvious from early on that he wasn’t ever going to be all that good. Still, there are plenty of players in the major leagues are aren’t all that good. You have to have some below-average players.

Here is what I had to say about him just after the Braves traded him.

With a market that’s paying Tanyon Sturtze $1.1 million, pitchers like Horacio Ramirez have value. Like Kevin Gryboski, I didn’t like seeing HoRam on the mound; I had no confidence in him. But at the end of the year, when I’d look back on his performance I could definitely see he’s not good, but there were many worse options out there….He’s not close to sniffing Triple-A ball, but just don’t expect anything more than a fifth starter. My guess is that Seattle isn’t anywhere near his last stop. He’s the type of guy who will go from team to team to fill out rotations.

I think the Mariners gave up on him too quickly. He was owed $2.75 million this year. I have his 2007—the worst season of his career—valued at $2.85 million. Soriano was barely more valuable at $3.36 million. HoRam is 28, left-handed, and has shown the ability to eat innings in the past. In a world where Jason Marquis can get a three-year $21 million contract, Horacio Ramirez has value. Why not at least try converting him to a LOOGY? It’s the WHIL principle, as Alex Remington calls it: Well, He IS a Lefty.

For another take, USS Mariner likes the deal. I can sympathize, because I do recall how good it felt to seem him finally gone.

Robert Downey, Jr. could asks this guy on advice for how to ask for second chance. The Braves have really gone out of there way to portray him as something special. Let me just say that Braves fans are tired of it; more so than seeing Jeff Francoeur hit pop flys to a kid in The Netherlands for Delta during the commercial break he just created. He doesn’t strike out hitters. He’s not particularly skilled at preventing walks or home runs. On top of this, he keeps getting injured, which has probably done more to prolong the team’s patience with him. Now, the team is finally moving on.

Someone will definitely pick him up, and I won’t be surprised or disappointed if it is the Braves.

Say No To Mo

The most ridiculous contract given out by the Yankees this offseason isn’t going to Alex Rodriguez. Reports indicate that the team has agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with their long-time closer Mariano Rivera. He will not come close to contributing $15 million/year to his team.

Don’t get me wrong, Rivera is a very good pitcher, the only problem is that he doesn’t pitch much. The 75 innings he has averaged the past three years, represent just over five percent of his team’s innings. I have him valued at around $6 million/year for the past three years. Even if we weight the importance of the innings he pitches there is no way he’s worth two-and-half times that amount.