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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, February 18, 2005

DRA 

Peter Gammons stated last year that fielding is the Next Big Thing in sabremetrics and he couldn't have been more right: on the heels of Dave Pinto's Probalistic Model of Range (PMR), a major work on sabremetric fielding, comes Michael Humphries Defensive Regression Analysis (DRA). I'll let you read all about it at the Hardball Times. Part I explaining DRA is here.

I think DRA is interesting stuff. Anything that can expand our knowledge of defense and what makes a successful defense is valuable. When I get a few free moments I'll expand on the topic, but for now I'll let Mike's work speak for itself.

Click here for Part II.

Click here for Part III.

(I'll expand a little on what he says about the Phillies later.)

I forewarn everyone that next week will be a light week: my wife is taking the bar exam. I'll still post something monday.

(2) comments

Thursday, February 17, 2005

And So It Begins... 

Pitchers and Catchers report to Florida this morning for the Phillies. It has begun...

(0) comments

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Player Profile: Jon Lieber 

The Phillies marquee free agent signing this offseason was ex-Pirates, ex-Cubs and ex-Yankees hurler Jon Lieber. Lieber, who missed the 2003 season with an arm injury, is the Phillies big attempt to close the pitching gap with the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins. Many fans greeted the decision to pursue Lieber with quiet derision, but I think the Phillies deal with Lieber is a sign that the team’s management is much smarter and craftier than it is given credit for.

What do we know about Lieber?:

He had a good, but not great, year on paper for the Yankees in 2004, going 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA (lower than the team average of 4.69). Lieber won twenty games, that benchmark for pitching greatness, in 2001 with the Cubs, but most teams were put-off by his Tommy John surgery in 2003, which sidelined him for the year. The Yankees signed him for the ’04 campaign but were willing to let him go in their efforts to spend their way to the pennant with Jared Wright and Randy Johnson. The market didn’t clamor for a 34-year old pitcher with a suspect arm, so Lieber wasn’t as sought after as Wright or Russ Ortiz. The Phillies rolled the dice and have gambled on Lieber. If his arm holds up, the results could be tremendous:

Let’s start with Lieber’s sabremetric stats:

FIP ERA: 3.94 (-0.39)
DIPS ERA: 3.77 (-0.56)
DER: .677 (team: .686; -.009)
G/F: 1.58
K/9: 5.2
BB/9: 0.9
HR/9: 1.0

Glossary:
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: ((13*HR+3*BB-2*K) / IP) + “league factor”) How a pitcher does absent the fielders behind him. Developed by the staff of The Hardball Times.
DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic: Basically the same thing as FIP, but a little more complex a mathematical formula and more accurate because it is park-adjusted. More on both later.
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: % of balls put into play fielders turn into outs. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it later.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

A few things jump out:

-In 2004 Lieber surrendered 18 walks in 176 & 2/3 innings pitched. That’s just 0.92 walks per nine innings. Stop and let that sink in for a moment. The Phillies 2004 pitching staff allowed 3.09 walks per nine innings. Lieber have up a third fewer walks on average than the Phillies staff did. Lieber did much better than the man he’s replacing as the Phillies ace pitcher, Eric Milton, who surrendered 3.36 walks per nine innings. Lieber’s impact on the Phillies starting pitching should be dramatic: the Phillies five principal 2004 starters – Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood, Greg Myers, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf – gave up 3.04 walks per nine innings.

Lieber’s control is phenomenal. Few pitchers are as deadly accurate as he. In fact, according to Bill James, Lieber was second in the AL in getting pitches into the strike-zone: 59.8%. Lieber also had the AL’s second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio: 5.67. Not bad from a pitcher who isn’t exactly a strikeout artist. Why on earth did MLB teams pass on him?

A key to pitching in Citizen’s Bank Ballpark is to neutralize the pain of surrendering a home run by keeping the opposition off the base paths. You give up a solo shot in a 3-1 game and you are still winning. Give up a bomb with two on and you are behind. Lieber’s ability to avoid walking batters will come in handy, and you also have to assume that he’ll do better than what he did with the Yankees because he won’t be seeing a DH in the NL.

-Lieber did a good job preventing teams from hitting home runs off of him. The Yankees as a team allowed an average of 1.1 home runs per nine innings. (Yankees Stadium’s Home Run rating for 2004 was 105, by the way, meaning it was 5% easier to hit a home run at Yankee Stadium than a neutral park.) Given that Lieber is going to be playing in a park friendly to sluggers, this is an important stat to pay attention to. Eric Milton, Lieber’s predecessor, gave up a whopping 43 home runs in 2004, 1.9 per nine innings. (Good luck, Cincinnati.)

-Lieber’s 1.58 groundball per fly-ball ratio is tremendous. In fact, according to Bill James, it is one of the ten best in the American League in 2004. Milton, in contrast, had the MLB’s worst groundball / flyball ratio in 2004: 0.57. Not to belabor an obvious point, but groundball pitchers don’t serve up home runs.

-Lieber was a somewhat unlucky pitcher in 2004: he out-performed his FIP and DIPS ERAs. FIP and DIPS are (for those not in the know) statistics designed to separate a pitcher’s performance from his team by keeping track of how a pitcher does with things he can control (strikeouts, walks and home runs) as opposed to things he cannot control (hits allowed by his fielders). I trust DIPS a bit more because it is a sophisticated formula that takes into account the park the pitcher is pitching in, but FIPs has the virtue of a simple mathematical formula: ((13*HR+3*BB-2*K) / IP) + “league factor”)

Having an ERA larger than your DIPS and FIP ERAs indicates that the pitcher didn’t get much help from his teammates. You can see that Lieber’s Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER)* is .009 lower than the team’s average DER. Simply put, Yankees fielders didn’t play as well behind Lieber than they usually did (which wasn’t that good). Yankee fielders allowed too many balls put into play to fall in for hits: Lieber’s .323 batting average with balls put into play was one of the worst in the major leagues in 2004 (the absolute worst in the MLB was .338)

* Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.)

Lieber probably won’t have that problem playing with the Phillies. The Yankees ranked tenth of fourteen AL teams in DER in 2005 (their .686 was .004 below the AL average). The Phillies ranked third of sixteen NL teams. The Phillies .703 DER is .008 better than the NL average of .695. The Phillies are a team whose defensive alignment is in flux, but they are a team of strong fielders. I think Lieber will benefit from the Phillies defense in a big way.

-Run support will be a wash for Lieber: he’s leaving one of the best offenses in the AL and joining one of the NL’s best attacks. That shouldn’t impact his win-loss record.

So what do I project for Mr. Lieber? I see 16 or 17 wins, maybe 8 or 9 losses, and an ERA somewhere between 3.50 and 3.70. Could Lieber challenge for the Cy Young Award? Honestly, I can’t see it because his ERA will always be a little higher than the rest of the NL pitching at Citizen’s. But I think Lieber could go to the All-Star game. And more importantly, I think he could be the money pitcher the Phillies are looking for.

Good signing.

(30) comments

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

BABIP 

I was looking at the Hardball Times ’04 stats for clues about the upcoming season the other day. They had an interesting stat that I’ve never really paid attention to before: batting average of balls put into play (BABIP).

Here’s how the sixteen NL teams did in BABIP in 2004:

Colorado: .317
Atlanta: .313
St. Louis: .313
San Diego: .305
Milwaukee: .304
Pittsburgh: .301
Philadelphia: .300
Cincinnati: .297
Florida: .297
Houston: .297
Chicago: .295
Los Angeles: .294
San Francisco: .293
Arizona: .289
New York: .284
Montreal: .274
NL average: .298

What does it mean? I’m not sure exactly. Let’s assume that this is something few (if any) batters can control. Think about pitching stats: a pitcher can’t control where the ball goes to, can he? Similarly, a batter can’t significantly control where the ball goes when he's at the plate. (At least this is my theory.) So BABIP tracks a little bit of luck? So maybe that means that teams like St. Louis, Atlanta and Colorado were lucky in 2004. The hits that fell into the gaps for doubles in 2004 won’t in 2005. This might portend fall-offs for the Braves, Cards and Rocks at the plate this season. Given that the Braves lost J.D. Drew, their best offensive threat in the off-season, that might be very likely with the Braves.

The good news for the Phillies is that their .300 BABIP basically tracks the NL average of .298, which suggests to me that the Phillies have a stable attack that will remain unchanged in ’05.

I could also see massive improvement with the Mets as well: adding Beltran will help and the Mets seemed a little unlucky in ’04.

There you go. More tomorrow.

(6) comments

Monday, February 14, 2005

Player Profile: Chase the Glove 

Last season, with Polanco injured, the Phillies stuck the highly touted rookie Chase Utley in at second base. Utley played well enough that the Phillies decided to make him their second baseman of the future and attempt to cast Polanco loose, a strategy that backfired when the team offered him arbitration to secure draft picks from the team that would sign him (St. Louis) and he unexpectedly accepted. Despite Polanco’s return as a super utilityman infielder in 2005, the Chase Utley era is about to begin at second base.

How can Utley be expected to perform? How critical is he to the Phillies chances in the increasingly fierce NL East race? Our second player profile takes a look at the other guy the Phillies need to step things up a notch in 2005...

Fielding:

Let’s start with defense. Not an easy subject to measure due to the subjectiveness of determining defensive ability. E.g., A player committing an error might have actually made a great play to get to the ball in the first place, or a player might make few errors because he lacks the range to get to the ball in the first place. It’s a difficult topic to discuss because, unlike hitting and pitching, the outcomes of a play are open to speculation and opinion. (Go read Chapter Four of Moneyball.)

With that in mind I note that Placido Polanco had (has) a reputation throughout the baseball community for having some of the best hands in baseball. The consensus is that Utley is a significant defensive downgrade for the Phillies at second, a judgment I am willing to agree with, though with some reservations:

Here is what Utley and Polanco did on the field in 2004 as second basemen and in other positions (Utley logged some time at first base and Polanco at third):

2004 Fielding Stats (as Second Basemen):
Fielding % / Range Factor / Zone Rating / Innings Worked
Utley: .982 / 4.89 / .864 / 410.1 (28% of team innings)
Polanco: .995 / 5.42 / .816 / 944.0 (65% of team innings)
Team 2b: .992 / 5.23 / .832 / 1,462.2

Other 2004 Fielding Stats (Utley: 1b; Polanco: 3b):
Fielding % / Range Factor / Zone Rating / Innings Worked
Utley: 1.000 / 9.06 / .829 / 104.0 (7%)
Team 1b: .994 / 9.05 / .821 / 1,462.2

Polanco: 1.000 / 3.82 / .868 / 96.0 (6.5%)
Team 3b: .949 / 2.95 / .783 / 1,462.2

What the stats mean...
Zone Rating: Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.
Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.

Zone Rating favors Utley, although the rest of the defense stats favor Polanco and Utley logged less than half of the innings at second that Polanco did so Utley’s numbers might be too small a sample. I think Polanco’s reputation for skill with his glove is well justified. He had logged the innings at second base to qualify, he would have led NL second basemen in fielding percentage and would have been second in range factor. His Zone Rating is actually quite poor (he would have been eighth of ten players), so his injuries clearly affected his ability to get to the ball.

Utley, in contrast, would have led NL 2B’s in ZR (again, lacking the innings to qualify), but would have fared much worse in fielding percentage (seventh of ten) and range factor (ninth of ten). Conclusion: Utley’s younger legs probably helped him get to more balls than Polanco, but Polanco is the smoother fielder. Is this something Utley can improve on in time? I think practice will make him more perfect, but I think the Phillies are getting a definate downgrade at the pivot.

Caveat: As many readers of A Citizen's Blog and other baseball blogs know, Dave Pinto of Baseball Musings recently published a mathematical analysis of players and teams using a computer program to calculate a stat called Probabalistic Model of Range (PMR). Dave's research highly rated Placido Polanco as one of the best second basemen in baseball, but (stunningly) fingered Chase Utley as the MLB's best defensive second baseman. If true, the Phillies are getting a better glove and a better bat at the pivot. Read the results and Dave' methodology here.

2004 Fielding Win Shares:
Utley: 2.0 / 3.9 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 Innings
Polanco: 5.8 / 5.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 Innings

So let’s assume I’m correct and Utley is a defensive downgrade for the Phillies. What effect does that have on the team? Considerable. As I said months ago in my Season Review, the Phillies need to staff their pitching staff with groundball pitchers. So far, the Phillies have (wisely) moved in that direction. Check out the starting pitching staff’s groundball / flyball ratios:

2005 Rotation:
Wolf: 0.81
Padilla: 1.16
Myers: 1.39
Lieber: 1.43
Lidle: 1.48 (as Phillie, 1.70 as Red)

The departed:
Milton: 0.57
Millwood: 1.12

(Here is a fun stat I got from the Bill James handbook: guess who had the MLB’s worst groundball / flyball ratio in 2004? Eric Milton. Little surprise he pitched poorly at Citizen’s and everywhere else. It makes you wonder what the Reds are thinking, bringing a flyball pitcher to Great American Ballpark in Cincy. What a fiasco that is going to be.)

So in letting Milton and Millwood leave and in replacing them with Lidle and Lieber, two groundball pitchers, the Phillies management have made a smart move: groundball pitchers don’t give up many home runs. Of course, that means that the Phillies infield will be seeing a lot of groundballs in 2005 and so the defensive downgrade at second might be a problem. The Phillies team infield ranked fifth of sixteen teams in 2004 in ZR, a decline over previous seasons when they ranked first (2002) and second (2003). The team infield also ranked fourth in fielding percentage in 2004, declines over their second place finishes in 2002 and 2003. I think we can safely say that the Phillies stellar infield play is largely a product of Polanco and Jimmy Rollins. A Rollins-Utley combo won’t be as productive as Polanco-Rollins, so this begs the question whether Utley will hurt the Phillies pitching and defense in 2005? The answer is probably yes.

But the Phillies are willing to take the chance because of Utley’s bat. Which brings us too …

Batting:

Utley has played just 137 total games in his young MLB career, so it’s hard to evaluate him based on how he’s done so far. Here are his stats from two seasons with the Phillies…

2003: .322 OBP / .373 SLG / 2 HR / 19 RC / 134 AB’s
2004: .308 OBP / .469 SLG / 13 HR / 37 RC / 267 AB’s
Career: .313 OBP / .436 SLG / 15 HR / 56 RC / 401 AB’s

Here are some of the stats I use to evaluate offensive players…
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, it measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
RC (Runs Created): Measures how many runs a player “creates” for his team. The formula used by Bill James is fairly complex: look at p. 397-398 of the Bill James Handbook.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
SLG (Slugging percentage): how much power a player has in his bat. (Total Bases / AB’s)

Initially I thought that Utley’s 31 appearances as a pinch hitter were responsible for his fairly average 2004 .256 GPA, but then I found out that he had a fantastic year as a PH:

As 1B: .143 GPA (46 AB’s)
As 2B: .265 GPA (190 AB’s)
As PH: .363 GPA (31 AB’s)

I have no idea what happened to him at first base … Anyway, the reason why so many Phillies bloggers are high on Chase is because he is the rare second baseman with power (he would have ranked seventh amongst NL 2B’s in slugging percentage in 2004 had he gotten enough AB’s to qualify) and he tore up pitching in the minors:

Scranton:
2002: .352 OBP / .461 SLG (464 AB)
2003: .390 OBP / .517 SLG (431 AB)
2004: .368 OBP / .512 SLG (123 AB)

If he can improve on his slugging percentage and draw walks with the consistency he did at Scranton, Utley could be a deadly bat in the lower-middle of the Phillies lineup. Most NL second basemen are light-hitting defensive specialists. Chase could be a future fixture at the All-Star game for the Phillies as the NL second baseman with good defense and sterling hitting.

Naturally, we’ll have to assume that with a full year of playing in the majors under his belt, Utley will be a terrific player. Bill James certainly thinks so:

2005 (proj.): .275 BA / .333 OBP / .478 SLG / 24 HR / 36 2B / 103 RBI / 90 Runs Created

Those are pretty good numbers. Better than Polanco’s ’05 projections in many respects:

.295 BA / .335 OBP / .427 SLG / 13 HR / 27 2B / 56 RBI / 76 Runs Created

Negligable difference in OBP, and Utley seems to have more power in his bat. I’d note that Polanco is adjudged a “high” risk for injury (part of the season why Utley played so much in 2003 and 2004), and that Utley is rated a “low” risk of injury.

Here are some more stats comparing the two:

Utley / Polanco
BA RISP: .275 / .270
BA BIP: .271 / .298
P / PA: 3.86 / 3.45
BWS: 5.9 / 11.1

BA RISP (Batting Average w/ Runners in Scoring Position)
BA BIP (Batting Average w/ Balls Put into Play)
P / PA (Pitchers per plate appearance)
BWS (Batting Win Shares)

BWS per 600 AB’s (2004):
Utley: 13.3
Polanco: 13.2

Even now Utley is probably an offensive upgrade on Polanco. If he improves on his batting in 2005, as we all expect he will, he’ll likely be a massive upgrade offensively for the Phillies. The question is can he improve on his ability to draw walks? And, can Utley improve his hitting against left-handed pitching?

2004:
v. Right: .281 BA / .507 SLG
v. Left: .196 BA / .283 SLG

This will be a big test for him in 2005, but I’m confident that Chase will improve at the plate and become a future All-Star selection for the Phillies.

Conclusions: I didn’t intend on my second player profile to be such a comparison piece, but Utley’s performance must be contrasted with Polanco because he was such a cog in the Phillies machine these last two years. Utley could add 12-15 runs to the Phillies already formitable offense right now. Would his presence on the field cost the team as many runs? It is difficult to say, but that is a definate possibility. The key for Chase will be to improve on his defense and evolve into the slugging second baseman we all expect him to be. I have high hopes for him, and I meant what I said about him becoming a perennial All-Star selection. Who are the great NL 2B’s? Jeff Kent? His career is sending. Todd Walker? Good bat, bad glove. Ray Durham and Mark Loretta are both 34 this year. Chase could be one of the top two or three NL 2B’s for years to come.

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