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.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pitching Week, Part I: Is the Phillies pitching really that bad? 

Pop quiz … according to ESPN’s Game Score, who has the best pitched game in the National League in 2007? Jake Peavy? Brad Penny? Tim Hudson? Nope. Try the Phillies Jon Lieber, who rates a 92 for the three-hit shutout he threw against the Kansas City Royals on June 9th. Lieber struck-out eleven Royals and didn’t surrender a single walk in his 106-pitch masterpiece. How about second-place? Well, tied for second (with four other pitchers) with a game score of 86 was Cole Hamels fifteen strike-out masterpiece in Cincinnati against the Reds.

So the Phillies pitching is terrible, atrocious, awful, right? Certainly it was on Sundat afternoon in Pittsburgh! Well, we'll get to that issue in a moment. First I want to talk a little about the importance of pitching to the game of baseball. First, some history; then, some theory; and finally, some fact. First, history ...
The only thing that matters is what happens on that little lump out in the middle of the field.

-Earl Weaver, quoted in Baseball Between the Numbers (page 273).

In the early days of baseball the pitcher was the least important member of a team. That seems exceptional to ponder nowadays. Much like a beer league softball pitcher, the pitcher of the old leagues and associations that existed in the 1850’s and 1860’s (like the National Association, the forerunner to the National League) was expected to serve the ball up to the batter underhanded and hittable, a gentlemanly maneuver. The box scores created by Harry Chadwick, the father of baseball stats, utterly ignored the pitcher altogether, because the contest was between the batter and the fielders, not the batter vs. pitcher. Over time umpires were permitted to call strikes, then the concept of bases on balls was introduced. In the early 1870’s, a pitcher named Jim Creighton introduced the wrist snap, which propelled the ball to the hitter in a difficult manner to hit. In 1872 the rule-makers decided that Creighton’s wrist snap was legal and the pitcher became a vital part of the baseball equation. However, it wasn’t until the 1890’s that the pitcher got a line in the box score.

For those interested in more, please read Alan Schwartz's The Numbers Game for a full discussion on this topic. Anyway, since then a war has existed between pitchers and hitters that pitchers consistently find themselves on the short end of because the people want offense, runs, home runs, etc. The game evolved, in the early part of the century, to favor offense, a situation that reached its zenith in the 1905's and early 1960's. Baseball, concerned in the wake of the 1961 season that the home run had gotten too cheap, changed the rules by reinterpreting the strike zone and altering the mound, a move that dramatically shifted the balance of power to the pitchers. With Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax hurling baseballs that seemed the size of asprins at hitters, the new dead-ball era began. The primacy of pitchers in the 1960's continued into the 1970's, before the era of the power slugger began in the mid-1980's. Today we live in an era where hitters have the edge in a big, big way. That's the history of the pitcher.

Now some theory. The sabremetrics community – the numbers obsessed stats heads that, if you are reading this blog you are probably one of – did a lot of work on hitters in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but pitching was something that wasn’t pondered much by sabremetricians. Stats like Runs Created and the like, for example, focused on the outcomes of batting.

Until Voros McCracken came along. The paralegal and baseball thinker had been mulling over the idea that pitchers basically have no control over balls put into play and thus, statistics like Earned Run Average (ERA), the traditional tool to evaluate pitchers, had no meaning unless you adjusted for the quality of the defense that was played behind them. The idea that ERA was a flawed tool was astonishing. McCracken proposed DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic – as a replacement, arguing that strikeouts, walks and home runs were the only things that pitchers were accountable and devised DIPS as a way to keep track of how a pitcher would fare with an average defense behind him. According to research quoted in Baseball Between the Numbers, the variables for batted balls break-down as follows:Luck: 44%; Pitcher: 28%; Defense: 17%; Ballpark: 11%

McCracken’s article proposing DIPS and introducing his theories was published on Baseball Prospectus’ website in January of 2001. (Click here for the article.) The next day ESPN author Rob Neyer published an article on ESPN’s website talking about McCracken’s theories. (Click here for the article.) The effect was electric. McCracken became a celebrity in the sabremetrics community and DIPS became the most significant theory advanced in the debate over baseball stats in years, if not decades. Bill James, the father of sabremetrics, endorsed, with caveats, McCracken’s theories in his Historical Baseball Abstract (see, James’ entry on Tommy John), noting that he found McCracken’s ideas to be significant and that he felt foolish for not having had the same thought years before.

McCracken went on to expand and refine DIPS, taking the performance of knuckleball pitchers into account (who do influence the outcome of balls put into play) in DIPS 2.0. (Click here for DIPS 2.0 formula.) Since then McCracken has moved on to join the Boston Red Sox as an consultant. Sadly, I’ve found information on the internet about DIPS to generally be lacking and nobody has expanded upon McCracken’s ideas much. This is an area of sabremetrics that seems to be crying out for attention. Futility Infielder, for example, published DIPS stats in 2004 complete with a discussion of what some of the numbers said. Since then, I haven't found much of a discussion on DIPS.

So let's move away from theory and take a look at the Phillies current situation. Simply put, it isn't good. I couldn't find team DIPS numbers, but I did find numbers for FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching:


1. San Diego: 3.68

2. L.A. Dodgers: 3.77

3. San Francisco: 4.21

4. Milwaukee: 4.25

5. Atlanta: 4.26

6. Colorado: 4.39

7. N. Y. Mets: 4.39

8. Chic. Cubs: 4.44

9. Arizona: 4.47

10. Pittsburgh: 4.49

11. Cincinnati: 4.51

12. St. Louis: 4.52

13. Florida: 4.52

14. Houston: 4.55

15. Philadelphia: 4.76

16. Washington: 4.79

League: 4.37

The Phillies rank twelfth in strikeouts, tenth in walks allowed, and fifteenth in home runs allowed. As I ran the numbers, I found that the only area where the Phillies rank respectably is in quality starts (7th) with sixty, eleven behind the N.Y. Mets. (Quality start is a start where the pitcher goes six innings and allows three or fewer runs.)

Here is how the Phillies starters look:

Starters - DIPS
Jon Lieber: 3.53
Cole Hamels: 3.90
Jamie Moyer: 4.60
Kyle Kendrick: 4.82
Freddy Garcia: 4.94
Adam Eaton: 5.33

Starters ERA / DIPS variance:
Jon Lieber: 4.52 / -0.99
Cole Hamels: 3.64 / +0.26
Jamie Moyer: 4.60 / -0.08
Kyle Kendrick: 4.82 / +1.07
Freddy Garcia: 4.94 / +0.96
Adam Eaton: 5.33 / -1.03

This is a major area of concern. Despite the millions of dollars that Pat Gillick spent in the off-season, the Phillies still don't have an improved pitching staff. The starters are struggling, generally speaking, and the bullpen has been atrocious. If anything holds the Phillies out of the post-season, it will be this.

Tomorrow, Cole Hamels.

Labels: ,

The historical introduction was interesting. [the numbers were too, but the history of pitching was moreso)
I just received by 'Post Season' Ticket options in the mail for the playoffs at Citizen's Bank Park. I get the options on two division series games, two NLCS games, and one world series game for the Phillies.

The big question will be "If"

If the Phillies pitching holds up

If the Phillies win

If the Phillies make the playoffs even.

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?