Archive for ‘Relievers’

Monday: 08.5.2013

Jim Johnson’s “Regression” Is 5 Bad Innings

When Jim Johnson had his dream season in 2012 – complete with an MLB-best 51 saves – many in the fantasy community screamed “REGRESSION!!” at the top of their lungs. The biggest hurdle for most (I believe) was getting their heads around a low-strikeout reliever being a dominant closer. Johnson’s next 20 percent strikeout rate will be his first and that’s not even special for a reliever let alone a primetime closer. Relievers have averaged a 22 percent rate in each of the last two seasons with the best sitting in the 30s (well the absolute best like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman post absurd 45-50% rates).

What didn’t make sense about the cries for regression was the seemingly forgotten or overlooked fact that Johnson threw 91 innings at his 2012 levels the year before with all of his key indicators being nearly equal:

jjohnson1112

Now his ERA indicators were calling for a jump with FIPs of 3.22 and 3.25, but that is hardly egregious. In short, this GB-heavy approach wasn’t a fluke.

Essentially two-thirds through the 2013 season has yielded some interesting results for Johnson as those thinking it couldn’t last might feel justified by his 3.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. But are the Johnson naysayers really “right” if the entire “regression” came in about a two-week, five-inning stretch from mid-to-late May? While Johnson’s ERA is more than three-quarters of a run higher than in 2012, you can make a case that he’s actually been better save a 10 percent portion of his season. To wit:

 jjohnsongoodbad

I realize this is some gaming with selective endpoints, but when four of the nine outings during which he allowed earned runs are clustered in about a two-week sample, I don’t think it’s egregious to show the before and after on each side. At its core, this is less about Johnson and more about just how skewed reliever numbers can be given their relatively small innings totals.

If you just lifted those five innings from Johnson’s totals, his numbers are through-the-roof brilliant. We can’t do that, but look at those numbers since he emerged out of his funk; they are quite excellent, too. In that particular sample, his groundball rate is at 66 percent – even better than the astronomical 62 percent rates from the last two years. By the way, he is once again leading baseball in saves with 38 and he’s actually outpacing his 2012 total. His pace of 55 would tie him for the third-most in baseball ever and the most since Eric Gagne hit the mark in 2003.

Always dig into a reliever’s numbers as the front page of their Baseball-Reference profile will often mislead you.

Sunday: 04.28.2013

Henry Rodriguez’s Automatic Ball Return

Nat’s reliever Henry Rodriguez wants to save Kurt Suzuki’s arm a bit instead having the ball come back on its own.

 

hrodballreturn

Monday: 04.8.2013

Worst Strike Call Ever?

The game-ending call in Arlington on Monday night was undoubtedly one of the worst strike calls I’ve ever seen. Even closer Joe Nathan knows they got away with one they most certainly did not deserve.

worstcallever

 

Edit to add: Excellent stuff here by MLB.com posting it with all four calls (home and away TV and radio). Hat tip to my co-host Jason Collette for posting that on Facebook.

Tuesday: 04.2.2013

Rosenthal Gasses Two Diamondbacks

In his 2013 debut, Trevor Rosenthal pops 100 MPH twice with strikeouts against Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero.

rosy100

Sunday: 02.17.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 5 Days – Chapman Not Starting?

Only 5 days until live game action…

Aroldis Not Guaranteed Spot

Dusty Baker did his best Lee Corso imitation on Saturday when it came to the topic of Aroldis Chapman and the rotation for 2013. Baker was careful to note that we entered 2012 under similar assumptions before Chapman headed back to the pen and eventually took the closer’s job in late May. The money quote from Hal McCoy’s article:

Manager Dusty Baker emphasized that point Saturday morning when somebody said, “Your rotation was good last year, but you’re still making the move with Chapman. . .”

At that point, Baker interrupted and said, “Maybe. That’s a maybe. It’s the same situation as last year. We started with Chapman as a starter. Then Ryan Madson (closer) went down. We had no clue Chapman would be as good as he is as a closer. I don’t think anybody did.

We didn’t know if he was going to throw enough strikes,” Baker added. “We put him in a set-up role, going two innings, because he was groomed in spring training to be a starter and that helped him to get his control. So, right now, we’re in the same boat — trying to get him multiple innings in case he doesn’t start he can still be sharp.”

While this does make him more difficult to rank and project for 2013, it doesn’t really hurt his fantasy value. If anything, it’s a boon to it because unless he pulls a Chris Sale in the rotation, he is far more valuable to fantasy managers as a closer, especially at his current cost. In current NFBC mock draft data, Chapman is going 83rd overall whereas the unanimous #1 closer Craig Kimbrel is going 49th. It is only unanimous because we’ve been led to believe that Chapman is set to be Cincy’s 4th or 5th starter. If he ends closing again, he’s right there with Kimbrel and all of sudden becomes a huge value for those who are getting him at 84 or later.

Meanwhile, if they get a full-time starter who isn’t Sale 2.0 or better, then they vastly overpaid. Stay tuned as I’m sure we will learn much more in the coming month.

Friday: 01.25.2013

Top 10 RP – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Relief Pitchers Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host and human bobblehead (click that & also see below) Mitch Williams, and special guest to the series Bill James. The results were a bit annoying. For one, they did what I feared they might do: lean far too heavily on closers. One list had exactly zero middle relievers and the maker of said list is a huge surprise. I know these lists are for s’s & g’s and despite how it may read, I’m not getting that worked up over it, I’m just trying to have some fun as we move closer toward real baseball!

HumanBobble2

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10RPlists

The Shredder

I’ll say straight out front that The Shredder did much better with the relievers than with starters. I’ll also admit that Grant Balfour was a nice pick. I probably didn’t give him enough consideration. The dude hates letting guys hit the ball (4.9 H/9 last year), misses a good amount of bats (25% K rate), and Oakland has the perfect stadium for his flyball tendencies. That adds up to a helluva reliever. My love for strikeouts probably kept Jim Johnson and Eric O’Flaherty off of my list or it was just the overwhelming amount of depth at the position making it nearly impossible to whittle it down to 10. O’Flaherty has been insane the last four years with a 1.95 ERA and like a 2 million percent groundball rate. Seriously, it’s been 55-57-56-66(!!) percent the last four years meanwhile he has struck out 20% or more guys in three of the four years so he isn’t completely incapable of bat-missing. I was also impressed that The Shredder didn’t overrate Jonathan Papelbon and gave Koji Uehara some big love. All told, this was probably my favorite list because they gave middle relievers deserved love and their differences from my list were pretty strong. That said, Motte was a huge miss.

My inclusions he didn’t list: David Hernandez, Joe Nathan, David Robertson, and Jason Motte

Middle relievers: 4 (Kenley Jansen isn’t starting the year as the closer)

Bill James

Bill, Bill, Bill. You’re my dawg, but Papelbon #2?? No, just no. I pretty much blocked out everything else at that point: the inclusions of Motte and Nathan, the Rodney love, the Sergio Romo exclusion, all of it was forgotten for better or worse because the godfather of sabermetrics and objective analysis threw Jonathan Papelbon second on his list of relievers RIGHT NOW showing a clear bias toward his Red Sox (for whom Bill works as an advisor). John Axford was a little high for me, but his inclusion isn’t too problematic. This is a dude who fans 30% of the batters he’s faced for three years running. He gave up a quarter of his 2012 runs (36) in three games with a trio of three-run outings from June 10th to July 29th. And he was also saddled with a 19% HR/FB rate, it’s probably not a bad idea to bet on some improvement for 2013.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Uehara, Robertson, and Romo

Middle relievers: 1 (and maybe two if Ryan Madson closes for LAA) 

Mitch Williams

Everyone else worked under the assumption that Aroldis Champan is going to be a starter (primarily because he is), but not ol’ Bobbles. OK, so you’re trying to make a big call, but why not just work under the same conecit everyone else did and add a disclaimer that you have Chapman second and think he’ll be closing by Memorial Day or something? Apart from that, his list isn’t too bad despite five disagreements between us. It’d really only be four without the Chapman thing because as he mentioned in the video linked in the opening, Motte was his #11. Finally, someone gives Robertson some attention, which he richly deserves.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Nathan, Motte, Jansen, and Romo

Middle relievers: 3

Starting pitchers: 1

Brian Kenny

How could you do this to me, Brian? You’re my boy, blue! The critical thinker himself, Mr. Next Level Stats who firmly believes the closer mentality is garbage (I don’t fully agree, btw) chimes in with ZERO middle relievers in his list. Or maybe one with Ernesto Frieri, but he’s an assumed closer in many circles at this point. I’m not suggesting you should shoehorn non-closers in if you don’t think they belong, I’m just wondering how he thinks they don’t belong?! Papelbon at 4? Are Soriano and Johnson really better than all middle relievers? He pointed out multiple times how Mitch had more middle relievers than James only to come to the table with a goose egg himself. I was surprised for sure!

My inclusions he didn’t list: Hernandez, Uehara, Robertson, and Jansen (all 4 of my MRs of course)

Middle relievers: 0

I’ll reiterate once more that I know these are just fun and any exasperation I show is reasoned exasperation. I’m not taking these lists too seriously or cultivating hate for any of the panelists. I truly enjoy this series quite a bit and I’ve had fun agonizing over my own lists.

Friday: 01.18.2013

Top 10 Relief Pitchers Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will air both the relief and starting pitcher shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

This is not a fantasy list!!

My guess is that MLBN will rely a bit too heavily on saves here and lean toward closers, but I’m going for the best relievers regardless of role. This was pretty tough because I could’ve made a legitimate case for quite a few guys who didn’t wind up on my 10. In fact, my honorable mention list could’ve run 10-15 deep. Instead, here are just a few.

Sean Marshall (CIN) – Since these lists stress the “Right Now” aspect, considering Marshall’s track record too heavily would go against the conceit of the lists. And since he is coming off of his worst year against righties (750 OPS), he lost out on a spot. He obliterates lefties (410 OPS) and has plenty of previous success against righties to avoid the LOOGY status, but his rough start likely cost him a spot here. He had a 4.15 ERA in 17.3 innings through May, but then just a 1.85 ERA the rest of the way in 43.7 innings.

Jonathan Papelbon (PHI) – He was hardly bad in 2012, but some chinks in the armor did pop up (namely the home runs and the margins are so thin here that any small ding could cost you a spot on the list. I will state clearly that this has nothing to do with my disdain for Papelbon. I want to make the best list possible and I ended choosing my #10 over Papelbon after a couple flips back-and-forth between the two.

Jake McGee (TB) – A lefty who throws 96? How the hell is that fair? To say he dominated right-handers last year is a gross understatement. They managed a .098/.157/.134 line–that’s a 291 OPS for those keeping score–all while striking out 36 percent of the time. With these honorable mentions, there really aren’t reasons why they didn’t make the list. The top 10 was just so rich that the runoff seems entirely snubbed given how deserving they are on their own merits.

Tyler Clippard (WAS) – Remember when he stranded 96 percent of runners in 2011? So sick. He’s still awesome, just not quite top 10 awesome. Hell, neither are his bullpen mates, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.

Darren O’Day (BAL) – If we were doing A-Rod’s list, he might be number one. O’Day was 5th in win probability added for relievers last year while teammate Jim Johnson was tops by a good margin. O’Day just missed and Johnson wasn’t given much consideration ranking around 20 or so. It’s probably my whorishness for strikeouts. Sorry, Jimmy-J.

Sorry as well to: Jason Grilli (homers), Rafael Betancourt (drop in Ks), Al Alburquerque (innings), Kelvin Herrera (Ks didn’t stack up), Ernesto Frieri (walks), and Joel Peralta (homers).

MLBNtopRP

THE LIST

10. David Hernandez (ARI) – The D’Backs better not even consider giving the 8th inning to Heath Bell setting up J.J. Putz as Hernandez handled it masterfully last year and continues to get better each year. He is a flyball pitcher, but maintains a 0.5 HR/9 because 15 percent of his flyball stays in the infield. In the mortal division (non-Kimbrel & Aroldis), his 35 percent strikeout rate was good 5th while his 7.9 percent walk rate was best among those five.

9. Koji Uehara (BOS) – How does he only get $4.25 million from Boston this offseason? That is a steal, especially juxtaposed against the 2/$28 mil that Washington is paying Soriano (and I like Sori). Even missing two months, he deserved more than a $250,000 dollar raise for his work. He had a 14.3 K/BB! He hates walks. In fact, he hates walking. He moves briskly everywhere he goes often breaking into a trot or jog. He walked three batters in 36 innings last year. Carlos Marmol walked three batters in a game three times last year.

8. Joe Nathan (TEX) – Homers ate him up a bit at home (1.7 HR/9) or his sparkling numbers (2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) would’ve been even better. And he was 37 years old.

7. Fernando Rodney (TB) – Who would have bet that Rodney would appear on a list like this… ever? Chalk one up for the “change of scenery” factor working and how. The Rays remade Rodney and he became one of baseball’s best relievers recapturing his strikeout-per-inning stuff while walking next to nobody (far and away a career-best 5 percent BB rate and 1.8 BB/9; previous best was 9 & 3.5). His velo even spiked a bit up to a career high 98.2 MPH on his four-seamer making his 83 MPH changeup that much more devastating.

6. David Robertson (NYY) – He experienced the worst timed injury ever going down in early May shortly after getting the closer’s role once Mariano Rivera went down. Robertson had been missing bats like crazy for four years, but it was always paired with a walk rate of 12 percent or worse. That changed last year when he cut it to just 7.7 percent with little cost to his strikeouts (dipped from an obscene 37 percent to a still-excellent 33 percent). He’s added a groundball element to his game the last two years only adding to his effectiveness.

5. Kenley Jansen (LAD) – An irregular heartbeat could barely tame Jansen, though it did cost him about half of September. He’s usually the one doling out irregular heartbeats, terrifying batters into submission with his filthy cutter which he throws almost exclusively (93 percent of the time). When a pitch is that good, why throw anything else? Sounds like another reliever we all know pretty well.

4. Jason Motte (StL) – Completely embraced the closer’s role en route his best across-the-board season yet in a career-high 72 innings. His 2.75 ERA was up from 2011’s 2.25, but the WHIP dropped from 0.96 to 0.92 while his strikeout rate spiked majorly to 31 percent without impacting his 6 percent walk rate. I think he is one of the more underrated relievers in the game, but that could just be my perception of him. I guess we’ll see tonight on the lists of those involved in the show.

3. Sergio Romo (SF) – While I’m constantly annoyed at how much the Giants baby Romo, I understand it. It’s probably not a surprise that he posted his best year in 2011 when they limited him to just 48 innings (1.50 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 40% K rate, 14.0 K/BB). I’m just being selfish because I want to see flat-out embarrass grown men with his NSFW slider, rated second best in the majors last year per pitch values. His arm may one day accompany the ball to the plate, but until then, enjoy this diminutive badass.

2. Mariano Rivera (NYY) – This was obviously the toughest ranking. He had to be included despite throwing just eight innings last year before tearing his ACL, but how high? It wasn’t a leg injury and he hasn’t seen his dominance diminish at all yet, so I felt comfortable slotting the 43-year old right here. He doesn’t have the same gaudy numbers as a lot of these guys, but he is still fanning a quarter of the batters he faces and his walk rate was actually on the decline from 4.8 in 2010 to 3.4 in 2011, though it ticked up a bit to 6.3 (still great) last year in his tiny sample.

1. Craig Kimbrel (ATL) – He’s on a different plane. If you put up his numbers in a video game, your friends would tell you to get real and up the difficulty. He’s doing it on All-Madden (mixed sport metaphors FTW!). His 40+ percent strikeout rate dropped our jaws, but he wasn’t satisfied so he dropped a 50 burger on our faces fanning precisely 50.2 percent of the batters he faced last year. Major league batters. And for good measure, he nearly sliced his walk rate in half dropping from 10.5 to 6.1 percent.

No one stood a prayer against him evidenced obviously by everything I’ve already shared, but also his .126 batting average against. His 19.2 swinging strike rate was tops in baseball to the surprise of absolutely nobody. He got 40 percent of his strikeouts on three pitches. If he got two strikes on a batter, they hit .068/.112/.105 and struck out 68 percent of the time. I could keep going, but I think you get the point. This was an easy choice.

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