Archive for the ‘Braves’ Category

Luckiest and Unluckiest Pitchers So Far

May 15, 2009

One of the most interesting of many, many interesting things on FanGraphs is the pitching leaderboards’ E-F stat, which is simply the pitcher’s current ERA minus his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which I’ve mentioned a few times–an attempt to measure what his ERA “should” be, with defense, park and luck taken out of the equation). A negative number means the pitcher has been lucky — the ERA is lower than it “should” be — while of course a positive number means the opposite. So here are your leaders on both ends of the spectrum so far:

AL’s Luckiest: Trevor Cahill, A’s.
Cahill has put up some awfully strong-looking numbers for a rookie on a terrible offensive team: 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA in seven starts. His FIP, though, is an astronomical 6.18. Why? Well, he’s not striking anybody out, at just 3.23 per nine innings, and yet he’s walking more than one batter for every two innings, which gives him an awful 0.70 K/BB ratio. He’s getting by right now on some combination of luck, defense, and forgiving ballparks (he’s made four of his seven starts at home in the pitcher-friendly McAfee Coliseum, and another one at Safeco), having held batters to a very lucky .256 BABIP.
Prognosis: the kid’s 21 years old and a solid prospect, with a minor league history of very solid K rates (one of the best in the minors in ’08), respectable walk rates and almost no homers allowed, which makes me think the current flyball rate is a little fluky. He’s probably not really a 3.69 sort of pitcher right at the moment, but I doubt he’s a 6.19 one either. He should be fine.

AL’s Unluckiest: Gavin Floyd, White Sox.
Funny enough, Floyd was one of the luckiest in 2008, with a FIP of 4.77, essentially identical to this year’s 4.63. But his ERA in 2008 was 3.84; in ’09 to date, it’s 7.32. What goes around, I guess. Floyd is having more control trouble this year (4.81 walks per 9 to 2008’s 3.05), but is balancing it so far by giving up fewer HR (0.92 to 1.31). The big difference, natch, is the BABIP: he got unbelievably lucky last year at .268, and is unbelievably unlucky so far this year at .380.
Prognosis: Problem is, I don’t think the Sox or their fans would have been happy with even just a 4.63 ERA this year after what he turned in last year. So if you were expecting that, you’ll be awfully disappointed. Also, the HR rate drop doesn’t seem real; he’s giving up about the same percentage of line drives and fly balls and has an almost identical GB/FB ratio to ’08, so the only difference is that fewer of those fly balls have gone over the fence so far. That’s likely to regress, so if Floyd can’t find the strike zone more often, he could be in for a very rough year indeed. Just not 7.32 rough.

NL’s Luckiest: Jair Jurrjens, Braves.
3-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 8 starts (48 innings), Jurrjens’ start has led at least one dude (the bald guy from Princess Bride again) to believe he’s quietly becoming one of the best pitchers around. But Rob Neyer always points out that it’s really, really tough to succeed while striking out less than five per nine, and Jair is at 4.5, with a very unsustainable .244 BABIP. Accordingly, his FIP is 4.09 — still very respectable, but more than two runs higher than his current ERA.
Prognosis: Well, his opponent BABIP in 2008 was a very typical .311, but his strikeout rate was a much more palatable 6.64, and so he still posted a 3.68 ERA with a FIP that essentially matched it. And he’s only 23, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve on even those solid numbers. His pitch speed and selection are very similar to what they were in 2008. If he can get that strikeout rate back up and start getting grounders again when it is put into play (his GB/FB ratio is less than half what it was last year) — and I don’t see any immediate reason to believe he can’t — he should be totally fine, even considerably better than the above-average pitcher his current 4.09 FIP suggests he is. He just hasn’t suddenly become Pedro Martinez or something.

NL’s Unluckiest: Ricky Nolasco, Marlins.
Strkeouts are good (7.5 per 9). Walk rate is up, but still very good (2.6 per 9). But his ERA is 7.78. FIP says it “should” be 4.34. Problem is, when a batter doesn’t strike out against him, he’s hitting almost .400.
Prognosis: That BABIP obviously can’t last, even with the Marlins’, um, unspectacular defense behind him. He is getting hit quite a bit harder than he was in ’08 — 26% of balls put in play off of him are line drives, compared to just 19% in both 2007 and 2008 — which is why that 4.34 FIP is up about six tenths from last year’s. He’ll be fine. I mean, he won’t win a bunch of games with the way the Fish are going right now, and he might not be the potential ace he looked like last year, but he’s at least an average pitcher, and is probably considerably better than that.

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Gameblog #2: Braves at Mets

May 12, 2009

You might think that a guy with a family and a very full-time job whose blog just got linked to by the great Rob Neyer might realize that he’d already pretty much peaked as a baseball blogger and hang it up right there. Mais non! Not us! Like Pete Rose, we’ll keep selfishly pencilling ourselves into the lineup long after we’ve become pathetic, fleshy mockeries of our old selves. And like Queen Victoria, we’ll refer to ourselves as “we,” if only for purposes of this paragraph.

Warmups
Broadcast: Atlanta; Chip Caray and Joe Simpson.
Pitchers: Atlanta’s Derek Lowe (4-1, 3.98 ERA, 3.60 FIP) vs. New York’s Johan Santana. (4-1, 0.91, 2.02).

With only four games on the night’s entire schedule, how do you pass up this matchup? Atlanta radio broadcaster Don Sutton is a Hall of Famer, and just edges out Lowe for the title of “Second-Greatest Pitcher Involved in Tonight’s Game.”
PeachTree TV isn’t showing commercials to we Extra Innings folk; we just see a silent long view of the field for two or three minutes. I haven’t watched any Braves broadcasts yet; is this normal for them?
Sadly, each team is down one big, aging piece for tonight’s tussle: both Chipper Jones and Carlos Delgado are on the shelf. I have to say, there’s a whole lot stacked against the visitors coming into this one. Atlanta needs Larry much more than Queens needs Carlos.

First Inning

Kelly Johnson swings at the first pitch and makes the first out, which as a leadoff hitter should probably earn him a fine or something. But that’s as good as it gets for Santana, as three of the next four guys come up with singles, the last of which leads to an unearned run on a bad throw by Wright that substitute first baseman Fernando Tatis can’t handle. Probably most important is that, first-pitch out and all, Santana needs 27 pitches to get through the inning.

The graphic says “Derek Lowe – Last Start — Defeated Marlins,” and then gives his line: 5 innings, 7 hits, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Sorry, no: the Marlins hitters defeated Lowe. That he happened to leave with a lead his team didn’t relinquish doesn’t make his performance one in which he “defeated” anybody. To his credit, Lowe himself is very aware of that. He takes 1/3 as many pitches as Santana to get through his inning, following up a walk with an easy double play. It’s good to be probably the most extreme ground ball pitcher in the bigs.

Second Inning

Hey, guess what? Jeff Francouer swung at the first pitch! And the second! And the third! And the fourth! He struck out, but Santana just isn’t sharp so far. Quite a few more pitches, but no damage done.

After the costly first-inning error and a strikeout here, the Mets fans (some of them) are booing David Wright. And yeah, he’s a little down so far (and has been especially horrible in the field, costing his team 1.6 runs already according to UZR), but he’s still your best player and one of the best in the game. Chill out, folks. A good, long AB by Tatis keeps it from being another insanly quick inning for Lowe, but it’s 1-2-3 nonetheless.

Third Inning

Chip and Joe are talking about how hard it is to hit homers here in the Mets’ new park (it is quite big, but ESPN’s park factors, which actually don’t mean anything at all yet, have it at .973 for homers, making it just a tick shy of the average). They both seem to believe that the answer to what they perceive as a pitching shortage is for everybody to build bigger ballparks…but that’s insanely stupid. Santana looks much better now, though he’s still not JOHAN SANTANA tonight.
Derek Lowe facing off against Jeremy Reed, Omir Santos and the pitcher: how do you suppose that went? Faced the minimum through three.

Fourth Inning

Casey Kotchman does his best Kelly Johnson/Jeff Francouer impression, popping out to the catcher on the first pitch. The real Francouer actually takes a pitch, then swings wildly at the next two and flies out harmlessly. He’s a terrible, terrible player, folks. Now Santana is rolling.

The answer to the Toyota Tacoma Trivia Question: the only 3 pitchers in Braves history to have 4 strikeouts in 1 inning are Phil Niekro, Paul Assenmacher, and Mark Wohlers. A question I can’t tell you the answer to: if you’re Jose Reyes, and you walk, and you’ve got an extreme GB pitcher on the mound, how are you not taking second base on the first pitch? He doesn’t run, and Castillo predictably erases him on a DP. If Reyes takes second there, he scores easily on the Mets’ first hit of the night, a sharp single into right by Beltran. Lowe got hit hard this inning, though, and I’m starting to think Santana has the edge again.

Fifth Inning

You can tell by the way Lowe swings the bat that he was born to pitch (preferably in the AL, or as a closer). To be fair, Kelly Johnson doesn’t look much better. Santana loses focus a bit after that, though, walking Escobar on four pitches and throwing a whole bunch of pitches to Martin Prado. Still one-zip halfway through the game.

This is pretty much how an ace pitcher has to get in trouble on a night like this: one sharp single to right, and a bouncer that would’ve been a third double play if it didn’t happen to bounce too high for Kotchman and into right. First and third, one out, and Omir Santos hits a sac fly to Francouer. 1-1 now.

Sixth Inning

Santana throws three straight absolutely unhittable strikes to Brian McCann, the best hitter in Atlanta’s lineup tonight. Caray says “91 pitches for Santana, but that’s not an issue — he’s pitching great tonight.” Um, Chip? You’re dumb. To Simpson’s credit, he immediately points that out (though not in so many words). Diaz singles and Kotchman gets absolutely drilled on the hand because he started to swing, and I hope he’s all right, but that really shouldn’t get you a free base. Guess what, though? Francouer swung at the first pitch! He’s now seen eight pitches and swung at seven of them. Also, he’s dumb. Santana gets out of trouble, but at around a hundred pitches, despite what Chip says, he might be done for the night.

Bottom 6 — nothing at all happens. Lowe is good.

Seventh Inning

Santana does actually come out for the seventh, and immediately goes to 3-0 on Lowe before pumping three BP fastballs down the middle to claim the automatic out that’s rightfully his. Then he gives up a broken-bat single to Kelly Johnson, and then Manuel makes the very curious decision to take him out. Why the hell would you do that then? Parnell is in to face just two batters, and then Manuel goes back to a lefty reliever, so he’s used three pitchers where he probably could’ve used just one. Anyway, it should work, but then Reyes bobbles a ball on about the seventieth bounce, and the bases are loaded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shortstop boot a chance that easy. Then the wheels kind of predictably come off, with four more unearned runs coming in on a pair of singles. This is looking like yet another tough-luck loss for Santana. Even Francouer manages a hit, off the fourth Mets pitcher of the inning, before they finally limp out of it. Manuel is gonna get skewered in the papers tomorrow for taking Johan out.

Wright leads off with a double off the base of the wall in deepest center that was just destroyed; no doubt the Mets fans and press will get on him for hitting a “meaningless” double…unless of course it ignites a Met rally to help surmount this very surmountable four-run deficit. It doesn’t; Wright scores, and Lowe comes out, but that’s it, and it’s 5-2, and thus Wright is so not clutch.


Eighth Inning

Greg Norton pinch hits and singles, and then Kelly Johnson celebrates not having to face Johan anymore by hitting a grounder to the shortstop position on a first-pitch hit-and-run; that’s what they call “perfectly executed” (but how much control does he have over it, really? How much can Johnson control hitting it to the vacated shortstop position rather than, say, right over the bag, where Reyes has vacated to, for a rally-killing double play?). The few Mets fans remaining are booing rather lustily at no one in particular, but then cheer a sharp Wright-Castillo-Tatis double play, and it’s now 6-2 Atlanta.

Rafael Soriano comes in for the eighth, and this feels like a lot more than a four-run lead. Alex Cora has 0.0 chin, but a lovely .320 or so batting average after that single. There’s some sort of issue with some fans in the outfield, who waved a flag they weren’t supposed to and then flipped off Jeff Francouer. That’s pretty much the highlight of the Mets’ eighth.

Ninth Inning

Ken Takahashi, who I don’t believe is exactly 6’0″ and exactly 200 pounds (but who I do believe is very hittable tonight), is on the mound now. McCann doubles; you’d have to have figured that if this was going to be a fairly big win for the Braves minus Chipper, McCann would be something other than one-for-five with a low-leverage last-inning double. Francouer takes his second and third pitches of the night, then hits a sac fly. 7-2. Takahashi is both hittable and crazy wild, chucking up a wild pitch that bounced most of the way back to him. Jordan Schafer walks to remain the only Atlanta starter without a hit. Another single makes it 8-2, and it looks (because of course the camera only shows the corporate seats) like there are about ten people left in Citi Field.

The excellently-named Buddy Carlyle comes in with a six-run lead to protect and three outs to get. Wright reaches on an infield hit, the throw bounces off him and way up along the wall, and Wright probably could’ve ended up on third, but stays put; Chip says “Wright…thought about moving up ninety feet but he’s gotta play it safe.” Well, nobody’s gotta play it that safe. His playing it safe immediately costs the Mets, as Murphy bounces into an easy DP. Tatis doubles, so Wright would’ve been an easy run if he’d moved up. Smarter fans would boo him for that, not the other stuff. The way this inning is working out, his run could’ve been pretty important; it’s 8-3 with two on and two out, and 8-4 with two on and one out would make this a pretty different feel. Regardless, it ends 8-3, and what was a great game for the first six innings has felt like it’s taken about seven hours to end.

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Lowe gets credited with the win, which is well-deserved; Johan goes 6 1/3 and gives up 0 ER to drop his ERA 13 points to 0.78, and gets stuck with the “loss,” which is pretty much the story of Johan’s life. Fans of both teams ought to be feeling really good about their aces, and really uneasy about their bullpens.