Archive for the ‘Marlins’ 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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All Those "Surprise" Teams…and the Jays

May 13, 2009

In the first week or so of this blog, away back 3-4 weeks ago now, I profiled the Orioles, Mariners, Marlins, and Padres, four teams that had started the season off much better than anyone anticipated. How about a month later (actually, just 22 days after the fourth post)?

  • Taking their records as of the day I wrote about them, the four teams were a combined 32-9 (.780).
  • Since? 28-66 (.298). .298!!!! These guys as a whole have been playing at a 114-loss pace since then, and I guess the Mariners have been playing a little better than the other three, but it’s not like any one team is dragging the pack down.
  • Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report now has the O’s with a 1.39% chance of making the playoffs (down from 8% when I reported on April 15); the M’s retaining a 23.34% chance (down from 28% on April 16, and from a high of 42% on April 25); the Fish with a 4.51% chance (down from 6.59% on April 18); and the Padres at 1.18% (down from 7.46% on April 21). Realistically, then, we’re 4 1/2 months from the end of the ball, and three of the four Cinderellas have already headed home.

A team I chose not to write about, though, is the Toronto Blue Jays. It was almost as much of a surprise that they were 10-4 on April 20th as it was that the Padres were 9-4, but what with sharing their division with the Orioles, I didn’t think anybody had really figured the Jays for last place at the start of the season.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that, if one of the surprises from the year’s first week or two were going to keep it going, it would be the team that was the best to begin with. The Jays are 12-8 (.600) since that 10-4 start and sit at 23-12, first place in the East, jostling with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. And to the extent that run differentials mean anything at this point in the season (they don’t), they’re just about exactly at the record their run differential would predict.

So why does Baseball Prospectus still hate them? Through Tuesday, the same report has them ending the year at 82-80 and in fourth place, seven games behind the third-place Rays and fifteen behind the first-place Red Sox. It gives them just a 4.58% chance to win the division and 13.83% to make the playoffs at all.

Well, there’s Aaron Hill, who, much as I like him, won’t finish the year hitting .350 with a .550 SLG. And Marco Scutaro, a 33 year old who averages ten homers per 162 games (he’s already hit 5) and has a career .330 OBP (currently sitting at .406). And there’s the fact that they’ve already had nine different pitchers who have started at least two games for them, and aside from the awesomeness that is Roy Halladay and possible late bloomer Scott Richmond, none of them figure to be very good (assuming they can even stay healthy).

Mostly, though, it’s that they play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The Jays might be good enough to win the Central or West, but I’m pretty well convinced that those three other teams in the East, flawed as they’ve all looked at one point or another in the early going, are still the best three teams in baseball.

I’ll be pulling for the Blue Jays, though. If it’s a four-team race into August or September, that could be some of the most interesting baseball we’ve seen in decades. And if it’s a three-team race sans Yankees or Sox, well, that’s okay, too.

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part III: The Florida Marlins

April 19, 2009

Let’s get right into it. The Marlins stand at 10-1 this fine Sunday morning, and they come by it honestly–they’re hitting well enough to get by and pitching like a staff full of Johan Santanas (with a team ERA+ of 153, that actually beats Santana’s career 145). Most figured them for third or fourth, and Baseball Prospectus thought they’d lose 90 and finish behind the Nationals. What the hell?

What they’re saying: Come on, no one talks about the Marlins. My law school friend Jeff, the only Marlins fan I know (or even know of), puts up a new, increasingly excited facebook status with every win. That’s all I got.

Okay, seriously:

  • The Herald’s Linda Robertson says that the Marlins’ winning is a good sign, which is why they pay her the big bucks.
  • Josh of Jorge Says No! opines that the Fish, alone among your surprising-starters, are for real.
  • USA Today’s Mel Antonen spotlights the Fish and Jays as “low-payroll, high-expectations” teams, and seems to conclude that the former are the most likely to keep it going.

So there are some expectations here. I think there were some expectations among some people coming into the season, actually, given that they won 84 games last year. But nobody expected a .909 start, and now nobody has any clue what to expect.

Reasons for Hope: Well,

  • Nobody knew what to expect from these starters. The oldest among them (Ricky Nolasco) is 26, and with just 388 big-league innings, he’s got at least 100 innings on each of the other four. Part of the Marlins’ projected struggles came from rather gloomy projections for each of the five starting pitchers, and each of them could significantly beat those projections. With the possible exception of Anibal Sanchez (who can hold his own), all are hard throwers who rack up strikeouts, which is exactly what they need with this defense–which is, um, not great. If this pitching staff is even half as good as they’ve looked so far (aside from Nolasco, who has struggled but will rebound), they’re in much better shape than most people thought.
  • They have one of the four best players in the Major Leagues, and you could make a good case that he’s the best. Hanley Ramirez looked like a terrible defensive shortstop in his breakout 2007, but measured out as more or less average in 2008, and has been downright good in the way-too-early going in 2009. If Hanley can hit and run like Hanley does and play a good shortstop, that’s about the best weapon a team could have. And he hasn’t really started hitting yet this year.
  • About three years ago, Jeremy Hermida was expected to be a superstar by now. He stumbled a little in ’06, had a very nice year in ’07, took a huge step back in ’08, and now seems to have been more or less forgotten (though playing for the Marlins has that effect). He’s still just 25, and one thing I’ve noticed is that if everybody thought you had that kind of talent once, you probably did, and might start showing it at any time (there are, of course, a few exceptions–I’m looking at you, Delmon). Hermida is doing a fine job in the early going, and I expect him to significantly outperform most of his projections. Also, Cameron Maybin was a top prospect even more recently, and he can’t be as bad as he’s played through the first eleven.

Why it won’t happen:

  • Emilio Benifacio. He of the .679 OPS and 76 OPS+ in about half a season’s worth of career PA and an underwhelming .285/.341/.362 minor league line. Not a good player. Guys like this don’t suddenly become good players. His flukish, scorching hot start will probably keep him in the lineup much longer than he deserves, and he’ll be seriously costing the Marlins runs starting…now.
  • That BABIP thing again. They’re batting .354 on balls they put in play, which is about 25 points above the usual major-league leading team BABIP. The culprits, not surprisingly, are the guys who are playing miles over their heads–Bonifacio at a ridiculous .500, catcher John Baker at .444, and Dan Uggla (a good hitter, but not a .314 hitter) at .429. Those bloops and dribblers will stop finding the holes quite so often, a few line drives will be scorched right at somebody, and those BABIPs will slip back toward .300. And then they’ll stop scoring runs.
  • On the other hand, maybe Maybin just isn’t as good as we all thought (or just isn’t ready yet). After the guys I just mentioned, he has the highest BABIP at an unsustainable .389. But he’s struck out in 43% of his plate appearances, so he’s still hitting a dreadful .219/.286/.250. If he’s terrible and Hermida doesn’t have a big breakout year, this team will have a hard time scoring runs once its luck starts to even out.
  • Speaking of luck due to even out, they’re hitting like Albert Pujols (.340/.438/.530) with runners in scoring position. That won’t last, either.
  • Their pitching staff may be great, but it’s not going to be this great. Four of the starters and the team’s closer all have ERAs under 2 (Nolasco is the odd man out, struggling at over 6).

So basically, aside from Maybin and Nolasco, everything that coul;d possibly have gone right for them so far, has, and any of it could (and probably will) start going wrong again.

What PECOTA Says: the forecasting system liked the Marlins to lose 90 at the start of this year, and their updated Playoff Odds Report, surprisingly, hasn’t changed much. They’re ending up an average of 73-89, and missing the playoffs 93.41% of the time.

My take: That seems extreme. The team has already won 10 of its first 11 (of course, the odds were last put together when they were 9-1, but I doubt one more win changes things much at this point), and would have to play just a little better than .400 the rest of the way to make it to 89 losses. I don’t see that happening. The forecasts are based on pitching projections that I think are suspect–I expect all five of the starters to outperform what PECOTA sees for them. That said, they’re going to have a really tough time keeping up with the Mets and Phillies in this one. I see them going 78-84, five or six games ahead of the Nationals for last, with a chance to get a little lucky and break .500 (but still fall 10+ games behind New York and Philly).