Category Archives: Graphical representations

Hey guys, Jose Valverde is average at best (Please stop thinking otherwise)

A disturbing thing has happened over the last few weeks.  The Detroit Tigers and their heir of mediocrity have been overachieving ad nausea, and suddenly they’re being mistaken for an elite baseball team.  But that’s not the disturbing thing I speak of.

No, my friends, that disturbing thing is the discourse surrounding Tigers closer Jose Valverde and his so-called “perfect season”.  Valverde is 42 for 42 in save opportunities and people are going bananas.  I even heard someone say he should get consideration for the AL MVP.

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We knew this was coming

About two weeks ago, the Blue Jays were leading the American League in runs scored.  To anyone who has actually watched this team play in 2011, this seemed like a surprise.  Yes, Jose Bautista is a golden god, and Corey Patterson seemed to be fooling us with night after night of solid plate appearances, but we all knew this was coming.  After being swept by the Atlanta Braves this week, Toronto has scored a woeful three, THREE runs in their last forty innings.

When Toronto was scoring runs, they weren’t getting pitching; now they are getting pitching and the hitting has come unceremoniously crashing down to earth.

Many have offered up reasons for this sudden offensive collapse, but let’s face facts, a lineup that runs out Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera, Edwin Encarnacion, Jayson Nix, John McDonald, and Rajai Davis on any kind of consistent basis, is going to have trouble scoring runs.

There are essentially three hitters on this team that have a future with this ballclub: Bautista, Adam Lind, and Yunel Escobar.  Everyone else is essentially a stop-gap player until something better comes along.  We knew heading into this year that this was not a contending team and that the offense would struggle, so let’s all just relax; better things are on the horizon.

Now, what is actually wrong with the Jays’ offense right now?  Why technically are they scuffling?

Well, that’s pretty simple; allow me to illustrate using a Brooks Baseball Pitch F/X graph…slightly modified.

The graph above (click to enlarge) shows only pitches thrown today by Braves’ starter Brandon Beachy in which the Blue Jays swung on and missed.  As you can plainly see, the plate discipline of our lovable losers bluebirds leaves something to be desired.  There has been an overriding lack of discipline and pitch recognition during this slump and Beachy’s 11 strikeouts in six innings today was the ultimate manifestation.  They made a pitcher throwing in only his 11th big-league start look like Pedro Martinez.  Using my expert counting skills, 10 of the 19 times that Beachy got the Jays to swing and miss, the ball was out of the strike zone; in some cases it was so far down and away from the right-handed hitters that there’s no physical way contact could have been made.

The sad part is that there might be a lot more games like this going forward considering the hitters in this lineup.

Stay patient, better days are coming.

Are fastballs as overrated for relievers as they are for starters?

A few days ago, I asked how important it was for an effective pitcher to have an effective fastball.  I constructed some graphs using the top 50 starting pitchers in baseball in the 2010 season and found that perhaps we overvalue the fastball.  Fastball velocity and effectiveness was less of an indicator of pitcher success than wins, and we all know how useless they are.

After posting that, I talked to my good friend Ben who owns an amazing little coffee shop with his wife here in Windsor and we pondered whether or not fastball velocity and effectiveness was more important for a reliever.

Relievers tend to throw fewer types of pitches and therefore throw a higher amount of fastballs which would suggest that it is a tad more important for them then say a starter who likely throws at least three types of pitches and sometimes more.

We also tend to think of successful relievers, and especially closers, as having a dominant fastball that they can use to blow away the competition.

So, is a great fastball more important for relievers, or is there just as little a correlation as for starters?

In the previous analysis I used the top 50 starters, for this analysis I’ll use the top 75 relievers (as there are more relievers on team than starters).

I’ll compare fastball velocity (FBv) and fastball effectiveness (wFB) to Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and park-adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), just as I did before.

If you need a primer on advanced statistics, how they’re calculated and how they’re used, WAR can be found here, FIP is explained hilariously here, and a general overview of many advanced stats can be found here.

The top three relievers in FBv in 2010 were Daniel Bard (97.9 mph), Santiago Casilla (96.6 mph) and Neftali Feliz (96.3 mph).  The bottom three were Brad Ziegler (84.3 mph), Darren O’Day (85.7 mph) and Andy Sonnanstine (86.6 mph).

The top three in fastball effectiveness, measured in runs above average (wFB) were Matt Thornton (20.3), Neftali Feliz (19.3) and Hong-Chih Kuo (17.9), while the worst fastballs among relievers belonged to every one’s favourite New Year’s celebrator Alfredo Simon (-11.8), every Jays’ fan’s favourite left-hander Brian Tallet (-11.6) and Chad Qualls (-8.7).

Carlos Marmol led all relievers in WAR at 3.1, while Rafael Betancourt led the league in xFIP at 2.29.

The graphs, as before, will have a series of dots, each representing a pitcher, and a trending line.  The steeper the trending line, the more of a correlation there is between the two stats being represented.

Last time, I was unsure if I was interpreting the graphs correctly.  This time I know I am as I consulted a friend who has two master’s degrees in advanced math and analytics.  I’m going to go ahead and assume he’s right.

In the first graph, I compare xFIP to WAR to give you an idea of what a strong positive correlation should look like.  Generally speaking, the higher a pitcher’s WAR rating, the higher their xFIP will be and the better the pitcher they are.
As you can see, the correlation is very strong as the trending line is at a near 45 degree angle.

In the second graph, I compare fastball effectiveness to fastball velocity.  As you can see there is still a correlation, but it isn’t nearly as strong; it’s very weak in fact.  Just as with starters, how good your fastball is has very little to do with how hard you throw it.

In the next two graphs, I compare fastball velocity to WAR and xFIP.  Again, only a slight correlation exists, suggesting that fastball velocity is of little importance to reliever success.

Interestingly enough, when you compare WAR and xFIP to fastball effectiveness, there is a much stronger correlation than there is for starting pitchers; as suggested by the next two graphs.

So there appears to be some credence to the thought that fastball effectiveness is tied to the success of a reliever.  Velocity is still mostly uncorrelated, but effectiveness is at least of some importance, more so than a starting pitcher.

To re-conceive these graphs, just take this chart, dim the lights, serve it some brandy or ice wine and coax it to your bedroom after getting it nice and tipsy.  Nine months later, POW, baby graphs.

Do we overvalue the fastball?

That’s one of the first things you hear when discussing how good a pitcher is.  How good is his fastball?  Does it have late movement?  Does he command it well?  Pitchers are generally gauged largely in relation to the strength of their fastball, but is this a true indicator of talent and overall effectiveness?  How important is this, really?  Can a pitcher with an ineffective fastball still be effective overall?  Does an elite fastball mean a sure-fire elite pitcher?

I decided to try and find out.  My math skills are most certainly lacking, as are my Microsoft Excel skills, but I compiled some data, made some charts, and constructed some graphs to try and illustrate how much (if any) of a correlation there is between fastball velocity/effectiveness and things like WAR, xFIP and even the dreaded mother-of-all-non-categories, wins.

Before I get into it a brief description of some of the advanced statistics I’ll use is needed.  FBv is the average fastball velocity of a given pitcher and wFB is the effectiveness of said fastball measured in runs above average.

Among qualifying starters, Ubaldo Jimenez led the league in FBv at 96.1 mph and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was at the bottom of the league with an 83.9mph FBv.

Tim Hudson led the league in wFB at 32.1 while James Shields scoured the bottom with a wFB rating at -25.1.

I’m going to use xFIP in this analysis instead of FIP because xFIP attempts to adjust for the park in which the pitcher is playing, which would indicate a more accurate reading of pitcher talent.

I limited my subjects to the top 50 qualified starters in xFIP, which should roughly consist of the best 50 starters in baseball (roughly the top third of all starters).  Roy Halladay led the league in xFIP at 2.92.

What I found when I plugged in the numbers was that fastball velocity and fastball effectiveness were only a marginal indicator of how good a pitcher really is; and that it’s no more of an indicator than wins.

The idea, in case you’re not a math-whiz, is that the steeper the line, the more of a correlation there is between the two numbers represented.  Each dot on the graph represents a pitcher.  This first graph illustrates that xFIP and WAR are strongly related; generally speaking, the better the xFIP, the higher the WAR.

In the second graph, xFIP is compared to fastball velocity.  Again, there is a correlation between higher FBv and lower xFIP, but it isn’t very drastic; certainly not as drastic as the relationship between xFIP and WAR.  But how about fastball effectiveness?

This graph illustrates the relationship between fastball velocity and effectiveness.  It turns out, the relationship is pretty weak.  There’s a slight correlation, but perhaps not as much of one as you’d expect.  A great arm an effective fastball does not necessarily make.

As expected then, the relationship between fastball effectiveness and xFIP is also not too consistent.  In fact, the most effective pitchers tend to have marginally above average fastballs.  The dot at the top belongs to Roy Halladay whose fastball isn’t by any means elite, but that is mostly because he doesn’t use his fastball as often as his cutter and sinker, which are far more integral to his success.

To give the argument some context, I wanted to see how much of a correlation there was between something like wins, which most of us now understand tells us very little about how well a pitcher has performed, and WAR and xFIP.  It turns out that wins are actually more of a predictor of success than fastball velocity and effectiveness.

As you can see by the handy trending line, wins, in all their uselessness are still a better indicator of pitcher performance than fastball effectiveness.

In conclusion, it seems we overvalue fastball effectiveness.  Yes, it’s important to have an effective fastball, but it isn’t the best indicator of how a pitcher will do.  It is possible to have an ineffective or below-average fastball and still be a fairly effective pitcher.  Shaun Marcum, for instance, has a changeup that is so good (the best in baseball actually) that he can afford to chuck up a second or third-rate fastball with a -9.6 wFB rating.

Click here for the chart from which these graphs were made

As always, statistical information from FanGraphs

And please, feel free to tell me why this is flawed in the comments.  I’m sure it is somehow; I was never good at math.