Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cutting Vernon Wells Some Slack

Vernon Wells has been a common target of some Jays’ followers – I refuse to call them fans – for few years now. It seems that there is an expectation that he should put up the type of numbers he did in 2003 every year.

Now I am not about to suggest that this year, so far, has not been bad for V-Dub. It has been. But let’s look at the whole record.

After reading a blog entry about David Ortiz,, I decided to see if there was a similar trend with Vernon Wells. Here’s my graph for VW, although without the convenient year references:

The red line is the moving average of home runs per 162 games, while the blue line is the number of plate appearances per homer over a 162 span. Higher is better on the red line; lower is better on the blue. The first peak on the red line, corresponds to the 2003 season, while the plateau in the middle is 2005-2006. Since bottoming out near in May 2008, his HR production has been steadily returning closer to his career average of 26 HR/162 games.

How about Total Bases? The graph below of the total bases per 162 games tells a similar story: A peak near the end of 2003, with some lower value in 2004 followed by a pick up in 2005-06, followed by a sub-par performance in 2007, Since, the start of 2008, he’s been improving, where he is near his career average of 204 TB/162 games.
Another criticism of Wells is his RBI production. Below is a graph of his production since his first full season. The green line is his RBIs per plate appearance with runners in scoring position, while the orange line is RBIs per plate appearance with runners on base. The blue line is RBIs per runner on base while the red line is RBIs per runner on base weighted by the base runners’ location: 3 for third, 2 for second and 1 for first. The latter assumes that a base runner on third is three times more likely to score than a runner on first, which is not quite the case, but is a decent approximation.
All the lines tell a similar story: 2004 was a slump and 2007 was less of a slump, but otherwise, Wells has been quite consistent. How bad is 2009? Each of the three measures is 30% below his 2002-09 career average.

Except for 2004 and this year, Wells has been above the major league average for RBIs per plate appearance:
To all you Wells-bashers over the past few years, 2008 was his best season relative to the league at 47% more RBIs per plate appearance above the major league average!

However, while doing that, in 2008 he did increase his rate of grounding into double plays:
The red line is his rate of GIDP with runners on first, while the blue line is the rate with any runners on base. His current values are only marginally above his career numbers. Compared to other Jays with 50 or more GIDP opportunities, Wells rate of 14% is lower that both Lind and Scutaro and only slightly higher than Hill.

Yes, Wells has been having a poor year, but we shouldn’t be writing him off for a two-month slump.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Jays Through 80 Games

The Jays went 9-11 through the past 20 game stretch that included 15 inter-league games (7-8) and the first three meetings with the Rays. Over that period, they scored 93 runs and allowed 85; the Pythagorean Expectation record would be 11-9, but they did lose all three one-run games and both extra-inning games. There was a blow-out by the road team in each direction: The Jays took a 9-0 game in Texas, but the Phillies humiliated the Jays 0-10 in the Dome. The Jays were also shut out for the second and third time this season.

93 runs in 20 games is 4.65 runs per game (rpg), close to the league average, but hardly the sizzling pace they were on at the start of the season: 6.25 during the first 20 games and 5.35 during the second 20. The pitching has been remarkably consistent allowing and average of 4.25 rpg in games 1-20 and 61-80 and 4.35 in games 21-40. In games 41-60 the offense dropped off to 3.6 rpg and the pitching allowed 4.95 rpg.


So the Jays are scoring fewer runs. Who’s producing and who’s not?

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite targets, Rios and Wells. Rios left more runners on base than anyone on the team, but he has also had the most baserunners. But to be fair, is numbers are only marginally worse than Hill’s. With the most runners on base, Rios has had the most opportunity to ground into double plays, which he has done more than any Jay. Again, to be fair, his GIDP rate is actually slightly less than Scutaro’s. Rios isn’t all that bad; it’s just that we expect more from him because we’ve seen what he can do and he does have a very lucrative contract.

Is Wells okay, just not living up to his contract or our expectations? There has been a remarkable improvement over the last 39 games on two stats that the anti-Wells forces love to point out: left on base (LOB) and ground into DP (GIDP). During the first 41 games, he led the Jays with 96 LOB, but reduced this to 60 in the most recent 39 games, fewer than Rios (81), Hill (72) and Lind (68). His GIDP dropped from 7 to 3 over the same two intervals. That’s the good news. His batting average slipped from 0.263 after 40 games to 0.248, although he’s hit 0.290 with a SLG of .468 in the past 14 games. Hopefully, this is the VW we’ll see for the rest of the season.

Lind, Rolen and Overbay have all improved over the past 39 games! Their Runs Created (RC) are up and their OPS’s are 0.946, 0.885 and 0.878, respectively. Overbay is getting on base via the walk more, and Rolen has been hitting in high leverage situations. These three were the only three regulars to have positive cumulative WPAs during the most recent 39 games, when the team went 15-24.

A lot of the cooling off of run production is attributable to mean reversion on the part of Scutaro and Hill. Scutaro’s batting average is only slightly lower in the past 40 games, despite his current 1-for-19 slump, but his walks are away down from 35 in the first 41 games to 18 in the most recent 39 games. Hill had 62 hits in the first 41 games and only 42 in the most recent 39 games. Total bases was down from 101 to 73 in the same period, mostly due to having only 3 extra-base hits in games 41-60, That has picked up in the past 20 games to 12. Could we really expect these two to produce at the pace they did over the first 41 games, all season?

The Russ Adams experiment is not working, similar to Joe Inglett’s poor showing before that. During the next month, the Jays will have the opportunity to pick up a proven left-handed bat. Washington is probably shopping Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn while there is a rumour that KC will trade Mark Teahen. While Teahen’s batting numbers are not as strong as Johnson’s and Dunn’s, Teahen would not be a rent-a-player, as he would be under contract until 2011, and he is as versatile as Bautista in the field.


Halladay was on the DL during most of the recent 20 game stretch yet the Jays managed 11 quality starts: 5 from Romero, 3 from Richmond, 2 from Tallet and 1 each from Cecil and Halladay. Romero has only two starts that were not QS, the first two after his DL stint, and his past two starts were the best back-to-back starts by any Jay starter this season based on Game Score. In my mind, the top three starters on the staff right now are Halladay, Romero and Richmond. Tallet’s been great, exceeding all expectations as a starter and one could argue he’s the number 3 guy. Cecil’s had 4 QS but two disasters, so we’ll see how he is going forward.

The bullpen is stronger with Accardo. Downs should be back soon, so Frasor Downs and Accardo given them three reliable relievers. Camp, Carlson and League have all been capable in the past, but have had their struggles this year. There was an interesting analysis of League on another blog suggesting that he’s much better in the first inning of an appearance than in subsequent innings. Ryan worries me. I think Cito will continue to use him in low leverage situations and see if his performance improves. Maybe some team desperate for a closer will trade for him in the next month.

Next 20 Games

The next 20 games include 16 against AL East rivals, three against Cleveland and the first game in Seattle on a 6 game west coast road trip. I see them going 12-8 over this stretch, splitting the road trip 5-5 and going 6-3 on the home stand.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All Star Considerations

To me, the All Star Game should be played by the best players at their positions in the year. Career stats, reputations, and other sentimentalities do not belong here. Using the logic that "it's up to the fans who they want to see" would also suggest that McDonald's makes the best hamburger.

Marco Scutaro deserves to be the starting SS. First, Scutaro has made only one error this year, and it was a questionable one at that, meaning that among regular shortstops, he is the only one with a fielding percentage above 0.990. Second, he leads all shortstops in assists and double-plays. Offensively, he leads the AL in Runs Scored and Times on Base and is in the top 10 in singles, doubles, bases on balls and hits.

Hill faces much tougher competition at 2B. While he has some excellent numbers, the AL is rich in fantastic second basemen. Any of the starters in the AL East plus a few of the others could make a leguitimate argument to be there, depending on waht aspect of the game you want to emphasize. Power (ISO)? Kinsler, Zobrist, Cano, Hill and Lopez, in that order. Average? Cabrerra, Callaspo, Cano, Hill and Zobrist, in that order. Fielding? Polanco, Kendrick, Kinsler, Pedroia, Hill and Roberts, in that order (using UZR/150). Hmm, the only one in the top 5 of each of those lists is Hill.

Rolen at third? Among third basemen, he's first in BA, second in OBP, and third in OPS. On the other side of the play, despite making many highlight real plays, his defensive numbers are very average, and not among the elite defenders such as Crede, Inga, Beltre and Longoria. Nevertheless, if he's in the top 5 for batting average when the rosters are finalized, he could get an invite.

Others that merit at least a mention:

Lyle Overbay is right up there with Paul Konerko, Kevin Youkilis and Chris Davis defensively at first and he has one of the highest OBPs in the AL, but we aren't watching the All Star Game to watch a guy walk. His offensive numbers are comparable to Konerko's, and offense DQs Davis. Bringing offense into the discussion adds Martinez, Cabrera, Morneau and Teixeira to the equation. Tough, but Lyle gets lost in the crowd.

Adam Lind is in the top 10 in a number of offensive categories, hits (10T), Total Bases (5T), doubles (3T), RBI (8T), Extra base hits (6) and times on base (7T). Hurting him is the fact that he's been mostly a DH, but there will be plenty of pinch hitting opportunities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Resurgence of Lyle Overbay

For the past two season, Lyle Overbay has been a favourite target of the Jay-bashing “fans.” You’d read him referred to as Lyle Double-Play or Lyle Overpaid. After he came over from the Brewers in 2006, Overbay posted his best season ever, 0.312/0.372/0.508, with 46 doubles – his second best season in that category after his 53 in ’04 – and his only season with over 20 HR. He had 92 RBI that year and his OPS+ was 125.

So far this season, Lyle has posted 0.282/0.399/0.540, which results in an OPS of 0.939, compared to 2006’s 0.880, and his OPS+ is 146, highest on the team. He is on pace for 37 doubles, 21 HR and 94 RBI, and over half of his RBI have been with 2 out.

Even better is his performance with runners on base. He is the only Jay with more 2-out RBI than Runners Left in Scoring Position with 2 Out. He is third on the team cashing in base runners with 32 out of a possible 112. Only Lind (34 out of 163) and Hill (33 out of 186) have driven in more. His rate of cashing in 28.6% of base runners is by far the best on the team with Rod Barajas second at 22.3%. (Note: Runners on base when the batter walks are not counted in this analysis.)

In 2006, his best season as a Jay, Overbay’s Win Probability Added (WPA) was just under 2, meaning that in aggregate, he added 4 wins to the Jay’s record. This year, he’s on pace to better that by 50%.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

After 60 games

My post-60 game analysis is a bit late – we’re at 64 games now – but I was trying to get a better source for the data that I am using for this analysis.

Specifically, the data I am referring to is Win Probability Added (WPA). What is WPA? When the game starts between two equally matched teams on a neutral field, each team has a 50% chance to win the game. (This is referred to as the Win Expectancy) If the visiting team’s leadoff hitter, Lyle Leadoff, hits a home run, now the probabilities of winning have changed. The visiting team now would have a better than 50% chance of winning and the home team’s chances are now less than 50%. The change in probabilities is the WPA. The increase in the visiting team’s winning probability is credited to Lyle Leadoff, while at the home team’s pitcher, Sherman Shagwell, is credited with the home team’s decrease in their probability of winning. This is repeated for every play. At the end of the game, the total of the individual WPA’s for the winning team will be 50% - since they started with a 50% chance of winning the highest the probability can go is 100%, when the game is over. Likewise, the sum of the individual WPA’s on the losing team is -50%, as their probability of winning dropped from 50% at the outset to 0% at the end of the game.

If you are watching or listening to the game and have Internet access, you might want to follow the live scoreboard with the evolving graph of the Win Expectancy. A particularly interesting graph is the extra inning 10-12 loss to the Orioles, May 27.

When Roy Halladay got Nick Markakis to hit a foul ball fly out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning, the Blue Jays’ Win Expectation was 97.8%. By the time Aubrey Hull open the ninth with a single, the Jays’ probability of wining was down to 27.3%, but it was back to 90.2% when Aaron Hill homered to give the Jays a 10-8 lead in the eleventh. Even in the bottom of the eleventh, when Nolan Reimold came to the plate with two on, the Jays still had a 52% chance of winning the game. Three pitches later, the Orioles had won the game.

One limitation of the data that I am using is that only the pitcher and the hitter are credited with the WPA. Imagine the bases loaded with one out and Halladay pitching. The batter nails a screaming liner down the third base line that appears destined to drive in three runs, which miraculously gets knocked down by Scott Rolen, who grabs it and fires to Hill at second, who leaps to avoid the runner and gets it to Overbay who digs it out of the dirt just before the lumbering 38-year-old DH hits the bag, for the double play. There is a lot of WPA on that play which gets awarded to the pitcher. Certainly, Halladay deserves some credit for keeping the ball in play, but does he deserve as much as he would have received if it had been a routine two hop grounder DP ball to Scutaro? Rolen deserves a huge amount of credit, since if he had not kept the ball in the infield, three runs would have scored. Likewise, Hill and Overbay each deserve some credit as well. I will keep looking for WPA data that does a better job of attributing WPA to defense and other facets of the game.

So, the foregoing is an admission that the data is limited.

Since the Jays were 33-27 after game 60, the sum of the individual WPA’s has to be 6x50 = 300% = 3.00. Batters had an aggregate WPA of 4.80, Starting Pitching was at -0.45 and the Bullpen was at -1.36. This is a shocker, since some of the Pitching WPA should be rightly attributed to the defense, one of the Jays’ fortes.

Hitting (WPA = 4.80)

Which batters have been contributing to winning games? Are Rios and Wells costing us games? Here's a graph of the individual hitters' WPAs:

With the exception of Rios and Wells, the bats have been contributing. Rios has had a minimal positive contribution, while Wells has been a liability at the plate so far. Here is the cumulative performance of Rios and Wells:

These are graphs that should be trending upwards as a player's contribution to winning adds up over the season. The streakiness of these two is evident. Wells is in a 5-week+ slump, while Rios is bouncing all over the place. As Cito said, these two have to start contributing.

By comparison, Scutaro and Hill have been contributing:

You can see that Scutaro has leveled off somewhat after a great April, but the trend for both is upward as it should be.

The bottom of the order looks like this:

All have contributed, although Rolen, Like Scutaro, has leveled off since April. Lind and Overbay continue to contribute, while Barajas has tailed off a bit in the past couple of weeks.

Millar is overused, and the rest of the bench has been spotty. So far, Inglett does not appear to anywhere close to what he was last year.

Needs: Rios and Wells to live up to even a fraction of their expections and a dependable 9th bat to DH.

Starting Pitching (WPA = -0.45):

Here's the individual WPA data:

We knew that the Jays' rotation would be an issue this year, and the graph is not a pretty picture. Tallet has been better than his WPA suggests. Janssen has yet to rpove to me that he can keep the Jays in games and Richmond has to be more consistent.

Bullpen (WPA = -1.36)

There are really only two performers in the bullpen, Scott Downs and Jason Frasor. the rest of last year's best relief corp has just not been doing it:

League has been a enigma. About 70% of the time, he's been "lights out", but the rest of the time, he either makes me extremely nervous or he's shown us why I get nervous. His -0.659 in the May 4th 7-9 loss against Cleveland is the single-largest negative WPA this season.


I'm not about to make projects for this 20-game stretch. They could be 8-12 or 12-8. It's interleague play, too unpredictable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Legacy of Manny Castillo

Call me a wimp, wuss, whatever, but I have never been a fan of outside-of-the-rules hits, fights, violence in any sport. Sports are inherently dangerous, with players being injured, maimed and scarred for life with terrible frequency, even playing within the rules. In baseball, the ball regularly travels in excess of 100 mph and pitchers, batters, base runners, coaches and fans can all be struck and injured, or even killed. Bats have broken and gone flying and catchers or umpires have been hit on the follow-through of a swing. In football, players are frequently on the receiving end of tackles or blocks they didn't see coming. Checking is an integral part of hockey and some clean checks injure. But when we participate in sports, there is an implicit contract that we know that these risks exist, and we accept them, within and along with the rules of the game.

What I am not willing to accept is what will happen outside of the rules. When things happen outside the rules, that's when the the contract has been violated. Insofar as there are no injuries, then the penalties prescribed within the rules should be sufficient to deal with the situation. When there are injuries, or worse, death, then the rules are not sufficient; the perpetrator has violated the contract to the extent that the law and the courts must step in.

Although I cannot ever recall it happening, if a baseball player were to use his bat to hit someone, how is that any different than a common assault outside the ballpark? Fights happen in hockey games, just like they will happen in parks, on the street, etc. But often the combatants end up setting their differences or others step in to end the fight the way referees do in hockey, without the need to waste the time of our constabulary or courts. In hockey, they're sent to the penalty box, or dressing room, depending on the penalties meted out.

There was a baseball player Manny Castillo, but that is not who this post refers to. Manny was a high school rugby player who was involved in an altercation with an opposing player who, according to reports, picked him up and drove him head-first into the ground in what one witness called a "pile-driver" maneuver. (Yes, professional wrestlers do that move, but remember, they're acting and have been trained how to execute and respond to this move.) Manny died.

Today, the perpetrator was found guilty of manslaughter.

Outfield Defensive Positioning

It seems to me that Vernon Wells and Alex Rios are playing too shallow. I know Vernon likes to play shallow as he thinks he can get back on well-hit balls, but there seem to be a lot of balls getting over both his and Rios' heads. I'd rather see them play a few steps further back if it would prevent a few doubles, particularly with runners on. On balls hit in front of them, base runners would have to respect their speed and hold up and if the ball dropped in with the arms on these guys, we probably hold them to a single base anyway.

The defensive positioning is not just up to the fielders. I recall hearing Jerry and Alan talking about the coaches having a responsibility in this regard, particularly Gene Tenace, if I remember correctly.