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November 28, 2009

Weekend Photo


Sunset in Fredericksburg, Texas, 27 November 2009

Posted by Lucas at 06:09 PM

November 26, 2009

On Millwood

On July 2nd, just before the season’s midpoint, Kevin Millwood owned a sparkling 2.80 ERA and had already thrown 119 innings. This performance, after an aggregate 4.89 ERA and about 93 innings per half-season in Texas, was cause for celebration and a primary factor in Texas’s early-season division lead. In previous years Millwood had been dogged by minor injuries as well as questions regarding his conditioning. Last winter, Millwood reportedly worked himself into premium shape. (Roughly half of MLB’s employees get puff pieces about their strength and stamina during the news-starved winter, but in this case it appeared to be true.) Might Millwood make the All-Star team? Might he earn some down-ballot Cy Young votes?

And then, the backlash: How much of Millwood’s success was external, the product of a suddenly superior defense and the pejorative “luck?”

  • R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs: “The Pleasures Of Strand Rate,” documenting Millwood’s sudden and seemingly dubious knack for leaving runners on base. Followed by…

  • Rob Neyer of ESPN: “Don’t Be Fooled By Millwood’s ERA,” giving Anderson’s story a bigger stage and noting that Millwood’s .261 BABIP was the lowest of his career. Followed by…

  • Evan Grant of D Magazine’s now-defunct and sorely missed Inside Corner: “ESPN’s Rob Neyer Says Kevin Millwood Has Been More Lucky Than Good; I Say ‘Wake Up, Rob Neyer’,” a pointed refutation of Neyer and Anderson. Well, sort of. Grant actually concurs with much of what Neyer and Anderson wrote; mostly, he takes umbrage at the derisive term “luck.” (I’m a big fan of Grant’s work, his whole-hearted embrace of “new media,” and his willingness to engage with his audience, but this article isn’t his high point.) Supported by…

  • Richard Durrett, then at the Dallas Morning News: “I second Evan Grant’s Defense of Kevin Millwood,” wherein Durrett states that Millwood “is in better shape, he has a better defense, but he's also making the crucial [pitches at] the critical times. Just watch the games and you'll see that.” (Okay. “[I] watch the games” is fine for justifying why some youngster with a poor track record might still be an excellent prospect, but not so much for justifying the stratospheric strand rate of a 34-year-old with over 2,000 MLB innings. This argument is of a bygone era and reeks of smugness [if unintentionally]. In 2009, there's someone out there who's watched more of the player in question than you [yes, you, and me, too], who will capably dispute your position, and who can do so on the Interwebs with at least a modest and discerning audience. Today, "watch the games," which really means "you don't watch as many games as me," works at best one-on-one, never against the broad readership. It's a dismissal, not an argument.) Followed by…

  • Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball: “Kevin Millwood, Rob Neyer, Evan Grant, luck, pitching, and defense,” a lengthy rebuttal of Grant and the best thing anyone’s written about the subject (so go read it). And on the same day…

  • Yours truly , “Who You Callin’ Lucky?” Like Adam, I waxed meta, arguing “luck” shouldn't have a negative connotation, although, in the context of Millwood, I described luck as “a series of atypical occurrences; for example, stranding 87% of opposing runners for nearly half a season.”

    (Luck, after all, works both ways. In an old fantasy column for ESPN, I argued that Brad Fullmer’s poor start in Texas was largely luck-driven and that he’d show improvement soon. Boy, did that not work out. Also, even Millwood’s detractors gave him credit: I wrote that he’d “been a revelation, a pleasure to watch, and arguably the team MVP.” Adam Morris stated that the “point of [his article] isn't to condemn Millwood. He's been a workhorse this year.” It's more fun to watch the players you care about do well, lucky or not.)

As if on cue, Millwood’s health, stamina, and ERA began to decay. A scant two months after the All-Star and Cy Young talk, the discussion devolved to whether Texas should bench Millwood so that his $12 million option in 2010 wouldn’t vest. The Rangers didn’t bench him, and in fact Millwood pitched quite well in his final three starts. That said, his second half resulted in a 5.02 ERA and fewer than six innings per start, depressingly similar to his lackluster 2007-2008.

So, barring a trade, Millwood will pitch 2010 with a "T" on his cap. What to expect? Unfortunately, for predictive purposes, I think we can pretend his best half-season in Texas never existed. I don’t doubt that Millwood’s improved conditioning, determination, etc., played some role in 2009’s first half, at least in terms of working deeper into games. But in truth, he really didn’t pitch much differently than before. In many respects, he pitched worse. He was, dare I say it, very, very lucky.

How lucky? During 2006-2008 and the second half of 2009, Millwood’s hit rate on balls in play has averaged .329 and was never lower than .306. Somehow, during the first half of 2009, it was .254, a whopping 75 points lower than his average:


While Texas’s defense did improve markedly in 2009, the only time Millwood’s BABIP has been lower than the team’s was during the first half of 2009. Millwood’s strand rate during this period is an even more of an outlier:


Displaying Millwood’s strand rate relative to his ERA better indicates how unusual his first half of 2009 was:


Concomitant to Millwood's lofty strand rate was his performance with runners in scoring position and two out. Since hits with runners on second and/or third almost always result in at least one run across the plate, short-term trends in this situation greatly influence ERA. In the previous three years, his rates in that situation were .256, .337, and .255, but during the first half of 2009, Millwood’s opponents batted 5-for-52 in two-out RISPs, a miniscule .096 average. If he’d found some ability to bear down in those situations, he lost it during the second half, as opponents went 12-for-41 (.293), approximately equal to the average of 2006-2008:


Not coincidentally, Millwood's newfound ability to work deeper into games disappeared in 2009's second half:


It’s established that a pitcher’s performance is best evidenced in strikeouts, walks, and homers. Frankly, even in light of the luck and defense requisite to Millwood’s amazing first half of 2009, from visual observation I would have expected improvement in the statistics most under his control. I saw him often and have no interest in retracting my statement that he was a pleasure to watch.

Instead, what’s remarkable about Millwood’s first half of ’09 is that his peripheral stats improved not a bit from his previous and subsequent efforts:


Actually, Millwood’s rates of homers, walks and strikeouts for all of 2009 were the worst among his four years in Arlington. In fact, aside from his 51-inning rookie season, his BB and SO rates were the worst of his 13-year career, and his 3.1% HR rate was exceeded only during his injury-plagued 2001. Astonishingly, Millwood posted his best ERA as a Ranger during what might be his worst season in the Majors. And he turns 35 next month.

Thus, Texas erred in letting his option vest, correct? Not necessarily. As noted by Fangraphs, wins (above replacement, not pitcher wins) come very dearly on the free-agent market, about $4 million per, and Millwood has averaged 2.8 wins per season during the last three years. He stands almost no chance of being a bargain but will more-or-less earn his full salary if he can duplicate the average of his 2007-2009 seasons. On the other hand, if the decline in his peripherals is irreversible, he’s an expensive, barely-above-replacement-level “ace.”

Texas, strangely enough, has some pitching depth and has countenanced trading Millwood. Though I liked the Volquez-for-Hamilton trade, it was problematic in that Volquez’s putative innings for 2008 were replaced by a not-ready-for-prime-time cast that couldn’t even offer replacement-level performance. This time, I don’t think that would happen; Neftali Feliz is ready for his close-up, Matt Harrison is healthy and throwing hard, and perhaps Guillermo Moscoso and even Eric Hurley will have a positive contribution. Still, I suppose one argument against a trade, assuming no pitching comes back, is who remains – is Texas willing to enter 2010 with Scott Feldman as its nominal ace?

Millwood is a known entity, and there’s value in a pitcher who can reach 190-200 innings with a 4.75 ERA. I’m not averse to Millwood pitching for Texas in 2010, even for $12 million, but expecting another sub-4.00 ERA, or even sub-4.50, is foolhardy.

Posted by Lucas at 02:45 AM

November 23, 2009


John Perrotto in his weekend update for Baseball Prospectus:

The Angels spent most of the first two months of the season in a fog. They were 29-29 on June 11 and 4½ games behind the Rangers in the division race. However, they went 68-36 the rest of the way...

LA's run of 68 wins in 104 games equaled a franchise best set during late 2006 through the middle of 2007.

As for the Rangers... well, over the course of 38 years, they've never gone 68-36. Their best effort in a single season was a 65-49 in 1999, their last division-winning season. During the back half of 1977 and into '78, they went 67-37.

So, there's another reason to hate (i.e, be jealous of) the Angels if you need one.


Posted by Lucas at 11:12 AM

November 20, 2009

Adventures In Righteousness


Wainwright Got Jobbed In Cy Young Voting by Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


"Many baseball writers downplayed the value of actually winning games, since [Tim] Lincecum won just 15 times with a decent supporting team."


Run Support Per Game:
Lincecum: 4.57
Wainwright: 5.52


"Personally, I was in the Wainwright camp. He went the distance for the Cardinals last season. He was their horse. He shouldered large pitch counts and worked deep into games."


Innings and Pitches per Start:
Lincecum: 7.0 IP, 107 pitches
Wainwright: 6.9 IP, 106 pitches

I should note that Gordon’s assertion in this case wasn’t intended to promote Wainwright over Lincecum but rather Chris Carpenter. Wainwright did make two more starts than Lincecum (not a trivial matter since both teams were in the playoff hunt) but pitched only eight more innings.


"Lincecum pitched at Carpenter’s pace, with many more strikeouts, over the long haul. But he faded, going 1-3 with a 3.50 ERA in September. Wainwright went wire to wire for his team."


Oppo. Line
SO Rate
Personal Record
Team Record
Run Support / Game

Actually, Lincecum and Wainwright were remarkably similar down the stretch. Also, Lincecum’s K rate of 30% during September/October was slightly higher than during April through August.


"Had the Cardinals not spit up Wainwright’s 20th victory -– blowing a five-run lead in the process -- perhaps the voting would have gone much differently. Perhaps that would have earned Adam some additional first-place votes and some more seconds as well."


Well, there's nothing factual to discuss, but I agree with him. 20 wins probably would have swayed enough voters to hand Wainwright the Cy Young. However, and this is critical, the bullpen's inability to hold the lead is irrelevant to Wainwright's performance that day. He's not any better or worse because his teammates spit the bit.


Lincecum and Wainwright were very evenly matched. (I’d rank Carpenter a hair below them because of his lower innings.) The vote reflected this. Nobody got jobbed.

Posted by Lucas at 02:54 PM

40-Man Roster Additions

Texas added pitchers MICHAEL KIRKMAN and ZACH PHILLIPS to the 40-man roster.

Texas drafted Kirkman out of high school in 2005’s 5th round. After a solid debut, injuries and mechanical problems derailed Kirkman’s next two years:

75 innings
10.37 RA, 8.32 ERA
23% walk+hbp rate (!)
2.54 WHIP (!!)
.470 opposing on-base percentage (!!!)

Fortunately, being 6-3, left-handed and hard-throwing affords plenty of opportunities, and a healthier Kirkman pitched pretty well overall – brilliantly at times -- during 2008-2009. Promoted to AA Frisco this May, Kirkman’s peripherals backslid somewhat; his walk rate crept above 10% while his K rate dropped to 15%. That said, he also just turned 23 and pitched respectably down the stretch despite surpassing his previous career-high workload by a whopping 60 innings.

Phillips is a 23rd-round draft-and-follow signing from 2004 and struggled mightily in his introductions to low-A (in 2006) and high-A (2008). Repeating a level for the second time in three years, Phillips and his old-fashioned curve excelled upon conversion to relief and earned a midseason promotion to Frisco. Phillips’ control faltered near the end of his term in Bakersfield but returned in the season’s final month. He also struck out 23% of opposing batters, quite impressive for someone who doesn’t throw terribly hard.

To be blunt, Texas’s collection of Rule 5-eligibles is rather vanilla. As I mentioned in September, the three must-add players (Feliz, Andrus, Strop) had already reached the Majors, and the remainder include some intriguing names but none whose omission from the 40 would be a travesty. I couldn’t envision more than three additions (the other being Beau Jones).

The most interesting of those left behind, and to me the most likely to be swiped in the R5 draft, is Jones, the final piece of the Mark Teixeira trade. Another lefty, Jones was punitively demoted to Bakersfield after a disastrous June in Frisco. He utterly destroyed the Cal League (57 batters faced, 26 strikeouts, 10 baserunners) and was solid upon returning to Frisco. Jones has typically has taken a long time to acclimate to a new level, so jumping from AA to the Majors could be especially problematic.

Mike Ballard is another possibility. He’s certainly the most refined pitcher of the R5 group, but the curve-change specialist has yet to make an impact in AAA. Still just 20, the maddeningly inconsistent Fabio Castillo won’t be picked.

Chad Tracy again hit well after a slow start and finished with 26 homers in AA. Unfortunately, he’s practically a DH at this point, and his bat alone isn’t yet strong enough to warrant a Major League roster spot. At present, 3B John Whittleman and CF David Paisano are toolsy cases of arrested development, and COF Cristian Santana is the destitute man’s Mark Reynolds.

I don’t think Texas will lose anyone.

Posted by Lucas at 01:08 AM

November 08, 2009

Texas Pitchers' Rate Lines and Hitter Counterparts

Once again, I've turned every Texas pitcher’s performance into a comparable batter. Below are the opposing batting lines and percentages of homers, walks and strikeouts for every Ranger pitcher who pitched at least 10 innings. The three hitters who most closely match that line are listed to the right.

Just in case you're curious, I determined comparability by calculating differences in average, on-base percentage, slugging, homer rate, walk rate, and strikeout rate between each Ranger pitcher and every hitter in baseball with at least 200 appearances. It involves least squares, standard deviations and other ickiness. Two pitchers needed batters with fewer than 200 PAs: Feliz and O'Day. See below.

AVG+ / OBP+ / SLG+
- OPS+
HR% - BB% - SO%
Most Comparable Batters ('09 Stats Only)
N Feliz
.124 / .207 / .210
- .416
45 / 60 / 47
- 7
1.7% - 6.8% - 33.3%
Aaron Cunningham,
Jair Jurrjens,
Joe Blanton
D O'Day
.188 / .265 / .260
- .526
69 / 77 / 58
- 35
1.4% - 7.9% - 25.0%
David Dellucci,
Johan Santana,
Matt Downs
F Francisco
.214 / .276 / .364
- .639
78 / 80 / 82
- 62
3.0% - 7.4% - 28.1%
Bill Hall,
Josh Fields,
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
C Wilson
.234 / .325 / .326
- .651
86 / 95 / 73
- 68
0.9% - 9.9% - 26.0%
Koyie Hill,
Chris Coste,
Jack Hannahan
D Mathis
.244 / .297 / .363
- .659
89 / 87 / 81
- 68
2.3% - 5.8% - 14.5%
Kaz Matsui,
Jose Guillen,
Jody Gerut
S Feldman
.250 / .319 / .374
- .693
91 / 93 / 84
- 77
2.3% - 8.2% - 14.3%
Geoff Blum,
Aubrey Huff,
Jose Guillen
D Nippert
.245 / .324 / .372
- .696
90 / 94 / 83
- 77
2.3% - 9.7% - 18.0%
Elijah Dukes,
Ryan Spillborghs,
J.J. Hardy
T Hunter
.259 / .313 / .423
- .736
95 / 91 / 95
- 86
2.7% - 7.0% - 13.5%
Daniel Murphy,
Vernon Wells,
Stephen Drew
J Grilli
.216 / .321 / .412
- .734
79 / 94 / 92
- 86
1.8% - 12.4% - 23.9%
Chris Young,
Clete Thomas,
Jason Varitek
B McCarthy
.255 / .321 / .418
- .739
93 / 94 / 94
- 88
3.1% - 8.6% - 15.5%
Ben Francisco,
Stephen Drew,
Willie Aybar
.260 / .331 / .416
- .747
95 / 96 / 93
- 89
2.8% - 8.6% - 16.5%
Ben Francisco,
Aubrey Huff,
Stephen Drew
K Millwood
.257 / .327 / .423
- .750
94 / 95 / 95
- 90
3.1% - 8.4% - 14.5%
Ben Francisco,
Stephen Drew,
Andy LaRoche
V Padilla
.286 / .360 / .419
- .779
105 / 105 / 94
- 99
2.5% - 8.8% - 12.4%
David DeJesus,
Jorge Cantu,
Adam Kennedy
J Jennings
.286 / .361 / .453
- .814
105 / 105 / 101
- 106
2.6% - 10.3% - 16.2%
Brian Roberts,
Andrew McCutchen,
Matt Holliday
E Guardado
.267 / .344 / .479
- .823
98 / 100 / 107
- 107
4.8% - 9.0% - 12.1%
Ian Kinsler,
Paul Konerko,
Brian McCann
D Holland
.288 / .346 / .510
- .856
105 / 101 / 114
- 115
4.3% - 7.7% - 17.5%
Michael Cuddyer,
Casey McGehee,
Torii Hunter
M Harrison
.316 / .376 / .500
- .876
116 / 110 / 112
- 122
3.2% - 8.1% - 12.0%
Aramis Ramirez,
Scott Rolen,
Michael Young
W Madrigal
.333 / .463 / .519
- .981
122 / 135 / 116
- 151
3.0% - 17.9% - 7.5%
Todd Helton,
Carlos Beltran,
Joe Mauer
K Benson
.340 / .421 / .598
- 1.019
124 / 123 / 134
- 157
5.3% - 10.5% - 9.7%
Joe Mauer,
Pablo Sandoval,
Miguel Cabrera

Yes, Feliz's opposing OPS+ was 7. Seven! Both Feliz and O'Day so greatly stifled hitters that no batters with 200 appearances are really comparable. For them, I dropped the required plate appearances to 50. Two of Feliz's top three and seven of his top ten comparable opposing batters are pitchers:

1. Aaron Cunningham (OF)
2. Jair Jurrjens (P)
3. Joe Blanton (P)
4. John Lannan (P)
5. Kevin Correia (P)
6. Jed Lowrie (IF)
7. Chad Billingsley (P)
8. Johnny Cueto (P)
9. Diory Hernandez (IF)
10. Ryan Dempster (P)

2008 list.

2007 list.

Posted by Lucas at 09:31 AM

November 06, 2009

Weekend Photo


Zion National Park, November 2007.

Posted by Lucas at 04:53 PM