August 20, 2012
Are Closers Worse When They're Surprised?
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at what happens when a closer enters the game in a save situation after his team has handed him a lead with little warning. What we saw was that when a pitcher had only a short time between his team giving him the lead and his first pitch, his velocity and break tended to be a bit more erratic. The effect seemed biggest when the transition from lead to closing situation was near instant, but it quickly fell away and then died out completely around 15 minutes of warning time.
While this is an interesting observation of a pitcher's behavior, does the time a closer has to mentally prepare for a save situation actually predict anything useful about what will happen when the pitcher takes the mound? Is he less effective for his wildness? More?
Discovering the answer to that question is a little more complex than you might imagine. You always want to control for two major variables: how good the pitcher is in general and how good the hitters are whom he's facing. To do that, we're going to need to do some numerical gymnastics. So, with that said...
Warning! Gory numerical details ahead!
I've previously shown this method in full elsewhere, so I'm going to do an abbreviated version here.
During a plate appearance, there are eight basic events that can happen: a walk, a strikeout, a hit batsman, batter reaches on an error, a single, an extra base hit (double or triple), a home run, or an out in play. You can calculate the rates at which each player ends up with each of those outcomes rather quickly.