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April 24, 2015

BP Unfiltered

Everything You Could Have Learned This Week, 4/24/15

by Ian Frazer

Boy, you kids don't know how easy you have it these days, with your roundup blog posts and whatnot. Back in my day, when we wanted to get a digest of the week's baseball research and analysis, we had to look for a tiny ad in the classified section of Popular Mechanics, cut it out and mail it to the Polo Grounds in New York. When it got there, an old man named Elroy would look at your address, tie a roll of ticker tape to a carrier pigeon and send it out to your house. And those pigeons got hit by cars a lot, so there were plenty of weeks where we just didn't know a dang thing about baseball.

Monday
The way teams use the competitive balance pick vary pretty wildly, from an extra chance to grad a high-risk, high-reward prospect, to a trade chip to help them save a few bucks: So You Want to Trade Your Draft Pick, by Matthew Trueblood, Baseball Prospectus

Trading for a pick shows both a serious commitment to long-term planning, and a willingness to spend freely and maximize the value of the new asset. Trading a pick shows not only that one is bound tightly to a budget, but that one is focused on winning now, to the exclusion of all other considerations. In general, teams assign significant long-term value to these picks, and will only move them if they see a large potential gain in the short term to offset that. Take the Padres and Braves, who swapped a pick as part of the Craig Kimbrel deal. The Braves were saving $56 million in the exchange of contracts, but needed to make up for whatever surplus value Kimbrel would have provided against that. They got Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck, Cameron Maybin and that 41st overall pick, to do it. Maybin has almost no utility to the team, since they’re moving into a rebuilding mode and he will be a free agent after 2016. Wisler is a good pitching prospect, and Paroubeck—a former competitive-balance pick, himself—has shown something in his early professional experience. Still, it doesn’t feel like those three add up to what Kimbrel would have returned on Atlanta’s investment. I’m just slapping a number on it, but it feels like a $5-million gap. For the Round A picks, that’s starting to look like a pretty fair estimate of their value. As I noted with Webb and the Dodgers, and as the Cahill deal reinforces, teams seem to value Round B picks at around $3 million. This surprised me. Teams take these assets seriously.

There are two exceptions to these rules, two teams who simply don’t seem to value extra draft picks the same way others do: the Marlins and the Orioles. Whether in a winning or losing mode, those two teams have gone out of their way to offload their tradable picks, for a relatively low price that seems mostly to be about escaping the obligation to spend money on the player the pick will become. The Pirates got the 39th overall pick from Miami for middle reliever Bryan Morris, after all. Without turning this into a diatribe or a condemnation, I want to underscore this: The Orioles and Marlins look like skinflints here. They’re treating the help the system offers them as a way to save a little money, instead of to augment their future.

Tuesday
In baseball, physics are everywhere! For example, the superiority of bat over ball is due to momentum: The Physics of Baseball in Super Slow Motion, by David Kagan, The Hardball Times

The bat is about seven times more massive than the ball, although the ball is moving about 30 percent faster than the bat. It turns out the momentum of the bat is a bit more than five times that of the ball. Since the bat has more momentum toward the pitcher than the ball has toward the catcher, the total of the bat and ball together is toward the pitcher.

After the collision, the momentum of the ball has changed from being toward the catcher to toward the pitcher. The law requires the total momentum of the bat and ball toward the pitcher to be the same as before the collision. Since the ball now has momentum toward the pitcher, the bat must lose some of its momentum toward the pitcher and therefore slows down.

The bottom part of the strike zone: Bigger! The strike zone as a whole, though? Actually smaller, according to early data: Early Changes to the Strike Zone, by Jon Roegele, Fangraphs


By my measurement of the strike zone, while the bottom of the zone has grown ever so slightly over April of last season, its overall size is actually smaller. Early strikeout rates are off as well, which is not surprising given the proven correlation with strike zone size.

It’s a bit of an interesting twist; the bottom of the zone still appears to be holding firm if not expanding, but the overall size is declining. It would appear the majority of the decline has occurred for left-handed hitters, mostly through shaving off part of the inside corner of their called strike zone, which is still per usual shifted about two inches toward the outside edge of the plate. The right-handed hitter zone is barely smaller than in April last year, with the few square inches of difference spread around equally.

Want to get a strike-em-out-throw-em-out? Throw it high, throw it hard, don't throw it in the dirt: Strike 'em out, throw 'em out double plays, by Kevin Ruprecht, Beyond the Box Score

The next element of the play, but not necessarily the Form, was whether or not the batter decided to swing; Yelich chased. The thought process is that a taken third strike would make it easier for the catcher to throw to second. A batter swinging is a batter putting things, whether the bat or his body, in the way of the catcher. The data don't really show a relationship here. The percentage of called third strikes is just about the same comparing whether the runner was out or safe (17.7% vs. 17.8%). The only difference, and it's a small difference, is that there is a higher percentage of blocked swinging strikes when the runner is safe (6.2%) compared to when the runner is out (1.6%). That makes sense; it's harder to throw out a runner if the catcher is blocking a curveball in the dirt.

You've got a runner on third, with two outs, and the pitcher's on deck. Despite your strongest urges, walking the eight-hole hitter isn't the most mathematically sound decision: Should They Pitch to the Eight Hitter?, by Russell Carleton, Baseball Prospectus


By walking the eight-hole hitter and pitching to the pitcher, even if the pitcher makes an out, it guarantees that the opponent will get to start afresh next inning with the leadoff hitter (or potentially the no. 2 or no. 3 hitter) at-bat, something that is worth roughly .20 runs.

And you really only give up .09 runs fewer runs on average within the inning from walking the eighth batter. So, walking the eighth batter actually loses you .11 runs, mostly from the fact that by walking the eighth batter, you take away the possibility of forcing the other team to lead off an inning with the pitcher. But wait. If you pitch to the eighth hitter, 34 percent of the time he’s not going to make an out, so you still have some chance of incurring the .20 run penalty for “clearing” the pitcher’s spot even if you pitch to the eight-hole hitter, so that’s a .07 run punishment on average. That means that walking the eighth batter loses you .04 runs on average.

That figure, .04 runs, rests on a lot of assumptions, particularly that a team has a “normal hitting” eighth hitter and a normal hitting pitcher. It’s the sort of decision that, if you use a little more specific input, like a particularly good (comparatively) guy in the eighth spot, the mathematically correct decision could be (slightly) in favor of walking the eighth hitter. Because there’s a runner in scoring position, increasing the eighth hitter’s chances of getting a hit has a greater return than normal. It’s more likely to knock in a run, and score the .20 bonus because his hit will guarantee that the pitcher’s spot will be cleared before the end of the inning. So if you are facing someone who is a little better than an average eighth hitter, you should probably walk him.

Wednesday
If you throw harder, you're more likely to go on the DL, but a velocity bump isn't necessarily an indicator of a future DL trip (almost the opposite, actually): Velocity's Relationship with Pitcher Arm Injuries, by Jeff Zimmerman, The Hardball Times


The results are not surprising. Pitchers who threw harder were more likely to go on the disabled list than those who didn’t. The difference in injury likelihood is not really in play for the season the pitcher threw hard. The real difference is in the next season. A pitcher who throws a fastball harder than 93 mph is almost twice as likely to end up on the DL, for an average of 60 days, than one who throws less than 90 mph. I included the days lost, but there isn’t much of a difference between categories or any noticeable trend.

If two pitchers are going get the same production, but one throws significantly slower, a team may want take the soft tosser for health reasons. For example, Matt Shoemaker andYordano Ventura both factored into the AL Rookie of the Year race last season, but with markedly different average fastball velocities. Ventura set the world on fire with his 97 mph fastball while Shoemaker lulled batters to sleep with a 90.5 mph fastball. They had similar results, but this season Ventura is more likely to be DL-bound.

The pitches we call "cutters" are far too varied to be grouped together, really: How the cutter grip can affect arm strength, by Eno Sarris, JABO


But when you talk to pitchers, a different story emerges. Dan Haren admitted to throwing the slider-grip cutter, and felt that it "absolutely" led to velocity loss (he just didn't care because he was already losing velocity). Zack Greinke threw a cutter and a slider and felt they morphed into the same pitch, which sounds exactly like what Peterson was afraid of. Jesse Chavez showed the slider grip on his cutter, admitted that he'd heard it led to lower velocity, but said he made sure not to "manipulate" the ball. Ben Badler at Baseball America (ed.'s note: Actually J.J. Cooper) found that scouts also felt that cutters led to velocity loss.

The thing is, these pitches with different grips and different release points shouldn't maybe be lumped together. Look at Ottavino's cut fastball release and grip. Now listen to what Madison Bumgarner said before a game against the Rockies last week: "I used to keep my fingers further apart, but then I put them together. The first time the pitch was too big, but now I manage." He modeled the before (left) and after (right) on his cutter grips:

Thursday
So many things! Like that sacrifice bunts have so far continued their steady descent from relevance, and that players might be learning to pull fewer groundballs: Taking Baseball's Pulse: Checking Up on the Trends Transforming the Game, by Ben Lindbergh, Grantland


Which isn’t to say that there aren’t individual hitters waging their own private wars. Ian Kinsler, for instance, appears to have taken Ausmus’s anti-shift advice to heart. In February, Ausmus told the Detroit News, “There are a number of teams who shift that second baseman up the middle; I think he could take advantage of that.” Ausmus instructed Kinsler, a right-handed hitter, to work on hitting the ball toward second base, and Kinsler’s practice in BP has carried over to April. He pulled 61.3 percent of his grounders last season, but he’s down to 31.6 percent in a small sample this year.
...


To this point, it hasn’t actually helped him. As a righty, Kinsler isn’t shifted like a left-handed slugger; according to BIS, he saw only 42 shifts last season (plus one this year). And as a guy with plenty of power to his pull field, Kinsler has a lot to lose by aiming the other way. As he put it, “I would like to neutralize those shifts … But you never want to change your approach completely or go away from your strengths too much.” Kinsler is an unlikely leader of the counter-shift movement, but if I can change and Kinsler can change, everybody can change. Surely some southpaw sluggers (other than Matt Adams) will follow suit.

Want to hit a LONG home run? Backspin the heck out of it! A Tale of Two Dingers, by Alan Nathan, The Hardball Times

It is still a bit puzzling to me that the inferred drag coefficient is so different for the two homers, although variations from one ball to another are expected. Despite the significant difference in drag coefficients for the two home runs, these do not play a large role in the carry distance. If I calculate the distance of HR2 with the drag coefficient set to be the same as for HR1, but with everything else the same, I find the distance increases by 26 feet, from 391 to 417 feet. On the other hand, if I instead make the spin values for HR2 the same as for HR1, I find the distance for HR2 increases 60 feet, from 391 to 451 feet. It is clear that the difference in spin is the primary factor that contributes to the difference in distance.

Friday

Increases in salaries awarded in arbitration follow an exponential, rather than a linear path: e.g., that players can expect a raise in their raises for each additional WAR accumulated: Modeling Salary Arbitration: Introduction, by Alex Chamberlain and Sean Dolinar, Fangraphs

A pitcher can expect a 56% increase in his raise in salary for each additional WAR he accumulates. In other words, he can expect his next raise in salary to be 56% larger than his most recent raise. Likewise, a batter can expect a 46% larger raise for each additional WAR accumulated.

As you might notice, these models have a lot of noise in them. The best model only describes 56% of the variance of the salaries. Using only one statistic, even a comprehensive one in WAR, leaves out a lot of details. Some of these are arbitration year, position, and statistics that are actually used to compare players during the arbitration process. For example, a player will generally have an increase in salary as he moves through the arbitration process regardless of WAR. Accounting for these other variables is important to produce a more accurate model.

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