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Chat: Noah Woodward

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday July 29, 2014 2:00 PM ET chat session with Noah Woodward.

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Noah Woodward is finding ever more creative ways to use PITCHf/x data to answer life's hardest questions.

Noah Woodward: Hey there! This is my first time chatting. As a tribute to the late Ben Lindbergh, I’ll start this chat the way he always used to start his—I’m not an expert on major league baseball players, minor league baseball players, prospects, or fantasy baseball. I also haven’t figured out how to wire tap Andrew Friedman’s cell phone yet. But go ahead and ask me anything!

Frank W. (Atlanta): What do your wise injury-predicting eyes say about Mike Minor's chances of surviving the next week? This scares me: https://twitter.com/IanMM_/status/491758581294071808

Noah Woodward: I’ll start by saying that, though I do have 20/20 vision, I’ve never predicted a pitcher injury before. But you’re right—Minor has definitely opted for a higher release point this year.

The little pitching-related UCL research that I’ve read suggests that an upward shift in release takes pressure off of the ligament. Minor has undergone a sudden, dramatic shift (probably related to some mechanical change) and a more gradual shift as well. The gradual shift is the one that concerns me, but only if elbow discomfort is causing it.

A final note on Minor: over the last few years, he’s been one of the quickest fatiguing starting pitchers out there. For Minor, almost everything (velocity, movement, etc.) drops off from pitch #1 onward. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that he never should have been a starter in the big leagues, but he’s not built for 100+ pitch outings.

Ben (NYC): Of all the knowledge that we can glean from PITCHf/x about the way baseball works -- not about how individual pitchers succeed, say, but about pitching as a profession, or catching, or any of the other areas in which PITCHf/x has been or could be applied -- what percentage have we already uncovered?

Noah Woodward: That's tough question. The RPM framing model that Harry and Dan came up with was so impressive, and I think we’ll have access to something better than PITCHf/x before we see another project like that one (though they may disagree).

I still think we can do some cool stuff with PITCHf/x as it relates to hitters, though. We’ve learned from the “rise of the shift” that hitters can be pretty stubborn and slow to adapt when pitchers/defenses take advantage of weaknesses. For that reason, I think that PITCHf/x analysis used to spot flaws in the approaches of individual hitters is potentially really valuable.

Sorry about those weird icons. Like I said, first chat!

Omarion (Ontario): Is there anything in Taijuan Walker's pitchfx profile that suggests he's going to be better?

Noah Woodward: Nope, not really. He's a heavy fastball guy who throws a fastball that is just too straight. His kind of movement works well up in the zone occasionally, but he can't live around the belt and over the plate.

John (Chicago): Is what we are seeing from Tyson Ross real? Can he sustain this for the next 3-5 years?

Noah Woodward: Yeah, I like Ross. I guess his limited repertoire is a little bit of a concern, and definitely something San Diego should keep in mind when they think about letting take a third trip through an opposing lineup.

drmorris75 (SF): Umpire effect on balls and strikes -- commensurate with catchers' pitch-framing?

Noah Woodward: Interesting question. I think we all have realized how much we underestimated the impact of framing. We have all the tools to look at umpires too, but from what I've seen, there's nothing consistently there with any particular umpire that would have as much of an impact. There's certainly an umpire effect, though. I wrote about a few umpires last year: http://www.hardballtimes.com/whos-behind-the-dish/

Billy (Ocean): Is Casey Fien the best reliever who never gets talked about?

Noah Woodward: Yeah, he's pretty good. Another good one who you don't talk about unless you're from the Bay Area: Jean Machi

Evan (San Diego): The injury zone seems like it would be especially useful for this time of year, when teams are acquiring players whose health they only care about for the next two or three months. Do you have any hope that in the next 10 or 20 years that we'll be able to predict with any degree of accuracy which pitchers will be hurt two or three months from now?

Noah Woodward: I really doubt it. It does depend on what type of technology MLB will allow on the field, I think. The future of injury prevention seems to lie in biomechanics, and that means sensors strapped on your arms, legs, etc.

Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Noah, If the scouting scale went up to 100 and Bryant is said to have a power grade of 80, how would Gallo, Sano and Baez grade out?

Noah Woodward: Gallo at 100. I saw him play and I think I flinched every time he swung the bat. The other guys are alright, I guess.

Justin (WI): Who are the bottom 5 farm systems outside of the Angels?

Noah Woodward: Again, I only know what I read and (sometimes) see. I brought this question up with a friend, and we ended up disagreeing on what you're asking. Are we talking about overall depth or about the cream of the crop (potential impact players)? I'll go with depth.

In no particular order: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Oakland, Detroit, Miami

Daniel (Oakland): Welcome to BP, I have loved your work so far. What is your background?

Noah Woodward: Thanks Daniel! I just graduated from college, so I don't really have a background yet. Ask me in ten years maybe?

John (Chicago): Which of deGrom, Odorizzi, and Jessie Hahn will carry his success into next year?

Noah Woodward: Definitely Odorizzi. Hahn has been the beneficiary of a high strand rate this season, so I guess you could expect that to come down. He also pitches in Petco, which is great if he continues to pitch in Petco--but not so much if he moves.

MetsFaithful5 (Syracuse): Is what Jacob deGrom doing real? Can he really pitch like a number two? His FIP is really solid as well.

Noah Woodward: DeGrom has a high strand rate, too. But he does command his fastball well and has a solid mix of pitches. A number two? Maybe?

Ramon (Florida): I liked the way that you measured bat quickness in your article a couple weeks ago. I've heard some teams are measuring bat speed on every swing now. How useful would this information be, relative to all the other stuff that is out there?

Noah Woodward: When I started to write that article I was looking for a gimmicky way to capture bat speed, but I didn't think that kind of a thing would have real value. I think real bat speed data might be useful in context: for example, if a hitter is in an off-speed count and gets a fastball, how quickly can he adjust? I think anything that could measure bat speed at the minor league level would be incredibly valuable.

MetsFaithful5 (Syracuse): What kind of talent could Bartolo Colon bring back? A teams top 5 prospect possible?

Noah Woodward: What's the market like for Colon? Well, who wants to pay $11 million for him in 2015? And does a top 5 prospect from Anaheim count?

Billy (Ocean): If you were Andrew Friedman would you trade David Price or hold onto him?

Noah Woodward: So I'm Andrew Friedman, and I just went to Baseball Prospectus to find out that I have a 14.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Do I gamble on that chance and on his health? No--I pretend to until I get a good enough offer.

notdrmorris (SF): If it becomes clear to a team that that they can be reasonably certain of playing a one-game playoff (big WC lead, big division deficit), is it possibl to optimize on July 31 for that destiny game? Would it even be advisable...?

Noah Woodward: Not really sure what you mean. Do we rest players until that game? Not sure that would be a good idea.

Evan (San Diego): A few months ago, Russell wrote a piece about the best questions he thought Statcast would answer, or at least raise: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=23002 What would be on your list if you wrote on the same topic?

Noah Woodward: Good question, and one that I haven't thought enough about. Off the top of my head, I think a huge potential impact of this kind of a system is in subtle defensive shifts, particularly in the outfield. If we know how long it takes each fielder to get to a certain spot, then we can arrange the defense in creative ways that cover the ground that needs to be covered. Russell hit on some really interesting points in his article about fielder attentiveness, too. But we're banning the infield shift anyway, right?

Daniel Dinosaur (Chicago): Hyun-Jin Ryu is apparently mimicking Kershaw's slider and Beckett's curve these days. According to pitchfx, how well is he doing it?

Noah Woodward: Is that why the dodgers are winning so many games? The sliders don't look the same (in terms of spin), and the curves don't either. I guess the grip isn't everything.

Brian (NYC): Thanks for the chat, Noah! Three of my top dudes -- Taijuan Walker, Eddie Butler and Rafael Montero -- going into the season have all been terrible to varying degrees. How confident are you in each three righting the ship and living up to their preseason expectations of ace, solid #2 and solid #3, respectively?

Noah Woodward: I guess out of those three players and projections, I'd feel best about Butler becoming a #2. The numbers might be iffy, but I like his stuff. If he can keep that sinking fastball down, he'll be alright. I'd be most concerned about Montero right now. He seems raw in that he's hardly used his secondary stuff thus far.

Jacob (Sonoma): Let's put the progression of a UCL injury on a 1-10 scale. The most extreme outcome with complete detachment/pop where the guy's arm is floppy is a 10. The typical healthy pitcher is a 1 or a 2, some asymptomatic wear and tear but nothing troubling. Here's my question: Some pitchers have the TJ earlier, right? Jose Fernandez seems to have been pretty fine, then there was some discomfort, next thing you know he's being operated on, with no rest/rehab or anything. Call him a 5. Others pitch through pain for a long time before it gets discovered, admitted, or they decide to do something about it (like I think John Lackey). Maybe he's a 7. Do you have a sense of how much range there is as far as how far along the typical TJ patient got before undergoing TJ, and do you think this uncertainty and noise significantly affects your ability to find a useful Injury Zone?

Noah Woodward: Thanks for that question, Jacob. I've never seen a pitcher's MRI, so I have no idea how much of a range there is. But from what I've heard from people who have seen these, we are right to be talking about this as a spectrum instead of as an absolute type of an injury. It seems like early detection of a partial tear can make rehab an acceptable substitute for TJ. I've said this before, but even with early detection and better injury information, I don't think there's enough information in PITCHf/x to produce a really useful tool.

mattstupp (NYC): I'm contending in a Keeper league and I just traded Joey Votto (who's on the shelf for at least another month and may not be 100% for the rest of the season at least) for Anthony Rizzo, who can help me win now and possibly be a keeper. How do you like Rizzo for ROS and next year? Is Votto entering a decline phase?

Noah Woodward: I've always liked Rizzo because Epstein/Hoyer like Rizzo, but I haven't followed him closely until last season. It's hard to find something that's not to like about Rizzo. He has this down-and-in hole and he doesn't really use the whole field as much as Votto does, but you've gotta like the plate discipline and power. Votto is such a smart hitter that I would hate to say that he's heading for a decline. He could become a different hitter (as far as the counting stats go), but I think he'll still be productive.

Bill (New Mexico): Welcome to the chat room! Got any idea why the Cardinals found it necessary to defenestrate George Kottaras so quickly as Yadier Molina stand-in? Is he THAT bad at catcher defense? Supporting evidence?

Noah Woodward: Yeah, he is. In 2013 he put up -33 runs per 7000 pitches. That's really bad. Worse than Salty, and worse than A.J. Ellis (who admits he's a terrible framer).

Matt (Cambridge): Considering he is the #1 trade piece I noticed something very odd in Jon Lester's pitch f/x data. First of all he completely lost his vertical release point on the curve ball from the collapse of 2011-the end of 2013. He also have problems with the movement on his cutter. Was this not noticed? Why was this not fixed earlier? If a pitcher is slow to make adjustments, does that predict the speed of how quickly adjustments can be made in the future? I just see a guy who was pretty mediocre for a few seasons and the lightbulb went on in the offseason

Noah Woodward: Lester was actually more consistent with his curveball release point during that period than in prior years. His cutter was a bit off in 2012-2013, but it's back now. I'm pretty sure the Sox thought there was something wrong, and it was tough to watch him pitch during that stretch. Can Lester make adjustments in the future? I sure hope so! And in a Red Sox uniform!

Noah Woodward: That's all for today. Thanks for tuning in and giving me some new article ideas!


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