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Chat: Harry Pavlidis

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday January 25, 2017 1:00 PM ET chat session with Harry Pavlidis.

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Harry Pavlidis is the director of technology at Baseball Prospectus and helped to create our new pitching metrics introduced this week. Ask him about it! Or other things!

Harry Pavlidis: We're half-way into Pitching Week. Let's talk about it.

AJ (NYC): Hey man, thanks for the chat I've seen a bunch of conflicting reports on Robert Gsellman and was wondering where you stand. I've seen that he's already got a 70 fastball with a plus offspeed and has a future as a 2/3. Others say he's a kitchen sink guy with a bunch of average pitches and is a 4/5. Where do you stand on this?

Harry Pavlidis: I'd be more on the 4/5 side of things with Gsellman at this point. But I can see the attraction and his slider/cutter appears to have been improved (he said he picked up a cutter iirc). So I'd agree somewhat on the upside, but I wouldn't be super optimistic about reaching it.

Buddy (Peoria, IL): What do you think of the Brewers Zach Davies? Is he could be somebody who takes the next step and breaks out this year?

Harry Pavlidis: Davies is a new favorite of ours, thanks to his incredible command profile and CSAA numbers to back that up. The rub is the defense behind him may not let him pile up the traditional numbers you might be looking for, but he's someone who might be on a good path.

Emmett (Spain): Hi Harry, love all this new work. Is the tunnel pairs data between the same pitch (i.e. Colon's changeup and changeup) also a proxy for the consistency of said pitch? I feel like that might be a good way to examine "feel" or something similar, especially if a pitcher introduces a new pitch.

Harry Pavlidis: I love looking at the back-to-back stuff. Mostly as a way to look at how the change speeds (via flight time differential). So while I would cautiously say yes, you can see things about consistency, I would say it's also showing as much if not more about approach and ... well, we need to publish the variance numbers around these 'average differences' ... but that will have to wait just a little bit longer. The notion of studying new pitches and how tunnels go over time is a really good one, that's certainly worth exploring.

rushingbaseball (Chicago): Hi Harry. I'm curious, are we able to apply this new data to specific hitters? Which hitters react better to certain tunnel pairs, certain break differentials, etc. I am also interested on the effect on catcher framing. Obviously the catcher knows what is coming, but like a hitter, they also need to react and could have different success whether the pitch breaks early or late. Thanks for the work you guys do putting this data together.

Harry Pavlidis: Absolutely. As we get past the "oh wow look at all this data" phase and start understanding what it is (and isn't) telling us we can reflect it on hitter performance. This is where rubber meets road, if you can understand what the pitcher is doing you can anticipate how a batter might be expected to react to him at a granular level.
The relationship between tunnels/csaa (framing and related reflections thereof) is one of our next areas of exploration--it's a big ole can of worms and it will probably re-educate us on all of the above.

gump (Boston): What do you see as the productive output of the new tunneling research. Do you see it as a descriptive tool to explain player performance, a prescriptive tool where it's used as a training tool? I initially thought it would be useful with deciding which pitches to teach to a young pitcher (depending on how their repertoire tunnel gap would change), but the JDL trade post implied pitchers may try to change their pitch flight path rather than use a new pitch. Do you see the pitch tunnel as something worth tinkering with, or is it more like pitch spin where it doesn't seem like pitchers can really improve the metric in isolation. Thanks!

Harry Pavlidis: initially it is descriptive--this is where we are at the moment--but the developmental, game planning, game calling, roster creation and what not impacts are really interesting. Combine this stuff with some of the biomechanical work that's been done on understanding how mechanics shape movement and you're cooking with gas. I think teams in MLB have started this already, not many, but you could probably guess just as well as I can.
I'd say, unhelpfully, there are similarities and differences with spin. All of these things revert to mechanics, but I would also say tunneling probably extends more into pitch selection/sequencing then spin would--spin might be a part/secondary/related but my current sense/understanding is that where the ball is means more than how it is rotating.

Punchoutpappy (First In Flight): Over at Fangraphs their pumping up the idea of spin rate having at least some correlation with success in SwStrk%. How far off do you think we are from being able to validate that notion?

Harry Pavlidis: I'd ask if spin rate is telling you something that movement and velocity don't already.

We also need good measures of effective spin, which is really hard to get on sliders and not super easy to get on all pitches to begin with.

Fangraphs is in the process of consuming both Pitch Info and Baseball Prospectus data, so I imagine they'll have further exploration of this in the near future. Disclaimer: I don't have editorial control HERE let alone over at FG ;)

Punchoutpappy (First in Flight): A lot of professional ball clubs have the budget to utilize and further their success with technology based research. However, there are any number of colleges and high schools that do not have that type of bankroll. What simple things can they do to invest in technology to promote success?

Harry Pavlidis: I think high quality amateur teams (d1 schools) can get the gear for free, and it's bankrolled by selling the data to teams. So all they need to do is invest in the people to work with the data in those cases.

Rapsodo is also coming out with a lower cost pitch tracker that should meet the budget constraints of your more typical situation. It's all just a matter of time, as the technology comes down in cost.

Punchoutpappy (First In Flight): Do you believe we are close to identifying exactly what precipitates injuries to the arm? Obviously it could be a myriad of factors (pitching selection, torque, slot, genetics), but do you think there is hope of finding out with certainty which factor plays more than others?

Harry Pavlidis: It's hard to predict when a medical/scientific breakthrough will happen. I also don't think there's a single answer. I do like the direction things have gone, which is to moderate workloads, encourage multi-sport development etc.

I don't know how far past "pitching is the leading cause of pitching injuries" we'll ever get.

Definitely not Theo (Definitely not Chicago): Have you gotten any nasty emails from teams who have been using data like this over recent seasons. Asking for a friend. I imagine that losing a competitive advantage like this (or framing before it, etc.) can be annoying to teams.

Harry Pavlidis: Not so much nasty but yes. But they've learned to avoid doing that because they've heard my "advantage though obscurity isn't lasting" speech once and that's enough.

mattyjames1 (Canada): How do the knucklers look so far in the tunnels?

Harry Pavlidis: Wakefield seemed to keep it tighter (report) but overall they are kinda all over the place (report)

dianagram (VORGville): Just glad BP isn't a Federal agency these days and that you can share all this great info with the public.

Harry Pavlidis: ok, time for the lightning round ....
live from an undisclosed national park

Bella (USA): Is there any minor league pitcher with Syndergaard upside?

Harry Pavlidis: probably a bunch, especially since velocity numbers are up up up

Brody (OK City): Do you foresee either either Matt Bush or Cam Bedrosian becoming the closer ?

Harry Pavlidis: Possibly. Frankly, lots of pitchers can close. More than most would like to admit

Ryan (NJC): How is a current starlin castro/prime starlin castro as a floor/ceiling for Gleyber Torres?

Harry Pavlidis: a wide enough range to fit most players through

TVD (NJ): What is your response to those that are skeptical of stats like FIP/xFIP due to their belief that pitchers control more than walks, strikeouts, and homers?

Harry Pavlidis: that they're right and that's why we use DRA

roddyreta (San Diego): A lot of people are claiming the current Padres rotation is the worst in baseball history. Is there any scientific support for this claim?

Harry Pavlidis: season hasn't been played yet, so no. only projections and conjectures.

JM (CT): What are the odds youngsters Dylan Bundy and Kendall Graveman become staff aces this season? Both had solid seasons last season and showed promise for more.

Harry Pavlidis: PECOTA week is coming!

Punchoutpappy (First In Flight): Suppose you say to yourself, "Damn, if I could just tweak X or Y, (insert name) would be a stud." Who is that? What would you tweak?

Harry Pavlidis: I'd tell every pitcher to throw better pitches and get more guys out. I'm not helpful.

Punchoutpappy (First in Flight): Based on your research, who do you look at and say..."this dude is/is not going to age well"?

Harry Pavlidis: Me.

Jquinton82 (NY): Harry can you list some of those pitchers with Syndergaard like upside?

Harry Pavlidis: honestly, no. Not without violating confidentiality agreements. This is a great question to ask our prospect team in their next chat, or find in our Top 10s.

rushingbaseball (Chicago): Would there be any way to factor in quick-pitches (hello Pedro Strop) or varying timing in mechanics (Cueto) from pitch to pitch? Always been curious if these changes in timing actually make a difference. If it does work from time to time, perhaps it is just an outside variable regarding the tunnel data.

Harry Pavlidis: we do keep track of pacing so we can look to see how that impacts things. Might be hard to accurately pinpoint a quick-pitch, but on aggregate maybe we can get close enough to explore. All we can really get on pacing is time between pitches/events, nothing about the mechanic/delivery speed/time from set to throw etc

mattyjames1 (Canada): I'm probably thinking about this wrong, but would you say that the smaller the tunnel differential that would imply the more "ride" through the zone? I guess what I'm getting at is I didn't expect to see 2014 at the top of the list if you sort it that way

Harry Pavlidis: taken in isolation the tunnel differential doesn't speak to movement in the zone. What we do have lurking about are the angles at which the ball approaches the plate ... you'll hear more about that from us sooner or later (or both)

Harry Pavlidis: time flies ... sorry to not get to everyone's question, the ones left are best directed to our prospect and fantasy staff -- as noted above I often to swallow my tongue too much to be a help with most of those. Thanks for joining, and, until next time ..


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