PECOTA helps pick the best player in baseball for every age, from Julio Urias to Bartolo Colon and all the superstars in between.
I have a vivid memory from my little league days of sitting in the dugout after practice and listening intently as a teammate read Baseball America’s rankings of the best players in the country by age. The best player on our team, who later went on to play Division I ball, was annoyed by the notion of a 13-year-old somewhere else getting so much attention for what couldn’t possibly be (he figured) superior talent. The sixth-best player on our team, who later went on to write this article, found it fascinating that there was a 13-year-old so good at baseball that they were being written about in magazines.
Greg Maddux was on to something, whether he knew it or not.
One day I sat a dozen feet behind Maddux’s catcher as three Braves pitchers, all in a row, did their throwing sessions side-by-side. Lefty Steve Avery made his catcher’s glove explode with noise from his 95-mph fastball. His curve looked like it broke a foot-and-a-half. He was terrifying. Yet I could barely tell the difference between Greg’s pitches. Was that a slider, a changeup, a two-seam or four-seam fastball? Maddux certainly looked better than most college pitchers, but not much. Nothing was scary.
Afterward, I asked him how it went, how he felt, everything except “Is your arm okay?” He picked up the tone. With a cocked grin, like a Mad Dog whose table scrap doesn’t taste quite right, he said, “That’s all I got.”
Then he explained that I couldn’t tell his pitches apart because his goal was late quick break, not big impressive break. The bigger the break, the sooner the ball must start to swerve and the more milliseconds the hitter has to react; the later the break, the less reaction time. Deny the batter as much information—speed or type of last-instant deviation—until it is almost too late.
Introducing new tools to evaluate command and control through the lens of strikes.
About a year and a half ago, Baseball Prospectus revealed a suite of catching stats that formed the basis for our industry-leading valuation of catchers. These new stats would shape how we perceived and discussed catcher value, but they also opened the door to better understanding the performance of pitchers.
Two key statistics—CSAA and CS Prob—serve as the basis for the pitch framing portion of our catching metrics. Today, we’ll show how those same statistics can tell us a great deal about pitching as well. CS Prob was initially introduced in 2014 with Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks’ first catcher framing model. Early the next year, Jonathan Judge joined the effort and the team introduced CSAA, officially moving our framing models beyond WOWY.
Of the two, CS Prob—short for Called Strike Probability—is the more straightforward: the likelihood of a given pitch being a strike. CS Prob goes beyond what the strike zone ought to be and instead reflects what it is: a set of probabilities that depends on batter and pitcher handedness, pitch location, pitch type, and count. Good pitchers understand that while the strike zone is a dynamic construct, it nonetheless has some consistencies depending on which combinations of these factors are present. We calculate CS Prob for every pitch regardless of the eventual outcome.
The other statistic, CSAA, stands for Called Strikes Above Average; a measure of how many called strikes the player in question creates for his team. In the case of catchers, we isolate the effects of the pitcher, umpire, and other situational factors which allows us to identify how many additional called strikes the catcher is generating, above or below average. For catchers, this skill is commonly described as “framing” or, in more polite company, “presentation.”
For pitchers, we can apply a similar methodology—controlling for the catcher, umpire, etc. to identify the additional called strikes created by the pitcher. CSAA is calculated only on taken pitches, an important nuance. A pitch must be taken in order to be eligible to be called a strike by the umpire, so while CS Prob looks at all pitches, CSAA only takes into account pitches where the outcome is left up to the umpire.
What can these two statistics tell us about pitcher performance and skill? First, we should define a few important things:
Ross Detwiler threw 42 straight four-seamers or sinkers on Tuesday. Where does that put him on the consecutive fastball pantheon?
On Tuesday night, the Nationals and Brewers played baseball for well over five hours, calling it quits only after Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer in the 16th inning to put Milwaukee away. Zimmerman, who had two other hits and this diving catch, claimed the headlines, but the game had another hero, albeit one slightly less sung: deposed starter Ross Detwiler, who held the Brewers scoreless from the 10th through the 14th.
Does Bartolo Colon's pitching performance suffer immediately after he's been on base?
This afternoon in Oakland, the A’s face off against the Mets in a storyline-rich matchup of Scott Kazmir (whom the A’s signed over the offseason) and Bartolo Colon (whom the A’s allowed to leave because they’d signed Kazmir instead). Colon hasn’t been bad—he leads the American League in walk rate—but Kazmir leads the AL in ERA, so thus far, advantage A’s. Perhaps with that in mind, manager Bob Melvin was in a good enough mood to get a little lighthearted when discussing his team's approach against Colon:
Clayton Kershaw gives the Dodgers their second no-hitter of 2014, the Royals run their winning streak to 10, Bartolo finds his bat, and more.
The Wednesday Takeaway
When play began on Wednesday, the Dodgers—thanks to Josh Beckett—were the only major-league team that could boast about a no-hitter this year. That’s still true. Only now they have two of them, after Clayton Kershaw sliced through the Rockies in Chavez Ravine last night.
There aren't many high-end fantasy assets in Queens, but a youth movement could soon change that.
There hasn’t been much to get excited about in Queens over the past five or six seasons—unless you get joy out of watching the franchise greats take the field day in and day out. Of course, there was also the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner who captured the hearts and minds of those paying attention—though he was traded a couple of months after receiving the hardware. And then, when there is an exciting young attraction worth watching, of course he ends up undergoing Tommy John surgery before the end of his breakout season. However, the roster has been improved through trades and free agency, adding a little extra fantasy relevance to what has been a pretty stale roster in the recent past. Though, as you’ll see from the rest of this preview, high-end talent is still severely lacking.
A Tiger trade might make room in the rotation for Drew Smyly, and the A's try to bring back Bartolo Colon.
Tigers Open to Shuffling Rotation Our fantasy writers pined throughout the 2013 season for Drew Smyly to find his way into the Tigers’ starting five. If general manager Dave Dombrowski is to be believed, they will get their wish next year.