Is Tony Wolters the answer to 24 years of mile-high pitching woes?
Good-framing catchers, as best as we can define them, seem to have magical powers. They can “steal” extra strikes for their pitchers, and while it might not seem like much in the moment to get an extra borderline call, it adds up. The generally accepted consensus has been that the top framers can save their team 20 runs compared to a merely average framer. Compared to the bottom of the barrel, that swing is 40 runs. When the general public figured out how big that effect was, they rightly made a big deal about it. (When teams found out, they quietly made a big deal out of it. In fact, in Francisco Cervelli’s case, they just made more than 30 million big deals about it.)
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.
Kenta Maeda makes baseball history, the White Sox make baseball history, and Yasiel Puig just makes the Rockies sad.
The Weekend Takeaway
There isn’t anyone quite like Kenta Maeda. There have been similar pitchers in similar circumstances, and similar feats in similar sample sizes, but no one has done precisely what Maeda pulled off against the Rockies on Saturday evening.
Trevor Story can't stop hitting home runs, Vince Velasquez nearly pulls off a no-hitter, and Bartolo Colon resurrects the panache of Willie Mays.
The Weekend Takeaway
Both the Padres and the Rockies had something to rejoice over in the 13-6 slugfest on Friday night. It’s been a long, long week in the NL West, especially for the Friars, who had managed to string together 30 scoreless innings to begin the season. Those 13 runs must've felt like an exorcism.
Three middle infielders are hitting all the home runs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
In 1941, Boston Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr started off the season by hitting a homer in each of Boston’s first three games. For 75 years, that was the benchmark for hot-hitting second basemen, until Robinson Cano decided that it was time to meet that benchmark. Cano slugged two homers on Wednesday afternoon against the Rangers—one in the first inning, and another in the top of the ninth inning to cap a five-run comeback that powered the Seattle Mariners to a 9-5 victory over Texas.
Does Jorge De La Rosa give the Rockies, and their front office, hope for a sustainable future?
In my opinion, our very first BP Local site ought to have gone to the Rockies. For me, sabermetrics ought always to be about seeking challenges, looking for problems sufficient to force us to come up with truly creative solutions, truly new ideas, and truly original problem-solving methods. Baseball is, after all, a trivial thing, and while it’s popular and interesting enough to make for thoroughly worthwhile leisure, I can’t encourage smart people to spend their time and mental energy on the game unless I feel that those people are putting their talents to a noble, global use. Maybe that’s dreaming too big, asking too much of the discipline of sabermetrics, and of the game itself. Still, that’s my approach.
Given that premise, yes, we should be spending way more time on the Rockies. We should be spending a ton of time on the Rockies. For someone who hopes to learn about more than baseball in the process of analyzing the game, the Rockies offer the richest potential case material. They are an expansion franchise (not only historically, but culturally). They are the most consistently lost organization in the league. Of course, they also play in the most extreme and vexing environment in MLB, and that’s where they differentiate themselves. For a quarter century, the Rockies have tried to solve the problem of winning big-league baseball games at unprecedented elevation (without totally flaming out when they have to play elsewhere), and have consistently failed.
No, really: At least Nolan Arenado is fun to watch.
The Rockies are a mess. They’ve finished fourth or fifth in each of the past five seasons; they’ve trailed the division winner by 20 or more games in all but one of those years (when they checked in 18 games back); and last July they traded their face-of-the-franchise shortstop for, among other (admittedly more important, promising) pieces, a veteran who is now suspended indefinitely following a domestic assault arrest. It’s been all downhill since their divisional-round exit in 2009, and provided you trust PECOTA’s 74-win projection, there’s little reason to believe their fortunes will change over the next seven months. You’d almost be justified in ignoring them. Almost.
The Rockies have done some things the past eight months. They did a thing a couple weeks ago. Like most of the things the Rockies have done lately, trading four years of Corey Dickerson for two years of Jake McGee has caused much head-scratching. The reaction to the trade was a combination of said head-scratching and “LOL Rockies” with a splash of “hey, McGee’s really good and his fastball-heavy approach might be a good fit for Coors.” The analyses of the trade all generally led to the conclusion that the Rockies do not really have a plan and that, if they do, it is simply a plan to try and be mediocre.
I do not think that this is likely. If the plan is to be mediocre or there is no plan, then why do anything at all? Why trade Troy Tulowitzki? Why sign an outfielder, just to trade another and add more payroll along the way? To me, these actions and the motivation to be mediocre do not jibe. That said, we can believe that these moves are unlikely to be successes, while having a different theory as to what is motivating this behavior.
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With Coors Field presenting a constant challenge, we seem to get a new one every couple years.
It’s hard to believe in the Rockies. In 22 seasons of play, the franchise can boast only seven winning seasons, and three with more than 83 wins. Their next division title will be their first, and just now, their next division title feels very far away. This summer saw them trade, arguably, the best player in franchise history, in order to kickstart a rebuilding effort and make a clearer statement of purpose in that direction. Still, it feels like their deep farm system has to pan out almost perfectly, if they’re to overwhelm the impossibly deep and well-heeled Dodgers, or the hyper-competitive Giants and Diamondbacks any time soon. It’s almost hopeless. Yet, the Rockies made one other change in 2015, aside from trading Troy Tulowitzki, that ought to give you at least a mustard seed of faith in them: the Mountains moved. A lot.
Through 2014, the Rockies were one of the league’s most shift-averse teams. In 2013, they had a shift on when 95 balls were put in play. Only six teams (four in the NL) shifted less often. In 2014, Colorado fielders were shifted on 114 balls in play, which represents hardly any added commitment to the concept, and which (since everyone else in the league was rapidly adopting shifting and installing shifts as vital parts of their run-prevention game plans) was 87 fewer than any other team in baseball.