Recently, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled about ERA estimators—statistics that take a variety of inputs and come up with a pitcher’s expected ERA given those inputs. Swing a cat around a room, and you’ll find yourself with a dozen of the things, as well as a very agitated cat. Among those is SIERA, which has lately migrated from here to Fangraphs.com in a new form, one more complex but not necessarily more accurate. We have offered SIERA for roughly 18 months, but have had a difficult time convincing anyone, be they our readers, other practitioners of sabermetrics, or our own authors, that SIERA was a significant improvement on other ERA estimators.
The logical question was whether or not we were failing to do the job of explaining why SIERA was more useful than other stats, or if we were simply being stubborn in continuing to offer it instead of simpler, more widely adopted stats. The answer depends on knowing what the purpose of an ERA estimator is. When evaluating a pitcher’s performance, there are three questions we can ask that can be addressed by statistics: How well he has pitched, how he accomplished what he’s done, and how he will do in the future. The first can be answered by Fair RA (FRA), the third by rest-of-season PECOTA. The second can be addressed by an ERA estimator likeSIERA, but not necessarily SIERA itself, which boasts greater complexity than more established ERA estimators such as FIP but can only claim incremental gains in accuracy.
The rest of the division may be a dud, but the Rangers' red-hot run looks all the more impressive when compared to their past rotations.
I'm beginning to wonder if I’ve broken the AL West. I'm being facetious, of course, but the timing has caught me a little off guard. Since writing at length about how Seattle was making something of a spirited go at the division crown and might have a decent shot at swinging a .500 season, the Mariners have dropped from an even 38-38 (2 ½ games back) to 43-54 (12 ½ games), effectively crushing any lingering hopes of contending in 2011. Something similarly strange has happened to the Angels, as my efforts to paint them as legitimate contenders for the division crown just seven days ago had been rewarded by a sharp 3 ½-game drop in the standings and a one-week post-season odds plunge of 11.9 percent going into Wednesday night.
But rather than falsely attribute the coincidentally-timed struggles of the Rangers' competition to any of my work at Baseball Prospectus, let's just be brutally honest about what's going on here: Texas has gone into hyperdrive. Seriously. Before dropping a 9-8 heartbreaker in Anaheim during the waning hours of Wednesday evening (a game the Rangers led by an 8-3 margin after chasing Dan Haren early, leading to a peak win expectancy of 96.4 percent), Texas had collected 12 straight wins, a high-water mark for winning streaks among American League ballclubs since the Red Sox accomplished that same feat back in June 2006.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
In his fourth column in the Asian Equation series, Michael looks at the starting pitchers who have crossed the Pacific, in which many failures are punctuated with a few very notable successes.
In the flood of players coming from Japan, the majority (34 of 43) have been pitchers. Unlike the pursuit of the next Ichiro I described in my previous column, this has less to do with the success of Hideo Nomo than it does with the pitching market–pitching is a difficult commodity to find in any league. What has doomed many NPB starters in MLB, however, has been both talent and adjustment to a different pitching philosophy. To understand and explain the differences between the two, I’ve drawn not only on my own expertise, but relied on Japanese pitching expert Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker for additional insight.
Pitching differences reflect a deeper philosophical difference between Japanese and American baseball. As I discussed in my first Asian Equation column, Japanese culture appreciates baseball’s emphasis on discipline, sacrifice, and the dramatic showdown between pitcher and batter. Instead of putting a batter away quickly, NPB pitchers build tension by indiscriminately filling counts before a perfectly placed strike three resolves the battle. These aren’t seen as “wasted” pitches, instead reflecting the samurai-like virtues of endurance and dramatic battles.
Craig checks out a slew of two-start options as we approach the All-Star break.
It’s the week before the All-Star Break, and the schedule makers were sure to cram in all the action they could ahead of the season’s pseudo midway point. Only the Phillies and Pirates have a day off this week, providing tons of options for fantasy leaguers looking for two-start pitchers.
Which teams with rotation stalwarts sporting ERAs that resemble Olympic gymnastics scores should be panicking, and which should stay the course?
The 2011 season is still young. Teams have played anywhere from 22 to 26 games, less than one-sixth of their schedule, and we're still in small sample territory. Nonetheless, there's no shortage of players whose slow starts are keeping their managers or fans lying awake at night. Earlier this week, Steven Goldman examined a doublehandful of slumping hitters, surveying both their performance and their teams' alternatives for change. Today, I turn my attention to a similarly struggling set of starting pitchers who have gotten pasted more often than not this year.
Wrapping things up by running down the National League's best candidates to benefit from hot spring starts.
Picking up where we left off on Tuesday, let’s complete our circuit of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues by identifying some less established NL players who may have put themselves in stronger consideration for roster spots this season on the basis of small-sample spring performances thus far.
Running down the American League's best candidates to benefit from hot spring starts.
We’re all aware that spring training stats wouldn’t get much attention in an ideal world, since a player’s extended record of prior performance in the minors and/or majors allows for far more accurate forecasts than a month’s worth of playing time against mixed competition in March. (If you don’t believe me, look no further than this recent dispatch from Florida: “Cards’ Lohse goes six scoreless.”) Still, we know from past experience that some small-sample heroics will have implications for games that count; superior production—as well as glowing scouting reports—in the Grapefruit or Cactus League can impress a manager more easily than a good month for a far-flung minor-league affiliate, enabling a player on the bubble to earn a place (or a more prominent role) on the big club’s roster.
As I write this, Melky Cabrera and Ryan Roberts lead their respective leagues in batting average, and Luke Hughes and Danny Espinosa are the latest word in RBI men, as effective a reminder as any that the clean slate of April is still a few weeks away. That said, the exhibition schedule is half complete; the first round of cuts has already been made, and coaching staffs and front-office executives are meeting at regular intervals to ruminate on their rosters’ composition come Opening Day. Which performances to date by players who came into the spring on shaky ground have stood them in good stead for 2011? Today I’ll tackle the AL, highlighting one batter and one pitcher per team, before turning to the NL representatives later this week.
A sampling of starting pitchers whose 2010 SIERAs predict better (or worse) times ahead.
Earned Run Average can't be trusted in small samples. It has little predictive ability over short spans of time, given the number of things that can influence it—defense, park effects, batting average on balls in play, or just plain old dumb luck. When enough innings are looked at together, ERA has its merits, but with less available data, run estimators—like SIERA—are the better bet for year-to-year predictions.
That means that SIERA is useful for seeing which players over- or underperformed in terms of their ERA. (No, Matt Cainwas not one of them.) Using this tool, we can predict some likely 2011 sleepers, as well as some pitchers who will miss the good old days when extra luck and quality defenses saved them inning after inning.
A kid's vintage and relative experience has less than a predictive effect on his arriving to stay in The Show.
With Cliff Lee's surprising detour to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte's unsurprising detour into retirement, the Yankees' major-league rotation is in a decidedly unfinished state. Happily, their farm system is chock full of quality pitching prospects. On the surface, the solution—fill the rotation's two open spots from within—appears obvious, but the Yankees are auditioning veteran retreads such as Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and Bartolo Colon for first dibs on those spots. Not long after pitchers and catchers reported to camp, general manager Brian Cashman dismissed the idea of either of the team's blue chippers on the mound, Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, breaking camp with the big club, stating to the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand that "(t)hey’re going to get their first taste of big-league camp, then they're going to get slotted into Trenton. They have no chance to make this team."
When Eric Seidman and I introducedSIERA last winter, we ran a number of tests to determine if our theoretical foundation of run prevention led to a superior estimation of pitchers’ skill levels. While SIERA had a solid advantage at predicting future ERA over some ERA estimators and a last decimal-point small lead over xFIP, we ran the tests again after 2010 to ensure that it held a lead going forward. Although the regression formula did not incorporate future ERAs and should not have been biased, it's still important to test the following year to see how well SIERA held up.
Is the Phillies' right-hander an undervalued commodity?
From the ashes of the Tweet-pocalypse of rumors that culminated in Cliff Lee’s surprise five-year deal with the Phillies, there arose another batch of rumors about how the Phillies would make room for Lee’s salary. The Phillies are now committed to spend about $163 million in 2011 based on their current roster, which is $21 million more than they spent in 2010. The Phillies have made it known that they are trying to move salary to make this work, and it is no secret that they are trying to move Joe Blanton.