Archive for December, 2005

Daily Graphing – Matt Morris

Every team is looking for pitching and this winter quality pitchers are in short supply. Matt Morris is one of the few big name free agent pitchers on the market this off season and undoubtedly many teams will be interested in acquiring his services. Will teams get what they're looking for in Matt Morris?


As you can see his strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) have been down year over year for the past four years. He's managed to get away with this worrisome trend for two reasons:


The first reason is his walk rate, which he managed to get down to a career low 1.7 walks per 9 innings (BB/9). If you can't strike people out, at least make them work to get on base. The second reason is that he plays for the Cardinals. They gave him 4.48 runs on average each time he took the mound, the 8th most in baseball.

Teams considering Matt Morris should not expect him to revert to his 2001-2002 form, but rather they should think of Cory Lidle (they had remarkably similar stats) when signing him. Matt Morris will be a solid 3rd starter for most teams, but anything more should be considered a bonus.

Daily Graphing – Aaron Heilman

Aaron Heilman has been mentioned recently in many trade rumors, all involving big name players such as Manny Ramirez and Barry Zito. Lets take a look at why he's such a hot commodity on the trade market.


Looking at his rolling ERA, you can see he basically gave up nothing towards the end of the season. Since being moved to the bullpen he gave up 16 runs in 70 innings of work, an ERA of 2.91. In the last two months of the season he gave up a mere 2 runs in 33 plus innings of work. This was good enough for him to split the closers job in the final weeks of the season where he went 4 for 4 in save chances.


His strikeouts per nine inning (K/9) have been on the rise since he was moved to the bullpen. As a reliever his K/9 sits at an elite 9.8 compared to 7.2 as a starter.


He's even managed to decrease his walks per 9 innings every year he's been in the majors. There's still room for improvement, but if he continues to strike out batters at his current rate, he can probably live with an average walk rate. Francisco Cordero, the Ranger's closer, finds success with a similar strikeout rate and a much higher walk rate.


To add to the good news, he's also a ground ball pitcher! What's not to like about him? It's quite clear that Aaron Heilman has tremendous upside as a reliever, and maybe even as a starter. As you can see there's a reason why so many teams are interested in him and it will take a big name player for the Mets to move him.

Research – Home Runs & Fly Balls

I thought I'd try something a little different today and write about some research I've been doing on home runs and fly balls. Most of this research was spurred by a good discussion that's ongoing in our forums section between Russ, Mike and me. The first question posed was, “How much of a batter's power is related to his Fly Ball/Ground Ball ratio?” Knowing that most home runs are the result of fly balls (a few are line drive), it seemed to make sense that if a player hit more fly balls he'd be rewarded with more home runs. For a quick answer to that question I put together a scatter plot of each player's Home Runs per Balls Hit into Play (HR/BIP) and his FB/GB ratio using 2002-2005 data.


As you can see, the trend would indicate there is some correlation between how often a player hits fly balls and his home run production, but unfortunately it's not all that strong a correlation. One thing to note is that players who hit an extremely high number of ground balls don't hit a lot of home runs, but once you exit the extreme groundball category the less conclusions you can make about a batters power based on his FB/GB ratio.

What about pitchers? Does their FB/GB ratio dictate how many home runs they give up? Here's the same scatter plot for pitchers.


There is definitely a different shape here, but essentially it shows a similar correlation (but slightly stronger) to what the batter's graph showed. Either way, I think it's safe to say that just because a batter hits or a pitcher allows a lot of fly balls doesn't mean they'll be exiting the park. However, it does seem like the more fly balls a player hits/allows, the more susceptible to home runs he becomes.

Tomorrow (or later today), I'll be writing about how much control a pitcher has over his home runs allowed.

Daily Graphing – Esteban Loaiza

Yesterday, free agent Esteban Loaiza was signed by the Oakland Athletics to a 3 year deal worth slightly over 21 million dollars. Esteban Loaiza has been quite the enigma the past three years. After being consistently average for the first 8 years of his career, he shocked everyone in 2003 by winning 21 games with a 2.90 ERA and finished second in the AL Cy Young balloting. Then in 2004 he had one of the worst seasons of his career by posting a 5.71 ERA. Last year, determined to prove that his 2003 season was not entirely a fluke, he went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.77. Don't let that 12-10 record fool you either. He had 24 quality starts, the 6th best in the majors and some very poor run support. So, the big question is, who is the real Esteban Loaiza?


He's certainly not someone who walks a lot of batters. As you can see he's done a very good job limiting free bases over the course of his career. The one exception was 2004 and most of his trouble came after he was traded to the Yankees. Before being traded to the Yankees he had a walks per 9 innings (BB/9) of 2.9. With the Yankees it jumped to an abysmal 5.5 BB/9. I think it's safe to say that was a fluke. Since he has his walks under control, strikeouts will be one of the major keys to his success.


As you can see, in 2003 his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) took a major jump mostly due to an improved cut fastball and changeup. In 2004 in dropped back down to his career levels and then in 2005 it was up again. What the graph above doesn't show you is that in 2004 his K/9 was creeping back up to 2003 levels the entire year. In the first half of 2004 his K/9 was 5.1 where in the second half it was 6.9.


The other key to his success in 2003 and 2005 was limiting the number of home runs he allowed. He's actually been all over the map in home runs per 9 innings (HR/9) and I wouldn't be too surprised if he allowed more home runs next year.


I think Esteban Loaiza is one of these overvalued/undervalued players where some people can't get past his 8 years of mediocrity and others are still hung up on his 21 win season. I have to admit, I've been on the mediocrity side for quite some time, but as long as he doesn't allow too many home runs I think he'll be a quality pitcher. He's never had a problem with walks and it looks like his increased strikeouts are for real.

Season Comparisons

You can now compare up to three player's season stats on one graph. You'll find this under each players “compare” tab. I'll probably begin work on comparing daily graphs a little later.

To compare Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens click here….

Daily Graphing – Kevin Millwood

Did you know Kevin Millwood holds one of the more annoying records among active players? He has the least amount of wins per start of any pitcher with an ERA under 3 in a single season. It's fun to invent records! The reason for this lack of wins is that the Indians gave him only 85 runs to work with, a mere 2.8 per start. The only pitcher to have less run support than him and have a winning record in 2005 was Roger Clemens, and he needed a sub 2 ERA to do it. So now that Kevin Millwood has filed for free agency, is it realistic for teams to expect another sub 3 ERA from him?


There were three places he made improvements this year, the first being his walk rate. This was slightly offset by a drop in his strikeout rate, but overall his strikeout to walk ratio was up on the year, but not by much. So why such a big difference in his ERA from 2004 to 2005?


His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was dubiously high in 2004. As you can see it has dropped back down to a more normal level this year. There was also a slight rise in his percent of ground balls induced, but it's not such a large rise that it alone could be the cause for his good season.


Despite the improvements in walks, ground balls, and BABIP, I think it would be difficult for him to repeat his 2005 season. However, I do think that he'll be able to keep his ERA well below 4, and chances are he'll have better run support which will mean more wins. Kevin Millwood may not quite be the pitcher teams are looking for as an ace, but he's more than capable of being any team's second starter.

Daily Graphing – John Patterson

After suffering various setbacks through out his career, John Patterson finally pitched his first full season in 2005 for the Washington Nationals. I guess you could say it was worth the wait, as he led the Nationals pitching staff with a 3.13 ERA in just under 200 innings while striking out a team high 185 batters. In July and August he was one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball by going 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 81-plus innings of work. Now that he has one full year under his belt, what should we expect from John Patterson in 2006?


For starters he has a good strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) of 2.85 and very good strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) of 8.4 for a starting pitcher. He relies mostly on his fastball which he usually throws in the low 90's but tops out at 97 mph. Occasionally he'll mix in his slider and curveball, but almost never when behind in the count. He'll really start to throw his curveball when he gets two strikes on a batter and it appears to have become his most reliable strikeout pitch. His slider is also a quite effective strikeout pitch, but he doesn't throw it nearly as often with two strikes.


The one thing you have to worry about with him is that he's an extreme fly ball pitcher. Last year he allowed only 7.5% of his fly balls to become home runs (FB/HR). Typically pitchers tend to regress towards the league average of around 11%, but playing in R.F.K. Stadium will certainly help him keep that number lower than average. R.F.K. Stadium has a HR/FB of only 7%, the lowest in baseball.


John Patterson will only be 28 years old next season and has just entered what should be his prime years. Don't read too much into his 9-7 record as he got very little run support with the Nationals. His strikeouts are just where they need to be and there's no reason he still can't continue to limit his walks. As long as he's pitching in R.F.K. Stadium, or other pitcher friendly parks I don't think there's as much cause for alarm as there usually would be in the home run department. His injury history leaves some concern, but if healthy, there's no reason why he can't do just as well as last year if not better. And if the Nationals can manage to pony up some runs for him, more wins will certainly be on the way.

Daily Graphing – Jim Thome

For the first time in 7 years, Jim Thome failed play in over 140 games after having season ending elbow surgery in mid August. Before his decision to shut things down, he was easily having the worst season of his career by batting only .207 with a mere 7 home runs in 193 at bats. Jim Thome insists he'll be fully recovered from shoulder surgery next season and ready to play for his new team, the White Sox. While a rebound for the slugger is almost a certainty, how much of an improvement over last year should be expected?


First let's address his poor batting average. Besides injuries, some of his .207 batting average can be attributed to a very low Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). As you can see his 2005 BABIP of .260 is way out of line with his career averages and should revert to at least the .300 mark next year. In addition to his low BABIP, his walk to strikeout ratio remains above average which only bolsters evidence that his batting average will rebound.


However, the area where he experienced the most severe decline was not his batting average but his Isolated Power (ISO). Much of this decline is likely due to injuries, but he'll be 36 years old next season and I'd be surprised if his age wasn't slightly responsible for the decrease in power.


If Jim Thome can remain healthy next season, I don't see any reason why he won't have a significant rebound. His batting average should return to around his career averages, but I'd be surprised if he had another 40 home run season. Considering his health and age, I think 30 home runs is more within reason.

Daily Graphing – Jason Schmidt

The Giants picked up Jason Schmidt's 2006 option yesterday for 10.5 million dollars. Over the past 4 or so years, he has been one of the better pitchers in baseball with a winning percentage of 69%. That puts him at the 6th best in baseball for that same time period. The only knock against him is that he can't pitch an entire season without getting injured at least once. It will come as no surprise then, if I tell you over the past 4 years he is 3rd in pitches thrown per start.


If you take a look at his strikeouts per 9 innings, he reached a 4 year low. I'm not too concerned about this since it still sits at an excellent 8.6. The real drop off came in the free base department.


As you can see, he allowed more walks per 9 innings last year than he had since the 2000 season. Why did he have such a down year in 2005? Could it be the fact that he threw the most pitches per start of any pitcher in all of baseball in 2004? In 21 starts before his injury that year, he averaged a whopping 120 pitches per start. He did have a decreased workload last year, down nearly 600 pitches from the year before. Hopefully he'll come back next year well rested, but the Giants might be wise to put him on a strict pitch count. I think if he can stay healthy and relatively fatigue free for an entire season he has the ability to be a serious Cy Young contender.

Daily Graphing – B.J. Ryan

Congratulations to the White Sox for winning their first World Series since 1917. Before I go onto the usual daily graphing, I feel it necessary to rant about the headline pretty much everyone chose to use for the White Sox win, “Say it's So!” or its wordier cousin, “Say it IS So!” I actually saw this same headline being used when they made the World Series, and now it's being used again, and again, and again…. The worst part is, this play on the now famous cry of a small boy in reference to the 1919 White Sox scandal never actually happened. Rant over. Let's take a look at B.J. Ryan.

Free agent B.J. Ryan was given the Orioles closers job last year and he thrived in it. He converted 36 saves out of 41 chances, a solid 88% successful conversion rate. More importantly, he kept his strikeout rate ridiculously high for the second season in a row.


Of all active players, his 2005 K/9 of 12.79 is the 11th highest of any other single season. That puts him in the elite company of Eric Gagne, Brad Lidge, and Billy Wagner to name a few.


To go with a career high strikeout rate, he also managed to get his walks down to a career low. As you can see from the BB/9 graph above, there's still room for improvement here. The only weird thing is his high Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .337. I don't exactly know how to explain it, but it could have to do with the Orioles defense. Whatever the reason may be, it's quite possible he hasn't reached his ceiling yet. Barring injury, he should be worth every penny he gets.