Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Giants Starters Don't Fit the DIPS Mold

There are a lot of saber oriented people today and many deride the Giants rotation because DIPS say so. The problem is that many of the saber-knowledgeable (and I was one before and sometimes slip up) are taking the strictly DIPS view of the Giants starters and the Giants don't necessarily fit that. As Tom Tippett showed in his analysis at Diamond Mind, there are pitchers who are able to keep their BABIP down, who are able to defy the DIPS manta of "Every pitcher will regress to .300 BABIP!" (Someone noted that he thought it was .290 but I got .300 as the mean from Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual)

The Giants have a number of pitchers who might not fit the DIPS model. Zito definitely has shown the ability to keep it substantially lower than .300 and Cain has been south of .300, and greatly so, while in the pros except for his first season, which was cut short. Ortiz was also south of .300 much of his career, though it is too soon to tell if he's actually able to still do that. And Lincecum certainly looks like a sub .300 BABIP pitcher as well, based on his minors stats.

Less hits means you can have a higher BB/9 (and thus K/BB) and still do well as a pitcher, particularly since BIP accounts for something like 60-70% of all plays and hits do more damage than BB. One way of accounting for this difference is measuring how high the pitcher's H/9 would be if their BABIP was .300 instead of whatever it was that season. The difference of what it would be and what it was, can be subtracted from BB/9 to get an adjusted BB/9, then an adjust K/BB can be calculated.

Example of BB/9 Adjustment

For example, in 2001, Russ Ortiz's K/BB was 1.86, OK but not great. But his BABIP was .280, not .300, so his H/9 was lowered 0.55. Subtracting that from his 3.75 BB/9, his adjusted BB/9 is 3.2 and his K/BB is 2.17, which is pretty good for a starter.

Plus there should be an additional adjustment higher for K/BB because a hit is not equal to a walk, even for a single, because a walk can only advance runners 90 feet, and doesn't do anything at all if first base is open, whereas a single almost always advance all runners an additional base, two if hit right and speedy baserunner. And sometimes that hit is an extra-base hit.

There's probably some way of truly adjusting to account for extrabase hits, but I think this is a good enough example to show how Ortiz did his high-wire act: he was playing with a loaded deck because the walks he gave up were not as damaging as the hits other pitchers gave up instead. If fans understood this, they might have not been so much on Ortiz for doing that.

The Back of the Rotation

Morris doesn't strike out a lot anymore but he has demonstrated over this career that he can keep his BB/9 down low and, once he lost his velocity, got his BB/9 down even lower. This season has been an aberration in that he's walking a lot more than usual, but has been extremely lucky in keeping HR/9 and HR/FB way down low. Each should approach his career means and counteract each other as the season progresses. In addition, since he's become a low velocity starter (about 2003 on), his BABIP has been on the lower side, though not dramatically so, but that's not necessary if you walk at a very low rate, like he does (mid to low 2's when 3 is good). The thing is, he's capable of a high 3 ERA, low 4 ERA, based on his peripherals, and he was there last season until the very end when at some point he got injured (and should have DLed but kept silent).

Lowry I've been worried about because he hasn't had a high K game since his strained oblique last season, but his recent game with 8 K's and 1 BB tells me that he's got his changeup working again and he'll be like he was in 2005 and not like how he was in 2006. Last season and this season, until his last game, highest he could strike out was 6. In 2005, 12 starts out of 33 that he had 7 or more strikeouts. In fact, he was slow starting that season too, he didn't hit 7+ strikeouts until May 6th, so he's right on target if 2005 is what he's capable of. And even though he couldn't strike out anyone last season, he still kept his ERA down in the low 4 until his sore arm problem caused him to give up a bunch of runs in September.

Giants Rotation

As I've been saying since the start of the last offseason, I like the Giants rotation a lot, both long term and for playoff success. Pitchers like Cain and Lincecum can be dominant when they are on, and Zito, Lowry, and Morris have good outings many more times than disastrous ones. That's why I like the Zito signing, because it made our rotation pretty top notch relative to most teams, he was the tipping point from a good to a great rotation.

If you examine how the rotation compares to the majors, they are basically a rotation of #2 starters (see The Hardball Times articles on starters by slot by Jeff Sackman). BP noted that Zito, despite his negatives sabermetically, is the top or #2 starter on most rotations (see their comments on Zito in their 2007 Annual, highly recommended). Cain had a high 3 ERA after his skipped start, low 3 after the All-Star Break, and clearly has been doing well this season. Lowry had a high 3 ERA in 2004 and 2005 and, as I noted, he seems to be rounding into 2005 form. Morris, was a low to mid 4 ERA last season until the very end when he was pitching injured. Ortiz, who knows now, but he was a #2 type previously but now the point's moot since Lincecum is now in the rotation - Lincecum gives us hope that he can be something like a #2 at minimum, but he's already pitching like an ace.

That's a rotation full of #2 starters (or better) that will be hard for any team to get through, during the season or in the playoffs, leaving it up to our offense to just be average and that will win us a lot of games if they can. After their slow start, they have been average and we have won a lot of games.

Oh, and what a game by Lincecum and Zito the last two nights! What a rotation!

Giants Ready to Start Winning Again

With the rotation rounding out nicely and the bullpen is good enough, once Durham gets back, the offense will be improved over early May now that Bonds is hitting again and Klesko has started to hit like he used to. I think the Giants is starting to gel, the starting rotation has been pretty good for the most part, the bullpen is rounding out nicely, except for Benitez up and down act, and the offense looks to be starting to hit on most cyclinders, with Winn and Klesko hitting like they were capable of during May, Durham returning to the lineup, Bonds rounding back into form, Molina hitting like he's capable, Feliz too, and Lewis doing OK in Roberts absence.

Only Vizquel has not been able to do well and I'm getting worried about him, he going to have his second straight sub-.600 OPS month, which he hasn't done in the last 5 seasons; in 2001, he had two 500's OPS but one was in April, the other in Sept/Oct and the last time he had sub-600 OPS in consecutive months was 1993, 14 seasons ago.

Despite Vizquel's problems, I think once we get Durham back, maybe as soon as this weekend series, the Giants should be able to mount sustained winning in the month of June and make a move on 1st place. The offense has been up and down but I think with Klesko, Bonds, Durham, Molina in the middle of the lineup, and Winn hitting up top, the Giants offense will be steady enough against RHP. And Feliz batting 7th is an asset, as most 7th hitters don't hit as well as Feliz can, plus his overall stats are suffering right now from poor hitting (i.e. bad luck, his BABIP is very low) against LHP, against whom he usually hits better than RHP - he's doing about average right now vs. RHP.

Yeah, might not seem like it right now, but I think they are on the verge of playing well and winning a bunch of series, and therefore a lot of games, going forward. I think they showed a lot, coming back after that demoralizing lost on Tuesday, and not only winning but shutting out the Met's great offense which hadn't been shut out all season until now. That shows a lot of heart, I think, a lot of guts and inner fortitude. Plus, as I noted, Durham in the lineup and Bonds over his cold spell and Klesko hitting for power (.525 SLG, 197 ISO, 45% extra-base hits, .922 OPS in May) will help the offense heat in June.

Interesting (and Curious) Sidenote

Makes me wonder about Baseball America's sources: there was a nice article on Fred Lewis the other day (May 29th, Tuesday) in the Merc, and it noted that:

Whenever Fred Lewis hears that he's making up for lost time on the baseball field because of his football background, he can only shake his head and smile.

"My momma wouldn't even let me play football until high school. I've been playing baseball my whole life."

So that's kind of scary then. Most analysis of his defense (particularly BA) has always carried the caveat that he is learned to play the outfield late because of his football activities. But according to him, he's been playing all his life. Nothing scientific, but I've been hearing on the radio regularly that he misplayed one ball or another, or did something bone-headed. I wonder what nickname that will earn him, Linden got the moniker "Magellan" because of his poor routes.

Anyway, I think his honeymoon is over, as he sat against a LHP the last two games, as Ortmeier started against the lefties - it seemed like Lewis played most games previously, though maybe it was just a long stretch of RHP starting.

That's just as well, he's hitting a horrid .067/.067/.200/.267 vs. LHP in 15 ABs. He's probably platooning with Ortmeier until Roberts returns and then going back to AAA, the Giants need somebody who can hit against LHP when Roberts sits against LHP and Lewis bats left-handed whereas Ortmeier switch-hits. Plus Ortmeier has been killing LHP (small samples) this season. He also hit well against them in AAA this season and last. Ironic since he is a natural lefty and hits poorly against RHP relative to LHP and there's more RHP than LHP... Hopefully he can learn to hit better against them now that he's up here and getting more/better coaching on hitting.


  1. I don't think Lewis is going to turn it around against LHP. Look at his minor-league splits by OPS-vs:
    2007 681 1081
    2006 699 867
    2005 672 790

    A platoon 4th/5th OF isn't a bad thing, and it looks like that's going to be Lewis's future if he couldn't even hit LHP in two years in the PCL.

  2. Thanks for the comment wcw.

    Yeah, I saw his 2006 and 2007 splits - don't have access to 2005 - they are pretty bad, eh?

    He would have been a great platoon buddy with Ellison, as they both mash against the opposite thrower.

    Platoon is not a bad thing, just not what projections for him was, he had been seen as a future starter for much of his time with us. In fact, some early stuff noted that Lewis was viewed by the Giants as a potential middle of the lineup hitter. So this would be a big comedown to be a platoon player. But the high expectations have been deflating since his early struggles in AA, so only people with long memories like me would remember.

    But that's pretty good RHP OPS. Ortmeier has also been noted as another platoon player though, and he only plays RF.

    I guess if Bochy is OK shifting Winn back and forth, you got A.B. (after Bonds) vs. RHP, Lewis, Roberts, Winn; and vs. LHP, EME, Winn, and Ortmeier. Not sure where Schierholtz fits in then.

  3. The problem to me is that a 4th OF type absolutely has to be airtight defensively and that's just not Freddie and never has been. He has no instincts out there. Given Ellison's defensive hi-jinks at the major league level, I'd say that would be quite a horrific platoon. BTW, Ortmeier is a better defensive CF than Lewis. In fact, when both were at AA a couple of years ago it was Ort who played CF, not Lewis.

  4. I think you are pushing it if you say the 4th OF needs to have airtight defense - else Calvin Murray would have a job somewhere. :^D

    I see your point that having both Ellison and Lewis would be too much a downer defensively, thanks for pointing that out, I was only thinking offensively and defense should count for something.

    That's odd, Baseball America noted in their 2007 book that Lewis was only shifted to LF from CF last year, in 2006; they played in Norwich together in 2005.

    But they noted similar to you about their relative defensive abilities. They noted that Lewis took poor routes to balls, which pushed him to LF last year. And Ortmeier is noted as an above-average defender in RF and CF.

    That further seals the deal for him to stay up over Lewis, defense, offense, SB speed. Thanks again for the info!



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