Let’s go Rangers!

What a difference a week makes – three of my four LDS picks have been eliminated already, and the Cardinals are fighting to drop me to 0-4 this postseason.  Personally I’m rooting for the Rangers in the LCS, mostly because I can’t stand to see Jose Valverde get any more overrated if he keeps his save record perfect.  In the NLCS, it’s a different story.  I’m loosely rooting for the Brewers, but this series has been so exciting so far that I don’t really care who wins.  For me, it’s just fun watching two awesome series, and looking forward to the Yankees offseason a little bit.  Fun times in baseball right now.

Yanks, Phillies, D-backs eliminated

Like the title says:  The Yankees, Phillies, and Diamonbacks have been eliminated, thus negating 3 of my 4 postseason predictions.  The D-backs didn’t come as a surprise to many, they were the type of team many considered successful just for making their way to the playoffs, so it’s no insult to see them drop out against a team that was considered stronger, especially when they hung on right down to the wire, going into extra innings in game 5 after rallying against Brewers closer John Axford.  The Phillies and Yankees, though, are a different story.  While not everyone expected them to win it all, fans are clearly unhappy with an early exit, with some claiming wither team should be broken up, or that “they knew all along” that the team couldn’t win because of some “unclutch player”.  Take your pick, it could be A-rod, Nick Swisher, or Ryan Howard or any of half a dozen others.  Both teams won the msot games in their league, and to me that counts for something.  As a Yankee fa, sure I would have liked to see them come back against Jose Valverde and make it the the ALCS, but sometimes it’s just not in the cards.  And while I won’t sit here and claim that the Yankees (or the Phillies) were the absolute best team in their league, many have pointed out that it’s very common for the “better” team to suffer an upset in the postseason.  Many ‘casual fans’ don’t understand this, though, and seem to come out of the woodwork every October just to show how much they hate their own team.  To me, all three of these teams had a successful season, and I’m looking forward to what is currently promising to be an excellent pair of LCS series.

Rangers Elminate Rays

As everyone knows, yesterday the Rays were eliminated in Game 4 by the Texas Rangers.  It’s been real, Tampa Bay, I rooted hard for you as a fan of the Yankees, but more importantly as a fan of baseball.  Your wild comeback should go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, even with the first round exit.  Dan Johnson’s name will be remembered for years based on no discernible hitting skill, other than an ability to deliver season altering home runs seemingly on demand.  Better luck next year.

NL Postseason

I’m a bit torn on who to root for in the National League postseason matchups.  I like the underdog nature of the Diamondbacks, but I can’t see them getting to far in a tough field.  On the other hand, it be nice to the the Brewers do  well, since this might be their last year with Prince Fielder, and the same could be said for the Cardinals.   To top it off, I live in Philadelphia now, but while some might want me to root for the home team, I can’t see I want to face Halladay in the World Series, especially not after some first hand experience with Cliff Lee from 2009.  The Brewers and D-backs are tied scoreless as I write, with Cy Young “candidate” Ian Kennedy taking on Yovani Gallardo.*

*This is nothing against Kennedy, who has pitched well.  But his name in Cy Young discussions is way out of place, in my opinion.  I’ll likely discuss this later, when the awards season starts.

 

NLDS:

Brewers over Diamondbacks

This years D-backs are almost the Rays of the NL, making things happen by getting good performances out of seemingly unlikely players.  However, the similarities end there, because while the Rays do so with manager Joe Maddon pushing all the right buttons, the Diamondbacks look like a good team, propelled to the elite by some good fortune.  The Brewers, on the other hand, are a powerhouse, stacked in the rotation (Greinke, Gallardo and Marcum), the lineup (MVP contenders Fielder and Ryan Braun provide the biggest punch) and the bullpen (second year closer John Axford is backed up by former Met closer Francisco Rodriguez).  In much the way that I picked the Yankees to beat the Tigers, I pick the Brewers here.  They’re just better, and I think they can win this series.

 

Phillies over Cardinals

I’ve made it no secret that I think the Phillies are overrated among my friends.  Yes, they are a very good team, with the best record in baseball.  I simply don’t think they’re that much better.  The trade for Hunter Pence beefed up their lineup, but it still has issues, notably Ryan Howard’s tendency to be neutralized by lefthanded pitching.  However, their pitching staff is stacked beyond belief, with three of the best starters in perhaps all of baseball.  I don’t think the team as a whole the monster every says they are, but they are quite good.  The Cards, on the other hand, feature a rotation that is solid, but nothing special, which might be different had they not missed Adam Wainwright for the entire season.  Their offense has a high powered core, with a resurgent Lance Berkman teaming up with Pujols and Holliday, but the role players filling out the lineup don’t exactly strike fear into enemy pitchers.  I have to pick the Phillies here.

 

ALCS:

I’m going to buck trend here and pick the Brewers taking down the Phillies.  I’m not sure why, but much like the Rays, I just have a feeling the Brewers can win this.   Good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting, but we saw H2O get beaten last year, and I think Fielder, Braun (and Tony Plush!) could be the team to do it again.  Plus, the Brewers have some strong pitching of their own, so it’s not a forgone conclusion that they can’t shut down the Phillies offense either.

 

That leaves us with a Yankees Brewers world series, and while I try my best to stay objective, it’s hard to pick against my favorite team.  That said, I do think the Yankees are an overall stronger team.  The lineup is deeper, and while the Brewers may have an edge in the rotation, it’s not a giant advantage, so I’ll pick the Yankkes to win it all, with the obvious disclaimer of not exactly complete objectivity on the issue.

Postseason Predictions

It’s Friday evening as of this writing, and I don’t think much more needs to be said about the craziness that was September 28th, 2011 in the baseball world, but I’ll say one thing anyway.  I’ve been following baseball for a few years now, which is a relatively short time compared to some die hard fans.  The other night was, without a doubt, the greatest single even in the history of my time as a fan, and I know that some more seasoned fans are saying the same thing.  In 50 years, I’ll look forward to being able to tell about how I watched live the night that the Cardinals and Rays came back, The Sox and Braves completed twin collapses to rival the worst ever, and Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria secured places in Tampa Bay legend.

Anyway, on to more current issues.  The playoffs are upon us, and I’ll cut to the chase, here are my predictions for the AL postseason matchups.

ALDS:

Yankees over Tigers.     The Tigers have one big advantage, name Justin Verlander.  But, despite Verlander’s great performance this season, it’s a little realized fact that CC Sabathia is not all that far behind him in performance.  Throw in Miguel Cabrera, who’s been solidly better than Te x, and Alex Avila, who’s bested Russell Martin but still isn’t a hitter that strikes the rear of god into opposing pitchers, and the Yankees are better than the Tigers as essentially every position.  Some might trumpet Doug Fister as the X-factor in this series, and he has been utterly dominant the last few weeks, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume Fister has been pitching over his head a bit.  If he shines, well, I’ll owe him an apology, but I don’t think he’ll be unbeatable, and I’m picking the Yankees to handle the Tigers.

Rays over Rangers

The Rangers are a very strong team, led by sluggers like Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, a resurgent Michael Young, and a surging-for-the-first-time Mike Napoli.  CJ Wilson has beet dominant, with a 2.94 ERA and a 3.24 FIP in his second full year as a starter, and rotation-mates Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland have been solid.   Beyond the rotation, Neftali Feliz hsan’t been as great as last year, but has still had a decent season, and he’s joined by midseason reinforcements Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.  The Rangers have also decided to move Alexi Ogando to the bullpen for the playoff, a decision that makes the most of his skill set.

With all of that said, I just think the Rays can beat them.  I don’t normally put too much stock in “intangibles’, but if there ever was a team that had them, it’s the Rays, and me personal theory is that this stems from the excellent managing of Joe Maddon, who seems to make the right move every time, even when its unconventional.   Add to that the Rays pitching staff, headlined by co-aces David Price and James Shields, and I can just see the Rays finding a way to win this series.  Don’t ask me how they’ll do it, it could be through dominant pitching, clutch hits, aggressive baserunning, or great defense, but I think they can find a way.

*Update: The Rays have decided to start Matt Moore, he of the one major league start, in Game One.  As I said, nothing this team does surprises me.  I’ve been saying they should start Moore for about a week now, this could be another move that helps them find an edge.

ALCS:

Yankees over Rays

I’ll be honest here, I’m essentially picking the Yankees because I don’t want to pick against my own team, but nothing would surprise me in this series.  If the Rays win the ALDS, they’ll have the ability to set their rotation up in the best order, which will make them even more dangerous.  On the other hand, the Yankees bring baseball’s version of brute force to the table, which turns this series into a battle of brains vs. brawn, and anything can (and I think will) happen.  While I do think that the Yankees have an edge based on the overall superior players, like I said before, the Rays and Joe Maddon have a way of squeezing maximum value out of their players, and like my prediction for the ALDS, it would not be surprising to see them find a way to pull this series out.

The ALDS starts tonight at 5, Jeff Niemann Matt Moore vs. CJ Wilson, followed by Sabathia-Verlander at 8:30.

I’m Back

It’s been a while for me since I started the Logical Fan Blog a year ago.  I originally intended to update regularly with my thoughts, but as we all know, things don’t always go to plan, and I’ve been out of action as I applied to graduate school, and then moved to Philadelphia (for school, of course).  It’s been a long great season, with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia turning back the clock, Jesus Montero making a splash, Jeter and Mariano making history, and more.  I’m back with more thoughts on the Yankees and the rest of baseball, hopefully on a little more regular schedule.  For now, I’m getting ready to enjoy some preview playoff baseball tonight, with the Rays, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Braves all fighting for postseason spots.

Make New Friends, and Keep the Old

As of today, really as of several weeks ago, the Yankees are in the midst of a change.  Chances are you already know that Andy Pettitte has decided to retire after a long and successful career.  Much has been written about Pettitte today, so I won’t spend too much time repeating what better writers have said, other than to say that I, like practically all fans, will miss him, both for the sake of the team, and as a great player in his own right.  As a young and relatively recent fan, I don’t have a long history of Andy Pettitte memories, but since I knew anything about baseball, I’ve known Pettitte was a great player, and I wish I had seen him play more while I had the chance.

But, what’s done is done, and I’ll leave debates about Andy’s career, his legacy to the Yankees, the retirement of number 46 and his case, if any, to make the Hall, to other writers.  With the confirmation that Pettitte will not be back this year, the Yankees have few decisions left to make regarding the upcoming season.  As the title suggests, they’ve been busy making a few new friends this winter, and no friend is newer outfielder Justin Maxwell, fresh off a DFA by the Nationals.  Maxwell is known to be a good defender, capable of playing all three OF spots, and looks to show a little bit of power as well.  He ought to be a qualified contender for the final bench spot on the big league team, and even if he never becomes any more than a bench player, he can still have depth value to the team.  More important, though, is what young players like Maxwell represent.  Although he himself may not be a major prospect, the time is coming soon when other young prospects will be moving into important roles.  Andy Pettitte’s retirement represents the first in a series of several departure the team will suffer over the upcoming years.  2011 may well be the last we see of Core Four member Jorge Posada, and while Mariano Rivera has aged gracefully, Derek Jeter figures to suffer the effects of aging soon, if he isn’t already.  Alex Rodriguez isn’t getting any younger, and slugger Mark Teixeira will enter the realm of the elderly over the next few seasons.  Of course, help is on the way, in the form of several highly regarded young players.

Coinciding with the loss of Pettitte, the Yanks are set to make a major addition to the team at some point this year, when catcher Jesus Montero makes it to the show.  While there have been concerns about his defense, everybody in the know claims that his bat will approach elite, possibly even legendary, status.  Posada has already proven that offensive production can offset some defensive deficiency, so I find it hard to think that Montero will be less than acceptable as the team’s everyday catcher.  And remember, Montero will only be 21 this year, he’ll still likely be in his prime as A-Rod and Teixeira’s contracts expire, so if his defense does prove to be a problem, he can always catch for a season or three, then transition to be more of a first base/DH type.  For the potential of an elite bat in the lineup long-term, the Yanks will make it work.  Behind Montero, several more talented players are advancing the ranks, including fellow catcher Austin RomineBrandon Laird has shown some prowess with the stick, and seems ready to contribute in a utility role on a big league team, while younger prospects like Gary Sanchez (C), Cito Culver (SS), and Rob Segedin (3B) show some serious promise for the future.  Most of these guys won’t be ready in 2011, but we could see some of the post-Montero prospect class making an impact as early as 2012.

Pitching-wise, the same is true.  Granted, things look pretty bleak at the major league level right now, but there are several players at AAA who have the potential to help piece things together in 2011, and by 2012, some of the more celebrated prospects will begin approaching major league readiness.  I won’t go into detail because I’ve already looked at pitching in depth here.  Sure, it doesn’t help right now, but knowing the Yankees, they can make it work in 2011 with the help of some current prospects, and the promise of more serious talent on the way.

Some fans have been talking about 2011 being a bridge year.  It won’t be, not in the usual sense of teams that must suffer several painful seasons while rebuilding the talent pool (see: Kansas City Royals).  2011 may be a bridge year only in name for the New York Yankees:  Even without Pettitte, even without any upgrades at all to the rotation, the team still projects to be highly competitive, and that is where the Yankees have an advantage over other rebuilding teams: Much like construction in New York City, the Yanks have the ability to stay highly competitive, even as they go through the process of retooling to become a newer, stronger, more streamlined team.  The 2011 team won’t be the superstar filled powerhouse of 2009, but let’s be honest – the Yankees will do just fine with “only” a reduced number of stars.  Even if they aren’t at the absolute top of the game in 2010, they still have a team set up to be highly successful with a few in-season moves, and with the exciting new players on the way, we can look forward to continued success for a long time.

Opening Day Preview: Hitters edition

Spring Training looms large, with barely three weeks left before
pitchers and catchers report for the Yankees, and the regular season
will follow soon after.  The Yanks have spent a lot of this offseason
making relatively quiet moves, with a few notable exceptions, and like
many fans, I’m spending my time these days looking forward to seeing
what the fruits of Brian Cashman’s winter work will be.  So today, I’ll
take a look at the Yankees opening day roster as it projects to be
filled out, and see if I can’t make a good guess what to expect from
them as the season opens.  First up, the starting lineup.

SS Derek Jeter:


There are a few key points to think about with the Yankees 2011 lineup.  First, the question that was
on everybody’s mind in 2010:  Is Derek Jeter going into decline?  Right
now, I’m going to have to say yes, but with that said, I still expect
him to bounce back in 2011.
  Maybe we won’t get 2009 Jeter
(.334/.406/.465), but his 2008 line (.300/.363/.408) should be
attainable, and I’ll take that any day of the week, especially from a
shortstop who isn’t getting any younger.  This plays into the other
Jeter question:  Will he continue to hit leadoff next season?  I think
the answer is yes.  While I certainly would enjoy seeing Brett Gardner
in the leadoff spot (more on that later), it makes the most sense for
Jeter to continue hitting first, either until he shows he must be moved,
or until another player proves that they deserve it.  In addition,
leaving Jeter at the top of the lineup keeps the option open to move him
to second with little fanfare, a lineup that the team experimented with
in 2010.  Wherever he’s hitting, all signs point to a comeback for
Derek Jeter in 2011, and he’s likely to remain productive, at least over
the next 2-3 seasons.

CF Curtis Granderson:

A
lot of fans got on Granderson’s back this year because of his slow
start, and overall low numbers, but it’s important to remember that he
spent most of May recovering from a groin injury.  He heated up as the
season went on though, notably working with Kevin Long to tweak his
swing, and his 17 homers after the All-Star Break alone are certainly a
good sign moving forward.  I like batting Granderson second, because it
helps keep some speed together in the lineup (along with Gardner batting
9th), but, as he has been known to struggle against lefty pitching, I
wouldn’t be surprised to see Nick Swisher getting starts in the two-hole
as well.

1B Mark Teixiera:
Like
Jeter, Tex ought to be in for a bounce back year.  He may not be able
to combat his annual spring slump, but if he can get hot and stay hot as
the summer comes on, like he’s been able to do in seasons past, his
2011 season will be a strong one, and that just about all there is to
say about that.

3B Alex Rodriguez:
Unlike
the other ‘bounce-back candidates’ on the Yankees, A-rod is hardly in
need of a comeback, although it would certainly be welcome.  While
putting up arguably his weakest season since breaking in as a full time
player, he still manged to continue his 13 season streak of 30+ homers
with 100+ RBI’s.  Sure, we’d all love to see some more production out of
A-rod, since he still has quite some time left on his mega-deal, but
it’s easy to forget that he still has potential to stay an extremely
valuable player.

2B Robinson Cano:

Cano
has a fantastic 2010, and although I hate to say it, it may be foolish
to expect the same this year.  That’s not to say that he will become a
weaker player, but it’s obviously difficult to reproduce such a great
performance, and as he gains notoriety, he may find himself getting
pitched around a little more, although Nick Swisher and a healthy Jorge
Posada should provide him some protection.  It may not be a 2010 repeat,
but Cano should remain a dangerous hitter in the middle of the lineup
in 2011.

DH Jorge Posada:

I
expect Posada to have a slightly better year, simply because he
projects to stay healthier without the wear and tear of catching every
day.  While some argue that Jorge has struggled in the DH role in the
past, one point to remember is that when he has been playing at DH it
has almost always been a result of an injury that prevented him from
starting at catcher, and it’s reasonable to think that those injuries
have impacted his batting performance as well.

RF Nick Swisher:

Like
Cano, Swish has a great year, and I don’t see any reason to expect much
different from him.  Whether he’s batting back in the order, or up in
the two-hole, I’d bet on Nick Swisher to continue his success in
pinstripes.

C Russell Martin:

I would love to see Jesus Montero
come up to the show this spring.  However, the Yanks’ signing of Martin
means Montero will probably start the year in AAA, and even if the only
purpose is to delay his arbitration clock, it’s a move I can’t find
fault with.  While Montero nears the end of his time in Scranton, Martin
should provide an adequate fill in.  Let’s be honest, a big part of
Martin’s job description is to be a better everyday catcher than
Francisco Cervelli, a bar he should have no problem topping.  If he can
flash some of his 2006-08 skills when he put up a 109 OPS+ and about 15
homers a year, all the better.  If not, many teams have performed at the
highest level with catchers who were more defense than offense, and
Martin figures to be, at worst, a solid defender who won’t be a black
hole in the lineup.  And hey, if Martin comes aboard and falls apart,
it’s not like the Yankees are lacking in catching options, with Montero
knocking on the door of the majors, Austin Romine coming up behind him,
and I’m sure in a pinch Jorge Posada can still don the tools of
ignorance for a few games.

LF Brett Gardner:

The
big question about Gardner this year is how he will rebound from his
wrist surgery this offseason.  He flashed impressive speed on the bases
in 2010, and improved his game at the plate to lead the team in OBP. 
Gardner may well develop into a quality leadoff man, but for now, the
Yankees could do worse than a speedy, high OBP outfielder to fill the
9-hole.

The Bench:

Andruw Jones, OF

I
think Jones is a great addition to the team.  Jones can hit for some
power, and is a right handed option who can play all the OF spots, so he
fills both the Marcus Thames lefty-masher role, as well as the Randy
Winn 4th outfielder job, to use 2010 as a comparison.  Jones is a
capable player in his own right as well, even in what seems to be the
decline phase of a great career.  He’ll spend most of his time giving
Swisher, Granderson and Gardner an odd day off, or getting some starts
against lefties, in the unfortunate event that one of the starting
outfielders goes down with an injury, Jone could easily step in and
provide everyday production, something that Winn and Thames were not as
qualified for, due to their respective offensive and defensive
challenges.  Long story short: I like having Andruw Jones on the team.

Francisco Cervelli, C

While
Jesus Montero is busy polishing his game in AAA, Cervelli looks to be
the Yankees choice for backup catcher, although Montero’s eventual debut
will likely squeeze him out of the mix.  That’s a shame, because for
all Cervelli’s flaws, he was actually quite qualified to be a backup
catcher; he was just overexposed due to unexpected injuries to Jorge
Posada in 2010.  Perhaps he will be traded, if another team is
interested in his services, or perhaps he will just go back down to AAA
to continue working, but while he’s with the big league team, we should
expect similar acceptable-but-not-great performance from Cervelli.

Ramiro Pena, IF

While Eduardo Nunez
may be a better hitter than Pena, I prefer Pena on the big league team
for two reasons.  First, Pena plays much better defense, even though his
hitting skills leave quite a bit to be desired.  Nunez’ defense, on the
other hand, is mediocre at best, and while is certainly a stronger
batter, it’s not like he’s the next Derek Jeter.  For a bench player who
isn’t likely to get in an excess of games, I prefer the better defender
to the better hitter, even moreso if the Yanks use their last bench
spot on a better hitter to balance Pena’s lack of offense.  Second, the
Yankees claim to project Nunez as a future starter at shortstop.  If
this is the case, it would seem the best move is, in fact, to let him
play everyday in AAA and improve his game, rather than sit on the bench
with minimal playing time.

If the Yankees choose to go with the
standard four-man bench (highly likely), that leaves them with one spot
open.  They already have a backup catcher, outfielder and infielder.  In
addition, Nick Swisher’s ability to play first base competently means
that it’s not necessarily imperative to carry a first baseman, so they
have some freedom with this spot to carry a stronger hitter, much like
they did with Marcus Thames in 2010.  Earlier in the offseason, I was a fan of filling the spot with super-utility man Omar Infante, and later I thought a 1B/3B type like Ty Wigginton would be a good fit.  Of course they’re both off the market now, but a player like former Ray Willy Aybar
could be a good fit, able to spell Tex and A-Rod (and even possibly
Cano, although I would take a day of light hitting in order to entrust
middle infield duties to Pena’s glove) while providing a little more
punch than Pena at the plate.

Of course, a lot can happen over the next few weeks, but the majority of
the hitters on the Yanks lineup are basically decided already, and
besides a few backup players, there isn’t much left to do, except for us fans to sit and think about baseball returning in a month.

Justin Louis Chamberlain

Yankee fans love to complain, and in 2010 there was no shortage of complaining about one Joba Chamberlain.  Fans bemoaned his inconsistency, his bad attitude, his inability to handle pressure, and his overall terribleness.  A few of us. though, had faith in Joba, and I’m here to explain why.  Please enjoy, in four acts, the tale of why Joba Chamberlain is a good pitcher.  Settle in and get comfortable, because it’s a long story:

Wins, Saves and Holds:  For old school fans, pitching stats revolve around two key numbers:  ERA and Wins/Saves (for starters or relievers, respectively).  For relievers, wins are not a great measure of performance, because they can only receive a win if they have the good fortune to be the relief pitcher of record when their team retakes a lead.  Even then, a win could be a good thing, because they kept the game close while the team came back to win, but relief wins are also common when a reliever blows the a lead given to him and gets bailed out by his team retaking the lead in the next inning. Saves are similarly misleading, because a pitcher can perform well, but not receive a save for his efforts, since most teams have a set closer who regularly finishes games when there is a save situation.  However, relievers can get achieve a hold, if they do their job in a save situation but do not finish the game.  This happens often in the later innings of close games:  For example, on Oct. 2, 2010, Joba Chamberlain pitched the seventh inning of a game against Boston at Fenway Park.  While he did allow one inherited runner to score, when he exited at the end of the inning, the Yankees still held the lead.  Had he performed the same way in the final inning of a game, it would have counted as a save, but instead he received a hold.  The rest of the game, which went through some twists and turns to say the least, is irrelevant.  The fact of the matter is, a pitcher that earns a hold performed the exact same duties as a pitcher who earns a save, except he does it before the final inning of a game.  In 2010, Joba earned 25 holds, and 3 saves.  On the other hand, he recorded 4 blown saves (which a pitcher can receive regardless of finishing the game) and 4 losses over six games (two games resulted in a loss and a blown save).


This is a simplistic way of looking at things, but if you condense Joba’s holds and saves on one side and his blown saves and losses on the other, the result is a record of 28-6. In other words, in thirty four situations where the Joba entered a close game, he succeeded in 82% of them, and that’s before you count his additional three wins.  This ratio is, of course, a very rough estimate of Joba’s effectiveness in 2010, but it does provide some evidence that his performance in close games was at least reasonably good.  To put those numbers in perspective, in 2010 closers as a group (remember, closers are regarded as the elite of relief pitchers, and thus make for a good baseline against which to judge a reliever) picked up on average about 28.1 saves, with roughly 4.7 blown saves, only slightly better than Joba’s theoretical 28-6 line.

What that means for Joba is that if you consider his holds to be of similar import as saves to a closer, his 2010 performance actually compares favorably to a group that includes many of the games best relievers.  Of course, correlation does not imply causation:  That is to say, Joba’s similar numbers may not necessarily be a result of similar performance, but, especially considering other factors, it’s not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from the data.  Joba also happens to play on a team with a legendary closer, which means that, at the latest, he will regularly pitch in the eighth inning, if not earlier.  If Joba’s 2010 season (which was widely considered a down year) came close to approximating an average closer, it only stands to reason that he could do even better in a good year.

ERA:  The other “classic” stat for pitchers is ERA.  As you know, ERA measures every run scored by a runner that the pitcher in question put on base.  There are several components to the Joba Chamberlain ERA discussion, the most complicated of which deals with that last clause, regarding the assignment of blame when calculating ERA. Let’s start simple though, by comparing Joba’s ERA to other pitchers in the the league.

There is a stat called ERA+ that I have previously mentioned on this blog, and ERA+ is, in effect, a simple way to compare different pitchers’ ERA’s in a given year.  What ERA+ does is take a pitcher’s ERA and compare it to the average ERA of the league.  The formula used so be extremely simple (League ERA divided by the pitcher’s ERA, times 100), but it has been updated slightly, in order to be more accurate.  In either form though, ERA+ rates a perfectly league average pitcher with a score of 100 (for: a 4.50 ERA, in a year where the league average was also 4.50).  In fact, with the update to the calculation, the score is linear, meaning that a score of say 110, is 110% better than average.  At this point you may be wondering “How did ERA+ rate Joba Chamberlain in 2010?”

98.  Barely below the league average.  But that’s not all.  ERA, as I emphasized before, only measures a pitcher’s performance by accounting for runners that he put on base. It fails to account for him allowing inherited runners to score, as well as for poor performance by another reliever, who allows runners to score who were put on base by the pitcher in question.  There are two ways to combat this potential inaccuracy: using FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, or by analyzing the inherited runner situations specific to the pitcher.

FIP and BAPIP: Because it’s the simpler discussion, I’ll tackle FIP first.  What it is, put simply, is what a pitcher’s ERA would be, if you only considered situations that did not involved fielders:  Strikeouts, Base on Balls, Hit by Pitch’s and Home Runs (I won’t use xFIP here: it’s slightly more accurate, but far more complicated).  Because it takes most hits out of the equation, one advantage to using FIP is that it eliminates much of the effect of excessively bad (or good) luck for a pitcher.  Generally, a pitcher (or team) will have a FIP within half a run or so of their ERA; large discrepancies often indicate that good or bad luck had a big effect on that pitcher or teams performance.  BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play, and it measures is batters average on any ball that they hit into play, which means it ignores walks, strikeouts, etc (A pitcher’s BABIP is calculated from all batters he faced in the season).  An average BAPIP will be around .300, and like FIP, an unusually high or low BAPIP can be indicative of bad or good luck, respectively.  For example, a high BABIP means that a larger percent of balls hit into play become hits, usually is a result of good luck at the plate: line drives that sink just in front of an outfielder, jam shots that drop in for a single, bad bounces that turn into an infield hit  While a large discrepancy in one stat or the other could always be a result of a statistical oddity*, corresponding swings in both BABIP and FIP can help confirm a streak of luck that affected a pitchers ERA.&nbsp
; Take the 2010 Yankees pitching staff for example (min 50 IP) for example:

FIP.JPG

A negative number in the “Difference” column indicates that that pitcher’s FIP was was worse than his ERA, suggesting that he may have benefited from good luck.  A positive number is just the opposite:  The pitcher’s actual performance may have suffered as a result of bad luck. Remember, an FIP within about a half run of the ERA is generally a result of normal statistical noise, and thus is not significant in looking at that pitcher’s performance.  Four of these pitchers, though, have more than a run difference between their FIP and ERA:  Mariano Rivera (-1.01), Dustin Moseley (-1.03), Sergio Mitre (-1.36) and Joba Chamberlain (+1.42).  The first three of these pitchers have a significant negative change, indicating that they likely benefited from some good luck.**  Their BABIP’s offer some confirmation: all below average, Mitre’s and Mo’s strikingly so.  Joba, however, has an extreme positive change.  Not only is it almost a run more than the next biggest change (AJ Burnett, at +.43), it’s also the largest change in either direction on the team.  Such an extreme difference implies that not only did Joba suffer from bad luck, but that he and Sergio Mitre likely have inaccurate ERA’s as a result of luck. Joba’s BABIP also backs up this contention: at .342, only David Robertson’s was higher.  This fits with the evidence provided by the data on Mitre: his ERA was much lower than his FIP, consistent with his extremely low BABIP.

*David Robertson is a good example of this: His high BABIP is not supported by a matching change between his FIP and ERA, suggesting that his BABIP may not be as significant as in other cases, such as Mitre or Chamberlain, where multiple stats corroborate each other.
**Obviously, no offense intended to Mariano Rivera – a 1.80 ERA and a 2.81 FIP are both highly impressive.


Bequeathed/Inherited Runners: 
In addition FIP, which can highlight cases where ERA doesn’t tell the full story, we can also explore situations where a pitcher’s ERA was affected by something out of his control: the performance of a following reliever.  In 2010, the average strand rate was 69.2%, meaning in situations where a reliever inherited runners upon entering the game, about 30% of them came around to score.  There are two ways that this can affect a relief pitcher:  He can suffer (or benefit) from the performance of the pitcher who follows him in the game.  In addition, his performance with regards to inherited runners, which is not reflected in his own ERA, should also be taken into account.  When it came to inherited runners, Joba stranded 28 out of 37 runners, or 75.7% of them, which indicates that he was at least average, and possibly above average, at stranding runners he inherited when entering.  Just like a pitcher who stranded very few runners is not punished in their own ERA, what this says to me is that Joba’s ERA does not reflect his above average performance is such situations.  On the flip side, Joba bequeathed 14 runners to pitchers that followed him in the game, and 7, or 50% of them scored, much more than the 30% that would be expected.  Compare that to David Robertson: in about ten less innings than Joba, Robertson handed over 31 runners to a pitcher relieving him.  In his case though, only 8 runners scored.  While Robertson left behind more than twice as many runners as Joba (in less innings, to boot), but the high quality performance by following pitchers helped keep his ERA down.  Robertson also inherited 32 runners, while stranding 22 or 68.7% of them.  While Joba actually slightly outperformed Robertson when entering with runners on base, due to the differing performance of relievers entering after them, Joba’s ERA suffers and, Robertson’s benefits greatly.  However, Joba’s ERA contains no indication of his superior performance when entering with runners on.

Conclusion:  So, to recap, I’ve looked at several different ways to judge the performance of relief pitchers, and each test vindicated Joba’s 2010 performance.  In terms of game decisions, he racked up 28 holds and saves, with only 6 blown saves or losses, for a completely respectable, if not stellar, record.  When looked at through the lens of ERA+, his 2010 ERA rates right around average, but other methods indicate that, if anything, his ERA should have been lower than the 4.40 that went into the record books.  His excellent 2.98 FIP was second on the team only to Mariano Rivera, while his above average .342 BABIP corroborates FIP’s evidence that his ERA was, in fact, inflated due to poor luck.  In addition, examining Joba’s performance with respect to bequeathed and inherited runners provides even more evidence of the same:  Joba’s performance was above average when entering with runners on base, and while he is not rewarded in his ERA for succeeding in these situations, he is punished with a higher ERA due to the poor performance of pitchers entering after him.  While many claim that Joba’s 201
0 season was a disaster, or insist that, after watching him, they would not trust him entering a game, the numbers don’t lie.  Four separate methods of analysis all vindicate Joba’s performance, showing that he was at worst an average pitcher, and at best something considerably more.

Obviously statistics don’t tell the entire story with every player, and the value of watching a player in action will always be extremely important.  In Joba Chamberlain’s case, though, many fans are insisting on remembering a few disastrous moment, while ignoring the more numerous occasions where Joba entered and did his job well, often spectacularly so, and the statistics offer irrefutable proof that those occasions were, in fact, much more numerous.  Like I said above, the numbers prove that Joba’s 2010 was, at worst, average, and even if it was truly merely average, Joba Chamberlain deserves far more credit than he has received.  Now that the Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano, there will be discussion ,at least among fans, about moving Joba back to the rotation.  I won’t address that issue, at least in this post, but, regardless of Joba’s role, I have plenty of faith in his abilities as he and the team move forward.

Raggedy Andy

While I was sitting here, working on a post about Joba Chamberlain (soon to come), I happened upon some alarming news.  The internet proclaimed that the wait was over, and Andy Pettitte had decided not to return in 2011.  I spent quite some time thinking (and writing) about the future of the Yankees’ pitching rotation, and while I don’t subscribe to the doomsday predictions, I would certainly be sad to see Andy call it quits, both out of concern for the team, and because none of us want to watch the Core Four break up just yet.  Then, as fast as I had texted my friends to break the story, it seemed that perhaps all hope was not yet lost.  As it stands now, things seem to be back up in the air.  I for one, am rooting hard for Pettitte to come back for one more go around.  By 2012, the Yanks young guns in the farm system will be much closer to ready, and there will be more of them near the majors, and having Pettitte on board in 2011 would just help bridge that gap even more smoothly.  Plus, it would just be great to see him pitch in person one last time, and even more fitting for him and Jorge Posada to finish their careers together (if Posada is headed for retirement after 2011, which seems likely).  Andy Pettitte will be a Yankee for life, and even possibly forever in the Hall, but when the Yanks take the field on opening day this year, I hope he’s literally a member of the team.

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