April 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
A few days ago many fans were ready to cut BJ Upton. A game tying home run, followed by his brother’s walk-off home run, seemed to alleviate much of that concern for many fans. Fans are starting to freak out about Jason Heyward’s slow start, while we’re euphoric over Justin Upton’s insane hot streak. We should probably take a step back on all of these.
The season’s start is always a funny time to try to gauge a team. On the one hand, as many people like to point out, April games count just as much as games in August. While we most certainly aren’t contending that April games count less, what we are claiming is that we simply don’t have enough information to make much out of the results thus far, one way or the other.
What many seem to fail to grasp is that “you can’t judge a player on 6 games’ worth of statistics” is a much different claim than “these games are unimportant.” The former is simply a blunt statement of statistical fact, the latter is, admittedly, folly. We just simply haven’t seen enough Jason Heyward at-bats to have any significant idea as to whether or not his swing is messed up, or if it is just small sample weirdness. Scouts might be able to give you a clue, but most fans aren’t scouts, and most fans run into heavy confirmation bias when trying to scout (ie a swing can look the exact same when a player is struggling and tearing it up, and fans will see ‘hitches’ when he’s struggling and it will look ‘pretty’ when he’s on fire).
We can simply turn the statement “April games count just as much as any other time of the year” around on those that say it. Sure, they do, exactly the same amount. If Jason Heyward had started hot, and then struggled for 6 random games in June, would anybody say anything? It might be a passing note in a David O’Brien blog, but nobody would really care. But because it is the first 6 games, and that ugly batting average shows up next to his name, people freak out. While April games certainly count, and certainly matter, they also don’t matter any more than any other games.
April 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about BJ Upton’s wild approach at the plate, which is leading to this slow start. Again, let’s take our turn at the altar of avoiding over emphasizing small sample sizes. Weird stuff happens in small samples. Let’s first abserve this “wild approach”:
BJ is chasing on 33% of pitches outside the zone (compared to 25% over his career). Of Pitches he’s taken, he’s actually taking called strikes at the highest rate of his career, at 35% (career 28%). Are these numbers worse than his career? Yes. Are they appreciably worse given the tiny sample? No.
If you want one single number to hang BJ’s slow start on, look no further than the fact that only 11.9% of pitches he’s seen have been over the horizontal middle of the plate (ie not inside or outside) compared to a career number of 23.9%. Essentially pitchers have thus far thrown him roughly half as many pitches over the middle than he’s used to. The end result is simply that pitchers have executed a lot of great pitches against BJ.
If you actually look at his at-bats, he’s basically followed a pattern of taking pitchers’ pitches early that get called for strikes (hence the high called strike rate and low middle of the plate rate), getting in a hole and being forced to chase when in bad counts.
Do we hope BJ’s plate approach improves? Absolutely, but that’s much more based on a full year of stats last year than really anything that’s happened so far. His start has obviously been poor, no matter how you look at it, but to think of it as indicative in any major way of what we will see from him is folly.
April 4, 2013 at 10:59 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
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March 25, 2013 at 2:12 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Y’all. So close. To quote some tweet I read on twitter but can’t remember who said it “it seems as though pitchers and catchers only reported to camp yesterday, but in reality it was 90,000 years ago.”
Some over-unders, talk about the Varavarro-Martinez ‘battle’. Other stuff.
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March 21, 2013 at 10:30 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
This is a notoriously difficult time of the year for bloggers of our sort of slant to write. While most articles at this time of year focus around things like who the opening day starter is and spring stats and performances, we’re actively opposed to furthering those sorts of stories. So, I thought today we would briefly talk about the myriad reasons why we don’t value spring stats.
1) Sample size – The most obvious reason is simply the small number of plate appearances and innings pitched. In the course of just a few days we can see Evan Gattis’ batting average drop by nearly 150 points, Mike Minor’s ERA double and Uggla bring his batting average up by 50 points with one single. Often it takes more than a full season’s worth of plate appearances to really have a reliable indicator of a player’s quality, yet sometimes we try to do this with something like 30-50 PAs?
2) Players really are ‘working on things’ – A lot of fans groan at this explanation as some sort of excuse for poor spring training performance. But it really has a lot of merit and manifests itself in several different ways. First, is the obvious angle that players may be working on a certain pitch, thereby showing hitters a subpar pitch and showing it repeatedly; hitters may be working on an adjustment to their swing; fielders may be getting used to new positions. Secondly, pitchers don’t pitch to a scouting report in spring. During a regular season game, if a player was known to have a certain hole in his swing, you can bet that a pitcher would be targeting that. During spring games though, most pitchers concentrate more on executing their pitches than worrying about what the hitter at the plate is doing, ie the Chuck James approach. And we see how well that approach worked for Chuck James over the long haul. Further, hitters with certain holes in their swing are less likely to have those holes exploited, and they’re likely to see more pitches in their ‘happy zone’ than they may in the regular season.
3) Pitchers aren’t seeing the lineup as many times as they do in the regular season – A big key to being a successful starting pitcher is how well you fare the third time through the lineup. As pitchers tire and hitters see the arsenal throughout multiple at bats, the advantage shifts from the pitcher to the hitter. How much the pitcher mitigates this shifting is a major key towards how good of a pitcher they can be. Often times the difference between a #3 starter and a #4 starter is that the #3 can successfully navigate through the lineup the third time with minimal damage, and perhaps even face some hitters a fourth time, where your typical #4 starter is going to begin being hit harder the 3rd time through and really hard if he faces hitters a fourth time. In spring most hitters won’t face a single starter 3 times in one game all spring, let alone 4 times. A large percentage of runs scored on starting pitchers in the regular season come from those third and fourth times through the lineup. Removing them highly alters how the game works.
4) Quality of opponents can vary so wildly – Some players will be hitting or pitching against mostly MLB talent, while some face the equivalent of AA opponents. This non-uniformity of opposition essentially makes stats that were already pretty meaningless for the reasons outlined above even more meaningless. Yesterday Mark talked a bit about non-uniformity of schedules this season, and how it could impact the Braves. But consider that the difference between MLB teams and what players face in spring are different by orders of magnitude.
Ultimately it’s very important that we keep the ‘training’ aspect of spring training in mind when we look at these stats from spring. While it’s important that we don’t worry too much about a struggling player whose swing or pitching motion otherwise looks sound, it’s perhaps equally important that we temper our expectations on players who are having incredible springs. Mike Minor from last year is perhaps a pertinent cautionary tale that ended up turning out alright. He was near flawless all spring, but as soon as the games started to count, he struggled for the entire first half of the season. Instead of ascribing this to some sort of ‘learning to deal with the pressure’ or whatever imaginary ex post facto explanation we might apply, we should probably just understand that Spring stats are meaningless and have very little bearing on what we will see come April 1.
March 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
We’ve alluded to this issue several times, but a lot of how this season may play out depends on which BJ Upton we get. Do we get the guy who put up back to back .380+ OBPs in 2007 and 2008, or do we get the guy who was in the .320 – .330 OBP range thereafter; up until last year, when he went .298 OBP (yikes).
The biggest culprit has seemed to be good old ‘aggressiveness’, a familiar bugaboo for CAC. In 2008 BJ swung at just 15% of pitches out of the zone. In 2012, he swung at over twice that clip, 32.7%. He also saw his in the zone swing percentage go up from 67% to 75% in the same years. The former trend is incredibly problematic, while the latter is okay. It’s just very difficult to be a productive hitter when you swing at 1/3 of all pitches thrown to you out of the zone.
One issue this lineup potentially has is that it has no real prototypical leadoff hitter with great on base ability. BJ once had that. 2007 BJ, with his current grown man power, could be a dynamic leadoff guy. The weird thing is that out of zone swing percentage is usually something that you see players improve on as they age, not massively decline in. Was it just a change in approach? It would seem odd that such a forward thinking organization as the Rays would push for Upton to be more aggressive out of the zone. It will be an interesting thing to watch. If you want to know what we’re likely to see out of BJ, watch that out of zone swing percentage early. If we have wait and rake BJ, we could be in for a a great year from him, as he’s improved most every other facet of his game.
March 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
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