May 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
1:30 PM on TBS and FOX Sports South
23-year old Matt Magill will take the hill for his 3rd career major-league start. He features mainly a fastball and a slider, but he will add a change-up to lefties. The righty throws fairly hard – ranging from 91-94 – but his main weakness is his control. During his minor-league career, he never really had a walk rate below 9%, and in his transition to the majors, it’s up to 16%. Obviously, it’s only been two starts and could simply be a rough patch, but with a history of control issues that seem to be popping up in the majors, the Braves need to be patient this afternoon and make him work. The fact that’s it’s loaded with lefties will probably make it more difficult for Magill as his change-up command, the best way t0 neutralize lefties, seems to be all over the place.
Facing Magill will be #StaffAce Mike Minor. Minor has been excellent this season, coming in with an ERA of 2.75 (though his FIP is a run higher), and he has been able to weather early season battles with Detroit, at Colorado, at Cincinnati, and at Arizona. Today’s match-up with LA at home should be a little easier for the lefty. Things are shaping up nicely for a sweep, but the Braves still have to execute.
May 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Justin Upton (duh) .425 WPA
LVP: Paul Maholm -.230 WPA
Well, I said these two offenses could hit lefties.
7:30 PM on MLB Network and FOX Sports South
Dodgers ISO Maps
The Dodgers aren’t a terribly impressive offensive team, and the above ISO maps pretty much tell the story. Carl Crawford is having a resurrection season, and he can be a tough guy to pitch to at the top of the order. Nick Punto is Nick Punto. Matt Kemp has been struggling, but he’s still dangerous and apt to get righteous against the Braves. Adrian Gonzalez is an excellent low-ball hitter, but he’s got a hole upstairs (zing). AJ Ellis hits fifth, and he prefers the ball in. Scott Van Slyke is a prototypical mistake hitter, but he’s not much else. And Luis Cruz and Dee Gordon aren’t much to speak of at the bottom of the order, but Gordon might be the fastest guy in the stadium, Crawford included. There’s really no reason Maholm can’t pitch to these guys, but there is some righty pop in the order – Kemp, Ellis, Van Slyke – that could ultimately cause problems.
RYU REEAADAAAAAY. Sorry. I had to. Ryu mad? Don’t be mad. I’m weak. Aaaanyhooo, Hyun-Jin Ryu is having a Rookie of the Year-caliber season in a strong season of NL rookies. With a 25% K rate and a 7% BB rate, Ryu has been exceptional. He doesn’t throw terribly hard, but the lefty from Korea does throw four pitches for strikes while being completely new to hitters. And though he has four pitches, he’s mainly a two-pitch pitcher depending on handedness – FB/SL to LH and FB/CH to RH . Once he goes through the league a few times, I expect that he’ll get hit a little harder and strike out a few less guys, but he’s off to a legitimately excellent start.
I guess we’re past the Paul Glavine phase of the season, but he does still have the best FIP of his career, at least at this point in the season. He’s mainly had 2 disaster starts and several solid ones, so nothing to be worried about. The Dodgers are in the bottom 10 of offenses, but they do quite a bit of damage against LHP (5th in wOBA in MLB). The Braves are 7th, so there might be a few fireworks tonight, especially as we welcome back Jason Heyward to the lineup. This is the first time we’ve seen the fully restructured lineup, and it’s a pretty deep lineup, though I’d love to see everyone moved up a spot and Simmons moved down to 8th. But what can you do?
May 16, 2013 at 9:00 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
The Braves will finally get back to the Ted for a six game homestand after a much-needed off day today. Probables for this weekends series against the Dodgers are Maholm v. Ryu (7:30), Medlen v. Capuano (7:10) and Minor v. Magill (1:35). Fortunately, the Braves will miss both Kershaw and Greinke.
Currently, the Braves are approximately a quarter of the way through the season. I thought it may be good to take a step back and take a brief look at where the team stands, hopefully putting everything into perspective.
The Braves are 22-18, sixth best in the NL, but first in the division and a full game up on the Nationals. According to their run differential and Pythagorean W/L, their expected record sits at 23-17 (and five games up on the Nationals). Right now, their record is a pretty fair assessment of the team’s ability to score and prevent runs, ranking fifth and second respectively in the NL.
Next, we can take look at a very quick glance of how batters and hitters as a whole are doing compared to the rest of the NL…
The pitching has been prety “ehh” overall this season. After a hot start aided by batted ball and situational luck, the pitchers have a whole have predictably come back down to earth. One thing of note is that the Braves pitchers strikeout relatively less hitters compared to the rest of the league. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the walk rate is kept in check, which it has been. Overall, the starters have been able to keep healthy while the relievers have been the ones hitting the DL. Luckily, the Braves have a solid amount depth that area compared to the rotation.
With the position players, it turns out that the Braves offense hasn’t been so bad, even with a high rate of one certain type of event occurring more than some folks would like. Collectively, their offense has been slightly above average (102 wRC+) and their defense, ranking fifth as a team, has also helped carry overall position player value. As we’ve seen, they are a very three true outcome (TTO) heavy team, ranking first or second in the NL in all three categories. It can be frustrating to watch at times, but in the end all we should be worried about is overall offensive production and the amount of runs being scored. So far, so good.
Again this is a pretty quick glaze over how the team has performed. It’s kind of funny in a way that Friday’s game will likely be the first game with the full lineup that we drooled about all off-season. Hopefully getting home and rested with a full roster intact will get them off to a quick start as they enter the second quarter of the season.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote yesterday about the Braves and their high rate of one certain event occurring more than some folks would like.
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May 15, 2013 at 10:41 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Pretty much every stat/metric/model produced by “sabermetricians” is an approximation. Batting averages are pretty objective information. There are a number of hits and a number of at-bats, and there’s really no wiggle room on how many have occurred. But wOBA, for instance, is an approximation of the value of those hits. There’s certainly a value to a walk, single, double, triple, and home run, but there’s no “objective” answer. And there are other things that play into offensive production – opposing pitching, parks played in, opposing defenses, etc. – that make the “value” a bit less certain than pure fact. The reason we use these metrics, however, is that they give us a closer approximation of value than “traditional” statistics – batting average, for instance, leaves out walks and doesn’t account for the difference between hits. While they may not be “perfect”, they’re closer to what we really want to know – offensive production/value – than basic counting statistics.
I go over this because defensive metrics are also approximations, not certain facts. Fielding percentage, if you want to grant that all errors are scored correctly, is certain because it’s simply the number of errors over the number of assists and putouts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that until we start to use it. If you happen to use it for overall defensive value, you have to understand that it fails to account for some things. Fielding percentage tells you the percentage of times an out was made from a ball the player should have converted based on the context of him being prepared to handle it, but it forgets that some players get to more balls (range) or can make throws others can’t (arm). So if you use fielding percentage, you also need to find a way to account for range, etc.
What defensive metrics attempt to do is value a player’s overall defensive skill and value. Instead of looking at errors as we have for eons, they break down what goes into playing defense – range, glove, arm, and arm accuracy … or the ability to turn batted balls into outs. While you may not end up agreeing with the methodology as we talk about it, the logic behind them seems solid. Also remember that there is a significant sample size problem, and it takes closer to 3 years to get a feel for a player’s defensive talent.
Now, how do they measure defensive metrics? We’ll talk about UZR and DRS (to be clear, DRS is Defensive Runs Saved and the run-weighted version of Plus/Minus, which is strictly the number of plays Player A makes more or less than the league average at his position) because those are the most commonly used, but there are others, including BPro’s fRAA. The basics of both statistics are that the field is broken up into a giant grid, and they attempt to measure how many more plays one player at a position makes than another player at the same position in a particular zone. So there’s a league average number of plays made in Zone X, and if you make more or less than that, you are given a certain score. Each zone a player covers is added together, and it’s then converted into runs. If you want the dirty business behind all of it, you can go here for UZR and here for DRS.
Again, this is an approximation. There’s certainly some objective information there – there’s X number of balls hit here, and the player/the league makes Y number of outs of that – but the runs conversion, while researched and such, isn’t a verified fact. But it does give us a run value to look at that is based off of data and research.
But why don’t they match? Here’s one of the biggest issues with these metrics – they don’t always agree. The demon is in the details. They both use BIS (Baseball Info Solutions) batted ball data that will tell them where the ball was hit (zone), what type of batted ball it is (flyball, etc.), and relatively how hard it was hit (soft, medium, hard), and the fact that humans manually do this means human error will be involved. From what I understand, the main difference is how they compare the players to league averages. UZR weighs a three-year average while DRS is season-specific. There are values to both strategies. For UZR, the sample size problem is lessened by using a three-year average for the league, um, average. For DRS, they compare each player to their exact contemporaries and can monitor swings in talent levels. The two systems also account for oddities differently – defensive shifts, whether 1B are on the bag or off, hit-and-runs, how different-handed hitters affect things, etc. – that cause changes.
There are also certain weaknesses to a grid-style metric:
- Positioning plays a part in defense, but I don’t believe it’s tracked in any of the systems. Positioning may or may not be a skill, but either way, not tracking it won’t help us find out.
- Positioning also affects what range looks like. If a player is placed in the hole, he’ll make the play in the hole, and his actual distance covered won’t be measured. It would, however, be nice to know how much ground is covered in a certain amount of time and in which direction. Positioning tells us where the starting point is.
- The batted ball data is a bit sketchy. BIS does its best, but humans do mark the data. They say what kind of batted ball is and how hard it was hit, but those are simply put in as flyball, fliner, liner, ground ball and soft, medium, and hard. It would be nice to know horizontal and vertical angles as well as batted ball velocities.
- Pure arm strength also isn’t measured. It’s measured in making a play from a certain spot and throwing out runners, but wouldn’t it be nice to know the mph of the throw? Also, it might be nice to know if a 1B was constantly having to stretch or dig throws from certain players and whether he could dig them.
The next question is, of course, can anyone do anything about this? Not really. Grids are the only publicly-available data, so unless Trackman or FIELD f/x wants to release data, we’re left with what we have. It’s simply a reality of the situation. Trackman and FIELD f/x have cameras that can identify fielders, angles, distances, time, etc., but the data is private. And until the data is released, it will be impossible to publicly check grids versus cameras, calculate run-value models, and possibly merge grid and camera systems.
So if it’s not perfect, why use it? For one, we need a defensive component to put into a win-value component. To get a proper assessment of a position player’s value, we need a defensive value. It’s that simple. Now, could we adjust how we do it? Sure. Here are a few ways:
- Find a weighted average for a player’s defense. Instead of seeing 2012 Justin Upton as a -2.9 defender, we can look at his two previous years (7.0 and 6.9) and give some sort of weighted average adjustment along with his 2012 season. Simply doing a straight average, Justin would be a 4.6 run fielder in 2012 based off of the raw data. I’m just riffing here, so I’m okay with suggestions on how this would actually work. But just because there’s raw data from that season doesn’t mean that it has to be used like that.
- Or you could just manually change it. Upton was worth 5.3 and 7.9 runs in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and if I wanted to consider his 2012 value of -3.1 an outlier, I could give him an extra 8 or so runs and make his 2.0 pre-adjusted fWAR closer to 3. It’s subjective and not scientific, but it’s not completely illogical. You’re allowed to use your eyes, just not completely trust them. The problem here is that I never remember to go back and do it when doing other research or analysis. You’d have to constantly make that change every time, and we seem to kind of move on once a season is done.
As with any statistic, it’s good to know its strengths and limitations. Defensive metrics aren’t perfect, but they give us a better approximation of value than a simple eye-ball test or fielding percentage. But it’s always good to take it into context and adjust if you feel it should be. If you think Freddie Freeman is an awesome first baseman, then adjust it, but if you do, understand it will come under scrutiny as well. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
This is why analysis necessitates more than just a casual glance. When looking at any decision in life, you take context into account, and you should do so as well when looking at statistics. Defensive statistics may require that you look a little harder and put a little more thought into them, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. They still tell us something. But yes, there’s a lot of noise in one season of fielding data, and yes that means that the month and half of data so far don’t mean much. Here’s my advice: look at the data, look at multiple defensive metrics and find a pattern of performance, and make a responsible adjustment if needed.
Defensive metrics are relatively new, and in addition to their infancy, it’s the hardest part of the game to analyze and measure. Although they may not be perfect, they are an improvement over what we had before. The world is not black and white, and metrics are not simply right and wrong. We must learn to deal with the grey, and it will make us better people.
May 14, 2013 at 8:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Patrick Corbin .421 WPA, Reed Johnson .106
LVP: Dan Uggla -.109
Must lead league in being shut out.
9:40 PM on Sports South
Often thought as the lesser of the pitching prospects received for Dan Haren, Patrick Corbin is the one in the majors and producing at a high level. While striking out batters at a near-average clip (19% career), Corbin doesn’t walk many batters (6%) and keeps the ball on the ground (1.47 GB/FB). His velocity has also ticked up about a full mph this season, and that obviously helps as Corbin throws the fastball a lot. His other main pitch is the slider/curve/slurve, but as you can see from the heat map, it’s almost never in the strike zone except for the seeming “get me over” types. It would be wise for Braves hitters to make him prove he can throw it for a strike before swinging, but Corbin will primarily throw it ahead in the count when it becomes harder to let the pitch go. As for his change-up, he has one, but he won’t throw it to lefties.
Julio Teheran has been much better of late, and while the sight of a renewed change-up was much bally-hooed, Teheran also seemed to go back to a pure curveball in his last start instead of a slider/slurve that he had been throwing earlier in the season. It would be interesting to wonder whether McCann knew to just keep making him throw the change-up and curveball and if Laird was simply giving up on the pitch, but we simply don’t and can’t know the answer to that question. Having Laird behind the plate tonight may give us an indication, though the improvement in the change may also be real and would force Laird to call it more often. We simply don’t know. The D’Backs will add Eric Chavez and Miguel Montero to the lineup tonight to force Teheran to face more lefties, and Teheran’s change will be key in neutralizing those hitters.
May 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
We’ve heard a lot about putting/not putting the ball in play lately, ie strikeouts, homeruns, walks, etc. and their relative merits. I thought I’d do a brief case study to examine a player’s value when he “the true outcomes” (ie home run, walk or strikeout) with a player who does all of those a fairly decent amount, Justin Upton, and then compare that to when he puts the ball in the field of play (ie out to a fielder or hit).
In Field of Play:
Not In Field of Play:
The first thing to notice is the wOBA category, as it’s a generally well understood measure of a hitter’s overall value. Let’s first look at the league average values. We see that the league as a whole is more valuable when producing one of the three true outcomes, even though strikeouts make up 61.6% of those at plate appearances. This means that if an average player had the opportunity to choose between the BABIP “wheel of chance” and a randomly assigned “true outcome” the player would be better off taking his chances with the three true outcomes.
We also see this holds for Justin Upton, as he’s produced an otherworldy 0.542 wOBA in his TTO plate appearances, compared to 0.326 for his ball in play plate appearances (this is still really good though). That is, if Justin Upton could choose between putting the ball in play and a true outcome, he should be choosing a true outcome.
Next we see that Justin Upton’s K percentage is below the league average for three true outcomes plate appearances. That is, Upton actually strikes out in a lower percentage of his three true outcomes plate appearances than average, in fact he’s in the top 79% in this regard of striking out the least. Huh, wha? Doesn’t Upton strikeout a lot?! Well, yes, but the difference isn’t because he strikes out more in his TTO plate appearances, it’s because he produces more TTO plate appearances than your average player. And as we looked at above, for Justin Upton, TTO plate appearances are a very good bargain. I’ll never claim that we shouldn’t ever be concerned with strikeouts with a player, but we certainly shouldn’t be concerned with them from Upton, as his strikeouts are coming from a good place, an effort to walk and hit home runs at an incredibly prodigious rate.
Why do we group three true outcomes together? Because they have a lot to do with one another. A lot of why good players strikeout and hit home runs is because they’re “waiting for their pitch” and then swinging hard. Many times this leads to walks, a lot of times (in fact more than half the time) this leads to strikeouts, and sometimes it leads to home runs. Just swinging at any pitch near the strike zone often leads to taking a spin on the BABIP wheel of (mis)fortune, especially for a player like Justin Upton. We see this as well in the fact that Upton doesn’t choke up on the bat with two strikes, like a lot of old school people advocate. What does this mean for Upton? Simply put, it means he’s one of the best two strike hitters in MLB:
Justin Upton with 2 strikes:
Basically he’s off the charts good in most every measure with two strikes.
Justin Upton is really good offensively for three reasons: 1) He’s in the top 10% of value when he doesn’t put the ball in the field of play (be it by walk, strikeout of home run) 2) he’s still in the top 33% of value when he puts the ball in play 3) He doesn’t put the ball in play more often than the vast majority of players. His value comes from being very good in most all situations, and then also pushing his plate appearances towards the ways in which he’s relatively most valuable.
May 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
After the win last night, the Braves move to 4-4 on their current 10 game road trip. Probables for the remaining two games are Teheran v. Corbin (9:40) and Hudson v. Kennedy (3:40).
Obviously, last night was Justin Upton’s (and Chris Johnson’s) first game back in Arizona since being shipped away in the off-season. Both left their mark in game one going a combined 7-for-9, each finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Brain McCann also hit his third home run of the season in only his sixth game back. The Braves offense as a whole got back on track, scoring 10+ runs for the second time this season.
Mike Minor pitched well again going 6.2 innings with a solo home run to Paul Goldschmidt being the only damage. If you haven’t had the chance to listen yet, the guys talked about him for a bit on this weekend’s CACast.
After being hit on the shoulder last night, BJ Upton is listed day-to-day and will likely be held out of tonight’s game. Upton was pulled early from last night’s game.
Eno Sarris of FanGraphs wrote a great interview-analysis hybrid type article on Andrelton Simmons yesterday. Simmons again showed off his “spectacularly solid” defense and 80 arm, twice, once gunning out
Martin Prado Cody Ross at home on a relay throw in the fourth inning.
Jason Heyward will continue to rehab in Gwinnett this week and will hopefully make his return to the lineup when the team returns home Friday. At this point, there is really no reason to rush him out to the west coast for one game.
On a hopefully unrelated note, Braves top prospect JR Graham (CAC #3) was pulled from last night’s start after feeling discomfort in his throwing arm. Wren said he will be reevaluated today, but doesn’t believe it will be a major concern going forward. It is still something to monitor this next week.
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