The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


List It In Case You Missed It

Friday's Hit List featured my two teams personifying mediocrity, ranked at the middle of the pack at #15 (Yankees) and #16 (Dodgers). Neither has been a whole lot of fun to watch lately.

The Dodgers have been minus Rafael Furcal for about a month now. They were 18-14 with him, as he got off to a red-hot .366/.448/.597 start, but since he suffered a back injury, they've gone 13-19 while being reduced to trading for Angel Freaking Berroa, a former Rookie of the Year for the Royals whose career subsequently fell off the table; he lost his job after hitting .234/.259/.333 for a team that lost 100 games. That causal link apparently evaded Dodger GM Ned Colletti, but then that's no surprise.

The Yankees, though their offense is now intact following the return of Jorge Posada, have watched Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang show signs of collapse, though the latter may have reversed an ugly four-start trend Tuesday night when he got four double plays in 7.1 innings of work. They've also been shuffling through bullpen options to figure out who can fill the void left by Joba Chamberlain, which means the void ultimately left by Jeff Nelson after his 2000 departure. Kyle Farnsworth ain't that guy, and as Yankee fans have been left to ponder whether journeymen Edwar Ramirez or Jose Veras are, Mariano Rivera's shown signs of mortality by yielding two critical home runs to Royals hitters in three days.

In this week's Prospectus Hit and Run, I took a look at some of BP's advanced pitching metrics and didn't much like what they said about the Yanks:
Last year I introduced the Combo Platter, the combined win expectancy-based rankings of teams' starters (via SNLVAR) and relievers (via WXRL). For the uninitiated, SNLVAR (Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement) tracks a starting pitcher's cumulative win expectancy based on the runs allowed (earned and unearned), innings pitched, and the base-out situation when he leaves the game. It looks at a starter's performance independent of the run support he receives from his offense and the job done by the relievers who follow him. See Derek Jacques' recent Toolbox article for more on the subject. WXRL (Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted) does for relievers what SNLVAR does for starters, accounting for runs, innings, and the base-out situations when a reliever enters and departs.

Since the two figures are based on the same win-expectancy framework and expressed in the same currency, they can be combined. In Baseball Prospectus 2008, each pitcher's actual stat lines and PECOTAs include a category called SN/WX, which covers both without distinguishing where a pitcher does his work. Our sortables don't actually sum the two categories, but one can add them up in a spreadsheet in half the time it takes Jose Molina to run to first base if so desired. What I like about this report is that it shows which teams have both ends of their pitching staff in synch, and which are working at cross purposes. All stats through Monday:
Team     IPs   FRAs  SNLVAR  IPr    FRAr  WXRL   Total
ANA 406.0 4.05 7.9 166.0 4.25 5.8 13.7
OAK 383.2 3.99 8.2 184.1 3.29 5.1 13.3
CHA 403.1 3.92 8.2 169.0 3.20 4.6 12.8
TBA 375.1 4.54 7.3 190.1 3.45 5.4 12.7
TOR 423.0 3.89 9.4 173.0 3.49 2.8 12.2
CLE 394.2 4.04 9.4 171.1 5.03 1.7 11.1
BOS 394.1 4.21 7.4 188.2 4.60 2.4 9.8
BAL 361.2 4.88 5.3 199.1 3.79 3.5 8.8
MIN 364.0 5.58 2.9 210.2 4.35 4.3 7.2
KCA 379.2 5.18 3.5 186.0 4.07 3.2 6.7
NYA 344.0 5.38 3.2 223.0 3.95 3.5 6.7
SEA 365.0 5.45 3.5 197.2 4.52 0.4 3.9
DET 364.1 5.23 2.4 190.2 5.25 0.5 2.9
TEX 349.1 5.78 1.4 235.0 6.01 0.8 2.2
...Meanwhile, another interesting trend is taking shape in the AL East, where the Rays can legitimately claim the best pitching performance in the division. While you're lacing up your ice skates for a stroll around the Lake of Fire, note that their starters are neck-and-neck with Boston's thanks to the acquisition of Matt Garza and the continued development, high walk rate and all, of Edwin Jackson, who is 15th in the league in SNLVAR. Furthermore, their bullpen has bounced back from a grisly sub-replacement level showing last year to rank second in the league, with J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, and Troy Percival all in the top 20. Those relative no-names have combined to outperform Mariano Rivera and company as well as Jonathan Papelbon and friends.

Boston's bullpen has been a mixed bag in front of Papelbon, with Hideki Okajima still top-notch but Mike Timlin clearly on his last legs and Manny Delcarmen struggling to live up to expectations. They've gotten good work out of the rotation, including some particularly inspiring patchwork from Justin Masterson, who has accumulated 0.9 SNLVAR in four starts while filling in for Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yankees aren't working too well at either end, with a combined win expectancy that's tied with the Royals, never a good sign when it comes to a team's playoff aspirations. Their rotation is a disaster beyond Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and Darrell Rasner; those three have accumulated 3.8 SNLVAR, while the rest of the pack (including Andy Pettitte, Philip Hughes, and Ian Kennedy) has been a half-win below replacement level. Furthermore, the Yankee rotation is only a few whiskers ahead of the Rangers in terms of innings pitched per start at 5.375, about 0.4 innings per start behind the next team. That gap alone is the equivalent of 65 innings per year, the job description of one more quality reliever the Yanks don't have, and yet another illustration of why moving Joba Chamberlain to the rotation makes sense. The going has been slow so far for Chamberlain's conversion (6 2/3 innings in two starts) but once he builds up the stamina to go at least 100 pitches, he should be able to help the team get deeper into ballgames.
I will say that I did enjoy watching Veras last night against Oakland. The guy can Bring It in the mid-90s, and he's currently sporting a 15/5 K/BB ratio in 17 innings, the kind of numbers that an eighth-inning guy needs to put up. At 28, he's no spring chicken, but the Yankees are clearly hoping the kid can pick up some of the slack. I'll drink to that.

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