Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Mega Recap

I'll be completely honest: I saw very little, if any Cubs' baseball this holiday weekend. Apparently, that was a good idea. I'm going to try and blow through this recap quickly before the Blackhawks game starts.

5/29: Cubs 5, Cardinals 0

Cubs' MVP: Carlos Silva, .315 WPA (.343 pitching)
Silva was flat-out dominant on Saturday afternoon, pitching seven shutout innings and allowing only two baserunners the entire game. He also rung up eleven Cardinals, a career high for the portly right-hander with a career 3.90 K/9. He even struck out Albert Pujols. Seriously.

Silva's sinker was superb. He threw it 50 times, 34 for strikes. The win dropped Silva's FIP and xFIP down to 3.80 and 3.86, respectively.

Cardinals' MVP: Brendan Ryan (.034 WPA)
This is a perfect demonstration of how dominant Silva and the Cubs were Saturday: Brendan Ryan improved his team's odds of winning by 3.4 percent...and that was the best on the team.

I'm not even going to bother writing up the LVPs of this game (Adam Ottovino and Derrek Lee, if you're keeping track at home) because quite frankly they didn't matter at all.

5/30: Cardinals 9, Cubs 1
Cubs' MVP: Alfonso Soriano, .129 WPA
Soriano's team-leading 10th game MVP was one of the lone highlights for the Cubs on Sunday. Soriano had a walk and a double in the fourth that put the Cubs right back into the game.

Cardinals' MVP: Albert Pujols, .276 WPA
Pujols officially came out of his "slump" belting three home runs, walking twice (one intentional), and driving in four. The one in the fifth inning went a True Distance of 446 feet according to HitTracker, the longest home run hit at Wrigley this season by someone other than Marlon Byrd. His shot in the first onto Waveland measured at 441 feet. An honorary mention goes to Adam Wainright, who compiled a .251 WPA (.313 on the mound) by pitching seven innings of one run ball.

Cubs' LVP: Starlin Castro, -.232 WPA
Castro had the worst game of any Cub despite going 2-3. He singled in the second inning, but Aramis Ramirez was cut down at the plate (-.048 WPA). Hardly his fault. But his double play with the bases loaded that ended the fourth inning essentially ended any chance the Cubs had of winning this game. That, and when Albert Pujols safely arrived at Wrigley Field. The .232 WPA is the third worst game performance for a Cubs' hitter this season.

Cardinals' LVP: Jonathan Jay, -.065
I'll be totally honest, I had never heard of Jonathan Jay before this game and I'm still not quite sure who he is. Jay went 1-5 with two strikeouts.

5/31: Pirates 2, Cubs 1
Cubs' MVP: Randy Wells, .290 WPA (.301 pitching)
Wells pitched an excellent game today, bouncing back from his woeful start three days ago. On Friday (albeit just sixteen pitches) Wells was tossing up batting practice pitches with very little movement:
Wells had significantly better location and movement in Pittsburgh today, and better results followed.

Wells only lasted five innings but was in line for the all important win before the bullpen surrendered the lead.

Pirates' MVP: Bobby Crosby, .276 WPA
Crosby had the biggest hit of the game, a two-out pinch hit RBI single in the eighth that was the difference in the game.

Props to the unhittable Ross Ohlendorf, who compiled a .278 WPA on the mound this afternoon. On the season, Ohlendorf is sporting an impressive 6.23 xFIP and a stellar 6.57 BB/9 ratio. Here's something else you may not have known: when batters swing at Ross Ohlendorf's pitches inside the strike zone, they make contact 95.8% of the time (Z-Contact%). That is the worst percentage of all NL pitchers with a minimum 20 IP.

So he walks almost seven batters per nine innings, and his stuff is hittable. Naturally, he threw seven innings of three-hit ball, walking only two, and struck out six. It's a way of life.

Cubs' LVP: Sean Marshall, -.259 WPA
Marshall gave up the aforementioned hit to Crosby, which turned out to be the game-winner. Kudos to Aramis Ramirez, who had another 0-fer today with two strikeouts (-.170 WPA).

Pirates' LVP: Andy LaRoche, -.161 WPA
I can't in good conscience give  LaRoche an LVP Award. While he had a poor game at the plate, going 0-3 and ending two innings with runners in scoring position, LaRoche made an incredible defensive play in the eighth inning to keep the game tied, which was the third act in another installment of "How Can We Not Score With a Man In Scoring Position And Zero Outs?"

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Heart Starlin Castro

It's a holiday weekend. I'll have more of a write-up for the remainder of the Cards series later, but I just want to share this with everybody:

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 28: Cardinals @ Cubs (Game 48)

As always, data from Fangraphs

I'm just going to go ahead and keep this one pretty short, because there's just not that much to say about this game. You can see on the graph it was pretty much over before the Cardinals made their first out.

Cubs' MVP: Carlos Zambrano
After Randy Wells and his infinite ERA were pulled six batters into the game, the Cubs' move of Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen was finally validated. Zambrano entered and immediately stopped the bleeding by pitching six innings and saving the bullpen from a potential disaster. Otherwise, the Cubs might have emptied their entire bullpen in a meaningless effort and jeopardized their status for the rest of the series. The long relief appearance also allowed Zambrano to stretch his arm out further and get him that much closer to rejoining the starting rotation. Wells' outing was disappointing, no doubt, but for once having a solid, durable starting pitcher with a fresh arm in the pen paid off for the Cubs.

*Cue the flash-sideways noise from LOST *

In the real world, Carlos Zambrano threw one fucking inning, and the Cubs used five different relievers to get the completely inconsequential 27 outs that were required before they could stop playing this baseball game. James Russell threw four scoreless innings of relief, allowing only three baserunners. I guess he's the MVP. (.086 WPA)

Cardinals' MVP: Chris Carpenter (.151 WPA; .176 pitching)
Carpenter woke up yesterday morning in his Chicago hotel room and already had a five run lead. He would go on to pitch 6.2 innings, striking out five and giving up just one run, a solo home run to Tyler Colvin.

Cubs' LVP: Randy Wells (-.400 WPA)
Six batters, six hits, five runs. See for yourself:

Cardinals' LVP: Kyle McClellan (-.084 WPA)

Friday, May 28, 2010

What's Wrong With Geo?

On May 15 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, Geovany Soto singled in the third inning off Paul Maholm.

Two days ago, on May 26, Geo hit a line drive to left field for a pinch hit single in the bottom of the eighth.

In between these two events, Geo went 27 plate appearances without a hit, drawing six walks.

What has happened to the Cubs' catcher over the last two weeks? Should we be worried? Soto is still sporting an excellent .811 OPS and .374 wOBA, but those are numbers that have plummeted in recent times. There are lot of Cub fans who are terrified that after his unreal April, Soto is reverting back to his awful 2009 self.

Let's take a look at some of the numbers to try and determine if this is just a dry spell or something to really fear. I'm going to break down the relevant stats into three groups: April, May, and the last two weeks. All the numbers come from Fangraphs.

Batting (April/May/2 Weeks)
OBP: .500 / .329 / .250
wOBA: .458 / .293 / .193
BABIP: .385 / .238 / .158
LD%: 33.3 / 16.3 / 21.1
IFFB%: 8.3 / 17.6 / 50.0

While Soto's May has been pretty bad overall, he's been pretty unlucky as of late. I wouldn't expect a line drive rate of 21% to continue delivering a .158 BABIP. What is concerning though is his rapidly inflating infield fly ball numbers. The last two weeks, half of Soto's fly balls haven't reached the outfield. It makes that extremely low BABIP a little more understandable.

What's the root cause of that plummeting OBP? Let's take a look at some of Soto's plate discipline numbers.

Plate Discipline
BB%: 24.3 / 17.8 / 16.7
K%: 20.8 / 28.3 / 36.7
Swing%: 29.3 / 40.0 / 39.7
Contact%: 77.9 / 78.5 / 76.8
Zone%: 42.9 / 50.0 / 46.8

His walk rate has dropped by a third while his strikeout rate has exploded. Also of note is Soto's zone percentage; in April Soto was only getting pitches in the strike zone 43% of the time. He responded by only swinging at 29% of pitches, one of the lowest rates in all of baseball. Now he sees strikes closer to 50% of the time and in turn is swinging the bat more.

So Soto has been making overall contact at pretty much the same rate all season, but has been swinging at more pitches in the last month. It's possible that pitchers have been instructed to pound the zone on Soto since he started the year as one of the least aggressive hitters in the game. Let's take a closer look and see exactly what Soto swings at inside (z) and outside (o) the zone:

Expanded Plate Discipline
O-Swing%: 11.9 / 14.5 / 17.3
Z-Swing%: 52.4 / 65.5 / 65.2
O-Contact%: 35.0 / 52.4 / 53.9
Z-Contact%: 90.9 / 84.2 / 83.7

The glaring number here is Soto's O-Contact%, which has risen a substantial amount since his red-hot April. Soto is both swinging at and hitting more pitches outside of the strike zone. I don't have the numbers for this in front of me, but I would imagine he is fouling off a lot of pitches that he used to be taking for balls. Perhaps more glaring, though, is the fact that Soto is swinging at 13% more pitches in the strike zone yet making less contact with them. All of these numbers display how Soto has become a much less disciplined hitter, specifically over his slump the last two weeks. He's swinging much more than he used to and getting an extremely high amount of strikeouts and infield flies as a result.

We've seen pitchers are throwing Soto more strikes. Why is he not hitting pitches in the strike zone at the same rate?

Pitch Types
FB%: 59.1 / 43.0 / 36.1
SL%: 16.0 / 25.6 / 27.8
CT%: 5.3 / 8.5 / 8.3
CB%: 9.0 / 10.9 / 16.0
CH%: 10.6 / 10.9 / 11.8

Soto has seen a fewer percentage of fastballs than any other player on the team the last two weeks. He's also seeing the most sliders.

What has Soto been doing with the pitches thrown to him in terms of run value? The numbers here represent the number of runs above or below average for pitches of that type.

Pitch Value
FB: 5.3 / 1.1 / -0.9
SL: 1.1 / -3.1 / -2.5
CT: 1.1 / 0.1 / -0.8
CB: 1.2 / 1.5 / 1.5
CH: -1.1 / -1.2 / -1.2

Soto murdered the fastballs he actually swung at in April; he's done very little with the limited amount he's seeing now. And it makes sense that he's seeing more and more sliders, because he hasn't been good at hitting them. Soto didn't do much with sliders in 2009 either, as he was 3.39 runs below average/100 sliders when he was seeing them about 23% of the time. I'm actually kind of surprised it took so long for pitchers to revert back to the off speed stuff.

So what is wrong with Soto?

In my estimation, Soto received a large amount of fastballs to start the season for a hitter of his caliber, and responded with a near perfect approach at the plate. He was extremely patient and almost never expanded the strike zone. On the rare occasions when he did swing, he was mashing. I don't think anyone expected Soto to continue to rake at his April 33.3% line drive rate, but the fact that he was also walking nearly 1/4th of the time showed how well Geo was seeing the ball.

Since his torrid start, he's been seeing a LOT more off-speed pitches and the results haven't been pretty. Over the last two weeks only Ryan Howard has seen a lesser percentage of fastballs than Soto (31.6%, minimum 30 PA). He's now swinging more at bad pitches, swinging and missing at more pitches in the zone, and either striking out or making too much weak contact (infield fly balls).

If pitchers are going to refuse to throw Soto fastballs, then he has to refuse to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. Otherwise, it's a recipe for disaster. As I pointed out before, he's been a bit unlucky lately with balls in play. He's still hitting a decent amount of line drives. But if he doesn't reclaim some of the patience at the plate that made him one of baseball's top hitters in April, it won't really matter. I don't care how unlucky you are, if you're striking out over 1/3 of the time your approach simply has to change.

May 27: Dodgers @ Cubs (Game 47)

Cubs' MVP: Ted Lilly (.396 WPA, .448 pitching)
Lilly threw seven really strong innings today. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs, and really had no other legitimate chances to plate any runs beyond that. Lilly allowed only three hits, walked three more, and struck out five. His .448 WPA pitching performance is the second best by a Cubs' starter this season, trailing only Ryan Dempster's stellar performance against the Dodgers two nights ago.

So results aside, the question was asked by a commenter (can't remember who) at the 126th best Cubs' blog of whether or not Lilly's decreased velocity this season is of concern. Fangraphs has his fastball averaging 85.9 MPH so far this season, down almost two full miles per hour from his career average. How did his start fare today? From Brooks Baseball:
Lilly threw 23 fastballs at an average of 85.54 MPH, which is right at his season average. His slider sat around 79-80, also right at his slightly-down season average. Lilly also threw 54 changeups averaging 80.13 MPH, which is above the norm for him.

Lilly traditionally is a slow starter in terms of his velocity, and with the missed time from his shoulder injury he may still be in spring training mode. Still, this already being his seventh start, it might be something to keep an eye on. 

Dodgers' MVP: John Ely (.079 WPA, .155 pitching)
The 24-year old former White Sox draft pick threw a pretty good game himself, giving up one earned run in 7.1 innings. He struck out four, walked two, and gave up only four hits. On the season Ely has a superb 1.81 FIP along with a 3.23 xFIP. He's been striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings, has only six walks in 40 innings, and has already been worth 1.4 WAR. His changeup is his money pitch, which he threw 30 times today. Looking at his velocity chart, you can really see the diversity in the speeds of his 3 main pitches:

Ely has been one of the best rookie pitchers in baseball this season.

Cubs' LVP: Geovany Soto (-.127 WPA)
Soto went 0-3 with a strikeout, which came with a runner on third and nobody out in the 8th inning. Since May 15, Soto has one hit, a .193 wOBA and an OPS of .350. Is it time to start seriously worrying about Geo? This is something I'm going to hopefully look at in detail shortly.

Dodgers' LVP: Xavier Paul (-.206 WPA)
The Other Xavier had a miserable day in the field and at the plate. Paul went 0-4 with a strikeout, and ended the fifth inning on an infield pop-up with the bases loaded. He also has apparently never played in a baseball stadium with walls, as he misplayed two balls in the right field corner in the eighth inning that gave the Cubs the only run of the game.

When you're not even the best outfielder named Xavier on the field, you know you had a bad day.

Biggest Hit of the Game:
Mike Fontenot leads off the eighth with a triple (.217 WPA)

Biggest Out of the Game:
Xavier Paul ends the fifth inning with a bases loaded pop-up. (-.096 WPA).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 26: Dodgers @ Cubs WPA Recap (Game 46)

Cubs' MVP: Mike Fontenot (.158 WPA) Jeff Baker (.139 WPA)
I normally stick pretty straight with the numbers when handing out the game MVPs, but you know what? Not this time.

 Fontenot had a nice offensive game, doubling twice and scoring a run. He also had one of the biggest offensive plays of the game for the Cubs, pulling a Homer Simpson and getting plunked with the bases loaded in the third (.098 WPA). But Fontenot had one of the bigger blunders of the game that's not reflected in WPA: his throwing error in the second inning with two outs allowed Matt Kemp to come to the plate with runners on second and third. Kemp doubled to the left-center gap, giving the Dodgers a 5-0 lead early.

So I'm going to go ahead and give the MVP to Jeff Baker, who JUST missed a pinch hit three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh which gave the Cubs some brief hope. The triple was the biggest hit of the game in terms of WPA. (.139)

Dodgers' MVP: Casey Blake (.146 WPA)
Blake had a solid game offensively, hitting an RBI double in the first inning and adding a solo home run in the eighth. He's turning 37 this year but once again he's having a nice season. He's OPSing .846 with a wOBA of .367, both good for sixth overall amongst National League third basemen. (In case you were wondering, Aramis is dead last in both.) Blake is never really a name people come up with when they're thinking of the league's best third basemen, but he's been rock solid the last three years.

Cubs' LVP: Starlin Castro (-.227 WPA)
Rough night for The Reason (as in "the reason I watch the Cubs"). He came up with the bases loaded and no outs in the third and didn't get a runner home. He also struck out swinging in the seventh with a man on third and one out. In the field, Castro booted a ball for his sixth error of the season.

At least he still does cool stuff like this:

Dodgers' LVP: Ronald Belisario (-.084 WPA)
Belisario gets a tough LVP, as he did get Ryan Theriot to ground into a double play to end the sixth. He gave up a single to Derrek Lee in the seventh before Soriano blooped a shallow double in the vicinity of Manny Ramirez. He then left and would get charged with both of those runs after Jeff Baker tripled them home later in the inning.

Biggest Hit of the Game:
Jeff Baker's triple (.139 WPA)

Biggest Hit of the Game by the Winning Team:
Matt Kemp's ground-rule double (.103 WPA)

Biggest Out(s) of the Game:
With a man on first and one out in the eighth and the Cubs trailing by two, Ryan Theriot grounds into a double play. (-.100 WPA)

Least Direct Route to a Fly Ball:

Andrew Cashner Moving to the Bul - You Know What, I Just Can't Fucking Do This Anymore

Chicago Cubs top pitching prospect Andrew Cashner is so good, he's earned the right to go immediately to the bullpen, bypassing the usual route of earning a multi-million dollar salary and being the team's best starting pitcher for a decade first.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ahh, The Human Element

I would imagine all the people who object to instant replay or an automated strike zone in baseball because it removes "the human element" will one day sit their grandkids on their lap and tell them about the amazing show Joe West put on one Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland.

Balk #1

Balk #2, which actually does look like a balk, but with a bonus ejection!

We definitely know that Ozzie Guillen, who was also ejected, sure wasn't a fan of Joe West's human element today:
"He's a f---ing a--hole."
Well put, Oswaldo.

May 25: Dodgers @ Cubs WPA Recap (Game 45)

I regrettably missed this game, because I love watching Clayton Kershaw pitch. His stuff on some nights can be electric, and he posts both gaudy strikeout numbers and depressing walk numbers (9.28 K/9 in his career, 4.69 BB/9). I've had him on my fantasy team for two years now and it feels like every start he's either giving you 7-8 shutout innings, or pulled after 4.2 innings at 116 pitches. One thing is for sure though: when Kershaw takes the mound, one way or another, you're going to get an entertaining game.

David Golebiewski wrote a pretty good piece on Kershaw's newly developed slider during last year's playoffs. He's throwing it almost 17% of the time this season, up from 9% when he first introduced it a year ago. His new slider has taken time away from his power curveball, whose usage has dropped from 23% in his rookie year to 17% in 2009 to just 9.6% so far this season. He's still walking way too many batters this year (34 in 59 innings), but if Kershaw can use this new pitch to start turning more of those walks into outs, the National League could be in for some trouble in the near future. Very early data this season shows his slider has been his most valuable pitch, 2.24 runs above average per 100 throws.

Anyhoo, on to the recap:

Cubs' MVP: Ryan Dempster (.579 WPA)
Dempster was absolutely marvelous last night, pitching eight shutout innings, striking out seven, and only walking one. Only one Dodger got to second base, and none reached base after the fourth inning. Dempster's .579 WPA is tops for a Cubs' pitcher this season.

On the season, Dempster now sports a 3.30 ERA with a healthy 3.80 FIP and xFIP. For some reason I thought Dempster had been getting burned by home runs at an increased rate this year, but his HR/9 sits at 1.02 and his HR/FB sits at a pretty normal 10.5%. Both of those are just fractions above his career norms. He only has three wins though, so he's not an ace. He's been the Cubs' ace this year, already worth 1.4 WAR.

"Oh hey der, Ryan. Say, can Jonathan borrow your ID so he can go boot 
some Molson? Nobody will sell to him with that weak beard of his."

Also, Derrek Lee deserves a big shout-out for one of his finer offensive games of the season: he reached base all four times and drove in all the Cubs' runs.

Dodger's MVP: Clayton Kershaw (.168 WPA)
Good Clayton showed up at Wrigley last night and threw six innings of four hit baseball. He struck out four and only walked two, which might earn him a parade outside Dodger Stadium when the team returns to California. The only run he gave up was unearned, after Ryan Theriot reached base in the sixth on a Rafael Furcal error.

Cubs' LVP: Xavier Nady (-.136 WPA)
Zaveeyay Nady went 0-3, twice ending innings with a runner in scoring position.

Dodgers' LVP: James Loney (-.121 WPA)
Loney ended the first inning by grounding into a fielder's choice with a man on second. Little did we know at the time it would be one of the prime scoring chances of the night for the Dodgers. He also had two flyouts to finish the night 0-3. An honorable mention goes to Rafael Furcal, who had two errors in the game, one of which led to the Cubs' first run of the game.

Biggest Hit of the Game:
With one out in the sixth, Derrek Lee hits an RBI single to center for the game's first run. It was all the Cubs would need. (.136 WPA)

Biggest Out of the Game:
With runners on first and third and just one out in a scoreless game, Alfonso Soriano strikes out swinging in the bottom of the fourth (-.080 WPA).

Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Epic Wrigley Home Runs, 1-5

See 10-6 here

#5 Marlon Byrd
4/30/10 off Kevin Mulvey
True Distance: 463 happy feet

#4 Milton Bradley
5/12/09 off Jake Peavy
True Distance: 464 mercurial feet

#3 Prince Fielder
9/16/08 off Ryan Dempster
True Distance: 465 feet

#2 Adam Dunn
4/16/08 off Kevin Hart
True Distance: 467 feet

#1 Adam Dunn
7/10/08 off Jon Lieber
True Distance: 486 feet

The 10 Most Epic Wrigley Field Home Runs, 2008-Present (10-6)

Courtesty of Hit Tracker, here are the 10 longest home runs at Wrigley Field since the start of the 2008 season. Why 2008? Because that's the earliest year where I can pull video of the actual home runs, and let's face it, nobody wants to read about really long dingers. People want to see really long dingers.

Hit Tracker uses atmospheric and observational data to determine how far a home run would have gone if its path was unobstructed and landed back at field level. The method to their madness is detailed here.

So nobody has a brain aneurysm from all the gifs, I've split the post into two. Here's 10-6. Follow the link at the bottom for 5-1.

Click on the player's name to see the full video. Click on True Distance to see Hit Tracker's flight representation of the home run.

And away we go:

#10 (tie). Carlos Lee
7/27/09 off Carlos Zambrano
True Distance: 451 feet

Chris Young
10/2/09 off Tom Gorzelanny
True Distance: 451 feet

#9 Alfonso Soriano
5/14/08 off Jake Peavy
True Distance: 453 happy feet 

#8 Derrek Lee 
7/02/09 off Chris Smith
True Distance: 455 happy feet

#7 Marlon Byrd
April 15, 2010 off Jeff Suppan
True Distance: 457 feet

#6 Lance Berkman
5/16/09 off Kevin Gregg
True Distance: 460 feet

5-1 here

May 22-23, Cubs @ Texas WPA Recaps (Games 43 & 44)

May 22: Cubs 5, Rangers 4

Cubs' MVP: Randy Wells (.307 WPA)
On Saturday Randy Wells was pretty darn good, pitching into the ninth inning and only allowing three earned runs. He did give up two home runs in the fourth inning but was superb after that, retiring 14 of the last 16 batters he faced. Wells' FIP and xFIP this season stand at a very healthy 3.32 and 3.35, respectively. He's ready for the bullpen.

Rangers' MVP: Nelson Cruz (.196 WPA)
Nelson Cruz continued his beastly season, going 2-3 with an RBI single and a solo home run. This year Cruz has a .478 wOBA and is OPSing 1.154.

True story: at an Iowa Cubs game in 2008, Nelson Cruz hit an opposite field home run directly at my friend Kevin because Kevin told him to. He also wanted Cruz to point directly at him while he was rounding the bases. Cruz didn't point during his home run trot, but he did when he returned to right field in the bottom half of the inning. Later in the game he hit a mammoth home run to left. That one was all his idea though. I swear this happened.

Cubs' LVP: Aramis Ramirez (-.156 WPA)
It's getting to the point where I can almost copy and paste this daily. In the second inning with a man on second and nobody out, Ramirez popped out in foul territory to Justin Smoak. This would be the offensive highlight of Ramirez's day. He struck out in his next four at bats, including in the bottom of the 10th with the bases loaded. If hitting baseballs were sex, Aramis Ramirez has been neutered.

Rangers' LVP: Darren O'Day (-.388 WPA)
Darren O'Day has been a decent reliever for the Rangers this year, with a 1.02 WHIP and a .219 BAA. He was anything but on Saturday, coughing up the  lead in the 10th and giving up hits to all three batters he faced.

Biggest Hit of the Game
Tyler Colvin leads off the 10th inning with a double (.169 WPA)

Biggest Out of the Game
Sean Marshall strikes out Matt Treanor looking with two men on to end the ninth inning (-.117 WPA)

May 23: Cubs 5, Rangers 4

Cubs' MVP: Sean Marshall (.305 WPA)
Marshall retired Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning, then pitched an uneventfuly eighth with two strikeouts to get the ball to Marmol in the ninth.

Rangers' MVP: Michael Young (.270 WPA)
Young supplied most of the Rangers' offense, hitting a two-run home run off Silva in the third then adding an RBI double in the seventh to cut the Cubs' lead to one.

Cubs' LVP: Bob Howry (-.112 WPA)
Gas Can Howry didn't waste much time getting his first LVP as a Cub this season. Nursing a two run lead, he gave up an RBI double to the first batter he faced. He did get a huge out in getting Ian Kinsler to pop up on the infield, but overall Bob Howry did the most to damage the Cubs' chances of winning.

Rangers' LVP: C.J. Wilson (-.255 WPA)
Wilson got knocked around a bit, giving up five runs and allowing 10 baserunners in 5.2 innings.

Biggest Hit of the Game:
Michael Young's double off Bob Howry

Biggest Out of the Game:
Ian Kinsler's pop out in the next at-bat.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 21: Cubs @ Rangers WPA Recap (Game 43)

Cubs' MVP: Tyler Colvin (.136 WPA)
Just in case you were wondering how little of an impact the Cubs' offense had on this game, Tyler Colvin was the only player on the team to post a positive WPA at the plate, and that's probably because he didn't get multiple at bats to screw up. In his only plate appearance Colvin ripped a one out double in the top of the ninth to give the Cubs, for a second day in a row, a decent chance to tie the score in the final frame. But for the second day in a row, that just didn't happen.

Fun fact: In the last seven days, Colvin has the team's worst contact percentage at 58.8, but a 50.0 LD% and .625 BABIP. He's swinging and missing a lot, but when he hits the ball he's really whacking it.

Rangers' MVP: Colby Lewis (.261 WPA)
Colby Lewis continues to impress in his second stint with the Rangers. His slider was a big reason the Cubs' offense remained impotent for most of the night, as he only allowed one run and five hits over six innings, walking three and striking out four. Lewis' FIP stands at a healthy 3.45, and his xFIP doesn't stray too far at 4.01. Lewis has probably been the best starter this season for Texas. C.J. Wilson has been good, and his ERA is prettier, but they have similar FIP, an indentical WHIP (1.15) and Lewis strikes more batters out. Dave Allen at Fangraphs wrote a good piece a few weeks ago regarding his slider.

Cubs' LVP: Kosuke Fukudome (-.183 WPA)
After leading off the game with a walk, Kosuke finished 0-4 last night with a strikeout. He ended the second inning by grounding out with a man in scoring position, then ended the game on an infield pop out, again with the tying run in scoring position.

An honorable mention to the Cubs' infield defense, who did this.
Rangers' LVP: David Murphy (-.085 WPA)
Murphy went 0-4 with four groundouts, two of which came with a man on second.

Biggest Hit of the Game: Tyler Colvin's aforementioned double in the ninth. Yes, a non-run scoring hit for the team that never led the game was the biggest swing of the game in win probability. That probably tells you how boring this game was. (.136 WPA)

Biggest Out of the Game: With runners on second and third and two outs in the eighth, Frank Francisco strikes out Mike Fontenot looking. (-.151 WPA)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Shortstop Born in the 1990s is Probably Better than Your Shortstop Born in the 1990s

When top prospect Starlin Castro was called up a few weeks ago, one of the biggest question marks was his plate discipline. Kevin Goldstein, from Baseball Prospectus:
Castro still has some holes in his game, the biggest one being plate discipline. Castro has drawn just two walks this year, and since the beginning of last season, has worked just 31 walks in 136 games. He's a free swinger who needs to learn how to work the count against more advanced pitching. (4/19/2010)
Let's take a very early look at Starlin Castro's plate discipline through his first two weeks as a major league shortstop. 

I first thought of taking a deeper look at Castro's swing and contact percentages after seeing this RBI single last week against the Rockies:

Here's Castro's swing percentages for pitches outside (O) and inside (Z) the strike zone this season, with league averages in parentheses:

O-Swing%: 25.6 (27.5)
Z-Swing%: 61.8 (63.6)
Swing%: 43.5 (44.7)

(All data from Fangraphs)

He's certainly not a hacker (or "free swinger") by any means, either inside or outside the strike zone. Contrast him with another Cubs' rookie, Tyler Colvin, who swings at 37% of pitches outside the strike zone. Also of note, the only Cub who swings at less pitches inside the strike zone is Geovany Soto, who quite frankly doesn't swing at anything (33.3 Swing%, 2nd in all of baseball).

So in terms of the pitches he chooses to swing at, Castro is right in line with league averages thus far. How does he fare in making contact with those pitches?

O-Contact%: 90.0 (65.4)
Z-Contact%: 91.5 (88.2)
Contact%: 91.0 (80.9)

The number that obviously stands out is his ridiculous O-Contact rate. Among players with a minimum 50 PA this season, Castro ranks fifth in all of baseball. The average MLB hitter so far this season has made contact 65% of the time when they swing at a ball outside the strike zone. Castro has 90% of the time. His 91% overall contact percentage is tops on the Cubs.

So in his first two weeks in the major leagues, Starlin Castro has been swinging at pitches both inside and outside the zone at a perfectly acceptable rate, but has been making an above-average amount of contact. Has Castro been harmed by making more contact with "bad" pitches? His .405 BABIP, 21.5 LD% and .408 wOBA seemingly say otherwise.

Is Starlin Castro just whacking easy pitches to hit? Not only has he spent nearly all of his two weeks in the majors batting 8th, but only Alfonso Soriano (45.3%) and Jeff Baker (50.5%) have seen fastballs at a lower rate than Castro (51.9%). He also gets sliders 20.9% of the time, highest on the team., he isn't feasting on simple pitches.

These numbers seem to confirm what a lot of smart people in the Cubs community think: Starlin Castro is just really freaking good at hitting baseballs, and doesn't draw a lot of walks because of it. Perhaps one of the reasons he wasn't taking many free passes at AA is because he was too busy OPSing .990, and hitting the crap out of everything in sight because he can.

The sample size is obviously small here, but the combination of my eyes and my spreadsheets tells me that Starlin Castro, at age 20, is not in any way overwhelmed by major league pitching. Maybe that will change over the season as teams get better scouting reports on him (early numbers show us he struggles with cutters and changeups).

The one area that he obviously can improve in is power*. Castro only has one extra base hit since his ridiculous debut in Cincinnatti. But again, he's freaking 20 years old. He was born five months after the Berlin Wall came down. Let's let that frame build a little. If in five years he has the plate discipline of Luis Castillo but adds some of the power of Miguel Tejada, I'll certainly take it. It'll be more than worth the wait.

*OMG WAT you statf*g did you even watch his debut?

May 20: Angels 6, White Sox 5

After putting together three really nice starts to open the month of May, Jake Peavy faceplanted last night at the Cell, essentially putting this game out of reach by the 3rd inning following an RBI single by Kendry Morales and sacrifice fly from Hideki Matsui. Peavy is quickly becoming the poster child for the "AL > NL" debate, the guy is just struggling in his first full season in the Junior Circuit. And it's not like he's just been facing a plethora of really, really good teams, he's had two starts a piece against Kansas City and Cleveland who are currently jockeying for that #2 overall pick in the 2011 Draft behind Baltimore, two more against the middle-of-the-road Blue Jays, and now a dud against the Angels, who have been good in recent memory but entered this series struggling as much as the Sox offensively. The only two really above average teams he's faced so far this year have been the Rangers and Rays. And yes, he was terrible in those two games, a combined 10.2 IP, 13 H, 12 BB, 12 K, and a slash line of .295/.446/.432 and ERA of 10.97. It has been a rough year for Jake.

After the game, he told reporters that he felt wholly responsible for last night's loss. So at least we all can agree on that; Peavy was easily the LVP last night, posting a -.271 WPA after his shaky 6 innings of work punctuated by a 2-run Juan Rivera HR in the 6th inning that really put the game away because, as it turned out, the Angels' bullpen needed every one of those runs.

The Sox MVP for the game was A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski posted a .131 WPA fueled by a 2-run, ground-rule double in the 8th inning that brought the Sox back within 1. That hit was worth .202 WPA and was, far and away, the biggest of the game. My only complaint: how does Juan Pierre not get awarded home? You're going to tell me that, with two outs, Pierre doesn't score from first if that ball just rattles around in the corner? Please. I'm so jaded about this Sox team, however, that all that call did was probably save us from losing an hour later. May as well save the arms for interleague, we stand a chance to win a few there!

Pierzynski's hit was immediately followed by a fly-out to center from Andruw Jones, worth -.173 WPA and the biggest out of the game. Jones posted a -.214 WPA and was completely ineffective at the plate last night; his only positive at bat occurred in the 1st when he drew a walk, otherwise, the Sox were worse off every time he stepped to the plate. Jones' renaissance was one of the big, positive storylines of the early 2010 season, but over the last few weeks, he's really hit a wall; since May 4, Jones is batting .170/.259/.298. This is especially troubling considering that it was about this deep into last season when Jones' renaissance in Texas fell apart, as FanGraph's Joe Pawlikowski points out.

Sustained Mediocrity: Maybe this happens more often that I realize, but now that we're 40 games into the season I find it very interesting that the Sox have been 4-6 in every 10-game block so far. 4-6 after 10, 8-12 after 20, 12-18 after 30, and now 16-24 after 40. They've been remarkably, consistently mediocre, especially over the past 20 games, which has to be the lamest roller coaster ride ever; since sweeping Seattle at the end of April the Sox have yet to win consecutive games, have only lost consecutive games three times, and haven't lost more than 2 in a row. It's basically been win-loss-win-loss, which, I suppose, makes me confident for tonight's game against Florida.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20: Cubs @ Phillies WPA Recap (Game 42)

As always, stats and graphs from Fangraphs

Cubs' MVP: Mike Fontenot (.330 WPA)
Fontenot didn't exactly light up the box score (two singles, one stolen base, no runs or RsBI) but he racked up the most WPA for the team, and by a pretty wide margin as well. Seems pretty strange Fontenot put the Cubs in a better position to win today than say, Kosuke Fukudome, who hit a game-tying solo home run in the top of the eighth inning (.238 WPA).

What this shows is the massive barrel of FAIL the Cubs opened in the top of the ninth inning. The Phillies had an 82.9% chance of winning when the top of the ninth began. After Soriano got plunked in the first at bat, their win probability dropped to 71.4%. After Fontenot's single put men at first and third with nobody out, it dropped all the way down to 44.7%.

You're reading that correctly. The Cubs were down a run in the bottom of the ninth yet found themselves favored to win the game. Two strikeouts and an infield pop up later, WPA as an entity formally apologized for not properly calculating the effect of the Chicago Cubs batting in favorable situations late in the game.

Phillies' MVP: Jimmy Rollins (.308 WPA)
Rollins only had one hit this afternoon but it was the biggest of the game, a three run homer in the bottom of the sixth with two outs to give Philadelphia a 4-1 lead.

I would also like to point out that Rollins' home run came on a 3-0 fastball, belt-high. My biggest pet peeve in all of baseball is a good hitter taking all the way with a 3-0 count. I have no idea why this is a common practice beyond high school baseball. As a hitter, if you run the count to 3-0 and the pitcher throws you ANYTHING but a fastball right in your wheelhouse, by all means take it. But if you get this:

Swing the f away. And he did.

Cubs' LVP: John Grabow (-.265 WPA)
Grabow continues to inexplicably get placed in high leverage situations. Today he coughed up the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, walking two before giving up an RBI single to Raul Ibanez.

Phillies' LVP: Antonio Bastardo (-.238 WPA)
The Best Name In All of Baseball opened the eighth inning by giving up a game-tying home run to Kosuke Fukudome, the only batter he would face. (And it's not even April!)

Biggest Hit of the Game
Rollins' home run (.305 WPA)

Biggest Out of the Game
Aramis' Ramirez strikes out on a pitch 16 feet off the plate in the top of the ninth (-.210 WPA). Soto's pop-up to end the game with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position earns an honorable mention. (-.206 WPA)

May 19: Angels 3, White Sox 2

I could have made my first post about the Sox this season yesterday's impressive win over the Tigers, but something about that didn't feel genuine, considering how extraordinarily impotent the Sox have been all year. Thankfully, they returned to form tonight and essentially played a case-study of this woeful season in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Angels.

Statistically speaking, Paul Konerko wins tonight's Pick To Click contest, posting a .148 WPA fueled by scoring the team's two runs, the first on a sacrifice fly courtesy of Carlos Quentin in the 2nd inning and the second on an ultimately meaningless solo home run to lead off the 9th. A quick glance at the box score, however, makes a strong case for John Danks, who posted a pedestrian .013 WPA only because his offense so thoroughly failed him (again), as the Sox score 3 or less for the 5th time in 8 starts. Seriously, he is pitching as well as he ever has in his career, and only has a 3-3 record to show for it.

Meanwhile, the White Sox offense hit another new low tonight, getting completely baffled by Joe Saunders. Joe F-ing Saunders. Yes, a guy who entered tonight's game with a .287 BAA, .364 OBPA, and .517 SLGA silenced the Sox bats to a tune of 4 hits and a single run over the course of 7.2 innings of work. As you might expect, there's plenty of blame to go around; Alex Rios gets the distinction of posting the team-low -.268 WPA thanks to an 0-4 night highlighted by an inning-ending fly-out in the 6th leaving the bases loaded while the Sox were still down by 1. Andruw Jones nipped his heels posting a -.229 WPA by also going 0-4 and striking out twice, once as the tying run to end the 8th inning. Alexei Ramirez had the single worst out of the game, the game's final one, a strike-out with the tying run on 2nd base. And who can forget Jayson Nix, who was quiet at the plate (0-3) and only posted a -.097 WPA but really put this game out of reach in the 8th with his brutal defensive play at third, bobbling a grounder and then throwing it to right field. Getting charged with two errors on one play and allowing what was ultimately the winning run to score? Thaaanks!

Sox Biggest Hit of the Game: Konerko's home run off Brian Fuentes to lead-off the 9th.

Failed Opportunities: Despite losing, the Sox actually had 7 of the 10 biggest plays of the game according to WPA, and not just from one inning, they had chances to bust this game open in the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 9th. The problem: The Angels top 2 plays netted them 3 runs. The Sox top 9 plays only netted them 1.

Sox Biggest Out of the Game: A.J. Pierzynski gunned down Bobby Abreu trying to steal second in the 7th inning, worth -.063 WPA and indicative of Pierzynski's increased ability to limit opponents on the basepaths this year. In the past, A.J. has had all kinds of problems keeping other teams from running on him, but with Abreu and Torii Hunter's CS earlier, that is 16 stolen bases off AJ now in 24 attempts, only a 33.3% CS% but that's nearly in the Top 5 for the whole American League and much better than the usual low-20s, high-teens CS% he was producing for most of his time in Chicago.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19: Cubs @ Phillies WPA Recap (Game 41)

Charts and data from Fangraphs

Cubs' MVP: Tom Gorzelanny (.400 WPA)
Gorzo was ridiculously good tonight, throwing 6.2 innings and only allowing five baserunners. He also struck out five. It was the best individual WPA outing by a Cubs' pitcher this season. He had to leave in the seventh inning after getting nailed by a Carlos Ruiz line drive, but apparently x-rays were negative.

Phillies' MVP: Chase Utley (.101 WPA)
Utley walked and singled late in the game, going 1-3 overall. Honorable mention to The Ageless Wonder Jamie Moyer, who threw a pretty good game (.126 WPA) but nearly negated all of it at the plate by striking out with the bases loaded to end the second inning.

Cubs' LVP: Aramis Ramirez (-.097 WPA)
Aramis' offensive struggles continue with an 0-4 night and two strikeouts.

Phillies' LVP: Jayson Werth (-.234 WPA)
Did not see this one coming. Werth has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season, posting a .452 wOBA up to this point. But tonight, he was more like Jayson Werth-LESS. (Ha!) Werth went 0-4 and ended two innings with runners in scoring position. He also struck out twice.

Biggest Hit of the Game: It's a tie! Xavier Nady's two run single in the ninth and Jeff Baker's RBI single in the seventh were both worth .121 WPA.

Biggest Out of the Game: With two outs and a man on second in the bottom of the eighth, Jayson Werth grounds out to shortstop; -.101 WPA

Most Impressive Throw By A 20 Year Old Shortstop: 

May 18: Rockies @ Cubs WPA Recap (Game 40)

As always, stats and charts from Fangraphs.

Cubs' MVP: James Russell (.167 WPA)
After Esmalin Caridad walked the only batter he faced, Russell pitched a perfect seventh inning, striking out two and preserving the Cubs' 3-2 lead.

Rockies' MVP: Todd Helton (.147 WPA)
Helton hit a two run homer to chase Carlos Silva in the seventh inning. In terms of WPA it was the biggest hit of the game (.161).

Cubs' LVP: Esmalin Caridad (-.070 WPA)
Caridad walked his only batter in the seventh. Not an abysmal performance by any means, but he earned the lowest Cubs' WPA last night.

Rockies' LVP: Seth Smith (-.182)
Smith went 0-4, and also grounded into a double play immediately after Carlos Gonzalez led off the game with a single.

Biggest Hit of the Game For the Team That Actually Won
With nobody out and a man on first, Marlon Byrd singles in the fourth inning for .105 WPA. Whatever.

Worst Out(s) of the Game
In the top of the fourth with a man on first and nobody out, Troy Tulowitzki grounds into a double play. (-.090 WPA).

Play of the Game

The Cubs were in command throughout most of the game. Helton's home run made things interesting, but the Cubs' bullpen shut things down while the offense gave them some breathing room. No, that last sentence was not a typo.

Things That Are Just Weird

We're starting a new series at Crosstown Cup where we bring attention to certain stats or splits that, for lack of a better term, are just plain weird.

Exhibit A: Marlon Byrd.

Anyone who actually watches baseball games and doesn't spend all their free time with their nose in spreadsheets knows how good Marlon Byrd has been this season. He's batting .340 with 7 home runs and 25 RBI in 39 games.

People who do spend good amounts of time actually watching baseball games AND analyzing spreadsheets have an even better understanding of how good Marlon Byrd has been. His .414 wOBA is seventh best in the National League, although I would like to note that Alfonso Soriano's lazy .423 wOBA is fifth. Even more impressive is Marlon Byrd's 2.2 WAR, trailing only Chase Utley for best in the NL thus far. Byrd signed for three years and $15 million this past offseason. He's played 39 games and already has been worth $9 million.

The combination of his bat and glove have made him a legitimate MVP candidate so far in 2010. That being said, he has been incredibly lucky at the plate as of late. According to Fangraphs, the last seven days Byrd has posted a team high .412 BABIP (minimum 10 PA). The Byrdman continues to rake, right?

During the same time span, Byrd has a team low LD% of just 5.6%. Apparently when Marlon Byrd hits a ground ball, it's harder to track down than a greased-up chicken on roller skates.

I realize it's an incredibly small sample, but even in the span of a week: team low LD%, team high BABIP. That's just weird.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 17: Rockies @ Cubs WPA Recap (Game 39)

Cubs' MVP: Aramis Ramirez (.311 WPA)
Ramirez started the run-scoring with a two out RBI single in the first. The big knock, of course, was his two run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th (.363 WPA). Ramirez made a lot of solid contact this game, and earned his first Game MVP of the season. Hopefully there will be more.

The Cubs' pitching staff not named John Grabow also deserves a big thumbs up in this game. Randy Wells was fantastic (.333 WPA) and would have earned MVP status if we don't factor in his hitting. Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol compiled .511 WPA with 3.2 scoreless innings in relief.

Rockies' MVP: Todd Helton (.186 WPA)
Helton had a solid day at the plate, reaching base four times.

Cubs' LVP: Derrek Lee (-.277 WPA)
Lee was so bad at the plate yesterday that by the end of the game Lou should have seriously considered telling him to not even bring a bat to the plate. Lee struck out swinging with a man on 2nd in the first, grounded into inning-ending double plays in the third and the fifth, struck out again in the 8th, then made another out in the 11th (albeit a line-out) just before A-Ram's heroics. Five at-bats, seven outs. Yikes.

Rockies' LVP: Ian Stewart (-.473)
Ian Stewart was also allergic to baserunners last night, and was so bad he made Derrek Lee look like Mickey Mantle. In the fourth inning with one out, he struck out with the bases loaded. Then in the eighth he grounded into an inning ending double play, again with the bases loaded. He finished 0-5.

Biggest Hit of the Game:
Aramis' walkoff (.363 WPA)

Worst Out of the Game:
Stewart's double play in the 8th (-.287 WPA)

Big-Time Play That Easily Gets Lost In The Box Score:
In the top of the eighth, with men on first and second and nobody out and the Cubs clinging to a 2-1 lead, Marlon Byrd makes a terrific diving grab on a low liner from Troy Tulowitzki (.123 WPA).