Nationals Baseball: Friday Free for All

Friday, April 05, 2013

Friday Free for All

Series Preview  Nats v Reds. 

While the Nats were beating up on the little sisters of the NL, the Reds took on potential AL powerhouse, the (add your own geographical joke here) Angels. This is part of the killer start to the Reds schedule : Home vs the Angels and Nats, Away at the Cards. That's tough, and the series vs the Pirates and Phillies that follow are potentially worrisome as well. But the Reds held their ground vs the Angels, after a tough Opening Day loss where Weaver held them in check they took back to back 5-4 games. Nothing seemingly out of place, this could very well be a NLCS preview.

Pitching Match-Ups

Bailey v Haren
Leake v Detwiler
Cueto v Strasburg

Bailey v Haren is interesting.  Bailey is a fly-ball pitcher in a fly-ball park, but he's a good fly-ball pitcher. He strikes out a lot of guys and doesn't put many on base so there's a lot more solo shots than 3-run blasts. Can the Nats put enough balls over the fence to make a dent in the cold air of April? On the other side we don't know what to expect from Haren. His spring did not build confidence, and while I like to ignore ST stats, I don't like to ignore ST comments of the "this guy doesn't look 100% ready yet" type.  Older player, cool night, HR problems in ST, long layoff, back issues, this could be a hard start for Dan.  I'd have to give this one to the Reds.

Leake v Detwiler should favor the Nats.  Not that Leake isn't any good. He's one of the better 5th starters in the league.  But Detwiler might be the best 5th starter in the league. Still that doesn't mean all that much. When you get to 5th starters they can blow-up at any time and Detwiler is still a pitch to contact guy who was among the league leaders in FIP-ERA.  What does that mean? Basically FIP is how well you should have done given the way you pitched. ERA is how you actually did. FIP-ERA gives you an idea of who might have gotten lucky/unlucky. Short of it is, Det got lucky. It doesn't suggest he's a terrible pitcher, just hints that he's more a 4.00 ERA guy than a 3.50 ERA guy. Of course he's still learning and some guys can seemingly defy FIP over and over (Lannan come back!), though most don't.  All that being said I still like the Nats here.

Cueto v Strasburg. Should be awesome.  Since I had the Nats losing the series I'll say Cueto wins 1-0. But obviously the Nats can take this game as long as Strasburg isn't pulled in the 4th after hitting the magical 45 pitch barrier.  (Trust me - EVERYONE will be looking to see if Strasburg goes at least 90)

Hot :  Choo and Frazier and both 4-12 with a homer and a double. Votto hasn't hit well but already has 5 walks.  Bryce is hitting .500 and you know what? So is Zimm.  Span has gotten on base in half his PAs.

Not : Bruce, Hanigan and Cozart are combined 2-34 with 2 walks making the bottom of the Reds lineup a cakewalk right now. Laroche and Espinosa are both searching for their first hit. Ian only has one.

Stat Validation

If I asked you to describe the type of pitch you'd expect a left handed slugger to take for a home run, what would you say?  I'd say a mistake that ended up in his wheelhouse, wouldn't you? Now that we have PitchF/X data readily available we can check that assumption.

On Opening Day Bryce hit two home runs. The first one was off a curve.  Nolasco's curves averaged a vertical break of -6.70 and a horiztonal one of 7.53.  The curve he threw to Bryce broke -6.64 and 5.39.  Without going into details you can see it broke fine vertically but didn't move laterally like he'd want. In fact it had the worst lateral movement of any curve he threw that day.  That may not look like much but in the major leagues you're in a situation where a little failure can make all the difference in the world. It looks like a bad curve.  The second home run came off a slider. Again average movement -0.41 and 2.49, this pitch 0.05 and 2.66.  Not great but not that far off.  Seems like a pretty meh pitch.

(why all the equivocation? Well you can't just look at average movement and specific pitch movement and declare it good or bad... ok you can when it's just obvious, but not in these cases.  We have our... suspicions, but we'd have to look at a lot more to say anything definitively) 

Now of course these things only matter to a point. It's far more important that the pitch goes where you want it to. If it doesn't then you have to hope the break and speed and stuff can save the pitch by fooling the batter. Where did these two end up?

First homer

Second Homer

Both ended up middle low and on the inside half of the plate.  Exactly where you'd expect a lefty to love it. But maybe they served a purpose in the scheme of the at bat.  Is that where Nolasco wanted them? No and yes. That first curve was meant to be outside. (You can watch the videos here).  Nolasco messed up and a bad curve in a bad spot means home run. The slider does seem to be exactly where he wants it though and if you look at the pitch order he was working Bryce outside and high and hoped to fool him inside and low.  Maybe it missed by an inch or so but it was there. If it's not a mistake is Bryce just awesome?  Well yes, but also Nolasco is just bad.

He doesn't throw a great slider. It's Runs above average value was -0.9 last year, 1.0 the year before meaning it's prefectly average. We've already hypothesized it wasn't a great version of the slider so what we have here is a below average pitcher, throwing a below average version of his average pitch at an above average batter. Location can only do so much to save it, even if it was outside his wheelhouse.

None of this is meant to take away from what Bryce did.  What Bryce did is what good batters do. They take mistakes and pitches they should hit hard and they hit them hard. No pitcher is perfect on every throw. Every batter gets these types of pitches. Not every batter can capitalize on them. Bryce can.

Sometimes having more information can illuminate things you didn't know. Other times it will validate what you already expected. I think it's fun to see both.


Hoo said...

Fantastic post and thanks much for the work. I believe Dett will continue to improve and will add more data to the fact that Ross will be more than a solid 4 or 5. I think he'll be a 4 who stays a 5.

Nats are at least as cold as Cincy below the 4 spot. LaRoche has gotten good wood and will be fine. Espi is not getting good wood. He's taking less pitches than Desmond! Not the start we were hoping to see from the rebuild Nosa. He's the main concern for me as I think Werth can be fine at #2 by taking plenty of pitches and having some occasional pop

Anonymous said...

One little 3-run homer was enough for you to omit discussing our offensive keyhole? Man this Nats team is a tough out, even for our friendly neighborhood blogger. =)

Harper said...

Hoo - I have a feeling this series will be won by whichever bottom of the lineup wakes up first. You have to like the Nats chances there. Hanigan and Cozart might wake up and we'd never know it.

vdub - It's so early in the season that one good swing can make a point moot. I'll be glad in a month or so when we can start making more definitive statements. Early season is stat death. You live on data and you have so little that matters.

Matt said...

Small point on Detweiler: FIP assumes average defense. The Nats defense is almost certainly above average, so you expect Nats' pitchers in general to outperform FIP. Maybe not by half a run though.

Erich said...

Great post. Looking forward to the Cincy series as a way to see how this team does stack up. But then again, it's early. All I want now is some great baseball and the hope that when I look at the standings at the end of May, the team hasn't (somehow) buried themselves.

cass said...

Detwiler became a groundball pitchers last year (GB% > 50%) and this team has good infield defense, so you'd expect that to help on the balls in play. We'll see.

With the new-and-improved fWAR (IFFBs = Ks). Detwiler's RA9-Wins beat his WAR by half a win, though that was through great BIP-Wins and not-so-great LOB-Wins. So maybe he got a little lucky (.263 BABIP) but also a little unluckly (70.8% LOB).

We'll see, but with this team's fielding, I feel pretty good about his prospects.

I'm worried about Haren being worse than EJax or possibly injured, but I'm glad we got Chris Young back.

Harper said...

Matt - true but looking at the other GB guys last year (Edwin and Gio) we don't see what we do for Det.

Erich - Yes - great baseball. We got one game of that. Luckily you don't need great baseball to beat the Marlins. 1/2 a great game will do.

cass- yeah and while it seems that their are great pitchers that can control their hit prevention I don't think Det is that type. With the wider spread of BABIP compared to LOB%, I expect to see a little less overall luck this year. Still, do you complain about a #5 with a 4.00 ERA?

I like Chris Young alot. Always have. Mostly have been proven wrong.

DezoPenguin said...

But Gio is a huge strikeout guy (9+ K/9) and Jax had over two more K/9 than Ross last year as well. GB guys they might be, but they also generated a lot of outs that didn't depend on the defense.

So the remark about the quality of the defense, I think, still holds. I don't think Ross is "really" a 3.50 ERA pitcher taken for an average team in an average environment, but for this specific Nationals team the result may be expected to be better than FIP would indicate due to good defense everywhere on the field + high proportion of balls in play.

cass said...

I like Chris Young as a 6th starter insurance policy for high-risk Haren, that's for sure. Wouldn't have been as excited if we started the year with him as our 5th starter, but it's better to have two shots at getting something decent out of that spot than nothing.

Yeah, I know Detwiler is slotted in 5th, but I consider him our 4th starter. At least until Haren magically transforms back into his old self.

JonQuest said...

Thanks for the PitchF/X analysis. Very interesting stuff. I hope that's a regular part of the discussion going forward. Nerdy fantastic.

Greg said...

I'm going directly against you on this series, Harp. Haren, the ultimate professional, comes up big in game one and gives up one run, just to show the kids how it's done. Nats win. Ross loses in a close game -- actually, a no-decision, the bullpen will finally give up a couple of runs. Game three, Stras won't leave until he knows he's defeated the enemy, Cueto, and threatens to throw some high heat directly at Davey. Bryce and Desi will punch three across by the seventh to allow him to leave after only 91 pitches (seven innings).

We'll see.

On another point, you have a great blog, but it's impossible to access for anyone who's unfamiliar with it. Google is useless. The only way I found it was through ESPN. I only mention it because I know a lot of people like me are getting a little tired of all the sycophants in the Post's sports section, and ESPECIALLY in the comments section.

Okay, game on. Sorry to ramble...

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