Nationals Baseball: Up, Down, All around

Friday, July 18, 2014

Up, Down, All around

Occasionally we like to peruse the fancy stats and try to pick up on things that are unsustainable. The truth is though, there is enough variation in these stats, their relationship to each other, and the number of events in a single baseball season is small enough, that a lot of what we say is little better than coin-flipping.

Span has a .299 BABIP but usually has a .315? So he should get better... unless he's just getting older. But his LD% is up a little which is better... But his GB% is up a lot, which could be worse, and LD% is the flukiest of those... His HR/FB% is down too, so should that bounce back or is it aging as well... but like from 3.5% to 1%... He's slightly more selective O-Swing rate down, a better eye maybe... but he's making more contact on these pitches and less on pitches in the zone...   Conclusion? We shouldn't be making conclusions here.

I like to look at these fancy stats to try to explain things that have happened, but as a predictor of things to happen it gets dicier. I prefer, especially with less than half the games left to only focus on those things that seem truly out of whack.  Here's what I think have a good shot to be true for the rest of the season

Adam LaRoche continues to see his numbers fall. LaRoche started out so hot that this is kind of an inevitable, but what I don't like is that .315 BABIP.  It's not far enough off his career numbers (.306) to be even glanced at, but his numbers the last two years are .298 and .277.  That jives with what I would expect from an aging, occasionally injured, slow player. It also matches what I've seen - he's not getting faster. His range numbers, kind of an independent way to judge speed/quickness, are getting worse. Really I can't see any reason for the high BABIP other than "getting lucky".  I'd expect numbers more based off a base .240 average going forward.  He won't be bad, but he'll be decidedly shruggable.

Ryan Zimmerman will hit homers at a better rate. Ryan's 7.4% HR rate is way out of line with his past numbers, almost half his average. It may be a legit drop in power (flyball distance is down) or a bat speed issues (spray charts show a lack of deep balls pulled) but I'm going to chalk it up to injury recovery. Ryan in the past has shown a tendency to recover slow and be a totally different hitter when feeling good as opposed to a little off (remember those cortisone shots). I don't think he'll go on a tear but he could end up with 15 or so, a decent ending considering he has 4 now.

Rafeal Soriano will have a rougher end to the season, so will Fister. Rafeal Soriano is floating with a .207 BABIP well below his average of around .252, his LOB% is the highest of his career, his HR/FB% a ridiculously low 2.2%.  Soriano has had a past year where he produced a lot of poor contact fly balls so I could forgive a single out of line number, but all three? He doesn't have to collapse or anything, just not an ERA under 2.00, let alone 1.00. Fister's BABIP is also below normal - part of that is the switch to the Nats from the Tigers, but the Nats D is actually seasonally trending in the wrong direction. Most of the staff are seeing BABIP rises, Fister's .263 stands out as unusual in comparison. His ERA should rise.

Strasburg and Zimmermann should see their ERA dip. First I want to note that while the Nats defense did improve over the course of the year, that's really only because it was oddly bad at the beginning. Guys like Span, who has shown himself consistently to be a good defender, and Rendon, who everyone likes as a defender, had oddly poor stats. Such is the way when looking over a few months at stats that need combined years to find consistency.  Are the Nats suddenly great in the field*? I doubt it.  I see the Nats as an average defensive team at best. Which means that I don't like a sudden drop in the BABIP the team is putting out for the pitcher. That's bad news for guys over achieving but for ZNN and Stras, who are putting up higher BABIP than normal they should see a drop which should show up in their ERA. It doesn't have to be huge, just lower.

Those are the bets I'd make for the last 70 games

LaRoche's BA drops
Zimm HR rate goes up
Soriano's ERA jumps
Fister's ERA climbs a bit, Strasburg and ZNN's drop a bit.

All in all a mixed bag, so no big push in either direction that would boost or serve as a detriment to the belief we all have that this is a good Nats team that should win most of these games coming up.

*Did you know a significant part of DRS that Kilgore cites is something called rGFP? Which is a "good fielding play" as observed from someone watching film. That potentially has its own issues but it's an interesting way to try to encapsulate things that don't show in your typical or even fancy stats. The thing is the majority of these good plays came from Frandsen, Moore and Lobaton (7 of 12). Not that they didn't happen - these guys could be "smart" if not they are not good. Doesn't matter. They aren't playing


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity - how much could pitcher type and defensive splits effect BABIP? Ie could a good infield but poor range outfield mean a ground ball pitcher significantly outperforms a flyball or strikeout pitcher on BABIP? I'm just hoping there's a way to justify Fister really...

Anonymous said...

One reason LaRoche may have a higher BABIP this year beyond luck: he's spent most of his career being a dead-pull hitter and gets an extreme version of the shift. This year he's (anecdotally, at least) made more of an effort to hit to left. But you'd expect teams to adjust to that, so it's probably not sustainable.

Otherwise, can't argue with any of your conclusions - Fister's peripherals are especially worrisome, though I want to believe it won't catch up to him.

John C. said...

Also out of curiosity; why do you say that the Nats' defense is "trending in the wrong direction?" I find it odd to think that the Nats defense has gotten worse at converting ball in play into outs, because over the past several weeks they have moved up significantly in defensive efficiency (from 25th to 17th). If they are getting worse, they are doing so more slowly than their peers. Which is possible if BABIP goes up as the weather warms up. Possible, I suppose. But the defense has firmed up nicely overall.

Harper said...

Anon - yes it could, but I don't think Fister is significantly different from the other Nats pitchers (at least in terms of types of hits induced) to explain the low BABIP. (in other words - other guys that pitch kind of like Fister have shown higher BABIPs)

emdash - hmmm I'm not seeing it, but maybe?

John C - When I said "Seasonally in the wrong direction" I mean season to season 2012 to 2013 to 2014. So internally to 2014 they've been fine but they seem to be moving from a superior team (in 2012) to an average team.

JWLumley said...

I don't think Fister is due for much regression at all, unless he starts pitching worse. First he should get a little bump from the move to the NL from the AL. It means that about 7% of the hitters he faces now are pitchers, no small thing. Second, his LD% (which I know can be fluky in SSS) is down almost 4% from last year and over 4% from where it was in his time with the Tigers. Sure, his FB% is up, but his HR/FB% is up a bunch, so it could potentially, if not even likely, regress over the second half. His K% is also down over his career norms and while I know that tends to normalize a lot faster, but I don't think his stuff has gotten that much worse to explain a big dip.

Finally, there's the defense. The Nats may not be great defensively, with no above average defenders on the infield outside of LaRoche--unless Espinosa plays--but the Tigers defense was horrible. I'm not even sure that advanced metrics can calculate the statue-ness that was Miguel Cabrera playing 3rd. It was bad and neither of the Tigers catchers are known as great receivers, something that Sabermetrics are just starting to quantify the value of. While Fister's ERA may inch up a bit, I'd bet he finishes the year right around 3, and for argument's sake, I'll take a tick below 3.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper. I'm extremely mystified by stras I have to say. Having watched all his starts this year (and I've always been a huge defender/fan if his) I have to say its hard for me to conclude his ERA vs K/BB discrepancy is because of luck alone. The guy really seems to be SUVSTANTIALLY less effective from the stretch. It's gotten to the point where if somebody hits a flare....I almost assume he's going to give up a couple rockets. Guys are literally hitting .330 of something off the guy with men on.

BxJaycobb said...

I understand that a lot goes into W-L that's outside a pitchers control. But at what point do we look at the guys cumulative record over a 2 year period and there some reason he appears on the losing side of ball games more than somebody with a3-3.5 era probably should? Not one of those guys at all who believes a ton in non quantifiable stuff like intangibles or whatever that much....but normally a pitcher with 20 more Ks than the rest of the league and very few walks should be DOMINANT. It hasn't happened for 2 years. I'd love to know why and am genuinely curious. Just from watching...I have to say it seems like he's a guy that 1) may have some mechanical issue in the stretch that makes him more hittable and 2) seems to frequently go out of his way to make mistakes REALKY hurt