Nationals Baseball: The comparison game

Friday, January 23, 2015

The comparison game

One of the things about trying to compare players is that there is no definitive "Max Scherzer like" group. You set a series of definitions that fit the player you are interested in and you see what you get. Some of the players might seem like great comparisons, others you might wonder if you should bother to include them at all. You could narrow down, of course, with even more conditions but then the dreaded small sample size really comes into play.  The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a corner where you seem to be saying one player is going to follow exactly the career path of another. It's a balancing act.

Case in point, this fangraphs article. We both have limits based on our analysis. Because I was limited by when pitches thrown data is available I could only look at pitchers from 2002 on. He used IP instead so he could go before 2000 but because he's interested with performance through the mid-30s but using performance through age 29 as a qualifier he can't use the most recent examples. They wouldn't have thrown those age mid 30 years yet.

His list looks far more impressive and even if you remove Clemens and Maddux (Scherzer doesn't seem to be in their class) and Teddy Higuera (only in MLB system at age 26 - most likely threw a TON before then) you still get a more positive view of Max. Viola (32, 33), Appier (32, 33, 34), Guidry (32, 34, 35), Cone (32, 34, 35, 36) and Mussina (32, 33, 34, 37, 39) all had plenty of success in the period that I've just deemed a probable wasteland for Max Scherzer. Only Jose Rijo blew up.

So who's right? Well no one really. I can tell you why I like my comparison group better though.

There are some things - like how comparable are pitchers who threw these years in the late 80s through early 90s?  The runs scored may be back down but the approches are different. Guys aren't looking to put the ball in play as much. Whether that's strikeouts or walks it means longer at bats.  This isn't a strict pitch count workload thing, these guys in the past threw a lot more innings. But if guys would swing at more pitches outside the zone and make more contact and if you were less worried about the long ball... that could effect stress on the arm. I'm a lot more in favor of saying Max is like a recent guy who threw say 575 innings at age 28-30 or 26-28 than a guy 20 years ago who happened to hit the 200IP limit in the 27-29 age range specified.

Another issue is the fact that there only one guy here who started his career after 1991. Why do, out of the 10, five of them lump together in careers starting from 1984-1986 when a 29 year span is specified?  This makes the group seem to be non-random and should lead to further investigation.

For example, you can explain part of the above issue by the strikes in '81 and '94. If you happened to be 27-29 during either of those periods it would be hard for you to make this list (I think only Maddux and Rijo fit that bill). So if you are thinking, shouldn't Glavine or Smoltz or etc be here? That's what happened. That could explain for the most part the late 70s gap, along with the early 90s one. The late 90s one takes a little more thinking - perhaps starting out in a steroid induced high-scoring era led to fewer high WAR or big IP seasons? You can find some reason I bet.

But this strike thing brings up what I consider a bigger problem. Out of the 10 guys on your list, 9 of them (well 6 really - Viola, Rijo and Higuera all had their arms die before the strike but that doesn't count against my theory) had a season where they didn't have to pitch as much in the middle of their careers. How much does that help an arm out?

You might poo-poo that idea (who are you, Madeline?) but chew on this fact.  Out of the latest group of 4 300 game winners - all had that '94 strike season in their careers. Out of the group of 6 right before them - all had that '81 strike season in their careers. Coincidence? Perhaps*. But it would make sense to me that having a light workload could rejuvinate an arm. It certainly jives with what I see for myself in my analysis. Once that workload threshold has been met and you get into your 30s a good year is more likely to follow a year with a light workload than a heavy one. If your arm is done then your arm is done, but if it's healthy getting that light workload can keep it on track.

There are a couple of other examples as well that fit this line of thinking. Ryan Dempster was heavily used for a few years while young but managed to have a lot of early 30s success as a starter. He also saw a big drop in workload during his late 20s as he was a reliever during that time. Javy Vazquez spent the back end of his career ping-ponging between good years and mediocre ones. After the age of 25 the IP in years before the seasons with less than 100 ERA+ : 230.2, 215.2, 216.2, 219.1. The IP in the years before the seasons with 100+ ERA+ : 198, 202.2, 208.1, 157.1

Anyway this is a long-winded way of saying I like my comparison just fine and better than that fangraphs one. You can make your own decision. You can find any number of groups that Max Scherzer might fit in.  Baseball Reference for example likes Matt Morris, Roy Halladay, and John Lackey the most. Don't dismiss any grouping, but don't buy into it either. Look at it, think about how you feel about it. Do your own tweaks. Then adjust your judgement if you feel necessary. We're all just guessing here so if you want to make Max out to be Mussina or Oswalt or Webb that's all ok. We'll just forget about it by the time it happens anyway.

*They also almost all began their careers in relative minima in terms of runs scored. Easier time pitching as a young arm + a light year in the middle of career could help with longevity as much as anything else. Someone do some work!

22 comments:

Chaz R said...

I'm glad there's smart people around like you Harper to do these interesting analyses. My head isn't wired this way. I took Liberal Arts Math in college.

Harper said...

I had friends take History of Math. That shouldn't be allowed. I don't get to take an English class that's reading magazines. (well at least not at my college, maybe if I went to Arizona State)

Jimmy said...

@Chaz R.- do you know the difference bewteen a large pizza and a liberal arts degree? A pizza can feed a family of four. In all seriousness though I studied accounting and have zero interest parsing the numbers necessary to make any decision regarding pitching in your 30's. Just not that interested in seeing that many red flags although incredibly glad Harper has the patience and automaton detachment necessary to do the dirty work.

Jimmy said...

Also Harper what's your take on all these insane trade rumors with our abundance of starters? For some reason many writers seem to disregard Rizzo's penchant for making decent trades in the hope he trades one of Strasburg/Fister/Zimmermann/Desmond for a bottle of whiskey and shiny beads.

DezoPenguin said...

Should have gone to the University of Illinois, Harper; I satisfied my English requirement with "Crime and Detective Stories" and "Ghost Stories and the Supernatural."

...I'm most amused by the Roark+Desmond+Cole for Tulowitzki rumor, myself.

Jimmy said...

Dezo that is easily the most palatable, compared to some others.

BxJaycobb said...

I'll tell you what's peculiar re those rumors....how nuts Nats fans go when somebody proposes a Betts for Strasburg trade (FanGraphs article recently made the case). I've seen this pretty consistently, which is...I don't think Nats fan realize how good Betts is supposed to be (and was for a couple months last year). He's basically the most prized prospect after Bryant in baseball and most scouts (keith law for example) think he's the safest choice to be a future star in baseball....yet Nats fans think it would be demented to consider dealing stras for him. Don't get it. The kid is supposed to be worth like 3 WAR next year in 200 ABs and 4-5 in the years after that. and that would be for 6 years vs 2 of stras (been around 3-4 WAR a year). i certainly see that its not a sure think Betts will be great; but it's pretty close to a sure thing he'll be very good [already has produced in bigs], so if that's the kind of thing u mean by "bottle of whiskey" i beg to differ...and if u told me we would be able to lock up jordan, i would pull the trigger on that one (and ask BOS to throw in a reliever). Law seems to think Sox categorically will not give him up though. think he's their next franchise player.

Anonymous said...

Top 100 prospects fail 70% of the time:

http://www.gammonsdaily.com/baseball-prospects-bust-success-rate-trade-value/

Anonymous said...

@bxjacob: Betts straight up for strasburg would be insane. Look at the will meyers for shields trade. Will meyers was considered a far better prospect than mookie betts and shields was far worse than strasburg.

BxJaycobb said...

Www.Fangraphs.com/blogs/making-the-case-for-a-Strasburgbetts-trade/
Lol "insane"? Thanks for making my point for me Anon about irrational homer-think. Well the sabermetrics community disagrees with you. Ps what does your fail percentage number become for "top 3 prospects who destroy every level of the minor leagues then hit like anthony Rendons slash line with speed for 200 ABs in the major leagues? Guessing it goes down quite a bit.
Let me simplify this a bit. (By the way....I love Stras and would like us to just sign him and jordan...but since they won't...). in his first 2 months in the major leagues, mookie betts had about half as much value (in WAR) as strasburgs best year. He's a plus defender in CF (where we may be relying on Michael taylor next year and beyond) and 2B (where we've never had a good player) who could well be our leadoff hitter through Scherzers contract. I'm not saying he'll be a better player than Stephen Strasburg by any stretch. But based on both our positional needs and the difference in control, calling the proposal "insane" is a joke. Unless you're discussing the red sox perspective in which case ur argument might make a bit more sense. Really though....its a pretty even trade (as the Fangraphs analysis notes "neither side is comfortable" with the trade.) if it was anywhere remotely approximating "insane" something tells me the smart sox front office would be interested in fleecing us.

BxJaycobb said...

Http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/making-the-case-for-a-strasburgbetts-trade/
Woops there's the link. Debate aside, it's an interesting read by somebody who's not emotionally attached to players.

BxJaycobb said...

Oh ps besides your point being anecdotal, it's also flatly inaccurate. Shields had higher WAR and better statistical years than Strasburg before the trade and betts is a way higher probability success than Myers considering he's played a half season in the major leagues instead of being in AA. Plus, this is neither here nor there but....strange example to pick. Myers will have generated twice as much value by the end of his control as shields did for the royals....tho he did turn in some truly horrific playoff performances for them so bonus points I guess.
I have no problem with people thinking prospects r volatile. But....players who have succeeded at every level and then killed it in the majors for July-September aren't really "prospects" in that sense. He's gonna be a stud. As is reflected in Boston showing no interest in the stras deal (see article)

John C. said...

I wouldn't be ecstatic about a Stras-for-Betts trade, but I think I'd ultimately pull the trigger on it.

The thing to remember is that WAR is a tool, not an ironclad accurate way of comparing players. Note that there are a lot of different ways to compute it. Is Strasburg a consistent 3 win pitcher (rWAR)? Or a consistent 4 win pitcher (fWAR)? There's a significant difference, but he's the same guy. Doug Fister is an even more fun example. In 2014 was he basically a solid unremarkable starting pitcher (1.3 fWAR)? Or a key cog near the top of the rotation (4.3 rWAR)? It's the realization that there are many aspects to baseball that impact the game that WAR does not capture that has led Bill James to criticize some modern sabermetrics.

I think that variability of WAR especially applies to comparing position players and pitchers. Bottom line, I think that citing projected WAR figures is relevant to a conversation about a potential trade, but is not dispositive. Simply saying "Betts projects to have more WAR than Strasburg, therefore it would be nuts to make this trade" ignores as much as it illuminates.

Anonymous said...

@bxjacob wow. Ever heard of a small sample sizes? Fangraphs while a fantastic site overvalues prospects quite a bit imho. There have been many prospects who were considered to be the surest of things who either haven't panned out for any number of. Calling me irrational because people are overvaluing a prospect(a great one to be sure) for one of the top 5 pitchers in the game entering his prime years according to the very stats you trash me of being ignorant of is the kind of useless hyperbole that irritates me.

Zimmerman11 said...

Strasburg for Betts has way too much potential to make either GM look terrible... no way that happens...

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/making-the-case-for-a-strasburgbetts-trade/

BxJaycobb said...

If you think Stephen Strasburg is one of the 5 best pitchers in baseball right now, I can't help you. I mean...that's just a biased appraisal of the situation.
John C. I think u misunderstood. I'm saying that to say "trading Strasburg for betts would be insane" as Anon did is unreasonable as it's certainly up for debate but also utterly debatable. (I'm on the side of it being uncertain and inexact re projections. My only point is to dismiss it as being looneytunes as Anon did exhibits either homerism or a failure to appreciate the advantages of long term cheap potentially highly quality control. WAR has its issues. In particular I think defensive metrics should really be taken with a grain of salt. But I cited it because it's difficult to make a point comparing control of different years (like 6 vs 2) when there isn't some sort of vaguely helpful cumulative value stat.
But I guess I would say that 1) under traditional statistics the kids been spectacular throughout the minors which makes his 2) .290/.370/.450 slash over half a year in MLB look very un-fluky. He also happens to be a ball player built in a lab specifically for the Nats current needs over next few years (middle infielder and outfield depth plus top of the order athleticism).
Strasburg while I love him is not currently among the top 8-9 run preventers in baseball (no slight...except we have 2 other starters who arguably r). again...my point is u can disagree as to the imaginary trades wisdom, but calling it insane is peculiar.

BxJaycobb said...

Oh. And by the way i know just what u mean by useless hyperbole irritating u. recently I had a more than defensible opinion called "insane" for no reason other than the person likes strong language. Anon, u were the one who started insulting posts first. I just made a comment. If people defending themselves irritates u, then be respectful when debating an innocent point.

Anonymous said...

Bxjaycobb- I apoligize for saying your opinion was insane I just don't think that a trade like that would ever happen. I appreciate the value of long-term cheap talent, I just don't think in this particular case it makes sense. And while like I said Mookie Betts is as sure of a thing as there is, there have been plenty of people who were. Strasburg is due for a couple of big years that could possibly put him into contention for a cy young if your a believer in fip and is already a top 5 pitcher in the nl, trading him straight up for a single prospect like zimm said would leave to much potential for either party to get burned for it to happen.

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm very happy the Nats are in a position where they have the major and minor league talent and ownership/financial commitment that we can pursue/retain ANY player. This Scherzer signing agree with it or not, is a real statement from the franchise and I'm happy to root for a team that is trying to win.

We can only disagree/complain about WHICH players our ownership and management choose to pursue and retain, which is something all us Expos fans should be very happy about. Three 100M + contracts is not a luxury a lot of teams have.

And as Harper said, with one of the best personnel guys in the game in Rizzo, and all the talent on this roster and in the minors, we can pursue ANYONE... I also believe now that Znn and Desmond turned down large offers to pursue more $$$ in FA.

And please

Zimmerman11 said...

And please... please let the "rest" of the NL East play down to current expectations, so we dont' have another lost year in 2015 (no playoffs).

BxJaycobb said...

Anon. Agree with that view....its a trade that could swing both ways.

BxJaycobb said...

Whenever I feel eh about a move front office either made or didn't make....I look at the mets. I don't know if I'd be able to be a fan of an organization so egregiously cheap when they represent a market like NYC. Especially when they're ABLE to be shoot for contention with some spending.