Indians Defense Stifles Blue Jays

Even if the Toronto Blue Jays had managed to overcome a 6-0 deficit after the fifth inning, it’s unlikely that they would’ve stolen headlines away from news that the Blue Jays were close (like Friday close) to calling up top prospect Brett Lawrie.

The team made it easy for the Lawrie news to overshadow them, by getting absolutely shut down by Mitch Talbot and his soldiers of defense. Yeah, it was that kind of night. Despite dragging things out so as to bring the tying run to the on deck circle, the Blue Jays lost 6-3 to the Indians.

Anatomy Of A Lefty Heavy Lineup

There were only two right handed batters in Cleveland’s lineup tonight and they were in the seventh and eighth spot in the order. This is what a right handed pitcher’s strike zone plot will look like when this happens:

Ignore the splitter (which was more likely a regular four seam fastball or a weird attempt at a changeup) and the curve balls (which were likely just sliders that dropped a bit more). Morrow threw a fastball and slider combination throughout his five innings of work, which added up to 95 pitches: 62 for strikes and 33 for balls. That’s a strike rate of 65.3%. Before tonight’s game, Morrow’s strike rate was 64.2%.

Before I looked at those numbers I wondered if Morrow was attempting to pitch more to contact tonight and we were seeing the awful results. But the truth of the matter was that the awful results (nine hits, two balls) were likely a combination of his slider not dropping as much or moving away from the hitters, the lefty heavy lineup and some poor defense.

Morrow’s career xFIP against left handed batters is 4.55, against righties it’s only 3.51.

Most Important Play Of The Game

In the second inning with the Cleveland Indians already up 1-0 over the Blue Jays, Carlos Santana was on second base when Grady Sizemore hit a double to center field with none out. The play increased the Indians chances of winning by 9.5%, as the team would go on to collect a total of seven extra base hits.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Game

Way back in the first inning, with two runners on base and only one out, Juan Rivera grounded into a double play to end the inning and decrease the Blue Jays chances of winning by 8.5%

The Shamsky Award

Named after Art Shamsky, who single handedly increased the Cincinnati Reds’ chances of winning by 150.3% in a losing effort during a game in 1966, The Shamsky Award is given to the player on the losing team who contributes the most to them winning.

Yunel Escobar went two for two tonight, which might seem strange for an uninjured starter, until you see that he also walked three times, getting on base five out of five times, and hitting a home run while doing so. Escobar did his best tonight to increase the Blue Jays probability of winning by 9%.

The Aggravating Thing That John Farrell Did

Prior to tonight’s game, Blue Jays manager John Farrell spoke to reporters about the importance of pitching wins as a statistic. He then suggested that WHIP was the most important metric to consider for pitchers. It’s not, and I mocked the idea on Twitter. Several people asked what a better stat for pitchers is. This remains the most informative, irreverent and hilarious explanation around:

The Statistics You Won’t Believe

In his last start before tonight Cleveland Indians pitcher Mitch Talbot faced 21 batters over three innings allowing eight earned runs on twelve hits and two walks. Tonight’s outing was a little bit more successful.

In his last start before tonight Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow faced 28 batters over seven innings allowing one run on four hits and two walks. Tonight’s outing was a little bit less successful.

Shutdowns/Meltdowns

Despite the Jays use of Luis Perez, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco tonight, it’s kind of hard to find the leverage necessary while losing by four and six runs to gain shutdowns or meltdowns.

Carefully Selected Quote Cliche Of The Game

From Baseball Prospectus, tonight I’ll go with:

I wasn’t making my pitches. I wasn’t hitting my spots. It was almost like even if I was, they were still going to find a hole. That’s baseball. You get days where you nub three or four and they go for hits. I didn’t try to walk anybody and when I got behind in the count I still pitched my game.

Stray Observations Of The Game

Jose Bautista’s path to the ball and hesitancy at the wall on Michael Brantley’s third inning triple was positively Pattersonesque, and yet I heard and read not even a fraction of the criticism.

I wrote that above thought before Corey Patterson’s horrible run to a fly in the top of the sixth where he missed the ball completely. I may have exaggerated Bautista’s gaffe.

Comparing this and J.P. Arencibia’s failed tag at the plate in the fifth to Jack Hannahan’s defensive spectacle at third base is exactly why WHIP, ERA and pitching wins are hard to take seriously. There are just so many aspects of a baseball game out of the pitcher’s hands.

The first time I heard it I thought I imagined it, but the second time I was positive that Buck Martinez referred to the Cleveland Indians as the injuns. I’m pretty sure that’s not cool.

Listening to Pat Tabler talk about pitching to contact as a good thing while Brandon Morrow was seemingly serving up batting practice may actually be more ignorant than Martinez using the term injuns.

Yunel Escobar is quickly going from my favourite Blue Jays regular to becoming my favourite player in baseball.

In the bottom of the ninth with two out, Manny Acta took out Tony Sipp, so that Chris Perez could face Jose Bautista. All I could do was wonder what would’ve been faster: Bringing in Perez to face Bautista or letting Sipp walk him to get Rivera out.

Comments (17)

  1. The whole premise of using ERA as a measure of pitcher performance is based on two very flawed premises.

    1) Every out made by a team while a pitcher is on the mound is the result of good work by the pitcher. Furthermore, they deserve an equal share of the credit for each out made behind them. (This is because every out made behind a pitcher lowers their ERA by the same amount regardless of how the out happened. An inning could be three straight three-pitch strike outs or a pair of walks and then a triple play on a screaming line drive snared by the second baseman on a hit-and-run. ERA considers these two sequences of events to mean the same thing for the pitcher.)

    2) Every earned run scored against a pitcher is the result of bad work by the pitcher. Furthermore, they deserve an equal share of the blame for every run they allow. (This is because every run allowed behind them increases their ERA by an equal amount. Three runs in an inning might be the result of three straight home runs or four straight hits on defensible balls in play that the fielders took bad routes to. The odds are good that the pitcher shares SOME of the blame in the latter case, but the odds are also pretty good that he deserves less of it. Again, ERA treats these two sequences of events as the same.)

    So every earned run and every out is treated equally? How did people ever conceive of this as a reasonable way of judging pitchers?

  2. Yunel is without a doubt my favorite Blue Jay.

  3. @blawrie13 Brett Lawrie
    At hospital , pls be bruised .. #praying

  4. i have no doubt the jays use all the stats available to them in their evaluations. for farrell, ERA and WHIP are probably fine for evaluating his own pitchers, since they all pitch to pretty much the same defense. FIP would seem to be most useful when trying to evaluate a pitcher from another team for trades and free agents and whatnot.

    FIP is good, but i dont think its the holy grail of stats either. i believe that pitching to contact is a skill, and FIP is generally going to be harder on those types of pitchers while favoring the AJ burnett’s and brandon morrow’s of the world who tend to put less of the game in the hands of their defense. the future performance of hard throwing strikeout pitchers is certainly easier to predict, but it does not make them better pitchers than their soft throwing control type counterparts. i’d love to see a study that proves this idea one way or the other.

    • Defense varies from night to night though too. We saw that tonight above all others with Bautista in right. Luck can play such an enormous role in where balls end up. And please explain how pitching to contact is a skill. We’ve seen for a long time that for the vast majority of the time, pitchers have no control over what happens to the ball once it leaves the bat.

  5. @ Parkes

    unless, you know, he is part of the play being made (i.e. bunt to pitcher)

  6. @ Parkes

    wait, I failed at reading. nvm

  7. one way that pitchers do influence the type of contact made is ground ball vs fly ball rates. and you also have to remember that there is added value in pitch-to-contact guys in that they generally pitch deeper into games

    • @Kevin – I don’t think we can say that at all. There is a difference between a ground ball pitcher and a “pitch to contact” guy. Ground balls plus strikeouts is a good combination (see Halladay, Roy), guys who don’t strike anybody out have extremely limited shelf lives unless they don’t walk anybody and avoid home runs like the plague, something that gets harder when you cannot miss bats.

  8. I heard injuns too, but I think Martinez didn’t mean to. He seems to have difficulty saying i’s before another vowel, like in “Edwin Encarnashon.”

  9. @Dustin: I appreciate the new stats and think it’s ridiculous that WHIP is considered the best stat available by a major league manager, but as a former pitcher I still have a difficult time with the notion that all batted balls are going to lead to some equal percentage of hits. Correct me if I’m wrong but that is what you mean when you say “We’ve seen for a long time that for the vast majority of the time, pitchers have no control over what happens to the ball once it leaves the bat.”

    I can’t help but think that certain pitchers induce weaker contact than others on a regular basis. I don’t think pitching to contact is a good thing, but could you explain how the statistics account for pitchers that regularly induce weaker contact than others? Does such a skill not translate into a lower batting average on balls in play?

    • @nes – here’s a post I wrote on the matter from a few weeks ago. Pedro Martinez in 1999 had a .320 BABIP, far above his teammates and league averages.

    • I think the best answer to your questions would be to look at Roy Halladay’s career BABIP numbers. It’s a hard concept to grasp, even for people much smarter than us, but what it boils down to is the idea that pitchers control three things: strikeouts, walks and home runs. Everything else involves a pitcher’s eight teammates and thus is prone to wild fluctuations. Some years, more balls fall for hits. In others, they don’t. Drew recently brought up Pedro Martinez who in 1999 gave up the third-highest batting average on balls in play. The next year, he allowed the lowest. He wasn’t bad one year, and good the next. Luck, defense, defensive formations all played a role.

  10. i like these debates. i understand the concept of FIP and BABIP, i’m just unsure that it is so white and black and so easily trustable. after all, with FIP we are trying to evaluate a players performance by removing what? 60-70% of the game (balls in play)?? i think it is inevitable that some key information is lost when you only look at such a small part of the game.

    i think statistics all boil down to probabilities. if a pitcher has a season with a higher than average BABIP it does not mean he got unlucky, only that there is a chance he was unlucky. certainly if you could use other statistics to prove that a pitcher was giving up generally weak contact and yet still giving up hits, then i might grant you that he was getting unlucky. but if he has a a high BABIP and a line drive rate through the roof, then maybe thats not the case. re: the Pedro Martinez example, obviously the guy was a great pitcher and unlikely to come out one year and forget how to pitch, but we cannot remove the possibility that his own performance was not to blame for the difference in BABIP. again, such an evaluation has to be backed up with more numbers such as his teams UZR in his starts that season (a little unreliable due to the small sample size), his line drive rate, ground ball rate, etc, etc.

    FIP is good tool for sure, and probably the best measure that we have for pitchers right now. but just as an example, brandon morrow is currently pitching to an ERA over 5 and an FIP just over 2 – quite a large difference. has he been getting unlucky or had bad D? possibly, maybe even probably. but is it the sole reason for the discrepancy?? he is giving up a relatively large number of line drives compared to his career numbers, so maybe he is having trouble keeping the ball down, or missing his pitches out over the plate. who can say definitively?

    • @Kevin – I really like these debates too, especially when we’re able to consider and appreciate each other’s points of view.

      The advantages of composite numbers like FIP is their ability to predict future performance. xFIP correlates strongest with future ERA, which is weird as it assumes home runs fly out at a constant rate.

      The biggest drawback is the elimination of valuable context – Brandon Morrow had an inning last night in which he went triple single single wild pitch K sac fly K. If the final K comes before the fly out, that’s one run off the board. Certainly something to consider.

  11. @Drew: Count me in the crowd you describe as follows: “Others might be wary, wondering how all pitchers could surrender hits at similar rates.”

    I don’t think your Pedro example addresses that crowd, although having looked at a number of career BABIPs, there does appear to be a solid range between .270 and .320, with most great pitchers falling in the area of .285-295 (Mariano Rivera does have a career BABIP of .262 mind you). If those are all similar numbers then I guess we’re in agreement, subject to some discrepancies.

    Like the Rivera example, BABIP thankfully does seem to provide for some differences between pitchers that induce weak contact (Halladay at .292 and Hudson at .285) and those pitchers that get hit hard (Reyes at .317). And maybe small differences in BABIP account for big differences in skill. Oher times the statistic seems less helpful though. I can’t help but think the statistic doesn’t tell the full story when Jon Rauch has a lower career BABIP than Pedro – although I did notice that relief pitchers have lower career BABIPs for whatever reason.

    All of that is to say that I agree with the overall premise. If a BABIP is significantly lower than the mean or significantly higher, that pitcher’s statistics will generally regress to the mean over the course of time (i.e. your Weaver example). It is a very useful statistic as a result. It also sometimes seems to account for regularly inducing weak contact, which was a nice suprise.

  12. I have to disagree with the Most Important Play of the Game. In this game it was Arencibia dropping the ball in the fifth. The Jays were starting to hit Talbot (though right at defenders), and Morrow was having a decent inning. If Arencibia catches it cleanly and applies the tag. it’s still a 3-0 game. ?Instead the Indians score 3 in the inning, it’s 6-0 and an entirely different game.

    Buck definitely said injuns, because he corrected himself once.

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