Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that was filled with heavy doses of sludging and drudging. It’s my hope that at the end of every week during the baseball season, during that point of the day on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to check out some random observations and contribute your own opinions to my ten stray thoughts on a Friday.

So, without further ado:

We Are All Josh Beckett Experts

Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett:

I spend my off-days the way I want to spend them. My off-day is my off-day.

Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan:

He just doesn’t give a damn.

As Drew Fairservice showed us earlier today: No, he just hasn’t been pitching as well.

To suggest that any of us have the psychological ability to understand that which motivates Josh Beckett is almost as ridiculous as pretending we’re kinesiologists who know that a game of golf is the absolute worst thing in the world for a stiff back.

Concern For Sale

In news that should surprise absolutely no one, Chris Sale’s agent contacted a beat writer in Chicago to voice his dismay over the White Sox handling of his client’s sore elbow. For those uninitiated in the affairs of Sale, the young left hander found success coming out of the bullpen last year in Chicago, mainly based on the effectiveness of his off speed and breaking pitches which he set up with his 95 miles per hour fastball. Determined to get as much out of Sale’s talent as they can, the White Sox announced this off season that the young southpaw would move into the rotation, hopefully making the loss of Mark Buehrle to free agency not nearly as impactful.

There were some question marks centered around Sale’s spindly frame handling the rigours of being a Major League starter, as well as his reliance on pitches that typically add wear and tear to a hurler’s arm faster than others. However, in the early going, Sale was proving to be very effective, never allowing more than three runs in any of his five outings as a starter, averaging seven innings a start.

Then, the pitcher started feeling pain in his elbow. Instead of checking things out, the White Sox moved the pitcher back to the bullpen, announcing that he would now close out games for the team. After one relief appearance, the pain was still there, and he finally went to get an MRI.

Sale wants to be a starter, and there seems to be some confusion between Robin Ventura, his team’s manager, and Don Cooper, his team’s pitching coach, over what the White Sox want from him. Normally, the only question that must be answered when deciding a pitcher’s role is whether or not he is good enough for the rotation. However, Sale’s issue isn’t so much his talent level as it is his ability to remain healthy.

It’s an interesting conundrum for the White Sox and a very good example of factors outside of mere numbers that must be considered before making a decision. Obviously, starters are much more valuable than relievers, but how much time can a starter miss due to injury before he can be considered more valuable out of the bullpen, and how will that transfer of roles affect the pitcher when his desire is to start?

Good luck with this, Chicago.

Roger Clemens On Trial

I’m pretty sure that the way I feel about Roger Clemens is the way that most people feel about Barry Bonds, and even with that opinion I can’t understand why anyone would ever be interested in pursuing a perjury case against him. Can we please let this die, already?

It’s a pursuit that’s almost as completely ridiculous as the one that Clemens took in a misguided attempt to “clear his name.”

Velocity Studies

Eno Sarris put together a great post yesterday on pitching velocity, showing us how aging affects the speed at which pitchers hurl their fastballs at batters. Today, Max Marchi looks at situational velocity among a whole lot of other things, finding the following:

Pitchers deliver the ball over 0.7 miles per hour faster (relative to an 0-0 pitch) when they need one more strike to eliminate the batter, throw around 0.2 mph slower when grooving a 3-0 pitch, and throw roughly 0.2 mph harder on every other count.

He also discovered that velocity increases during the coolest parts of the day.

I’m not smart enough to understand an application for this information, but it’s kind of cool, no?

You Can Totally Predict Baseball

On today’s podcast, I mentioned something about those times that something completely unsurprising totally shocks you.

Mark DeRosa aggravated his oblique injury high-fiving Bryce Harper. He should be thankful he doesn’t play on the Toronto Blue Jays with Brett Lawrie.

The Importance Of Pitch Chains

Guy Spurrier from the National Post has been delving into the world of baseball analytics, and that’s a good thing. His latest, which looks at Adam Lind’s struggles in the middle of the order, however, is a bit misinformed.

Every player now has a profile of his ability to handle different types of pitches, called weighted pitch values. They are balanced to the league average, so zero is in the middle. In the yearly charts under the photo of Lind, the bottom row shows Lind’s pitch value for fastballs (wFB), curve balls (wCB), sliders (wSL) and changeups (wCH). In 2009, Lind was in the top quarter of the league in creating runs on fastballs. In each subsequent year, he is below average.

Has he lost the ability to handle major-league fastballs? That’s hard to say. After his breakout year, expectations of his offensive production rose. He may have pressed through 2010. His back in jury in 2011 may have derailed what could have been a rebound season. This season, it could be an accumulation of everything.

Here’s the thing: pitch type linear weights are completely and utterly useless in understanding anything. It eliminates pitch chains from the equation. Pitch chains refer to the order of pitches that a batter sees or a pitcher throws, and trying to figure out the effectiveness of individual pitches without accounting for what came before the pitch and the count that it came on is like trying to figure out a simple math equation with more unknown than known quantities.

It’s like trying to figure out x + 1 = y. Or, for smell test purposes, consider the difference in a 3-0 fastball after three straight fastballs versus a 0-2 fastball after two straight change ups.

It’s always surprised me that pitch chains aren’t more readily available through any of the usual suspects, like Brooks Baseball or Texas Leaguers. I did notice that chains were one of the emphasis points when I saw a demonstration of the Bloomberg Application that’s used by all but six MLB teams as a keeper of analytics.

In Lind’s case, his success with fastballs has caused pitchers to become more selective about when in the count and where in the pitch chain they’re being used, so according to the pitch weights, he’s not as good against fastballs, when nothing could be further from the truth. He’s unsuccessful overall because he isn’t seeing fastball in the same situations as he once was.

The Philadelphia Phillies Struggles

Hey there, neutral observer, can you name the player who’s fielded second base for the Phillies for 221 innings so far this season? Nah, I couldn’t either when I was put on the spot. It’s Freddy Galvis, and only Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have spent more time fielding their respective positions this year.

It also doesn’t help matters that Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee rank fifth and sixth in wOBA for the entire team. Currently, Jimmy Rollins’ batting is considered more below average than any other player on the team would be considered above average.

Popular Players

Yesterday’s five most popular player profiles at Baseball Reference were:

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Derek Jeter
  3. Josh Hamilton
  4. Bryce Harper
  5. Alex Rodriguez

Over at FanGraphs, the last 24 hours has seen these player profiles visited the most:

  1. Josh Beckett
  2. Stephen Strasburg
  3. Andy Dirks
  4. Tim Lincecum
  5. Albert Pujols

Shameless Self Promotion

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Mother’s Day

I love my mother a lot, and I wish her the happiest of Mother’s Days. Across Major League Baseball, players are going to use pink shit on Sunday. Pink bats, pink wrist bands, pink batting gloves, pink cleats and pink goatees. I think it looks utterly stupid, but it raises both money and awareness for breast cancer research. Therefore, it’s an example of something that looks tremendously stupid, but is actually really smart.

You can be smart too, by checking out The Cure Foundation to see how you can help fight breast cancer. It’s an incredibly worthy cause. Worldwide, breast cancer accounts for 23% of all cancers in women. It caused 14% of all cancer related deaths to women in 2008.

Bringing awareness to the disease and attention to things we can do to help put an end to it is one of the smarter moves that Major League Baseball has made in the last decade. Well done.