Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue JaysFor many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that’s filled with heavy doses of drudging, sludging and other words that don’t actually exist but rhyme with “udging” and connote menial and tedious tasks that are ultimately distasteful. It’s my hope that at the end of such misery, at that moment in time that only occurs 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 read some random observations about baseball and contribute your own thoughts on the subjects that are broached.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Johnson Is Unable To Josh

Earlier on Friday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that scheduled starter Josh Johnson would be skipped over in the rotation to rest his right arm, which has recently experienced some tightness. It’s easy to suggest that Johnson’s early season struggles, which are real, but perhaps overblown by the very small sample that comes from four starts, are a result of his arm feeling uncomfortable.

While this may be true, it’s not a magical thing wherein arm trouble automatically equals poor outings. There is data available that let’s us see the areas in which Johnson has been less than effective. Most notably, this seems to have occurred with the location of his breaking pitches, and how batters are approaching his slider and curve ball.

Johnson has thrown 75 sliders this season, and no starter in baseball who has thrown at least 50, has earned a higher percentage of misses when batters swing at the pitch. That seems like great news, except that only two pitchers have lured batters into swing less at their slider. A similar discrepancy, although not as dramatic, exists for his curveball.

Both pitches possess some of the lower strike to ball ratios for individual pitches in the league.

The location of his slider …

slider

… and his curve …

curve

… may not seem exceptionally awful. Yes, more pitches are outside the zone than in it, but when these pitches are used in “pitcher’s counts” they typically don’t have to be located in the zone to be effective.

What I think might be happening is that Johnson has been playing the same style of poker for too long. Word is out around the league that he is a bluffer. If you’re constantly bluffing in a regular game of cards, eventually the competition is going to realize it, and begin calling you on it. Suddenly, your style, which may have been working well prior to the collective realization, is rendered useless. This seems to be what’s happened to Johnson, as it explains the incredible low percentage of swings on his breaking pitches, and the resulting balls being called.

There’s also the no-small-matter of his fastball.

Whether accurate or exaggerated, much has been made of the declined velocity of Johnson’s four-seamer. While we might assume that lower speeds on his fastball will make that pitch more hittable to batters, it also has a negative effect on the pitches he throws with more break. They’re not nearly as much of contradiction in velocity, meaning that batters Johnson has to locate better if he’s going to tempt batters into swinging at the pitches at which he wants them to swing.

Not surprisingly, Johnson uses his breaking pitches most often when he’s ahead in the count, usually as an attempt to collect a third strike. When batters don’t swing, they more often than not gain back the advantage in terms of balls and strike count. They then force Johnson to throw his lesser fastball.

The solution: Other than increasing his ability to throw breaking pitches for strikes, I wonder if pitching backwards, or at least mixing things up a little bit in terms of when he throws his curve and slider might affect an opposing batter’s approach.

What’s Up With V-Dub?

Vernon Wells is playing really well right now, which is surprising to anyone who has watched any bit of Vernon Wells playing baseball over the last three years. In fact, the New York Yankees outfielder currently possesses the third highest percentage of hard hit balls in the league. Never in his career, has he hit so few ground balls.

This is interesting because earlier this season, after working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Wells said that in the past he had focused too much on trying to hit home runs instead of merely driving the ball. While trying to hit fewer deep fly balls, it seems that Wells has begun hitting more than he ever has before, especially against right-handed pitchers to whom he’d normally ground out if and when he made contact.

His home run tally is certainly benefiting from an unsustainably high home run to fly ball ratio, but even without the inflated power numbers that come from a lucky string of home runs, Wells is still hitting at an above average rate.

It’s also interesting to note that Wells is swinging more, making less contact and seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone all while still finding results. It’s rather counter intuitive, even if most of his success with the bat is from inside fastballs. It’s very strange, but it seems to be working, and Wells may just be able to ride out this string of whatever it is into an everyday job even after Curtis Granderson returns from injury.

How Fans See Games

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On Wednesday afternoon, as the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Baltimore Orioles, I was trying to write about the way in which we, as fans, tend to only ever see one team on the field, court or rink – the one for which we cheer. In baseball, when your favorite team scores runs, it’s because your favorite team is awesome. When they don’t score runs, they are terrible. Similarly, when your favorite team gets opposing batters out, your favorite team is amazing. When they allow runs, they’re horrible.

Very little mind is actually paid to the opposition.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but even as I was writing my post, I was experiencing this sort of narrow minded focus, not only from myself, but also on Twitter with the large number of Blue Jays fans I follow. It wasn’t so much of a game between the Blue Jays and Orioles, as it was the Blue Jays and Toronto.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it enhances the experience of being a fan. It is however helpful from time to time to consider that maybe the success/failings of your favorite players will occasionally have something to do with the success/failings of someone else’s favorite players.

The Uproar Over Jose Valverde

A lot of smart people seem to be up in arms with Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers for bringing back Jose Valverde. The reliever was used in a save opportunity on Wednesday in his very first outing for the team since a disastrous post season hindered any active pursuit from free agent suitors this off-season. It all led to Valverde being forced to sign a Minor League deal with his former team. He’s certainly not likely to be the most reliable closing option, but if he can help the team in any way, even if he gets by on less than encouraging advanced metrics, there’s no reason to complain about production at the low price at which Detroit acquired him.

The fear, I suppose, is that after a run of good luck, Leyland instills him as the closer come hell or high water, while a certain young reliever capable of triple digit velocity withers away in a diminutive role or even in Triple-A. I suppose it’s a possibility, but in reality, the Tigers are likely good enough that whatever wins a Valverde encore costs, they’re probably going to be negligible.

That’s not the best reasoning for putting a pitcher in a role, but it’s true. If Valverde blows Detroit’s chances at the post-season, I’m guessing there were additional issues at play that were probably more concerning than a reliever overstaying his welcome.

The Will To Win (TWTW)


On Thursday, Chicago White Sox commentator Hawk Harrelson appeared on the MLB Network to debate sabermetrics with Brian Kenny. It went about as well as could be expected. They argued. Fans of analytics expressed outrage at Harrelson through social media. Presumably, those who hate analytics expressed outrage at Kenny through social media. Harold Reynolds came across as even more unnecessary than normal. And some gluttons for manufactured conflict are even writing about it today.

It settled nothing and no minds were changed by the discussion. However, we’re talking about it, and that’s probably good for MLB Network, or at least, it’s not bad.

I do, however, think that in our collective rush to mock Harrelson, who did his own argument no service by not really arguing and instead repeating the same unreasonable epitaphs, we may have missed out on a bit of insight. What Harrelson refers to as TWTW or The Will To Win isn’t as much of a ridiculous intangible quality as it may seem.

At an analytics conference last Spring, Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was asked what he looks for first in a player as it relates to acquisitions. He prefaced his answer by saying that those in attendance might not like it, but that he puts a lot of emphasis on something he called, “The Want To.”

The term that Dipoto used essentially refers to a player’s effort, his desire to work toward a goal. It’s not that far off from what I think Harrelson meant by The Will To Win, and it makes sense that this is a highly sought after attribute in professional sports.

Perhaps I’m projecting a little bit, but I think we often dismiss the idea that even at the Major League level, there’s a variance of effort being put forth by players. I don’t mean in terms of running out grounders or attempting to bowl over catchers. I mean in training, in exercise, in video study and in metrics understanding.

Effort is a real thing. It’s often dismissed by us because we can’t measure it precisely, and when others attempt to use it to justify an assumption, they typically sound like an uninformed idiot. So, we avoid it and mock it. But think just how valuable a player who possesses The Want To would be to a team.

In addition to increasing the likelihood of maxing out his true talent capabilities, the player who works hard would theoretically be an inspiring source to teammates in a competitive environment. If you and I feel badly for leaving work early while a co-worker is still plugging away, just think about how a young professional athlete might react. Again, there’s a lot of assumptions in that analysis, and obviously, the psychology of every player/person is different, but that doesn’t discredit a team who follows certain best practices when dealing with the type of player they would prefer on their roster.

Victor Martinez Is A Smart Baserunner

I know. I know. It might seem odd to write positively about a player who completely gives up on the possibility of scoring a run in order to avoid conflict immediately after writing about the overlooked importance of desire and effort. However, Victor Martinez shows some incredibly smart restraint.

Martinez missed all of last season with an injured knee. Yes, he could have been the tying run, but it was the end of the third inning of a game. Martinez is worth far more to his team healthy and active for multiple games rather as a pawn used to score a single run, even in a match against a division rival. And just to put an emphasis on this fact, in his very next at bat, Martinez hit an RBI single.

Word To The Wise

There’s a strange and growing trend in baseball writing to refer to simple research or quick references as studies being done by your place of publication. For example, after listing some of the data that I looked up to examine Josh Johnson’s season to date, it would be like me referring to it, even though it was likely found in a simple Play Index search on Baseball Reference, as “research conducted by theScore.com.” It’s really annoying, and it reeks of attempting to give cherry-picked data more authority than it actually deserves.

Hot Todd

We discussed the saintly features of Todd Frazier last week, and he continued his heavenly ways this week with a home run that has yet to land.

No, seriously. There isn’t any conclusive proof that his monstrous shot against Jeff Samardzija has since landed. No video evidence. Even Hit Tracker couldn’t register the true distance of the moonshot because there’s no record of it landing.

Here’s Frazier’s home run from last Thursday, which according to Hit Tracker had a true distance of 421 feet.

The dinger against the Cubs went even further, and might be the most ridiculous home run I’ve seen so far this year. Okay, maybe not. There’s still this Anthony Rizzo one with a true distance of 475 feet:

The DH Rule

This topic seems to come up multiple times through the course of every season, and it reared its head yesterday on The Getting Blanked Podcast in an unplanned fashion. I really don’t like the DH Rule. I prefer the National League’s rules to the American League’s.

I understand the argument in favor of designated hitters, and to me, that’s fine if you prefer the possibility of more offense to additional factors informing strategy. I think of it a lot like I do atheism. I don’t believe in a god. I also don’t feel the need to go proselytizing for my anti-religious stance. I’m glad we live in a country where I’m free to believe in what I want to believe, and you’re free to believe what you want to believe even if we both believe each other to be wrong.

Similarly, I’m glad to watch Major League Baseball where 50% of the teams play be the rules that I like, and 50% of the teams play be the rules that you like. It seems like a good compromise, and I’m fine living with a sport in which two parties agree to disagree.

In other words, my brand of baseball includes the idiots who think their brand is better.

Happy 20th Anniversary Hal McCrae Meltdown


This seems like it was a whole lot longer ago.

Bonus Thought

If you haven’t been already, start keeping an eye on Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers. In addition to proving to be a welcome addition to Milwaukee’s lineup, he seems to be performing at least one amazing defensive play at shortstop per game. He reminds me a bit of John McDonald for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007, when you wished every single ball was batted to him because he’d almost always do remarkable things.

Even better for the Brewers is that, unlike McDonald, it appears as though Segura can actually hit. I’m not sure two transactions have ever been timed and handled better than Milwaukee acquiring Zack Greinke – whom they used to acquire Segura from the Angels – and then unloading him after maximizing his usefulness to them.

Comments (27)

  1. My issue with the DH rule is interleague play.

    NL teams are built differently than AL teams, and that’s fine. Except when they have to play each other.

  2. Pitchers hitting is unpalatable because it’s tedious watching someone be consistently bad at their job.

    • A good hitter fails seven out of ten times against a pitcher. A pitcher at bat fails eight or nine times out of ten against another pitcher. I can get over that.

      • Come on, Parkes. I thought you would be above rolling out the tired and inaccurate “fails 7 times out of 10″ aphorism.

        In relative terms, the difference between even an average hitter and an average pitcher’s probability of offensive success is massive.

        If we were to prorate a pitcher hitting over the course of a season, the difference between the pitcher and our league average hitter who “fails 7 times out of 10″ would be many orders of magnitude.

        • But as long as we’re talking about the enjoyability of individual games, I don’t see how it makes a difference if a player from a particular position gets out three or four times in a day. Throughout the lineup, most games feature a batter who does it.

          • 1. “I don’t watch the games.”
            2. If I do watch the games, it’s only because I care about the outcome.
            3. If I care about the outcome, the prospect/looming dread of knowing there is a chance that the pitcher will come to bat at a crucial/any moment drains what little colour remains in this bleak world.
            4. It adds up.
            5. I like David Ortiz.

    • This just makes it all the more exciting when a pitcher succeeds by getting a key hit or driving in a key run.

  3. Hawk Harrelson talking about “The Will to Win” = nonsense. Jason Parks talking about “Want” = brilliant. Probably because Parks usually comes off as intelligent in most of his other dialogue and Harrelson doesn’t, but still.

  4. I would prefer the NL rule and strategy if the pitchers could actually hit a little. I’m not expecting Micah Owings, but some competence would make their ABs more than a slog.

    When I play my baseball video games, I do prefer the depth and strategy of the National League rules. And having something resembling a functional offensive bench, with five guys.

  5. Yeah, the DH rule is lame. Who doesn’t enjoy pitchers striking out half the time? Ooh the one-out sac bunt…I love watching pitchers purposely get out to not screw up the game. Let’s celebrate a pitcher’s shitty hitting skills!

    And the DH affords a good amount of strategy as well. I don’t understand why people think the double switch is a complex tool of managers. Maybe sentiment plays a part? I dunno, but I bet half the fans know when a double switch is going to happen. I think it all boils down to tradition, but a lot of anti-DH bros don’t want to seem sappy and cite its “better” value, whatever that is.

    • The double switch isn’t the strategy to which I’m referring. A pitcher’s place in the order combined with the individual situation of when he’s due up are factors in a manager’s decision to take him out of a ballgame, and use substitutes.

      Do you hate every position player who doesn’t get on base during a game? Do you only enjoy games in which everyone at least gets a hit?

      • I gain more enjoyment watching games in which players aren’t invariably and incessantly asked to do things at which they suck

        • Not a big fan of the St. Louis Cardinals or Detroit Tigers, then, huh?

          • I expected a snide remark, though not 100% sure to what you’re referring.

            Playing Miguel Cabrera at third base is less of an affront to watchability than having pitchers hit.

            It is grasping at straws to suggest that isolated instances of unconventional or even widely-derided decisions by specific teams (even the Seattle Mariners) is comparable to an entire league making the choice to put a shitty product on the field. The act of a pitcher hitting (attempting to hit) is, quite simply, The Worst, and no subsequent “strategy” could possibly compensate for it.

            Sure, making pitchers hit isn’t like forcibly converting a tribe of Africans to Christianity, but it is kind of like sending your child to backwards-ass Jesus Camp. Even though it doesn’t directly affect me or my enjoyment of life in any way, I will still assert that it’s the act of someone who either has a bizarre perception of reality or who derives just as much satisfaction from trolling us hell-bound non-believers.

            Duplicate comment wtf?

      • I expect hitters to do something other than strike out half the time they’re at bat, otherwise why are you there?

        I just don’t see why people enjoy seeing Tim Lincecum up to bat. I feel like NL managers view pitchers as a hitting black hole—like their AB is an insta-out and they have to strategize around it. Sure they can sac-bunt, but it’s an automatic out. It doesn’t guarantee a run.

        So yeah, there’s strategy, but it’s the same kind of strategy as having to deal with a negative, like a tumor in the lineup. I don’t see how that’s fun to utilize or fun to watch.

        • Tim Lincecum is awful to watch hit. He’s terrible.

          Barry Zito, on the other hand, can be a delightful AB.

          The best Giants pitcher to watch hit, of course, is Santiago Casilla. If Bochy had a sense of humor he’d DH Casilla in an interleague game against a shitty team. Sadly the Giants’ interleague matchup this year is the AL East, so no Astros or Twins. :(

  6. That jays post on the fans is basically how the bandwagoners feel on a game to game basis

  7. People don’t seem to agree with you when it comes to pitchers hitting. It’s probab;ly because you’re wrong and pitchers hitting sucks. If David Ortiz was injured one day fewer in his career because he didn’t have to play first base than the DH rule is justified.

  8. I also really like the N.L. game, but the thing that surprises me about pitchers hitting is that there aren’t more who are better at it. My thinking is a guys like that would be hugely valuable to an NL team… Also I realize it may not be the best comparison but in cricket its very common for teams to have “all rounders”. They’re guys who are usually better at one aspect, but still fairly solid at the other side.

    Strasburg actually did pretty well at the plate last year – .277 avg, .332 wOBA (granted it’s only 54 plate appearance). It seems odd to me more guys don’t try and become effective at both.

    Conversely, why can’t position players find time to work on a few pitches and be serviceable relievers from time to time? Imagine Rick Ankiel were able to shake his yips now?

  9. I’d just like to add a little tangent to the fan conversation. As someone who has given up on the Blue Jays this year (yes already) it’s not because of their record, it’s about how they play. They are painful to watch. Error after error, strikeout after strikeout. Those strikeouts wouldn’t be so bad if they had some length to them, demonstrating a classic pitcher v. batter duel, but it’s pretty much three whiffs and sitdown. It’s bad baseball they’re playing and it’s just not pretty to watch. We have yet to have a dominant pitching performance from a staff that was supposed to be at least “good”. There’s nothing fun about watching the Jays and now even the umps are getting in on the snowjobbing of the team.It wouldn’t be so bad if they made a game of their losses, but it always seems to be because they screwed up somehow, or one aspect of the team just blew chunks. Maybe they do turn it around and put together a nice season, but it sure as hell won’t be fun to watch.

  10. 20 games below 500 by the end of may end of story game over

  11. If pitchers weren’t allowed to hit, we would have never seen this:
    http://bluejayhunter.tumblr.com/post/25475602099/animated-gif-carlos-villanuevas-leg-kick
    The joy I got out of watching that happen basically mitigates all the boredom/dread/anguish I’ve experienced from watching pitchers struggle to hit.

  12. jays suk my slo pitch team could beat them and any AAA team like buffalo could beat them they r now the miami marlins of last year

  13. Did Harold Reynolds have a Tourette syndrome moment @ the 8 minute 17 second mark?

  14. lind,cibia,bon,rasmus,jj,santos,romero,and many more of the 210 hitters could and should b traded by 2morrow. for good wood

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