Nov
24

A product of good pitching or good defense?

By

Yesterday, Dave Pinto looked at the PMR for defense behind pitchers. For those unfamiliar with PMR, it stands for Probabilistic Model of Range, and it compares the number of balls in play and compares it to predicted outs and actual outs. Read the link above for a better explanation and past PMR ratings. The defense behind pitchers is a neat one, because we’re supposed to see how a defense benefitted or hurt a pitcher.

The Yankees kind of stick out on this list. First is Chien-Ming Wang, who seems to be the pitcher most helped by his defense. On the other end of the spectrum are Andy Pettitte and Darrell Rasner, who are among the most hurt by the defense behind them. So what gives? Can the Yankees defense be like eight Omar Vizquels when Wang pitches, but turn into eight Jason Giambis when Pettitte and Rasner take the hill?

Clearly, I think this has something to do with the pitcher himself. One thing I’ve noticed over the years with Wang is not only his ability to induce groundballs, but also his ability to induce poor contact. Even balls in the air don’t have much under them. Yeah, you might make Johnny move a few steps, but it’s not like he’s giving up many screamers into the gap. That’s the beauty of Chien-Ming Wang.

On the other end, with Pettitte, I’m not sure what to think. It’s comforting, I suppose, to think that the defense behind Andy, which we know isn’t among the best in the league, played a role in his poor second half. But what if he was just giving up a lot of hard-hit balls, ones that the defense had no shot at? That’s going to show in these defensive numbers, even though it’s not necessarily the defense’s fault.

Another interesting note: Dice-K was second on the list. So he gave up the fourth most walks in baseball — most in the American League — and had his defense convert the second most balls in play into outs? I’m really interested to see how next year turns out.

Categories : Defense
  • X-Man(Angel)

    We need more bench player that have a good defense; like Cesar Izturis…

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Cesar Izturis! I love it. His career OPS+ of 67 would do wonders for the Yanks. You better be the best fielder this side of Ozzie Smith to be as bad as he is offensively and still earn a Major League pay check.

      • dan

        Must you be so ignorant, Ben? Grit, my friend. Grit.

    • Baseballnation

      Izturis= Cody Ransom. I don’t see how he would be an overall upgrade over Ransom…

      And Pettitte was hit hard the second season…Harder than I’ve ever seen him hit in any other stretch of his career which is probably why the Yankees have not re upped hm on his annual 1 year 16 million dollars.

  • http://salarydump.wordpress.com Joltin’ Joe

    This is an interesting topic to bring up. I am amazed at some of the moves made involving pitchers (i.e. Silva, Burnett’s expectation of another 5-year deal, etc.) and I think that pitching statistics are not nearly as developed as those of hitters. The simplest place to start is two basic stats, ERA and WHIP, and comparing them. I’ve been doing some of this on my own and will probably post the essay I’m writing on it either on my blog or a new web site. Without giving it all away, it gives us a tangible number indicating if a pitcher is getting away with putting a lot of guys on base (Washburn, ’08) or a guy is getting jipped in terms of runners to runs allowed (think Ben Sheets). Hopefully GMs start looking into this instead of Burnett’s incredibly lucky and healthy season this year. Wow, I can’t wait to get this out there. It exposes Burnett pretty well.

    • dan

      Are you talking about left-on-base percentage (LOB%)? There are numerous defense independent stats to evaluate pitchers, and to see how lucky or unlucky they were. Burnett actually had a below-average season in terms of stranding runners.

    • http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/news/2000/01/18/jeter_ap/index.html steve (different one)

      uhhhh….ok.

      so you are going to “expose” the guy who lead the American league in strikeouts, AJ Burnett? you do realize that a K takes a good part of the “luck” out of play?

      i am at a loss here.

      most of the stats that try to strip luck out of the equation will tell you that Burnett was fairly unlucky in 2008, and i have to say i’m going to stick with someone like Tangotiger than believe some crazy new stat you invented that doesn’t even consider defense.

      you can’t just look at WHIP b/c WHIP treats an infield single the same as a HR.

      keep up the effort, but i’m sorry if i am skeptical that you are breaking any new ground here.

      • http://salarydump.wordpress.com Joltin’ Joe

        Yeah, I realize I’m probably just rehashing some old stuff, but if you look at Burnett’s WHIP of 1.3+ in 2008, you can’t tell me his stuff is good enough to compensate. Nobody with a WHIP that high is going to prevent runs as well as a guy who gives you a 1.1, end of story.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

          Dice-K and his 1.3 WHIP says hi.

  • Manimal

    Its kind of hard to catch a ball that Darrel Rasner threw, it goes out of the park.

  • Steve

    “Clearly, I think this has something to do with the pitcher himself. One thing I’ve noticed over the years with Wang is not only his ability to induce groundballs, but also his ability to induce poor contact. Even balls in the air don’t have much under them. Yeah, you might make Johnny move a few steps, but it’s not like he’s giving up many screamers into the gap. That’s the beauty of Chien-Ming Wang.

    On the other end, with Pettitte, I’m not sure what to think. It’s comforting, I suppose, to think that the defense behind Andy, which we know isn’t among the best in the league, played a role in his poor second half. But what if he was just giving up a lot of hard-hit balls, ones that the defense had no shot at? That’s going to show in these defensive numbers, even though it’s not necessarily the defense’s fault.”

    Bingo. This is why stats like BABIP, while useful, can often miss certain things. They don’t differentiate between a soft line drives which are easily fielded and scorchers which gets through the infield. For a pitcher like Pettitte who “pitches to contact” that’s the difference between a good outing and a horrendous one. If you watch the game, you can tell immediately when Andy has nothing, but BABIP might lead you to believe it was all just about ‘bad luck’. It isn’t.

    This is also why folks like Bill James will be the first to tell you that statistical analysis of Baseball is still in its infancy. Though this particular stat sounds like another step forward.

    • Chris

      The point about BABIP is that when you average it out over a long time, the pitcher has very little control over it. There are exceptions (knuckle ballers tend to have lower BABIP for example), but as a general rule of thumb if a pitchers BABIP is high it’s either due to bad defense or bad luck.

    • RobC

      “They don’t differentiate between a soft line drives which are easily fielded and scorchers which gets through the infield.”

      Agree 100%
      ex my son works with a professional hitting coach how preaches “hard ground balls and line drives up the middle” Once after beating out a GB to short as a 9 y/o he asked me if it was a hit or an error. I told him error but if he had not hit it hard the SS would have fielded it.
      Seems like someone needs to chart every ball hit of the pitcher for location and velocity. Probably already done but not public knowledge

  • ortforshort

    You need to take statistical models about defense in baseball with a huge grain of salt. There’s too much subjectivity in them and too much trying to quantify things like how hard a ball is hit. These models are good conversation starters, not enders. You’re a lot better off in believing what you see rather than the numbers. The large variations for the same team behind different pitchers in this model immediately tells you to throw it in the trash.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      While I agree that this is a good conversation starter, I do not think that you’re “better off in believing what you see than the numbers.” To an extent, this is true, but no one can watch them all. Plus, your memory can deceive you, and when you’re going on what you saw by definition you’re employing memory.

      “Memory’s not perfect. It’s not even that good. Ask the police, eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The cops don’t catch a killer by sitting around remembering stuff. They collect facts, make notes, draw conclusions. Facts, not memories: that’s how you investigate. I know, it’s what I used to do. Memory can change the shape of a room or the color of a car. It’s an interpretation, not a record. Memories can be changed or distorted and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”

      • Old Ranger

        To some extent, I agree but, I rely on stats and eyes…then write it down. I ALWAYS want to see a player, then check out his states. That way I am not swayed by the stats, before I make up my mind. 27/09.

      • Steve

        I agree 100% that what you see can be full of all sorts of bias and false/wrong associations. Even a trained scout’s eye gets filter through his own personal bias, so what’s an organization to do?

        Answer-Balance statistical evidence against a variety of scout’s reports, ones that look at things from different points of view. Smart organizations balance stats against what scouts tell them, and then make decisions. More often than not, stats provide facts to back up what a good scout’s eyes are telling him. But occasionally the numbers tell a different story.

        Trust neither by itself, verify both against each other.