Mailbag: Framing, Defense, Bichette, Jagielo, CC

Pineda dominates Red Sox; Yankees take series opener 4-1
Sherman: MLB not planning to suspend Pineda for pine tar incident

Got seven questions in this week’s mailbag. A few other really good ones came in too, but I’m holding those back because I need more time to think about them. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, links, comments, whatever.

Paul asks: Am I reading this FanGraphs article correctly? Yankees have gotten +25 strikes (from pitch-framing), a strike is worth .14 runs, 10 runs = 1 win, so the Yankees have gotten about 1/3 WAR from pitch-framing in the first week of the season? Or are these wins different from wins above replacement?

According to the article, the Yankees have gotten 25 extra strikes than expected due to pitch-framing so far this year, the most in baseball. That’s seems … reasonable, I guess? I don’t really know. Brian McCann is an elite pitch-framer and Frankie Cervelli has graded out well in his sporadic playing time over the years, so it stands to reason they would be near the top. That +25 strikes number is just an estimate in that post, remember.

Here is an older list of the run value of events, like singles and homers and sacrifice flies and a bunch of other stuff. It does not include called strikes though, so I’m not sure where that 0.14 runs per called strike number came from. I know Jeff Sullivan though and I trust he got it from somewhere reliable. So anyway, 25 extra strikes at 0.14 runs per strike works out to +3.5 runs total. FanGraphs says 9.386 runs equals one win these days, so the Yankees have “earned” 0.37th of a win through framing alone in 2014. That’s the straight forward math. A win is a win regardless of whether your starting point is replacement level or league average. In this case, the 25 extra strikes was compared to the league average.

There are two issues here, in my opinion. One, pitch-framing analysis still has a long way to go. I think it needs to be adjusted for umpire and for the pitcher, for starters. Maybe even treat it like a pitching stat and consider leverage. Two, that 0.14 runs per called strike number is an average for all situations, but not all called strikes are created equally. Turning a borderline pitch into a strike in a 3-2 count is more valuable than doing the same in a 3-0 count, for example. These win values we’re seeing from pitch-framing seem way too high to me — it’s basically the single most valuable thing in baseball, if you believe the numbers — but for a quick and dirty analysis, the FanGraphs stuff is fine. It’s interesting but I don’t think we can take these at face value yet.

JK5 asks: Do defensive metrics take ‘shifts’ into consideration? There was a play Jonathan Schoop (officially playing 3rd) made on a ball hit by McCann into shallow RF. Just reading the box score play-by-play would make one thing this play was a normal 5-3 putout, which it absolutely wasn’t. So Schoop’s range factor at 3b is helped by a ball hit nowhere near his normal position. So going forward, with increased ‘shifts’, are we gonna see sort of a manufactured rating for 3b (who are most often used as the primary ‘shifted’ fielder)?

Yes and no. Some defensive stats do recognize shifts, others don’t. As far as I know, UZR basically has an on/off switch. If there is no shift, the play is recorded the same way it always is. If the shift is on, the play is not recorded and ignored. DRS does not consider shifts and assumes the defender starts every the play wherever the league usually sets up at that position. That’s why Brett Lawrie had a good +4.5 UZR but an elite +20 DRS in 2012. UZR ignored all the times he was standing in shallow right on the shift while DRS thought he started all those plays at third base. I don’t know how (or if) Total Zone and FRAA handle shifts.

The problems are obvious here. With shifts becoming more prevalent, UZR is reducing its own sample size by ignoring plays with the shift. DRS is assuming third basemen have superman range, which is worse. That only adds to the uncertainty of defensive stats. I think they are best used directionally with a multi-year sample. They can give us an idea of who is good, who is bad, and who is average. The exact values though? I don’t think we can take them seriously. There’s no way you can say Shortstop A is a better defender than Shortstop B because he had a +5.7 UZR/+9 DRS from 2010-13 while the other guy was at +5.3 UZR/+7 DRS. They’re both good. Leave it at that.

Huh, third basemen don't stand there. (AP)
Huh, third basemen don’t stand there. (AP)

Dan asks: If the Yankees even had an average infield in terms of range, do you think Joe would be employing the shift as much? Now that they are flipping the third baseman and Derek Jeter during the shift, if Jeter makes a play when he’s the only one on the left side of the infield would he be the third baseman for purposes of scoring the game? He is the player furthest to the left side of the infield. Finally, how do the advanced stats take shifts into account? Thanks.

Just answered that last part, conveniently. As for the other questions, yes, I absolutely think the Yankees would still be shifting as much if they have rangier infielders. Heck, they might shift more if they had more mobile defenders. Like I said yesterday, the shift is here to stay. You’re playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is on Playstation 4 if you’re not shifting.

As for the position stuff, the defensive stats recognize everyone as whatever position they are playing. Jeter would still be a shortstop in the example Dan gave in his question. That’s why Lawrie’s DRS was so high a few years ago. He was still considered a third baseman while standing in shallow right, not a second baseman.

Ben asks: Seems like early scouting reports on Dante Bichette Jr. suggested he would need to move to the OF at some point in his MiLB career. Seeing as how he is DH’ing so much due to the presence of Eric Jagielo, don’t you think now would be a good time to make the move? They’re not doing him any favors DH’ing him this regularly.

I think the bat is the most important thing for Bichette. He always was and always will be a bat-first prospect, and they have to get him to start hitting more than anything. (He went into last night’s game hitting .235/.458/.353 in six games.) They can stick him in left field or at first base a little later down the line. Right now, the most important thing is for Bichette to get his swing, his timing, his balance, his whatever else on track so he can produce at the plate. He is a huge reclamation project and they need to focus all their time and energy on his bat. It’s the most important thing for him.

Nick asks: If Aaron Judge and Jagielo tear it up do you think the Yankees should keep moving them up or let them finish the year at the level they are at?

Definitely move them up. They are two college hitters who spent three years as starters at major college programs. Those aren’t the guys you hold back. I fully expect Jagielo to end the year with Double-A Trenton and Judge to earn a promotion to at least High-A Tampa at some point. I think it’s possible he’ll go from Low-A Charleston to Tampa to Trenton this summer. I think the Yankees generally move their prospects a little too fast — ever notice how their prospects come to the big leagues still in need of refinement while the Cardinals and Rays call up guys who are so polished? Compare how much time they’ve spent in the minors — but these are two guys who should move up the ladder quick. Especially Jagielo.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

Jeff asks: Would the Yankees be better served to have a quicker hook with CC Sabathia on the mound? I understand a lot of the value he has is as an innings eater, but it comes down to which would be better: ~200 league average or slightly below league average innings, or ~170-180 slightly above league average innings.

You know, I’m not sure. Is Sabathia at 90-100 pitches worse than, say, a fresh Dellin Betances or Vidal Nuno? I guess that depends on the day and how Sabathia has fared during those first 90 pitches. There is an obvious benefit to limiting his workload at this point, saving bullets and all that stuff, but an individual game is a different animal than the big picture. Even during his awful 2013 season, Sabathia really wasn’t less effective from pitches 76+ than he was from pitches 1-75. I know he got knocked around in the final inning of his start last week, but that’s one game. If the Yankees had a deeper and higher quality bullpen, I think the answer would be closer to yes. Since they don’t, I’m not sure.

Bill asks: The Yanks had three different players steal a base on Sunday, none of whom was Jacoby Ellsbury. When was the last time the Yanks had steals from four different players in the same game?

It’s actually not that uncommon and I didn’t think it would be. We’ve seen quite a few games in recent years where the Yankees just had the opponent’s battery down pat. They knew the pitcher’s move, knew the catcher’s arm, and were running wild. We saw it last Friday, when they stole four bases off Dustin McGowan in his 2.2 innings of work (and didn’t attempt another steal after he left the game).

Anyway, the Yankees have had at least four different players steal a base in a game 15 times this century, including six times in the last three years. They had six (!) different players steal a base in one game against the Red Sox just last September. Here’s the box score. Pretty clear they knew they could run on Ryan Lavarnway. Here is the list of all 15 games with at least four players stealing a base since 2000 for you to dig through.

Pineda dominates Red Sox; Yankees take series opener 4-1
Sherman: MLB not planning to suspend Pineda for pine tar incident
  • Rational Sports

    The defensive stats are being turned on their heads with the increase in shifting. Each team shifts a different amount, too, making comparisons extremely difficult. Hopefully the new tracking data that MLB has been touting will be the next step for some clarity on the defensive statistics frontier.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Agree. I have to imagine that the tracking data will let people make a judgment more along the lines of “A ball was hit X speed Y far away from player Z, and he made the play”, and you’ll end up with much less position specific data for things like range, but hopefully a more accurate overall picture. If that makes sense.

      • ALZ

        That would make sense, seeing as I would assume that the coaches kind of decide a player’s general positioning.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I’m having visions of a young Melky Cabrera completely lost out in CF for the Yankees. He was certainly put into a tough position. On the other hand, we’ll always have that one month with Jesus Montero in which he looked ready to take over the world.

    It’s tough for fans, at times, to remain patient, while expecting more simultaneously out of young players. Not everyone in the minor leagues follows the same path as the two seemingly extremes of Mike Trout and Yangervis Solarte (BOOM. That comparison just HAPPENED.) I feel like some fans want to turn every good Yankee prospect into a fast rise because AAA has been so unexciting from a prospect standpoint for years now, but even our good prospects aren’t juggernauts right now. You can potentially do this with a Judge or Jagielo because of the level of polish they enter the league with, but they aren’t juggernaut prospects either.

    That burrito will take as long as it needs to sometimes.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      “That burrito will take as long as it needs to sometimes all the time.”

      Fixed, you’re welcome.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        Damn it. needs to sometimes

    • The Great Gonzo

      They can’t all be Strausburg.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Or, apparently, Frankie Cervelli.

  • The Other Matt

    Always love reading the Q&A’s from the mailbag. Good questions from avid fans, and always insightful answers from Mike. Have to be honest, my favorite part of this week’s mailbag, “Like I said yesterday, the shift is here to stay. You’re playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is on Playstation 4 if you’re not shifting.” Lmaoo. Funny, but very true though.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Life was so much easier when pressing up on the D-Pad meant up and pressing one red button meant jump while the other meant shoot.

      But, yes, employ the shift.

      • The Other Matt

        Call me a young calf, LOL, but the only thing I remember playing on N64 was Donkey Kong and Mario Kart. I really started playing video games on Sega Genesis, and quickly moved onto Play Station, to give you a clue of my age. And from then on I have played nothing but baseball, football, and basketball games, with the occasional Need for Speed and Godfather mixed in there.

        PS Man I miss playing Metal Gear Solid for Play Station.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I owned an Odyssey2.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            (Google that, kids)

            • The Other Matt

              LOL. I honestly just did.

              • Jorge Steinbrenner

                I was, like, five, but I did have one.

                Hey, KC Munchkin was GOLD in its day.

                • Steve (different one)

                  It was no Pick Axe Pete…

                  • Jorge Steinbrenner

                    I think I remember that game.

        • The Great Gonzo

          I came into the game with an Atari 2600. Still at my momma’s house.

          By buddy Rishi had a ColecoVision, and my other buddy Douggie had a 7800 Atari. That thing was DOPE.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Never had the ColecoVision or the 7800. Did have the 5200. Controllers broke every ten minutes.

            Colecovision and the original NES happened during my C64 obsession.

  • viridiana

    Seems to me pitch-framing has become one of the most over-rated statistical measures in baseball. How do you think your average umpire feels when he is told that some catchers are good at getting strikes called that would otherwise be balls?
    Seems to me any catcher with a reputation for “stealing” strikes is likely to be penalized by umps who don’t like being fooled — especially when their presumable errors wind up as WAR. Whatever value pitch framing may have had in the past, I would think will be reversed. Umps will make sure to crack down on catchers who try to steal calls.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Don’t give a crap about how an umpire feels. If he doesn’t want to get fooled, watch the pitch and do your job better.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Anything Chris Stewart is considered good at is probably overrated.

      What you’re saying makes logical sense. I just want to see some proof that there’s actually been ump retribution towards catchers first, and I don’t see it.

    • Cliff

      Easy enough to tell if that is happening, and it is not

    • Preston

      I don’t think that good pitch framers are “fooling” umpires into calling strikes. Being able to catch a ball and hold it where it is allows an ump to see it’s position better and make the call properly. The other catchers are losing strikes by letting the ball’s momentum carry the glove out of the zone. My problem is that if pitch framing really is having this big of an impact on the game then it means umps are basically calling balls and strikes when they’re in the glove, not when the ball passes the plate, so they can’t be accurate no matter where the catcher frames it. Just get robot umps and get rid of the human error.

  • Dave

    While I’m sure McCann is a big reason that the pitch-framing +/- value is so high, surely some of it has to do with having two new pitchers like Tanaka and Pineda pitching around the black on a more consistent basis, right? (Then again, Pettitte pitched to both sides of the plate too.)

    • RetroRob

      True. McCann’s pitch-framing skills won’t be useful when Betances is throwing pitching two feet off the plate, as he did that one appearance.

      Yet having a good pitch framer would be of even more importance to someone like Tanaka. A pitcher who lives on the edges will be hurt by a poor pitch framer, losing the close strikes. McCann might help Tanaka steal pitches just off the plate. I guess that’s the theory.

      I think it’s a valuable skill and a real skill that helps a team. Yet it’s probably overstated in some of the data.

  • will

    Jeter moved through the system pretty quick and wasn’t hurt coming up quickly.I think if a guy is dominating a league he needs promoted.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Who in our system is even half the prospect Jeter was?

      • will

        Jeter turned all on in 1 year, sanchez etc… All could do the same, but of course i don’t expect any yankee to hit 350/375 from level to level in same year is unlikely. Assuming someone does, i do agree with fast promotion, i mean cervelli went from AA to Majors, right?

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Just wow.

          Gary Sanchez is not Derek Jeter as a prospect. I’m not saying he can’t even stand in the same room as Jeter, but it’s complete apples and oranges. Gary Sanchez has been a project defensively for most of his career, and had major development to go through as a VERY young international signing before he was ready for even the middle levels of the minors.

          Frankie Cervelli? I’m sorry, but you can’t be serious. If you can’t tell the difference between Frankie Cervelli getting the call to play in the majors from AA when it happened and a fast-rising prospect, you need to consider if you know what you’re even watching before you decide to comment on blogs.

          • RetroRob


  • Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

    Personally, there is nothing wrong with playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is playing PS4.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Absolutely nothing. Thank you. They took all my furry mascot games.

  • TWTR

    Given the advancing age of several of their position players and the limits that the current CBA imposes on acquiring high-end, prime-age players through free agency, they have little choice but to keep their best prospects and give them an extended opportunity to acclimate themselves once they are ML ready. Not only would it be fun to watch, but it has the added benefit of enabling Hal to achieve his payroll aspirations. The obvious exception would be to package positional depth to fill areas of need, but the target in any trade should be young players.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      “Not only would it be fun to watch”

      For a time. If they aren’t performing, it would stop being fun very quickly.

      • TWTR

        That’s why, ideally, it should be done incrementally, so that any growing pains have a better chance of being offset by their established players, including pitchers.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          OK. Pretty much what I’m saying below.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      There’s not really signs of them doing that, though. They’re going to continue trying to mix the old and new approach.

  • Brian in MA

    i don’t know if it will ever be made available to the public like Pitchf/x has, but Fieldf/x should help alleviate some of the problems with determining defensive value in the age of the shift, should it not?

    Also, don’t we think maybe with the shift, the traditional distinction of 1B/2B/3B/SS/RF/LF/CF might get blurred into just IF/OF? data collection get to a point where when a roster is constructed, you just have guys with particular strengths/weaknesses that you’re constantly moving around the field based on the pitcher, batter, park, etc?

    • The Other Matt

      I honestly think that’s where the game is headed. As all teams become more and more entrenched in analytics and Sabermetrics, teams will continually look to try and get the edge and take that next step. I’m sure it is being discussed within some organizations as we speak. It may take a while, but in due time it will happen, along with some other nuances and quirks that would have seemed unfathomable five years ago, and even now.

    • Ivan

      Though I think you bring up a really valid plausible idea on what baseball could potentially be like, I think it’s highly unlikely anything like that will be happen wing any time soon. The NL still won’t even have DHs because they want to stay with tradition.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Possible. I think that, at the very least, the skillset for each position would be rethought. I think we’re ages away from fielding a catcher, pitcher, and seven floaters out there.

  • Thomas

    I always think of this games for a lot stolen bases. The Astros stole 7 bases against Matt Lecroy in 7 innings before he was finally pulled!

  • ClayDavis

    Sorry that this off topic (and posted in the game recap thread) but last night did anyone encounter massive lines entering the stadium? It was unreal. Never have I seen it that bad before. Just a complete s-show. I’m curious if there was a reason.

  • TWTR

    Aaron Boone:

    “Universally, it’s not an issue,” Aarone Boone said on ESPN’s “Sportscenter” Friday.

    “It was pine tar,” Boone said. “In a cool night, it’s simply to get a better grip on the ball, like you said. And clearly nobody on either team took issue with it.”

    “Be a little more subtle with it,” Boone said.

  • The Other Matt

    No chat today? :(