For years now, Tom Verducci has studied the workload placed on young starters, and how dramatic increases in workload can lead to injury. As most baseball fans know by now, Verducci’s research claims that starters under age 25 are more prone to injury if they exceed their previous year’s innings total by over 30. Each year he identifies the young starters who took the biggest jump in workload and places them under the spotlight. Last year we saw Dustin McGowan go down with a season-ending rotator cuff injury.

Verducci leads off this year’s selection with a conversation he had with Mike Pelfrey, who apparently is familiar with Verducci’s theory (or what he terms a “rule of thumb”). With a 48-inning jump from 2007 to 2008, the Mets right-hander was a shoe-in for this year’s list. Yet he doesn’t think he’s going to fall victim like so many have in the past. Working in his favor, he believes, are his age, 25, and his size, 6’7″. Verducci responds:

“You’ve got a point,” I told him. After all, the dude is big. “I believe the bigger your frame and the older you are — guys near 25 are different from a guy who is 21 — can be mitigating circumstances. They probably put you at less risk — but still at risk.”

“I threw 140 innings at Wichita State — in three months,” Pelfrey said.

“Good point,” I said. “That’s still not 200.”

“The other thing is I bet I went through a lot more stress in 2007 than I did last year,” Pelfrey said. “It seemed like I constantly had runners on in 2007, and I really worked to improve my efficiency. So I might have thrown more innings, but I didn’t have all those innings with runners on base and high pitch counts.”

The last paragraph is the really interesting one. Innings are an inexact measure of workload. No number can give you a real look at a pitcher’s workload — not innings, not pitches, not even Baseball Prospectus’s Pitcher Abuse Points. Pitches and innings surely play a part, but when factors like when the pitches were thrown and how many of them were thrown at once come into play, you get a different picture of a pitcher’s stress level.

Jeff at Lookout Landing covered this a couple of years ago when the Mariners wanted to take this approach with Felix Hernandez:

It’s exactly how a young pitcher should be treated. Counting innings is what’s silly; 200 frames for Gil Meche are way different than 200 frames for, say, Roy Halladay, and the total barely even gives you an approximation of workload and stress level. It’s something of a barometer, since a guy with 100 innings will generally have less wear and tear than someone with twice as many, but it’s incredibly inefficient, to the point where it’s not even worth monitoring when there are better alternatives available. Which there are.

Innings sometimes provide a ballpark estimate, but pitch context and mechanical consistency tell you much much more. If Pitcher A throws 90 pitches and allows ten baserunners in five innings, while Pitcher B throws 110 pitches and allows six baserunners in seven innings, Pitcher A’s going to be doing more damage to himself, since he’s working in more stressful situations. That’s what wears a guy out and puts him at risk for injury – having to focus on every individual pitch with men on is way more tiring than cruising through the bottom of the order with the bases empty. That much we know. So why not account for it when you’re keeping track of a young pitcher’s progress?

I’m sure many teams employ these methods to ensure the health of their young pitchers. The Red Sox are known for administering strength tests throughout the season to make sure their players aren’t breaking down. Apparently Jon Lester, who tops the 2009 Verducci list with an 83.1 inning increase, passed all of his tests last year, so this will be an interesting study. If Lester holds up, you can bet a few more teams will implement a system like the Sox.

Other notables on the list include Cole Hamels, who pitched 79 more innings than in 2007. Hamels had elbow trouble this spring and missed his Opening Day start, though he won’t go on the DL. The NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is No. 4 with a 49.2 inning increase.

While not an infallible rule, Verducci does note his success in the recent past. Over the past three seasons he’s identified 24 pitchers he’s considered at-risk. Of them 16 were hurt in the season he identified. Further, only one both avoided injury and saw a lower ERA in the Verducci season (Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies, for anyone interested). So while some might complain that the Yankees are babying Joba Chamberlain with his innings limit, it’s in place for good reason.

It comes as a relief that no Yankees made this list this year. Ian Kennedy did make it last year, and as we saw he went down with an injury, though it’s tough to say whether it had anything to do with his innings increase. You know what they say about correlation and causation.

Categories : Pitching
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Regular baseball coverage will resume at 9 a.m., but we’d like to take a second to point out the many ways you can follow RAB throughout the 2009 baseball season. Specifically, we’re going to pimp our RSS feed, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

RSS feed

If you use RSS feeds, hopefully you’ve already subscribed to RAB. If not, you could do that right now. Click the Feedburner icon in the right sidebar and you’re set.

For those who don’t know, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, depending on who you ask. To use RSS, you need an RSS reader like Google Reader. Instead of visiting your favorite sites individually multiple times per day, you subscribe to their feeds and the information comes to you. For a much more comprehensive overview of RSS, including links to a number of RSS readers, check out this site.

In case you need convincing, I present an IM Mike sent me in January:

Michael: i did something over the weekend that changed my life
i started using an RSS reader
it’s wonderful, everything comes to me

Do you really need any more convincing than that? Subscribe to our feed today. If you don’t, you’d better dead or in jail. And if you’re in jail, BREAK OUT!

Twitter

For the longest time I tried to ignore Twitter’s existence, but eventually it became too powerful. It’s this really annoying Web service where you send “tweets” to your “followers.” Then they can respond to your tweets, and everyone can see. Essentially, these are pubic mass emails, limited in size to 140 characters.

(Aside: One might think that William Strunk would approve of Twitter for the brevity it enforces. Alas, instead of omitting needless words Twitterers regularly omit “needless” characters and replace others with phonetic truncations. I weep for our language. Keith Law knows what I’m talking about.)

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow @riveaveblues. I swear, we don’t tweet our every post. That’s annoying. In fact, we hardly tweet any of our posts. It’s mainly just banter with the readers.

If you’re not on Twitter, I salute you.

Facebook

Every so often I check the RAB Facebook page and see who has become a fan recently. Not that I’d recognize any of the names — though seeing my little brother had joined without my prompting him was pretty cool. Anyway, this is the most neglected of our social media presences, but we promise we’ll work on it. Follow us, though. It’ll give us more motivation to better utilize it.

That wasn’t that bad, was it? Cool. The baseball talk will be back any minute now.

Comments (27)
  • Now, why would Selena Roberts’ publisher do that?
    By

    I love the Associated Press. While the newswire is trying to wage war against search engines and news aggregators, its reporters are proving to be fairly clueless. To whit is a story that went out over the wires earlier today. Selena Roberts, unauthorized biographer of All Things A-Rod, has delayed the street date of her upcoming tell-all. Ostensibly, the delay is due to the fact that she “need[ed] more time for the book.”

    But who is Harper Collins trying to fool? Any reporter worth his or her salt would have noticed that the new release date — May 13 — ensures that A-Rod will either be off the disabled list or on the verge of being activated when this supposedly explosive book arrives. I certainly understand the business rationale behind this one, but talk about a blatant marketing ploy. How could the AP not pick up on that?
    · (52) ·

So my brackets sucked. I didn’t have any of the Final Four teams, and had just five of the Elite Eight. My East Bracket was pretty strong, but the rest of it all went to hell. Congratulations to regular RABer Matt, who finished first in our RAB Bracket Buster standings with 161 points, picking 49 of 63 games correctly. He wins bragging rights on par with those tommiesmithjohncarlos received for winning the RAb Fantasy Football League.

Anyway, final standings are after the jump, otherwise use this as your open thread. The Islanders and Devils are playing inconsequential games, but the Rangers have a matchup with Montreal that could very well determine whether or not they make the playoffs. The Knicks are also in action, and you’ve got the Women’s College Basketball Title Game at 8:30 on ESPN. The UConn Lady Huskies have a chance to go 39-0 on the season, which I’m guessing has some kind of historial significance. Anyway, anything goes, just be nice.

Oh, and make sure you vote in this week’s Fan Confidence Poll if you haven’t already. RAB Bracket Busters final standing after the jump.

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Categories : Open Thread
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Take a walk around the new Yankee Stadium, and you will be struck by the sponsors. Everything — every sign, every activity, every strike out (P.C. Richard), every stolen base (Modell’s) — has an official sponsor. In an effort to get to the bottom of this sponsorship glut, Darren Rovell has put together a guide to all of the Yanks’ (and Mets’) official sponsors.

After the jump, we’ve got the full list. The asterisks signify non-exclusive deals. The Yanks could have two Official Consumer Electronics Companies this year if they could find another one. While the Yanks’ marketing guys sure have been working overtime for this one, I’m particularly amused by the fact that the Mets’ Official Financial Services Provider is Citi. That’s aiming for the stars.

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Categories : Yankee Stadium
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The subject of defense is a hotly debated one in baseball analytic circles. For years we were stuck with just errors and thusly judging fielders on their ability to cleanly field batted balls. As statistical analysis has progressed, so has the measurement of defensive ability. These new defensive metrics — UZR, ZR, the plus-minus system — are interesting to consider, but they don’t give us the same level of insight as offensive and pitching stats. Yet they are interesting because they are not perfect. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to measure defense, and imperfect stats make great conversation starters.

Last week we discussed some Yankee-related issues from The Fielding Bible Volume II, John Dewan’s updated effort at pegging defensive ability. Using stats, articles, and scouting reports from the book, I was able to piece together articles on Robinson Cano’s range and Derek Jeter’s clean fielding skills, but those clearly aren’t the only cases you can make after reading through the 400-page tome. It contains all sorts of stats and leader boards that can provide varying levels of insight on defensive ability.

The volume can keep a fan occupied for days, even weeks. It’s filled to the brim with data, from raw numbers to processed stats. Dewan rates fielders on all sorts of criteria, and most of it is presented in these pages. How well they ranged to their left and right, how they turned the double play, how they fielded when playing shallow, deep…it’s a truly comprehensive look at a player’s fielding ability. Even if you want to know how many outs a player recorded in 2008, The Fielding Bible has that.

One of the most interesting parts of the book, which we didn’t get to touch on in the Jeter and Cano discussions, is the Defensive Positioning Chart. As Dewan notes, these are not spray charts. Rather, they represent the distribution of hits which can be reasonably turned into outs. That, of course, requires a level of subjective judgment, a complaint I’ll address in a minute. For now, let us revel in these colorful charts which depict a player’s hitting tendencies. One of my favorite charts is of Joey Gathright. The charts make a case for an Ortiz-like shift for the speedster, but to the opposite side. He almost never hits the ball down the first base line either to the infield or outfield. (The problem, of course, is that he’s so fast that the first baseman can’t stray too far off the bag.) According to the chart, if a manager plays his second baseman pinching towards second, his shortstop playing slightly toward second, his third baseman slightly to the left of normal, his left and center fielders shallow, and his right fielder well off the line, he should be able to contain Gathright considerably. It’s really neat stuff both from an analytical and visual perspective (The colors, children! look at the colors!).

Another amazing aspect of the book is the six-year register. As the name implies, this section contains data for nearly every Major Leaguer over the past six seasons. As Dewan explains it, this helps mete out poor single years in favor of a more comprehensive, thus more accurate, view of the player. For instance, he says, Mark Teixeira had a pretty poor season with the glove in 2007, but when you look at his six-year marks he still emerges as one of the best first basemen in the league. This is one aspect which will help advance the accuracy of defensive statistics. We’ve only started to seriously measure them recently. Larger samples will do wonders for analysis.

The book isn’t without its faults. While Bill James’s chapter on Defensive Misplays and Fielding Good Plays was interesting, he’s still using some subjective judgments. That’s not wrong in itself — we make subjective judgments about baseball every day and sometimes we’re right — but when the goal is an objective system to judge a fielder’s ability to make a clean play, any hint of subjectivism detracts from the case. Still, I like the idea of stripping defensive misplays (the act of misplaying a baseball, not James’s stat) of as much subjective judgment as possible. We all have our own ideas of what “ought to have happened,” meaning five people making the judgment could call it differently. As such, we either need to qualify those who do make the judgment, or else need to strip the subjectivity out as much as possible. James’s effort is certainly commendable, and I hope in the future he’ll not only release a more comprehensive list of his results, but also go deeper into his methodologies.

Through the efforts of curious minds like Bill James, the baseball analysis community has evolved over the past three decades. We now have not only a better idea of which basic stats tell us a better story about a player (OBP, SLG), but some great minds have developed advanced statistics which put them into an even greater context (wOBA, EqA, VORP). Similar efforts have been made to harness pitching stats. We’ve learned that pitchers have little control over what happens to a batted ball, hence the focus on peripherals like strikeouts, walks, ground balls, and line drives. These help us not only determine which pitchers have better and more sustainable abilities, but also to help us construct a more complete story of the player. The hope is that over the next few years we make this kind of breakthrough with defensive stats. So observe, analyze, criticize, scrutinize. It’s how we come to new conclusions about previously unknown issues.

You can get The Fielding Bible–Volume II from Amazon.com for $16.29. That’s our Amazon Associate code, so if you buy the book from that link you’ll kick us a few pennies.

Categories : Reviews
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  • 2009 Minor League rosters announced
    By

    PeteAbe has the official Opening Day rosters for the four full-season affiliates straight from the Yankees. We found out who was going to suit up for Low-A Charleston over the weekend, and yesterday we got word of Double-A Trenton’s preliminary roster. The Thunder is still two players over the 24-man roster limit, so I’m curious to see what happens there. Otherwise, there’s no real surprises with High-A Tampa’s and Triple-A Scranton’s roster. The only things that catch my eye are that Angel Berroa is nowhere to be found and Scranton will carry three catchers. Oh, and both Jairo Heredia and Wilkins DeLaRosa are MIA. I guess that’s noteworthy

    Double-A Trenton’s season begins tomorrow at home vs Binghamton, while the other three clubs start on Thursday. So you know what that means … tomorrow night, DotF, be there.
    · (47) ·

Apr
07

CC f/x

By in Analysis. Tags: , · Comments (59) ·

During the letdown that was Opening Day, CC Sabathia labored through 96 pitches, throwing just 50 for strikes. Of those 96 pitches, 84 were either fastballs or sliders. This is nothing new for CC, who’s worked off these two pitches for the last seven years, mixing in the occasional changeup. Let’s take a look at how his two main pitchers were looking yesterday afternoon, via the magic of Pitch f/x. You can click on any graph in this post to open up a larger view.

First up, bird’s eye view, and what you’re seeing is the average flight path of his fastball and slider:

Bird's Eye View

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Categories : Analysis
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In case you’re wondering what in tarnation that graph and those numbers mean, you can check out this article for a damn fine explanation. The quick, quick version: it’s called Win Probability Added (WPA). It uses historical data to determine how important each game situation is to the ultimate outcome. For instance, it looks at all situations where, say, the home team has a runner on second and no outs in the bottom of the 7th while up by three runs. Using data from the game’s past, it can determine how many times a team in that situation went on to win that particular game. Then, say, the next hitter singles and drives home the runner. The situation changes to runner on first, no outs, bottom of the seventh, up four runs. That win probability will be higher than the previous scenario, so the batter is credited with the positive change.

The bars under the graph represent the Leverage Index. This is, quite simply, how important that particular at bat was. It represents the swing in the most successful play and the least successful play.

Check out the play log sorted by WPA change. It was easy for everyone to determine the two plays which cost the Yanks the most: the Xavier Nady double play and the Derek Jeter groundout. The latter is a shame, of course, because Jeter had such a good game otherwise. The third, though, might not have registered as having been as important as other plays, but when Mark Teixeira reached on a fielder’s choice in the eighth inning, the loss of the inning was apparently devastating. As you can see from the Leverage Index, it was an important situation, so losing the out there was big.

While the Yanks dominated the negative end of the WPA chart, they also had a number of enormously positive contributions. Specifically, the Matsui homer, the Swisher double, the Jeter single in the third, the Nady double, and Cano’s seventh-inning single were of great importance to the team. What’s strange, you might see, is that Jorge Posada‘s 7th inning walk was more important than his sixth-inning home run. This is because it came with the team down 6-1, so it didn’t do much at the time. It did build the foundation, though, for the Yanks coming back to within 6-5 before blowing it.

WPA isn’t going to give you a perfect measure of a player’s skill and abilities, but it does provide a narrative for the game. We know that Tex’s 8th inning grounder was devastating, and we know that Matsui’s homer was nearly a game-changer. This is to say that WPA is interesting, even if it doesn’t give us a further insight into skill and ability.

Categories : Game Stories
Comments (74)