Does SIERA underrate Mo like FIP does?

Nine years ago, Voros McCracken presented his theory of Defense Independent Pitching, or DIPS. In a well-researched bit for Baseball Prospectus, he showed that while a pitcher’s strikeout rate, walk rate, and, to a lesser extent, home run rate remain fairly consistent from year to year, the number of hits they allow on balls in play does not. Using this data, he concluded that, “There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play.” This ran counter to conventional thinking, but he brought enough data to the table that his findings were tough to refute.

Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, was borne of DIPS. Consistent with McCracken’s theory, FIP considers only a pitcher’s home run, walk, and strikeout rate. This isn’t to say that all balls in play are created equal. Instead, it is to say that balls in play are subject not only to the pitcher, but to the hitter at the plate and the defense behind the pitcher. With those three factors at play it becomes difficult to assign blame. FIP simple views a pitcher through the lens of what he himself controls.

Yet we know that a pitcher does have a degree of control over batted ball type. Some pitchers keep the ball on the ground, like Brandon Webb, while others induce more fly balls, like Jered Weaver. A pitcher’s batted ball tendencies add another dimension to analysis. Recently, Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus introduced their solution: SIERA, which stands for Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average. It attempts to combine batted ball types, in addition to strikeout, walk, and home run rates, in order to get a better gauge of a pitcher’s true skill.

While the five-part explanation resides behind Baseball Prospectus’s pay wall, they have been fairly up front with the formula. It might seem complicated, but it essentially takes the various factor and runs them through adjustments in order to not only put a value on a pitcher, but scale it to ERA. Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club was kind enough to create a SIERA calculator, complete with pitchers from 2009. But that’s not what I’m interested. What gets me thinking more is how SIERA views a pitcher who has been consistently underrated by FIP.

In the comments of Rebecca’s post about Mariano Rivera’s playoff WAR, commenter CB noted that FIP does not treat Rivera fairly. It consistently estimates his ERA above his true level, and that has become more and more true in recent years. Sure, Mo’s FIP is consistently in the low- to mid-2s, because he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs, doesn’t walk batters, and usually strikes out more than a batter per inning. My question is, does SIERA provide a better look at Mo?

We’ll look at the years 2002 through 2009, since that covers the FanGraphs era.

Until 2007, FIP came much closer to Mo’s ERA than SIERA. His ERA skyrocketed that year, mostly because of a horrendous April (10.57 ERA), so SIERA, which for Mo was consistently higher than FIP from 2002 through 2007, came closer. In 2008 both formulas came to the same conclusion, and finally in 2009 SIERA predicted a lower ERA than FIP. Problem is, neither came all that close. Once again, Mo performed better than any fielding independent metric could have predicted.

(For those wondering, that counts tERA, though it came damn close in 2008.)

Despite the discrepancy, I do not consider this a bug in SIERA. In fact, I consider it a feature. I mean, if a projection system can accurately project god, well, then where do we have go go from there?

Credit: AP Photo/Rob Carr

Prospect Profile: Adam Warren

Adam Warren | RHP

Warren grew up in the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, in New Bern. He attended the high school of the same name, and starred for four years both on the mound and in the infield. A three-time participant in the North Carolina State Games, Warren earned All-State and All-Conference honors as a junior, and was also named the New Bern Sun Journal Player of the Year. He repeated as an All-Conference honoree as a senior, and was selected to the East Coast Professional Showcase Team. Warren graduated fifth in his class in 2005, and it was going to take big money to buy him away from the University of North Carolina and their powerhouse baseball program.

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How much is Yankee Stadium helping Nick Swisher?

Nick Swisher kills the ball to left field. Even in his poor 2008 he still showed power to left field, from both sides of the plate. His recovery in 2009 comprised improvements in his hitting as a lefty to center field, and from both sides of the plate to right field. This makes me ask the obvious question: Did Yankee Stadium aid Swisher’s 2009 rebound?

To get a better idea of an answer, we turn to my favorite new resource, FanGraphs splits. Here we can see how Swisher hit to each field over his career. The only downside is that we can’t further break down these splits into home/road. Swisher’s season stats, half of which he accumulated at Yankee Stadium, will have to suffice.

In 2007, when Swisher hit well, and in 2008, when he did not, he hit exactly zero extra base hits as a righty to right field. In 2005 and 2006 he hit one in each year, both times a double. That’s four years in the majors with just two extra base hits to the opposite field when batting righty. In 2009 he hit three, two doubles and a triple. While we’re dealing with small samples here, a matter of 17 to 30 balls in play per season, it’s tough to ignore his 2009 numbers eclipsing the entirety of his career to that point.

Hitting as a righty to right field in 2009, Swisher put just 21 balls in play. Like the rest of his career, the majority of those were fly balls. What changed is that he hit almost no balls on the ground, just 4.5 percent, and hit plenty on a line, 18.2 percent. It still resulted in no home runs, but again, the two doubles and one triple were more than he hit in his entire career combined to that point.

As a lefty hitting to right, it appears that the short porch also aided Swisher. In 2008 he hit .391 as a lefty to right, on the power of a .320 BABIP (lower because home runs do not count as balls in play). In 2009 he hit .330 on a .247 BABIP, but also posted a .413 ISO, which beats his .365 mark from 2008. Again, we’re working with relatively small samples here, around 110 balls in play (plus home runs) in each of the past two years. Over his career he’s accumulated 648 plate appearances as a lefty hitting to right, about a full season’s worth. In that sample he’s hit .384 with a .393 ISO on a .314 BABIP. That sends some mixed signals.

In 2009 his BABIP fell far below his career average. The home runs didn’t cause it, as the 12 he hit as a lefty to right lines up with his career totals. He did, however, hit more fly balls as a lefty to right in 2009. These are usually a BABIP killer. Yet, in Yankee Stadium, hitting fly balls to right field can bring good results — as in, more home runs. True to that, Swisher 40 percent of Swisher’s fly balls sailed over the fence. Though, again, that includes all of his games, not just those played at Yankee Stadium.

As was clear when I asked the question, there’s just not enough data to definitively answer whether Swisher benefitted from the dimensions of Yankee Stadium. We can see, however, that he certainly improved his power to right field upon joining the Yankees. For the bulk of his career he has been a dead pull hitter as a righty, but once in Yankee Stadium he took the ball the other way more often. Maybe this is a skill he’ll improve upon in 2010, making him more of a complete player. He’s never going to be a high average guy, and he’ll always strike out a ton, but if he can balance himself from the right side of the plate he can still add a dimension to his game.

Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Dustin Moseley, the newest Yankees non-roster invitee

Spring Training non-roster invitees don’t normally amount to anything. The Yankees have invited dozens over the years, only to see them spend the year in the minors, or, if they have an out clause, catch on with another organization. Even the ones who do head north with the big league team, like Morgan Ensberg in 2008, don’t always stick around all season. The Yankees have invited a pair of former high draft picks to camp, 2002 first rounder Royce Ring and 2003 second rounder Jason Hirsh, and yesterday announced that they’d also bring along 2000 first rounder Dustin Moseley.

The newest invitee spent the last four seasons in the Angels organization, breaking camp in the rotation over the past three years. He never stuck, though, moving between the minors and the bullpen after April. The Yankees faced him four times, twice as a starter, in fairly unremarkable games.

In the 2000 amateur draft the Reds selected Moseley with a supplemental first round pick, 34th overall. He didn’t sign until November and so didn’t see any professional action that season. Still, Baseball America ranked him the Reds No. 7 prospect for the 2001 season. In 2002 he moved up to No. 5, where he remained for 2003. In 2004 he peaked at No. 4 in the organization.

His results in both 2002 and 2003 warranted the ranking. While he posted unspectacular strikeout rates, and saw those rates fall as he climbed the minor league ladder, he stuck to what he does best: keeping the ball on the ground. That, in turn, kept the ball inside the ballpark. Combined with a serviceable walk rate, it led to low ERAs for Moseley as he worked through A+ and AA ball in 2002, and then AA and AAA in 2003.

For the second straight year, in 2004, he split the season between AA and AAA. I don’t have the game logs, but I wonder if this is akin to Jeff Karstens’s 2006, where he started in AAA, pitched poorly, dominated AA, and moved back up. His 1.56 WHIP at AAA suggests that might be the case. After the season the Reds traded him to the Angels for Ramon Ortiz, who went on to get hammered at Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly park.

Moseley didn’t make Anaheim’s Top 10 in 2005, mainly because they had a stacked system. Injuries limited Moseley to just 80 innings that year, and in that short span the Pacific Coast League took its toll. Whenever discussing the PCL, I find it necessary to mention that Bubba Crosby posted a 1.046 OPS there in 2003. Moseley allowed 11 home runs in his 80 innings, a far greater rate than he’d allowed in his career to date. He recovered a bit in 2005, bringing his home run rate back to his career norms and generally keeping the ball out of the air. His 4.68 FIP looked good in the PCL, and earned him a brief July cup of coffee before a September call-up.

In 2007 and 2008 Moseley broke camp in the Angels rotation, but didn’t last long either year. He stuck around in the bullpen in 2007, pitching 92 innings between eight starts and 38 relief appearances and posting a 3.98 FIP, mostly because of his low home run rate. When that took a jump in 2008, Moseley suffered. It also didn’t help that he allowed 70 hits in 50.1 IP. An forearm injury divided his season, landing him on the DL in early May. He came back to make a spot start in July, and then disappeared to the minors, not to return until rosters expanded. His 120.1 minor league innings went pretty horribly, resulting in a 6.94 ERA against a 5.62 FIP.

John Lackey’s elbow injury cleared Moseley for another rotation stint, though this one lasted only three starts. He left his April 17th start with an elbow injury that landed him on the DL. Hip surgery in August ultimately ended his season. Between his last start and his hip surgery, he also experienced nerve problems in his neck. The Angels declined to tender him a contract in December, making him a free agent.

Clearly, the Yanks can’t expect much from Moseley. Even if he pitches to his 2007 level, he’s bullpen fodder at best. The Yankees seem to be full in that department, so if Moseley stays with the organizations he’ll have to start in Scranton, joining Zach McAllister and Ivan Nova. Perhaps he’d provide an experienced depth option, but with the arms the Yankees have accumulated over the past year, including fellow NRI Jason Hirsh, it doesn’t seem likely that Moseley dons the interlocking NY in 2010.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Open Thread: You can’t strike out everyone

Earlier this morning, Ben discussed the Granderson left field question that made its rounds yesterday. It’s really no big deal. If the Yankees name Brett Gardner the starter and feel he’ll play better defense in center field, then perhaps Granderson will slide over to left. That seems to be the only scenario under which they’d even consider a move.

Rob Neyer often weighs in on stories like this, and he did so yesterday. I do take issue with one thing he said, though:

It’s pretty obvious that the organization doesn’t care about defense. That’s why they’ve got all those high-strikeout pitchers.

To start with the second sentence: Yes, they did pick up a number of high strikeout pitchers. Strikeouts help because it means fewer balls in play, which means less pressure on the defense. But those pitchers still allow plenty of balls in play, including a good number of fly balls and line drives. Thankfully, this crew of starters typically does a good job of keeping the ball out of the air. So it might be more accurate for Neyer to append that to his second sentence.

But that still leaves the issue of Sentence No. 1. Pretty obvious that they don’t care about defense? I just don’t see that. In fact, this off-season they brought in two good defensive outfielders in Curtis Granderson and Randy Winn, leaving Johnny Damon, a poor defender in 2009, to find work elsewhere. Hell, they even brought in a good defensive first baseman, even though he figures to play fewer than 10 games there this year. I think the organization does care about defense, but not at the expense of significant offense. Which is completely different than them not caring about defense.


And so begins another open thread. For the basketball fans, the Nets are in Charlotte and the Knicks are in Chicago. More interesting than the Knicks game, really, is their pursuit of Tracy McGrady. Not that McGrady is exciting in himself. Rather, trading for him would mean shedding Jared Jeffries’s contract. Joe Treutlein at Hoopdata explains what that means for the Knicks this off-season (with a tip o’ the hat to Ross, who has some new digs). Unfortunately, it looks like Houston has better offers. Or maybe they’re just posturing.

Steinbrenner Field set to host Florida Four in March

College baseball fans heading to Tampa for some Spring Training action this March are in for a treat. The Yankees and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission announced yesterday that Steinbrenner Field will play host to a pair of college games on March 2 that pits the state’s top collegiate teams against each other. The University of South Florida will play the University of Miami while the University of Florida will face off with Florida State in the second game.

“We’ve been working with the Yankees for a few years now to bring another premier event to our community,” Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission Rob Higgins said. “We hope it serves as launching pad to Omaha for the four programs. This is a story that will start in March and we hope continues on to June. ”

“On behalf of the World Champion New York Yankees, it is with great pleasure and pride that we welcome the Florida Four Baseball Classic to George M. Steinbrenner Field. As a past collegiate coach, it is George Steinbrenner’s dream to create this event for Tampa”, Felix Lopez, one of the team’s senior vice presidents, said. “We welcome the great schools of Florida to our facility and look forward to continuing this event for years to come”

According to our own resident college expert Mike Axisa, both Florida and Miami feature a few players to watch at this tournament. Miami’s catcher Yasmani Grandal is a likely first-rounder this year and Chris Hernandez, a lefty hurler, will probably go in the top three rounds. Eric Erickson, also a southpaw, was drafted by the Yanks in the 43rd round of the 2006 draft. Florida features Matt den Dekker, one of Mike’s potential first-round targets last year, and Nick Maronde, another lefty Mike named as a signability guy in 2008.

Anyway, this should be a great event. So if you’re in the Tampa area or are stopping by the Yanks’ complex for some Grapefruit League action, check out the Florida Four. A bunch of talented youngsters are going to be playing for state pride. (Hat tip to Maury Brown)

Yanks invite five more to Spring Training

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have invited five more players to Spring Training: RHP D.J. Mitchell, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Dustin Moseley, 1B Jorge Vazquez, and 1B/3B Brandon Laird. Obviously, Moseley is the new name here. The 28-year-old spend the last four years going up-and-down for the Angels, though he missed most of last season with an elbow strain. His peripherals (5.3 K/9, 12.3 H/9) don’t exactly portend success in the AL East, but there’s no harm in inviting him to camp.

Apparently the Yankees aren’t too bothered by Laird’s arrest last month, which is a bit surprising considering they basically benched George Kontos for over a month when he got pinched a few years ago. Here’s the list of original invitees.