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Just The Sports: 2006-07-30

Just The Sports

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Pitchers and Errors

Errors should be completely erased from baseball lexicon because of the subjectivity involved in doling them out and also the utter ridiculousness of an error. As you probably know, once an error occurs, the rest of the inning doesn't happen as far as the pitcher is concerned. Well, things happen, but any runs that are scored do not count against a pitcher's earned run average so even if four runs score, the pitcher is allowed to keep his precious ERA low.

Since the chances of errors actually being eliminated is low since every television network that shows baseball continually refers to a pitcher's ERA, the way pitchers are effected by errors can at least be changed. My suggestion is to tweak it just a little bit by counting runs that score after a pitcher's error as earned runs. I can understand not wanting to penalize a pitcher for a gaff by his shortstop, but to absolve him of any responsibility for a mistake that he makes is ludicrous.

Today I had to watch as Jon Lieber, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, fielded a groundball and then promptly threw the ball in the ground, rendering Howard unable to catch the ball and put out the runner at first base. Error for the pitcher. The Braves went on to score three runs in the inning, but none of them were earned and counted against Lieber's ERA. The question must be posed: who else is to blame for Lieber's throwing error but Lieber? So join in my movement to count runs scored after a pitcher's error as earned runs. Maybe that will be a start to erasing the stat altogether.

Home Run Derby Effect

Having a favorite player enter the Home Run Derby can be a source of contention for many a baseball fan. They think, and rightly so, that being in the derby forces a player to adopt an unnatural swing, a swing that will affect a player for weeks and even months following the All-Star weekend. There is some credence to that notion, but the Home Run Derby does not affect each participant in the same way.

Without a doubt, there are some players who quite simply have a natural home run swing and have to make no changes to their swings during the Home Run Derby to hit a home run. Ken Griffey, Jr. of the 90s comes to mind as well as Jim Thome. The best statistic I can find to get some idea of a how much a hitter has a natural home run swing is HR/FB%. As I wrote right after Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby, he is the most proficient in the home run-to-flyball ratio. At the time of the derby, Howard had a 35.9 HR/FB% and now it has increased slightly to 36.6 HR/FB%, more than making up for his high groundball-to-flyball ratio. Because of his home run hitting prowess, Howard has seen no ill effects in his actual home run numbers. Before the All-Star break, Howard had hit 28 home runs in 316 at-bats for a ratio of one home run every 11.3 at-bats. Since the break, 10 home runs have been hit by Howard in 79 at-bats, good for one home run every 7.9 at-bats.

Wright came in second to Howard in the Home Run Derby, but he is by no means Howard's equal when it comes to hitting home runs. For the season, Wright has a 15.2 HR/FB%, far below Howard so when Wright was hitting home runs, he was having to try harder to hit them because it is so unnatural for him. His home run stroke pre-All Star gave him a home run every 16.95 at-bats and since then he has hit a home run every 33.5 at-bats. I think some of that reduction can be attributed to Wright regressing to the mean, but maybe a case can be made the All-Star Break adversely affected his swing or maybe this is just a random variation caused by only having 67 post-All Star at-bats.

Another player who famously had a power outage after the All-Star Break is Bobby Abreu. Abreu is another player who does not have a natural home run swing. In the last five seasons, he has yet to top 20% with his HR/FB%. Before Abreu stepped into the batter's box for the 2005 Home Run Derby, he had a home run-to-at-bat ratio of 1:17.6. After he finished his power display and went back to playing for the Phillies, he had a home run-to-at-bat ratio of 1:44.2. It looks like having to make a drastic change to his swing in other to hit home runs did adversely affect his future performance, but he was never a great home run hitter to begin with.

So before a player enters the Home Run Derby, maybe he should give some thought to how much of a change he will have to make to his swing to succeed in the contest.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Relievers' Home Run Rates

In addition to taking a more in-depth look to starting pitchers' home run rates, I decided to repeat the look with relievers' home run rates. Only pitchers who have pitched at least 25 innings are eligible for the award of worst reliever at preventing home runs.

There is one major difference between looking at starting pitchers' home run rates and relievers' home run rates, which has to do with the nature of the job. Unlike starting pitchers who always enter the game with the opponent having scored zero runs, relievers do not control when they appear and can be called on to pitch in any number of situations. Therefore, a reliever's leverage score also should be factored into his home run rates. When a middle reliever pitching in the 6th inning with his team ahead by 4 runs gives up a 2-run homer, he has decreased his team's win expectancy, but the team still has a good chance to win. But when a closer pitching in the bottom half of the ninth inning trying to protect a 1-run lead gives up a 2-run home run, he has completely wiped out any chance of his team winning.

So, without further adieu, here are the ten worse pitchers at preventing home runs in the American and National league.

American League

Home Runs per Game
1. Cliff Politte 2.30 HR/G
2. Guillermo Mota 2.01 HR/G
3. Sendy Rleal 1.90 HR/G
4. Keith Foulke 1.74 HR/G
5. Ambiorix Burgos 1.71 HR/G
6. C.J. Wilson 1.71 HR/G
7. Fernando Cabrera 1.67 HR/G
8. Jason Frasor 1.56 HR/G
9. Chris Ray 1.47 HR/G
10. Brian Meadows 1.42 HR/G

Runs per Home Run with Leverage Score
1. Jason Frasor 2.2 R/HR (1.03 LEV)
2. C.J. Wilson 2.0 R/HR (.95 LEV)
3. Guillermo Mota 1.7 R/HR (.80 LEV)
4. Sendy Rleal 1.7 R/HR (.87 LEV)
5. Keith Foulke 1.7 R/HR (.87 LEV)
6. Chris Ray 1.7 R/HR (1.51 LEV)
7. Fernando Cabrera 1.6 R/HR (.65 LEV)
8. Ambiorix Burgos 1.5 R/HR (1.45 LEV)
9. Cliff Politte 1.3 R/HR (1.18 LEV)
10. Brian Meadows 1.1 R/HR (1.23 LEV)

On a run per home run basis, Chris Ray's home runs have hurt the Orioles' win expectancy the most because he has given up these home runs at critical junctions of the games.

It should be noted that a few of the players on this list have not pitched in some time. Jason Frasor, Sendy Rleal, and Cliff Politte are no longer pitching in the majors because relivers who give up home runs and provide no relief are not relievers for very long. Keith Foulke has been on the disabled list, but he will be back soon to give up more home runs.

National League

Home Runs per Game
1. Kent Mercker 2.07 HR/G
2. Chad Cordero 2.01 HR/G
3. Robert Novoa 2.01 HR/G
4. Chris Reitsma 1.92 HR/G
5. Scott Cassidy 1.89 HR/G
6. Trever Miller 1.80 HR/G
7. David Weathers 1.73 HR/G
8. Scott Linebrink 1.69 HR/G
9. Ryan Franklin 1.67 HR/G
10. Rick White 1.65 HR/G

Runs per Home Run with Leverage Score
1. Chris Reitsma 1.9 R/HR (1.71 LEV)
2. Scott Cassidy 1.9 R/HR (1.28 LEV)
3. Robert Novoa 1.8 R/HR (.63 LEV)
4. Kent Mercker 1.7 R/HR (1.29 LEV)
5. David Weathers 1.7 R/HR (1.39 LEV)
6. Ryan Franklin 1.6 R/HR (1.31 LEV)
7. Chad Cordero 1.5 R/HR (2.01 LEV)
8. Trever Miller 1.5 R/HR (1.12 LEV)
9. Rick White 1.4 R/HR (.89 LEV)
10. Scott Linebrink 1.2 R/HR (1.89 LEV)

Chris Reitsma's and Chad Cordero's home runs look to have been the most damaging for their teams. With the way Reitsma performed before his injury it is no surprise the Braves bullpen has struggled the way it has.

National League relievers who give up a lot of home runs suffer the same fate as their American League counterparts as Scott Cassidy and Ryan Franklin can attest.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

And The Trend Continues

Earlier this week, I wrote about how pitchers' home run rates only tell half the story. The other half is how many runs per home run a pitcher gives up and my research showed Josh Beckett is one of the worst pitchers in the major leagues when it comes to home runs since he has both a high home run rate and a high run per home run average. Beckett seems intent on making himself the worst in the majors since in his six-inning outing against the Cleveland Indians, he gave up three home runs which totaled up to seven runs for a distasteful 2.3 runs per home run allowed.

Usually Beckett likes to allow his home runs on the road so at least he is shaking things up a bit. At least he is making my dubious decision to declare Jaret Wright a better pitcher look less insane than it appeared when I first wrote it.

UPDATE: One possible explanation for Beckett's pitching woes is the difference in the quality of batters he is facing this season. In 2005, the batters Beckett pitched to had a Gross Product Average of .246, with a .401 slugging percentage. Since he joined the Red Sox, he has faced hitters who have a collective Gross Product Average of .267, helped along by a .446 slugging percentage. This difference in SLG is the difference between pitching to Ivan Rodriguez (circa 2006) rather than Doug Mientkiewicz (also circa 2006).

Titans' Wide Receiver Woes

Read this article again on and other articles on the site.

The revelation by the Tennessee Titans coaching staff that they plan to use Ben Troupe in myriad ways this upcoming season underlies what is no doubt concern over the inadequacy of their wide receivers. Their concern is warranted considering in Drew Bennett and David Givens they have two No. 2 receivers with no other receivers who look as if they are ready to make a significant impact on the season.

Last year, the tight ends were the most productive part of the Titans passing game. Two of the Titans tight ends, Erron Kinney and Ben Troupe, were in the two twenty at their position in defense-adjusted points above replacement (DPAR). A large reason for this was the sheer number of passes they saw thrown their way. Titans quarterbacks threw 152 passes to Kinney and Troupe (72 to Kinney and 80 to Troupe) and it is a testament to their hands that they were able to catch such a high percentage of the balls thrown to them (76% for Kinney and 69% for Troupe). Troupe, despite his contributing a good deal overall had a -4.0 defense-adjusted value over average so per play Troupe performed worse than the average tight end.

On the other hand, the Titans receivers with the exception of Drew Bennett contributed little to the passing game. The top two throw-to wide receivers were passed the ball 151 times, with 109 potential receptions going to Bennett. Tyrone Calico was the intended target for the other 42 passes. They also were above replacement level in points contributed, but they were not as high up on the wide receiver list. Actually, they were pretty low. Bennett was 66th out of 89 wide receivers who were given at least fifty passes to catch and like his teammate Troupe was below-average per play. Calico's rank is immmaterial, but his horrific play last year is not. He had a -7.5 DPAR, meaning the Titans could have plucked someone off the street and gotten a better contribution to the team. Needless to say, Calico was also below the average wide receiver per play.

Another receiver who will be in the mix for the chance to get time on the field is Bobby Wade. Wade spent the first two years of his career languishing in passing-inept Chicago before moving to the Titans where he had an unspectacular season to say the least. In fact, he was the only receiver last year who was less productive than Calico. Some of that has to do with the limited number of catches he was given a chance to catch, but there is no history to suspect he will be greatly productive as a leading wide receiver. He will probably have the most value as a return man (if he can fumble less) or as a possession receiver whose sole job is to keep the chains moving. Last year provided a hint as to how the Titans will use him. Of his fourteen receptions last year, half came on third down and three of those were for a first down. There probably is no other spot for him and he will need to work on maximizing that role even more, sort of as a Wayne Chrebet type.

Being below average per passing play for their individual players also translated to their more traditional passing statistics. The Titans, as a team, finished ninth in the NFL in total passing yards, not too shabby a finish. However, the yards they gained per passing attempt (6.1 yards per attempt) left them tied for seventeenth out of thirty-two teams. Yards per completion, or yards per catch, was no more kind to the Titans. In that category, the Titans ranked twentieth, again below the league average.

Even the addition of David Givens is no guarantee the receiving corps has been completely fixed. He is a good, sure-handed receiver, but his statistics may be skewed by the fact he played with Tom Brady, who would make most receivers look good.

Hopefully for the offense's sake, the moving around of Troupe will create mismatches the Titans can exploit on a consistent basis. One thing remains certain though and that is the Titans must find a way this season to get more value out of their receivers per play. Otherwise, any high cumulative passing totals will be for naught.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Toronto Raptors Offseason Moves

The NBA almost forces teams to overpay for players because of the way their salary system is set up. The NBA does not force teams to sign the number of below-average players, but the teams do so anyway. In fact, general managers seem to approach offseason moves with the sort of reckless abandon that suggests they are simply throwing darts at players' faces to decide which players they will sign or trade for. I, myself, have written about what I think are questionable signings and trades (Chicago Bulls) and players that teams would do well to avoid (Jared Jeffries and Eddie House, but for today I want to focus on the Toronto Raptors, whose roster has changed dramatically since the season ended.

Toronto hired Bryan Colangelo to be their GM on February 28, 2006, and he has kept himself busy, ostensibly to show the Raptors fans that even if the Raptors will not be a good team, they will at least not be content with the status quo. The way things are setting up now, the 2006 roster will be a significant departure from the 2005 one. Gone are Mike James, Charlie Villanueva, Jalen Rose, Matt Bonner, Andre Barrett, Antonio Davis, Eric Williams, Rafael Araujo, Loren Woods, and Alvin Williams. Alvin Williams only played in one game for the Raptors, but the more names I put in the sentence, the more strength it had. In those players' places are T.J. Ford, Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa, Kris Humphries, Rasho Nesterovic, Anthony Parker, Uros Slokar, and P.J. Tucker. The only carryovers are Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Joey Graham, Darrick Martin, Morris Peterson, and Pape Sow. Roster stability, a good indicator for a team's improvement from one season to the next, is nowhere to be found for the Raptors.

Nesterovic was acquired from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Matt Bonner, Eric Williams, and a second-round draft pick in 2009. Nesterovic has bettered the league average defensive rating in all but his rookie season and taking into account, the Raptors were 28th in defensive efficiency last year, the trade makes sense on the surface. However, Nesterovic also had the privilege to spend his career playing alongside Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, two defensive stalwarts. This will be Nesterovic's first time playing with a power forward in Chris Bosh, whose increasing offensive scoring load has made him less concerned with his defense. Having a good defensive player is one thing, but effort must be made from everyone on the team for good defense to be played, especially since Nesterovic has never been asked to carry a heavy defensive load before. Rasho is no offensive threat and he is not very efficient at scoring the few points he does score.

The trading away of Charlie Villanueva for T.J. Ford was to eliminate the logjam at the forward position created by the drafting of Andrea Bargnani. Ford gives the Raptors a true point guard and hopefully, Colangelo who worked for the Phoenix Suns realizes Ford does not possess all the tools of a Steve Nash. Ford did get a high number of assists with the Milwaukee Bucks along with a high turnover rate. With only two seasons under his belt, there is a good chance he will get his turnover rate down and his assist rate back up. Ford also is a better rebounder than is Nash in terms of his rebound rate. What Ford cannot do as well as Nash is shoot, but Ford still has a chance to at least be league average in his offensive rating. If Bargnani ends up being a better player than Villanueva, then this will be a trade that ends up being more even than it looks although it is never a good idea to trade a forward for a point guard.

Signing Anthony Parker from the Euroleague is both a questionable transaction and a good one. It is questionable because Parker only appeared in 56 games in three NBA seasons and has not appeared stateside in a professional game since he was 24. He is 31 now. Since I did not want to rail against the signing without looking at how Parker has done in the Euroleague, I took a look at his stats and he has been a very good and efficient shooter. Now how that translates against NBA players remains to be seen, but Parker's shooting touch will be needed greatly by the Toronto Raptors.

By trading Rafael Araujo for Kris Humphries, the Raptors improved by getting rid of a player with no potential in Araujo for one who has a chance to at least be a serviceable player.

None of these moves is likely to make the Raptors a contender in the upcoming season though we can be certain Bryan Colangelo is at least amusing himself as general manager.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jeff Francoeur Update

Another month has passed and Francoeur has accomplished what he has only accomplished one other time in his relatively short career. Namely, he has put up better hitting totals than he did in the previous month. In the month of June, he hit .248 BA/.278 OBP/.413 SLG for a .228 GPA. Then he followed that month up with a better July where he hit .297 BA/.330 OBP/.515 SLG for a .277 GPA, which is a drastic improvement over where he was in June.

Still, for all of his improvement, overall Francoeur is a very impotent offensive weapon. Yes, he has twenty home runs. However, his home runs have come in 450 plate appearances and since Francoeur avoids walks like the plague, that means he has failed in a larger number of instances to get a hit. Case in point, Francoeur has 432 at-bats to go along with his 450 plate appearances, meaning there have only eighteen plate appearances where he has done something other than make an out or get a hit. With someone with Francoeur's power potential, as exhibited by his isolated power, twenty home runs is actually pathetic when taken into consideration with the kind of hitter he is.

Francoeur also fails to stack up against the other right fielders in the major leagues. He has contributed the least amount of runs above an average right fielder (-14.1 Runs above Position) by a large amount. At least Francoeur is still contributing more runs to the Atlanta Braves than a replacement right-fielder (2.1) so the Braves do not have to start searching the waiver wires or call up a Triple-A right fielder just yet. He is better than three other right fielders in that category: Jeromy Burnitz, Kevin Thompson, and Gabe Kapler. Thompson and Kapler have 74 plate appearances between them.

One website has broken down Francoeur's swing and pointed out what is wrong with it. So take a look for yourself. Neither the tapes nor the data lie.

What Francoeur benefited most from last year was the incredibly hot start he got off to. If the career trend had been reversed to where Francoeur started off as slowly as he did this year and then got better, I think the patience with him as a player would be wearing a lot less thin.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pitchers' Home Run Rates

Pitchers' home run rates do not tell the complete story because they treat every home run with equal weight, but there are actually four outcomes to any home run that is given up. Two pitchers can have similar home run per game ratios while one pitcher gives up a large number of 2-run and 3-run homers at the same time the other pitcher is mostly giving up solo shots. Understanding this, I wanted to see how certain pitchers' home run rates compare to their average runs given up per home run. The starting pitchers chosen were the top ten pitchers in each league in home runs given up per game. Home runs per game is slightly different than home runs per nine innings since home runs per game's ratio is based on the number of batters a pitcher faces along with the league average number of batters faced per game. The results are as follows.

American League

Home Runs per Game
1. Scott Elarton 2.00 HR/G
2. Josh Beckett 1.90 HR/G
3. Carlos Silva 1.67 HR/G
4. Jamie Moyer 1.53 HR/G
5. Brad Radke 1.53 HR/G
6. Freddy Garcia 1.53 HR/G
7. Rodrigo Lopez 1.46 HR/G
8. Kris Benson 1.41 HR/G
9. Curt Schilling 1.39 HR/G
10. Randy Johnson 1.38 HR/G

Runs per Home Run
1. Josh Beckett 1.7 R/HR
2. Randy Johnson 1.7 R/HR
3. Carlos Silva 1.6 R/HR
4. Rodrigo Lopez 1.6 R/HR
5. Kris Benson 1.5 R/HR
6. Jamie Moyer 1.4 R/HR
7. Brad Radke 1.4 R/HR
8. Freddy Garcia 1.4 R/HR
9. Curt Schilling 1.4 R/HR
10. Scott Elarton 1.3 R/HR

Although Scott Elarton leads the American League in home runs per game, his home runs do not do as much damage as some of the pitchers below him in that category. A large reason behind this is all of his home runs have been either solo shots or 2-run home runs. Josh Beckett is a pitcher to be concerned about because not only has he been giving up a high number of home runs, but also a high runs per home run average.

National League

Home Runs per Game
1. Taylor Buchholz 1.80 HR/G
2. Eric Milton 1.61 HR/G
3. Chris Young 1.59 HR/G
4. Jason Marquis 1.58 HR/G
5. Cory Lidle 1.37 HR/G
6. Livan Hernandez 1.35 HR/G
7. Ramon Ortiz 1.35 HR/G
8. Andy Pettitte 1.32 HR/G
9. Dave Bush 1.27 HR/G
10. Pedro Martinez 1.26 HR/G

Runs per Home Run
1. Taylor Buchholz 2.2 R/HR
2. Dave Bush 1.7 R/HR
3. Eric Milton 1.6 R/HR
4. Jason Marquis 1.6 R/HR
5. Andy Pettitte 1.6 R/HR
6. Pedro Martinez 1.6 R/HR
7. Livan Hernandez 1.5 R/HR
8. Cory Lidle 1.4 R/HR
9. Ramon Ortiz 1.3 R/HR
10. Chris Young 1.2 R/HR

Taylor Buchholz is a pitcher like Josh Beckett who has given up a lot of home runs this season and has also given up a high number of runs per home run, which is not what you want from a starting pitcher.

For whatever reason, the American League pitchers looked out give up fewer runs per home run than their National League counterparts. This is mostly likely just happenstance.

This should be a good reminder the next time you see a pitcher's home run rate or home run totals he has allowed so that you will question how much damage those home runs actually did since not all homers are created equal.

NOTE: Cory Lidle is now in the American League with the Yankees, but has yet to pitch a game and no doubt give up a home run while wearing a Yankees uniform.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

NBA Teams: Beware of Eddie House

Already in danger of being negative in every post, I must caution NBA teams against signing Eddie House to a contract. Eddie House, who has already played for the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, and the Phoenix Suns is an unrestricted free agent this summer and is looking for another contract. House is one of those instant offense players. When a team is behind by ten points or so, you insert a player like House who hits a couple three-pointers and takes what was a ten point deficit and turns it into a four point one. Every team could use an instant offense guy off the bench when the team is in dire need of a scoring spark if the instant offense guy is good at what he does.

Eddie House is not so great as an instant offense guy, but not because he is unable to score a lot of points in a few minutes. His per 40 minute career scoring average of 17.6 points per game while his true career scoring average is 7.3 points per game demonstrates his ability to score quickly. The downside to House's game is he does not score efficiently, and instead he relies on taking a lot of shots and using a lot of the team's offensive possessions. He simply does not shoot well enough percentage-wise to be that much of a bonus off the bench.

Now, this is a problem that is easily resolved if the team that signs House informs him that he does not have to shoot the ball every single time he touches it and that it is okay to pass to the other four guys who are wearing the same uniform colors as he. The reason I say that is because House has a track record of being an efficient scorer. During his 50-game run with the Sacramento Kings, House was also at his most efficient over a long stretch, posting an offensive rating of 112, mostly because he used less possessions. There is certainly a break-even point of usage where House can be both efficient and contribute on the offensive side of the ball and it is somewhere 20 possessions a game. Any more and House is too inefficient to really help the game. Any less and House is efficient, but does not contribute to his ability level. The NBA team who signs him should note this or suffer from his inefficient shooting.