Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fish Frenzy moved to!

It's official, the move has been made from Fish Frenzy to Marlin Maniac! Please, everyone who enjoyed the content here, make your way over to the Marlin Maniac site, still with the same stuff, different name. Enjoy, and wish me luck!

Fish Frenzy has moved!

All right folks, I know Fish Frenzy just got it's feet on the ground, but I am trying to get it running as fast as possible. We've been moved as part of the network! The team's new site will be MarlinManiac, located soon at I'll try to keep this site up for general baseball works, but please, anyone who enjoyed the content on this site, please check out the new site as soon as it comes online within the next few days.

Note about tonight's game. There will be a BoniLine posted either here or at the new site whenever it is available, but there will be no Blogservations piece. I won't be able to watch the game unfortunately, I'll be out on a date tonight. In the next Fish Bites, I'll drop a line or two of thoughts on the game.

All right everyone, I hope you all can move with me when the new site comes up. A link will be posted here. Thanks for all the support and I'll see you over on the other side!

Fish Bites

Today's Marlins links come with me tired. Got up at 6 AM, but ready to link by 10 AM. Here we go.

- Tonight's game between Florida and Boston should be an interesting one. Ricky Nolasco will go up against Jon Lester, and one can be assured that a lot of bats will be missed. With the way the Marlins have been hitting all series, it's likely many of those will be on our side, but remember that the Sox didn't look very good against Andrew Miller last night, and Nolasco has been on his game as of late. In Nolasco's two outings since returning from his stint at Triple-A, he's thrown 13 innings, allowing 15 hits with 13 strikeouts and four walks to his credit. If the Fish can put up some early runs support, we could salvage a game in this three-game series.

- As for last night's game, congratulations to Red Sox starter and former Marlin Brad Penny for earning his 100th win last night. I'll always remember Penny fondly for pitching well in 2003, especially coming up big during the playoffs and World Series for the Marlins. Were it not for Beckett's masterful two games, we might have seen Penny win a World Series MVP.

- The Marlins won't financially close the stadium deal for another two weeks, reports the Herald. As mentioned yesterday, the combination of a forced vote thanks to Wachovia's demand for up-front fees and a citizen lawsuit trying to force an injunction on construction. I can't wait for all of this to be over.

- Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel Marlins blog reports some early struggles for top prospect Mike Stanton in Double-A. Well, that can't be too surprising, as it is the second biggest jump in a young prospect's career, moving from A to Double-A. By all accounts however, I've heard Stanton is one smart kid, and he's young enough that he can also afford to make some mistakes early. As Rodriguez mentions, the worst taht could happen is that he spends the rest of the year in Double-A (he definitely has nothing else to prove in A-ball), plays offseason ball, comes to Spring Training, and repeats Double-A until the Show calls. And it will come a calling for Stanton.

- Wes Helms doesn't think players with PED's on their record should get into the Hall of Fame. Certainly one way to look at it, though I fear the Hall will be pretty empty with some pretty good names left out if it were to turn out like that. I don't like to weigh in on steroids because I'm more interested in baseball today, but if everyone was supposedly doing it, it'd be tough to hold everyone out.

- For some non-Marlins stuff, check out Dan Turkenkopf's piece on adjusting steals for win value. Fun to see, especially with regarding Rickey Henderson's 1982 record 130 steals. For those who think the steal is back as a dangerous threat, take note. Also, Tom Tango doesn't quite agree with Dan's numbers.

- Finally, in case you haven't seen this, here's Dave Cameron's take on the most devastating crappy pitch in the big leagues. I laughed a lot when I read this, but you can't argue with the results.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blogservations 06/17/09, Red Sox 6, Marlins 1

There's always games like this where you can get really frustrated as a fan. It was tough to watch the Marlins tonight, as it was obvious that they were hitting far worse than Brad Penny was pitching. It was also difficult to see the team give up runs on tough outs, plays where there was a good deal of luck involved. Let's go into the observations.

If you don't hit, you can't win.

Elementary really, so it isn't some grand sabermetric discovery. Then again, I didn't really need Hit f/x or anything like that to tell you the Marlins offense was atrocious tonight. What made it especially frustrating was the fact that Brad Penny was more than hittable. His fastball was definitely working, with 95-98 MPH heat throughout his innings. But he wasn't placing pitches particularly well and there was a good set of pitches that were out there to be hit. Look at his pitch type strike zone, again courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

It's difficult to see at the size I have it, but it's simple to tell that:

1) There were a good amount of belt- and thigh-high fastballs the Marlins could have driven.
2) Penny hung a huge amount of curveballs middle and high in the zone.

Yet the Marlins eked out, from my count, approximately four hard hit balls, one of which ended as Jorge Cantu's two-bag error that drove in the team's only run. Two others were doubles by Ross Gload and John Baker, but the team never capitalized.

This chart shows graphically the patient approach the Marlins were taking with Penny. The Fish whiffed only five times and only once outside the generalized strike zone. While they did also foul off one or two pitches outside the zone, for the most part the team stayed disciplined and swung at strikes. But all this hard work was for naught, as the team only turned four of those juicy pitches located middle and mid-high into bases. A frustrating evening to be sure.

Andrew Miller had some bad breaks.

In contrast, let's take a look at Andrew Miller's night out.

Pitch f/x was all over the place with regards to the types of pitches it was seeing, but as we know, Miller has a three-pitch arsenal: fastball, slider, changeup. Tonight, he was having some decent success with the changeup, throwing it 55% of the time for strikes and placing it where it would be difficult to hit, typically problems for Miller. In general he was able to keep the ball down, a stark contrast to Chris Volstad's erratic outing. Miller was able to get five swinging strikes outside of the zone, primarily with the fastball, which was ranging from 92-95 MPH and occasionally touching the high 90's.

So if all of that good was working, how come he gave up four runs? Two major things contributed to the run scoring against Miller:

1) He was missing the zone a lot, mostly down. Can't blame him too much though, as he was getting squeezed in the strike zone (more on that later).
2) He was getting really unlucky. A lot of soft hit balls found their way through the infield, into holes in the outfield defense, and other inaccessible areas. Some of that is our defense, some of that was just plain bad luck.

I can't be too disappointed in Miller's performance. He struck out six while walking four, right around his average performance, but as I mentioned he was being squeezed pretty bad down in the zone. He was getting whiffs with his pitches and showing better command on his changeup, a key to making him a solid starter. As a Marlins fan, you hope a better strike zone can make his numbers look better.

The strike zone seemed way off.

As I watched the game, I noticed some awkward stuff about the strike zone home plate umpire Jerry Crawford was calling. In particular, the one consistent thing I saw was a lack of a knee-high strike, made particularly obvious because Miller was living in that area of the typical strike zone. Normally, I'd be pretty happy to see a pitcher working down consistently like that, but take a look at the strikezone plot for both teams.

My suspicion during the game seemed correct; Crawford was definitely tightening up the bottom of the zone and not giving out the knee-high strike. But Penny was everywhere, so it didn't hurt him nearly as much. But there are a lot of little green triangles on there representing the Marlins' pitchers, and particularly Miller. Getting squeezed there really hurt his game plan, as it forced him to go a little higher in the zone or risk walking more men. He chose the latter and got burned by a few untimely lucky hits.

The other oddity I spotted was this.

There were a lot of red marks indicating Boston strikes called off of the inner half of the plate to left handers. Miller seemed to miss by much more to that side, and in addition faced significantly fewer left handers than Boston did; the Marlins trotted out Chris Coghlan, Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida, and the switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio, while the left side for Boston was populated by Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz only.

I didn't notice this in-game, but it makes me particularly mad. When the umps don't call an even strikezone for both teams, it's hard to gauge what types of pitches and locations should be used to get hitters out. These sorts of thing can really affect a pitcher's performance, and aren't usually seen through the box score stats. Just looking at the box score, I would have said Miller had a difficult struggle, but using the Pitch f/x data and some observation, you can tell he was really more in the strike zone than it was called. Combine that with some bad luck and you can get the makings of a poor performance.

The opposite went for Penny and the Sox starters. They got to take advantage of a fairly consistently called "bad" strike. I know Pitch f/x normalizes the strike zone, so the real zone is more hitter dependent, but those sort of bad calls can get players into chasing pitches that are far worse. It all stinks of just a forgettable evening for the Fish.

The BoniLine, 06/17/09

An absolutely anemic performance for the Marlins at the plate, so this BoniLine won't be so striking to see.

Emilio Bonifacio: 4 PA, 0 H, 1 K, WPA: -.172

Best Performer:
Jorge Cantu: 4 PA, 1 H, 1 1B, WPA: .072

Cantu gets it on the back of a run delivered in the first inning. It looked like the Marlins were going to get to Brad Penny, as he as throwing a lot of pitches. But as it has been much of the season, the timely hits never happened, and the team lost.

The Real Worth of Lineup Tinkering

Yesterday in Fish Bites, I posted a link to an interesting quickie study using Baseball Musing's Lineup Analysis tool of the potential for one of Tony LaRussa's famously quirky moves: batting the pitcher slot 8th instead of 9th. Here's a quick look at the results I calculated on the simulator myself.
The current lineup: 4.547 runs/game
The sensible lineup, flip-flopping Bonifacio and Baker: 4.646 runs/game
The LaRussa lineup, flip-flopping Bonifacio and the pitcher: 4.709 runs/game

The difference between the current lineup and the sensible one is worth a modest 16 runs over 162 games, but the difference between the current and LaRussa lineups was calculated at a 26 runs in 162 games.
As you can see, the difference between the current lineup and the LaRussa lineup is somewhat significant. 2.6 wins is nothing to scoff at; it's the approximate difference between an average player and Dan Uggla last year. But if you take a look at the difference between the sensible lineup and the LaRussa lineup, the run differential is less pronounced, approximately one win less.

Both of these results do come with signifcant caveats, namely that the statistics listed here are for about a third of a season's plate appearances and by no means stable yet. Sure, one and two wins sound like they matter and they do, given how we evaluate players with the latest run estimators and the closeness of playoff races these days; ask the Mets if they would've liked a one- or two-win improvement over Luis Castillo these last few years. But with only a a third of a season's worth of data and plate appearances, the inserted OBP and SLG values could be of little meaning. Rob Neyer pointed out an Alan Schwarz article in the New York Times earlier in the season about simulators and their ability to project baseball data; you can find Neyer's post here. Here the study mentioned was a difference between batting Alex Rodriguez cleanup vs. 9th in the Yankees lineup. Over 100 simulated seasons, the average differential was about 40 runs, or four wins. In comparison, our total projects a 1.6 win difference between batting the team's worst hitter (the pitcher) 8th or 9th in the lineup based on a third of a season's data. I find that difficult to believe.

Still, the results are significant in telling us something, and that something is not so much that the configuration of a pitcher batting 8th is impressive, but rather that the configuration of batting a player with a .291 OBP second is not. Plate appearances dominate the difference in run potential for lineups, because the more chances efficient and better players get at producing runs, the better those runs get produced. Bonifacio and his .273 wOBA are just not an efficient use of the second most amount of plate appearances for your team. Putting a much more reasonable player available to you at that slot and moving Bonifacio down in the order will provide a similar return.

Finally, this sort of batting order decision clearly takes a backseat to better player evaluation. Using our nifty tool, consider replacing Bonifacio in his current spot in the lineup with a league average player in the National League, sporting a .332 OBP and .404 SLG: 4.778 runs per game, a full 0.231 runs, or 37.4 more runs over the course of the full season. This is probably a bit of an overstatement as well, as Bonifacio was worth about -12.5 runs compared to the average over the first 286 plate appearances, and I can't imagine him getting anything more than 750 PA's over the full season batting #2 in the lineup. At 750 PA's and his current rate of hitting ineptitude, Bonifacio would be worth about 32 runs less than an average player with the bat. Even then, those values trump any lineup changes being made, proving that the best way to fix an ailing offense is usually to replace bad players with decent ones, not shuttling them around in the lineup.

As a final look at the study, and a way to make myself feel smarter, here's the lineup I designed in my head prior to using the tool, based on what I feel would be the best use of the team's limited OBP skills.

1) LF Coghlan
2) RF Hermida
3) SS Ramirez
4) 1B Cantu
5) 2B Uggla
6) CF Ross
7) C Baker
8) 3B Bonifacio
9) Pitcher

This lineup calculated to 4.690 runs per game. Not half bad. I can't wait to see when Gaby Sanchez comes up and fills in for Bonifacio's spot. We'll return and reexamine this later, with better sample sizes for players like Coghlan who currently haven't played enough yet.

Fish Bites

Marlins-related business, dead ahead.

- HBPGate, as I began referring to it seconds ago, is over, according to Fredi Gonzalez. Good to hear it was handled well. Best line in the whole situation though?
“I want to apologize for my tirade,” Gonzalez said. “I know you guys are trying to do your jobs and everything. I try to protect my team. I’m like a big bear with baby cubs I guess.”
Fredi is the big mama bear, and the Marlins are the little cubs? Silly images aside, I'm sure he tore into the cub that got us into this mess in the first place. Or at least he better have. Don't be coddling our cubs now, Big Mama.

- The sale of the Marlins' new stadium bonds has been put on hold, Matthew Haggman of the Herald reports. This is apparently due to an emergency motion filed on Monday for a temporary injunction on construction. Combine this with the Wachovia situation. If you couldn't already tell, this has been a massive mess from the start. Just goes to show that if people don't want it, it's going to take hell for even politicians and rich businessmen to make it happen.

- Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post's Fish Tank blog commends Burke Badenhop on his excellent effort in relief last night. The Hopper was unspectacularly solid, striking out only two while walking two and scattering four hits, though he did indeed not allow any runs charged to him. Capozzi points out Badenhop wasn't happy with the runs he let through that were charged to Chris Volstad. As well he shouldn't be.

- R.J Anderson on the worst regular in baseball. And your winner is...Brian Giles of San Diego. Interesting case for Giles, who had a solid year last season and blocked a deal to the Red Sox. But you and I both know who I wanted to get the nod. Marlins site has an excellent article profiling the difficulty that is the Road to the Show. John Baker is on there prominently, and it's definitely an interesting read into the perspective of the long-time minor leaguer.

- And finally, our first backlink, courtesy of our friends at FishStripes! Thanks to the gang over there, looking forward to working with you guys to keep a healthy Marlins fan community going.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogservations 06/16/09, Red Sox 8, Marlins 2

Can't be all that surprised by the results of this game. The high-strikeout Marlins don't do well against the slow pitchers with the big breaking balls. Or at least that's how the cliche goes. Let's take a look at some of my thoughts.

Chris Volstad tosses another dud.

Volstad had his second bad outing in a row and the second outing in the season in which he's given up five or more runs. A look at the peripheral stats shows part of the problem: Volstad has struck out only two batters his last 9 1/3 innings (two starts) and has given up two more home runs in the process, putting his season total at 14. Tonight he wasn't able to place his pitches, so despite a fastball that sat 91-93 MPH consistently, occasionally touching 94 MPH, he couldn't get the pitches over enough and fell behind in too many counts. He stayed mostly with the fastball because hitters weren't offering at his breaking balls. Let's take a look at my first foray into pitch f/x charts. All charts here courtesy of Brooks Baseball's Pitch f/x tool.

Here is Volstad's strikezone plot, with pitch types indicated. There are some random choices for pitch types that probably weren't the ones he threw. In particular, the "slider" was most likely a curveball and the the fastballs were likely more decently split between two- and four-seamer.

Now, here's the same chart indicating pitch results.

The charts show what one could tell empirically by watching the game. Volstad was a good deal out of control tonight, unable to pound the lower half of the zone like he usually does. His pitches tonight were scattered up and down the zone, and Red Sox hitters knew it; they laid off the majority of the pitches out of the zone, including almost all of Volstad's curveballs, and forced him to keep it in the strike zone, where they were able to get good contact on him.

Despite the erratic location and the need to throw within the strike zone, the Red Sox didn't pound him with big extra base hits. Only two of the nine hits Volstad allowed were for extra-bases, including David Ortiz's home run. So while they were certainly making good contact on Volstad and taking advantage of the juicky fastballs he was tossing high in the zone, they weren't hitting him all that hard, though I recall many of these singles being line drive hits. Hits such as Nick Green's infield single that squirted past Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, however, point towards some "hitting it where they ain't" type luck.

Volstad has improved as more of a strikeout pitcher, but he still requires a lot from his infield defense. With his work more pitch-to-contact than other guys in the rotation like Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson, it's imperative that Volstad keep the ball down in the strike zone to be effective. If he can't locate and begins to throw too many belt-high strikes, that's when the opposing team's swings get a bit more effective.

Marlins pitchers need to learn to hold runners.

Seems like this has been a problem all season long. The Marlins are tied with, ironically enough, the Red Sox with the most stolen bases allowed in the majors, and teams have scouted and used that knowledge to perfection. This development is due to two factors: 1) Marlins pitchers apparently have been slow to the plate out of the stretch; 2) Marlins catchers haven't made good enough throws.

My initial inclination would be to blame the first factor primarily. John Baker and Ronny Paulino have done a serviceable job behind the plate, but are not the strongest of arms. However, the team's pitching staff has definitely appeared slow to the plate and somewhat indifferent to runners on first. Truthfully though, I have no statistics to back this up, so while I make this claim, a more thorough study using Pitch f/x may be in line. Does anybody have a value for the average time to the plate for major league pitchers?

Waltz, Hutton, and FishStripes: Broadcaster Quality Update

I sat in and watched about eight innings of tonight's ugly 8-3 loss to the Red Sox. I've got some opinions on the Marlins' play tonight, but I'll save that for Blogservations.

No, this part is designed to drop an update on my opinion of tonight's broadcast and what went down on it.

- There were about 10-15 mentions of how patient the Red Sox hitters are as a group. The majority, if not all of them, referenced OBP. I was especially happy to see Hutton pound on how high the top-of-the-lineup guys are in terms of OBP. A good chunk of me thinks he honestly gets that OBP is a big part of being useful at the top of the lineup; after all, the man's very smart to have worked this long in the business. Maybe he was emphasizing it because the Marlins don't do it.

Still, when you hear him talk about Bonifacio like he still has a shot as a leadoff man, you wonder. When you hear him advise Bonifacio to talk to Juan Pierre about the finer points of bunting, you raise your eyebrows. He needs help making contact and drawing walks, not bunting. JP can help the contact, but he's never had an eye for the zone.

By the way, still no mention of slugging percentage. I'm glad that they chose the better one of the OPS parts, but come on. Power is very well measured by SLG, everyone does it, and it's even the cooler, bigger number! Come on guys!

- Waltz made a long mention of Bill James on the broadcast as the two Marlins broadcasters discussed the balanced excellence of the Red Sox front office and scouting. As you know, the immortal Mr. James works for the Sox now, and Waltz expounded upon what James has done for the sabermetric community and the evolution of advanced statistics. There was about a ten second pause after Waltz finished where nothing was said during the broadcast. Waltz then went back to play-by-play. You kind of get the feeling Tommy Hutton wasn't a fan of Bill James.

- Here's what I found the most interesting. Our friends at FishStripes got a TV shoutout on Email Tuesday when dan 2.0 got his question aired and "answered" by the guys. The question asked about maybe moving Chris Coghlan/Dan Uggla into a combination of 2B/3B and playing Brett Carroll's weak bat and plus glove in the outfield. When I heard it, it got me all riled up, because I had the suggested idea too.

...If the club wanted to play players with nothing in the way of bats, why not move Brett Carroll to LF, where his superior glove could help out the struggling outfield defense. At least in this situation, Fredi wouldn't be tempted to give Brett Carroll a leadoff spot because of his "speed," and Carroll would bring more than lip service to the team's defense. They could try Coghlan at third, where he might have more success, and see if he's worth a long-term look, especially with Dan Uggla's ever-growing arbitration salary.
I know, tooting my own horn, but I liked the idea and I was glad to see that someone else had come up with it too. But I guess it was a little much to ask for a decent answer. Waltz froze for a second before proclaiming that it was a "good question," while Hutton went into a diversion about how he was sure Larry Beinfest, Fredi Gonzalez, and the rest of the brain trust thought of the idea. Then, without giving too much reasoning, Waltz waved it off by saying Bonifacio would be better than either of those guys at third, while Hutton claimed that management thought Coghlan profiled as an outfielder anyway.

These are the same two guys that claim Uggla's reputation is mostly based on the All-Star game and not the obvious lack of range and the statistical backup (career Range Runs at -11.3, though the numbers have been wildly incosistent). Do they think Uggla doesn't have the arm for the hot corner? If so, they should at least go out and say it. Coghlan seems to have a decent enough arm, certainly enough to handle left field. Why not try him at 3B before moving him to a completely foreign position? If the team's scouts honestly felt that he profiled more as an outfielder, why wouldn't they ask the minor league coaches to play him a bit in left field?

I enjoy Waltz's voice and work as a play-by-play guy, and he seems to keep himself informed of at least the people and players we go up against. Hutton clearly knows a lot about the game, but I feel as if he's one of those old timers who is well set in his ways and not looking to change the way he thinks about the game. That's fine for him as a fellow Marlins fan, but it certainly takes away from my enjoyment of the game when he mentions the old cliches of insider baseball instead of updating with the new knowledge now available.

In short, those two still have a ways to go to get a thumbs up from me.

The BoniLine, 06/15/09

Emilio Bonifacio showed up at the bottom of the order and ended up posting a pretty good game.

Emilio Bonifacio: 3 PA, 2 H, 1 1B, 1 2B, 2 R, 1 SB, WPA: .045

Best Performer:
Chris Coghlan: 4 PA, 2 H, 1 1B, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K, WPA: .079

Bonifacio ended up posting the second best WPA for the team, but when the team loses 8-3, decent performances like those of Coghlan and Bonifacio end up looking much better.

Ironically, I was discussing with a roommate Bonifacio's severe lack of power before he hit that line drive off of the very top of the Green Monster. Not sure how he pulled that off, though I suspect part of it is that the Monster is somewhat shallow to left field, but very tall. If he could line the ball more like that, it would certainly help, at least while Fredi keeps throwing him out there.