Monthly Archives: September 2011

Your Pretend GM Worksheet

The Mets’ 2011 season is officially over, so it’s now time for every fans’ real favorite part of the year: Pretending to be the team’s general manager. Here’s your worksheet, should you want to plan out ways to make the Mets better. Tip of the hat to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Let’s cap payroll at $110 million dollars, the total Sandy Alderson estimated as a soft cap yesterday. Starting with the albatrosses:

Guaranteed contracts for 2012: Continue reading

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Mostly Mets Podcast

Newest Mostly Mets Podcast, with Toby and Ted. Listen above, or you can download, rate and subscribe over at iTunes.

A basic outline of the show:

Answering Emails
2:00 – The Mets’ home and road record
11:00 – How long is Sandy Alderson’s grace period?
15:00 – Building a foundation and minor league walk rates

And the awards:
24:00 – Team MVP
25:00 – Pitcher of the Year
25:30 – Rookie of the Year
32:00 – Best Defender
36:00 – Most Improved
38:00 – Best Facial Hair
41:00 – Best Hair
43:00 – Best Walk-up Music
48:00 – Most Infuriating Moment
53:00 – Best Game of the Year
55:00 – Best Ballpark Food We Ate
58:30 – Best Mets Pitching Performance of the Year
59:30 – Moment that best encapsulated the season
1:00:00 – Bye-bye Braves
1:03:00 – Best Performance by a Mets Opponent
1:08:00 – Best Home Run of the Year
1:11:00 – Player who most precisely met expectations for 2011

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Nate Silver on the Red Sox Collapse

A New York Times article, so be wary if you’re running close to the monthly article limit. But it is Nate Silver writing about baseball, putting into perspective how dramatic the Sox collapse was, so you probably want to click on it anyway.

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Why the Mets Have Played Better on the Road

Subtitle: Or Have They?

I should note that this was inspired by an email sent to the Mostly Mets Podcast — MostlyMetsPodcast at gmail dot com — sent by hero/listener David M., asking about the Mets’ home and away records this season. Basically, the Mets have played awfully at home and pretty good on the road, and he’d like to know why. I think we’ll discuss it on the podcast this week, but some preliminary glances at Baseball-Reference has lead to the discovery of some interesting statistics I’ll share now. I guess as a teaser to the show or something.

Movie Announcer Voice: In a world . . .

First, the Mets are 33-46 (.418%) at home this season and 43-38 (.531) on the road. This is a little unusual, in that teams in all sports generally play better at home than on the road. I don’t know why, and there’s no definitive answer as of yet — unconscious umpire bias is one popular suggestion supported by some studies. Maybe teams simply party less at home. But teams usually play better and win more games at home, and the Mets have done the opposite this season.

One level down — baseball statistics work like Inception — the Mets have scored 321 runs and allowed 362 at home, and scored 390 runs and allowed 375 on the road. Turning those runs scored/runs allowed differences into expected winning percentages, the Mets expected home record is 35-44 (.445) and their expected road record is 42-39 (.518). So they’ve outplayed their runs scored/runs allowed numbers on the road and underplayed them a bit at home, but only by a game or two in either direction. Nothing weird going on yet.

And I say yet because . . .

Mets hitters home: .264/.336/.392, .321 wOBA, 4.06 runs per game
Mets hitters road: .264/.335/.391, .321 wOBA, 4.81 runs per game

As a team, the Mets have hit almost identically at home and on the road, but have scored far more runs on the road. When there’s a split like this, with similar overall performances but a gap in the run production, it’s almost always caused by performance with runners in scoring position. The Mets have hit well overall in the clutch this season, .280/.347/.411 in high leverage situations, but I’d wager that there’s a pronounced home/road split hidden in that number. Basically, the Mets have been better stringing hits together on the road, and that’s why they’ve scored more runs despite similar batting numbers.

As for the performance of the pitchers on the home and road: It’s weirder.

Mets pitchers home: .257/.325/.379, 3.69 FIP, .301 BABIP, 4.58 runs allowed per game
Mets pitchers road: .275/.341/.443, 4.35 FIP, .312 BABIP, 4.63 runs allowed per game

This one makes no sense. By the numbers, the Mets have pitched much better at home than on the road. The fielding is a different story — while an 11 point gap in batting average on balls in play suggests they’ve fielded better at home, they’ve also been much sloppier at home, allowing 50 runners to reach base via error at home against just 26 on the road. I’m inclined to believe that the gap in BABIP is probably a wash with the errors. So the point remains, the Mets have pitched significantly better at home than on the road, and not played significantly worse defense, yet have still allowed a nearly identical number of runs per game. And that’s weird.

The answer once again is probably performance with runners in scoring position. While the hitters strung hits together on the road and not at home, the pitchers have allowed hits to be strung together against them at home but less so on the road. Mets pitchers have a 69.3% strand rate at home, third worst in baseball, and a 72.6% rate on the road, 14th best in baseball. Baserunners left at third on the road are coming in to score at Citi Field. So while the Mets have pitched to about their expected level on the road, they have been prone to big innings at home. Which is why they’ve given up so many runs at home.

So on the surface, win-loss record, the Mets have played worse at home than on the road. One level down, runs scored/runs allowed, they’ve still played worse at home than on the road, being outscored at home and outscoring their opponents on the road. But when you go two levels down, they’ve actually outhit their opponents at home, and been outhit on the road. This suggests that, from one angle, the Mets have actually played better at home than on the road this season, despite the record. The real difference has come in the clutch — which is either an indication that the Mets’ pitchers are decent on the road and choke in front of the home fans, and the hitters are all supermen on the road whose powers are useless at home . . . or it’s just randomness at play. You’ve got thirty teams playing full seasons every year, and sometimes you get a team that does something weird like this. Everyone can decide for themselves what it all means.

I’d just thought I’d share this information, because it’s weird. Mostly Mets Podcast, this week, coming to a blog or iTunes near you.

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Walking It Out, Top to Bottom

If you watched the Mets this season, you might have noticed that they’ve stopped swinging at bad pitches.

I don’t know, maybe you watched and didn’t notice. If I hadn’t looked at the numbers, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, as it tends to be harder to notice the absence of something rather than its presence. But it has been the most dramatic difference between the 2011 Mets and other Mets teams of the recent past — as a group, they’ve stopped chasing pitcher’s pitches. The Mets lead the National League in walks drawn this season, but only rank 22nd among all major league teams in pitches-seen-per-plate appearance. They’re not drawing walks with the long, drawn out at-bats described/seen in Moneyball — these Mets have waited for their pitch and not missed it.

And as simple as that sounds, it’s actually somewhat weird. The Mets are at one extreme or the other on nearly every plate discipline stat Fangraphs tracks, so it stands to reason that they’re doing something dramatically different from every other team. They are the best team in the National League at making contact, the second-best at making contact on pitches in the strike zone and the best at making contact on pitches outside of the zone. They swing at fewer overall pitches than any other NL team, swing at the second-fewest pitches outside of the strike zone and the fourth-fewest inside the zone. The Mets’ offensive philosophy — only swing at the pitches you can hit — is apparently vastly different from that of every other team in the league.

If, like me, you were wondering if the major league team’s philosophy of not swinging at bad pitches is an organization-wide philosophy — well, it looks like it. The Mets’ farm system as a whole (Triple-A through Low-A and the four rookie affiliates, nine teams in all) drew 2,697 walks last season. They drew 3,069 walks this season, a 13.8% increase. Among NL organizations, only the Diamondbacks’ affiliates drew more walks. The 3,069 walk total is the highest recorded total in the Mets’ history (mostly because the statistics from some leagues aren’t available for seasons earlier than 2005). So it looks like an organization-wide philosophy being implemented: Mets everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, are drawing more walks.

On the other hand, a closer looks shows that the Mets’ minor leagues have some ways to go: In terms of walks as a percentage of plate appearances, their affiliates ranked sixth out of the 16 NL teams, walking in 9.1% of their trips to the plate — the Mets were second in overall walk totals because they have two teams in the Dominican Summer League and thus a greater number of affiliates potentially drawing walks than other organizations. Interestingly (to me, at least), the Padres and the Diamondbacks rank #1-2 in that category, drawing walks in 9.9% and 9.8% of their plate appearances respectively — in my mind, those are the two NL teams best-associated with sabermetrics, and that makes perfect sense. The two systems that draw the fewest walks are those of the Braves and the Phillies, organizations that, again in my mind, tend to fall into the other end of the SABR-spectrum.

It should be noted that these numbers are heavily colored by the location of a team’s affiliates. Most of the western leagues favor hitters, and most minor leagues in the east favor pitchers. Teams tend to have affiliates located closer to their major league club’s home, so the affiliates of teams in the NL West outhit their NL East counterparts for reasons that involve weather more than talent. Just looking at NL clubs east of the Mississippi, the Mets are second in walk percentage, trailing only the Pirates.

It seems, at the very least, that the Mets successfully implemented an organization wide-plan this season to teach better plate discipline. The results at the major league level speak for themselves, with a team that ranks fifth in runs scored and second in adjusted OPS+ despite an unfriendly home park and numerous injuries. As for the minor league side, the army of disciplined hitters the farm system is going to plug into the holes the next few years should attest to what they’re doing down below. It seems silly to suggest that “don’t swing at bad pitches” is a revolutionary change in baseball strategy, but it’s hard to look up and down the Mets’ organization this season and conclude that they’re not doing something dramatically different.

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The Search for a Closer

Chris McShane over at Alderson Avenue took a look today at some potential free-agent/non-closer relievers who might be able to serve as the Mets’ closer next season. There are some interesting names on the list, and I think that is going to be the direction Sandy Alderson goes to find his ninth inning guy.

I wonder sometimes if being a closer is easier than being an set-up reliever. It would seem that on the mental side, closing would be more difficult because if you blow the game, that’s it — there aren’t any more inning for the team to get the lead back. It’s all on you. But if you’re the closer, you’re also pitching the same inning every night, rarely asked to get more than three outs, and often protecting a sizable three-run cushion. When you show up at the ballpark, you know what you’re going to be asked to do every night. And those factors all favor a pitcher, maybe more than we often acknowledge — if you go on Baseball-Reference and look at the most effective pitchers, as measured by ERA+ (500 inning minimum), 11 of the 20 most effective pitchers are closers (or have a lot of saves). Eight of those 11 closers have pitched in the past ten years. We’re talking about every pitcher over the last 111 years who has thrown 500 innings; more than half of the elite, elite ones are closers. The modern closer role has let teams take a pitcher who otherwise wouldn’t be good enough to even start, and turn him into Pedro Martinez for 65 innings a season.

Meanwhile, setup men sometimes pitch multiple innings, often come into games in the middle of an inning with runners on base, never know which inning they’re going to pitch in when they come to the ballpark . . . there isn’t necessarily the stress of the ninth, but there’s still stress, and it’s compounded by an uncertainty. There’s an argument to be made that pitching setup is more difficult.

The Rays took the much-maligned Kyle Farnsworth and turned him into an effective closer this season. I wonder, if someone studied the issue deeply, if relief pitchers are actually more effective working as a closer than as a setup man. Are the best relief pitchers used as closers because they’re the best relievers, or is there something about the usage pattern that makes closers the best relievers? Because the closer role is the only relief role in history that has a regular usage pattern associated with it, and there might be something to that.

I guess the point is that the Mets might be better off signing a non-closer on the cheap, sticking him in the ninth, and then watching him transform into an elite reliever. Maybe it’s just the usage pattern.

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Measurement Error

Over the summer, I developed this dumb joke with one of my friends. We started saying, “Oh, you can’t measure that,” like a color commentator in response to almost anything. Initially it sprung out of vaguely appropriate situations – I think it started during pickup basketball games — but it slowly spread outside of the context of sports. The waitress repeats the order back to make sure it’s correct – you can’t measure that. One of our friends shows up five minutes before we do – you can’t measure that. Even things you can measure, like how fast I would be driving, someone would say it – you can’t measure that.

Look, I said it was a dumb joke.

Not to deconstruct this too much, but as many of you might know, “You can’t measure that” is one of those phrases sports broadcasters seem to love. Football broadcasters, baseball announcers, basketball, anyone who talks about sports on TV has probably said it. You can’t measure heart. You can’t measure that hustle. You can’t measure clubhouse chemistry, all the Tostitos, how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, all those things. It’s cliched beyond the point of meaning, and half the time it seems to be used about things people actually can measure. (I believe last season an SNY broadcast mentioned the threat of Jeff Francoeur’s throwing arm in right field as something you couldn’t measure. The effects of a outfielder’s throwing arm are actually one of the easiest things about fielding to measure.) So whenever I hear that you can’t measure something, it tends to elicit an eye roll from me, as I imagine it does from others.

But as cliched as a phrase may be, it is true that there are some things can’t be measured. It’s not because these things are inherently beyond quantification, but rather because they’re beyond our current abilities for quantification. The world is an immensely complicated place, well beyond the abilities of our monkey brains to understand in any real way. We have enough trouble figuring out what the weather is going to be like in three days, nevermind the world as a whole. Doctors washing their hands is a relatively new development. We’re really not that smart. But there are answers out there for everything. There is a concrete value to everything. Whether or not we’ve figured out how to measure that value is another story. But the answers are out there if we can find them. Continue reading

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Changeups and BABIP

Josh Weinstock over at The Hardball Times took a look at pitcher’s repertoires and found that pitchers who throw a lot of changeups tend to give up fewer hits on balls in play. It’s not an enormous difference, something like four or five hits over a full season for starting pitcher. But it looks like there is a real difference, and helps explain why changeup-happy Johan Santana consistently gives up 15-20 fewer hits than expected every season.

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Transcripts

Amazin’ Avenue has the transcripts of Sandy Alderson’s visit to the SNY booth last night, as well as Omar Minaya’s apparently simultaneous visit to the SNY booth. Both are recommended.

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Latest Mostly Mets Podcast

Newest Mostly Mets Podcast. iTunes link is here.

The rundown:
0:00 – Hello
1:00 – The Jason Stark Report on Reyes
- A brief digression with vitriol for the Phillies
14:00 – A Second Baseman for the Mets in a Reyes-filled world and projecting Ruben Tejada
28:00 – Tim Byrdak is re-signed
30:00 – Gazing jealously at the Braves’ bullpen; does Robert Carson = Jonny Venters?
45:00 – Ted Plays Optimist on 2012
1:03:00 – The Gnats get within one strike of a championship, minor league team nicknames and bugs

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