2013 Dodgers in Review #45: RP Brian Wilson

90topps_brianwilson0.66 ERA / 2.52 FIP 13.2 IP 8.56 K/9 2.63 BB/9 (B)

2013 in review: Lottery ticket signing ended up becoming team’s primary setup man.

2014 status: Re-signed for $10m.

******

Everyone thank Amy (@SpaceDodgersfor pitching in with a great job on reviewing Wilson. Thanks Amy!

Hey, remember Mike on July 29th, 2013?

Now before we discuss the merits of [signing Brian Wilson], we probably should discuss the elephant in the room: you hate him. Of course you do. He was a Giant, and not only was he a Giant, he was a huge part of their 2010 World Series title, even getting the final out. He’s a big weirdo with a giant, annoying, beard. He got into that thing with Casey Blake. He was in those tremendously irritating “Black Ops” Taco Bell ads. If Taco Bell was a place I would ever go to eat, ever, those ads would be enough to put a stop to that. I’M BLACK OPS.

If there’s such a thing as “good and evil” in the Dodgers / Giants rivalry these days, Wilson is probably the defining face of it.

And then, not so very long ago

Brian Wilson will return to the Dodgers for $10m in 2014. He also has a player option for 2015, reportedly between $9m and $10m depending on appearances.

At first glance, I’m relatively pleased with this. I think.

Brian Wilson has transformed from weird, hated Giant into a Dodger goofball whose two-year contract was met with an aggregate, easeful indifference. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. After signing Wilson to a $1m major league deal that would start in the minors until the end of the season, this seemed to be a pretty good idea. If Wilson was horrible, what was $1 million to multimillionaires? If Wilson was at least productive, then the signing was a steal. The signing turned out to be an absolute steal, for an incredibly small sample size.

In 13.2 innings pitched, Brian Wilson faced 49 batters, averaged 8.6 strikeouts, 2.6 walks, and 5.4 hits over nine innings. He struck out 13 batters in the regular season, and 7 of those were looking; of his 8 postseason strikeouts, 4 batters struck out looking (yes, I went back and counted). During the post season, Wilson faced 24 batters, posted a K/9, BB/9, and H/9 of 12, 3, and 6 respectively.

So I’m going to declare it here and let’s keep it in mind for the rest of this review: everything should be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample size we’re dealing with.  In fact, the only statistic that has had a chance to stabilize is his strikeout rate, and only if we combine his regular and postseason statistics. Also, ignore all credit given on behalf of that incredibly shiny 0.66 ERA, since ERA for relievers is absolute rubbish, and even more so with small sample sizes.

Since Wilson’s strikeout rate only stabilizes if we include his postseason stats, let’s calculate his combined K/9 real quick.  Nevertheless, also keep in mind that, while “stable,” the numbers should still be accepted hesitantly. The last four stats in the following table quantify the looking and swinging strikeouts.

wilson_stats

Now, that said… Mike has said a bit about Brian Wilson’s success and has shown that there’s reason to be optimistic.

 …His velocity isn’t quite up to pre-surgery levels, but it was clearly trending in the right direction and allowed him to touch 96 at times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his strikeouts increased along with it; in his first 10.1 innings, he struck out eight, while in his final 9.1 (including playoffs) he whiffed 13. Again, small samples and all that, but encouraging. He also walked only six, which is good not only because control is often the toughest thing to regain after surgery, but because he’d often had problems with that even at his best.

And our good friend, Grant Brisbee, wasn’t particularly pleased that the Giants missed out on Wilson during the NLCS,

Second, it’s annoying watching Brian Wilson in the postseason. Not because he looks like a piece of steel wool in a fight with a raccoon, but because he’s pitching like the guy we remember. … I’m talking about the 2010 version, who was pretty swell. One of the better relievers in Giants history, to be honest. The 2013 version doesn’t have as much heat, but he has the command, which is probably as important.

It turns out, that his command has improved, when compared to his 2011 regular and 2010 postseason, which is very encouraging. However, it’s not exactly the command he displayed in the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons.

The problem with percentages here is that we’re not seeing how many pitches he’s thrown. Namely, pointing out that 65% of 311 pitches land outside of the zone isn’t quite the same as 69% of 1,028 pitches. These are also his 2013 and 2011 season percentages via Brooks Baseball, respectively. So it is important to show the number of pitches thrown for each month to put those percentages into perspective.

But realistically, the number of pitches thrown outside of the zone doesn’t matter if the pitch results in a swing and miss; depending on your source, your perspective on his swing and miss ratio may vary. According to baseball-reference, Wilson posted a career high swinging strike ratio (without contact) at 18%.  Meanwhile FanGraphs has him around league average at 9.2%, which is not a career high.

To stay consistent with my source, I’m going to use Brooks Baseball’s swing and miss information.  FanGraphs defines “whiff” as percentage of swing and misses per swing. Brooks Baseball seems to interpret whiff rate as the percentage of swings that miss, explicitly distinguishing it from “Whiffs/Swing.” In this review, I use “whiff” in the same sense that Brooks Baseball does.

Brooks Baseball’s graph for Wilson’s whiff rate in and out of the zone for both the regular and postseasons is below, but does not describe the combined total swing and miss ratio.

From this graph, it is clear that Wilson is at a career high for getting batters to swing and miss on pitches inside the strike zone with 15.45% and averaged 7.96% whiffs outside of the strike zone. These final three images, in order, display Wilson’s pitch location frequency, swing rates, and whiff rates. The color indicates the frequency: bright red for high frequency and bright blue for low frequency. Darker shades show a relative median frequency.

In Figure 1 we see that Wilson liked to pitch outside, something that is already established so far. When Wilson actually did pitch inside the strike zone, we see that he tended to hit the lower quadrants. Figure 2 shows that batters swung when the pitch was in the strike zone. However, the swing frequency in the top half of the strike zone indicates that, on the rare occasion Wilson pitched there, batters swung. Furthermore, Figure 3 demonstrates that batters missed when they swung at pitches in the strike zone’s upper quadrants.

The pitch frequency along the sides in Figure 1 should be expected, since Mike already talked about Wilson’s more frequent use of his cutter. Nevertheless, the lack of whiffs in the lower half of the strike zone implies that most batted balls were hit in the lower half. Also, those pitches along the right side of Figure 1 indicate that Wilson should have walked more batters than he did, especially since batters almost never swung when his pitches landed there. Again, small sample size applies here, because his batted ball and walk ratio data is not stable.

But this raises a question: how does one pitch outside of the strike zone an average of 65% of the time, have a 52% strikeout looking rate (L/SO%), while getting most batters to swing inside the strike zone and most whiffs in areas he almost never pitched? Where do those pitches that strike batters out looking land? There is a chance that those pitches land in the bottom quadrants of the strike zone, but given his pitch location frequency and low walk rate, it’s more likely that most of those looking strikeouts were generously given.

The velocity and control Wilson has displayed so far is encouraging, but the fact that he struck out more batters looking than swinging should be a red flag to everybody.  Why?  Because that’s an indicator that the human element of the game blessed upon us by the home-plate umpire has played it’s part in Wilson’s success, and that’s not reliable.

Therefore, while Wilson’s post-surgery successes so far deserves high praise, the questionable data yielded on behalf of the provisionally small sample-size drops his grade from the popular A+ that many expected, to a B.

******

Next! Javy Guerra existed!

2013 Dodgers in Review #44: RP Jose Dominguez

90topps_josedominguez2.16 ERA / 3.53 FIP  9.1 IP 4.32 K/9 3.24 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Somewhat surprisingly recalled in late June, showed more potential than production before a July quad injury that was supposed to shelve him for only two weeks took the rest of his season.

2014 status: Likely to split time between Los Angeles & Albuquerque.

******

You know, you’d think I’d have more to say about Jose Dominguez after a season in which he surprisingly made his big league debut in June. But then again, after a season-opening suspension in the minors and a season-ending quad injury that just never seemed to heal, Dominguez only did pitch 33.2 professional innings this year.

We were excited when he got recalled, anyway:

Dominguez, 23 in August, is known nearly as much for the two drug-related suspensions that have cost him time (50 games in 2010, 25 this year) as he is for the fastball that has been known to reach 103 miles per hour. In 2010, Dominguez tested positive for Stanozolol; it’s unknown what tripped him up this year, but it’s not thought to be a PED since he didn’t get popped for 100 games. (Most likely, it was failure to comply with a procedural issue related to his treatment or initial suspension.)

In 283.1 minor league innings, Dominguez has struck out 312; in 25.1 innings this year between Chattanooga & Albuquerque, he’s whiffed 40. I liked having Moylan around, but I’m excited to see what an arm like Dominguez can do.

The much-discussed heat was no mirage — in his time in the bigs, Dominguez averaged 98.5 MPH on his fastball. But despite that and the big strikeout numbers in the minors, it didn’t translate into missed bats in the bigs, because Dominguez whiffed only four of the 39 hitters he faced. Obviously, speed alone doesn’t work in the big leagues, and nearly 80% of Dominguez’ pitches were fastball. While I’m certainly not putting too much importance on 39 plate appearances from a guy that young, it’s something he’ll need to work on.

On July 22, Dominguez left a game in Toronto with what was at the time thought to be a minor quad injury. The very next day, Ken Gurnick reported that Dominguez was able to throw “with no discomfort,” but he was still placed on the disabled list to make room for the arrival of Carlos Marmol. Three days later, Dodgers.com reported that he was expected to miss the minimum 15 days. But somehow, we never saw him again, not even when rosters expanded in September, and he didn’t even manage to make any rehab appearances.

Still only heading into his age-23 season, Dominguez should have a bright future ahead of him. That said, between the limited amount of time he managed in 2013, the addition of so many veteran relievers, and the fact that he has options remaining, he’s all but certain to start 2014 in Triple-A. It’s probably safe to say we’ll see him again at some point.

******

Next! Was Brian Wilson as good as you think?

2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Paco Rodriguez

90topps_pacorodriguez

2.32 ERA / 3.08 FIP 54.1 IP 10.44 K/9 3.44 BB/9 (B-)

2013 in brief: Good for the first five months, shockingly bad for the last two.

2014 status: Still supposed to start the season in the pen, although the signing of Chris Perez now complicates things.

Previous: 2012

******

Everyone thank Punto4President for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Paco. Thanks!

Using ERA to judge pitchers is dumb. Using ERA to judge relief pitchers is dumber. Using ERA to judge left-handed specialist relief pitchers is literally the dumbest thing that exists in the entire history of the known universe, even more so than voluntarily choosing to pitch to Jason Heyward over Reed Johnson in a close-and-late situation (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get there). So, really, the fact alone that Paco had an unsightly ERA in September (not going to post it, even for comedic effect) doesn’t come close to illustrating how shaky he really was.

Here are some fun relevant numbers for you (obvious caveat of small [not large] sample size):

1.168 OPS against
-0.691 WPA
30% line drive rate
9 combined walks and HR allowed to 7 strikeouts

Happy Paco’s September, everybody! And you wonder why the Dodgers have signed forty relievers this offseason. Paco had submitted a surprisingly good performance in 2012 and mostly brilliant work for most of 2013, but make no mistake: he looked legitimately horrendous down the stretch, and justifiably was almost completely ignored by Don in the playoffs (yes, it’s coming).

It seems a little paranoid to immediately jump to the “OMG HE WAZ OVERWORKED!” conclusion, especially since Paco’s 54.1 innings in 2013 pale in comparison to his 81.2 innings between college and three pro levels in 2012, but it’s important to remember that usage rates have to be considered differently for relief pitchers, and especially relief specialists. Just going by innings pitched alone doesn’t account for all those extra pitches thrown during bullpen warm-ups, and also doesn’t take into consideration the additional stress put on pitches thrown while under duress.

It’s much more relevant, then, to use Paco’s 76 total appearances as an indicator of his usage (easily more than he’d had in any other season in his career), as well as the fact that almost all of his appearances came in high-leverage situations. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that Don might have actually counted on him a little too much, especially since the Dodgers had another perfectly fine lefty reliever in the pen (Howell) who got used, for instance, zero times from July 26 to July 31 and zero times again from August 25 to September 2.

It remains important to remember, though, that Paco was completely and totally lights out when he was effective during 2013, which was basically during that magical 42-8 stretch when everyone was playing out of their mind. Fun relevant numbers for you, redux (sample size is still the opposite of large):

.372 OPS against
2.15 WPA
18% line drive rate
8 combined walks and HR to 37 Ks

Happy Paco’s June July and August, everybody! That is so entirely a different pitcher from the September version that it’s like they’re playing different sports. Paco was utterly dominant, amazingly consistent, and a huge (and underrated) part of the team’s historically incredible run, and that definitely should not be forgotten (although his ERA during that stretch, which I’m again not even going to post, definitely should be).

However, it was always obvious that Paco had talent; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so highly regarded out of Florida, and wouldn’t have risen so quickly through the minors to reach the big club in his first full professional season. The September numbers, while limited by their brevity, represent the first time in his career when he’s just seemed completely lost. The fact that they’re also the most recent sample we have of his performance are likewise meaningful (and troubling).

If you want to do that thing where you sum up Paco’s entire season in two video clips, then the following two would be the most relevant:

 

Dammit, remember that game? Of course you do. It was arguably the real turning point of the season (barely knew ya, 2013 Matt Kemp), it was the most satisfying W over the Giants of the season to that point (enjoyably, an even more satisfying one would soon follow), and it was honestly one of the craziest reactions to anything that I’ve ever seen. It should be in that standard collection of reaction gifs that all [completely normal] people have.

But on the other hand…yep, we’re finally here:

rodriguez_heyward_video-play

Sigh. I probably could have written this review without that, but I’m including it for two reasons: 1) To remind Don Mattingly’s die-hard supporters (including, well, Don Mattingly) that, hey, remember this? 2) It was Paco’s last relevant moment of the 2013 season. He pitched just once more in the NLDS (getting hammered in a brief stint during the Game 3 blowout win), and was left off the NLCS roster despite the Dodgers only taking one other lefty reliever. Combined with his September, it was a disappointing way to end what had once looked like a promising season.

So, while the Brian Wilson contract got all the positive attention and the Chris Perez contract got all the negative attention, arguably the most important Dodger reliever signing this offseason was Howell; you just don’t know if Paco can be counted on in 2014, and consequently you should be very happy about the fact that Howell is guaranteed to be on the team.

PUNTO 2016! *drops mic*

*****

Next! Jose Dominguez! We’re nearly done, I swear!

A Hall Of Fame Ballot

mattingly_mcgwire_arizona_2013-04-13Sorry, guys.

Because I’m a baseball writer with a public outlet, I am legally obligated to share my picks for the Hall of Fame. It’s important to note that I am not a member of the BBWAA (someday!), so this is just one man’s opinion, rather than anything that will affect the real balloting. However, I did turn this ballot into the IBWAA, so it’s at least going somewhere, and the rules are the same as for the real thing. (Mostly – Mike Piazza gained entry there last year, so he’s not on the ballot I submitted, but for the purposes of aligning with the real thing in this article, he is.)

I’m going to do my best to not make this 20,000 words — which I could easily do, with probably 19,890 of those words registering my disgust with the BBWAA and the entire process — but first let’s start with cutting down the list from 36 eligible names into something more manageable.

The “Nice career, not going to happen” division (15): Moises Alou, Armando BenitezSean CaseyRay DurhamEric GagneLuis GonzalezJacque JonesTodd JonesPaul Lo DucaHideo NomoKenny RogersRichie Sexson, Lee SmithJ.T. SnowMike Timlin. Alou and Smith are the two that stand out here, but in a ballot like we have this year, there’s just no chance.

The “good first basemen who just don’t make the cut” division (2): Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly

The “I don’t strictly disqualify for PEDs, but you guys aren’t the ones I’m going to the mat for” division (3): Mark McGwire, Sammy SosaRafael Palmeiro

The “Is Jack Morris” division (1): Jack Morris. I don’t imagine the world needs another discussion of why wins don’t matter and how Morris’ case isn’t remarkably better than that of Kevin Brown or Orel Hershiser or Dave Stieb, so I’ll sum it up briefly: I wouldn’t vote for Morris if he were the only one on the ballot, because I don’t consider him a Hall of Famer. Even if I did, I especially can’t consider him as one of the 10 best when this list is so overstuffed, and that means there is no legitimate case to be made for him.

Right there, that’s 21 names off the list. But there’s 15 left, and the rules state you can list only 10. I believe there’s actually a very good case to be made for each of the remaining 15, and so you can see how this is going to get difficult.

So let’s start by sharing the 10 I came to…

  1. Jeff Bagwell
  2. Craig Biggio
  3. Barry Bonds
  4. Roger Clemens
  5. Tom Glavine
  6. Jeff Kent
  7. Mike Mussina
  8. Mike Piazza
  9. Tim Raines
  10. Frank Thomas

…and explaining how I got there. (Briefly. If you want thousands of words on each candidate, do check out Jay Jaffe’s excellent series at SI.)

For Bonds and Clemens, well, you don’t need me to explain their credentials. They may very well be the best hitter and pitcher of all time, and if not, they’re at least in the conversation. On merit alone, they are unquestionably inner-circle elites. The only reason not to vote for them is because of their association with PEDs, and while I can’t condone it, it’s my opinion that hysteria over the effects they have on baseball players is far overblown (not to mention any confidence I may have had in MLB’s handling of the issue has disappeared with the Alex Rodriguez case). The Hall of Fame should be a register of the game’s history. It’s insane to not include two of the best players ever — ones who are eligible to be voted for, unlike Pete Rose, and that’s an important distinction to me – particularly when people had no problem inducting spitballers and cokeheads, and while the BBWAA voters include at least one alleged child molester.

Bagwell, Piazza, and Thomas comprise a group of obvious yes votes for me as well — not only because they were contemporaries, but because they’re three of the best hitters of all time. Piazza probably is the best-hitting catcher who ever played, and he really should have gotten in last year on his first try. Bagwell and Thomas, who famously were born on the same day, are arguably two of the top ten first basemen ever. Any speculation for PED use about this trio is exactly that — unfounded speculation — and again, not enough to keep them out in my book.

Those five are slam dunks, and really, so is Raines for me. I could go on forever about why he deserves to be in, but in the interest of brevity, I can say this: Raines compares extremely similarly with Tony Gwynn, trading in a bit of batting average for a huge advantage on the basepaths. Gwynn made it into the Hall on 97.6% of ballots, largely due to batting average. There’s no reason one is in and not the other.

Biggio‘s a solid choice as well. 3,000 hits is still a magic number, and everyone who made it that far (other than Rose & Palmeiro, for obvious reasons) is in. Hits alone aren’t enough, but 14 years of double-digit homers and a .363 career OBP, playing into his 40s, from three up-the-middle positions, makes him a viable choice. (20 years spent with one team is a nice bonus, if you care about that sort of thing.) He should have made it in last year, and he will this year.

Glavine isn’t really a hard call either. Six top-three Cy Young finishes (and two wins) is a pretty nice start to your candidacy, along with 20 straight years of 29 starts or more. Again, for brevity, I’m not going too deeply into these guys here in writing, but I’ve done the research, and he’s obviously deserving, though probably not as much of a slam-dunk as I think a lot of people think he is.

That’s eight, and now it’s starting to get tough. Kent is a borderline call for me, often overshadowed by Bonds in his time, but he did remain productive until age 39 with the most homers ever hit by a second baseman and better defense than you remember. (Though still hardly great.) In his entire 30s, his lowest seasonal OPS was 2006′ .861, and the history of second base throughout history is relatively thin, enough that it’s easy to look at him as one of the best who ever played. It’s not a slam dunk for me, and he won’t get in this year, but he gets my vote, mostly because I worry that he’s going to get himself 5%’d off the ballot before there’s even a realistic discussion about him.

The final spot on my ballot went back and forth between Mussina and Curt Schilling, who had nearly identical careers. In fact, I was shocked at how similar they ended up being, and I can’t honestly say that there’s a reason to include one and not the other. If I had more spots, they would both be included, because they’re both deserving, and there’s clearly no argument to be made for Morris over either. I’m going Mussina here because Schilling at least made it on 38% of the ballot last year, and that should be enough to keep him around for years to come. Mussina needs the vote here more, and if you’re asking why not just ditch Kent and include both, well, perhaps I should have, but there’s unfortunately some strategy required here.

So with apologies to Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker, each of whom have cases to be made but are stuck in an incredibly deep field, and might have received my vote had there been no limits, there’s my ballot.

But we’re not done yet. Obviously.

87toppsgregmadduxAt this point, you may have noticed that Greg Maddux is not on my ballot. That’s the case despite the fact that he is basically the perfect HOF candidate. He has everything. He has the peak (four Cy Youngs in a row). He has the longevity (23 years in the bigs). He has the wins that the traditionalists want; he has the advanced stats the new generation wants. He won a ring, he performed in the postseason, he was a great all-around athlete who could handle the bat and was a fantastic fielder, he had absolutely none of the personal issues that set back other candidates, and he did this all in the face of one of the highest-offense eras ever. There is almost literally nothing you could say with a straight face to make a serious case that he doesn’t belong.

In fact, his case is so strong that he should be the first player to make it in unanimously. But he won’t be, thanks to the BBWAA’s antiquated limit of 10 players per ballot. It’s a rule that serves no one, it’s a huge detriment in a year like this where I could make a case for 15-17 players, and this could have been avoided had anyone actually been voted in last year.

And so I’m left with a decision for my hypothetical ballot. Do I vote for Maddux, pushing him from something like 98.7% to 98.8%? (I’m assuming a few others leave him off, either for the same reason or because of the ludicrous stance some of have of never voting for first-year guys.) Or do I use it to help ensure that a deserving second-level guy like Kent merely gets the 5% needed to stay in the discussion next year?

Really, having to think that way is insane. This should be as simple as “is this player worthy of the honor,” without having to factor in whomever else is on the ballot. Instead, we have to bring in strategy and decide not only who is a Hall of Famer, but who really needs that vote.  It’s a decision that shouldn’t need to be made, yet here we are. Greg Maddux, Hall of Famer… and not on my ballot. Thanks, BBWAA. You did this.

2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Onelki Garcia

90topps_onelkigarcia13.50 ERA / 20.30 FIP 1.1 IP 6.75 K/9  27.00 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it to the bigs for three cameo appearances.

2014 status: Under team control, likely to spend as much time in Albuquerque as Los Angeles after offseason elbow surgery.

******

Yeah, I lied. I said Paco Rodriguez is next. We’ll do him tomorrow, probably. Today seems like a great time to get Onelki Garcia out of the way, and while I promise this site isn’t just going to be player reviews forever, it’s the final days of the calendar year and things are beyond slow.

Garcia got into a single game for Rancho in 2012 after being drafted, so merely making it to the bigs in 2013 makes his season a nice success. In 35 games for Chattanooga and Albuquerque, spent mostly in relief, he struck out 67 in 62 innings. That’s good. But he also walked 35, which was decidedly less good.

Still, it got him to the bigs in September, and we were excited:

Last summer, J.P. Hoornstra looked at the six-month journey of Garcia and others to escape Cuba and reach America in 2010, which was then followed a move from Miami to California before the Dodgers even drafted him. He hasn’t pitched in a game since September 2, though he was throwing bullpens and live batting practice in Arizona over the last few days, including to Matt Kemp. (No word on how many of the four dingers Kemp hit the other day came off of Garcia.)

In 62 innings between Double-A & Triple-A this year, Garcia struck out 67, though he did walk over five per nine. Garcia has held minor league lefties to a paltry .143/.272/.143 line in his short career, and I imagine we’ll mostly see him as a LOOGY, as well as to give some relief to Paco Rodriguez, who — along with Ronald Belisario & Kenley Jansen – ranks among the top ten in baseball in games pitched.

Garcia saw one batter in his first game and walked him on four pitches before immediately getting yanked, then saw two more brief appearances, though the results really don’t matter in that kind of sample size. He was supposed to represent the Dodgers in the Arizona Fall League, but got into only one game before leaving to have left elbow surgery. He’s supposed to be ready to go by Opening Day, but it won’t matter — with newcomers Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, & Seth Rosin joining the returning J.P. Howell & Brian Wilson as well as incumbents Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League, Javy Guerra, & Chris Withrow, there’s no room at the inn for Garcia. That’s fine, though, because he clearly needs some more time in the minors to harness his considerable talent. We’ll be seeing him in 2014, no doubt.

******

Next! Paco, obviously.