July 23, 2014

Washington Nationals vs Milwaukee Brewers Series Preview

As the All-Star break comes to a close, it’s time for the Washington Nationals to get back to work. To open the unofficial second half of the season, they’ll welcome the Milwaukee Brewers to Nationals Park for a three-game homestand. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: The Nats Home Run Derby

Taking our cue from Major League Baseball, we’re going take a breather this week and throttle back with the statistically complex discussions and celebrate one of the (somewhat) simpler aspects of the game, or at least one of the more pure and visceral components of baseball—the home run. While we won’t be looking back on the 82 dingers the Nationals have hit so far in 2014 in a manner totally devoid of analysis, we will take a more lighthearted approach to the numbers and focus more on the result more so than the process or the ramifications of the play, for a change. So, without further ado…long balls!

A quick perusal of FanGraphs will tell you that these 82 homers the Nats have hit thus far ranks 14th in MLB and sixth in the National League, well behind the 112 hit by the Colorado Rockies. Seventeen Nats have hit one, with Ian Desmond leading the team with 16 long flys.

Taking those 82 homers, let’s now look at what pitch and pitch location in the strike zone was ‘preferred’ by each Nat with a homer:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.41.08 PMNot a huge surprise, but the hitters like to drive fastballs—here, I’ve collapsed fourseamers, twoseamers, cutters, and sinkers into the ‘FA’ variable—with Adam LaRoche (AL) changing things up and walloping the occasional slider and Ian Desmond (ID) showing himself to be an equal opportunity hitter, with five changeups and three sliders complementing the eight fastball he’s hit out. Here’s how the team level results parse out for pitch type:

 

Pitch n %
CH 8 9.76
CU 3 3.66
FA 56 68.29
FS 2 2.44
SL 13 15.85

 

How about counts—is there a particular point in the at bat that each player has enjoyed more homers in?

HR by countAnthony Rendon likes to jump on the first pitch, while LaRoche has seen a lot of success in 2-2 counts; Desmond and Jayson Werth (JW) show a fairly even spread across all pitch counts, with Werth showing the interesting quirk of doing quite a bit of damage behind in the count (0-1 and 0-2, in particular). Here’s the team breakdown of homers by count:

Count n %
0-0 10 12.20
0-1 12 14.63
0-2 4 4.88
1-0 6 7.32
1-1 8 9.76
1-2 6 7.32
2-0 8 9.76
2-1 6 7.32
2-2 13 15.85
3-0 1 1.22
3-1 3 3.66
3-2 5 6.10

Of note in the above table is the lack of homers in the ultimate hitter’s count—3-0—with the fewest number of Nats homers (just one!) coming on the count you’re most likely to see the most common pitch type hit out for a homer, a fastball.

Homers are great and the further hit, the better; with that in mind, let’s look at home run distances by player:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.22.40 AMLaRoche concomitantly leads the pack and brings up the rear in homer distances, owning the shortest and longest dingers of 2014. A list of the average homer distances by player is displayed below:

Player n Avg., ft.
Zimmerman 4 378.47
Frandsen 1 377.46
Ramos 3 370.81
Desmond 16 368.68
Werth 12 365.78
LaRoche 12 365.73
Rendon 13 364.68
Span 1 357.90
Moore 3 357.70
Harper 2 354.94
Lobaton 2 352.23
Gonzalez 1 351.88
McLouth 1 347.12
Espinosa 6 346.93
Leon 1 343.44
Walters 3 329.64
Hairston 1 319.51

Not surprisingly, Ryan Zimmerman, while lacking in sheer numbers, leads the pack in average homer distance, showing that when healthy and locked in with his swing, still packs a potent punch.

Let’s get fancy. Let’s now look at home run distances across pitch types:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.07.15 PMThe colored lines in the graph above are the average distances (in feet) for a given pitch type; sliders lead the way in distance hit:

Pitch Avg., ft.
CH 362.38
CU 357.30
FA 361.12
FS 365.16
SL 367.34

While the graph’s x-axis (game date) is a bit tough to see, the above graph also shows us that right around mid-May was when the balls started going a tad further, perhaps due to the weather warming up.

…and last, but not least, a table full of player-specific gory homer details, including average pitch velocities, for those so inclined:

Player Pitch n Avg. Speed (MPH) Avg. Distance (ft.)
Desmond CH 5 82.82 356.95
Desmond FA 8 90.94 374.02
Desmond SL 3 85.40 373.98
Espinosa FA 5 92.58 351.16
Espinosa SL 1 77.30 325.76
Frandsen FA 1 90.40 377.46
Gonzalez FA 1 89.80 351.88
Hairston FA 1 87.60 319.51
Harper FA 2 92.10 354.94
LaRoche CH 1 82.40 374.50
LaRoche FA 6 90.97 352.54
LaRoche FS 1 86.80 366.19
LaRoche SL 4 84.05 383.20
Leon FA 1 87.20 343.44
Lobaton FA 2 91.25 352.23
McLouth FA 1 93.80 347.12
Moore CH 1 78.70 404.78
Moore FA 2 88.95 334.16
Ramos FA 3 93.87 370.81
Rendon CH 1 82.20 335.02
Rendon CU 1 74.40 362.43
Rendon FA 10 91.55 366.98
Rendon SL 1 83.40 373.56
Span FA 1 85.70 357.90
Walters FA 2 92.15 332.50
Walters SL 1 87.00 323.93
Werth CU 2 77.95 354.73
Werth FA 7 93.17 370.56
Werth FS 1 83.40 364.12
Werth SL 2 83.25 360.93
Zimmerman FA 3 90.77 379.42
Zimmerman SL 1 88.90 375.63

No matter how you slice or parse it, the home run remains one of the more exciting plays in the game. With our version of the Home Run Derby, Nats fans now have a better idea of when the dinger is coming and how far it’s going. And to at least my surprise, it isn’t on a 3-0 fastball.

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Data courtesy of Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.
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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Nationals Minor League and Prospect Report for Week of July 13th

As most of the organization now breaks for the All-Star festivities, here’s a quick look around the Washington Nationals’ farm system and some players that have performed well this. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 93 Review: Nats Blow Past Phillies 10-3

In the finale of their three-game series at Citizens Bank Park against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Nationals received a great effort on the mound from Tanner Roark — and all through the batting order — en route to an 10-3 victory. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 92 Review: Nats Top Phillies 5-3 in Extras

In an extra inning affair at Citizens Bank Park in the city of brotherly love, the Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies with two runs in the 10th inning for their 50th win of the season by a score of 5-3.

Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single in the 10th was the difference. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 91 Review: Zimmermann Exits Early, Nats Lose to Phillies 6-2

ZIMMERMANN LEAVES IN 4TH INNING WITH “BICEPS CRAMP”

In front of just over 30,000 people at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Washington Nationals dropped game one of their three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies 6-2. In the process, they were also delivered quite the injury scare. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals vs Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview

After dropping 2-of-3 in a rain-shortened series against the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals now head to Philadelphia for a three-game series with the Phillies before the All-Star break. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 90 Review: Nats Fall Short in Beltway Series Finale

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings Thursday night as the Washington Nationals fell 4-3 to the Baltimore Orioles in the Battle of the Beltway finale at Oriole Park.

Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen (W, 9-3) retired the first three Nats in order, Steve Pearce helped the Orioles to an early lead with a one-out solo home run in the bottom half of the inning.

Chen pitched a 1-2-3 second and gave up a lone single to Wilson Ramos in the third, but the Orioles’ offense, on the other hand, came to life.

In the bottom of the third, after Gonzalez (L, 6-5) retired the first two batters, Nick Markakis drew a walk and Pearce singled to give Baltimore runners on first and second. Adam Jones then doubled to score Markakis, and Nelson Cruz singled to plate Pearce and Jones. The Orioles received some assistance on the play by way of an Ian Desmond throwing error, and just like that, Baltimore took a 4-0 lead.

The Nats earned back a run in the fourth after Anthony Rendon hit a one-out single and Adam LaRoche was hit by a tailing four-seamer. The next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, lined one to center to plate Rendon, to trim the Orioles’ lead to 4-1. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 89 Review: Three Homers Help Nats Top Orioles in Baltimore

Following a District rainout, the Washington Nationals hit three home runs to start the second leg of the Battle of the Beltway with a 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park Wednesday night.

Doug Fister was sharp on an extra day of rest, allowing two runs on seven hits through seven innings pitched to earn his eighth win of the season.

Baltimore right-hander Bud Norris had no such luck, stretching just four innings to allow five runs on six hits and a walk.

The Nats did damage early. With one out in the first, Anthony Rendon hit a ground-rule double, aided by fan interference. Then, Jayson Werth doubled Rendon home before Adam LaRoche singled in Werth to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

The Orioles earned one back in the bottom of the inning after Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz walked and Chris Davis hit an RBI single.

With a swing of the bat in the top of the second, Wilson Ramos erased the Orioles’ progress on a solo shot to left to make it 3-1 Nationals.

Baltimore threatened in the bottom of the third after Fister lost control of a 74 MPH curveball that tailed into Nick Markakis. Fister left Pearce chasing a sub-90 fastball before Adam Jones singled to give the Orioles runners on first and second.

Fortunately for the Nats, Cruz managed just a soft grounder to second to advance the runners a base, but Chris Davis popped out to end the inning without a run scored.

In the top of the fourth, the Nationals recorded their second of three homers on the night – a solo shot by Ian Desmond to right center.

Machado voiced his disdain in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot of his own, but the Nats remained in front by two runs.

In the top of the fifth, they expanded it to three after Danny Espinosa walked and Span singled.

The Orioles called on Brad Brach to relieve Norris, but he first allowed a walk to Werth and a sacrifice fly to LaRoche before pitching out of the inning.

The Nats’ third and final homer of the night came in the seventh when Werth shot a first-pitch splitter over the left-field wall to make it 6-2.

Baltimore did little to catch their Beltway rivals – Fister pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to end his stint before Drew Storen and Ross Detwiler tossed a 1-2-3 eighth and ninth, respectively.

With the win, the Nationals find themselves in first place in the NL East with a 49-40 record.

Statistically Speaking: Batting Expectations

From an offensive standpoint, the first half of the Washington Nationals’ 2014 has been fair to middling. Ranking sixth, seventh, and tenth in weighted on base average, weighted runs created plus, and wins above replacement, respectively, in the National League, the team thus far as produced runs at a slightly disappointing level, given the level and depth of hitting and run producing talent the lineup carries. Despite this mildly disappointing aspect of the Nationals’ 2014 season, the team has remained within shouting distance of first place in the NL East, making the expected unfulfilled, at least, as of yet.

A statistic that can be used to gauge the variation between expected and observed tendencies in hitting and help discern whether a spike or a slump in production is a product of skill or some other variable is batting average on balls in play, otherwise known as BABIP. Simply put, it measures how often a ball put in play by a hitter ends up a hit by taking their batted ball profile into account. As a rule of thumb, BABIP sits around .300, but can vary greatly between players and even between individual player seasons. From BABIP, additional calculations can be performed to derive a hitter’s expected BABIP (xBABIP), which can further refine the ramifications of a batted ball profile. While there are a number a methods to calculate xBABIP, the following is felt to be the most accurate:

xBABIP = 0.392 + (LD% x 0.287709436) + ((GB% – (GB% * IFH%)) x -0.152 ) + ((FB% – (FB% x HR/FB%) – (FB% x IFFB%)) x -0.188) + ((IFFB% * FB%) x -0.835) + ((IFH% * GB%) x 0.500)

…where LD% is line drive rate, GB% is ground ball rate, IFH% is infield hit rate, FB% is fly ball rate, HR/FB% is home runs per fly ball rate, and IFFB% is infield fly ball rate.

With the combination of BABIP and xBABIP, some of the more finicky aspects of a player’s season can be parsed out and determined as something that is indicative of a player’s skill, or something outside of his control and is one way to take stock of player performance at the halfway point and determine whether a streak or a slump will carry on into the summer months. Below, I have provided the career (cBABIP), 2013 (BABIP 2013), and 2014 (2014 BABIP) BABIPs as well as the projected 2014 BABIP based on 2013 numbers and the expected BABIP for the rest of the season (xBABIP 2014) based on this year’s performance thus far for the eleven Nats hitters who have had at last 100 plate appearances this year. With these values, we can identify Nats hitters who might be due for an uptick or drop in production based on their batted ball rates thus far; this can also be compared to last year’s numbers as well as career values to find help determine whether the waxing or waning of their 2014 BABIP is something that could be indicative of skill, or perhaps other variables, such as an injury, a change in hitting approach, a change in pitcher approach, or how a defense plays a hitter in terms of alignment or shifting:

red=decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow=increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green= increase in BABIP greater than 5 points.

cBABIP = career BABIP; xBABIP_proj = xBABIP using 2013 end of season stats. Red = decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow = increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green = increase in BABIP greater than 5 points. Difference in BABIP points measured based on previous column.

With the help of the color coding, we see that Ryan Zimmerman’s BABIP is pretty resistant to change, with the respective BABIP values over his career, 2013, and throughout this year staying within a couple of points of one another. On the other hand, Jayson Werth’s fantastic start to this year hasn’t fulfilled expectations that were in place using his final 2013 batted ball values, but is still in line with his career BABIP, which is encouraging. However, using up-to-date values and calculating his 2014 xBABIP, it appears he will possibly suffer a light drop in productivity. Adam LaRoche’s season has been a positive across the board in comparison to both last year and his career averages and appears to have the potential to get even better. We can also hope to see a over-correction in Denard Span’s BABIP later this season, eclipsing both his current and career BABIP.

The calculations for BABIP/xBABIP are based on batted ball data and as such, the swings in these values across and within a season can be caused by changed in one or many of these stats. Research has found that while BABIP itself does not correlate strongly year to year, metrics like GB% and HR/FB% can, thus providing additional layers of complexity when looking at the above table. With that in mind, provided below are each player’s change in the batted ball rates inherent to xBABIP, to help identify what is truly at the root of any egregious disparities in BABIP or xBABIP. First, differences between 2014 and 2013 data:

 

Player dLD% dGB% dFB% dIFFB% dHR/FB% dIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.20% -2.10% -1.10% 1.30% 2.80% -8.10%
Anthony Rendon -5.50% -1.30% 6.80% -2.20% 3.50% -0.70%
Jayson Werth -7.80% 3.80% 3.90% 1.00% -10.60% -11.20%
Ryan Zimmerman -2.30% 0.10% 2.20% -4.10% -10.90% -12.20%
Wilson Ramos 5.70% -5.40% -0.30% 0.80% -19.30% -23.80%
Ian Desmond -6.70% 4.80% 1.90% 4.40% 5.40% -4.70%
Bryce Harper 0.10% -1.00% 0.90% -2.10% -13.80% -11.70%
Denard Span 0.30% -10.80% 10.50% -1.40% -2.40% 2.20%
Danny Espinosa 12.00% -8.80% -3.20% 7.50% 5.40% -1.90%
Kevin Frandsen 2.40% -5.50% 3.00% 10.10% -6.00% -7.40%
Nate McLouth -17.00% 15.80% 1.20% 1.90% -4.50% -3.30%
Jose Lobaton -1.40% 3.30% -1.90% -7.20% -3.20% -5.70%

…and here, differences in 2014 data compared to career averages:

Player dcLD% dcGB% dcFB% dcIFFB% dcHR/FB% dcIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.90% -3.00% -0.90% -1.50% 0.50% 1.50%
Anthony Rendon -2.80% -0.60% 3.40% -1.00% 1.60% 0.70%
Jayson Werth -2.60% 1.30% 1.30% 2.60% -6.80% -0.30%
Ryan Zimmerman 0.10% 0.60% -0.70% -2.80% -6.70% -2.60%
Wilson Ramos 7.90% -1.50% -6.30% -2.20% -7.40% -0.50%
Ian Desmond -2.20% -0.70% 2.90% 4.20% 5.90% 1.00%
Bryce Harper -1.20% 0.20% 1.00% -2.80% -11.70% 0.60%
Denard Span 2.20% -9.40% 7.30% 2.70% -2.80% -1.80%
Danny Espinosa 5.30% -3.20% -2.10% 1.50% -0.30% 0.10%
Kevin Frandsen 1.70% -2.70% 1.00% 6.40% -2.40% -3.30%
Nate McLouth -11.30% 14.90% -3.60% -0.50% -6.50% -2.50%
Jose Lobaton 0.80% 1.30% -2.10% -5.20% -0.30% -1.60%

 

With both of these tables, positive numbers indicate 2014 data being an improvement over either 2013 or career averages. Overall, we see the volatility in year-to-year BABIP values reflected in the batted ball data, consistent with the effects of injury and game-to-game changes in hitting approach and defensive alignments being played out over a small period of time. Looking at the 2014 compared to career averages, we do see some significant changes in Denard Span’s ground ball rates, as well as with Bryce Harper’s HR/FB%; however, given the comparative lack of games played by Harper due to both MLB service time and injury, these values can be expected to swing a wildly as his year-to-year values for the moment. Other changes of interest include the career decline reflected in Nate McLouth’s numbers and the change in line drive and homer run rates for Wilson Ramos, possibly a reflection of an injury-marred career more so than a change in hitting philosophy.

Converting expectations into actual results is a precarious endeavor and can take unexpected turns during the course of a season; slumps, injuries, even the fashion in which opposing defenses line up for a given hitter can all make the most obvious and conservative of projections worthless, or at the least, frivolous.  However, with xBABIP, we are provided a more refined and data-driven approach to prognosticating what’s in store for Nats hitter come the second half of the season.

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Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs; current as of July 7th.

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