September 18, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 145 Review: Nats Strike Early, Hold Off Mets Late

LAROCHE, RENDON HOMER AS NATS DEFEAT METS

Opening up a three-game series against the New York Mets in Queens, New York, the Washington Nationals got on the scoreboard early and held off the Mets late to take Game 1 of the series, 6-2.

The Nationals got things going early offensively. With Anthony Rendon (3-for-5, 2 RBI) on base with a single, Adam LaRoche (2-for-5, 3 RBI) took a two-out 3-2 pitch off the right field foul pole to give the Nationals an 2-0 lead. For LaRoche, it was his 24th homer of the year and 28th all-time against the Mets, the most homers he’s hit against any team throughout his career. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 142 Review: Nationals Out-Duel Braves in Victory

DOUG FISTER PITCHES SEVEN STRONG AS NATS TOP BRAVES

In front of 25,000-plus fans filled with “Natitude,” the Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 2-1 to reduce their magic number to 12.

The Nationals gave Doug Fister an early run, and in return he gave them a seven-inning gem that earned him his 13th win of the year. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Craig Stammen’s Success Against American League Teams

As the season begins to wind down and the Washington Nationals gear up to face the Seattle Mariners later this week for their final interleague series of 2014, it is easy to use the matchup as a way to gauge how prepared the team is to face American League competition in the playoffs, as their chance for a postseason berth becomes more and more inevitable. While this sort of talk is pretty premature, it nonetheless gives us as good of a real time advance scouting report as we can get.

One of the more crucial components to the success of the season thus far and any extended playoff appearance is the bullpen. While many will focus on the performances of the ‘Big Three’ of the relief corps of Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, and Drew Storen as key to the team’s success and potential long playoff run, it very well could be the play of oft-forgotten middle reliever Craig Stammen, who has been just as productive and impressive as the aforementioned trio, putting up a 3.56/3.06/3.41 ERA/FIP/xFIP pitcher ‘slash line’ in 65.2 innings in 2014, that sways a decision towards the win column.

[Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 123 Review: Nats Walk Off for Third Straight Game to Extend Win Streak to Seven

It’s been the same story for three consecutive games, but for the Washington Nationals, it hasn’t gotten old.

To cap off an up-and-down performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Adam LaRoche hit a solo home run to hand the Nationals a 5-4 walk-off win in 11 innings at Nationals Park Monday night.

The victory marked the Nats’ third straight walk-off win – a feat that has never before happened in Nationals history.

Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann came up with a decent performance, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks through seven innings pitched, while striking out only two. It was, however, enough to keep the Nationals in the hunt, although Zimmermann did allow the Diamondbacks to retake the lead in the eighth before being relieved.

Until that point, Zimmermann’s only run allowed came by way of a Mark Trumbo walk, Miguel Montero single and, following a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly by Jake Lamb that made it 1-0 Diamondbacks. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 106 Review: Nats Fall to Phillies off Rough Start by Gio

On a beautiful night in the District, there was little to marvel at in the Washington Nationals’ 10-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday night.

As opposing starters, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee hardly topped a combined five innings pitched on the night. Lee lasted just 2.2 innings thanks to an elbow strain, and Gonzalez failed to round out a full four innings, having given up five runs on eight hits and 77 total pitches.

Oddly enough, both teams held the game scoreless through the first three innings.

In the fourth inning, Gonzalez fell apart fast, giving up back-to-back singles to Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz to start.

Grady Sizemore followed through with two-run double before Darin Ruf drew a walk. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Finding the Nats’ pipe shots

Much like last week’s Statistically Speaking article, this week’s will have a bit of an All-Star flavor to it. While this season’s game has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Nationals fans due to the lack of some very deserving players, the team ultimately selected, Nats player or otherwise, appeared to be a reasonable representation of the respective leagues. Adding insult to injury for the National League, however, was this peachy comment from the NL’s starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals righthander Adam Wainwright:

“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright said. “I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”

The player deserving of said pipe shots—a pitch grooved right down the middle of the plate—was of course soon-to-be-retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Not surprisingly, Jeter did exactly what Wainwright (and everyone else) expected him to do with the gimmie, knocking the 90 mile-per-hour offering into the outfield for a double. Upon realizing the gravity of his ‘pipe shot’ comment, Wainwright about-faced on giving Jeter the mulligan:

“Sometimes my humor gets taken the wrong way,” Wainwright said in a dugout interview in the eighth inning. “I feel terrible about this if anyone is taking any credit away from what Derek Jeter’s done today or off me. It was mis-said. I made a mistake.

Regardless of the ultimate result or intention of the pipe shot, the pitch was exactly as published:

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The PITCHf/x data also shows us (courtesy of Brooks Baseball), the pitch’s ‘px’ value was 0.1545 feet and its ‘pz’ value was 2.320 feet, which are the left/right distance of the pitch from the middle of the plate as it crosses the plate and the height of the pitch as it crosses the plate, respectively, while having 0.3206 inches of horizontal movement and 9.667 inches of vertical movement. Add it all up, and it was about as close as a pitcher could get to putting the ball on a tee for a hitter.

For Wainwright, this location and ‘grooving’ was intentional; sometimes, it isn’t quite the case, and pitches end up rolling down that pipe and right into a hitter’s sweet spot; has this been an issue for Nats pitcher this year, as talented as they are? First, let’s look at what Nats pitcher’s have done in terms of pitch location for all fastball types (the pitch of choice when you’re looking to groove a pitch), with Wainwright’s pitch in red for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.10.26 PMThere appears to be quite a few pitches that could fit the bill as a pipe shot, so let’s slim the field down with some additional criteria, with some help from an old Greek. By taking the px and pz information from Wainwright’s pitch and considering that the bulls eye for all pips shots, we can use the following calculation to figure out how close each of the above 8935 fastballs were to being pipe shots:

(x-center_x)^2 + (y - center_y)^2 < radius^2 

where x is a given pitch’s px value, center_x is the Wainwright pitch px, y is a given pitch’s pz value, and center_y is the pz for Wainwright’s pitch. From here, we apply a numeric value to the radius to shrink our sphere of influence for what we will consider pipe shots. To cut to the chase and to keep numbers to a dull roar, I selected a radius of 0.001 for our pipe shot ‘winners’, which are displayed below, with the Wainwright’s pitch again in red and the average strike zone outlined in black for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.09.46 PMHere, we find seven winning pitches, from, surprisingly, seven different pitchers; for those curious the table below provides additional information as to count, velocity, and pitch movement (HMov and VMov):

name pitch_type pitch_result start_speed HMov VMov balls strikes
Clippard, Tyler FF Flyout 90.7 -1.22 11.59 1 1
Fister, Doug FF Groundout 89.2 -7.278 6.27 1 2
Gonzalez, Gio FF Called Strike 92.5 6.475 9.676 0 0
Jordan, Taylor FT Called Strike 88.2 -9.67 6.25 3 0
Roark, Tanner FF Called Strike 92.6 -7.61 8.37 1 0
Stammen, Craig FT Called Strike 91.4 -10.97 4.82 2 1
Strasburg, Stephen FT Called Strike 94.5 -9.03 10.17 0 0

Overall, the pipe shots from the Nats haven’t been terribly egregious, with a pair being first pitch strikes and only one grooved in a hitters count, courtesy of Taylor Jordan. Thankfully for the Nats, all of these grooved pitches ended up without any damage being done in the form of hits balls or runs scored, unlike Wainwright’s cookie to Jeter; despite this sliver of luck with the approach, the infamous pipe shot probably isn’t the best method of garnering strikes and outs, and should be best left to the Home Run Derby.

***

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 and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. 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 Game 98 Review: Zimmerman injured, Nationals power past Rockies

RYAN ZIMMERMAN INJURED IN SIXTH AS NATIONALS RALLY PAST ROCKIES

A mile above sea level at Coors Field on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals came back to defeat the Colorado Rockies 7-4. The victory didn’t come without a cost, however, as Ryan Zimmerman was pulled from the game in the sixth inning with a right leg injury.

The Nationals’ other Zimmerman(n), Jordan Zimmermann, took the mound for his first start since his early exit on July 11th due to a strained right biceps. On Tuesday, he just wasn’t his best and Washington fell into an early hole because of it. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 88 Review: Nats Crumble in 11th to Open Beltway Series with Loss

The Washington Nationals came back from a two-run deficit to carry Game 1 of the Battle of the Beltway to extras, but Chris Davis sparked a six-run 11th to help the Baltimore Orioles to an 8-2 win.

Stephen Strasburg was solid through seven innings, allowing just two runs on four hits and no walks, while striking out nine. He was nearly matched by Baltimore right-hander Chris Tillman, who gave up just two runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out six.

In the end, it was the often-reliable Craig Stammen who lost control of the game in the 11th in what amounted to one of his worst outings of the season.

To get to that point, the Orioles drove in their first two runs in in the fourth after Manny Machado singled and Nelson Cruz hammered his 28th homer of the season to make it 2-0 Baltimore with Strasburg on the mound.

The Nats answered in the sixth in a similar fashion after Denard Span led off with a single and Anthony Rendon homered – his 13th of the season.

From there, both bullpens held it together, giving up few opportunities for either squad.

Washington had a chance to walk off in the ninth after Ryan Zimmerman hit a one-out double and Orioles’ pitcher Darren O’Day intentionally walked Harper. But, O’Day forced both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos to chase strike three to end the inning. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 78 Review: Defense Prevails as Cubs Beat Nats 5-3

On a foggy Thursday night in Chicago, the Chicago Cubs used defense to take care of the Washington Nationals in their series opener, 5-3. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Bullpen Efficiency

The Washington Nationals bullpen as a unit are having a fantastic season in support of their more acclaimed starting rotation brethren. While the actual ranks differ by which all-encompssing statistic you prefer to use—the bullpen ranks tied for second in MLB with 2.8 wins above replacement (WAR) and fourth in RE24 at 27.53—the overall sentiment that the team’s relief corps is among the best in the business is not lost without the statistical confirmation.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride throughout the course of the season overall, with the likes of ever-dependable setup man Tyler Clippard and immensely talented former starter Ross Detwiler taking their lumps in the form of blown leads and inherited runners scoring. Yet, these shaky outings have been countered and exceeded by the efforts of Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, and rookie Aaron Barrett, among others, and has kept the bullpen ledger in the black and the team in whispering distance of first place in the NL East.

Looking further at the polarizing outings of Clippard led me to come to this particular stat last week:

With the polarizing outings of Clippard to go along with the some similar clean outings by polarizing personality of Soriano, the Nats have a pair of relievers that face the minimum number of hitters half of their outings, which goes a long way to accruing the WAR and RE24 values the bullpen has thus far. It also speaks to how efficient the guys in the ‘pen are in getting hitters out and preventing the big inning for the opposing team. Do the rest of the Nats relievers follow suit and could this ability to keep additional runners (and potential runs) at bay be a reason for the success of 2014 from a group that hasn’t changed much in terms of roster from last year’s staff that finished 18th and 20th in MLB in WAR and RE24, respectively?

First, let’s outline what bullpen efficiency means. Efficiency is essentially how many batters a pitcher faces over the number that was expected from an outing. From there, we will also look at ‘clean outings’, where a pitcher faces the minimum number of batters for a given outing, with game situation considered. The fewer batters faced over the minimum, the better, as this obviously keeps runners off the base paths.

Let’s look at some data.

Name G IP xIP IP, Diff TBF xBF BF, Diff Efficiency(%) AppClean/Pct. RE24
Aaron Barrett 28 25.2 26.2 1 108 77 31 59.74 13/46.4% 2.77
Craig Stammen 22 38.1 39 0.2 152 115 37 67.83 6/27.3% 6.72
Drew Storen 29 24.1 26.2 2.1 93 73 20 72.80 16/55.2% 5.94
Jerry Blevins 33 27 29.1 2.1 116 81 35 56.80 16/48.5% 2.82
Rafael Soriano 31 31 31 0 114 93 21 77.42 17/54.8% 9.83
Ross Detwiler 20 29 31.2 2.2 137 87 50 42.53 4/20% -7.08
Tyler Clippard 37 34 36.1 2.1 137 102 35 65.70 19/51.4% 2.11

 

The table above is a little busy, but the explanations of the various columns are very straightforward and on the lighter side, mathematically. Aside from the standard games, innings pitched, and RE24 values, we also have a couple of variables that were calculated to help capture efficiency.

The first of these is expected innings pitched (xIP), which is the number of inning pitched that were expected from a pitcher, with game and outing specific information included. For example, if a pitcher has an outing where he pitched 0.2 IP, he could have an xIP of 0.2 if he came in relief with one out in the inning—he was only expected to get the other two outs to complete the inning.

Conversely, he could have a xIP of 1, but failed to get the third out of the inning before being pulled. Calculating xIP and confirming game situations was dine using game log data from Baseball Reference. Total batters faced (TBF) is simply that and expected batters faced (xBF) is calculated similar to xIP, with game situation taken into account. With xIP and xBF, care was taken with the Nats bullpen members who are more situational relivers, in particular, Jerry Blevins, to account for how they were pulled.

If they left an outing due to poor performance with runs scored or runners put in scoring position, then they were allotted the full inning of work expected and the batters faced. If they were pulled due to situation—bringing in Blevins to face a tough lefty, for example—then a full inning pitched was not assumed. Differences between actual performance and expected data re capture with the ‘Diff’ categories. From the game log data also comes the clean outing data (AppClean/Pct.), where the number of clean outings specific to game situation were tallied, with percentages also provided for comparison.

With the variables exhaustively described, let’s talk results. Not surprisingly, the Big Three of the Nats bullpen—Clippard, Soriano, and Storen—lead the way in clean outings, with Soriano and Storen also showing the most efficiency in terms of batters faced over the minimum (BF, Diff.).  Percent efficiency was calculated by taking the percentage difference between xBF and TBF and then subtracting this value from 100 and again shows how well both Soriano and Storen have been, not only in terms of performance, but in terms of being economical.

Not to be forgotten are the performances of Barrett and long man Craig Stammen, who both show a high rate of efficiency, despite subpar clean appearance numbers. Despite some encouraging recent outings, a very rough start to the season skews Ross Detwiler’s numbers greatly and shows a propensity for big innings and difficulties in keeping hitters off of the base paths.

Does this idea of efficiency trend with performance?

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.45.04 PM

In our very small sample, it indeed does, as the above graph of RE24 by number of batter faced of the minimum (BF, Diff in our table above) shows. As the number of extra hitters faced rises, RE24 drops, which makes this a negative correlation with a very strong R-squared of 0.72, providing us confirmation of good fit of the data. However, with seven data points, it would be very unwise to make any grand inferences out of these results. Despite this, we do see an interesting aspect of the bullpen’s success that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score or in the formulas of the numerous advanced metrics available—not only are they keeping runs off of the scoreboard, they’re doing so in tidy fashion.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and current through 6/24/2014.
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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.

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