July 28, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 97 Review: Desmond Leads Nationals Past Rockies

DESMOND GOES 5-FOR-5 AS NATIONALS DEFEAT ROCKIES

At Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies on Monday night to begin their nine game road trip, the Washington Nationals defeated the Rockies 7-2 thanks in large part to a big night from Ian Desmond.

Neither starting pitcher was overpowering, but in 5.2 innings, Doug Fister gave up two runs on nine hits with four strikeouts and two walks. For Colorado, Franklin Morales gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits with three strikeouts and four walks.

Washington jumped ahead in the fourth inning and didn’t look back. [Read more...]

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.

***

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

Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs Series Preview

Currently riding a season-high five-game winning streak, the Washington Nationals now welcome the Chicago Cubs to town for a three-game set. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 84 Review: Late Desmond Homer Lifts Nats Over Rockies

Ian Desmond’s seventh-inning home run proved the difference-maker, as the Washington Nationals topped the Colorado Rockies 4-3 Wednesday night to nab the three-game series sweep.

Doug Fister secured his seventh win of the season, giving up three runs on seven hits and five strikeouts. His only trouble spot came in the second inning after he allowed singles to Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Dickerson. Perhaps aided by the heat and humidity, Michael McKenry powered a three-run shot over the left-field bullpen to give the Rockies a 3-0 lead.

After that, Fister regained control.

And, in the bottom of the fourth, the Nats made it a new ballgame.

Anthony Rendon led off wing a single to center and stole second base. The free bag mattered little when the next batter, Jayson Werth, socked a homer to center to trim the Rockies’ lead to a run.

Adam LaRoche went down on strikes and Ryan Zimmerman flied out to center before Bryce Harper kept the inning alive with a double up the third baseline. After pitcher Tyler Matzek tossed a wild one to move Harper to third, Ian Desmond singled him home to make it a tie game, which held until the seventh.

With the win, the Nats are now 46-38 on the season and just a half game behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

Despite allowing three runs on six hits through 6.1 innings pitched, Matzek emerged from the game without the loss, as it was Matt Belisle who allowed the homer to Desmond.

Statistically Speaking: A Tale of Two Strike Zones

In terms of the offense, how Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth go, the Nationals go. Both are productively dynamic hitters that approach their time in the batter’s box in very different ways.

For Desmond, it’s an aggressive plate discipline that paces the shortstop’s offense, with every first pitch of a plate appearance one that simply cannot be passed up. For Werth, it’s the exact opposite; there are very few pitches that are worthy of putting a swing on, as evidenced by his career 4.39 pitches seen per plate appearance average. To compare, Desmond has a career 3.59 pitches per plate appearance average.

With these disparate approaches to hitting, you would think that pitchers would have a different methods of getting each player out—for Desmond’s aggressive, undiscerning approach, getting him to chase pitches just out of the strike zone and for Werth, a more balanced plan of attack with more pitches in the strike zone to counter his discerning eye—and those potentially opposing approach would show up in their respective PITCHf/x data.

Using the aforementioned PITCHf/x data, we can determine how Desmond and Werth have been pitched, either with the pitcher avoiding the strike zone or by attacking the hitter and throwing pitches that get a lot of the zone, with little fear that they will put a good swing on a given pitch.

A recent article has shown that how close and how often a pitcher throws pitches to the strike zone can help identify breakout and breakdown candidates, with the greater distances indicative of a pitcher wanting to work around a hitter and not get beat by them and smaller distances from the zone showing a possible lack of respect of a hitter’s ability to turn on a strike.

For our purposes, I calculated distances from the center of the strike zone by applying the distance formula to the px and pz variables of each pitch:

distance equation, Pythagorean theorem

…with the center of the strike zone estimated using the average strike zone location, referenced here.

The distances (labeled ‘xy’) were plotted against the chronological order in which the pitch was seen over the course of the 2014 season; scatter plots were also created for each pitch type seen, with all fastball types collapsed into on category and the usual offspeed and breaking pitch type categorized separately.

The results:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.34.26 PM
Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.35.01 PM

Here, we find some interesting deviations between the two hitters. For Desmond, there is an overall slight downturn in the distance from the center of the strike zone on the pitches he’s seeing as of late, alluding to some potential breakdown in productivity. This is especially the case with the fastballs he has seen, with some of the uptick in zone distance seen in secondary pitches indicative of pitchers wanting Desmond to chase.

For Werth, the overall trend opposes Desmond’s with pitchers less likely to give him anything close to the plate to hit. Looking at the trend across pitch types, we see very subtle downticks in distance form teh zone in sliders and changeups, possibly a ramification of Werth’s reputation as a hitter with a very keen eye and pitchers aware that he is unlikely to chase soft stuff out of the zone.

A breakdown of the average zone distances for each pitch type for both hitters is as follows:

Player Pitch Avg Distance from Zone (ft.)
Desmond CH 1.263348
Desmond CU 1.318966
Desmond FA 1.067716
Desmond SL 1.269305
Werth CH 1.306862
Werth CU 1.408313
Werth FA 1.022414
Werth SL 1.219673

Again, very subtle differences are seen, but when extrapolated out, the differences can be vast. While there are a number of factors playing a role in how each hitter is pitched to and the interpretation of the very minute fluctuations in where pitches are ending up in reference to the strike zone, it is an interesting example of how despite both being notoriously streaky hitters, the more discerning eye of Werth has possibly prevented him from suffering from any extended slumps thus far this season. It is also a tacit revelation that in many instances, it’s the pitcher who will be the first to tell you how well you’re hitting.

Data courtesy of Baseball Savant.
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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 Game 82 Review: Zimmermann Secures Win in Harper’s Return

At long last, balance is restored at Nationals Park. After missing 57 games with a torn ligament in his left thumb, Bryce Harper returned to the Washington Nationals’ lineup Monday night, helping his team to a 7-3 win over the Colorado Rockies.

Perhaps reenergized by Harper’s return to the lineup, the Nationals tallied seven runs for the second night in a row to ensure Jordan Zimmermann walked away with his sixth win of the season.

Zimmermann’s six innings pitched featured a fair share of missteps. The Nats’ right-hander gave up two runs on seven hits and a walk, while striking out five. But, with the team’s offense firing away, it was more than enough to stifle the Rockies.

Harper batted in a run on a night that appropriately featured his bobblehead giveaway. Even more, Ian Desmond batted in three runs and Adam LaRoche hit a monster solo shot to further aid the Nationals’ efforts. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 62 Review: Nats bats explode for extra bases in San Fran in 9-2 win

Stephen Strasburg kept up the string of stellar Washington Nationals starts, allowing just one run in six innings with no walks — and no Nats starter has issued a walk since June 3 — as the newly revitalized offense pounded three San Francisco Giants pitchers for nine runs on 12 hits in a 9-2 win at AA&T Park Monday night.

It’s the Nats eighth win in their last ten games (by a combined score of 62-18) and runs their record to 33-29 to pull into a tie with Atlanta for first place in the division.

Denard Span went 3 for 5 with two runs and Ian Desmond continued his extra-base bonanza, going 3 for 5 with a double, triple and five RBIs.

Strasburg was lifted after the Nats scored five runs in the top of the seventh after 88 pitches — 61 for strikes. He gave up just four hits and struck out seven in the efficient outing.

Span led off the game with a double, went to third on Kevin Frandsen’s ground out, and scored on Jayson Werth’s double off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong. The Nats got back after it in the second, as Wilson Ramos singled and scored on Desmond’s triple.

The Giants got one back in the bottom of the second, as Tyler Colvin smacked a ground-rule double and came home on Brandon Crawford’s single. Crawford was cut down 9-3-6-4 on the play though.

In the third, Adam LaRoche doubled with two outs and after back-to-back walks to Ryan Zimmerman and Ramos, Desmond singled to left to plate LaRoche and Zimmerman.

Washington busted it open in the seventh.

Span led off with another double and went to third on Frandsen’s single. That was all for Vogelsong, but things weren’t any better for George Kontos. Werth singled to right to score Span. LaRoche walked to load the bases. Zimmerman’s grounder to short got Frandsen cut down at home, but the relay to first got away from Michael Morse and Zimmerman was safe and Werth trotted home with another run.

Ramos then clubbed a shot to right center that bounced off the warning track and over the fence for a ground-rule double and two more runs scored to make it 9-1.

After a scoreless seventh inning from Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler came on for the eighth and gave up a run on four singles.

Tuesday, Doug Fister (4-1, 3.19) faces Madison Bumgarner (8-3, 2.68) at 10:15 pm ET.

Washington Nationals Game 61 Review: Zimmermann Ks 12 in 6-0 shutout of Padres

Jordan Zimmermann is on fire.

Last time out, Zimmermann threw eight shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies with four strikeouts. Sunday, he was even better, dominating the San Diego Padres for a complete game shutout. He allowed just two hits — with no walks — and a career-high 12 strikeouts in a 6-0 win at Petco Park. It’s the Nats seventh in their last nine games.

Zimmermann threw 83 of his 114 pitches for strikes and didn’t give up a hit until one out in the sixth inning. The stoic righty runs his season record to 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA. It was the fourth 10+ strikeout game of Zimmermann’s career and the first since 2012.

The Nats got busy early against Padres starter Eric Stults. Denard Span led the game off with a double to the right center gap, then stole third base and scored on Kevin Frandsen’s ground out.

In the second inning, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a single and Ian Desmond followed with his 13th home run of the season, drilling a 1-0 fastball over the fence in straight-away center.

Washington broke it open in the third. Frandsen led off with a single and went to second on Jayson Werth’s flare to right field. Adam LaRoche lined a single to left and Frandsen scored. After Zimmerman lined out to first, Desmond’s sharp grounder bounced off second baseman Alexi Amarista into short right field which loaded the bases with one out.

That was all for Stults, but the Nats weren’t done yet. Danny Espinosa greeted reliever Tim Stauffer’s first pitch with a line drive single to right field. Werth and LaRoche both scored on the play to put the Nats up 6-0.

After that, it was all Zimmermann.

The Nats head up the coast to take on the San Francisco Giants in a four-game set starting Monday. Stephen Strasburg (5-4, 3.10) faces Ryan Vogelsong (4-2, 3.39) in the opener at 10:15 pm Eastern.

Washington Nationals Game 60 Review: Extras unkind to Nats in 4-3 loss to Padres

On the longest — and toughest — road trip of the year, every game is going to be magnified. With a chance to win the series and kick the road trip off to a 2-0 start Saturday night, the Washington Nationals blew a save, then fell in 11 innings to the bottom-feeding San Diego Padres 4-3.

Starters Blake Treinen and Andrew Cashner both threw well, but neither factored in the decision as Yonder Alonso’s homer in the ninth off Rafael Soriano tied it and Cameron Maybin’s bloop single in the 11th was the game-winner.

The only blemish against Treinen’s record came in the fourth inning. Seth Smith singled with one out and scored on Chase Headley’s line drive double to center. Yonder Alonso’s groundout moved Headley up a base, and he came in on Cameron Maybin’s two-out double.

Treinen allowed just the two runs on five hits and no walks. He struck out just one on the evening.

Meanwhile, Cashner was mowing down Nats left and right. Through six shut out innings. Cashner kept the Nats bats quiet, allowing just two hits while striking out five. But the big righty was making his first start off the disabled list and was therefore on a pitch count, so after 70 pitches, his night ended.

The Nats’ collective sigh of relief was almost audible.

In the seventh, against reliever Nick Vincent, the Nats went to work. With one out, Adam LaRoche blooped a double to left field. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a double of his own down the right field line to make it 2-1 game. After Wilson Ramos lined out, Ian Desmond clobbered a 1-1 fastball to dead center which cleared the wall by 15 feet for his 15th homer of the season.

Just like that, the Nats led 3-2 after being completely shut down all night.

The Padres got a runner to third in the eighth against Tyler Clippard, but a nasty changeup to Carlos Quentin ended the inning without incident. It was Clippard’s 19th consecutive scoreless appearance, and 23rd straight without allowing an earned run.

Unfortunately, the ninth inning didn’t go easily for Rafael Soriano. With two outs, he missed his spot and Yonder Alonso punished the mistake, drilling it over the right field fence for his fifth home run of the season to tie it and force extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, Craig Stammen got the first two outs with no trouble. But Chase Headley reached on a single to left, then Stammen fed Alonso a steady diet of breaking balls until Alonso drewa base on balls. Cameron Maybin made Stammen pay, blooping a single in front of Jayson Werth that drove in Headley from third with the winning run.

Statistically Speaking: Ian Desmond’s First Pitch Swinging

It’s an oft-denounced approach, but swinging at the first pitch of an at bat is something shortstop Ian Desmond has fared well with over his career. Proponents of the 0-0 count hacks (such as Desmond) will tell you that in many respects, it’s the best time to swing, as it gives you the best chance for getting a good pitch to hit, as it is almost always a fastball and around the strike zone, due to pitchers wanting to get ahead in the count. As the table below shows, Desmond has taken full advantage of this approach, both over his career and this season: [Read more...]

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