November 1, 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...]

Washington Nationals Game 133 Recap: Nats Blast Past Mariners

SIX HOMER NIGHT POWERS NATIONALS TO VICTORY

In their first trip back to Seattle since 2008, the Washington Nationals – powered by six homers – defeated the Mariners 8-3 to improve to 10-0 overall since 2005 against the A.L. West ball club.

The Nationals entered the game on a three-game skid and facing one of the league’s best pitchers in Felix Hernandez. On this night, however, Washington had the upper hand. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 128 Review: Nats Blow Past Giants, Win Series

BEHIND A SIX-RUN SIXTH, NATIONALS TAKE 2-OF-3 FROM SAN FRANCISCO

In front of 35,000-plus at Nationals Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for baseball, the Washington Nationals defeated the San Francisco Giants by a score of 14-6 to end their 10-game homestand. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 125 Review: Nats Walk off Yet Again to Extend Win Streak to Nine

ANTHONY RENDON’S PINCH-HIT SINGLE HELPS NATS EDGE DIAMONDBACKS

For the fourth time in five games, the Washington Nationals won in walk-off fashion – this time, to record a 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday night at Nationals Park.

Anthony Rendon started the day on the bench, but with one out and two on – and the game on the line – Nationals manager Matt Williams opted to insert Rendon into the order. And, in return, the Nats earned their ninth consecutive “Curly W,” improving their record to a National League-best 72-53 and extending their lead over the Atlanta Braves to seven games in the NL East.

Starter Tanner Roark was sharp as he allowed no runs on five hits and one walk through seven innings pitched.

The Nats provided Roark with a 1-0 lead in the second inning when, with runners on first and third, Wilson Ramos hit into an RBI fielder’s choice off the Diamondbacks’ Trevor Cahill. [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 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 87 Review: Zimmerman’s single in eighth delivers Nats 2-1 win

Since moving back to his more familiar third base, Ryan Zimmerman has coincidentally also been on a tear at the plate. The run continued Sunday, as his eighth inning single scored Denard Span, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs before 32,941 at sun-drenched Nationals Park.

Zimmerman is now 11-for-21 with six RBIs since Bryce Harper returned to the lineup and Zimmerman re-took his spot at third base.

Span led off the eighth inning with a hustle double to right field. After Anthony Rendon lined out and Jayson Werth struck out against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop (L, 1-4, 3.03), Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, bringing up Zimmerman. The Nats’ veteran laced a 1-1 slider to left field which easily scored Span. LaRoche drew the cutoff throw away from the plate and was tagged out between second and third for the final out of the inning.

Rafael Soriano pitched an eventless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for his 21st save of the season.

Zimmerman’s heroics made a winner of Tyler Clippard, who put his first two runners on, then wiggled out of the jam to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth.

Jordan Zimmermann turned in another exemplary start for the Nats (48-39). The stoic righty gave up no runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings, striking out five.

The Cubs(38-48) managed their lone run off Drew Storen in the seventh, as the reliever gave up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Jerry Blevins struck out Luis Valbuena with runners on to keep the game tied at that point.

The Nats scored their first run in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Span doubled, went to third on Rendon’s groundout and scored on Werth’s hard-hit grounder to third.

The Nats start a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53) hosts Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) at 7:05 pm.

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.

Washington Nationals Game 74 Review: Nats’ Pitching Staff Silences Braves in 4-1 Win

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon for baseball at Nationals Park, the Nationals’ pitching staff shutdown the Atlanta Braves to lead Washington to a 2-2 split of the series with a 4-1 win. [Read more...]

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