Friday, April 13, 2012

Live-Blogging the Blue Jays Broadcast: Game 7

[I did this once, last year, on my personal blog, and I want to try doing this with some frequency. The basic idea is to snark about the nuggets of common sense analysis and conventional wisdom that the Jays' announcers - Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, ranked 24th in the MLB by Fangraphs fans - have to offer. More productively, though, it's also about doing some homework in order to prove or disprove whatever it is they've claimed. Which is actually surprisingly fun.]

2nd inning

Buck: "Earl Weaver was playing Moneyball before it was called Moneyball."
Pat: "Great starting pitching and great defense. Moneyball."

If I knew nothing else about how clueless these two are, I might actually be fooled into thinking that they know what "Moneyball" means. Because it sounds like they think it means defense. And it doesn't. In fact, it doesn't actually refer to any specific element of the game - it refers to a way of buying/trading/developing players by identifying skills and player types that are undervalued. Or, to use the cliché, it's about finding "market inefficiencies." Ten years ago, that meant finding players who grade well according to advanced defensive metrics, and before that it was players who aren't particularly athletic but have good plate discipline. (ie. Guys who "know how to take a walk.")

3rd inning

Buck: "[Morrow] was really pounding the zone [last start]."

This sounded like one of those claims that Buck and Pat are just prone to making up, so I checked it out the PITCHf/x data on Fangraphs. In his last start, Morrow put 45% of his pitches in the strike zone. For his career, he's around 49%; the league average is just about 50%. So, no, not only was he not pounding the zone, but one could argue that he was avoiding it. Why it may have appeared that he was pounding the zone, though, was that he was not missing bats with his pitches - his contact rate was 88%, while his career rate is only 75%. So, many more pitches were ending up in play, which could certainly give the appearance that he must be hitting the zone with more frequency.

Pat: [in a response to a stat that says the Jays are hitting .203 as a team, but around .350 with runners in scoring position] "Make 'em count. Concentrate just a little bit more when you got to hit in a guy."

This is one of those bits of baseball wisdom that really doesn't make sense. It implies that you don't really need to concentrate unless runners are in scoring position (RISP), which would be a great way to lose your job, fast. On the whole, everyone hits better with RISP. But this is a particularly big gap, and looks significant until you consider that the season is six games old and the Jays have had about 250 plate appearances, which means... they've had 50 at bats, tops, with RISP. That means about 18 hits. If only four of those don't fall in - which, simply as a matter of luck, is perfectly plausible - suddenly we're talking about how badly they do with RISP and how they're failing to "concentrate".

4th inning

Pat: "Pitchers are pitching differently to Jose [Bautista] this year. They're pitching everything outside. I looked at the directional hits, and he has more to the opposite field."

I looked up the pitch data again, and even with so few games, Pat's definitely on to something. Strangely, Bautista saw only about 50% fastballs in the last two years - because he's absolutely destroyed them - but is seeing them 65% of the time so far this season. And he's posted negative run values against them. He's also seeing more strikes and making contact with strikes less often; but also making contact with pitches outside the zone more often. The conclusions are pretty easy to reach, here - if you miss balls in the zone, then you're missing the pitches that you can hit well; if you hit balls outside the zone, you tend to hit them poorly. (Not to overstate the matter, but this is the exact same kind of trend that we saw with Adam Dunn over the course of the whole season, last year.) I can't find data on where those pitches outside the zone are located, but I'm totally willing to trust Pat on this one.

Buck: "Bautista, with a one-out single, got things going."

He "got things going" only if you believe that Bautista's single somehow influenced Reimold to misplay Lind's flyball and Davis to miss Hunter's throw. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (I know, this is just one of those things that announcers say, and he probably didn't mean it literally. But it's still dumb.)

6th inning

Buck: "The Blue Jays have won 39 of their last 44 home games against the Orioles."
Pat: "The Blue Jays play their best ball against the Orioles."

That's certainly shocking, but what's more likely - that the Jays are that good, against this one team, or that the Orioles are that bad?

7th inning

Buck: "[Arencibia] has now just picked up the first sacrifice bunt of his career."

This is notable precisely because it deserves to be criticized. Arencibia doesn't bunt, first of all, and this was a very bad bunt that probably should've failed. I couldn't quite tell whether the Orioles middle infield was caught off guard and failed to cover second, but Arencibia hit the ball really hard and almost directly back at the pitcher. So, Buck probably should've mentioned one of the following two things: that he was a bad choice for the bunt in the first place and that it was poorly executed. And this is to say nothing of the fact that bunts with none away and a runner on first usually don't actually help the team. But Win Expectancy is the simplest, clearest way for us to judge this decision: after the sacrifice, the Jays' WE dropped from 81.3% to 80.1%. It hurt the team, and that deserves to be talked about.

8th inning

Buck: "Interesting match-up here. Jones has only faced Oliver four times, but is 0 for 4. This shows you how much Farrell trusts Oliver. ... This is really an interesting move by Farrell. ... He likes the match-up with Oliver."

Well, he shouldn't. Jones is a right-handed batter and Oliver is a left-handed pitcher, and platoon splits in baseball are pretty significant. (And Oliver, specifically, is an elite pitcher against lefties, but only an average reliever against righties.) There are two right-handed pitchers warming in the bullpen, but you leave your lefty specialist in to face an above-average right-handed hitter? That's usually an obviously bad idea. There's absolutely no reason to leave Oliver in, unless you think that the 0 for 4 is really meaningful. And if you know anything about sample size, you know that it isn't. What's worse is that this is a one-run game with one out, a runner on third, and in the 8th inning - the leverage index in this situation is extremely high, which means it's incredibly important. This is exactly when you should look for every small advantage that you can find.

(Buck later speculated that Oliver was left in because Wieters will bat from the right side, which is his worse side. But Buck subsequently pointed out that there are three left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, right now.)

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