My grandfather pitched the greatest game in the history of baseball. I’m sure of it — tall tales be damned. The way he tells it, he pitched in amateur and independent leagues, and also while he was overseas serving his country. He never made it to the minor leagues — one farm passed on him because, as he says, “my fastball was a change up.” Slow pitches didn’t keep him from effective outings, and one magical day, he struck out 28 batters in a single game.
My reaction to the story varies with age. Now, I’ll relax and enjoy it, but when I was young, I asked, “how did you strike out 28 batters?” My grandpa noted, “the last knuckleball of the game got away from the catcher.” That baserunner hardly phased him — he went and struck out the next batter. Voila! 28 strike outs. You see, my grandpa threw a knuckleball, curveball, and change up — but, since he pitched in the first half of the 20th century, his curveball was a drop that he could throw to either side, and he once told me that you could make a knuckleball break one direction or the other, depending on your wrist action. Hearing about drops and breaking knuckleballs (!?!?!?) during times when a slider was probably a cutter really expanded my imagination — mind you, I came of age during baseball eras where sliders dropped (like the one Brad Lidge throws), knuckleballs were uncontrollable specialty pitches, and curveballs, well, they still dropped.
What I never understood when I was young was that my grandpa was teaching me about the value of independent pitching, and also the value of self-determination. In baseball, that poor man out on the mound has to do it himself if he wants a surefire outcome; as soon as that ball jumps into play, any number of things could happen. This is the value of tall tales — even if my grandfather was yanking my chain, his story had kernels of truth that would be unearthed more than half a century after he recorded 28 outs all by himself.
During the 2012 SABR Baseball Analytics conference, Doug Melvin noted that the Brewers’ defensive shifts saved approximately 70 runs during the 2011 season. Given that the 2011 Brewers’ defensive efficiency basically matched the league average of .694, and their FIPConstant of 3.48 basically matched the 2011 NL mark of 3.45 (and my estimated Miller Park mark of 3.43), that remark by Melvin suggests that the 2011 Brewers’ defensive performance was near average because of their shifts.
I raise that quote, and the issue of FIP and fielding, because the 2012 Brewers’ defensive performance is one of the least efficient in the entire National League. Believe it or not, the Brewers’ overall FIP performance is quite good — their team FIPratio is 0.50, which pretty much matches their excellent 2011 performance, and is significantly better than the current league mark of 0.72. Even with defensive efficiency down across the league, the Brewers’ expected runs average should fall between 4.10 and 4.26 (depending on how you account for the park factor with your FIP).
I learned this week that FanGraphs calls the indexing number that places FIP on an ERA or Runs Average scale, “FIPConstant.” Therefore, I will use that term as well. I’m not sure what they call the original FIP ratio calculation, so I will continue to call that “FIPratio.”
Therefore, by calculating (a) the ratio between a pitcher’s K, BB, and HR (and HBP and IBB if you want to nitpick), and (b) subtracting that ratio from the league runs average, you get (c) the FIPConstant. Or, in the other direction, for the 2012 NL:
FIPRatio (simple): (13HR+3BB-2K) / (IP)
Runs Average: (9R) / (IP)
0.72 FIPratio + 3.60 FIPConstant = 4.32 Runs Average
For more complicated (and disorganized?) FIP thoughts, and some estimates about how one might run park factors for FIP (and determine the dependence on Fielding in different ballparks), see my “Fielding by Fielding Independent Pitching.”
Long story short: the 2012 Brewers’ inefficient defense has cost the club approximately 25 more runs allowed than expected.
This season is straight-up blindsiding us with lesson after lesson about how things can shift from year to year. Pitching injuries? Check. Positional injuries? Check. Bench injuries? Check. Ineffective batting from key contributors? Check. Shifts in platoon success? Check. Bullpen performance? Check. Ability to win close games? Check. It looks like we can add defensive efficiency to that list.
I sincerely apologize for my recent tone in my posts, but this club has me scratching my head. Even worse, I am questioning my ability to tell the difference between a good roster performing poorly, or a straight-up bad roster. In previous years, if you had told me that the 2011 Brewers would win 96 games, return 6 of their 9 most important positional players, 100% of their pitching rotation, their most important relievers, and their top swingman, and I would’ve said, “go defend that Division Championship!” And yet, here we are. I feel like someone is playing a giant practical joke on us. Like, July will show up, and Mark Attanasio will wave a giant sheet across Miller Park: “Ta Da! And now for your REAL 2012 Milwaukee Brewers!”
Over the past five years, Miller Park’s park factors are on the move, straddling both sides of average (100/100). The effect of this is that the Brewers’ run environment remained slightly more stable than the National League run environment (with the exception of 2007 to 2008).
2007: 100 batting / 100 pitching (4.80 runs average)
2008: 98 batting / 98 pitching (4.57 runs average)
2009: 98 batting / 98 pitching (4.44 runs average)
2010: 100 batting / 100 pitching (4.40 runs average)
2011: 103 batting / 103 pitching (4.29 runs average)
(2012: 104 batting / 104 pitching (4.49 runs average))
Now that the Brewers’ run environment is back up to 4.49, it dawned on me that the quality start is a (somewhat) valuable statistic for the Brewers’ starters once again. Over the last three seasons, a quality start average (4.50 runs average / 6.00 IP/G) would place a starter below the league/park average in most cases. Now, a pitcher with a 4.50 runs average and 6 innings a game is giving the Brewers a fair performance.
I simply thought of this because Yovani Gallardo threw another “exact” quality start last night, against the Minnesota Twins. 3 of Gallardo’s 14 starts are “exact” quality starts in 2012; overall, 11 of his 14 starts are of the “quality” variety. His overall runs average, of course, is pretty much a quality start, too: 4.45 runs average, 5.93 IP/G.
I simply think this is interesting because Gallardo is pretty much on pace to be an “exactly” average pitcher. Javier Vazquez accomplished that feat last year, producing a runs allowed total that was exactly 0 runs better or worse than his league and park. I know the term “average” can get thrown around a lot (I might let it slip for anyone between a -3 to +3 runs prevented range, or anyone between a 95 ERA+ and 105 ERA+, however inaccurate that term may be for that range of players). But, this year, Gallardo is the pinnacle of average.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
http://www.uni-watch.com/2011/04/07/theres-no-service-like-wire-service-vol-27/ (via baseball-birthdays.com)
Gallardo Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images