Friday, 6 July 2012

Nixing the Narrative: The It's Not All Cordero's Fault Edition

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via Daylife
It was a calm, cool Thursday night in Toronto. The air was crisp, but there was a odd smell of anger and frustration as Francisco Cordero strolled on over to the mound in the top of the 8th inning. At the time the score was Royals 5, Blue Jays 3.

The first batter of the inning, Mike Moustakas, singled on a ground ball up the middle. The anger tweets began. The next batter, Jeff Francouer, followed suit with a second ground ball up the middle. However this time both Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson got to the ball, but in what was almost a nasty collision neither player came up with it. The anger tweets multiplied.

After a few more ground balls as well as a couple line drives the anger tweets were growing at an exponential rate. The inning seemed to have dragged on too long already, but the beast that is Eric Hosmer was just stepping up to the plate. Unfortunately for Mr. Hosmer all he could muster was a ground ball to the right side of the infield, but wait...somehow he is safe at first because Cordero couldn't get to the bag in time. The anger tweets were at an all time high.

Following the game one could find many a tweet proclaiming something along the lines of DFA CORDERO. It wasn't the most subtle of approaches, but it sure got the message across. I don't intend on going all Wilner here, but at this point in the season the Cordero hate is becoming ridiculous. It isn't all his fault.

Starting with Thursday night's debacle, most people if asked would likely agree with the statement "Francisco Cordero was the reason the Blue Jays lost that game". On the surface it certainly seemed like that was the case, but a fan's reactive tendencies, especially to a player who is already in the doghouse, can cause a lack of recognition of what really went on.

For one thing in the first 4 batters of that inning Francisco Cordero induced 3 ground balls and only 1 line drive. The first ground ball was well hit right up the middle. The second ground ball was mishandled and had KJ and Escobar not both gone for the ball it could have very likely been a double play. The line drive Cordero gave up to the Salvador Perez would then only result in one man on first and the subsequent ground ball induced from Jarrod Dyson would have ended the inning. No runs scored.

In another situation where one assumes that the mishandled ball by KJ and Escobar still happens and you look strictly at the rest of the inning two of the three runs could have easily been prevented. After Hosmer hit the ground ball it is true that if Cordero were possibly hustling a bit more they may have gotten out of the inning, but there was also why Cordero wasn't at the bag sooner. On that play the Blue Jays were playing the shift and Kelly Johnson was closer to first base than usual. Because of that Edwin did not need to go after the ball and instead could have left it to KJ creating an easy out at first base, inning over. In that situation only 1 run would have scored.

Some may point out that these are all hypothetical situations and while that is true on a batted ball results level Cordero didn't actually pitch that poorly. Over the course of the 7 batters that Cordero faced he induced 4 ground balls and 1 strikeout. Of course the other 2 batters hit line drives, but a 28 LD% is also not mind-blowingly awful. Cordero was in no way outstanding on the night, but to blame everything on him expresses a lack of observation as to what actually went on.

As for the rest of the season, well it hasn't exactly been peachy. After Thursday's night's proceedings Cordero brought his shutdown to meltdown ratio to an even .500 and in case you didn't know thats not very good. Another couple tidbits from this year include that Cordero has brought his walk rate back up after dropping it in 2011, he is tied for the second worst fWAR among relievers, he has the highest home run rate of his career, and last but not least Cordero currently sports a 6.00 ERA accompanied by a 5.68 FIP and 4.65 xFIP.

At first, second, third, and maybe even fourth glance those don't look like a good set of numbers, but looking at some of the underlying stats it might tell you a slightly different story. First off the statement that many have made this year "Cordero was bit by the BABIP monster" is a statement that holds through over the season. Francisco Cordero's .376 BABIP on the year ranks as the sixth worst among qualified relievers. That number is 162 points higher than where it was last year and 78 points above Cordero's career average.

Beyond that this year Cordero sports a ridiculous 17.9% HR/FB, which again ranks near the bottom of the league, but more importantly it is over double Francisco Cordero's career average. Thus explaining where a fair amount of Cordero's home run woes have been.

Despite the evidence brought forth a few of you on Twitter wanted to argue that there is no way that Cordero could have been unlucky for 3 whole months. While that is partially true, Cordero has also only pitched 33 innings this year which means that if he were a starter that would amount to a about a month's worth of pitching, a small sample size. Inherently that is one of the many volatility problems with relievers in that they don't pitch a lot so bad luck and bad pitching can be carried along over a longer period of time without making the actual sample size significantly bigger.

With all that said it certainly hasn't been all luck, Francisco Cordero has been a bad pitcher this year. Though his velocity has remained relatively consistent with where it was last year after having dropped the two years previous he hasn't been able to harness his pitches the way he was able to last year. More specifically in the 2012 season Cordero has not been able to get players to chase and swing at pitches outside the zone. His O-Swing% this year, a measly 22.6%, ranks 5th last among qualified relievers and is roughly 6% lower than where it was last year as well as Cordero's career average.

Seeing that Cordero has been unlucky and frankly not the best of pitchers one thing I do question is why the Blue Jays continue to place him in high leverage situations. One would argue that if you are paying a player a significant amount of money to perform to a level that he has performed to in the past then the right course of action is not to DFA such a player when he is pitching poorly. At the very least you could shrink down his impact on the game while he is working things out. Pitch him in mop up duty or even as part of a long relief crew, but don't pitch him in a 5-3 ball game when the leverage is arguably the highest in the entire game.

At that point it is the manager's fault for placing Cordero in that situation. Cordero doesn't get to choose where he pitches and pitching him in close games only exacerbates the problem by bringing it front and centre to both the fans and the media.

To my detriment, you can decree a Cordero DFA all you want, but Cordero can be a better pitcher than what he is now, Anthopoulous knows that, Farrell knows that. Also if you want to DFA Cordero then who do you propose as a replacement? Scott Richmond? Shawn Hill? Joel Carreno? Chad Beck?

The other options may seem good, but there is also a reason those pitchers are in AAA. Us fans may not be able to recognize their true talent level because we haven't seen them in the majors in a significant capacity. The Blue Jays front office on the other hand has multiple people scouting their players and they are able to have a much better barometer of the players' respective talent levels.

Ultimately blame Cordero for what he has done and that is pitch poorly, but don't blame him for the plethora of factors that have contributed to the cornucopia of Cordero hate. Finally regarding specifically Thursday night's performance there is one last thing I'd like to say...
Special thanks to @SMcEwen_eh and @Mentoch on Twitter for helping to fight the good fight in calming people's reactions last night as well as providing a couple of ideas for this post. If you're not already following them then go do so right now.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

How to Go About "Going For It"

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via DayLife
On Saturday Jon Morosi had an interesting column over at Fox Sports that included a couple key quotes from Blue Jays superstar Jose Bautista.  The quote that was most notable (and most tweeted (over and over and over)) was the one in which the star player of a baseball team urges his front office to and I quote "go for it". Shocker. 

You may think this is going to be some angry blog post talking about how much I disagree with Jose Bautista, but actually for once I agree with a player's belief that the Jays should "go for it". Depending on your fandom and optimism levels you might think I'm A) A Homer or B) An Idiot, but I can assure you that I am neither.

The subset reasoning behind such a belief is that as stupid as it may sound the Jays need to appease the fan base. In most cases the blogger and sabrmetrician in me would scoff at such a statement and probably tell myself to throw away such a cockamamy idea never to be gazed upon again. However in this particular case there is a couple of things I would like to point out. 

The Blue Jays average attendance this year sits firmly at 27,285 people per game. Last year the Blue Jays average attendence going in to the 40th home game of the season was only 21,152 people per game and that number only rose to 22,446 by the end of the 2011 season. The Blue Jays attendance this year is the highest it has been since 2008.

As well not only has the attendance been better, but so too has the influence. There were a couple of stories at the beginning of the year highlighting the fact that the Blue Jays were the talk of the town and to at least my surprise that interest has seemed to have carried through thus far. People are coming down to the ballpark once again and even if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year, then at the very least they should make it seem like they tried.

You see attendance to any form of ongoing entertainment is like a plant. The interest that there has been in the Blue Jays this year is like a seed and in order to grow that seed into a plant that seed must be cultured and grown. In order to continue the positive trends in attendance the Blue Jays need to win and at this point in order to win they are going to need to do something at the deadline.

One direction to take could be similar to that of the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates who last year remained within 5 games of a playoff throughout the course of July. Seeing their position and their team the Pirates stayed away from names like Beltran, Pence, Bourn and instead settled for a couple of lower key free agents in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee.

Another possibility is to do something similar to the 2008 Brewers who remained within 3 games of a playoff spot throughout July of 2008. Come deadline time they made a couple of big moves to get C.C. Sabathia and Ray Durham. Their trade deadline acquisitions along with their already potent team pushed them to their first playoff berth in 26 years.

In the Pirates case they assessed that their team was probably over performing. In response they made a couple of moves to appease the fans' interest, but didn't put the interest over the importance of retaining their top prospects. In the Brewers case they assessed that their team was playing to their potential, made the moves necessary to push them into the playoffs, then reaped the rewards of a playoff birth.

Now where do the Jays fit into all of this? Well for starters the Jays sure aren't the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates and probably lie much much closer to the '08 Brewers on a talent level. The thing that sets the Jays apart is on an ease of a path to the playoffs level, the Jays have a lot more to overcome.

Not only do they have to overcome a 2.5 game deficit in the always tough AL East, but after what happened in June it looks like they will have to do without Hutchison and Drabek for most if not all of the season. As well they'll be without Brandon Morrow, who was pitching quite brilliantly, for a few more starts at the very least. On top of all that as we saw on Monday, Ricky Romero simply isn't Ricky Romero anymore. Or at least he hasn't been thus far and isn't really showing any signs of improvement.

That leaves the Jays with no starters that they can "trust" until Morrow comes back and that assumes that he comes back the same as he left, which probably isn't the most realistic possibility. As well Including Romero, none of the current Blue Jays starters has a career FIP below 4.00 and the staff as a whole has a 15.8 K% which ranks 4th last in the league.

On top of all that the bullpen that many praised for its depth and quality in the preseason hasn't really performed up to par. Part of that is due to the fact that "Capital C Closer" and really good relief pitcher Sergio Santos has only pitched 5 innings this year, but the fact that the Blue Jays bullpen has given up the most home runs per nine innings of any team in the league sure hasn't helped.

That is why despite my homeristic inclination to say that the Jays should go all out and trade for Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels or whoever else is available, I am reluctant because I can see the potential road blocks and risks that could very easily outweigh the slim potential for the reward of a playoff spot.

That doesn't mean that the Jays should stand pat at the deadline, instead why not go the same route that the Pirates took last year. Trade for a starting pitcher in the ilk of Jeremy Guthrie and maybe a couple bullpen pieces. Make a push for the playoffs, but don't sacrifice the future. It is easier said than done, but with Anthopoulos at the helm it can happen.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference,, The Sports Network

Thursday, 17 May 2012

No One is Safe Anymore - The Adam Lind Story

Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures via Daylife
Over the course of his tenure in Toronto Alex Anthopoulos has quietly stressed one thing and that is that no one is safe, (almost) anyone can be traded at any time and apparently demoted too.

Last year Travis Snider a player everyone seemed to like was sent down after less than 2 months of production. Earlier this year Brett Cecil a player everyone seemed to think was destined for a rotation spot was demoted after a bad spring. Now the latest recipient of this treatment is former All-Star first baseman Adam Lind who yesterday was sent down after an absolutely horrid start to the season.

When I had originally wrote this blog post I had gone on the premise that I would absolutely condone the demotion of Adam Lind that I would get along on the band wagon and make Adam Lind my Official Blue Jays Scapegoat for the 2012 season.

I was going on the premise that Adam Lind had been terrible the entire season, which in a way he has, but before today I hadn't really taken a good look at his FanGraphs page and I may have been going on the wrong premise.

Yes, it is true that Adam Lind is hitting .186 on the season and that he has a wRC+ among the likes of Chone Figgins and Willie Bloomquist, but did you know that Lind is actually walking at a higher rate than he did in even 2009?

His weighted runs created might not look too hot, but he is walking at a career pace and maybe even getting a tad unlucky to boot. Over the course of the season thus far Adam Lind has a .209 BABIP. That number is 53 points below where it was last season, 68 points below his 2010 number, 82 points below Lind's career average, and 91 points below the league average.

Of course BABIP isn't perfect and a slower, power hitting (?) first base type like Lind generally sustains a BABIP that is lower than normal, but a .209 BABIP should easily move up and regress to the mean. Does that regression to the mean make him 2009 Adam Lind, probably not, but Lind is doing a couple things to try and make that happen. These underlying things lie in Lind's plate discipline data.

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2009
27.9 O-Swing% - 59.0 Z-Swing% - 43.0 Swing%
75.5% O-Contact% - 87.1 Z-Contact% - 83.2 Contact%

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2010 and 2011 Combined
35.1 O-Swing% - 64.5 Z-Swing% - 49.3 Swing%
67.6 O-Contact% - 84.7 Z-Contact% - 78.4 Contact%

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2012
27.9 O-Swing% - 57.3 Z-Swing% - 41.7 Swing%
75.6 O-Contact% - 88.0 Z-Contact% - 83.6 Contact%

Take a look at those three lines, take a really good look at them. What do you see? Well if you looked hard enough you probably saw that the 2010 and 2011 combination line is completely different from either of the other two lines oh and yeah Lind's 2012 plate discispline is eerily similar to his 2009 numbers.

Those same 2009 numbers that made Adam Lind an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and even an MVP Vote Getter. It seems for the past two seasons Jays fans have been holding on to the glory of that magical season hoping for more production from their failing first baseman. Will this be the year that it happens?

Well let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Yes, it is nice that Lind is taking more pitches and swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone. It is also nice that Lind is making contact on 5% more of the pitches that he swings at, but unfortunately solely plate discipline doesn't tell the whole story.

Though Lind's plate discipline has been great and he is likely getting better pitches because of it he isn't necessarily taking advantage of these opportunities. He may be making contact on 83.6% of the pitches that he swings at, but Lind is also creating ground balls on 48.9% of the balls he is putting in play.

In comparison to 2009 that 48.9% is 6.9% higher, but then the thing about batted ball outcomes is that they aren't solely independent. Those extra ground balls that Lind has been hitting are coming out of his line drive rate and fly ball rate resulting in close to career lows in both categories.

Beyond that what has hurt Lind in the power department is his 9.7% HR/FB, a number 5.4% below Lind's career average.

So then after all this where does the verdict lie? In terms of plate discipline Lind has been right on par with his 2009 numbers, but then in the batted ball data he is far from where he was that magical year.

The Jays have purportedly cited that they sent Lind down in order for him to "gain confidence". That so called "confidence" that Lind supposedly needs will very likely come while he is off crushing balls in that bandbox park in Vegas and in that bandbox of a league that is the PCL, but it is possible that it could come at the expense of his approach?

I don't know about you, but if I was seeing pitches I knew I could just crush out of the ballpark I'd probably swing at them as apposed to waiting for better ones that may or may not come.

Its kind of okay if this "confidence" comes back to Adam Lind in Vegas, but if he takes what I predict to be a new approach in Vegas back to the MLB he could have quite a few issues. At that point I'm not sure how well his confidence will do when he is swinging at pitches way outside the zone in the unforgiving big leagues.

Then if you even factor out the possible potential loss of production from Adam Lind, how well could it possibly serve you to be starting a potential AAAA player in Yan Gomes? My well thought hypothesis says that it probably won't go over so well.

In the end you the reader must realize that I was one of the ones criticzing Lind all season. I was one of the ones clamouring for Lind to be benched, but I have realized the ere of my ways. Lind surely doesn't need to be hitting in that clean up spot that he has not been suited for in over two years, but I fail to see how having him to AAA will help anything.

And please understand one thing, I am in no way suggesting that Lind will become what he was in 2009, but with the way he has been at the plate this year, he has put himself in the very best shape to do so. You know other than the fact that he hasn't been able to hit a fly ball to save his life.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers