Friday, March 27, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Perhaps the Giants Do Have an Offensive Type: Strikeout Avoidance

Baseball America published a study on team with the lowest strikeout rates by their hitters, and found that five teams - Cardinals, Giants, Royals, Rangers, Tigers - had the lowest strikeout rates over the 2010-2014 period and won 9 of the 10 league championships over that period.

ogc thoughts

First study I've seen to find correlation between offense and winning.  However, as I commented on there (and someone else), study size is probably an issue, it might be holding now, but not so much over history, perhaps.  Also, as I noted, both BP's (Baseball Prospectus) and FG's (Fangraph) studies, which studied a long period of time, found that offense has no correlation with winning.  Still, don't mean that there could not be some correlations over periods of time, just not over history.

The Giants over this period has definitely focused on hitters who minimize strikeouts. Sandoval, Posey, Blanco, Stewart, Arias, Panik (he also walks a lot while striking out less) and even Belt and Crawford, when they are on (I studied their strikeout rates over 10, 20, 30 game intervals a couple of years ago), could get their strikeout rate down, resulting in contact rates above 85%. And players they traded for or signed as free agents, like Freddie Sanchez, Angel Pagan, and Marco Scutaro, in particular, and now Aoki and McGehee. Only Pence, Morse, and Belt were the free swingers in this lineup for the last few years, I think, piling up the strikeouts at times, and even Pence wasn't that bad.  And of course, Burrell before that (Huff was actually a good hitter in terms of strikeout rate in 2010 and before, and so he would be included in the list of good contact hitters) and Torres, for his improvements over before, wasn't that great at avoiding strikeouts.

One thing I found interesting that that while OBP was much better than batting average in terms of correlation with winning on the offensive side, as sabermetrics has basically denigrated the value of batting average to the extent that most newbie sabers treat BA with disdain, on the defensive side, batting average had almost as high a correlation as OBP, and both were considered strong correlations.  Then again, on the defensive side, all the metrics were strong in the 2010-2014 period except for HR/PA.

Lack of Homeruns Does Not Mean a Team is Weak or Can't Win

Thus, the media's strong preoccupation with the long ball - be honest, how many articles have you seen regarding the Giants lack of HR hitting as a key weakness on this team, and heck, for many prior Giants teams during this golden era - is misplaced.  Hitting a lot of homers has a weak correlation with winning.  And this is something both the BP and FG studies noted as well, that there was no connection between the number of homers hit by a team and how well they did in the playoffs.   Girls may dig the long ball, but the trophies don't necessarily end up with the guys hitting them.

The Very Strong correlation, for both offense and defense, at least in this new defensive era, is with winning and SO/BB.  It is very significant offensively (-0.72 vs. next highest correlation of 0.58 for OBP) and still pretty significant defensively (0.73 vs. -0.67 for OBP and 0.61 for SO%).

The Giants have appeared to be focusing on getting such pitchers and hitters.  Bumgarner had a wonderful SO/BB ratio in high school and continued it into pros.  Strickland, Law, and Okert exhibit such great ratios as well.  Cain and Lincecum once had very high ratios, dropping in recent years, but there are indications they should revert to prior performances in 2015.  Both Hudson and Peavy have had good ratios as well.  Among the hitters, Posey, Susac, Belt, Crawford, Scutaro, and Panik have shown this skill in the majors, and Adrianza showed it in the minors in a couple of seasons.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Big Reason Giants Don't Want to Move Posey Just Yet ... And Yet, Susac!

I'm not sure exactly how I ran across this, but BP studied catcher framing in this article.

ogc thoughts

There are three interesting data points that were interesting to Giants fans regarding Buster Posey.

Buster Rules!

As one of the best strike framers today.  Despite playing roughly 4 seasons worth of catching so far, because of that devastating, even worse than NFL nasty hit in 2011, he had 71 Called Strikes Above Average, good for a tie with Mauer for 16th place, covering 1988-2014 (or the last 27 seasons, so a fair amount of history; wish authors would have given us total number of catchers captured in their analysis).  And if you look at his catching defensive stats, you will find that resulted in 80.6 runs (or roughly 8-9 wins or roughly 2 wins per season, a huge defensive contribution just from one area).

The stats in his profile don't match what is in the article, but making rough guesses, he is adding around 25 CSAA per season.  So in 3 seasons, he would be 9th (depending what Ross does), which would take him up to his 30 YO season.  Looking at his stats and those of others still playing at the top of the list, he's one of the best in the past three seasons (except for Lucroy, though Lucroy's 2014 was much reduced versus previous seasons), even better than Yadier and Martin.  Good reasons to keep him catching.

But So Does Aging

Looking at the Framing Aging Curve, however, most players his age are headed into a slight decline (and I would bet is a mix of guys who stay as good as they had been and guys either injured - they are catchers after all - or suffered physical declines, which led to the slight decline overall), and then at 30, there is a steep decline in the ability to frame, which suggests that as catchers' physical peak is over and physical decline happens, their ability to frame to gain strikes declines quickly.  Doesn't mean he will, but it would mean that he would be defying history of catchers captured in that study.

And this result, especially given the defensive value this provides, some 3-4 wins added (and this is defensive, so the effect is multiplied due to Pythagorean) for the best players, suggests that aging older catchers need to be replaced with younger starters who are good framers as soon as their framing skills decline in their 30's, though some do keep doing well, like Jose Molina.

But age appears to be a powerful factor in decline in the ability to frame (i.e. steal) strikes:

  • Jose's brother Yadier hit his decline at age 31, though I would note that he had a poor year at age 26 then reverted back to goodness, and age 31 was last season for him;  then again, his FRAA was negative for two consecutive seasons, so this could be it for him defensively.  
  • McCann hit his decline at age 29, two years going down now.  
  • Lucroy, who appears to be among the best in his era, had a poor season last year at age 28 (I would note here how Yadier bounced back so perhaps just a glitch).   
  • AJ Pierzynski was washed up defensively by his 30's, and retroactively, BP has his FRAA as horrible his whole career, so they must have decided their research back then showing him to be good defensively was not correct, making the trade look even more stupid and more likely, in my eyes, that Colletti was the one who instigated that trade, not Sabean.  
  • Russell Martin didn't have a steep drop but has been gentling getting worse in framing starting at age 29 (which was within career range, but not the last two seasons).  
  • Mauer has never been a top catcher at framing strikes, but he's been good enough to save about a one win per season, and his decline appears to have started at age 29, which covers the last two seasons.  

2015 is Posey's 28 YO season.  As I've shown above, all the top catchers above him which has this type of data has shown declines in their ability to frame strikes somewhere in the 29-31 age range.   That suggests that his decline in this ability could be starting in the 2016-2018 time frame.

Susac to the Rescue

The authors also analyzed AAA and AA catchers, and guess who popped up on the lists?  Susac.  He was tied for third with 14 CSAA runs, all the other guys were older than he, and a couple of the guys ahead of him were much older than he was.   And he did that catching 56 games in AAA since he spent significant time in the majors (unfortunately, didn't do as well in majors in gaining strikes, in fact, lost a few, though basically at 0).  Extrapolate that to Posey's catching, and they were roughly the same on a seasonal basis.  Of course, it was only AAA, but he is apparently on his way defensively,

I think that this article makes the case for what I've been suggesting as the way to handle the catching situation over the next few years.  We should have Susac spend 2015 working on all his catching defensive abilities, which is his 25 YO season.  Then for 2016-2020, the Giants should have Posey and Susac (assuming he can hit well enough at MLB level, something he has shown so far, but will need to prove he can sustain; I believe he can) as co-starters at C and another position on the field.  1B probably works best, but if they can handle 3B, all the better, as then we can keep Belt at 1B.

Posey at one point will decline defensively during this period, and Susac would be wasting his prime strike framing years being a backup, better to trade him and pick up a good veteran than do that, if he's not a starter.  By sharing the catching duties, Posey gets less wear and tear, hopefully enabling him to extend his effectiveness in framing pitches as he gets older, while Susac gets quality time at starting catcher (though not full, albeit) and by saving his legs in his youth, perhaps he'll last longer as a good defensive catcher deeper into his 30's.  Look at how Jose Molina was able to keep doing well deep into his 30's being a half-time/part-time catcher.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Back to Back Jack

Spring is in the air...

And I'm on jury duty.  I've actually written up a lot of stuff for all the player positions, and I'll get to them when I get the chance, but I thought I would jump to my conclusions about the 2015 Giants chances first, and go from there.  I've already covered the starting rotation, and hope to get through the rest of the roster eventually, but honestly, this trial got me depressed and sad - I've been ill since it began, and feel very sick when I start the week and experienced massive headaches when I end the week (FYI, I very rarely experience headaches; also, maybe I'm getting used to it, but no headache last week, and I'm feeling better this week) - so I'll get to them when I'm able.

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