Thursday, March 12, 2015

Looks like the Twins had only one awful pitcher and 13 at average or above in 2014, according to this new data.

A great article was written today by  Jonathan Judge and published at The Hardball Times, called FIP in Context, introducing an new metric, called cFIP, or contest-adjusted FIP that attempts to "estimate the pitcher’s true pitching talent during a particular season".  Always interested in new pitching metrics development, and not only because I have partaken myself in the endeavor. this is an interesting one, albeit much more complex than PE and xPE.  It also correlates well with SIERA, which along with xPE (because it is easy to calculate) are my 2 favorite predictive metrics regarding pitching performance.

I will not steal Jonathan's thunder, please read that excellent article, but I will present his framework and then present his work regarding the Twins' pitchers (he calculated cFIPs for every pitcher in the league the past 4 years, including Jamie Carroll.)  The cFIP scale is normalized to 100 for average, just like OPS+ and ERA+, but it is a minus scale, meaning that less is better, like ERA and FIP and SIERA and all similar metrics.   Should have been called cFIP-, but that is a different story.  So 100 is average and less is better.  Jonathan Judge has the following buckets of pitchers, according their cFIP:


<70 nbsp="" p="" superb="">70–85    Great   
85–95    Above Avg.   
95–105    Average   
105–115    Below Avg.
115–130    Bad   
130+    Awful

Let's put the 2014 Minnesota Twins' pitching staff in those buckets.  For reference, players that are not still with the team are in (parenthesis).  I am also including the 2015 cFIP numbers of the newcomers this off-season.  They have an asterisk behind their names, that would have made Barry Bonds jealous:

Superb:
Phil Hughes    70

Great:
Glen Perkins    74

Above Avg.:
Casey Fien    89
Tim Stauffer    91*
(Yohan Pino    94)

Average:
Aaron Thompson    98
Logan Darnell    99
Ricky Nolasco    100
Trevor May    101
Ervin Santana    101*
Michael Tonkin 102
Caleb Thielbar    103
Blaine Boyer    103*
Lester Oliveros    105

Below Avg.:
(Jared Burton    106)
(Kris Johnson    106)
(Sam Deduno    107)
Stephen Pryor    108
Kyle Gibson    109
(Anthony Swarzak 111)
A. J. Achter    112
Ryan Pressly    112
Brian Duensing    114
Tommy Milone    114

Bad
(Matt Guerrier    116)
(Kevin Correia 119)

Awful:
Mike Pelfrey    132

 A few obsevations:

  • According to this, the Twins had a superb pitcher, Phil Hughes, a great pitcher, Glen Perkins, and 13 total (I am not counting the newcomers) pitchers (that is a full MLB staff, ladies and gentlemen) who were average, above average, great or superb.  Mike Pelfrey (who tied for worst in the majors in this metric) was the only awful pitcher in the Twins' staff
  • But, The Twins had the second worst bullpen in the majors according to xFIP and SIERA and the third worst rotation in the majors, according to SIERA (fourth according to xFIP)
  • Other than Yohan Pino, who was an unfortunate loss, The Twins' front office seems to behave pretty well according to this metric: The pitchers they let go, are all bellow average or beyond.  They did keep a few below average pitchers, and they did keep Mike Pelfrey, who is better suited for the pen and was injured.  Other than Duensing who had a down season, the below average pitchers are all young. 

Big issue in the big picture here:   The Twins had a whole staff worth (13) pitchers who were average and above, yet they managed to be almost at the bottom of the league in pitching.  Those things seem pretty conflicting.

Let's dig deeper and check out the 2013 Twins' cFIP buckets that Jonathan Judge calculated.  For reference purposes, players who left after 2013 are in parenthesis and I added Ricky Nolasco (with an asterisk) as well


Superb:
Glen Perkins    63
Casey Fien    67

Great:
Nobody

Above Avg.:
Jared Burton    91
Caleb Thielbar    91
Ricky Nolasco    93*
Michael Tonkin    94

Average:
Anthony Swarzak    97
Brian Duensing    97
(Shairon Martis    105)

Below Avg.:
Mike Pelfrey    109
(Liam Hendriks    110)
Ryan Pressly    111
(Cole DeVries    114)
(Andrew Albers    115)

Bad: 
Kevin Correia    116
Samuel Deduno    116
(Josh Roenicke    118)
(P.J. Walters    122)
(Vance Worley 124)
Kyle Gibson    125
(Scott Diamond 129)

Awful:
Nobody

This is some really interesting data.  Here is what I see:

  • I think that I either underestimated the Twins' Front Office use of metrics in personnel decisions building the team or Jack Goin should buy me a beer next week at Hammond Stadium, because this tool really describes what the Twins are doing regarding personnel decisions:  The tend to get rid of below average and below pitchers and add average and above pitchers.  Hughes was around 100, but I did not add him here.  This is a stop the presses type of statement, me coming close to shake my head in approval of what the front office is doing... 
  • This tells a tale of 2 cities:  All the Average and above pitchers were relievers.  All starters were bellow average or worse but not awful.  And Pelfrey was the best.  
  • Enough with 2013.  What happened in 2014, comparatively to 2013?  Every single reliever from Perkins down regressed, while the starters (save hurt Pelfrey and replacement level Correia) improved. This is fundamentally interesting, because it kinds of breaks some old school axioms.  And the one excuse for the decline of the Twins' pen in 2014 was that, they were worse because they were too tired because the rotation was so bad.  This data, turns this upside down:  The Twins 2013 rotation was worse than the Twins 2014 rotation, and the 2014 Twins' pen made the 2014 Twins rotation worse.  So a bad pen can make a rotation worse.  Like a reliever coming in with 2 outs and the bases loaded to give a grand slam and 4 runs to the starter. What a concept...
I am starting to really like this metric...  So (and this is really hard for me to say) the Front Office did some improvements for 2014, that actually seem to be supported by real data, but the pitching tanked compared to 2013.  Why?

I'd love to hear your theories after this, and this is what I am thinking:

  • Look at that 2014 list up there.  In your mind, normalize it for playing time.  That would shift the buckets heavier to the below average.  How many games did Pino or May start compared to Pelfrey, Correia, Deduno?  Why was Burton used in high leverage situations over better relievers?  Yes.  Do the same normalization for playing time for the 2013 data.  And you are looking at evidence of what has been written here loudly and clear about mismanagement of the Twins' pitching staff by Gardy and Andy for ages.
  • This has to be part of the reason cause for the pen decline in 2014, and the root causes are described within there.   And they have to be fixed.  And, yes, metrics can be devised to normalize and approximate defense independent pitching, but I have not yet seen one that could estimate the madness of the Twins' 2014 OF (what is the range factor :) of a bucket?)


This actually makes me more hopeful, because it seems like the Twins are doing an effort to address some things.  So, what do you say?


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