Rockies Magic Number

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick thoughts about trades

Franklin Morales to Toronto for JP Arencibia would be pretty bitching.

Friday, July 31, 2009


The word is Bell for Kershaw.

Just to mess with your heads.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rockies Trade Rumors

The Rockies have contacted the St. Louis Cardinals about acquiring 1B Albert Pujols. The Cardinals seemed receptive.

When asked for comment, Todd Helton was all like "wtf"

After promoting top pitching prospect Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies have nearly finalized a trade for Roy Halladay in a package centered around Omar Quintanilla.

More details as events unfold.

(look I can make trade rumors, TOO!)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free Agent Frustration

So it's Feb 12, pitchers and catchers are reporting on Saturday, and I don't feel like the Rockies have done enough this offseason to separate themselves from the rest of the division.

I'll quickly break it down position by position

C - Chris Iannetta. I really think that Iannetta, Brian McCann (ATL), and Russell Martin (LAD) are the best catchers in the NL. Iannetta and Martin are very different style hitters, and I think Iannetta has the edge over Martin, but the point is that our starting C is a position that we aren't going to improve upon.

1B - Todd Helton. Todd is one of the wildcards here, because of his back. It sounds like rehab is going well, but he's definitely gonna have limited playing time. If he's healthy for a full season, he'll still probably bat .320/.430/.470 or something like that. In terms of starters, we can't really go out and get a new 1B, what Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Baker, and Joe Koshansky. It's not really a position we can upgrade.

2B - Clint Barmes/Jeff Baker. Now the thing here is that Barmes and Baker are good when they're hot, and barely average otherwise. Bake has a lot of raw power, and Barmes is a big contact hitter. Baker has enough glove to keep his head above water, but he's definitely below average. Barmes is slightly above average, and oftentimes, that's the only thing that keeps him in the lineup. Problem is here, I think we could upgrade at this position. Orlando Hudson is available, and while he'd cost a draft pick, it'd only be a second rounder, and I think the offensive and defensive package, even if it's only for like 120 games, would be worth a couple extra wins on what Barmes or Baker would provide. I feel like we would be a better team with Hudson on board, and that's a fact. 

SS - Troy Tulowitzki. He'll rebound from his poor 2008, and if he puts up numbers like his 2nd half last year, he'll be solid.

3B - Garrett Atkins. He's trade bait, and then Stewart will take over full time. He also needs a good rebound to establish his trade value.

LF - Seth Smith. It's a big hole to fill, Matt Holliday's. I don't think Smith has been given a good chance to prove himself yet, and until Garrett Atkins is gone, I don't think he's going to. Smith has shown an improved eye every level of the minors, as well as an improved power swing. Chances are his .296 BABIP has room to grow. His minor league cumulative BABIP was .349, which tells you he has the potential to be a better contact hitter than his major league numbers suggest. He really should be the starter, but there's gonna be a lot of offense cycled through there just for playing time. In terms of a FA upgrade, I guess we could've gotten Burrell or Dunn or Manny or someone, but I really wonder how much benefit they'd add when you factor in their abominable defense.

CF - Ryan Spilborghs. I'd really rather see an OF of Smith - Fowler - Spilborghs, but Spills has shown he can play a passable CF until we can realign the defense more optimally. Again, looking for upgrades, there really weren't any that we hadn't just gotten rid of ourselves.

RF - Brad Hawpe. Hawpe has pretty much proven his bat to be a good and stable one. However, his glove could use some work. I won't hit on that much more.

Other - Ian Stwart. He should be playing 3B full time, but Atkins is still here. Bummer. Stew's gonna take ABs from Smith in LF this way.

Other - Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez. These guys are the real wild cards for the 2009 season. They'll probably both start the season in AAA, and when they start showing real strides, they'll probably get the callup. Dex is the CF of the future, and then we have a logjam in the OF between Spilborghs, Smith, Gonzalez, Hawpe, etc. Frankly, I'd like to see Atkins get traded for some sort of value, Stewart play fulltime 3B, Hawpe play 1B when Helton is hurting, and we can platoon Smith and Murton in LF. 

Ideally, I want C Iannetta 1B Helton 2B Hudson SS Tulowitzki 3B Stewart LF Smith CF Spilborghs RF Hawpe

and eventually

C Iannetta 1B Hawpe 2B Hudson SS Tulo 3B Stewart LF Smith CF Fowler RF Spilborghs.

Just looking at the guys we have available, it's a LOT of unknowns. Not just Helton's back, but Stewart's plate discipline, Atkins and Tulo rebounding, Hawpe's glove, Spilborghs and Smith as fulltime players.

It could be great

And it could fall flat on its face and be awful.

I'll touch on pitchers later.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

IsoD - Quantifying Plate Discipline

IsoD, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is short for "Isolated Discipline" and is calculated by OBP-AVG. It basically tells you what percentage of plate appearances result in a walk for that particular player. It tends to go along with IsoP (Power), which is SLG-AVG.

In my limited evaluation of players, IsoD and IsoP are the true measures of a player's talent. There's always some baseline batting average, but you can dismiss most of the fluctuations in that to BABIP. Issue is, this only really works for more experienced players (more stats to look at).

Let me give you somewhat of a numerical example.

Derek Jeter had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2008, and if you look at strictly OPS, it WAS the worst of his career. Does this mean that he's washed up and done for? Well, let's take a look at the numbers.

As I mentioned earlier, BABIP (lucky drops, gaps, etc) can account for year-to-year fluctuation in a player's batting average. If that player's IsoD and IsoP are consistent with his career norms, then I wouldn't read too much into a drop in OPS.

In 2008, Jeter batted .300/.363/.408, good for an OPS of .771. Not really great (especially if you take his defense into account), but a .300/.363 player is hardly something to sneeze at. Argue salary on your own time.

Anyhow, Jeter is a career .316/.387/.458 batter. So his batting average is a bit lower than his career numbers. Let's look at his IsoD. For 2008, it's .363-.300, or .063. For his career, it's .387-.316, or .071. So comparing .071 to .063, we're really not talking about a massive difference, only .008. If you look at his career IsoD's (per season) and get the standard deviation on them, that shows up as .010. That just means that this IsoD fluctuation is within a year-to-year fluctuation.

The thing that somewhat interests me is the fact that his AVERAGE is down .016 AND his IsoD has dropped. It should also be noted that his career IsoP is .142, and in 2008, it was only .108. That's a more significant drop.

To perhaps explain the low Average, we can look at his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). In 2008, Jete's BABIP was .336. That's high, compared to league average, but when looking at an individual batter, you want to compare it to his career BABIP instead - which is .361 for the Captain.

What have I gleaned from this? Something is happening with Jeter outside of simple fluctuations, or at least something happened in 2008.

From this point, we've determined his power swing has diminished. Turn him over to the team Strength and Conditioning coach, get him some Wheaties, get him to work on putting the ball into the gap. He'll be fine.

But I never settle at this. Anecdotal evidence is nice, but can I tie numbers to this situation?

My last (easy to find) source is his Plate Discipline data, which is generously provided by

In 2008, Derek Jeter swung at 23.7% of balls outside of the zone, which is only a 1.8% increase from the previous season. However, this number is up 8.2% from 2005, when Jeter posted a healthy .389 OBP (and a .080 IsoD along with it). To complement the increase in out-of-zone swinging, his contact rates outside of the zone ALSO went up 18.6% since 2005 (Out-of-zone contact can lead to poorly hit balls, resulting in doubleplays, etc - unless your name is Vlad Guerrero, then it's a HR). His in-zone discipline has remained right about the same from previous years.

So what have we learned just from looking at like 8 numbers on Fangraphs? Well, 1. We know he's gotten unlucky, based on the .025 drop in his BABIP. 2. We know he's getting a bit impatient, from both his low IsoD, and his increase in swinging at (and making contact with) balls outside of the strike zone.

So now when your Yankees fan friend comes up to you and says "hey you're a big [expletive] baseball stat dork, tell me why Jeter [expletive] my [expletive][expletive] last season" and you can say "Well, let's see. He isn't walking as much as his career average (IsoD!) and he isn't hitting the ball for as much power as normal (IsoP!), maybe he's just getting impatient (Swinging %!!!)"

Look at you, you sabermetrician, you!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

To Close or Not to Close

Going into the 2009 season, I will say something strange:

I think that our bullpen (as it is as of December 17, 2008) is one of the stronger parts of our team.

I know, gasp, right? Something good about Rockies pitching? Get out of town.

We have 3 strong pitchers in the back of our bullpen in Manny Corpas, Huston Street, and Taylor Buchholz, that all have closing material. Buchholz put up a 0.95 WHIP and a 3.11 K/BB ratio. Corpas’ K rates dropped a bit, but he still put up a decent K/BB ratio. It seems the BABIP bug might’ve gotten to him a bit, maybe he was tipping his pitches a bit, whatever. Huston Street, while wilder than both Buchholz and Corpas, brings a much higher K rate than the others, which can give him the edge over the other two.

Behind them, we have part time STUD and part time batting practice instructor Luis Vizcaino, Veteran LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) Alan Embree, and castaway Jason Grilli to fill in the 6th and losing efforts. And in the event that those SIX PITCHERS are unable to get the job done, we can turn to AAA closer Ryan Speier to pitch several for us. We’ll also have Hirsh in AAA trying to figure out how to pitch again, so he might be available for callup as a workhorse.

So let’s rehash real quick.

We have:

1. RHP Manny Corpas
2. RHP Taylor Buchholz
3. RHP Huston Street
4. RHPDUI Luis Vizcaino
5. LHP Alan Embree
6. RHP Jason Grilli
7. RHP Ryan Speier 

At the very least.


This brings us to the million dollar question:

Who’s the closer?

1. The case for Corpas

Corpas was the closer during the magical run to the World Series in 2007, posting a 2.08 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and a 50:23 K:BB. He was slated to be the closer in 2008, before a series of somethings caused him to fall apart and give the job back up to Brian Fuentes. Corpas has the most Coors Field closing experience, gets solid GB%, and is also being paid the most. He brings a big slider and a well-located fastball that can induce weak contact as well as punch guys out.

2. The case for Street

2005 AL RoY Huston Street has been closing in Oakland the past 4 seasons, all relatively successful. Out of the 3 candidates for closing in Coors Field, Street has the most experience, and has by far the goofiest grin. Similar to Corpas, 2008 was not a great year, showing a career high in ERA, WHIP, and BB/9. However, between Bill James and Marcel the Monkey, we’re anticipating a 1.15 WHIP and a 66:21 K:BB. Street, very similar to Corpas, brings a low 90s fastball and a strong slider that he throws effectively for strikeouts.

3. The case for Buchholz

Taylor Buchholz started with Houston as a starter, and also attempted to be a rotation regular with Colorado in 2007. Post all-star break, the Rockies decided to have Buchholz pitch strictly out of the pen, which he succeeded at. Since he’s been made a bullpen fixture, his game has gotten significantly better. He’s striking more guys out, he’s throwing his curveball more effectively, and he seems to be rediscovering his pitches now that he doesn’t have to pace himself for 6 innings. While Buchholz has no closing experience, he’s seeking a bigger role in the pitching staff, and he’s also demonstrating that he has the stuff to do it. He throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball along with a big 12-6 curveball. He’ll occasionally mix a slider in, but it’s just an extra offspeed pitch. His money is in his curve.

So who should it be? We have a Coors Field style former closer, a strikeout machine that will replace Fuentes’ swingin’ finishes (for better or for worse), or a newcomer to the 9th inning who has been improving with every step he’s taken. Do you go with experience, and give it to Street? Do you try something new, and give it to Buchholz? Or do you go with familiarity, and give it to Corpas?

How about none of the above?

Don’t roll your eyes too hard yet. I am obviously proposing the Rockies close by committee, and here’s why:

1. (hey, it’s another list!) None of the 3 stands out as the obvious choice of closer. Buchholz has never done it, Corpas kind of imploded last year, and Street’s shown himself to be kind of a headcase in Oakland. This isn’t to say they can’t still succeed in the late innings, but there isn’t a Fuentes or Hoffman or KRod ready to jump out and take command.

2. This is the perfect opportunity to play matchups. We aren’t doing anything big in 2009, barring more magic, so why not experiment a bit with the bullpen? We have setup men/closers, why not see how many ways we can pitch them against the opposition? Granted, it will take more time from the coaching staff to research the matchups and who does best against what, and there might be a lot of success to be had. Sure, nobody’s gonna rack up all the SAVES, but maybe they’ll be able to rise above a flawed stat and see that they’re doing something pretty cool.

3. There are 9 outs, they should be recorded the most effectively, not just based on who has the most seniority or anything. You could have Corpas knock down 2 contact hitters and then pull him because the next batter has a good history, get Street to pitch a 4-out “hold”, and then have Buchholz seal up the bottom of the lineup. Or maybe Buchholz can bury 4 guys, Street comes in for a big K, and then Corpas pitches another 4 outs. Buchholz has always been tougher on Lefties, so you can bring him or Embree in the later innings to get the big LHB out, and then put it back on the shoulders of Street or Corpas. Either way, it becomes a closing STAFF and not just a Closer and the Setup guys. I like the idea of a 3-headed monster finishing games for the Rockies.

4. If they don’t play matchups, it’ll at least be a good way to play the guy who’s hot and take the load off the guy who’s not, hopefully without any hard feelings.

So this is really just a pipe dream for me, because I don’t think that Hurdle would run a bullpen like this. But here’s my second proposition: Close with Buchholz. He may seem like the least logical choice, but he is good enough to do it, and it’ll more than likely give him a lot of 3-out saves, and leave more workload on the more experienced relievers. And call me crazy, but I want my best pitchers pitching the most innings.

The reason I pick Buchholz over the other two is that the other two are very similar in their pitching styles. They are both low 90s Fastball + a big slider, but one tends to pitch to contact and the other the lack thereof. So depending on the batting styles, ie. if you have Jack Cust, Adam Dunn, and Mark Reynolds coming up in the 7th, put in Street to strike out the side, Corpas in the 8th, and then in the 9th you have to prepare for the curve coming over the top when you’ve been watching sliders coming in from both sides. I’d rather change things up in the 9th anyhow, because if batter shave been watching sliders for the previous 6 outs, if they start to adjust, Corpas can get the GB or Street can get the big K, and then they have to readjust to the big hammer in the 9th.

The reason this is even crossing my mind is because Closers are stupid. They’re never used in the right situations, because they’re all about SAVES, which is a stupid statistic. The 9th inning may have its own mentality to it, but it’s not always the highest leverage situation. You might have the 2-3-4 guys coming up in the 8th, so Scot Shields gets lit up while K-Rod sits back waiting to face the 6-7-8 so he can get a fistpumping 3-out save with a 3 run lead backing him. I’d rather use K-Rod against the big dogs and let Shields mop up what’s left in the 9th.

Financially, any moneyball type GM knows that you shouldn’t pay someone big bucks in free agency to come be a closer, because there’s a chance that at any given point, there’s a guy between your pen and AAA that is just mowing batters down that year, and you could probably squeeze a season out of luck/batter unfamiliarity and have an effective bullpen for next to nothing. That and locking up relief pitchers is just a bad idea to start with.

Basically, O’Dowd is making some subtle smart moves. The team is now comprised of high OBP high Power kinds of batters in Iannetta, Stewart, Hawpe, and the general OBP of the team is looking to be higher, just based on Spills and Helton putting in more time, and Tulo hopefully being a more patient batter. Don Baylor should help here too.

OBP is the new way in thinking about how to build a team, so why not use this season to condition the new lineup, maybe see some Dex, and then trot out a solid bullpen that works as a unit, not just the sums of pieces? I think it would be cool to see a young team bring in new ideas and succeed while doing it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2009 – Who plays where? A mathematical look at lineup construction.

Looking forward to the 2009 season, the Rockies find themselves a logjam at roughly every position, SS excepted. Let’s take a look at the 14 position players we anticipate being on the roster, along with their offensive and defensive capabilities.

NamePosition(s)2008 OPS2008 VORP 2008 UZR @ #1 position2008 UZR @ #2 position
Chris IannettaC0.89530.4N/AN/A
Yorvit TorrealbaC0.687-1.4N/AN/A
Todd Helton1B0.7798.65.1N/A
Clint Barmes2B, SS0.7919.12.1-3.9
Troy TulowitzkiSS0.7328.1-3N/A
Ian Stewart3B, 2B0.80410.32.70.3
Ryan SpilborghsCF, LF0.87517.7-3.8-0.8
Brad HawpeRF0.87929.7-37.2N/A
Garrett Atkins3B, 1B0.7818-7.4-5.6
Carlos GonzalezCF, RF0.634-
Seth SmithRF, LF0.7853.7-2.51.1
Jeff Baker1B, 2B0.79111.2-1.5-3.8
Scott PodsednikCF, LF0.656-0.7-4.6-0.8
Omar Quintanilla2B, SS0.635-3.6-0.2-0.8

The above should have a few notations to it: Barmes’ and Tulowitzki’s 2008 UZR performances are most likely low due to hasn’t-played-there-in-awhile (Barmes) and injury concerns (Tulo).

So let’s get to the point. Not everyone buys OPS, not everyone buys VORP, but I’m sure most everyone will buy one or the other.

If you don’t know what either is, I’ll give a quick rundown on what they both are.

OPS = OBP+SLG = On-Base percentage + Slugging percentage.

OBP = On Base Percentage = (Hits + BB + HBP)/Plate Appearances
SLG = Slugging Percentage = (1*1B’s +2*2B’s + 3*3B’s + 4*HR’s)/AB

OBP is essentially how often a player doesn’t make an out. SLG is batting average, weighted for extra base hits.

VORP = Value over replacement player = A park-adjusted measure of how many runs a player will provide above/below replacement level player will add to his team. For more information on VORP, refer to Keith Woolner’s Introduction to VORP article.

UZR = Ultimate Zone Rating = Number of runs prevented based on defensive play

So this chart here basically tells us how many runs a player will add to the team’s offensive totals with his bat, and how many he’ll prevent with his glove.

The Rockies have a good number of options at each position, both defensive and offensive. The question is which will be the best, and how can we adjust players to maximize runs?

The All-Bat Lineup
C: Iannetta (VORP 30.4)
1B: Garrett Atkins (VORP 18)
2B: Jeff Baker (VORP 11.2)
3B: Ian Stewart (VORP 10.3)
SS: Clint Barmes (VORP 18)
LF: Seth Smith (VORP 3.7)
CF: Ryan Spilborghs (VORP 17.7)
RF: Brad Hawpe (VORP 29.7)

The saddest part of this might just be that 3.7 VORP in LF. Smith would most definitely produce better than that given an entire season. The lack of Tulowitzki is surprising, especially with Baker at 2B and Barmes at SS, but there’s a couple things to note:
1. Tulowitzki slumped terribly early in the year, but finished strong;
2. Tulowitzki was hurt for a good amount of time this season. Even with the terrible slump, he’d probably be good for about 12-15 runs over the season were he to play the entire season;
3. Stewart’s VORP would be similarly higher, probably around 20+ were he to get a full 550AB as a starter, bumping Baker from the lineup when Tulowitzki reemerges at SS and Barmes is slid back to 2B.

Depressingly, this is our best lineup. 56.8 runs above replacement, above a AAA squad. Granted, if we added in the runs if Stewart and Smith were full time players, and adjusted Tulowitzki’s numbers a bit to somewhere between this season and 2007, the number would look far better. But as it stands, we are hurting somewhat from Holliday’s absence.

The next lineup to look at is the all-glove lineup.

C: Iannetta (UZR doesn’t really apply to catchers)
1B: Todd Helton (UZR 5.1)
2B: Clint Barmes (UZR 2.1)
3B: Ian Stewart (UZR 2.7)
SS: Omar Quintanilla (UZR -0.8)
LF: Ryan Spilborghs (UZR -0.8)
CF: Carlos Gonzalez (UZR 2.7)
RF: Seth Smith (UZR -2.5)

Again, things that stand out:

1. The lack of Tulowitzki is again no good, but remember he had quad problems all season. A properly rehabbed quad will more than likely move Tulowitzki from the -3 he’s sitting at back to the +5 rating he was at last season.

2. Quintanilla’s low UZR surprised me, but it might also be due to a lack of range, just because he’s a smaller fielder. He has a good glove and makes good plays on the balls he can get to, but he’s not really ideal; the bigger SS has taken over the thoughts of a lot of GMs. He plays as a just below average fielder, but again, it’s Range vs. Ability to make plays, and ErrR (runs avoided by not making errors) is above average for Q, while RngR (runs avoided by ability to get to balls) is definitely below.

3. Spilborghs really didn’t log any time at RF this season, but an ideal defensive OF at this point (that doesn’t involve bringing up Cory Sullivan) would have Smith in LF, Spills in RF, and Gonzalez in CF.

4. Brad Hawpe is absolutely awful in RF. Like atrocious. I mean oh my lord he’s bad. If you just do VORP + UZR to see how many runs Brad Hawpe added to the team this season overall, he’s at a nice -8. He has to be moved to LF or the Rockies need to move to the AL.

Now, as if this wasn’t all terribly nerdy enough, I’ve topped myself here. I used a computer program to tell me how many games each guy should start over the course of a season. It takes the #runs scored + #runs prevented by each player, above/below the level of an average player, and it maximizes the total number of runs scored and prevented.

The computer’s ideal lineup is:

C: Iannetta
1B: Helton
2B: Barmes
3B: Stewart
SS: Tulowitzki
LF: Hawpe
CF: Seth Smith
RF: Spilborghs

The concept here is that Smith may not really be that great in CF, but his Offense+CF defense is better than Gonzales'. You might think that his CF defense would be bad enough to move him to RF and put Spills in CF, but the concept here is that the combination of Smith's CF defense and Spilborghs' RF defense is better at preventing runs than Spilborghs in CF and Smith in RF.

The immediate thought that comes into my head is "But CF is far more important defensively than RF is, put the better defender in CF at the cost of RF!" and this logic is sound. So sound, in fact that because UZR is in terms of runs (range+error prevention), the relative difficulty of the positions is already taken into effect. This isn't saying that Smith is the same defensively at every position, it's saying he's worth so many runs at LF, CF, and RF, because they all play differently, and UZR accounts for that. So this isn't saying Spills is SO good in RF that he'll pick up all of Smith's slack, it's saying that yeah, Smith isn't a great CF, but by putting him in CF and putting Spills in RF is going to minimize the number of runs we give up. If it were Spills CF Smith RF we'd give up more runs is what we're saying here.

Now, if I were to add Dexter Fowler (and get rid of Podsednik) at a completely average defensive ability (UZR=0) in all 3 OF positions, and a bat slightly inferior to Barmes’ into the equation, my infield stays the same, but the OF changes to:

LF Spilborghs
CF Smith
RF Fowler

Now, I haven’t messed around and made Atkins some sort of garbage player, I used per-game run production from Baseball Prospectus and UZR ratings from Fangraphs, and then just ran the numbers. I didn’t demand Atkins play less than 50 games, I didn’t tell the program to bench Hawpe. In the case of Atkins, it becomes a case of a declining bat plus an already sub standard glove results in becoming a backup. And Hawpe’s issue that his atrocious OF defense simply kills his playing time.

If you read my previous post, you know that I think Atkins should be traded in favor of starting Ian Stewart, and maybe netting some young pitching. In this model, Atkins plays a grand total of 36 games, all at 3B, as Hawpe gets all the 1B time when Helton isn’t playing. I'm not sure how poor Hawpe would be at 1B, but if I say he's exactly as bad as Atkins, he'll still get the playing time thanks to a stronger bat.

The thing I learn from this? Defense is more important than people may think. If the Florida Marlins were defensively stronger, I'd wager they'd improve significantly. Defense is supposed to be a strong point of the Rockies, and it seems that just by the numbers, we're not playing optimally. 

The optimal solution, again, just by the numbers, is to let the kids play.