Friday, August 31, 2012

Delmon Young's Clutch Double Wins Opener

The Tigers opened their biggest series of the year so far with a 7-4 win over the White Sox tonight.  The unlikely hero was designated hitter Delmon Young whose three-run double up the left center field gap broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the seventh.  The win moved Detroit within two games of first place Chicago who they play two more times this weekend.

Young has received a lot of criticism from Tigers fans this year and deservedly so.  Through the first four months of the season, he batted .263/.295/.395 which is hardly the kind of line you want to see from your designated hitter and fifth batter in the line-up.  In August, however, he heated up batting .312/.350/.521 for the month and today he got one of the biggest hits of the year in the biggest game of the year.

Young has a history of hitting in the second half. batting for a .776 OPS for his career.  That's not great for a defensively challenged outfielder, but it's better than his .715 first-half OPS.   Tigers fans remember last year when he came to the team with a .662 OPS for the Twins.  He proceeded to hit for a .756 OPS for the Tigers and added five home runs in the playoffs.  That helped him get another year with the Tigers.  It didn't turn out to be a smart move by general manager Dave Dombrowski, but if Young can continue to help them down the stretch, it will look better.

Hurting Tigers   

Bad ankles did not prevent Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera from hitting his 33rd home run plus a double and he hustled to third following a fly ball.  However, he was unable to move around adequately in the field at third base and really should be designated hitting until he gets better.  The problem is that would move Young to the outfield which does not help them defensively.  We will see what they do tomorrow.

Doug Fister was not at all sharp tonight walking four batters and hitting two in five innings of work.  He didn't seem to be moving around well and one has to wonder whether his groin injury is fully healed.  I'm expecting, they'll announce later that he didn't feel quite right today.

Avisail Garcia Promoted, Jeff Baker DFA

The Tigers announced today that they are promoting outfielder Avisail Garcia to Detroit in time for the weekend series versus the White Sox. To make room for him on the roster, they have designated utility man Jeff baker for assignment. 

The Tigers could have waited one more day until the rosters expanded without reassigning anyone, but they apparently wanted to have Garcia available tonight for the opener of the big series versus the White Sox.  The 21-year-old right-handed batter is going to start tomorrow's game versus the left-handed Francisco Liriano and will probably be available for pinch-hitting duty tonight.


One of the top Tigers hitting prospects, Garcia batted a combined .299/.333/.455 in 122 games for High Single-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.  I saw him playing earlier this summer and he resembles Miguel Cabrera facially and in build.  Garcia also has good power potential, but the comparison stops there as he and Cabrera have two very different skill sets.  By most accounts, Garcia has good speed for a big man (23 steals this year) and the ability to be an above average defender in right field. On the downside, he does not yet have much patience or pitch recognition and has an 18/95 BB/K ratio this year.

Baker was a disappointment for the Tigers after being acquired in a waiver deal earlier this month.  He batted just .200/.243/.257 in 15 games playing mostly versus left handers.  






Monday, August 27, 2012

Strikeouts and Z-Scores

(Warning: This post is going to be even more mathy than my usual posts, but Mike Rogers and hopefully others will want to see it)

In yesterday's post about Max Scherzer, I listed the pitchers who scored highest on the K9+ measure (strikeout rate per nine innings relative to league average) in the history of the game.  The K9+ statistic is like OPS+ or ERA+ except it's for pitcher strikeouts.  It turned out that Dazzy Vance, a Brooklyn Dodger hurler in the 1920s and 30s, dominated the list with five of the top seven K9+'s ever.  Mike Rogers, who you may know from Bless You Boys and Beyond the Box Score and other places,  pointed out in a comment that Bill Petti had done something similar a while ago at FanGraphs.

Mr Petti used strikeout percentage or K% (percentage of batters faced by a pitcher resulting in strikeouts) rather than strikeouts per nine innings as his base. He then computed K%+ (strikeout percentage relative to league average) and also found that Vance dominated the leader board.  Many commenters at FanGraphs suggested he try computing something called a Z-Score to compare pitchers from different years.  I'm not sure if he or anyone else ever got around to it, but I can't find it so I'm going to try it here.

In general, when one tries to rank players from different eras relative to league average, the best players from earlier eras tend to fare better than players from more modern eras.  That is OK, of course, in cases when they actually were better, but in many cases they were getting an unfair advantage.  What seems to be a drop in quality of star players over time is often actually a decrease in the spread of talent.  In the early days of the game, there was a relative small percentage of players who could play the game really well.  So, these players were way ahead of the average player.

In more modern times, there is a larger pool of players from which to draw (largely due to the integration of African Americans, Latinos and Asians) and more players have learned how to play the game well.  Thus the best players are not so far ahead of the average ones.  In other words, the best players are not getting worse, rather the average player is getting better.

In order to adjust for the tighter distribution of talent over time, we use standard deviations.  The standard deviation is a measure of the spread of numbers for a particular statistic.  If K% varies a lot from pitcher to pitcher in a given year, there will be a large standard deviation.  If all the pitchers have a K% close to average in a given year, there be a small standard deviation.

A look at the data shows that standard deviations are actually higher in more recent years, but that is because the strikeout percentages are higher.  The coefficients of variation (standard deviation relative to the average) are lower and that will make a difference in our results.

The z-score is calculated as (k%-league k%)/Standard deviation of k%.  This will give us an idea of which players dominated their leagues most after adjusting for spread of talent.

Table 1 below shows the top Z-scores in the history of the game. Vance is still prominent near the top of the list but he has more company now as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have moved up the chart.  Those three pitchers hold the top 11 spots on the list.

Table 1: All-time Single-Season Strikeout percentage Z-Score Leaders

Player
Year
Team
IP
K
k%
K%+
Z-Score
Pedro Martinez
1999
BOS
213.3
313
37.5
248
5.52
Dazzy Vance
1924
BRO
308.3
262
21.5
297
5.38
Pedro Martinez
2000
BOS
217.0
284
34.8
229
5.14
Dazzy Vance
1925
BRO
265.3
221
20.3
282
4.83
Randy Johnson
1995
SEA
214.3
294
33.9
230
4.64
Dazzy Vance
1926
BRO
169.0
140
19.6
273
4.56
Randy Johnson
1997
SEA
213.0
291
34.2
221
4.50
Randy Johnson
2001
ARI
249.7
372
37.4
216
4.37
Dazzy Vance
1923
BRO
280.3
197
16.6
233
4.33
Randy Johnson
2000
ARI
248.7
347
34.7
210
4.27
Randy Johnson
1999
ARI
271.7
364
33.7
210
4.25
Nolan Ryan
1987
HOU
211.7
270
30.9
206
4.15
Dwight Gooden
1984
NYN
218.0
276
31.4
218
4.05
Nolan Ryan
1976
CAL
284.3
327
27.3
227
4.02
Nolan Ryan
1978
CAL
234.7
260
25.8
224
4.01
Johnny Vander Meer
1941
CIN
226.3
202
21.4
230
4.01
Nolan Ryan
1989
TEX
239.3
301
30.5
227
3.99
Rube Waddell
1903
PHA
324.0
302
23.1
223
3.96
Randy Johnson
1993
SEA
255.3
308
29.5
206
3.95
Pedro Martinez
2002
BOS
199.3
239
30.4
197
3.95
Data Source: Baseball-Databank.org

Table 2 shows the Tigers Strikeout Percentage Z-Score leaders.  Hal Newhouser's 1946 season tops the list followed by Mickey Lolich in 1969.  I don't know the exact standard deviation for 2012, but Scherzer has a z-score of about 2.61 if we use standard deviations from recent years.


Table 2: Tigers Single-Season Strikeout percentage Z-Score Leaders 

Player
Year
IP
K
k%
K%+
Z-Score
Hal Newhouser
1946
292.7
275
23.4
207
3.25
Mickey Lolich
1969
280.7
271
23.1
158
2.71
Hal Newhouser
1945
313.3
212
16.8
188
2.69
Hal Newhouser
1943
195.7
144
16.9
178
2.56
Justin Verlander
2009
240.0
269
27.4
163
2.40
Jim Bunning
1959
249.7
201
19.4
153
2.33
Syl Johnson
1923
176.3
93
12.7
168
2.28
Tommy Bridges
1943
191.7
124
16.0
168
2.24
Bobo Newsom
1941
250.3
175
15.5
168
2.20
Bobo Newsom
1939
246.0
164
15.6
171
2.12
Data Source: Baseball-Databank.org

I will try to update this table after Scherzer's season is over.  I also plan to do the same sort of thing with some other pitching and hitting statistics when I have time. 

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