Monday, January 08, 2007

Allfrank Getting His Money's Worth: Zito!

Mea culpa Allfrank, I'd gathered all the data together and, you know me, I like to create monster posts in answer, so this has been a project that has took some time to put together. But I'm done now plus you get more, more, more, much more than you paid for!

First off, winning is normally an event that depends as much on your team's offense and defense as your pitching, so Zito's wins is normally so randomly related to his ERA that sabermetrically, most people don't pay attention to it. That said, I believe that there are pitchers who can pitch to win, like Krukow, Rueter and Dave Stewart. Usually those types of pitchers are hyper competitive and Zito does not profile that way. However, he is known as a very zen person so perhaps he can do it that way. Don't know, haven't followed him closely enough.

As I had linked before, Oakland apparently has wide foul grounds, but, on an overall basis, according to Bill James park factors, Oakland and SF have amazingly similar park factors, only triples, HRs, and errors, if I remember right, are significantly different. However, there is a crucial difference between the two parks on a handedness scale: lefties hit worse in SF, both for average and particularly for HR (73 vs. 100 average park vs. 103 for Oakland). And that is a crucial thing for Zito, because....

Zito vs. Handedness

Zito for his career show poor stats vs. LHH relative to RHH, when he should dominate:

Type - WHIP - BAA - K/9 - BB/9 - K/BB - HR/9
vs. LHH - 1.45 - .250 - 7.26 - 4.34 - 1.67 - 0.93
vs. RHH - 1.20 - .228 - 6.81 - 3.33 - 2.05 - 0.93

His skill in making and playing in the majors have been his ability to handle RHH better than LHH and his ability to keep his hit-rate down. So going from Oakland where there is more average park factorness to SF where LHH suffers, plus Dave Righetti was a similar pitcher stats-wise plus also a similar lefty thrower, though with more power, I think that Zito will see improvement going from A's to Giants from this aspect. His HR/9 should plummet vs. LHH (slightly overall since only 20% or so of AB is against LHH), and that should help in keeping his BAA and BB/9 down (you don't have to be so fine with your pitches if you don't have to worry about giving up the long-ball and that snowballs into better ball/strike situations), while getting K/9 up, but his BAA against RHH will go up in SF, though when you throw the pitchers in there, it could bring it down overall, not sure of the exact impact of each.

Zito in NL

I think the best reading of this is his stats in NL parks. As I had noted before, it looked pretty crappy overall, don't recall the numbers, not sure where I put the spreadsheet, just believe me. His AT&T numbers are OK: 4.05 ERA, 3 games, 20 IP, 9.0 H/9, 1.35 HR/9, 5.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 (no IBB! What, he never faced Bonds? :^). Other NL West parks (one game each):

Park - ERA - IP - H - W - K- HR
Coors - 1.29 - 7 - 8 - 4 - 5 - 0
Chase - 1.50 - 6 - 6 - 0 - 10 - 0
PETCO - 5.40 - 5 - 8 - 4 - 3 - 0


I don't think there's enough games to say what he might do, based on his performances in NL. Just in general, the NL obviously have pitchers batting 3, maybe more, times a game. That alone should add 1-2 strikeouts to his K/9. And drop his BB/9, both from facing the pitcher and there being less baserunners in general. Plus AT&T Mays Field has dampened HRs. He should improve from his move to the NL, plus getting to pitch in SF, LA, SD, which all have pitchers parks, plus Colorado, which was like a pitchers park for much of last season until they ran out of the properly humidified baseballs.

Zito Sabermetrically

As I noted before, plus posted on this, Zito's numbers do not look good sabermetrically. And Allfrank is right - and I do this sometimes - Zito's simple K and BB rates do not tell us all we need to know. But it is a good filter normally, it does raise some red flags, but that should mean further investigation, not my "sky is falling" post on Zito. The good news is that Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA seems to do a pretty good job on Zito's stats, though not necessarily his ERA.

PECOTA has been pretty on the mark for Zito's eqERA and PERA, ERA based on base stats that they calculate, plus base stats like H9, BB9, SO9, Hr9, and VORP. It is wildly off on actual ERA, missing about about 0.50 +/- each of the past 3 seasons - I don't have 2006 stats yet, their book isn't published yet. Also, I posted on saber-estimates of Zito already and most see him in the high 3's or low 4's, and given our rotation, that should be good enough.

Here's some sabermetrics you don't see elsewhere, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat :

Pitcher - LD% - GB% - FB% - h.HR/9 - a.HR/9
Zito - 19.0% - 38.0% - 43.0% - 11.8% - 6.1%
Schmidt - 20.2% - 38.6% - 41.3% - 10.1% - 5.8%
Cain - 16.3% - 36.0% - 47.7% - 4.2% - 11.0%
Lowry - 19.0% - 39.0% - 41.9% - 7.1% - 11.5%
where LD% = Line Drive%, GB% = Ground Ball%, FB% = Fly Ball%, h.HR/9 = home HR/9, a.HR/9 = away HR/9.

On the Giants staff these pitchers most resembled Zito's high BB/9, high FB%, high HR/9 stat-line. Remember, Zito's line occurred in Oakland. Now the sabermetric research shows that HR/FB tends to be a fixed number the most pitchers have no control over, they will tend to regress to the mean of 10% HR/FB. Zito showed this in 2006 and 2005 (which I didn't list) and thus he really lucked on out the road in 2006 with only a 6.1%, so that would suggest a down performance on the road for him in 2007, had he stayed in the AL. Schmidt also showed this tendency as well in 2005 and 2006, he also lucked out on the road greatly in 2006 and thus should regress back to the 10%.

However, both Cain and Lowry, who are more similar to Zito overall than Schmidt because Schmidt strikes out a lot more than the other three, both had 11%+ on the road but significantly less at home, 4.2% for Cain, about 7.0% for Lowry in 2005/6. This is also confirmed, as I noted before, by the reduction in HR/9 generally in SF, which should translate into a lower HR/FB at home.

That suggests that perhaps Zito will also experience a permanent reduction in his HR/9 by pitching in SF, which would mean that his home stats should beat his road stats, having given up significantly less HR in SF. Also, given this, most Giants will have expected ERA above what they got in reality because the latest sabermetric equations uses only FB and not HR/9 in its calculations. Under the old formula, Cain and Lowry would have an expected ERA about 0.20-0.30 lower.

Zito Home vs. Away

Zito's poor home stats appear to be random unless something happened to the park after the 2004 season: home was better by a lot in 2002, 2003, and 2004; away was better in 2005 and 2006. So it appears that 2006 was just an aberation on the whole.

For his career, the stats are about the same:

Place - ERA - WHIP - BAA - K/9 -W/9 - K/W - HR/9
Home - 3.66 - 1.22 - .234 - 6.69 - 3.16 - 2.12 - 1.04
Away - 3.44 - 1.28 - .231 - 7.10 - 3.89 - 1.83 - 0.83

I would expect his Home to be better than his away in 2007, plus he'll be pitching in more pitchers parks in the NL West overall, vs. the AL West. According to Baseball Forecaster, AT&T Mays Field does not make all pitchers better, only good pitchers become better pitchers in SF. Here are the Home/Away ERA splits for our starting 5:

Player - Home - Away
Schmidt - 3.45 - 3.75
Morris - 4.40 - 5.57
Cain - 3.22 - 5.57
Lowry - 3.61 - 6.79
Wright - 6.24 - 4.32

So this would suggest that Schmidt, Morris, Cain, and Lowry are good pitchers. And since I would consider Zito to be a good pitcher, now after examining all his stats and career stats and career splits, he should also do better.

Zito by the Calendar

Zito has normally pitched as good or better in the second half of the season, but 2006 was different, he pitched much worse. In an interview, he blamed that on not having his fitness trainer available to him during the off-season last off-season, because he started throwing more to keep in shape instead of doing his normal fitness routine, and he thinks that caused him to weaken in the second half of 2006. Hopefully his new financial status will enable him to hire a personal trainer all for his lonesome. His stats by halves:

Half - ERA - WHIP - BAA
First - 3.83 - 1.29 - .243
Second- 3.26 - 1.21 - .221

In addition, for his career, he has pitched very well after April, but horribly in April. I guess it takes him a while to get going:

Mon - ERA - WHIP - BAA
Apr - 5.04 - 1.39 - .254
May - 2.98 - 1.20 - .221
Jun - 3.80 - 1.30 - .247
Jul - 3.51 - 1.27 - .237
Aug - 2.76 - 1.13 - .212
Sep - 3.57 - 1.25 - .227
Oct - 3.00 - 1.22 - .227

Like Lowry, he really excels in August. and just pitches well most months except for April. The extra throwing did not work for him either, in 2006, because he had a horrible 5.93 ERA in April, pitched reasonably well within career norms from May to August, but he just stunk in September with a 5.40 ERA. However, in 2005, his September ERA was horrible too, 6.50, it was just that his July and August were so dominant. Looks like he's a stretch run pitcher when he doesn't overwork his arm, so hopefully that will happen in 2007.

Summarizing Zito Acquision

Allfrank noted, "I think there must be a substantial reason that Sabean spend $126 million ON THIS PLAYER. I see much to like... I would certainly like to know what Sabean, Rags, Bochy, Gardner, plus the scouts see that we do not see in the numbers." I think I've discussed what my thoughts on this are, but I'll repeat here to get this all in one post and I might ramble (more than usual) here.

I think this move makes sense for the short term, 3-4 years. Beyond that is anybody's guess, even Sabean and his brain trust. Historically, long contracts for a pitcher have not ended up prettily. I have to assume that the push for Zito must have come equally if not more so from Magowan and Baer.

This was a huge gamble, just like the contract to Bonds was a huge gamble. They made out like thieves on the Bonds contract, but Bonds was at the age then that most players start to drop in performance. Look at Willie Mays for a big star example, if you substituted his similar age stats for Bonds, would you have been happy paying $90M for that? But Barry was big-time into keeping in top physical shape, so they took a leap of faith and signed him to that big contract.

Similarly, they see Zito as the same type of fanatical body builder mindset. And thus think that the chances of Zito going bad during the 7 years of the contract is minimized by this. But pitcher's arms are much more fragile than hitters'. If something snaps midway through his contract, it could look ugly (see Darren Dreifort and what happened to the D-gers during that mess, they didn't really come from under that cloud until that contract was over).

But Zito will be 29 in the first year of the contract and it covers his 29-35 years, which means prime physical years from 29-32, then there is usually a dropoff around that age for pitchers. Since he is able to pitch effectively without speed, which is the skill that degrades the most seriously in that age range, that suggests that he will be able to pitch effectively to a latter age than most pitchers.

It has been noted by some that Zito has pitched a lot of innings. It has ranged from 3,500 to 3,900 pitches (approximately) for the past six seasons. Most pitchers have suffered physical problems when pitching that much in a season, let alone six straight seasons. Bochy for the past three seasons, have not pushed any pitchers to season pitch counts above 3,500, even though some starters reached the 32-34 starts that Zito regularly threw. To my eye, 3,500 appears to be the point separating pitchers for abuse, on an annual basis, and Bochy has been able to keep his pitchers under that mark for the past three seasons. So that speaks well for Zito going forward with the Giants, despite the abuse. But it is still a risk.

All in all, this was a calculated risk taken on by the Giants. A huge calculated risk. They probably can expect to get 4-5 good seasons out of Zito realistically, but to assume any more would be ignoring the realities of pitchers attrition rate. They are making the near term pretty good - with a rotation of Zito, Cain, Lowry, maybe Lincecum and Sanchez - and then hoping that Zito lasts into his mid 30's still relatively productive, though that obviously didn't work with Kirk Rueter. But for now, enjoy the road, but don't look into the side mirror, Zito's career downturn might be closer than is comfortable.

OT: Ralph, Chill, Please

I was listening to The Razor briefly today and he was ranting about how can the Giants consider using Benitez when he's is so lousy, yada yada yada (I think that's a verbatim quote :^). He's got an MBA, he should know better: as a manager or sales person, how do you get more value for something you are trying to sell, by saying he is a lousy piece of crap, or by saying that he is our closer if he is healthy? Do you want Yusmeiro Petit as the trade piece or would you rather settle for Manuel Olivera? So chill, totally, Barbieri, or you'll blow the deal for us.

1 comment:

  1. Forgot to mention also that Zito's BABIP is much lower than the .300 mean that most pitcher's regress to, so he has strong control over hits (career BABIP of .269), and that's why he can get away with his high BB/9 rate and keep his WHIP low and ERA low.

    ReplyDelete

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