Saturday, May 24, 2008

One is the Loneliest Number

I love Three Dog Night.

Win Number One

Zito and the Giants yesterday both won for the first time this season when he started. His and the Giants record while he started: 1-9. He went for his longest stint in the season - not hard to do when you are being battered all around - going 6.1 innings, giving up 3 hits and 4 walks, recording 5 strikeouts with no homers. That qualifies as his first DOM start of the season, after umpteen DIS starts (read my PQS posts for more info on this).

He has been very good since his break from the rotation: 7.53 ERA pre, 3.22 post, 5.65 overall. The key peripheral change is the drop in hits to +1 from +12 vs. his innings pitched. Also, his K's rose enough to at least be greater than his BB's, though just barely and nothing near the 2.0 litmus test that applies to most pitchers except for crafty lefties. Still, 3.22 ERA is nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, a losing streak is often a product of more than just lousy pitching: the Giants just scored 2.22 runs in Zito starts. However, that is also a product of facing a long string of staff ace starters along the way, so was the Giants lousy in support or do you just tip your hat off to each team's ace?

And there were a lot of good aces along the way plus hot young pitchers: Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Brandon Webb, Edison Volquez, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle. However, Zito did face middling and/or unproven pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Phil Dumatrait, though both had been pitching well up to facing the Giants. And Scott Olsen is the Marlin's #2 starter and pretty good himself both this season and previously, when his head is on straight.

And we all know that Zito is not the ace of the staff, no matter how big his salary is (and there is nothing wrong with that as long as he pitches like he did in 2005-6, late 2007, and since the break 2008), so given this circumstance, one could have expected that the Giants probably would be net losers while he's pitching, at least in the early going when you are facing mainly aces of the other staff, just not 1-8.

Swing Vote

One fact struck me the other day, what I wrote above: the Giants had lost every single start of Barry Zito, until, obviously, yesterday. That means that the Giants have been 19-20 when he doesn't pitch. Yes, the Giants have been about .500 without Zito.

Of course, as I noted above, part of that is due to the fact that he has mainly faced the other team's ace and we would have lose a number of them anyway. Still, if he had been pitching like he has since his break, we would have had a fighting chance to win some of those games instead of losing them.

If Giants were, say, 4-6 (only .400, 65 win season) in his starts. That would make the Giants today 23-26, or basically break-even. That's because every game lost is a two game swing in your record.

3 comments:

  1. Zito does have a nice ERA over his last 4 starts but it's a sample size that's so small that it's meaningless. At least right now, if he continues to pitch better, then great.

    In fact, you could take the worst pitcher ever in the history of major league baseball and find 4 starts where he pitched well. Same with a hitter, I can find you a 2-3 week stretch when Albert Pujols was miserable.

    My fear is that while Zito is at least striking out hitters at a league rate during this 4-game stretch -- his K% is at 16.16% over the 4-game stretch, league average is 16% -- is that his BB% -- which in my opinion, is a major, major cause for his troubles -- is at a bloated 13.13%. That's awful and not a good sign for Zito, despite the 4-game ERA.

    I thought it would be interesting to look at the quality of the teams that Zito faced during his last four starts by using EqA.

    Pit - .255
    Hou - .264
    Chw - .255
    Fla - .270

    He faced an above average offense in Florida and Houston and two below average offenses in Pittsburgh and Chicago.

    Overall, the 4-game stretch is nice but I'm still concerned with Zito's terrible command and control. I'll be watching his next start.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And where exactly did I get into the meaningfulness of 4 starts? I mean, other than noting that this was his first DOM start?

    All I noted was that he has been better since his break, no more, no less.

    But since you want to bring meaningfulness into discussion, I will just quote you the same regarding his first 6 horrible starts. I could do the same and one up you, I can take the best pitcher in the history of major league baseball and find 6 starts were he stunk it up, as well as the worse pitcher ever and find 6 starts where he did well. Heck, I can get into pitchers who have thrown no-hitters but had middling careers, if you want to get esoteric.

    Hyperbole aside, Zito has made a good living previously when he was an A's player walking too many guys. Research has shown that there are numerous pitchers (in fact, a whole category called "Crafty Lefties") in the history of major league baseball who have survived high walk rates by achieving significantly below league average BABIP. Yes, Virginia there are pitchers with BABIP's under the .300 (or .290 depending on your favorite source but MLB in 2007 had a BABIP of .303).

    Now, is Zito one of them? He apparently is. Tango Tiger of The Book fame studied how much data is necessary to be statistically significant that a pitcher can keep his BABIP below average and he came up with 7 seasons worth of data. Zito is in his 9th season, so it looks like he qualifies with a .267 career BABIP.

    Now, will he continue to do so? If he is throwing right, it appears that he would be able to, his BABIP in 2007, which was a poor year for him, found his BABIP still superlative at .265.

    However, this year, thus far, his BABIP has been on the high side, .331 overall, still a high .318 for his nice 4 start stint since the break. Following normal DIPS (really stats) theory, his BABIP should revert to career norms at some point this season (regression to the mean), which should mean that he pitches even better.

    Now will he? Who knows, he has been too mercurial in performance, even when he was an A's property, for anyone to judge accurately. But assuming he straightens his mechanics out - and he has done it before, numerous times, and appears to finally be figuring something out - he will get his BABIP down to career norms again and his performance should still be better going forward than his horrible 6 start stint to start the season.

    Still, that's a low bar to hurdle over, so not so meaningful to say, about as meaningful to say that a 4 game stretch of goodness is not meaningful.

    What would be meaningful to say is that with a BB/9 rate of around 5.0 both pre and post break, he would be hard pressed to continue to pitch well with regards to ERA as long as he is walking so many. Last season, his BB/9 was 3.8, which was not far from his career 3.6 BB/9 and probably close to his second half of his career stats than his first half when he actually was a strikeout pitcher. I think right now we would take a 4.53 ERA (talk about lowered expectations), so he basically needs to drop 1 walk per game to bring him back to recent career standards.

    And I just realized I mis-spoke: this was actually Zito's second DOM game, his first start after his break was a 4 DOM start, I just didn't notice it because he only pitched 5 innings, so I assumed it wasn't, but technically, it was.

    So after a 6 game stretch where he had 4 DIS starts and 0 DOM starts, he now as a 4 game stretch where he has 0 DIS starts and 2 DOM starts, that certainly looks like a trend change there. Yes, you can go to any pitcher in the history of major league baseball and find something like this, but all I really was saying before was that he wasn't pitching well before, ain't it nice he's pitching well now.

    Now that I've looked a little deeper, he's obviously worked out whatever flaw he had with his pitching earlier this season - you have to in order to go from so many DIS and zero DOM to so many DOM and zero DIS starts. Sure, his peripherals are not the greatest, particularly his BB/9, but he has boosted his K/9 to 6.4, which would be great if he can keep that up and at least is proof that he's implementing what he said he was going to do during the break, which is throw strikes. Those are the meaningful things I can draw out of 4 starts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. >> And where exactly did I get into the meaningfulness of 4 starts? I mean, other than noting that this was his first DOM start?

    Well, you said he's been "very good" since his break from the rotation, which if you aren't putting some stock into his last 4 starts, why would you say such a thing? Where did you draw that conclusion? Certainly from those 4 starts, or am I wrong?

    I haven't read Tango's study, but isn't part of stereotypical "crafty lefty" having good control? Glavine is "crafty lefty" but he's had brilliant control through his career. Jamie Moyer would fit into that same category but with superb control.

    Zito doesn't have that control.

    >> But since you want to bring meaningfulness into discussion, I will just quote you the same regarding his first 6 horrible starts. I could do the same and one up you, I can take the best pitcher in the history of major league baseball and find 6 starts were he stunk it up, as well as the worse pitcher ever and find 6 starts where he did well. Heck, I can get into pitchers who have thrown no-hitters but had middling careers, if you want to get esoteric.

    Sure, you could do that. But after '07 it's clear that Zito is losing something as a pitcher. So, I'm not shocked to see him have 6 bad starts to begin this year.


    >> Hyperbole aside, Zito has made a good living previously when he was an A's player walking too many guys.

    Yes, and he was also striking out hitters occasionally, too. Which helps. I understand that part of his value comes from keeping his BABIP low.

    His K% has been down trending and I would not be surprised to see his BABIP also go up as a loss of his velocity, worsening of control, and potential loss of pitch quality.

    >> Now, will he continue to do so? If he is throwing right, it appears that he would be able to, his BABIP in 2007, which was a poor year for him, found his BABIP still superlative at .265.

    That's the ten dollar question.

    >> but all I really was saying before was that he wasn't pitching well before, ain't it nice he's pitching well now.

    And that's what I'm saying, I don't see much change in his underlying stats, besides him striking out a few hitters which obviously helps.

    Zito will not be successful while walking 13% of batters per PA. You can talk about his control in his Oakland days, but that's nearly 3%+ percent over his BB% during that time period.

    Trust me, I hope and hope that Zito will pull it together, but I'm not seeing it, personally, yet. We'll just have to keep watching his starts to see where he goes.

    I admire the optimism, as always.

    ReplyDelete

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