Monday, June 01, 2009

2009 Giants: May PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of May 2009, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this).

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). See my explanation down below on methodology plus read the link, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and particularly how low DIS% is so important.

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2009 Season

Matt Cain - (60% DOM, 10% DIS; 6:1/10): 5, 2, 4, 4, 1, 4, 3, 3, 4, 5

Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson- (30% DOM, 40% DIS; 3:4/10): 3, 0, 5, 0, 5, 0, 2, 0, 3, 5

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (80% DOM, 10% DIS; 8:1/10): 0, 2, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 5, 5

Jonathan Sanchez - (22% DOM, 33% DIS; 2:3/9): 0, 3, 3, 0, 2, 2, 4, 4, 0

Barry Zito - ( 40% DOM, 10% DIS; 4:1/10): 0, 3, 5, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4

Giants season overall - 47% DOM, 20% DIS out of 49 games counted (23:10/49)

Giants Month of April - 40% DOM, 25% DIS out of 20 games counted (8:5/20)

Giants Month of May - 52% DOM, 17% DIS out of 29 games counted (15:5/29)

Lincecum, after being lost, has put together a string of 8 DOM starts in a row, 5 in the month of May.  Cain, despite a sterling win record, had a number of non-DOM starts, but only look bad in comparison to Lincecum, he still had 3 out of 6 starts.  Both only have 1 DIS start;  only the best starters can keep their DIS% below 20%, and particularly 10% and below.

The rest of the rotation, this month, did a lot better, all contributing at least 2 DOM starts.  This pushed the monthly DOM rate to 52%;  remember, a pitcher by himself above 50% is an elite starter, a rotation doing it means that the rotation overall is elite.  

Zito continued to strike out enough batters to generate PQS points via strikeouts, which is very key to delivering DOM starts.   He still hasn't had a game where he really dominated by striking out more than the IP.  That is an accomplishment from his career that was a signal that he was on.  He did that to start his good stretch of pitching last season, for example.  But it is a good sign that he is still striking out enough to generate PQS points.

Johnson and Sanchez, while not doing well overall, at least were generating some DOM starts to go with the DIS starts.  That together with the other pitchers led to the great 52% DOM in May and 47% overall thus far.   This is what I was envisioning when we signed Johnson, though still not as good as I was hoping, a staff so good that it dominates the other teams enough to make up for our poor offense.  That led to a winning month of May, 15-14, after a 10-10 record in April.

What's Good and What's Not

A DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes. 

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher). 

May 2009 Comments

After electrofying the fan base by going on a nice win streak early in May, the fans turned mightily when they cooled off, with the offense being the sole culprit, with calls for trading to get better defense.   What these people are forgeting is that this is the ying and yang of developing our young prospects or making a move towards getting into the playoffs.   

Trading will either weaken our rotation (some suggest trading Sanchez or even Cain) or weaken our farm system, in order to improve the offense.  And, what people forget, is that we are not that far away from the playoffs, we are only 3.5 games behind the leader for the wild-card spot, and the team that won all those games early in the month of May is still here.

The players who were disappointing people in April were starting to produce this month:

Ishikawa:   .385/.489/487/.977 since May 10, after Bochy benched for one game

Burriss:  .337/391/.376/.767 since April 29 to May 30

Sandoval:  .309/.350/.489/.839 for month of May

Lewis:  .237/.338/.492/.830 since May 10, and really, he's been hitting since day 1

The thing is, it is one thing if the team was consistently up and down, but the team has been great at home, 18-9, while they are pretty bad on the road, 7-15.   So the team has been able to get things going at home, but the young players are still learning how to do well on the road.  That's part of getting used to being a major leaguer, dealing with the travel, dealing with all that goes with the travel.  Some numbers:

Ishikawa:  H:  .368/.413/.485/.899;  R:  .077/.217/.077/.294

Burriss:  H:  .209/.287/.253/.540;  R:  .347/.390/.361/.751; H/May:  .295/.358/.361/.719

Sandoval:  H:  .371/.411/.573/.984;  R:  .224/.272/.329/.601

Lewis:  H:  .291/.391/.430/.822;  R:  .243/.341/.405/.747

In addition, May was a particularly bad month on the road.  But that was greatly affected by the parks they played in.  Wrigley Field and Coors are good hitter's parks, but they only played 2 games in those venues, while they played 3 games in D-ger Stadium, Petco Park, and Seattle, three extreme pitcher's parks (95, 88, and 95, park factors, respectively, according to baseball-reference.com).  Averaging out all the parks, they collectively played in a 96 park factor park, overall, in the month of May.  AT&T has a 103 park factor this season, thus far.

One interesting thing to come out of this is how consistent Lewis is, month by month, home or road.   However, this does not extend to pitchers thus far:

Vs. RHP:  .304/.400/.491/.891, 3 HR in 112 AB, 39 AB/HR

Vs. LHP:  .171/.277/.220/.496, 0 HR in 41 AB

The good news is that Lewis, while worse against LHP in previous years, he was never as bad as this.  Plus, it's only 41 AB, lots of random noise.  So he should hit better against LHP going forward.

Unfortunately, Sandoval's recent elbow injury appears to have put Ishikawa on the bench, as (understandably) Pablo is well enough to play 1B but not 3B, thus making Uribe our starting 3B.  And the Giants are not sure if this is only temporary, or if this will be the lineup going forward.  I was hoping to see how Ishikawa does on the road, after hitting so well, basically at home, since the one-game benching, but now it looks like we might not get that chance. 

And the problem is that basically we are replacing Ishikawa with Uribe, and we know pretty much right now what Uribe is, and he's not that good (though OK with RISP), whereas we don't know exactly what Ishikawa is, when he is going good, he can be a pretty good power hitter, and when he's off, he is pretty off.  And he's been hitting better lately (though obviously just against RHP mostly) so this would have been a good time to see what is happening.

And unfortunately, Ryan Rohlinger isn't doing that great in AAA, hitting only .295/.346/.453/.799, with only 5 HR in 190, and nothing much is happening in AA, though Sharlon Schoop, who was considered the future SS at one point, has been playing 2B and 3B too, and hitting .306/.366/.396/.762 so far, not really that good either, but better than the other guys who have been playing 3B too (with Brandon Crawford promoted to AA, Schoop apparently has been playing other infield positions;  he's been considered MLB-ready defensively, his only question was whether he could ever figure out how to hit, apparently a valid question).   

Even 3B Conor Gillaspie, who many were excited about last season, has been struggling with hitting in Advanced A.  He hits better at home, a relative pitcher's park in a hitter's league, while doing poorly on the road, so he looks like he needs to adjust to other parks, and thus improve going forward.  However, his May is marked by a decline in his offensive production.  The good news is that his strikeout rate is very good (about 15% or 85% contact rate), as well as his BB/K proportion (plus both at home and on the road), and thus if he can stay the course, he should continue to improve in his offensive production going forward.

Thus, that leaves us few good options for 3B this season besides Kung Fu Panda.  Sandoval has been our best option, doing some good defensive plays there, while hitting well after a cold start.  Uribe has been a nice boost lately, and would be a good option for a reliable level of production (though low production relatively, particularly for 3B), but the Giants still appears to be undecided which type of season this should be, one for development or one for competing for the playoffs.

Here's how I think it should be viewed:  the Giants have been competitive up to now, even with Ishikawa's ups and downs.  When he was down, other hitters picked up for him, while he hit well when others didn't hit so well.  Why not put Sandoval back at 3B once he is sufficiently recovered and put Ishikawa back in, this season should be viewed as trying to figure out who to keep for 2010 or not.  Ishikawa clearly is one of those question marks, his recent hot streak should have counted for something.

At minimum, an option that perhaps they can consider is to basically platoon Uribe with Ishikawa, with Sandoval playing 3B against RHP, and 1B against LHP.  They had basically been platooning Ishikawa anyway, so Uribe would be mainly taking ABs away from Aurilia.  Plus, since they are still not sure which position Sandoval should play, this would give him a better view of how good he is at 1B vs. 3B.  I still would prefer Ishikawa getting all the AB's until mid-season, and see how it goes, this alternative would at least let him show how well he can hit at least in a platoon situation.

The good news (scary for the league) is that all of our starters have improved in May over April (or continued to do well in Cain's case).  So even if the offense didn't get better, if the pitching can continue to get better, and there is the potential for that with Johnson and Sanchez, we should continue to not only win games but win more games.  

I think the Giants should stay the course, give our young players opportunities to play and see how they can do.  If they can give Castillo two-thirds of a season to see how he can do, and he didn't really hit that well, we can give that much time to our young starting position players this season to see how well they can do with their opportunity.  We didn't get Uribe to be a starter, he's not part of our potential future, he's backup when someone gets injured, but when everyone is healthy, he should return to the bench and let our young players play.

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