Saturday, February 07, 2015

2014 Giants: September PQS and Final Stats

(Apologies for the delay, had most of the post done before we won the championship, except for the ending comments, but then forgot about it.  I normally go over other stuff in my comments afterward, but seems like a good place and time to discuss the 2015 rotation, and gather up all my thoughts that I've been putting out in comments across other places)

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of September 2014, plus the final stats for the season, with PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here (unfortunately, they removed the article; this link gets you at least to the PQS definition, read down to middle for details). 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). Regular readers can skip to the next section.

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).

What's Good and What's Not

From my observations, 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.

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). Read the link (unfortunately, they removed the article and thus the table is no longer available, sorry), as I noted, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and there you can see particularly how a low DIS% is so important to a low ERA.

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).  But I think when the DOM% is high enough, you win more by choosing a high DOM% over a low DIS%, as there are more high quality games pitched overall.

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' Final PQS for 2014 Season

Madison Bumgarner- (67% DOM, 15% DIS; 22:5/33):  0, 4, 4, 0, 3, 1/5, 5, 3, 4, 5, 5/4, 4, 5, 5, 3/3, 2, 4, 5, 5, 0/5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5/1, 5, 4, 3/

Matt Cain- (57% DOM, 7% DIS; 8:1/14):  1, 3, 5, 5, 2/X, 3, 4, X, X, X/4, 3, 2, 5, 4/4, 5, DL/60-day DL/

Chris Heston - (0% DOM, 100% DIS; 0:1/1):  /////0/

Tim Hudson - (47% DOM, 17% DIS; 14:5/30):  5, 4, 3, 3, 5, 4/4, 3, X, X, 5/5, 2, 5, 0, 3, 5/5, 2, 3, 4, 3/1, 4, 0, 3, 5/3, 2, 0, 0, 4/

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (54% DOM, 35% DIS; 14:9/26):  3, 0, 4, 4, 0/4, 0, 5, 4, 4, 3/0, 4, 5, 2, 4/5, 4, 5, 5, 0, 0/4, 0, 1, 0//

Jake Peavy - (67% DOM, 8% DIS; 8:1/12):  5/4, 1, 3, 4, 5, 5/4, 3, 4, 4, 3/

Yusmeiro Petit - (50% DOM, 17% DIS; 6:2/12):  5/0, 2, 3, 5//3/5/0, 5, 4, 4, 3/

Ryan Vogelsong - (52% DOM, 10% DIS; 16:3/31):  0, 3, 3, 0, 5/4, 3, 4, 5, 5, 3/4, 4, 2, 3, 5/5, 4, 4, 0, 4/4, 3, 5, X, 2, 5/2, 3, 2, 4, 3/

Giants Season overall - 55% DOM, 17% DIS out of 159 games counted (88:27/159)

Giants Month of April - 43% DOM, 29% DIS out of 28 games counted (12:8/28)
Giants Month of May - 63% DOM, 7% DIS out of 27 games counted (17:2/27)
Giants Month of June - 62% DOM, 8% DIS out of 26 games counted (16:2/26)
Giants Month of July - 62% DOM, 15% DIS out of 26 games counted (16:4/26)
Giants Month of August - 63% DOM, 22% DIS out of 27 games counted (17:6/27)
Giants Month of September - 40% DOM, 20% DIS out of 25 games counted (10:5/25)

The month of September for PQS was only so-so, as there were a good number of DOM games, but there were also a lot of DIS starts as well, much like August.  Bodies were getting tired or injured, or mechanics out of whack, particularly for the old guys, Hudson and Vogie.  Huddy admitted to using meds to heal up his hip problems (meds are good, I think I can quote him on) to get well.

Peavy and Petit led the way with 3 DOM starts.  Bumgarner had 2 DOM, and Hudson and Vogie had only the 1.  Was not that great a month, so it's not surprising to not see many.

Hudson had the most disaster starts with 2 DIS starts.  Bumgarner, Petit, and Heston each had 1 DIS.

And, as I've been pointing out about how good and bad it is for teams when there is a DOM or DIS, the Giants record in September hewed to what each starter did in teams of DOM/DIS.  Bumgarner was 2 DOM:1 DIS in 4 starts and the team was 3-1.  Peavy was 3:0 in 5 starts, the team 5-0.  Hudson was 1:2 in 5 starts and the team was 0-5.  Vogelsong was 1:0 and the team was 1-4.  And Petit was 3:1 and the team was 3-2.

This steep drop in DOM was reflected in the rise in ERA for the month from 3.26 and 3.23 in July and August to 4.28 in September.  Peavy led the way with a 1.44 ERA and 4.40 K/BB.  Bumgarner was next with 3.08 ERA and 5.00 K/BB, though only 6.8 K/9, showing how tired he was in the last month (and once he got some rest for the wild card playoff, he struck out 10 batters).

The rest of the pitchers had issues in the month.  Petit was next with 4.40 ERA and 7.40 K/BB, bolstered by a 10.9 K/9.  He was unlucky in the month, with a 60% DOM/20% DIS, and that showed with the Giants going 3-2 in his starts during the month.  Vogie was next with a 5.53 ERA and only 1.64 K/BB, which is very poor, and his performance reflected that.  Hudson had an 8.72 ERA, but had a 2.80 K/BB, which is pretty good, so he had some bad luck (and bad hip).  His 5.8 K/9 wasn't so good, and resulted in him getting hit around.  However, as noted, he was battling a hip problem and once he got the right meds, he was much better, righting himself in his last start and giving us two good DOM starts in the playoffs, before stumbling in the World Series.  And Heston had himself a disaster start himself, giving up 3 runs in 4 IP.

2014 Comments

Wow!  What a season!  The ups, the downs, the nail biting, it has a wild roller coaster ride.  At one point, the Giants had basically the best record in the majors at 43-21.  Then it all fell apart, with Romo's blowing of three saves in Colorado being a particular black eye of that downfall, and stemming mostly from the offense coming horrible due to injuries and poor performances.

Still, they righted themselves in time to win one of the wild card spots.   Though the team was at Pythagorean, they were 4 games under .500 in one-run games for a manager who has averaged 4 games over .500 in one-run games.  In a typical season, then, the Giants would have been 96-66, instead of 88-74.   That would have been enough to win the NL West by a couple of games.

Overall, per PQS, this was a down season for the rotation.  After seasons of dominance in the 60% DOM range, it was only in the 40% DOM in April and September, which is good but not great.  It brought down the overall season PQS to 55% DOM, which is still pretty good but down significantly from the past 5-6 seasons (going by memory).

It was great from May to August though.  The main problems there were Hudson, Lincecum, and Vogelsong.

In Hudson't case, he was doing great, if you'll recall, until his hip apparently became a huge problem.  Meds helped him recover, but why they took so long to get him the right meds...

Lincecum was doing fine too - he was at 65% DOM and 20% DIS - until that save threw him out of kilter, and he never regained his correct form, ending with 5 DIS starts in his final six starts.  But for the 18 starts up to that save, he was one of the leaders on the staff (just short of 3.00 ERA), which people forget, as Bumgarner, Cain, and Vogelsong got out of the gate poorly (hence the bad April DOM overall), in particular, Bumgarner with 3 DIS in 5 starts in April (and he ended the month with a DIS).  Though to be fair, Lincecum had some early DIS to start too, but he and Bumgarner both turned the corner in May.

And Vogelsong also had a nice 20 start stretch from his last start in April to third start in August, 3.18 ERA, 103 K/29 BB in 124.1 IP, which would be great if he could do it over a full season.  But like in prior seasons, he tires out sometime in August time frame and limps into the playoffs, where the rest appears to revive him some.

Thus, it was not lack of skills that costed the Giants rotation in 2014, it was lack of consistency, for a variety of reasons.  Still, most of them recovered in time for the playoffs (the extra rest that Bumgarner afforded them helped as well) and helped to get the Giants into the World Series for the third time in five seasons.

2015 Starting Rotation

Now it's time to defend the title again.  The Giants now have a bunch of starters to select from.  The most likely 5 man rotation is, in order, Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Peavy, and Lincecum (though apparently he's in battle with Vogelsong).

While all of them have question marks as to why their 2015 might suck, I think they all are probably going to be OK.  But when you mix probabilities like that with 5 pitchers, odds are one or more of them will suffer some sort of breakdown.  That's why I'm glad the Giants have Vogie and Petit in reserve, plus Blach, Blackburn, and Crick starting to push for the majors.  And the Giants are holding onto Huston, so they must see something in him.
  •  Bumgarner:  
    • Minus:  270+ IP, over 4,000 pitches thrown in starts
    • Plus:  When he came up, he revealed in an interview that he threw on the side EVERY DAY which, as he learned, major leaguers don't do in order to save strength for their starts, so he started to cut back.  As I wrote about him in 2011, his side throwing was an additional 60-90 IP, roughly, he was throwing each year.  And it is not like he said that he would follow what MLB pitchers do, he said that he cut back, so he might still be throwing more than pitchers do in a season before 2014.  And let's put this another way:  Madison won't do anything that would hurt his chances of making the Hall of Fame, so I don't think he would have pushed himself if he thought he would hurt himself (in a survey on short and long term goals in high school, his short term goal was, I think, to win whatever tournament he was in at that time, and long term, it was to be in the Hall of Fame;  so I don't think he would do anything to jeopardize that).  The latest report is that he's feeling great, he's working on his usual routine.
  • Cain:
    • Minus:  Surgery on elbow and then, surprisingly, ankle, I suppose to get everything out of the way since he already had surgery on the elbow.
    • Plus:  Surgery was minor.  He's says he's 90% pain free and throwing freely now, that he hasn't felt like this since signing with the Giants as a 17 YO (wow, close to half his life now) and that his stuff won't be different and that he won't have any problem with velocity.  Infection was the main worry and that should have happened already if it was going to happen.  Some odds of him being out of sorts without the chips, but really, that's "sky is falling" type of worry.  He adjusted his motion to minimize the bother caused by the chips.  He's no longer bothered, so he should be back to old, at minimum, and maybe better.   It's not like he's been out of the game for that long either and he's only 30 YO this season.
  • Hudson
    • Minus:  Age and recent surgery.
    • Plus:  If you look over his long career, one has to be amazed that no matter what happens to his peripherals, he has consistently kept his ERA in a pretty narrow - and good - range.   And it appears that the Giants got Vogelsong partly because they anticipate needing to rehab Hudson into the early season, which would give him some rest from the wear and tear of the MLB season, and he'll be fresher in the playoffs, should we make it again.
  • Peavy
    • Minus:  First half 2014 with Boston plus first few starts with Giants.
    • Plus:  While his ERA has wildly gone up and down, he has been very good in PQS in recent years, piling up 60-70% DOMs (which is excellent and elite) all during that period except for the portion of 2014 that he spent in Boston.  He also credited Posey and Susac for his improvement as well.  Don't see why he can't continue to show his good side of starting pitching for us.
  • Lincecum
    • Minus:  Last three seasons, with a lot of downs, including declining velocity and K/9.  
    • Plus:  Last three seasons, with a lot of ups.  Each season has been mostly of two halves, a very bad one and a very good one, for the most part.  You can't last half a season in the majors on such a consistent basis unless you have the raw skills to get hitters out well.  In 2014, he had roughly a 3 ERA over an 18 start stretch that ended with his save relief appearance.  One start, heck, maybe a handful of starts, you can be that lucky, but you can't dominate major league hitters over 18 starts without the skill of getting hitters out consistently.  But that has been his problem, consistency, he loses it and is lost for a long time.  And that can now be explained:  he hasn't worked on a daily basis with his dad since the 2009 season.  He revealed that in an interview after the season and said that in 2015, he will be working with his dad daily once again.  That's no guarantee he can do it all season, but I feel pretty good about his chances, and if he does this, he beats out Vogelsong in spring training for the last rotation spot.  The report is that he's been working with his dad to get his mechanics right this off-season.
  • Vogelsong
    • Minus:  Poorer performances the last two seasons.
    • Plus:  First, he was injured in 2013, so he never got the chance to right himself.  He was having a good start when he got HBP.  While wasn't that great in 2014, he was fine for a 5th starter, which he would be in our rotation in 2015, as he is pretty good because he would eat up innings as well as pitch decently, which will be more than what most teams can say about their 5th starter.  As vilified as Zito was for the contract he signed, he was a steady and decent performer for us, ostensibly as our 4th or 5th starter during his Giants years, and in the years that he was the 4th, the team was 57-51 (.528) with him starting.  The Giants played at a .531 pace in those seasons, which is basically the same win rate so he did not severely hold us back in any of those years, as some might think.  So he did not hold us back at all when slotted in our #4 spot.  I think Vogelsong can easily match that, because his peripherals in 2014 was not that much different from what he did in 2012, and his FIP in 2014 was roughly the same as in 2011 and 2012, meaning his skills have not declined much, if any.  As noted above, Bochy has indicated that Lincecum and Vogelsong will be competing for a starting spot, but if Lincecum is as good as I think he is, Vogie is in the bullpen to start the season.  Plus, if they want to give Hudson all the time he needs to be 100%, Vogelsong might take his place in the rotation to start the season, then shift into the bullpen if necessary.  As we know in baseball, anything can happen, so they deal with too many starters when they need too.
  • Petit
    • Minus:  Hasn't pitched a full season as a starter for many years now, probably not physically up for being a full-time starter
    • Plus:  Giants has experience in adjusting relievers to full-time starting, moving Russ Ortiz and Jonathan Sanchez from prior relief roles into full-time starting.  In addition, has managed a number of players successfully in jumping more than 25 IP without subsequent injury or drop in performance.  Plus, Petit has been very good when placed in the starting rotation the past couple of seasons (3.74 ERA when in the rotation, 2013-4), posting 60%+ DOM.  He should be a good starter once given the chance in the rotation.  It also helps that the Giants are preparing both Vogelsong and Petit to be starters for the 2015 season, and giving them the chance to build up their strength should they need to step in as a starter, though clearly Petit is the 6th starter/long reliever, barring any huge problems with the rotation.
So, all in all, I think the rotation is in great shape.  We have five starters who look like they are capable of putting up low to mid-3 ERA's (Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum).  And should anything bad happen to any of them, injury or performance, Vogelsong is probably a roughly 4 ERA guy now and Petit, at worse, if he starts regularly, in the high 3's himself.   Altogether, that's a rotation capable of a 3.50-ish ERA.   That would be an improvement over the 3.74 ERA the starters produced last season, and gives us some buffer in case of more bad luck, pushing us back to last season's performance of 3.50 ERA and 3.79 RA (6th in the NL) overall (relievers put up 3.00 ERA to bring down the overall ERA to that low).

The biggest risk to this scenario is Lincecum.  But he is also the biggest reward relative to best minus worse scenario spread.   He could maybe return to 2010-11 goodness (roughly low 3 ERA).  Or his father has too much to work on, and he's better than 2012-2014, but more on par of where Vogelsong is, roughly 4.00 ERA level.  Second biggest is probably Peavy.  While he's been great PQS, he's been having bad luck with the ERA in spite of the great PQS.  I'm assuming some regression on the bad luck, but what if that's part of his age-related decline?  So instead of the roughly 3 FIP he had with us, he could be closer to the 4 ERA in the prior seasons that he put up.  But the Giants probably don't bring him back if he's doing it with mirrors, so I think he'll be fine.

I feel pretty good about Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Vogelsong, and Petit.   As I said, Bumgarner is not going to do anything to harm himself long-term.  He's not like Wilson, throwing out his arm to win it all.   Plus, he's never had arm problems and is a poster child for the Braves former pitching coaches theory that throwing more means less injuries, as Bumgarner loves to throw a lot.  Cain, even when handicapped by his chips, was still around 4 ERA.  At worse, he'll revert to his early career of high 3's, but I expect low 3's from him.  Hudson is La Machine, always delivering, even when recovering from injury, an ERA in the mid-3's.  As long as he is healthy, he's good, and if not, Petit is a great backup.  Vogelsong's FIP has been in the high 3's in his Second Life with the Giants (except for the injury 2013 season), and his peripherals have been steady good.  And Petit, I think the Giants would manage his workload so that he can be good without going deep into the start, and build up strength over time.

In the best of all scenarios, both Cain and Lincecum return to be sub-3 ERAs, joining Bumgarner as a 3-headed ace, and the Giants run away with the NL West and probably the NL as well.   In a more likely scenario, someone falters and Vogelsong is there to be a most excellent #5 starter (one of the benefits of having a rotation full of front-line starters is that even if we lose one, we still have a very good rotation overall).  In a more likely worse scenario, two starters go down and Vogie and Petit join the rotation and, again, our rotation should be A-OK.   So I'm not too worried about our rotation for 2015, barring a worse case scenario of all hell breaking loose.  But that's "sky is falling" type of logic you will never see here.

In addition, Bochy said that the Giants will be creative with seven starters, with two long relievers.  He noted that he might piggyback starters, letting one starter go 5 innings, then the second starter finish the game.  That would rest the back of the bullpen.  He also said that he could substitute in order to give a starter a breather.  Or to adjust the rotation in some way.

No mention of my pet project, the 6-man starting rotation.  I still think that would work well in August, as you keep everyone on a longer rest, but with only two rest days normally in the month, you insert the 6th man only when there is a week with no off days.  It seems like our starters seem to get out of whack late in the season a lot, giving them an extra day of rest is an advantage we have with the quality of the entire rotation that we have.

As long as we got a strong rotation plus good hitters like Posey, Pence, and Belt in the middle of our lineup, and more importantly, two experienced leadoff men in Pagan and Aoki (Bochy said that he might experiment with Aoki leading off and Pagan batting third, as well as other mixes, but that Panik is his #2 hitter).  I'm confident in saying that this team has at least one future World Championship in them.  I felt that way in 2009 and I still feel that way in 2015, after they have won three of them.   And one more should ensure that the Giants will be considered as the Team of the 2010's Decade.

There are, amazingly, still Naysayers out there, but they appear to be dwindling in number.  I think if the Giants can pull off another championship in 2015, that should quiet most of the remaining Naysayers, because their main complaint about why the Giants aren't a dynasty are that the team hasn't won back-to-back championships and that they haven't made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, disregarding the fact that injuries (Posey in 2011, half the team in 2013) were the reasons they didn't make the playoffs, else both seasons, the Giants were in the lead of the NL West until the injuries hit and the consequences worked their way into the loss column.  Take out Reggie Jackson or Johnny Bench (or most of their top hitters) and see if those teams win back to backs!

Go Giants!  Back2Back, shut up the Naysayers!

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