Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kyle Crick: Yea or Nay Prospect? Yea!

I have seen a lot of debate regarding Kyle Crick as a Giants prospect, so I thought I would share my thoughts, particularly since few seems to share my stance.

ogc thoughts

I really like Crick.  This is because when I look at his individual game results, I get a different view of him as a prospect than many people who look at his career stats and point out the high walk rate and thus poorer strikeout-walk ratios.  Looking at his individual games, you get to see that he has actually had a lot of great games where he piled on the strikeouts while not walking many, totally dominating the other team, yet other times, he's lost and the end seasonal results show a wild pitcher who don't have a clue, which strongly contrasts with these individual games of brilliance.  I've pointed them out in my comments but few seem swayed by them, so I wondered what I could do to show what I was seeing.

Looking over his games on baseball-reference.com, it is hard to miss the Game Score for each game, so I decided to check out that metric.  It was developed by Bill James long ago (1987) to help determine how good a game is pitched by any pitcher.  It was intended to result in 50 as the average score for pitchers.  I figure, Bill James, got to be good and used by others.

However, according to this SABR research report by Jeff Angus, titled "Does 'Game Score' Still Work in Today's High-Offense Game?" in their Summer 2010 Baseball Research Journal (ironically, as I showed in a research piece previously, the high offense game probably ended around 2008), it noted that not a lot of people use this metric.  But his research found that in spite of the high offense, the metric still worked, the mean average game score in 1987 was 49.2 and in 2007 was 48.3.

Game Score Methodology

This is the methodology, according to the article:
  • The pitcher's game score starts at 50 then points are added or subtracted with each batter-pitcher results.
  • +1 point for each out recorded (meaning 3 points for each full inning)
  • +2 points for each full inning completed after the fourth inning.
  • -2 points for each hit given up
  • The sum of strikeouts minus walks (usually positive, particularly if the pitcher is doing well)
  • -4 points for each earned run and -2 points for each unearned run given up. 

Here is an example.  On May 31, 2015, he had the following pitching line:

5.1 IP, 4 hits, 0 R/ER, 6 BB, 3 K

He starts with 50 points.  He got 16 points for IP, plus 2 points for completing the 5th inning.  That's 68.  Subtract 8 points for the hits, leaving 60.  Subtract 3 points for walking 3 more than strikeouts, leaving 57 points as his Game Score.  With no runs given up, that's his Game Score for the start, 57.

Significance of Game Score

Apparently few have used Game Score because there has not been much research analysis of how well it works, from what I gathered from the article.  Thus the author did the research and expanded on Bill James 10 point buckets that was used (like 40-49, 50-59) by looking at team wins for a range of Game Scores (for example, 50 +/- 2 showed the team win percentage when a pitcher had a Game Score from 48 to 52.

Now Bill James table did show that the higher the Game Score, the higher the team win percentage.  For 50-59, Bill James found 58% win rate in 1987 (Angus found 60% in 2007).  For 40-49, Bill James found 42% win rate (Angus, 46%).

But Angus' higher granularity with his data gave a better idea on where the tipping point is.  Teams in 2007 were above .500 (or 50%) with Game Scores of 47 and above.

Win/Loss, DOM/DIS, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off!

Angus also further delineated his results by breaking up a pitcher's Game Score set by defining a Game Score Win as any game with a Game Score of 55 or higher and a Game Score Loss as any game with a Game Score of 43 or lower.  This gets at the quality of his starts.  With his granular data, he found that a team's win rate went above 60% at the 55 +/- 2 range and that the win rate dipped below 45% at the 43 +/- 2 range (personally, I would have went with 42 and below, as that was the point where the win rate was 40% or lower, but I quibble).

I know a lot of people don't like to see win and loss associated with pitchers, so another way to look at this is how PQS defines starts as DOM (or Dominant) or DIS (or Disaster).  I see some similarities with PQS, because of the linkage with IP, hits, and strikeouts, though PQS incorporates the latest Saber discoveries, like K/BB above 2 and HR frequency (I would bet the PQS designer was aware of Game Score and sought to build another Quality Start metric based on the latest Saber discoveries).  In any case, the general idea is that at some point, the pitcher puts his team in a really good spot to win, while at other points, the pitcher puts his team in a really poor spot to win, however you want to call it.

Based on this Win/Loss methodology, here are Crick's record the past four years in full season leagues:

2012  12-5 (22 starts) [or 12 dominant or 54% DOM starts and 5 disaster or 24% DIS starts]
2013  9-1  (14 starts)
2014 10-5 (22 starts)
2015 4-3 (11 starts)

In addition, with a nod to my stat that I've collected on the side of blog for years now, regarding when the pitcher has done enough (3 runs or less) to help the team win, I counted up the number of games where Crick had a Game Score of at least 48 (which is the range at which the team win rate is significantly above 50%) and anything else I count as a loss.

2012 16-6
2013 12-2
2014 16-6
2015 7-4

As one can see, Crick, while having a wild season, has actually pitched relatively well otherwise.

2015:  Not as Good but Not Bad Either

As one can see from the above, while Crick had a down season in 2015, it wasn't all horrible either, as he put his team into position to win more times than not.  He actually had a pretty good start to the season too, as one can see in the stats above or looking at his game results on bb-ref.  But clearly things got worse during the season.

Yes, his walk rate is worse than ever, and he suffered from a regressed season.  But as most saber studies I've seen has shown, a high walk rate is not a deal breaker for good pitchers, as long as he's striking out a heck of a lot of people.  And he has until after that first skipped start.

I still think that he's battling some sort of physical ailment that is causing him to not control his pitches well enough.   He skipped his second start of May for some reason, and while he pitched well for another 3 starts, his pitching lines started declining precipitously from there, then skipped another start late in June.   But basically after that, he was made into a reliever.

I'm not sure what type of physical problem would cause a pitcher to have control problems while not a bad enough physical issue such that he could pitch still without further injuring himself.   A mental issue could cause this, much like the catchers or infielders who suddenly could not make the simple throws back to the pitcher or to first base.  I think the baseball term is "a case of the Yips".

Much to Still Like About Crick

People are getting down on Crick, pushing him out of the Top 10 Giants prospects, but I still like him and would put him in my Big 6 still.  He still has a lot of potential (we all know about his mid-90's velocity and swing and miss stuff) and a lot of time to fulfill it.  People need to remember that he's still only 22 YO for this season.  And he didn't start pitching until his senior year in high school, apparently his HS coach refused to use him as a pitcher even though assistant coaches suggested that he should (he did pitch during summers, though), and it wasn't until a new coach took over in his senior year that he finally got to pitch full-time (though he didn't waste his time, apparently he's a good enough hitter to impress in batting practice, and you know I love pitchers who can contribute offensively, like Bumgarner, Hudson, and Heston).

And he's not even on the 40-man roster yet, and probably won't until after this season, so we got some time.  He is only disappointing relative to the high expectations people have for him.  But he still dominated AA at age 21 last season.  That's still pretty damn good.

Relief For His Mind

He recently started pitching in relief and people have concluded that he's a reliever because that is what the crux of the matter with him, whether he can figure out everything and become a top of the rotation starting pitcher or be a great reliever.  As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Giants have not made that decision yet:
According to Richmond manager Jose Alguacil, Crick will pitch a relief inning every other day until further notice, and whether the right-hander returns to the rotation will be the Giants’ call. 
“It’s a process. We’re trying to build his confidence,” said Alguacil. “We’re putting him in situations where sometimes he’s going to struggle and sometimes he’s going to succeed. Hopefully, he’ll succeed more than he fails. 
“But that’s how you build guys’ confidence.”
That's just classic Earl Weaver right there (as I read from his great book on baseball strategy, strongly recommend).  To help pitchers gain confidence in pitching in the majors, even if they are starters, he would bring them up first as relievers and do roughly the same thing.  He would pick and choose spots, in order to try to build up their confidence.  (He also did it because the MLB lifestyle requires an adjustment, and he didn't want to just throw the prospect into the pool, he wanted to let him wade in; read the book, it's great)

This is also the Giants Way for a while now.  In the majors, the Giants would sometimes give their pitchers a break to clear their heads, work on some stuff.  Even Cain, Linceum, Bumgarner (and Sanchez) have had starts skipped in order to break things up, help them get off the treadmill, and gain perspective.  Of course, those players were more advanced than Crick, so it didn't take long, just one skipped start.

In Crick's case, perhaps because he's not as advanced and still in the minors, they went to having him relieve every two days.  I think that could help him try to work in the moment and not let the demons lurking in his mind take over.  He throws an inning, incorporating his latest tips, then they review what he did and what tips they might have, giving a day or two off to absorb lessons and clear the mind, then pitches two games later and try again.

Crick Still Has Time

Wild pitchers usually take some time to figure things out.  Homer Bailey, another young wild pitcher, was already in the majors at Crick's age, but took another 4 years to figure things out.  He had his breakout MLB season at age 26, which would still be young if Crick were to do that.   Would you take a high strikeout pitcher who can dominate at that age?  I would.

Let's say that he pitches again in AA in 2016 (almost certainly) and 2017 (probable).   Given my premise that he's been battling something this season, he recovers over the off-season, and have a bounce-back season in 2016, similar to 2014, still wild but still performing well. Then in 2017, finally puts together that great year in AA at age 24, then pitch well in AAA in 2018 at age 25, making the team's rotation by 2018.

3 comments:

  1. A very illuminating analysis, ogc. I would add that despite his horrendous walk rate, Crick has this year lowered his ERA to 3.17 from 3.79 in 2014, lowered his BAA to .217 from .234 in 2014, and, although his GO/AO ratio is declining (= larger pct fly balls), he has markedly lowered the number of HRs given up. The BBs and WHIP are up, so that he seems to be regressing, but other indicators show progress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if there's a method to choosing when to bring him in as a reliever. One could vary the leverage of the situations, from having him pitch at the start of an inning to bringing him in to deal with men on base and the meat of the order on deck, and ditto as to close games in late innings vs. middle innings where one of the teams has a comfortable lead. Is he the kind of guy who walks batters because he's pressing or because he's nonchalant with the bases empty? I wonder if he's wild because he wants to rare back and fling the ball past 'em or because he gets jittery and tries to aim his pitches. These are questions about his malady and the Giants' therapy which one would have to be an insider to answer; and one value of your excellent analysis is to show how complex the situation is beneath the bare stats that others have focused on when they dismiss Crick or wring their hands about his decline.

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    2. Thanks for the additional supporting metrics campanari!

      I haven't been following, so I don't know the details of his relief appearances, so I don't know. Personally I would just start him fresh in an inning, which is the normal experience a starting pitcher has, and let him try out whatever they are advising him to work on.

      Yeah, lot of things can go wrong with a prospect. I have no idea whether Crick will ever figure it out. But given how good he can be when he's on and how young he is still, I'm going to give him a lot more rope than apparently others are giving him.

      Delete

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