Sunday, May 22, 2011

By Andre Castillo - Feature Writer

Matt Palmer, and Ranking Angels’ Hitters with Advanced Stats
Hey everyone. The girlfriend’s parents were in from Norway last week so I had to take a brief hiatus from the column. The timing worked out well, as the Angels also took the week off, it seemed; they are now 2-8 in their last 10 games.

This week is a two for one. First thing I want to talk about is a roster move the stats tell us the Angels should make, specifically with the bullpen. Then I’m going to discuss the Angels hitters using a shiny new stat called wOBA.

Sabermetric Roster Move of the Week – Call up Matt Palmer
The Angels’ bullpen is not looking good. They now lead the American league with 11 losses. Seven (!) relievers used by the Angels this year have produced negative WAR this year, according to Fangraphs’ WAR stats, which isn’t just below average – that puts them among the worst relievers in baseball.

So far, only 4 Angels relievers have produced positive WAR: Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Scott Downs and – wait for it – Matt Palmer.

Matt Palmer? He has a 5.74 ERA! How can that be?

Well, looking at the numbers it looks like Matt just had some bad luck. If you look at the three most telling stats of a pitcher’s skill, K/9, BB/9, and Home runs over Fly balls (HR/FB), Matt had pitched very well this year before being sent back to Salt Lake. When you translate those numbers into what a pitcher’s ERA should be using advanced analysis, you get something called FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). What’s Matt’s FIP been? 2.98. That’s pretty good.

Since WAR uses FIP, it makes sense that Matt has a positive WAR. Why does WAR use FIP? Because the defense can often screw up a pitcher’s ERA, and, as a result, our interpretation of his skill. FIP takes out the variables of defense and just looks at the skills that we can measure independent of defense – K/9, BB/9, and HR/FB.

So what’s FIP’s track record? It’s been proven to be much more successful at predicting the future success of a pitcher than ERA has.

Now look at who’s ahead of Palmer on the Angels roster: Francisco Rodriguez (FIP: 4.89), Fernando Rodney (FIP: 4.61), Kevin Jepsen (FIP: 6.39), and Hisanori Takahashi (FIP: 5.70). Certainly one of them should be sent down in favor of Palmer, but really, the Angels should be looking to replace most, if not all, of them.

Angels batters and wOBA
My favorite stat for evaluating hitters is Fangraphs’ weighted on-base average (wOBA). 

wOBA is basically a more accurate version of OPS. It attempts to distill all of hitting – hits, walks, doubles, triples, and home runs – into one stat, just like OPS. But it’s much, much better than OPS.

OPS greatly overvalues doubles at the expense of singles and walks. Think about that for a second, it should become obvious why that is. If you were a MLB manager and I offered you one of two choices: a) start the inning with no outs and one runner on second (a double), or b) start the inning with no outs and a runner on second and on first (two walks or two singles), which would you choose?
Of course you would choose b)! And that my, friends, is why OPS is flawed. It treats those two outcomes as having the same value, which they do not. Two base runners is always better than one – at least if you care about winning, anyway.

wOBA takes care of that by assigning all hitting stats their proper values, using advanced analysis to see how important each hit is to a winning (doubles are better than singles, but not twice as good, and home runs are even better than doubles, etc.).
My favorite thing about wOBA compared to other shiny new hitting stats is that it comes out as an average, like .330, that is of the same look and feel as OBP. It’s made to look that way to make it easier to understand. So if league average OBP was .330, then league average wOBA was .330. A great OBP is .400, so a great (Pujols-esque) wOBA is .400. (Just keep in mind that wOBA is not OBP –  wOBA is slugging, average, and OBP rolled into one.)

The leaders in wOBA right now are who’d you expect for the most part: Jose Bautista (an insane .562), Lance Berkman (.469), Matt Joyce (.448), Matt Holliday (.441), and Joey Votto (.427). Howie Kendrick is currently the 12th best hitter in the majors with a .399 wOBA. Vernon Wells is the second worst in the majors with a .233 wOBA (Chone Figgins is 6th worst at .240).

The Angels’ Best Hitters
I read yesterday on that Bobby Abreu has been “struggling” this year, with a batting average of .268. That’s simply ridiculous. His OBP is still at elite level, at .394. And even if you account for his lack of power, his wOBA is still above average at.349 (league average right now is about .320), which is good for fourth best on the Angels, as you’ll see below:

Name (min. 15 PA)

Looking at wOBA, the Angels have had what amounts to 5 good hitters so far: Kendrick, Aybar, Izturis, Abreu, and Collaspo. Of those, only Kendrick and Aybar are playing at All-Star levels, and time will tell if either of them can sustain that pace.

Trumbo is more or less league average at this point. His power is a plus but his ridiculously low walk rate has hurt him. If only he would stop swinging at 3-0 and 3-1 pitches out of the strike zone, he would be alright.

Conger has shown promise but has so far been a below average hitter.

Bourjos, despite a hot start, has been a poor hitter this year so far. My God he’s swinging at everything in sight these days, isn’t he?

The rest of the Angels hitters speak for themselves. I think we can all expect Wells and Hunter to play better, the only question is how much better can we expect at this point in their careers.

On one last note – kudos to HaloFan for pointing out some more nuances to Zone% that I failed to account for in my last piece. You can read our discussion on that subject in the comments section here.
Love to hear what you think!

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