A’s Pitcher Similarity Scores

Over at Beyond the Boxscore, Stephen Loftus has posted Pitcher Similarity Scores. The scores compare pitchers to each other based on:

  • Pitch Velocity
  • Pitch Break (Horizontally and Vertically)
  • Pitch Locations
  • Pitch Release Point

Curious about how the A’s scored, I extracted the A’s pitchers from the spreadsheet. A few pitchers didn’t seem to throw enough pitches last year to qualify (Brett Anderson, Sean Doolittle, Pat Neshek), while Fernando Rodriguez is on it, even though he hasn’t been seen in Oakland yet, because he got hurt in spring training.

A few notes:

  • A.J. Griffin is only mildly Zitoesque, and is actually more similar to Jerry Blevins, of all people.
  • Griffin is the only player on the A’s who does not have R.A. Dickey among his 10 least-similar players.
  • Bartolo Colon has the most-similar least-similar player in baseball, if that makes sense. His similarity to John Axford, his least similar player, scores higher in similarity than any other player’s least-similar player. I assume that’s because Colon throws mostly fastballs.
  • Tommy Milone seems to be the most unique pitcher on the A’s. His #1 comp score (Jason Vargas, 0.739) would be the 24th-highest score on Bartolo Colon’s list.

Enjoy:

Bartolo Colon
Jeanmar Gomez 0.868
Zach Britton 0.843
Dillon Gee 0.823
Travis Blackley 0.818
Joe Saunders 0.804
Christhian Martinez 0.799
Luis Ayala 0.797
Hiroki Kuroda 0.792
Rick Porcello 0.788
Kyle Lohse 0.781
R.A. Dickey 0.356
Matt Thornton 0.355
Steve Delabar 0.350
Fernando Rodriguez 0.339
Esmil Rogers 0.319
Tim Collins 0.315
Aroldis Chapman 0.306
Mike Fiers 0.296
Josh Collmenter 0.247
John Axford 0.241
A.J. Griffin
Liam Hendricks 0.835
Wi-Yin Chen 0.806
Jerry Blevins 0.750
Jeff Karstens 0.743
Kyle Lohse 0.732
Randy Wolf 0.724
Phil Hughes 0.710
Colby Lewis 0.707
Ernesto Frieri 0.700
Josh Lindblom 0.696
Barry Zito 0.533
Mitchell Boggs 0.290
Jim Johnson 0.287
Aaron Laffey 0.276
Jake Westbrook 0.274
Jonathan Papelbon 0.249
Vinnie Pestano 0.248
Brandon League 0.240
Steven Cishek 0.222
Roy Halladay 0.196
R.A. Dickey 0.098
Jarrod Parker
Anthony Swarzak 0.879
Ubaldo Jimenez 0.878
Jeremy Guthrie 0.869
Randall Delgado 0.864
Bud Norris 0.858
Zack Grienke 0.819
James Shields 0.813
Christian Friedrich 0.812
Chris Resop 0.811
Tyson Ross 0.803
Carlos Zambrano 0.367
Kameron Loe 0.364
Roland Belisario 0.357
Derek Lowe 0.351
Jose Arredondo 0.349
Roy Halladay 0.312
Brandon League 0.291
Josh Collmenter 0.281
Joe Smith 0.256
R.A. Dickey 0.199
Tommy Milone
Jason Vargas 0.739
Travis Wood 0.704
Wade LeBlanc 0.703
P.J. Walters 0.678
Chris Capuano 0.669
Cole Hamels 0.648
Ryan Vogelsong 0.642
Ian Kennedy 0.631
Phil Hughes 0.626
Jonathan Sanchez 0.622
Luke Gregerson 0.187
Jose Arredondo 0.184
Vinnie Pestano 0.179
Luis Ayala 0.172
Roland Belisario 0.148
Jared Hughes 0.147
Joe Smith 0.133
R.A. Dickey 0.131
Brandon League 0.110
Steven Cishek 0.101
Grant Balfour
Clayton Kershaw 0.870
Wade Davis 0.858
Chris Tillman 0.844
Mat Latos 0.799
Joe Nathan 0.760
Matt Garza 0.750
Brandon Morrow 0.735
Kenley Jansen 0.730
Bud Norris 0.714
Greg Holland 0.714
Erik Bedard 0.187
Chris Capuano 0.186
Roy Halladay 0.186
Jeff Francis 0.180
Shawn Camp 0.173
Derek Lowe 0.170
Doug Fister 0.162
Dallas Keuchel 0.160
Joe Smith 0.158
R.A. Dickey 0.072
Jerry Blevins
Brian Duensing 0.784
Liam Hendricks 0.767
Jeff Karstens 0.753
A.J. Griffin 0.750
Tom Gorzelanny 0.735
Randy Wolf 0.734
Madison Bumgarner 0.724
Kyle Lohse 0.719
Dillon Gee 0.715
Blake Beavan 0.708
Joel Peralta 0.282
Vinnie Pestano 0.280
Tom Wilhelmsen 0.279
Aroldis Chapman 0.274
John Axford 0.274
Chris Young 0.259
Roy Halladay 0.244
Josh Collmenter 0.225
Tim Collins 0.219
R.A. Dickey 0.192
Ryan Cook
Pedro Strop 0.875
Glen Perkins 0.835
Jeff Samardzija 0.802
Carlos Marmol 0.801
Henderson Alvarez 0.801
Jason Hammel 0.751
Tyler Chatwood 0.735
Joel Hanrahan 0.735
Adam Ottavino 0.723
Garrett Richards 0.706
Chris Young 0.245
Jose Arredondo 0.242
R.A. Dickey 0.223
Tim Collins 0.215
Scott Diamond 0.212
Mike Fiers 0.204
Samuel Deduno 0.194
Josh Tomlin 0.176
Joel Peralta 0.137
Josh Collmenter 0.103
Chris Resop
Fernando Salas 0.821
Tyson Ross 0.812
Jarrod Parker 0.811
Anthony Swarzak 0.796
Jeremy Guthrie 0.792
Heath Bell 0.790
Homer Bailey 0.778
Ivan Nova 0.777
Ubaldo Jimenez 0.776
Randall Delgado 0.771
Carlos Zambrano 0.291
Dallas Keuchel 0.288
Roy Halladay 0.242
Josh Collmenter 0.240
Brandon League 0.235
Jason Marquis 0.233
R.A. Dickey 0.191
Derek Lowe 0.187
Shawn Camp 0.170
Joe Smith 0.142
Fernando Rodriguez
Heath Bell 0.797
Wade Davis 0.771
Fernando Salas 0.758
Tim Collins 0.727
Joe Nathan 0.709
James Shields 0.707
Tyler Clippard 0.689
Edison Volquez 0.684
Mat Latos 0.684
John Axford 0.684
Chris Resop 0.678
Carlos Zambrano 0.189
Christhian Martinez 0.160
Luis Ayala 0.159
Luke Gregerson 0.144
Steven Cishek 0.143
R.A. Dickey 0.114
Derek Lowe 0.101
Jason Marquis 0.091
Shawn Camp 0.088
Joe Smith 0.050

2012 Vacation Photos and Baseball Player Names

Back on the old Baseball Toaster, I wrote 8,320 entries of various sorts.

I recently surpassed that number of posts on Twitter, and I have now reached my 10,000th tweet.

I wanted to do something special to commemorate the milestone, so I dug something up out of my old bag of tricks, and made a slideshow of my Top 30 2012 Vacation Photos and Baseball Player names.

Check it out.

* * *

If you enjoyed those, here are some older, similar slideshows built on outdated technology:

Limbo Links

A few months ago, I joined a project trying to launch a software startup. As a result, my Weekly Blogging Rate (or WBR, as the bloggemetricians like to call it) fell precipitously. However, my role in the project has now fallen into a kind of limbo, so I guess I’m kinda sorta a free agent again. So with a little more time on my hands, my WBR should be going up again in the upcoming weeks. At least until something else happens, like the project emerging from limbo, or some other offer that comes along.

So to kick things off, here are some links that inspired me recently:

How Do You Get Yoenis Cespedes Out?

Yoenis Cespedes fascinates me. He came to the USA from Cuba last year with no professional baseball experience, and went straight to the majors. He had to adjust to the new level of play, of course. All players do. But usually the kind of learning a player does in the majors is subtle, since the difference between AAA and the majors is subtle. It’s hard for a layman like me to catch on to those subtleties.

But with Cespedes, the learning wasn’t subtle, it was obvious. He’s amazingly talented, and you could see, often from pitch to pitch, the adjustments he was making. The first time he faced a pitcher last year, he had a tendency to swing at breaking pitches out of the strike zone. Once. Maybe twice. But the next time, he’d take the pitch. Then the pitcher would have to throw some new wrinkle at him. Which he’d fail at initially, and then figure that out the next time, too. Then the pitchers have to come in and throw him a strike, and he’d hit it, hard.

Which makes me especially intrigued about this year, his second time through the league. How will the league try to get Yoenis Cespedes out now that he’s seen most of the pitchers before?

So I’d thought I’d look at what Seattle has done in the first two games against him, courtesy of some Pitch F/X graphs from Brooks Baseball.

Game 1

Facing Felix Hernandez. Last year, Cespedes was 4-for-12 against him, with a double and four strikeouts.

Plate appearance #1: Hernandez throws a get-me-over fastball on the first pitch. Cespedes takes. Then Hernandez throws a curve down and away, which Cespedes chases out of the zone, and grounds to third. I’m sure the Mariners wouldn’t mind seeing Cespedes swing at curveballs out of the zone all the time. If this were one year ago, they’d keep throwing it over and over again hoping he’ll still chase it, but as we’ll see, the Mariners don’t just do one thing against him anymore.

gm1ab1
Pitcher F. Hernandez Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       91      Fastball (Four-seam)    Called Strike
2       80      Curveball               In play, out(s)
Yoenis Cespedes grounds out, third baseman Kyle Seager to first baseman Justin Smoak.

 

Plate appearance #2: Hernandez throws a slider up and over the middle of the plate on the first pitch. That’s a dangerous pitch to throw Cespedes, and he whacks it, but Brendan Ryan manages to make a good play on it and throw him out. The Mariners win this battle, but you wouldn’t want to use that pitch as an example of how you want to get Cespedes out. We’ll find that out in game 2.

gm1ab2
Pitcher F. Hernandez Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       84      Slider                 In play, out(s)
Yoenis Cespedes grounds out, shortstop Brendan Ryan to first baseman Justin Smoak.

 

Plate appearance #3: Cespedes hasn’t seen a changeup yet, but Hernandez throws him four of them in this at-bat. Also interesting is how Hernandez moves around the strike zone. Up and in, down and away, up and in, down and in, up and away, up and…oops over the plate. The last pitch is a changeup that’s up and over the plate, slightly in. Again Cespedes jumps on it, and again hits it hard right at a fielder, this time, the third baseman. Cespedes works the at-bat and gets a good pitch to hit, again it finds a glove, but again, this isn’t a recipe you probably want to rely on to get Cespedes out.

gm1ab3
Pitcher F. Hernandez Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       89      Changeup                Called Strike
2       87      Changeup                Swinging Strike
3       91      Fastball (Four-seam)    Foul
4       87      Changeup                Foul
5       91      Sinker                  Ball
6       87      Changeup                In play, out(s)
Yoenis Cespedes grounds out, third baseman Kyle Seager to first baseman Justin Smoak.

 

Plate appearance #4: This was in the bottom of the ninth, and Felix Hernandez had been replaced by Tom Wilhelmsen. Cespedes had struggled against Wilhelmsen last year, going 0-for-5 with 4 strikeouts. Cespedes gets ahead in the count by laying off a first-pitch curveball off the plate. Wilhelmsen then comes in with a fastball which turns out to be the best pitch of the at-bat for Cespedes to hit, but he fouled it off. Cespedes then lays off another curveball out of the zone. Cespedes is probably looking for another fastball like the 2nd pitch and does get it. But Wilhelmsen throws it inside off the plate, not a good pitch to hit, and Cespedes jams himself and grounds out to third. Another lesson for Cespedes to learn from–it will be fascinating to see what Cespedes and Wilhelmsen do the next time Cespedes faces him ahead in the count 2-1, 3-1, or 3-2.

gm1ab4
Pitcher T. Wilhelmsen Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       77      Curveball               Ball
2       95      Fastball (Four-seam)    Foul
3       79      Curveball               Ball
4       97      Fastball (Two-seam)     In play, out(s)
Yoenis Cespedes grounds out, third baseman Kyle Seager to first baseman Justin Smoak.

 

Game 2

Facing Hisashi Iwakuma. Last year, Cespedes was 2-for-4 against him, with a homer.

Plate appearance #1: The pitchers Cespedes faces in this game don’t have the kind of stuff that Hernandez and Wilhelmsen had yesterday. Cespedes hardly sees any inside pitches in this game. We can see what Iwakuma wants to do in this game: instead of working inside and outside like the fireballers yesterday, he lives on the outside corner against him, either slightly over the plate away, or slightly off the plate away. Iwakuma misses away on the first two pitches, and Cespedes takes the third to make him throw a strike. Then Iwakuma makes the same mistake Hernandez did yesterday, leaving a slider up and over the plate. This time, Cespedes doesn’t hit it at any fielders, as he deposits it over the center field fence for a home run.

gm2ab1
Pitcher H. Iwakuma Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       89      Fastball (Four-seam)    Ball
2       81      Slider                  Ball
3       89      Fastball (Four-seam)    Called Strike
4       81      Slider                  In play, run(s)
Yoenis Cespedes homers (1) on a line drive to center field.

 

Plate appearance #2: Iwakuma avoids throwing Cespedes any sliders after that. He throws a fastball inside for show on the first pitch, and then goes back to the outside corner. He leads off with a good curveball down and away, and then goes up the ladder with two excellently located fastballs, both of which Cespedes swings through. I’m guessing the second fastball in a row surprised Cespedes a bit.

gm2ab2
Pitcher H. Iwakuma Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       89      Sinker                  Ball
2       73      Curveball               Swinging Strike
3       92      Fastball (Four-seam)    Swinging Strike
4       91      Fastball (Four-seam)    Swinging Strike
Yoenis Cespedes strikes out swinging.

 

Plate appearance #3: Iwakuma is gone, and Cespedes is now facing Carter Capps, whom he faced once last year. He takes a first pitch curveball over the inside of the plate. Then Capps gets him to chase a couple of curveballs just off the plate, and strikes him out. Next time they face each other, I’ll be watching to see if Cespedes chases those curveballs again, or if he lays off the next time, and makes him throw something in the zone he can hit.

gm2ab3
Pitcher C. Capps Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       83      Curveball               Called Strike
2       85      Curveball               Swinging Strike
3       96      Fastball (Four-seam)    Ball
4       82      Curveball               Swinging Strike
Yoenis Cespedes strikes out swinging.

 

Plate appearance #4: Oliver Perez, this time, who like Capps had faced Cespedes only once before. He takes the first pitch for a strike, as he often does. Then on the second pitch, he gets a slider it a hittable location over the middle of the plate, but fouls it off. Then he swings through a well-located fastball low and away in the zone.

gm2ab4
Pitcher O. Perez Batter Y. Cespedes
Speed   Pitch   Result
1       88      Sinker                  Called Strike
2       80      Slider                  Foul
3       92      Sinker                  Swinging Strike
Yoenis Cespedes strikes out swinging.

 

Eight at-bats isn’t enough to draw any definite conclusions from, but it’s enough to speculate a bit. Here’s a rough-draft preliminary formula I’d draw from this:

  • If you have a pitcher that Cespedes hasn’t seen much, try to throw him breaking pitches off the plate and get him to chase. That won’t work forever, though.
  • He can hit fastballs and crushes badly located off-speed stuff. So if he has faced a pitcher multiple times, mix up your pitches and avoid predictability.
  • If your pitcher has good velocity, you can try to jam him inside. Don’t try this with soft-tossers, though.
  • Location, location, location.

I don’t know that there’s anything there that isn’t true of most hitters in general, except that Cespedes doesn’t seem to have any one particular hole in his swing or vulnerability in his approach except against unfamiliar pitchers. So you have to try to fool him like Iwakuma did when he went up the ladder on him, or just hope that when you miss your spot that it finds a fielder.

Now go turn on the A’s game and watch Joe Saunders blow my whole rough theory apart tonight by pounding Cespedes inside with loopy sliders or something. That would be cool, because baseball is awesome like that, and there are always new lessons to be learned.

This Time, We’re Really Going to Kick That Felix “Lucy” Hernandez

“Oh, Oakland Aaaaaaaaaaaa’s faaaaaaaaaannnnnn!” said Felix “Lucy” Hernandez.

“What do you want, Lucy?” said Oakland “Charlie Brown” A’s Fan.

“It’s been a long winter without any baseball. Wouldn’t it feel great to have an Opening Day?”

“Oh, yes, Lucy, it sure would! Opening Day is great! The warm sun, the green grass, the rhythms of baseball, I love it!”

“I agree, Charlie Brown! So I’ll just hold this ball right here for you, and you come running up, and we can kick off the season.”

“But wait, don’t we try this together every year and you win every time?”

“Well, yes, but this time it could be different! You’re bound to succeed on Opening Day eventually, right? Maybe this is the day!”

“You know what, you’re right! This time, it could be different! Oh, boy! Opening Day! Wow, this is going to be great! OK! I’m ready! Here we go!

lucyfootball3
Mosaic at Charles Schulz Museum, by Mike Linksvayer on Flickr, via Creative Commons License

AAUGH!

WHUMP!

Sources of Offensive Optimism for the 2013 A’s

Jason Wojciechowski has a look at why A’s fans may be overoptimistic about the A’s this year. His analysis is reasonable. But I, too, find myself slightly more optimistic than the projections. I want to explore why I feel this way.

The A’s ended the season with five rookies in their starting rotation. Except for Travis Blackley, those rookies all return, joined by Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon. The bullpen will basically be the same. I have some concerns about the starting pitcher depth — the 7th-9th pitchers in Sacramento are all big question marks — but that’s true for a lot of teams.

I expect the pitching to be roughly the same as last year. The big changes are on offense.

Despite winning their division, the A’s got below-average OBP in 2012 from six of the nine positions on the team, and were the worst in the league in three of them:

C: .262 (30th of 30)
1B: .340 (12th)
2B: .303 (24th)
SS: .272 (30th)
3B: .280 (30th)
LF: .370 (4th)
CF: .324 (20th)
RF: .298 (27th)
DH: .345 (4th of 15)

With slugging percentage, it was a similar story:
C: .325 (28th of 30)
1B: .461 (10th)
2B: .316 (28th)
SS: .313 (26th)
3B: .391 (23rd)
LF: .502 (3rd)
CF: .453 (8th)
RF: .437 (16th)
DH: .437 (7th of 15)

The A’s offense last year depended heavily on Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and the Smith/Gomes platoon at DH. You look at that list and think, well maybe they’ll regress at three spots in the lineup, but there’s lots of room for improvement at six!

And the A’s did make moves to improve the worst of these positions. Jemile Weeks held down second base for most of the year, and was awful, both offensively and defensively. A platoon of Sizemore and Sogard should be able to best Weeks’ numbers. John Jaso at catchers should easily surpass the pitiful numbers Kurt Suzuki put up before he was traded. And Jed Lowrie will surely outhit Cliff Pennington, although he may not be quite as good defensively.

For the players who were not replaced, I expect improvement from several of them. Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson were both a bit overwhelmed early in the year, but improved dramatically as the year went on. I’ve never seen a player learn to adjust so visibly and impressively as Cespedes. He tends to get fooled with off-speed pitches the first time he sees a pitcher, but the next time, he either lays off the pitch that fooled him, or he crushes it. I can’t wait to see what he does his second time through the league. Donaldson was learning to play third base at the beginning of the year, and seemed to take his defensive struggles to the plate with him. But his defense went from being awful in April to fantastic in September, and as his defense came around, he began to hit about what you’d expect from his minor league numbers in the past.

So that leaves basically Moss, Reddick and the DH platoon as sources for regression. Gomes has basically been replaced by Chris Young. Young, like Gomes, has strong platoon splits, and if Melvin can use Young like he used Gomes, I think the DH platoon can hold up. Young’s strong defense may tempt Melvin to play him more against right-handed pitchers than he played Gomes, with someone like Cespedes moving to DH. That would improve the defense, but hurt the offense. A wash? Maybe.

We might not expect Reddick to hit 32 homers next year, but he was awful for long stretches last year, particularly with men on base. He hit .283/.332/.540 with bases empty, but only .191/.273/.368 with men on base. If both of those splits regress revert to his personal mean, he’ll have more impact in 2013, because so much of his 2012 output was empty.

That leaves Brandon Moss, who to me is the key to the A’s season. If he produces anything like he did last year, the A’s make the playoffs. He out-OPSed (1.123) both Mike Trout (.900) and Miguel Cabrera (1.071) in September/October last year. But he’s a career .251/.317/.442 hitter. If he hits like his career numbers in 2013, the A’s may disappoint. The projection systems mostly regard his 2012 as a mirage, and expect numbers closer to his mediocre past.

Moss also has a big platoon split. Part of his 2012 success was being platooned with Chris Carter, who hit .241/.404/.494 in his half of the platoon. Carter was traded away to get Lowrie. Replacing Carter as a right-handed first baseman is Nate Freiman, a rule-5 player who has to stay on the roster all year, or be returned to the Padres. Freiman has power, but he can hardly be expected to put up an OBP over .400, even if strictly platooned against LHPs.

Billy Beane built a roster with a lot of depth and versatility, and if any hitters get hurt or underproduce, there are other players at the same positions who can step in and produce — except at first base. There really isn’t a good replacement for Moss if he gets hurt or reverts to pre-2012 form. But what I’ve seen in the five spring training games I watched, his swing looks good. I feel optimistic about Moss, which makes me optimistic about the A’s as a whole.

Openings

A completely predictable future is already the past.

Alan Watts

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day fell this year on Easter Sunday. It is probably no coincidence that both Easter and Opening Day arrive in spring, as both are meant to signal as spring does a rebirth, a new beginning, a fresh start.

Starting fresh is not as easy as it sounds. We humans are very good at pattern recognition. We see a new thing, and recognize in its shape some other shape we’ve seen in the past. The older we get, the more we do this; the more patterns we can bring to mind, the less we see some new thing as it is today, and the more we see that thing as something that came before.

Look, here comes young Oakland A’s baseball pitcher A.J. Griffin, throwing a curveball. It looks familiar, that curveball. Does he throw that curveball Zitoesquely? Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he throws it Duchschereresquely?

Today is Opening Day for Griffin’s A’s 2013 team. Will it be as magical as 2012 was? Or as disappointing as 2007? Or perhaps glorious, like 1972, 1973 and 1974?

We can take all the statistics from all the players from all the history of Major League Baseball, sum them all up in clever and scientifically sound ways, and make predictions. 82.2 wins! 86 wins! 93 wins!

Those predictions, they aren’t the future, or even the present. They are merely shadows of the past. To truly start fresh, we must try to look on things as a child does, like someone who has no past, who has no library of previous patterns in our heads.

This is, of course, impossible. These thoughts come to our minds automatically, whether we want them to or not.

And so today will happen, and tomorrow, and the days will add up through October to a number that is greater than or equal to or less than some number we expect in our heads, and we will be delighted or bored or disappointed accordingly. And only then, when it is too late to enjoy the year in and of and by itself, can the 2013 season drop the baggage of its past, and be free to be itself.

For what is truly born on Opening Day is not the current year, but the previous year. Congratulations on your newfound freedom, 2012. You were amazing.