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  • Twins Pitching Woes: 2013 and 2014


    Thrylos

    A great article was written this week by Jonathan Judge and published at The Hardball Times, " FIP in Context." This introduces an new metric, called cFIP, or contest-adjusted FIP that attempts to "estimate the pitcher’s true pitching talent during a particular season".

    Image courtesy of Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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    I'm always interested in new pitching metrics development, and not only because I have myself taken part in the endeavor. This is an interesting metric, albeit much more complex than PE and xPE. It also correlates well with SIERA, which along with xPE (because it is easy to calculate) are my two favorite predictive metrics regarding pitching performance.

    I will not steal Jonathan's thunder, please read that excellent article, but I will present his framework and then present his work as applied to the Twins' pitchers. (He calculated cFIPs for every pitcher in the league for the past 4 years, including Jamie Carroll.) The cFIP scale is normalized to 100 for average, just like OPS+ and ERA+, but it is a minus scale, meaning that less is better, like ERA and FIP and SIERA and all similar metrics. (It should have been called cFIP-, but that is a different story.) So 100 is average and less is better. Jonathan Judge has the following buckets of pitchers, according their cFIP:

    70 and less = superb

    70–85 Great

    85–95 Above Avg.

    95–105 Average

    105–115 Below Avg.

    115–130 Bad

    130+ Awful

    Let's put the 2014 Minnesota Twins' pitching staff in those buckets. For reference, players that are not still with the team are in parenthesis. I am also including the 2014 cFIP numbers of the newcomers this off-season. They have an asterisk behind their names.

    Superb:

    Phil Hughes 70

    Great:

    Glen Perkins 74

    Above Avg.:

    Casey Fien 89

    Tim Stauffer 91*

    (Yohan Pino 94)

    Average:

    Aaron Thompson 98

    Logan Darnell 99

    Ricky Nolasco 100

    Trevor May 101

    Ervin Santana 101*

    Michael Tonkin 102

    Caleb Thielbar 103

    Blaine Boyer 103*

    Lester Oliveros 105

    Below Avg.:

    (Jared Burton 106)

    (Kris Johnson 106)

    (Sam Deduno 107)

    Stephen Pryor 108

    Kyle Gibson 109

    (Anthony Swarzak 111)

    A. J. Achter 112

    Ryan Pressly 112

    Brian Duensing 114

    Tommy Milone 114

    Bad:

    (Matt Guerrier 116)

    (Kevin Correia 119)

    Awful:

    Mike Pelfrey 132

    A few observations:

    • According to this, in 2014, the Twins had one superb pitcher, Phil Hughes, one great pitcher, Glen Perkins, and 13 pitchers (that is a full MLB staff, ladies and gentlemen) who were average, above average, great or superb. Mike Pelfrey (who tied for worst in the majors in this metric) was the only awful pitcher in the Twins' staff.
    • But, the Twins had the second worst bullpen in the majors according to xFIP and SIERA and the third worst rotation in the majors, according to SIERA (fourth according to xFIP).
    • Other than Yohan Pino, who was an unfortunate loss, the Twins' front office seems to behave pretty well according to this metric. The pitchers they let go were all below average or worse. They did keep a few below average pitchers, and they did keep Mike Pelfrey, who is better suited for the pen and was injured. Other than Duensing who had a down season, the other below average pitchers are all young.

    The big issue in the big picture here: The Twins had a whole staff worth (13) pitchers who were average and above, yet they managed to be almost at the bottom of the league in pitching. Those things seem to be in conflict.

    Let's dig deeper and check out the 2013 Twins' cFIP buckets that Jonathan Judge calculated. For reference purposes, players who left after 2013 are in parenthesis and I added Ricky Nolasco (with an asterisk) as well.

    Superb:

    Glen Perkins 63

    Casey Fien 67

    Great:

    Nobody

    Above Avg.:

    Jared Burton 91

    Caleb Thielbar 91

    Ricky Nolasco 93*

    Michael Tonkin 94

    Average:

    Anthony Swarzak 97

    Brian Duensing 97

    (Shairon Martis 105)

    Below Avg.:

    Mike Pelfrey 109

    (Liam Hendriks 110)

    Ryan Pressly 111

    (Cole DeVries 114)

    (Andrew Albers 115)

    Bad:

    Kevin Correia 116

    Samuel Deduno 116

    (Josh Roenicke 118)

    (P.J. Walters 122)

    (Vance Worley 124)

    Kyle Gibson 125

    (Scott Diamond 129)

    Awful:

    Nobody

    This is some really interesting data. Here is what I see:

    • I think that I either underestimated the Twins' front office use of metrics in personnel decisions in building the team or Jack Goin should buy me a beer this week at Hammond Stadium, because this tool really describes what the Twins are doing regarding personnel decisions. Recently, they have tended to get rid of below average and worse pitchers and add average and above pitchers. Hughes was around 100, but I did not add him here. This is a stop the presses type of statement. I'm close to nodding my head in approval of what the front office is doing.
    • For 2013 this tells a tale of two categories: all the average and above pitchers were relievers. All starters were below average or worse but not awful. And Pelfrey was the best of that lot.
    • Enough with 2013. What happened in 2014, relative to 2013? Every single reliever from Perkins down regressed, while the starters (save the injured Pelfrey and replacement-level Correia) improved. This is fundamentally interesting, because it breaks some commonly accepted narratives. One excuse for the decline of the Twins' pen in 2014 was that they were too tired because the rotation was so bad. This data turns this upside down. The Twins 2013 rotation was worse than the Twins 2014 rotation, and the 2014 Twins' pen made the 2014 Twins rotation worse. So a bad pen can make a rotation worse. Like a reliever coming in with two outs and the bases loaded to give a grand slam and four runs to the starter's record. What a concept...

    I am starting to really like this metric. So, and this is really hard for me to say, the front office did make some improvements for 2014 that actually seem to be supported by real data, but the pitching tanked compared to 2013. Why?

    I'd love to hear your theories after this, and this is what I am thinking:

    • Look at that 2014 list up there. In your mind, normalize it for playing time. That would shift the buckets heavier to the below average. How many games did Pino or May start compared to Pelfrey, Correia, Deduno? Why was Burton used in high leverage situations over better relievers? Yes. Do the same normalization for playing time for the 2013 data. And you are looking at evidence of what has been written here, loudly and clearly, about mismanagement of the Twins' pitching staff by Gardy and Andy.
    • This has to be part of the reason for the pen decline in 2014. And it had to be fixed. And, yes, metrics can be devised to normalize and approximate defense independent pitching, but I have not yet seen one that could estimate the madness of the Twins' 2014 OF. (What is the range factor of a bucket? :))

    This actually makes me more hopeful, because it seems like the Twins are making an effort to address some things that need addressing. So, what do you say?

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    Fascinating stuff, Thyrlos! I was shocked to see Nolasco with an "average" rating. Hmmm.

    I like the choices the Twins FO has made this week. Meyer and Tonkin weren't ready. Starters as a group seem like a pretty determined bunch. I think they will be average at worst by end of season. How do relief pitchers look to you?

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    I think that Pryor will likely go next.  Disappointed to see him touch 93 at the Hammond Stadium radar.  Lots of potential there, but if he does not get his FB up high, he will be hit.  Saw Boyle pitch yesterday, 3 pitches good command, velo needs to get higher, definitely more productive than Guerrier in the Guerrier role.  High on Pelfrey as a pen option, higher than the Twins' brass on May as a pen option.  Perkins, Duensing, Fien (plus at least one who loses the 5th SP battle) pretty much givens.  Thielbar (has been horrible), Thompson, Hamburger, Boyle, Graham (looking forward to see him today) for 2-3 spots.   Need to see more from the group (and it is too early still), but there is potential, esp. if the Twins have May and Pelfrey there... 

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    OK, how about this pitching metric - guys that throw 95+ and can get the ball close to the strike zone are better than 85-mph slop-ball pitchers - which the Twins always seem to be able to find and keep while the hard throwers get sent to Rochester to work on a change-up, slider, whatever.

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    A great article was written this week by Jonathan Judge and published at The Hardball Times, " FIP in Context." This introduces an new metric, called cFIP, or contest-adjusted FIP that attempts to "estimate the pitcher’s true pitching talent during a particular season".I'm always interested in new pitching metrics development, and not only because I have myself taken part in the endeavor. This is an interesting metric, albeit much more complex than PE and xPE. It also correlates well with SIERA, which along with xPE (because it is easy to calculate) are my two favorite predictive metrics regarding pitching performance.

    I will not steal Jonathan's thunder, please read that excellent article, but I will present his framework and then present his work as applied to the Twins' pitchers. (He calculated cFIPs for every pitcher in the league for the past 4 years, including Jamie Carroll.) The cFIP scale is normalized to 100 for average, just like OPS+ and ERA+, but it is a minus scale, meaning that less is better, like ERA and FIP and SIERA and all similar metrics. (It should have been called cFIP-, but that is a different story.) So 100 is average and less is better. Jonathan Judge has the following buckets of pitchers, according their cFIP:


    70 and less = superb
    70–85 Great
    85–95 Above Avg.
    95–105 Average
    105–115 Below Avg.
    115–130 Bad
    130+ Awful

    Let's put the 2014 Minnesota Twins' pitching staff in those buckets. For reference, players that are not still with the team are in parenthesis. I am also including the 2014 cFIP numbers of the newcomers this off-season. They have an asterisk behind their names.

    Superb:
    Phil Hughes 70

    Great:
    Glen Perkins 74

    Above Avg.:
    Casey Fien 89
    Tim Stauffer 91*
    (Yohan Pino 94)

    Average:
    Aaron Thompson 98
    Logan Darnell 99
    Ricky Nolasco 100
    Trevor May 101
    Ervin Santana 101*
    Michael Tonkin 102
    Caleb Thielbar 103
    Blaine Boyer 103*
    Lester Oliveros 105

    Below Avg.:
    (Jared Burton 106)
    (Kris Johnson 106)
    (Sam Deduno 107)
    Stephen Pryor 108
    Kyle Gibson 109
    (Anthony Swarzak 111)
    A. J. Achter 112
    Ryan Pressly 112
    Brian Duensing 114
    Tommy Milone 114

    Bad:
    (Matt Guerrier 116)
    (Kevin Correia 119)

    Awful:
    Mike Pelfrey 132

    A few observations:

    • According to this, in 2014, the Twins had one superb pitcher, Phil Hughes, one great pitcher, Glen Perkins, and 13 pitchers (that is a full MLB staff, ladies and gentlemen) who were average, above average, great or superb. Mike Pelfrey (who tied for worst in the majors in this metric) was the only awful pitcher in the Twins' staff.
    • But, the Twins had the second worst bullpen in the majors according to xFIP and SIERA and the third worst rotation in the majors, according to SIERA (fourth according to xFIP).
    • Other than Yohan Pino, who was an unfortunate loss, the Twins' front office seems to behave pretty well according to this metric. The pitchers they let go were all below average or worse. They did keep a few below average pitchers, and they did keep Mike Pelfrey, who is better suited for the pen and was injured. Other than Duensing who had a down season, the other below average pitchers are all young.
    The big issue in the big picture here: The Twins had a whole staff worth (13) pitchers who were average and above, yet they managed to be almost at the bottom of the league in pitching. Those things seem to be in conflict.

    Let's dig deeper and check out the 2013 Twins' cFIP buckets that Jonathan Judge calculated. For reference purposes, players who left after 2013 are in parenthesis and I added Ricky Nolasco (with an asterisk) as well.


    Superb:
    Glen Perkins 63
    Casey Fien 67

    Great:
    Nobody

    Above Avg.:
    Jared Burton 91
    Caleb Thielbar 91
    Ricky Nolasco 93*
    Michael Tonkin 94

    Average:
    Anthony Swarzak 97
    Brian Duensing 97
    (Shairon Martis 105)

    Below Avg.:
    Mike Pelfrey 109
    (Liam Hendriks 110)
    Ryan Pressly 111
    (Cole DeVries 114)
    (Andrew Albers 115)

    Bad:
    Kevin Correia 116
    Samuel Deduno 116
    (Josh Roenicke 118)
    (P.J. Walters 122)
    (Vance Worley 124)
    Kyle Gibson 125
    (Scott Diamond 129)

    Awful:
    Nobody

    This is some really interesting data. Here is what I see:
    • I think that I either underestimated the Twins' front office use of metrics in personnel decisions in building the team or Jack Goin should buy me a beer this week at Hammond Stadium, because this tool really describes what the Twins are doing regarding personnel decisions. Recently, they have tended to get rid of below average and worse pitchers and add average and above pitchers. Hughes was around 100, but I did not add him here. This is a stop the presses type of statement. I'm close to nodding my head in approval of what the front office is doing.
    • For 2013 this tells a tale of two categories: all the average and above pitchers were relievers. All starters were below average or worse but not awful. And Pelfrey was the best of that lot.
    • Enough with 2013. What happened in 2014, relative to 2013? Every single reliever from Perkins down regressed, while the starters (save the injured Pelfrey and replacement-level Correia) improved. This is fundamentally interesting, because it breaks some commonly accepted narratives. One excuse for the decline of the Twins' pen in 2014 was that they were too tired because the rotation was so bad. This data turns this upside down. The Twins 2013 rotation was worse than the Twins 2014 rotation, and the 2014 Twins' pen made the 2014 Twins rotation worse. So a bad pen can make a rotation worse. Like a reliever coming in with two outs and the bases loaded to give a grand slam and four runs to the starter's record. What a concept...
    I am starting to really like this metric. So, and this is really hard for me to say, the front office did make some improvements for 2014 that actually seem to be supported by real data, but the pitching tanked compared to 2013. Why?

    I'd love to hear your theories after this, and this is what I am thinking:
    • Look at that 2014 list up there. In your mind, normalize it for playing time. That would shift the buckets heavier to the below average. How many games did Pino or May start compared to Pelfrey, Correia, Deduno? Why was Burton used in high leverage situations over better relievers? Yes. Do the same normalization for playing time for the 2013 data. And you are looking at evidence of what has been written here, loudly and clearly, about mismanagement of the Twins' pitching staff by Gardy and Andy.
    • This has to be part of the reason for the pen decline in 2014. And it had to be fixed. And, yes, metrics can be devised to normalize and approximate defense independent pitching, but I have not yet seen one that could estimate the madness of the Twins' 2014 OF. (What is the range factor of a bucket? :))
    This actually makes me more hopeful, because it seems like the Twins are making an effort to address some things that need addressing. So, what do you say?

    Click here to view the article

     

    Why should I buy you a beer for finally realizing we use stats in personnel decisions more than you realized?  I think you owe me a beer. I drink Leinie's.

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    Thanks for the info, Thrylos.  I look forward to digging into the new metric.

     

    I think that I either underestimated the Twins' front office use of metrics in personnel decisions in building the team or Jack Goin should buy me a beer this week at Hammond Stadium, because this tool really describes what the Twins are doing regarding personnel decisions. Recently, they have tended to get rid of below average and worse pitchers and add average and above pitchers. Hughes was around 100, but I did not add him here. This is a stop the presses type of statement. I'm close to nodding my head in approval of what the front office is doing.

    I quibble with this conclusion from this metric and with Jack Goin's agreement with it.  Why?  You don't need any advanced stats/metrics to see that the pitching staff has improved at certain points (April 2014, hopefully April 2015), because the staff at the points of comparison (April 2013, April 2012) was so bad.

     

    Essentially, you are giving them credit for getting rid of Diamond, Correia, Deduno, Swarzak, etc., when the same decision-makers are the ones who acquired those guys and relied on them in the first place.  Rebuilding or not, the SP talent AND depth entering 2012 and 2013 was almost criminally thin.  If you are calling on AAAA also-rans by May, multiple years in a row… AND you've got Correia/Pelfrey anchoring the top of the rotation… that's not good, even for a rebuilding team.

     

    Are they learning from their mistakes?  Maybe slowly.  Are they never going to sign a middling Correia type and guarantee them a rotation spot for multiple seasons again?  Perhaps, but they just guaranteed significantly more to a couple guys (Nolasco, Santana) that probably project to be near Correia 2013-2014 level performance soon.  And they have done precious little about outfield defense yet, so it's hard to think they are really big believers in any DIPS based metric.

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    I have no idea what the Twins do inside their HQ.....but giving them credit for trading for Worley, not fixing him, then seeing him thrive elsewhere after they released him despite him having an option? I am confused by that......

     

    I'll wait and see who is in the BP before I decide they've really change approaches.

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    Why should I buy you a beer for finally realizing we use stats in personnel decisions more than you realized?  I think you owe me a beer. I drink Leinie's.

     

    Done deal, if you are in the ballpark tomorrow.

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    I have no idea what the Twins do inside their HQ.....but giving them credit for trading for Worley, not fixing him, then seeing him thrive elsewhere after they released him despite him having an option? I am confused by that......

     

    There are a couple things in play here:  a. Worley was pretty bad (and this was what his metric describes) and b. apparently the reason he was bad was mechanics and the Twins' pitching coach did not fix it, while the Pirates' did.  No contradiction there, I did not get into the root causes...

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    Essentially, you are giving them credit for getting rid of Diamond, Correia, Deduno, Swarzak, etc., when the same decision-makers are the ones who acquired those guys and relied on them in the first place.  Rebuilding or not, the SP talent AND depth entering 2012 and 2013 was almost criminally thin.  If you are calling on AAAA also-rans by May, multiple years in a row… AND you've got Correia/Pelfrey anchoring the top of the rotation… that's not good, even for a rebuilding team.

     

    Are they learning from their mistakes?  Maybe slowly.  Are they never going to sign a middling Correia type and guarantee them a rotation spot for multiple seasons again?  Perhaps, but they just guaranteed significantly more to a couple guys (Nolasco, Santana) that probably project to be near Correia 2013-2014 level performance soon.  And they have done precious little about outfield defense yet, so it's hard to think they are really big believers in any DIPS based metric.

     

    Nah, I am not giving them credit, how is humanly possibly to get credit for building some of the worst pitching staff year after year?

     

    What I am saying is that this metric potentially shows how the Twins are thinking.  Another problem he is that if you have a handful of pitchers who are above average, one or two great and above and the rest below average, you will field a below average staff.  Math.   And, yes, they have been targeting pitchers at the average-above average area, instead of at the great to suberb area and expecting that they will perform above (and Hughes did last season.)  I'd love to look at the last season the Twins were good (2006, or last time they were competitive 2010) to see how that staff would rank based on this metric.  I suspect that they would have had at least 3 "superb" pitchers in 2006 and 3-4 great.  That's what you need to compete...

     

    Also, nobody can excuse the fact that they were touting Diamond as their "Ace", given any single metric in the universe said that he was at best a mid-rotation starter (e.g he was the 58th best SP in SIERA.) 

     

    Cannot excuse the results on the field, which is what really matters.  The points I am trying  to make is that a. hey there might be a method, and at least they are getting rid of the lesser pitchers (not sure what happened to Pino) b. there needs to be some gap analysis to figure out what made the Twins pitch worse than they looked on paper (OF defense e.g.) and hopefully address it, c. there is root cause analysis to be done when someone performs worse than expected (and performs better after he left the team) and address it and d. target some of the highest performing pitchers and not only  average ones with the hope that will perform better.

     

    I am not making any excuses for that front office :)  No excuses can be reasonably made for 99+96+96+92

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