Sixty Feet from Home

Walks Will Haunt

Two weeks in and we have about 5% of our total pitching data (4.9% by games, 4.6% compared to IP in 2013). It is hard to get a reasonable sample size when we are so early in the season and there is a large variance in individual pitching performances. Yet, the Reds season is not exactly going according to plan, so I thought we could parse through some of the numbers and see if there are any major trends that jump out.

To get a reasonably large sample size, I’m going to pool all the data we have from the 2014 season and compare it to the 2013 Reds team numbers. Pooling the data (which could end up causing more problems than it solves) could help us see the trends that are emerging out of the staff as a whole. I want to emphasize caution here: We only have 68 innings of data, so please do not draw strong conclusions.

I am going to use the statistic Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) instead of ERA for two reasons. First, studies have shown that FIP is a better predictor than past ERA of future pitching performances, including future ERA. Second, using FIP avoids variance associated with defense. Since we are already using perilously small numbers, adding in an extra source of variance would not be helpful.

With 68 innings under their belts, the Reds rank 23rd in FIP (4.10) in 2014. The 2013 Reds’ pitching ranked thirteenth in the majors with a 3.81 FIP and a 3.62 xFIP. If you remember from Steve’s post, xFIP uses FIP but substitutes the league average home run rate into the equation and then weights it by a pitcher’s fly ball percentage.

That sounds complicated, but its actually pretty simple: home runs are fly balls, and there is a fairly consistent number of fly balls that turn into home runs. Therefore, you take the percentage of fly balls that a pitcher gives up and multiply it by the expected number of home runs per fly ball. Some pitchers are able to “out pitch” their xFIP because they give up fewer home runs per fly ball, while others may give up more home runs than expected.

xFIP assumes that pitchers are responsible for keeping the ball out of the air, while other variables, such as BABIP, park factors, and luck, should not be held against a pitcher.

You might think that luck has nothing to do with a home run. In one sense, that is correct: Many home runs are hit off mistake pitches. But also think about the number of times a pitcher throws a hanging curveball but the batter pulls it foul, or when Miguel Cabrera hits a ball three inches off the ground over the wall. That’s why some people argue that in order to properly compare pitchers, we need to average out a pitcher’s home run rate. Keep in mind that pitchers face different batters in different ballparks (something that, after playing the Cardinals, the Reds are quickly discovering).

The discrepancy between these two numbers show that the Reds had an above average number of home runs hit against them last year. This is probably not surprising given they play in Great American Ball Park. The trend is holding true this year as well, the Reds FIP (4.10) is higher than their xFIP (3.86).

The difference between these two numbers has held constant over the past two years. In other words, it doesn’t look like the Reds are giving up many more home runs than they did last year. This is backed up by the similar HR/FB [home runs to fly balls, as a percentage] rate for the 2013 squad (11.5)% and the 2014 version (12.5%). Strikeouts (K/9), too, are holding pretty constant: 8.07, 2013; 7.91, 2014.

On the old Riverfront Stadium scoreboard, every time a Reds batter drew a walk, an image of a ghost with the phrase “Walks will haunt” would appear. That could be the story here, too. The 2013 Reds had a BB/9 rate of 2.66 whereas in 2014 that number is all the way up to 3.97. How high is that? Even the AAAstros, who led the league in this category last year, had a lower BB/9 rate in 2013 (3.85).

From that, there is good news and bad news. The good news: That number will almost certainly decline as the Reds continue through the season. The bad news? These walks might haunt us for awhile. At Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan shows that the Reds early season losses have already harmed their chances at making the post-season. It is not a large margin, but baseball can be a game of inches, or a few feet.

Like sixty feet from home.

11 thoughts on “Walks Will Haunt

  1. I kind of miss the old scoreboard at Riverfront. The race with the Mr. Redleg heads was my childhood favorite.

  2. Two words…Bell/Hoover. The numbers presented do not include the series final against the Birds. With the updated game included, the BB/9 for the season sits at 3.62. Without Bell’s contribution, the BB/9 goes down to 3.42. If Hoover’s contribution is also removed, the BB/9 goes down to 2.92.

    Bell was already removed from the 25-man roster. Once he comes off the 15-day DL, I do not expect to see him back on the 25-man roster. I don’t know what is up with Hoover, but he has simply stunk up the joint in the 2.1 innings he has pitched. The 3.0 innings pitched by Hoover and Bell had a significant negative impact on the losses suffered to this point. Had LeCure been pitching rather than Bell, if LeCure remained in to pitch the 9th inning rather than replacing him with Hoover and if LeCure had been utilized for high leverage situations rather than Ondrusek, this team sits in a significantly different position than it does not. Those decisions rest squarely with Bryan. I know, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the attitude of a closer can only close, the unwillingness to utilize the best bullpen arms in high leverage situations, no matter when they occur, and the unwillingness to utilize a pitcher for a 2 inning save will haunt the Reds all season if Bryan doesn’t adjust his handling of those situations.

    I was hoping that such antiquated thinking was no longer so prevalent in the Reds bullpen management.

    • Didn’t Hoover got off to a bad start last year too? I could be remembering wrong but I think he was horrible in the first few weeks of the season and then lights out the rest of the way.

        • Dusty pitch Hoover like 50 innings in the first 3 games or something like that (actually 117 pitches in the 1st 7 games, including 47 pitches in the 1st game). That 1st game pretty much wiped out a reliever coming out of spring training until he had a chance to recover. That 1st appearance was so indicative of the irresponsible handling of pitchers by the previous manager.

        • Hey there old Cossack,

          You betray yourself. Here we thought you were this sage, wise, venerable wit.

          Instead we now know that you are a valley girl in like Burbank on her way to like InNOut Burger, like.

          “Dusty pitch Hoover like 50 innings”

          I may never like read your posts the same like way

          just like funnin ya cause I like ya

        • I knew that gag blamed teenage Cossackess would eventually cause me to crack!

  3. As you said, “mighty small sample size”. This is WITHOUT Latos, Chapman, Marshall, and Broxton and WITH Bell. I fully expect those numbers to come down significantly when/if the pitching staff is back to full strength. It’s not the pitching staff that worries me. It’s the offense.

  4. Sheldon repotede that after a couple days off from throwing, Latos was still expeincing elbow soreness after a bullpen session today.

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