One decision the Reds general manager faces this offseason is whether to pick up the second year on relief pitcher Burke Badenhop’s contract. The Reds owe Badenhop $1.5 million if they don’t pick up the 2016 option and $4 million if they do. To simplify, the Reds are paying Badenhop $2.5 million/year for either one year of service or two.

A narrative has developed, fueled by Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley and others, that the reliever simply had a bad April but other than that he has been excellent in 2015. What is the basis for the Bad April theory? Simple, it’s the reliever’s ERA split:

Baden1

By that single measure, Badenhop has been outstanding for five months of the season. But the Bad April theory about Burke Badenhop is a textbook example of sloppy statistical analysis leading to an incorrect conclusion.

To start, Badenhop pitched seven innings in April. Reaching a multi-million dollar conclusion about Badenhop that is premised on separating out his April performance is not sound. It’s akin to the disastrous thought process that put Kevin Gregg on the mound for the 8th inning on Opening Day.

But just for kicks, let’s ignore the sample size problem with Bad April. If you check the right numbers, the ones that pitchers can control, Badenhop’s April wasn’t much different from the rest of his season.

Start with strikeouts:

BadenK:9

Both of these rates are extremely low (league average is 8.42 K/9). Badenhop struck out a slightly higher rate of batters he faced in April.

How about walks?

BadenBB:9

Badenhop’s walk-rate was a bit higher in April. Keep in mind that rate is based on a total of 3 walks. One fewer walk in April would have moved his BB/9 below the rate for the rest of the season. At worst, his “elevated” walk-rate in April resulted in one more base-runner than his average.

As a soft tosser, Badenhop’s calling card for retiring hitters is inducing ground balls. So what about his April ground ball rate?

BadenGB

These numbers are pretty similar. If anything, Badenhop induced more ground balls in April than the rest of the season.

(As an aside, it was Badenhop’s reputation as a ground-ball pitcher that presumably caused manager Bryan Price to use Badenhop in games with runners on base. The idea being that a ground ball pitcher could induce a trouble-solving double play. It’s a strategy Price has used 14 times, including last Saturday. But a quarter of ground balls end up as hits. And not every fielded ground ball leads to a double play. Most don’t. On the contrary, when runners are on base, what the team needs most is a strikeout to prevent the ball from being put in play. And Burke Badenhop has the lowest strikeout rate among any NL reliever with more than 40 innings pitched. So bringing Badenhop in with runners on base is a dumb strategy. Results: Badenhop faced 46 batters with an opportunity for a double play. He succeeded in that 4 times, or 9 percent. League average is 11 percent. Badenhop allowed 48 percent of inherited runners to score. League average is 34 percent.)

But back to Bad April. It turns out that Burke Badenhop’s strikeouts, walks and ground ball rate – the stuff pitchers can influence – don’t support the claim that Badenhop was bad in April and good the rest of the season.

So what explains Badenhop’s huge variation in ERA?

BadenBABIP

In April, Badenhop was victimized by a huge percentage of batted balls falling in for hits, something a pitcher has little control over. Pitchers face a mix of hitters and data shows that a pitcher’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) converges to .290-.295 over time. Even if you believe that pitchers do have some control over BABIP, the range is small compared to Badenhop’s variance. Clayton Kershaw’s career BABIP, for instance, is .273 (.283 this year). The controllable amount of BABIP comes nowhere near the astronomical level Badenhop experienced at the start of the year.

If you wash out that factor, his actual performance in April wasn’t that much different than it was the rest of the season.

BadenSIERA2

SIERA (skill-interactive ERA) is an ERA estimator/predictor, like xFIP, based on the factors that pitchers can influence, like strikeouts, walks and ground ball/fly ball rates. Research has shown it to be better than past ERA at predicting a pitcher’s future runs allowed performance.

It turns out Badenhop’s Bad April is a myth.

Now, back to the more important bigger picture. Don’t be distracted by the small difference in Badenhop’s April and May-Sept splits because what’s important is that both numbers are horrendous. Burke Badenhop’s good May-Sept ERA hides the more accurate picture of a well-below-average pitcher in sharp decline.

BadenTotal

The two middle columns – K-BB% and GB% – should terrify the Reds front office and make any decision regarding Badenhop’s 2016 option trivial.

K-BB% is the single best predictor among common, public measures of how a pitcher will perform in the future. Burke Badenhop is way, way below league average for relief pitchers (13.4). In fact, 73 relief pitchers in the National League have thrown at least 40 innings this year and Burke Badenhop ranks dead last in K-BB%.

Badenhop’s ground-ball rate has fallen to right around league average for relievers (46.3%). Based on his 2015 season, he’s no longer a ground-ball or double-play specialist. That, in combination with allowing batters to put the ball in play at a higher rate than any other reliever in the NL (40 IP), is a dreadful combination.

Conclusion

If you look at the right measures, the decision whether or not to keep Burke Badenhop, who turns 33 in February, at $2.5 million next season is a no-brainer. Badenhop hasn’t been close to a league average pitcher this year and odds are he’ll continue to decline next season.

If the Reds general manager decides to keep Badenhop, it would be a clear-cut example of decision-making that is the opposite of smart. If that decision is based even in part on the Bad April myth, it’s disqualifying malpractice.

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

Join the conversation! 27 Comments

  1. Wait, what’s the myth, that a guy putting up an ERA of 15+ in one month and 2.32 over the remainder of the season didn’t pitch worse in that first month? Sure he got unlucky with a high BABIP, but bad luck doesn’t make it a myth that his results were far worse in April.

    …And probably influenced other season measures, like BB% and GB%.

    • Sometimes you’ve got a narrative – Badenhop established the narrative in April, he had a terrible season – and you’ve gotta stick to it, I guess.

      • Yep, just “stuck to the narrative.” Didn’t do any additional analysis.

    • The myth is that Badenhop pitched significantly better after April. He didn’t.

      • Badenhop has had better results since April. That is not a myth. That’s getting better results outside of one month.

        • You should read the post.

        • I think they will definitely keep him next year, but that says all you need to know about the reds personel people. On the positive side, keeping Badenhop will prevent them from signing an equally bad player for more money.

      • Steve, totally agree with you but there are many people who don’t understand statistics. When you say his BABIP changed you mean that statistical variance “luck” largely explained the result. Hence, this is information that is valuable in assessing potential future performance.

        • I know its frustrating, but some people actually think that “results” are measured by things like ERA.

  2. Thanks for this post Steve. It proves what most of us have known all along: Badenhop is BADenhop.

    The funny thing is, there have been posters right here on this site that have come rushing to Badenhop’s defense using that same “Bad April” narrative. All his metrics are trending in the wrong direction.

    If the Reds keep him, he will essentially be Kevin Gregg 2.0 and another sunk cost born of poor understanding of metrics.

  3. The funny thing is, “baseball men” have known that relievers’ ERAs is not the best way of evaluating them forever. I’ve in fact heard Brantley say this on the radio many times. But then he falls into his own trap by looking at his ERA after April to say that he’s turned his season around.

    Relievers often give up other people’s runs, especially when they are brought in to get a double play and fail to. As a “ground ball specialist” that is often what Badenhop is called on to do.

    If you want to understand how a reliever is pitching you have to go deeper than ERA. This is a well known fact that seems to get forgotten when a player has a good ERA, and remembered when they have a bad one. (See JJ Hoover).

  4. Thank you for your service Burke, I hope we give his spot to a younger pitcher with promise and give them some experience so that they can be better developed for a playoff run in 2017.

  5. Good article Steve.My thoughts are not data driven but rather based on the fact he is a soft tossing relief pitcher.These type of pitchers have no margin for error and get very few swing and misses.It would be a big time mistake to bring him back next year.

  6. Going to pay another veteran next year NOT to play for the Reds. What the total is on what the Reds front office has paid players and managers/coaches to go away over the last 2 years (since end of 2013 season) has to be over $15M. That is a staggering sum for a small market team.
    When looking to evaluate relievers, my opinion only, one of the best to look at TBF (total batters faced) and the number of outs they pitched in an outing, a period of time (month), or also over the course of a season. It only tells part of the story, but it is certainly something to look at.

    • His buyout sums seem way high to me, at least compared to other teams’ contracts. Maybe that’s how he suppresses AAV some. The biggest problem with the buyout amounts though is that he’s needing to exercise so many of them. That tells me he’s giving too many years. Pretty obvious to most posters and commenters here.

  7. Timely analysis. Good to see a lot of these narratives fleshed out. Great point about how Price uses him. The 7th inning Saturday night was especially troubling. Price brought him in with 2 outs and 2 runners on. No ground ball double play necessary, but rather we needed a pitcher in that situation with swing and miss stuff. If Price is willing in theory to use Chapman in the 8th inning, the same logic should apply to using Jumbo or JJ in the 7th. I don’t get it…….

    Another thing I don’t get is the article in the St. Louis Dispatch where Jocketty says the Reds are going to be in the market for a starting pitcher. Here we go again. There aren’t going to be enough spots in the rotation as it is, and now we’re going to pull another Marquis and give one of those spots to a middling veteran who will block a better player. How many times do we have to say it—-OPPORTUNITY COST!!!

  8. I would have been leaning towards keeping him based on him pitching considerably better since April. That was without a deeper dive into his statistics though. Upon this review (which I’m hoping a similar review would be done by Sam Grossman or one of his ‘staff’), I’d say it would be a pretty bad move to retain him for next year. Best to buy him out. It will be curious to see what the Reds do, especially considering the number of good arms in the system.

  9. This still isn’t enough statistical analysis. What about GB-out rate? For instance, catch Bruce trying to pull an outside pitch, he’s most likely going to hit a soft grounder for an out. But, throw that pitch to someone like Votto, he hits a harder groundball to left field if not up the line for a double.

    Or, how many first pitch strikes did he get, a key statistic for pitchers that can and has affected entire counts in the past?

    So, some other stats? Burke’s SO/W was 1.33 for April, 1.59 for the rest of the season. His OPS was 1.157 for April, never going above .883 for the rest of the season. He gave up 2 HR’s in April, only allowed 1 HR the rest of the season. His WHIP was 2.714 in April, never got over 1.667 the rest of the way. Several more show similar results: tOPS+, sOPS+, and others.

    So, there can be some fact that it was April that burned Burke. I’m not saying that April burned Burke or not. But, anyone can pick certain stats to justify one’s position just like anyone can pick certain stats to justify against one’s position.

    Still, do I pick up his contract? I don’t believe I could. As you showed and we all know anyhow, there’s just too much there. For instance, one thing that stats fail to show a lot, I just don’t think Burke kept hitters off balance enough. He’s not an overpowering pitcher. So, he needs to keep hitters off-balance, guessing, being able to hit locations, etc. I just don’t think there’s enough of that there.

    • All but one of the stats you cited are contaminated by the BABIP variance in April. Regurgitating same issue with ERA. And April is still just 7 games no matter which stats you choose.

      • Your opinion, not mine. Also, you can’t regurgitate nor provide any stat that would provide for a pitcher keeping a batter off balance but still allowing a weakly hit groundball rather than a solid groundball that goes for a hit. The both are groundballs. But, a pitcher can control that a bit more than people think. There’s much more to it than “There just happened to be a defender there”. Maddux made a living at it for years.

        • There actually are stats showing how hard batters hit the ball.

        • Some people just don’t like to read my posts, especially parts that specifies “and others”, preferring to pick and choose what to post about.

    • I don’t think the issue is “Has Badenhop pitched better than he did in April?” because as Steve said, April was only 7 games. The question is “Has Badenhop pitched well since April?” Brantley has been saying yes because of Badenhop’s ERA.

      Look at the stats you presented since April though. SO/W: 1.59 (very bad), OPS .883 (very bad), WHIP 1.667 (very bad).

      So the stats you gave also show that Badenhop has actually been very bad this season, whether you count his first 7 games or not.

      • Agreed, Jeremy. There’s just not enough there, I believe, at least for what we would be paying for.

  10. I like sabermetrics, but it seems to me that with the large number of different statistical categories, it’s possible to make just about any good player seem like a complete loser(except for maybe Votto) and any bad player seem like a productive guy. In this particular situation,I can’t argue with Badenhop’s ERA from May-Sept. That 2.32 is good, even if you people believe he did nothing to deserve it. He had to have something more than luck going his way to be that good for four months.

  11. This is why I love analytical data. Great post. You guys should tell the reds that’s you will offer your services during drafting and free agents. Great article!!!!!!!

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About Steve Mancuso

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

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