Monthly Archives: October 2014

Jean Segura’s season of ground balls

If teams brought in a fifth infielder from the outfield whenever Jean Segura came to the plate in 2014, he would have scuffled even more than he did.

A fifth infielder? I’m crazy, right? Well, did you know that Segura hit the ball on the ground 58.9% of the time? Only three National League players — Ben Revere, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon — had a higher percentage. And all of those guys had much higher BABIPs than the Milwaukee Brewers‘ shortstop. Overall, Segura had a BABIP of .275, but only a .224 BABIP on ground balls. Both of those are well below league average.

Here’s Segura’s ground ball rate month-by-month.

AB GB%
March/April 90 70.7%
May 111 53.8%
June 102 55.8%
July 78 59.7%
August 60 52.8%
September 72 61.0%

He started and ended the season very poorly in terms of ground ball rate, and hit the ball on the ground consistently during the middle four months. But just to be clear, none of those percentages are good. They are way too high for someone with such a low BABIP. If he was able to hit grounders for base hits, it’d be a different story.

In 2013, his first full season in the majors, his GB% was virtually the same (58.7%). However, he hit .279 on grounders — 55 points better than this season. There are two big factors that affect batting average on balls in play; defense and luck. It also takes a while to stabilize, so we really can’t tell what Segura’s BABIP will look like in 2015. His BABIP his first two seasons are just too different to know what to expect.

But, I will say this. Segura cannot rely on ground balls if he wants to be a successful hitter in the major leagues. He will obviously never be a power hitter, but he must start hitting line drives. He hit .628 when he hit a line drive last year. Granted, he only hit 79 of them, but still, that’s an extremely high average, and line drives mean more hits than ground balls.

Advertisements

Looking at FIP and SIERA

Starting pitchers for the Milwaukee Brewers ranked 22rd in FIP and 17th in SIERA last season. In order to understand these numbers, however, we need to go over what FIP and SIERA mean. After all, one of our goals is to inform the public on advanced statistics, so we shouldn’t automatically assume you know what all these weird stats are.

We’ll start with Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP.

Most of you are probably at least somewhat familiar with FIP as it is extremely popular in the sabermetric community. FIP attempts to estimate a pitcher’s ERA in the future by measuring only what a pitcher can control; walks, hit batters, strikeouts and home runs. A pitcher has little control over balls in play, so FIP completely ignores that aspect. I like FIP more than SIERA, but that’s only because it’s more well known and I understand it better. For a much better and in-depth explanation of FIP, check out the FanGraphs library.

Skill-Interactive ERA or SIERA is another ERA estimator. SIERA places a higher emphasis on strikeouts, and while walks are bad, they’re not as bad as FIP suggests. SIERA also doesn’t ignore balls in play. SIERA says that pitchers who allow less contact will force weaker contact from hitters. In other words, ground balls are good. Additionally, pitchers who have higher fly ball rates allow fewer home runs per fly ball. Again, go to FanGraphs to learn more.

Now that we have some understanding of these statistics, let’s compare FIP and SIERA among Milwaukee’s starting pitchers.

FIP SIERA Difference
Yovani Gallardo 3.94 3.78 0.16
Kyle Lohse 3.95 4.04 -0.09
Wily Peralta 4.11 3.73 0.38
Matt Garza 3.54 4.02 -0.48
Marco Estrada 5.73 4.04 1.69
Mike Fiers 2.79 2.76 0.03
Jimmy Nelson 3.82 3.76 0.06

These seven starters combined for a 3.98 FIP, 3.73 SIERA and 3.72 ERA. In terms of ERA, they outperformed their FIP and were basically identical with SIERA. Individually, SIERA and FIP were not far from each other, with the exceptions of Peralta, Garza and Estrada. However, SIERA was more favorable to every pitcher but Lohse and Garza. But why?

Well, Lohse and Garza owned a 17.3 K% and a 18.5 K%, respectively, but still held opposing hitters to a lower batting average on balls in play than other pitchers with similar strikeout rates. Remember, SIERA assumes that pitchers who strikeout more batters also give up weaker contact. Neither Lohse or Garza were big strikeout pitchers in 2014, but still managed to limit their BABIPs.

If you’re wondering why Estrada’s FIP is so high, I have two words for you : home runs. Luckily, Estrada’s back where he belongs in the bullpen, so we won’t have to worry about him killing the curve again next year.  I wrote about Estrada’s struggles here.

Milwaukee’s starting rotation was dependable in 2014, and we should see some sort of improvement from their young guys next year. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Fiers is the real deal and if he can sustain his fantastic numbers.

Once again, if you want a primer on statistics like FIP and SIERA, head on over to FanGraphs.com. That site is fantastic and they’re the best at what they do.

Pick a pitcher: Marco Estrada vs. Brandon Kintzler

Let’s play a game.

If you were the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and were forced to choose between relief pitchers Brandon Kintzler or Marco Estrada for the final spot in the bullpen for 2015, who would you pick?

Now, before we dive any deeper into my fascinating game, let it be known that there’s a very real possibility that both players return to the club next season, as neither of them are pending free agents. Kintzler is entering his first year of arbitration and Estrada will be entering his last. But, for the sake of my game, let’s make a decision anyway.

Both pitchers are coming off abysmal seasons, but we’ll start with Contestant #1 Marco Estrada.

Estrada couldn’t keep the ball in the park and was kicked out of the starting rotation in July. As a starter, he had a 4.96 ERA, 5.73 FIP and 4.25 xFIP. He also had the league’s 23rd-worst RE24 (-10.45) as a starter. It still amazes me that Ron Roenicke waited all the way until July to stash him in the bullpen. I mean, the guy gave up 27 home runs in 107 innings. Roenicke probably wanted to wait until the home runs began to normalize, but they never did. Jimmy Nelson or Mike Fiers should have replaced him in early-to-mid June. And what do you know, once Estrada got to the bullpen he started to pitch like an actual major league pitcher. His spot is in the bullpen. The starting rotation is his Mount Everest and he hasn’t conquered it yet, and who knows if he ever will.

Estrada is 31 and hasn’t done enough to keep a roster spot, but there are limited options to replace him. SB Nation’s Brew Crew Ball predicts he’ll make $4 million in 2015, a raise up from $3.3 million in 2014. But you have to decide if he’s really worth $4 million for one year. Remember, you’re the GM. It’s your call.

Next up, Contestant #2 Brandon Kintzler.

Kintzler was arguably the best reliever in 2013 before completely imploding for most of the 2014 season. But the funny thing was, he actually thought he pitched well. Here’s my favorite quote from him this past season:

“I never know where I’m going to throw, but it’s to the point that’s what I deserve,” Kintzler said, “because apparently a three-something ERA isn’t [good enough].”

Those were some harsh words he dished out in August. He actually finished with a respectable 3.27 ERA, mainly because of his superb month of September (0.90). But his FIP was a mere 4.68, and really struggled for the majority of the season. His sinker, his main pitch, decreased in value and wasn’t nearly as dominant as it was a year ago. He gave up five home runs on his sinker after allowing only one in 2013.

Kintzler is only a year older than Estrada, but will cost roughly $3 million less. If the Brewers are confident he can return to the Kintzler of 2013, the Brewers will gladly offer him arbitration and welcome him back with open arms. But where would he be used? He can’t be trusted in the seventh or eighth innings and his arm isn’t stretched out enough to be a long reliever like Estrada.

This is a tough decision.

My pick would be to keep Estrada and let Kintzler walk. Yes, Estrada is older and more expensive, but he’s had success in the long-relief role and can make a spot start whenever necessary. Those are two things Kintzler can’t do, and because of that, Estrada is more valuable.

But I’m not the GM in this scenario. You are. Who would you choose?

The bunting ways of Ron Roenicke

Since Ron Roenicke took over as manager in 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers have bunted an MLB-leading 578 times. And if you’re even somewhat acquainted with sabermetric philosophies, you’re aware that sabermaticians frown on bunting, particularly sacrifice bunting.  Now, if we exclude bunts from pitchers, the above number goes down to 380, which is still crazy high and second-most among major league ball clubs. And Lord knows how many of those were suicide squeezes, Roenicke’s go-to move in the late innings.

Of those 380 bunts, 122 of them have gone for a base hit which is not a bad percentage at all, but that also means the Brewers gave the other team 258 “free” outs. That’s 9.5 games worth of outs and a poor way to waste them. If I were a manager — which I, of course, am not qualified to be — I would outlaw bunting from position players. Pitchers should almost always bunt with runners on with less than two outs, but regular hitters? No way. Why give away outs?

To further that point, sacrifice bunting a runner from first to second with zero outs actually decreases your chance of scoring. A team is expected to score 0.831 runs when they have a runner on first base with no outs, but the run expectancy dwindles to 0.644 runs with a runner on second with one out. A manager is sabotaging his own team when he calls for the sacrifice bunt, and that’s what Roenicke has been doing to the Brewers.

However, in Roenicke’s defense. his team drastically cut down on bunts in 2014. Below are the number of bunts by non-pitchers along with how the Brewers stacked up with the rest of the league since 2011.

Year Bunts MLB Rank
2011 81 13th
2012 120 1st
2013 105 1st
2014 74 9th

Even though the sabermetric movement has made its way inside baseball’s front offices, it doesn’t seem like this aspect of it has reached Milwaukee yet. Still, we cannot assume that every bunt by the Brewers was ordered by Roenicke. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, among others, have both laid down plenty of bunts on their own. We can’t blame Roenicke for that, but at the same time, we actually can. If he gives his players free rein to do what they feel is right at the plate, the end result should and does fall on him.

After the epic collapse of the Milwaukee Brewers last season, I was surprised and a little disappointed Roenicke was retained as manager. And not just because of his love for bunts. If 2015 comes and goes without a postseason trip for the Brewers, he’ll most likely be packing his bags, and hopefully a manager with a sabermetric mind will fill his place. Perhaps Gabe Kapler? I dare to dream.

But in the meantime, let’s just hope he keeps pulling back on the bunts.

 

Introducing The First Out At Third Blog

I am pleased to announce the creation of the blog The First Out At Third.

The First Out At Third is dedicated to the Milwaukee Brewers with a sabermetric twist. It was created by Justin Schultz, a die-hard Milwaukee Brewers fan from Wisconsin. He is also a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score, and was previously the editor of FanSided’s own Brewers blog Reviewing the Brew.

The name of this site was inspired by the aggressive and sometimes silly baserunning nature of the Brewers, but this is why Milwaukee fans drink, so I guess it’s okay.

The First Out At Third isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill baseball blog. While it focuses on the Brewers, our main goal is to bring you useful and entertaining information by using sabermetrics. We hope to inform, inspire and broaden your knowledge of advanced statistics as they become more and more prevalent in today’s game. You won’t find mundane game recaps here, so if that’s something you crave, feel free to click away.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride.