Mets Series Preview: Joe Janish

Fellow member of ESPN’s SweetSpot blog network Joe Janish was nice enough to get involved in a Q&A, previewing the upcoming series between the Phillies and Mets. His questions and my answers can be found at his blog Mets Today.

. . .

1. Francoeur started the season 16-for-35 with a triple-slash line of .457/.535/.857. He then went into a slump where he went hitless for 22 straight at-bats. He then logged a hit in six of his next seven games though with not nearly the same level of success to open the season. Do you buy the Francoeur rebirth theories?

I think Francoeur’s issue in Atlanta was a combination of factors, one of which had to do with expectations. After hitting 29 HRs and driving in over 100 as a 22-year-old, there was the thought he was a future superstar. In truth, he benefitted from pitchers/scouts not knowing him and hitting in a high-powered lineup. Without the Jones boys, Adam LaRoche, etc. at the tops of their games, the focus was suddenly on Francoeur, and he didn’t make the necessary adjustments. Getting out of Atlanta was key to his “rebirth”, as the New York fans had low expectations.

He definitely has holes in his swing, and will never be a .300 hitter, but he’s slowing learning how to be a better hitter and I don’t see why he can’t finish with a .700 OPS, 18-22 HR, 80-90 RBI. That may not sound spectacular, but it’s enough for a Mets team that is supposed to be relying on the likes of David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Jose Reyes.

2. Can Jose Reyes rebound or is he going to flame out? He only has a .635 OPS so far in 2010 after missing most of ’09.

Reyes spent nearly all of spring training sitting on his couch. He literally was not allowed to do anything more strenuous than walking around at the mall. The Mets rushed him back into action in 3 weeks, and I don’t care who you are, it takes more than 3 weeks to get into the shape necessary to play any sport at a world-class level. Reyes will be fine, and in fact the early inaction may allow him to be fresh in August / September, and finish strong for the first time in his career.

3. How much rope does Oliver Perez have left? He has nearly as many walks (14) as he has strikeouts (16).

Oliver Perez has major problems with his mechanics, his focus, his velocity, and his confidence. Unfortunately he’s guaranteed another $24M, so I imagine the leash is much longer than it should be. Unless the Mets bring back a micro-manager type of pitching coach like Rick Peterson was, I don’t see any way Perez can be a valuable asset for the Mets.

4. Hisanori Takahashi has 21 strikeouts in just over 14 innings. How impressive has he been to watch on a daily basis?

Takahashi has been fun to watch, but I’m not expecting him to keep it up. I believe very strongly that “new” pitchers have a distinct advantage due to being “unknown”.

Takahashi’s success depends on his control, which is often pinpoint, because his velocity is in the high 80s and his breaking stuff is average. I believe he can continue to be strong in the role of long relief and would probably be better than Perez as a starter, but I don’t see the swings and misses as something that will continue over the long haul. Despite the early numbers, he is a “pitch to contact” guy.

5. The bullpen as a whole has had very good results in the opening month. Do you expect that trend to continue throughout the regular season?

Absolutely not. Jerry Manuel is managing for his job, and as such managing games and the bullpen accordingly — so I expect to see the relievers burn out early due to overuse. Additionally, I must again bring up the “unknown” factor, because the Mets have employed 4 rookies (Takahashi, Raul Valdes, Jennry Mejia, Ryota Igarashi)

and 2 somewhat underscouted (Fernando Nieve, Manny Acosta) arms. I’m concerned that the scouting reports will catch up to these relievers at the same time they begin tiring, and the roof will cave in.

6. Is Ike Davis overrated?

Yes and no. He’s definitely — so far — shown to be mature beyond his years as far as keeping an even keel and handling the New York media. Many inside the Mets organization compare him to John Olerud but I think that is a stretch; to me a better comp would be Adam Dunn.

He has a big, long, loopy swing that generates a ton of power and he seems to have a good idea of the strike zone. But his swing is unusual; he drops his hands and swings up, rather than the typical load behind the shoulder that takes advantage of gravity and leverage down to the point of contact.

Can it work? It has been so far, though I think he’ll be vulnerable to hard stuff up and in — but, hey, everyone has a vulnerability somehwere.

I do believe he will develop into a solid everyday first baseman, but whether he’ll be a star depends on how he adjusts. It will be interesting to see how he (and the Mets) handle his first prolonged slump.

7. Roy Halladay or Johan Santana?

Halladay, in a heartbeat, because he finishes what he starts.

8. David Wright’s power seems to have somewhat returned, but it still doesn’t appear to be at the level it was in 2008 and prior. Are you at all concerned about this, or do you think Wright will find his power sooner rather than later?

Wright’s power never worried me. His power outage last year was due more to his decision to shorten up his swing and hit the ball to the gaps, particularly in “hitter’s counts”, as well as a lack of protection in the lineup. There are some people who also have shown that Wright lost a few homers due to the dimensions of Citi Field, and the beaning he suffered in early September definitely affected the stats in his final month.

However, the lack of power seems to have gotten in his head, because he bulked up over the winter and is now swinging for the fences more often than ever before. The result is a low average (but high OBP) and a lot of swinging and missing.

If he ends up hitting 40-50 homeruns with the .400+ OBP, that’s OK, but I’d rather see him hit his usual .300+ with however many HR and the .400+ OBP, which has consistently resulted in 100 runs scored and another 100 driven in. Why fix what ain’t broke?

. . .

Tip of the cap to Joe for being unbiased about his team. Now let’s hope the Phillies can sweep the Mets!

Video: Howard, Ibanez, Halladay Q&A

Per the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce:

Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Roy Halladay took some questions from fans at a meet-and-greet before the start of the season.

What would Halladay, Howard and Ibanez do if they weren’t professional baseball players? Did you know Halladay almost chose another sport to pursue? What musical instrument did Howard play in his high school marching band? Why does Ryan love hitting homers? And what’s his favorite $5 footlong?

Something I did not know: Ryan Howard was in his high school’s marching band. Nerd power!

Addressing Howard and RBI

I have seen the “Ryan Howard drives in a lot of runners” argument used as a justification for his contract extension quite frequently on the Internets lately. I would like to once again demonstrate that the RBI statistic is just about meaningless.

You have probably heard that RBI is dependent on the on-base percentage of the hitters in front of the player in question. This is very true. Ryan Howard will get more RBI opportunities with Chase Utley (career .380 OBP) in front of him than with Brandon Phillips (.312). Additionally, Howard will get more plate appearances hitting fourth in a high-powered lineup (weak offenses don’t rack up as much PA for obvious reasons).

Most people using RBI recently have been mindful of these flaws, but there is a more glaring mis-use still making the rounds — percentage of RBI opportunities. I don’t mean to pick on David Murphy, but he has the most recent and easiest-to-access example.

Howard has driven in a higher percentage of men on base than Pujols has in each of the last three seasons.

Now, part of that is prob due to pitchers treating Albert more carefully (if you are a lefty, you are going after Howard) w/ ROB

Only point is that, in this case, Howard’s RBIs are actually a good reflection of his ability to drive in runs

There’s information missing that is absolutely necessary to make RBI in any way meaningful in this discussion: how many runners are on base for Pujols and Howard respectively? Presumably, the “percentage of men on base” counts runners on second and third the same as a runner on second.

As you can see, Pujols has stepped to the plate with just a runner on first (the worst probability for an RBI) seven percent more often than Howard has. The other percentages are similar, with Howard holding one-to-three percentage points over Pujols. Using counting stats, we should expect Howard to out-produce Pujols in RBI every season.

The following graph will show each hitter’s percentage of RBI by base-state.

Howard has driven in more runners from first base which has a lot to do with A) the speed in front of him and B) his HR/PA rate being nearly double that of Pujols, 9.4% to 5.5%. Pujols makes more contact, however: .327 AVG, .403 OBP to Howard’s .306 AVG, .386 OBP.

Howard is also better with a runner just on third base and with runners on first and third. Again, this is due to a higher HR/PA rate (7% to 4%) and that Howard has been intentionally walked only 16 times to Pujols’ 39 with a runner on third.

Finally, while it is true that Howard has driven in a lot of runs, the real question that needs to be asked is: do we expect him to continue driving in those runs. Some people, such as Matt Swartz, expect Howard to age gracefully. Others expect the duration of his extension to be a turbulent ride. For reasons stated on Monday, I believe Howard will not age gracefully:

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

Simply put, comparing Howard to Pujols is a fruitless endeavor. Pujols is, literally, twice as valuable as Howard. And the “Howard is a run producer” argument completely misses the point about projecting his talent through his age 36 season. He may have driven in 136+ runners in each of the past four seasons, but that doesn’t mean he is going to continue to do so throughout the duration of his contract — especially when stalwarts like Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Chase Utley won’t be around forever.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

(Tip of the hat to Steve Sommer of FanGraphs as well as Jeff Zimmerman and Sky Kalkman.)

This graph will display Charlie Manuel’s bullpen usage by Leverage Index, a stat found at FanGraphs. I have shrunk it down to fit on this page, but you can click it to view a much larger version to enhance readability.

Ryan Madson, the Phillies’ closer while Brad Lidge has been out, is marked by the large red circles. While he has been given the Phillies’ most heralded job in the bullpen, he typically has not been pitching in the most important spots in a game.

(Note: Madson pitched on April 24 in Arizona, but it is not marked on the graph because the LI was so high — 3.74 to be exact.)

Jose Contreras, meanwhile, has come in with an LI above 1 (neutral) in four of his seven appearances. Danys Baez has also pitched in LI > 1 situations in four out of his seven appearances.

Manuel has kept his younger hurlers out of crucial situations when possible. Antonio Bastardo and David Herndon have combined for only three appearances in LI > 1 situations. J.C. Romero, recently healed from off-season surgery, has not been called upon to get any important outs yet. Not long after joining the Phillies after being cut by the New York Mets, Nelson Figueroa was thrown into high-pressure situations in his first two appearances out of the bullpen.

Elsewhere, you can catch the pitching-half of my installment of Smoke and Mirrors at Baseball Daily Digest.

Howard Gets Extension Through 2016

EDIT: Check out what Matt Swartz has to say about the extension at Baseball Prospectus. He makes a lot of good points. Swartz specifically adjusts for inflation, something I was too lazy to do in the analysis below.

Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly has the scoop. Five years, $125 million extension for Ryan Howard and it kicks in after the 2011 season.

From 2005-09,  Howard has contributed 21.6 WAR, an average of 4.3 per season. In that span of time, he has been paid $26.6 million and provided an overall value (production minus salary) of $66.6 million. Seems like a great deal, right?

The going rate for a win in 2010 is about $5 million, which means that — assuming that figure stays static — in 2011 and ’12, Howard will be paid as a 4-win player. From 2013-16, he will be paid as a 5-win player. Using the ten-year forecast from Baseball Prospectus, Howard will be worth 3.3 wins (WARP3) in 2011 and decline gradually.

Over the length of the extension, Howard is projected to accrue 11.7 WARP3, an average of under 2 per season. Even if we make the extremely generous and unrealistic assumption that the value of a win is $5 million not just in 2010, but throughout the length of the contract (it won’t — it will rise most likely), Howard still provides an increasingly negative value to the Phillies. $84.5 million specifically from 2012-17. In chart form:

*Note: 2010-17 numbers are projected and assume a static $/win of $5 million (because it is impossible to know exactly what the going rate will be). Howard’s value is likely to be much worse than indicated above. Additionally, the 2017 season is a club option with a $10 million buy-out.

This extension pushes the Phillies’ guaranteed payroll in 2012 to about $87 million, tied up to just eight players including Howard: Roy Halladay ($20 million), Chase Utley ($15.3M), Joe Blanton ($10.5M), Shane Victorino ($9.4M), Placido Polanco ($6.4M), Carlos Ruiz ($3.7M), and Brad Lidge ($1.5M). There may be six arbitration-eligible players as well in Cole Hamels (fourth year), Kyle Kendrick (second), Ben Francisco (second), Scott Mathieson (second), J.A. Happ (first), and Mike Zagurski (first). In short, the Phillies will be paying a lot of money to just a few players, almost all of them past their prime. Furthermore, the team will have very little flexibility as few teams will want to take on such expensive contracts.

Thinking more short-term, Howard’s $20 million salary from 2011-13 may prevent the Phillies from having the financial flexibility to sign right fielder Jayson Werth to an extension, which means that he will most likely become a free agent after this season. You may recall that two months ago, I suggested the Phillies should think about trading Howard to give themselves the ability to extend Werth. Obviously, GM Ruben Amaro disagreed and apparently has tremendous faith in Domonic Brown to transition seamlessly to the Majors. The 2011 team will look a lot like this year’s team, only with Dom in right instead of Werth.

There are a couple positives with the deal. The first, obviously, is that the Phillies will not have to look for a first baseman for a long, long time — barring injury. It is unfortunate, though, that the Phillies have locked up such security at the least important position on the baseball diamond in the National League. Additionally, the Phillies may end up saving themselves several  million dollars every year theoretically as the post-2011 free agent market may include Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder and both may exceed Howard’s average annual value of $25 million per season. Both players are likely to be signed to extensions (in Fielder’s case, perhaps with a new team) beforehand.

Most Phillies fans will love the extension, as it keeps a fan favorite in town for a long time. Stat-savvy fans immediately dislike the deal. Most Phillies fans will come to loathe the deal in several years when the Phillies are hamstrung by Howard’s relatively large salary and declining production.

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

This will be a fun ride for two, maybe even three more years, but it will quickly become tumultuous.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

I stopped by fellow SweetSpot blog Fungoes, which covers the St. Louis Cardinals, and had an “aha!” moment. The author, Pip, posted a graph that explains as much in one glance as an entire article of explanation. So, with all due credit to Pip, I’d like to adapt the idea for Phillies pitchers. I have made one minor adjustment: instead of using xFIP, I used SIERA. Additionally, I included each pitcher’s ERA.

K/9 BB/9 SIERA ERA
Halladay 7.6 0.8 2.7 0.82
Hamels 9.5 2.2 3.11 5.11
Moyer 5.5 2.0 4 5
Kendrick 4.3 4.3 4.88 7.71
Happ 4.4 7.0 6.5 0

K/9 BB/9 SIERA ERA
Contreras 17.5 0.0 -0.26 1.59
Madson 11.3 2.3 2.85 6.75
Herndon 3.5 2.4 3.64 7.04
Baez 5.1 5.1 3.94 6.43
Durbin 8.7 2.9 4.04 0.96
Figueroa 3.7 6.1 6.08 2.92
Bastardo 6.2 6.2 6.58 2.08

Yes, Jose Contreras does have a negative SIERA. He has pitched extremely well, striking out 11 of the 20 hitters he has faced and inducing five ground balls of the nine put in play.

I think this is a good snapshot of the Phillies’ pitching staff, giving one the ability to discern which pitchers are likely to improve and which are likely to hit the skids.

Cole, Don’t Change A Thing

(Well, there’s a couple things you could change…)

Another day, another poor start for Cole Hamels. Following what seemed to be a turn-around performance against the Florida Marlins last Sunday, Cole allowed six runs on four home runs in six innings, despite striking out seven batters and walking only one last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The first three innings went very smoothly. In the first inning, Cole retired the side in order on three ground ball outs. He then struck out the side in the second, allowing only a single. Cole retired the D-Backs 1-2-3 again in the third with one ground out, fly out, and strikeout apiece. In case you’re counting, that’s four ground outs, four strikeouts, and one fly out — a great distribution of outs.

Cole unraveled in the fourth inning, struggling with location. With a runner on first with one out and Mark Reynolds (a.k.a. the right-handed Adam Dunn) at the plate, Hamels threw a four-seam fastball that was letter-high right down the middle. Reynolds fouled it off. Hamels came right back to the same exact location with a cutter, which Reynolds promptly deposited well beyond the fence in left field.

Adam LaRoche then worked the count to 3-2 after six pitches and three foul balls. All six pitches were at least waist-high, and so was the seventh, a waist-high change-up right down the middle. It was not surprising to see LaRoche — who routinely hits Phillies pitching — hit a home run down the right field line.

Hamels allowed a single to Chris Young before striking out Cole Gillespie, bringing up the D-Backs’ #8 hitter in catcher Chris Snyder. Snyder only needed one pitch — a knee-high cutter right down the middle — to notch the Snakes’ third home run of the inning, capping a five-run fourth.

The batted balls in the fourth went: fly out, soft line drive single, fly ball home run, fly ball home run, line drive single, strikeout, home run, ground out. Two line drives, three fly balls, one ground out, and one strikeout.

Kelly Johnson led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run off of Hamels that increased the D-Backs’ lead to four runs at 6-2. It wasn’t really a bad pitch by Hamels and more so a good piece of hitting by Johnson.

The batted balls in the fifth went: fly ball home run, fly out, line drive single, fly out, fly out. Cole added another two strikeouts and a fly out in his sixth and final inning.

All told, Hamels allowed ten fly balls (including three line drives) and six ground outs (44% fly balls,  19% line drives, 38% ground balls) along with the seven strikeouts, giving him a SIERA of 2.74 for the game as opposed to the 9.00 ERA. Of the ten fly balls, four were home runs, giving him a HR/FB% of 40%. We know that pitchers can’t control how many home runs they allow other than by controlling their rate of fly balls. While Hamels clearly wasn’t at his best last night, it also will not be par for the course — he will not have a 40% HR/FB rate every game.

That said, Hamels’ pitch selection was peculiar, as the following graph will illustrate:

His fastball and curve use has increased and his change-up use has decreased in each start. In other words, between his first and most recent start, Hamels has decreased the use of his best pitch by over 26% in favor of lesser quality pitches. While he has utilized his cutter in his last three starts, he is doing so at the expense of his change-up and that is not a winning strategy.

Still, Hamels has been unlucky. His 5.11 ERA is much higher than his retrodicted 3.13 SIERA. While he has been more BABIP lucky (.275), his HR/FB% (30.4%) is about three times higher than it should be. Meanwhile, his strikeout and walk rates are great at 9.5 and 2.2 respectively — a better than four-to-one ratio.

If Cole wants to get back on the winning track, he doesn’t need to change much — he just needs to ride out yet another wave of bad luck, be a little more precise with his location, and to stop using his other pitches at the expense of his change-up. That’s really it. Based on events proven to be within a pitcher’s control — strikeouts, walks, and GB/FB rates — he has pitched very well. With a few minor tweaks, he can put himself in a better position where he won’t be resting his fate on rolls of the dice.

About This Roy Halladay Fellow

He is quite good.

Through four starts Halladay has four wins, accounting for nearly half of the team’s nine wins on the season. In those four starts, he has tossed a total of 33 innings and completed two games including last night’s shut-out of the Atlanta Braves. He has struck out 28 batters and walked only three. That’s right, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is nine-to-one.

While he has been a bit lucky…

  • 0.82 ERA
  • 2.00 FIP
  • 2.47 xFIP
  • 2.70 SIERA

…Halladay really could reach new heights with the Phillies in the National League as was hypothesized back in December:

The current fan projections at FanGraphs put Halladay at about a 2.80 ERA with a 7.67 K/9 and 1.33 BB/9. Those would significantly outpace his career average 3.43 ERA, 6.57 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9. However, given the softer competition and more efficient defense that will be behind him, Halladay — who turns 33 in May — may be poised to put up the best full season of his career in his inaugural season in Philadelphia.

The Phillies’ bullpen has pitched a grand total of three innings in games Halladay has started, just eight percent of the total innings. In case you’re wondering, here are the percentages for innings pitched by the bullpen in games started by the others:

  • Kendrick: 47%
  • Hamels: 31%
  • Happ: 43%
  • Moyer: 33%

Halladay has been able to pitch deep into games because he is economic with his pitches. He has averaged 12.5 pitches per inning so far. The others:

  • Moyer: 14.4
  • Kendrick: 15.7
  • Hamels: 16.8
  • Happ: 19.4

Halladay has been able to be economic with his pitches because has pitched to contact over the course of his career:

(Not depicted in the chart) Halladay gets into counts where the batter is ahead five percent less than the American League average in 2009. He also gets into two-strike counts three percent less. While Halladay certainly has the ability to rack up the strikeouts — and he does — his pitches are so good that he doesn’t need to notch three strikes on most batters since they very rarely make solid contact.

Halladay has pitched so well this year that the opposing teams’ pitchers have compiled in aggregate the second-highest OPS by lineup spot:

  • Batting first: .200 OBP/.200 SLG
  • Batting second: .133/.133
  • Batting third: .333/.533
  • Batting fourth: .133/.133
  • Batting fifth: .286/.462
  • Batting sixth: .308/.250
  • Batting seventh: .182/.273
  • Batting eighth: .250/.182
  • Batting ninth: .364/.455

Finally, one last nugget that involves Halladay’s ground ball prowess. 23 times this year Halladay has seen a runner on first base with less than two outs. Five of those 23 events (22%) ended with a ground ball double play. Now that’s impressive.

There has been some buzz that Roy Halladay could become the first pitcher to win 25 games in a season since Bob Welch in 1990.

Halladay plays for, arguably, the only truly dominant team in the National League, and probably the best offensive club in the NL. With apologies to Tim Lincecum, he’s probably the best pitcher in the game, which will become more apparent now that he’s left the AL East meat grinder and switched to the lighter-hitting Senior Circuit.

Both Welch and Halladay also understand that strikeouts are Fascist.  Welch earned a decision in an incredible 33 of his 35 starts in that 1990 season, which is only possible by consistently pitching deep into games.  To consistently reach the 8th inning against patient, modern-era lineups requires an efficient use of pitches.
While a pitcher’s W-L isn’t meaningful for analysis, it would be truly amazing if Halladay could rack up 25 wins in the era of pitch counts and La Russa bullpens. Fewer and fewer pitchers are pitching deep into games as J.C. Bradbury illustrates here.
Roy Halladay is simply an anomaly among the current batch of starting pitchers.

On Ryan Madson: Relax

Phillies fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Internet message boards were infuriated last night when Ryan Madson blew a three-run lead and as sure a victory as the Phillies are going to get this year. The disappointment was justified as the Phillies had a 98.7% chance of winning the game with two outs and a runner on first base in the ninth inning. Even when Troy Glaus hit the two-run home run, the Phils were 95.9% favorites.

Madson’s latest outing coupled with previous struggles in the ninth inning has led many to conclude that he is unfit psychologically to handle the responsibilities of closing out games. Really, it is no different than the criticisms of Cole Hamels being a sissy or mentally weak or what have you. It’s armchair psychoanalysis, as I like to call it.

And it’s bunk science based on small sample sizes, confirmation biases, and misinterpretation of data.

Here’s how it happened:

  • Ryan Madson quietly performed his job well last year, but prominently struggled in several notable games which stuck in the memories of many Phillies fans. Phillies fans suspect that Madson may be unfit to be a closer.
  • Madson succeeds as a closer several more times. Phillies fans don’t pay any mind because there are more interesting things to pay attention to and because most relievers, even bad ones, will convert saves every now and then.
  • Madson fails to convert a save opportunity. Coupled with Phillies fans’ previous view of Madson, this only reinforces their belief and serves as evidence.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you have been reading this blog with any regularity, you have heard me harp about small sample sizes over and over again. With a limited amount of data, we can draw almost zero conclusions with any confidence. If you’re trying to figure out if a coin may be rigged, you do not flip it twice and call it rigged if you get two heads or two tails. You flip it many times — 50  or 100 times if not more. The odds of getting peculiar results with a fair coin become much, much smaller with more trials.

The same thing applies to baseball statistics. In seven appearances, the odds of allowing two home runs with five fly balls is a lot higher than allowing 14 home runs in 35 fly balls in 49 appearances. Ryan Madson has, thus far in 2010, allowed two home runs with five induced fly balls. We know that pitchers do not have control over their home run rate aside from their ability to induce fly balls in general. A pitcher’s HR/FB% will normally hover around 10% so Madson’s 40% really sticks out.

Similarly, we know that pitchers have very little control over batted balls put in play. A pitcher’s BABIP will tend to hover around .300 and actually several points lower for relief pitchers. Ryan Madson’s current BABIP is .405. The odds of 40.5% of 22 batted balls falling in for hits is a lot higher than 40.5% of 220 batted balls.

The other statistical principle we know to be true is regression to the mean. Ryan Madson may have had 40% of his fly balls hit for home runs but that will not hold true for an entire season. Of the remaining 65-ish fly balls that Madson will likely allow over the rest of the season, 10% of them will likely be home runs.

With a little bit of logic and knowledge of statistics, we are able to write off Madson’s poor start to the 2010 season as aberrant. That should be enough for most rational people, but there will still be some out there who, upon reading this, will still claim that Madson doesn’t have the mental toughness to pitch in the ninth inning. Take a gander at Ryan Madson last year:

  • 8th inning: 48.1 IP, 47 K, 15 BB, 3.54 ERA (3.20 xFIP)
  • 9th inning: 23.1 IP, 27 K, 6 BB, 3.47 ERA (2.91 xFIP)

Ryan Madson is a relief pitcher who strikes out a lot of hitters, walks very few, and induces a lot of ground balls. I will take that pitcher every day and twice on Sunday. And so should you.