Cliff Lee and BABIP

Cliff Lee left the seventh inning of Game Two down 5-4 with runners on first and second, no outs. It was quite a disappointing start for the Phillies’ second ace as the lefty allowed 12 hits and forked over a four-run lead. It was the third consecutive mediocre post-season start for the lefty, which screamed “Narrative!” for writers across the nation.

For a fun game, I will provide two lines of pitching statistics. Your job is to pick one of them to start Game 7 of the World Series.

  • Pitcher A: 20.2 IP, 5.66 ERA, 14 K, 10 BB, .286 BABIP
  • Pitcher B: 17.2 IP, 7.13 ERA, 22 K, 3 BB, .463 BABIP

If you picked Pitcher A, you picked Steve Carlton. If you picked Pitcher B, you picked Cliff Lee.

Carlton put up that line in his three starts prior to the 1980 post-season; Lee compiled his in the 2010 World Series and Game One of the 2011 NLDS. Most people will recognize that the gap in ERA is meaningless given the small sample, and they will also recognize that Lee’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is much superior and that he has been BABIP-unlucky.

Carlton had a great post-season in 1980, finishing with a 2.30 ERA in four starts as he led the Phillies to their first championship in franchise history. Those who are giving up on Lee now would have given up on Carlton after the 1978 post-season, wrongfully so.

Arguably the most important thing to come out of the Sabermetric movement has been the realization that pitchers have very little control over the outcomes on batted balls (thanks, Voros!). Sure, there are exceptions like Nolan Ryan and Matt Cain, but the overwhelming majority of pitchers will find themselves close to the league average around .300. For instance, Roy Halladay‘s career BABIP is .295 while Adam Eaton‘s is .301. The difference between one of the best pitchers of this generation and one of the worst is six hits over a sample size of 1,000 batted balls. Halladay, of course, separates himself from the pack with tremendous defense-independent abilities: not issuing walks, missing bats, and inducing weak ground balls.

Throughout the game Sunday night, Saber-minded tweeters kept cursing the luck dragons for Lee’s outing. Meanwhile, traditionally-minded fans cursed Lee for pitching poorly in a crucial game. Naturally, debates rose over the validity of BABIP. Lee’s defense-independent stats (nine strikeouts, two walks, 45 percent ground balls) were good and didn’t merit his fate. BABIP wasn’t taking into account just how hard Lee was getting hit, some suggested.

If you compare the outcome of batted balls last night compared to Lee’s average on the season, you can understand why some felt he was the victim of bad luck. I posted the data in the comments of the game recap:

Batted ball distribution: 9 ground balls, 4 outfield fly balls, 3 infield fly balls, 4 line drives

Expected hits based on Lee’s 2011 BABIP…

Ground balls: .241 * 9 = 2
Actual: 5 (+3)

Outfield flies: .132 * 4 = 1
Actual: 2 (+1)

Infield flies: .010 * 3 = 0
Actual: 0 (even)

Line drives: .661 * 4 = 3
Actual: 4 (+1)

Allowed three more ground ball hits, one more outfield fly ball hit, and one more line drive hit than expected.

So, let’s actually watch the game again and see if Lee was really hit hard. I’ve made .gifs of each of the 12 hits Lee allowed. Afterwards, I’ll provide my own judgment on the hit. You, of course, are allowed to disagree but make a solid case in the comments as to why.

Rather than overload your browser with 12 .gifs, I’ve linked them next to the description in brackets. Click on it to open the .gif in a new window.

First Inning

Rafael Furcal triples on a fly ball to right-center. [Link]

  • Verdict: Well-hit fly ball, absolutely preventable by Lee pitching better.

Second Inning

David Freese doubles on a line drive to right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Well-hit line drive. However, Hunter Pence could have judged the ball better and held it to a single as opposed to a double. We’ll give half-credit on this one (single).

Fourth Inning

Yadier Molina singles on a ground ball up the middle. [Link]

  • Verdict: Not a particularly well-hit ball. Given that Molina is not fleet of foot, it’s very likely Rollins throws him out if he fields this cleanly. Certainly, the Jimmy Rollins of 2009 or prior would have been able to get to the ball without so much as diving, so this isn’t really Lee’s fault here. The outcome of this grounder was very dependent on the quality of the shortstop’s defensive abilities.

Ryan Theriot doubles on a ground ball down the right field line. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is just bad luck for Lee. Because there were runners on first and second, Ryan Howard was able to play off the first base bag. If, instead, there was just a runner on first base, Howard would be on the bag holding the runner and Theriot’s hit instead turns into a 3-6-3 or 3-6-1 double play (assuming Howard makes a good throw to second base). This hit was completely defense-dependent.

John Jay singles on a ground ball to right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Jay just smothered this ball, not particularly well-hit but just placed well. If it’s five feet to the right or to the left, it’s an out.

Rafael Furcal singles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This was labeled a line drive but I don’t think it was hit well enough to merit the classification. In reality, it was a weakly-hit fly ball with a low trajectory. This goes back to Colin Wyers’ suggestion of bias in batted ball data. In an article for Baseball Prospectus, Wyers said, “no matter how much we massage the data, there simply is not a way to objectively define the difference between a fly ball and a line drive. It is inherently a subjective and somewhat arbitrary distinction.” In looking at the .gif, I don’t think Lee did anything wrong. He made a good pitch (an inside cut fastball off the plate), did not miss his spot (check out Furcal’s triple in the first inning to see him miss his spot), but Furcal just put it where the fielders were not. I can’t fault Lee on this.

Sixth Inning

Ryan Theriot doubles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Lee simply caught too much of the plate here and Theriot put a good swing on it. Lee could have gotten an out on the pitch if he had located it better.

John Jay singles on a ground ball to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: As with his single in the fourth, there was simply nothing Lee could have done about this. He made a good pitch and hit his spot, but Jay simply put it where there were no fielders. Just bad luck for Lee.

Skip Schumaker singles on a ground ball to second base. [Link]

  • Verdict: Just by the description, you know it’s not Lee’s fault. This is heavily influenced by the positioning of the middle infielders, who were leaving the middle of the field open in order to corral any ground balls to the right of third base and to the left of first base. If Schumaker was a bit slower, or if Utley makes a slightly better throw, or if Schumaker doesn’t dive head-first, the call may have been different. Lots of variables in this one, but none of them can be pinned on Lee. He made another good pitch and hit his spot.

Seventh Inning

Allen Craig triples on a fly ball to center field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is a tricky one. Although Lee missed his spot, he didn’t make a bad pitch. Give Craig credit for putting a good swing on the ball. Additionally, if Shane Victorino reads the ball better off the bat, he catches the fly ball easily. Instead, he took a bad first step and it cost him as the ball glanced off of his glove. I think this is an out 100% of the time if Victorino reads the ball better, so I’m not assigning Lee any blame here.

Albert Pujols singles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is a tough one to judge since the TBS broadcast team was busy looking at shiny objects while baseball was being played. It looks like Lee just left a first ball cutter over the middle of the plate and Pujols hit the ball hard. I give Lee the blame on this since he could have had a better outcome with better pitch selection and better location.

Lance Berkman singles on a fly ball to shallow right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Nothing you can do about this. Not a terrible pitch, mediocre location, but it induced a horrible swing out of Lance Berkman, but the weakly-hit fly ball dropped before any fielders could get in range. Not at all Lee’s fault.

Summary

  • Furcal triple: Lee’s fault
  • Freese double: Lee’s fault (but just a single)
  • Molina single: nope
  • Theriot double: nope
  • Jay single: nope
  • Furcal single: nope
  • Theriot double: Lee’s fault
  • Jay single: nope
  • Schumaker single: nope
  • Craig triple: nope
  • Pujols single: Lee’s fault
  • Berkman single: nope

In the end, I only have Lee on the hook for four of the 12 hits. Now, to be fair, I’d have to do the same exercise for the eight batted ball outs, but the point of this exercise should be evident. As mentioned, Lee pitched well in the areas that didn’t involve his fielders: he struck out nine in six-plus innings of work, walked two, and induced ground balls at a 45 percent rate. If you roll the dice again with the same defense-independent numbers, Lee will have a much better night a majority of the time. As many will point out, though, baseball games are only played once and Lee’s results are what they are.

However, we can be a bit more fair and rational when assigning blame for the Phillies’ loss in Game Two. The Phillies’ offense, for example, went down in order in four consecutive innings between the third and sixth innings. Even if Lee forked over the lead, the Phillies should have been expected to push across at least one more run after they went up 4-0 after two innings. Unfortunately, they did not and the Phillies lost an otherwise winnable playoff game.

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44 comments

  1. Cutter

    October 04, 2011 08:22 AM

    Rather than blame bad luck, I’d say a lot of the problem came from the changing strike zone.

    I always felt that a big reason the Braves didn’t have more postseason success was because Maddux and Glavine didn’t get nearly as many as the borderline strike calls that they seemed to get in the regular season.

    Obviously Lee has had postseason success before, so I don’t think there’s any reason to be too worry about him. But it did seem that this season he was more dependent on the umpires giving him a good strike zone than he had been in the past, which is a slight cause for concern.

  2. Jesse

    October 04, 2011 09:16 AM

    Good article. I was a little skeptical at first, but the hit-by-hit analysis won me over. Lee was not the most dominant he’s been, but he pitched pretty well, and bad luck definitely played a role.

    One thing I think makes the BABIP discussion so difficult for fans (myself included) is that our understanding of “luck” is not nuanced enough. It’s easy to tell a pitcher got unlucky on an infield hit or a jam shot over the second baseman’s head. It’s harder on a decently struck ground ball like Theriot’s grounder past Howard. It wasn’t hit weakly struck, it wasn’t close to being fielded, and it wasn’t Howard’s fault for not getting to it. So we default to saying it was the pitcher’s “fault.” In reality, as your article shows, there’s simply an element of randomness at play. Sometimes (when the fielder is playing off the line) that ball is a hit. Sometimes (when the fielder is playing on the line) that ball is a double play. That doesn’t mean the pitcher is blameless — he could have struck the batter out — but we shouldn’t assume he made a bad pitch just because the result was bad.

  3. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 09:32 AM

    Wait a second, is it consistent to say that pitchers generally don’t control batted balls, but that Halladay induces weak grounders? Does that make Halladay an outlier, or is this an actual skill that somehow doesn’t contradict the first point?

    Personally, I can’t help but think that some pitchers are better at inducing weak batted balls. For example, if hitters tend to make poor contact with pitches that are low and away, and Pitcher X is good at making those pitches, then won’t this lead to a better BABIP for Pitcher X?

    Is BABIP volatility greater in times when hitters are taking fewer pitches (where pitchers who paint the corners can really thrive)?

  4. Rob SJ

    October 04, 2011 09:45 AM

    JB Allen, I thought the “induces weak ground ball contact” comment was off point, as it would seem to indicate he should have a lower BABIP than Eaton, when the point being made was the opposite. Otherwise interesting article.

  5. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 09:52 AM

    @Jesse,

    Perhaps a better way to address your concern is not to call it luck. I think that’s probably what gives people the wrong idea about BABIP. I’ve been equally guilty of calling it “luck” all of these years, but as we all know, whatever happened happened, and saying it’s not the pitcher’s “fault” is very different than saying he was “unlucky.” Going all in with pocket aces and losing is unlucky, but baseball is not that simple. Instead, I think I will from now on call a game like this as one of those nights when things didn’t go Lee’s way. We all have had one of those days at work, I’m sure.

    @JB Allen,

    I think you missed the point. Saying Halladay induces weak groundballs isn’t implying that Lee didn’t. He did, but you know what, “weak groundballs” doesn’t always result in an out, which is the flaw in your implicit assumption. As Lee’s game clearly showed, sometimes even weak groundballs turn into hits, and that is why he was “unlucky,” or as I will now call it, things just didn’t go his way.

    I think people would like to believe that somehow hitters have this great ability to “aim” their groundballs. I mean, logically, it certainly seems plausible. But in reality, if I am that good of a hitter that I can “aim” where I hit, I would not be spending time worrying about where to “aim” a groundball so I can hit it where the fielders ain’t… I’d be trying to figure out how I’d get as many linedrives as possible, and screw groundballs.

  6. dave

    October 04, 2011 09:53 AM

    here’s my only problem with the analysis….while i whole-heartedly agree that lee’s unlucky babip was likely the result of a changing strike zone….it still does not address something that was fairly obvious from the naked eye watching the game…..almost all of the hits lee gave up (with the exception of furcal’s leadoff triple and freese’s double the opposite way) lee left balls int he dead middle of the plate. of course his babip is going to be higher when you do that as opposed to having balls put into play on the corners.

    perhaps lee felt he didn’t feel he could nibble given the changing strike zone, and thus left some meatier pitches over the middle…but THAT is why is BABIP was so high….

  7. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 09:56 AM

    @dave,

    Read my comments above, but are you suggesting that the hitters decided to hit just groundballs instead of, I don’t know, hit linedrives or perhaps HRs when Lee left the ball in the middle of the plate? I would agree with your analysis if Lee’s batted profile suggested that he was just getting creamed, but as the analysis suggested, he didn’t. I think your “observation” has just a tad bit too much confirmation bias in it.

  8. Richard

    October 04, 2011 10:16 AM

    The think with “luck”, or random variation, is it cuts both ways. Just as, “to be fair”, you should do this sort of analysis on all of Lee’s batted balls, I think it would be interesting to do a “Phillies offense and BABIP”. I think we’d find several hard hit balls right at fielders (I recall, off the top of my head, line-drives, or smashed flyballs, from Victorino and even Polanco, directly at Jay in center; a grounder from Raul, etc).

    But it’s much easier to say the offense “did nothing”. (I’d agree the 8th & 9th innings were weaker on this front.)

    Similarly, as I mentioned yesterday, look at Howard’s at bats. His 2-run single, on another occasion, could easily have been a double play, just as his two flyouts could easily have been homers or doubles (since a component of luck or randomness is the hitter’s swing itself).

    None of this is to say that the Phillies didn’t lose the game “fairly”, or should’ve have fared differently, but rather that when people recognize that baseball is a game of inches (or centimeters), and that anything can happen in a small sample, this is what we’re talking about, among other things.

    (For the record, I personally didn’t think Lee had great location in this game, but the Cardinals still have to swing and those balls still have to find holes. He can control his location, without being perfect, but he can’t control those other two factors much.)

  9. Moose

    October 04, 2011 10:54 AM

    Me and my dad had this exact argument last night. Thank you for giving me visual evidence that i can use to show him how wrong he was.

  10. Bill Baer

    October 04, 2011 11:02 AM

    Wait a second, is it consistent to say that pitchers generally don’t control batted balls, but that Halladay induces weak grounders? Does that make Halladay an outlier, or is this an actual skill that somehow doesn’t contradict the first point?

    Generally speaking, pitchers can control whether the ball is hit on the ground or in the air (which has some effect on BABIP), but pitchers have very little control over the rate at which those batted balls are converted into outs.

    I mentioned Matt Cain as an outlier. I wrote this article for Baseball Prospectus earlier this year:

    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=13014

    And I found that Cain induces a lot of weak contact, more so than other pitchers. While he certainly has benefited from an above-average infield defense and spacious home ballpark, he has had an effect on his own BABIP fate as well. However, almost all pitchers will cluster around .300 over a large sample size.

  11. John M

    October 04, 2011 11:07 AM

    Nice analysis. I do have a question. In the write up for Theriot’s hit in the 4th, you say “This is just bad luck for Lee. Because there were runners on first and second, Ryan Howard was able to play off the first base bag. If, instead, there was just a runner on first base, Howard would be on the bag holding the runner and Theriot’s hit instead turns into a 3-6-3 or 3-6-1 double play (assuming Howard makes a good throw to second base). This hit was completely defense-dependent.” One runner was walked (Lee’s fault) and the other was Molina’s hit described above. Does the walk not count? Do earlier hits count?

    I guess my point is, when considering this, do you look at each hit independently, with no consideration as to how the inning got to its current state? This example isn’t perfect for my question, but let’s say Molina had walked, so both runners were there by walk. Does this hit then become Lee’s fault, because the infielders’ positioning is due to his walks? Or Is the hit considered on its own? That seems like it is almost too dissecting, and doesn’t consider a pitcher’s previous acts and how they effect future actions.

    Thanks for all the insight!

  12. John M

    October 04, 2011 11:12 AM

    Thanks for the insight. I have a question. If you look at your description of Theriot’s hit in the 4th, it sounds like the infielders’ positioning is considered out of the pitcher’s control. In the case above, it’s not perfect. but let’s say Lee had walked 2 runners, so Howard played off the bag, and a hit went up the line. Or, even better, is a pitcher rewarded wrongly for a walk? (Lee walks one, Howard plays on the bad, grounder that would get by him had no runner been on base is instead caught and a double play is turned.)

    Ultimately, I guess my question is whether you consider each at bat independently or are the pitchers earlier actions considered as part of a whole?

    Thanks

  13. Bill Baer

    October 04, 2011 11:12 AM

    Yeah, you certainly fault Lee for the walk. The point, though, of saying that if there was only a runner on first rather than first and second was an illustration on how the situation can affect the conversion of batted balls into outs, rather than a literal credit/discredit thing.

    People tend not to accept “DIPS theory” at face value, so that was just a device to make the point clearer.

  14. John M

    October 04, 2011 11:14 AM

    Thanks for the answer, Bill. Sorry for posting twice. Didn’t realize the first one went through, and I was trying to clarify my question.

  15. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 11:18 AM

    Bill, thanks for responding. Not sure how anyone derived a comment about Lee from my question about Halladay, but that wasn’t my intent. I just wasn’t sure if Halladay had any “outlier” tendencies like Cain.

    As for Lee, it seems like he could have benefited from a younger team fielding behind him.

  16. Drew

    October 04, 2011 11:19 AM

    That John Jay 6th inning single is BABIP incarnate.

  17. Richard

    October 04, 2011 11:24 AM

    Hi Bill – I just watched the gif of the Pujols single…. one other point to make there: Rollins is not in his normal location, because the infield was drawn in with the runner on 3rd. Even so, he nearly reaches it with his leap. Just another factor in apportioning “responsibility”.

  18. Richard

    October 04, 2011 11:30 AM

    Also, looking at the Theriot and Jay hits in the 5th: Lee missed his spots on both pitches. He missed his spot to Theriot badly, but it ended up being high and away (that is, Theriot swung at ball and got away with it); the pitch to Jay was supposed to be away, but he caught too much of the plate. Yes, the ball was a grounder through the hole, but I think his intended location induces worse contact, or even a miss.

    So, while BIP luck played a part in both balls becoming hits, Lee’s poor location was also a factor. (But, again, sometimes a poorly located pitch is whiffed on, or is hit right at a fielder.)

  19. Richard

    October 04, 2011 11:33 AM

    ugh, in my above comment, I mean the 4th inning.

    Jay’s 6th inning hit, however, was on a pitch that went where Lee & Ruiz wanted it; Jay put a good swing on it, made solid contact, and it went in a perfect location. Nothing you can do about that.

  20. Richard

    October 04, 2011 11:35 AM

    And, indeed, Jay’s 6th inning hit might’ve been stopped by Rollins if there’s not a runner on second (but it’s hard to tell on the replay; is Rollins cheating towards second to keep the runner close?)

    (sorry for the several comments in a row!)

  21. Richard

    October 04, 2011 11:42 AM

    One more…. Craig’s triple.

    I think the pitch, a changeup, was intended to be lower than it was, but ended up hanging a bit. It was away, so it still required a good swing (Craig does deserve credit), but it stayed up. So I think Lee does get some of the blame for it. (But even so, Victorino probably should have caught it, though it would have been a nice play if he had.)

  22. dave

    October 04, 2011 11:57 AM

    @phillie697 – all i am saying is that in a BABIP analysis…it should break down BABIP from the standard “.300 is average on the whole” into the 9 hitting zones (the ones that give you blue and red clouds based on where batters like to hit pitched balls).

    Point being that while hitters cannot control batted balls, they have a higher likelihood of hitting balls cleanly, and thus hitting line drives, thus raising the liklihood a batted ball becomes a hit, if the pitch is right down the middle than if it is on one of the corners, or even a ball.

    if you are telling me that BABIP dictates that a player should get hits with the same frequency on all balls put in play no matter where the ball is pitched, then i think it is a flawed stat…..

  23. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 12:48 PM

    @dave,

    No, but unless you have some statistical proof that pitchers have control (via location of pitches or pitch selection) over not only what kind of contact hitters makes with the ball (groundball vs LD vs FB), but also the LOCATION of those batted balls, please present it here. Otherwise what you’re “suggesting” is just conjecture that you THINK makes sense, whereas I disagree.

    Besides, don’t you think it’s going a little TOO far to say that a pitch in zone X MUST or is highly likely to result in a certain type of batted ball? Because that’s what you are implying. I myself am perfectly happy just looking at the ACTUAL batted ball result. After all, isn’t one of the criticisms of sabermetrics that it’s almost like we play baseball on paper?

  24. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 01:00 PM

    @dave,

    Also, there is another flaw in what you are proposing, because each hitter’s “hot” zones are different, and it IS within a pitcher’s control, in fact it is part of their JOB, to know where to throw to EACH individual hitter. So while they have absolutely no control what happens to the ball once it is hit, other than what kind of contact the hitter makes with the ball, they DO have control over whether to throw outside or inside to a particular hitter. By trying to analyze pitchers using a 9-zone approach, you effectively average out and remove that aspect of their decision-making process, unless you want to do that 9-zone approach for EACH hitter he faces, then you run into that SSS problem. So nice in theory, but in reality impractical.

  25. JR

    October 04, 2011 01:36 PM

    I think Lee had a subpar outing. A quote from Lee “I wasn’t able to make my pitches, so I take full responsibility”. As your gif’s show, Lee was hit hard on some of the hits that you discounted. To discount a hard hit double down the line because Howard was playing off the line is really a stretch and the whole initial premise was Lee was not hit hard. After all, Lee also got the benefit of an out at home plate on an above average defensive play for which he should get zero credit.

    Think we should just look at this as ONE subpar game, nothing more nothing less.

  26. KH

    October 04, 2011 02:45 PM

    Excellent post Bill. If people don’t understand BABIP after this and how little control a pitcher has over a batted ball and that Cliff Lee did not pitch bad at all the other night then they willingly don’t want to understand. Its that simple.

  27. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 03:49 PM

    Because you all are brighter than I am, I ask: has anoyone ever considered (or determined that such consideration was irrelevent) the percentage of total balls hit (minus homeruns) that are hits, and whether this percentage varies much from pitcher to pitcher? It strikes me that better pitchers would have a lower percentage, although maybe it’s not so good to “give up” too many foul balls.

  28. Css228

    October 04, 2011 04:12 PM

    This is a great explanation of DIPS. I do think its not quite as straightforward, because there is a different between lightly hit grounders and hard hit grounders, but generally quality of contact is pretty well defined by the batted ball types, which is why I like SIERA. As I’m writing this, Jaime Garcia just got really lucky BABIP wise as Hunter Pence just crushed a liner at Furcal.

  29. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 04:22 PM

    @JB Allen,

    That’s what BABIP is…

  30. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 04:24 PM

    @JB Allen,

    If you want to include foul balls in that, the problem is that’s very dependent on the ball park, since some ball parks have bigger foul area than others.

  31. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 04:34 PM

    @Phillie697 – I thought BABIP was (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR+SF). I was thinking of something like (H-HR)/(Pitches-Misses*-Balls-HR).

    *Misses would be strikes where the batter swings and misses or just doesn’t swing.

  32. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 04:49 PM

    @JB Allen,

    So in essence this is a ratio of hits to… foul balls? What exactly are you trying to measure?

  33. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 05:42 PM

    @Phillie697 – Not trying to measure something as much as address what appears to be a false dichotomy in my thinking and possibly that of others: that pitchers succeed on their own merit by either missing batters’ bats (Nolan Ryan) or not giving hitters anything good to hit (Greg Maddux). But maybe avoiding contact entirely is less important than, say, trying to ensure that contact timing isn’t optimal. So maybe a pitcher should worry less about location and more about pitch speeds and how they differ from pitch to pitch.

  34. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 06:25 PM

    Two other things:

    1. Foul balls are a data source. Has it been determined if and to what extent they have value in gauging a pitcher’s effectiveness?

    2. At bats (or plate appearances) are outcome-driven units; the at bat is over when either the batter advances or is out. When considering the extent to which a pitcher controls outcomes, shouldn’t we focus more directly on the units involving the process of pitching (the pitches themselves)? We consider directly certain pitches (those leading to home runs and balls in play)but other times focus on pitch aggregates (walks and strikeouts). Maybe we’re missing something by not breaking down those aggregates. Then again, maybe not, but I don’t know if that’s been determined.

  35. Bill Baer

    October 04, 2011 07:43 PM

    I believe Mike Fast did some research on foul balls, and didn’t find any correlation to pitcher skill. I’ll try and dig it up for you.

  36. KMC285

    October 04, 2011 08:20 PM

    What is the overall BABIP of our pitching staff so far this series? Between the Lee start and tonight, it seems like every blooper finds a hole in the outfield.

  37. Phillie697

    October 04, 2011 08:49 PM

    @JB Allen,

    Well, it’s a known fact that striking out hitters is a skill, so are you suggesting that pitchers abandon the development of that skill (I would not recommend it) in favor of some yet-to-be-determined skill to induce some form of contact that is more likely to induce foul balls, in the hopes that when such contact results in a batted ball in play, such batted ball is much more likely to be outs… I don’t know, considering that foul balls are inherently inefficient for a pitcher, why would that be favorable? So even if such a skill exists, what would be the benefit?

  38. JB Allen

    October 04, 2011 10:12 PM

    @Phillie697 – Snark-free comment: Thanks for pressing me on this. It helps me figure out what I’m trying to say, even if it takes me a few tries to say it.

    When you refer to the skill of striking out hitters, can you break that down? Are you referring to maximum velocity, changing velocity, pinpointing location, ball movement, or some combination that may vary from pitcher to pitcher? Again, strikeouts are an aggregate thing; for any strikeout, two of the three strikes could wind up in the catcher’s glove, or just a few feet to the wrong side of a foul pole.

    What I don’t know is the extent to which striking batters out is about missing bats vs. batters not making hit-worthy contact, or the extent to which this varies for each pitcher, if at all. Clearly, BABIP shows that balls in play are generally outside a pitcher’s control, but if we’re not looking at each pitch individually, and considering a whole slew of pitch outcomes in the process, we might be less exact than necessary in understanding the pitcher’s role in batted ball outcomes. On the other hand, maybe not. If foul balls don’t correlate with pitcher skill, then it seems like we’re back to balls in play, home runs, misses, and balls, three of which lead to outcomes over which pitchers have much greater control.

    Bill, you’ve suggested I check out Mike Fast’s work before. This guy is awesome!

    fastballs.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/can-we-classify-every-pitch/#more-187

  39. CPM

    October 05, 2011 01:05 AM

    Bill,

    One thing I wondered re: the high STL BABIP was how much of a roll the Phillies defense plays. I remember seeing some people claim that despite superficially good defensive performance, a deeper look indicated real deficiencies in the defense. (IIRC this was an ESPN Insider article, so I couldn’t read more than the lede.)

    Is it possible/likely that some of the high STL BABIP is a function of those deficiencies making themselves felt?

  40. CPM

    October 05, 2011 01:06 AM

    “How much of a *roll*?” Really?

    It’s late. I’m not actually that stupid.

  41. Phillie697

    October 05, 2011 08:13 AM

    @JB Allen,

    Again, you run into the problem that no pitcher is the same. Some pitchers (Adalis Chapman for example) strike out people using pure power. Some, like Greg Maddux (yes, he struck out hitters. Quite a bit in fact. Look it up. He was THAT good for a reason), do it through pitch location, pitch selection, or just being plain smarter than the hitter. I understand you’re trying to dig down deeper, but I don’t think there’s anything useful that we can objectively analyze if you dig deeper.

    I actually kinda sorta think there can be a skill where you try to induce some kind of weaker contact that 1) results in more foul balls, and 2) lowers BABIP. I think the Twins probably employ some form of this with their pitchers (at the same time ruin a perfectly good Francisco Liriano). However, like I stated above, I find it inherently less efficient than just developing the skill of missing bats.

    @CPM,

    With only 3 games played, anything is statistically possible really. SSS for the win.

  42. CPM

    October 05, 2011 11:14 AM

    @Phillie,

    Sure. Of course. I guess the question is (a) whether there’s any evidence of that throughout the season, and (b) whether there is and, if so, how strong is the inverse relation between collective defensive skill & opponent BABIP.

    The question is also motivated by all the “lost a step” talk.

  43. Phillie697

    October 05, 2011 11:31 AM

    @CPM,

    UZR rated Phillies as a below-average defensive team (9th-worst in MLB), but our BABIP was 10th-best in MLB. That said, we also had R2C2 (altho the starters had pretty typical BABIP except for Hamels) + Antonio “I spit at BABIP” Bastardo. Conventional wisdom says there is a correlation, but I guess you can draw your own conclusions here.

  44. Francisco

    October 05, 2011 04:26 PM

    Too many variables. I will pick the 4th Inning to bring up the point of inning state.

    According to you Yadier Molina’s single is defense dependent, not Lee’s fault, fine. But Berkman was walked to start the inning. Definitely Lee’s fault. If Berkman is not walked but instead becomes an out, it’s possible Theriot’s hit is simply out #3 because (according to you) Ryan Howard is guarding the runner and then there are no Jon Jay or Rafael Furcal singles (which you labeled as not his fault).

    So really this walk started the whole mess in the first place. Without that walk, you quite possibly erase all of the Cardinal’s runs off the board for this inning. This is a unique situation pertaining to this specific game of course.

    I believe this article doesn’t take into consideration that Lee’s preventable hits allowed for the possibility of un-preventable hits, having to face more batters than necessary. In other words, disregarding how the walks and preventable hits influence future hits makes for flawed analysis.

    That said, I think it’s naive to say he didn’t have bad luck, some of the hits were shrug inducing, but blaming it completely on bad luck is also naive.

    Lee feels he missed his spots and it’s very likely he might have mitigated his bad luck by not missing his spots. He certainly felt like he wasn’t pitching up to his standards. He could have undoubtedly pitched better and he would be the first to tell you that. I would say partly bad luck and partly bad Lee.

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