A Pitch F/X Look at J.A. Happ

Philadelphia Phillies left-hander J.A. HappWhen Chan Ho Park was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies during the off-season, many thought it was a frivolous acquisition, since lefty J.A. Happ had pretty much done all he could do in the Minors and had shown decent stuff and poise in his brief Major League stints. Happ went into spring training in competition with Park as well as Kyle Kendrick and Carlos Carrasco for the #5 spot in the rotation.

Kendrick and Carrasco fell out of contention rather quickly, leaving Happ and Park to duel it out for the rotation spot. At the end of spring training, both had performed very well, but since the Phillies had made an informal promise to Park that he would get to start (and they’re paying him up to $5 million), they awarded him the position.

We’re now past the first week in May and Park has made five starts. In only two of them did he reach the sixth inning. Overall, he has a 6.67 ERA and has allowed five home runs. He’s been disappointing, to say the least.

Prior to his recent quality outing against the New York Mets, there was a lot of speculation that Park’s job was in jeopardy, especially if he put up another clunker. Fortunately for him, and perhaps unfortunately for the Phillies down the road, he did not, instead earning a reprieve for at least another couple starts.

Despite the roadblock, it would not be surprising to see Happ inserted into the Phillies starting rotation at some point during the season. He’s pitched very well this season as the long reliever, putting up a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings. Happ would most likely benefit the Phillies better by leveraging his talent over a span of five or six innings as opposed to two to four when one of the Phillies’ starters gets shelled.

I thought it’d be a good idea to get familiar with Happ using Pitch F/X. While he is no Cole Hamels, he bears a resemblance to former Phillie Randy Wolf in that he doesn’t have anything overpowering and relies more on out-thinking the hitter. Happ throws a fastball, a slider, and a change-up which have averaged 90, 83, and 81 MPH respectively. So far, he’s used his fastball a lot: 78%. He’s used his slider and change-up 17% and 4% respectively.

His fastball usage is so high because of the way he’s been used so far: he mostly appears in games when the Phillies fall behind by a lot early. As a result, his job is to just throw strikes and avoid putting base runners on for free. If he were a starter, his fastball usage would be down in the low 60’s.

To the charts!

The above chart shows the horizontal and vertical movement of Happ’s three pitches. As you can see, his fastball has a lot more vertical movement than his slider — about six and a half inches more on average. His change-up is, as you might expect, similar to his fastball in terms of movement.

Happ isn’t as consistent with his release point but I would be surprised if that was unintentional. Notice the two blue diamonds that stand out. That’s his change-up. It’s a small sample, but this might be something to keep an eye on: his release point for his change-up is about as high as that of his fastball, but it’s more towards the left-handed batter’s box. If hitters pick this up, his change-up will be much less effective.

The next three charts show his pitch locations overall, to left-handers, and to right-handers. All of the remaining pitch location graphs are from the catcher’s perspective.

Use those charts with this table of data:

According to the data, it seems like Happ has better control over his slider than his fastball. Eyeballing the charts, Happ has been wild up and out of the strike zone frequently with it, especially to right-handed hitters.

However, he has gotten better results with the fastball. His slider is more effective against left-handers, unsurprisingly.

That one change-up he threw to a left-handed hitter? A home run to Jordan Schafer.

Overall, right-handed hitters have a paltry .381 OPS against Happ in 59 plate appearances while lefties have a .978 OPS in 17 plate appearances. It’s a small sample size, but still interesting to note the reverse platoon split. Last season, right-handers and left-handers performed equally as poorly against Happ with a meager .656 OPS.

This chart shows the location of pitches that batters have not made contact with:

CStrike is a called strike and SStrike is a swinging strike.

Overall, there’s nothing surprising about the results. Hitters have a good idea of the strike zone against Happ, as you don’t see a lot of swinging strikes out of the zone.

This chart shows the location of pitches that hitters have made contact with:

Happ gets a lot of swinging strikes up in the zone with the fastball and tends to have more success when his pitches end up on the inside part of the plate to a right-hander. As much as Happ throws up and out of the zone, most of them have been taken for balls, indicating that he probably needs to bring his pitches down a bit or try something else.

In summary…

The Good

  • Happ’s reverse platoon split suggests he is not a good candidate for the bullpen if manager Charlie Manuel thinks he can get left-handers out on a consistent basis (he hasn’t been used as a LOOGY so far). This is a good thing because he belongs in the starting rotation. And if he’s moved to the starting rotation, he’ll face more right-handers.
  • He has an effective fastball with decent velocity. If he can improve his change-up, his fastball would become that much better.
  • He has good control over his sliders, but…

The Bad

  • Happ needs to throw his sliders for strikes more often (this doesn’t mean he lacks control of them), especially to left-handers. The number is somewhat artificially high since he throws a lot of low sliders in an attempt to get them to chase, but they’ll never get swung at if he can’t find the zone with them.
  • He isn’t deceiving anyone with his fastballs up and out of the zone.
  • His change-up, at this point in time, isn’t doing much for him at the rate he’s using it. He should either scrap the pitch altogether or work on improving it. Unfortunately, the latter option isn’t realistic since he’ll likely be in the Majors all season.

Phillies/Braves Series Preview II

Ugh, the Atlanta Braves again. Sure, the Phillies may have gone 14-4 against them last season, but they have always played the Phillies tough and this year is no different. The Bravos got off to a surprising start that prompted Dayn Perry to call the Braves the favorites in the NL East on April 14. Immediately after that article hit the Web, the Braves lost five in a row and seven of their next eight games. Overall, they’re 8-14 since Dayn’s article. (Braves fans: do not send him hate mail and do not create a D.P. voodoo doll. Dayn is awesome — I’m just busting his chops.)

Since the Braves left Philly when the regular season opened, Brian McCann got glasses, Jordan Schafer stopped hitting, and Jeff Francoeur has been… well… Jeff Francoeur.

The Phillies, meanwhile, haven’t been getting any decent starting pitching save Chan Ho Park’s impressive, job-saving outing against Johan Santana and the New York Mets. Overall, Phillies pitching has a 5.39 ERA, which is the 15th-best, or the second-worst, in the National League behind only the Washington Nationals at 5.40. They’ve allowed 49 home runs, which pales in comparison to the next-highest total of 32 shared by three teams.

The Braves’ pitchers have allowed the league’s fewest home runs, a stark contrast to say the least. However, while the Braves have a much better staff, the Phillies’ offense is tops in the N.L. (5.77 runs per game) and the Braves’ is below the league average. In other words, the series is going to come down to whose weakness is least significant. If the Phillies can hit despite the flurry of home runs that will probably be allowed, things will be looking up when they welcome in the now-Manny-less Los Angeles Dodgers.

Let’s get to those charts now, shall we? You know the drill: first two charts show the hitters against the probable starters using career OPS; the second pair of charts show the pitchers’ success against their respective opponents.

Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 8-10

Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 8-10

Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 8-10

Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 8-10

Apologies to those of you who were looking for the series previews for the Cardinals and Mets. At least they were short!

BDD: On Ibanez, Defensive Sabermetrics

With a hat tip to commenter EH, I’ve dissected an article written by Jeff Passan, who illustrates the dichotomy between what Ibanez was supposed to do and what he is currently doing.

Not too long ago, talking airhead Rush Limbaugh was in some hot water for saying that he hopes that the Obama administration fails because their ideas largely differ from his own. Instead of saying, “While we may disagree, I want what’s best for my country even if that means implementing your ideas and seeing them succeed,” Limbaugh was more concerned with the success of his ideology.

I see the same thing happening with the Sabermetrics vs. Traditional stats/Scouting debate. It’s really not about who’s right or who’s wrong; it should be about finding the most logical, objective, consistently accurate method of analyzing players and teams. Sometimes, Sabermetrics do the job very well. Other times, you need a scout to pinpoint something. So far, no one ideology has proven itself worthy of a monopoly.

Crashburn Alley Readership Feedback

My apologies for the lack of meaningful content lately. I’ve been a bit busy with real life and I haven’t been able to find time to get to everything that I’d planned on, like the series previews for the now-finished two-game set in St. Louis and the upcoming two-game set in New York.

I will be busy for the better part of the remaining week, so I figure that this is as good a time as any to get some feedback from the Crashburn Alley readership about what they like and dislike about the blog, which will be two years old in August. It doesn’t matter if you’re a devout follower or just a passer-by, I’m interested in what you have to say about the good and the bad about Crashburn Alley.

Make your voice heard and leave some feedback in the comments section. Be as long-winded or as brief as you’d like, as complimentary or as critical, and address anything that’s on your mind. My only request is that you be civil about it. Some examples of topics you could leave feedback about:

  • The content (analysis, graphics, etc.)
  • The recurring themes (series previews, fantasy league updates, etc.)
  • My writing style
  • The look and feel of the blog
  • For long-time readers: Has the blog improved since you started following? Or has it stagnated?

As mentioned, you’re certainly not limited to the above topics.

Let me know what you think: leave a comment!

Fantasy League Week 4 Recap

Last week, we saw lots of close match-ups. This week, not so much. Four of the five matches had scores of 6-2, and my match-up with Todak went 5-2. Congratulations to Todak, Jack Bauer’s Army, Cust’s Club, Shooter’s Swingers, and The Beast for their decisive victories.

Jack Bauer’s Army is the only one yet to lose a match-up in four weeks, though Shooter’s Swingers has not lost but instead tied 4-4 in Week 3. Niagara Stars is the only one yet to win a match-up. Yours truly has had a rough couple weeks as well — I’ve only won in four categories in that time span.

IWS is the proud owner of Carl Crawford, who stole 11 bases during the week. The only other player to steal a base for him was Alexei Ramirez, but that was wiped out by Jimmy Rollins’ failed attempt to steal a base.

Onto the tables (click to enlarge)…

This week’s matchups:

  • Crashburn Alley vs. Shooter’s Swingers
  • Toothsome vs. Todak
  • Cust’s Club vs. Jack Bauer’s Army
  • Hat Guy vs. IWS
  • The Beast vs. Niagara Stars

BDD: Salami Mania

At Baseball Daily Digest, I find out just how amazing the first month’s grand slam pandemonium really is.

From 2001-08, an average of 130 home runs with a standard deviation of 5 were hit in that time span, in an average of nearly 4,900 plate appearances. This season’s 31 grand slams in just over 850 plate appearances puts us on pace for 177 salamis, a total not seen since the beginning of the decade when 176 were hit in 2000.

With an average of 130 slams and a standard deviation of 5, that puts this season’s pace more than 9 standard deviations above the mean — clearly an outlier. In a normal distribution, 99% of our data points can be found within three standard deviations above or below the mean — that’s how outrageous the first month has been for us so far.

BDD: Name That (Surprise) Molina

At Baseball Daily Digest, I discuss why I’m so surprised that Yadier Molina is hitting so well.

Before an 0-for-4 performance in Atlanta on Wednesday, Molina had a 12-game hitting streak, spanning two weeks, during which he had a slash line of .409/.480/.568, including four doubles and a home run. He’s even stolen a base! Add in that Molina is arguably the best defensive catcher in the game, and the St. Louis Cardinals have themselves a valuable asset — one not named Albert Pujols.

Phillies/Mets Series Preview

Going into the 2009 regular season, the first Phillies-Mets series in Philadelphia looked like it would be a rekindling of a now three-year-old rivalry. Instead, both teams have been playing poorly, though the Phillies have been able to overcome a lot of their mistakes and the Mets have not (what’s new?).

The Mets’ struggles have caused the average blood pressure of Queens residents to rise by a couple points, resulting in claims that David Wright isn’t clutch, that manager Jerry Manuel’s job should be in jeopardy, and that the team in general has no desire to win. Phillies fans hearken back to the Larry Bowa years when they hear that.

Historically, the starters expected to toe the rubber over the weekend have pitched well against their opponents, but none of them have been pitching well this year. Of the Mets’ three, John Maine has the lowest ERA at 5.40; of the Phillies’ three, Jamie Moyer has the lowest ERA at 5.04.

Unlike last year, the Mets’ bullpen is pitching better than the Phillies’. New closer Francisco Rodriguez has yet to blow a save and has only allowed runs in one of his eight appearances. On the other hand, Phillies’ closer Brad Lidge is sidelined for a few days hoping to have his knee heal quickly. He has allowed runs in three of his nine appearances so far this year and has blown a save already — one more than he blew last year. Lidge’s three HR allowed are also one more than he allowed over the entirety of the ’08 season.

Where the Phillies have a significant advantage, at least so far, is with their offense. Leading the league by far at 6.21 runs per game, the Phils have come back to win in all but two of their 11 victories. You can see the difference in the teams’ ability to come back in the following chart which compares the teams’ OPS in each inning.

In the ninth inning, the Phillies are nearly 600 points of OPS better than the Mets. It’s like the Phillies are Albert Pujols and the Mets are Rey Ordonez.

Now that we’ve pointed out that the Mets can’t hit with any pressure, let’s get to the trusty tables. The teams’ most frequently-used lineups against the opposition’s starting pitchers:

The teams’ starting pitchers’ success against the opposition in their respective careers:

The Mets were successful against the Phillies in the regular season last year, winning 11 and losing 7, which was about in line with their Pythagorean expected record in those games.

It sounds cliche, but this series will be won by the team that gets the best starting pitching, since the Phillies can’t continue to count on abusing opposing teams’ bullpens — especially not one with both Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. Both teams have been getting terrible starting pitching and it’s a matter of which staff shapes up first.

I’ll show you what I, personally, will be looking — and hoping — for in this series:

Moar Daniel Murphy errors!1!!1!

SEASON. OVER. Redux

It was just five days ago when Cole Hamels was smoked in the left shoulder by a Prince Fielder line drive. Hamels must not have made the correct offering to the Flying Spaghetti Monster because he has been struck down again. Per Todd Zolecki’s Twitter:

Cole Hamels has left the game early. Again. This time he turned his left ankle fielding a ball. Unbelieveable. [SIC]

Cole: Stay away from mirrors, ladders, and black cats. Thanks.