Anatomy of a Hot Streak

rogers headshot copyThe Blue Jays just defeated the Colorado Rockies for the second night in a row. This victory is the seventh in a row for Canada’s Team. They did so behind the emergency starter who was subbing for the backup starter, Esmil Rogers.

The fact that Rogers, who began the season in the bullpen (where he had an ERA of 4.23, a WHIP of 1.41, and only 4.6 K/9), has made the transition to a starter wonderful. It is kind of a representation of just how inexplicably well things have gone since June 5th. As a starter the same Esmil Rogers has and ERA of 1.71, a WHIP of .95 and 6.85 K/9. Yes, when asked to do more, and face a lineup 2 or 3 times, Esmil has had better results by any measure you would like to use.

On June 5th, the Blue Jays got 8 1/3 innings out of R.A. Dickey in San Fransisco. It was the first time all season that a Jays starter had recorded an out in the 9th inning. The win brought the team up to a 25 and 34 record. Since that day, the Blue Jays have been rolling. They are, in many ways, a very different team than they were in April and May.

They took 2 out of 3 from Texas. The first game was an easy victory, 6-1, in which the Rangers only scored in the first. The second game was an 18 inning affair, but they prevailed 4-3. The third game was one in which they frittered away an early four run lead, and lost 6-4. They went to Chicago, and after an off day, they played in the fog, and lost 10-6 behind a lackluster R.A. Dickey start. That’s 5 games, and the Jays were 3-2 after those 5, so, why did I start the ‘hot streak’ there?

Well, the 6-1 game was started by Esmil Rogers on a limited pitch count, only his second start, and the bullpen held the Rangers scoreless for 5 innings, which is part of what has been so great about the Jays in this stretch. The 18 inning game was a nail biter, and you could make a good argument that they got lucky by the 18th inning, but also that the bullpen continued to dominate. So, two of the wins are about luck and the bullpen, and one of the losses can be blamed on the ‘pen.

The next game in Chicago was a 10 inning affair, highlighted by a last-strike game-tying home run by Jose Bautista. One swing saved the day, and the bullpen held the Sox for the bottom of the 10th.

Then the Jays beat the Rangers, in a game untied from 1-1 with 2 outs in the 8th on and Encarnacion double. Another ‘clutch’, or lucky, depending on your viewpoint, hit, and it saves the day. That’s four games that hinge on one hit and a shutdown bullpen.

Then 8-0, 6-1, and 7-2 victories. Not real nail biters.

Colorado comes to the Rogers Centre, and the Jays are no-hit for 6 innings. Maicer Izturis saves a run with a diving stop. A line drive rocket is hit at Adam Lind. Encarnacion takes a double away by making a leaping catch at third. The Jays score on two singles and a walk in the bottom of the 8th. Another 2 out rally saves the day, and another shutout inning by Casey Janssen ends the game.

Tonight, it was Colorado’s turn to get no hit for 6 innings. By the time they plated a run, the Jays had scored 8, for an 8-3 final.

In a 10-2 run, the Jays have had 5 games that hinged on a single hit, and depended on a nearly flawless bullpen to complete. I understand that’s how the game goes sometimes, and I can’t get enough of those kinds of breaks going in the Jays favour. I love it. But remember, every game is important, and lots of them could swing any which way.

Just another way to look at the swing in fortunes around this team: The Blue Jays starters In April, had the 27th best ERA in baseball and the 24th best FIP (a measure of pitching with fielding removed). In May, they were 27th and 28th. In June they are 6th and 17th. The April starters have not been replaced with better players. Three of them are the same guys exactly. I’d be willing to bet that none of those three months represents a true talent level for any of those pitchers.

So the Jays are on a hot streak. Everything keeps breaking right, and at the right time. It turns out better than expected. It isn’t some great epiphany on the part of the players or the coaches. It’s just the best part of a 162 game ride. Hang on, nobody knows what happens next.

 

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Comebacks, Making The Improbable Into Reality

Baseball without a clock, is viewed, I believe, a little differently than other sports. When one team goes ahead early, it obviously reduces the chance of that team winning the game. Unlike football, say, when you can take a knee late in the game because things are out of reach in the small amount of time left, in baseball, hope exists (however faint) until the 27 out is recorded. When I was a child, I always cheered like my team had great hopes to win, even down by four or five runs, heading into the bottom of the 9th. Three outs left? I always assumed, if you just kept hitting, you could win any game, no matter how late.

Thousands of games later, and I’ve come to realize that comebacks, especially those from a deep deficit are very, very rare. Possible, yes, but rarer than I even imagined. Which makes them all the more significant to me. Baseball is a monotonous 162 game grind, punctuated by small bouts of insane activity. When one of those moments comes, I’m not going to miss an opportunity to romaniticize it. And the best way I know to turn baseball into poetry, is with a line graph.

big comeback Continue reading

Frustration Nation

This is just about the worst. I say ‘just about’, only because the Florida Marlins and Houston Astros exist, and are, for their own reasons, locked in a battle for worstness.

The Toronto Blue Jays, team that I love, is about to finish April, and in the season in which they were to realize the dream of rising to the top, they have begun by sinking to the bottom. Hard. They may finish the month at 9-18 or 10-17. It will be their worst April since 2004, a year in which they finished 67-94, and finished dead last in the AL East.

The best OBP in the lineup belongs to a platoon player, Adam Lind. The best OPS to a shortstop who was the offensive table-setter for this team until he sprained his ankle and began a 2-3 month stint on the DL. The best everyday hitter has an OPS of .824. he has walked twice and struck out 37 times.

The starter with the lowest ERA is J.A. Happ, the man who didn’t have a major league job until Ricky Romero lost the strikezone so badly that he landed in Florida A Ball games rebuilding his delivery. The other four starters have the four worst ERAs on the team.

Not starter has thrown a pitch in the 8th inning of any game.

Josh Johnson has triceps tightness, R.A. Dickey can’t quiet his barking neck and back, Sergio Santos is on the 15 day DL. Casey Janssen can’t be used on back to back days except in extreme emergencies.

Emilio Bonifacio appears to be playing with spring-loaded glove and a noodle tied to his shoulder. Maicer Izturis spent 3 weeks playing third looking like there should be a cutoff man to help with long throws. Mark DeRosa and Henry Blanco both turn around when you shout ‘Hey, old man!’ and both do it as slowly as they turn on a fastball.

So yeah, feels like the playoffs are just around the corner….. mocking the team and their fans.

I’m sure I’ve missed some other gory details, feel free to remind me of what I’ve blocked out in the comments.

 

 

 

This is not a Mirage: Brett Cecil In Late innings.

This is the velocity chart for Brett Cecil’s last appearance of 2012.

vs twins 2012Brett transitioned to the bullpen in 2012, after trying, and failing to find a way to be effective with an 89mph fastball as a starter.  When he switched to relief, he picked up some speed on his fastball. His hardest pitch on that night was a 2-seam fastball at 92.81 miles per hour, as per Brooks Baseball. Continue reading

Edwin Encarncion, what’s going on?

So, Eddie E, former third baseman, now turned first baseman/DH is having a lot of success in 2012. As a result of that success, he’s put a signature on a contract that will pay him 29 million dollars, minimum, over its 3-4 year term. The obvious question, which is now worth 29 million dollars, is whether or not EE has made real changes that make the Blue Jays think he’s going to stay a consistently productive hitter.

I am not a hitting instructor, so all the mechanical changes and tweaks that he may have made, are not something I can speak to. However, the hitter cards over at Brooks Baseball can give us a very real insight into whether his results have changed over the past few years. I’m going to take a look a 2010, 2011 and 2012 in a few different ways, and see if there is evidence of a changed approach for Encarnacion.

Continue reading

Give it up for #38

This is about respect. A lot of the time, baseball players get a lot of criticism for failing to do their job. They get called any number of names by fans, told that they are no good. Often the collossal failure of being the man on the mound at the end of a losing effort brings out the greatest negativity in the crowd.

We, the fans, tend to treat bullpen pitchers as interchangeable parts. “Dump this guy!” We exclaim, after back to back bad outings. “Call up Igarashi, get Beck on the phone!” we lament over trades not made, the cost of Coco Cordero. They are the blue-collar workers of the Major League roster.

Look at the title of the post. Do you know who #38 is on the Toronto Blue Jays roster? He’s been the steadiest hand in the bullpen. With all the Casey Janssen/Santos/Cordero drama, number 38 has put up the following line.

20ip, 14 hits allowed, 6 walks. 20 strikeouts. His worst outing of the year, he allowed one earned run. In his longest, he held the line for 2 and 1/3 innings against the Texas Rangers, allowing 3 base-runners and no runs. Over the course of the season, 3-4-5-6 hitters are hitting .242/.342/.333 off of him, for a .675 OPS. He has allowed only one home run.

So, here’s to you, Darren Oliver. The number 38 never looked so good in the blue and white. See you in the late innings very soon.

You can follow Darren Oliver on Twitter at @southpawDO28, though he doesn’t say much.

Fastballs Illustrated

I like baseball on TV. Not that going to a game isn’t a thrill, because the arc of the ball, as viewed from field level, is unique to me. There is something special about the tumbling seams on a pop-fly, or the rapidly receding circle of a double into the gap. I think that those views are special to me because I only go to a few games a year, at most. My season tickets are with my LCD tv.

Pitching, on television, is nothing like pitching live. I know, because I umpired minor (kids and teenagers) baseball for three years. It is the closest you can possibly get to pitching and catching, and not be responsible for touching the ball. There is a very real hiss to a baseball coming in at anything over 50mph. The impact into the mitt of a 60 or 70 mph fastball is something that reverberates in your ears. You can feel it when it hits the mitt. To lean into that at MLB game speed would make me flinch.

I know that my eyes and ears could not tell me the whole story as an umpire. All I had to focus on was where the ball was when it hit the front edge of the plate. That isn’t really hard to do, with a little practice. Measuring what happened before and after that never really entered my head at the time.

I also know that the single outfield camera does not convey or measure what is going on at home plate. It just isn’t in the right place, or at the right distance to really tell how and where a pitcher releases the ball.

Combine these methods with the play-by-play and colour announcers on TV, and everything gets jumbled up. Some fastballs have ‘late life’, some have ‘hard sinking action’, some are ‘backdoor cutters’. Cute, but how do you tell which of those descriptions is anywhere near accurate? None of the guys in the booth has crouched down to catch the pitcher in question, they are relying on a story from someone else. And if you’ve ever tried to convey a story through two or three people, you know how any description can get jumbled up.

Pitch f/x to the rescue. If you are not familiar with pitch f/x, there is a primer here. All of my data comes from the very comprehensive data at brooksbaseball.net. Very briefly, 2 cameras are positioned in each park to give accurate data about the behavior of every pitch thrown in the Major Leagues.

I have 2 charts to compare the fastballs of the current five members of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. As of this writing, they are Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison.They are identified by their initials in the charts.

Behold, Chart 1

Speed and Spin Direction

Taken as an average from all pitches thrown in 2012. This is pretty much just speed differences. I was hoping, when I input the data for spin direction, that the sinkers would cluster apart from the four seamers. Not so lucky. And can you tell I haven’t made any charts since my second year at community college? But enough about me. Four seamers are blue data points, sinkers (usually thrown with 2 seam grip), are in red. Kyle Drabek is the only one who throws enough cutters to be of any note. That’s the yellow diamond. Notable points, Henderson Alvarez is the hard thrower of the bunch, not Brandon Morrow, as you may have guessed. Drabek next, then Morrow. These are all above 94mph and are very good fastballs, especially for MLB starters. The other odd thing is Drabek’s two data points are very close together in the MPH, unlike a typical pitcher, changing to the sinker grip doesn’t cost him even 0.5 mph.

Behold, chart the second.

Movement, including gravity.

This chart shows us movement from the catcher’s perspective. It tells us that Rickey Romero may, in fact, be left-handed. I’ll check into that later. Also, the two purple circles are Romero’s and Alvarez’s sinkers. Getting ground balls happens naturally, as even mistakes are carried down under the bat quite often. The green circle is Morrow’s ‘rising’ fastball, and it makes it easy to see why he’s a natural fly ball pitcher. Here we can cross-check if Drabek’s sinker (which we saw him throwing extremely hard, above) has had any of its movement cancelled out by his extra velocity. I would have to say no. The distance between his straight and sinker data points is similar to both Morrow’s and Hutchison’s. Also, Drabek’s cutter does, in fact, cut its way back across the middle of the chart with a little reverse break.

So, next time somebody tells you who they think throws the hardest, now you’ve got some pictures to back up your own arguments. This also gives an idea of how far from straight even a ‘straight’ four-seam fastball can be.

If anybody would like to see any other pitch types broken down this way, or two pitchers and their pitch mixes put head-to-head, put it in the comments, and I’ll try to cook something up.