Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Scott Elarton, Again

Boy am I glad when I'm wrong.

Elarton made his second start against the Yankees, and for the second time he pitched as well as you could hope for. His line:

6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 SO, 0 BB

I'll take it. But to look long-term, is Elarton, who is eligible for free agency after the season, worth bringing back? After all, the Indians do have a couple pitchers that they could plug into the rotation in 2006.

The standard pitching numbers look pretty good. Elarton has given up 120 hits in 117 innings of work, which is pretty decent. He's struck out 68 hitters this year, which translates to 5.0/9IP. One reason why Elarton has been successful has been his low walk totals: he's only walked 30 this season, which is especially important given his penchant for giving up homers (all the runs scored off him tonight were via the long ball). My view is that you're looking at a guy who has marginal stuff, but can survive if he can spot his offspeed pitches. If he can't throw his curve or change for strikes, then he's in trouble. But you could say that for a lot of successful MLB pitches. What I want to know, then, is if this season's numbers are a product of luck, or whether they are indicative of what Scott could do for the next couple of years. To do that, let's look at some of the numbers I used to evaluate Jake Westbrook's 2004 season.

xFIP ERA: 4.70

This statistic normalizes fielding independent pitching to the pitchers' home park, which is especially useful when considering that we're looking at a flyball pitcher. FIP itself is a statistic used to take out all the externalities (mainly fielding) that can affect a pitcher's regular ERA. In this case Elarton's xFIP ERA is a bit higher than his regular ERA, but not by a large amount. So you can say that Elarton's current ERA is pretty good measure of how he's pitching.

LD%: 20.6%

This is expected given how most of Elarton's outs are recorded. I will say that I believe Elarton has been helped very much by the Indian outfielders, specifically in center and left, and that if a an inferior outfielder is playing behind Elarton, some of those line drives may start to fall in for singles and doubles. Just a word of warning.

One other thing that should shed some light on Elarton: a trend analysis. I've broken down Elarton's perforance by month, noting innings, hits, and walks (the strikeouts seem to have remained constant):

April: 19.0 IP, 27 H, 9 BB
May: 29.1 IP, 33 H, 9 BB
June: 31.0 IP, 29 H, 5 BB
July: 37.2 IP, 31 H, 7 BB

Note that Elarton has gotten better during every month. To my untrained eye, he seems to have more control over his pitches, and more hitters are making "weak outs" than before. In summary, everything looks good, and the Indians should entertain bringing Scott back on a one- or two-year deal if they can't retain Kevin Millwood. If they keep Millwood, Elarton is probably redundant. Notice I haven't mentioned the cost; because I underestimated last season what pitchers would be getting on the free agent market, so rather than by suggesting numbers that might look comical four months from now, I'll say Elarton should be retained with "fourth starter money."

Jim Ingraham has figured out why the Indians are trailing the White Sox by umpteen games:

Despite the fact that they are 10th in the American League in hitting, and have lower slugging and on-base percentages than the Indians, the White Sox are running away with American League's Central Division race.

Why?

They play the game the right way. They move base runners, they hit with runners in scoring position, they catch the ball. The Indians do none of that. At least not consistently.


Of course, he failed to mention that the White Sox lead the AL in pitching. And hitting with RISP is not a "fundamental;" it's hitting (and it involves some luck). "Catching the ball" is called fielding; it is not (by my definition) a fundamental. And while the White Sox are second in the league in Defensive Efficiency, the Indians are right behind them.

I've come to believe that "fundamentals" are just a catch phrase sportswriters use to criticize teams that aren't playing "the right way, according to me." If a team like the Indians doesn't bunt all that much, they get criticized because somehow bunting has come to be indicative of a "true team." Nevermind in most cases that giving up an out in order to slightly increase the probability of scoring one run in that inning decreases drastically thel posibility of scoring multiple runs in that inning. ESPN stopped tracking "productive outs" (to my knowledge) this season, and for good reason; there seems to be no correlation between productive outs and scoring runs.

Ingraham, later in the article, admits that a definition of "fundamentals" is very hard to pin down:

Fundamentals are hard to quantify statistically, except for one very obvious statistic: Wins. The teams that win the most tend to be the teams that play the game the right way the most.


Why don't we then concentrate on what we can quantify, then? Baseball does not lack for statistics by which we can evaluate players or teams, which makes relying on a such a subjective concept so silly.



9 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:30 AM

    apparently the phillips saga is a smashing success! 2HR for brandon last night, which means he will be an AMAZING AAA player for years to come, but didn't we already know that from last season? probably being too cynical. i actually hope he does what he needs to do and is the starting 2b next season.

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  2. Ingraham is talking gibberish...

    Does a grasp of the fundamentals truly lead to wins, or do wins reflect a teams *perceived* grasp of fundamentals? I'll go with the latter. Especially since he can't even define fundamentals.

    It's a joke that this guy can get away with 'thinking out loud' and call it sportswriting. It's no wonder that fans are turning towards other fans' blogs instead of 'mainstream' writers.

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  3. Peter in Vegas11:38 AM

    Having great pitching makes up for a lot. I wonder what Ingrahame is going to say when the Sox get swept out of the playoffs. How about the A's? They eschew littleball, but that doesn't fit the template now, does it? Or maybe Wedge should have called for the surprise suicide squeeze last night with the bases loaded and nobody out? Would that qualify as playing the game the right way? Reading that was almost as bad as watching baseball tonight and hearing John Kruk wax poetic about how Ron Villone was going to help the Marlins.

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  4. Jeremy12:36 PM

    The thing that struck me right away about Ingraham's article is that he cites a few specific examples from one series to explain how the Indians aren't good with "fundamentals." But even the White Sox make errors and have days where they don't score their runners from 2nd and 3rd. You have to look at long-term trends to see fundamentals, by their very nature, don't you?

    Also, I don't entirely buy the concept that fundamentals are unmeasurable--it's just very, very hard to isolate them from the events of a game. They're a component of every statistic recorded, just not separated from the statistic for easy digestion. In other words, if you play good fundamental defense, it will be reflected in meaningful defensive statistics (but not necessarily errors). Statistics will tell us what we need to know if we're careful about how we use them (and if we're not careful about how we use them, Tampa Bay may want to hire us).

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  5. Statistics will tell us what we need to know if we're careful about how we use them (and if we're not careful about how we use them, Tampa Bay may want to hire us).

    I agree. Misusing statistics can be just as dangerous as ignoring them.

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  6. Anonymous1:31 PM

    Speaking of misleading stats, how can we have respect for VORP when it ignores a player's defensive contribution? I know that OSP is equally weak, but the word "value" doesn't appear in OSP. I use Vic Martinez as an example. When you factor in his inability to throw out base stealers, his "value" to the team is lower. (I don't want to hear about how badly our pitchers hold runners, I know it's a factor. It doesn't totally excuse Vic's performance.)
    Now don't jump on me just because I used Vic as the example. We could use Manny as well. Maybe VORP should be renamed OVORP or Offensive Value Over Replacement Player.

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  7. Anon,

    I'm using VORP just to look at the offense, and specifically who among the Indian position players are contributing most to it. Also, Baseball Prospectus does list VORP by position, which makes it pretty easy to use. I could use WARP if you'd like, which does factor in defense in a player's value. But BPro doesn't list WARP by position.

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  8. Jeremy3:58 PM

    Regarding VORP: No stat is perfect. It's important that we recognize the limitations of each stat we use. VORP is, as far as I can tell, an excellent tool for evaluating a player's overall offensive value to a team over time. It doesn't tell anything about defense or peak production during limited playing time. And it's not designed to do so. For a complete picture, we need to use more than one stat, but that doesn't make VORP less meaningful. It all goes back to knowing how to use the tools you have, and knowing when that tool isn't appropriate for the job.

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  9. Anonymous4:42 PM

    http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20050803&content_id=1156034&vkey=pr_cle&fext=.jsp&c_id=cle


    Boone is coming back. but as the article shows, when you look at him from early june on, it makes a ton of sense.

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