Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Cabrera Finally Looks Good, O’s 8-6

Posted by Mike on April 17, 2006

Daniel Cabrera went 7 strong innings for the win against the Angels tonight.  He had 7 K's, 1 BB, and allowed 1 run (0 earned).  He threw 70 of his 106 pitches for strikes.  It's good to finally see him looking like he did in the WBC again.

According to Baseball Prospectus, here is what Leo Mazzone had to say after Cabrera's last start:

Well, I tell you what. I’ve got all that I can handle right here. I mean, (Wednesday night) we had a ball game where we had a young kid named Daniel Cabrera, and listen to this line score: Five innings, three hits, one run, nine walks and 10 strikeouts and 110 pitches.

Translation:  Lots of talent, lots of work ahead.

  • Newhan Breaks Fibula

David Newhan broke his right fibula after stealing second base in the 1st inning.  It's a tough break (rimshot) because he was just starting to get consistent playing time. 

The Orioles already have 12 pitchers on the active roster, so Newhan is likely to be replaced by a position player.  It's anyone's guess as to who might get the call, but let's explore a few of the options:

Val Majewski* (AAA)– Struggling too much in AAA to warrant decreased PT

Keith Reed (AAA)– Killing the ball in Ottawa (although 0 BB in 32 AB)

Andy Tracy (AAA)– Hitting ball well (.556 SLG)

Eddy Garabito (AAA)– Versatile defensively, ML experience

Ed Rogers (AAA)– Versatile defensively, struggling with bat (I hardly noticed…)

Fernando Tatis (AAA)– 1.000+ OPS right now, ML experience

Eli Whiteside* (AAA)– Would give O's 3rd C, struggling with bat

Alejandro Freire (AAA)– If he's not hitting, what is he good for?  And he's not hitting…

Jeff Fiorentino* (AA)– Got a look last year, which is actually even more ridiculous than if he got a look this year.

Raul Chavez (AA)– I'm guessing this is why he's in Bowie and not Ottawa…

*on 40-man roster 

Who do you guys think gets the call?  I'll guess Chavez, but few of these options would surprise me.

  • New Blog on Orioles Hangout

I finally took a look at the new blog on Orioles Hangout, Tony's Take.  The latest entry is called 'The Book Everyone Should Read' and refers to Charles Euchners' The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See.  If you peruse the entry, the author is basically naming the reasons he likes this book.  I have not read the book, but it certainly sounds interesting.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to make his arguments for the book, the author of the blog says the following:

If you are pure stat head, you should read this book. He goes into great detail as to why the game is played and managed by human beings and not computers. And the fact he brought up Tom Tippett's detailed research that crushed the ridiculous notion by Voros McCracken that pitchers can't control what happens to a batted ball, but can only control whether it's hit or not, makes it even sweeter. Not to get too far off the book, but I still don't get how anyone who follows baseball on a regular basis believed that report. Anyone who watches pitchers like Mariano Rivera saw off batters continually can visually see that his very success is determined by the movement of his cutter and the batter's inability to get good wood on it, thus creating a lot of poorly hit balls. Trying to say that a pitcher has no effect over how hard a batter hits a ball was ridiculous and one of the very reasons that you don't take everything these guys write as gospel, even if they do a lot of great statistical evaluations.

Managed by humans and not computers?  What the hell does that mean?  This has already gotten off on the wrong foot.  Then he implies that Tom Tippett crushes the ridiculous notion by Voros McCracken that pitchers can't control what happens to a batted ball.  This is a rash misrepresentation of the disagreement between the two for a variety of reasons; not the least of which is that, in Tom Tippett's words:

In an article published on Baseball Primer last year, McCracken softened his original conclusion a little, saying that there are small differences among pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls in play, and those differences are "statistically significant if generally not very relevant." Except for the regulars on Baseball Primer, I don't think many people in the baseball research community are aware of this update to McCracken's thinking. 

That was four years ago that McCracken altered his original conclusion and it greatly alters the degree of difference between his and Tippett's findings.  By now, most people that take statistical analysis seriously are aware of McCracken's adjusted conclusions.  McCraken also conceded that knuckleballers are a special case- something that, if accounted for in Tippett's research, would also have minimized the differences in their findings.  Nevertheless, here are the most relevant of Tippett's findings, in his own words:

2. Their influence over in-play hit rates is weaker than their influence over walk and strikeout rates. The most successful pitchers in history have saved only a few hits per season on balls in play, when compared with the league or team average. That seems less impressive than it really is, because the league average is such a high standard. Compared to a replacement-level pitcher, the savings are much greater.

3. The low correlation coefficients for in-play batting average suggest that there's a lot more room for random variation in these outcomes than in the defense-independent outcomes. I believe this follows quite naturally from the physics of the game. When a round bat meets a round ball at upwards of 90 miles per hour, and when that ball has laces and some sort of spin, miniscule differences in the nature of that impact can make the difference between a hit and an out. In other words, there's quite a bit of luck involved. 

5. The fact that there's room for random variation doesn't necessarily mean a pitcher doesn't have any influence over the outcomes. It just means that his year-to-year performances can vary randomly around value other than zero, a value that reflects his skills. 

6. Unusually good or bad in-play hit rates aren't likely to be repeated the next year. This has significant implications for projections of future performance.  

The few conclusions that I didn't reproduce here can be found here.  I encourage you to read it for yourself, lest I be accused of misrepresenting the argument myself. 

Basically, Tippett is saying that a pitcher does have some impact on whether a ball in play goes for a hit or not but that it is subject to a high degree of fluctuation and extreme examples usually regress to the mean.  For example, Bruce Chen had a .262 BABIP last year, which is part of the reason that no one outside of Baltimore expects him to repeat his 3.83 ERA.  No one is saying that Chen's ability to mix speeds has no effect on his low BABIP, just that his true ability to control hits in play is not that extreme (league average BABIP is usually in the high .290's).  If his true ability (ie if we had a large enough sample) were to hold opponents to a .285 BABIP (which would be well above-average), then he would be just as likely to post a .320 BABIP this year as he would be to repeat what he did last year.  Conclusions # 3, 5, and 6 confirm this notion.  Unfortunately, it's not only difficult to determine a pitcher's true ability to control BABIP over the small sample of one career, its implications are limited by both the small degree of difference and the statistical noise that often clouds it.   

McCracken, on the other hand, has said that these differences are statistically significant if not generally relevant.  By relevant, McCracken is suggesting that setting a pitcher's BABIP to league average is more useful than using his BABIP in any given year as a means of predicting future outcomes.  With Tippett conceding the large degree of luck involved, I fail to see where this is contradictory to the conclusions that he came to.  

Just for good measure, let's look at the specific example that Tony's Take refers to, Mariano Rivera.  According to his PECOTA player card, Rivera's ability to control BABIP is somewhere near the 90th percentile of all major leaguers.  Yet, his BABIP's for 2003-2005 are .299, .282, .239.  Certainly that seems well above average, in 2005 at least.  The problem is that the BABIPs fluctuate wildly around what seems to be his true ability, between .239 and .299.  By no means, however, does this mean that he is a safe bet to post an above-average BABIP in any given year.  So what would be more generally relevant– using an extreme single season example of .239 or setting it to league average?  At this point, I think the answer is clear.  Tippett even says it himself in conclusion #6.

Misrepresentations of McCracken aside, I should mention that Tony's Take has some legitimately useful and interesting information.  I particularly enjoyed his interview with former prospect Chris Smith that highlights some of the past failings of Orioles player development. 

  • OTT Finally Addresses the Steroid Issue

I know you guys have all been waiting for the Orioles Think Tank to finally weigh in on the steroids issue.  After all, someone has to talk about it.  The reason I've been reluctant to in the past is that I largely see it as a farce.  Never have my personal feelings been more eloquently stated than in this article by BP's Joe Sheehan.  Here is an excerpt:

Bonds’ grand-jury testimony was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, an event which became the impetus for an investigation into his life that produced a book, Game of Shadows, a book that now becomes the impetus for a perjury investigation, the news of which also gets leaked.

Maybe people don’t like Bonds’ recent bout of self-pity, but go back and read that sentence again. Think about how that cycle might make you feel if you were in the middle of it. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, and just because you’re unpopular doesn’t mean you have to surrender all your rights as a citizen. There have still been no repercussions for the leaking of that testimony.  

I'm a big believer in Barry Bonds' ability to be a jerk.  I also accept that he almost definitely used steroids knowingly.  That said, I've always found myself defending the guy. 

The reasons?  For one, the media has completely turned a blind eye towards their past failures to cover this issue- particularly considering all the access they are granted.  Now that it's out of the bag, everyone wants to act like Bonds is some kind of monster.

Also, I'm one of the few people I know that believes that many have been topo quick to jump all over Bonds for playing the race card.  In many cases, I have no doubt that he is overreacting.  In others, I'm not so sure.  Consider the fact that there is arguably as much evidence that Lance Armstrong has done steroids as there is against Bonds.  Despite the fact that it hasn't been covered in the U.S. nearly as much as the round-the-clock, Pedro-Gomez-watching nature of Bonds' saga, most sports fans are at least aware of the allegations.  Yet, one of these men is a national hero while the other is public enemy #1.  I do not believe this is entirely a race issue, but I can see how a rational person could come to that conclusion.


5 Responses to “Cabrera Finally Looks Good, O’s 8-6”

  1. Zachary said

    Consider the fact that there is arguably as much evidence that Lance Armstrong has done steroids as there is against Bonds.

    That’s absolutely untrue. There is ironclad proof that Barry Bonds took steroids—he admitted it. The debate on Bonds focuses on whether he knew they were steroids or not. (A pretty lame argument, if you ask me). But he has testified to taking them.

    Converseley, there is no evidence of Lance Armstrong taking steroids that isn’t circumstantial. All reports amount to either “a syringe found in a room” (in France and Spain, where many racing fans resent Armstrong’s success); or hearsay by disgruntled ex-employees. Lance Armstrong has never once failed a drug test, in a sport which is far more rigorous than baseball about testing its participants. Racers are required to undergo testing after every single stage of the tour. Think about that. In seven years, with testing every day of competition Armstrong has never failed once. It strains credibility to think that, with a several riders being thrown off the tour every year, he has somehow found a way that they haven’t to “beat the system” every time.

    I think Armstrong is kind of a pr*ck, but as a person who lives with someone fighting cancer, I have to agree with what he said in his book, It’s Not About the Bike: staring down cancer certainly makes one damned careful about what one is putting into one’s body.

    And all that said, I do think there’s an element of racism to the Bonds issue. Why isn’t everyone still piling onto Giambi? The only explanation I can think of is that Giambi simply came clean. He admitted using steroids, admitted he knew they were steroids, said he was sorry and moved on. Perhaps if Bonds had been forthright from the beginning, people would not pe so critical now. Look at Palmeiro.

  2. Mike said

    Well said, Zachary. Perhaps the Giambi comparison would be more apt. And I certainly should have used the qualifier “knowingly” in the statement you quoted.

    The only explanation I can think of is that Giambi simply came clean. He admitted using steroids, admitted he knew they were steroids, said he was sorry and moved on. Perhaps if Bonds had been forthright from the beginning, people would not pe so critical now. Look at Palmeiro.

    I think this is a great point. The only problem I have with it is when people use it as a means to dismiss all elements of race from this issue (ie Bonds is a jerk and that’s why the media treats him like this– not that this is what you are saying). There are people that hate Bonds because he is a jerk and a cheater just like there are people that hate Bonds because he is a black guy closing in on Babe Ruth. How many come from each camp is up to interpretation, but I don’t think many of Bonds’ “race card” antics are nearly as contrived as the media paints them.

    As far as Armstrong being able to “beat the system”, I have little clue as to what is possible and what isn’t. I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he has figured out a way to test negative when others haven’t. I would speculate that many many baseball players did just that last year (even if in an inferior testing system). Believe it or not, this is beside the point.

    My main jist was not that Armstrong is neccesarily guilty, but that I can understand why Bonds and others could reasonably think that race is playing a role.

    Good post. Social commentary makes me nervous.

    p.s. For those interested, Zach’s wife runs an illuminating blog at http://www.knower.org/blog/redux.html

  3. bradley said

    actually, to my recollection, giambi made no such admission whatsoever. i mean, are we talking about where he got up in front of the press and said he was sorry?

    another comparison is b/w giambi and mcgwire. to my mind, both made non-admission admissions, but mcgwire was treated as a pathetic buffoon and giambi won comeback player of the year. wtf?

  4. Zachary said

    Good points. And I should clarify: Giambi admitted his steroid use to the grand jury, and his testimony was then leaked. And when asked for public confirmation about it afterwards, he had to duck behind his lawyer to preserve his Yankee contract. So he hasn’t truly “come clean” as I wrote above. But I think people know he admitted steroid use to the GJ, whereas Bonds appears to have perjured himself to them.

    GIambi winning CPOTY was an absolute travesty. I personally think he should have been suspended for a while at least for knowingly violating the MLB substance policy. And good point about McGwire.

    Also Mike, I think it’s personally reasonable to believe that race plays a part in all this….just not the only>/i> part.

  5. bradley said

    i totally believe race is a factor. the fact that bonds is the only target of a retrospective investigation is telling. i’m almost inclined to lump raffy in here, but i guess part of the reason he got roasted was b/c of the hypocrisy angle. i guess we’ll see what happens when schill gets nailed.

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