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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fangraphs: Cameron | Tim Lincecum: Now a Reliever, Maybe Needs to Close

Dave Cameron suggests that Lincecum should close because he pitches better with the bases empty.

*facepalm*

Lincecum’s splits suggest that perhaps the best way to “fix” him is to let him pitch with the bases empty as often as possible, which means starting the inning and not cleaning up after others. And there’s only one role in the bullpen that is generally afforded that luxury; the closer.

Yoenis Cespedes, Baseball Savant Posted: August 26, 2014 at 12:23 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: giants

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   1. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: August 26, 2014 at 01:43 PM (#4779382)
I've done some research and found that the only way to guarantee a pitcher will start his appearance with the bases empty is by being a starter. It's roughly 100 out of 100. You're welcome. Or the manager could just be determined not to bring a guy in if runners are on. That will work too. And really that can be done in any inning, as another of my research projects has turned up: Every inning starts with the bases empty.

Timmy's problem really revolves around him not being able to keep the bases empty. I'm not sure that will be fixed by thrusting him into the highest leverage innings.

   2. JRVJ Posted: August 26, 2014 at 01:44 PM (#4779383)
That blurb is unfair.

Cameron slowly makes his point, and you can cherry pick quotes, but his reasoning is sound (he hits a couple of numbers that perhaps did not need to be hit to get from point A to point B, but that's just a style issue).
   3. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: August 26, 2014 at 01:44 PM (#4779384)
In a 6-man bullpen, Closer would be the 6th best role for Timmay.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:02 PM (#4779396)
Suppose that his problem really is pitching from the stretch*. If he just pitched out of the wind-up even with runners on base, and it lowered his FIP to the 3.50 area, would the improvement be offset by the runners advancing at will?


* I'm not convinced of this.
   5. Joey B. has reignited his October #Natitude Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:06 PM (#4779398)
Sad the way his arm has completely gone to pot.
   6. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:11 PM (#4779409)
In a 6-man bullpen, Closer would be the 6th best role for Timmay.


Could the Mariners need Timmy?
   7. The District Attorney Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:31 PM (#4779425)
The biggest real-life reason why the Giants will be tempted to make Lincecum the closer, of course, is because it's regarded as more of a premier role, thus a) making it feel like less of a demotion to Lincecum and b) making the front office look less stupid for giving him so much money.

So, given the fact that the team is probably already considering this possibility for subjective reasons, it's relevant to dig up whatever objective info we can find about how well it might work. I'd agree that the statistical evidence presented here isn't great, and is in any event much less likely to affect the actual decision than the PR/morale considerations. But, it's an interesting point about something that we ultimately can't know for sure unless we try it.

Do note, however, that it's not like the Giants have a young Juan Marichal waiting in the wings to replace Lincecum. Yusmeiro Petit has, so far, himself been a poster boy for the idea that starting vs. relief can be very different roles... and he's been a whole lot better in relief. If Petit gets knocked around by the Rockies, there's a great chance that Lincecum will make the next start.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:54 PM (#4779442)
Because the closer is considered to have magical properties teams are happy to just try dumb #### there. Relief pitchers don't get promoted to close, but random failing starters get sent there immediately. My favorite was when Hideki Irabu was the closer in Texas.
   9. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: August 26, 2014 at 02:59 PM (#4779447)
Because the closer is considered to have magical properties teams are happy to just try dumb #### there.


Hey now, pitching the eighth is totally, totally different than pitching the ninth of course, but pitching the first is actually quite similar. Because...er...
   10. Baldrick Posted: August 26, 2014 at 03:17 PM (#4779460)
I'm not going to say this idea is awesome and must be implemented. But some of the snark is pretty weak here.
I've done some research and found that the only way to guarantee a pitcher will start his appearance with the bases empty is by being a starter. It's roughly 100 out of 100. You're welcome. Or the manager could just be determined not to bring a guy in if runners are on. That will work too. And really that can be done in any inning, as another of my research projects has turned up: Every inning starts with the bases empty.

Timmy's problem really revolves around him not being able to keep the bases empty. I'm not sure that will be fixed by thrusting him into the highest leverage innings.

I also did some research. There are two pitcher roles that overwhelming begin with a guy starting the inning: starter and closer. Maybe it's a stupid practice, but it's a real thing. You could tell your manager to only use him to start innings, but that would require changing the bullpen management in a way that making him the closer wouldn't. Perhaps that's a small thing but it's not totally made up.

Hey now, pitching the eighth is totally, totally different than pitching the ninth of course, but pitching the first is actually quite similar. Because...er...

I sort of agree here. But I can see a difference that's at least worth considering. Starting the game and closing the game are two roles where you feel like it's all up to you. The starter feels like he owns the game, and if the team loses it will be his fault. The closer feels the same way--his job is to secure a win. Middle relievers don't have that same sense because, quite obviously, they're dropped into things in the middle. You may come in ahead (but won't be asked to close out the game), tied, or behind. And while your role is important, it's never decisive. You're not The Man in the same way that a starter or closer is.

Now, I don't think all that much of psychological explanations of closer success. So I'm not saying this is a strong reason to prefer moving starters to closers over MRs. I'm just saying that IF you believe that there's some unique psychological requirement for closing, a starter seems more likely to have already cultivated it.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: August 26, 2014 at 03:43 PM (#4779474)
Starting the game and closing the game are two roles where you feel like it's all up to you. The starter feels like he owns the game, and if the team loses it will be his fault. The closer feels the same way--his job is to secure a win. Middle relievers don't have that same sense because, quite obviously, they're dropped into things in the middle. You may come in ahead (but won't be asked to close out the game), tied, or behind. And while your role is important, it's never decisive. You're not The Man in the same way that a starter or closer is.


It amazes me how much "sports analysis" consists of pure speculation about the inner workings of the minds of people they've never met passed off as fact. (Yes, I know you're not saying you yourself particularly believe this theory, but it's of a piece with a lot of the guesswork that a lot of people DO throw out as fact.)
   12. JRVJ Posted: August 26, 2014 at 04:06 PM (#4779491)
Not really proposing this, but in April 2008,, the Yankees "started" Brian Bruney for 2 innings due to an impending massive thunderstorm which was expected to hit KC.

Once the storm was over, Ian Kennnedy would "come in in relief".

I'm surprised that a similar strategy is not tried once in a while by teams (it'd be somewhat crazy to do something like that with Lincecum, but innings are innings - hopefully somebody will someday try to get 2 innings at the start of each regularrly scheduled game out of a sunk-cost, expensive starter who can actually be effective in the short term).
   13. DL from MN Posted: August 26, 2014 at 04:16 PM (#4779498)
This might make sense except Lincecum has been awful in the first inning of ballgames this year - 1000 OPS against and 8.31 ERA. I'd love to see Lincecum become the new Dennis Eckersley but I'm not counting on it.
   14. Dan Posted: August 26, 2014 at 04:46 PM (#4779528)
I'm surprised that a similar strategy is not tried once in a while by teams


It would be a particularly effective strategy against teams that platoon at several positions, like the Rays or the Athletics. You could "start" a lefty reliever, pitch him for 1-3 innings, and then go to a right-handed starting pitcher and force the opposing manager to either burn his entire bench or face many platoon disadvantages.
   15. Ron J2 Posted: August 26, 2014 at 04:58 PM (#4779535)
#14 Bill James discusses the strategy in the Historical Abstract. Basically he concludes that it's an effective strategic option and that there's a tacit agreement not to do it.
   16. JRVJ Posted: August 26, 2014 at 05:10 PM (#4779544)
14/15 - I'm surprised it's not done when there's a good chance of rain.... (I remember watching that game and thinking: "Boy, what a smart decision by Joe Torre!").
   17. theboyqueen Posted: August 26, 2014 at 05:20 PM (#4779550)
It would be a particularly effective strategy against teams that platoon at several positions, like the Rays or the Athletics. You could "start" a lefty reliever, pitch him for 1-3 innings, and then go to a right-handed starting pitcher and force the opposing manager to either burn his entire bench or face many platoon disadvantages.


I think those are exactly the sorts of teams this wouldn't work well against, since they have a built-in solution to the problem (platoon players who are of starting quality and can play multiple positions). I am actually not sure what sort of team this would work against, since other sorts of teams tend to have a bench of pinch hitter types who presumably would not be started to exploit a platoon advantage.
   18. The District Attorney Posted: August 26, 2014 at 06:34 PM (#4779591)
I think those are exactly the sorts of teams this wouldn't work well against, since they have a built-in solution to the problem (platoon players who are of starting quality and can play multiple positions).
The real problem for the platooning team, though, is what happens after the first reliever. Yeah, you might have Righty available to replace Lefty. But do you really want to bring Righty in and lose Lefty for the game in the 3rd inning, knowing that there are more relievers yet to come? If your players truly are strict platoon players who can't hit one side, there is no good answer to this conundrum, IMO.

James also writes about how the Royals did this to the Blue Jays in the 1985 LCS, in a game where they started a righty, followed by a lefty (I forget the names -- Royals fans will obviously remember since this was a huge game), followed by the righty Quisenberry (who, since this was 1985, pitched more than one inning).

I am actually not sure what sort of team this would work against, since other sorts of teams tend to have a bench of pinch hitter types who presumably would not be started to exploit a platoon advantage.
Hitters? On the bench? Check the calendar, man!
   19. shoewizard Posted: August 27, 2014 at 08:59 AM (#4779811)
I think you are talking about game 7. Saberhagen started, went 3' then they brought in the lefty leibrandt who went 5.1

Quis only got the last two outs

The blue jays countered by inserting righties Garth Iorg and cliff johnson in place of lefties rance mulliniks and al oliver. Both went hitless against leibrandt.

box

Edit: also, sabs and leibrandt got knocked around pretty good earlier in the series
   20. Bad Doctor Posted: August 27, 2014 at 09:25 AM (#4779824)
James has also brought up the "Ted Power game," which was Game 6 of the 1990 NLCS. Ted Power got the start out of nowhere, with Zane Smith coming on for long relief.

Looking at the line-ups, I don't see the Reds being too susceptible to being "whipsawed" (unless they saw it coming). Paul O'Neill was the only starter who was pinch-hit for as a result.
   21. ReggieThomasLives Posted: August 27, 2014 at 01:18 PM (#4780022)
This might make sense except Lincecum has been awful in the first inning of ballgames this year - 1000 OPS against and 8.31 ERA. I'd love to see Lincecum become the new Dennis Eckersley but I'm not counting on it.


His career OPS against in the first inning is .685. Should we use a tiny sample size of 26 innings to make this decision?

Lincecum may be done, or not. But if you think he's still got something left, pitching in the 9th isn't like starting for one ver big reason. Closers know they aren't coming back the next inning, so they have no need to pace themselves and their average velocity should be significantly higher.
   22. SouthSideRyan Posted: August 27, 2014 at 02:09 PM (#4780075)
His career OPS against in the first inning is .685. Should we use a tiny sample size of 26 innings to make this decision?


Compared to a career OPS against of .671 in all innings.
   23. Ginger Nut Posted: August 27, 2014 at 02:10 PM (#4780076)
The Giants don't have a settled closer situation at this time, so not much reason not to try it. I don't think Casilla has been doing it long enough to get to feel outraged that he was replaced as closer if they decide to give Timmy a chance there. Especially since they have been playing horrible baseball and will probably be knocked out of the wildcard pretty soon, so they might as well start seeing what they have for next year.

All things being equal, you would think that a pitcher would be more valuable as a long reliever (more innings pitched), but since one theory about Lincecum's decline is that his loss of fastball velocity has made all his pitched easier to hit, why not try him as a short reliever (8th inning, 9th inning, whatever) who can crank it on every pitch, rather than a long relief middle inning guy who is still going to have to pace himself much like a starter.
   24. Ron J2 Posted: August 27, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4780109)
#22 I think you should expect the first inning to be worse than a random inning. Lineups are structured to optimize the first inning -- often at the expense of other innings. Teams have generally scored an above average number of runs in the first, but a below average number of runs (per inning) in the first and second innings combined.
   25. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: August 27, 2014 at 02:53 PM (#4780128)

#22 I think you should expect the first inning to be worse than a random inning. Lineups are structured to optimize the first inning -- often at the expense of other innings. Teams have generally scored an above average number of runs in the first, but a below average number of runs (per inning) in the first and second innings combined.


Also to be expected, as pitching staffs have been (unwittingly, to an extent) structured to limit the numbers of runs scored in the early innings (the best pitchers being starters, pitchers being more effective early in their stints).

   26. The District Attorney Posted: August 27, 2014 at 03:16 PM (#4780152)
Revisiting James's essay, it looks like Saberhagen went 3 IP in Game 7 because he got hurt (it would, of course, have been pretty wild to use the Cy Young winner in this way). In Game 6, righty Mark Gubicza was replaced by lefty Bud Black, who was then replaced by Quisenberry. Gubicza did, hoewver, go 5.1 innings; he was removed with men on 1st and 2nd, and lefty Al Oliver up.

Obviously, there are different degrees of this. Here, Howser happened to have five good starting pitchers (and thus guys who could relieve in very long stints); said rotation happened to be an even mix of 3 lefties/2 righties; removing Saberhagen wasn't even voluntary; and although Gubicza probably seemed like a "quick hook" by 1985 standards, it doesn't look like anything you'd be surprised to see in a playoff game this year.¹ What Howser did wasn't nearly as extreme or "strategy-driven" as Ted Power. And that in turn isn't as extreme as what you sometimes see in Strat-O-Matic leagues where the "starter" is removed after the first batter.

Anyway, I do figure that it isn't done more not because it wouldn't actually work, but because of external factors like pitchers wanting to get wins, the "unwritten rules", etc. James has also talked about the danger that, when you run through a bunch of relievers, you'll "find the guy who doesn't have it that day." I think that, when you look at whether early-game performance predicts late-game performance, that logic doesn't really hold up.

¹ In fact, it reminds me of Tony La Russa's super-quick-hooky management in the 2011 postseason, particularly against the Brewers.
   27. SouthSideRyan Posted: August 27, 2014 at 03:23 PM (#4780160)
#22 I think you should expect the first inning to be worse than a random inning. Lineups are structured to optimize the first inning -- often at the expense of other innings. Teams have generally scored an above average number of runs in the first, but a below average number of runs (per inning) in the first and second innings combined.


I'd think that'd be covered in the ~.017 difference in OPS from 1st vs. all other innings. You've also got later innings where fatigue would be a factor hindering the "all other innings" numbers. My basic point was saying he has a .685 OPS against in the 1st paints a better picture than it actually was.
   28. Ziggy Posted: August 27, 2014 at 06:14 PM (#4780318)
One thing you could do, on those days when you need a 5th/6th starter (and so need someone who isn't part of your regular rotation) is have a righty and a lefty warm up in the bullpen, and only pick your starter once the other team's lineup has been announced. (I don't know if this would work if you're the home team, but as a visitor it would.)
   29. ReggieThomasLives Posted: August 27, 2014 at 07:27 PM (#4780364)
I'd think that'd be covered in the ~.017 difference in OPS from 1st vs. all other innings. You've also got later innings where fatigue would be a factor hindering the "all other innings" numbers. My basic point was saying he has a .685 OPS against in the 1st paints a better picture than it actually was.


NL Starters OPS against this year is .708. In the first inning, it's .730. Looking at other years that's a typical spread, and looking at other innings the first is almost always higher than 2nd or 3rd innings.

Clearly greater than average hitting ability of the top of the order significantly outweighs the advantage of the starter being fresh.

Compared to a career OPS against of .671 in all innings.


Before this season, Timmays career 1st inning OPS against was nearly identical to his career OPS against. He's a guy who historically had no problems in the first inning, was actually better than should be expected.

So the question again is, what does 26 innings tell us? Did Timmay have a magical first inning power that not only was lost, but in fact reversed? Or historically had he been lucky in the first i(BABIP, matchups, etc) until becoming horrendously unlucky thus year?

Using 26 innings as evidence he can't close is akin to saying a pitcher has a batters number because their 20 ABs went the pitchers way. In both cases it may be true. But the evidence and sample size given is insufficient alone to make either conclusion. It's just lousy Sabermetrics to make conclusions based on tiny samples. Terrible pitchers have been world beaters for 26 straight innings, just as all time great pitchers have been sub-replacement level for longer periods in the prime of their careers.

If there was any supporting evidence I'd give it mite more credence as a theory. Like the Giants pitching coach saying Tim as he's aged has trouble loosening up as quickly and locating his pitches the first inning. But maybe not that, as based on thus season that coach is probably scratching his head trying to match a theory, any theory, to the evidence to explain it. "I don't know" isn't an answer that keeps coaches employed.
   30. bobm Posted: August 27, 2014 at 09:08 PM (#4780442)
His career OPS against in the first inning is .685. Should we use a tiny sample size of 246 innings to make this decision?

FTFY

   31. bobm Posted: August 27, 2014 at 09:18 PM (#4780452)
Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2014, (requiring SV>=100), sorted by greatest Games Started

                                           
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
1             John Smoltz 481 154  723  125
2        Dennis Eckersley 361 390 1071  116
3                Ron Reed 236 103  751  108
4              Tom Gordon 203 158  890  113
5               Ron Kline 203 108  736  102
6             Dave Giusti 133 145  668   95
7            Ellis Kinder 122 102  484  125
8          LaTroy Hawkins  98 122  990  106
9           Braden Looper  97 103  670  103
10              Jose Mesa  95 321 1022  100
11             Stu Miller  93 154  704  115
12          Rick Aguilera  89 318  732  118
13          Dave Righetti  89 252  718  114
14            Bob Stanley  85 132  637  118
15           Jeff Russell  79 186  589  112
16         Lindy McDaniel  74 172  987  110
17         Al Worthington  69 110  602  110
18          Mike Williams  55 144  468   97
19     Jason Isringhausen  52 300  724  115
20           Hoyt Wilhelm  52 227 1070  147
21             Eric Gagne  48 187  402  119
22        Steve Bedrosian  46 184  732  115
23         Craig Lefferts  45 101  696  109
24            John Hiller  43 125  545  134
25          Johnny Murphy  40 107  415  117
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
26          Terry Forster  39 127  614  116
27             Tug McGraw  39 180  824  117
28           Jose Jimenez  38 110  329  100
29           Rich Gossage  37 310 1002  126
30         Rollie Fingers  37 341  944  120
31             Jim Brewer  35 132  584  111
32          Octavio Dotel  34 109  758  119
33          Ted Abernathy  34 148  681  107
34           Danny Graves  30 182  518  109
35             Joe Nathan  29 369  765  150
36            Bob Wickman  28 267  835  126
37             Steve Farr  28 132  509  127
38           Clay Carroll  28 143  731  121
39               Roy Face  27 193  848  109
40             Danys Baez  26 114  533  104
41         Eddie Guardado  25 187  908  109
42           Bill Caudill  24 106  445  110
43          Mike Marshall  24 188  724  118
44          Ugueth Urbina  21 237  583  128
45             Jay Howell  21 155  568  114
46              Jeff Shaw  19 203  633  119
47          Jeff Brantley  18 172  615  115
48         John Wetteland  17 330  618  148
49           Dave LaRoche  15 126  647  106
50             Dan Plesac  14 158 1064  117
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
51          Carlos Marmol  13 117  519  121
52            Randy Myers  12 347  728  123
53          Joel Hanrahan  11 100  362  106
54       Willie Hernandez  11 147  744  119
55         Mariano Rivera  10 652 1115  205
56            Gene Garber   9 218  931  117
57          Bill Campbell   9 126  700  111
58             John Wyatt   9 103  435  109
59            Kevin Gregg   8 177  583  104
60         Rafael Soriano   8 204  574  150
61           Keith Foulke   8 191  619  140
62         Darold Knowles   8 143  765  113
63        Michael Jackson   7 142 1005  126
64            Greg Minton   7 150  710  118
65           Mike Fetters   6 100  620  116
66              Lee Smith   6 478 1022  132
67            Mike Timlin   4 141 1058  125
68           Jesse Orosco   4 144 1252  126
69               Robb Nen   4 314  643  139
70             Doug Jones   4 303  846  129
71      Jonathan Papelbon   3 319  583  187
72      Roberto Hernandez   3 326 1010  131
73         Mitch Williams   3 192  619  111
74           Gary Lavelle   3 136  745  126
75          Tom Burgmeier   3 102  745  119
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
76         Roger McDowell   2 159  723  115
77             Duane Ward   2 121  462  124
78              Tim Burke   2 102  498  136
79         Tippy Martinez   2 115  546  112
80            Frank Linzy   2 111  516  124
81            Don McMahon   2 153  874  120
82            Jim Johnson   1 124  402  121
83             Brad Lidge   1 225  603  122
84          Troy Percival   1 358  703  146
85           Joe Borowski   1 131  423  104
86             Todd Jones   1 319  982  111
87        Jeff Montgomery   1 304  700  135
88             Dave Smith   1 216  609  130
89          Fred Gladding   1 109  450  114
90         Ron Perranoski   1 179  737  124
91            John Axford   0 116  335  118
92             Heath Bell   0 168  590  112
93       Jonathan Broxton   0 118  529  138
94        Aroldis Chapman   0 104  247  161
95           Greg Holland   0 107  249  180
96          Craig Kimbrel   0 177  283  265
97            Chris Perez   0 133  386  111
98              J.J. Putz   0 189  572  138
99        Fernando Rodney   0 210  619  117
100   Francisco Rodriguez   0 343  790  156
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
101          Joakim Soria   0 177  365  165
102         Huston Street   0 268  563  149
103         Jose Valverde   0 288  626  134
104          Brian Wilson   0 172  382  122
105            Matt Capps   0 138  444  120
106     Francisco Cordero   0 329  800  135
107         Brian Fuentes   0 204  650  128
108           Bobby Jenks   0 173  348  131
109          Chad Cordero   0 128  314  149
110        Trevor Hoffman   0 601 1035  141
111          Billy Wagner   0 422  853  187
112             B.J. Ryan   0 117  560  133
113       Armando Benitez   0 289  762  140
114     Antonio Alfonseca   0 129  592  104
115       Ricky Bottalico   0 116  562  110
116           John Franco   0 424 1119  138
117              Rod Beck   0 286  704  124
118            Billy Koch   0 163  379  120
119       Kazuhiro Sasaki   0 129  228  138
120          Mark Wohlers   0 119  533  108
121           Gregg Olson   0 217  622  123
122          Billy Taylor   0 100  317  110
123             Mel Rojas   0 126  525  107
124          Todd Worrell   0 256  617  122
125         Mike Henneman   0 193  561  131
Rk                 Player  GS  SV    G ERA+
126          Bryan Harvey   0 177  322  162
127             Tom Henke   0 311  642  157
128          Jeff Reardon   0 367  880  122
129         Bobby Thigpen   0 201  448  119
130       Dan Quisenberry   0 244  674  146
131          Kent Tekulve   0 184 1050  132
132             Ron Davis   0 130  481  101
133          Bruce Sutter   0 300  661  136
134           Sparky Lyle   0 238  899  128
135         Wayne Granger   0 108  451  114
136             Jack Aker   0 123  495  106
137           Dick Radatz   0 122  381  123


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/27/2014.
   32. Jose Canusee Posted: August 27, 2014 at 10:16 PM (#4780507)
Giants once tried convincing failing starter Kelly Downs that he had the makeup and stuff to be a closer. Fail.

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