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Saturday, November 11, 2017

How the Astros learned to apply their trove of pitching data |

Some interesting stuff from Tom Verducci.

Jim Furtado Posted: November 11, 2017 at 07:11 AM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros

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   1. The_Ex Posted: November 11, 2017 at 07:57 AM (#5574452)
Definitely worth a read.
   2. SoSH U at work Posted: November 11, 2017 at 08:24 AM (#5574454)
I assume "throw Bellinger and Seager breaking stuff down and in" was part of the application process.
   3. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 11, 2017 at 03:25 PM (#5574532)
Four times in the postseason Hinch let a reliever finish a game by getting 11 outs or more—the first time in any postseason a team had so many lengthy game-finishing outings.

Well, the Astros did play 18 postseason games, out of 19 that were theoretically possible. It's really hard to get 4 long game-ending relief outings when you're only playing 7 games, as opposed to 18. I have little doubt that had there been multiple postseason series before 1969 that this would not have been unique.

The Astros had two in the WS (Peacock in Game 2, Morton in Game 7). There have been several other teams that have had two, the most recent of which was in 1961, when the Yankees got four innings out of Jim Coates in Game 4 and then 6 2/3 from Bud Daley in Game 5. Jesse Barnes, for the Giants in 1921, had two relief outings that went 7 and 8 1/3 innings. Joe Page also had two in 1947, of 4 and 5 innings.

I'm not saying they were "common" - they weren't. But they weren't all that rare, either. We notice them now because as team expanded their bullpens in the 1980s and 1990s long relief outings in the postseason virtually disappeared (as they have in the regular season, other than in extra innings); there were none in the World Series from 1986 until Madison Bumgarner's epic outing in 2014, and the two that the Astros put up in 2017 were the first in the WS since 2014.

-- MWE
   4. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2017 at 04:35 PM (#5574546)
The Astros didn't really use "relievers" for 11+ outs, they used starting pitchers. They did this in part because their relievers were imploding. If Giles hadn't been such a mess, he probably pitches the 9th of almost all of those games. (Is it really a big deal that a "reliever" pitches 3-4 innings then yields to a closer? Those would not qualify for this measure since they weren't "game finishing.")

The Astros' approach is one we've discussed around here plenty and while it can't really work in the regular season (you'll tire everybody out), it can work in the postseason. It's not a surprise to any saber nerd that starting pitchers are simply better pitchers than relievers, with the exception of Rivera, Wagner, Kimbrel and a few others ... who probably still aren't as good as the top 30-60 starters. The reliever advantage is only having to work one inning.

So using a first starter to get through 18-22 batters then a second starter to get through another 15+ should work just fine as long as the starters are properly rested and the 2nd guy is given ample time to get ready. This will likely work as well or better than using a parade of relievers for those 15+ batters when that means you're going to be using your 4th and 5th best relievers to get through some of those.

The postseason strategy we've seen over the last few years of the starter going no more than 5 followed by a string of relievers is nuts. Sometimes you may have no choice (2016 Indians whose rotation was a mess at that point). The idea that having a Wade Davis or Ken Giles or even Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman throw 2-3 innings is better than having one of your starters do it is also nuts. If you're trying to avoid 3rd time through effects in the postseason, you need to use starters in relief (or hope your offense blows out the other guys often enough that it doesn't matter).

Consider this my paean to Rich Hill. :-)
   5. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2017 at 04:41 PM (#5574548)
By the way, it's a little odd that the team with the 127 OPS+, league-leading run total that led the league in SLG while striking out the least ... and with the 96 ERA+ ... is being singled out for its pitching acumen. They even gave up 74 runs in 18 postseason games, not exactly awesome (although they had some outstanding outings mixed in with some pretty crappy ones). Doesn't mean we can't learn stuff from them as that might represent pretty good performance given the talent, it's just not an obvious choice.
   6. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 11, 2017 at 04:52 PM (#5574553)
Is it really a big deal that a "reliever" pitches 3-4 innings then yields to a closer?

In this day and age, yes. Even in the postseason those outings have been relatively rare (not significantly more frequent than outings where the pitcher actually finishes the game).

-- MWE
   7. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2017 at 05:55 PM (#5574560)
The article itself ...

It starts with the claim that fastballs down aren't a good idea and cites the Astros, Yankees, Angels, Indians and Rays in this revolution. (Interesting that they are all AL teams. These teams had ERA+ respectively of 96, 121, 101, 138, 104. Seeing as how the Indians had a 118 last year too, I'd be talking to them.

McHugh: this increasingly mythical story is still out there. McHugh had been touted as a solid ML starter prospect for many years (I've posted on that before), he had just seemed to have topped out at AAAA. I assume they did like the spin rate on his curve, I assume they did make him a better pitcher by moving him away from the fastball. But it's strange that emphasizing data and micro-components that Verducci resorts to his W-L record to prove the miracle. OK, it's Verducci, not surprising at all. They've gotten good work out of him with a 106 ERA+, FIP and ERA roughly match, but it's not revolutionary.

McCullers: He notes all the curveballs. Interesting but note that he's managed just 199 innings over the last 2 years and had a 93 ERA+ this year. I've liked him since seeing his debut start a few years ago but the health issues are mounting. FWIW, McHugh was hurt this year too. Pitchers get hurt all of the time so who knows if these injuries have anything to do with throwing tons of curveballs but that is what the old school wisdom would predict.

Morton and Peacock: I'll grant I never expected it out of Morton but it's still just a 109 ERA+ in just 147 innings. Let's see him do it again. Peacock is a McHugh-Morton mix -- a reasonably well-regarded prospect for a long time, he's finally had an excellent 132 innings.

I'm sounding more negative than I mean to. They've done a good job in identifying guys who might be under-valued. But it's mostly luck that they hit at the right time ... or at least let's wait for them to do it again before we call it more than luck. And they may have done a good job in tactical pitcher usage against the Dodgers ... but they still gave up 34 runs in 7 games (or 22 in 6 plus one crazy game for both sides).

The problem is that Verducci is falling into the standard trap that one hot series from some surprise players has to have been the result of brilliant management or the emergence of a star.

And although the claim is defeating the Dodgers' sinker-oriented power swings, they still gave up 10 HR in 7 games. One place they had a lot of success was holding them to a 240 BABIP. Was that low BABIP due to the Dodgers hitting high fastballs for flyouts? Probably not ... for the series, they had 55 GO (counting DPs as a single out) and 65 FO (counting lineout DPs as a single out). That gap is entirely due to the two Verlander starts with 9 GO to 24 FO. Maybe they had Verlander throw more 4-seam fastballs. Maybe they took away a couple of hits by inducing more FBs but the difference between a 240 BABIP and a 300 would have been about 9 hits. (The AStros BABIP was even worse at 234 but more HRs and fewer Ks.)

Again, the Astros' gave up 34 runs in 7 games to a team from the supposedly inferior league that was 6th in the NL in runs scored and had a 103 ERA+. The Dodgers' staff, much more famous and costly, gave up 34 runs in 7 games to a team that posted a 128 OPS+ and led its league in scoring. In the regular season the Dodgers averaged 4.75 R/G, they did slightly better in this series. The Astros scored 5.53 per game in the season and were held to the same as the Dodgers. The creation of the Astros' staff may have required more creativity and certainly less money but the Dodgers had the more impressive pitching performance in this series.

The series probably came down to that crazy game 5 which easily could have been won by the Dodgers.

May I now point out for the first time ever how annoying it is that there are no fielding stats provided for the playoff summaries at b-r.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2017 at 06:21 PM (#5574563)
#6 ... maybe you misunderstood me. This isn't rare. Lester threw 3.2 innings in g4 of the NLDS this year and 3 innings in g7 of the WS last year. Bumgarner had his 5-inning save in 2014. Kershaw threw 4 innings of relief in g7 of the WS this year. Scherzer flopped but came on in the 5th in G5 of the NLDS and picked up a win in 2 relief innings in G4 of the 2013 ALDS. Although Maeda was used as a short reliever this postseason, he was a starter and did pitch 2.2 innings in G3 of the WS. Using a starting pitcher for long relief in a game late in a series is rather common practice. It's obviously uncommon mid-series but Peacock and Maeda were in the pen for this series.

He doesn't necessarily finish the game, it doesn't necessarily result in a win and sometimes (like Scherzer) it flops so he never gets to pitch the 2nd or 3rd inning of relief and of course often the series is a blowout so there's no point ... but postseason teams attempt this all the time. And it's talked about all the time -- "all hands on deck", "X can give us 2-3 innings of relief if we need it," "it's Z's scheduled throw day so he should be available," etc.

There was nothing particularly unusual about the Astros using McCullers in G7 ALCS and Morton in G7 WS. It was unusual that the game wasn't turned over to the 8th and 9th inning relievers but presumably that's because they were pitching horribly.

   9. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 13, 2017 at 12:54 PM (#5575104)
Walt/#8 - did not realize you were only discussing postseason.

I did some Play Index searches. The modern relief era begins around 1990, and the postseason expanded to include a Division Series in 1995. If we look at 1995-2009, there were 76 games in that period in which a reliever pitched three or more innings in a game that did not go into extra innings - so just about 5 per postseason, or about one per series. Since 2010 there have been 39, again about 5 per postseason. However, there were 27 from 2010-2016 - and 12 in 2017:

2010 - 4
2011 - 4
2012 - 3
2013 - 3
2014 - 6 (SF - 4)
2015 - 5
2016 - 2
2017 - 12 (HOU - 5)

If I look at only the games in which the reliever with the long outing was on the winning team, I get this:

2010 - 1
2011 - 1
2012 - 3
2013 - 1
2014 - 4 (SF - 3)
2015 - 1
2016 - 0
2017 - 5 (HOU - 3)

It is possible that we're paying attention to it now because the two teams that used it most heavily won the World Series.

-- MWE
   10. Khrushin it bro Posted: November 13, 2017 at 02:28 PM (#5575232)
The problem is that Verducci is falling into the standard trap that one hot series from some surprise players has to have been the result of brilliant management or the emergence of a star.

Especially since it went 7 games. If the Dodgers got a better performance out of Darvish this article could have been written about the other team.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: November 13, 2017 at 02:40 PM (#5575245)
The modern relief era begins around 1990, and the postseason expanded to include a Division Series in 1995. If we look at 1995-2009, there were 76 games in that period in which a reliever pitched three or more innings in a game that did not go into extra innings - so just about 5 per postseason, or about one per series. Since 2010 there have been 39, again about 5 per postseason. However, there were 27 from 2010-2016 - and 12 in 2017:

Is there any change in the types of pitchers being used in that time frame in these long outings? It seems what we saw this year was an increase in the use of starting pitchers throwing multiple innings in relief (either aces in-between starts or back of the rotation guys on closer to full or extended rest).

   12. Tim M Posted: November 15, 2017 at 09:24 PM (#5576942)
McCullers "famously closed out the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs" .. really? That wasn't famous to me, it sounds unbelievable. At some point batters are gonna be guessing .. curveball.

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