The Baseball Savant

where sabermetrics & betting collide with our national pasttime

Is the Baseball Prospectus Annual Becoming Worthless?

I don’t know how things are over at the actual website, and maybe things there are a lot more conducive to baseball analysis that would give you an edge whether it being in your fantasy leagues, betting habits, or simply what to watch for during a game or season, but the people writing the annual are essentially mailing it in. I was going over some player comments for my upcoming fantasy draft and read the following about Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez:

Many a lazy analysis begins and ends with BABIP! BABIP BABIP check out this guy’s BABIP! But Hernandez’s season is the sort of year for which DIPS was discovered. Despite only a minor bump in line drives allowed a 46-point BABIP spike ruined his ERA. Every other performance measure including his FIP held steady with his Cy Young-winning 2010 season. Hitters got more aggressive early in the count against Hernandez and did most of their damage on the first pitch. Opponents’ OPS on Hernandez’s first pitch was 400 points higher than it had been in 2010. But after the first pitch hitters hit just .216/.287/.284 against him; in 2010 after the first pitch they hit .215/.283/.319. This is either a useful bit of information that Hernandez can use to adjust – and he already has, throwing more off-speed pitches to start at bats – or the sort of misleading small sample that makes baseball analysis maddening. BABIP!

What really did we learn here? If I rip on this I can already see the counterargument that although BABIP could be a lazy analytical tool, it isn’t so in this particular case. Everything about King Felix’s season last year actually revolves around his BABIP because essentially everything from 2010 to 2011 that a pitcher could control was exactly the same. What’s more interesting to me about Hernandez is something I noted last year over at FanGraphs and their Pitchfx data. FanGraphs assigns value to a particular pitch and it’s interesting to know that in 2009 & 2010 Hernandez’s most valuable pitch was his fastball. However, he saw a pretty big decline in the usage thereof in favor of his changeup. The values of those two pitches in 2011 reversed as Hernandez’s value for his fastball turned negative while his changeup essentially became his best pitch.

When you look at the heat maps you can’t really tell any difference with what Hernandez is doing with the pitches other than he’s gotten a lot more confidence in his changeup, and given how young Felix is, it’s certainly possibly that hitters are either getting better at hitting his fastball or he’s becoming even better at using his prodigious weapons to keep opposing hitters off their toes. To me this is an even better analysis because it strikes to the heart of Hernandez’s evolution into a top flight pitcher. We already know he’s one of the game’s, if not the best starters. Why this is true and will continue to be true, barring injury, is a much more useful tool to analyze the King moving forward rather than using BABIP as a scapegoat for lazy analysis and then actually use it to prove a point. The problem for me is that I don’t know what exactly we are supposed to take from this analysis.

Even the first pitch tidbit is a bit lazy. Sure on first pitches Hernandez allowed a triple slash line of 366/371/496, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Hernandez is one of the very elite so a first pitch line like that will only result in a massive decrease in all other pitches or else we wouldn’t be talking about one of the game’s best. However, Hernandez gave up a 397/387/521 line on 1-0 counts. He gave up a 367/367/700 line on 2-0 counts. Even on 0-1 counts Hernandez gave up a line of 368/389/517! Hernandez isn’t great after his first or even his second pitch. It’s when he works past his first couple of pitches.

I don’t know who did the write up for the Mariners this season and I haven’t looked at any player comments for the Mariners yet beyond the one for Felix Hernandez, but it was terribly disappointing and very below the standard Baseball Prospectus has set in previous years.

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March 17, 2012 - Posted by | Baseball Prospectus, Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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