The buzzing fridge of the Torontos’ pen

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. We were talking baseball stats and the subject of pitches thrown came up. “Why does nobody keep track of pitches per inning?” he asked. “The better pitchers must work faster and end up throwing less pitches than the goofs like Josh Towers.”

It makes sense, right? Watching a guy huff and puff his way through a 140-pitch complete game can be inspiring, but isn’t the 80-pitch version a lot more impressive? Along the same lines, I love the idea of the 3-pitch inning and the 9-pitch striking out the side.

Anyway, I thought he made a good point, so I did some math and then plugged the pitches per inning of all Blue Jays pitchers from last season and this season into a spreadsheet. Figuring there might be some sort of correlation, I added their xFIP values in as well. (I only plugged in the values earned as a member of the Blue Jays. Doc’s 2010 stats being the exception. Also, all stats came before last night’s ridiculous slugfest that forced the Torontos to make changes to their pen.)

What did I find? It looks like there is a correlation between pitches per inning and FIP, but I don’t have the software and am not interested enough to calculate z-scores and whatnot by hand to find out how strong it is. Just know that throwing fewer pitches per inning is generally a good indicator of a good pitcher.

Which brings me to the part of this whole exercise that surprised me a bit: The dude named Shawn Camp.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t hold down one of the glamour spots in the bullpen and he’s not really a candidate to steal a starting job… well, actually I think that’s it. Camp tends to be used in relatively low-leverage situations, i.e. the time of the game when I get another drink or go out to run an errand or just generally glaze over for a little while. It’s not that I’ve never seen him pitch, I think it’s just that I’ve never really paid attention to him.

You know how you stop hearing the buzz of the fridge after a while? Shawn Camp my buzzing fridge of the Blue Jays.

But no more. I’m going to make a concerted effort to pay attention when he gets into games now. At a time when the (beloved, but now dethroned) Sausage King is averaging 23.4 pitches per inning, Camp is clocking in with a team leading 13.7. What does that mean? Well, this SABR guy seems to think the key to “endurance and effectiveness in any given game” is to throw 14 or fewer pitches per inning.

Yeah, I know. Looking at this year’s stats so far is a pretty good way to incite cries of “sample size!” so how about this: Last season, Camp was second on the team in terms of pitches per inning with a rate of 14.6. That was second only to Doc, who put up a 14.2 number.

Would you have guessed that it only took Camp 0.4 pitches more than Halladay to get out of any given inning?

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Sausage King of the ‘pen

So I’m in the middle of writing a post about Toronto’s three candidates for closer when I decide to take a gander at Twitter. I was greeted by the above tweet. If you’re the type of person who believes a team’s best reliever should be the team’s closer, then you might have to say that Cito is doing something right here. The explanation (or what I had written before I saw this tweet) follows:

A few days ago I slapped together a post about why I don’t think it’s so bad if Kevin Gregg becomes Toronto’s closer. I wrote it in such a way that assumed all 4 of my readers can read my mind. A commenter (Cole!) called me out and I briefly tried to explain myself in the comments. In the process of calling me out, Cole did raise another good question that made me stop and think:

Are Scott Downs and Jason Frasor actually better pitchers than Gregg?

Seems like everyone (myself included) is just assuming that Gregg’s the pits. I don’t feel like assuming things right now, so let’s take a look at some stats.

Career numbers:

ERA IP K/BB WHIP FIP
Frasor 3.78 355 2.13 1.28 3.8
Downs 3.92 509.1 2.05 1.4 4.23
Gregg 4.10 476.1 2.26 1.32 4.00

Over their careers, the three seem to be fairly even, although I’d put Frasor ahead slightly based on his WHIP and his FIP. But what a pitcher did years ago doesn’t really factor into how he’s pitching now, so let’s take a look at last year’s numbers.

2009:

ERA IP K/BB WHIP FIP
Frasor 2.50 57.2 3.5 1.02 2.99
Downs 3.09 46.2 3.31 1.26 3.33
Gregg 4.72 68.2 2.37 1.31 4.93

Frasor’s clearly got the best numbers of the three and Gregg’s clearly got the worst. Add in the fact the Frasor and Downs pitched in the A.L. East and Gregg got eaten up in the N.L. Central and the difference in the numbers seems even worse.

Based on the above, I’d say Frasor’s definitely the best of the three. But since the fireman/closer debate figured so prominently in the debate, let’s take a look at how they fared in high leverage situations.

Before I get to this, let me say that I’m no sabermetrician, so if I’m making a mistake with the stats here or using them in an inappropriate way, don’t be surprised. Basically what I’ve done is look at each pitchers’ WPA and how high the leverage of the situation was when they entered games*. I chose game leverage because to me, a fireman/closer/whatever should be entering at high leverage situations. If he does his job properly, the leverage should go down after that (right?).

Anyway, I took those stats and then I did some division.

Career:

WPA gmLI WPA/gmLI
Frasor 5.77 1.19 4.849
Downs 1.28 1.27 1.009
Gregg 0 .09 0

Last year:

WPA gmLI WPA/gmLI
Frasor 2.62 1.43 1.832
Downs -0.31 1.55 -0.2
Gregg -1.07 1.45 -0.3

And there you have it. Assuming I’ve handled the numbers correctly, Frasor is by far the best pitcher of the three when thrust into high leverage situations.

I don’t necessarily think that should make him the closer, but that’s just my take on Richmond’s Dilemma. Which I’ll explain later, if you haven’t read the comments on the previous post already.

*I based this on gmLI, which is, according to Tom Tango, “the Leverage Index when the reliever enters the game. Its use is mostly to show a manager perspective, as it indicates the level of fire that the manager wanted his reliever to face.”

Justice for J.P.

jp-ricciardi

The Toronto media, when it comes to the Maple Leafs, is notorious for planning parade routes after a win, screaming that the sky is falling after a loss, and doing its best to run superstars out of town (see Sundin, Mats).

To a lesser extent, the same is true of its coverage of your Toronto Blue Jays. The worst seems to always be expected of this team, regardless of how they’re playing and how the team is actually being run.

Mike Wilner, of course, is a notable exception. He provides balanced, realistic coverage of the team day in and day out. His thanks? Dealing with callers during his phone-in post game show who are all apparently brainwashed by the prevailing opinion of the local media.

One of the main themes, led by a certain former Montreal Expos P.R. flack, is that J.P. Ricciardi should be fired.

The media (and JaysTalk callers) say things like, “Ricciardi can’t sign the big free agents.”

“He’s a loose cannon. Just listen to what he said about Adam Dunn!”

“He doesn’t even live in Toronto!”

“He’s supposed to be good at drafting players, but he passed over Troy Tulowitzki!”

I’m no J.P. apologist, but some of the arguments levied against the man are just a bit ridiculous.

So now, with the Jays off to a great start and sitting in first place in the entirity of Major League Baseball, it’s good to see that a media figure (other than Wilner) has actually stepped up to give J.P. some credit, even if it is indirect.

Let’s run down some of the people that are doing great things in the first month of a new season.

First, Aaron Hill. He does things at second base that will remind you of Roberto Alomar, meaning his glove work can occasionally take your breath away.

He also leads the major league in hits and is one of several reasons the Toronto Blue Jays are in first place in the American League East. Teammates Ricky Romero and Jason Frasor are on that list, too.

The Blue Jays were only going to go as far as their young pitchers took them, and so far, Romero and Frasor are a combined 5-0, but Romero was placed on the 15-day disabled list this week.

All three players mentioned were brought in by J.P. — Frasor by trade, Hill and Romero through the draft. And yes, Romero is the guy J.P. drafted ahead of Tulowitzki.

But wait, there’s more!

The Blue Jays are a model organization in some ways. That is, they’re forced to build through player development because they don’t have the resources to spring for the big-ticket free agents.

When teams do it this way, even when their scouts are making good decisions, there can be frustration among fans because fans want everything done yesterday.

Once the talent pipeline starts flowing, teams like the Blue Jays — and the Marlins — have a chance to remain in contention for a long time. Nice going, Blue Jays.

Developing their own players, impatient fans, being set up really well for the future, this article pretty much nails the whole situation. (Although a certain “interim” president might disagree that the team is lacking resources.)

J.P.'s white knight.

J.P.'s white knight.

So who is this writer who has come to J.P.’s defence? His name, appropriately enough, is Richard Justice. And he’s based in Houston.

You didn’t think he’d be a Toronto writer, did you?