What Happened to Carlos Marmol?

After last November’s botched Carlos Marmol-Dan Haren trade, I thought the Cubs had blown their only opportunity to trade the wild-throwing closer. Then, last week, I read that the Cubs had informed Marmol’s agent to expect a trade. I couldn’t believe how much he had declined since the 2010 season in which he boasted a WHIP of 1.18 and a strikeout percentage of 41.6. After looking at the numbers, I could see a trend in the past three seasons.

Marmol

Marmol is not getting the swinging strikes he used to get earlier in his career.  More specifically, he isn’t getting first-pitch strikes (F-Strike%) and swinging strikes at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%).  Looking at his 2012 F-Strike% of 47.8, Marmol is pitching behind in the count to more than half of the batters he faced, unlike in 2010 where he was ahead of nearly two-thirds of the batters he faced. A declining O-Swing% tells me that his slider is not as effective as it was in 2010, when batters were swinging at more than a quarter of his pitches that were outside of the strike zone.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, if this amateur can look at some numbers and graphs and determine this trend, a well-paid team sabermetrician can definitely see this. In the end, the Cubs will never get the value for Marmol that he once had, as recently as 2010. But, I will never forget the amount of movement Marmol’s slider had in 2010, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

How Do Strikeouts Affect Team Wins?

A few weeks back, on the Baseball Tonight podcast, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark were discussing whether or not strikeouts affect wins. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Jayson Stark, but that’s not significant. The Atlanta Braves were the team that brought the subject of strikeouts and wins into the discussion as they are expected to be toward the top of the league in strikeouts, but also looking to be a contender in the postseason.

After listening to the podcast, I began to wonder, “What affects team wins more, batter strikeouts or pitcher strikeouts?” As always, I looked to FanGraphs for my data. The first thing that I noticed was that the Washington Nationals led the majors in wins and batter strikeouts last year, but this could be an outlier. So I exported the data to Excel and ran a linear regression for batter strikeouts and pitcher strikeouts. Here is what I found for last year.

First, I looked at the data to see how strikeouts by batters affected team wins, since this was the question being posed by Olney and Stark.  I found a coefficient of determination, or , which was R² = 0.00655 . What this tells me is that 0.0655% of team wins are explained by batter strikeouts, which is a very weak correlation. I would conclude there is no statistical relationship between batter strikeouts and team wins. Again, this was only for last season. If I were to use more data, it is possible for the value of  to increase, but I wouldn’t imagine significantly enough to make me any more confident using batter strikeouts to predict team wins.

Second, I used the same procedure for pitcher strikeouts and this time found R² = 0.31738, or that 31.738% of team wins can be explained by pitcher strikeouts. In my opinion, this is a pretty significant relationship. It should be no surprise why a pitcher like Justin Verlander, who led the league in strikeouts, is so valuable to his team. According to this data, about 32% of the Tiger’s wins can be explained by the strikeouts he and other pitchers on their staff are getting.

In the end, the answer to my question is that the strikeouts that pitchers get of batters affect team wins much more than the strikeouts that a batter gets. Overall, one should always be careful with any data obtained using a regression. Always keep in mind that correlation is not the same as causation. But, it is fun to look at how two statistics are related and why teams do what they do when building rosters.

2013 Preview – Starting Rotation

As I did the projections for the Cubs starting rotation, I realized I had a lot of questions and uncertainty about performance. Will Jeff Samardzija continue the progress he made last year? Will Matt Garza or Scott Baker stay healthy enough to be of value to the Cubs either in their rotation or the trade market? What will the rotation look like by the end of the year? I tried researching as much as I could before I came to any conclusions. Here are my projections:

  IP W L H ER K/9 BB/9 ERA K BB WHIP
Samardzija 180 13 9 162 76 9.30 2.89 3.60 186 58 1.22
Garza 120 9 9 105 52 8.37 2.79 3.92 112 37 1.18
Jackson 190 12 12 174 84 7.99 2.76 4.00 169 58 1.22
Baker 90 6 9 85 32 8.25 2.15 3.15 82 21 1.18
Feldman 110 5 10 124 63 7.01 2.34 5.11 86 29 1.39
Wood 140 6 12 119 66 6.87 3.12 4.27 107 48 1.20

First, Jeff Samardzija pitched better in the second half of the season last year than he did in the first. He had a lower WHIP, lower BB/9, and higher K/9. Since the Cubs were looking hideous by that point in the season last year, I had completely missed this. I’m hoping this was more Samardzija progressing and less the warmer temperatures during that part of the season. I’m projecting him to continue to progress and solidify his spot as a front-end starter.

When I began thinking about this post, I figured Matt Garza was a total wild card. I had no idea what the Cubs would get out of him this year coming back from his elbow injury. Then, Garza strained his lat muscle and will start the season on the disabled list. This is a big disappointment for the Cubs, as Garza was likely to be traded sometime this season. Although I still believe that will happen, his value has definitely been diminished.

Unlike Matt Garza, Scott Baker was already expected to start the season slowly after not pitching at all since 2011.  He had problems with his flexor tendon and then eventually needed Tommy John surgery with the Twins. I believe he’ll start the season on the DL and Scott Feldman will pitch about 110 innings. If all goes well, Baker will pitch well also and yield the Cubs some more prospects in a midseason trade.

The projection for Edwin Jackson was easy for me because he is such a consistent pitcher. In the past five years, he’s pitched between 183-209 innings, and his WHIP has been between 1.22 and 1.51.  I see him being the most reliable starter for the Cubs this year with little change from his normal statistics.

Overall, Cub fans must remember that Samardzija may be the only pitcher in the Cubs rotation when they are contenders. Two or three of the starters could possibly be on another team by the end of the year.  It’s possible one of the young pitchers will seize an opportunity to surprise everyone as a starter and be this year’s Samardzija. But, don’t hold your breath.

2013 Preview – Right Field

The time has come to wrap up my previews for position players and, unfortunately for me, I saved the most boring preview for last.  My questions for left field will be, “Will Nate Schierholtz do enough to force me to learn the correct spelling of his last name?” and “Will Scott Hairston do enough to make me forget his older brother Jerry and his replacement level offense and defense?” My projections for these two players are:

  Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
Hairston 100 281 39 74 15 43 0.263 0.298 14 62
Schierholtz 100 211 18 54 5 18 0.257 0.322 20 40

Preparing for this, I looked over every offensive statistic I could, trying to bring something positive out of the numbers. After all of my analysis, my conclusion is: Scott Hairston is going to hit a few home runs for the Cubs this year, strike out often, and walk very little. Nate Schierholtz will do about the same as Hairston, minus the homeruns.

Last season, neither of these guys had very good range in the outfield. Schierholtz earned a -4.5 UZR/150, while Hairston earned himself a -4.9 UZR/150. However, Schierholtz does have a much stronger arm than Hairston. Overall, this Cub fan will cringe each time the ball is hit to right field this season, hoping that base runners didn’t advance unnecessarily because the fielder couldn’t get to the ball.

In the end, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz will do something for the Cubs and their fans this year that no statistic can measure. They will be the ugly girls in the outfield that make Jorge Soler and Albert Almora look like prom queens as rookies.

2013 Preview – Center Field

With the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old little leaguer, David DeJesus will do what David DeJesus always does in center field for the Cubs this year. He will get on base better than any Cub, play center and right, and smile the whole time in spite of the Cubs’ record. Here is my projection for DeJesus this year:

  Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
2012 148 506 76 133 9 50 0.263 0.35 61 89
2013 140 479 72 126 9 47 0.263 0.342 58 84

I know, offensively a carbon copy of last year, which isn’t a terrible thing. With the Cubs abundance of outfielders, I’m seeing him play a few less games this year. He’ll still bat leadoff every game he is in and do a great job of drawing walks. According to FanGraphs, DeJesus had the eleventh best BB% among outfielders with a 10.4% but a lower K% than the ten guys above him.  These two put together tell me he has some of the best plate discipline in the game.

Defensively, Dejesus leaves something to be desired. He finished 2012 ranked forty-fifth in UZR/150 among all outfielders with a -5.6.  This past December, he turned 33, which, sadly, tells this soon-to-be 32 year-old that he probably doesn’t have the same jump on the ball or range, but will be the Cubs’ best option at center.

2013 Preview – Left Field

I could go to McDonald’s, order a cheeseburger, and wait for it to turn into a rib eye steak. The same goes for Alfonso Soriano waiting for the Cubs to be a contender. It is not going to happen during his time in Chicago, no matter how long he waits.  Because of this, I see Soriano waiving his no-trade clause, going to New York, and Brett Jackson getting significant playing time.

If I had my way, the Yankees would be working something out as I write this to bring Alfonso Soriano to New York. The Cubs have really tried moving Soriano and he really likes Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. In my opinion, a thirty-seven year old baseball player would jump at an opportunity to play for one more championship.

I’m going to go way out on a limb on this one and assume that Soriano is gone before the beginning of the season. I’m going even further out on that limb and saying that Brett Jackson and his new swing get a majority of the playing time in left with Scott Hairston and Dave Sappelt getting the remainder. ZiPS is projecting that Brett Jackson is going to play in 147 games this year. That sounds like a lot to me, but if Jackson can produce, why not play him there?

This projection is my least confident one of the year. I’m going to assume that, with his revamped swing, Jackson’s production increases 25% and his strikeouts decrease 15%.

  Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
Jackson 115 314 46 69 13 30 0.220 0.379 73 131

The future of the Cubs outfield lies in Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Matt Szczur. It would be nice to see Brett Jackson to make a case for a spot in the outfield as well. For that to happen, this new swing needs to be a great fix for Jackson’s strikeout rate. Since the Cubs’ season won’t be filled with lots of team wins, consistency from Brett Jackson could be considered the biggest win of the year.

2013 Preview – Third Base

As I was preparing my preview for third base this year, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Had you asked me three years ago who the Cubs third baseman would be in 2013, I would have said Josh Vitters without hesitation. In 2009, I saw Vitters play for the Peoria Chiefs and he seemed to be physically worth the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. Today however, I feel that Vitters is the next guy in a long line of “what-could-have-been” Cubs prospects. In light of this, I’m thinking Cub fans will see a majority of Ian Stewart with a mix of Luis Valbuena and Josh Vitters.

First, I am projecting Ian Stewart to play 90 games this year. Stewart’s wrist injury from last year will also trigger a weaker swing, causing the balls that used to be hits to become groundouts and easy line drives. I ran a linear projection for Stewart, but decreased his runs, hits, homeruns, RBIs, and average by 5% due to his wrist.

Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
Stewart 90 293 26 59 8 28 0.201 0.285 34 75

Next, there is Luis Valbuena who I feel is going to play in 50 games. Due to the infield prospects making their way to the big leagues, don’t be shocked if he is traded some time during this season. After watching him last year, I ran a linear projection for him, assuming he would perform at the same level.

Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
Valbuena 50 147 14 32 2 16 0.219 0.312 20 31

Then, there is the aforementioned Vitters. His production has to go up from last year, so here are the numbers I am projecting. I didn’t use a linear projection for Vitters, I’m just guessing here.

Games AB R H HR RBI AVE OBP BB K
Vitters 40 110 32 52 8 24 0.282 0.301 32 15

The Cubs can’t carry three third basemen on the team, so someone will have to go.  Luis Valbuena is out of options, so it can’t be him. Today, February 22, the Cubs announced that Ian Stewart strained his quad running the bases. If this injury lingers throughout Spring training, the Cubs may let Stewart and his $2 million walk. In the end, the best thing for the Cubs would be if Josh Vitters finally lives up to the third overall pick in the 2007 draft.