Quick Update: You may have seen this post sometime last week but I had to take it down after some of my numbers didn’t jive. I’d like to thank McCovey Chronicles for helping me correct some of the finer points of the data and getting it back online.
We are going to look at Giants pitching this morning by comparing RA/9 and tRA. RA/9 is Runs Allowed scaled to 9 innings, it’s like ERA but it includes every run allowed — earned and unearned. tRA is a newer pitching metric but I think it’s very interesting. tRA weights the series of events that can happen when a pitcher throws the ball (K, BB, HBP, LD, FB, GB, HR) and scales it to R/9. Thus, giving you an idea of the expected number of runs a pitcher would give up by the frequency of the series of events that can happen — listed above — when a pitcher throws the ball. It’s defense neutral and park neutral. Much of what happens when a ball is in play is out of the pitchers control. tRA supplies every pitcher with a theoretical neutral defense, removing very-good and very-bad defenses that can play behind a pitcher from the equation. Park effects can also greatly affect a pitcher — ask anyone who pitched in Coors Field pre-humidor — and tRA adjusts for a park neutral environment as well.
If you’re familiar with FIP — Fielding Independent Pitching — just think of tRA as a more nuanced version of FIP. FIP only takes into account 4 outcomes that can happen — HR, BB, HBP, K — while tRA considers several more. tRA scores are free to browse on StatCorner.com
So, because tRA looks at the core of what’s happening when a pitcher pitches — and removes the park and defense from the equation — it will give us an idea of how well a pitcher pitched. How well his line “should have” looked. This is useful to us because as the Giants continue to transition into next year, we can examine those who are useful parts to the team and those who might have been pitching over their head and be due for a correction — all things staying the same — next year.
Let’s check out the plot and data table. You’ll notice that the graph has two sections. One for those who “Underperformed” — or those who had tRA’s lower than their actual RA/9 — and those who “Overperformed” — or those had tRA’s higher than their actual RA/9 . The closer to the line, the better the match between RA/9 and tRA. The data table has each individual player’s RA/9 and tRA listed. In addition, I’ve also included the Difference (Difference = (RA/9-tRA) -.04) between each measure. The (-.04) is the adjustment between the league averages of RA/9 and tRA in the National League in 2008.
RA/9 vs. tRA
Click to enlarge
A quick note about the graph. tRA and RA/9 data is from the role that the pitcher pitched the most in. For example: Kevin Correia’s tRA of 5.93 — and his corresponding RA/9 — are only from his time as a starter. It does not include the 7.2 innings he pitched as a reliever. I’m only looking at pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in either a starter or reliever role. As a result, I tossed out the relief appearance from Linecum. Brad Hennessey had 30+ overall innings pitched, but not more than 30+ in either a starting or reliving role, thus he didn’t make the list. Just remember, the RA/9 and tRA’s are from the role in which the pitcher accumulated the most innings.
- You’ll notice that Matt Cain ended up in the overperforming section of the graph. This indicates that his tRA was higher than his actual RA/9. Cain had a difference of about a half-run between his RA/9 and tRA. Cain’s RA/9 was a hair under 4.0 and his tRA was 4.45. I wouldn’t let this freak you out for a couple of reasons. The league average tRA for National League starters in 2008 was 4.77. So, Matt Cain is still a good bit above average for starting pitchers in the National League. It might not be the sub-4.0 RA/9 that many hope, but he’s still giving the Giants value. tRA probably doesn’t like the fact that Matt Cain is an extreme flyball pitcher. He was 8th in the majors last year among all starters in FB%. Another reason that his tRA is higher than his RA/9 is that Matt Cain gave up the most line drives ever in a season last year. His LD% of 21 was the first time his LD% broke the 20% barrier. Line drives can fluctuate quite a bit from year-to-year, so you shouldn’t take Cain’s higher LD% as a developing trend.
- tRA thinks Tim Lincecum’s CYA season was for real. He landed right on the line between RA/9 and tRA. As far as controllable pitching events go, Lincecum controlled the most important one — strikeouts. He led both leagues in K% with a score of 28.71. Nearly one third of plate appearances against Lincecum resulted in a strikeout. If you can’t hit the ball in play, you’re not going to do much damage. Also, while no one is going to confuse Lincecum with Brandon Webb, he had a league average groundball rate.
- Zito’s season wasn’t a result of bad luck or great luck as he performed pretty closely to his tRA. He finished within 0.25 runs of his tRA. He did slightly underperform his tRA but he’s still a 5+ R/9 pitcher if you go by tRA. What’s killing Zito is that he walked a ton of hitters last year. The league average starter had a BB% of 8 last year. Zito’s BB% was 12.47. Only three pitchers — Tom Gorzelanny, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Fausto Carmona — had higher BB%’s. Carmona had injury problems in 2008 and many speculated that Gorzelanny was pitching hurt. Dice-K’s season was maybe one of the weirder pitching seasons in recent memory. Zito was never going to be confused with control artists like Jamie Moyer or Tom Glavine, but a 12+ BB% is ridiculous. Zito’s K% is also below average at 14.67. League average K% for starters is around 16. Most signs point to Zito being unable to throw strikes and when he does, he’s unable to strike hitters out. These are important controllable events for a pitcher and if Zito continues to slip, the Giants are going to be pulling their hair out if they aren’t doing so already.
- Among our starters, Jonathan Sanchez had the biggest differential between his RA/9 and his tRA. Sanchez underperformed his tRA by almost 1 full run. I really like Sanchez as a potential breakout candidate next year because tRA thinks he pitched closer to 4.20 R/9 than 5.00 R/9. If Sanchez’s true talent level is somewhere around 4.20, then he’s going to be provide a very nice value to the Giants. A 4.20 ERA starter in the National League that pitches 180 innings is worth about +2.5 wins over replacement. That’s nearly a value of $12.5M for the Giants. Sanchez struggled in the 2nd half last year but you can’t deny that he misses a lot of bats when he’s pitching. By K%, Sanchez was 12th in all of baseball with a score of 22.59. Sanchez is between Dan Haren and Javier Vazquez by K%. His BB% is higher than league average — 10.79 last season — but if he can remain a 22+ K% he’ll still be of value. If Sanchez can improve on his control some, he could take the next step forward and have a breakout season. This is why I’d much rather hang on to Sanchez and hope he hit’s his upside — and that $12.5M value — than trade him while his value is lowered — or perceived to be low — for one dimensional player-types like Jorge Cantu. Don’t be fooled by Sanchez’s ERA last season, he pitched much better than it would indicate.
- The bullpen has a couple of bright spots. Wilson’s RA/9 of 4.67 was 55 points higher than his tRA, indicating that for the outcomes he was producing he was a little unlucky. Wilson has an above average K% for a reliever but his BB% is higher than league average for relievers. He showed some groundball tendencies which will help him keep the ball in the park. Much like Sanchez, if Wilson can take a step forward with his control he will improve. tRA loved Sergio Romo. He had a differential of slightly more than 1 run between his RA/9 and his tRA. His K% was above average at 25.39 and his BB% was also above average at 6.15. Romo is flyball reliever but his HR/BIA — Home Runs per Ball in Air — wasn’t low or high, it was right around average. Marcel projects Romo as a 3.84 reliever next year and the Giants would be thrilled to get that performance from him. Replacing Tyler Walker with Sergio Romo could be a big upgrade for the Giants. Taschner’s tRA surprised me some. I’d rather they didn’t tender him a contract, I can take him or leave him.
- Kevin Correia was poor in the starting role last year. His tRA is pretty much spot on with what he actually did. He’ll probably be pitching out of the Oakland bullpen if he makes the team. I like Correia much more in the reliever role. Chulk wasn’t any good last year and it might be awhile before resurfaces in a major league bullpen again.
- If I had to name one reliever from last year’s team to be due for a significant correction, it’s Alex Hinshaw. Hinshaw overperformed his tRA by 1.8 runs. That’s a huge difference between the two and the single largest difference for any pitcher on our list. Hinshaw’s problem is that his control is awful. His BB% of 16.20 is nearly 7 points higher than league average BB% for relievers. He’s got great raw “stuf” — his average fastball was clocked at 92.4mph last season — but little idea of where it’s going. At times watching Hinshaw pitch last season it looked like he was just throwing as hard as he could. If he can improve his control, he might make it but I can’t think of many relievers who walk as many hitters as he did last year.
- Billy Sadler and Keichii Yabu are also relievers who drastically overperformed their RA/9′s. Sadler is basically the right-handed version of Alex Hinshaw. He’s got good stuff, but his control is poor. His difference of 1.71 runs between his tRA and RA/9 was 2nd to Hinshaw. Yabu was a great story last season but he also pitched over his head to a degree. The difference between his tRA and RA/9 was 0.75 runs. At this point, I believe that the Giants are making Yabu win his bullpen spot in the Spring. That’s not a bad idea. He’ll be 40-years-old next season. He was a great story.
- Pat Misch “underperformed’ his tRA by a whopping 0.89 runs but he was still pretty bad. I’m not sure how much you can draw from Misch’s 34 innings as a starter last season. He was incredibly unlucky with the HR — 11.59 HR/BIA when the average for starters is 6.5 — which just killed his numbers. I still like Misch as a 5th starter/bullpen reliever and that’s probably his absolute upside right now. He’ll be 27-years-old next season.
The bullpen has a few suspects — Hinshaw, Salder, and Yabu — but Wilson pitched better than his RA/9 would indicate. Romo was fantastic in his time with the Giants. Because Romo only pitched 34 innings at the MLB level last year I’ll temper some of my expectations, but I think he could be one of the stronger members of a revamped bullpen. I’m not too worried about Cain’s tRA in 2008, he posted very good tRA’s from 2006-2007 and I’m hoping 2008 was blip instead of a trend. Most projection systems that I’ve seen have projected Cain very favorably for next season. Lincecum will be the keystone of the rotation. If Zito can get his ERA under 4.50, I would be thrilled. I’m not sure it’s going to happen just yet, but we’ll see. How sad it is that in just two years into the Zito deal, we would all be ecstatic to see a sub-4.50 ERA season? And for goodness sake, hang on to Sanchez.