Thursday, August 03, 2006

OBP and Pitch Counts

So people have been whining like little crybabies about how Bobby Abreu's power has disappeared. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! I, for one, never saw Abreu as a slugger. His power wasn't among the attributes that attracted me to his game. Sure, 25 home runs is a wonderful thing. Run production that is generated from one swing is the most efficient kind of production there is in baseball. It's not everything though.

I've been listening to Chris Russo's interviews with various baseball people via the WFAN website the last few days. He's been leading his interviewees with the statement, "Abreu seems to be missing some intangible in his game." Then he proceeds to ask them, "Don't you think so too?" I wouldn't call that so much an interview as a pleading, desperate need to have someone agree with you. If he really wanted to get the true feeling of his interview subject he'd ask, "What are the perceived weaknesses in Bobby Abreu's game?" If "intangibles" was among the list of things perceived to be lacking in his performance, the follow up questions might be, "Is he a trouble maker in the clubhouse? Does he demand special treatment? Does he dog it on the field? Does he frequently experience lapses in concentration?"

The problem is, there are no "intangible"-related issues with Bobby Abreu. Just as intangibles are used to boost Derek Jeter's value in the eyes of those who can't rely on statistics to tell the story, intangibles are used by those looking to poke holes in a guy where the statistics aren't enough to condemn him. I actually do believe in intangible qualities. I think some guys have a nose for the game, and an effect on their ballclub that transcends on field performance. Let me qualify that by saying that intangibles NEVER make up for failures in on-field performance when evaluating the impact of a player on winning ballgames. They rarely impact losing either. The late 70's version of the "Bronx Zoo", among other prominent champions, show us that a bunch of selfish jackasses and a poisonous clubhouse are no more than an uncomfortable work environment when the performance on the field is good.

Chris Russo hates the Yankees, as do a lot of other people, and never fails to bait his on air guests into making anti-Yankee pronouncements even if it was never their intention to do so. He's especially bad when Mike Francesa is out of town. Such is sports talk radio....

The reason I chose this topic for today's post is that we can already see significant tangible and intangible effects on the quality of the Yankees' play since the arrival of Bobby Abreu. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that he's the magic pill that has saved our season. That would be giving him too much credit over a meager 3 game sample. Let's consider this:

Prior to today's win over Toronto, the Yankees were the 2nd best team in all of baseball in On Base Percentage at .359, while the Red Sox are in first at .363. Adding Abreu's .412 lifetime OBP and subtracting the combination of Guiel(.320), Crosby (.255), and the 2006 version of Bernie Williams (.327) we have done something extremely difficult for other teams to overcome. We get more guys on base, increasing our chances of scoring runs, and prolong innings. We also prolong innings and wear out pitchers by showing a good eye and seeing a lot of pitches.

In this piece, written by Al Bethke in 2003, we see the effect on OPS of seeing a lot of pitches per PA. Among the best guys by position at that time were Jorge Posada at catcher, and Bobby Abreu in RF. Likewise this piece from Baseball Prospectus in 2002 shows us clearly how On Base Percentage is positively affected by longer at bats. Currently, the only player in the Majors that sees as many pitches per plate appearance as Bobby Abreu(4.45) is Kevin Youkilis(4.45). Jason Giambi is 4th at 4.35, and Johnny Damon is 34th at 4.01 pitcher per PA.

This statistic is not the be-all, end-all to wins and losses. Nor is it the the mark of a good hitter in all cases. My point is not to draw a straight line between batting success and seeing a lot of pitches, but rather on the overall "intangible" effect that this phenomenon has on a team. I put "intangible" in quotes because it's something beyond the normal realm of "tangibles" like RBIs and HRs, that people like Russo seem to be fixated on.

Tying this discussion into today's game will help me make my point and bring things into focus a bit. We had the opportunity today to see Abreu and Giambi in the lineup together, with Damon hitting before them. All 3 of these guys are expert at their positions in wearing out pitchers. The Blue Jays threw 180 pitches in 9 innings today for a whopping 20 pitches per inning! Blue Jay pitchers faced 40 Yankee batters, averaging 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. If you'll remember, that mark leads the list of individual batters in the Majors on the year and the Yankees did it as a TEAM against the Jays. Marcum alone averaged 4.7 pitches per batter in his 2.2 innings pitched. Brian Taller threw 6.3 per batter in 1.1 innings of work. Remember, this was in 97 degree weather. The heat was so bad they were handing out free water at the Stadium.

To contrast the Jays ineptitude against the patient Yankee hitters, Cory Lidle was magnificent in tossing 6 innings of 1 run ball. He faced 25 batters and threw 80 pitches for an average of 3.2 per PA. Scott Proctor labored at 7 pitches per PA by throwing 28 to 4 guys. Ouch. Probably see him for 3 innings tomorrow too.

So, to answer Chris Russo's valuable insight about Bobby Abreu, he is not missing an intangible. He's bringing something to the team that will help them to get into the bullpens of opposing teams before the paint is dry on the national anthem (whatever that means) and we all know what a lineup of stars can do to a bullpen in this league. So much for the Mad Dog's Big Book on Winning Baseball.

The Yanks took over 1st all by their lonesome today as the wonderful Red Sox pitching failed them again, and no magical, walk-off, ESPN highlight reel, Papi-tastic, Beantown Bonanza, Cowboy Up, Bunch of Idiots goodness was to be found. Javy Lopez is set to replace Jason Varitek as the resident sub-par Red Stockings backstop, but should help the lineup by replacing Varitek's awful .243/.331/.411 line with a stellar .265/.314/.423 line of his own. Nice going Sox.

Speaking of pitch counts, this from Japanese Baseball Daily:

"After going all the way in a 15 inning scoreless tie Monday, Sendai Ikuei High ace Yoshinori Sato went the distance in a 6-2 victory over Tohoku High Tuesday. He threw 374 pitches over the course of the two days. He was clocked at 88mph."

See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!


RollingWave said...

Carrying on the disscusion on Lee here.

Your right Mike that if the price tag isn't high Lee makes a ton of financial sense (good gamble for the money + sure raise in Korean fan base)

But next year if we do sign Lee We'll end up with 6 Lefty in the line up (unless Lee switch hits.. which unless i remembered wrong he doesn't) we'll have Damon/Abreu/Giambi /Matui /Lee /
Cano ... while it isn't exactly a killer seeing that Abreu and Matsui are both more than capable of dealing with lefties. it's somewhat worrisome. (then again seeing how we've destroyed lefty this year...)

Mike, Siebu will get money posing Matsuzaka sure, but it will also surely mean they lose big time in attendence and fan base next year wouldn't it?

Mike Plugh said...

I'm also worried about how lefty heavy they are to be honest. I can't say that I think the Yankees will go after Lee actually.

It would be fun to see, but actually I'm more interested in seeing the Yanks hang onto Craig Wilson. He's growing on me and he'll come much cheaper.

As for Seibu...they have almost no choice but to post Matsuzaka this year. The company is in serious financial straits and they will almost certainly lose him to free agency after the 2007 season anyway. If they post him they kill two birds with one stone. They get upwards of $20-25 million dollars for simply allowing an MLB team to negotiate with him, and walk away with some much needed cash flow. The alternative is to lose him for nothing. Not really a choice in my book.

They still have a great 20 year old pitcher by the name of Wakui, and can use some of their financial windfall to sign another young pitcher. You can't replace Daisuke, but you can remain competitive. They have been Pacific League champions a dozen times or so since the late 80's.

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