Friday, June 22, 2007

Igawa's Back

Well, it looked good for a few innings. Igawa's never going to be a great Major League pitcher, but he can bring some value to the team if he pitches the way he did for at least part of today's game. It's in the best interest of the Yankees to avoid pitching the former Hanshin against patient lineups, limiting him as much as possible to the bottom team in the league, but he can be serviceable. I enjoy reading PeteAbe's LoHud Yankees blog, but I find myself increasingly in disagreement with him on several points. His comments today on Igawa rubbed me the wrong way, actually.

"You simply can’t walk Ray Durham twice with Barry Bonds on deck. How can an experienced pitcher do that? This is not a kid, this is a guy who was an All-Star in Japan. It doesn’t speak well to the quality of the hitters in Japan—or the Yankees’ scouting in Japan."

As for point number one about Ray Durham. 100% in agreement. With regard to the comment that Igawa was an All Star in Japan, check out our man's BB/9 over the last 4 seasons he played in Japan:

2006 2.11
2005 3.13
2004 2.43
2003 2.53

For the Yankees this season, Igawa has posted a 4.33 BB/9, which is about 2 batters per 9 more than he walked with Hanshin. I think you see Matsuzaka going through the same thing in Boston right now. It's not a surprise that Japanese hitters aren't up to MLB snuff as a group. Is anyone surprised by that? It seems like a kind of a pot shot to me that is a little unwarranted given the success of virtually every Japanese position player to move to the Majors. We know Matsui doesn't hit the same number of home runs. The league average pitcher is better in the Majors than the league average pitcher in Japan. Likewise, the league average hitter in Japan is worse than the league average hitter in the Majors. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The fact of the matter is, you can't easily account for Igawa's up and down season. Here's a dirty little secret that will toss PeteAbe's jab at Japanese hitters out the window.

Against Baltimore, Tampa, and Seattle

13.1 IP
25 hits
7 walks
22 ER
7 Ks
14.85 ERA
1.650 WHIP
1.00 K/BB
4.725 K/9

Against Oakland, Cleveland, and Boston

17.1 IP
10 hits
7 walks
4 ER
14 Ks
2.08 ERA
0.981 WHIP
2.00 K/BB
7.269 K/9

The first three teams are basically league average at best, and piss poor at worst. The second group of three include the best team in baseball, the second best run producing offense in the sport, and an A's club in the top third of the AL in OBP. It's a simple matter of inconsistency. The performance against SF was sort of a tweener with respect to these two groups. It's tough to knock Japanese hitters or the Yankees Japanese scouts on Igawa when three of the best clubs in the sport couldn't hit him. Hanshin fans knew that he was inconsistent and it frustrated the shit out of them for 3+ years. Many Tigers' supporters breathed a sigh of relief when he was posted, not because he was awful but because he was tough to cheer for as a fan. When he took the mound you could either find yourself elated or ready to kill after 5 or 6 innings.

The other thing PeteAbe has been doing a lot is referring to those people who disagree with him about Josh Phelps as "statheads". First, that's an insult to statheads everywhere. If you properly use statistics, you can make a very convincing argument for why Josh Phelps is a more valuable player at 1st base than Mientkiewicz, Cairo, or even Andy Phillips. All you have to do is compare the number of runs that he will give up due to poor defense and the number of runs his bat will create with the appropriate playing time. It's probably not a pretty picture, but it would at least get you close to the truth. The "statheads" that PeteAbe is referring to are generally folks who have discovered RATE statistics, range factor, and the like, which many more informed "statheads" will tell you are not a very good measure of first base defense. Every position's defensive responsibility is different. There is a wonderful "Defensive Spectrum" devised by Bill James to help us understand which positions are most challenging with respect to their defensive assignments. First base is only a step closer to the center than DH. Basically, a first baseman has to scoop balls in the dirt, bounce between the bag and the gap to keep runners honest while fielding their position, field a few bunts, and maybe make a throw every once in a while. If you have a gold glove first baseman, wonderful. Kudos. Congrats. If not, it's not that big a deal.

The qualifications for being a good defender, or a league average defender, at first are not measurable by RATE or range factor the way the others are measurable. I should throw catcher in there as well. Mientkiewicz is a better defender than his RATE statistics, so Pete has a point. He scoops and throws and fields the position cleanly. He plays behind runners and makes diving stabs. Cairo also makes a few plays in the field that Phelps probably can't. At the plate it's obvious. Minky creates 3.38 runs/27 outs. Phelps created 3.80 per 27 outs. Cairo is at 2.55 run per 27. At worst the argument between Phelps and Mientkiewicz is even given the defensive situation. The argument that Pete and his minions at LoHud Yankees blog are engaged in is the wrong argument to begin with. The choice that is being given is a false one. It's not either/or, it's to platoon or not to platoon. Phelps didn't get enough at bats as a straight platoon, and that's the fatal flaw of Torre's philosophy.

Anyway, I'm a fan of the LoHud blog and I'll keep reading, but I think it's worth noting that some things are just best left unsaid. By calling out people on the other side of your argument as "statheads" you place yourself in the same category as Murray Chass or Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan. The whole clogging up the bases thing comes to mind. Statistics are our friends as long as we use them responsibly....meaning correctly.


Jim said...

Mike, I don't have any stats to back it up, but I'll still take Cairo over Phelps. He brings a sparkplug effect to the team that Phelps -- adequate player that he may be -- just doesn't match.

番薯 eltonic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana said...

Great post, Mike. I read both your blog and the LoHud blog and thought this was a great discussion about some of the things Pete has said. I think that because of the informal nature of blogging, Pete feels like he can just dismiss "statheads" without really thinking about what that means - an irresponsible move.

Keep up the great work!

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