Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pick Those Nits

Boswell writes (!!!) about the Nats today, using the signing of Paul Lo Duca to produce his latest hagiography. It's fine, and at least has an interesting perspective from Tom Glavine. (But as many in town can tell you, anecdote does not make good public policy.)

This is going to sound like just a nitpick, but it's something that stuck out of me, more in a huh? kinda way, so I wanted to check it out a bit. When discussing what he claims are overblown defensive differences between Schneider and Lo Duca he brings up this stat:
In the last two seasons, both men threw out 49 runners, but opponents had 156 steals against Lo Duca to 111 against Schneider. So the Nats will probably allow about 22 more steals this year.

That's easy to check.

Schneider 07, 53-24 SB-CS
Schneider 06, 58-25 SB-CS
Total: 111-49

Lo Duca 07, 72-22
Lo Duca 06, 84-27
Total: 156-49

So he's right. It's just an average of 20 more steals a year... 20 extra bases, perhaps (at the very most, likely much less) another 10 runs over the course of a season... in other words, not a ton.

But I got thinking about it a little more. The catcher isn't the only deterrent to the running game. The pitcher plays a significant role, too. (Remember how runners used to run at will on John Patterson?) How are the Mets pitchers? Do they give more or less opportunity than the Nats' pitchers?

Well, I can't really answer that one. I ain't smart enough or facile enough with the ol' computers. (Frank Robinson taught me everything I know). But I do see Tom Glavine at the front of the Nats' list, and my impression is that he's been very tough to run on in his career. So a quick look at the numbers...

Glavine, 06: 6-9 SB/CS
Glavine, 07: 5-8 SB/CS

So Glavine completely shut down the running game, even with Lo Duca behind the plate. Does Lo Duca deserve credit for that? Perhaps. Likely not, though. If you replace the 400 IP he had over those two years with someone who didn't hold runners as well, how many more SB would Lo Duca have allowed? Another 10? 20?

Here's a list of all Mets pitchers over the last 2 years with their SB/CS totals. Glavine was excellent and Trachsel was decent at holding runners. Everyone else pretty much stunk. So is it their lack of ability at holding runners or the lack of ability to the catcher? When the team "average" is so terrible, I'd lean towards the latter.

For comparison's sake, here's the Nats list. You can see it's very top heavy with pitchers who couldn't hold runners -- O'Connor, Patterson, Livan and Rauch. O'Connor never paid attention. Patterson and Rauch have high leg kicks / big motions. And Livan just didn't care. It's safe to say that they're as weak at holding runners as Glavine is strong.

But if you look at every other pitcher on that list, you notice very few attempts. And you notice lots of eight-for-sixes... numbers along those lines. The "average" Nats pitcher did a lot better than the Mets' "average" pitcher.

The roundabout point that I'm unskillfully making (and really just throwing out there because I don't know if it's entirely true... just one of those hunches) is that Lo Duca's SB numbers are held down by the skill of one of his key SP getting 400 IP over the last two years and that Brian Schneider's SB numbers look worse than they are because he had over 400 IP from pitchers who don't really care about holding runners.

In other words, had Lo Duca been on this team, the Nats would've allowed FAR more SB -- beyond the 20 that Boswell is claiming -- and that had Schneider been on the Mets, they would have done significantly better there, too, likely much more than those 20 stolen bases. Lo Duca makes the average Pitcher look worse in that category; Schneider makes them look much better.

Now that's not to say that they shouldn't have signed him. Given most of the alternatives, he's among the least objectionable (take a look at Estrada's SB numbers some time!), and SB really are overrated. And there's always a chance, especially with a player whose offensive value is completely tied up in batting average, that they'll have a hot streak/month and be truly valuable. Remember, at WORST, he's a few runs better than Schneider with the bat, and with the potential to be much better. The defense takes a slight step back in terms of SB, but if Tom Glavine is to be believed, his ability to work with pitchers isn't going to be much of a dropdown from Schneider.

8 Comments:

  • I think both Frank Robinson and Manny Acta have made the point that Brian Schneider's caught stealing numbers dropped because of the nature of the staff (Patterson) inexperience holding runner (Chico) and total apathy (Hernandez [all right I made the last one up but, it makes me laugh that you pointed it out]). Lo Duca will struggle to hold runners but, by the sounds of it we are hiring him to teach the pitchers to win. I guess we can take that.

    By Blogger Ben, at 12/11/2007 12:35 PM  

  • Regarding the ability of Nats pitchers to hold runners on over the past few years, here's a thought: Runners who find themselves on first base against mediocre pitchers don't need to worry about trying to steal second, because the batter up after them will very likely be advancing them anyway. Does that factor into your analysis at all?

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 12/11/2007 12:38 PM  

  • I think you raise a good point with this post Chris. Overall though, I'm not seeing the big deal with this signing. A win in the free agent market last season was something around $4-4.5M, wasn't it? LoDuca only has to be worth a little over a win for this deal to be worth if you look at it that way. And I don't think there is much opportunity cost with signing him, at least there shouldn't be considering the revenue streams in MLB as well as the new park.

    The only thing that scares me a tiny bit is the Milledge "note." If that was indeed Lo Duca, then I question how much of a leader he really is. I think a good leader would have just pulled him aside and talked to him instead of leaving a note in the guy's locker.

    But one of the things that everyone praises Acta for is his ability to handle the clubhouse, and he knows both of these guys.

    By Anonymous MF, at 12/11/2007 1:07 PM  

  • Runners who find themselves on first base against mediocre pitchers don't need to worry about trying to steal second, because the batter up after them will very likely be advancing them anyway. Does that factor into your analysis at all?

    It could.

    The composition of your opponent could alter the numbers, too. The Nats play the Marlins 18 times per year. Through '05, the Marlins had Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, two base stealers. Both were gone by '06 or by the end of that season at least. Now, Hanley replaced some of those SB attempts, but what % of them? I'm too lazy to look that up right now!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/11/2007 1:39 PM  

  • Isn't there a pitching school-of-thought that essentially goes, "throw strikes and the baserunner can steal all he likes - because they won't score"? I seem to recall Pedro Martinez, in the good years, just not giving a hoot about who was on or what they did, because he was going to come up with a K or three.

    Now of course, nobody on this staff has stuff like that. But isn't it more important to judge Lo Duca on his staff handling given the relative fragility of the pitching here?

    By Anonymous go dc!, at 12/11/2007 3:33 PM  

  • One thing I think this Lo Duca signing makes pretty clear is that the Nats at this stage really don't care much about payroll or cash (no matter how much they've been bashed about it previously). They're giving $5m to Lo Duca of all people. There probably are cheaper options, which I'm betting means that their main problem with free agents is not cost per se, but rather with long-term contracts and veteran crowding.

    I'm thinking that the Nationals brass pretty much wrote this season off already, so they figure that as long as we have enough spare parts to fill out a rotation, there's not really much reason for them to sign an innings-eater, who might only crowd out roster spots for prospects anyway. This way they keep a pretty much disposable rotation, along with a disposable catcher, then scrap both when the prospects are ready to play in the bigs.

    I'm not real happy about it, considering that we have to endure a season probably as painful as last year, but on the bright side, I at least have the feeling now that when enough prospects are ready to go, they'll be willing to shell out some cash here and there to grab some good veterans to fill out the roster.

    By Blogger Michael, at 12/11/2007 5:47 PM  

  • Chris, good effort trying to sort out the SB numbers. I am left scratching my head as to whether the Nats staff made Schneider look better and the Mets made Lo Duca look worse.

    We'll see this year, for good or for ill!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/11/2007 6:18 PM  

  • Michael

    I think we have to accept that we are going to get slightly less unhappy about each season bit by bit, until this team is in a position to compete. Admit it, you feel less depressed and more excited now than you did this time last year. Sure we won't compete, but hopefully see who starts to emerge as part of the long term solution. I think they payed over the odds for Lo Duca because they felt he provides a service that is worth it. Namely an experienced hand for the pitchers and Flores. He may not be our first choice but he fits that bill. So yeah, an innings eater is a long shot but, written off might be a bit of an unfair evaluation of managements feelings

    By Blogger Ben, at 12/11/2007 7:55 PM  

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