Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clip 'n Save

Why's the team better this year?

You'll say Pudge. You'll say defense.

I won't say you're wrong, but I'll say you're probably looking in the wrong direction.

This team has scored about the same number of runs, and allowed about the same number of runs as last year's Acta-led holocaust. So their record should be about the same. But, as you can tell, it's not.

Maybe it's Pudge's will. Maybe it's Brian Bruney's World Series ring. Maybe it's Elijah Dukes.

But it's probably not. It's Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard. Doesn't get more obvious than this.

Their greatness has been obvious. They've pitched like 30 innings and have combined to allow 2 runs. TWO. And it isn't just that they haven't allowed runs; they haven't allowed runs in situations where allowing a run would make a huge difference in the game.

If Miguel Batista coughs up a run in the 5th inning, it can be overcome. If Matt Capps yaks one up in the 9th, we're effed. And that's the huge difference in this year's team and last year's team. We didn't have a closer who could close. And we didn't have setup guys who could do anything aside from light their own shoes on fire.

To the stats!

For this kind of situation, I think WPA is perfectly suited. I won't explain it here (much), other than to say it's looking at the actual state of the game when the player enters and figuring out what the change is in the team's chances of winning are. Ie: a solo homer in the 1st has MUCH less value than a solo homer in a 1-run game in the 9th. Keep in mind that it's a stat that's based on real-life games, and what's historically happened -- these aren't just numbers made up by Commodore-loving cretins.

Capps has a WPA of 1.4, meaning he's been about 1.4 wins BETTER than an average player on an average team would be if that mythical pitcher pitched in those same situations. Clippard's at 1.1. So combined, the two of them have given the Nats about 2.5 extra wins than an average team would have. That's huge.

It's especially huge when you compare it to last year's crap fest. Here's what three of our key relievers did last year:

Saul: -0.8
Gascanrahan: -0.9
Colome: -1.4

So the change from those scrubs to this year's cast is like 5 extra wins. Now obviously Clip 'n Save can't keep that pace up all year -- especially with this workload pace. But their success explains as much of the team's turn-around as Pudge's leadership.

One other note: Whatever faults he has, Riggleman appears to have a pretty good grasp on using his bullpen. One of the other WPAish stats is called leverage index. It's basically a gauge of how key a situation a pitcher's pitching in. So a one-run lead in the 9th is far more key than a 10-run lead in the 5th.

With Leverage, 1 equals about average 'difficulty'. Anything above 1 is where you start leaning forward in your seat.

For Capps, he's averaged a 2.33 leverage index. That is, he's pitching in some kick-ass situations. Duh. He's a closer. And he's eeked out a bunch of narrow leads.

Clip's at 1.53, a very high total.

Who's the worst pitcher in the pen? Batista? His leverage: 0.65. Did you say Tyler Walker? He's at 0.29.

So Riggles has pretty successfully figured out who his main guys are, and is using them in the right situations. He's sorted out who the scrubs are, and he's letting them take beatings when there's nothing on the line in the game.

Contrast that with Manny Acta who couldn't sort out the pitching of the '84 Grays.

So the Nats' formula to success: take away disastrous performance and replace it with very good performance. It ain't hard. You'd have thought we'd have learned to recognize the pattern after we subbed out Milledge in center for Nyjer's glove.


  • All great numbers, Chris, but not having Manny at the helm is addition by subtraction too.

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me, at 4/29/2010 11:50 PM  

  • Riggs got my attention when he put Kennedy out in the on deck circle forcing the Mets to pitch to Pudge or face Kenney with the bases loaded. AND he will jaw with umpires to protect his team.

    But you're right, he's made the right moves with the pitchers. No way would Acta have let Livo get that complete game. The redeeming factor of that 13 inning bummer from last Saturday was that he didn't burn up the bullpen, unlike Torre.

    By Anonymous Sec314, at 4/30/2010 12:21 AM  

  • Interesting.

    Generally, people say that the one way to beat your pythagorean other than luck is having a good bullpen and the one way to lose to it is to have a lousy bullpen. This is a good demonstration of that.

    I do generally like Riggleman's bullpen usage, especially his willingness to let them pitch more than one inning, but I do have one nagging worry, and that's overuse. He's continuing the same riding of the hot arms that led Frank and Manny to ruin arms-a-plenty. Granted, he's doing it smarter, but he can't keep this up.

    Do we just pray Storen will be able to spell 'em?

    By Anonymous cass, at 4/30/2010 8:30 AM  

  • I think that's right - my sense is that Riggleman knows that he'll have another reliable arm come June so he's OK riding Clip 'n' Save until then.

    Come June, I'd expect the progression to be Storen, Clippard, Capps - which will allow the next tier (Bruney, Burnett, Batista) to sort out for situational/LOOGY duty.

    I used to hate how the Yankees could essentially win a game by leading after 6 - I'd be deliriously happy if "Store, Clip 'n' Save" made that a reality in DC.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/30/2010 9:05 AM  

  • To those who say he is going to wear out Capps and Clippard from overuse--what other choice does he have? This team feeds on its own momentum--witness the games in which they have been outhit and yet eaked out a win. They totally believe in their bullpen now and that has to perk up the defense as well. So far no one has seen any fatigue effects on Clippard and Capps so I do believe that he is managing their innings quite well.

    If Bruney finds his inner reliever self (or the strike zone) then he becomes the next choice for 8/9 inning work. Strassburg and Storen might even push a starter into the bullpen as well, further strengthening it.

    By Anonymous dale, at 4/30/2010 10:41 AM  

  • Contrast that with Manny Acta who couldn't sort out the pitching of the '84 Grays.

    Acta did a pretty good job of sorting out the pitching when he had pitching worth sorting out. Big difference between having a pre-burnout Rivera, Rauch and Cordero and having a post-burnout Rivera, Shell and Hanrahan to work with. Let's see how Riggleman does with the latter type of bullpen before we go criticizing Acta.

    And I seem to recall Acta letting Martis and Lannan pitch complete games last year. No reason to think he wouldn't let Livo complete a start if he deserved to complete it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/30/2010 11:17 AM  

  • So glad there are still a few anonymous Acta defenders out there to make fun of.

    By Blogger Section 222, at 4/30/2010 4:08 PM  

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