Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The myth of Zito

There's a thought going around on Barry Zito, a myth really, because it is not substantiated by any evidence. The myth goes as follows; Barry Zito is not as good a pitcher as his reputation. He has been helped by his defense, his home park, and his relation to Mulder and Hudson. Simply put, Zito is a good pitcher, who everyone thinks is great because he's gotten lucky, and been surrounded by things that make him look so. Furthermore, Barry Zito has been in decline for two years now.

This is what they say anyway, led by articles on the subject from two very respected writers, Joe Sheehan, and Rob Neyer. I've got great respect for both Mr. Sheehan and Mr. Neyer, and so it pains me to say this, but i think both of them need to step back from the calculator for a minute, and start actually looking at the game being played, and everything that goes into it, not just strike out rates, and K/BB ratios. Becuase while strikeout rates, and K/BB ratios may be important, they are not everything. They are good indicators of success or failure. They do not determine it by themselves. Just because Zito's K rate has been in decline, it does not detract fro mthe phenomenal numbers he has put up. Not to mention, that Zito has the best career K rate of Oakland's "big three". So if Zito K/9 and K/BB leave Mr Sheehan and Mr Neyer doubting his greatness, i would love to hear what they think of his two counterparts. And since both articles leave one with the impression that they are indeed convinced of the greatness of Mulder and Hudson, just not Zito, i'd love to hear how they rationalize that, given Zito has the best K/9 of the three, precisely the area in which Sheehan and Neyer argue he is lacking. Enough of my rambling though, see for yourself that Barry Zito is without doubt the best of Oakland's young aces.

Career ERA

1. Zito: 3.12
2. Hudson: 3.26
3. Mulder: 3.77

Career ERA +

1. Zito: 143
2. Hudson: 139
3. Mulder: 119

Career WHIP

1. Zito: 1.18
2. Hudson: 1.21
3. Mulder: 1.26

Career K/9

1. Zito: 7.16
2. Hudson: 6.81
3. Mulder: 6.11

Career K/BB

1. Mulder: 2.46
2. Hudson: 2.36
3. Zito: 2.10

Career H/9

1. Zito: 7.22
2. Hudson: 8.04
3. Mulder: 8.88

Career HR/9

1. Hudson: .74
2. Zito: .79
3. Mulder: .86

( Over 200 innings, the difference betwwen Hudson and Zito is about 1 home run. Between Zito and Mulder, about one and a half.)

Career Opponents Avg. against

1. Zito: .219
2. Hudson: .239
3. Mulder: .259

Career Opp OBP against

1. Zito: .295
2. Hudson: .301
3. Mulder: .310

Career Opp SLG% against

1. Zito: .333
2. Hudson: .353
3. Mulder: .391

Career Opp OPS against

1. Zito: .628
2. Hudson: .654
3. Mulder: .701

Career Opp IsoP against

T-1. Zito: 114
T-1. Hudson: 114
3. Mulder: 132

That's every major pitching statistic i can think of. Out of the 12, Zito ranks first in TEN of them. Ten of the twelve folks, that's not arguably better, that is clearly superior . And the difference in HR/9 is almost non existant when applied over 200 innings. So unless in your mind K/BB is the be all, end all of pitching, the only meaningful statistic, it's pretty clear who has been the best pitcher, up to this point. And at 25, he is the youngest of the three.

Let's look at this another way. We'll assign points on these categories, in the style of MVP voting. To make it simple, we'll give 3 points for a 1st, 2 for a 2nd, and 1 for a 3rd.

1. Zito: 33
2. Hudson: 26
3. Mulder: 14

Even if you triple the point value of the two areas in which he is not the best among the three (Hr/9 and K/BB), Zito still comes out on top.

As to the idea that Zito has been in decline for three years ( Sheehan actually claims that 2001 was Zito's best year, not 2002's Cy Young year, and Neyer seems to agree), sure if you live in a different universe from the rest of us. One in which higher ERA's, more hits, and higher opponents numbers is a good thing, and the only thing that matters is how many guys your strike out. Yeah, Zito struck out less guys each of the last two seasons, but in 2002, he gave up two less hits, 13 less earned runs, and walked 2 fewer batters in 15 more innings, then in 2002. His ERA was three quarters fo a run better, and 69% better then the league, compared to 25% better in 2001. This year, he slipped from those gaudy 2002 numbers, but was still better then in 2001. He gave up just two more hits, and two more earned runs in 17 1/3 more innings. His ERA was .19 better, and his ERA+ was 129, only very slightly better then his 125 in 2001, but still better, and in more innings. So it seems that Zito is compensating for his lower strikeout rate in other ways. Perhaps he's gettign lucky, or perhaps not. I suppose it depends on whether or not you believe pitchers can have a meaningful effect on balls put in play. Personally, i think there are too many pitchers out there who have succeeded without great K rates to deny at least the possibility that some pitchers can. And while Zito's K rate has declined, so have his opponents averages.

2001: 230/307/345 (652 OPS) 115 IsoP
2002: 218/286/340 (626 OPS) 112 IsoP
2003: 219/293/324 (616 OPS) 105 IsoP

Is it possible he's getting lucky? Of course. But i don't find it likely. Opponents batting averages held steady, and their IsoP went down again. Actually, opponents IsoP has gone down a little bit every year Zito's pitched in the majors. That's pretty good evidence that Zito isn't just getting lucky. The differences are small, but it's a definite trend, and it's over four years now. Simply put, it looks like Zito is getting better, little by little, at generating less hard hit ( or more poorly hit) balls in play.

This is just a theory, one which i don't have any real evidence to support, but i heard Zito say in an interview last year that he's been relying less and less on his fastball. So more curves and change ups, less fastballs. That sounds like something that could lead to less strikeouts, and more poorly hit balls, doesn't it? Especially with how great that curveball is, perhaps the best left handed curve in baseball. I wish i had some information on what pitches Zito has thrown in what amounts each year, but unfortuantely i don't know anywhere where that's available. It seems very possible to me though, that this could account for at least a part of the decline in his strikeout rate.

Whatever is going on. This is two years in a row in which his K rate and K/BB ratio has gone down, and two straight years he's been better despite it, by compensating in other areas. None of this is to say that we should completely dis regard the declining K rate. More strike outs is always a good thing, and by itself, a declinging K rate is never a good sign. But portraying it as an indicator that Zito has been very lucky, and is a strong candidate to fall off, is unfair, and innaccurate without taking into consideration all the information available. And that information suggests that the drop off in strike outs has been accompanied by less hits and less power allowed. So far, Zito is winning the trade off, and i see no great evidence that he will not continue to, so long as the K rate does not sink to abysmal levels.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

The article on Zito will be up within the next day. this time i mean it

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Some of you might remember my strong criticism of an article Joe Sheehan wrote on Barry Zito last month. If you didn't catch it, you can find both Sheehan's article, and my response here.

Well now it seems Rob Neyer agrees with Sheehan's claims, which still seem absurd to me. I don't have the time to do it right this second, but expect a rather detailed post in the next day or so, arguing that not only is Zito a top of the rotation starter, he's the best of Oakland's "big three". Believe me when i tell you that the numbers back me up.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

When a large star dies, it goes through increasingly violent fusion reactions, until finally the rush of neutrinos produced is so great that it carries the shells surrounding the core outward in a hellacious explosion called a supernova. During the supernova, the core implodes, and without going through the details of the process, a neutron star is formed. If it was originally a star of more then three solar masses then the neutron star eventually collapses into a singularity, and forms a black hole.

You might be wondering what this has to do with the Mets. The answer is nothing really. Except that i'm pretty sure it occured in the center field of Shea Stadium a little over 14 years ago. The day Lenny Dykstra was traded. Unfortuantely i can't tell you what happens whena black hole collapses, but that is exactly what happened in that same spacious center field of Shea Stadium this week. After a decade of incompetence, the Mets have a real center fielder. The Juan Samuel Event Horizon is no more.

Mike Cameron Age:30 Bats: R Throws: R

1999: 256/357/469 with 80/145 BB/K and 64 xbh (21 HR) in 542 AB, 38/50 SB/Att
2000: 267/365/438 with 78/133 BB/K and 51 xbh (19 HR) in 543 AB, 24/31 SB/Att
2001: 267/353/480 with 69/155 BB/K and 60 xbh (25 HR) in 540 AB, 34/39 SB/Att
2002: 239/340/442 with 79/176 BB/K and 56 xbh (25 HR) in 545 AB, 31/29 SB/Att
2003: 253/344/431 with 70/137 BB/K and 54 xbh (18 HR) in 534 AB, 17/24 SB/Att

Willie Mays he is not, but Mike Cameron is consistently above average offensively for a center fielder, providing both power and speed. And that's more then enough for an extremely durable, reliable, and defensively superior center fielder. Would i have preferred Carlos Beltran? Of course. But even in this severaly depressed market, Beltran will command double the 20 million we gave Cameron at the very least, and probably more like 3-4 times that amount. Not that Beltran isn't worth that. But Cameron was available, he's only 30, he's one of the five or six best all around center fielders in the game, and he was very reasonably priced. Look at it this way, if we were going to spend the money on Beltran, we still have most of that left to spend on a star somewhere else, on top of a real good player in center. If you gave me a choice between a) Carlos Beltran, or b) Mike Cameron and 50 million to spend on one of the many aces coming into free agency over the next couple of years, i'll take option B every time. Of course, that is dependant on the Mets actually spending the money that alot of us would have liked to see go to Beltran. Enough speculation though. Let's get back to Cameron. I wont discuss his defense much, because we all know it is deserving of any superlative one could name. Some have actually suggested that Cameron is the best defensive center fielder in the game right now. Even in my now biased opinion, i would still give that honor to Andruw Jones, but Cameron isn't far behind. And those who think he's surpassed Andruw have a case to make, because the numbers support it. Over the last two years, Mike Cameron has gotten to more balls then any other outfielder. And that's while playing next to Ichiro, who gets to a few balls himself. Sufficed to say that Cameron is Tom Glavine's new best friend. So let's talk about his hitting.


Home: 220/310/359 with 21 xbh (7 HR) in 259 AB
Away: 310/392/591 with 39 xbh (18 HR) in 281 AB

Road Differential: +40% Avg, +26% OBP, +102% IsoP


Home: 218/334/370 with 22 xbh (7 HR) in 262 AB
Away: 258/345/509 with 34 xbh (18 HR) in 283 AB

Road Differential: +18% Avg, +3% OBP, +65% IsoP


Home: 235/329/429 with 24 xbh (11 HR) in 247 AB
Away: 268/357/432 with 30 xbh (7 HR) in 287 AB

Road Differential: +14% Avg, +9% OBP, - 15% IsoP

Three Year Averages 2001-2003

Home: 224/324/385 with 67 xbh (25 HR) in 768 AB
Away: 278/364/510 with 103 xbh (43 HR) in 851 AB

Road Differential: +24% Avg, +12% OBP, +44% IsoP

Cameron has quite obviously been hurt a great deal by Safeco Field. Much more so then other Mariners. So it's quite possible that Cameron's claims that he had trouble seeing the ball against Safeco's backgrounds are true, and he will not be hurt as much by pitcher friendly Shea as he was by pitcher friendly Safeco. Whatever the reason or reasons, Cameron is a far better hitter away from the park he used to call home. Some have suggested that he's a candidate for a major break out season by leaving Safeco. I think that's overstating it, because except for 2001, Cameron's road numbers weren't terribly impressive. Even if he manages to perform at Shea just as well as he does on the road, i still think Cameron is unlikely to exceed a .275 Avg and .365 OBP, and that is probably stretching it, because even with his superb 2001 road numbers, his three year road splits barely get to those levels. I'd consider 265/355 a very succesful season for Cameron.

There is one area though, where Cameron could indeed breakout in a big way. His Power. Did i say that other then 2001, his road numbers aren't particularly impressive? Because i meant that his Avg and OBP weren't particulalry impressive. Cameron's got some big time power away from Safeco. 2003 was almost certainly an abberation, and a down year for his power in general, but in 2001 and 2002 Cameron's road IsoP's were staggering. To give you an idea, his .281 road IsoP in 2001 would have placed him in between Carlos Delgado, and Jason Giambi this year, and his 2002 road IsoP of .251 would place him between Mike Lowell and Jeromy Burnitz (who finished with 31 HR if you hadn't noticed). That's some pretty good company. Even in the not so friendly confines of Shea, it would not surprise me at all to see Cameron have his first 30 HR season.

Which brings me to this question. If Mike Cameron hits somewhere in the area i've talked about, say 265/355 with 30+ HR, will there be any signifigant difference between him and Andruw Jones? They'd be almost exactly the same player. Superb defense, big time power, great durability, and speed (even though Andruw no longer steals bases). But problems making contact, and/or laying off bad pitches. Both strike out a ton. Cameron a bit more then Jones, but he also draws more walks. Jones has had some fairly large swings from year to year, but if we assume he's settled into his natural level over the last two years, a typical year for him is something like 270/350 with 35 HR. That's very much in line with what we could see from Mike Cameron next year. Come to think of it, is there any signifigant difference between Andruw Jones and Mike Cameron on the road the last few years, since my expectations for Cameron are based in large part on his road numbers. It turns out there isn't.

(Jones home/raod splits are extremely close, so i won't bother listing them here, though it should be noted he does hit for slightly more power on the road)

Three Year Home/Road Splits

Andruw Jones: 262/344/504 with 105 xbh (55 HR) in 907 AB

Mike Cameron: 278/364/510 with 103 xbh (43 HR) in 851 AB

Interesting isn't it? Jones has hit for a bit more power, with the edge in home runs, but Cameron hit just 2 less xbh in 56 less at bats. And just like Cameron's edge in Avg/OBP is due to his unusually high road numbers in 2001, Jones edge in power is due to Cameron's unsuually low power number on the road in 2003. All things considered, there isn't a whole lot of difference there. And as i alluded too, they're likely the two best defensive center fielders in baseball.

So as i see it, we just got a player whose rather comparable to Andruw Jones. That is, they are two center fielders who play outstnading defense, and if they were to play in the same park, against the same pitchers, they'd probably put up very similar offensive numbers. And we got this player for 3 years/21 million, with a team option for a fourth year.

If nothing else, Mike Cameron is going to help our pitchers immensely. And chances are he's going to hit pretty well too. All at a very reasonable price. It's been said that this isn't the time for the Mets to dip into the free agent market, and for the most part, i agree with that. But when you've got a guy who fills a huge need, at a bargain price considering his skills, you take it. And that's exactly what Mike Cameron was.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Wow, it's been awhile since i've written a real article. School's done with now, so hopefully that's going to change. The major event in Metland since my last real update was the signing of Kaz Matsui. So let's talk about that.

Kazuo Matsui

1999 JPL age 23: 330/389/482 with 56/75 and 48xbh (15 HR) in 539 AB
2000 JPL age 24: 322/372/560 with 46/60 and 74xbh (23 HR) in 550 AB
2001 JPL age 25: 308/365/496 with 46/83 and 54xbh (24hr) in 552 AB
2002 JPL age 26: 332/389/617 with 53/112 and 88xbh (36hr) in 582 AB
2003 JPL age 27: 305/368/549 with 55/124 and 73xbh (33hr) in 587 AB

And it goes back even further. Kazuo Matsui has been performing at a high level in a league about as hard as AAA for a long, long time. So i have no doubt that he's a very talented baseball player. The question is how well will his offensive game transfer to the majors. Because Matsui better hit, or his signing has to be considered a complete failure, if only because it forced us to move Reyes. So will Matsui hit? I think it depends on which Matsui shows up. It's a safe bet that his power won't translate particularly well. Beyond all the other problems involved in moving to the majors, he's coming to spacious Shea. So a pretty large drop off in IsoP should be expected. Something like 15 HR seems realistic. There's just no way he's going to get by on power here. What's going to make or break Kaz is his ability to make contact and get on base. Everyone's quick to point out that his 2002 numbers are probably a peak season, and that's true, but the .332 part does not strike me as a fluke. Kaz's .309 liftime average is dragged down by 700 at bats in his age 19 and 20 season. Since then he's hit 309, 311, 330, 322, 308, 332, and 305. Four seasons of 305-309, three of 322-332. And there in lies the key. It's reasonable to expect at least some drop off in his average and OBP, but a drop off from 305/365 probably puts him at somewhere in range range of 275/335 to 290/350. The former would be mediocre, the latter good, but repalceable unless his defense is as good as it's supposed to be. However, a drop off from 330/390 probably puts him somewhere in the range of 300/360 to 315/375. At 300/360, we're getting into the area where shortstops are hard to replace. 315/375 and we start talking All Star.

If he swings for the fences, Shea and major league pitchers are going to get the better of him. But if he focuses on his obvious contact ability, hitting ground balls and line drives to all fields, then he can be quite succesful. He could actually use Shea to his advantage, racking up lots of doubles because of his speed and the big outfield. Which brings me to the next question about Matsui, his speed. In this case, i'm completely sold/. Alot of people have pointed out the severe decline in SB rate last year(13 SB/10 CS), and somehow not once have i heard anyone suggest the possibility that it's a fluke. Which is almost certainly what it is. Fluke seasons, both good and bad, occur all the time in regards to batting numbers. Why not stolen bases/SB rate. Let's look a little further. His career stolen base rate is 81.3 %(83% after 2002). In the three previous years, Kaz stole 85 bases, and was caught just 14 times for a success rate of 86%. In 2001 he swiped 26 without being thrown out a single time. Ichiro called Matsui faster then he was. He was probably just being gracious, and may not actually believe that, but for it to even be suggested, it's got to be close. Anyone in the neighborhood of Ichiro is lightning. If he's even close to Ichiro's speed down the line to 1st, or from 1st-3rd/2nd-Home, then noone's going to complain if he isn't stealing bases. That said, it would be a nice asset to have a second 25+ steal, very high success rate guy. Stolen bases are overrated, the havoc they can create with opposing defenses and pitchers isn't.

There's also the question of how good his defense is. To this i really have nothing to add to what you've already read, because i've never seen him play. By all reports he should be very, very good, though there are some question about his arm. I even read one reprt which suggested he had the ability to play defense at a Vizquel like level, though i find that unlikely.

As i mentioned, this signing has to be judged not just on Matsui's success, but on whether it's good enough to have warranted Reyes shift. Reyes had enough on his plate going into his first full major league season, now he's got to learn a new position on top of it. And of course his overall ceiling is lower at second base, because it's notch below shortstop in importance. So what would it take to justify moving Reyes? In my opinion, Matsui will have to be in the upper range of my estimates. He's got to hit 300 or better with an OBP of at least 360-370. He's got to hit at least 15 home runs, provide great speed on the basepaths, and play stellar defense. That's my dividing line. Anything less and the signing is a failure to some degree, depending on how much worse then those numbers he is. Right at those numbers and i'll consider it a success, but not any better then keeping Reyes at short and signing Luis Castillo, since the player i just described is basically Castillo with a little bit more power. Anything above that, and it becomes a truly good sign.

As for Reyes, there is little question he can handle second base. He has all the skills to be a gold glove shortstop. The skills at second are all the same, except it requires less range and less arm strength. If anything Reyes' skills are overkill for the position. An interesting note for us Mets fans. As people get used to Reyes as a second basemen, they're going to start using Roberto Alomar as a comparison for his potential. His ceiling drops a little at second base, but he still projects to be a star at a premium defensive position. Just slightly less premium.

I'd like to belive that Matsui will be a star here, and the decison to move Reyes ( and not make a better offer to Castillo, or simply sign a stopgap) will be justified. However, i have a bad feeling that Matsui is going to be merely good, which of course won't be good enough. Maybe it's just my skepticism after two years of blown offseason moves. I really hope so. Only time will tell.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Just a quick note. A follow up to what i wrote last week about Joe Sheehan's article on Barry Zito. Barry Zito has the best numbers out of the Oakland trio. Actually it's not even close. Zito has pretty clearly been a better pitcher then Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder. I'm studying for finals, so i don't have time to start posting all the numbers, but if you don't want to take my word for it, go have a look. Zito is no 1 of the three in just about every major statistic. Oh, and he's the youngest of the three too. So if Zito is a middle of the rotation starter with an ace's reputation, what are Mulder and Hudson, career minor leaguers with no 1 starter reputations?

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Reyes to 2nd

Is anyone else starting to feel like Sisyphus, rolling the stone up the hill, only to have it pushed back down by the will of the Gods?

Because i know i am. If we had aquired A-Rod or Nomar, then yes, move Reyes over to second. But for a guy whose never played a game in the majors. Whose power probably isn't going to "translate" well to the majors. I'm pretty sure Kaz Matsui will be a pretty good major leauge player. But good enough to move our 20 year old phenom to second? I doubt it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I know i've been saying this alot lately, but i'm just too busy to post this week. Two Finals tommorow, work Fir/Sat/Sun/Mon, two finals tuesday. So unfortuantely there's a decent chance i won't have anything up till next wednesday, except maybe a quick hit or two.

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