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Wipeout, Part Duh

Most people who know what kind of baseball fan I am know I love spacious ballparks. Give me all that wonderfully extra green vastness, fences so far from the plate you need some cheap binoculars so we can locate where that darn pelota is, and determined outfielders frantically running here and there. The occasional homer is fun, I suppose, but I rather enjoy the action that occurs while the ball is still in play.

Yet, however stubborn I may be on the topic, even I have my limits. The way I figure it, if a team can score plenty in the sinfully smaller parks but can't score any in the blessedly larger parks, the sinful path becomes all the more tempting. RFK is one of the sacredly expansively parks, but its effect on Washington's fortunes this season has been rudely profane.

Pitchers In A Pinch 5/31
Hendrickson Bowie
BB/9IP 2.54 2.13
K/9IP 6.52 6.39
GB% 47.2 41.6
HR/FB 15.6 12.1
LOB% 71.1 74.8
FIP 4.43 4.66

Two seasons ago, I made a bit of a to-do during the Nats' first half run that the team was exploiting a huge home "isolated power" advantage over its opponents. This is to say that the Nats' difference in batting average and slugging average in RFK contests was far greater than their opponents' corresponding difference. The advantage flattened out over the course of the season, as you might expect, but for a spell it was tantamount to a lovely home field advantage.

This season, we could very well track the reverse. Entering Wednesday's action, the Nats have an isolated power figure of .101 (.333 SLG - .232 BA) in home games, whereas their opponents have beat that figure by nearly forty points. This is a problem, and it underscores that Washington's offense -- no juggernaut under most circumstances -- turns anemic at RFK. The Nats had all of 11 home runs at RFK entering tonight (when they were shut out again, so they obviously didn't homer), which means they are on pace for thirty-something home park longballs for the season. The "on pace" stuff doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot, even a third of the way into the season, but let's put it this way: RFK is RFK, but it ain't Petco Park -- and the Padres are averaging about a dinger per home game and have a fifty point advantage in home isolated power over the Nats. The Padres are the Padres and the Nats are the Nats obviously, but he point to be gleaned is that the Padres' extra base power has barely suffered in their home games. Their opponents' sure has. Flip around the Nats' home field isolated power deficit, and you have the Padres at home. They are getting the entire benefit of the home field bargain. If only the Nats were so lucky -- or good. You make the call.

Anyway, the Dodgers blanked the Nats for the second straight night. Tuesday, it was 10-0. Wednesday, it was 5-0. Question for the math whizzes: Is the next score in that progression 0-0 or 2.5-0?

* * * *

You might have noticed the box above called "Pitchers in a Pinch." I'm trying something new here -- tying in a day's post with the day's game, after not doing that kind of thing for awhile -- and I hope to keep it up. Mainly, I just want to show off my newfound mastery of the align attribute for HTML. Yes, I am that computer illiterate.

The box provides some of the most relevant pitching measures pursuant to this masterful U.S.S. Mariner post. These measures are:

  • Walk Rate ("BB/9IP"): The relevance of a pitcher's walk rate is rather self-explanatory; it's an important factor to track. David Cameron, the author of the USSM piece, advises using BB% (walks per total batters faced). Last season, the average MLB rate was nine percent. However, BB% is sort of hard to locate, so I'm using simple BB/9IP. Generally speaking, I think we know what's good and what isn't.
  • Strikeout Rate ("K/9IP"): This is the foil to a pitcher's walk rate. Again, Cameron advises to use K% (MLB average was 17%) in 2006, but I'll go with K/9IP for the same reasons.
  • Groundball Rate ("GB%"): Based on accumulated play-by-play, a given flyball is more "harmful" to a pitcher than a given ground ball. The reason is self-evident: flyballs have great potential for resulting in extra bases (including homers), whereas groundballs have limited potential in that regard. Thus, tracking a pitcher's ability to induce grounders is important. Last season, 44% of batted balls resulted in grounders. (Incidentally, all of these "last season" references are coming from the handy-dandy Hardball Times Annual.) As Cameron notes, sinkerball pitchers can (and should) well exceed this figure, whereas pitchers hovering at 35% or below are prone to encountering difficulties.
  • Homer Rate ("HR/FB"): I suppose I shouldn't call this "homer rate," since it's a bit more nuanced measure than that. Instead, it's the percentage of outfield flyballs resulting in a home run. (Infield flies are irrelevant to this measure, obviously, and in fact infield flies are as close to a given as you can get; the percentage of those converted to outs is in the high nineties.) Last season, 11% of outfield flies resulted in homers. This is an important figure to be aware of, because, as Cameron notes, "We’ve seen very little evidence that major league pitchers have significant control over how often their flyballs go over the wall, so occassionally you’ll see a wild swing in performance that is not indicative of a player's true talent level, simply because a pitcher is having more or less flyballs go over the wall than should be expected. . . . [S]ignificant variation from [11-12%] is probably not an indicator of talent for a major league quality pitcher."
  • Strand Rate ("LOB"): I suppose you might call this a measure of clutch pitching -- though, like clutch hitting, the best guys in this area tend to be the best guys in most areas. Basically, good pitchers will strand more baserunners than bad ones because that's one way in which a good pitcher separates himself from a bad pitcher. But, as a guidepost, about 70% of baserunners are stranded. Go much below that, and people will have sympathy; go much above, and people will consider you living on borrowed time.
  • Fielding Independent ERA ("FIP"): This is an expected ERA for a pitcher based on his walk, strikeout, and home run rates, as tracked by the Hardball Times. Consider it a generic version of DIPS and the various enhancements thereof.
Anyway, there you go. There are other measures I could cite, such as innings pitched per start or pitches per plate appearance (or inning pitched) or batting average on balls in play. But I'd say these are enough for now. Besides, I don't want to stray from the reason Cameron cited the measures above -- they are indicators of a pitcher's talent, generally speaking. Anyway, I've already included FIP, and that was basically Cameron's sop to ERA fiends.

As best as I can, I'll track these measures for the starting pitcher matchups. (Thankfully, given a five-man rotation, you can do several matchups in advance.) Maybe I'll even put this to good use. Probably not, but it's worth a shot. Just my luck, though -- my first day doing this, and one of the guys is an emergency starter. Oh well.

* * * *

Speaking of pitching . . . well, uh oh:

Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill will go to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio on Thursday and have a second opinion on his sore elbow. Dr. Mark Schickendantz will look at the elbow.

Hill had a bullpen session on Saturday in St. Louis, and said the next day that the elbow didn't feel right. Hill is still hoping that he can come back and pitch in the Major Leagues sometime in late June.

Hill has proffered some sort of associational issue, like the injury to his left shoulder in the aftermath of his late April baserunning adventure in South Florida has resulted in the right elbow injury. The one affected his mechanics, which resulted in the elbow pain, and his knee bone is connected to his thigh bone. In any event, as the article notes, that elbow has been through the grinder. In fact, it's turned into an annual event. I'm reminded of a line from that bearded guy I always quote; something like half of these guys would be dropping bread crumbs to Cooperstown if not for arm injuries. That's a bit more creative than necessary, yes, but there's a definite kernel of truth in that.

In other news, why do the Nats hate the good people at Mars, Incorporated?