SweetSpot: Brian Bannister

Royals set all-important rotation

July, 16, 2010
Another Five-Plus Club update, as one its Royal members is getting a customized slot:
    In case you were wondering, the rotation for the Royals coming out of the all-star break looks like this: Zack Greinke, Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies and Anthony Lerew.

    Royals manager Ned Yost said one benefit to putting the rotation in this order is that it gives Bannister a chance to pitch more day games than his counterparts.

    “The spot that has the most day games is the three spot,” Yost said. “Four of the nine starts are day games, and Banny excels in day games, so why not (put him there)?”

    Bannister is 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA in six daytime starts this year, but 3-7 with 7.45 ERA in 12 nighttime starts.

    “I can’t explain it,” Yost said. “There’s no explanation for it. You look at some guys and they may be 15-2 on Saturday. I don’t know why Banny pitches better in the day than the night.

    “But you try to play the percentages in anything you do,” Yost continued. “Percentage-wise, it’s in our favor.”

Obviously, six daytime starts and 12 nighttime starts tell us nothing about Bannister's skills or tendencies. Not as they relate to daytime and nighttime, anyway. But what about 39 daytime starts and 72 nighttime starts? In his career, Bannister's got a 3.87 ERA in day games, 5.49 in night games. He's been slightly better at controlling the strike zone in day games, and given up somewhat fewer home runs.

Does it really mean anything? I don't know. Probably not. If I were going to make any sort of important decision about when Bannister pitches, I wouldn't pay a great deal of attention to those day/night splits unless I had some remotely reasonable explanation for those splits.

I don't have that explanation. Then again, I haven't looked for one. I suspect that Ned Yost hasn't looked for one, either.

Fortunately, this is nothing like an important decision. There's no reasonable difference between Bannister and Davies and Bruce Chen ... and even if there were, so what? The Royals aren't going anywhere, and rotation order is largely irrelevant even if your team is going somewhere.

This is the sort of thing that managers should spend a lot less time worrying about.

Pitchers' year? Not for these guys...

July, 15, 2010
For some reason, I've got a sick fascination with pitchers who are allowed to pitch and pitch and pitch, despite spectacular failure. I don't know if everyone below precisely fits that description, but here are the 10 guys with ERAs higher than 5 who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA rankings:

Even before tacking on 13 runs in five innings last weekend, Scott Kazmir's ERA was 5.98; now it's 6.92. Even during Kazmir's four-game June winning streak, he walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out. It's hard (for me) to say exactly what's wrong with Kazmir ... Except we know he's not throwing as hard as he used to, we know he's striking out many fewer hitters than he used to, and we know he's walking more than he used to. All of which could have been said last year, too. Which isn't an encouraging trend.

Like Kazmir, Nick Blackburn (6.40) pitches for a contender, which makes his continuing presence in the rotation that much more problematic. Blackburn's problem isn't that he's getting too few strikeouts; it's that he's not getting any strikeouts. I exaggerate, of course. But 34 strikeouts in 97 innings is nearly impossible. Blackburn's struck out 3.15 per nine innings; sinker-baller Aaron Cook is the only other ERA qualifier under 4 ... and he's at 3.97 Ks per nine. Blackburn's just operating on a completely different level, which would be cool if that different level wasn't that of a scrappy non-prospect in Triple-A. Fundamentally, he's better than this. Blackburn entered this season with a 4.14 career ERA, which was somewhat lucky but not wildly so, considering his 2.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You can understand why the Twins haven't given up on him yet.

Kevin Millwood's on the DL, so perhaps he shouldn't be on this list. But Millwood has started 18 games for the Orioles, and he does have a 5.77 ERA. Not exactly what management had in mind when they traded for Millwood, hoping his veteran presence would stabilize a rotation composed mostly of much younger pitchers. Granted, the Rangers are paying $3 million of Millwood's salary this season ... which still leaves (roughly) $9 million for the Orioles.

Next we've got a couple of twin Royals, Prince Kyle Davies (5.57) and Prince Brian Bannister (5.56) ...
    First Banny, then Davies:
    Even at their very best,
    Our closer figures to get
    A relaxing two-day rest.

The Royals aren't going anywhere and they don't have anyone better than Davies and Bannister, so they may as well keep pitching. And each is capable of doing better. Just slightly better, though. If the Royals ever get better, they'll have room for just one No. 5 starter.

Scott Feldman (5.32) is the one guy who really, really wasn't supposed to be on this list. Not after his 17-8, 4.08 ERA campaign just one year ago. Of course, Feldman's skills never really supported that season's record ... But then again, they don't suggest a 5.32 ERA, either. Feldman was mildly lucky last year, and this year he's been terribly unlucky, giving up a .343 batting average on balls in play. Feldman's going to win more games and post a lower ERA in the second half, which is good news for the Rangers and better news for Feldman (whose postseason role is now -- with the Rangers' acquisition of Cliff Lee -- highly questionable).

Cleveland's Justin Masterson (5.31) is another guy who just needs to keep pitching, and for two reasons: 1) His team isn't going anywhere anyway, and 2) there are some things to like here. Masterson throws hard, his ground-ball rate is high, and his strikeout rate is fine. He does walk too many hitters (and always has), but if he can cut his walk rate by 25 percent he'll be a perfectly fine No. 3 or 4 starter.

Everybody mentioned above suffers the disadvantage of pitching in the Big Boy League, with their better hitters and designated hitters and the like. To be fair, I could have focused on a league-neutral statistic like ERA+ or something. I didn't. I like numbers that start with 5. Sue me. But all this makes San Diego's Kevin Correia (5.26) really stand out, as he pitches in a pitcher's park in the National League. Just think how good the Padres would be if they didn't have the worst pitcher (ERA-wise) in the league. Correia looked pretty good last year. But he's 29, and in his career he's got a 4.54 ERA as a starter. Maybe he's just not quite good enough to pitch for a team with postseason aspirations.

Tim Wakefield (5.22), you can judge for yourself. I'm not saying anything negative about Kid '66.

And finally, we've got our second National Leaguer, Nate Robertson (5.10). Robertson is simply a place-holder, and the Marlins can hardly worry about his contract; they're paying him $400,000 this season ... while the Tigers are contributing $9.6 million. If you're a fan, enjoy Nate Robertson while you can. You might not see much of him after August.

Greinke learns from the nerds?

November, 18, 2009
In a blog post trumpeting the accomplishments of Brett Anderson, I mentioned Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in passing, and a couple of commenters weren't exactly impressed.

First, from Williamnyy:

    The whole notion of stripping away lucky is very slippery. For starters, FIP completely ignores the fact that a pitcher might have control over how well a batted ball is struck. Intuitively, I think we all know that premise is nonsense. The fact that batters hit so many line drives off Sergio Mitre, but always seem to weakly put the ball in play against Mariano Rivera is not a factor of luck. While the concept of FIP does have some predictive value, it is but a minor tool. Using it as the basis of an assessment is lazy at best. Using statistics sloppily does more to hurt the field of Sabermetrics than ignoring them altogether.

And then, Jimbo3772:

    Another "luck" argument from Neyer ... shocker. He doesn't know a thing about baseball. Just another stats geek. He thinks the difference between a guy getting jammed with a good pitch inside which breaks a bat and induces a weak grounder to the pitcher versus a guy who throws a meatball over the plate that gets roped into the gap is "luck". FIP is another one of those biased, made-up combo statistics which rewards certain stats that it favors and doesn't reward other stats which it disfavors.

It's true that I'm a geek (or at best, a nerd). I suppose I do know a few things about baseball, having made a fairly close study of various aspects of the game over the past 30-some years. But there are definitely a lot of things I don't know. So many things, in fact, that I'm racked by self-doubt (even if I generally hide it pretty well, because nobody likes a writer who's not confident in his opinions). Gosh, maybe this Fielding Independent Pitching is half a crock, of little use to anyone but the pointy-headed goofballs like me who never played a varsity sport.

And then, somehow, maybe even magically (or at least Tyler Kepner-y), I found this:

    “David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack [Greinke] would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”

    To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to fangraphs.com, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

    “That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

    Not many pitchers think that way. But then, Greinke, 26, is not like other pitchers.

No, he's not. He's probably the first supremely talented pitcher to believe that nerds like me -- or rather, truly brilliant nerds like Bill James and Voros McCracken and Tom Tango -- might actually have something to teach a supremely talented pitcher.

It's actually happening, right now, and we're here to enjoy it.

'Disco' Hayes questions the CW

September, 23, 2009
I agree with Tango: Kansas City's Chris "Disco" Hayes has officially taken the lead from Brian Bannister for the title of Sabermetric Player of the Year.

Three Questions for you, Dear Readers:

1. Who is Chris "Disco" Hayes?
He's a 26-year-old submarining reliever who wasn't drafted out of Northwestern but signed with an independent team and eventually earned a professional contract with the Royals. Last year in the Double-A Texas League, he went 5-2 with a 1.64 ERA. This year he pitched even better in Double-A, but got cuffed around after a promotion to Triple-A Omaha. This likely explains why he wasn't a September call-up. Another explanation: Hayes doesn't throw nearly as hard as Brad Ziegler (for example), and Dayton Moore is probably too young to remember Daniel Raymond Quisenberry.

2. How could Chris "Disco" Hayes possibly take Brian Bannister's crown?
Because he really, really thinks about the game. From a long, long essay about defensive moves that might be made, we find this:

    Why don't the fielders ever swap positions?

    I think it's safe to assume every team in the majors does not employ two corner outfielders with exactly the same defensive abilities. I honestly have not watched a single nine inning MLB game on TV yet this year (that's sad, I know...what kind of baseball fan have I become now that I watch 140 games per year from the bullpen?), but I would have to think some teams employ a set of outfielders with varying defensive abilities. So lets say a team has a better defensive right fielder than left fielder. When a right-handed dead-pull hitter comes up to bat, why would the team merely shade the center fielder over to left field to help out the weaker left fielder, yet keep their better outfielder away from the action?

    Why not have him jog over and switch with the left fielder for that batter? I know the ball flight is different in right field than it is in left field, but I don't think it's impossible to think corner outfielders could adapt to being able to play both spots.

And that's just the beginning. It's clear that Hayes really has spent a great deal of time thinking about this stuff, and he's a pretty good writer to boot.

3. How did two players as smart as Hayes and Bannister wind up in such a stupid organization?
I haven't the foggiest idea. The universe is full of mysteries.