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Dec 222010

Friend of the blog Steve H made a fascinating comparison on Twitter last night that highlights the power of perception and narrative in sports:

Player A: 74.2 IP, 9.16 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, .72 HR/9, 1.93 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.59 xFIP
Player B: 71.2 IP, 9.67 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, .75 HR/9, 4.40 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 3.34 xFIP

The analysis here is pretty simple. The two players are very similar across the board, with the peripherals favoring Player B by a bit. The difference, of course, comes from Player B having a .342 BABIP (20 points above his career levels) and a 66.6 LOB%, compared to a .225 BABIP and 86.0 LOB% for Player A. Basically, Player A was lucky while Player B was unlucky, such that the perception of the two players is vastly different despite very similar performances.

Player A is Daniel Bard. Bard is seen as a relief ace, and many thought the Red Sox might non-tender Jonathan Papelbon and let Bard take over the closer role on a potential playoff team. He is certainly the closer-in-waiting, and is perceived as being one of the hot young arms in the sport.

Player B is Joba Chamberlain, who is viewed by many to be a massive disappointment. A “failure” as a starter and underwhelming last season as a reliever, he has become the player most frequently inserted into random trade proposals by Yankees fans. Some have suggested that the Yankees do not see him as being a big part of their future, and his stock is certainly far lower than Bard’s.

And yet, the numbers show that Joba was about as good as Bard was last season, and that with a little bit of luck, the perception about him would likely be vastly different. Furthermore, Bard is actually 3 months older than Chamberlain, a fact that would surprise most but suggests that they are on equal footing in terms of development. I do not mean to suggest that Joba was actually better than Bard in 2010, as there is something to be said for ERA and results, such that I would not explain all of Joba’s struggles away using the “luck” factor. But the peripherals clearly tell us that these two pitchers should be regarded similarly, and I would be far from shocked if Joba and Bard put forth extremely similar seasons in 2011.

21 Responses to “The Power of Perception”

  1. This was really fun to study, thanks Moshe. Unbelieveable and it makes me think that perhaps I’ve been too hard on Joba.  (Quote)

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  2. “…there is something to be said about ERA and results…”

    Is there something more important than results? Bard had the better season. Movement on the vaunted Bard FB might disappear here and there, but this kid actually pretty damn good. Now if Joba can throw that slider at will, the man could be a dominant set-up guy.  (Quote)

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    MJ Reply:

    Is there something more important than results? Bard had the better season. Movement on the vaunted Bard FB might disappear here and there, but this kid actually pretty damn good. Now if Joba can throw that slider at will, the man could be a dominant set-up guy.

    I couldn’t agree more, Reggie. Until Joba learns how to better locate his pitches — not just his slider but his fastball, too — he’ll never maximize his talent and will only be a fat kid that throws hard.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    He can’t locate his slider for anything in the world, if anything he has much better command with the fastball because it’s actually called a strike once and a while.

    The problem comes from the fact that no hitter respects that he can actually throw the slider for a strike so therefore they never actually swing and miss at it and he’s forced to come into the zone with the fastball more and more and more until he gets blasted, there are also times where he gives up on one pitch or the other for whatever reason and comes out with only sliders on the brain or only fastball and never really tries to mix the other pitch in enough.

    I think what the 3 of us are saying is he has a long way to go before we will say all his problems are “bad luck”.

    There is also something to be said for the stuff each man carries… Bard is very much like Joba of 07 because quite often reaches triple digits and he averaged a 97.8 MPH fastball which is quite a bit different than Joba’s 94.6 MPH average of last season, one simply has more dominating stuff so it’s really not a fair comparison anymore.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    And yet Joba struck out more and walked fewer. It suggests that the results may be misleading us about their respective abilities.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I never said he didn’t strike people out he has a fastball that gets swing and misses but you can’t even pretend like he locates his slider and throws it consistently for strikes because he doesn’t.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I think we may be talking past each other here. I’m not saying Joba is perfect, nor am I saying that he has nothing to work on. But I know from interacting with you that you believe in things like FIP, xFIP, K and BB rate, etc. So you understand that his peripherals can help us realize that the most basic measures of results may be misleading in some cases. In this case, all I am saying is that the 2010 season for these 2 pitchers was much closer than it seemed. As such, if you are using your available data to project the future for these two, the projections would likely be closer than most would expect. The fact that Bard may have more dominating stuff (which doesnt seem to bear out in his rate stats, by the way) doesnt really alter that conclusion.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Nothing is more important than result. The question is whether those results are repeatable, and what they tell us about the future. In this case, the peripherals suggest that the results are misleading.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Isn’t it a little hard to determine if the results are repeatable when neither one has had all that large a sample size?

    If we accept that Joba will never be the Joba from 07 then we can’t use those bullpen numbers to determine what he will do in the future and since he has been switched back and forth between the rotation and pen so much we only have 2010 as a watermark for Joba’s numbers as this Joba in the pen alone right?

    Therefore we are using a sample size of less than 75 innings to determine who the real Joba is, isn’t that a little inconclusive?  (Quote)

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  3. Bard did come in second in the league only to Paelbon in blown saves so from that standpoint he didn’t have the greatest year.

    I also don’t like the he’s just unlucky approach because I watched his game and as the pressure went up and the higher leverage the situation was he got “unluckier” via the home run than before, so if unlucky means wasn’t able to handle pressure then I agree.  (Quote)

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  4. Great column. Eye-opener…  (Quote)

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  5. You guys are a laugh RIOT. Joba “never” gets a swing an miss ? He can’t locate his pitches so he has to come in with the fastball and gets “blasted”, and then its “not a fair comparison” ?

    Wow.

    Did you miss the numbers Moshe posted ?

    Joba struck out MORE batters (so much for batters NEVER swing and miss)
    Joba walked LESS batters
    Joba gave up exactly the same number of HR  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    First of all my comments regarding Joba have nothing to do with Bard because it doesn’t really matter how close their peripherals are Bard averages 3 more MPH on his fastball and can reach the 101 mark something Joba can not do anymore so as far as I am concerned they are 2 different pitchers because Bard has the ability to live in the high 90′s and I don’t believe any of us think Joba can do that anymore for whatever reason.

    Who said they never swing and miss? Seems like you didn’t actually read the whole post again and just assumed that people were saying he doesn’t strikeout batters when if you had read you would know I was only talking about his slider and the production coming from that pitch alone.

    I wasn’t talking about his fastball, anyone who can dial up a fastball to 95 MPH and occasion higher than that can blow someone away with it and will get their fair share of strikeouts. I also wasn’t talking about his overall strikeout numbers I was simply talking about his one major flaw from a pure pitchers stand point and that is that he can not locate his slider for strikes consistently and no one can debate that

    I also have no idea how good or bad Bard’s curve or slider is and for all I know he relies only on his fastball (just looked at fangraphs and Bard throws a fastball 72.8% of the time compared to Joba’s 65.3%), so once again I wasn’t comparing the two I was simply talking about 1 pitch on 1 pitcher.

    He had a much more live fastball this year and it showed in his K numbers but it’s clear if you watch Joba from 07 his slider is no longer that good, batters could know he was going to throw a slider and they would still swing and miss but now the pitch just isn’t what it use to be as far as break goes and because batters know how hard it is for his to throw it for a strike.

    In 07 Joba’s horizontal movement on the slider was 3.2 in 2010 it was down to 2.2 (up from 2.1 in 2009), his vertical movement went from .9 to .4 this year (up from .1 in 2009) so it is clear the slider ratings have dropped at least some there is proof of that, so what is wrong with pointing it out?

    If Moshe had posted about how his slider isn’t rated as highly as it was in 2007 you would have no problem with the information and you would be trying to belittle others who didn’t agree.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Regarding the “not a fair comparison” part…

    Do you really think it’s fair to compare a guy who maxes out at 95-96 to a guy who maxes out at 100-101? They really live in two different levels of the velocity world now.

    Besides that Bard’s offspeed pitches are way nastier than Joba’s are… Bard’s horizontal movement on his slider was 8.0 this season up from 6.6 and his horizontal movement on his curve was 8.0 up from 7.1 (Joba’s curve was at 4.4 and his slider at 2.2).

    So unless Bard’s velocity drops and unless his breaking pitches start having less break to them like with Joba Bard has much more potential going forward, thus my comment that it isn’t fair to judge them against each other long term.  (Quote)

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    Oz Reply:

    “Seems like you didn’t actually read the whole post again”
    Of course he didn’t read your whole post. There are 13 comments and you wrote 6 of them. After 2 or 3 comments on the same post, readers tend to stop listening to you.
    T.O. needs a time out.  (Quote)

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  6. To me, a pitcher’s BAPIP has little to do with luck. It is a meatball factor expression. They hit it hard: it went through the defenses.  (Quote)

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    Disco Reply:

    Or Derek Jeter could be your shortstop  (Quote)

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    smurfy Reply:

    and if he’s serving meatballs, that’s the highest percentage use for one, defender of the faith.  (Quote)

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  7. Wow. Those numbers are startlingly similar. I know that you’re a big FIP guy, Mo, and it certainly is a valuable stat to put perspective on relievers who have such small sample sizes that their ERA is strongly affected by luck.

    I do think, though, that some pitchers are able to bear down in a big spot and get the big pitch when they need it while others struggle under pressure. An ERA/FIP discrepancy could be explained as much by an edge or deficit in mentality as by sheer luck.

    I agree with your overall point that Joba still has a good chance to be an extremely valuable pitcher.  (Quote)

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  8. I’m not sure its all luck with Joba. He falls in love with his slider, and on nights when it’s not there (or not there for the first few batters) he really gets pounded until he finds it. A bad slider might as well be put on a tee for most MLB hitters. He needs to learn how to work in the curve more, quickly identify what’s working and what isn’t, and maybe get a better feel on when he’s warmed up and when he isn’t. He needs to mature as a MLB pitcher.  (Quote)

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