Yesterday, Steve Slowinski at DRaysBay had a nice, thought-provoking piece looking at James Shields BABIP rates last year. Two camps formed based on whether or not his 2010 is representative of a three-year decline of becoming more “hittable” or whether it was a bad year and we should expect some bounce-back to career norms going forward. I have to say that I would ally myself with the latter because he’s been a good pitcher during his tenure here and had great numbers when it came to striking guys out and limiting his walks. It’s hard for me to think that if he had such a great season at one aspect of the game then the parts that weren’t as good were more of an anomaly than a trend. Being a thinking man (thanks to FreeZorilla for reminding me of this) I thought it would be a good idea to look at the data drilled down a bit more.
Using the Pitch F/x database set up by Joe Lefkowitz we can look at his BABIP overall and for each pitch type depending on which side of the plate the batter stands on. For this look I used BABIP as:
I also wanted to look at SLGCON’s pretty cousin wOBAcon which uses the same concept of output per plate appearance, but applies the linear weights. Therefore, the formula is:
Here’s James Shields BABIP and wOBAcon versus lefties and righties over the last three years:
Looking at the total lines, we can clearly see just how bad 2010 was for James. No duh, right? Well, it also could be the case that 2008 was just as much out of the norm in the other direction. Jamie’s BABIP to lefties was .025 points lower in 2008 than 2009 while being .017 higher in 2010. Against righties he was .027 points lower in 2008 while being .040 points higher in 2010 than 2009. Meanwhile, his wOBAcon against lefties was .030 points lower in 2008 than 2009 while being a mere .002 points higher in 2010. The real crazy comparison is his wOBAcon against righties where he was .033 points lower in 2008 compared to 2009, but a full .083 higher in 2010 than the middle year. If you’re with me so far, then we can agree that perhaps 2009 is a typical James Shields season with 2008 and 2010 showcasing the good and bad end of the spectrums. The really interesting stat is that wOBAcon against righties, so let’s dig into this aspect a little deeper, but by all means use and abuse the numbers for the other categories.
James’s devastating change-up is a joy to behold when guys are swinging through it, but when they’re mashing it all over the yard, then he probably shouldn’t be throwing it to same-handers after all. The curve looked pretty strong, almost as good as 2008, with both years much better than 2009. His cutter was utterly atrocious after using it pretty effectively in the two previous years, but his four-seam fastball follows the same story. The two-seamer was actually better in 2010 than 2009 and not tracked at all in 2008, while his rarely used slider wasn’t horrible. What this tells me is that James should at least think about using less cutters and throwing more two-seamers, though if his fastball is as bad next season as it was in 2010 then it’s going to be pretty hard to see him being effective against righties.
We can look at these numbers across the team last year to get some more ideas of what’s going on. Though defensive alignments might change on a daily basis, over the course of the season there should be a pretty standard defensive alignment that each pitcher enjoys. Both BABIP and wOBAcon depend on defense, but if we can assume that defense is static for each guy then we can start to see which pitches got hit harder in 2010. Keep in mind that these aren’t huge samples in the best of cases and pretty small in the worst. I won’t breakdown each of the numbers as I think you should have a good idea of what is being shown here and can draw your own conclusions:
Green indicates that the number shown is smaller or equal than the total column, while red indicates the opposite. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts in the comments and I hope we can have a strong dialogue about this thing. So fire away and let me know of any questions that you might have.