Cleveland Sports Insiders

Ernie Camacho's favorite blog…


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Rebuilding Salazar: Never a Groundball Pitcher

During his 2013 redemption campaign, Ubaldo Jimenez broke out in a way that shocked the Cleveland Indians’ fandom. While his walk rate remained high, and in spite of reduced fastball velocity, Jimenez struck out batters at a better rate than he ever had during his career. When asked about the role of Mickey Callaway, Jimenez stated, “When you have a pitching coach that is only telling you what to do and isn’t listening, it’s hard. Mickey has a lot of knowledge, but he also listens. He’s always trying to find out what you think and how you feel you need to improve.”

The lesson taught by this interaction between Callaway and Jimenez, that an instructor is at his best when he recognizes the pitcher’s strengths, is one that applies very directly to recently-excellent, but even more recently-subpar and yet more recently-demoted, Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Danny Salazar. Namely, Salazar’s skill is in generating swinging strikes and in working up in the zone, and to ignore this fact is to ignore the lessons that Callaway espoused only a year ago. Continue reading

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Diary of a Baseball to the Cleveland Outfield

It’s still kind of surprising to me that I bought one of these things. It’s embarrassing, really, that I’m buying a book just to let out my feelings. I feel really stupid.

Have you ever lost someone close to you? Not, like, they died or anything. Just – have you seen someone you used to be good friends with drift away? It wasn’t as though they were my closest friend in the world – what Andrelton and I had was – we were really close. But I’m not trying to make a friendship-ranking here; I’m not Buzzfeed and friendships aren’t listicles. I just want to let the Cleveland outfield know that I miss them.

God, it’s just so… stupid, to write that in a diary. ‘You’re just a baseball,’ is what my conscience tells me, ‘so go out and actually tell them. Be the bigger man.’ Baseball, I guess is correct. Be the bigger baseball. Not literally bigger, so as to violate MLB regulations, but figuratively. I need to mend bridges between me and the Cleveland outfield. That’s what my conscience tells me.  Continue reading


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Strikeout and Swinging Strike Percentiles: May 26th

Entering the season, Carlos Carrasco’s strikeout rate posed something of a conundrum. Carrasco’s ‘stuff’ going into the year was very good – put less interestingly, his pitch mix induced a swinging rate that was average to above-average for starters. Typically, the meme for minor-leaguers is that they have good-looking pitches but that those pitches don’t translate to whiffs. This was the explanation reflexively thrown out there for Carrasco, despite the fact that his pitches did translate to whiffs. The gap, then, was the dissonance between Carrasco’s Swinging Strike rate and his strikeout rate – in other words, the approach was good, but the results did not follow.

Entering late May, this dissonance no longer exists – Carrasco’s above-average swinging strike rate has resulted in an above-average strikeout rate, as one expects. Raw Whiff Percentage is the leading predictor of strikeout rate, and it does so with incredible reliability. Of course, judging by Carrasco’s exiled last-man-in-the-pen role, Cleveland has the same regard for Whiff%/FIP/xFIP that Poet Laureate Violent J has for Scientists – who should not instruct him De Magnetum Natura – but those of us who harbor the terribly misguided delusion that the Cleveland ballclub has any interest in saber might be interested in the current starters’ Swinging Strike/Strikeout differential. Continue reading


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Carlos Santana: Catcher, Third Baseman, Frog

It is in response to momentous events in our lives that we fashion ourselves anew. A distant father’s death might prompt a son to imitate his father, becoming himself more distant. A cancer diagnosis prompt one to begin cooking crystal meth with a former student, and a viewing of Japanese art production Naruto might prompt high school students to comport themselves as ninjas.

Carlos Santana appears to have experienced just such a momentous event.

Carlos Santana

In the top of the seventh inning in Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Carlos Santana hit a two-run home run, and he responded to this event in predictable fashion. In response to catching a Big Fly, you see, Carlos Santana has become a frog.


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Oakland Series Sweep In Sonnet Form

Credit: Wikimedia

Sonny Gray

Ol’ Melvin’s club is not a trifling band:
a series sweep by them is not the worst;
Yet Tito’s team a thousand runners strand
and forthwith! Rolls another ball by first.

Kind FIP suggests mere eighteen runs against,
and if one cheers for fWAR it brings one glee.
Yet somber box scores give their grave aghast
reply, “the team still lost by twenty-three.”

One did this D, its fate, long ere foretell
From Soho down to Brighton gappers fall
A single’s ‘seeing’ eye – by sense of smell!
This infield defense plays a mean pinball

On Monday the results be less obscene
When Kluber’s great Society convenes


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Nick Swisher’s Zemblanitous Season

S: Wikimedia

The Island of Nova Zembla (Wikimedia)

Located off the northernmost peninsula of the European continent and bisected by the 75°N parallel, the island called Novaya Zemlya – known to the west as ‘Nova Zembla’ – is, neither figuratively nor literally, warmly regarded. Boasting a mean annual temperature of a balmy 23°F and notable for serving as the testing site for the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, Nova Zembla was regarded so bleakly by British author William Boyd that, in his 2001 book, Armadillo, he coined the term ‘Zemblanity’ as a previously non-existent antonym for ‘Serendipity;’ in contrast to serendipity meaning ‘the unexpected, coincidental occurrence of lucky events,’ zemblanity means ‘the unexpected, coincidental occurrence of unlucky events.’

Zemblanity is perhaps a nearly-perfect word to describe Nick Swisher’s 2014 campaign. Although, unlike the island, Nick Swisher has not been radioactive hitherto in 2014, nevertheless, entirely like the island, Swisher has been below-freezing. Most applicable of all, however, is the actual definition: Nick Swisher’s season has been zemblanitious in the sense that his presently sub-Mendoza batting average is as the result of terrible luck.

While it’s frequently difficult for baseball fans – people, generally – to accept, the fact is that in all things, results can vary widely without regard to its input processes. In sum, a good approach at the plate infrequently leads to great results, frequently leads to good results, and infrequently leads to poor results. This unlikely situation – that Swisher’s approach has been good but yielded poor results – is precisely what has occurred. Continue reading


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Cleveland’s ERA-FIP Gap: The Defense IS That Bad

The ‘Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis’ process is regarded as a central tenet of Western Dialectic; namely, one begins with a thesis, an original assertion, which is refuted by an an antithesis, a rebuttal of the thesis, before finally a synthesis is reached, a combination of the thesis and antithesis, perceived to be the truth of the matter.

In terms of evaluating pitcher effectiveness, the thesis in question is what has been termed the ‘Old School’ of baseball thought – the idea that pitchers can will the ball to be hit harder or softer, that pitchers have control over how hard a ball is hit once it reaches the bat. The antithesis, then, is Voros McCracken’s idea of Fielding-Independent Pitching, the idea that the Three True Outcomes – strikeouts, walks, and home runs, those outcomes considered most within a pitcher’s control – are the only things within a pitcher’s control.

The synthesis of these two, then, has been the advent of derived, or regressed, FIP-like equations, such as SIERA or xFIP. It’s been proven to be the case that pitchers do have control over Ground Ball and Fly Ball rates – Justin Masterson’s sinker, for instance, induces ground-ball contact at an elite rate, but it does not limit the strength of contact that is made with the sinker. Hence, the incorporation of the two pitcher-dependent Batted Ball outcomes – GB/FB – has led to the advent of xFIP, the synthesis between old-school and new-school.

Yet there exists an opinion that the Indians’ pitching staff is not so skillful as their xFIP lets on. In the article ‘The Indians’ Paradoxical Pitching Staff‘ published nearly a week ago, Tony Blengino detailed why he believed the Indians’ pitching staff was better than its below-average ERA but worse than its xFIP. While Blengino has compiled thus far an extremely lucid, intelligent body of work, this particular assertion is very probably incorrect. Continue reading


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Opening the Plexiglas Door

The Plexiglas Principle states that a team that unexpectedly breaks out one year should be expected to decline the following year; rather than continue improving, one should expect that team to decline from their previous year’s success.

Regression to the mean is the basis of this principle. Not only should one expect luck-based statistics like BABIP to return to the mean, one should also expect skill-based statistics to regress toward the mean. Expecting Raburn’s or (pre-injury) Kluber’s exceptional skill-based statistics to hold steady or improve is an unreasonable expectation, but that does not mean that the odds-on likeliest possibility is an almost total return to the mean, but merely a regression toward the mean: excellent performances, ones that exceeded projections, are much more likely to be ‘good’ rather than ‘excellent,’ but they’re also unlikely to return to being merely average. Continue reading


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Foul Ball Rates: Danny Salazar and Projections

Tuesday last, Danny Salazar took to the raised mound at the center of the base-ball diamond for the first time in Spring 2014. While Salazar’s own performance was rather overshadowed by the much-discussed outing of Trevor Bauer, Salazar’s own performance was less-than-inspiring, inducing only three whiffs over the course of his 42-pitch outing, for a Swinging Strike rate of 7.1%, according to my own personal collection of spring training statistics. This should neither surprise anyone nor be cause for concern: spring training means little, and the first start of spring training means even less.

Yet one trait in particular was gripping in Danny Salazar’s outing against the Angels: he induces a great many foul balls. While Tuesday was only one spring training game, it was wholly reminiscent of his 2013 outings wherein his pitch counts ran extraordinarily high – not because he was walking batters, but because batters were making such frequent foul contact. In 2013, Salazar Foul-Per-Contact rate was 55.6% – substantially above the league average of 48%.

Foul contact rate, as illustrated by this well-aged article from 2008, is a fairly unequivocal good for pitchers. It correlates positively and (pun incoming) strikingly with K rates, and correlates negatively with all manner of ‘batting-against’ statistics. Foul rates correlate positively with positive pitching traits and negatively with negative pitching traits. If one is a major-league pitcher who both wishes to succeed and who has an abiding admiration for the aesthetics of ten-pitch at-bats, high foul rates are a way to combine these two, and to varying degrees normal, desires.

More remarkably, it’s true that Foul% also negatively correlates with HR/FB rate – meaning, in short, that given Salazar’s high foul rate, his HR/FB rate should have been average-or-below. In the particular case of Danny Salazar, this leaves one with decided optimism. By far the most prominent criticism of Danny Salazar in the aftermath of his 2013 campaign was that he had trouble with the long-ball, which is certainly true: his HR/FB rate was well above league average. However, HR/FB has been shown to be one of the least stable year-to-year statistics, so simply because HR/FB ratio is high one year, there’s rarely reason to believe it will be high the following year. In Salazar’s case, his extremely high Foul/Contact rate indicates that not only should his HR/FB rate be merely league-average going forwards, there’s reason for Cleveland fans to believe that his true talent level on HR/FB rates should actually be better than league average; in short, Salazar’s home run rate, so problematic in 2013, may turn out to be one of Salazar’s strengths in 2014.

The correlation between Foul% and HR/FB is a weak one, to be sure, but Foul% is the stat that correlates more strongly with HR/FB rate than any other. The idea that Danny Salazar has a home run problem, the idea that his fastball is too straight to not result in large amounts of home runs, is one that’s understandable: last year, after all, his fastball was straight, and he gave up many home runs. There’s little reason, however, to believe that his fastball was a causative factor in his home run rate. A pitcher is extraordinarily unlikely to throw fifty-two innings of transcendent baseball if he has a glaring, fatal flaw. The HR problem he supposedly exhibited in 2013, then, was very likely mere statistical noise.