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Not Sure What All This Really Means, But . . . .

So I continued playing with that BIPchart software, and what I was most curious about, was whether or not these batted ball in play charts might be able to shed some light on why a pitcher might have been better or worse than "normal" in 2006.

Like, we all kind of got that Brad Lidge pitched below his benchmark last year. And by now, we all know that Jason Jennings had a career year in 2006.

So is there anything in the data this BIPchart brings--or in the numbers we can derive from it--that gives us any clue as to why Lidge was worse, or Jennings was better, than usual during the 2006 season?

I figured I'd start by looking at everyone who threw more than 30 innings for Houston in 2006, plus the new guys Jennings and Williams.

As you recall, the BIPchart gave us data on the four types of hits (grounders flies, liners, and popups) divided by both handedness of the batter and direction of batted ball for four years, 2003- 2006. Just in case there might be some patterns that were independent of handedness or direction, I first combined the numbers so we could see, for example, the percentages of Pettitte's line drives given up to lefties in 2005, regardless of direction, or Jennings' flyballs to center in '04, regardless of who hit them.

Then I figured four year averages for each pitcher, and compared them to 2006.

For example, 13.85% of all the balls put into play vs. the Rocket in 2006 were groundballs to left hit by righthanders. But when you take an average of the four-year period 2003- 2006, that actually represents a 0.48% increase for Clemens.

Which really doesn't say much at all. I don't have a degree in statistics or anything, but I don't think I'm out of line if I say that a one-year difference of 1/2% or so is not significant. Basically, Clemens gave up the same amount of grounders to left to righthanded batters in 2006 as he always has, or at least as often as could be expected at any time in the last four years. . . .

Most pitchers, to most fields, against most classes of batters, were that way. You saw less than a point, maybe a point or a point and a half of difference. Nothing that screamed, "OK! pay attention to this!"

But there were a few guys who DID display a big difference in some categories. I went ahead and made four lists: a) the largest differences in types of hits--up or down-- between the 2003 - 06 baseline and 2006 by itself when considering handedness and direction; b) the largest differences when only considering handedness c) the largest differences when only considering direction; and d) the largest differences when disregarding both handedness and direction.

You'll see the data past the fold:

Top Five Largest Differences in Batted Ball Data Between 2006 and a Four-Year Average for The Astros in '06

Considering Hand and Field
Pitcher Trend Category
Springer Down 6.14% Lefthanded Line Drives to Right
Lidge Up 4.61% Righthanded Grounders to Left
Qualls Up 3.47% Righthanded Grounders to Left
Lidge Up 3.37% Lefthanded Flyballs To Right
Springer Up 3.22% Lefthanded Flyballs To Center
Considering Field Regardless of Hand
Pitcher Trend Category
Springer Down 6.06% Line Drives to Left
Lidge Down 3.91% Flyballs To Right
Lidge Up 3.35% Grounders to Left
Wheeler Down 3.04% Grounders to Left
Qualls Up 2.98% Grounders to Left
Regardless of Field But Considering Hand
Pitcher Trend Category
Springer Down 6.64% Left Handed Line Drives
Lidge Up 6.15% Righthanded Grounders
Qualls Up 4.21% Righthanded Grounders
Williams Down 4.00% Righthanded Flyballs
Wheeler Down 3.96% Righthanded Grounders
Regardless of Hand or Field
Pitcher Trend Category
Springer Up 6.82% Flyballs
Lidge Up 5.37% Grounders
Springer Down 5.34% Line Drives
Jennings Up 4.25% Flyballs
Wheeler Down 3.89% Grounders

Well, Russ Springer had his best year for Houston by WHIP and by Runs Saved Against Average in 2006, and it might not be stretching things to say that he did so by turning what had been line drives to left into fly balls to center.

Springer gave up fewer line drives in general in 2006, and this was fueled by a large drop in line drives allowed to right against lefthanders. There was a very similar surge in flies to center from lefthanders, and this harkens back to what I was I was saying in the first article on BIPchart: you need to allow Minute Maid to work for yopu as a pitcher. Line drives to left: bad. Flies to center: good.

Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encylopedia tells us that Brad Lidge was six runs worse than average in 2006, and Baseball Reference tells us that Lidge's WHIP of 1.40 was by far his worst as an Astro.

And we all remember what it was like to watch him during the '06 campaign.

But could it have been because he was gving up too many grounders?

The single largest change for Lidge was the amount of grounders to left field, asnd this appears to correlate kind of poorly with what we know. How could grounders to the left side where Adam lives cause him problems?

But in thinking about it, perhaps the higher groundball ratio to righthanders might portend a loss of velocity. You're only going to left as a righthander if you're ahead of the ball. And if you're getting blown away, you're not getting ahead of the ball. Same deal with the lefthanded flies to right: if the ball is faster than your swing, you the lefthander are not going to right.

I still think Lidge's biggest problem was loss of command, but I also think I've convinced myself that a loss of consistent velocity is showing itself in these numbers.

Chad Qualls had some well known breakdowns in 2006, but his RSAA of 8 was the same as the year before, and his WHIP was actually better than it's ever been.

Like Lidge, Qualls saw an increase in groundballs to the left side, but with Chadley that's hardly a bad thing. Maybe the velocity was down, but the vector component that Qualls relies on is also down. When hitters start to elevate the ball against Qualls, that's when you worry. Flyballs overall actually WERE up slightly with Chadley at 1.84%, and maybe that explains some of the bumps in the road for him during '06. But the larger component--that he is still increasing his groundballs--I think is much more significant.

You're welcome to submit your best interpretations for the fluctuations we saw with Jason Jennings and Woody Williams in '06. Everybody talks about the humidor, and I might guess that an increase in flyballs with a heavier, sodden ball might be good, but the truth is, I don't know from humidor, or what effects it might have. I'll just call it passing strange that a guy increases his fly balls in what has historically been an offensively oriented ballpark, and then has his best year ever.

And with Williams, all I can say is that with Petco working to his advantage, you would guess that he would have wanted his fly balls from righthanders to increase and not decline.

To sum up, I'll say that I have no idea whether any of the data I came up with means anything or not. But at the very least, this little exercise I undertook highlights just how much data we have at our disposal these days.

As before I invite your comments, and if you want a copy of the spread sheet I put together to do this stuff, just drop me an email. I'll be glad to send it on.