For a second time, I'll steal David's "three things" framework for the "Talking Astros Sabermetrics" column. No earth shattering research here---just three saber oriented nuggets. If this makes a few analytic baseball thoughts bounce around in your head, then the article has met its purpose. Feel free to share those thoughts in the comments.
CHANGES IN RUN ENVIRONMENT AND wOBA
Yesterday Beyond the Boxscore (BtB) had an interesting article on the increasing value of power as demonstrated by wOBA weightings. If you didn't know already, wOBA is an overall measure of batters' offensive performance; you can consult Fangraphs' glossary for more information on wOBA.
The offensive environment in the major leagues has been declining in recent years. Simply put, baseball is going through a cycle in which the balance between hitting and pitching is moving in the direction of better pitching and less offense. Because wOBA weights the relative value of each offensive event based on its expected contribution to run scoring, the decline in offensive output affects the relative value of those events. Given a decline in run scoring, we can expect a general increase in value for all offensive events which contribute to scoring runs. Think of it like supply and demand: when the supply of runs decreases, the value of events which lead to runs will increase.
By examining the changing weightings for wOBA during the period of offensive decline, the article demonstrates that the increased values disproportionately favors power (HRs, extra base hits). Here is a summation from the BtB piece:
We cannot simply say, "Offense is down, so hitters are more valuable" as I naively did in the opening paragraph. Rather we find that offense is down in such a way that makes all hitters more valuable, but makes power hitters even more valuable. This is not the most insightful finding in the world, but it demonstrates a powerful idea, the idea that a depressed offensive environment affects player’s value unequally.
The illustration of this point is well done. Two completely different types of players, Ichiro (a high batting average hitter) and Nelson Cruz (a HR hitter), had identical wOBA value in 2009. However, in 2014, the exact same performances would cause Cruz to be 2.5 runs better than Ichiro. This is a small difference, but it shows how the change in run environment has given an advantage to the HR hitter.
Look at it this way. If the offensive environment makes it increasingly difficult to convert base runners into runs, then a HR, which automatically creates a run, has a rising relative value. The same logic applies, in lessor degree, to other extra base hits.
The 2014 Astros' team was constructed to produce HRs. The Astros are 4th in HRs in the majors---and the three teams above the Astros (Rockies, Blue Jays, Orioles) have rocket launcher ballparks. Chris Carter may be a prototype of the player profile which will have greater value in the future, assuming that the league offensive environment continues to decline.
MORE ON ASTROS PITCH FRAMING
Back to BtB again...not surprisingly, since it is one of the better saber focused blogs. A week ago, Beyond the Boxscore carried an article on extra strikes produced by pitcher-catcher batteries in 2014. One of the reasons for looking at batteries, rather than attempting to credit pitch framing results to either the catcher or pitcher, is that there may be synergistic effects. For instance, a very accurate pitcher who knows he is pitching to a good pitch framer may feel more comfortable pitching just off the edges of the zone. A pitcher who has no control may be unable to take advantage of the good pitch framer. Or a pitcher throwing to a bad pitch framer may feel that he has to pitch in the fat part of the zone.
Let's get to the Astros' connection. The Keuchel-Castro battery is among the Top 10 batteries in garnering extra strikes. Earlier this week, David Coleman noted the growing evidence of Jason Castro's value as a pitch framing catcher. So throw this on top of that pile of evidence in Castro's favor. This shows the beneficial result of combining Keuchel's command and Castro's framing.
This also raises a possible market inefficiency which the Astros might utilize. If the team can identify pitchers who are under performing because they throw to weak pitch framers, then those pitchers might be advantageous acquisition targets. With Castro and Corporan behind the plate, the pitchers are likely to improve. In the writers' email thread, I tossed out the idea of trading for the Marlins' Nathan Eovaldi, who is part of one of the lowest ranked pitch framing batteries. The other part of the battery, catcher Jerrod Saltalamacchia, is one of the worst pitch framers, based on his frequent appearance among worst batteries.
USING FIELDING DEPENDENT PITCHING TO IDENTIFY BOUNCE BACK PITCHERS
Fielding Dependent Pitching (FDP) is a fangraphs value stat which you don't see cited very often. Yet FDP can be a very useful statistic, particularly if you are interested in a quick evaluation of the potential for positive regression by a pitcher. An explanatory article is shown here.
Briefly, FDP measures the difference in WAR based upon actual runs allowed instead of FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). The differential between FIP and actual runs allowed per 9 IP is broken down into two causes: balls in play (BIP) and left on base (LOB). BIP is driven by BABIP. LOB reflects additional runs allowed due solely to the timing of allowing hits or walks. Pitchers have limited control over BABIP, so the BIP component is a good indicator of potential for regression. Pitchers exercise more control over the LOB component, but there undoubtedly is a "luck" element here too, particularly if the LOB component is at a very high or low level.
Based on FDP, Brett Oberholtzer and Josh Fields appear to be prime candidates for positive regression--hopefully in the form of an improved ERA next season. The FDP hurt their actual RA/9 by 1.4 and 1.9 wins, respectively. Oberholtzer's FDP is primarily due to BIP, while Fields' FDP is primarily caused by the timing of events (LOB). Oberholtzer has .325 BABIP and Fields, a .343 BABIP---both of which are likely unsustainably high. Look for both pitchers' ERA to move in the direction of their FIP next year.