Gassko: Johnson Up, Wang Down in 2007

David Gassko has a piece up at  the Hardball Times about which pitchers were especially lucky and which pitchers were unlucky in 2006. Using DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics) and LIPS (Luck Independent Pitching Statistics), Gassko concludes that Chien-Ming Wang was the luckiest pitcher in 2006: "While Wang was worth 52 runs above replacement last year, he should have been worth about seven, according to LIPS, so Yankees fans should expect a big step backwards this year." At the same time, Randy Johnson, the pitcher so many Yankees fans are anxious to get rid of, was one of the unluckiest, and Gassko expects bigger things from him in 2007: "New York can legitimately expect an under-4.00 ERA from the Big Unit next season, which will make for a nice comeback after his 5.00 ERA in ‘06."

And that is not all, loyal readers of YFSF. Gassko also writes that Josh "The Most Overrated Human Being Ever!" Beckett actually was very unlucky this past season: "…the LIPS stats show that Beckett allowed many more home runs than we would have expected. Expect him to have a much better season next year."

As with all statistics, DIPS and LIPS are not the end-all and should be viewed with suspicion and applied according to your personal biases. For instance, Gassko is clearly wrong about Wang and Beckett (Wang transcends stats, he is a freaking pitching genius; Beckett is rated better than he actually is by a lot of reasonable people, I clearly understand this while everyone else is a bit crazy), but is probably right about Johnson (the numbers do not lie).

Another note on Johnson: After 2005, most Red Sox fans were not ready to count Curt Schilling out, even though he had posted a mid 5 ERA that season. Their reasoning (which eventually showed itself to be true) was that Schilling’s poor 2005 was, in large part, a result of his struggles with injuries. In the off-season, he recovered, and his 2006 was very good. At the end of the 2006 season, we find out that Johnson, for a large part of the year, was dealing with a back injury, which he recently had successful surgery for. Presumably before a trade occurs, the D-Back (or whatever team eventually gets him) will look at his medical records, do a physical and deem him ready to go for 2006. Otherwise, the trade isn’t happening. My point is that Johnson will probably be healthier in 2007 than he was in 2006, and he has a history of being a spectacular pitcher, actually a better pitcher than Schilling. Perhaps, I’m deluded, but I’m fully expecting a rebound by Johnson in 2007, and if that happens, he’s going to be a #1 or #2 pitcher. Maybe, the money we save will help the Yanks land a Clemens or Zito. But should we count on either possibility? And should we be excited about either pitcher? Why not let Johnson pitch out 2007 with us and get his salary off the books in 2008 when we can pursue Carlos Zambrano?

30 comments… add one
  • I am wondering if any high-profile athlete has ever had “unsuccessful” surgery. Or at least surgery press-released as “unsuccessful” within weeks of it happening. Anyone recall anything like this?

    SF December 28, 2006, 12:20 pm
  • good question. And I probably shouldn’t take the official story at its word. My point is that if a trade is going to happen, the other ball club is going to do its due dilligence.

    Nick-YF December 28, 2006, 12:23 pm
  • See, Nick! Told you so. This really isn’t terribly surprising. Groundball pitchers who end up with 20 wins generally do so because the ground ablls happen to find fielders — look at the swing between Derek Lowe’s 20-win season and 2004, when his ERA was mid-5 and he was left out of the postseason starting rotation (he then won the clinching game in all three series. Live by the grounder, die by the grounder, resurrected by the grounder).
    Likewise, Beckett game up far more home runs than he “should have” based on the number of fly balls he allowed. Considering his periherals, his ERA should have been far lower — and he still won 16 games. I do expect big things from him this year.
    As for Johnson and Schilling, I think what differentiates those examples was that Schilling was recovering from an ankle injury, one that was improving as the season moved along. Johnson is recovering from BACK surgery, which while it may have been successful just sounds a lot riskier. But I wouldn’t be surprised by a resurgence from Johnson. I’m just not expecting it.

    Paul SF December 28, 2006, 12:25 pm
  • I find the LIPS/DIPS hard to believe because most of those pitchers up there are pretty damn good. It’s hard to believe they’re “lucky” year after year..
    I still trust “BABIP” more – for example if Beckett threw less fastballs, you would expect him to give up less home runs – I just don’t believe you can “average out” home runs as luck..
    But then before BABIP was statistically shown, I think most people would’ve said it would be crazy that it’s out of the pitcher’s control..

    Lar December 28, 2006, 12:25 pm
  • Me noo speel guhd.

    Paul SF December 28, 2006, 12:25 pm
  • Zito is not going to be a yankee

    Seth December 28, 2006, 12:28 pm
  • Also, how is he sorting the columns anyhow? By either DIPS RA – RA or DIPS RA / RA, Verlander seems luckier by that metric, which kills the “top of the both list” comment..

    Lar December 28, 2006, 12:31 pm
  • I hear what you’re saying, Lar, but as Gassko points out, the DIPS and LIPS numbers for those pitchers are still good — they’re just not THAT good. And you notice the truly great pitchers — Santana and Oswalt — are not on those lists. It makes a lot of sense especially for rookies and guys (like Rogers) who had no business being as good as they were last season…

    Paul SF December 28, 2006, 12:31 pm
  • Here’s the thing about these newfangled stats: they can’t replace observation. (I sound like a crotchety old baseball scout, right?).
    I watched Beckett pitch a ton this year. He’s super-talented. When he was good, he was really good. Drool-worthy stuff. When he was bad, he was awful. He was good more often than he was bad. He wasn’t “unlucky”. He gave up a lot of gopher balls. His doing. He threw the crappy, not-moving-enough fastballs or hangers that got jacked. No luck involved, I don’t care what the statistics say.
    For Wang, who I also saw a good deal of, he wasn’t that lucky either, to my eyes. He gets tons of ground balls – that’s valuable. He’s a good pitcher (better than Paul will give him credit for). Here’s the rub: ground balls have to be fielded, home runs cannot be fielded. So with Wang, I understand the argument about how chance plays into his numbers. It’s a legitimate supposition to think that Wang faces a regression simply based on this fact about balls in play. That’s not a prediction that he will regress, just an acknowledgment of the fact that he is more likely to regress than not. Beckett, on the other hand can control, to some extent, the types of balls he throws — he can be more deceptive with his pitches, listen to his pitching coaches, mix up speeds more, put batters on edge more often, in the interest of decreasing the number of gopher balls. And if Beckett can cut down on those homers, he’ll be in a better position, (ironically, the position of Wang!) one where he has to expect/hope that his surrounding teammates will make the plays. If all these things with Beckett and Wang are equal (and mind you that this is a hope, not necessarily a likely reality, before I get jumped on, they are very different pitchers), then Josh Beckett will end up a better pitcher than Wang.

    SF December 28, 2006, 12:36 pm
  • big rumor is that zito signed with sf

    Nick-YF December 28, 2006, 12:37 pm
  • Does anyone know where to find past years DIPS LIPS stats to see how in measures up year after year.

    Seth December 28, 2006, 12:38 pm
    $18M per year, 7 years. Well-played, Scott Boras. Omar Minaya is crying in a Rhinegold somewhere.

    SF December 28, 2006, 12:39 pm
  • Paul – I’ll give you that. What got me was Carpenter and Halladay (and a lesser extent Verlander) where it’s almost clear that they’ll be aces on nearly any team.
    What I also notice (which might not be true) is that it doesn’t take accounts parks.. which might be fun and all if you really like math, but if it’s park-neutral, the fact is that in real life, Wang will pitch half his games at home. This invariably helps Wang as a groundballer since the grass rolls your way more (and thus he might pitch even more than half his games at home).

    Lar December 28, 2006, 12:40 pm
  • SF – that’s what I was thinking – we all keep using Beckett as an example not because we’re making fun of him, but because (at least for me) I think he absolutely can control his HR rate, because he’s good enough.
    It’s important to note that I like Wang not because I expect him to be the same pitcher – he might develop a new pitch, for example – but because I expect him to adapt and evolve.
    He wasn’t exceptionally lucky according to his BABIP, and his sinker is a pitch he learned just two years ago.
    That said, because of his low K rate, it’s easier for him to get “unlucky” and therefore increase his ERA volatility..

    Lar December 28, 2006, 12:51 pm
  • We’ve been around the block on this Wang/Beckett issue so often I’m getting dizzy, and i’m not sure the lips/dips projects have much meaning or utility in these individual cases, as SF and others here have pointed out. Those guys are, to a degree, anomylous, even as EVERY player is, statistically speaking, anomylous, when pulled out from a group. SF’s points I agree with, almost in their entirety.
    The whole, Johnson will be much better in 07 argument, to me, is a rotoworld argument about stats. He had 17 wins. How many more wins, even if he’s pitching well, can he be expected to post? This is stat guys putting the cart before the horse: the stats are intended to predict how a player will contribute to team wins, they are not the goal in and of themselves. Anyone who saw Johnson last year knows he was anything but “unlucky.” He was mediocre for Johnson, which is better than average overall, and on a team with a powerful offense fairly adequate. Let’s not put too much numerical lipstick on this pig.

    YF December 28, 2006, 1:08 pm
  • Johnson, by my eyes (20-20 no glasses by the way), pitched very strongly in most of his outings. He did fall into the “terrible and frightening inning” dept in his worst games. With the exception of about 2 starts, Johnson showed that he could still shut teams down, for most of the game. His “stuff” seemed about the same all season (slower than the old randy johnson and more prone to over throwing and losing control). His inability to stay consistent for a whole game was the real drawback, and if that was a result of mental fatigue brought about by physical ailing then maybe there’s a very big upside to Randy this season.

    walein December 28, 2006, 2:00 pm
  • I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but FWIW, RJ had back surgery back in ’96 and it helped. Of course, that was 10 years ago.
    After this Zito shocker, I would say we have two very hot commodities in Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano. Heh.

    Whatever December 28, 2006, 2:20 pm
  • He showed he could shut down the Royals.

    YF December 28, 2006, 2:30 pm
  • Johnson had 7.51 run support per game last year, easily the most in the AL. Considering the way he pitched overall, he was lucky as hell to win 17.

    Whatever December 28, 2006, 2:32 pm
  • he also shut down the Indians.

    Nick-YF December 28, 2006, 2:33 pm
  • The thing is, Johnson wasn’t all that good for the Yankees in 2005 either, when he was supposedly healthy. So it really is difficult to predict what he’ll do post-back surgery.
    It isn’t at all surprising that the stats are predicting a regression for Wang and a bounceback for Beckett. We’ve been over the same issue here before. We’ll just have to wait and see whether the computer geeks are right or not, I guess.
    (This fan certainly hopes the stats are right, at least. :)

    mouse - SF December 28, 2006, 3:00 pm
  • “Wasn’t all that good” in 2005?
    Since when is 225 innings of 3.80 ball with a 1.12 WHIP in the AL East ‘not all that good’?
    Johnson was easily one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL in 2005, and he was arguably in the top 5.
    If Johnson isn’t traded and can return to 2005 levels, I will weep with joy.

    Andrew December 28, 2006, 4:54 pm
  • johnson’s age is the biggest risk factor, particularly when recovering from a major surgery…the debate about whether he did a good job in 05 and 06 is relative, so it clearly depends on your point of view…the operation didn’t affect his experience or pitching savvy, so given a full recovery from the back issues, there’s no reason not to believe he can’t make a solid contribution, unless his age finally catches up with him…that for me is the wild card…
    i’m with sf on the wang/beckett debate…i wouldn’t give you 2 cents for the lips/dips stuff though…it seems like a bunch of crap from a stats-freak [case of too much of a good thing]…i mean “expected homers”, gimme a break, and “luck” is not a measurable phenomenon…in fact, some would question its very existence…
    on wang: there is some historical evidence to support the notion that he will taper off some if he continues to be largely a ground ball pitcher…since the yankees had a much maligned defense this year, particularly the shortstop with his poor range, one could argue that wang might do no worse in 07 if the defense were to turn in a better performance…in the games i saw wang pitch, he induced a number of very weak ground balls that will still be outs under any circumstances…again, given the knock on the yankees defense, we’re unlikely to see any “special” plays bailing him out…so we’ll see, if he’s able to adjust, stay one step ahead of the hitters, and the defense improves a bit, he may be ok…
    on beckett: it’s fair and reasonable to expect more out of him in 07…we’ve kicked around a number of theories on this site about why he was so inconsistent, and gave up so many homers, but he showed me enough when he was sharp to believe that he can leverage that to reduce the number of poor outings…that may be where the new sox pitching coach can earn his pay…one thing that may help him is that with the arrival of dm, there will be less attention on him, and he can settle into a #3 role behind shilling and dm…

    dc December 28, 2006, 7:52 pm
  • //Since when is 225 innings of 3.80 ball with a 1.12 WHIP in the AL East ‘not all that good’?//
    I meant that as a matter of perspective. RJ posted a 117 ERA+ in 2005, which certainly isn’t bad, but it’s hardly dominating either, especially considering he posted a 171 ERA+ in 2004. The Yankees got him to be their “stopper” and he ended up being slightly better than league average instead. Most Yankee fans I know were disappointed with RJ’s 2005, especially after his collapse against the Angels in the ALDS that year. Remember how he got booed off the mound?
    Given his very bad 2006, a return to 2005 numbers for RJ certainly would be a very big improvement. But the point is that his 2005 level still isn’t “ace” quality.

    mouse - SF December 28, 2006, 8:30 pm
  • that’s my point that the debate about his 05 and 06 seasons is “relative”, mouse…by “rj standards”, the guy who has dominated for years, and won multiple cy youngs, turned in a couple of rather “average” seasons, including some very forgettable individual games…in that sense his yankee tenure has been a disappointment from what we expected going into 05…if we got 17 wins from pavano in each of the past 2 seasons, we might be turning cartwheels…or not, since expectations were high for him too…

    dc December 28, 2006, 8:45 pm
  • mouse, I’d say Johnson was a solid #2 (maybe even a #1) in 2005. He was 20th in win shares among starting pitchers and 22nd in VORP among pitchers. While a disappointment that season, he still was very valuable relative to the rest of the league.

    Nick-YF December 29, 2006, 12:26 am
  • That’s what I said. He was only disappointing depending on one’s own perspective.

    mouse - SF December 29, 2006, 1:18 am
  • mouse, sorry about that, I was responding to your first post in which you wrote that RJ hadn’t been all that great, and didn’t see your subsequent clarifications. My bad.

    Nick-YF December 29, 2006, 11:40 am
  • No luck involved, I don’t care what the statistics say.
    I agree to a point, SF. I watched Beckett a lot in 2006 as well. And I agree that when he was awful, he gave up a lot of home runs because he was pitching poorly (and not because they all, say, bounced off fielder’s heads and into the stands). But even poor pitchers give up home runs at a certain rate, and I think what statheads would say is that even for as poorly as Beckett was pitching, he shouldn’t have given up that number of home runs. Sure, a lot of his home runs were destroyed off of flat fastballs thrown 300 times per game too many. But the stats show he allowed 10 more than he should have been expected to allow, based on his performance (as shown in other stats, which may or may not be skewed by the all-or-nothing nature of his starts). I think if we reviewed the tape, we could find 10 home runs in there that would have been doubles, outs, etc. with a fraction of an inch or a foot in either direction. Doesn’t mean the ball wasn’t hard hit. Doesn’t mean Beckett wasn’t sucking and costing his team chances at victories. Just means that bad luck was compounding his suckitude, and that the law of averages is due to give Beckett a bit of a boost this year — hopefully in addition to the boost he’ll give himself by pitching smarter.

    Paul SF December 30, 2006, 1:23 am
  • if you define “bad luck” as the “inability to execute”, then i’m a believer

    dc December 30, 2006, 9:30 am

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