The Cubs Pitchers Are Making Their Own Luck

Midseason is rapidly approaching, and the Chicago Cubs are still making the rest of Major League Baseball look bad. They’re World Series favorites by a mile according to our Elo predictions — which also have them pegged for 104 wins — and they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 2.3 runs per game, the most of any team through 70 games since the legendary 1939 Yankees.The Cubs have excelled on offense, scoring the third-most runs in the majors, but to an even greater degree the team owes its extreme success to run prevention. Chicago’s current 2.73 team ERA would be the lowest full-season1So, not counting the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. figure in the designated hitter era (since 1973), and the lowest relative to the MLB average since World War II.This Cubs staff is pretty good at making guys miss — it ranks fifth in the majors in K-BB rate — but that alone isn’t enough to explain such a microscopic ERA. Chicago has also allowed a .254 batting average on balls in play, 42 points below the major-league average and 19 points lower than the next-closest team. If the Cubs were to finish the year that far below the norm, their BABIP would also be the lowest relative to average since World War II. As a byproduct, the gap between Chicago’s ERA and its Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is 0.64 runs, the widest positive gap in the majors.We know of three things that could contribute to such a separation. One is flat-out luck, but the others are a good defense and a pitching staff that induces especially fieldable batted balls. Prior to the advent of Statcast, MLB’s new radar-based motion-tracking system, it was almost impossible to separate the latter two elements, parsing out a pitcher’s impact on batted balls from that of his fellow defenders. But now we can start to unravel those relationships and assign partial credit to each possible factor at work.To do that, we built a couple of models. The first model estimated each MLB pitcher’s effect on the exit velocities and launch angles he allows by comparing his rates to the same hitters’ numbers against all other pitchers.2Specifically, we used two mixed models that incorporate effects for each batter, pitcher and park to predict exit velocity and launch angle. Because 20 to 25 percent of batted balls are missed by the tracking system, all models in this piece imputed missing Statcast data using the average of similarly classified batted balls and outcomes. Then we calculated what would happen if we replaced each team’s actual pitchers with a staff full of generic arms that allowed league-average exit velocities and launch angles. The difference between those actual and generic figures gives us a number of runs attributable to each pitching staff’s contact-management skills, i.e., its tendency to allow batted balls that do less damage.Next, we modeled fielding on a team-by-team basis by estimating how much each batted ball “should” have been worth (in terms of linear-weight run value) based on its exit velocity and launch angle.3This was a random forest model, as described in an earlier piece. Then we compared those estimated values to the actual values of the same batted balls.4Using a separate model to adjust for ballpark effects. If a batted ball with an exit velocity and launch angle that would typically produce a single actually yielded an out, the model credited some of the difference to the defense, which we assume prevented the single through some combination of good range, good hands and good positioning.Finally, we combined those two values into one total figure to see how many runs each team has saved on its balls in play, relative to a team with average contact-management and defense. TEAMFIELDINGPITCHINGTOTAL Angels-6.42.4-4.1 Braves3.1-5.4-2.4 Diamondbacks4.6-23.4-18.8 Reds1.8-49.9-48.1 Pirates-6.815.58.7 Dodgers2.927.330.2 Royals0.5-12.6-12.0 Cardinals6.413.419.8 RUNS SAVED Rangers18.5-6.212.3 Indians6.7-7.1-0.4 Nationals-3.816.312.6 Phillies-3.9-31.2-35.1 Marlins5.3-2.82.5 Twins-12.1-39.0-51.1 Yankees-11.215.84.6 Blue Jays14.16.520.6 Brewers-10.9-3.4-14.4 Giants6.717.524.2 Red Sox9.7-3.85.9 Padres2.4-9.2-6.8 White Sox3.125.428.5 Mariners-0.27.67.4 Cubs12.644.557.1 Mets-4.026.422.3 Rockies9.8-24.9-15.1 There’s a moderate, statistically significant relationship5A correlation coefficient of 0.44. between a team’s ERA-FIP gap and our estimate of its runs saved from contact management and defense. Add in sequencing (as measured by Left on Base Percentage), and we can explain about 60 percent of the difference between a team’s ERA and its FIP. The rest can be chalked up to random variation, plus a variety of smaller factors6Such as the way pitchers influence other batted-ball characteristics (i.e., spray angle), the tendency of good pitch-framing catchers — such as the Cubs’ Miguel Montero and David Ross — to produce more favorable counts and make batters swing at bad pitches (which can’t be hit as hard), and the ability of batters and pitchers to restrict the running game (the rare area in which the Cubs don’t excel). and, admittedly, other unknown elements that we can’t conceive of or are unable to calculate using current data.According to our models, the Cubs’ defense — aided perhaps by data-driven positioning, if not frequent infield shifting — has been the third-best in baseball, behind the Rangers and Blue Jays. But fielding is a relatively small piece of Chicago’s run-preventing puzzle. Its pitching staff’s collective ability to manage contact leads the next-best team by close to 20 runs. As a group, Cubs pitchers have depressed exit velocity by 0.4 miles per hour and launch angle by almost 2 degrees, relative to average.7As of June 19.That leads to a larger takeaway from our models: Leaguewide, the impact of pitchers’ contact management is more than twice that of defense, which seems to contradict the traditional defense-independent pitching theory that most pitchers have little ability to prevent hits on balls in play. (It’s probably no coincidence that the career leader in Inside Edge’s Soft Contact rate is fabled bat breaker Mariano Rivera.) In other words, much of what appears to be good or bad defense might really be good or bad contact management, which can produce easier (or more difficult) fielding opportunities that make certain fielders look better or worse than they are. In theory, only a Statcast-derived defensive stat could account for this heretofore-camouflaged effect.Exit velocity is meaningful even over small samples, but at this early stage of the Statcast Era, we still don’t know enough about how pitchers control contact to say whether the Cubs’ BABIP is sustainable, or if it stems from a conscious pitching (or even pitching-acquisition) approach. As with any extreme observation, it seems safe to expect some regression to the mean for Chicago’s pitchers. Still, we can conclude that the Cubs’ historically low BABIP through their first 69 games isn’t merely luck. One way or another, the Cubs have earned a lot of those outs. Tigers-10.69.9-0.7 Includes games through June 19Source: MLBAM, PitchInfo Astros-10.310.0-0.3 Rays4.2-19.6-15.4 The Cubs Are The Best At Controlling Contact Athletics-5.7-8.8-14.5 Orioles-2.7-4.9-7.7 read more

James Harden Traded to Houston In NBA Shocker

James Harden, one of the Oklahoma City trio of stars that led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in June, was traded to the Houston Rockets when he refused a $55-million contract extension offer.The news that OKC had broken up its dynamic young core of Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was met with shock around the league. But it came down to money. Harden, an all-star who was a  member of the London Olympic gold-medal-winning team, wanted a maximum contract of $60 million. The Thunder, according to reports, offered four years and $55 million.“We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved,” Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers.”Finally, OKC made a move, acquiring veteran scoring guard Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round selection, too. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich, Dequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets, who will sign Harden to the max deal he sought.Wednesday’s deadline to extend Harden or allow him to become a restricted free agent next July had been hanging over the Thunder from the moment they reported to training camp, but sources told ESPN.com late Saturday the Rockets intended to sign the swingman to the max contract extension he was seeking before Wednesday’s midnight deadline.“We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.”The small-market Thunder had already signed Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka  to long-term deals, and apparently realized Harden was going to want a bigger salary than they would offer.Harden averaged 16.8 points and 3.7 assists last season, and joined Durant and Westbrook on the U.S. men’s Olympic team. He struggled badly in Oklahoma City’s loss to Miami in the NBA Finals, but the Thunder felt good about their chances of getting back there with another year of experience for their young stars, all 24 or younger.The Thunder got back a good scorer in Martin, who has averaged 18.4 points in his eight NBA seasons, and a promising young player in Lamb, the No. 12 pick in the draft who helped Connecticut win the 2011 NCAA championship. He led Houston’s summer league team in scoring with 20 points per game.Had the Thunder been able to ink Harden to that $13.5 million annual contract, a franchise playing in the league’s third smallest market would have owed $69 million to just five players next season. That figure would have increased to $72 million in 2014-15 for those same five players.The tax threshold for this season is $70.3 million. Starting next season, teams must pay an incremental rate starting at $1.50 for every dollar they exceed the threshold.“At the end of the day, you have to do the best thing for the organization,” Presti said at his preseason press conference. “That’s what my job is. The day that I stop doing what’s in the best interest of the organization is the day that you should get somebody else.” read more

Im the right man for the job says defiant Jokanovic

first_imgFulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic says he has what it takes to turn their poor start to the Premier League season around.Fulham have won just one game since promotion and are now in the relegation zone after four successive defeats, but Jokanovic feels he has proved himself during his three previous seasons at the club.“This kind of situation is part of football,” Jokanovic told Sky Sports.Official: Tottenham sign Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon Andrew Smyth – August 8, 2019 Tottenham have sealed another transfer deadline day deal to sign the highly-rated Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham.“I am not here three days, I am here three years and the board must have some kind of opinion about my work.“From my side, I have the confidence and believe in my job. People around me are professional and we don’t try to make some crazy things.“We know it’s not an easy job ahead of us, we must be brave and encourage the team not to stop, never give up.“My experience in this club – this is my fourth season here – and always it was complicated and always we reached the target at the end of the season.”last_img read more