March 18, 2014

#Sabermetrics and instant replay and #sidewinders and #submariners and more

This Grantland piece by Jonah Keri about Billy Beane and sabermetrics got me thinking about the addition of instant replay to baseball this year.

Will some teams be crunching data on replay challenges this year to try to figure out some way of judging whether or not to "throw the challenge flag" in a certain situation?

For example, here are some hypotheticals: 

How often should I challenge an out at first? With zero previous outs? With one previous?

Ditto on an out at second.

And, what about where I am at in the lineup? If my No. 7 batter is up, should I wait, especially if I've used one challenge already? If I've got my No. 3 batter coming up, should I challenge no matter what?

Then, back to analytics and player selection.

Should I look for pitchers and infielders, or pitchers and outfielders, who reinforce each other? Should I change the length, or even the type, of infield grass? Should day games affect my pitching rotation?

If, like Theo Epstein, I think most teams overvalue pitchers due to their injury propensity, should I look for submariners more? Dan Quisenberry or Kent Tekulve as starters? Or Gene Garber even? Or at least a sidearmer, like the great, and almost totally injury-free, Walter Johnson? Or Luis Tiant, who mixed in a sidearm with more upright arm slot angles.

Submariners may not have as much heat, though Johnson did as a sidearmer. But, they're definitely likely to keep the ball low. And, not just Johnson, but the true submariners, in general, had few injury problems.

This slo-mo breakdown of Johnson shows just how efficient and smooth he was.

Durability, even in the modern era? Here's pencil-thin Tekulve's peak. During the 1978 and 1979 seasons, he pitched in a total of 185 games. Many of his appearances were an inning-plus, for a total of 269.2 innings. His stats? A record of 18-15 with a 2.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 62 saves and two top-five finishes in the NL Cy Young voting.

So what if they don't have as much heat. Maybe, like Johnson, who would go as high as 3/4, they go up to 5/8 in the slot occasionally, pitch from the side on occasion, and go below horizontal on occasion. Mixing angles, and then mixing the grip, can still make an 85mph fastball do different things. And, if you keep it low, that means lots of grounders. So, you get good infielders and go from there. And, breaking balls look totally different coming from below. Ted Abernathy had a "rising" curveball, for example.

I mean, the Cardinals have gotten some good out of Randy Choate. Chris Sale is off to a good start for his career. And, while not a sidewinder or submariner, Stu Miller definitely showed you don't need to have speed. And, you don't have to practically dust the pitcher's mound, like Chad Bradford did.

That's not to say you can't pitch fast pitching from down under. The best fast-pitch softballers hit triple digits.

To the degree Theo's right, I'm actually surprised that scouts for the Cubs don't look for submariners and sidewinders. You hope for your six innings of quality start and then go to your pen like always. And, if the underhanders reduce your injury risk that much, that's one more reliever, or one more backup position player, you can carry on the roster.

Plus, a lefty? A lefty submariner? Would be worth his weight in gold.

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