December 18, 2018

Clemson Baseball – Expected Averages, Inherited Runners & Expected Record

Some time back I posted something I called eAvg, which was my attempt to give readers a better idea of a batters “true”  or expected average.  Batters go through streaks, both good and bad and luck, so the current batting average doesn’t always reflect what’s going on in their at bats.  Early in the season, as you might expect with the small sample size, some of the expected averages I posted were not close to the actual averages.  But I pointed to the case of Andrew Cox, who at the time was hitting around .300.  I thought that was an illusion long term because Cox was striking out fairly often and striking out means the ball won’t find a hole or a gap – you’re simply out.  As a result, I developed a formula to give me an idea what a batter “should” be batting using his strikeout rate, a modified BABIP metric and a couple of other factors.  45 games in, with a couple of exceptions, these are pretty close (for the regulars).

Do I believe Reed Rohlman will end up at .303? No, but the numbers also don’t support him continuing at the .400 level either and his average dropped 17 points last weekend alone (in fairness, almost everyones average dropped last weekend).  Rohlman’s in line to be an outlier for sure, just not likely to end up 93 points above the expected average.  I’m also a fan of Robert Jolly, as very few players provide the production Jolly does.  On the other hand, it’ll be difficult for Jolly to remain at his current level, assuming he remains in the lineup on a regular basis.

Heading into last weekend the Clemson bullpen had allowed only 34 of 106 inherited runners to score (32.1%). 10 inherited runners scored over the 3 game series in Chapel Hill and considering the Tar Heels only scored 13 runs in the series, theres no way around the fact that the bullpen had a tough weekend.  After a break for exams the Tigers will face 4 games in 4 days and it’ll be very interesting to see how Andrew See and Monte Lee handle the staff.  Two pitchers, Jacob Hennessy and Jeremy Beaseley have inherited half of the total runners. Beasley has done well overall (despite giving up a crucial sacrifice fly over the weekend), while Hennessy has struggled as of late.

A couple of weeks ago, with the Tigers riding high I was lambasted for posting the Tigers projected to a 41-15 regular season record. The word “crack” was used.  My rebuttal was simple – it’s math, not looking at the schedule and projecting wins and losses and the Tigers were unlikely to continue a 7-1 pace in 1 run games. Two weeks (and 2 one run losses in Chapel Hill) later the projected record is still 41-15 and that’s the great thing about math – it’s not down on the Tigers because of the sweep at North Carolina.  Still, that would project to a 7-5 finish, which would be disappointing, but not out of the question.   The formula is not perfect, and can be off by a game or two over the course of 56 games. I use it as more of a guide than a rule.

Mid-season Superlatives & baseball nerd words

30 games of thoughts.

Superalatives
Pitcher – So many options and if I could vote Andrew See I would certainly consider it, but I’m going to go with Charlie Barnes.  Coming into the season there was a question about Barnes as a Friday starter and opening day against Wright State did little to quell those thoughts. Six starts later Barnes’ ERA is 1.57, WHIP is 0.98, opponents are batting .223 and he’s walked only 8 of the 182 batters he’s faced.  The Tigers have a chance to win every ACC series opener with Barnes pitching like this.

Position PlayerChris WilliamsSeth Beer leads the Tigers in runs created, but recall that Williams missed the first 7 games, caught 1 inning in game 8, and didn’t start until game 11.  When you figure runs produced per plate appearance (see below) Williams edges Beer out and has been more clutch through the first 30 games.  His home runs aren’t as majestic, but they still count.

More than I expected – Pitcher – I openly questioned the suggestion that journeyman Tyler Jackson was a weekend quality starter based on his history at previous stops and I was wrong.  Sure, his mid-week starts aren’t against ACC caliber lineups, but those games count, too and make the difference between traveling for a Regional, hosting a Regional and theoretically hosting a Super Regional.  Jackson is 5-1, with his lone loss coming in relief on opening day, and baffled Georgia Tuesday evening.  How would he stack up in against an ACC team?  We’ll likely find out in the ACC tournament, but he is doing everything Monte Lee and See have asked and more.

More than I expected – Position PlayerAndrew Cox is in somewhat of a slump at the plate.  Earlier in the season I maintained that it would be next to impossible to keep his average around the .300 mark with his strike out rate, which was at 30%.  That has proven true, despite Cox cutting down on the K’s (now at 22.7%).  But for a guy who wasn’t even penciled in to start Cox has been masterful defensively at first base, while providing some offensive pop on occasion. Cox has saved untold errors and runs with his glove, so many that I assume if the throw is in his area code he will scoop, snatch, grab or corral it.

Like to see more of – PitcherRyan Miller – Miller’s faced 48 batters over 11 and 2/3rds innings across 11 appearances and has been brought along slowly, generally in less than pressure packed situations.  Lately he’s performed well, which has been needed as the appearances pile up for Jacob Hennessy who you have to wonder if he has, or will, hit the “freshman wall” as the season continues to June.  Truthfully, the bullpen hasn’t been needed a ton because of the quality starters that go out there 4 games a week, but come ACC tourney and playoff time additional arms will be needed.

Like to see more of – Position Player – 13 of Clemson’s 15 position players play at least semi-regularly and Lee does a great job of getting guys into games in some form or fashion and has mixed and matched his lineup to the extent that you actually have to pay attention to it every game day.  This really boils down to 2 players – Drew Wharton and Robert Jolly.  Jolly performed well filling in for Williams and if I had to choose 1 guy off the bench to get on base or get a hit in a crucial situation it would Jolly.  But, watching Wharton in the Georgia Tech series and Georgia game I believe he has more upside and potential as a starter, even if it is in an occasional role.

Leading off
Knowing how much Lee values the lead off position he can’t be happy with the production from the top spot in the first 30 games. A group led mostly by Chase Pinder and Logan Davidson have combined to bat .246 with 0 home runs and 9 RBI in the first 30 while in the lead off position.  Last season Pinder hit .294 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI and scored 67 runs from that spot.

Leading off an inning
How important is it to get the lead off man on in an inning? Clemson has gotten the lead off man on in 42% of the innings played so far this season and are averaging 1.13 runs in those innings.  When the lead off man makes an out the Tigers average 0.38 runs per inning.  Three times as many runs are scored when the lead off man reaches on in an inning.

Multi-run innings means wins
Clemson has had at least 1 multi-run inning in 22 of their 30 games and is 22-0 in those games.  When scoring only single runs in an inning or being shut out the Tigers are 3-5.  For the season Clemson has 45 multi-run innings while opponents have only 24.

eAvg
I’ve developed a formula that attempts to determine what a player’s batting average “should” be (expected average = eAvg) given his strikeout rate and a modified BABIP that I’ve developed.  The basic theory is that every strikeout (except Reed Rohlman’s against Georgia) is an out and no strikeout will equal a “bad hop single”, “ball that finds a hole on the left side” or a gap, etc.  In other words, in general, the higher your strikeout rate the lower your batting average is likely to be.  I mentioned above that at one time Andrew Cox was batting .300 and striking out 30% of the time.  That would mean that Cox would need to bat .429 in all other at bats to maintain that .300 average – very unlikely and way out of the standard deviation.  We’ve seen Cox’s average come down and now he’s within 28 points of his “expected” average (despite lowering his strikeout rate to some degree).

To the right are the actual batting averages (Avg), expected batting average (eAvg), difference (Beta) and future expectations (Future) for their average given each players current strikeout rate.

These numbers are a moving target, meaning with each at bat the numbers change – the average changes, the expected average changes and the beta changes.

I would pay less attention to the actual numbers and more to the “Future” column and read it like this: Seth Beer is batting .257. Beer’s current statistics indicate a batting average of .287, so in the future I expect his average to go higher, assuming his strikeout rate stays the same.

Starting Pitching
Though I’ve pontificated on this via Twitter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t post it here: Clemson starting pitchers have pitched 172 and 1/3 innings, struck out 173, walked 30 (that’s a 5.8:1 ratio) and have a 2.73 ERA.  Let’s dissect that for a moment: (1) a strikeout per inning, (2) 1 walk per start and (2a) a walk every 23.5 batters faced.  It remains to be seen how they handle the schedule ahead, but Charlie Barnes, Alex Eubanks, Pat Krall and Tyler Jackson please take a bow (along with Andrew See).

Runs Created & Runs Created per Plate Appearance
I mentioned above Chris Williams creating more runs (barely) per plate appearance than any other Tiger.  In the metrics I post twice weekly the runs created is listed under “RC” towards the right side.  I thought it would be interesting to show (to the left) the contributions based on plate appearances, because obviously someone like Robert Jolly is not going to compete with Seth Beer in total runs created, but you can see Jolly has done quite well given his plate appearances.

It also makes it easier to see things like Grayson Byrd vs. Patrick Cromwell, the recent emergence of Logan Davidson and value of Jolly off the bench.

Pythagorean Wins and Losses
The Pythagorean Theorem calculates a 42-14 record for the Tigers with present metrics.  In past seasons this measure has been within a game or two of the actual record.  This would mean the Tigers are expected to go 17-9 over the last 26. That’s not as exciting as 25-5, but the competition does ramp up a bit in the coming weeks and it’s doubtful the Tigers will remain undefeated in 1 run games (see below).

Interestingly enough the theorem expected a 23-7 record through the first 30, a two game variance which I believe is directly related to Clemson being 6-0 in 1 run games.  In the long run, the theorem does not expect you to be undefeated in one run games.  Whether by coaching, clutch play, team make-up or a combination of all three the Tigers are exceeding expectations.

Every Clemson Fan’s Christmas Wishlist

You can take take Krall out of the bullpen, but…

Consider the dead horse beaten.  Forty-four games into the season the Tigers are what we thought they were, and that’s not all that bad.

Somehow, with duct tape and bailing wire, Monte Lee and Andrew See manage a pitching staff that is short on experience and the only reliable bullpen arm may need to be used as a starter.

2016 Starters-Relievers 44

Lee and See have managed the starters about as good as could be hoped and the Tigers bats have done enough to keep Clemson in most games.  The intriguing part is whether or not Pat Krall should be used as a starter or remain in the bullpen.

Popular theory is make him a starter “because that’s how they’re using him”.

Just because Krall was used only once last weekend, doesn’t mean he will only be used once this weekend.  Just because he was needed for 7 innings Monday doesn’t mean he’ll be needed for 7 innings every game.

Sure, if Krall is used for 7 innings he’s done for the weekend.  But what if he’s needed for a hitter or two Saturday?  He remains in the mix for Sunday, when you absolutely know you’re going to have to use the bullpen at some point.  Start him on Saturday and he’s done for the series.  Who do you have confidence in – closer confidence – besides Krall at this point?  The problem is if you take Krall out of the bullpen the bullpen’s ERA shoots to 4.62.

I can’t recall another critical weekend series in recent memory where TBA was listed as the starter in two games, as is the case this weekend, and I’m fascinated to see what the weekend holds for the Tigers on the mound.

One thing for sure, with the Tigers starters averaging 4.6 innings per start Clemson needs Charlie Barnes to be on this evening.

Tracking Tiger Baseball: Metrics slide back to 2015 levels

Thirty-six games into Monte Lee’s tenure the Clemson Tigers are 24-12 and 8-10 in the ACC. The Tigers also are hitting 10 points below last seasons final total, have an ERA within a small fraction of the 2015 number and are fielding at exactly the same dismal clip.

2016 Baseball Comps 36

Seth Beer’s bat has masked a lot of issues and the Tigers are slugging at a better rate, but those numbers are neutralized against a team with the talent of Louisville or Miami.

2016 Baseball Fielding 36

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s podcast the Tigers are who we thought they were. Starting pitching struggles, defense isn’t very good and the offensive lineup is feast or famine.

2016 Baseball WP 36

We knew all of this coming into the 2016 season so we shouldn’t be surprised, yet somehow we are. The expectations set by a series victory over South Carolina and fast start in ACC play is difficult to overcome, but realistically we knew that this team was going to be a work in progress.

Sometimes that progress is obvious and sometimes it’s not easy to find.

Baseball Cogitations v7.0

Thirty-three games into his first season as Clemson’s head baseball coach it’s clear that Monte Lee can coach at this level. Not that there was much doubt amongst any rational college baseball fan, but there are always those that will question coaches pedigree if a) their guy is fired and b) the incoming coach hasn’t won 17 national championships.

Lee, Andrew See and Bradley LeCroy have done a fantastic job after suffering a myriad of personnel losses that included all three weekend starters and 3-year mainstays Steven Duggar and Tyler Krieger among others.

Lee and See make the right moves with the pitching staff, aren’t afraid to shake the lineup up if performance, or non-performance, dictates and play a ton of players, keeping everyone’s head in the game.

That said, this team appears to have a ceiling. The starting pitching remains a work in progress, the bullpen is perhaps too reliant on Pat Krall and the hitters totaled 7 runs in losing 2 of 3 to Duke last weekend. And that defense.

Starters Relievers 2016 33

Most knew that this year would be a work in progress and few envisioned a 24-9 record at this point. Yet, there’s a tendency to focus on the negative (series loss to Duke) instead of the positive (24-9, series win over South Carolina, 9-0 in midweek games). I’m as guilty as anyone.

I’m not sure the defense is going to magically improve in the next 23 games or that the rotation is going to become elite, or for that matter if Krall can sustain his amazing season and Seth Beer can continue hitting moon shots at his current rate.

Incremental improvement in each area, plus a few more clutch hits could go a long way towards a turnaround season and a bright future.

The challenges ahead appear larger than the ones behind, but I wouldn’t count this team out just yet. The thing about baseball is the clock never runs out and the game is never over as long as you have an out.

The losses still hurt – they’re supposed to. But the big picture is becoming clearer. This is not the same Clemson Tiger baseball team and if you can’t see the difference between this year and the last few seasons, you’re not really trying.

Tracking Tiger Baseball – 28 Games

It’s difficult to fathom that we’re halfway through the 2016 regular season, but here we are 28 games into Monte Lee’s first season at the helm of Clemson baseball.

There’ve been many positives and in my own mind the Tigers are about 5 games ahead of where they would have been without a change. Of course, there’s no way to really know that, but it’s just an observation based on recent history and trends.

On to the numbers we do know for sure – those below. These numbers tell a story, too. The story of a team that has a batting average (and other metrics) around the same as last season, but is scoring almost a run more per game and is slugging at a much higher rate. Enter Seth Beer. It’s not just Beer though, as leadoff man Chase Pinder has 6 at the midpoint, projecting out to 12 after hitting 3 in an injury shortened 2015 season. The Tigers are hitting for power and that equates to more runs and less hits required to score runs. A single, walk and a single is likely to get you one run. A single, walk and homerun will get you 3. That’s not rocket science.
2016 Baseball Comps 28

The fielding woes continue as the Tigers are barely above last seasons mark and now rank 212th of 295 teams in fielding.  This is an issue that could eventually haunt this team if not improved upon.
2016 Baseball Fielding 28

Clemson won 4 of 5 games last week, yet their projected win total dropped by 3 games.  That’s how the math works out and this number was influenced by Saturday’s blow out loss.  On the other hand, to reach 40 wins this team must go 19-9 in the second half of the season that includes Florida State, Louisville and 12 other ACC games.  That would seem to be a tough get at this point.2016 Baseball Proj Wins 28

One thing we have learned in the first 28 games is that Lee’s team is not out of any game the way they swing the bat and fight till the end.

My midseason MVPs are Seth Beer (duh) and Pat Krall. Shocking, I know.

Seth Beer vs. Past Clemson Greats

After an underwhelming ending to Jack Leggett’s legendary career, the Clemson baseball team has discovered newfound enthusiasm surrounding Monte Lee’s first club. A large part of the early success can be attributed to true freshman outfielder Seth Beer. The 18 year old out of Suwannee, GA passed up on a potential 1st Round draft slot to come play at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. What’s even more impressive is that he elected to graduate early and skip his senior season of high school baseball. Yes, that means that he should be terrorizing the prep ranks right now instead of collegiate opponents.

Seth Beer1

The hype surrounding Beer has been steadily growing since the start of the season about a month ago, but after yesterday’s walkoff homerun in the 10th to seal an ACC series sweep it’s safe to say he’s reaching superstar status. I personally can’t remember seeing anyone having this type of impact on a Clemson baseball team this early into their career, so I chose to do a little digging to see how Beer’s season projects against some of the best individual season’s in recent history. Obviously it’s not logical to expect the freshman to continue hitting at a .453 clip, but the power numbers are something to keep an eye on. Since switching to the new BBCOR alloy bats back in 2011, no Tiger player has totaled more than 13 homeruns in a season. Beer already has 9 and still has roughly 2/3 of the season left. As long as he maintains good health, Beer’s freshman campaign will likely go down as one of the best in the program’s history.

*Dictates when the bats were switched from BESR to BBCOR bats

Seth Beer versus greats

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Tiger Baseball Cogitations – v3.0

Occasional, random and sometimes relevant thoughts on the state of Clemson Baseball

Is it me or does it seem that just about every move Monte Lee makes is the right one?  Lee knows when to pull pitchers and who to replace them with.  He knows when to pinch hit, pinch run and replace guys defensively.  He knows the roster and players strengths and weaknesses and puts them in the best possible position to succeed.

It would have been easy to push Brooks Crawford another few batters or inning on Wednesday, hoping against hope he would last and the Tigers could save closer Alex Bostic for the ACC opener Friday.  But Lee would have none of it.  To Lee and his staff the Winthrop game was just as important as the opener against Wake Forest.  So, when Crawford, who right-handed batters are 1 for 17 against, was faced with a couple of left handed batters in the 8th inning, Lee made the move to Bostic and the rest is history.

Clemson wouldn’t have won that game last year.  It may have ended up 7-1 Winthrop with the Tigers holding their breath they would need their closer against Wake Forest because they saved him without really knowing if they would need him.

A side benefit is that a lot of guys play.  Not the whole game, but they play their part. Guys like Robert Jolley, K.J. Bryant, Jordan Greene, Mike Triller, Maleeke Gibson and Drew Wharton were all part of the win in some form or fashion.  Lee used 15 position players and 5 pitchers in the game.

The starting pitching has been decent, but the bullpen has been beyond spectacular.  It wouldn’t be realistic to expect this level of performance to continue through the season, but every win it produces is a win closer to the Tigers goals.

Starters-Relievers 11

Early nominees for assistant coach of the year has to include Andrew See, hands down.  What was a big negative, or at least question mark (pitching), 3 weeks ago has turned into a strength for this team.

Chris Okey leads the team in RBI with 15 and has his average up to .257, but what you aren’t seeing from Okey is a lot of balls hit in the air.  Okey has put 25 balls in play and only 7 (28%) have been in the air (does not include pop ups).  Power hitters tend to hit a higher percentage of balls in the air (that’s where homeruns come from).

By contrast, freshman Seth Beer has hit 42% of balls in play in the air.  Beer has one more homerun and 1 more double than Okey, but has a .400 batting average and his slugging percentage is 200 points higher than Okey.

Bottom line is Okey is not going to make a living hitting the ball on the ground, despite the occasional ground ball single.

Is it me or does 9-2 sound miles and miles better than 8-3?  It’s just one game, but one we may look back on in late May and realize the importance of the moves made by Lee in a mid-week game against a Big South team in early March.

Tiger Baseball Cogitations – Version 2.0

Occasional, random and sometimes relevant thoughts on the state of Clemson Baseball

Monte Lee announced on Wednesday that Sunday’s starter in the South Carolina season would likely be someone other than Jake Higginbotham, saying the Tigers would go with the “best available arm”.  While that doesn’t technically eliminate Higginbotham, the freshman hasn’t performed particularly well in either of his two starts against weak hitting teams that combined to hit .333 against him, totaled a 1.92 WHIP and has given up both opponent home runs to date.  In so many words I wondered Tuesday how long Lee would stick with Higginbotham, not realizing how prophetic that would turn out to be.

The other struggling player is first baseman Chris Williams, who’s now batting .160 with as many HBPs as hits (4).  Williams is tied for the lead in strikeouts on the team with 7 and all of his hits have been singles.

The Clemson bullpen has been remarkable as indicated by the second line below and a big part of that has been Alex Eubanks.  One side note is that despite those lofty Eubanks stats is the fact that he’s given up 4 line drives (per play by play data) which is tied for most on the pitching staff. Just something to keep an eye on.

2016 Baseball Starters-Relievers 7

Closer Alex Bostic has 3 shutout innings under his belt, but hasn’t been in a pressure situation as a closer.  If that happens this weekend it’ll be interesting to see how he responds.  Bostic also hasn’t given up a hit or faced a left handed batter yet for what that’s worth – probably nothing.

If my calculations are correct the Tigers are 2 for 9 with 9 RBI with the bases loaded.  The only 2 hits are by Seth Beer who is 2-2 with a grand slam and 6 RBI.  The rest of the team is 0 for 7 with 3 RBI.

2016 BL 7

It’s still early and this 3 game series isn’t necessarily a barometer for how the season will play out, but it is the first real completion the Tigers have seen this season and will give us a better idea of where they are and where they’re likely to end up.