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Chacon and Bacon
2006-04-07 06:36
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

One of the keys to the Yankees' success this year will be the performance of Shawn Chacon, who makes his first start of the year tonight against the Angels. Much has been made out of the fact that Chacon's fantastic performance after being acquired by the Yankees last July was largely the result of an abnormally low opponents' batting average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP is generally considered something beyond a pitchers control. League average generally falls around .300 and pitchers whose BABIPs vary greatly from that norm in a given year can generally be expected to regress toward the mean in the following year. As a Yankee last year, Chacon posted a .240 BABIP, thus the pessimism many have about his chances for success in 2006.

However, Marc Normandin of Beyond the Boxscore writes in Baseball Prospectus's latest Yankee Notebook that Chacon actually has a history of significantly low BABIPs relative to his home park. Thus, the improvement Chacon showed as a Yankee last year just might be a sustainable result of escaping Coors Field, a park that generally inflates BABIP, because Chacon just might be the rare non-knuckleballer who can consistantly supress his opponents success on balls in play.

The Normandin's credit, this is something he noticed before Chacon threw his first pitch for the Yankees. That is significant not only as a testament to Normandin's skills as an analyst, but because it proves his BABIP analysis isn't simply a case of retrofiting the stats to explain past performance, but the detection of a trend significant enough that he was able to anticipate and extremely surprising improvement in performance.

Here's what Normandin wrote around the time of the trade:

Shawn Chacon of all people looks like he might have the ability to control hits on balls in play a little bit. Ignoring the .314 BABIP, where he was closing, Chacon's BABIP's for his major league career read .275, .261, .276, and .272. Consider again that Coors raises BABIP by simply existing [the average BABIP at Coors during Chacon's stay there was north of .330 --CJC], and we have ourselves someone lowering the batting average of balls in play against him at an extreme rate consistently.

In his new piece at Baseball Prospectus, Normandin provides this chart:

YearChacon BABIPPark BABIPDiff.
2001 (COL).294.338-.044
2002 (COL).261.325-.064
2003 (COL).276.318-.042
2004 (COL).314.340-.026
2005 (COL).272.336-.064
2005 (NYY).240.311-.071

What's apparent here is that Chacon's BABIP relative to his home park with the Yankees last year was low even for him, but not so low that one can't expect him to be a valuable starter for the Yanks this year. With that in mind Normandin takes on Chacon's PECOTA projection:

PECOTA assumes that BABIP regresses . . . His weighted mean projection BABIP is .287, and he is expected to finish with an ERA of 5.04; PECOTA is normally conservative, but that seems well out of line with what Chacon could be capable of, free from Coors for an entire season. This is not to say that Chacon is going to replicate his 2.85 ERA, as even the best in the business have a difficult time with that sort of thing in consecutive seasons. Rather, it seems entirely possible that Chacon can best his 90th percentile projection for ERA without actually having the peripheral statistics that PECOTA expects him to. PECOTA projects a 3.94 ERA at his highest point, and that seems to stem from a much improved K/BB of 1.69 (saying "much improved" before such a low K/BB makes one stop and think for a moment [Chacon's K/BB tends to hang out around 1.40 as it did this spring, though curiously it was actually lower during his time as a Yankee last year --CJC]). Chacon may be able to surpass his projection simply by invoking the powers of BABIP in 2006.

So what exactly happens to the balls put in play against Chacon? Normandin presents the following breakdown of Chacon's 2005 season:

TeamBFPKBBGBOFIFLDIF/F
COL32212%14%25%26%2%17%9%
NYY33012%11%34%21%8%13%28%

LD is Line Drive Percentage, and IF/F is Infield Fly to Flyball ratio. Looking at these figures by themselves, it is apparent that balls hit into play ended their journey in the infield more often than not. 34% of the batted-balls were groundballs. The 19% jump in IF/F is incredible; some of that has to do with a small sample size, but increasing it to a midpoint between the two figures is still excellent progress. The Hardball Times glossary (which is also the source of these statistics) suggests that inducing infield flies may be a repeatable skill; if Chacon is adept at inducing infield flies, and can keep his G/F ratio from his days as a Yankee intact (1.14 as opposed to 0.89 in Colorado), New York might have themselves something here, and we might have the beginnings of an explanation as to why Chacon was successful BABIP-wise in comparison to other pitchers at Coors. Chacon's previous work (excluding his year as a closer that just insists on messing with all of the data) matches up well with the figures above, so it does not seem like he was in any more of a groove in 2005 than in previous years, besides the normal success that comes with growth as a pitcher.

Normandin finishes his piece by cautioning that the jury is still out as to just how sustainable Chacon's success might be, but it seems that the unshakeable optimism I have for his 2006 season just might be justified.

Comments
2006-04-07 07:46:26
1.   NetShrine
Nice piece. Fascinating, in a way. But, also, when you start to drill down the numbers that deep, part of me wants to say "At the end of the day, it's just more fun to watch and see what happens."
2006-04-07 08:01:29
2.   Shaun P
Ummmm . . . bacon.

(Sorry, that line ran through my mind as soon as I saw your headline, Cliff.)

Thats some fascinating research. I hope Chacon really is one of those rare guys who can influence/control his BABIP. It'd nice to see him be a consistent #3 or #4 for a long time.

2006-04-07 08:09:22
3.   bp1
We've said it before here about Obi-Shawn Chaconi's Jedi powers of mind control over batters. Maybe he can influence his fielders as well, in a positive way. If he were on the Twins, the Batgirls would already be planning her Lego simulation.

It is going to be fun to watch him this season.

BP

2006-04-07 08:41:44
4.   standuptriple
Let's just hope the the defense can take care of those BIP. I'm not stoked about facing Escobar tonight. Can anybody explain Damon's 6-44 against him? Not cool.
2006-04-07 09:02:10
5.   Cliff Corcoran
SUT, surprisingly the Rockies defensive efficiency was actually worse than the Yankees' last year (Normandin attributes some of that to the expansive outfield at Coors), so, surprising as it may be, the Yankee defense indeed might be of benefit to him. Certainly the defense behind him tonight will be no worse than the one that played behind him at the end of last year, Damon splitting the difference between Williams and Crosby in center.
2006-04-07 09:03:47
6.   Sliced Bread
Earlier this spring, the NY Times quoted Chacon crediting Posada for his success last season.

"Especially his personality and the way he can relate to you, not necessarily in a serious way, but kind of joking around, it was a tremendous help," Chacon said. "For me, as a catcher, he's the best one I've ever pitched to."

Hopefully, a good start by Chacon tonight will help jumpstart Jorgie. Watching the Oakland series I thought Posada was tentative and unfocused at the plate, and too quiet behind the plate especially with Wang.

2006-04-07 09:20:42
7.   wsporter
Cliff, I saw that the other day. Hasn't it made some sense intuitively that Chacon's success would be sustainable and may be explained by the fact he left Coors Field. He does after all rely on his heavy breaking ball extensively. I've seen a lot this winter and Spring about Chacon not being able to repeat his 2005 Yankee results which I can't quite bring myself to buy into. Maybe its just wishful thinking, maybe its that September night I sat in Camden Yard and watched him make the O's look sick on called strike three check swings, broken bats, weak dribblers and Texas Leaguers. The guy has something about him in addition to the stuff he brings that makes me feel he has the ability to do some really good work here.

That's a nice little piece of research, especially given its predictive nature.

Rob Gee and I were talking the other day about a posited positive correlation that may exist between fielding errors committed and "bad" at bats the previous half inning by the offending fielder (specifically in relation to R. Cano). I looked through the SABR site and Googled the terms without success. It makes some sense to me that the phenomena would be observable in young players when bad at bats are defined (with runners on) as strike outs, no sacrifice recorded or the Infield Fly rule is called and that type of thing. Have you seen anything on it? I didn't want to toss it out to the SABR chapter without seeing if anyone has any insight on it.

2006-04-07 09:32:39
8.   Zack
We should really make a push this season if Chacon pitches well to get him dubbed the Jedi Master, I bet he'd be down with that!

I am excited to watch Chacon tonight, I just like him, his attitutde, his slightly crooked hat, his inexplicable ability to throw 9 million pitches yet work out of things. the anti-Lieter Lieter.

On another note, nothing like eternal Red Sox optimisim in the press. Got this link from Boston Dirt Dogs, which has really gone down hill the past few years and turned into the worst kind of rablle rousing blog, but in any case:
http://tinyurl.com/kfctw

hey debris, I trust even you to be not so optimistic based on three games!

2006-04-07 09:46:21
9.   Rob Gee
Very nice, Cliff. Thanks! Really good stuff.

7 You know wsport, I personally wouldn't worry about coding the previous AB in any way other than "reached base or not" - after that sample sizes would seem to get much much smaller (i.e., only 10-20 errors thus AB's a year for most guys).

And I also wouldn't restrict it to young guys. They stand out more - but I bet vets have the same troulbe - just seems like human nature.

2006-04-07 09:51:28
10.   YankeeInMichigan
On another topic, the Yankees have claimed Koyie Hill off waivers. He will replace Nieves on the 25-man roster as a 3rd catcher.

I stated a few days ago (did I get around to posting it?) that Nieves on the roster was a stop-gap solution until something better became available, either
a) a true apprentice catcher or
b) a replacement-level catcher with options.

Hill, of course, is neither. He is just a slightly better replacement-level catcher without options. So not much has changed.

Neives: .171/.213/237 in 31 games
Hill: .218/.308/.282 in 50 games

2006-04-07 10:00:09
11.   Cliff Corcoran
YiMI, I'm not sure Hill is even that much. He's about two years younger, but neither draws walks or has much power. Nieves has consistantly hit for decent averages (in the .290-.300 range) in the minors. Hill hasn't even done that. I need to look closer at the two of them, but from a quick glance, I see this as a downgrade, which I didn't really think was possible.

I'll include more in a postscript to my pregame post on the Angels.

2006-04-07 10:01:33
12.   Cliff Corcoran
Bad writing their, I meant to say neither Neives nor Hill draws walks or has much power.
2006-04-07 10:01:51
13.   Cliff Corcoran
there -- ugh
2006-04-07 10:07:23
14.   Jeteupthemiddle
Apparently Hill was at one point considered a highly regarded prospect. Obviously that has been downgraded, but I think he is worth the shot.
2006-04-07 10:08:49
15.   wsporter
9 I guess you're right on the sample size thing, but failure to reach base on a sacrifice that drives in a run may be viewed as successful ab.

My thinking is that once 28 - 35 instances are obtained over the same season the central limit theory may kick in and we'd have something that is legitimately testable. I'm REALLY hoping someone has already looked at it.

2006-04-07 10:24:44
16.   Marcus
By the way, anyone know how to pronounce Koyie? Koh-YEE? Koy-EE? Koh-YAY? I checked espn.com, because the player profiles usually have a pronunciation key, but all it says is "N/A". What a strange name...
2006-04-07 10:55:14
17.   Knuckles
Marcus- it's spelled K-O-Y-I-E but it's pronounced ENN-Ay. Strange indeed.
2006-04-07 10:58:38
18.   Paul in Boston
Does Steve Goldman (of Pinstriped Bible/Blog) have a public e-mail address? Can't find it on that web site.

His stuff is great; excellent review of Torre's bullpen use and upcoming series over there at:

http://www.yesnetwork.com/yankees/pinstripedblog.asp

2006-04-07 11:15:21
19.   Shaun P
Paul, you can reach the esteemed Mr. Goldman at:

oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com

2006-04-07 11:17:35
20.   3rd gen yankee fan
OT: Todd Jones as some nice words to say about Bernie in the Sporting News:

http://tinyurl.com/qj58z

2006-04-07 11:19:21
21.   Marcus
Knuckles,

LOL, thanks for that. The sad thing is I believed you for a second. "Duuuuhh, wow, I would have never guessed that, I mean where could you possible get the "N" from. ENN-ay? It's like instead of "Koy", it's N, and instead of "ie" it's A. Like NA. Oh."

2006-04-07 11:40:50
22.   rbj
I'm optimistic about Chacon because the alternative is too unbearable. Let's see a nice 7 innings out of Shawn, and easy innings for Farns and Mo.
2006-04-07 12:12:11
23.   bp1
20 Great stuff. Thanks for the link.

BP

2006-04-07 12:16:12
24.   Rob Gee
15 You're right on the sacrifices - not sure how to treat it. Though it may not happen enough to worry about it.

As a control, it might also make sense to look at hitting after fielding errors. Again small samples - but very interesting stuff if there's indeed an effect across the large numbers of players. What to call it: Mental switching?

2006-04-07 12:17:38
25.   jayd
Is it only me or is anyone else surprised that based on a 2 for 9 record people can already start pulling the plug on bernie as a dh?
2006-04-07 12:36:05
26.   wsporter
24 Yeah great point on controll data. I was thinking of looking at a random sampling of "positive" results "prior to" but I like that idea. Well, looks like I'm elected.
2006-04-07 12:57:45
27.   Shaun P
Just saw this in an article on BPro, and I thought of the discussion of Yankee players bunting we had the other day:

"Alex Rodriguez
Last sac bunt: June 16, 1999"

jayd, normally I'd agree that making a judgment on 3 games of stats is a bad idea. 25 However, I don't think you can ignore the last three years of stats that say Bernie won't hit well enough to be a league average DH. IMHO, The Yanks ought to pull Bernie in favor of Phillips now, yesterday even.

2006-04-07 13:07:55
28.   Rob Gee
26 I can imagine helping out - if you can think of easily transferable chunks.

For me, it's an extremely interesting question because it is the holy grail - how do the mental aspects of the game affect the physical aspects? Offense and defense should be distinct (not tools - during the course of game play) - but the bet is they're not. Right now, all we have is hyperbole and case studies (like Cano). Some evidence would be nice. I'm happy to help if I can.

2006-04-07 13:08:20
29.   Cliff Corcoran
Shaun, you beat me to it re: 25.
2006-04-07 13:19:54
30.   Knuckles
I'll put my hand upon your hip,
When I dip, BABIP, BABIP.
- 69 Boyz, tha original sabermetric crew
2006-04-07 13:30:47
31.   debris
Zack,

Must confess, I'm no less optimistic about my team than Cliff is about his. While three games mean, of course, very little, I've seen a number of things that have given my cause for even more optimism than I had on Monday.

1. Loco for Coco - As bad as Foulke's line was on Monday, it would have been even worse if Crisp hadn't made a Maysian catch on a ball straight over his head that Johnny Damon wouldn't have gotten near in his prime. Crisp's vertical leap was astonishing. His speed is more than we'd bargained for. The Sox haven't had that kind of speed at the top of the order since Tommy Harper.

2. Beckett - Not only was he fabulous on Wednesday night, but he was stoked. He's the kind of guy who will feed on the atmosphere. We saw him at his best in the 03 World Serious. He's clearly the kind of guy who is at his best when he is pumped up. He will be pumped everytime he goes to the hill for this team.

3. Papelbon - He was breathtaking in blowing away the Rangers in the 9th Wednesday. He was also stoked; see the pictures on dirtdogs.

4. Francoma - I'm not a Francoma fan. His use of Papelbon was extraordinarily out of character. Maybe he's learned something.

The 2006 Sox are not only a better team than the 2005 Sox, they are a younger team. The 2005 Sox had no front line starting pitching and no closer and won 95 games. The 2006 Sox have two aces and a closer. Kevin Millar and Mark Bellhorn have morphed into Mike ? Lowell and Mark Loretta. Trot is healthy and has a platoon partner in Pena who is a great step up from Gabe Kapler.

What's not to like, other than the ticket prices in the Fens?

2006-04-07 13:41:20
32.   Knuckles
Derby,

Stoke only counts in surfing.

Of all people, chowderheads who spend their days and nights deriding Jeter's intangibles should know this.

2006-04-07 13:52:58
33.   Shaun P
This is what scares me about Bernie: its a long tale, so I apologize in advance.

This weekend, Bernie continues to not hit. He looks bad. The team isn't scoring runs. The press starts asking questions - this lineup is supposed to score 1000 runs, after all. So, before the home opener, Torre says, "Bernie always gets off to a slow start. We need to give him more time. He'll be OK."

A month passes. Bernie continues to not hit. Torre says, "Well, its difficult to adjust sometimes when you go from playing the field everyday to not doing that. Bernie just needs some more time to adjust. He'll be OK."

Another month passes. Bernie continues to not hit. The press says, why not play Phillips? Torre responds, "I'd rather have his glove available to spell Jason in late innings. Cairo could play first in a pinch, but Phillips has the better glove, and then who covers is Cano or Derek has to come out of a game? Bernie's bat will come around. Remember, Jeter went through a two-month slump a couple years ago. Slumps happen to all of us."

The scariest part: we could all easily envision this happening.

2006-04-07 13:54:00
34.   brockdc
Thanks, Cliff. For me, Chacon's an easy guy to pull for. He's a pleasure to watch, in terms of his on-field persona and his avowed desire to be a New York Yankee. On a practical note, he will be huge for this team if he can log 200 innings.
2006-04-07 13:56:42
35.   Shaun P
debris, pardon me for asking - you know the Sox far better than I do - but didn't Otis Nixon make a brief appearance in the Fens for a year or two back in the 90s? I don't know if he led off or hit second, but given his speed, I'm willing to bet he did.

He was a pretty fast guy.

2006-04-07 14:08:49
36.   brockdc
Debris -

I can appreciate how optimistic you feel right now - if I were in your position, I probably would be, too. But, as good as he is, Beckett's fragility precludes him from being a bona fide stud. You'll be lucky to squeeze 150+ innings out of his fragile body.

Crisp, I must concede, was a coup; and I'd take Mueller over Lowell any day of the week.

2006-04-07 14:40:38
37.   wsporter
28 I'll do a little D collection, (last season?) run some simple ANOVA stuff and see where it leads. Just keep thinking about the way you'd like to run this stuff.
It would be neat if this could work across multiple seasons. I'm sure we can figure out a way to divide it up.
2006-04-07 16:08:43
38.   debris
Shaun

Yes, Nixon spent a year in Boston. (Had to look it up.) I'm not sure that he was faster at 35 than Crisp is at 26, but likely so as he stole 42 out of 52 tries.

BrockDC,

Fragile? Beckett has increased his innings each year in the last four. Why you think we'll be lucky to squeeze fewer innings out of him than he's put up the last two years is beyond me.

But I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that he pitches more innings for the Sox than that pinnacle of career inconsistency, Shawn Chacon, does for the Yankees. (Innings in Columbus don't count.)

As for Mueller over Lowell, that is probably the only place on the Sox roster that I feel the team is weaker. Mueller played a fine defense, so whatever upgrade Lowell is, it is not likely to compensate for the loss in offense. Unless, of course, there's considerable bounceback from Lowell.

That's it for now, boys. I'm off to watch Clement vs. Cabrera. Cabrera scares me. If Leo Mazzone's pixie dust works on this guy, he could win a Cy.

2006-04-07 17:51:33
39.   Rob Gee
33 Shaun -

Take it easy (am I really say this to someone else?). Tea is slow but not stupid. Bernie has the month of April and maybe the first week of May to turn it on. That's what 100-120 AB's? If nothing (which we all know) then he becomes the honorary PH he needs to be. Then question then is: Does Cash make a move for a bench bat? Or does Andy finally get his turn to be a league average DH? Really, that's all we need.

Problem there is - no 1B is play defense in close/late situations. Oh, Nick Johnson where have you gone? Carlos Pena perhaps?

37 You bet. Happy to help if you get down a process. But I have a feeling it's going to involve retrosheet and only for IF's - not enough E's in the OF to work off of. You know where to find me!

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