Saturday, July 12, 2008

Everybody hates Falkenborg

What's the deal, here? Vin of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness seems to want Mr. Brian Falkenborg to die from roadside blackberries. And why, exactly? Falkenborg is a perfectly serviceable middle reliever, and he's above replacement level. Falkenborg is a fourth or fifth arm out of the bullpen for an average team, and him being the fourth arm out of the bullpen for the Dodgers is not unreasonable. His CHONE projection is a 3.95 ERA, which means there are about 90 or 100 better relievers in baseball than him, not hundreds. His ZiPS projection is 4.50, which is puts another chunk ahead of him but keeps him a bit above RL. His minor league numbers are quite solid, and it's not like he's been atrocious in the 273 major league plate appearances he has pitched. Yeah, 273. He was pitching well in Vegas (41:8 K/BB, 3 HR, 35 IP, 145 BFP, 3.60 ERA). In 2006-2007 he pitched 104.2 innings in Memphis (PCL) with 111 K, 32 BB, 8 HR, and a 3.70 ERA in 449 BFP; at the big league level, he threw 25 IP, 21 K, 8 BB, 2 HR, 109 BFP, and a 4.32 ERA. He's a decent RHP reliever, no more, no less.

The other options in this game were the lefty Joe Beimel and two quintessential replacement RHP relievers, although that is not to say (yet) that they are merely at replacement-level. Troncoso is a GB artist whose greatest height was dominating 100 batters in the California League last year at age 24. His performance at Jacksonville last year wasn't discouraging, but doesn't exactly say major league arm. He has been decent in 54 major league PA this season but has not pitched well in Vegas. There's no question to me that Falkenborg is a better choice than Troncoso. (Then again, maybe Vin truly believes that this year's major league ERA is the only valid index of talent, since it is the only one he uses. Sorry Vin, not trying to pick on you, just trying to encourage a little more responsibility for how we use stats to evaluate talent.)

Corey Wade has an argument that he should have been the choice, and I'll confess to being pleasantly surprised by his performance thus far in 2008. Like Troncoso, Wade is a 25-year-old RHP who didn't achieve A-ball success until 2006. Wade's numbers compare favorably to Troncoso's, though, as he was regularly putting up a K an inning with the bulk of his innings as a starter. His numbers in the Southern League since being called up to AA in the second half last season have been pretty good, but it's not especially impressive for a 24/25 year-old to be posting a ~9 K/9 in the Southern League pitching entirely out of the bullpen, although to his credit he has been used as a long reliever in both seasons at Jax, getting about 2 1/3 IP per appearance. With the big club, he's got a 2.63 ERA, 3.58 RA, 4.24 FIP, and 4.08 szERA over 152 BFP. So, there's an argument that Wade is the better pitcher now, but I don't see how it's any more reasonable than the argument that Falkenborg is the better pitcher now, and in any event the margin of victory figures to be small either way.

The other option would have been Joe Beimel, and there's a decent argument that this would have been the ideal time to use him. The argument would be that the Marlins had Baker due up first and Hermida due up fourth, so if you put Beimel in he will face two lefties and, if he can get two outs against Ramirez and the pitcher's spot (Helms pinch hit), then that will stretch into a second inning. The problem with this plan is that the worst stretch of the Marlins lineup for Beimel is the 3-5 of RHB Cantu, Willingham, and Uggla. If anyone thinks that those are the batters they would want Beimel facing in succsession, they've got some things to think through. So if you put in Beimel, you will probably have to take him out after four batters or, like, lose (seriously, is Beimel's 1.xx ERA supposed to mean a darned thing when we're talking about how good he is, let alone against RHB?). Given that this is an extra innings game in which the Dodgers have used all three of their good relievers and have only Ardoin and Repko left on the bench, it seems a bad time to put in a reliever that will have to be pulled after one inning or 1 1/3 innings since the Dodgers' pitcher's spot had made the second to last out in the previous half inning. Plus, a better time to use Beimel is to face Mike Jacobs later on in the game. If you use him against Jacobs, then he gets the platoon advantage against Jacobs, doesn't get it against Cody Ross, will get to face a much worse PH than Helms (Andino, Amezaga, or Hoover; you'd much rather have Falkenborg or Wade take care of Helms than give him to Beimel), hopefully can do some good against Ramirez, faces Hermida, and then can be pulled. Much better, strategically, to save Beimel for later.

So, if the criticism is that Wade was a better choice than Falkenborg, I'm ready to hear why exactly we should believe that outside of a playful distaste for Falkenborg (let's just say I don't think Torre has a BFF bracelet for Falkenborg; my Brian Falkenborg Forever bracelet store at CafePress didn't make me one bronze cent). If the criticism is that Beimel (or Troncoso) was a better pick, I'm gunna need a full on rebuttal.


At 11:45 PM, Blogger Mike Scioscia's tragic illness said...

I'm a little perplexed at how you can say Falkenborg is "above replacement level." His VORP is -0.9, and his ERA+ is 65. Both of those stats scream "below replacement level" to me, especially the VORP, because by definition that's what it means.

You pointed out that we can't only go by 2008 MLB ERA, and that's a valid argument. But I think the fact that Falkenborg's had chances in SIX different MLB seasons with zero success, and a medicore 4.20 career MiLB ERA shows that there's really not that much there we should be waiting on.

I didn't see the game in question, so I can't comment on it exactly the way Vin did, but when there's guys like Beimel (who's been excellent) and Wade (a great surprise) available, I just don't see how Torre can choose the journeyman who's no higher than 15th on the organizational depth chart.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Fifth Outfielder said...

Sixty innings (273 PA!!!) is a horribly low sample size to evaluate a pitcher, but at the very least if you're going to use 60 IP (273 PA!!!) why use ERA as the metric? ERA over 60 innings tells you next to nothing. In any event, you should not allow small sample sizes to scream anything at you; it is bad for the ears.

"Falkenborg's had chances in SIX different MLB seasons with zero success." What does this mean? The number of seasons he has gotten a cup of coffee in does not seem at all relevant to determining exactly how good he is (it's not as if I'm claiming he is an ace), and if you are going to count up the number of seasons to compare the number 6 to 0, shouldn't you at least point out that his 1999 and 2006 seasons were nominal successes? Counting seasons gets 4 failures and 2 successes. In any event, counting seasons is a silly and useless approach.

Why completely ignore his success in the PCL from 2006 to present? Why harp on a 4.20 career minor league ERA when he was used as a starter until 2005 *and has pitched the majority of his career minor league innings in the PCL, the most hitter-friendly league in professional baseball?* His career ERA as a starter before reaching the PCL SEVEN YEARS AGO was 4.34 (394 IP). In the PCL as mostly a starter through 2004, it was 4.26 (266 IP), which is pretty good; as a PCL reliever since then, he has a 3.81 ERA in 191.2 IP and a 3.18 FIP. If you can't see how that is above replacement level (I am not arguing that he is better than average nor does the entry), then it's time to hit the library.

I am sorry, but I don't see the point in cherry-picking the stats that make Torre's choice look bad. I'd rather have a good estimate of how good the players are than a homily against an easy target. I don't see the point in criticizing management's ability to evaluate talent when you yourself choose to be methodologically unsound.

As for your third paragraph, RTFA. Your Beimel and Wade points are covered extensively. Whether or not you saw the game in question, you can look at the play by play and see who was available - I wasn't making this stuff up.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Fifth Outfielder said...

And jeez, you're criticizing Falkenborg for his poor major league performance when an hour after I posted this Vin makes a post arguing that it's unfair to judge LaRoche on his extremely limited major league playing time? Those must be some tasty cherries, friend. If you insist on treating LaRoche fairly (which we agree on), I suggest affording the same to Mr. Falkenborg.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Whether Borg is RL or slightly above or below RL doesn't, to me, seem to be the relevant point. FWIW, I agree with Tom's position that he is likely a slightly above RL player, although in that situation I think I would have chosen Biemel and even thinking it through would likely choose Biemel again should that exact situation repeat itself.

That said, Vin, I think your major point was intended to be that Torre is an idiot and that he has some unexplainable feelings towards a player that is not that good. I think that is true, I just don't think Borg is the right target. Proctor would have been a good example of it, though the best example is DeWitt. Torre is a Tracy clone to me. Kuo and LaRoche are his Choi and DeWitt is his Phillips.

The main weakness with your article is not that you undervalue Borg (you do), but that you present an argument about Torre that is correct while using a poor example, with the result being that readers of that article are likely to take your (and possibly others) opinion about Torre as nothing more than a baseless rant.

So long as Colletti and Torre are the top men in the Dodgers' organization, the Dodgers are in serious risk of turning what should have been a long string of pennants into a complete disaster. Torre's use of Borg, however, has nothing to do with that problem.


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