The U Files # 75: Reinforcement Review II

The Mets are in a better position then they have been at this point in recent prior seasons; currently hanging on the fringes of contention. Whatever their chances of actually pulling off another Amazin' Mets upset ™ , the team is taken seriously enough that there is buzz about potential reinforcements. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in last place in their division, and figure to stay there. Heralded RHP Kris Benson is rumored to be available. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

Kris Benson was highly regarded from the earliest days he was known to Major League Baseball. As such, he was drafted in the first round with the first overall pick in the 1996 pick by the Pirates. He reached the big club in 1999 and after the 2000 season looked to be a budding star with two successful seasons under his belt. However, Benson missed all of the 2001 season to have surgery on his million dollar right arm.

Since coming back, Benson has not pitched like first round material. In fact, he has hurt his team when he has thrown the ball in anger. His 2003 season was cut short by shoulder woes but he returned for the start of 2004, still doing more harm than good.

As I did with Freddy Garcia, I will do a projection for Benson. There are a number of projection systems. The most advanced is PECOTA, the brainchild of Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus. This system uses performance in five statistical components to compile a list of the most comparable players in history, and uses their careers to forecast the career of the player on trial.

For those lacking the means to run such a system, there is a way of projecting for the common fan. Thousands of like minded folk use them, and the results of these low tech methods usually fall in line with the results of the more advanced systems. These projections follow a straightforward formula. Essentially they are generated from a weighted average of a sample of years (preferably three or more), adjusted for park and league where appropriate, and using regression to the mean where appropriate. It is also possible to adjust for age. For pitching projections, sabermetric wisdom suggests one first calculate the appropriate component statistics (strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed, and hit rate on balls in play), then calculate runs from these. In this case I use a linear weights formula.

Pittsburgh has been playing in a card-carrying member of the club of new wave neo-retro ballparks since 2001. With 3+ years of data at hand, there is enough of a sample to determine usable park factors. In this case there is no league adjustment to be made, though I did translate the statistics into the 2003 NL rates for the sake of generating league-relative rates.

Park factors can easily be calculated for each component using home and road splits. Basic park factors are nothing more than home component per home out, divided by road component per out. These factors are for the home park; to apply them to full season data they are regressed by one half towards the mean (the mean for park factors is 1, which represents a perfectly neutral park as it regards the component). Park factors are most commonly expressed as the run factor; to be most accurate one uses component factors.

The park factors for Benson's home and his potential home are as follows. A factor of one indicates a neutral park with regard to a component, factors below one indicate a park that reduces the component, and factors above one indicate a park that inflates the component.

Park Factors

Strikeout

Walk

HR

$H

Runs

PNC Park

.9564

.9757

.9430

1.005

.9992

Shea Stadium

1.016

.9957

.9404

.9912

.9518



PNC Park has played at almost perfectly neutral overall, while Shea Stadium is an extreme pitcher's park. Benson would allow fewer runs pitching half his games at Shea Stadium than he does in Pittsburgh, however the value of his performance would not change unless his performance is affected particularly by one of the quirks of the park (I.e. Ramon Ortiz is particularly hurt as a homer prome pitcher at Edison Field). If he is not helped more by Shea than the average pitcher (or not as much), the value of his work is equal to that he would post for Pittsburgh. In a pitcher's park one allows fewer runs, but each run is worth more (basic economics).

Benson's last three years adjusted to Shea Stadium are as follows:

Year

IP

SO

BB

H

HR

$H

R

ER

ERA

2002

130.1

74

49

157

18

.305

83

73

5.04

2003

105

64

35

131

14

.318

68

60

5.14

2004

60.2

39

26

81

7

.343

43

38

5.64



Though his control remains decent, Benson has posted consistently below average strikeout rates and given up home runs at an alarming rate. He has a history of surrendering the gopher ball, but the strikeout and hit rates are odd. Benson posted strikeout rates better than average in his two seasons prior to major surgery, reaching a high rate of 7.61 whiffs per game in 2000. The hit rates on balls in play ($H) have been consistently worse than average (the Pirates team average 2001-2004 is .288). As studies show this element is not under the control of the pitcher to the same degree as strikeouts, walks, and home runs, this has been regressed towards the mean (the stated Pirates average).

A weighted average of his rates, with more recent years weighted more heavily than earlier years and weighted by inning with $H regressed, are as follows: 5.531 K/9, 3.385 BB/9, 1.169 HR/9, and $H of .305. These numbers are adjusted to the 2003 National League. With these numbers in hand, we come to the final, projected line.

IP

SO

BB

H

HR

R

ER

ERA

ERA+

180

111

68

211

23

111

97

4.85

86



The ERA+ represents his performance compared to the league average. 100 is average, and 86 is 14 percent below average. This is about as bad as a pitcher can pitch and keep a job in MLB.

Though Benson still reportedly has quality stuff, his results – particularly the lack of improvement in the time since his return – are troubling. He does have a history (in the minor leagues) of giving up home runs despite the fact he is a ground ball pitcher.

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