Tony Blengino, the failed former Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners (aka the baseball version of Dwight K Schrute), tried to predict the futures of several first time ERA qualifiers. In so doing, he absolutely slandered Jacob deGrom’s career to this point and flat-out lied about what the underlying statistics tell us. Here’s what he had to say about deGrom:
ESPN – 2015: The oldest of the Mets’ crew of young lions at age 27, deGrom excelled in all facets last season. His K and BB rates were both over a full standard deviation better than league average, and coupled with a strong Adjusted Contact Score of 85, he yielded a 66 Tru ERA, tied for fourth in the NL. There are some areas of concern, however. He has no discernible BIP frequency tendency. He did post a slightly better than average popup rate, but he’s not a grounder guy. A bunch of his 2015 success is attributable to very low fly ball/line drive authority (82) — second in the NL — which is ripe for regression. Just ask the Dodgers’ Alex Wood, whose similar Year 1 performance swung the other way in 2015.
Comps: There have been 81 27-year-old first-time ERA qualifiers since 1969. Of the K/BB achievers among them, there is a disturbing amount of injury incidence; Brandon McCarthy, John Patterson, Bob Johnson (in the ’70s) and deGrom’s closest comp, Rich Hill. Hill had a +0.75 standard deviation K/BB and +1.31 standard deviation K/9 in his initial qualifying season, and here we are, nine years later, with him still searching for his second qualifying season.
Expectations: Sorry, Mets fans, but there’s just not enough to hang your hat on here for me to project long-term excellence. We may have already seen the best of deGrom.
Considering the piece is on ESPN, I probably shouldn’t let it get to me the way it has. But I refuse to live in a world where someone can take a shot at deGrom and his locks and not pay the Iron price.
First things first, the biggest knock against deGrom’s performance by Mr. Blengino is that he has no discernible frequency tendency on BIP. Presumably he’s talking about “Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)” as there is no stat for “BIP” (it stands for “balls in play”); there is an “h/BIP” which is literally the same thing as BABIP. This is a pretty odd observation given that deGrom has had similar BABIP results over his first two seasons in the league (.297 and .271).
His second big criticism of deGrom is posting a low fly ball/line drive authority. He tries to make this attributable to luck by first citing that deGrom doesn’t give up a lot of ground balls. Using those two stats in isolation is literally batshit crazy. It isn’t really surprising that deGrom would excel in these areas as he’s one of the best in the game at inducing weak contact. Actually the type of contact deGrom typically induces closely mirrors that of Curt Schilling.
Blengino then implies that deGrom is likely to suffer an injury without using a shred of real evidence. He states that there have been a lot of injuries to occur among pitchers who had their first year qualifying for the ERA crown at age 27. Bengino proceeds to cite several players who fit the bill. Beyond that, however, Blengino provides no actual statistics regarding how many of these pitchers have suffered injuries. The lack of real stats makes one wonder whether he understands the difference between correlation and causation. Furthermore, had Blengino even taken five minutes to research deGrom’s career, he would have seen that the only reason deGrom didn’t make the majors until 27 was due to the fact that he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted in 2010; missing the entire 2011 season.
Blengino’s argument for a deGrom regression is based on an observation that’s not yet statistically significant (BABIP), a statistic that is actually misleading(types of contact), and the type of assessment of injury history of similar pitchers that you’d expect from a 10-year-old baseball fan rather than a “professional” writer and scout. The fact of the matter is that virtually every predictive stat says that deGrom wasn’t lucky in his first two years. deGrom’s SIERA, FIP, and xFIP are all within a half run of his actual ERA; meaning his actual performance was about what you’d expect. Furthermore, Zips and Fangraphs both predict a similarly dominant season for deGrom in 2016.
That ESPN would proceed with this piece makes me wonder why ESPN would:
1) Hire a scout whose knowledge of sabermetrics is equivalent to a 7-year-old’s knowledge of the industrial revolution. Blengino is most famous for publicly stabbing his former boss in the back in 2013 when Seattle’s front office imploded. It’s ironic, however, that Bengino cited former Mariner’s GM Jack Zduriencik’s lack of understanding when it came to statistical analysis, as he shows no understanding of it himself.
2) Run a piece that was so thoroughly unresearched. In the same piece Blengino also takes a shot at Jake Arrieta and claims his 2015 dominance was the result of a “perfect storm” of events, rather than sustainable greatness. I mean look, Arrieta will likely never post a sub 2.00 ERA again, but he was incredibly dominant in 2014 as well. Yet Blengino treats the 152 innings by Arrieta and 141 by deGrom in 2014 as if they didn’t happen because “they didn’t qualify for the ERA crown.”
Hot take fodder like Blengino’s piece has become the norm for ESPN’s online sports coverage. This is how the ESPN machine turns a slow week into one with a major story: One of their employees writes a controversial piece, they wait for someone else to pick it up, as soon as it’s picked up they run non-stop coverage on their various daily shows arguing about said article. It’s truly pathetic behavior by the “worldwide leader”. There was a time not too long ago when it seemed like ESPN was changing the face of sports journalism with Grantland. But now they’ve been shutdown and ESPN.com has continued to sink closer to the Buzzfeed and Bleacher Report corner of the internet.
There is some good news to be taken from this piece: If you’re willing to just yell and write outrageous, non-sensical sports commentary, you could one day work at ESPN.