Why is Eaton so bad?-- with lots of data

In the efforts to procrastinate the research I should be doing, I decided to do a little research on Adam Eaton and what is so wrong with him.  Adam Eaton's ERA is 5.84 this year.  His career ERA is 4.57, and even with park effects taken into account, this is a notable difference.  Last year his ERA was 5.12 and the years before it was 4.27 and 4.61.  I want to know whether we should be expecting two and a half more years of 5.84 ERA ball or whether we should expect a noticeable turnaround.

The first question I ask is whether this hike in ERA is a change in skill level or a change in luck.  So I turn to DIPS.

YEAR    K/9    BB/9    HR/9    FB%    HR%
2007    5.84    4.11    1.5    42.5    10.5
2006    5.95    3.32    1.52    38.2    9.6
2005    6.99    3.08    0.98    35.4    13.3
2004    6.91    2.35    1.26    43.2    12.5

His K rate has dropped and his BB and HR rates have risen.  The BB/K numbers are jarring enough, but let's have a look at the HR numbers for a second too.  Is it park effects?  Look at his flyball numbers and HR/flyball numbers--certainly park effects are playing a role.  His flyball percentages seem to be varied, but more flyballs are certainly leaving the yard in his years since he left San Diego.  Keep in mind that his lowered strikeout numbers mean more balls in play which means more homeruns.  Certainly that is a factor.  He clearly is somewhat of a flyball pitcher with low strikeout numbers--which is certainly not helpful for a pitcher pitching on CBP.  So on that count: Adam Eaton is this bad, and we should expect this trend to continue.  Unless he can strike more people out, he's going to be giving up a lot of homeruns.

So, why is his walk rate so bad?  It's 4.11 BB/9, which is way above his low 3's trend.  Even in 2006, his BB rate was 3.32.  It begs the question-- is he missing his spots more?  Well, luckily, has stats on how many balls and strikes pitchers threw and so I figured I'd check those out.  

YEAR    2007    2006    2005    2004    2003    2002
%Stirkes    63.03    64.63    62.85    67.19    62.89    61.7

It seems to me like 2004 is pretty much an outlier in terms of throwing more strikes.  Is he missing the plate more?  It doesn't seem like it.  It just seems like he isn't putting batters away.  Does that mean he's throwing more pitches?  Not really.  Look at his pitches per batter faced.

YEAR    2007    2006    2005    2004       
P/TBF    3.84    3.88    3.93    3.84       

It doesn't seem like he's throwing more pitches per batter at all.  So, if he's not missing the strike zone more and he's not walking people more because they are fouling off a bunch of pitches before he eventually throws a ball, what is it that's going on?  I'm not quite sure.  I wanted to see if he had some kind of significant problem with striking people out once he had them on the ropes.  This did yield somewhat interesting results.  I apologize for the excessive amount of data in this post.

     Overall    After 0-2 count    After 1-2 count    After 2-2 count    After 3-2 count
     OOPS    K%    OOPS    K%    OOPS    K%    OOPS    K%    OOPS    K%
2007    0.856    14.7    0.51    34.6    0.762    38.5    1.132    25.6    1.139    28.6
2006    0.847    14.8    0.617    37.5    0.745    39.2    1.083    21.4    0.88    35.7
2005    0.773    17.6    0.425    39.3    0.611    41.4    0.784    37.2    0.927    32.3
2004    0.749    18    0.662    37.8    0.631    39.5    0.698    38.4    0.969    39.7
2007    0.736    23.8    0.349    47.1    0.631    39.5    0.698    38.4    0.969    39.7
2007    0.797    13.8    0.463    36.1    0.407    38.3    0.496    34.8    0.821    35.9
04-6    0.791    12.6    0.449    35.2    0.547    32.2    0.63    29.3    0.746    25.9
2007    0.8    31.7    0.417    52.8    0.405    58.8    0.318    63.2    0.771    31.3
04-6    0.758    20.4    0.488    45.4    0.536    44.2    0.652    42.3    0.897    35
2007    0.693    19.1    0.49    53.1    0.687    37.9    0.705    35.4    1.255    26.7
2006    0.897    16    0.592    50    0.757    40.7    0.858    40.2    1.294    25
2005    0.741    21.6    0.589    50    0.239    53.4    0.412    45.8    0.422    51.7

I am not positive that this difference is statistically significant, but it does seem like Eaton is particularly worse after 1-2 and 2-2 counts in the past 2 years than he was in the 2 years before that.  For the sake of comparison, I checked out a few more pitchers.

It looks like Hamels, Moyer, Myers, and Madson are all much better at putting people away--even relative to their overall numbers.  In other words, the difference in between Eaton's OOPS in these 2 strike counts and his overall OOPS is much smaller than the difference between Hamels', Moyer's, and Myers', and somewhat better than Madson's (though perhaps Madson is closer to Eaton in this respect).  In 2007, after being ahead with a 1-2 count, Adam Eaton's OOPS is 11% lower than his overall OOPS.  In 2006, Eaton's OOPS was 12% lower in this count, but in 2005 and 2004 his OOPS were 21% and 16% lower in these cases.  Hamels OOPS this year is 50% lower--half as large--when he has a 1-2 count compared with his overall numbers.  Moyer's is 49% lower, Myers' is 49% lower, and Madson's is approximately the same, but last year it was 16% lower and the year before it was 68% lower.  With a 2-2 count, Eaton's OOPS is 32% higher than his overall OOPS and in 2006 it was 27% higher, but in 2005 it was only 1% higher and in 2004 it was 7% lower.  Hamels' is 20% in 2-2 counts, Moyer's is 38% lower, Myers' is 60% lower, and Madson's is 2% higher.

It's not immediately clear to me what the difference is between comparative advantages in two-strike counts.  Based on Hamels and Myers, it seems possible that they have a clear strikeout pitch, but Moyer just seems to be gifted in some other way.  I'm also not sure what about Madson in 2005 gave him that trait.  I strongly feel that Madson's falloff in 2006 was partly related to scouting reports--a two-pitch pitcher as a starter is beatable, and there is only so much Madson could do to trick hitters.

I checked to see if Eaton's K/AB numbers were very different, and that didn't seem to be the main culprit.  I'll post them anyway for the sake of completeness.

As far as Eaton goes, there does seem to be some tendency towards striking out fewer hitters with 2-2 and 3-2 counts than he used to, but I'm not sure that's significant.  There's also clearly a large discrepancy between Eaton and these other pitchers in terms of their abilities to put hitters away.  Eaton will never be as talented as Cole Hamels, but the concern is that he does seem worse than he used to be.  While he doesn't necessarily strike them out any less often, hitters who make contact with Eaton's pitches after two strikes do seem to do better.  Perhaps something can be done in terms of approach on that front.

Given that Eaton is able to strike hitters out about as well when ahead in the count as he used to, the question is whether Eaton is just getting behind more often.  I checked:

YEAR    2007    2006    2005    2004
%0-1counts    44.84    47.42    47.18    48.1
%1st pitch in play    11.71    11    7.92    10.1
OPS on 1st pitch in play    0.936    0.679    0.979    0.88

Certainly, this year, he seems to be behind in the count more.  A couple of percentage points are definitely significant with 504 batters faced.  Part of this seems to come from more first balls hit.

So it seems like Eaton's problems are largely a result of getting behind in the count more and having more of his first ball strikes hit in play.  I would guess this has something to do with teams scouting him and picking up on certain things.  My guess is that it could help Eaton to know stuff like this.  It seems like a few things are going on:

  1. Eaton is getting behind in the count more often
  2. Hitters are hitting him earlier in the count
  3. Eaton is having trouble putting people away more often when they do not hit him early in the at-bat, even when he is ahead in the count
The results are
  1. More balls in play
  2. More homeruns as a result
  3. More walks
  4. Less strikeouts
  5. 5.84 ERA
Can Eaton turn it around?  I'm not sure that he is throwing worse than he did before--I think he is being approached differently.  The fact that he is throwing the same percentage of strikes as he always has, yet strikes out many fewer and walks many more does seem to provide evidence that he should consider mixing up his pitches differently.  Hitters seem to make solid contact when behind in the count, and they seem to be hitting him earlier in the count more frequently.  I have never had all that much faith in the Phillies' ability to change their pitchers' approach toward hitters in any sort of successful way, but that is probably what is necessary.  A pitcher like Jamie Moyer does seem to have some clear ability to know what to throw when, and his solid numbers with two-strike counts only strengthens this argument.  I doubt that Eaton is going to learn to keep the ball in the yard or develop a magic new strikeout pitch.  It seems more reasonable to wish for him to figure out a way to get his walks per nine down from the low 4s to the low 3s and get his K rate back up from the high 5s to the high 6s.  Accomplishing this would lower his HR rate simply because fewer batters would make contact in the first place, and would end up lowering his ERA by probably about a run.
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