Is Framber Valdez calls for the intervention of five men?

Peter Aiken USA Today Sports

FanGraphs readers are a smart suite. Although the comments can sometimes turn into a series of shouting matches, the usual atmosphere is encouraging and teamwork. For example, here’s a thought-provoking question I received a few weeks ago, and my answer to it:

This is from an article I wrote about Framber Valdez and how he was on his way to shattering the globe-to-flyball ratio. A five-man attacker in any other circumstance would be out of the question, but consider how many Valdez spawns. Among the novices to have had at least 200 runs since 2020, he is first in the globe average (66.7%) by a wide and wide margin. With just a few balls heading toward the court, does it make sense to boost the field instead? It’s an intriguing investigation, and I promised he’d get an answer. So here goes!

First, let’s try a naive estimate of how five players can help (or hinder) Valdes. Imagine that since the start of this season, the Astros have rotated a five-man court to their left-footed juniors whenever possible. By creating an alternate reality of sorts, we can see how much of a difference a five-man believer’s shield would have made compared to what the Astros have already implemented so far.

But what does a five-man shelter look like, anyway? In my head it was like a standard pitch alignment but with one extra player to enhance the batter pull aspect. Basically, it inhibited any of its drawbacks. The closest I’ve found to a real life example was this weird turn of Dodgers against Eric Hosmer:

It’s not perfect, but you get the idea.

Excluding one hit, Valdez has allowed 26 hits on a ball as of this writing. How many of them would five men stop him? To find out, I went ahead and watched each one on Baseball Savant. Some, like Jo Adell double down the line, were simply out of the Astros’ reach. Others consisted of relatively easy stunts taken by the attackers but considered essential hits. A small part of them were launched missiles that penetrated the moving field.

In general, these are cases where a fifth player would not have been much help. Add them up, and the final tally is 18. The remaining eight fell into one of two combinations: (1) a ball that slipped through a gap that would have been filled by a fifth player, or (2) a ball that hit toward the open side of a bout. Not much to save, but that’s a full eight hits we’re sure a stronger than five-man stadium can take out. They were all singles, and a relative’s run-out value out of the season is 0.70; Running 5.6 runs fewer allowed by Valdez and Astros.

However, there is an exorbitant cost to operate five-man pitches. While shadowing defenders on the drag side is popular, we’ll assume the Astros create a vacancy in the center, with only the left and right occupied. In this case, any ball that would have been one under the watchful eye of the midfielder becomes at least a double. Any ball that was going to come out…also becomes at least a double. You can see why a fifth player has long been reserved for very specific situations, such as allowing a third-place runner to score Lose the game immediately. Generally not worth it.

Thankfully, Valdez is a cheat code. This season, he gave up just eight direct flights and one flying ball. I’m not going to try to guess what percentage you’ll end up three times without a midfielder; For now, let’s say they’re all my husband. From here, see how many runs Valdez and Astros will stand on lose Square for Five is simple: Subtract the running value to double from the running value for a real life or individual, then add up the negative values. This works out to negative 5.5, for a net profit of one tenth of the range. Hooray! It’s by the narrowest of margins, but with our assumptions built in, implementing a five-man court would in theory do more harm than good.

Is this a ridiculous conclusion? Of course; When you mirror it in one triple, you know it’s flimsy. So this time, let’s try something tougher. There is a small sample of the weirdness we can tweak, like the fact that only one fly ball ended up in the center. Instead, let’s use a set of broader numbers taken from Valdes’ career, the general leanings of the Astros, and the league as a whole. Here is an example of the information we want to combine:

Valdes tennis trends by gender

ball hitting type Withdrawal. tighten% Immediately% Reverse%
a land 45.1% 41.9% 13.0%
air 27.9% 31.1% 41.1%

Source: world of baseball

Earth = globes
Air = driving the line and flying balls, excluding popups

These numbers represent Valdez’s entire career. As a side note, if you’ve ever wondered why the Astros want to use Yordan Alvarez on the left field when they play, here’s your answer. Valdez doesn’t allow a lot of airborne communication at first, but when he does, most of them don’t go to the clouds side. Since the Rightists are overwhelmingly competing against Valdez, this means that Alvarez is provided with the conditions to do as little work as possible on the field. Although Valdes isn’t far off in this regard – hitters generally pull about a third of their balls in the air – it’s still worth using his rates rather than league rates.

This also gave me the idea to let go of the drag side of the playing field. Think about it: because balls drawn are more dangerous (i.e. higher wOBA average) than their direct and opposite counterparts, the opportunity cost of electing outside players actually decreases. This is our configuration, then: a transforming court with an extra defender, followed by two outside players to focus on the non-retractable areas of the field.

After that, I also thought about the many splits related to the hands. Unlike most bowlers, Valdez runs a higher ball rate against hitters with the opposite hand rather than the other way around; According to Baseball Savant, he has had 67.2% against the right and 61.3% against the left in his career, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s up against a lot of the far right – 78.1% of the time, to be exact. Additionally, this season the Astros have used a turn against 19.2% of these fit hitters, a rate that goes up to 78.2% against left-wing hitters.

Phew, that’s a lot of percentages. But now we can put together a serious appreciation for a five-man field led by Valdes. Based on the above splits, we can say that for every 1,000 bats Valdez allowed, 800 were right-handed hitters (this is the only time I’m going to round up or down). Roughly 538 of them would end up on Earth: 243 pulled, 225 in the middle, and 70 in the other direction. This is where the five-man pitch comes in. Knowing the Astros’ proclivities, we expect 47 drawn supporters to switch and return, on average, 0.14 wOBA, with the rest returning .226 wOBA (based on Statcast data since 2016). However, with an extra player, we’d expect all 243 ground players to return .154 wOBA — exactly the benefit of five-man pitches. Repeat the process for all racquetball directions and left-handed hitters, and that first part is over.

As for the 249 flying balls – the other 13 are supposedly popups – we just need to set the checked out item. In 2022, hitters drum 0.527 wOBA on balls drawn that are placed in the air. But what if there is no player to intervene? For the sake of simplicity and to give Valdez upbeat odds, let’s say every fly ball pulled is a double; This season, that translates to 1,271 wOBA. It is the price to be paid, after reducing it.

Now, the million dollar question: Does a five-man pitch provide more running by blocking ball strikes than losing by allowing any drawn fly ball to double? The answer is… no. It’s not particularly close: over a thousand hits, Valdes and the Astros will lose 27.9 points. Ouch! Even worse, this number exists in a fantasy world where no one has heard of it. As tempting as the idea may sound, Valdes’ “support” with an extra player bleeds an astonishing number of runs. Dangha, mathematician, you are ruining all the fun!

But wait. In fact, it would be foolish for the Astros to beef up the playing field against every hitter who comes in to hit against Valdez. Volleyball hitters may not be worth the effort, but it is plausible that the ball hitters are. So I asked myself another question: If Valdes is guaranteed an 80% globe average, would that make a viable five-player? It’s an indirect but logical way to see if turning against only the globetrotters is our way forward.

Unfortunately, the math brought the party to a halt again. This time around, Valdez and the Astros will lose 9.5 runs – a marked improvement, but not enough to escape the red. The break-even point appears to be somewhere north of 90% of globes, which is disappointing to say the least. Pretty much the only scenario that would guarantee five men would be if someone like Eric Homesser stepped up to the plate against Valdez, which is nothing new; The Dodgers did it three years ago with enthusiastic diver Adam Kolaric.

Contrary to what you might think, Valdez’s extreme profile doesn’t give him much of a head start in five-man calculus; The complete absence of a player is very devastating. Teams can survive without a player because ground players are relatively harmless, but the same cannot be said for players and volleys.

However, I would like to see the Astros put up a five-man court at some point with Valdes on the bump. The first reason is that I’m dealing with weird baseball strategy, but the second reason is that there are likely to be some cases where the math works in their favour, albeit slightly. Hey, just for fun, let’s use our 80% globe rate again, but along with DJ LeMahieu’s draw rate on volleyballs and line drives since he joined the Yankees in 2019: 13.8%. This changes everything: Instead of losing, the Astros now save 4.5 kicks per thousand hits. Of course, a realistic LeMahieu wouldn’t hit much of a terrestrial element. But if the Astros one day find a mixture of globe swipes, drag aversions, and Framber Valdez, they might have something to consider.

The stats in this article are from the June 8 games.

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