Monday, December 17, 2007

Juan Feliciano, from Japan to Israel to the Dominican Republic

It's nice to see Bet Shemesh's Juan Feliciano pitching well in the Dominican winter league.

So how good is he really?

He won the IBL's pitching award with a 1.97 ERA (league average: 5.64) and 2.68 RA - like ERA but includes unearned runs (league average: 7.04) over 50 1/3 innings pitched. I'm not ready yet to go into more detailed measures of pitcher skill, but by any measure Feliciano was clearly one of the IBL's best five starters.

Before the IBL, Feliciano pitched in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp. In the 2006 season, he played in 12 games, starting 5 of them, and gave up 30 runs (29 earned runs) over 35 1/3 innings for an ERA of 7.39. Over three seasons with the Carp (2004-6), his ERA was 8.95 in 58 1/3 innings.

But is that good or bad?

I don't know much about the Japanese pro leagues, but it turns out that the level of play in Japan is quite high, stronger even than the AAA minors but weaker than the major leagues. You'll find different estimates of the relative difficulty of the Japanese leagues to the majors, but they seem to indicate that playing in Japan is some 10% easier than in the MLB, and that Japanese ERA's are quite close in range to their major league equivalents.

Without going into too much detail, we might expect a 7.00 ERA pitcher in Japan to pitch not far from 7.00 in the major leagues, maybe a drop worse.

His team in 2006 averaged a 3.96 ERA (RA: 4.54), making him one of the team's weakest pitchers. I don't have the league stats for 2006, but in 2005, Japan's Central League posted a 4.11 ERA (4.45 RA). Had he played enough innings to qualify, his 6.94 ERA that year would have ranked 85th out of the 91 pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched (he only pitched 11 2/3 that year).

So one of the weakest pitchers in the Japanese leagues, with an ERA over 50% worse than the league average becomes one of the best in the IBL, with an ERA less than half the league average.

That should help give us a sense of the level of play in the IBL.

8 comments:

A Fan said...

Please compare his statistics as a starter vs. his stats as a reliever in Japan before you call him one of the worst pitchers in Japan. Feliciano takes a long time to warm up, and has difficulty in his first inning of work, often giving up more hard hit balls in inning one than the following innings, especially when he is rushed into games as a reliever. The all dirt infields in Japan also lead to more base hits and swelled batting statistics, another reason why contact in Japan is emphasised more than homeruns. What made Juan so effective in Israel was his use as a starter.

Anonymous said...

The level of play for the league can not be compared with other leagues because in most other leagues, when a player is injured, or struggling, that player is disabled or released, and a replacement of virtually equal skill is usually there to take his place. In the IBL, rosters remained unchanged, and players who performed well in tryouts, but not so in game situations, or who were injured, were not replaced. The assesment that the range of play was college ball to AA is accurate, and overall the AVERAGE would have been competetive at A to A+ ball.

iblemetrician said...

Fan,

Unfortunately, I don't know where to find the breakdown of his performance in Japan as a starter versus a reliever. If you know where I can find the splits, please let me know.

I'm also aware that ERA is a statistic of limited value, since just one very bad outing can skew the entire season's average.

If Feliciano is at his worst in his first inning, why would he have been used as a reliever? An odd decision, unless the team already had a full starting rotation.

As I said, I don't know much about Japanese baseball. I'm struggling to interpret the data I do find.

iblemetrician said...

Anonymous,

On the one hand, you make a good point about the difference between roster management in the IBL and the majors. The IBL did not have a pool of off-roster "replacement players", and teams had to make do with what they had.

I'm not sure that's an accurate description of the minors, however, where players also move in and out of the league from higher league levels. And do the lower leagues - college, rookie ball - have a pool of replacement players too?

In any case, roster management is not really relevant to the question of level of play. The level of play in the league is determined by how the players who actually get playing time perform on the field. The fact that in an equivalent AA league some of those players would have been sent down to A is irrelevant, just as the fact that some of them would have been promoted to AAA is irrelevant. The level of play is about how well they actually play when they're on the field.

I agree that the range of play for most players was college to AA - which also coincides with the leagues most players had come from.

I'm not sure on what basis you're assessing the average level of play. It's difficult, without much direct basis for comparison between IBL teams and other leagues. By looking at the comparative performances of individual players, I'm trying to get some more insight into the overall level of play. (Example: Raymundo played well in AA, didn't make it far in AAA, and totally dominated the IBL.)

iblemetrician said...

Fan,

Also, I'm not sure what your point is about the Japanese batting statistics. Shouldn't that affect all pitchers more or less equally?

Coach Perlman said...

I read the initial comment and your follow up comment, and I'm not sure what "a fan" was trying to say, but I do think I can understand some of it, and respond to your last comment "I'm not sure what your point is about the Japanese batting statistics. Shouldn't that affect all pitchers more or less equally?"


In Japan the parks have all dirt infields, therefore contact and speed are more desired than power. A power hitter is likely to hit more fly balls which leads to a high percentage of outs. Ground ball hitters will bat into a much larger percentage of outs in the US than in Japan, because the all dirt infields are faster( more like artificial turf but even faster.) Infielders play deeper to cut off more balls so more fly balls behind the infield are caught, and speed players like Ichiro are able to beat out more hits, and reduce the number of double plays. Ground ball pitchers have much less of an advantage in my opinion in Japan than in the US or Dominican where the fields are grass.

As for Juan, what made him effective was his ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark, giving up very few hard hit fly balls. I would guess that the same batted balls he allowed would in Japan probably translate into fewer outs than on a grass field.

I also assume that in a country where contact is encouraged over the homerun ball, Juan and his downward movement would not have held even the IBL batters to a .160average on a dirt infield.

As for the minor leagues, yes there are replacement players who move in and out of all levels of ball - (not in the colleges while on a college team they often have a much larger roster with players who can be added to an active roster). There are many independent teams, and a pool of free agents who can be added at any time if a team needs a particular player. Someone like Raymundo who batted .300 at AAA might be released because another younger prospect with a larger signing bonus is moved up, and another organization might sign him to a A league contract as a role model for younger players, or to help a team increase attendance.

I agree with you " The level of play in the league is determined by how the players who actually get playing time perform on the field." That being said, I feel our starting team for the Blue Sox could play a AA team and be competetive, but over the course of a series, we would not be able to match that level, because our bench was no where near strong enough, and doesn't compare. Overall, there is too large of a range of skills to provide a level of play. Next season will provide a better guage.

Keep writing, I love your analysis, just be kind when you rank the pitchers. I personally feel responsible for getting Eladio signed by the Yankees - I think I gave up 6HR and 12RBIs Rodriguez and Paulino combined! Take them out, and I had a pretty good season. Maybe you can just rank me with the Over 40 pitchers.
Thanks!

iblemetrician said...

Coach,

Thanks again for your insights.

Regarding the Japanese infields, your ultimate point is that being a groundball pitcher is a liability in Japan, since it generates more base hits, while it's an advantage in Gezer since it prevents home runs. So Feliciano could have been ineffective in Japan because he's a groundball pitcher, not because he pitched poorly.

I don't have groundball/flyball stats for Japan, but I think I can safely refute the claim that Feliciano's problem in Japan was in giving up too many groundballs.

First, as I pointed out in my latest post, he was one of the worst in the league in strikeout rate.

Second, it turns out he was also one of the worst in home run rate. He gave up a home run in 5.7% of at bats, ranking 53 out of the 54 qualifying relievers. League average was 2.7%.

In fact the FIP stat I cited in the latest post includes only homers, strikeouts and walks - nothing that would be affected by hits on balls in play. And Juan ranked lowest among the Japanese relievers.

So whatever it was that failed him in Japan, it wasn't the fault of dirt infields.

You make a good point about the depth of the bench in the IBL, and maybe I'll look at that more closely some time.

I'm not looking to be cruel or kind to anyone. I'm trying to let the numbers take me where they want to lead me. Personally, I think the contingent of older players added to the IBL's quirky charm.

Coach Perlman said...

I haven't looked at his stats from Japan either, and the only experience I have working with Juan was in Israel. I was surprised to see that he gave up so many homeruns in Japan, but I also know that when a pitcher throws one way and it doesn't work, he will often change his style, so a pitcher might change his pattern, avoiding a sinker and using a 4 seam fastball more, in order to try and be more effective. When a player pitches away from his strength, he usually ends up paying for it with homeruns. Tom Glavine went through a period like this when the umpires were instructed to call the strike zone differently in the majors, and he had to throw inside more, and was not getting calls on the outside corner - pitching away from his strength. I have no way of knowing if this is what happened, but I speculate that it might have been the case. I also agree that if he was a reliever, he was misused in Japan, as he is usually up in the zone for his first inning of work, and usually starts to control the bottom of the strike zone during inning #2.