League and Carlson Follow-Up

In a post earlier this week I took a look into the recent struggles of Brandon League and Jesse Carlson. While there was some statistical evidence, it felt like I had just scratched the surface on explaining the downward spiral of these two pitchers who at one point were two of the most prized relievers in the Blue Jays bullpen.

Drew from Ghostrunner on First suggested that I venture a little further down into the rabbit hole and immerse myself in the statistics that would scare away an otherwise casual baseball fan. A few days later, after crunching the numbers and combing through pages and pages of statistics, I think I’ve come up with some more detailed explanations for Brandon League and Jesse Carlson’s problems in 2009.

Brandon League 2008 .271 .735 4.08
Brandon League 2009 .322 .678 3.64
Jesse Carlson 2008 .235 .770 3.55
Jesse Carlson 2009 .313 .701 4.25

Just like Ghostrunner on First indicated earlier this season, Jesse Carlson was very lucky in 2008 with an suspiciously low .235 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play). All signs pointed towards a BABIP increase in 2009 (which it did), along with Carlson’s ERA, and FIP numbers among others.


Brandon League’s BABIP in 2008 hovered right around the league average at .271. This year, it’s shot up 51 points to .313, which could also be another indication of League’s problems this season.

It’s hard to believe it, but the Blue Jays were actually better defensively for Carlson and League in 2008 than this season. Both Carlson and League’s DER (Defensive Efficiency Ratio) have taken a hit in 2009, and thus less outs means more runs against these pitchers.

Finally, we look at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). This stat takes all the fielders out of the equation and only reflects on what the pitcher does. It’s interesting to note that Jesse Carlson’s FIP has risen this year whereas Brandon League’s FIP has actually decreased.

Jesse Carlson Pitcher vs. Batter Stats (2009)
None on .306 108 33 9 0 5 5 0 0 6 21 .353 .528
Runners on .233 86 20 6 0 1 21 2 1 11 17 .311 .337
RISP .229 48 11 3 0 0 17 1 0 8 9 .323 .292
None on/out .365 52 19 5 0 4 4 0 0 1 10 .377 .692

Looking at these splits, we can see where the problem areas are for Brandon League and Jesse Carlson. But which situation do they perform the best? The answer might surprise you; Carlson actually holds opposing hitters to a lower average when he enters the game with runners on base and/or in scoring position. It’s almost like night and day – with runners in scoring position, Carlson’s opposing AVG is .229. With the bases clear, Carlson’s average skyrockets 77 points to .306.

Brandon League Pitcher vs. Batter Stats (2009)
None on .261 115 30 10 0 2 2 0 0 8 32 .326 .424
Runners on .258 93 24 5 0 4 33 7 1 8 23 .340 .442
RISP .258 62 16 1 0 3 29 0 0 6 15 .347 .413
None on/out .234 47 11 4 0 0 0 0 0 4 10 .288 .313

Although not as drastic, Brandon League’s batter vs. pitcher stats also tell a story of where his troubles and strengths lie. Often as the second or third reliever to appear in the game, League is accustomed to entering with runners on base. Strangely though, his best numbers are when he begins an inning fresh with nobody on and nobody out.

So what results can we take from this? If I were Cito Gaston, I would play the percentages and use Jesse Carlson in high leverage situations with runners on base … as crazy as that sounds. Brandon League is best served as a late-inning relief guy who can start and finish off his own inning, rather than take over for another reliever.

Sources: Thanks to the experts at Baseball Reference, Fan Graphs and The Hardball Times.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

9 thoughts on “League and Carlson Follow-Up

  • August 21, 2009 at 4:40 am

    Thanks man! This was officially my right of passing into baseball statistic geekdom, and I look forward to posting stuff like this is the future.

  • August 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Nice work Ian. I would have never guessed that Carlson pitches a OPS of .615 with RISP. I guess it's because of all those solo homeruns. I'm so used to seeing him turn and look up after a pitch. And so used to the game getting further out of reach as he does so.

    On the other hand, League is much more "generally bad", though the OPS none on/out is .601.

    So … if we're only dealing with these 2 pitchers, I would let League get the first out, then he would inevitably put someone on base with one or two out (let them steal second if it's only a single … ok, not really), then bring on Jesse, but not until there are baserunners.

    I'm just not sure I agree with letting League start and finish his own inning – his OPS jumps almost .150 after that first out with nobody on. Then once the runner is on, he's very clearly screwed.

    How about we start calling Carlson "Solo Man"?

  • August 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for the link to that article, Mike. Good find! I was kind of surprised to see that League was second on the list to get the least help from the umpires with called balls and strikes. We can now add that as another variable to explain his struggles in 2009.

    QJays, that was one of the weirdest things I noticed was that Carlson's opposing AVG is actually lowest with RISP. Now whether he causes those runners to get into scoring position or if they are inherited runners remains unknown.

    With League, he's usually either lights out or he runs into trouble and another reliever has to clean up the mess. If League doesn't have a 1,2,3 inning, then that's a good sign that things are probably going to get ugly.

    I'm cool with calling Carlson "Solo Man" – this year alone, 5 out of the 6 HR's he has given up have been solo shots. Even worse, 3 of those HR's came when the game was tied (one was a walk-off).

  • August 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    League is trully one of, if not the best, most frustrating pitcher. He should strike out every batter he ever faces with his filthy stuff. Carlson's ceiling I would describe as serviceable. I'm not sure he's going to last I'm the majors much longer. I Hope I'm wrong for his sake.

    Awesome post though. Gonna have to come and visit this blog more often…

  • August 22, 2009 at 2:22 am

    Funny – I watched those Sox-Jays games on NESN, and Frank Viola was saying of League while he was on the mound: "He's a great thrower — to bad he doesn't pitch."

    Actually, it was more like "He's a gweat thwowah …" but you get the point.

  • August 22, 2009 at 4:36 am

    League's crazy movement and velocity HAS to be a factor in getting squeezed. No human eye can accurately track anything moving that fast while moving that much.

  • August 22, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Mattt, thanks for the comment checking this out! I don't think there's another pitcher on the staff that creates so much excitement and frustration than Brandon League.

    Drew, I think League needs his own personal pitch F/X person. Maybe you should give Brooks Baseball a shout and see if they want you to do it!

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