Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Here are some disjointed observations and digressions largely inspired by my annual look at the final stats. I have to apologize that they are kind of Indian-centric; I strive to be non-partisan here, but I can’t help that they are the team to which I pay the most attention:

* I want to mention this before the Rays have a chance to ruin it, but if you look at the expansions in groups of two teams, one of the teams has won the World Series and the other has not. This is true for all of the expansions except the 1969 NL expansion, in which neither team has won:

1961: Angels, Senators
1962: Mets, Colt .45s
1969N: Padres, Expos (the exception)
1969A: Royals, Pilots
1977: Blue Jays, Mariners
1993: Marlins, Rockies
1998: Diamondbacks, Devil Rays

Please note that I’m just pointing this out as a coincidence, not any kind of profound insight.

* The AL hit .267/.332/.420, while the NL hit .260/.327/.413. The AL walk/at bat ratio was .096 (.090 with intentional walks removed), while the NL’s was .100 (.091). The AL and NL both had an isolated power of .152. So the biggest real difference in offense between the leagues was seven points of batting average.

Despite this, the AL managed to score .188 runs per (AB - H + CS) while the NL scored just .178. In terms of Base Runs per out, I have the AL at .189 versus the NL’s .183. The apparent difference from the components is not as large as the actual difference. The extra intentional walks could be a factor, but it could be a number of other things and the discrepancy is not particularly noteworthy.

BTW, all of those stats are for the AL and NL offenses. Interleague play makes the issue of league totals a mess as of course there are both offensive and defensive totals, and they no longer are equal on the league level.

* I list three winning percentage categories in my team spreadsheet. The first is regular W%; the second is EW%, which is Pythagenpat; and the third is PW%, which is Pythagenpat based on Base Runs. Teams for which all three figures are close include (these are displayed W%, EW%, PW%) the Cubs (.602, .614, .604), A’s (.466, .470, .470), White Sox (.546, .551, .548), Yankees (.549, .539, .545), and Cardinals (.531, .534, .529). Teams for which there are big differences include the Angels (.617, .544, .519), Braves (.444, .484, .504), and Padres (.389, .416, .453).

Last year there was much discussion about the Diamondbacks, who outplayed their pythagorean expectation to an extreme extent (they won 90 games despite being outscored). This year they had a .506 W% with an EW% of .509.

* The Indians struggled offensively early in the season, and were getting very good starting pitching. Thus the narrative that has been written for the season by the general fan base is that the offense was inadequate (this is not to say that the pitching is being praised; everyone agrees at the very least that the bullpen was dreadful) and the main cause of the team’s .500 season. However, if you look at the season as a whole, the Indians’ were +34 runs versus the league average (park-adjusted) offensively, and +10 defensively. If you look at Runs Created instead of actual runs, then it is +8/+6. The story may have been written in the early part of the season when the Tribe fell out of the race and started selling, but in the end, the run scoring and run prevention were pretty close.

* The Rangers and their opponents easily had the highest scoring level of any team. The RPG in Texas games was 11.53, while the overall MLB average was 9.30. The second-highest was Detroit at 10.36, over a run per game less.

Adjusting for park, the Rangers still lead the way at 11.20, with Detroit still second at 10.36. Toronto ended up with the lowest scoring context either way (8.17 raw, 8.01 adjusted).

* Speaking of Texas, have you noticed how dreadful Luis Mendoza’s season was? I had no idea until I looked at the stats. Mendoza pitched 63 1/3 innings and allowed 61 earned runs for an 8.67 ERA. It’s worse than that, though, as he also was tagged for 13 unearned runs, raising his RA to 10.52. He also inherited 13 runs and allowed 7 to score, so that would be another three runs surrendered.

Park factors help him, a little bit; his adjusted RA is 10.21. His eRA is 7.76, but his dRA is a much more reasonable 4.96. Opponents hit .384 against him when they put the ball in play.

The last pitcher with an ERA greater than 8.00 allowed to pitch more than 60 innings (in fairness, note that Mendoza is just above that cutoff) was Kyle Davies with Atlanta in 2006 (8.38 in the same 63 1/3 IP). The last pitcher to accomplish this with at least half of his appearances as a reliever was Russ Ortiz in 2006 (8.14 in 63 innings, with 26 appearances and 11 starts; Mendoza had 25 appearances, 11 starts). Beyond them, you have Miguel Batista in 2000 (8.54 in 65 1/3) and Benji Sampson in 1999 (8.11 in 71).

All of this added up to -38 RAR for Mendoza, making him the least valuable player in baseball among those who qualified for my spreadsheets. His RAR is overstated a bit by the fact that I lump pitchers into a binary class of starter or reliever with no gray area. Mendoza pitched 45 innings as a starter and 18.3 as a reliever. Thus, weighting the replacement levels by inning, he comes in at -34 RAR, which is still last in the majors by a considerable margin.

* Aquilino Lopez of the Tigers worked in 48 games, all in relief. He inherited 57 runners and allowed 29 of them to score. 1.19 inherited runners/game led all major league relievers, as does (on the trailers list) the -12 runs saved on inherited runners (acknowledging that this is a crude approach that does not consider where the runners are or the number of outs).

* Craig Breslow had a nice season, albeit over just 47 innings, as a lefty reliever for the Indians and Twins. Cleveland claimed him on waivers from Boston near the end of spring training, and pitched just 8 innings before he was let go again. He serves as an illustration of my biggest frustration with Eric Wedge as a manager.

I will tread lightly here, as this criticism is intended more as a fan than an analyst. However, Breslow was allowed to languish in the bullpen for weeks, never entrusted with any high-leverage situation whatsoever. Then, when he did get to pitch, he was not particularly sharp (surprise, surprise). Wedge picks his horses in the bullpen, and then he rides them hard. He doesn’t seem to be able to develop a bullpen in which five or six guys have valuable roles.

In fairness to him, he didn’t have a lot of material to work with this year.

* Most people are aware of the great performance Oakland got out of Brad Ziegler. What I didn’t notice until I looked at the stats was how well Joey Devine pitched for them this year. I would guess I’m not alone in saying that the main thing I remembered about Devine’s short stint in Atlanta was his propensity to allow grand slams. While Devine only pitched 46 innings this year, he was brilliant by any measure (1.41 RA, .60 ERA, 1.16 eRA, 2.39 dRA) and is still only 25. He’s one to keep an eye on for the future.

* About a month ago I wrote about Cliff Lee and his remarkable season in terms of W-L record compared to that of his team. At the time Lee was 21-2 and Cleveland was 71-73. The final tallies were 22-3 for Lee and 81-81 for the team, so his final NW% dipped to .915, still better than Randy Johnson’s .906 in 1995. That Big Unit season was the best that I could find for ten or more wins in my data for Hall of Fame pitchers.

* A hat tip to R.J. Anderson at Beyond the Box Score is warranted here, as he pointed it out a while back, but I thought it to be curious enough to mention again. The perennially disappointing Daniel Cabrera saw his strikeout rate drop to 4.8, which is woeful for a pitcher with his stuff (he didn’t pitch well in 2007 but was still fanning 7.3 per nine innings). I’m not a scout or a PitchF/x-er so I don’t have anything to add beyond that, but maybe there is something not evident in the traditional stats that explains why Cabrera’s career is floundering so.

* Remember when ARod, Jeter, Garciaparra, and Tejada were all AL shortstops? It seems like a long time ago when you look at the sorry crop of 2008. Only three AL shortstops with 300 or more PA were above average hitters: Jhonny Peralta, Derek Jeter, and Mike Aviles. Peralta, though much-maligned by Indians fans, was arguably the AL’s top shortstop in context-neutral terms. That still does not make him a great player (+22 RAA and +41 RAR before taking off up to ten runs for fielding), but you would think that he was below-average and a millstone listening to the talk shows here.

* Your job is to tell me who these players are:

.294 .346 .403
.268 .355 .415
.263 .327 .346
.260 .334 .427
.263 .317 .361
.282 .316 .439
.243 .326 .357
.240 .325 .303
.237 .339 .359
What is the common thread here? They are all Toronto Blue Jays with 100 or more PA (the stats for those with more than 300 PA are park-adjusted, while the others are not; that’s lazy and sloppy on my part, but irrelevant to the point). For some of the season the Blue Jays had Joe Inglett, John McDonald, David Eckstein, and Marco Scutaro on the roster simultaneously. Any one or two of those guys may be bale to help your team, but what on earth do you need four of them for?

* It’s hard to find a better offensive value match than Jimmy Rollins and JJ Hardy. Rollins had 614 PA, Hardy 621. Rollins made 405 outs, Hardy 409. Each created 91 runs, so Rollins’ RG was 5.71 and Hardy’s was 5.67. Rollins was +29 RAA, Hardy +28. Both were +45 RAR.

* One of these players is considered a MVP candidate, and one was until his team went in the toilet. The other two are well-known, but are often derided for their fielding, which while not great, is not significantly worse than the other two:
638 402 101 6.42
670 437 110 6.43
672 428 108 6.43
691 458 111 6.17
They are Pat Burrell, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder.

* Here are three AL players:
.223 .326 .393
.225 .319 .400
.275 .326 .400
Some people still believe that if you have two players with equal OPS, but one has a higher BA, that the one with the higher BA is more valuable. They believe this despite the fact that more sophisticated run estimators show them to be of nearly identical value, with an edge for the lower BA if anything (with the caveat that we are considering a normal environment in the modern major leagues). This is illustrated by these player’s RGs, which are 4.45, 4.51, and 4.43 respectively. Not that I intend this to prove anything, but the players' (R + RBI)/Out are .32, .33, and .31 respectively. (R + RBI - HR)/Out are .29, .28, .27.

You should always remember that if you have identical OPS but varying BA, the player with the lower BA has a better combination of secondary skills. Incidentally, the players are Brandon Boggs, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Butler.

* I have a junkish-stat abbreviated “SU” for Speed Unit. I do not claim it to be better than Speed Score; as a matter of fact, it’s worse. It is based on triples/ball in play, runs/time on base, stolen base percentage, and stolen base attempt frequency. One of the big problems is that I did not cap each component; Curtis Granderson got a 121 last year (it’s supposed to be a 0-100 scale) because he hit a remarkable number of triples. Anyway, take this for what it’s worth. These are the highest and lowest SU by each position in the majors last year:

C Rodriguez (56) Varitek/YMolina(25)
1B Berkman(61) Sexson/Aurilia(30)
2B Weeks(79) Kent(30)
3B Figgins(67) Glaus(29)
SS Reyes(92) Eckstein(36)
LF Crawford(85) Cust/Gonzalez(30)
CF Taveras(92) Rowand(32)
RF Span(79) Ordonez/Jenkins(31)
DH Huff(47) Butler(28)
* Finally, the answers to “name the Blue Jay”. In order, they are Joe Inglett, Lyle Overbay, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Kevin Mench, Shannon Stewart, and Gregg Zaun.


  1. In April, the NL actually out-scored the AL by .05 runs. The NL scored 4.55 RPG in April while the AL scored 4.50.

    At the time, I figured that this was just a statistical fluke. The AL ended up at 4.78 RPG and the NL 4.54 RPG.

    It must be frustrating to be an Indian's fan. They have been a very inconsistent franchise over the past 4 to 5 seasons. And it must of been painful to watch the decline of Hafner, Carmona, Victor Martinez, and Betancourt.

  2. What I didn't mention here is that NL non-pitchers actually did outhit AL non-pitchers (.267/.336/.426 to .268/.332/.421).

    Being an Indians fan is not bad at all. I think there are smart, component people running the organization (Shapiro, Antonetti, Keith Woolner, etc.) and they have been to the playoffs seven times in fifteen seasons. Tough to complain about that.

    Inconsistency that involves some good times is infinitely preferable to having a consistently bad team. And that is what most of us Indians fans have to look forward to from our NFL team.

  3. What are your predictions next season for the 4 players I mentioned: Hafner, Martinez, Carmona, and Betancourt. Hafner's career is probably over at this point. I can't imagine the Indians bringing him back next year.

  4. Pronk: He'll be back, as he still has four years/$57 million on his contract. Obviously that is looking like an albatross now, and he is undergoing shoulder surgery. His 2007 was not up to the standards of his previous campaigns, but it was still above average even for a DH. So hopefully he can at least return to that level of production, but I really have no idea what to expect.

    Martinez: I think he'll be fine. I don't expect him to be as good as he was in 2005-2007 (and I wouldn't anyway as he is now 31), but in his case I think it is much clearer that the elbow injury was the cause of his problems. When he came back, he had 76 PA and hit .279/.368/.459, which was encouraging. He will see more time at 1B/DH this year as Shoppach emerged as a viable option.

    Carmona: An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a mystery or whatever it was exactly that Churchill said about the USSR. His command was awful this year, and he wasn't striking anyone out. His 2007 season was flukish, but I suspect his 2008 was as well. I think I am going to set my expectations at league-average pitcher and go from there.

    Betancourt: He'll never be as good as he was in '07, but that's to be expected. I think he'll be effective at something approaching his pre-07 level. His K/W ratio was still ok (64/25 in 71 IP), but his HR/FB was out of line with the rest of his career (10.3% versus 7.5% career).


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