Monday, February 02, 2015

2014 Statistical Meanderings

This is an abridged and belated version of one of my standard annual posts, in which I poke around the statistical reports I put together here and identify items of curiosity. Curiosity is the key, as opposed to those that encompass analytic insight--any insight to be found is an accident.

* Since 1961, the ten teams with the largest differential between home and road W%:

And the ten largest ratios of HW% to RW%:

* One chart I always run in this piece is a table of runs above average on offense and defense for each playoff team. These are calculated very simply as park-adjusted runs per game less the league average:

It has not been at all uncommon for the average playoff team to be better offensively than defensively and such was the case in 2014. Two playoff teams had below-average offenses while four had below-average defenses, and the world champions had the worst defensive showing of the ten.

* You can’t turn around without reading about the continual rise in strikeouts. Unlike so many, I don’t consider the current strikeout rate to be aesthetically troublesome. But you can get a sense of how crazy strikeout rates have gotten by looking at the list of relievers who strike out ten or more batters per game (I define “game” in this case as a league average number of plate appearances, not innings pitched; eligible relievers are those with forty or more appearances and less than fifteen starts):

Al Alburquerque, Cody Allen, Aaron Barrett, Antonio Bastardo, Joaquin Benoit, Dellin Betances, Jerry Blevins, Brad Boxberger, Carlos Carrasco, Brett Cecil, Aroldis Chapman, Steve Cishek, Tyler Clippard, Wade Davis, Jake Diekman, Sean Doolittle, Zach Duke, Mike Dunn, Josh Edgin, Danny Farquhar, Josh Fields, Charlie Furbush, Ken Giles, Greg Holland, JJ Hoover, Kenley Jansen, Kevin Jepsen, Sean Kelley, Craig Kimbrel, Jack McGee, Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek, Darren O’Day, Joel Peralta, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit, Neil Ramirez, AJ Ramos, Addison Reed, David Robertson, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Rosenthal, Tony Sipp, Will Smith, Joakin Soria, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, Nick Vincent, Jordan Walden, Tony Watson.

That’s 51 of the 189 eligible relievers (27%); lower the bar to nine strikeouts per game and it would be 82 (43%); at eight or more there are 110 for 58%.

The lowest-ranking NL reliever by RAR was Rex Brothers (-8), whose strikeout rate was 7.4. The second worst was JJ Hoover (-7), who struck out 10.4 per game. I am not a huge user of WPA metrics, but Hoover’s season was noteworthy for just how bad it was from that value perspective as he was involved in a few huge meltdowns. Per Fangraphs’ WPA figures, Hoover was second-to-last in the majors with -3.56 WPA; only Edwin Jackson at -4.11 was worse, and Jackson pitched 78 more innings. Even among position players, only Jackie Bradley (-4.00) and Matt Dominguez (-3.76 ranked lower). Brothers was the closest reliever to Hoover, but his WPA was -2.31, 1.35 wins better than Hoover.

The anti-Hoover was his teammate Aroldis Chapman, whose numbers over 54 innings are simply ridiculous, with a 19.3 strikeout rate. It’s difficult to fathom that a pitcher with a walk rate of 4.4 could have a RRA of 1.02, an eRA of 1.15, and a dRA of 1.32, but Chapman did and led narrowly missed leading major league relievers in eRA and dRA (Wade Davis had him by a more-than-insignificant 1.1466 to 1.1471 in the former).

* In 2010, the Giants won the World Series with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain combining to pitch 435 innings and compile 101 RAR. Over the last five years:

While the potential for starting pitcher ruin is well understood, if you’d told me in 2010 that the Giants would win the World Series in four years getting no contribution out of Lincecum and Cain, I would have thought that black magic was at work. It probably is.

* Speaking of bad starting pitchers, only two teams had multiple starters (who made fifteen or more starts) with negative RAR. The Cubs had two--Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson combined to start 58 games, pitch 314 innings, and compile -27 RAR. The Indians had three--Zach Allister, Josh Tomlin, and Justin Masterson combined to start 56 games, pitch 319 innings, and compile -25 RAR (figures do include Masterson’s time in St. Louis). Both of these teams may well be trendy picks to compete in the Central divisions, and this is a one reason that may make sense. The Cubs and Indians are taking different approaches to shore up the back end of their rotation, Chicago by bringing in an ace and a mid-rotation free agent and the Indians by counting on continued strong performances from young starters who stood out in the second half. Either approach figures to work out better than -25 RAR.

* Despite the poor CHN and CLE individual starters, there’ still nothing quite like Minnesota’s utter and complete starting pitcher futility. In 2012, they were last in starters’ eRA and second-to last in innings/start and QS%. In 2013, they completed the triple crown--last in IP/S (5.38), QS% (38%), and eRA (5.76). In 2014, they “improved” to their 2012 standings--second last in IP/S (5.64, COL starters weren’t far behind at 5.59), second last in QS% (41% to the Rangers’ 38%), and last in starter’s eRA (5.08, with Texas second at 4.95).

* Clayton Kershaw had a great season, and was a reasonable choice as NL MVP. I’m not trying to run him down--but there is some notion out there that he had a transcendent season. I think this notion can be tempered by simply comparing his rate stats to those of Jake Arrieta:

Kershaw was better overall than Arrieta, and pitched 42 more innings. But no one should confuse Kershaw 2014 with Pedro 1999 or anything of the sort.

* One of these starting pitchers is now forever known as a clutch pitcher, a modern marvel who harkens back to the days of Gibson and Morris and whoever else has been chosen for lionization. The other is an underachieving
prima donna who Ron Darling thinks is "struggling" as a major league starter. Their regular season performances were hardly distinguishable:

Madison Bumgarner and Stephen Strasburg.

* Cole Hamels was fourth among NL starting pitchers with 55 RAR, but won just nine games. This has to be one of the better pitcher seasons in recent years with single digit wins. Through the last decade of my RAR figures, here is the highest-ranking starter in each league with single digit wins:

This is an interesting collection of names--a number of outstanding pitchers and some who I hadn’t thought about in years (John Patterson, the late Joe Kennedy and Geremi Gonzalez). Since this comparison is across league-seasons, in order to rank these seasons it is necessary to convert RAR to WAR. Using RPW = RPG, Hamels’ 2014 actually ranks highest with 7.0 WAR (Harvey 6.9, Schilling 6.7, Jennings 5.9) since the 2014 NL had the lowest RPG (7.9) of any league during the period. Given that the likelihood of a starter having an outstanding season with fewer than ten wins is greater now than at any point in major league history, it’s quite possible that Hamels’ 2014 is the best such season. Sounds like a good Play Index query if you’re looking for an article idea.

* The worst hitter in baseball with more than 400 plate appearances was Jackie Bradley (2.2 RG). The Red Sox have collected a large collection of outfielders and Bradley is unlikely to be in their plans. The second-worst hitter with more than 400 PA was Zack Cozart (2.5 RG). His team traded for a young shortstop who had 3.4 RG in 266 PA (granted, Eugenio Suarez does not appear to be the fielder that Cozart is), yet Walt Jocketty was quoted as saying "Cozart is our opening day shortstop and he’s one of the best in the league."

In addition to Cozart, the Reds featured three other hitters with 250+ who were essentially replacement-level: Chris Heisey (3.4 RG for a corner outfielder), Bryan Pena (3.3 for a first baseman), and Skip Schumaker (2.9 for a corner outfielder).

* San Diego liked Justin Upton (or Matt Kemp?) so much that they traded for two clones of the same player (in 2014 performance, at least):

* Many hands have been wrung regarding the apparent shift in Mike Trout’s game to old player skills rather than young player skills, particularly with the dropoff in his base stealing exploits (54 attempts in 2012 to 40 in 2013 to 18 in 2014). Yet it should still be noted that Trout ranked fifth in the AL with a 7.2 Speed Score (I use Bill James’ original formula but only consider stolen base frequency, stolen base percentage, triples rate, and runs scored per time on base). In fact, his Speed Score was up from 2013 (7.0) although down from 2012 (8.7). Here are Trout’s three-year figures in each of the four components of Speed Score:

Just to make clear what these numbers represent, Trout attempted a steal in 29.3% of his times on first base (singles plus walks) in 2012, had a 85.2% SB% when adding three steals and four caught stealings to his actual figures, hit a triple on 2.1% of his balls in play, and scored 45.2% of the time he reached base. (These are all estimated based on his basic stat line as opposed to counting actual times on first base or attempted steals of second, etc.)

While these categories certainly don’t capture the full picture of how speed manifests itself in on-field results, it is clear that Trout has been dialing back the most visible such part of his game, basestealing. And his 2014 SS rebound is due to two categories that are subject to more flukes (triples) and teammate influence (runs scored per time on base). Still, it may be a little early to sound the alarm bells on Trout as a one-dimensional slugger. Eventually, the sabermetric writers who have developed a cottage industry of Trout alarmism will be right about something, but there’s no need to prematurely indulge them.

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper’s Speed Scores for 2012-14 are 7.5, 4.9, 2.7.

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