Thursday, November 21, 2013

Statistical Meanderings 2013

Below are my annual observations from perusing the end of season stats I post on this blog. They are generally nuggets that I find interesting or amusing rather than an attempt to engage in serious analysis and should be taken in that light. You’ll notice a bit of an Indians bias in terms of what I found interesting:

* Only one team in MLB finished with between 79 and 84 wins, which seems rather remarkable--the 81-81 Diamondbacks. Making the range an even three wins on both sides of .500 (78-84, or more appropriately a W% between .481 and .519), there were two teams in this range (the Angels were 78-84). The last time there were two or fewer teams in this range was 1994, which of course was a strike-shortened season. Prior to that, one must go back to 1978, 1969, 1967 (with 26, 24, and 20 teams in the majors respectively). The last time only one major league team in that range was 1965 as the Cardinals were 80-81, falling in the range, while the Phillies were 85-76 and the Yankees were 77-85. It has been 1937 since there were no teams in this range. There were a whopping ten teams in this range in 1991.

Obviously the particular range I’ve chosen doesn’t have any particular significance, and there are some more rigorous ways one could measure the lack of centrality in 2013 team records.

* No sub-.500 team had an EW% (based on runs scored and allowed) or PW% (based on runs created and runs created allowed) above .500. The Angels were the closest in both (.481 W% with .497 EW% and .497 PW%). Only the Yankees managed a winning record with an EW% or PW% below .500 (.525 W%, .485 EW%, .446 PW%). The RMSE of EW% (Pythagenpat) as a predictor of W% was 3.66 which is definitely lower than the long-term average, although I’ve never looked at the annual breakouts closely enough to tell you if it’s unusually low or not).

* Atlanta had a 56-25 record at home (thanks largely to just 2.96 RA/G at home), which makes one wonder why they’d want to tear Turner Field down; their .690 mark has been matched or exceeded in the last five years only by the 2009 Yankees and Red Sox, 2010 Braves, and 2011 Brewers. On the other hand, Houston was 24-57 at home, tied for fifth-worst since 1961.

The flip side is that Atlanta was the only playoff team(for the sake of this post, I’m counting the two wildcard losers as playoff teams, which I know sets some people off) with a losing road record (Tampa Bay and Cincinnati were both a win better at 41-41). The Mets were .099 points better on the road (they actually had a winning road record at 41-40 but were just 33-48 at home). That was the biggest discrepancy in favor of road since the 2011 Mets, and in the non-Mets category since the 2002 Red Sox.

* I always like to look at the playoff teams by runs above average on offense and defense (park adjusted and just based on runs per game to keep it simple). This often gives me an opportunity to snark about the usual nonsense about pitching being paramount, and this year is no exception:

Note that I’m not making the opposite argument.

* It was probably never a great idea to lump teams into sabermetric and non-sabermetric front office buckets, or assume that the sabermetric front offices would surely produce teams with higher secondary averages, and it’s even sillier to attempt that now. Still, I find it satisfying on some level that the top four teams in secondary average were Oakland, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Cleveland.

* Drew Smyly ranked tenth among AL relievers in RAR with excellent peripherals to back it up. I didn’t realize this, and based on his playoff deployment of Smyly, neither did Jim Leyland.

*Relievers are a little hard to keep track of due to their somewhat fungible nature and the bloated size of modern bullpens--at any given moment there are roughly 210 full-time relievers in the majors. I watch enough MLB Network, enough games of teams around the league, and read enough box scores to be reasonably familiar with all major league players, but there are without fail a couple relievers on the list every year of whom I have no useful knowledge. The highest ranking in RAR was Seattle’s rookie Yoervis Medina, who was 23rd in the AL with 14.

* Brandon McCarthy had something of a disappointing season after signing with Arizona, pitching 135 innings with a 4.68 RRA for 7 RAR. I was amused last offseason, though, that McCarthy signed for 2/$15.5MM while another free agent Brandon signed with the Dodgers for 3/$22.5MM. To the surprise of just about no one, McCarthy was still a much better value than League, who ranked dead last among NL relievers in RAR and strikeout rate (-16 RAR thanks to a 7.11 RRA with a 4.4 KG).

* In the celebration of Ben Cherington’s makeover of the Red Sox that followed their World Series triumph, one move was convieniently glossed over. In pointing this out, I don’t mean to suggest that Cherington was not worthy of praise or that perfection is a reasonable goal. But the Joel Hanrahan trade made little sense to me when it was made, and as Melancon was one of the NL’s best relievers, it looks much worse in retrospect.

* It’s once again time to play: Which Yankee Reliever Whose Name Begins With R Is It?

* Jose Mijares had one of the largest gaps between his eRA (estimated RA based on opponent’s runs created) and dRA (DIPS-style estimate RA) that you’ll ever see as they were 6.53 and 3.57 respectively. This was driven by an eye-popping .428 %H. Granted, he only faced around 230 hitters, but that jumps off the page.

* Q: What do Arolids Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Jason Grilli, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Jim Henderson, Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Parra, Blake Parker, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, Paco Rodriguez, Pedro Strop, Nick Vincent, Tyler Clippard, Rex Brothers, Steve Cishek, Carlos Marmol, Antonio Bastardo, Sam LeCure, Mike Gonzalez, Mike Dunn, David Hernandez, AJ Ramos, Heath Bell, Mark Melancon, Jake Diekman, JJ Hoover, Tony Sipp, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Sergio Romo, Jean Machi, Dale Thayer, Javier Lopez, Adam Ottavino, Jose Mijares, Alex Wood, Tom Gorzelanny, Logan Ondrusek, and Craig Stammen have in common?

A: They were all NL relievers with higher strikeout rates than Jonathan Papelbon. That Papelbon’s KG was 8.6 speaks a lot about the current environment.

*Paul Clemens appeared in 35 games for Houston with a 5.13 RRA over 73 innings for -3 RAR. His peripherals were worse (6.12 eRA, 6.27 dRA, 5.8 KG, 3.1 WG). My honest question: could Roger Clemens have done better?

Speaking more generally of Houston’s bullpen, it had an eRA of 5.76, 1.04 runs higher than the second-worst bullpen (PHI) and 40% higher than the AL average of 4.11. For comparison, the dreadful Arizona pen of 2010 had a 5.54 eRA in a league with an average of 4.35, only 27% higher than average.

I was overly optimistic about the Astros’ outlook this year, but this is an area that an intelligent organization should be able to improve, should they deign to devote any resources to it all.

* Travis Wood was among the better starters in the NL this year, at least from a non-DIPS perspective, pitching 200 innings with a 3.10 RRA and 3.36 eRA. Even if you start from his 4.15 dRA, he was at worst an average starter pitching a lot of innings. Sean Marshall, on the other hand, pitched just 16 innings for the Reds and made about $4 million more. I wouldn’t advise trading a potential starter for a reliever, even a good one like Marshall, particularly when you intend to use that reliever as a LOOGY and when the starter you’re trading could probably fill the reliever’s potential role nearly as well anyway.

* Last year I made a big point of comparing the aggregate performance of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White (not good) to Ubaldo Jimenez (just as bad and a lot more expensive). To be fair, this year I will point out that Ubaldo wiped the floor with them and was a key contributor to the Indians wildcard spot. Jimenez chipped in 35 RAR, good for 24th among AL starters. As you probably know he was his old (Cleveland-style) self in the first half but much better in the second half. This lack of consistency is captured crudely by his QS%--just fifty percent, ranking tied for 46th among AL starters and a tick below the league average of 51%. Jimenez led all AL starters with a below-avergae QS% in RAR and strikeout rate, and was second in innings pitched (behind AJ Griffin) and RAA (behind Alexi Ogando). Only seven AL starters had a RRA better than the league average with a subpar QS%, and three of them pitched for Cleveland (Jimenez, Cory Kluber, and Scott Kazmir).

* The Indians’ starting pitching was easily the worst of any playoff team. Cleveland’s starters had an eRA of 4.55, just ahead of the AL average of 4.60 and 21st in MLB. The next poorest playoff team was Tampa Bay (4.36, 14th in MLB), with the other eight playoff teams ranking in the top ten (only the Nationals and the Cubs missed the playoffs among the top ten). Cleveland starters averaged 5.7 innings/start compared to the league average of 5.9, and only Pittsburgh was similarly poor among playoff teams (also 5.7). Seven of the playoff teams were in the top ten in this category. The Indians’ QS% of 45% was fourth-worst in MLB; Tampa Bay was next worst among playoff teams (49%, 23rd) and six of the playoff teams finished in the top ten.

* How quickly the mighty can fall when they are built on elbows and shoulders: San Francisco had one starting pitcher with positive RAA (Madison Bumgarner) along with the second and third to last NL starters in RAR. Barry Zito ranking down there was no surprise, but Ryan Vogelsong’s magic ride came to a halt with a line that pretty much made him Zito’s right-handed twin:

* Minnesota’s starting pitching was terrible once again; 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). No team was even close to being as hapless in this department as Minnesota--Colorado starters worked 5.43 IP/S and had 40% QS, while Houston and Toronto had the next highest eRA (5.24). Rockies starters were actually respectable with a 4.43 eRA versus a NL average of 4.24.

* I came to age as a baseball fan during the mid-90s, so the recent dip in runs scored is difficult for me to process when I peruse the stats--from an analytical perspective I understand the context issue, but there’s something jarring to me about looking at a list of hitters for a league and seeing only seven players with 100 Runs Created as was the case for the NL in 2013 (there were ten in the AL). 2003 is the earliest year for which I have my end of season stats at easy disposal, and in that season 24 NL and 21 AL players created 100 runs.

Another way to express this is to look at the batting lines of NL hitters with 0 HRAA (that is average batters, albeit compared to a league average that includes pitchers). They include Luis Valbuena (.213/.319/.370), Eric Young (.254/.314/.343), Marcell Ozuna (.264/.297/.387), Brandon Crawford (.256/.316/.374), and Jesus Guzman (.232/.300/.388).

The AL average runs scored per game was 4.33, while the NL was at 4.00. For both leagues, it was the lowest scoring output since 1992 (4.32 in the AL, 3.88 in the NL).

* A quick way to see which players had seasons that most surprised me is to look down the list sorted by RAR and find the first name that makes me do a double take. In the AL, that player is definitely Jason Castro. Castro hit .277/.352/.488 over 485 PA for 39 RAR and was arguably the best catcher in the AL as the only two ahead of him on the RAR list spent a significant amount of time at other positions (Carlos Santana and Joe Mauer). Castro was an All-Star, which should have caused me to look at him more closely in-season, but then again I probably just figured that they had to pick someone from Houston.

* Texas’ once-vaunted offense was below average in 2013, scoring 17 fewer runs than an average AL team when adjusted for park. A look down the list of individuals is jarring; only Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz ranked as above average. There’s an interesting case to be made for the Rangers as a cautionary tale for something (anointing a team as the best since the 1998 Yankees in June, maybe? Obviously that was in 2012, not 2013), but I’m not quite sure what it is.

* I list a variant of Bill James’ Speed Score in my stats (I switched from my own knockoff Speed Unit a few years ago because it’s easier to disclaim the results when you just use someone else’s method), but it really serves very little purpose--it's purposefully not expressed in a meaningful unit, it’s a skill measure rather than a value measure and therefore really should consider more data than one season, and the results usually aren’t surprising. One name that popped out at me, though, was Matt Dominguez, who has a Speed Score of 1.1. The AL players with lower Speed Scores are all catchers, first basemen, or DHs, except for fellow third baseman Alberto Callaspo.

I saw five or so Astro games on TV this year but don’t Dominguez’ speed or lack thereof standing out, and my impression was that defense at third was his calling card (not that speed is a key factor for third base defense, but my mental picture of a good third baseman is a big but athletic guy--he wouldn’t have a high speed score, but neither would he be sandwiched between Joe Mauer and Justin Morenau on the list).

But by the components that go into Speed Score, he’s really slow. He’s only attempted one stolen base in 200 major leagues games (and he was caught). He has two triples, but neither came in 2013. And he’s only scored 25% of the time when reaching base, which of course is somewhat attributable to playing for Houston.

* You may have noticed in reading through that I am easily amused by comparisons of players otherwise connected, that is traded for each other or where one replaced the other. My very favorite combination this year are the AL and NL trailers in RAR, who were once swapped as counterweights in the Zack Greinke deal. Alcides Escobar was 12 runs below replacement considering only offense and position, hitting .232/.255/.297 for 2.5 RG over 626 PA. Yuniesky Betancourt was -9 RAR, hitting .211/.238/.354 for 2.7 RG over 405 PA. And I for one am shocked that “Yuniesky Betancourt, first baseman” was a resounding failure.

1 comment:

  1. How about the Red Sox 329 BABIP being the highest of any team since 1930


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