Monday, November 28, 2016

Statistical Meanderings, 2016

What follows is an abbreviated version of my annual collection of oddities that jump out at me from the year-end statistical reports I publish on this blog. These tidbits are intended as curiosities rather than as sober sabermetric analysis:

* The top ten teams in MLB in W% were the playoff participants. The top six were the division winners. A rare case in which obvious inequities aren't created by micro-divisions, in stark constant to 2015's NL Central debacle.

* In the NL, only Washington (.586) had a better overall W% than Chicago's road W% (.575). Of course, the Cubs were a truly great team, and with 103 wins and a world title on the heels of 97 wins a year ago, they belong in any discussion of the greatest teams of all-time. In Baseball Dynasties, Eddie Epstein and Rob Neyer used three years as their base time period for ranking the greatest dynasties. Another comparable regular season in 2017, regardless of playoff result, would in my opinion place the Cubs forwardly on a similarly-premised list.

Most impressive about the Cubs is that despite winning 103, their EW% (.667) and PW% (.660) outpaced their actual W% of .640.

* It is an annual tradition to run a chart in this space that compares the offensive and defensive runs above average for each of the playoff teams. RAA is figured very simply here by comparing park adjusted runs or runs allowed per game to the league average. Often I enjoy showing that the playoff teams were stronger offensively than defensively, but that was not the case in 2016:

This is another way to show just how great the Cubs were--only two other playoff teams were as many as 80 RAA on either side of the scorecard and the Cubs were +101 offensively and +153 defensively.

* The Twins have a multi-year run of horrible starting pitching, and 2016 only added to the misery. Only the Angels managed a worse eRA from their starters (5.61 to 5.58); only A's starters logged fewer innings per start among AL teams (5.39 to 5.40); and the Twins were dead last in the majors in QS% (36%). In their surprising contention blip of 2015, the Twins were only in the bottom third of the AL in starting pitching performance, but in 2014 they were last in the majors in eRA, second-last in IP/S (ahead of only Colorado and QS%; in 2013 they were last in all three categories; and in 2012 they were last in the majors in eRA and second-last in IP/S and QS%.

* There were a lot of great things from my perspective about the 2016 season from a team performance perspective, chiefly the Indians winning the pennant and playoffs in which the lesser participants did not advance their way through. Both were helped along by the comeuppance finally delivered to the Royals. It wasn't quite as glorious as it might have been, as they still managed to scrap out a .500 record, but the fundamental problems with their vaunted contact offense were laid bare. KC was easily the lowest scoring team in the AL at 4.05 R/G, with the Yankees of all teams second-worst with 4.19. They were last in the majors with .075 walks/at bat (COL, .084 was second worst). They were last in the AL in isolated power by 12 points (.137) and beat out only Atlanta and Miami, edging out the 30th-ranked Braves by just .007 points. Combining those two, their .212 secondary average was sixteen points lower than the Marlins for last in the majors. But they were at the AL average in batting average at .257, so that's something.

* Andrew Miller averaged 17.1 strikeouts and 1.3 walks per 37.2 plate appearances (I use the league average of PA/G for to rest K and W rate per PA on the familiar scale of per nine innings while still using the proper denominator of PA). If you halve his K rate and double his walk rate, that's 8.6 and 2.6, which is still a pretty solid reliever. A comparable but slightly inferior performer this year was Tony Watson (8.2 and 2.8).

* Boston's bullpen was built (or at least considered by some preseason) to be a lockdown unit with Tazawa, Uehara, and Kimbrel. Tazawa had a poor season with 0 RAR; Uehara and Kimbrel missed some time with injuries and were just okay when they pitched for 10 RAR each. Combined they had 20 RAR. Dan Otero, a non-roster invitee to spring training with Cleveland, had 26 RAR.

* Matt Albers (-18) had the lowest RAR of anyone who qualified for any of my individual stat reports. I don't think that save is very likely at this point.

* Just using your impression of Toronto's starters, their talent/stuff/age/etc., just try to associate each to their strikeout and walk rates (the five pitchers are RA Dickey, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman):

The correct answer from A to E is Dickey, Sanchez, Stroman, Estrada, Happ. I never got a chance to play this game without being spoiled, but I'm certain that I would have at least said that Aaron Sanchez was pitcher D.

* Jameson Taillon made it to the majors at age 25, and the thing that jumped out at me from his stat line was his very low walk rate (1.5, lower than any NL starter with 15 starts save Clayton Kershaw and Bartolo Colon. note that Taillon just cleared the bar for inclusion).

John Lackey, at age 38, chipped in 49 RAR to Chicago (granted, fielding support contributed to his performance). Taillon and Lackey are always linked in my head thanks to a Fangraphs prospect post from several years ago that I will endeavor to find. I believe the Fangraphs writer offered Lackey as a comp for Taillon. A commenter, perhaps a Pittsburgh partisan, responded by saying it was a ridiculous comparison, essentially an insult to Taillon.

My thought at the time was that if I had any pitching prospect in the minors, and you told me that if I signed on the dotted line he would wind up having John Lackey's career, I would take it every time. That's not to say that there aren't pitchers in the minors who won't exceed Lackey's career, but to think that it's less than the median likely outcome for any pitching prospect is pretty aggressive. And this was before Lackey's late career performance which has further bolstered his standing. What odds would you place now on Jameson Taillon having a better career than John Lackey?

* Jeff Francoeur had exactly 0 RAR. Ryan Howard had 1, before fielding/baserunning which would push him negative.

* I mentioned in my MVP post how unique it was that Kyle and Corey Seager were both worthy of being on the MVP ballot. They performed fairly comparably across the board:

Chase and Travis d'Arnaud also had pretty similar numbers. Not good numbers, but similar nonetheless (which in Chase's case was probably a triumph whilst a disappointment for Travis):

* It wouldn't be a meanderings post without some Indians-specific comments. It has actually been harder than usual to move on to writing the year-end posts because of the disappointment of seeing the Indians lose their second, third, and fourth-consecutive games with a chance to close out the World Series. Three of those losses have come by one run and two in Game 7 in extra innings. The Indians have now gone 68 seasons without winning the World Series, losing four consecutive World Series after winning the first two in franchise history. That now matches the record of the Red Sox from 1918 - 1986, which if Ken Burns' "Baseball" and plagiarist/self-proclaimed patron saint of sad sack franchises Doris Kearns Goodwin are to believed was a level of baseball fan suffering unmatched and possibly comparable to the Battle of Stalingrad. Well, except for the initial two World Series winning streak--Boston won their first four World Series.

The two Cleveland notes I have are negative, which is only because I have been thinking about them in conjunction with Game 7. One is how bad Yan Gomes was this season, creating just 1.9 runs per game over 262 PA, dead last in the AL among players with 250 or more PA. I did not understand Terry Francona's decision to pinch-run for Roberto Perez with the Indians down multiple runs in the seventh inning. He must have felt that a basestealing threat would distract Jon Lester, but given the inning and the extent of Cleveland's deficit, it basically ensured that Gomes would have to bat at some point. And bat he did, with the go-ahead run on first and two outs in the eighth against a laboring Chapman who had just coughed up the lead.

Also costly was the decision to bring Michael Martinez in to play outfield in the ninth. That move made more sense given Coco Crisp's noodle arm, but to see Martinez make the last out was a tough pill to swallow (and had Martinez somehow reached base, Gomes would have followed). And don't even get me started on the intentional walks in the tenth inning.

Also, it must be noted that Mike Napoli, who struggled in the postseason, was a very average performer in the regular season, creating 5.2 runs per game as first baseman. This is not intended as a criticism of Napoli, especially since I have been kvetching for years about the Indians inability to get even average production out of the corners. Napoli fit that need perfectly. But it felt as if the fans and media evaluated his performance as better than that (even limited strictly to production in the batter's box and not alleged leadership/veteran presence/etc.)

* For various reasons, a few of the players who were in the thick of the NL MVP race a year ago and were surely considered favorites coming into this season had disappointing seasons. These three outfielders (Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton) all wound up fairly close in 2016 RAR (28, 27, 23 respectively), yielding the MVP center stage to youngsters (Kris Bryant and Corey Seager), first basemen (Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto) and a guy having a career year (Daniel Murphy).

More interestingly, those big three outfielders combined for 78 RAR--five fewer than Mike Trout.

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