Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Crude Team Ratings, 2021

Crude Team Rating (CTR) is my name for a simple methodology of ranking teams based on their win ratio (or estimated win ratio) and their opponents’ win ratios. A full explanation of the methodology is here, but briefly:

1) Start with a win ratio figure for each team. It could be actual win ratio, or an estimated win ratio.

2) Figure the average win ratio of the team’s opponents.

3) Adjust for strength of schedule, resulting in a new set of ratings.

4) Begin the process again. Repeat until the ratings stabilize.

The resulting rating, CTR, is an adjusted win/loss ratio rescaled so that the majors’ arithmetic average is 100. The ratings can be used to directly estimate W% against a given opponent (without home field advantage for either side); a team with a CTR of 120 should win 60% of games against a team with a CTR of 80 (120/(120 + 80)).

First, CTR based on actual wins and losses. In the table, “aW%” is the winning percentage equivalent implied by the CTR and “SOS” is the measure of strength of schedule--the average CTR of a team’s opponents. The rank columns provide each team’s rank in CTR and SOS:

This was not a great year for the playoff teams representing those that had the strongest W-L records in context as Toronto, Seattle, and Oakland all were significantly better than St. Louis and the world champs from Atlanta. The reason for this quickly becomes apparent when you look at the average aW%s by division (I use aW% to aggregate the performance of multiple teams rather than CTR because the latter is expressed as a win ratio—for a simple example a 90-72 team and a 72-90 team will end up with an average win ratio of 1.025 but their composite and average winning percentages will both be .500):

The NL East, despite being described by at least one feckless prognosticator as “the toughest division in baseball”, was in fact the worst division in baseball by a large margin. Atlanta had the second-weakest SOS in MLB, turning their lackluster 88-73 record into something even less impressive in context. In defense of the Braves, they did lose some significant pieces to injury and have a multi-year track record of being a strong team, as well as looking better when the CTRs are based on expected record (i.e. Pythagenpat using actual runs/runs allowed):

Here we see the Dodgers overtake the Giants by a large margin as MLB’s top team, and it actually lines up better with the playoff participants as the Braves rank highly and the Mariners drop.

One weakness of CTR is that I use the same starting win metric to calculate both team strength and strength of schedule in one iterative process. But one could make the case that in order to best put W-L records in context, it would make more sense to use each team’s actual W-L record to determine their ranking but use expected W% or some other measure to estimate strength of schedule. Such an approach would simultaneously recognize that a team should be evaluated on the basis of their actual wins and losses (assuming the objective is to measure “championship worthiness” or some similar hard-to-define but intuitively comprehensible standard), but that just because an opponent had “good luck” or were “efficient” in converting runs to wins, they didn’t necessarily represent a stronger foe. This would give a team credit for its own “efficiency” without letting it accrue credit for its opponents “efficiency”

This is what the ratings look like using predicted W% (using runs created/runs created allowed) as the starting point:

Finally, I will close by reverting to CTRs based on actual W-L, but this time taking the playoffs into account. I am not a big fan of including the playoffs - obviously they represent additional games which provide additional information about team quality, but they are played under very different circumstances than regular season games (particular with respect to pitcher usage), and the fact that series are terminated when a team clinches biases the W-L records that emerge from series. Nonetheless, here they are, along with a column showing each team’s percentage change in CTR relative to the regular season W-L only version. Unsurprisingly, the Braves are the big winner, although they still only rank twelfth in MLB. The biggest loser are the Rays, although they still rank #3 and lead the AL. The Dodgers rating actually declined slightly more than the Giants despite winning their series;  they end up with a 6-5 record weighing down their regular season, and with seven of those games coming against teams that are ranked just #12 and #13, the uptick in SOS was not enough to offset it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Hypothetical Award Ballots, 2021

AL ROY:

1. LF Randy Arozarena, TB

2. SP Luis Garcia, HOU

3. SP Casey Mize, DET

4. SP Shane McClanahan, TB

Arozarena will likely win the award on name recognition if nothing else, but one could very easily make a case for Garcia, who I actually have slightly ahead in RAR 37 to 35. Arozarena’s baserunning and fielding are largely a wash, but Garcia’s RAR using eRA and dRA are slightly lower (32 and 31). That’s enough for me to slide Arozarena ahead. Adolis Garcia is an interesting case, as his standard offensive stats will probably land him high in the voting, but his OBA was only .289 which contributed to him ranking fifth among position players in RAR. But he has excellent fielding metrics (16 DRS and 12 UZR) which gets him back on my ballot. Among honorable mentions, Wander Franco had 21 RAR in just seventy games which is by far the best rate of performance. Ryan Mountcastle’s homer totals will get him on conventional ballots, but he appears to be slight minus as a fielder and was a below average hitter for a first baseman.

NL ROY:

1. 2B Jonathan India, CIN

2. SP Trevor Rogers, MIA

3. RF Dylan Carlson, STL

4. SP Ian Anderson, ATL

5. C Tyler Stephenson, CIN

India is the clear choice among position players and Rogers among pitchers, and I see no reason to make any adjustment to their RAR ordering. In fact, it’s pretty much RAR order all the way down.

AL Cy Young:

1. Robbie Ray, TOR

2. Gerrit Cole, NYA

3. Carlos Rodon, CHA

4. Jose Berrios, MIN/TOR

5. Nathan Eovaldi, BOS

The 2021 AL Cy Young race has to be the worst for a non-shortened season in history; while long-term trends are driving down starter workloads, let’s hope that a full previous season will make the 2022 Cy Young race at least a little less depressing. Robbie Ray is the obvious choice, leading the league in innings and ranking second to Carlos Rodon in RRA for a twelve-run RAR lead over Lance McCullers; Ray’s peripherals are less impressive, but are still solid. In addition to the pitchers on my ballot, McCullers, Lance Lynn, and Chris Bassitt could all easily be included as the seven pitchers behind Ray could be reasonably placed in just about any order.

NL Cy Young:

1. Zack Wheeler, PHI

2. Corbin Burnes, MIL

3. Walker Buehler, LA

4. Max Scherzer, WAS/LA

5. Brandon Woodruff, MIL

The NL race is almost the opposite of the AL, with five solid candidates who could be ranked in almost any order, even for a normal season. The easiest way to explain my reasoning is to show each pitcher’s RAR by each of the three metrics:

Wheeler and Burnes get the nods for my top two spots as they were equally good in the peripheral-based metrics, which I feel is sufficient to elevate them above RAR leader Buehler. It’s worth noting that Burnes was the leader in all three of the RA metrics, but Wheeler led the league with 213 innings while Burnes was nineteenth with 167. I suspect Burnes will win the actual vote, and while it’s tempting to side with the guy with spectacular rate stats, a 46 inning gap is enormous.

AL MVP:

1. DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, LAA

3. 1B Matt Olson, OAK

4. 2B Marcus Semien, TOR

5. 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE

6. SS Carlos Correa, HOU

7. RF Aaron Judge, NYA

8. SP Robbie Ray, TOR

9. RF Kyle Tucker, HOU

10. 2B Brandon Lowe, TB

A first baseman and a DH are the two AL offensive RAR leaders in a season in which no pitcher comes close to a top of the MVP ballot performance. The first baseman hits .305/.394/.589 to the DH’s .256/.372/.589, over 59 additional plate appearances. Under these circumstances, how can the first baseman possible rank second on the ballot, and a distant second at that? When the DH also pitches 130 innings with a RRA 31% lower than league average.

This should seem like a fairly obvious conclusion, and I suspect that Ohtani will handily win the award, but whether out of the need to generate “controversial” content or some other explanation that would indict their mental faculties, talking heads have spent a great deal of time pretending that this was a reasonable debate. I thought it would have been quite fascinating to see Guerrero win the triple crown as a test case of whether twice in a decade the mystical deference to the traditional categories could deny an Angel having a transcendent season of a MVP award.

For the rest of the ballot, if you take the fielding metrics at face value, you can make the case that Marcus Semien was actually the Most Valuable Blue Jay; I do not, with Carlos Correa serving as a prime example. He was +21 in DRS but only +3 in UZR, which is the difference between leading the league in position player bWAR and slotting seventh on my ballot (as he would fall behind Judge if I went solely on UZR).

The omission of Salvardor Perez will certainly be a deviation from the actual voting. Perez’ OBA was just .315, and despite 48 homers he created “just” 99 runs. Worse yet, his defensive value was -13 runs per Baseball Prospectus. I would rank him not just behind the ten players listed, but Cedric Mullins, Bo Bichette, Xander Bogaerts, Yasmani Grandal, Rafael Devers, and a slew of starting pitchers. I don’t think he was one of the twenty most valuable players in the AL.

NL MVP:

1. RF Juan Soto, WAS

2. RF Bryce Harper, PHI

3. SS Trea Turner, WAS/LA

4. SP Zack Wheeler, PHI

5. SS Fernando Tatis, SD

6. SP Corbin Burnes, MIL

7. SP Walker Buehler, LA

8. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, STL

9. RF Tyler O’Neill, STL

10. SP Brandon Woodruff, MIL

Having not carefully examined the statistics during the season, two things surprised me about this race, which it was quickly apparent would come down to the well-matched right fielders, each of whom were among the best young players ever when they burst on the scene, one of whom inherited the other’s job more or less, and both of whom still toil in the same division. The first was that Soto, despite his dazzling OBA, actually ranked a smidge behind Harper offensively; the second was that Soto had a significant advantage in the fielding metrics that elevated him to the top.

Taking the more straightforward comparison first, Soto and Harper had essentially the same batting average (I’m ignoring park factors as WAS and PHI helpfully had a 101 PF, so it won’t change the comparison between the two), .313 to .309. Soto had the clear edge in W+HB rate despite the pair ranking one-two in the NL (22.7% of PA to Harper’s 17.8%), while Harper had a sizeable edge in isolated power (.305 to .221; Harper had only six more homers than Soto, but 22 more doubles). The walks and power essentially cancel out (Harper had a .520 Secondary Average to Soto’s .514, again ranking one-two in the circuit). Each created 116 runs, but despite his OBA edge Soto made twelve more outs as he had fifty six  more plate appearances. That leaves Harper with a narrow two RAR lead.

Fangraphs estimates that Soto’s non-steal baserunning was one run better than average, Harper’s zero. So it comes down to fielding, where Soto has +3 DRS and +2 UZR to Harper’s -6/+2. As a crude combination with regression to put the result on an equal footing with offensive value, I typically sum the two and divide by four, which leaves Soto +1 and Harper -1, to create a total value difference of two runs in favor of Soto.

Obviously, this difference is so narrow that one should barely even feel the need to address a choice to put Harper on top of their ballot. One could easily reason that the Phillies were in the race, and Harper contributed to keeping them in said race with his September/October performance (1157 September OPS). But I have been pretty consistent in not giving any consideration to a team’s position in the standings, so my only sanity check was to take a closer look at fielding using very crude but accessible metrics. My non-scientific impression would be that Harper might be something like a B- fielder and Soto a C.

I looked at the putout rate for each, dividing putouts by team AB – HR – K – A + SF (this essentially defines the outfielder’s potential plays as any balls including hits put in play, removing plays actually made by infielders of which assists serve as an approximation. Obviously there is much that is not considered even that might be approximated from the standard Baseball Guide data, like actual GB/FB ratio, handedness of pitchers and opposing batters, etc.) and multiplying by each player’s innings in the outfield divided by the team’s total innings. Viewed in this manner, Soto made a putout on 13.7% of potential plays to Harper’s 11.2%.

A second crude check which may be free of unknown team-level biases but that introduces its own problems in that the other players are very different is to compare each player’s putout rate to that of his team’s other right fielders. For this, we can just look at per 9 innings as we have to assume that the other team level inputs in our putout % (HR, K, A, SF) were uniformly distributed between Soto/Harper’s innings and those played by other Nationals/Phillies right fielders. Soto recorded 2.17 PO/9 innings while other Nationals RF recorded 1.98: Harper 1.64 to other Phillies 1.51, so Soto recorded 10% more putouts than his teammates and Harper 9%.

Is any of this remotely conclusive? Of course not, but it is sufficient to convince me that the proposition that “Juan Soto was two runs more valuable than Bryce Harper in the field” is reasonable, and that in turn is enough to make Soto seem a whisker more valuable than Harper. It’s a very close race, much more interesting than the more discussed AL race (which in truth is interesting only because of Ohtani’s remarkable season and not any comparison to other players).

I think the rest of the ballot follows RAR very closely with the pitchers mixed in. Max Scherzer ranked ahead of Brandon Woodruff on my Cy Young list, but they flip here as Woodruff was merely bad offensively (-1 run created); Scherzer didn’t reach base in 59 plate appearances (-5).