Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reinventing the Wheel, Now With Win Estimators!

It is in my nature to snark about bad baseball analysis. Maybe more of it is nurture, as much of my early sabermetric reading was the younger Bill James, with later exposure to early BP and other derivatives, where snark was an integral part of the culture.

That is not really intended to be an excuse, although it may well read that way. As I have grown older I believe that I have generally become more aware of how little I actually know, but more consequently to snarking, less interested in engaging. I have lost almost any desire I ever had to evangelize about sabermetrics to the “unwashed masses” (now there’s a snarky, loaded term). Instead I am content to write to my very small audience, which even so is almost entirely based on what I want to write rather than what I think anyone might want to read, and take passive-aggressive potshots on Twitter. This probably still tilts me more towards the jackass side of the scale than the average sabermetrician, but so be it.

Every once in a while, though, I run across something that irks me so much that I have to respond to it in full. Against my better judgment, I feel compelled to draft a polemic in response, even though I know there’s nothing good that can possibly come of it. That is the case with an article that appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of SABR’s The Baseball Research Journal entitled “A New Formula to Predict a Team’s Winning Percentage” and written by Stanley Rothman, Ph.D.

Historically, the quality of sabermetric articles in the BRJ has been a mixed bag. Early BRJ editions included seminal research by pioneers of the field like Pete Palmer and Dick Cramer. Eventually the quality of such articles significantly dropped off, and BRJ was a leading purveyor of the rehashing of bases/X metrics that I rail against , and other equally banal statistical pieces with notable but rare exceptions. (That is particularly amusing since in the heyday of BRJ as a place where sabermetric research was published, Barry Codell introduced Base-Out Percentage, one of only a few times that metric could have been legitimately been said to have been “invented”).

In recent years, the quality of the statistical pieces in BRJ has been significantly improved, so I hope that my mockery of this particular piece is not taken as an indictment of the entirety of the body of work the editors (now Cecilia Tan) have been doing on this front. In fact, the Fall 2014 issue features a couple of sabermetric pieces I enjoyed greatly, both based on Log5 and other predictors of head-to-head matchups (John A. Richards’ piece “Probabilities of Victory in Head-to-Head Matchups” covered the theoretical basis for Log5 and a comparison of Log5 estimates to empirical results, and Matt Haechrel did likewise for individual batter-pitcher matchups in “Matchup Probabilities in Major League Baseball).

Dr. Rothman’s piece is an unfortunate exception. And since I consider myself (perhaps incorrectly so) to be something of a subject-matter expert in winning percentage estimators, I feel compelled to point out areas in which Rothman’s findings bury obvious, well-established principles in a barrage of linear regressions.

Rothman opens his paper by discussing Bill James’ ubiquitous and groundbreaking Pythagorean method, and then asks “Why not just use the quantity (RS-RA) to calculate EXP(W%)”? Why not indeed? This question is never satisfactorily answered in the paper. Nor is it even addressed henceforth.

Rothman proceeds to set up a W% estimator that he christens the Linear Formula as:

EXP(W%) = m*(RS-RA) + b

Note that Rothman’s terms RS and RA are just that--runs scored and runs allowed by a team. Not per game, per inning, or on any other sensible rate basis--raw, unadulterated seasonal totals.

Next, he provides the standard equations for m and b, and makes some simplifying assumptions. His regressions are run separately for each MLB season, so each team’s number of games is 162 (obviously there are some limited and non-material exceptions) and there are 30 observations in each regression (Rothman uses 1998-2012 data in his analysis). After these substitutions, the intercept b is equal to .5 and the slope m is:

m = SUM[(RS - RA)*W%]/SUM[(RS - RA)^2]

Rothman notes that for major league seasons viewed in aggregate, there is a strong correlation between SUM(RS - RA)*W% and SUM(RS - RA)^2, and so he develops a formula to predict the latter from the former:

EXP[SUM(RS - RA)^2] = 1464.4*SUM[(RS - RA)*W%] + 32710

This is substituted into the regression formula for expected W% with the intercept dropped since it has little impact to get the following equation:

EXP(W%) = SUM[(RS - RA)*W%]/{1464.4*SUM[(RS - RA)*W%]}*(RS - RA) + .5

= .000683*(RS - RA) + .5

This is the final formula that Rothman refers to as the Linear Formula. At this point, I will offer a few of my own comments:

1) There is nothing novel about presenting a W% estimator based on some relationship between run differential and W%. The rule of thumb that ten runs equals one win is just that. One of the earliest published W% estimators, from Arnold Soolman, was based on a regression that used RS/G and RA/G as separate variables but could have just as easily used the difference (and the insignificant difference in regression coefficients for the terms back that up).

2) The author’s choice to express this equation on a team-seasonal basis is, frankly, bizarre. It results in the formula being much less easy to apply to anything other than team seasonal totals, and it obscures the nature of the relationship between runs and wins, hiding the fact that this is little different than assuming ten runs per win. If you divide 1464.4 by 162 games/season, you find that the formula implies 9.04 runs per win and would be more conveniently expressed as .1106*(RS - RA)/G + .5.

3) I don’t understand the rationale for using a separate equation for each league-season, then developing a single slope by running another regression of various league quantities. It would be much more straightforward to combine all teams from the data set together and run a regression. Such an approach would also result in a higher R^2 for the team W% estimates. I don’t think that maximizing R^2 should be a paramount in constructing a W% estimator, but in this case I fail to see the advantage of not studying the relationship between runs and wins directly at the team level rather than aggregating team-level regressions across multiple seasons.

Returning to the article, Rothman uses a Chi-Square test on 2013 data to compare the Linear Formula to Pythagorean. Setting aside the silliness of using thirty data points for an accuracy test when hundreds are available, I must give Rothman credit for not using the Linear Formula’s better test statistic to trumpet its superiority--instead he writes that “there is no reason to believe that both of these formulas cannot be used.”

The article than includes a digression on applying this approach to the NBA and NFL. The conclusion and “additional points” sections of the article provide a handful of interesting contentions:

* Rothman suggests that one of the chief advantages of the Linear Formula is that it is “easier for a general manager to understand and use”. The premise is that GMs can use the Linear Formula to calculate the marginal wins from player transactions.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with these types of back of the envelope estimate, this comment would have been less bizarre twenty years ago. Now it seems incredibly na├»ve to suggest that the majority of major league front offices could improve their planning by using a dumbed down win estimator. It’s hard to determine which is sillier--the notion that front offices that would entertain such analysis would not be using more advanced models (the outcome suggested by which would depend much more on the projection of player performance than how that performance is translated into wins), or the notion that front offices who were so inclined and needed to do back of the envelope calculations would not be able to grasp Pythagorean.

* Apparently referring to the approximation used to derive the multi-year version of the formula above, Rothman asks “Why is there a strong positive correlation between SUM[(RS - RA)^2] and SUM[W%*(RS - RA)] in MLB?”

I might be accused of under-thinking this, but my response is “Why wouldn’t there be?” The key quantity in each sum is run differential. We know that run differential is positively correlated with W% (if it were not, this article would never have been written), so it should follow that the square of run differential (or the square root, the cube, the logarithm, any defined function) should have some relationship to the winning percentage times the run differential. And since the quantities Rothman is comparing are sums on the league level, both should increase as the differences between teams increase (i.e. if all teams were .500 and had zero run differentials, both quantities would be zero. As teams move away from the mean, both quantities increase).

* Rothman notes that if a team’s run differential is greater than 732, than the linear formula will produce an estimated W% in excess of 1.00. “However, this is not a problem because for the years 1998-2012 the maximum value for (RS - RA) is 300.”

Note that Rothman does not discuss the opposite problem, which is that a run differential of -300 will produce an equally implausible negative W%. But the hand-waiving away of this as a potential issue coupled with the posed but unaddressed question “Why not just use the quantity (RS-RA) to calculate EXP(W%)?” is why this article got under my skin.

If Dr. Rothman has taken five seconds to consider the advantages and disadvantages of how to construct a W% estimator, scant evidence of it has manifested itself in his paper (and given as this is a commentary on the paper and not Dr. Rothman himself or whatever unpublished consideration he gave to these matters, that is all I have to go on). There is certainly nothing wrong with experimenting with different estimators, but these experiments should not rise to the level of publication in a printed research journal unless they yield new insight in some way. Nothing in Rothman’s piece did--in fact, given the bizarre manner in which he chose to express the equation, I would suggest that if anything the piece regresses the field’s knowledge on W% estimators.

So allow me the liberty of answering Rothman’s question and the hand-waived problem for him.

Q: Why not use run differential to estimate W%?

A: Because doing so, at least through the simple linear regression approach, does not bound W% between zero and one, does not recognize that the marginal value of runs is variable, and does not recognize that the value of a run is dependent on the scoring environment.

Other than that, it’s great!

“Why not?” is a great reason to experiment, but it’s not a great reason to formally propose a new method (well, really, recycle existing methods, but I’m piling on as it is). There is also nothing wrong with using a model with certain deficiencies that other models avoid, whether due to computation restrictions, ease of use, a lack of deleterious effect for the task at hand, etc. But it should be incumbent on the analyst and the publisher to acknowledge them.

Finally, anyone publishing sabermetric research in this day and age should recognize that whatever new approach you believe you have developed for a common problem (like win estimation, or measuring offensive performance), it’s probably not new at all. This is certainly the case here given the work of Soolman, the rule of thumb that ten runs equals one win, the dynamic runs per win formula used in The Hidden Game of Baseball and Total Baseball by Pete Palmer, and other related approaches. All of these are based on the basic construct W% = m*run differential + b.

Personal anecdote: I don’t remember when this was exactly, maybe when I was in the eighth grade, but in our math class we were learning about linear equations of the form y = mx + b and there was an example in the textbook that showed how one could eyeball a line through a scatterplot and develop the equation for that line. In other words, a manual, poor man’s linear regression.

So I did just that with a few years of team data, plotting run differential per game against W% (I want to say I used 1972-74 data), and came up with W% = .1067*RD + .5. Foolishly, I actually used this for W% estimates for a period of time. Thankfully, I was cognizant that it was not a new approach but rather just a specific implementation of one developed by others, and I did not attempt to/no one permitted me to publish it as if it was. Years later, W% = .1106*RD + .5 appeared in the pages of the Baseball Research Journal.

So that this post might have some smidgeon of lasting value, I will close by reiterating the three conditions of an ideal win estimator that such linear constructs fail to satisfy. I have written plenty about win estimators in the past (and will doubtlessly rehash much of it again in the future), but I don’t believe I’ve explicitly singled out those properties. An ideal W% estimator would satisfy all three, which is not to say there is no use for an estimator that satisfies only two or even zero. The Linear Formula satisfies none. I will discuss how three of the common approaches perform: Pythagorean (with fixed exponent), Pythagenpat, and Palmer (RPW = 10*sqrt(runs per inning by both teams). Palmer can serve as a stand-in for any method that allows RPW to vary as the scoring level varies, and of course there are other constructs that I am not discussing.

1. The estimate should fall in the range [0,1]

The reason for this is self-explanatory. Pythagorean and Pythagenpat pass, while Palmer does not. Obviously this is not really an issue when you apply the method to normal major league teams. It can become an issue when extrapolating to individual/extreme performances, though.

2. The formula should recognize that the marginal value of runs is variable.

This is somewhat related to #1--the construct of Pythagorean results in it passing both tests. However, there are other constructs that are bounded but fail here. Palmer fails here, which is inevitable for a linear formula. The gist here is that each additional run scored is less valuable in terms of buying wins and each additional run prevented is more valuable. This is also the hardest to articulate and the hardest to prove if one has not bought into a Pythagorean-based approach (or examined other W% models such as those based on run distributions).

3. The formula should recognize that as more runs are scored, the number of marginal runs needed to earn a win increases.

This could be confused with #2, but #2 is true regardless of the scoring level in question--it's true in 1930 and in 1968. In this case, the relationship between runs and wins changes as the run environment changes. This is where a fixed exponent Pythagorean approach falls short, while both Pythagenpat and Palmer take this into account.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

2015 Predictions

No involved disclaimer this year; I will just point you to this article and point out that it applies even to much more formal predictions than those displayed here. This is my opinion and it is in the spirit of fun rather than analysis:

1. Boston
2. Toronto
3. New York
4. Baltimore
5. Tampa Bay

I am less confident in my order here than for any other division. The whole AL is something of a tossup, though, as many others have noted. I’ve settled on Boston for the East and the pennant. Their starting pitching is mediocre on paper, but at least they should have the resources to improve it (perhaps in a Cole Hamels type way) and a fair number of competent bodies to cycle through the back of the rotation in case of injury or ineffectiveness. But their offense projects as the best in the league. Toronto in many ways is the same team, but with an offense more dependent on its stars and a rotation that, outside Drew Hutchison, may lack the upside of Boston’s. New York looks like a middle-of-the-pack team to me; they may be better than recent years but have that masked by their recent Pythagorean outperformance. Either way I think they would need a lot of old players to stay healthy to win it. Baltimore is a team that I’ve missed on repeatedly, but I don’t just assume that this year’s equivalent of Steve Pearce or Miguel Gonzalez is bound to materialize. Plus I have a natural distrust of all things Ubaldo Jimenez is even tangentially associated with. Tampa Bay is a team that PECOTA loves, but I tend to agree with the mainstream on. Although they do seem like a high variance team and could surprise, plus Drew Smyly.

1. Detroit
2. Cleveland (wildcard)
3. Chicago
4. Kansas City
5. Minnesota

I thought the Tigers were vulnerable last year; that is even more the case in 2015. Verlander’s status as an ace has been seriously impaired, Price for Scherzer from a preseason perspective is ok except that Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson are replaced by Alfredo Simon and Anthony Gose. Or is that Shane Greene and Rajai Davis? Does it really matter? The only reason I am picking them to win is because I can’t bring myself to pick Cleveland. The history of me picking the Shapiro era Indians to win is not a good one--I think 2007 is the only time I got it right. Plus the Indians are too popular among prognosticators for comfort. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where they are really good--Kluber approaches his 2014 performance, a couple of Carrasco/Salazar/Bauer/House are really good, Kipnis or Swisher bounces back, Gomes and Brantley don’t regress too much…but it’s also not that hard to picture multiple issues resulting in a catastrophic failure. While it’s hard to predict bullpens, the Indians looks a little precarious thanks to how hard it was worked last year and that the third and fourth righties are Scott Atchison and Anthony Swarzak. The White Sox have frontline players to compete with Detroit and Cleveland for sure, but I question whether the other pieces are strong enough. Tyler Flowers, catcher and Hector Noesi, any role don’t inspire confidence. Kansas City will be one of the great sabermetric/mainstream divergence cases, but other than Yordano Ventura, who am I supposed to like in their rotation? Other than Alex Gordon, who am I supposed to really like in their lineup? The Royals could contend again but it’s hard to pick it. There’s not much to say about the Twins, but I’m sure it’s all Joe Mauer’s fault anyway.

1. Los Angeles
2. Seattle (wildcard)
3. Oakland
4. Houston
5. Texas

My crude numbers have it as too close to call between Los Angeles and Seattle. The Angels would appear to have the stronger offense, the Mariners better pitching. All things being equal I’ll bet on the team with Mike Trout, although the lineup looks below average except for him. It would be fun if Oakland could hang around in the race and bust up some narratives, but I’ve never been a believer in the 2012-2014 A’s in making preseason predictions, so I’m certainly not going to start now. I think this will the year that Houston safely clears the bar of respectability, although that bar seems to be set higher for them as they have become a lightning rod, often for sabermetrically-inclined people who want to prove that they are not part of the herd. Such is the price of a touch of self-promotion and the stronger “Billy Beane should have never written that book” effect. I was all set to pick Texas as some kind of dark horse bounceback contender, and then my perennial Cy Young pick Yu Darvish went down and I took it as a sign to banish them to the bottom of the league.

1. Washington
2. New York
3. Miami
4. Atlanta
5. Philadelphia

There’s no reason to get off the Washington bandwagon now, as this looks like the safest division pick in MLB. With the teardown of the Braves, there is no credible threat on paper. I do have to balance my backlash impulses against the tendency to overrate supposed “Super Rotations” and the notion that they somehow guarantee playoff success, as if Washington sans Scherzer wasn’t a darn good group or the experience of the Halladay/Lee/Hamels/Oswalt Phillies and the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/(Avery/Neagle) Braves shouldn’t have disabused that notion long ago. But bonus likability points for the fact that so many people want to make Bryce Harper into a villain. The Mets were a tempting wildcard pick for me, but the loss of Wheeler made it easier to push them down a little bit. I personally like them better than the crude numbers I run, which only estimate 79 wins. Miami has a fun young core with Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna, Fernandez, etc. but I think they’ve jumped the gun on trying to win and at least one of those moves will be exposed as a big misstep (Dee Gordon). They are the best bet at the moment to be the next non-Washington winner of this division, though. In the span of two years, Atlanta has gone from a team I irrationally liked to one I thought was good but disliked (thanks Brian McCann!) to one that actively appears to court my dislike. It may not matter because they might have the worst offense in the majors. But that distinction may go to the Phillies, who may also have one of the worst pitching staffs. But they have Ryan Howard, franchise icon.

1. St. Louis
2. Chicago (wildcard)
3. Pittsburgh
4. Milwaukee
5. Cincinnati

St. Louis is an easy pick in a different way than Washington--they don’t tower over the field to the same extent, but they are the only thing resembling a safe pick in the Central. And they have Jason Heyward now, which is good for multiple brownie points that didn’t contribute to this pick. I feel like a sucker for picking Chicago to win a wildcard. It’s really easy to let the prospect hype run wild in one’s mind and jump the gun. But what’s one to do? On paper they do appear to be the second-best team in the division, a good offense supporting a bad pitching staff. My crude workup (based on Fangraphs’ composite projections) isn’t counting on too much from Javier Baez or a full season from Kris Bryant, although it does assume Jorge Soler is an excellent player right now. My point is that it’s not a terribly over-exuberant projection. While I don’t put a whole lot of stock in it, Joe Maddon has experience with the quick turnaround, although this time everyone is watching for it. The East offers nothing special in the way of wildcard material and San Diego also carries potential for serious overhype. Pittsburgh should also be right in the mix, looking on paper to be pretty average on both sides of the ball. I overrated Milwaukee last year--I may be too quick to cast them aside in 2015, they also look like a .500 team on paper which in reality means they are a serious wildcard contender. It’s hard to imagine I would be less impressed with Cincinnati’s management post-Baker, and yet here we are. Moving every possible starter to the bullpen to go with Jason Marquis (Jason Marquis is still in the league?!!) at the back of the rotation does not inspire confidence, nor does the continued sniping (and more importantly, loss of skill) of Brandon Phillips. That Raisel Iglesias, who many felt would be a reliever, somehow escaped the Aroldis Chapman Memorial Black Hole, is a mystery that may never be fully explained.


1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco (wildcard)
3. San Diego
4. Arizona
5. Colorado

I remain befuddled at why PECOTA loves the Dodgers so much; they are again clear favorites but a midpoint expectation of 98 wins doesn’t make any sense. Their offense is far from the sure thing I would expect to predict such a record, although they have intriguing Cubans on call in case of problems. Their bullpen also is far from a sure thing. San Francisco’s offense looks to be below-average, with strong pitching; if you ignore park effects one might say the same about San Diego. The Padres made a splash on the offensive side to be sure, but the left side of the infield is still spotty and it looks to me like pitching is their strength. Flip a coin between the Giants and the Padres; I’ve picked the former simply because it’s the less desirable outcome in my eyes. Arizona and Colorado are not just the two worst teams in this division on paper, they are both contenders for the worst team in the majors, with Philadelphia and perhaps Minnesota and Texas in on the game. When the moves made by Dave Stewart make more immediate intuitive sense than those by new GM Jeff Bridich (seriously, what’s the deal with Jorge De La Rosa?), it’s time to fear for the non-California wing of the NL West.


Washington over Boston

I picked Washington last year and see no reason to stop now. Boston has the potential to make this post look absurd by August but that will happen one way or the other regardless.

AL Rookie of the Year: SP Carlos Rodon, CHA

AL Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo, TEX
Ok, ok, that’s a joke…I picked Gallardo to win the NL Cy more times than I would care to admit.
Serious pick: Chris Sale, CHA
I’m tempted to pick Drew Smyly but that wouldn’t be serious either. I do really like Drew Smyly though.

AL MVP: 2B Robinson Cano, SEA

NL Rookie of the Year: RF Jorge Soler, CHN

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS
I’m sticking with this until it happens.

NL MVP: RF Bryce Harper, WAS

Worst team in each league: MIN, PHI

Most likely to go .500 in each league: OAK, MIL

Monday, February 09, 2015

Losing Ground

OSU baseball enters 2015 coming off of one its worst seasons in decades. The Buckeyes went 10-14 in the Big Ten, their worst record since 1987, a record fueled by a seven-game Big Ten losing streak (longest since 1987). Their 5-12 road record was the worst since 1972. In 1988, Bob Todd took over as Buckeye head coach and wasted little time in turning the program around, turning 1987’s 19-27 overall, 4-12 B10 record into a 32-28, 16-12 team. Todd would go on to reign over the program for 22 more seasons which served as the second golden age of OSU hardball (13 NCAA appearances, 13 seasons with either a Big Ten regular season or tournament title).

Unlike 1988, 2015 will not follow a dismal showing with a new regime. Todd’s replacement, Greg Beals, enters his fifth season at the helm and needs to turn things around in order to secure his long-term status as OSU coach. He will attempt to do so with a team that has elicited a wide range of preseason prognostications, one from which a sheer performance and player development track record does not appear to be impressive but which some observers insist has a surfeit of potential.

Beals has been fond of catcher platoons and has never given senior Aaron Gretz the job on a full-time basis despite him appearing to be the best option. Gretz will once again share time behind the plate with fellow senior Conor Sabanosh, a JUCO transfer in his second season as a Buck. Both hit fairly well last season and may get at bats at DH as well. Sophomore Jalen Washington and freshman Jordan McDonough will serve as depth.

First base is an open position and may see three juniors rotate through the spot: Zach Ratcliff, Mark Leffel, and Jacob Bosiokovic. Ratcliff is limited to first defensively, but Leffel also is capable of playing third and Bosiokovic will be an option in all four corners. Each has shown flashes of being productive hitters (Leffel more as a hitter for average, the other two for power potential), but none has clearly emerged to grab the spot.

Second base will go to junior Nick Sergakis. Sergakis transferred from Coastal Carolina prior to 2014 and started the season on the bench before an injury to shortstop Craig Nennig pushed him into the lineup. Sergakis was a revelation as one of the team’s most productive hitters (and lead off despite the team’s lowest walk rate). Nennig, a junior, should be back and will play short, but while his fielding draws rave reviews he has yet to demonstrate any ability to hit (.201/.295/.225 in about 190 career PA). Nennig’s offense will make sliding Sergakis back to short a tempting option for Beals.

At third base, junior Troy Kuhn will start. He spent most of 2014 as the second baseman before being displaced for Sergakis upon Nennig’s return. Kuhn was among the team’s most productive hitters and paced OSU with six longballs, so he will be a key part of the lineup again and could move back to second if Nennig struggles. In that case, Bosiokovic and Leffel could play third. The infield backups will include the aforementioned Washington (that rare catcher/second baseman) as well as sophomore L Grant Davis (a transfer from Arizona State) and freshman Nate Romans.

The outfield should be one of Ohio’s strengths. Sophomore left fielder Ronnie Dawson was as fun of a hitter to watch as OSU has had in years and was the team’s best hitter in 2014 (.337/.385/.454). Sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery was highly touted but did not impress in his debut (.235/.297/.353). Senior right fielder Pat Porter (obligatory mention that he hails from my hometown) had a very disappointing season, but rebounded to have a strong summer campaign and will likely be penciled in as the #3 hitter. Bosiokovic can play either corner and junior Jake Brobst has served mostly as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. A pair of freshman, Tre’ Gantt (a speedster from Indiana in the mold of Montgomery) and Ridge Winand will complete the depth chart. The DH spot will most likely be filled by the odd men out at catcher and first base.

OSU’s #1 starter, at least to open the season, will be sophomore Tanner Tully, the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2014. Tully’s smoke and mirrors act featured a vanishingly low walk rate (.7 W/9) and low K rate (5.3 K/9) which scream regression even in northern college baseball. Senior lefty Ryan Riga will look to bounce back from an injury-riddled campaign--he and Tully are fairly similar stylistically so it would not surprise to see them split up with Travis Lakins taking the #2 rotation spot. Lakins is a sophomore who should be the easy favorite to be the ace at the end of the season; his talents were wasted somewhat in the bullpen in 2014, fanning 9.0 per nine and leading the pitchers with +12 RAA. Lakins is draft-eligible and barring injury this should be his last season in Columbus.

Junior Jake Post is a 6-2 righty with decent stuff who has yet to find consistent effectiveness but would my bet would be that he will displace Riga or Tully by mid-season. Other starting options are lefty John Havrid, a JUCO transfer from Mesa Community College and freshman Jacob Niggemeyer, a 28th-round pick of the Cubs.

The bullpen will be anchored by senior slinger Trace Dempsey, who may well become OSU’s all-time saves leader but had a rough 2014 (-7 RAA) after a brilliant 2013 (+13). Dempsey’s control abandoned him last year, drawing comparisons to another erstwhile Buckeye closer, Rory Meister. Past Dempsey the bullpen work is largely up for grabs--Lakins was the star last year and will be starting. It is possible that a pitcher like Post could be used as the setup man, foregoing some mid-week wins for conference bullpen depth.

Otherwise, redshirt freshman Adam Niemeyer looks like the key setup man--his true freshman campaign was limited to just three appearances due to injury. Otherwise, I won’t even hazard to guess who will emerge out of the following possibilities other than to note that Beals allows tries to cultivate at least one lefty specialist in his pen:

RHP: Curtiss Irving (SM), Seth Kinker (FM), Brennan Milby (R-FM), Shea Murray (SM), Kyle Michalik (R-FM), Yianni Pavlopoulos (SM)
LHP: Michael Horejsei (JR), Matt Panek (JR), Joe Stoll (SM)

Beals appears to have instituted a shift in scheduling philosophy, opting for more weekend series over multi-team “classics”/pseudo-tournaments. The Buckeyes’ only of the latter will be this weekend as they face George Mason, St. Louis, and Pitt in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte. Subsequent weekends will include three game series at Florida Atlantic, UAB, and Western Kentucky before the home opener March 10 against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.

The following weekend the Buckeyes will host Evansville for a three game series, Rider for a two-game mid-week series, and open Big Ten play March 20 hosting Michigan State. Subsequent weekends will see OSU at Rutgers, home to Penn State and UNLV (the latter non-conference of course), at Nebraska and Northwestern, home to Illinois and Maryland, and at Indiana. The mid-week slate will include home games against Toledo, Akron, Ohio University, Dayton, Kent State, Louisville, and Morehead State and trips to Miami, Cincinnati, and Youngstown State.

There is wide variety of opinion regarding OSU’s 2015 outlook. Perfect Game tabbed them as the #35 team in the country while Collegiate Baseball picks them tenth out of thirteen (with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers) in the Big Ten, which would see OSU miss the eight-team field for the Big Ten Tournament, to be held at Target Field May 21-24.

I tend to side much more closely to Collegiate Baseball’s view than Perfect Game’s. Aside from a second-place Big Ten finish in 2013, Beals’ teams have yet to live up to the hype that his recruiting has generated. Beals’ players do not seem to have developed according to expectations--in early years many of the key players were transfers rather than high school recruits, and there have yet to been many high producers among his high school crops, especially at the plate. And I have written many times about the horrific baserunning and other tactics employs by Beals. There are teams of fifth-graders that consistently make better decisions than Beals’ crew.

What has been particularly disturbing to watch as a fan of the program is that while the rest of the Big Ten has improved (Baseball America predicts that Illinois, Maryland, M*ch*g*n and Nebraska will all qualify for the NCAA Tournament, which would be a record for the conference), OSU has slid into irrelevancy--even with in the northern baseball picture. While Todd’s program was slipping from its heights near the end, he still managed to qualify for the NCAAs every other year. Beals has yet to make a NCAA Tournament appearance, and a sixth straight season (fifth under Beals) on the outside looking in would only extend OSU’s longest drought since 1983-1990 (once Todd led his team to a first tournament in 1991, he never again fell short in consecutive seasons). If OSU does not play up to the level of the optimists, then the program change that I would have liked to see after 2014 may be a fait accompli.

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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Run Distribution & W%, 2014

A couple of caveats apply to everything that follows in this post. The first is that there are no park adjustments anywhere. There's obviously a difference between scoring 5 runs at Petco and scoring 5 runs at Coors, but if you're using discrete data there's not much that can be done about it unless you want to use a different distribution for every possible context. Similarly, it's necessary to acknowledge that games do not always consist of nine innings; again, it's tough to do anything about this while maintaining your sanity.

All of the conversions of runs to wins are based only on 2014 data. Ideally, I would use an appropriate distribution for runs per game based on average R/G, but I've taken the lazy way out and used the empirical data for 2014 only. (I have a methodology I could use to do estimate win probabilities at each level of scoring that take context into account, but I’ve not been able to finish the full write-up it needs on this blog before I am comfortable using it without explanation).

The first breakout is record in blowouts versus non-blowouts. I define a blowout as a margin of five or more runs. This is not really a satisfactory definition of a blowout, as many five-run games are quite competitive--"blowout” is just a convenient label to use, and expresses the point succinctly. I use these two categories with wide ranges rather than more narrow groupings like one-run games because the frequency and results of one-run games are highly biased by the home field advantage. Drawing the focus back a little allows us to identify close games and not so close games with a margin built in to allow a greater chance of capturing the true nature of the game in question rather than a disguised situational effect.

In 2013, 74.5% of major league games were non-blowouts while the complement, 25.5%, were. Team record in non-blowouts:

It must have been a banner year for MASN, as both the Nationals and the Orioles won a large number of competitive games, just the kind of fan-friendly programming any RSN would love to have. Arizona was second last in non-blowouts in addition to dead last in blowouts:

For each team, the difference between blowout and non-blowout W%, as well as the percentage of each type of game:

Typically the teams that exhibit positive blowout differentials are good teams in general, and this year that is mostly the case, but Colorado is a notable exception with the highest difference. Not surprisingly, they also played the highest percentage of blowout games in the majors as the run environment in which they play is a major factor. The Rockies’ blowout difference is also correlated to some degree with their home field advantage--more of their blowouts are at home, where all teams have a better record, but they have exhibited particularly large home field advantages. This year the home/road split was extreme as Colorado’s home record was similar to the overall record of a wildcard team (.556) and their road record that of a ’62 Mets or ’03 Tigers type disaster (.259).

I did not look at the home/road blowout differentials for all teams, but of the 52 blowouts Colorado participated in, 38 (73%) came at home and 14 on the road. The Rockies were 22-16 (.579) in home blowouts but just 4-10 (.286) in road blowouts.

A more interesting way to consider game-level results is to look at how teams perform when scoring or allowing a given number of runs. For the majors as a whole, here are the counts of games in which teams scored X runs:

The “marg” column shows the marginal W% for each additional run scored. In 2014, the fourth run was both the run with the greatest marginal impact on the chance of winning and the level of scoring for which a team was more likely to win than lose.

I use these figures to calculate a measure I call game Offensive W% (or Defensive W% as the case may be), which was suggested by Bill James in an old Abstract. It is a crude way to use each team’s actual runs per game distribution to estimate what their W% should have been by using the overall empirical W% by runs scored for the majors in the particular season.

A theoretical distribution would be much preferable to the empirical distribution for this exercise, but as I mentioned earlier I haven’t yet gotten around to writing up the requisite methodological explanation, so I’ve defaulted to the 2014 empirical data. Some of the drawbacks of this approach are:

1. The empirical distribution is subject to sample size fluctuations. In 2014, teams that scored 9 runs won 94.2% of the time while teams that scored 10 runs won 92.5% of the time. Does that mean that scoring 9 runs is preferable to scoring 10 runs? Of course not--it's a quirk in the data. Additionally, the marginal values don’t necessary make sense even when W% increases from one runs scored level to another (In figuring the gEW% family of measures below, I lumped all games with between 10 and 14 runs scored/allowed into one bucket, which smoothes any illogical jumps in the win function, but leaves the inconsistent marginal values unaddressed and fails to make any differentiation between scoring in that range. The values actually used are displayed in the “use” column, and the “invuse” column is the complements of these figures--i.e. those used to credit wins to the defense. I've used 1.0 for 15+ runs, which is a horrible idea theoretically. In 2014, teams were 20-0 when scoring 15 or more runs).

2. Using the empirical distribution forces one to use integer values for runs scored per game. Obviously the number of runs a team scores in a game is restricted to integer values, but not allowing theoretical fractional runs makes it very difficult to apply any sort of park adjustment to the team frequency of runs scored.

3. Related to #2 (really its root cause, although the park issue is important enough from the standpoint of using the results to evaluate teams that I wanted to single it out), when using the empirical data there is always a tradeoff that must be made between increasing the sample size and losing context. One could use multiple years of data to generate a smoother curve of marginal win probabilities, but in doing so one would lose centering at the season’s actual run scoring rate. On the other hand, one could split the data into AL and NL and more closely match context, but you would lose sample size and introduce more quirks into the data.

I keep promising that I will use my theoretical distribution (Enby, which you can read about here) to replace the empirical approach, but that would require me to finish writing my full explanation of the method and associated applications and I keep putting that off. I will use Enby for a couple graphs here but not beyond that.

First, a comparison of the actual distribution of runs per game in the majors to that predicted by the Enby distribution for the 2014 major league average of 4.066 runs per game (Enby distribution parameters are B = 1.059, r = 3.870, z = .0687):

Enby fares pretty well at estimating the actual frequencies, most notably overstating the probability of two or three runs and understating the probability of four runs.

I will not go into the full details of how gOW%, gDW%, and gEW% (which combines both into one measure of team quality) are calculated in this post, but full details were provided here (***). The “use” column here is the coefficient applied to each game to calculate gOW% while the “invuse” is the coefficient used for gDW%. For comparison, I have looked at OW%, DW%, and EW% (Pythagenpat record) for each team; none of these have been adjusted for park to maintain consistency with the g-family of measures which are not park-adjusted.

For most teams, gOW% and OW% are very similar. Teams whose gOW% is higher than OW% distributed their runs more efficiently (at least to the extent that the methodology captures reality); the reverse is true for teams with gOW% lower than OW%. The teams that had differences of +/- 2 wins between the two metrics were (all of these are the g-type less the regular estimate):

Positive: STL, NYA
Negative: OAK, TEX, COL

The Rockies’ -3.6 win difference between gOW% and OW% was the largest absolute offensive or defensive difference in the majors, so looking at their runs scored distribution may help in visualizing how a team can vary from expectation. Colorado scored 4.660 R/G, which results in an Enby distribution with parameters B = 1.125, r = 4.168, z = .0493:

The purple line is Colorado’s actual distribution, the red line is the major league average, and the blue line is their Enby expectation. The Rockies were held to three runs or less more than Enby would expect. Major league teams had a combined .231 W% when scoring three or fewer runs, and that doesn’t even account for the park effect which would make their expected W% even lower (of course, the park effect is also a potential contributing factor to Colorado’s inefficient run distribution itself).The spike at 10 runs stands out--the Rockies scored exactly ten runs in twelve games, twice as many as second-place Oakland. Colorado’s 20 games with 10+ runs also led the majors (the A’s again were second with seventeen such games, while the average team had just 8.3 double digit tallies).

Teams with differences of +/- 2 wins between gDW% and standard DW%:

Positive: TEX
Negative: NYN, OAK, MIA

Texas’ efficient distribution of runs allowed offset their inefficient distribution of runs scored, while Oakland was poor in both categories which will be further illustrated by comparing EW% to gEW%:

Positive: STL, CHN, NYA, HOU
Negative: SEA, COL, MIA, OAK

The A’s EW% was 4.9 wins better than their gEW%, which in turn was 5.8 wins better than their actual W%.

Last year, EW% was actually a better predictor of actual W% than was gEW%. This is unusual since gEW% knows the distribution of runs scored and runs allowed, while EW% just knows the average runs scored and allowed. gEW% doesn’t know the joint distribution of runs scored and allowed, so oddities in how they are paired in individual games can nullify the advantage that should come from knowing the distribution of each. A simplified example of how this could happen is a team that over 162 games has an apparent tendency to “waste” outstanding offensive and defensive performances by pairing them (e.g. winning a game 12-0) or get clunkers out of the way at the same time (that same game, but from the perspective of the losing team).

In 2014, gEW% outperformed EW% as is normally the case, with a 2.85 to 3.80 advantage in RMSE when predicting actual W%. Still, gEW% was a better predictor than EW% for only seventeen of the thirty teams, but it had only six errors of +/- two wins compared to sixteen for EW%.

Below are the various W% measures for each team, sorted by gEW%:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Crude Team Ratings, 2014

For the last several years I have published a set of team ratings that I call "Crude Team Ratings". The name was chosen to reflect the nature of the ratings--they have a number of limitations, of which I documented several when I introduced the methodology.

I explain how CTR is figured in the linked post, but in short:

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.

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:

I lost a non-negligible number of Twitter followers by complaining about the playoff results this year. As you can see, the eventual world champs had just the fourteenth most impressive win-loss record when taking quality of opposition into account. The #7 Mariners, #10 Indians, #11 Yankees, and #12 Blue Jays all were at least two games better than the Giants over the course of the season (at least based on this crude method of adjusting win-loss records). Note that this is not an argument about “luck”, such as when a team plays better or worse than one would it expect from their component statistics, this is about the actual win-loss record considering opponents’ records.

San Francisco played the second-worst schedule in the majors (90 SOS); of the teams that ranked ahead of them in CTR but failed to make the playoffs, Toronto had the strongest SOS (107, ranking seventh). Based on the Log5 interpretation of CTR described in the methodology post, this suggests that Toronto’s average opponent would play .543 baseball against San Francisco’s average opponent. The magnitude of this difference can be put into (potentially misleading) context by noting that the long-term home-field W% of major league teams is around .543. Thus the Giants could be seen as having played an entire 162 game schedule at home relative to the Blue Jays playing an even mix of home and road games. Another way to look at it is that Toronto’s average opponent was roughly equivalent to St. Louis or Pittsburgh while San Francisco’s average opponent was roughly equivalent to Milwaukee or Atlanta.

On the other hand, the disparity between the best teams as judged by CTR and those that actually made the playoffs is solely a function of the AL/NL disparity--the five playoff teams in each league were the top five teams by CTR. The AL/NL disparity is alive and well, though, as seen by the average rating by league/division (actually calculated as the geometric average of the CTR of the respective clubs):

While this is not the AL’s largest advantage within the five seasons I’ve published these ratings, it is the first time that every AL division is ranked ahead of every NL division. Typically there has been a weak AL division or strong NL division that prevented this, but not in 2014. Matchup the AL’s worst division and the NL’s best division (both the Central) and you can see why:

The two teams that battled to the end for the AL Central crown stood out, with the NL Central’s two combatants unable to distinguish themselves from Cleveland, who hung around the periphery of the AL Central race throughout September but was never able to make a charge. In all cases the Xth place team from the ALC ranks ahead of the Xth place team from the NLC. In fact, the same holds true for the other two geographic division pairings:

This would also hold for any AL/NL division comparison rather than just the arbitrary geographic comparisons, except for the NL East v. AL Central, where the NL-best Nationals rank ahead of the Tigers 129 to 123.

The AL’s overall CTR edge of 106-89 implies that the average AL team would have a .544 record against the average NL team, similar to the gap between SF and TOR opponents described above. This is very close to the AL’s actual interleague record (140-117, .545).

All the results discussed so far are based on actual wins and losses. I also use various estimated W%s to calculated CTRs, and will present those results with little comment. First, CTR based on gEW%, which considers independently each team’s distribution of runs scored and allowed per game:

Well, I will point out that by gCTR, the world champions are the epitome of average. Next is CTR based on EW% (Pythagenpat):

And based on PW% (Pythagenpat using Runs Created/Runs Created Allowed):

Last year I started including actual W-L CTR including the results of the playoffs. There are a number of reasons why one may want to exclude the playoffs (the different nature of the game in terms of roster construction and strategy, particularly as it relates to pitcher workloads; the uneven nature of the opportunity to play in postseason and pad a team’s rating; etc.), but in general the playoffs provide us with additional data regarding team quality, and it would be prudent to heed this information in evaluating teams. The chart presents each team’s CTR including the playoffs (pCTR), their rank in that category, their regular season-only CTR (rsCTR), and is sorted by pCTR - rsCTR:

Last year there was not a lot of movement between the two sets of ratings, since the top regular season teams also won their league’s pennants. It should be no surprise that both wildcard pennant winners in 2014 were able to significantly improve their standings in the ratings when postseason is taken into account. Still, San Francisco ranks just ninth, still trailing Seattle who didn’t even make the playoffs, and Kansas City is a distant third from the two teams they beat in the AL playoffs, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hitting by Position, 2014

Of all the annual repeat posts I write, this is the one which most interests me--I have always been fascinated by patterns of offensive production by fielding position, particularly trends over baseball history and cases in which teams have unusual distributions of offense by position. I also contend that offensive positional adjustments, when carefully crafted and appropriately applied, remain a viable and somewhat more objective competitor to the defensive positional adjustments often in use, although this post does not really address those broad philosophical questions.

The first obvious thing to look at is the positional totals for 2014, with the data coming from "MLB” is the overall total for MLB, which is not the same as the sum of all the positions here, as pinch-hitters and runners are not included in those. “POS” is the MLB totals minus the pitcher totals, yielding the composite performance by non-pitchers. “PADJ” is the position adjustment, which is the position RG divided by the overall major league average (this is a departure from past posts; I’ll discuss this a little at the end). “LPADJ” is the long-term positional adjustment that I use, based on 2002-2011 data. The rows “79” and “3D” are the combined corner outfield and 1B/DH totals, respectively:

The most notable deviations from historical norms (which, when limited to one year, are strictly trivia rather than trends) were present in the outfield, where all three spots provided essentially equal production. The shape was not equal--centerfielders had a higher batting average and lower secondary average (.213 to .236) than did corner outfielders. Catchers also outhit their usual levels, bringing the three rightmost positions on the defensive spectrum together around 95% of league average production. DHs rebounded from a poor 2013 showing (102 PADJ) to get back to their historical level.

Of course, a DH-supporter like myself can’t avoid commenting on pitchers, who are wont to set a new low every couple years but went so far as to fall below the negative absolute RC threshold in 2014, with a -4 PADJ eclipsing 2012’s 1 as the worst in history. Pitchers struck out in 41% of their plate appearances, double the rate of position players (20%). Still, I’ll take a moment and provide the list of NL pitching staffs by runs above average. I need to stress that the runs created method I’m using here does not take into account sacrifices, which usually is not a big deal but can be significant for pitchers. Note that all team figures from this point forward in the post are park-adjusted. The RAA figures for each position are baselined against the overall major league average RG for the position, except for left field and right field which are pooled. So for pitchers, the formula for RAA was fun to write this year, since it involved adding the league average performance (well, subtracting the negative):

RAA = (RG + .15)*(AB - H + CS)/25.5

This marked the second straight triumph for Dodger pitchers as most productive, with Zack Greinke again the standout, although his numbers were much less gaudy than in 2013 (this year he hit .200/.262/.350). Pittsburgh’s hurlers extended a complete power outage to a third season; while they topped Miami and Milwaukee in isolated power thanks to a Gerrit Cole home run, their two extra base hits (Vance Worley doubled) were the fewest. This comes on the heels of 2012 (one double) and 2013 (zero extra base hits), giving them a three year stretch of 894 at bats with two doubles and a home run (.006 ISO).

I don’t run a full chart of the leading positions since you will very easily be able to go down the list and identify the individual primarily responsible for the team’s performance and you won’t be shocked by any of them, but the teams with the highest RAA at each spot were:


More interesting are the worst performing positions; the player listed is the one who started the most games at that position for the team:

I will take the poor performance of the Jeter-led Yankee shortstops as an opportunity to share some wholly unoriginal thoughts about the Didi Gregorius trade. I have no particularly strong feelings on Gregorius’ long-term outlook; I’ll leave that to the projection mavens and the scouts. However, some remarkably silly columns have been written about his assuming Saint Derek’s mantle. One sneered that he wasn’t likely to be a long-term solution. This is probably true, but most major league lineup spots are filled by guys who are long-term solutions. A minority of teams have a long-term answer at shortstop, let alone a ten-year answer.

But more importantly is that even a static Gregorius could be an immediate boost to the Yankees. No team in baseball got less out of the position offensively, and fielding? (Rhetorical question). Last year, Gregorius hit .222/.279/.356 in 292 PA (3.4 RG); Jeter hit .253/.294/.309 in 616 PA (3.1 RG).

I like to attempt to measure each team’s offensive profile by position relative to a typical profile. I’ve found it frustrating as a fan when my team’s offensive production has come disproportionately from “defensive” positions rather than offensive positions (“Why can’t we just find a corner outfielder who can hit?”) The best way I’ve yet been able to come up with to measure this is to look at the correlation between RG at each position and the long-term positional adjustment. A positive correlation indicates a “traditional” distribution of offense by position--more production from the positions on the right side of the defensive spectrum. (To calculate this, I use the long-term positional adjustments that pool 1B/DH as well as LF/RF, and because of the DH I split it out by league):

My comments on frustration are based on the Indians, who have often had a negative correlation but this year exhibited a more normal profile. The Tigers +.88 is about as high as you’ll see. Of course, offensive positions were their biggest producers with Cabrera and the two Martinezes, and their right fielders were their fourth most productive position. They did get more out of second than third or right, and more out of catcher than shortstop, but otherwise they were fell right in place.

The following charts, broken out by division, display RAA for each position, with teams sorted by the sum of positional RAA. Positions with negative RAA are in red, and positions that are +/-20 RAA are bolded:

Washington led the majors in RAA from both their corner infield spots and the entire infield. Giancarlo Stanton almost single-handedly led Miami to the majors top outfield RAA total. Atlanta had the majors worst RAA from middle infielders. Philadelphia’s corner infielders had the lowest RAA in the NL.

I was bullish on Milwaukee this year, which looked smart for four and a half months before they wound up with an overall season record close to where most people picked them to finish. One factor I cited was how bad their production from first base had been in 2013. While the Brewers did not replicate their dreadful -37 RAA first base performance from ’13, they only gained a win or so by improving to -26, still the worst first base production in the NL. 84% of their first base PA went to Lyle Overbay (628 OPS as a first baseman) and Mark Reynolds (632), who had basically the same overall production with different shapes. And so it was no surprise that for the second straight year, Milwaukee had the NL’s most oddly distributed offense by position (based on the correlation approach described above). Cincinnati had the majors worst outfield production, and consistently so from left to right (-24, -20, -18).

The Dodgers were the only NL team to be above average at seven of the eight positions, but their catchers went all-in as the NL’s least productive unit. Los Angeles tied Pittsburgh with 123 total RAA, but they did it with opposite production from the backstops (the Pirates’ +24 was a perfect offset for LA’s -24). Dodger middle infielders led the NL in RAA. San Diego was on the other end of the spectrum, the NL’s only team with just one above-average position, with catcher once again serving as the exception. The Padres infield was the least productive in MLB.

Boston went from having one below-average position in 2013 to having just two above-average in 2014, which is how a team can go from leading the majors in total RAA to ranking second-last in the AL. Their infielders were the worst in the AL with a total of -46 RAA; their outfielders only tied for second-last, but matched the total of -46. Yet much of the winter discussion regarding the Red Sox has involved how they will parcel out their outfield surplus.

Detroit led the AL in corner infield RAA thanks to first base. Just eyeballing the charts, the Indians may have been the most average in terms of combining roughly average overall RAA with close to average production at many positions. Minus the outfield corners, there weren’t many extremes in Cleveland.

The Angels led the AL in outfield RAA; the corner outfielders washed each other out for a total of -4 RAA, but the Trout-led centerfielders could not be washed out. Houston had the majors best middle infield production, but the worst corner infield production, and the latter exceeded the former by 24 absolute runs. The Astros had three -20 positions (the corner infielders and left field, so get your JD Martinez victim of their own success jokes in); so did the Reds, but just barely (two of theirs were -20 and the other -24). Seattle had the AL’s worst outfield, largely due to trotting James Jones out there for 72 starts, then seeing Austin Jackson crater when they acquired him to address the problem. Texas had eight below-average positions, but made their one bright spot count with the AL’s best third base RAA.

The data for each team-position is available in this spreadsheet.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Hitting by Lineup Position, 2014

I devoted a whole post to leadoff hitters, whether justified or not, so it's only fair to have a post about hitting by batting order position in general. I certainly consider this piece to be more trivia than sabermetrics, since there’s no analytic content.

The data in this post was taken from Baseball-Reference. The figures are park-adjusted. RC is ERP, including SB and CS, as used in my end of season stat posts. When I started I didn’t have easy access to HB, so they are not included in any of the stats, including OBA. The weights used are constant across lineup positions; there was no attempt to apply specific weights to each position, although they are out there and would certainly make this a little bit more interesting.

This is the sixth consecutive season in which NL #3 hitters were the top producing lineup spot, while AL teams demonstrated more balance between #3 and #4. This is a fairly consistent pattern and the most interesting thing I’ve found from doing this every year. I have no explanation for this phenomenon and suspect that there really is none--the NL has had a run of outstanding hitters who happened to bat third in the lineup (e.g. Pujols, Votto, Braun, Gonzalez). NL hitters were more productive at spots 2-3 and 5-7, while the AL got more production at leadoff, cleanup, #8, and #9 (the latter is a given, of course).

The position that sticks out the most to me is AL #6; even with hit batters included, they managed an OBA of just .300 and outhit only AL #9, NL #8, and NL #9. I’d assume this is a one-year oddity and nothing more; in 2013 they created 4.55 runs, trailing only 3-5 among AL slots.

Next are the team leaders and trailers in RG at each lineup position. The player listed is the one who appeared in the most games in that spot (which can be misleading, particularly when there is no fixed regular as in the case of the Astros #5 spot). Or poor Matt Dominguez, who was perhaps the worst regular hitter in MLB (.215/.253/.330 for 2.6 RG, only Zack Cozart was worse among those with 500 PA), but doesn’t deserve to be blamed for sinking two Houston lineup spots as he had plenty of help in both.

Some random thoughts:

* You can see why Seattle felt they needed Nelson Cruz, with the worst production out of the cleanup spot in the AL.

* Texas #3 hitters were a complete disaster. At 2.54 RG, they managed to outhit only five non-pitcher lineup spots. No #1, #2, #3 (obviously), #4, #5, or #6 spots in the majors were worse.

* Kansas City’s production was oddly distributed. Their #1-3 hitters combined for 3.59 RG (no park adjustment applied in this bullet), their #4-6 for 4.86, and their #7-9 for 3.76. I’ll call that a 3-1-2 pattern of hitting by batting order third (1-3 least productive, 4-6 most productive, 7-9 in the middle). 22 teams exhibited a 1-2-3 pattern; 4 teams a 2-1-3; and 2 teams each with 1-3-2 and 3-1-2. Texas was the other team with a 3-1-2 pattern.

* And then there are the Padres, who take on the role that was filled so well by the Mariners for many years of being the source of ridiculous offensive futility factoids. As you can see, San Diego got the NL’s worst production at four lineup spots, all at the top or middle of the order, but also had the most productive #7 and #8 hitters. In fact, Padre #7 hitters were the most productive of any of their lineup spots. Two teams got their top production from leadoff hitters, six from #2, seventeen from #3, two from #4, two from #5, but only one from #7:

The next list is the ten best positions in terms of runs above average relative to average for their particular league spot (so AL leadoff spots are compared to the AL average leadoff performance, etc.):

And the worst:

The -54 figure for Texas #3 hitters is a big number; I’ve been running this report since 2009 and that is the worst performance by a team batting spot, topping the -53 runs turned in by KC’s Mike Jacobs-led cleanup hitters in 2009. Considering that the AL average RPG in 2014 was 13% lower than in 2009, that one run difference is approximately a full win difference.

The last set of charts show each team’s RG rank within their league at each lineup spot. The top three are bolded and the bottom three displayed in red to provide quick visual identification of excellent and poor production:

If you are interested in digging in yourself, see the spreadsheet here.