Saturday, July 24, 2010

Playing in the Sandbox

Playing with statistics is a lot like playing in a sandbox. You can do it by yourself and you can make any sort of interesting patterns you want. The biggest difference is that you don't get any actual sand in your underwear. You might get some in your reputation though because for every statement about statistics, someone is going to dispute what you say and a lot of times it's justified. But it's still fun. The Fan's sandbox of choice is Let's play.

Everybody today is focuses on On Base Percentage. A big part of OBP is how many walks a batter or a team receives. So it would make sense that preventing walks would go a long way towards pitching effectively and defeating that game plan. The top five pitching staffs in limiting walks before Friday's games:

1. Twins - 202
2. Phillies - 241
3. Rays - 278
4. Cardinals - 280
5. White Sox - 284

Yup, all contenders and it makes sense. The Twins are ridiculous at how good they are at preventing walks. Their 202 is amazing considering the average pitching staff has given up 316 walks. So which pitching staff has given up the most walks? The Giants. Now that is a surprise, but there it is. They've given up 384 free passes. You would expect teams like Cleveland and Milwaukee to be among the leaders and they are at second and third.

Walks are something a pitching staff can definitely do something about and the Twins seem to do it better than anyone else. They were second in the league last year and only gave up 466 walks. The Cardinals did them better though and came in at 460. The league average last year was 554. You have to wonder how the Twins and Cardinals can get these kinds of results and nobody else can. The Cardinals, though, have more talent than the Twins and are in a great three-way race for the MLB ERA race. The Cardinals sit at 3.26, the Padres at 3.33 and the Giants at 3.38. The Giants are the MLB leader in ERA+ though at 127. The Pirates and the Brewers have the worst ERA+ in the majors with 81. Yuckie.

How about defense? That's the other thing teams are stressing these days. The best five teams in defensive efficiency thus far:

1. Rays - .710
2. Padres - .707
3. Rangers - .706
4. Yankees - .705
4. Athletics - .705.

Athletics? Heck, that's what the numbers say. The A's have had a decent season considering their talent level. All the other four teams are among the best teams in the majors and this is just one of the big reasons. The two top teams in fielding percentage are the Twins at .991 (an incredible number) and the Padres at .990. The worst fielding team in the majors is the Astros and it isn't even close. According to the stats, their defense has compiled a -45 runs below replacement level. Astounding. That alone makes Myers and Oswalt look even better than their current counting stats.

The Royals continue to be an impressive offensive team. They still lead the majors in batting average and their batters have the fewest strikeouts in the league. The average major league team strikes out 663 times. The Royals have struck out only 489 times. They are the only team under 500 in that category. That's the good news. The bad news is that only two teams in the majors have walked less than the Royals: Houston and Baltimore.

The Yankees and Red Sox are one and two in OPS+ as a team. The Red Sox have the highest slugging percentage in baseball. The Twins are the only team to have hit into more than 100 double plays (the league average is 74). The Rays are the only team with more than 100 stolen bases. They have stolen 116 bases and have only been thrown out 28 times. That's an 80% success rate. Amazing.

The flip side of the coin is that the Rays have only two teams in baseball that have struck out more times than they have: The Diamondbacks, who will break all kinds of records, and the Marlins. Strikeouts must be a hot weather event.

The Astros have the worst OPS+ in baseball at 74. Oof! So they have the worst offense and the worst defense. That's a potent combination for disaster. The Astros are batting .238 as a team and they are the only team in baseball with a team On Base Percentage under .300 (.296). That's pretty sad stuff right there. Close on their heels is the Seattle Mariners who sport a nifty OPS+ of 77. The Mariners have the worst slugging percentage in baseball.

The slowest teams in baseball are the Blue Jays and the Red Sox. The Blue Jays have stolen 33 bases and the Red Sox, 32. The Red Sox lost Ellsbury which is one reason for that low a number. The White Sox lead the majors in being thrown out trying to steal. They have been thrown out 45 times. Eight teams have less steals than the White Sox have caught stealings. The White Sox have stolen 87 bases or tied for second in the majors, but they are only successful 66% of the time, which is the second worst in baseball. The only team caught stealing at a higher percentage is the Orioles. Figures.

Boston leads the league in doubles (Toronto is second). The Rockies lead the league in triples (by quite a bit too). The Blue Jays lead the league in homers with 144. The Brewers are second with 123.

By playing in this sandbox, it's easy to see the team numbers and see why some teams are so bad and others so good. What's the old saying? "Numbers Don't Lie."


Josh Borenstein said...

There's definitely something to the Twins' emphasis on pounding the strike zone. Look at Pavano. He's looking like Catfish Hunter these days, and not just because of the stache. The only problem with the Twins' staffs over the years is they seem to pitch to too much contact. I think they're hoping Kevin Slowey will eventually turn into another Brad Radke.

Steve G. said...

I think the Twins' approach causes pitchers to regress to the mean. If you have below average stuff, like a Nick Blackburn, this can work for a while. But, I wonder if guys like Brad Radke and Santana and Liariano were prevented from their peaks for a bit because there is an emphasis on avoiding walks as opposed to maximizing strikeouts.