Category Archives: Baseball

Fully open-source, transparent implementation of Wins Above Replacement: Results from 2013

Over the past year, I’ve been involved in a project with Ben Baumer (buy his book!)  and Shane Jensen in developing an open source, completely transparent version of the (rather opaque) baseball statistic Wins Above Replacement that we’re calling  openWAR.  We presented our preliminary results this past summer in a talk at JSM and this fall in a poster at NESSIS, but now our full paper is available on ArXiV.  (Below you can see the chalkboard that resulted from our initial discussion….I assume this will be historic someday.)

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As part of our open source proposal, we’ve also developed an R package, also called openWAR, that allows the user to scrape play by play data from the web and then, if they choose, compute our version of openWAR.  The package is currently available on Ben’s github and should be available on CRAN soon.   (Jim Albert (!) mentioned this package in his recent book , which you should probably buy even if it didn’t have my name in it.  You should buy it twice, since my name is in it.)

Quick story about Jim Albert: When I was deciding where to go to grad school I applied to Bowling Green specifically because Jim Albert was there.  I got in and even had an email address and was all set to go, but they couldn’t give me an answer about funding.  UConn came along and offered me full funding, and the rest is history.  So it’s a pretty big honor for me to be mentioned in Jim Albert’s book.

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So what are our results?  Below you’ll find out top 20 players for 2013.  One interesting thing to note is that according to our openWAR, Trout actually had a better year in 2013 than in 2012 and he still didn’t win the MVP award.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 7.09.08 PMHere is a comparison of our top 10 players from 2013 versus Fangraph’s top 10 players.  Both methods agree that Mike Trout was the best player in 2013, and both methods had Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Paul Goldschmidt in the top 10.

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Next is a table of the ten best and worst fielders of 2013.  What you should notice about this is that Miguel Cabrera, according to openWAR, was the worst fielder in baseball in 2013.  It’s really incredible that his offensive numbers are so good that they more than compensate for his poor fielding.
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The best base runner of 2013 was Ian Kinsler with a RAA of 10.64 and the worst base runner was Victor Martinez.  The ninth worst base runner in 2013 was….Miguel Cabrera.  Again, think about how good Cabrera has to be as a hitter to overcome his weaknesses as a fielder AND a baserunner to have won TWO AL MVP awards in a row.  Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 7.08.48 PM

Cheers.

Fun with World Series Run Differentials

The Red Sox and Cardinals meeting in the Fall Classic represents the top run differentials in each league squaring off. Baseball statheads should feel the warm glow of empiricism peeking through, especially after last year when we had to hear from some about the overrating of run differential. Why is it at all controversial to say that the team largest difference between runs scored and runs allowed over 162 games? Is that a radical notion? I think part of it is the basic notion that most people don’t understand randomness (or “luck” or “fortuosity” or “midichlorians” or whatever you want to call it) and that even in a large sample of 162 games, you can have smaller sub-samples (like the Orioles’ 38 one-run games last season, in which they went an insane 29-9) where randomness can take over, and then the whole sample ends up a bit screwy.

But I digress, the Boston Red Sox scored 197 more runs than they allowed, more than any other AL team and the St. Louis Cardinals scored 187 more runs than they allowed, more than any other NL team. So we are poised to see the Pythagorean Pennant winners face off. How does this compare to previous years’ match-ups? I’m glad I asked myself, because I spent some time compiling the run differentials of each league’s WS representatives, plus the overall WS run differential, as well as each teams’ rank in their respective leagues since 1990 (remember that there was no World Series in 1994.) I highlighted the teams who lead their league in run differential in gold, cause they’re special, you know?
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This doesn’t mean all that much, I suppose. But it’s hasn’t been exactly common for each league’s top run +/- team to get to the WS to square of, so I thought I’d look at some stuff.  And also, I made a couple little bubble charts to visualize the run diffs of the respective teams. Of course, the cumulative run differential means only so much. The best cumulative run differential was from 1998, but that was the historically great 1998 Yankees team, who have the best run differential in the last 24 seasons (the also historically great 2001 Mariners are second best, with 301 to the Yanks’ 309. After them, it’s a long fall to third place). Because of this, I made a second graph that plots the difference (the run differential is NL team minus AL team, so negative values represent a matchup favoring the AL). With this, you can see just how much better the Yanks’ run differential was than the Padres, and the Padres had the third best in the NL in 98. In this chart, I also put the WS numbers in red when the team with the better run differential lost. (click to enlarge, please. )
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Here are some interesting facts I gleaned from this exercise- The Red Sox have played in three WS since 1990 and each time they’ve had the best run differential in the AL* have faced the best run differential from the NL. In fact, there have been four WS with the best vs best, and the only non-Red Sox one is the 2002 Series between the Angels and Giants. The worst WS in terms of total run differential was 1997, where Florida and Cleveland had a cumulative run differential of +124 (compare that with the best team in each league, the Yankees, who had a +210, and Atlanta, at +203). The worst in terms of rankings (and barely missed cumulative), was the 2000 Subway Series, where the Yankees and Mets were each the fifth best in their leagues, and the had a cumulative total of +126 (Giants had the best in the NL at +178 and the White Sox were the AL’s best at +138.) The team with better run differential has lost 13 of the 22 series (with 2013 outstanding, obviously). What does that mean?  A seven game series features a lot of that randomness. The Marlins were 102 runs were than the Yankees in 2003, and won in six. The 2006 Cardinals were a whooping 128 runs worse than the Tigers in 2006 (that’s right, Detroit managed to outdo their OPPONENT’s run differential by more than the cumulative totals of either the 1997 series or 2000 series teams) and the Cards won in five.

* One fact that always seems to be left out when narratives are being created about the 2004 Red Sox is that they led the AL in run differential and it was about as close as Reagan vs Mondale. The Red Sox scored 181 more runs than they allowed. The second place AL team was the Angels, at +102, third was the Yankees at +89. The Red Sox’ expected record  was 98 wins, same as their actual record. It was the 2004 Yankees whose record was grossly out of tune with their expected win-loss, as they won 101 games but were expected to win only 89 (which actually would have placed them behind the A’s for the Wild Card). It wasn’t that the Red Sox were scrappy and overcame obstacles, it was more that they were the much better team, best in the AL, and the Yankees’ magic dust finally wore out. It’s not as fun of a narrative, but it’s got a better empirical basis. Of course, it still doesn’t explain why the Yankees never bunted on Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, but that’s strategy, not empiricism.
What we can say is that the 2013 World Series features two teams whose run differential is very close. We’ve also had 10 World Series since 1990 (including this one) that features teams within 20 runs of each other. You cannot predict the outcomes of these matchups. The old adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” is literally meaningless. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander did not trump the  Red Sox and their MLB-best offense, and Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw did not silence the NL-best Cardinals offense. Anything can happen in a short series, and seven games is pretty short in baseball. But 162 is anything but short, and we do know that based on a whole season’s worth of data, in 2013, we get to see the two best possible teams playing each other. Let’s hope it’s worth watching.

Jim Caple and the pitcher win

ESPN’s Jim Caple just posted an article about the win statistic. This seems to be a response to Brian Kenny’s all-out assault on the win. Kenny is attacking the old stat as a grossly misleading, if not useless, statistic in measuring how good a pitcher is. I don’t really care if Kenny’s “kill the win” campaign gains steam or not; frankly, I don’t really care about wins (outside of my fantasy leagues where they count). I do think it’s outdated and doesn’t tell us much of anything. Matt Harvey has nine measly wins while having (pre-injury, obviously) a rookie season for the ages. Harvey still ranks second in pitcher WAR on Fangraphs (as of September 18- Kershaw, at least, will eclipse him before season’s end). Of course, it’s not Harvey’s fault he plays for the Mets (I suppose he could have refused to sign, like Elway and Baltimore or Cushman and Denver) but poor Harvey was enjoying the 13th lowest run support of all NL starters.

Caple admits to some shortcomings, but comes to the defense of the win:

Perhaps stat-heads would appreciate the win more if it was something else, though, something much more complicated and mathematically challenging. Maybe they would like it more if it included complex calculations that account for run support, adjusted ERA, advanced fielding analytics, WAR, stadium factors and humidity and was called tWIN.

I do love the idea that the win is simple and other sabermetric stats are, by definition, not. Caple talks about the “uncomplicated” win in an article that also discusses how on September 13, Cleveland starter Danny Salazar struck out 9 in 3.2 innings, but couldn’t get the win, because he didn’t go the required five innings. He talked about Drew Smyly vulturing Max Scherzer’s 20th win, after Smyly blew the lead. The rules on how wins are awards are full of inane loophools and requirements. Caple doesn’t even mention my favorite part of the win rule, which I’ll quote right out of the official MLB rules:

Rule 10.17(b) Comment: It is the intent of Rule 10.17(b) that a relief pitcher pitch at least one complete inning or pitch when a crucial out is made, within the context of the game (including the score), in order to be credited as the winning pitcher. If the first relief pitcher pitches effectively, the official scorer should not presumptively credit that pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective. The official scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance. If two or more relief pitchers were similarly effective, the official scorer should give the presumption to the earlier pitcher as the winning pitcher. [emphasis added]

The win isn’t a simple statistic just because it doesn’t have a mathematical formula. Like the RBI, there’s so many things that the player collecting it doesn’t control. That alone is why its value is so limited.

Caple boils down his argument to this with this:

Could the win be better? Sure. But one of the reasons I like the win is its simplicity. Despite its clear limitations, the win is a long-established and fun statistic that quickly tells us something about a pitcher — how many bad pitchers win 18 games in a season or 200 games in a career? — though by no means everything. Nobody is saying the win is the ultimate arbiter of anything for a pitcher. It’s just one of many stats for your consideration.

As I’ve already said, the win is not simple, and Caple makes the point himself. And he’s right, it’s one of many stats for you consideration, like paying $3 for a tin of Pringles on your next US Air flight is a food option; it’s not necessarily the best option for you to take.

As for players who accumulate big single season win totals or lots of wins over a career- does this mean much? In the days of complete games, when pitchers would rarely be lifted, the win meant something though still less than it seems lots of folks want it to. These days, with increased specialization and pitch counts and so on, it means even less. Christy Mathewson, to pick a random old-timey pitcher with longevity, averaged 8.67 innings per start for his ENTIRE 552-start, 17-year-long career. Mike Mussina is the closest modern starter in terms of games started to Mathewson, as Moose started 536 games. For his career, Mussina averaged 6.67 innings per start. Mathewson would need one out from a reliever, but he still needed the run support. Moose needed two innings and an out plus run support. To turn this a different way, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina were both terrific pitchers in a big offensive era. Both were regular starters from 1992 until 2007. Schilling started 569 games to Moose’s 536, but Moose threw almost exactly 300 more innings (Schilling averaged 5.7 innings per start.) Schilling ended up with 54 fewer wins. Why? Mussina played for the generally good 90s Orioles while Schilling was pitching for the generally bad 90s Phillies. Similar service time, huge difference in win totals. Incidentally, Mussina is at 83.0 in rWAR and 82.3 in fWAR, while Schilling is 79.9 and 83.5. What seems like the better comparison? Wins, where Schilling is only 80% the pitcher Mussina was or WAR where they were equally good?

As for the specific win-totals Caple mentions, to counter that point I do need some fancy sabermetric, context-controlled stats, specifically FIP- and ERA- (each stat takes into account park factors and the league average numbers and compares them to other pitchers of that specific era;  100 is average, and the lower the number, the better. Someone who has an FIP- of 80 is 20% better than their peers) Lew Burdette was a solid pitcher from 1950 to 1967, mostly for the Braves. He collected 203 wins. He had a career ERA- of 101 and a career FIP- 103, both slightly below average. Denny McClain in 1966 won 20 games, and had an ERA 13% worse than the AL average and a FIP 23% worse. It’s actually not hard to find other examples of pitchers who were average or worse and managed to still win 18 or more games (here’s the custom search) but I suppose I can be discounted because I used ERA- and FIP-. Are any of these pitchers bad? No, none of them were Jose Lima for the Royals bad (incidentally, Lima had a 21 win season for the Astros in 1999. He was pretty good that year. I’m pretty sure there were a dozen or two pitchers in 1999 that weren’t named Jose Lima you’d have preferred on your team.)

I understand a desire for a simple number that can be understood quickly and tells us who was a good pitcher and who wasn’t. What escapes my understanding is this luddite position that Caple and others like him take, where they run towards this an archaic stat. I suppose there’s a bit of “it’s always been there.” But it strikes me a bit like someone in 1920 saying “we can’t get rid of the guys making horseshoes.” Horseshoes might be interesting, and occasionally might be useful, but they’re not longer a critical part of our world.

See more from this Tim guy at his blog or at Saturday Morning Deathgrip

MLB Rankings – 8/30/2013

StatsInTheWild MLB rankings as of August 30, 2013 at 2pm.  SOS=strength of schedule

Team Rank Change Record ESPN TeamRankings.com SOS Run Diff
Detroit 1 78-56 2 3 14 +159
Boston 2 80-56 6 2 10 +133
St. Louis  3 78-56 4 5 25 +146
Atlanta 4 ↑1 81-52 3 1 19 +131
Texas 5 ↑4 78-55 8 6 19 +88
Tampa Bay 6 ↓2 75-57 5 7 6 +52
Cincinnati 7 ↑3 75-59 9 10 22 +92
Baltimore 8 ↓1 71-62 12 11 4 +39
Oakland 9 ↓1 75-58 10 9 17 +71
Pittsburgh 10 ↓4 78-56 7 8 23 +51
LA Dodgers 11 ↑2 78-55 1 4 29 +59
Cleveland 12 ↓1 71-62 11 12 11 +36
Kansas City 13 ↓1 69-65 16 14 8 +39
NY Yankees 14 71-63 13 13 3 -6
Arizona 15 ↑1 68-64 14 15 24 +15
Washington 16 ↑4 68-66 15 16 28 -9
Toronto 17 ↓2 61-74 24 17 1 -54
LA Angels 18 ↓1 60-72 22 18 12 -32
Colorado 19 ↑4 63-72 19 21 26 -14
NY Mets 20 ↑2 61-72 17 19 27 -34
Milwaukee 21 ↑6 59-74 26 20 15 -57
Chi WSox 22 ↑6 56-77 27 26 9 -64
Seattle 23 ↓5 60-73 18 22 7 -107
Minnesota 24 ↓5 57-75 23 25 5 -92
Chi Cubs 25 ↓4 58-78 28 28 13 -56
SF 26 ↓2 59-74 25 27 16 -87
San Diego 27 ↓1 60-73 21 24 20 -85
Philadelphia 28 ↓3 62-73 20 23 18 -111
Miami 29 49-83 29 29 21 -120
Houston 30 44-89 30 30 2 -183

Past Rankings:

8/8/2013

6/26/2013

6/7/2013

4/24/2013

4/17/2013

4/12/2013

9/25/2012

Top 25 MLB Pitchers – August 30, 2013

Updated August 30, 2013 at 12:34am

Total Prevention is a measure of runs prevented weighted by the number of batters they have faced (Higher is better).

Yearly Expected ER  is approximately the expected number of runs that a team would allow is that pitcher pitched every inning of every game for a team (Lower is better).

 
  Pitcher Team Total Prevention Yearly Expected ER
1 ClaytonKershaw LAD 1696 301
2 MattHarvey NYM 1484 305
3 MaxScherzer DET 1299 346
4 AdamWainwright STL 1098 430
5 JoseFernandez MIA 1060 367
6 MadisonBumgarner SFG 919 439
7 PatrickCorbin ARI 910 443
8 FelixHernandez SEA 800 481
9 CliffLee PHI 771 475
10 YuDarvish TEX 766 465
11 ChrisSale CHW 756 481
12 StephenStrasburg WSN 755 457
13 AnibalSanchez DET 719 454
14 MikeMinor ATL 683 484
15 HisashiIwakuma SEA 644 507
16 ClayBuchholz BOS 636 344
17 JustinMasterson CLE 602 525
18 TravisWood CHC 584 514
19 HomerBailey CIN 571 522
20 RickyNolasco LAD 530 467
21 MatLatos CIN 520 534
22 A.J.Burnett PIT 509 521
23 FranciscoLiriano PIT 496 496
24 HirokiKuroda NYY 490 535
25 ColeHamels PHI 466 551

Full Rankings

The next step in WAR: openWAR

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is meant to be a comprehensive way to evaluate the total value of a baseball player.  The concept is to compute the added or extra wins that a player provides to a team over that of a “replacement” player.  If a baseball team will win X games with a particular team and Y games with that exact same team except that player Z is replaced by a “replacement” level player, then the WAR for player Z is theoretically X-Y.

Of course, to compute this quantity is not straight forward and there are many issues involved in the computation of WAR.  For instance, the formal definition of a “replacement” player is a slippery concept to pin down.  Conceptually, this player is said to be a “quadruple A” level player:  Better than a minor league player, but probably not a major league starter.  The idea is that players like this are always readily available.  But this is just one of many issues.

Along with this there are also many other complications related to calculating WAR.  For starters, there is not one unique way to calculate WAR, as there are many reasonable approaches.  Everyone agrees on the formula for things like ERA and batting average and, if you give the same data to 10 different people, they will all get the same answer.  WAR is not like this.  WAR is a concept with a collection of reasonable methods for implementation.

Baseball-reference.com has put together this handy chart for comparing the different implementations of WAR.  Basically there are currently three major implementations of WAR: fWAR (fanGraphs), bWAR (Baseball-reference.com), and WARP (Baseball Prospectus).

Recently, I’ve been involved in a project with Ben Baumer and Shane Jensen to develop a new version of WAR.  Our motivating criticisms of the current implementations of WAR are:

  • WAR is not reproducible: No reference implementation; No open data set; No open source code
  • There is no unified methodology: Each component of WAR is viewed as a separate problem – not a piece of the same problem
  • WAR does not consider error estimates: Only reported as point estimates; currently unprincipled estimation of margins of error

It seems that there are other WAR practitioners who also consider these to be issues.  For instance, just yesterday Baseball Prospectus published a blog post on their front page “Reworking WARP: The Overlooked Uncertainty of Offense” (After talking to us about it…).  While BP is addressing the lack of uncertainty quantification in WAR, I suspect neither they nor any of the other major WAR implementors (e.g. Fan Graphs, Baseball Reference) will be addressing our first point and making their implementation completely open and reproducible using an openly available data set.  They are businesses, after all, and have legitimate reasons to keep some of the piece of WAR proprietary for competitive purposes.  Though this proprietary nature does mean that any or all of these WAR methods could contain pieces that are completely just made up (though I doubt this is the case), and the public would have no idea.  The version of WAR that we hope to create, which we refer to as openWAR, will attempt to alleviate these problems.

  • openWAR: a reproducible reference implementation of WAR in a fully open-source R package using partially open data.
  • Unified methodology: Conservation of runs; Each component estimated as a piece of the same problem
  • Error Estimates: Use resampling methods to report WAR distributions.

Currently, our R package (openWAR) is in the early stage of development with an emphasis on reproducibility.  Right now, the latest version of our code is available on github and gives reasonable results, though we still have many details to sort out.

Here are some of the preliminary results:

Top 10 players

Based on their runs above average computed using the openWAR package for the first half of the 2013 season with 95% confidence intervals:

  1. Mike Trout – 54.5 (32.1, 77,2)
  2. Miguel Cabrera – 49.7 (24.8, 75.5)
  3. Chris Davis – 49.0 (25.2, 74.7)
  4. Jason Kipnis – 33.7 (13.5, 54.2)
  5. Troy Tulowitzki – 33.2 (14.4, 51.9)
  6. Paul GoldSchmidt – 32.4 (9.9, 56.7)
  7. David Ortiz – 32.2 (11.9, 54.7)
  8. Josh Donaldson – 32.2 (12.7, 53.6)
  9. Matt Carpenter – 31.0 (11.8, 50.8)
  10. Carlos Santana – 30.8 (11.7, 50.8)

Cheers.


			

Top 25 Pitchers – 6/27/2013

Updated June 27, 2013 at 12:34am

Total Prevention is a measure of runs prevented weighted by the number of batters they have faced (Higher is better).

Yearly Expected ER  is approximately the expected number of runs that a team would allow is that pitcher pitched every inning of every game for a team (Lower is better).

 
Rank Pitcher Team Total Prevention Yearly Expected ER
1 MattHarvey NYM 983 275
2 AdamWainwright STL 809 368
3 CliffLee PHI 796 373
4 ClaytonKershaw LAD 784 367
5 MaxScherzer DET 726 357
6 JordanZimmermann WSN 671 391
7 PatrickCorbin ARI 627 401
8 ClayBuchholz BOS 624 350
9 HisashiIwakuma SEA 595 417
10 ChrisSale CHW 593 401
11 MadisonBumgarner SFG 539 438
12 TravisWood CHC 530 429
13 FelixHernandez SEA 529 457
14 ShelbyMiller STL 525 417
15 YuDarvish TEX 501 458
16 StephenStrasburg WSN 488 421
17 AnibalSanchez DET 450 433
18 EricStults SDP 430 484
19 HomerBailey CIN 422 476
20 LanceLynn STL 421 470
21 JeffLocke PIT 398 485
22 HirokiKuroda NYY 390 493
23 JoseFernandez MIA 377 473
24 MikeMinor ATL 358 499
25 A.J.Burnett PIT 353 493

Full Rankings

Guest Post: Pittsburgh Pirates and Playoff Probabilities

At the close of baseball on Thursday, June 27, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a crazy situation. No, they didn’t accidentally agree to go to their girlfriend’s sweet sixteen at the SAME TIME as going to their friend’s dad chance to become the WWF number one contender (that was Cory Matthews*). Even crazier, the Bucs have the best record in baseball, tied with St. Louis at 48-30. Generally speaking after 1992, you’re far more likely to find Bing Crosby’s old club in the basement than the penthouse.

* That was the single most Bill Simmons-like joke I’ve ever made. I regret it now and vow to do better in the future.

In honor of the Pirates’ outstanding performance thus far, I thought I’d take a look at the Pirates since 1992. This graph shows the coolstandings.com weighted playoff probabilities for Pittsburgh’s on June 27 of each season.  Coolstandings.com calculates the weighted playoff odds using fancy-pants math to simulate the rest of the season millions of times. Because it’s using team performance weighted against opponents, this gives us situations like what we have today, where the Yankees, in third place in the AL East have a lower playoff chance than Tampa.

Tampa’s remaining schedule favors them compared to the Yanks’ schedule, because it’s based on how they’ve performed, even though, record-wise, the Rays have been worse… seriously, look at this lineup– what a crappy collection of hitters). Anywhere the Pirates had a 15% chance of making the playoffs or better on the graph, I labeled it with their final record and standings.

Pirates

Rather infamously, Pittsburgh hasn’t finished better than .500 since 1992, when the lost their third straight NLCS. Sid Bream apparently killed a franchise. This graph shows just how dismal it’s been. Between 1996 and 2009, on June 27, the Pirates hadn’t had a playoff chance higher than 13.6%. And in four of the last five seasons, the Pirates have had a respectable (as in, over 15%) playoff chance. The last few years, though, the Pirates have done surprisingly well, at least in the early going, only to fall so rapidly and so Pirately in the second half.

Of note: in 1995, a third division was added to each league, along with a Wild Card, and in 2012, a second Wild Card was added. 1992 is included only as a reference to the Pirates’ last winning season, even though making playoffs from 1992-1994 (despite no playoffs in 1994) was much harder than 1995 through 2011, and even harder than 2012.

In 2009, the Pirates were crappy. Plain and simple. But so was the NL Central. On June 27, the Pirates sat in last place at 35-39, but only five games out of first, behind the Brewers. The Buccos had a 18.8% playoff chance, despite being four games under .500. Part of that is the NL was crappy, by and large. Not only were the six teams in the NL Central separated by five games, the Pirates were five games out of the Wild Card, where only Arizona and Washington were double digit games out. The Pirates, naturally, would never be as close to either the Division or the Wild Card again, as they’d go on to record a 27-60 record to finish the season. That is crappy.

In 2011, things were rosy, but somewhat superficially. On June 27, 2011, the Pirates were 39-38, with their weighted playoff chances at 15.1%, and they sat in fourth in the NL Central, four games behind the first place Brewers. Their peak win percentage and playoff odds came following a 12-6 streak, the Pirates sat at 51-45, in first place and enjoying a weighted 40% playoff chance. They actually were tied with St Louis for first as late as July 25. But a second half record of 25-47, including an 8-22 August (ouch). How could they only have 40% chance of making the playoffs while in first after 100 games? The Cards had an easier schedule (hence a 41.4% weighted playoff chance, vs the Pirates’ 29.3%). The Brewers (the eventual NL Central champs) were only a half-game out. The Reds only four games out. The Pirates, despite being in first in the Central were 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. The Atlanta Braves 2011 (and the Red Sox) is a whole other adventure in playoff chances.

Last season, the Bucs actually had a good chance. On June 27, 2012, they had a 39-35 record, two games behind the Reds (41.3% weighted playoff odds). They actually had first place as late as July 5, and, after going 15-5 after June 27, were 54-40, a half-game behind the Reds and enjoyed a their peak playoff odds of 82.1%. They were even 2.5 games back on August 8 (with a weighted 74.6% playoff chance). As you can see by their chart, they started losing rapidly thereafter. In fact, they clinched a twentieth straight losing season on September 30, when they lost their 82nd game against the Reds.

In 2013, the Pirates are a far more balanced team than before, rather than Andrew McCutchen and a bunch of other guys. Their pitching is first in the NL in ERA, BAA, Runs Allowed, fourth in Strike Outs. Offensively, they’re lower half, 10th in Runs Scored and OPS. At +36, they are third in the NL Central in Run Differential, fourth in the NL. They have the misfortune of playing in the same division of the Cards and Reds, first and third in Run Differential. St Louis is first in Runs Scored and third in Runs Allowed, so it’ll be tough to keep up. But this is (literally) the best chance they’ve had in decades).

Tim is an orthodontist by training and trade. He also writes, performs comedy, is a part time (generally unpaid) artist, and once did the art design for a iOS game (dontfrythefrog.com). He enjoys baseball and movies, which is often what he writes about, and he tries to do so in comic fashion. He has interviewed for Jeopady! several times in the last 8 years, and still hasn’t been on; if you know the secret, please tell him. You can visit him at tpxdmd.blogspot.com, follow him on twitter @tpxdmd, and listen to “Saturday Morning Deathrgip”, a bimonthly podcast about 80s and 90s cartoons he co-hosts- saturdaymorningdeathgrip.com.  He also won $32,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but he downplays that for some reason.  

Guest Post: I like baseball and I don’t like people who are willfully ignorant – Part 3

This is part 3 of a series about Nick Cafardo written by guest poster Tim.  You may also want to read Part 1 and Part 2 .

So, I’m back with another Ask Nick. I took some time off because Nick Cafardo made me want to have part of face surgically removed (THAT’S AN IN-JOKE… kinda). This column, from like a week ago, actually does feature a couple questions that he answers appropriately, so I cut them. They’re boring and I’ve given him credit. But it also features Cafardo’s classic lazy pontificating, failure to answer actual questions and everyone’s favorite game “Let Nick play Team Physician!” where he does even worse than in “Let Nick play GM!” Also, while I normally skip the intro, I do not this time, babycakes.

(As ever,  your key to the world of this post- People bold enough to ask Nick a questions- BOLD. A professional idiot with an Italian last name- ITALIC. A humble guy who thinks he’s much smarter than a professional idiot- NORMAL. I, as ever, also  hat tip Fire Joe Morgan and pray one day I get an email from Ken Tremendous)

Hey, what happened to all of you “stop touting Jose Iglesias” readers?

Miss you guys. Seem a little quiet now. No worries, it’s a long season and I’m sure I’ll hear from you again.

Oh Nick, there are some people who still saying Iglesias is a horrible hitter and that his numbers are the product of some ridiculously lucky and totally unsustainable outcomes. I suppose it’s not your fault you don’t pay attention to things connected with analysis, intelligence, or, you know, thinking.

Drew has played a good shortstop, but Iglesias would have scooped up some balls that Drew can’t get to and created outs.

Drew has played a good shortstop. It was Rey Ordóñez in Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on N64.

Seriously, because if you go to Drew’s fielding stats (as of 6/25/13) on Fangraphs, Drew in 544.1 innings at short has made 27 plays out of his zone (an average of one play ever other game) and Iglesias in 81 innings at short has made 2 (an average of one every five games). Iglesias does have a higher UZR/150 (his is 22.2 versus Drew/s 17.3) but given the number of innings at short, this may be meaningless. The point is, unlike Nick has been implying, Drew hasn’t been a defensive Hack and Iglesias hasn’t really been a defensive wizard who tells balls they shall not pass. But don’t let facts get in the way of Nick trolling his readers.

Drew could become a trade chip. On June 15, he’s eligible to be traded. Doubt the Red sox do anything that drastic this early. But there are a few teams out there who would love either Drew or Iglesias.

Let me quote some Nick Cafardo- “Ask Nick” 2/27/13– “…what a ridiculous strategy for a big market team if that’s the case. You build a team in the offseason so you can trade them? … Drew is cheap insurance. They can flip him if Iggy shows the bat, or keep him if Iggy has none. I suppose so. Again, I can’t believe they would build their team hoping they can flip guys at midseason. Holy crow.”
Holy crow, indeed, Nick.

The Red Sox look like a team with one ace, a very good offense, and four average starting pitchers. I think a lot of teams would kill for this, and it’s not bad for a rebuilding year, but I have a hard time being confident about the playoffs. Do you think this is a valid concern? And if so, what could a team that doesn’t want to shed any prospects really do?
Tyler, Charlottesville, Va.
A valid concern, but nothing to panic about just yet. You want consistency out of Jon Lester and right now he’s not giving you that as the team’s ace going into the season. He certainly got off to an excellent start, but now he’s hitting a bump in the road. The key is to limit the bumpy outings and try to get through them with limited damage. That didn’t happen Tuesday night. At some point, sometime before the trading deadline and depending on how things go for the next month, the Red Sox may be in the market for a starting pitcher.

You got that? At “some point”, “sometime”, “depending”, the Red Sox “may” want a starter.  Professional baseball man Nick Cafardo, folks.

As for Lester, he’s hit a bad spot in June- his HR/9 went from .56 in April and May to 3.38 in June, his BB/9 ballooned to 5.48 from 2.63. His BABIP also went from .277 to .379 in June, so maybe it’s bad luck, though his FIP (usually not affected by luck) went from 3.28 to 8.06. So maybe it’s a blip, maybe it’s more? If you look at his velocity charts there are no red flags. It could just be regression from his insane start or something else. Or as Nick says, an inability to limit the bumpy outings.

Injuries aside, who has been the Red Sox biggest disappointment so far?
Justin, Fairhaven
I would say Will Middlebrooks. I know he’s had injuries, but he hasn’t been the dynamic player he was as a rookie. That’s not to say he won’t be, but I figured him to be a middle-of-the-order hitter with power. He’s flashed the power, but he hasn’t had consistent at-bats even when he was healthy early in the season. Plenty of time though.

I have said this enough, like every time I write about Nick Cafardo but Will Middlebrooks is suffering from what I like to call ‘guy who swings and misses a lot and doesn’t walk syndrome’ (Copyright 2013, me). If Middlebrooks had enough PA’s to qualify for the batting title (he is short by 22 as of 6/25), he’d rank next to Nick Swisher as the 125th (out of 161) most swingin’ and missin’ batter in the majors, with 75.7% contact rate on swings (Dan Uggla is worst at 63.5%, Marco Scutaro the best at 95.5%). Pitchers aren’t even taking advantage of this, as he’s getting 48.3% of his pitches in the zone. His walk rate is a grotesque 4.2%, which would tie him at him 147 with Manny ‘Doubles Machine’ Machado. His K rate is an even grotesquer 27.2%, which would be the thirteenth worst in the big, right behind Ryan Howard and ahead of Rickie Weeks. Except Machado and his bonkers doubles rate, you probably don’t want to be compared to any of those guys in 2013.

Not to belabor this, but I did a little project. Using the stats for every batter from 2009 through 6/25/13 , I looked at every batting-title-qualified player with 100 wRC+ or higher (essentially every league-average or better hitter over this 4.5 year period) to see where Middlebrooks (career MLB BB/KK .17 and 2013 BB/KK .15) stacks up. The worst BB/K ratio in this period was Chris Johnson, at .20 (the best, FYI was Pujols, at 1.17). That means no player who rates as average or better over that period has a BB/K as poor as Middlebrooks. In fact, if you expand the selection to all players, not just the wRC+ 100+, you find only  Miguel Olivo (.16) has a worse BB/K than Middlebrooks and no one else even ties him.  If you go season-by-season, in 2012 no player was below .18. In 2011, Miguel Olivo and Alex Gonzalez were, at .14 and .17 respectively. In 2010, no one. In 2009, no one. Maybe this means nothing. Maybe Middlebrooks is on the verge of reinventing plate discipline. Or maybe he learns plate discipline.  But that’s what they said about Franceour too…  

And just as I finish writing this, Will is headed for AAA.

I know the team is paying Drew a lot of money, but with Iglesias on fire and Middlebrooks coming back, is there a chance he’ll sit and ‘rest’ so the kids can play?
Brent, Sunnyside, NY
I think because of the left side competition that John Farrell has opened up between Drew, Middlebrooks and Iglesias, you’d better “skate your wing” or you might be out of a job. I think we all know who the best shortstop is – Iglesias. He may also be their best third baseman. So he has to play. This stuff about playing three or four times a week is nonsense. He needs to be in there regularly because he saves you runs defensively and he’s hitting. I don’t think you’ll ever see a complete benching of Drew, but his time in the field could decrease if he doesn’t become more consistent offensively.

For the record Iglesias, in 81 innings in 2013 at short, has registered 1 Defensive Run Saved. He has 0 in 176 innings at third this year.  In his career 293.1 innings played defensively, he has 8 Defensive Runs Saved, 7 of which were from his 193.2 innings in 2012. Drew is at 3 DRS  in 2012.  That’s all from Fangraphs. These things can be looked up, Nick. It’s not hard.

Also, “skate your wing”? I’m not a hockey fan, and I assume this is a hockey phrase. When I googled it, and it pops up only 277 times (this Ask Nick is the #3 hit). My favorite is this Italian-English forum where an Italian woman is asking for help, because a native New Yorker moved to Italy and used the phrase and it perplexed her.  There are some great attempts at cracking the code, all of which are entertaining, my favorite being: “An Internet search yielded a number of refernces [sic] to ‘wing skate’ which appeared to be a type of sailing.” Anyway, I think it means do your job.

What position players on the current Red Sox roster could pitch in a pinch?
Rick, Eagan, Minn.
My candidates would be David Ross, Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks. I’m guessing Ross would be the first choice.

This is based on what, exactly? I mean, really, I would like to know. I can’t even come up with a joke for this. Instead, I have to use a cartoon Victorian gentleman. None of these three players have thrown a pitch in the majors. Middlebrooks and Ross pitched a game in the minors in 2009, but neither recorded an out. Would a team have their backup catcher pitch? The Red Sox have used a backup catcher, but only once: the inimitable Dusty Brown who sounds like he should be playing a 60’s soul revue at the Wolf Den (ESTEBAN IS PLAYING THERE JULY 12!) Anyway, I’m guessing the backup catcher would not be the first choice.

Also, I’m guessing a Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe would be unable to ask Manager John Farrell or Pitching Coach Juan Nieves this innocuous question.

If the Phillies make Jonathan Papelbon available, can you see the Red Sox make an aggressive bid for him and what players could the Sox move for Papelbon?
Kyle, Peabody
Not sure if the Red Sox would go after him. They want to monitor Andrew Bailey over the next month to see if he can truly handle the closer role and if he can remain healthy.

Ahem.

The Phillies need to get at least one top positional/pitching prospect. He won’t come cheaply. Probably a three-player package with one top prospect and two pretty good ones, or a current, established player. I’m sure they’d come after Allen Webster, someone who is not far from the big leagues.

I’m sure the Phillies would probably just want to unload the $30 million plus left on his contract through 2015, not counting a 2016 vesting option that kicks in with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15 (Papsmear’s career includes a 162 game average of 58 Games Finished). I don’t know any team that would ask for propsects in a salary dump.

With the Sox looking for relievers, one who seems to be having a good year in Pawtucket is Ryan Rowland-Smith. He is 3-0 with an ERA of.76 and a 29/9 SO to BB ratio. He is not on the 40-man roster, so what’s the scoop?
Ken, North Kingstown, RI
I know Gary DiSarcina, the Pawtucket manager, is very high on him. One of the biggest issues here is the 40-man roster and Rowland-Smith isn’t on it, so you’d have to designate someone for assignment in order to create a spot. That’s why you’re seeing only 40-man guys getting recalled.

You know who else isn’t on the Red Sox 40-man? Everyone that you could possibly trade for. Now, we could talk about the intricacies of 40-man roster management, which players have options, DFAs, outrighting, blah blah blah. Maybe you could talk about detritus on the 40-man, like Steven Wright, the 28 year old quad-A guy with a 4.76 ERA in Pawtucket this year and the idea of DFA’ing him. But naw, not ol’ Nick.

Why is it that catchers, who see thousands of pitches and motions, are not better hitters?
Dick, Melrose
They take a beating behind the plate. It wears them down. Catchers need to spend so much time on their catching skills, that hitting becomes secondary.

I am tempted to have a snarky comeback and links to the BR page for Piazza and Bench and Berra and Campanella, but you know what? Nick’s actually 100% right. Kudos, Nick.

Would the Red Sox ever bring up Juan Carlos Linares to the major leagues? What are his stats?
Bob, Jacksonville, Fla.
He’s in Double-A Portland, hitting about .240. Never really got the chance to show what he can do. Seems to have good outfield skills and is a decent righthanded hitter, but one of those guys who has slipped through the cracks.

Slipped through the cracks? Or not-that-good 28 year old in AA… who was demoted from AAA this year.

What is your assessment of Mike Napoli so far and is there any help at first base down on the farm?
Dave, Running Springs, Calif.
He’s played the position much better than I thought he would, but he’s certainly not Adrian Gonzalez or Kevin Youkilis. He’s obviously a power threat and a dangerous hitter. He does strike out a lot, but he’s not someone you want to mess with if you’re an opposing pitcher.

He is not someone you want to mess with. You also don’t want to mess with Texas. And you also don’t mess with the Zohan.  And based on Napoli’s wRC+ of 113 you don’t mess with Kelly Johnson or Gregor Blanco either.

Wait, did someone ask about Red Sox first base prospects? No, right? No one asked that, I’m pretty sure.

In a recent article, you said the Sox pitching coach keeps the bullpen ready to go at all times. What does this mean? How does he do this?
Robert, Swanson
Hopefully, the story said the bullpen coach keeps the relievers ready to go. Yes. Dana LeVangie does a nice job. He gets them ready physically by putting together a warmup program of how many fastballs and off-speed pitches the reliever throws before coming in and also goes over the hitters he’s going to face and prepares the reliever. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that relievers respond to him well and value his advice.

Usually, relievers punch the bullpen coach in the groin whenever he suggests how to warm up, so LeVangie is very unique here.

Jon Lester doesn’t seem prone to awkward and bizarre injuries like Clay Buchholz. Do you think weight training to build Buchholz up might eliminate these nagging problems without altering his effectiveness?
David, Aurora, Ohio
I know he’s had some injuries and Lester hasn’t, but I wouldn’t touch a thing with Buchholz. He’s a tall, lean guy. That’s what he is. I think you’d really be messing with success by altering his body shape. He’s not a power pitcher even though he throws 94. He’s a finesse pitcher who relies on the command of five pitches to baffle the hitter. He’s 9-0, the best pitcher in baseball. I hope the conditioning people stay away from him.

You’d never, ever want to alter what a guy does physically. Especially a pitcher who has missed significant time, especially with back issues, in parts of each of the last four seasons (you can discount his 24-day DL trip last year, as that was esophagitis. I also don’t recommend you click on this link to a google image search endoscopic views of esophagitis. I warned you).

Incidentally, 9-0 does not make you the best pitcher in baseball. He’s been terrific, yes, but he also enjoys the 9th best run support in baseball (5.25 runs per game). And let us not forget that Cliff Lee, who ranked 6th in pitcher WAR by Fangraph last year, went 6-9 and didn’t get his first win until July 4. It is a galling fact that morons who believe pitching wins matter actually exist and they are paid to write about baseball (I warn you this link may have one of the most mind-blowing paragraph and worst straw man ever if you value your sanity. You might be better off looking at esophagitis). Not to mention those who even played (I’m sorry, I made myself vomit by linking to that). A 9-0 record for Buccholz means diddly. Adam Wainwright (the actual best pitcher in baseball thus far) has struck out 106 batters and walked 10 in 116.2 innings. He’s given up only four home runs. Voros McCracken (the greatest name in the history of everything) pointed out  https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!msg/rec.sport.baseball.analysis/-fcI-UzLhpY/glpawFj-ULQJ that pitchers control  HRs, Ks and BBs, and not much else. Wainwright is doing a much better job at this than anyone in 2013 (and probably ever). And he’s 10-5. So stuff your wins in a sack, mister.

MLB Rankings – 6/26/2013

StatsInTheWild MLB rankings as of June 26, 2012 at 2pm.  SOS=strength of schedule

Team Rank Change Record ESPN TeamRankings.com SOS Run Diff
St. Louis 1 48-29 1 2 25 +114
Boston 2 ↑1 46-33 2 1 6 +76
Detroit 3 ↑3 42-33 3 4 16 +76
Pittsburgh 4 ↑1 47-30 7 3 21 +34
Cincinnati 5 ↓3 45-33 4 10 20 +52
Oakland 6 ↑2 45-34 6 8 17 +49
Tampa Bay 7 41-37 14 7 4 +21
Baltimore 8 ↑1 43-35 8 5 2 +14
Texas 9 ↓5 44-33 9 6 15 +25
Atlanta 10 45-33 5 11 30 +56
NY Yankees 11 ↑1 42-33 11 9 3 0
Toronto 12 ↑6 38-38 12 12 1 -1
Cleveland 13 ↑1 39-37 16 13 9 +16
Arizona 14 ↓3 41-35 10 14 22 +20
Colorado 15 ↓2 39-39 18 15 24 +28
Kansas City 16 35-39 20 16 8 +7
SF 17 ↓2 38-39 13 18 19 -18
LA Angels 18 ↑3 34-43 21 22 11 -8
Minnesota 19 ↓2 34-49 22 20 10 -25
San Diego 20 39-39 17 19 23 -21
Washington 21 ↑1
38-38 15 17 28 -28
Chi Cubs 22 ↓3 31-44 24 27 14 -18
Chi WSox 23 32-42 26 26 12 -34
Milwaukee 24 ↑2 32-43 27 25 13 -41
LA Dodgers 25 ↑2 34-42 23 24 18 -41
Seattle 26 ↓2 34-44 25 23 7 -62
Philadelphia 27 ↓2 37-41 19 21 29 -55
NY Mets 28 ↑1 30-43 28 28 27 -44
Houston 29 ↓1 29-49 29 29 5 -104
Miami 30 26-50 30 30 26 -88

Past Rankings:

6/7/2013

4/24/2013

4/17/2013

4/12/2013

9/25/2012

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