Monday, December 27, 2004
Back to our regularly scheduled programming ... There are a few baseball sites on the net that I think are worth their weight in gold. I read Aaron Gleeman’s blog every morning, and I read the latest stories at The Hardball Times each and every day. One of my favorite features at THT are the graphs developed by Studes that track the progress and development of the season. In particular I pay careful attention to Studes’s DER / FIP graphs, which keep track of a team’s defense and pitching.
First a little glossary (for all of our new readers out there)… FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, a variation on Voros McCracken’s DIPS ERA, that measures how a pitcher would have performed with an “average” defense behind him. The formula is: (13xHR + 3xBB - 2xK)/IP, plus the "league factor" (I always use 3.20). DER is Defense Efficiency Ratio, basically what percentage of balls put into play do the team’s fielders convert into outs.
Studes structures the graphs fairly simply, the higher on the X axis, the better a team pitches. The higher on the Y axis, the better a team fields. Depending on what quadrant you fall into is how your team does defensively:
Top Right: Above-Average FIP & DER
Top Left: Above-Average DER / Below-average FIP
Bottom Right: Above-Average FIP / Below-average DER
Bottom Left: Below-Average FIP & DER
Here is what the leagues looked like in 2004:
FIP+ / DER+: Boston / Oakland
DER+: Tampa, Seattle, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays
FIP+: Anaheim, New York Yankees, Baltimore
Neither: Kansas City, Cleveland, Detroit, Texas
FIP+ / DER+: Los Angeles, St. Louis, Florida, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego, San Francisco
DER+: New York Mets, Philadelphia, Montreal
FIP+: Atlanta, Houston, Pittsburgh
Neither: Arizona, Cincinnati, Colorado
The idea of the Phillies being a good fielding team must sound strange to most of us, who think of the Phillies as a collection of slow-footed sluggers, but curious about the Phils recent history I looked up the last decade at Studes site, Baseballgraphs.com, going back to the Phillies World Series team in 1993, to see how the Phillies stacked up graphically. What I found surprised me:
Year: Strength (Team Wins)
2004: DER+ (86)
2003: FIP+ / DER+ (86)
2002: FIP+ / DER+ (80)
2001: FIP+ / DER+ (86)
2000: DER+ (65)
1999: DER+ (77)
1998: Neither (75)
1997: Neither (68)
1996: Niether (67)
1995: DER+ (69)
1994: FIP+ / DER+ (76 proj.)
1993: FIP+* (97)
1992: DER+ (70)
1991: DER+ (78)
* The Phillies had the league average DER in 1993.
The Phillies have always had good defense, but rises in the quality of the team’s pitching coincide with rises in the Phillies wins. This is the sixth consecutive season that the Phillies have been an above-average defensive team. In fact, the Phillies have been a DER+ team 11 of the last 14 seasons. But playing good defense hasn't helped the Phillies at all. The Phillies have realized success when they have success on the mound.
How did the Phillies do during their World Series campaigns? Check it out:
1993: FIP+ / (DER)
1950: FIP+ / DER+
1915: FIP+ / DER+
Pitching, pitching, pitching … sort of makes you nervous about 2005, doesn’t it?
Baseball notes ... nice article from Peter Gammons about why the Randy Johnson deal fell through, plus read the bit about how old the San Francisco Giants have become thanks to free agency this year ... According to THT, the Indians are poised to sign Kevin Millwood. I've said this once, and I'll say this one thousand times, the team that signs Millwood is getting a good pitcher, or a potential ace: Millwood's FIP ERA (3.82) is a run lower than his "actual" ERA (4.85), he doesn't give up home runs (0.9 hr/9 innings), strikes guys out (8.0 strikeouts per 9 innings), and was the victim of bad defense from the Phils (.673 DER v. .703, a -.030 difference). If given a chance, he'll pitch well.
Odds ‘n Ends … nine Eagles made the Pro Bowl, the most of any team in the NFL. I think the biggest news was McNabb’s recognition for his superb 2004 campaign: ignorami like Rush Limbaugh derrided McNabb, questioning his leadership and his accuracy, unfairly comparing him to Kordell Stewart. McNabb is a leader and a terrific player. This year he finally had the supporting cast around him thanks to T.O. and gave everyone a glimpse of what he can do … All of this talk about the Eagles not being favorites to make the Super Bowl now that T.O. is injured is bunk. This team is much, much better than the 2003 team: thanks to Kearse and Trotter they can finally put pressure on the quarterback and stop the run. Defensively this team is better, and offensively they are basically the same team as last year, but I think that McNabb will take control of the game better. Plus it helps that the NFC is weaker than it has in years past. I think the Eagles will win in the divisional round, and win in the NFC title game, without T.O., we probably aren't strong enough to take on Pittsburgh, New England or Indy … I tried to get a discounted white T.O. jersey the day after Christmas, hoping that stores would discount now that he’s injured, but no such luck. I found a store that cut prices on NFL jerseys 25%, except on Eagles, Steelers, Patriots and Jets jerseys. I would say that 95% of the jerseys they had were Eagles, Steelers, Patriots and Jets jerseys, so it wasn’t much of a sale … speaking of which, guess what 98% of all of Pittsburgh gave one another for Christmas? A: Ben Roethlisberger jerseys. I was walking around a mall in the North Hills of Pittsburgh and I swear that half of the people I saw were walking around in black #7’s.
More tomorrow on who the best shortstop in the NL was.