Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, August 12, 2005


In Moneyball Michael Lewis illustrated the differences between the 2002 Oakland A’s and the Minnesota Twins, two small-market teams that managed to make the playoffs by noting that the A’s had a more efficient offense because they bunted fewer times and had fewer base-stealers caught. (see, page 271 of Moneyball). Thus, Lewis stated, the A’s played offense better than the Twins, a team that followed the “create runs”, “small ball” philosophy (or followed it more than the A’s) that drives Moneyballers up a wall.

Small ball is all about moving the runner over, scrapping for runs. Gambling, getting aggressive on the base-paths … this is what small ball is all about. Moneyballers tend to stay on base and play the odds. The average team with a runner on first and none out will score 0.926 runs an inning, a Moneyballer will tell you. A team with nobody on and one out will score 0.287 …

I was curious about how the Phillies rank in terms of Moneyball & Small ball. First, I decided to see how often the Phillies bunted. ESPN.com has a category for “sacrifice hits” (unhelpfully undefined – I initially thought “sacrifice hits” included “sacrifice flies” until I saw that a team (I forget which) had more sac flies than sac hits.

Here is the formula I used:

(Sacrifice Hits / Plate Appearances) * 1,000 = Sac Hits per 1,000 Plate Appearances

1. Washington: 15.370
2. San Francisco: 14.276
3. Florida: 13.889
4. Colorado: 13.635
5. Atlanta: 12.797
6. Houston: 12.727
7. Chicago: 11.593
8. Arizona: 11.231
9. Milwaukee: 11.021
10. St. Louis: 10.989
11. New York Mets: 10.834
12. Los Angeles: 10.566
13. San Diego: 10.316
14. Philadelphia: 9.835
15. Pittsburgh: 8.376
16. Cincinnati: 6.623

The numbers didn’t yield any real surprises. For one, it didn’t surprise me to see the Nats are the prime small balling team in the NL: they play in a pitchers paradise and scrap for runs all of the time. Teams like the Marlins and Braves strike me as small ballers: teams that run conservative, vanilla outfits with conservative, vanilla strategies.

That the Phillies and Reds were so adverse to small ball-ism wasn’t much of a surprise.

What did catch me by surprise was the Rockies – what are they doing playing conservatively in the biggest hitters park in baseball? I was also surprised to see the Padres ranked so low: they play in an extreme pitchers park.

The team that most surprised me were the Cards. Tony LaRussa is, famously, a small-ball strategist fond of taking calculated risks and trying to advance runners. If any team would be a bunting team, it would be the Cards, right?

I moved on to a more complicated subject …

Base-stealing. Here is the formula I used: ((SB + CS) / (H – HR) + BB ) * 1,000 = Attempted Stolen Bases per 1,000 baserunners. Basically, I took hits and bases on balls, divided by steals and multiplied by 1,000. I subtracted home runs from the hits category for obvious reasons and briefly considered deleting the triples, but opted not to because the numbers are so negligible and it is possible to steal home.

Here is what I got:

1. New York: 105.178
2. Houston: 96.154
3. San Diego: 75.358
4. Philadelphia: 73.801
5. Florida: 70.310
6. Milwaukee: 66.986
7. Atlanta: 63.931
8. St. Louis: 61.879
9. San Francisco: 61.044
10. Chicago: 60.460
11. Colorado: 57.165
12. Pittsburgh: 55.377
13. Cincinnati: 53.001
14. Los Angeles: 51.345
15. Washington: 51.029
16. Arizona: 47.005

I actually found the numbers less surprising here: the Phillies run a lot because they have two terrific base-stealers, Bobby Abreu (24 steals, 31 attempts) and Jimmy Rollins (26 steals, 31 attempts). The Phillies succeed 78% of the time, so it is a strategy that works for them. The Mets run because they succeed 80% of the time. The Nats don’t because they succeed 50% of the time.

Again a surprise is the Cards. I expected many more steals from them, but they are about average, probably a function of their 67% success rate.

I think what is interesting is that only one team looks like a tried-and-true small ball team in the NL: the Fishstripes (aka, the Marlins). They bunt, they steal, they don’t hit for power … this is the NL’s small ball team.

Conclusions: it is difficult to discern a pattern to team’s strategies from numbers at times (beyond the obvious, e.g, the Rockies rely on the home run), but I think you get an idea about how teams approach the game.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Close the book on Thome... 

Jim Thome is going to have season-ending surgery on his elbow next week, ending a year that I'm sure he'd prefer to forget. Ryan Howard will play out the rest of the year as the Phillies first baseman, putting the team in a quandry about what to do with Howard for the 2006 campaign.

Here are Thome's final 2005 numbers:

HR: 7
OBP: .360
SLG: .352
RBI: 30

Thome played in just 59 games this season, his lowest total since 1993. He posted his lowest OBP since 1994 (when he hit .359), and his lowest slugging percentage since 1992 (.299). The decline in Thome's OBP is negligable, but the slip in slugging percentage should be terrifying to Phillies fans: he was .240 off his career average this season. When players age the first "tool" they lose is their ability to hit for power. Has Thome lost that ability?

I dearly hope not, but he's going to be 35 this year and there is a lot of wear-and-tear on his body from 1,738 baseball games in his career. My sense is that 2004 was Thome's last great statistical year. I don't think he'll get back to those heights again in 2006.

Tomorrow: I am working on a big numbers project that I hope will shed some light on the Phillies and their strategies. I hope it will be ready tomorrow, otherwise it'll be Monday.

(164) comments

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Philadelphia Magazine was right... 

I was paging through Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” issue ( … Dear Editors: why not a “Best Sports Blog” category? …) and I smiled at their “best reason” to troop down to Citizens Bank Ballpark: Chase Utley.

I hesitate to write again about Chase’s brilliance, because I know it is a topic (along with David Bell’s foibles at the plate) that I rehash and rehash and rehash. But let’s face it: Chase is the best thing that the Phillies have going for them. Bobby Abreu is in a slump. Pat Burrell has cooled off. The Phillies pitchers continue to surrender homers by the bushel. The team is struggling to stay in the playoff hunt.

Things aren’t good. Luckily Chase is there to make us all smile. He’s surpassed Bobby Abreu as the Phillies MVP and might just make himself into a viable MVP candidate in the future. Let’s go to the numbers (not including last night’s game):

GPA: .306
ISO: .221
OBP: .385
SLG: .529
Runs Created: 66
RC/27: 7.31
BB/PA: .103

If you are curious about where that ranks him amongst the Phillies, he’s second behind Abreu in OBP (.410), first in slugging percentage (beating Pat Burrell’s .501), first in ISO (beating Burrell’s .220 and Abreu’s .207), and second in RC/27 (to Abreu’s 7.83). He’s contributing more to the Phillies offense than Abreu because, despite the fact that the team leads the NL in OBP, they aren’t scoring runs because nobody is really hitting the ball with any authority.

I was sort of curious how Chase compares with other 2B’s. Bear in mind what I am going to say next has some caveats, namely, second basemen are typically not sluggers: after Jeff Kent, Chase Utley is the best hitting second baseman in the NL. I’ll make the argument that he’s the best overall 2B later. First, scope out the numbers:

VORP: Value over Replacement Player*
Kent (LA): 45.1
Utley (PHI): 38.7
Marcus Giles (ATL): 35.0
Craig Biggio (HOU): 29.1
Ryan Freel (CIN): 25.1

* I define all stats below, but I have no real definition for VORP aside from this: it is a complicated stat that measures how much a player contributes to his team over a “replacement” (i.e., average, run-of-the-mill) player.

Win Shares:
Kent: 21
Utley: 17
Giles: 17

That’s tremendous. I predict that Chase will leapfrog Kent by the end of the year and lead the NL in VORP and Win Shares, but let’s move on.

OBP: 2nd, behind the Marlins Luis Castillo (.410)
SLG: 2nd behind Kent (.535)
GPA: 2nd behind Kent (.319)
ISO: 2nd behind Kent (.230)
RC/27: 1st, 0.36 ahead of Kent
BA/RISP: 2nd (.329), behind Kent (.409)

That’s pretty good stuff. But hitting is just one part of a 2B’s job. He also has to be a pretty darn good fielder because he sees a lot of balls hit to him and is an integral part of any double play. This is where Chase shows that he’s the best all-around 2B:

Chase has tremendous range and ability:

Zone Rating (ZR):
Grudz. (STL): .880
Utley (PHI: .861
Counsell (ARZ): .851
Castillo (FLA): .834
Kent (LA): .803

ZR is my preferred all-around stat because it looks at how often a player gets to the ball and makes a play. Okay, a little subjective, but it is an interesting measure of a ballplayer. Even factoring in fielding percentage, a much more flawed stat, Utley is the better fielder:

Chase: .983
Kent: .976

I think the case of calling Chase the NL’s best 2B is very strong. He’s the Phillies MVP clearly and I don’t think there is a better man at the pivot in the entire NL.

Philly Magazine is right, Chase: you are the past part of a night at the ballpark.

On another note, I'd just like to extend my condolences to David Bell and his family: his cousin was recently killed in Iraq.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula ESPN (where I get it from) uses: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF)
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
BA/RISP: Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (second or third base).
ZR (Zone Rating): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.

(100) comments

Monday, August 08, 2005

9 Dr. Jekylls vs. 9 Mr. Hydes... 

It has been a while since I’ve done an analysis of the Phillies team stats. This year has been a disturbing puzzle: a lineup loaded top-to-bottom with terrific bats has failed to click at the plate. What happened? I have a theory of sorts...

Here is how the Phillies did Month-to-Month:

On-Base-Percentage/ Slugging Percentage
April: .334 / .364
May: .369 / .430
June: .338 / .432
July: .343 / .421
Total: .346 / .412

Obviously April was a rough month for the team. What is interesting to me is that the ’04 Phillies finished the season with a roughly similar OBP (.345), but an absurdly higher slugging percentage (.443). In no month did the Phillies really come that close to equaling their ’04 slugging percentages.

April: .241 / .114
May: .274 / .150
June: .260 / .160
July: .260 / .151
Total: .259 / .144
’04 Total: .266 / .176

Again, the Phillies are roughly in line in terms of OBP (the bigger component to GPA), but well-off in slugging percentage (the component to ISO).

Clearly the Phillies played better in ’04. Compare the month of June in ’04 & ’05:

June 2004: .359 OBP / .474 SLG / 44 HR / 49 2B / 159 Runs
June 2005: .338 OBP / .432 SLG / 32 HR / 39 2B / 135 Runs
Decrease: -.021 OBP / -.042 SLG / -12 HR / -10 2B / -24 Runs

Note, I didn’t adjust these for plate appearances or park differences, but I think it is a pretty fair representation of how the Phillies have fallen on hard times since June was such a successful month for the team in so many respects.

So let’s return to an old topic that gets rehashed from time-to-time: Citizen’s Bank. I think a small forest of trees will be chopped down before a consensus emerges on whether or not Citizens is good or bad for the Phillies. Initially I derided the criticism of Citizens Bank: if it is such a hitters park, I complained in ‘04, then why did Eric Milton surrender more home runs on the road than home?

I’m willing to rethink my initial beliefs on the issue. Scope out some interesting numbers:

First, here are the Phillies home stats for the last three seasons (inc. this one):

2005 (Rank) / 2004 (Rank) / 2003 (Rank)
: .352 (2) / .348 (5) / .350 (5)
SLG: .456 (5) / .450 (6) / .430 (10)
ISO: .173 (6) / .185 (3) / .166 (8)
Runs: 306 (2) / 424 (4) / 394 (8)

In terms of the stats, the ’04 and ’05 seasons closely mirror one-another: the Phillies are getting on base and hitting with authority, although they hit with much more raw power in ’04. Clearly Citizens has had a positive impact on the team when you compare with the ’03 numbers (the team itself really hasn’t changed any from ’03 to ’05), where the Vet’s reputation as a pitchers park is clearly shown to be earned.

Here are the Phillies away stats:

2005 (Rank) / 2004 (Rank) / 2003 (Rank)
: .328 (8) / .343 (4) / .336 (3)
SLG: .363 (15) / .436 (3) / .410 (7)
ISO: .112 (16) / .168 (4) / .151 (8)
Runs: 202 (15) / 416 (3) / 397 (3)

I hope everyone who is reading this lets out a low whistle at the ’05 team’s stats. This is a dramatic, horrific collapse the team is in the midst of. While the Phillies may have played like gang-busters in ’04 at home they still swung the bat with authority on the road. The ’05 team plays like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: the second-best OBP team at home and the eighth-best on the road. Fifth-best slugging team at home, fifteenth on the road. Sixth-best in ISO (raw power) at home and the worst on the road. Second-best in scoring runs at home, second-worst in scoring runs on the road.

What is particularly perplexing to me is the OBP: this is theoretically a ballpark-neutral stat in many respects. Why the variance?

Now let me add a little fuel to the fire by noting some fairly stunning pitching stats:

Home: 4.78 ERA (13th); 1.37 WHIP (11th); .467 Slugging percentage allowed (14th)
Road: 3.97 ERA (3rd); 1.27 WHIP (1st); .413 Slugging percentage (4th)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: the team sweats for runs and pitches well on the road, then hits like gangbusters at home but needs it because the pitching gets shelled. (Last night's game being an interesting exception.)

I’ve tried to argue that Citizens isn’t a hitters park, but I’m about ready to throw in the towel on this one. I think the park gave this team multiple-personality disorder this year: they play one way on the road and the other at home. I'm open to other suggestions, but is there is any other way to make sense of the numbers?

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA

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