Thursday, May 25, 2006
This is an idea that I’ve been chewing on for a little while and I want to share my thoughts with everyone else …
According to most of the systems that I’ve looked at the Phillies were pretty much the best defensive team in the major leagues in 2005. The Phillies were fifth in the MLB in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER*), and first in John Dewan’s Plus / Minus system. (This year they seem to be struggling a little.) Since they’ve moved to Citizens it seems like the Phillies have been pretty good fielders, better than when they played at the Vet. Is Citizens helping the Phillies play defense?
* DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
I suppose you have to look at this from a few angles:
-The infield. In every park it is 90 feet to first, 90 feet to second, etc. Unlike the contours of the outfield, the infield is a constant. Also, because nearly every team plays on natural grass these days there are very little grass vs. artificial turf issues in play. Oh sure, I bet that some teams probably keep the grass long to slow down the ball or pull other tricks. (e.g., the Giants watering the field at old Candlestick to slow down the Dodgers speedster Maury Wills in the 1962 Dodgers – Giants pennant race.)
There is little we can objectively consider here. According to The Fielding Bible, the Phillies excelled in infield defense in 2005: allowing far fewer hits than the rest of the league (e.g., the Phillies allowed 99 hits through the hole in between third base and shortstop, compared with 115 on average, 147 up the middle as opposed to 177, etc.). I don’t think there is a park factor here: the Phillies are good defensively in the infield.
-The outfield. Here I am certain the contours of the field pose an issue. After all, if has to be rough being a leftfielder in Boston with the Green Monster behind you. (Still no excuse for your lousy play, Manny!) It must also be easier to play in the outfield in a little park. E.g., if it is 400 feet to straight center, then an outfielder must defend 310 feet worth of territory. If it is 350 feet, then 260 feet to defend. Those fifty feet are probably twelve or so strides and the difference between catching a low fly and missing it.
Citizens is a pretty comfy park, generally speaking. The lack of distance in the outfield must be a huge plus for the Phillies outfielders.
Let’s compare the right-field power alley at Citizens and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Citizens: 369 feet
PNC: 375 feet
There is an added factor here: PNC Park sits on the banks of the Allegheny River just north of the confluence where the Allegheny combines with the Monongahela to form the Ohio River. There is a lot of moisture in the air thanks to the river, which probably makes hitting the ball deep harder.
How did the Phillies do defensively with the shorter power-alley and less humid air? The Phils allowed 125 hits in the gap, far fewer than the MLB average of 144. The Pirates allowed 176 hits in the gap.
Okay, maybe this isn’t the best example. I did stack the deck a little by looking for a variance. And Bobby Abreu is a better fielder than Matt Lawton, though not by much: Abreu had a -13 Plus / Minus in 2005, compared to Lawton’s -17. Still, can you really deny that Citizens doesn’t play a factor in why the Phillies were 41 hits better than the Pirates? I submit that the short fence helped Bobby Abreu get to more balls because tough catches simply sailed out of the field of play and became home runs.
Something to chew on for a few days. I’m taking a looooong weekend, so see everyone next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
When he began his work on baseball stats Bill James sought an over-all stat to measure a player’s output. Since RBIs and Runs Scored depended on the contributions of his teammates, James looked for a stat that would independently estimate a player’s contribution to his team. When James plugged numbers into the following formula he found that he could usually estimate a team’s runs accurately:
((H + BB) * Total Bases) / (AB + BB)
And thus, Runs Created were born. Since then James has tinkered with the formula to make it more complex and more accurate. Here is the formula today:
A: H + BB + HBP – CS – GIDP
B: (S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29* (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K)
C: AB + BB + HBP + SF + SH
Basically. A represents base runners, B represents advancement of those runners and C represents opportunities. The final formula is:
Runs Created: (A * B) / C
Proponents of Runs Created argue that it is the most complex and accurate system devised for run created. I’d agree with that. I know of no other system that takes the totality of the game and gives you values to see how a player contributes.
Here are how the Phillies did with Runs Created in 2005:
Bobby Abreu: 116
Pat Burrell: 109
Chase Utley: 102
Jimmy Rollins: 100
Ryan Howard: 63
Kenny Lofton: 62
David Bell: 55
Mike Lieberthal: 49
Jason Michaels: 47
Obviously some players did better than others: sure David Bell had more Runs Created than Jason Michaels, but Michaels did his in 289 At-Bats, compared to Bell’s 557. Ryan Howard only played in 88 games but got 63 Runs Created. Hypothetically, if he had as many At-Bats as Chase Utley he’d have 109 Runs Created. Let’s move on…
There are other systems out there. I’m going to be comparing two of them. First is Pete Palmer’s Batting Runs, which is part of Palmer’s Linear Weights system:
BattingRuns: (.47 * H) + (.38 * D) + (.55 * T) + (.93 * HR) + (.33 * (BB + HBP)) + (.22 * SB) + (-.38 * CS) + (-.10 * (AB – H))
It is interesting stuff, though I doubt its overall accuracy because it doesn’t take into account something like Grounding Into Double Plays (GIDP), which Runs Created Does. On the plus side, it is a simple formula.
One small caveat: the value of an out in BattingRuns varies with league factors and whether or not the out ends an inning or not. We’re just using -.10 here.
Bobby Abreu: 118
Pat Burrell: 109
Chase Utley: 108
Jimmy Rollins: 99
David Bell: 63
Ryan Howard: 59
Kenny Lofton: 59
Mike Lieberthal: 55
Jason Michaels: 48
Those results are all remarkably similar to Runs Created, though David Bell makes out well with BattingRuns because it doesn’t penalize him for grounding into double plays twenty-four times in 2005, double that of any other Phillie (next closest: Pat Burrell with 12).
Moving along …
The second I am using is BaseRuns, which was developed by David Smyth. BaseRuns is a more complex formula:
A: H + BB + HBP - HR
B: (.8 * S) + (2.1 * D) + (3.4 * T) + (1.8 * HR) + (.1* (BB+HBP))
C: AB – H
(A* (B/ (B+C) ) ) +D … confusing? Okay, divide B by B + C, then multiply the result by A, then add D.
The B & C numbers combine for a “scoring rate”, then multiplied into the baserunners. Supposedly proponents of BaseRuns argue that it is the most accurate because it delivers the right numbers even in “extreme” environments like beer league softball games.
Bobby Abreu: 116
Chase Utley: 105
Pat Burrell: 99
Jimmy Rollins: 93
David Bell: 64
Ryan Howard: 59
Kenny Lofton: 58
Mike Lieberthal: 55
Jason Michaels: 49
Again, David Bell’s 24 GIDP’s aren’t a factor so he’s making out fairly well. What was very interesting to me was that Pat Burrell dropped so dramatically. I’m really not entirely sure why.
So how accurate are the systems? I took the Phillies 2005 team numbers and plugged them into the equasion
Actual Runs Scored: 807
Runs Created: 838
This tells me a few things:
1. The Phillies offensively weren’t that efficient in 2005: their actual runs were far below the numbers they “should” have scored. They score 4% less under Runs Created, 0.4% fewer with BaseRuns, and 2% less than with Batting Runs. If you look at the Phillies pitching numbers, Bill James thinks the Phillies should have won 95 games last year and badly beaten the Braves (by seven games) for the division. Instead the Phillies finished second and missed the playoffs again.
2. Proponents of BaseRuns have a point. They were nearly on the money. Maximum respect.
Last night ... the Phillies dropped a tough one to the Mets in 16 innings. This will probably be the longest game of the year and it will be interesting to see if the Mets pitching might be a little worn out after all of this. I thought Ryan did a good job and I can't help but think that Gavin Floyd and not he deserved to be demoted to the bullpen.
Cole Hamels won't pitch tonight, so Jon Lieber will go in his stead. I think Lieber will pitch well: I suspect batters will be fatigued and won't enjoy trying to hit 70 mph curveballs and sinkers.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Gonzalez had a lengthy career in baseball and will probably be remembered for being a very talented defensive shortstop. The Fielding Bible said of him: “For years, Gonzalez was one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball.” He converted to third base in 2005 and seemed to do well at it. Offensively Gonzalez was never a great hitter and went from being a light-hitting utility infielder to a no-hitting utility infielder. This season he was four-for-thirty-six with two walks. His OBP was a terrible .158 and he had an ISO of .000 because all four of his hits were singles.
No doubt Gonzalez elected to hang things up and call it a career due to his soft start in 2006.
So who is Chris Coste? At thirty-three he’s the same age as Gonzalez (in fact he’s actually slightly older), but he’s a long-time minor leaguer looking to break into the bigs. It is a great story and it seems likely that Coste will be trying very hard to make an impression, whereas Gonzalez seemed bored and diminished by his role as a pinch-hitter.
Coste’s numbers in Scranton don’t suggest that he’ll be much of an upgrade over Gonzalez: .236 OBP (26-for-147 with nine walks), .095 ISO (just ten extra-base hits: eight doubles and two home runs), and 9 Runs Created*.
* I used Runs Created Basic to tabulate that: ((Total Bases) X (Hits + Walks)) / (At-Bats + Walks)
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup.
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)
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
Coste was hitting south of the Mendoza Line in terms of GPA in Triple-AAA (.174 GPA). However, Coste did hit well in Spring Training and clubbed 20 home runs and 89 RBIs with the Red Barons in 2005. I think he’ll do fine and supply some much-needed pop to the bench.
The Phillies journey north to the realm of the evil empire this week to play three with the Mets. I think all three games are winnable, and I am especially interested to see how Cole Hamels deals with the Mets tomorrow.
I’ve noticed that Shane Victorino has filled in admirably for Aaron Rowand, hitting .405 OBP with a .609 slugging percentage. Not too shabby.
The Phillies need to do something about Jimmy Rollins and soon: for cryin’ out loud, David Bell is hitting better than he is!: .252 GPA vs. .235 GPA.
Monday, May 22, 2006
So far Cole has pitched two pretty nice games for the Phillies, and fans and pundits are already anointing him the next Steve Carlton. Whoa, there. Calm down. Cole is off to a great start but we’ve got a loooong way to go before we start invoking #32 into the mix.
Here are Cole’s stats in the minors:
Clearwater: 20 & 1/3 innings pitched, four earned runs allowed (1.77 ERA), 29 strikeouts (12.83 K/9), 9 walks (3.98 BB/9), 0 home runs.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
It struck me as interesting that he recorded 48% of the outs he got by himself: 29 K’s, compared with 32 outs recorded by his fielders.
On to Scranton:
Scranton: 23 innings pitched, one earned run allowed (0.39 ERA), 36 strikeouts (14.09 K/9), 1 walk (0.39 BB/9), and 0 home runs.
In forty-three and a third innings of minor league ball, Cole Hamels surrendered zero home runs. Okay, I’m impressed. And he got 52% of his own outs (36 K’s, compared to 33 outs recorded by his fielders). That’s pretty impressive too. Toss out Cole’s performance and the Red Barons team ERA jumps from 3.12 to 3.40, despite Cole only pitching 6% of the team’s innings.
In the bigs Cole is off to a decent start: two starts, two no-decisions. In his debut, five innings pitched, five walks, one hit and no runs allowed with 7 strikeouts. In game two, six and a third, four runs allowed on five hits, four walks with 5 strikeouts. Season-to-date:
Batting Average Against: .158
There is a lot to like here and a lot to hate. Let’s look at Cole’s “other” stats:
FIP: 4.40 (+1.22)
In other words, Cole is benefiting from some good defense. I’m sure Cole is playing a factor in that: he’s allowing just 4% line drives, better than the team average of 20% and the NL average of 19%. But Cole’s .808 DER is much, much better than the team average of .675.
What he me bothered is Cole’s walk rate. Surrendering nine walks in just eleven and a third innings is a lot. He’s given up nearly as many walks as he’s gotten strikeouts. It reminds me of the result of Nuke LaLoosh’s (Tim Robbins) first start with the Durham Bulls in Bull Durham: 18 strikeouts, 18 walks. Cole keeps putting them on base and them mowing them down.
Maybe Cole would do well to remember the advice Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) gave Nuke before a start:
Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic
Remember, Cole surrendered a lot of walks in Clearwater: 9 in just 20 & 1/3 innings of work. I think control is an issue here.
How does Cole Hamels compare to Steve Carlton? Lefty was a unique player and I doubt that we’ll see something like him ever again. In his first season with the Phillies in 1972, he went 27-10, winning 45% of the team’s games by himself. He pitched 25% of the Phillies total innings. Without him, the team ERA jumps from 3.66 to 4.21, and the team record drops to 32-87 (.268). The Phillies would have won about 44 that season, compared with 59, and probably run the risk of being the worst team in baseball since the 1962 Mets.
Cole is a loooooong way from being Lefty. In fact, he’s not even the Phillies strongest starter. He’s got potential, but right now he’s No. 4 behind Job Lieber, Cory Lidle and Brett Myers. So calm down Hamels fans. Let’s see how the boy does.
No game tonight. Tomorrow night the Phillies kick off a three game series with our archnemesis, the New York Mets. Time to righten this ship after getting swept by the Brewers and dropping two of three to the Red Sox. And don't look now, but the Braves are back too.