Tag Archives: the nine

The Nine Most Average Homeruns of the First Half

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Homeruns are popular. They’re valuable, but their popularity probably outweighs their actual awesomeness in my mind. That’s me. You’re welcome to have your own view. Below, courtesy of ESPN’s Homerun Tracker we have a lot of cool information about every homerun in MLB this season including distance, speed off the bat, peak height, and a number of other things.

I’m often interested in league averages and deviations from average, so this should serve as the baseline for which homers should be judged. Below is a list of The Nine Most Average Homeruns of the First Half of 2013 (excluding the final two days). To calculate the most average homers I took the percent deviations from average of distance, speed off the bat, and peak height, squared them, and summed them together. These are the homeruns with values closest to zero.

For reference: League Average Distance is 397 feet, League Average Speed Off The Bat is 103.4 mph, and League Average Peak Height (Apex) is 87.2 feet.

(Distance in Feet/MPH/Height in Feet)

9. Starling Marte, Pirates (May 4th off Stephen Strasburg)

399/101.2/87

8. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (June 11 off Jose Quintana)

390/102.4/87

7. Billy Butler, Royals (July 9 off CC Sabathia)

402/102.8/86

6. Mike Moustakas, Royals (May 8 off Chris Tillman)

398/104.7/86

5. Ryan Braun, Brewers (May 22 off Hyun-Jin Ryu)

403/102.6/87

4. Andrelton Simmons, Braves (May 6 off Bronson Arroyo)

394/103.9/87

3. Luis Valbuena, Cubs (April 19 off Marco Estrada)

398/104.3/87

2. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (July 10 off Wesley Wright)

399/103.5/87

1. Jordy Mercer, Pirates (May 3 off Ross Detwiler)

396/103.5/87

I’m not sure how much this list can tell you about specific players, but hopefully it’s a nice demonstration about what the average homerun looks like. If you’re curious, the link to the ESPN list has video of each homerun so you can get an even better idea on video.

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Revisiting The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

We’ve already covered the catchers, so let’s move on to first base. Here’s The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013. Numbers reflect start of play on July 6.

56. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: -0.2)

Teixeira was more hurt than I knew when I wrote the original list. Nothing you can do about a guy who only plays 15 games during a season due to injury. MISS

49. Albert Pujols, Angels (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: -0.1)

Albert Pujols stated slow last season and came on strong in the second half. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen again or if his foot and ankle injury will improve enough that he can contribute the way he should. Granted, I knew Pujols was on the wrong side of 30 when I wrote the list, so maybe I should have been more cautious about his decline, but it’s safe to say one shouldn’t assume an all-time great player will simply cease being valuable out of nowhere. He’s producing at league average with a 99 wRC+ from a position that demands offense and is below average on defense and on the bases. Pujols likely won’t be this bad all season, but there is no way he can recover enough to save the prediction. MISS

31. Adam LaRoche, Nationals (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.5)

He’s lost some power from his career year in 2012, but the OBP is nearly identical. LaRoche was my bold, wild card type pick, so I’m fine with being off the mark a bit. He’s defense rates below average this year despite being good each of the last three seasons. I assume that will turn around because 1B defensive skills shouldn’t deteriorate that quickly, so he’s probably more of a 2.5 WAR player than a 3.5 WAR player and that’s not a huge whiff. He’s probably a 10-13 1B for the whole season, so this is a miss, but not a huge one. MISS

30. Prince Fielder, Tigers (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 0.5)

Fielder, currently at 123 wRC+, is performing well on offensive relative to league average, but not compared to the bar he set for himself. At this pace, he’s like to finish near the 8-10 mark, but he could easily snap out of it and start hitting for more power at any moment. There’s nothing physically wrong with him and he’s had the occasional season in his career that was just pretty good instead of great at the plate, so he could easily slug .550 the rest of the way and no one would find it strange. He’s costly on defense, but that’s a constant. He’s a top 9 1B on offense right now, but not comfortably enough to make up for his defense. MISS

15. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 1.3)

Despite some recent slumping Rizzo is only a bit off the pace he set in 2012 on which I based my evaluation. He’s 0.3 WAR back of 8th place, so I’m feeling pretty good right now. He’s playing strong defense and has a 110 wRC+. With a little better second half, he’s dead on. HIT

12. Freddie Freeman, Braves (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.4)

Freeman spent 15 days on the DL early in the season, but while he’s been on the field during the 70+ other games, he’s been right on pace for 5th. He’s the 6th best 1B by wRC+ and is hovering just below average on defense. Assuming he’s healthy and plays 140 games or so this season, he’s perfectly on track for the middle of the top 9. HIT

10. Allen Craig, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 1.5 WAR)

Craig is having essentially the exact season I’d have expected from him. In the initial ranking I said he was a phenomenal hitter (he’s 5th in wRC+) and nothing special with the glove (-2.2 UZR). His only issue would be health, which hasn’t bitten him yet and is just 0.1 WAR away from 7th on the list. If he doesn’t miss much time, this one looks great. HIT

9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 1.5)

Ha! Nailed it. He started a bit slow but things are picking up nicely and he has added value with the glove too. I’m a fan of his skills and think he can be a great player despite 2012’s disappointment. I’m not going to say much more and just bask in this precisely accurate ranking while it lasts. HIT

8. Brandon Belt, Giants (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR:1.6)

I like Belt, but the Giants have been screwing with his swing and playing time so much over the years it’s hard to feel good about any sort of prediction. He’s a patient hitter with a solid glove and I like him a lot as a player, I just didn’t think it was a good idea to rank him in the top 9 because I couldn’t predict the playing time. MISS

7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)

Someone asked about him when I posted the original piece and I said he’d have been 10 or 11 for me, so finding him at 7, just ahead of that spot isn’t surprising. He’s hitting for a little more power than I thought, but other than that is right on track for the season I thought he’d have. HIT

6. Mark Trumbo, Angels (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

Trumbo wasn’t ranked in the preseason because I expected him to get most of his reps at DH. Nothing you can really do about that one, but he’s a lowish OBP, high power guy who tends to run hot and cold. He’s actually be solid with the glove in Pujols’ stead, so I’m comfortable expecting him to finish near the back half of the list. PUSH

5. James Loney, Rays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.3)

I saw this coming. Not this exactly, but I did. Go to #30 on this list of bold predictions and you’ll see. I didn’t think he’d be a top 9 guy, but I’m taking credit for this because so few people had good things to say abut Loney going into the year. He’s always been a guy who could play defense and hit for average, but he was caught in between while looking to add power in LA, so arriving in Tampa and being told not to worry about it seems to have helped. HIT.

4. Edwin Encarnacion, Jays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.5)

I had Encarnacion figured in for a lot of games at DH, which has sort of happened. 45 games at 1B, 29 at DH, 10 at 3B so I didn’t expect him to add as much value because of the DH positional adjustment in WAR. I expected him to mash, but not to add this kind of overall value. I’m calling it a push because it was more of a playing time mistake than a production one. PUSH

3. Joey Votto, Reds (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

Joey Votto is great and I said he would be great. His defensive rating is below average, which I don’t think will continue and that is the only think keeping him from another MVP type season. Votto is right on track for the 6.5-7.5 WAR season that I figured for him. HIT

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Dbacks (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

Goldy was someone I agonized over and left him off with A-Gon right on the cusp. He’s been good enough to make that prediction a miss, but I do want to make clear I liked him a lot coming in, just not quite as much as I should have. He has amazingly gotten better from year to year across the board since coming to the big leagues and is very much in the MVP conversation with Votto and several other guys who will appear on other lists. I’m a Goldy fan and regret not putting him on the preseason list. MISS

1. Chris Davis, Orioles (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 4.6)

Yeah, didn’t see this coming. No one did. Not even Chris Davis’ mother expected him to elevated his game to near-Cabreraian levels. He’s mashing and is right in the thick of the AL MVP race. He’s not this good, but he’s also clearly good enough to hang on this list the rest of the way and I wouldn’t have put him in the top 12. Easily a miss and pretty darn impressive. I’m not buying him to finish #1, but he’s earned it for now. MISS

Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.

The Nine Worst 20 Win Season in MLB History

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

To regular readers it will come as no surprise that I’m part of the movement to remove the pitcher won/loss record from our baseball evaluations. I’ve written on the subject quite a bit, both with respect to individual seasons and entire careers, and this piece seems like a perfect fit to round out the discussion. It also helps that I got a direct request for this exact thing after I posted yesterday’s piece:

So what follows are The Nine Worst 20 Win Seasons in MLB history. It gets a little tricky to draw lines here, so let me give you a quick primer. I don’t want this post to be about pitchers who made a lot of starts so they got a lot of wins, but rather about pitchers who performed poorly and still got wins. Therefore, instead of using Wins Above Replacement as I did for the under 9 list, I will be using ERA- and FIP-, which are simply statistics that calculate the difference between a pitcher’s ERA or FIP and league average during that year. Also it controls for park effects, but it’s basically a way to compare an ERA from the deadball era to one from the steroid era.

I would personally prefer to see this done with FIP-, because it better reflects a pitcher’s skill, but I’m going to use ERA- as well so that this piece is more convincing. A pitcher who allows a lot of runs shouldn’t win a lot of games, and you should agree with that if you’re old school or new school.

Additionally, I’ve included lists from 1901-2012 and just 1945-2012 if you’re concerned about the number of starts inflating someone’s win total. That’s fair, so I’ve broken it down into four separate lists, all telling you the same thing. You can have a bad year and win 20 games. 20 games is the old school gold standard of performance, so this cutoff makes sense. If you’ll recall, there have been more than 8,000 qualifying seasons in MLB history and if you try to predict WAR, ERA, or FIP with wins, you get an adjusted R squared of less than .40 in all cases. This isn’t just about a few examples, it’s about the entire population of starting pitchers. For more on this, read the two links above and check out the bottom of this piece.

Here we go.

1945-2012 by ERA-

Rank Season Name Team W L IP ERA-
9 1950 Johnny Sain Braves 20 13 278.1 100
8 1965 Sammy Ellis Reds 22 10 263.2 101
7 1973 Paul Splittorff Royals 20 11 262 102
6 1971 Steve Carlton Cardinals 20 9 273.1 103
5 1970 Jim Merritt Reds 20 12 234 104
4 1980 Joe Niekro Astros 20 12 256 106
3 1972 Stan Bahnsen White Sox 21 16 252.1 113
2 1959 Lew Burdette Braves 21 15 289.2 113
1 1966 Denny McLain Tigers 20 14 264.1 113

1945-2012 by FIP-

Rank Season Name Team W L IP FIP-
9 1971 Dave McNally Orioles 21 5 224.1 110
8 1967 Mike McCormick Giants 22 10 262.1 110
7 1959 Lew Burdette Braves 21 15 289.2 111
6 1990 Bob Welch Athletics 27 6 238 112
5 1958 Bob Turley Yankees 21 7 245.1 112
4 1979 Joe Niekro Astros 21 11 263.2 114
3 1967 Earl Wilson Tigers 22 11 264 114
2 1973 Catfish Hunter Athletics 21 5 256.1 122
1 1966 Denny McLain Tigers 20 14 264.1 123

1901-2012 by ERA-

Rank Season Name Team W L IP ERA-
9 1910 George Mullin Tigers 21 12 289 109
8 1914 Christy Mathewson Giants 24 13 312 110
7 1911 Jack Coombs Athletics 28 12 336.2 110
6 1906 Christy Mathewson Giants 22 12 266.2 112
5 1972 Stan Bahnsen White Sox 21 16 252.1 113
4 1919 Hooks Dauss Tigers 21 9 256.1 113
3 1959 Lew Burdette Braves 21 15 289.2 113
2 1966 Denny McLain Tigers 20 14 264.1 113
1 1903 Henry Schmidt Superbas 22 13 301 118

1901-2012 by FIP-

Rank Season Name Team W L IP FIP-
9 1911 Bob Harmon Cardinals 23 16 348 114
8 1921 Joe Oeschger Braves 20 14 299 114
7 1967 Earl Wilson Tigers 22 11 264 114
6 1903 Henry Schmidt Superbas 22 13 301 114
5 1906 Jack Taylor – – – 20 12 302.1 115
4 1910 George Mullin Tigers 21 12 289 117
3 1908 Nick Maddox Pirates 23 8 260.2 121
2 1973 Catfish Hunter Athletics 21 5 256.1 122
1 1966 Denny McLain Tigers 20 14 264.1 123

And now, to bring the point home even further, let’s put an innings cap at 210 and take a look at 15+ win seasons since 1945 by ERA-

Rank Season Name Team W L GS IP ERA FIP WAR FIP- ERA-
9 2003 Ramon Ortiz Angels 16 13 32 180 5.2 5.26 0.9 119 117
8 1983 Eric Show Padres 15 12 33 200.2 4.17 4.37 0.3 121 118
7 1989 Storm Davis Athletics 19 7 31 169.1 4.36 4.4 0.5 123 119
6 2004 Shawn Estes Rockies 15 8 34 202 5.84 5.54 1 112 120
5 1966 Dave Giusti Astros 15 14 33 210 4.2 3.57 2.6 105 120
4 1999 Kirk Rueter Giants 15 10 33 184.2 5.41 5.01 1.1 113 124
3 1989 Andy Hawkins Yankees 15 15 34 208.1 4.8 4.44 1.2 117 124
2 1969 Steve Blass Pirates 16 10 32 210 4.46 3.72 2 109 126
1 1980 Dan Spillner Indians 16 11 30 194.1 5.28 4.45 1.4 110 130

And now again with FIP-

Rank Season Name Team W L G GS IP ERA FIP WAR ERA- FIP-
9 2012 Barry Zito Giants 15 8 32 32 184.1 4.15 4.49 0.9 110 120
8 1983 Eric Show Padres 15 12 35 33 200.2 4.17 4.37 0.3 118 121
7 1984 Eric Show Padres 15 9 32 32 206.2 3.4 4.23 0.7 97 122
6 1963 Phil Regan Tigers 15 9 38 27 189 3.86 4.58 0 104 123
5 1989 Storm Davis Athletics 19 7 31 31 169.1 4.36 4.4 0.5 119 123
4 1975 Jack Billingham Reds 15 10 33 32 208 4.11 4.43 0.4 114 124
3 2006 Steve Trachsel Mets 15 8 30 30 164.2 4.97 5.5 0.1 114 125
2 1971 Chuck Dobson Athletics 15 5 30 30 189 3.81 4.19 0.1 117 126
1 1950 Tommy Byrne Yankees 15 9 31 31 203.1 4.74 5.51 0.5 107 128

Even when we limit the number of innings a pitcher throws, pitchers can still accumulate wins despite pitching much worse than league average.

So whether you like the simple and easy ERA or the more predictive and true FIP, here you have plenty of evidence that winning a lot of games doesn’t mean you had a good season. Guys on this list were 10 and 20% worse than league average in these seasons and still won the magic 20 games. This is further proof that wins do not reflect a pitcher’s individual performance.

You can be worse than average and still win at an elite level. Last week I showed how you can be much better than average and win fewer than 10 games. Yesterday, I showed that this isn’t a small sample size, single season trick. This is true in small samples and in large samples.

Here’s a quick look at every individual season in MLB history again up against ERA-. There is a trend, but the variation is huge. The adjusted R squared is .3046, meaning wins can only explain 30% of the variation in ERA relative to league average.

pic1

FIP- actually makes wins fare worse, at .1709 adjusted R squared. I won’t bother showing the graph because this one makes the point just fine. You can have an all time great season at run prevention and win 10 games and you can have a well below average season and win 20. Wins are about many factors and pitching is just one of them. You can have a great outing, great season, and great career and never get the wins you deserve and the exact opposite is true as well.

It’s time to outgrow the win and start talking about things that actually measure performance. Even if it’s ERA, which isn’t even the best way to do things. Let’s look at innings and strikeouts and FIP and WAR and everything else. Wins are the oldest statistic there is but they’ve long since lost their usefulness.

If you’re someone who believes heavily in wins, I challenge you to write a cogent response that defends their use. I’d be happy to publish it if you don’t have your own forum and will respond to your arguments. I want to be someone who helps move sabermetrics from a niche tool to the mainstream and I don’t want this to be about drawing lines between people who love baseball. This is my argument against wins, I hope that you take it to heart and really think about it.

Ask questions, look for evidence, and let’s talk about baseball. Share this with people who love wins and hate them. This shouldn’t be a partisan debate between the new and old, it should be about knowledge and fun. Always.

The Nine Best Seasons Under 9 Wins

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

At New English D we’re among the those who wish to see the pitcher win removed from our baseball consciousness. It doesn’t measure an individual pitcher’s skill, but that’s how people use it. A pitcher’s won-loss record is about his performance, but it’s also about his defense, his run support, the other starting pitcher, and the other team’s offense. Also, luck, but I’m fine with luck.

Our most recent podcast covers the topic at length, but evidence and examples can do more to convince you about the flaws of wins than my rambling ever could. The catalyst for this post comes from something I discovered last night when contributing to Brian Kenny’s noble effort to #KillTheWin:

Matt Harvey (Go Heels!) is better in games he doesn’t win than almost every other pitcher in the league is overall. It’s time we get his back.

The rules are simple, these are The Nine best season by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for qualifying starting pitchers who won fewer than nine games. In MLB history, there are 8286 qualifying seasons from 1901-2012 with 1187 finishing with fewer than 9 wins. These are the best.

9. Cliff Lee, 2012 Phillies

6-9, 211 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 4.9 WAR

8. Ken Johnson, 1962 Colt .45s

7-16, 197 IP, 3.84 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 5.0 WAR

7. Dutch Leonard, 1949 Cubs

7-16, 180 IP, 4.15 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 5.0 WAR

6. Bill Gullickson, 1981 Expos

7-9, 157.1 IP, 2.80 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 5.0 WAR

5. Al Benton, 1942 Tigers

7-13, 226.2 IP, 2.90 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 5.0 WAR

4. Steve Rogers, 1976 Expos

7-17, 230 IP, 3.25 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 5.1 WAR

3. Bob Welch, 1986 Dodgers 

7-13, 235.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 5.3 WAR

2. Curt Schilling, 2003 Diamondbacks

8-9, 168 IP, 2.95 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 5.7 WAR

1. Nolan Ryan, 1987 Astros

8-16, 211.2 IP, 2.76 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 6.6 WAR

Wins generally correlate with good performance, but there are many cases in which good performances don’t result in wins and bad performances do. Pitchers can improve their likelihood of victory by pitching well, but they can’t guarantee it. Wins aren’t a completely useless measure of pitcher performance, but when we have so many statistics that are dramatically better, why should be place any importance on wins?

Here’s some evidence writ large. If we use Wins to predict three other statistics, WAR, ERA, and FIP, it doesn’t look good for wins.

WAR ERA FIP
Adjusted R Squared 0.38 0.24 0.13

What these numbers tell us is that 38, 24, and 13% of the variation in these numbers can be explained by variation in wins. Let’s give Wins the benefit of the doubt and pick WAR for the graph. There is a clear trend, but there is a lot of variation in WAR that wins can’t explain. The sample size here is over 8,000. You can be both terrible and amazing and achieve the same number of wins.

pic1

It’s time to #KillTheWin.

Revisiting The Nine Best Catchers for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

Let’s start with catchers! Here’s the original post for you to refer to: The Nine Best Catchers for 2013. (Numbers reflect start of play on June 22).

57. Ryan Hanigan, Reds (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 0.0 WAR)

Hanigan made my original list largely based on his excellent defensive work and his ability to get on base. The defense has been strong as usual, but his .278 OBP has been horrible, especially compared to his .365 mark a year ago. As a result of his poor offense, he’s receiving much less playing time than I expected and isn’t accumulating much value. I don’t think he’ll be replacement level the entire year, but it’s likely too late for him to make any sort of run at a top nine spot. MISS

51. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 0.1 WAR)

Ruiz missed the first 25 games with a suspension, which I knew about going into the season, so I anticipated his value would be backloaded. However, he also got hurt and has only appeared in 19 games to date with 67 PA. He hasn’t played well in that span, but that’s such a small sample that it’s really too hard to tell how he’ll play for the whole season now that he has come off the DL. Even if he matches his career year pace the rest of the way, I think it will be pretty hard for him to crack the top 9, much less be number 7. I expect him to play like a top 10-12 catcher for the rest of the season, but this is an accumulation list and that doesn’t do me much good. MISS

49. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.1)

Montero was a pretty safe pick coming into the season, but while his walk rate is still very good the batting average and power have vanished. He’s actually making more contact, but it is, evidently, weaker contact. He’s hitting more balls on the ground than he used to, but the line drive rate is pretty consistent. I’m optimistic that he’ll break out of this, especially because of his home ballpark, but it’s pretty unlikely he can make it to #4 on the list under any circumstances. He’s not this bad, but he’s not as good as I said either. MISS

19. Matt Wieters, Orioles (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 0.9 WAR)

Wieters looked like he was on track to finally become the star player he was billed as coming up in Baltimore, but pretty much every part of his offensive game has taken a big step back this year. The average is down, the walk rate is down, and so is the power. His defense is still excellent, but a .288 OBP isn’t something you can wash away with a nice UZR. From the right side of the plate, he’s been very good, but he spends most of his time hitting left-handed. It might be time to think about bagging the switch hitter thing if this keeps up. MISS

18. Brian McCann, Braves (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 0.9)

McCann’s numbers are in line with what I expected from him. No longer a star player, but still a better than league average hitter who players catcher and does so reasonably well. He missed time to start the season, but appears to be back and healthy now. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll be right around where I figured he’d be. I’m not ready to call this a hit, but it’s certainly not a miss. PUSH

11. Salvador Perez, Royals (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.2)

All of Perez’s numbers are very good, especially for a 23 year old, except for his walk rate, which is under 3%. The average is good, the power is good, the defense is excellent. I banked on him developing his approach to some degree this year, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. He’s a very good player (I bet Harold Reynolds loves him because he thinks walks are outs in disguise), but he’s not a top 5 catcher until he learns some patience. I’m going to call this a push, because he’s less than a win away from the spot I pegged him for and some of those guys are overachieving. We’ll revisit this after the season is over. PUSH

9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.3)

Salty was part of a couple of high profile trades and it’s taken him a while to grown into a solid big leaguer, but the power is real even if he has a problem with strikeouts. His OBP is better this year than in the past and that’s probably going to regress a bit, but it is possible he is starting to figure it out. I don’t think he’s going to be a top 10 catcher the rest of the way, but he’s certainly lined up for a respectable season. PUSH

8. A.J. Ellis, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)

Ellis broke out last year and is reproducing his excellent approach at the plate, which puts him in line for a great OBP. His defense is looking better but the power has ticked down a bit so he’s probably not going much higher than this. I had him just outside the top nine, so I’m feeling very good about this one. HIT

7. Jason Castro, Astros (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)

Castro has always had a fairly good approach, and the batting average has trended up every season, but this year the power has broken out and it is certainly his carrying tool. He’s never had 300 PA at the MLB level, so it’s a bit of an unknown on a bad team, but I think he’s certainly better than I thought at the beginning of the season. I think he’s going to be an average catcher and I’d have put him around the middle entering the season. PUSH

6. Carlos Santana, Indians (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)

I had Santana literally right outside the top 9 going into the season and agonized between him and Hanigan, who I love on defense. Santana has a great approach and great power and can be counted on for above average power and OBP, but he has stepped from a 120 wRC+ guy to a 140 wRC+ guy this year which is enough to take his iffy defense from 10th best catcher to top 6 catcher so far. I’m banking on him falling back on this list, just slightly, such that he’ll be right around the 8-10 range. HIT

5. Evan Gattis, Braves (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

Gattis doesn’t give you a great OBP and scouts say he is likely overperforming in that regard, but the power is absolutely incredible and he mashes lefties. Gattis has already provided more value than I had him pegged for entering the year, so it’s an obvious miss, but I’m not so sure he can provide more than another 1-1.5 wins the rest of the way. MISS

4. Russell Martin, Pirates (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)

Yeah, so Martin has always been a good defender and had a nice approach, but his strikeouts were trending up and his average was trending down over the last several years and the power had been inconsistent. But it’s all coming back. This calls for a graph:

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I hope you can forgive me for not seeing this Russell Martin coming. Nice sign by the Bucs. MISS

3. Buster Posey, Giants (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 2.8)

Posey is a great player having an excellent season. He’s not 2012 Buster Posey, but that’s a career season. He’s striking out less and is still above average to great at everything except running. HIT

2. Joe Mauer, Twins (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.1)

Mauer, too, is a great player having a great season. His major question mark lately has been health and that hasn’t been an issue so far. High average, excellent approach, and the power has even bounced back to go along with his nice defense and excellent game calling. It’s not his fault no one else on his team is any good. HIT

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.6)

Molina has always been an unquestionable great defensive player who could probably hit .150 and still be worth rostering, but over the last few years he has made the leap to MVP by turning himself into a great hitter too. Catcher defense is not fully appreciated with UZR and DRS, but even without giving him enough credit for his defense he’s still a top player in baseball this year thanks to this offensive adjustment:

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Not bad. HIT

Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.

The Nine Most Valuable Powerless Seasons of the Last Decade

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Power hitters get all the headlines. And all the cash. People love homeruns. I get it, homeruns are good. But homeruns aren’t everything. Getting on base matters more than hitting for extra bases and defense and baserunning are important aspects of the game. ESPN has a homerun tracker, but they don’t have a leadoff single tracker. It’s a cultural thing.

So here, I’m going to pay homage to the powerless players who sometimes get overlooked. This is The Nine Most Valuable Powerless Seasons of the Last Decade. The rules are simple. These are the players who posted the highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) values while having a slugging percentage that was below league average from 2004-2013.

For starters, here is league average slugging by season:

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9. Russel Martin, 2008 Yankees (.396 SLG, 4.8 WAR)

8. B.J. Upton, 2008 Rays (.401 SLG, 4.8 WAR)

7. Brett Gardner, 2011 Yankees (.369 SLG, 4.9 WAR)

6. Nyjer Morgan, 2009 Pirates and Nationals (.388 SLG, 5.0 WAR)

5. Ichiro Suzuki, 2006 Mariners (.416 SLG, 5.3 WAR)

4. Jose Reyes, 2007 Mets (.421 SLG, 5.3 WAR)

3. Brett Gardner, 2010 Yankees (.379 SLG, 6.0 WAR)

2. Michael Bourn, 2012 Braves (.391 SLG, 6.1 WAR)

1. Chone Figgins, 2009 Angels (.393 SLG, 6.6 WAR)

Obviously, Figgins parlayed this season into a big deal and Upton, Bourn, Reyes, and Ichiro all did just fine for themselves too. So this group isn’t entirely underpaid, just under appreciated. Seriously, Michael Bourn finished 18th in the NL MVP vote last year despite having the 7th highest WAR among all NL players.

In 2013, Jacoby Ellsbury’s .391 SLG and 2.1 WAR lead the way.

The Nine Worst Seasons by “Closers”

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

At New English D we do not approve of the way modern bullpens are managed. We don’t appreciate the way managers chase “saves” and only go to proven closers in perfectly aligned save situations. We believe this to be an inefficient and illogical use of resources. If you’d like to catch up on the theory behind these views, here are three pieces we’ve publish this year on the subject that tell a pretty complete story:

But for now, as an exercise in the ridiculousness of closers and an exercise in fun baseball history, I present to you, The Nine Worst Seasons by Closers.

The rules are simple. Since “Saves” became an official statistic in 1969, there have been 5088 individual qualifying reliever seasons and among those there have been 557 relievers to get 30 or more save opportunities in a given season. Full disclosure, “Blown Saves” are not recorded in the first few years of the sample, so it’s possible I’m missing a few relievers who had 30 save opportunities because I added saves and blown saves to get save opps. The rankings below are determined by Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) because I believe that to be the best measure of pitcher performance because it takes into account strikeouts, walks, and homeruns without punishing anyone for bad defense or rewarding anyone who allows inherited runners to score. xFIP isn’t available for all of the years in question and WAR is a counting stat, so it would be misleading when comparing pitchers who threw a considerably different number of innings. (FYI: The  average number of blown saves among pitchers who had at least 30 SVO in a season is 6. The average SV% in the sample is 85%.) You can find full stats for the relievers below here (Worst Closers).

9. Bobby Thigpen (1991 White Sox)

30 for 39 in SVO, 3.49 ERA, 5.18 FIP

8. Jorge Julio (2003 Orioles)

36 for 44 in SVO, 4.38 ERA, 5.20 FIP

7. Rocky Biddle (2003 Expos)

34 for 41 in SVO, 4.65 ERA, 5.26 FIP

6. Brad Lidge (2009 Phillies)

31 for 42 in SVO, 7.21 ERA, 5.45 FIP

5. Jeff Montgomery (1996 Royals)

24 for 34 in SVO, 4.26 ERA, 5.67 FIP

4. Jason Isringhausen (2006 Cardinals won World Series)

33 for 43 in SVO, 3.55 ERA, 5.70 FIP

3. Ambiorix Burgos (2006 Royals)

18 for 30 in SVO, 5.60 ERA, 5.89 FIP

2. Jose Mesa (1999 Mariners)

33 for 38 in SVO, 4.98 ERA, 5.92 FIP

1. Shawn Chacon (2004 Rockies)

35 for 44 in SVO, 7.11 ERA, 6.57 FIP

I’m fully aware that a list of the worst people to ever do something doesn’t prove much, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Seven of the nine worst closers in baseball history got 30 saves during their worst season. That has to tell you something about how easy it is to accumulate saves.

Also of note: The worst closer on this list who only blew one save is Fernando Rodney of the 2009 Tigers. He was 37/38 despite a  4.40 ERA and 4.56 FIP. Ah, the good old days.

The Nine Worst Tigers Teams Ever

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last week, as the Tigers honored the 1968 World Series team, I took a look at the The Nine Best Tigers Teams Ever. Today, I’ll do the opposite and will give you the worst Tigers teams ever. The methodology is the same. I’m ranking the teams by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), not because that’s the best way, but because it’s easy to take a look at win totals and this requires a little more legwork. WAR is a good choice for a list like this because it compares the team to its environment, which is good because the level of competition varies and we’d like to control for context when making a list like this.

Also of note, which you can see in the original post, is the WAR and Wins correlate extremely well over samples of this size.

9. 1994 Tigers (18.0 WAR, 53 Wins)

8. 1918 Tigers (17.7 WAR, 55 Wins)

7. 1904 Tigers (15.4 WAR, 62 Wins)

6. 1989 Tigers (14.2 WAR, 59 Wins)

5. 1975 Tigers (13.8 WAR, 57 Wins)

4. 2002 Tigers (12 WAR, 55 Wins)

3. 1995 Tigers (9.9 WAR, 60 Wins)

2. 1996 Tigers (2.2 WAR, 53 Wins)

1. 2003 Tigers (1.7 WAR, 43 Wins)

A few things are worth noting about this list that I think are interesting and/or important. First, the 1994 Tigers are somewhat unfairly listed here because that was a strike shortened season. If you’re curious the 2001 Tigers are the first team out at 18.2 WAR and 66 Wins. Additionally, the 2003 Tigers are not just the worst Tigers team ever, but likely one of the worst teams ever, period. By this same measure, they are the 4th worst team ever, trailing only the  ’54 Athletics, ’63 Mets, and ’79 Athletics (also the ’13 Marlins and Astros, but they will presumably add a couple more WAR before the end of the season). I wrote about the 2003 Tigers more extensively here.

What’s also pretty fun is that the 2013 Tigers were not excluded from consideration and are already better than 15 Tigers teams just 52 games into the season. That’s got to be a good sign.

Helping the cause, the worst Tigers seasons ever by a qualifying player and pitcher belong to Jerry Morales in 1979 (-2.5 WAR) and John Hiller in 1979 (-1.6 WAR). Surprisingly, the 1979 Tigers won 84 games and are only the 46th worst Tigers team in history.

The Nine Best Tigers Teams Ever

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Today, the Detroit Tigers are paying tribute to the 1968 team during the 45th anniversary year of that team’s World Series win, the 3rd in Tigers history. Today, I though I’d give you a ranking of the best Tigers teams ever by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which will allow for a comparison between eras.

As you may know, one of the primary benefits of WAR is that it compares players to their own contemporaries, meaning that it controls for the overall quality of the league at the time. Obviously, Babe Ruth played in a low HR era, so his totals look more impressive than someone like Sammy Sosa who played at the height of offense in MLB. WAR allows us to make direct comparisons between teams that played decades apart, which is why I’m using it. Obviously, you can look at win totals and how far each team went in the postseason, but this is another approach to the same question.

9. 1909 Tigers (47 WAR, 98 Wins, lost World Series)

8. 1946 Tigers (48.6 WAR, 92 Wins)

7. 1968 Tigers (48.8 WAR, 103 Wins, won World Series)

6. 1940 Tigers (49.4 WAR, 90 Wins, lost World Series)

5. 1935 Tigers (50.1 WAR, 93 Wins, won World Series)

4. 1961 Tigers (50.7 WAR, 101 Wins)

3. 1915 Tigers (50.8 WAR, 100 Wins)

2. 1984 Tigers (51.6 WAR, 104 Wins, won World Series)

1. 1934 Tigers (52.1 WAR, 101 Wins, lost World Series)

Should you be interested, the 2012 Tigers ranked 16th on this list with 43.9 WAR and 88 Wins, while the 2006 Tigers were 23rd with 42.2 WAR and 95 wins. Surprisingly (and perhaps due to WWII), the World Champion 1945 Tigers are 56th on the list with 34.5 WAR and 88 wins. The 2013 Tigers are already better than 13 other Tigers teams!

It’s also of note, perhaps, the strong relationship that Wins Above Replacement has with actual team Wins in large samples; nearly a perfect 1 to 1 ratio.

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So while we tend to consider the four World Series teams the best ones, if you’re looking for regular season greatness the list looks slightly different. Let’s celebrate all of the great Tigers teams, and even the bad ones. Even that one at the far bottom left portion of the graph. I still love you, 2003 Tigers.

The Nine Players I Wish I Had Been Alive to See

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In baseball more than other sports, we are captivated by history. The great players who came before us are mythical figures.  Bart Starr is pretty much just a football player, but Babe Ruth is something else entirely. We pass down stories to our children of the players we got to see and marvel at how certain players seemed to dominate their era.

Below is a list, entirely my own and entirely subjective, of players I wish I had been alive to see. Anyone who played after 1990 is ineligible and the qualifications are not necessarily based on anything other than who I find to be the exciting and tantalizing figures whom I was unable to see.

9. Brooks Robinson (35th All-Time in position player WAR)

Advanced defensive statistics aren’t particularly reliable before the last several seasons of in depth video analysis, but plenty of baseball statisticians have worked through the data of yesteryear to provide a decent approximation. What those metrics tell us is that Brooks Robinson was 5% more valuable on defense than the second best defender in baseball history. He was a slightly above average hitter, but a preposterously impressive defender. Any old-school eyeball influenced observer would tell you the same. Robinson is quite possibly the best glove man to ever put on a pair of cleats.

8. Jackie Robinson (133rd All-Time in position player WAR)

Jackie is of no relation to Brooks, but that doesn’t make him less interesting. Robinson’s story isn’t one that requires much explanation. He broke baseball’s color barrier and was both a very good player and a man who could restrain his emotions and conduct himself with grace, such that he may be one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. A career 135 wRC+ doesn’t hurt either.

7. Ted Williams (8th All-Time in position player WAR)

Williams’ modest personal goal was to be the greatest hitter whoever lived. Perhaps the only person who can contend for that title with Williams is Babe Ruth. Williams career 188 wRC+ is 2nd only to Ruth and has the highest career OBP in baseball history and is second in slugging percentage to the same. It’s hard to imagine a more impressive plate appearance than what Ted Williams could offer in his prime.

6. Willie Mays (4th All-Time in position player WAR)

Many consider Mays to be the greatest player to ever put on a uniform and I won’t argue with anyone who thinks so. He was a superb defender in centerfield (7th best defender in history according to advanced metrics) and hit a measly 660 homeruns while posting a 154 wRC+. Maybe I wouldn’t say he was best player to ever live, but I couldn’t name too many who’d be in that conversation along with him.

5. Roberto Clemente (34th All-Time in position player WAR)

Clemente’s career was also cut short like Koufax’s, but his was cut short tragically while on an aid mission. He was a fine hitter (career 129 wRC+), but he is on this list for his defense, especially his arm. It was a magic arm. One of the best two of all time and the other contender is two spots below him on this list. Clemente is 5th all time by advanced defensive metrics and trails just one outfielder (Andruw Jones). I’d pay a good amount of money to watch him stand at the warning track and throw baseball’s to third base.

4. Sandy Koufax (62nd All-Time in pitcher WAR)

Now you may think that the only pitcher on this list should be higher on the all time WAR list than 62nd, but Koufax’s low total is the function of a short career and not a brilliant prime. The Dodger lefty is the pitcher most deserving of a spot on this list because 1) many of the game’s best arms pitched during my lifetime and 2) he’s among a small number of Jewish players to truly excel in sports. Among pitchers who were predominantly starters who qualify, he’s 9th all-time in K/9 and he’s at the top of that list if you restrict it to players whose careers ended before 1990. He is the strikeout king of pitchers before my time. He had three 9.8+ WAR seasons. The only other pitcher who can make that claim was Silver King who played in the 1880s! He was awesome.

3. Al Kaline (25th All-Time in position player WAR)

Mr. Tiger gets extra points for being the greatest Tiger to ever live (IMO, take that Cobb!) and being my father’s favorite player growing up. But he’s also everything I love in a player. A fine hitter (134 wRC+) with good plate discipline (11.0% BB rate) and an excellent defender with a brilliant arm. Kaline ranks as the 19th best defensive player ever and has an arm at which Tigers fans still marvel. He used to throw behind runners rounding first base and get them out. I’ve never seen that happen in my years of watching baseball. Additionally, Kaline is an exemplary citizen who has literally worked for just one company since he graduate high school: the Detroit Tigers. Takes “Always a Tiger” to a new level.

2. Joe DiMaggio (33rd All-Time in position player WAR)

DiMaggio was a great player, no question, and a great hitter (career 152 wRC+), but his reason for being on this list is simple. He owns the most impressive record in sports history. I’m very fond of Ripkin’s games played streak, but DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak is quite simply the pinnacle of human athletic achievement. Hitting a baseball is widely regarded as the most difficult single task in sports and DiMaggio got a base hit or more in 56 consecutive games, when most players rarely make it 10. Yet what makes this record so spectacular is that it is so far ahead of its challengers. It’s 27% longer than the second longest streak ever. 27%! Let me put it this way, Hank Aaron’s 755 homeruns rank second most all time. In order to be 27% better than that, Bonds would have had to hit 959 homeruns.  DiMaggio’s accomplishment is without equals.

1. Stan Musial (10th All-Time in position player WAR)

Stan Musial was a brilliant hitter and a brilliant citizen. Ruth, Hornsby, Williams, and Gehrig are the only players in history to exceed Musial in average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. That’s the whole list. He was a solid defender and was one of the nicest men to ever play professional sports. During his career, hitters struck out 11% of the time. He struck out 5.5% of the time. Relative to league average, he’d be a 10% type strikeout guy today who walked 20% of the time. There is no one even close to that type of ratio. Not even a little. That level of plate discipline belongs on Mount Rushmore.

Who are on your wish you had seem them list?

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