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Opponent OPS and Why It Should Be Used For Pitcher Evaluation

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

by John Dewan

Over the last several years, it’s been clear that pitching in Major League Baseball has become more dominant. In fact, it has been over 20 years since the league ERA has been as low as it has been so far this year. This year’s MLB ERA is 3.88, the lowest since the 3.75 mark in 1992.

Some of the high points in ERA in that time were 4.71 in 2000, 4.77 in 2001 and 4.53 in 2006. Since 2006 ERA has been trending downward as seen in this chart of MLB ERAs:



Opponent OPS

























ERA is a useful summary statistic, but my favorite stat for pitchers is Opponent OPS. For MLB, overall, Opponent OPS is pretty consistent with ERA, but for an individual pitcher, it is much more indicative of his true pitching performance than ERA. ERA has many biases that Opponent OPS does not have. For example, ERA rewards pitchers who allow most of their home runs with no runners on base or are able to strand runners at the end of innings, even though those events are generally believed to be random and out of the pitcher’s control. Another example is the effect a relief pitcher has on his predecessor’s ERA when it comes to stranded runners.

Here are the MLB leaders in Opponent OPS in 2013:

Best Opponent OPS (qualified starters)


Opponent OPS

Clayton Kershaw


Matt Harvey


Jose Fernandez


Max Scherzer


Madison Bumgarner


And here are the MLB leaders in ERA this season:

Best ERA (qualified starters)



Clayton Kershaw


Matt Harvey


Felix Hernandez


Hiroki Kuroda


Jeff Locke


As you can see, the OPS leaders are bit different. Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harvey have been tremendous by any measure. However, that is where the similarities end. Opponent OPS prefers the rookie phenom Jose Fernandez, major-league win-leader Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner while ERA prefers Felix Hernandez, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jeff Locke.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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Farm Report: CJ Edwards Dominates

Monday, July 29th, 2013

by Rob Willer

The Cubs had added Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm to its already talented pool of prospects earlier this week and added Corey Brock on Friday. In this edition of Down on the Farm were going to take a look at C.J. Edwards and Corey Brock.

CJ Edwards

Acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the package for right-hander Matt Garza last week, the 6 foot 2 right hander made his Daytona Cubs debut Sunday night.Edwards was spectacular striking out the first seven hitters he faced with relative ease by retiring them with his mid 90’s fastball.

On the night Edwards finished with 8 strikeouts and only allowed one hit on just 63 pitches in five innings. He projects to be a number three starter to the back of the rotation all depending on development over the next few years. Either way today was a great start to the Edward’s era and gives Cubs fans hope with talented young pitching prospects. Overall this guy knows how to pitch and its going to be fun to watch him for the rest of the season.

Edwards Watch: His next start will be Friday in Daytona for his home debut..

Corey Black

We then transition to right-handed pitcher Corey Black who was acquired from the Yankees in the deal that sent outfield slugger Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx. Black is a 21 year old right hander who is considered to be a power arm and pitched in High A with the Yankees this season.

Stats-  Last year Black posted a 3.08 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a .222 opponents batting average in 52 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League Yankees, Class A Short-Season Staten Island and Class A Charleston. These numbers are great to see across all three levels with a such a young pitcher. Early indications are that Black most likely will end up in the bullpen with that dominant sinking fastball.

Corey Black Alert- Via Black’s twitter account he announced that he will be starting Thursday for his Cubs debut. Black features a high 90’s fastball with movement.

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Game 45- The Clutch Needs Replacement

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game –Francisco Liriano – .427 (WPA)

by Holden Clark

If the Cubs were a Car they would be a well worn Jeep Wrangler. They would look awesome to be in and around. Unfortunately when you get in you find that the clutch is simply gone. As we all know, the only way to go when the clutch is gone is downhill. Have no fear, every once in a while you can get the transmission to jam in gear but you are likely to be left on the side of the road wondering how much worse it could get.

Well, it got worse. After blowing a gem of a start by Matt Garza last night, the Cubs left their bats at the hotel today. We saw a great chance in the fourth for the Cubs to really put some runs on the board when they loaded up the bases with no outs. It was like they were cruising down Main Street with the wind in their collective, unkempt hair. Then we saw and heard the terrible grind and whining halt of the clutch going out. If the Dodgers strategy is sign all the players, the Cubs is to leave them all on base. The Cubs promptly went down in succession leaving the bases juiced.

Did I mention that it was the top of the order that broke down when the runs were ripe for the taking? On top of that, the heart of the order went out of their way to go a combined 0-12 with 7 Ks. That’s okay, right? There is other ways to get aboard other than hitting. Well, Barney took advantage of that and got the one Cubs walk of the game, bringing the grand total for the entire season to a crisp 100.

The big issue for the Cubs is bringing men around. They lead the Majors in two baggers. That means they can hit the ball and drive it. Yet they are ranked twenty fourth in RBIs. Absent the runs scored by errors, the Cubs are leaving too many men in scoring position. So what is their rate this season? They are leaving 3.56 runners in scoring position per game so far this season, again in the bottom five of the league.

Here is why. The Cubs DO NOT take pitches. They have 100 walks on the season; dead last in all of Major League Baseball. This may not make any sense, but try to follow this. When a man is standing on third and ninety feet from home you need a base hit (even a base hit will score most from second). The Cubs are ranked twenty eighth in the Majors in getting just a base hit. For a team they have a laughable .303 OBP, good for 26th in the league.

So while the league and generally most statistical analysis downplay the statistical value of leaving runners in scoring position, the Cubs could use a bump. Leading the league in putting runners in scoring position would mean they would see a huge benefit from scoring those runs. Sounds simple right?

One last stat for the Cubs at game 45, they rank 27th in the Majors in the appropriately name “Clutch” stat. This measures “…how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” –Fangraphs. The Cubs have a clutch of -1.51. Fangraphs list between -1.0 and -2.0 as Poor and Awful, respectively. Dioner Navarro leads the Cubs and Barney brings up the caboose. That about describes the Cubs so far when it comes to using the clutch this year. Just like a teenager trying to learn how to drive his first straight drive, they’ll get it every once in a while but you can expect the stench of shame most of the time till something changes.

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Game 42 – A Horselike Performance on Preakness Day

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Scott Feldman – .271 (WPA)

by Holden Clark

Scott Feldman earns this one with his work horse effort today. Although his peripheral stats suggest he is just getting lucky, when watching him pitch you can see a man that is doing a great job of making his pitches.  Stats in baseball are interesting; everyone assumes that you will regress back to the mean.  In Feldman’s case he is “due” for a regression.  Yet, as he showed again today, his stuff continues to keep his head above the proverbial waters.

A lot of stat heads will tell you that baseball is a game of cycles.  Yes a particular pitcher or batter is seemingly dominating, but wait; he’ll come back down to earth.  On the other side of the argument you have the fan boy (I am admittedly one) who watches the game through “holy crap” goggles.  With the two views seemingly at odds, we find Scott Feldman standing on the corner of the crossroads at an early point in the season.

Watching Feldman pitch today it was rare to see him labor through any batters.  He got in to a couple jams but never appeared to shake from his confidence or command.  Scattering seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, Feldman didn’t give up an earned run.  He struck out six and walked one in the game.  His current advanced statistics suggest he has been good but not great, with a FIP of 4.33 on a BABIP .218. Yet, to the untrained eye he has been dominant of late.

So, did Feldman just figure something out and become an excellent starter by simply flipping a switch?  Did he finally live up to the dominant pitcher that his ominous frame on the mound would suggest?  I’m not sure that he flipped a switch but he has been getting harder breaks on his breaking balls and more life on his fastball.  He has had more control and more confidence.  Simply stated, he has taken the ball with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he deserves a spot in a pretty darn good Chicago Cubs starting rotation.  He was not going to the pen for anybody, there was never even the suggestion he be booted.

So as I watched the game with my “holy crap” goggles on, I began to wonder if we were going to see this the rest of the season. I know the stats say he will come back to earth, but when you watch you can see it.  I am fairly confident I loathe the next word I am about to use to describe his presence more than anybody. He appears, on the mound (and at the plate as shown by him breaking down that back leg and digging a low pitch out and hammering it for a double), that the man has gone to the store and bought himself some “swag”.  I apologize to everyone for using that term.  I was going to go with mojo but I didn’t think that was an accurate description.

The confidence is coming from building on the last great start, using the same stuff, and having the respect and confidence of a team that assured him he wouldn’t be looking over his shoulder when it came to a spot in the staff.  So is that what built it up, Theo and Jed promising Scott that he was going to get his spot in the rotation if he signed with the Cubs?  After his first few “meh” starts and he continued to get the ball, did he settle into his role and pitch up to his ability?  Is he going to regress?

Who cares!  The guy is on fire.  The guy is pitching with confidence.  Regardless if the stats say one thing or the other, right now the holy crap meter says it’s time to celebrate another raising of the “W” flag.  He is building confidence across the board, just like Travis Wood whose peripherals say he has been more lucky than good.  Right now, those advance stats don’t matter because both are pitching great and winning ball games.

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Game 39 – The Rotation Question Answered?

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Eric Young – .185 (WPA)

by Sean Powell

Everyone is speculating about who will leave the rotation once Matt Garza returns (throwing aside suggestions of a six-man rotation for now). Although one bad start won’t decide things, it’s not looking good for Carlos Villanueva. Scott Feldman and Travis Wood have been destroying hitters lately, and Villanueva has regressed back toward the mean in the last few starts (with a “leap” back tonight). His peripheral stats suggested that a correction was coming, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise. Villanueva has successful experience in the swing role, and it was a role he was signed to fill in the first place.

There have been arguments made that Edwin Jackson should be the pitcher sent to the bullpen – at least until trades are made. The argument is that Jackson is not a trade candidate this season (since he signed to a four-year deal), and it would be better to let Villanueva stay in the rotation to build maximum value before the trade deadline. While that argument makes some sense, I just don’t see Villanueva sustaining his early-season success (although it’s a small sample size, his performances of late support this) – and he will have more value if he’s effective out of the pen as the long man/sixth starter than he will if he is scuffling in a rotation role. Also, Jackson’s peripheral stats suggest that he has pitched better than his “baseball card” stats suggest: coming into tonight, Jackson had a 3.50 FIP vs. a 3.91 FIP for Villanueva (Villanueva’s FIP rose to 4.28 tonight).

The Cubs offense continued their struggles against left-handed starters as they made Jeff Francis look like Travis Wood. Despite struggling all year (especially against righties), Francis kept the Cubs hitters off-balance all night. The only run against Francis came on a Darwin Barney golf-shot homerun (yes, you read that correctly). Darwin may be creeping out of his slump with a three-hit night that also included an RBI double in the ninth.

[Random thought: I always remembered Francis as having a beard. Maybe I’m thinking of Jeff Reardon.]

On another note, it was interesting to see David DeJesus get the start in the leadoff spot against a lefty. He’s had a good year at the plate only playing against righties. Sveum’s experiment of having Starlin Castro lead-off against lefties seems to have been short lived.

The Rockies tried to give us back the game in the eighth, with a couple of mental-lapse errors, and we had the obligatory fake rally in the ninth, but the deficit was just too large.

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Stat of the Week: Shifting Into High Gear

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

by John Dewan

Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking shifts comprehensively since 2010, and teams have shifted more and more over the last few seasons. From 2010-11, teams averaged less than one shift on a ball in play per game. In 2012, that number jumped to 1.9 shifts per team per game, and so far this season, it has increased again to 2.4 shifts per team per game.

In particular, there are a handful of teams that have shown a marked increase in team shifts on balls in play this season. Keep in mind that the 2012 column includes data for a full season while the 2013 column includes between 13 and 15 games. If these teams continue at their pace, they will fly way past their total shifts from last season. See 2013 Pace column.

Team Shifts by Season




2013 Pace

















Red Sox




The Astros, Cubs, and Red Sox have compelling narrative regarding their new shift-heavy tendencies. Both the Astros and Cubs feature newly installed front offices that are heavily emphasizing analytics. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have replaced manager Bobby Valentine with John Farrell, who shifted more often in 2012 with the Blue Jays than any team except the Rays. The reason for the increase for the Pirates and Reds are less obvious, but it may be as simple as the fact that shifts have proven to be effective. Here at Baseball Info Solutions we have been suggesting to our major league team clients that they shift more frequently since 2005, and we publicly went on record with this recommendation in The Fielding Bible—Volume II in 2008.

It is still too early to draw definitive conclusions about Shifts Runs Saved based on 2013 shift data. However, analytics from Baseball Info Solutions show that teams combined to save 75 runs last season by shifting.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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Best Defensive Players of the Decade (Part I)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

by John Dewan

In the last Stat of the Week, we kicked off our celebration of 10 years of Defensive Runs Saved analytics with a look back at the best defensive teams of the decade. This week we continue our retrospective with individual defenders, broken down by position. We’ll start with the middle infield: second basemen and shortstops.

First, here are the ten best second basemen of the last 10 years according to Defensive Runs Saved:

Most Defensive Runs Saved at 2B, 2003-2012





Chase Utley




Mark Ellis




Orlando Hudson




Placido Polanco




Dustin Pedroia




Chase Utley has a 25-run lead on the second-place second baseman Mark Ellis. Given the similar number of innings played by Utley, Ellis and Orlando Hudson—the only other players within shouting distance of Utley in Runs Saved—Utley is the definitive champion. His defensive excellence is built predominantly on his range and positioning, and that, remarkably, has not declined substantially despite his degenerative knee condition. Utley has played at least 81 games each season since 2005, and he has never had fewer than eight Plus/Minus Runs Saved in one of those seasons.

Next, here are the ten best shortstops of the last 10 years according to Defensive Runs Saved:

Most Defensive Runs Saved at SS, 2003-2012





Adam Everett




Jack Wilson




Brendan Ryan




Clint Barmes




Troy Tulowitzki




Compared to second base, shortstop is a little less differentiated at the top. Adam Everett beats out Jack Wilson by just four Runs Saved for first place. When you consider that Wilson played more than 2,000 extra innings in the time frame, Everett looks like a clear winner, but using that same criteria, Brendan Ryan makes a compelling case to be the best defensive shortstop. Ryan has 91 Runs Saved in 4,608 innings, a slightly better pace than Everett’s 119 Runs Saved in 6,505 innings. I’ll give Everett the nod, mostly because of timing. The 10 years of Defensive Runs Saved data happen to match his playing career nearly perfectly. Before it is all said and done, Ryan may have the better career defensive resume.

Our holistic Defensive Runs Saved metric is made up of several runs saved components. Two primary components of Defensive Runs Saved include the Plus/Minus System, which evaluates the range of fielders at every position except for catcher, and Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays. Defensive Runs Saved for second basemen and shortstops also includes Double Play Runs Saved.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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Best Defensive Teams of the Decade

Friday, February 8th, 2013

by John Dewan

It’s hard to believe, but with the close of the 2012 season, Baseball Info Solutions is celebrating 10 years of Defensive Runs Saved data. We plan to use that milestone to reflect on the previous decade of defensive play, starting with a look at the teams with the best defenses in that time.

As baseball exited the power era of the turn of the century, defense reemerged as a focal point in baseball in recent seasons. That narrative trend is reflected in our Defensive Runs Saved numbers since 2003. All the best team defenses were from the later years except for the 2005 Philadelphia Phillies. They were the only team on our leader board of best defensive teams in the last decade before 2007. They also happen to be the best defensive team of the decade:

Best Defensive Teams of the Decade



Runs Saved







Tampa Bay






San Diego



The 2005 Phillies had not yet reached the overall peak of their core players. They won 88 games that year, the fifth of six consecutive years with at least 80 wins without a playoff berth. That all changed in 2007, when the Phillies won 89 games and reached the playoffs for the first of five consecutive seasons. In terms of overall success, those teams peaked in 2008 when they won the World Series, and then again in 2011 when they won 102 regular-season games. Their 2008 team fell just short of the top-five with 77 Runs Saved, but their 2005 team was the best of the decade with 95 Runs Saved.

Chase Utley was the defensive star of the 2005 Phillies, but he was not alone. Utley was one of six of their players to save nine runs or more: Jimmy Rollins saved 18, David Bell saved 17, Jason Michaels saved 11, Ryan Howard saved 11, and Placido Polanco saved 9. Howard is the most amazing. That was his first season as a regular and his range quickly diminished as his career progressed. In fact, Howard has never again reached a positive Defensive Runs Saved total in the seven seasons since 2005.

The 2009 Seattle Mariners and 2011 Tampa Bay Rays tied for second place with 85 Runs Saved, which they achieved in a similar way. Both teams had a pair of defensive stars that accounted for more than half of the team total. For the Mariners, it was Franklin Gutierrez and Adrian Beltre. Beltre has a well-deserved defensive reputation. That season, he earned the first of his three Fielding Bible Awards. Gutierrez is less of a household name, which is a shame because he had a chance to become an all-time defensive great before a string of injuries derailed him. His 2009 season saved the Mariners 32 runs, more than any player from a top-five team and third-most of any player in a season since 2003.

The Rays will be remembered for their end-of-season heroics that led them into the playoffs in 2011. Two of the biggest reasons they even had that opportunity were Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. Zobrist rarely gets the attention he deserves for his great play, even from us. He has failed to win a Fielding Bible Award in his career, mainly because the Rays move him around the field, which, in realty, makes him more valuable. In 2011, he saved 29 runs, mostly in right field and second base. Longoria is a star. 2011 was his third consecutive year with at least 19 Runs Saved.

Rounding out the list are the 2007 Toronto Blue Jays and the 2010 San Diego Padres. All of our top-five defensive teams had decisively winning records. Toronto was fifth-best of the group with a 83-79 record in 2007. John McDonald and Aaron Hill combined to save 43 runs up the middle, the second best of any double-play combination in the decade behind Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins in 2008. The Padres did not have a player reach 20 Runs Saved, but they had six players with at least 7, including starting-pitcher Jon Garland, a superlative defensive contribution for a pitcher.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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Should Mike Piazza be in the Hall of Fame?

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

by John Dewan

It was not surprising that no one was elected this year to the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it was fair. The biggest snub was Mike Piazza. Piazza played 16 years in the major leagues, mostly for the Dodgers and Mets. In that time there was no question about his offense. Despite playing his entire career in pitchers parks, he was head-and-shoulders the best hitting catcher during that entire time. In fact, it is fair to say that Mike Piazza was the best hitting catcher of ALL time. Here are the all-time Runs Created leaders among catchers:

Player Career Runs Created
Mike Piazza 1,378
Carlton Fisk 1,378 Hall of Fame
Ted Simmons 1,283
Yogi Berra 1,265 Hall of Fame
Joe Torre 1,259
Johnny Bench 1,239 Hall of Fame
Gary Carter 1,184 Hall of Fame
Bill Dickey 1,164 Hall of Fame
Gabby Hartnett 1,161 Hall of Fame
Jason Kendall 1,112

Here are the all-time Runs Created Leaders at each position who are in the Hall or are eligible to be elected:

Pos Player Career Runs Created
C Carlton Fisk 1,378 (Piazza eligible, tied with Fisk 1,378)
1B Lou Gehrig 2,233
2B Rogers Hornsby 2,049
3B George Brett 1,878
SS Honus Wagner 1,890
LF Stan Musial 2,562 (Barry Bonds eligible 2,892)
CF Ty Cobb 2,517
RF Babe Ruth 2,718

These are the best hitters of all time at their positions and all of these men are in the Hall of Fame.

On the first list, six of the top nine leaders in career Runs Created by a catcher are in the Hall of Fame. The three who are not in the Hall—Piazza, Simmons, and Torre—have another thing in common. They do not have good defensive reputations at the position that is arguably the most important defensive position in the game, catcher.

If it was true that Piazza was not a good defensive catcher, I would be OK with him not getting into the Hall on the first ballot. I still think the best hitting catcher of all time should be in the Hall, but having to wait a few years wouldn’t be so bad. But, all the statistical measures suggest otherwise. In fact, they suggest that Piazza was an above-average defensive catcher.

The one thing that Piazza did not do well defensively was throw out basestealers. He allowed a 76.8 percent stolen base percentage in his career. Other catchers who caught the same pitchers as Piazza threw out 64.5 percent. However, nabbing basestealers is only a part of a catcher’s defensive responsibility and only a small part of Piazza’s overall game. It would be like saying that the best hitting second baseman of all time, Rogers Hornsby, shouldn’t be in the Hall because he didn’t steal a lot of bases in his time.

The most important part of a catcher’s job is handling his pitchers and in this area Piazza was superb. Here is one of the most telling statistics. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when Piazza was catching. If you look at all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. That’s a major difference, much more important than a few extra bases stolen. (In fact, Piazza’s catcher ERA of 3.81 includes the run value of any extra stolen bases he allowed.)

Craig Wright wrote an excellent article in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 called Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher. He did a detailed sabermetric study that showed that hitters had a .723 OPS with Piazza behind the plate and a .748 OPS with other catchers. This 25-point differential is highly significant. In further studies that we did in The Fielding Bible—Volume II, we found that Piazza saved at least 20 to 70 runs more than an average catcher defensively, depending on the technique that we used.

I highly recommend checking out the Piazza article by Craig Wright in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009. My conclusion is the same as his from that article:

“Mike Piazza was not a defensive liability who made up for it with his bat. The greatest offensive catcher in the history of Major League Baseball was a good defensive catcher as well.”

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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