Archive for the ‘Stat of the Week’ Category

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®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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The Best and Worst Defensive Teams in 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

by John Dewan

First and most important of all, many blessings to you and your families in this most joyous of seasons.

Back in May, we took a look at team defense a couple of months into the season. Then, the Blue Jays and Rockies were, respectively, the best and worst defensive teams in baseball at that point. They held those positions through the end of the season. Otherwise, there has been a fair bit of shuffling. Let’s take a look at the ranking of teams defensively for the full 2012 season.

Here are the best defensive teams from last season:

The best defensive teams in 2012

Team

Defensive Runs Saved

Toronto Blue Jays

70

Atlanta Braves

70

Los Angeles Angels

55

Boston Red Sox

50

Cincinnati Reds

38

The five best defensive teams found several different ways to make it on the list. The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox played excellent infield defense. For the Blue Jays this included 20 Defensive Runs Saved by Brett Lawrie at third base and 14 by Yunel Escobar at shortstop. The Red Sox benefited from 14 runs saved by Mike Aviles at shortstop, 11 by Dustin Pedroia at second base, and 16 by Adrian Gonzalez at first base.

The Braves and the Angels played excellent outfield defense. The Braves saw a combined 55 Defensive Runs Saved from Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward—each of them either first or second at their position in baseball—while the Angels saved 32 of their 55 total runs in center field because of Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos.

The Reds had the best defensive pitching staff. Reds pitchers saved the team 23 runs defensively, which was seven runs better than the Diamondbacks, the closest team to them.

In 2012, we changed the way we account for defensive shifts, giving credit to teams rather than individuals. Here are the teams that gained the most from shifts:

Most runs saved by shifts in 2012

Team

Shifts Runs Saved

Toronto Blue Jays

12

Tampa Bay Rays

10

Cleveland Indians

8

Baltimore Orioles

8

Boston Red Sox

7

The defensive shift is more popular in the American League, especially in the East, where four of the top five top teams reside. Some of that is specific to players. The Indians played in a division with Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder, and the Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox used a lot of defensive shifts against Carlos Pena, David Ortiz, and Mark Teixeira. Those five hitters were the most heavily shifted players in baseball. Still, there are players on every team that should be shifted, and certain teams are taking advantage more than others.

Here are the worst defensive teams from last season:

The worst defensive teams in 2012

Team

Defensive Runs Saved

Colorado Rockies

-87

Houston Astros

-66

Miami Marlins

-47

Cleveland Indians

-43

New York Mets

-42

The Rockies’ defense cost the team 87 runs, the most in baseball by a good margin. They were especially poor on the left side of the infield without a healthy Troy Tulowitzki. A collection of players including Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson, and Josh Rutledge combined to cost the Rockies 56 runs at third base and shortstop. Despite their good use of shifts, the Indians were the only American League team in the bottom five.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com

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Bill James Handbook 2013 Leaderboards (Part II)

Monday, December 17th, 2012

by John Dewan

Last week in the Stat of the Week we shared a few of the Hitter Leaderboards from The Bill James Handbook 2013. This week, let’s take a look at a few leaderboards for pitchers.

% Pitches In Strike Zone

(minimum 162 IP)

Cliff Lee

Phi

51.9

R.A. Dickey

NYM

49.3

Matt Moore

TB

47.1

Matt Harrison

Tex

46.9

Wandy Rodriguez

Hou-Pit

46.6

Phil Hughes

NYY

46.5

Henderson Alvarez

Tor

46.2

Wei-Yin Chen

Bal

46.1

A.J. Burnett

Pit

46.0

Chris Sale

CWS

45.9

  • Cliff Lee is the only qualifying pitcher in baseball with over half his pitches thrown in the strike zone.
  • It is remarkable to see a knuckleballer second on this list. Given how the break of a knuckleball is so unpredictable, knuckleball pitchers have historically had control problems. But not R.A. Dickey. This is a very good indication of why he is so successful.
  • In three seasons with the Mets, Dickey has not exceeded 2.33 walks per nine innings in a season. In contrast, fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield only once walked fewer than 2.72 batters per nine innings in his 19-year career.
  • Seven of the 10 pitchers had an ERA below 4.00.
  • Five of the 10 pitchers were also on the Highest Fastball Percentage Leaderboard.

 

OBP vs. Leadoff Hitter

(minimum 150 BF)

Johnny Cueto

Cin

0.234

Bartolo Colon

Oak

0.236

Homer Bailey

Cin

0.236

Bronson Arroyo

Cin

0.244

Jered Weaver

LAA

0.255

Stephen Strasburg

Was

0.256

Wade Miley

Ari

0.265

Matt Harrison

Tex

0.266

Jake Westbrook

StL

0.267

Kyle Lohse

StL

0.267

  • Three of the top four pitchers are from the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds clearly make it a priority to keep that first batter of the inning off base. Their staff allowed the third fewest total of walks per nine innings in 2012, and they were tied with the Dodgers for the third-lowest ERA in baseball behind the Rays and the Nationals.
  • Isn’t it amazing to see Bartolo Colon second on this list?

 

Pitches 100+ Velocity

Aroldis Chapman

Cin

242

Kelvin Herrera

KC

162

Andrew Cashner

SD

104

Henry Rodriguez

Was

58

Justin Verlander

Det

44

Carter Capps

Sea

43

Nate Jones

CWS

33

Bobby Parnell

NYM

28

Trevor Rosenthal

StL

12

Fernando Rodney

TB

10

  • Aroldis Chapman comfortably led all pitchers in baseball throwing 242 pitches with a velocity of 100 mph or greater, though Kelvin Herrera’s total of 162 blazers was not too shabby. It will be interesting to see how Chapman’s velocity changes as he transitions from reliever to starter.
  • Justin Verlander is the only full-time starter from 2012 to make the list.
  • Everyone on the list had at least 8.00 strikeouts per nine innings.
  • Seven of the 10 pitchers had an ERA below 3.00.

 

Win Shares

Justin Verlander

Det

23

Aroldis Chapman

Cin

21

Johnny Cueto

Cin

20

David Price

TB

19

Fernando Rodney

TB

19

Chris Sale

CWS

19

R.A. Dickey

NYM

19

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

19

Matt Harrison

Tex

18

Cole Hamels

Phi

18

Craig Kimbrel

Atl

18

Kris Medlen

Atl

18

Win Shares is a calculation of the number of wins a player contributed to his team and is adjusted for park, league, and era.

  • Aroldis Chapman led all National League pitchers with 21 Win Shares. It’s impressive to see a reliever as the top pitcher in the NL in this category.
  • Fernando Rodney and Craig Kimbrel are also full-time relievers on this list of pitchers who produced 18 or more Win Shares. Mariano Rivera in 2008 was the only other reliever to exceed 17 Win Shares in the last five seasons.
  • Justin Verlander led all pitchers in 2012 with 23 Win Shares. He topped the 2011 list has well.

 

Cheap Wins

Clay Buchholz

Bos

5

Nick Blackburn

Min

4

Kevin Correia

Pit

4

Wade Miley

Ari

4

Ricky Nolasco

Mia

4

Barry Zito

SF

4

A Cheap Win happens when a starter wins a game where his Game Score was under 50. Game Score measures the quality of a pitcher performance by adding points for outs, strikeouts, and pitching deep into games and by subtracting points for hits, walks, and runs allowed. Basically, a Cheap Win is a win that is not the result of a strong outing.

  • Nick Blackburn finished 4-9 on the season. He did not record a win that wasn’t a Cheap Win.
  • Collectively, these pitchers finished 70-60. If you take away all of their Cheap Wins (and to be fair, their Tough Losses), their records would be a combined 45-54.
  • Wade Miley was the only pitcher on the list with an ERA under 4.00.

 

Tough Losses

Josh Johnson

Mia

7

Jeff Samardzija

ChC

7

Travis Wood

ChC

7

Jake Peavy

CWS

6

Gio Gonzalez

Was

6

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

6

A Tough Loss happens when a starter loses a game where his Game Score was over 50. Game Score measures the quality of a pitcher performance by adding points for outs, strikeouts, and pitching deep into games and by subtracting points for hits, walks, and runs allowed. Basically, a Tough Loss is a loss that is not the result of a poor outing.

  • Six of Gio Gonzalez’s eight total losses were Tough Losses. Six of Clayton Kershaw’s nine total losses were Tough Losses.
  • Collectively, these pitchers finished 69-69. If you take away all of their Tough Losses (and Cheap Wins), their records would be a combined 61-30.

The Marlins and the Cubs scored the second and third-fewest runs in baseball and were responsible for the top three names on the list. The Astros scored the fewest runs, but none of their pitchers were singled out for run support punishment.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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Morning News: Cubs Rumors

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Top Stories

  • Apparently the Cubs are interested in some non-tender names. – Looking at the list, I’d be interesting in at least kicking the tires and seeing what the cost is on Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan, and Ian Stewart. You may remember that Jurrjens was a name that was rumored to be coming to Chicago in the deal for Ryan Dempster, so there may be smoke there.
  • Rumors that Cubs are also looking at Brandon McCarthy as well. – We already signed the poor man’s McCarthy in Scott Feldman, so why not sign the rich man’s McCarthy as well, right?
  • Odd story on Cubs.com about how Dale Svuem has spent his winter vacation so far. Apparently he decided to go out and get himself shot.
  • Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of a great trade in Cubs history. Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times has the story.

Stat of the Week

by John Dewan

Most of the public discussion of ballpark effects is of the extremes. We know that Coors Field in Colorado sees a lot of home runs because of the altitude and we know that Safeco Field in Seattle and PETCO Park in San Diego see fewer home runs because of their dimensions. The perception of those bookends is correct, but it is not comprehensive. They are not the only parks that have dramatic effects on the run environment.

We measure park factors in indices that compare statistics compiled by both teams in a specific home park and then in all other parks. If a park has an index of 110 in home runs, for example, it allows 10 percent more home runs than average. If a park has an index of 90 in home runs, it allows 10 percent fewer home runs than average. The Bill James Handbook 2013 has a variety of park indices for all 30 teams. Let’s look at a few interesting examples.

Here are the most hitter-friendly ballparks since 2010:

Park

Runs Index

Rockies (Coors Field)

143

Rangers (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)

122

Red Sox (Fenway Park)

115

White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field)

113

Diamondbacks (Chase Field)

112

Yankees (Yankee Stadium)

110

It is little surprise to see Coors Field on top of the list for runs. Colorado sees 21 percent more runs than the next closest park, which is Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The rest of the list is less differentiated and features a pair of AL East venues, Fenway Park in Boston and Yankee Stadium in New York, as well as U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and Chase Field in Arizona.

Here are the parks that have allowed the most home runs since 2010:

Park

Home Runs Index

Rockies (Coors Field)

138

White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field)

138

Reds (Great American Ballpark)

134

Brewers (Miller Park)

129

Yankees (Yankee Stadium)

128

Rangers (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)

124

Home runs are a large part of the high overall run environment in Colorado, but Coors Field is not the only park to play to that extreme. In fact, U.S. Cellular Field has been its equal in home runs for the past three years, with both parks surrendering 38 percent more home runs than average. A couple of NL Central parks, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Miller Park in Milwaukee, are close behind. Yankee Stadium and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington round out the top-six.

Here are parks that have allowed the fewest foul outs since 2010:

Park

Foul Outs Index

Rockies (Coors Field)

77

Red Sox (Fenway Park)

78

Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim)

79

Rangers (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)

83

Cubs (Wrigley Field)

83

Giants (AT&T Park)

86

Royals (Kauffman Stadium)

86

New to The Bill James Handbook 2013 is the Foul Outs Index, which generally corresponds to those parks that have the least and the most foul ground in which to convert extra outs on foul popups and flyballs. Once again, Coors Field is on top. Home runs and foul outs represent two of the three biggest hitter advantages in Colorado by percentage, with triples being the third. Fenway Park is famous for having stands up against the foul lines, but Angel Stadium of Anaheim is not much roomier. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Wrigley Field in Chicago are tied for fourth-friendliest for hitters, and AT&T Park in San Francisco and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City are tied for sixth-friendliest.

Here are the most pitcher-friendly ballparks since 2010:

Park

Runs Index

Mariners (Safeco Field)

78

Giants (AT&T Park)

80

Rays (Tropicana Field)

83

Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim)

84

Padres (PETCO Park)

85

Mets (Citi Field 2012)

87

On the other end of the spectrum, Safeco Field allows the fewest runs in baseball. Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego were the easy guesses on the list. Tropicana Field and Angels Stadium of Anaheim are lesser known as pitchers parks, and yet both have been more pitcher-friendly than even PETCO Park. The Index for Citi Field includes just the numbers from 2012, after they moved in the fences. Surprisingly, the run environment became more depressed after the changes despite the increase in home runs. From 2009 to 2011, Citi Field had a Runs Index of 91 and a Home Runs Index of 83. In 2012, Citi Field had a Runs Index of 87 but a Home Runs Index of 109. We like to look at three years of data to get a handle on a park’s true tendencies. This drop in the Run Index at Citi Field may be a one-year aberration.

Here are parks that have allowed the fewest home runs since 2010:

Park

Home Runs Index

Giants (AT&T Ballpark)

69

Marlins (Marlins Park)

73

Mariners (Safeco Field)

75

Pirates (PNC Park)

75

Padres (PETCO Park)

77

Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim)

80

Athletics (O.co Coliseum)

80

Marlins Park opened in 2012 and fell short of only AT&T Ballpark in home run prevention. The old Sun Life Stadium was much closer to neutral with a Home Run Index of 94 from 2009 to 2011. One wonders how many home runs that could cost Giancarlo Stanton over his career. Safeco Field, PETCO Park, and Angel Stadium of Anaheim make this list, as well. PNC Park in Pittsburgh and O.co Coliseum in Oakland tie for third and sixth, respectively.

Here are parks that have allowed the most foul outs since 2010:

Park

Foul Outs Index

Rays (Tropicana Field)

139

Athletics (O.co Coliseum)

136

Tigers (Comerica Park)

121

Mariners (Safeco Field)

120

White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field)

118

Cardinals (Busch Stadium)

111

Finally, Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay and O.co Coliseum in Oakland are the clear leaders in foul outs allowed. They allow 39 percent and 36 percent more foul outs than average. No other ballpark exceeds the 21 percent of Comerica Park in Detroit. List frequenter Safeco Field is just behind with an index of 120. U.S. Cellular Field is next, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis rounds out the list as the only NL park with a Foul Outs Index greater than 10 percent above average.

These and many other park indices for all parks can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2013.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

Joe’s iPod Song of the Day

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

by John Dewan

Life is short and we should always be thankful for all that we have. Those of us who work on Stat of the Week are thankful for all of you, our loyal readers. Here are some numbers in the baseball world that we are also thankful for.

42,990 – That is the number of games played in Major League Baseball since the last labor dispute ended in 1995. MLB is enjoying its longest stretch without a work stoppage since the MLBPA formed in 1953.

6,200,000 – That is what perennial backup catcher David Ross will earn with his new two-year contract with the Boston Red Sox. In four seasons with Atlanta, Ross accumulated close to a full season of at-bats and produced well offensively. His .816 OPS is comparable to some of the better hitting catchers including Carlos Santana and Miguel Montero, albeit in a third of the plate appearances. However, it is defensively where Ross stands out. Ross has saved the Braves 11 runs with his defense, buoyed by throwing out 47 of 127 potential basestealers. His 37.0 caught stealing percentage barely trails five-time Fielding Bible Award winner Yadier Molina, who threw out 37.6 percent of runners over the same time period. Hopefully, his new contract is an indication of an increase in playing time. Ross definitely deserves it.

45 – That is the number of years it had been since a batter had won a Triple Crown before Miguel Cabrera managed the feat in 2012. From 1922 to 1967, also 45 years, there were 11 Triple Crown seasons turned in by nine different players: Rogers Hornsby (twice), Chuck Klein, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Joe Medwick, Ted Williams (twice), Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Carl Yastrzemski. Cabrera is between a couple of his Triple Crown predecessors, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson, with 3,177 total bases before age 30, which is eighth-best all-time. With continued health and production, Cabrera is on track to be one of the best hitters in baseball history.

1 – That is where I rank the team that helps bring you Stat of the Week. These articles may have my name on them, but they would not be possible without all of their hard work. Thank you Charles Fiore, Ben Jedlovec, Amanda Modelski and Scott Spratt. You guys are fantastic!

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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The Flat Bat Award 2012

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

With the regular season behind us, it is time once again to hand out the Flat Bat Award for the best bunter in baseball in 2012. In 2011, Emilio Bonifacio beat out the two-time defending champion Erick Aybar. However, Bonifacio only played in 64 games this season because of a series of injuries. Will it be Aybar who reclaims the title or someone else?

To decide, we will first look at which players were most successful on bunt hit attempts. These players had the best batting averages on bunt hit attempts with a minimum of 10 attempts:

2012 Bunt Hit Leaders

Name

Bunt Hit Results

Batting Average

Alcides Escobar, KC

11 out of 13

.846

Denard Span, Min

8 out of 10

.800

Alejandro De Aza, CWS

8 out of 11

.727

Emilio Bonifacio, Mia

9 out of 13

.692

Will Venable, SD

8 out of 12

.667

Danny Espinosa, Was

6 out of 10

.600

Ben Revere, Min

9 out of 16

.563

Erick Aybar, LAA

15 out of 27

.556

Juan Pierre, Phi

10 out of 18

.556

Jose Reyes, Mia

8 out of 15

.533

Erick Aybar set the pace for bunt hits with 15, which were four more than Alcides Escobar, the nearest bunter to him. However, Aybar also attempted 27 bunt hits, which were far and away the most in baseball. The result was a .556 average on bunt hit attempts, which is a excellent but still well behind the leaders. Escobar led baseball with a .846 average, and Denard Span and Alejandro De Aza were close behind.

Next, we will consider the most successful sacrifice bunters with a minimum of 10 attempts:

2012 Sacrifice Bunt Leaders

Name

Sacrifice Hit Results

Percentage

Elvis Andrus, Tex

17 for 17

100%

Clayton Kershaw, LAD

14 for 14

100%

Chris Capuano, LAD

13 for 13

100%

Marco Scutaro, 2 Tms

10 for 10

100%

Juan Pierre, Phi

17 for 18

94%

Johnny Cueto, Cin

17 for 18

94%

Bobby Wilson, LAA

13 for 14

93%

R.A. Dickey, NYM

10 for 11

91%

Barry Zito, SF

10 for 11

91%

Ian Kennedy, Ari

10 for 11

91%

Elvis Andrus was an impressive 17 for 17 in sacrifice bunt attempts. He led the American League in sacrifices and did not fail once. Juan Pierre and Johnny Cueto put down 17 successful sacrifices in the National League. Each had just one failed attempt.

Pierre is the one player who appeared on both lists. He bunted 36 times, which was the most in baseball. That is nothing new for Pierre, who led baseball with an incredible 61 total bunt attempts in 2011. The major change for Pierre was with his success rate. A year ago, Pierre batted .438 on his bunt hit attempts and had an 86 percent success rate on sacrifice bunt attempts. This year, Pierre increased his average to .556 on bunt hit attempts and his success rate on sacrifice attempts to 94 percent.

With those improvements, we were tempted to call Pierre the winner. However, Pierre’s edge comes from his sacrifice bunts, which are not nearly as valuable as bunts for hits. In aggregate, players were successful in their sacrifice attempts 85 percent of the time in 2012. Pierre attempted a sacrifice 18 times and was successful 17 of them. In a similar number of attempts, an average bunter would have succeeded between 15 and 16 times. The difference in their run expectancies is only a third of a run.

In contrast, even with his high volume of bunt-for-hit attempts, Erick Aybar had four more successes than anyone else (five more than Pierre), and those successes each create nearly half a run in value, on average. Despite the fewer sacrifice attempts and the more-frequent failed bunt-for-hit attempts, Aybar still outpaced the field by two runs of expected value. That is why Erick Aybar is the 2012 Flat Bat Award winner.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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Kings of the Comebackers

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

by John Dewan

Mike Murphy, my radio partner for over twenty years on our Stat of the Week segment here in Chicago, is one of the original Bleacher Bums.  Needless to say, he remains a huge Cubs fan.  He sent me an email last week suggesting a Stat of the Week.

Who is the leader in hitting the ball directly back to the pitcher?

He also guessed the answer, stealing a page from his old “I Predict” radio spot:  “I Predict”…Tony Campana!

Campana has become the regular center fielder for the Cubs this season.  He is an exceptionally speedy slap-hitter with no power whatsoever.  But he gets the bat on the ball with regularity.  Sometimes right back to the pitcher.  And sure enough, Murph is right.  Campana, along with Emilio Bonifacio of the Marlins, are the Kings of the Comebackers:

Most Batted Balls Hit Back to the Pitcher for an Out — 2012

Player

Total
Comebackers

Tony Campana, Cubs

14

Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins

14

Alcides Escobar, Royals

12

Denard Span, Twins

12

Eight tied with

10

Another Cub, Darwin Barney, is one of the eight players tied with 10.  We can see why this play is driving Murph nuts!

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Who Are This Year’s Potential Breakout Players?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

by John Dewan

Spring Training statistics have been the subject of many debates in baseball circles. On one hand, teams are making roster decisions based on how players have performed this spring. On the other hand, hitters are working into shape and working on their swings while pitchers are building up strength and refining new pitches. Especially early in March, raw minor league prospects play as much as major league veterans, so the quality of competition is hardly consistent.

However, our past research has shown that in certain cases Spring Training stats can predict breakout seasons. We found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have over a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage. The most recent example was Jose Bautista, who topped our 2010 list with a phenomenal spring and followed up with 97 homers over two seasons. Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon were two names on last year’s list who had career years in 2011.

Here’s the list of 2012 breakout candidates (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 spring training at-bats through April 1, 2012):

Slugging Percentages of Top Breakout Candidates

Hitter, Team

Spring

Career

Difference

Andre Ethier, Dodgers

.896

.479

.417

Cody Ross, Red Sox

.860

.456

.404

Carlos Ruiz, Phillies

.795

.393

.402

Alex Gonzalez, Brewers

.780

.399

.381

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

.729

.366

.363

Chris Johnson, Astros

.737

.417

.320

Joe Mather, Cubs

.694

.384

.310

Darwin Barney, Cubs

.647

.345

.302

Chris Young, Diamondbacks

.737

.437

.300

Luke Hughes, Twins

.644

.347

.297

Delmon Young, Tigers

.714

.428

.286

Ryan Raburn, Tigers

.735

.456

.279

Howard Kendrick, Angels

.698

.434

.264

Ian Kinsler, Rangers

.729

.469

.260

Alfonso Soriano, Cubs

.765

.506

.259

Albert Pujols, Angels

.870

.617

.253

Eric Hosmer, Royals

.714

.465

.249

Jeremy Hermida, Padres

.660

.415

.245

Tyler Colvin, Rockies

.661

.422

.239

A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox

.660

.422

.239

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

.711

.479

.232

Jemile Weeks, Athletics

.636

.415

.221

Melky Cabrera, Giants

.617

.398

.219

Curtis Granderson, Yankees

.711

.493

.218

Billy Butler, Royals

.672

.458

.214

Alex Gordon, Royals

.646

.434

.212

Chris Snyder, Astros

.600

.394

.206

Austin Kearns, Marlins

.622

.417

.205

Travis Snider, Blue Jays

.625

.423

.202

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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To Shift or Not To Shift

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

by John Dewan

That is the question.  In our book, The Fielding Bible—Volume III, Ben Jedlovec and I provide some research that suggests that a shift, in particular, the Ted Williams Shift with three infielders to the right of second base, reduces the batting average on groundballs, short liners and bunts by the top-shifted hitters by 40 to 60 points. In a recent article on Bill James Online, Bill James states that he doesn’t believe that the shift helps a team defensively, and that there are some flaws in the research.

This essay is a little longer than our usual Stat of the Week, but I think it is worth it.  I will address Bill’s comments, but before I do that, I’d like to provide some further information about The Shift.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays were the best defensive team in baseball last year.   Here is a list of the top teams from 2011:

2011 Runs Saved Leaders

Team Runs Saved
Tampa Bay Rays

85

Arizona Diamondbacks

54

San Diego Padres

46

Cincinnati Reds

44

Colorado Rockies

34

Just to put that in perspective, the Rays won 91 games in 2011.  Using the rule of thumb that 10 runs is a win, if the Rays had an average defense (zero Defensive Runs Saved), they would have won 8 or 9 fewer games.    Instead of 91 wins, that comes out to 82 or 83 wins, just barely over .500.  That incredible last day of the season with the Rays overtaking the Red Sox would not have occurred without Tampa Bay’s excellent defense all year.

The Rays were also the most aggressive team with shifts.  In 2011 there were 216 times when a ball was put in play while the Rays employed some type of shift.  Here are the teams with the most shifts in 2011:

2011 Shift Leaders

Team Shifts
Tampa Bay Rays 216
Milwaukee Brewers 170
Cleveland Indians 148
Toronto Blue Jays 117
Three Teams With 75

The Rays had the most (216).  It drops off quite a bit to the Brewers with 170.  Another large drop to the Indians at 148, then again to the Blue Jays at 117.  And then yet another good size fall-off in total shifts to the three teams tied with 75.

Is it a coincidence that the team with the best defense in 2011 was also the team that shifted the most?

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers entered the 2011 season with this infield in place:

Prince Fielder, 1b  – he cost the Brewers 17 runs defensively the previous year, 2010.  Out of the 35 players we rank at each position each year he ranked 35.

Rickie Weeks, 2b – he cost Milwaukee 16 runs defensively in 2010. That ranked 34 out of 35.

Yuniesky Betancourt, ss – he lost 27 runs with his defense in 2010.  Rank: 35 out of 35.

Casey McGehee, 3b – 14 runs lost in 2010.  Rank: 31 out of 35.

Could you have put together a worse defensive infield if you tried?  The only player who could make this infield worse defensively that I can think of would have been Mark Reynolds at third base.  Or still worse, Miguel Cabrera.

So what did Ron Roenicke, the new manager of Milwaukee, do?  He took the Brewers from being the least aggressive team regarding shifting in 2010 (only 22 shifts all year) to the second-most aggressive in 2011 with 170.  And he did it in a little different way than the Rays.

Baseball Info Solutions categorizes shifts into two types.  The Ted Williams Shift, with three infielders on one side of the bag, and Other Shifts, where players are clearly shifted well out of the normal infield alignment but short of three fielders on one side of the bag.   There are a handful of hitters that almost always get shifted by most teams, and then most other players almost never get shifted.  The way the Rays were more aggressive was by shifting against these other players.  They shifted 110 times against the top ten shifted hitters, and equally as much against the rest (106 times).  Ron Roenicke and the Brewers were even more extreme.  They shifted 45 times against the top-ten, and almost three times as often against other players (125 times).

Did this shifting work for Roenicke?

Here are the results comparing the non-shifting season (2010) with the shifting season (2011).

Milwaukee Brewers Infield Runs Saved 2010-2011

Player 2010 Runs Saved 2011 Runs Saved
Prince Fielder

-17

-9

Rickie Weeks

-16

-5

Yuniesky Betancourt

-27

-7

Casey McGehee

-14

3

Total

-74

-18

This data is striking.  These Brewer infielders improved by 56 runs in 2011.  They were still below average with 18 defensive runs lost overall, but that 56 run improvement means five or six wins added to their win total.
Is it a coincidence that as the Brewers became the second most shifting team in baseball their infielders improved so dramatically?

I think not.

However, this information about Tampa Bay and Milwaukee is not direct evidence that shifting works.  Both are anecdotal pieces of evidence.  They are strong pieces of evidence, but anecdotal.  In the article in The Fielding Bible—Volume III called “The Ted Williams Shift,” we tried to provide some direct evidence.

Comments and Thoughts from Bill James

Bill James wrote an article on Bill James Online called “John, Ben, David and the Ted Williams Shift.”  The John and Ben in the title refer to Ben Jedlovec, my co-author on The Fielding Bible—Volume III, and me.  David refers to David Ortiz.  First of all, I want to thank Bill for his kind comments about the book.   Getting a good review from Bill is high praise indeed, but Bill does point out that he and I have been friends for quite some time.  Almost 30 years now.

Nevertheless, Bill and I stand in disagreement about The Shift.  Having said that, Bill has thoughts and suggestions about some things in the research that we could have done better.  Let me address those.

In the book Ben and I studied the top-ten shifted hitters.  Here’s a list of who they are:

Top 10 Shifted Hitters 2010-11

Hitter

All Shifts 2010-11

David Ortiz

486

Ryan Howard

461

Carlos Pena

341

Adam Dunn

305

Prince Fielder

253

Jim Thome

223

Adrian Gonzalez

205

Mark Teixeira

180

Brian McCann

118

Jack Cust

115

Baseball Info Solutions tracked every shift on batted balls in the last two years, but for the most part, the data is mostly about these ten guys.  Other than the Rays and Brewers, most teams only shift against these guys.  As a result, we focused our research on these ten hitters because that’s where we had data.    In the book, we excluded Carlos Pena and Brian McCann from our look at shift effectiveness because they have been successful beating the shift with the bunt.  We found that the batting averages of the other eight guys dropped by 51 points on grounders, short liners and bunts when the Ted Williams Shift was employed.

The next step of our research was one with which Bill had a problem.  In retrospect, I have to agree.  We removed three more players from the group of eight based on the fact that our Defensive Positioning software no longer suggests a shift for them.  One of them was David Ortiz.  The remaining five players had their averages drop by 61 points with the Ted Williams Shift on.
I should have known that excluding David Ortiz would raise a big red flag for Bill.  He’s been telling me for years that he’s not sure the shift is working against Big Papi.  In his article Bill points out that shifting on Ortiz has probably caused more problems for teams than it has solved.  And in fact, Ortiz has hit slightly better against the Ted Williams Shift than not (.245 vs. 232.) in the last two years.  However, Ortiz is the most-shifted hitter in the history of the game, Bill contends, and pulling him out of the study for whatever reason is not appropriate.  In retrospect, I agree.

In our defense, before Bill’s article came out, Ben and I had already switched our focus in all of our presentations (at the SABR Analytics conference and with MLB teams) on the part of the study that includes Ortiz.

A second area that Bill focuses on in his article is some anecdotal evidence of his own.  He points out several incidents where The Shift has backfired with Ortiz batting.  Most of these are with runners on base when Ortiz is batting.  Part of the research that Ben and I presented showed that the batting average dropped for the eight shifted hitters (excluding Pena and McCann) pretty much equally when there were runners on as when the bases were empty.  But what Bill points out is that a lot of things can go wrong when there are runners on base with players being out of position.  I agree with this as well.  We just measured the batting average, but we didn’t measure the run values.  That is, because of players out of position, runners can take extra bases against The Shift that they might not get against a standard defense.  How much is this worth?  I don’t know.  Is it worth something?  Yes.  But we haven’t measured this yet.  If I were to re-write what Ben and I wrote I would say something like: While we feel confident that we have evidence that suggest that using The Ted Williams Shift is effective with no runners on base, some caution and judgement needs to be exercised when there are runners on base, despite the evidence here that batting average also drops when using The Shift with runners on base.

Based on what I know and what the data suggests, I would still shift with men on base, but maybe not as often and maybe not as aggressively.

Finally, there is one statement that Bill makes that I want to point out that I disagree with.  Bill wrote, “John wants to focus on groundballs and short line drives, which, again, is a legitimate and constructive step toward understanding the problem, even though I think it is being used to create an exaggerated estimate of the shift’s effects.”  I totally disagree with the part starting with “even though”.  We are not trying to create an exaggerated estimate.  We are presenting the facts that we have.  Right now Baseball Info Solutions is undergoing an extensive video review effort to record every plate appearance and every batted ball where a Ted Williams Shift occurred in the last two years.  It’s a massive effort.  Our data currently splits our Shift info between Ted Williams Shifts and Other Shifts for grounders and short liners only.  We did these first because it would lead to the quickest initial significant results.  Now we are going back to review all plate appearances, not just the grounders and short liners, to split our shift data between these two types of shifts.  This has nothing to do with trying to exaggerate the data and everything to do with trying to develop useful research.  I think most people would agree that a Ted Williams Shift is more likely to affect grounders, short liners and bunts than it would affect a player’s flyballs to the outfield, how often he strikes out or walks, or even how often he hits a pop-up that gets out of reach of a fielder playing out of position.

Conclusion

Unlike the anecdotal evidence showing how shifting seems to be working for the Rays and Brewers, we consider the 40- 50 point drop in batting average on grounders, short liners and bunts against the Ted Williams Shift to be direct evidence in favor of The Shift.  Is it conclusive?  No.  Is it comprehensive?  Not really.  It’s only two years and doesn’t include all plate appearances.  Is there more research to be done?  Yes.  We are working on this as we speak.  In particular, we are working at looking at all plate appearances, not just grounders and short liners.  Nevertheless, there is good preliminary evidence that The Ted Williams Shift appears to be working, especially with the bases empty.

Bill suggests a number of additional items to research regarding The Shift.  We would be silly to ignore his excellent suggestions and we plan to follow through on them as best we can.

One last thing: Bill felt we left out some specific info about David Ortiz.  For his benefit, here it is:

The Ted Williams Shift Against David Ortiz
Grounders, Short Liners and Bunts – 2010 and 2011

Ted Williams Shift On

 

AB

H

Avg

Overall

237

58

.245

Bases Empty

139

30

.216

Runners On

98

28

.286

No Ted Williams Shift

 

AB

H

Avg

Overall

125

29

.232

Bases Empty

34

8

.235

Runners On

91

21

.231

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