Archive for the ‘Stat of the Week’ Category

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:

Season

ERA

Opponent OPS

2006

4.53

.768

2007

4.47

.758

2008

4.32

.749

2009

4.32

.751

2010

4.08

.728

2011

3.94

.720

2012

4.01

.724

2013

3.88

.714

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)

Pitcher

Opponent OPS

Clayton Kershaw

.502

Matt Harvey

.509

Jose Fernandez

.534

Max Scherzer

.564

Madison Bumgarner

.566

And here are the MLB leaders in ERA this season:

Best ERA (qualified starters)

Pitcher

ERA

Clayton Kershaw

1.88

Matt Harvey

2.23

Felix Hernandez

2.28

Hiroki Kuroda

2.33

Jeff Locke

2.43

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®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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Who’s Shifting and Who’s Not

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Over the last few years, the use of The Shift Defense has increased dramatically in baseball. Here are the Major League Baseball totals of the number of shifts in baseball, as tracked by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS).

2010 2011 2012 2013 Projected
2,465 2,358 4,577 7,586

Note: These are the number of plate appearances when a shift was in effect when a ball was put in play.

For many years now, most teams have employed The Shift, but only against a handful of players (David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, etc.). Research done by BIS in recent years has shown there are as many as 100 batters against whom The Shift is likely to be effective. More and more teams are now shifting on more and more different players. Here are the teams shifting the most this year:

Team Number of Shifts Shift Runs Saved
Orioles 344 10
Pirates 335 7
Yankees 302 0
Rays 299 9
Red Sox 291 8

Overall, BIS estimates that teams have saved themselves 89 runs by using The Shift this season.

But even as often as these teams are shifting, they are still not shifting against anywhere near the 100 players suggested by Baseball Info Solutions. The most aggressive (and progressive) teams are now up to about 30 different players against whom they use The Shift Defense. We believe that there is still room for even better results by shifting against as many as 100 different players in MLB.

The Shift Defense. Think of this terminology like you would a special defense in football. Like the Goal Line Defense, the Nickel Package, and the Cover Two. Baseball’s Shift Defense is a special defense to be used in a special situations.

Here are the teams who haven’t yet fully bought into the concept and are shifting the least in baseball:

Team Number of Shifts Shift Runs Saved
Phillies 23 -1
Cardinals 27 0
White Sox 31 -1
Nationals 32 1
Dodgers 38 0

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

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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

Team

2012

2013

2013 Pace

Astros

138

52

562

Cubs

157

44

548

Pirates

105

33

382

Reds

78

33

356

Red Sox

199

26

301

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®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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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

Player

Innings

DRS

DRS/1000

Chase Utley

9,809

138

14

Mark Ellis

9,531

113

12

Orlando Hudson

10,440

99

9

Placido Polanco

7,489

69

9

Dustin Pedroia

7,312

62

8

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

Player

Innings

DRS

DRS/1000

Adam Everett

6,505

119

18

Jack Wilson

8,762

115

13

Brendan Ryan

4,608

91

20

Clint Barmes

4,907

77

16

Troy Tulowitzki

6,430

68

11

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®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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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

Team

Season

Runs Saved

Philadelphia

2005

95

Seattle

2009

85

Tampa Bay

2011

85

Toronto

2007

83

San Diego

2010

81

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®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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