I figured I'd borrow one of their concepts
since I'm about to plug their book.
For those unfamiliar with The Hardball Times
, well where have you been? Great baseball writing, informative well-researched topics and it's free. This though was my first foray into picking up their annual and it was well worth the twenty-ish bucks I put down.
Our pitching really sucked
That's not earth-shattering in of itself, but usually when you give up a lot of runs like we did last year, some of that can be attributed to a shoddy defense. That just wasn't the case for the Cubs last year and THT aren't the first to pick up on it. John Dewan has an essay on Team Defense
using the metrics he helped created in The Fielding Bible.
A real basic summary is that his researchers watch every single inning of every single game and record detailed information and then compare each player to his peers at the position basically rating everyone on a plus/minus system. A "+43" for a player means they made 43 more plays than the average player at that position. Pretty cool stuff and I keep meaning to pick up the actual book. You can find the 2006 season numbers for individual players in the Bill James Handbook 2007.
As for our overall defense, it's broken down quite wonderfully into middle infield, corner infield and outfield along with information on turning double plays, handling bunts and outfield throwing. I know, you're dying for the results. Well, our outfield was exceptional, +44 for the unit, good for fifth best among outfielders with the Braves leading the pack at +63. The overall rank for the defense was a +49, also good for fifth best in the league, the middle infielders received a +8 and the corner infielders (surely missing Derrek Lee although he didn't rate so great individually if I recall in previous years) received a -3. We sucked at turning groundball double plays (28th), middle of the road at fielding the bunt (16th) and very surprisingly turned up above average at outfield throwing (11th), which takes into account opportunities, how many extra bases are taken and kills (runners thrown out).
I'll venture a solid guess that unless Soriano is a trainwreck in the outfield, we'll even be better as a unit next year. My only criticism/question is where do catchers and pitchers fall? If I read the explanation right, they don't seem to be accounted anywhere. I'm sure it's explained in The Fielding Bible
but if anyone knows, let me know in the comments.
Juan Pierre's arm sucks
Also not really on the forefront of breaking news, but they expanded on some articles
they did on their website. Basically using Retrosheet
play-by-play data from 1957 to 2005 (with a few missing years), they broke down each play by situation(such as runner on 1st, single to the OF) and three outcomes (Kill, Hold and Advance). Then the author, John Walsh, broke down each outfield position by three separate eras which he deemed the Clemente, Barfield and Guerrero eras. The results are pretty much what you expected, Clemente was a god in right field saving about 5.4 runs a season.
As for Cubs, there aren't too many because, well we've sucked historically. Andre Dawson shows up as the second best center field arm during "The Barfield Era" but that was all during his Expos days. Moving to "The Guerrero Era", Moises Alou shows up on the left field list. That has more to do with opportunties than skill though. His Runs/162 (basically runs per season) is a mere 0.7 (just above average) but since he logged so many innings, he saved 4.7 above average over the years, good for about eighth. Bobby Higginson leads the left field group of that era.
As for Pierre, second worst all-time behind Bernie Williams at center field with a -5.4 Runs/162 and -29.3 Runs below average for his career (that's through 2005). Overall defensively he seems to more than make up for it with his speed, particularly last year thanks to the benefits of playing center field at Wrigley Field.
One last Cub mention and that's Sammy Sosa. They do a rundown of Hall of Famers or guys that should be Hall of Famers and Sosa came out just above average in Kills (throwing out runners), just below average on Holds (allowing runners to advance) for a grand total of 0.5 Runs/162.
Clutchiness (or lack thereof)
In the best titled piece of the book, WPA in the USA
, Dave Studenmund takes a look at the wonderful world of Win Probability Added.
Simply put, if we know the inning, the outs and the situation we can estimate quite reasonably how often a team will win a game. A 4-0 lead in the top of the first and the team has about 80% chance of winning, a one run lead in the top of the ninth for the home team is about an 83% chance of winning and on and on. When an event occurs that changes the win probability that is Win Probability Added, add all WPA swings up and you’ve got a stat that measures how big an effect a certain play had and the leverage of the moment. Since I’m sure I did a poor job of explaining it, I urge everyone to read the more in-depth articles
(Beware the second link as it deconstructs the eight inning of a certain Game 6).
The Cubs don’t make too many appearances on the charts they published in the book. There was a relatively lively loss on August 30th versus Pittsburgh
that ranked 7th among "Roller coaster games of 2006" or games with the most swings in WPA. A game the Cubs led 3-0 in the top of the first, fell behind 7-3 by the fifth, scratched back to tie by the eight, took the lead in the eleventh and then a blown save by Ryan Dempster and the Cubs lost 10-9.
One of the best uses of WPA is to measure a team’s bullpen as we all know that bullpen ERA isn’t the most effective tool since it doesn’t take into account the leverage of the moment. For example, the Twins and Mets are first and second in both ERA and the WPA, but the Rangers were 6th in ERA but 19th in WPA because they pitched best when it mattered the least. Unfortunately a full list isn’t published, but they did put out the ten worst major league relievers. Any guesses? None other than our very own Ryan Dempster who had a leverage index
of 1.77 (1 is average, most closers have an index around 2) and he managed a –3.13 WPA, meaning he turned the tide for the worst far more often than any other reliever in the biggest moments (Derrick Turnbow was 2nd by the way).
Naturally no Cubs ended up on the best of lists, but we did land the top spot for “Least Clutch Hitter�?. That would naturally go to Ronny Cedeno, who in 15 plays where he came up with the leverage index at 3 or higher (meaning the moment was three times more impactful than a normal situation), he managed an average of -0.90 WPA, where zero is average.
Butterball Rusch Not So Bad
Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, but Greg Rybarczyk breaks out something called Hit Tracker
, which seems like an extremely complex way of analyzing the flight of the ball. The details are too cumbersome for me to reiterate but basically it can be used to answer some questions about a team's and player's home ballpark, particularly useful if they change teams.
As for Rusch, he gave up a whopping 21 home runs last year, damn awful. One of the (many) things Hit Tracker tallies is atmospheric conditions including wind and in Rusch’s 21 home runs, 20 were struck with a tail wind, which is pretty high since typically only half of all homers would get help from any wind. On top of that, each homer received 27 feet of extra distance thanks to the wind and all 21 homers occurred on fields with an altitude of 535 feet above sea level which provides another three-to-five feet of distance per homer. Rybarczyk then places him in an average game in Shea (72 degrees, 11 mph wind in from left, 10 feet above sea level) and essentially comes up with only two of those 21 homers leaving the park. Feeling that was a little extreme and an 11 mph wind in from left being a bit too kind for a lefty pitcher, he changed his analysis to remove all wind effects and came up with nine home runs and one double and nine flyouts. The actual impact on his ERA would require a breakdown of each homer which unfortunately Rybarczyk didn't do nor do I have the information to do.
It's Not Whether You Hit It, But How You Hit It
THT is becoming the champion of batted ball stats, breaking up hitters hits into line drives, flyballs, groundballs, etc using information purchased from Baseball Info Solutions. You can study some of the information yourself at THT Stats page
but basically line drives are very good for runs, outfield fly balls a few steps below, and groundballs trailing with various other events in between. It doesn’t mean ground balls are bad, it just takes more of them to produce a run and are the least effective in producing runs compared to line drives and outfield fly balls (please note a difference between outfield and infield fly balls which are basically automatic outs). You can also extrapolate the numbers and basically determine how much each event is worth in runs, for example a line drive has .391 run impact while a ground ball a .045 run impact, etc, etc.
Here’s a quick rundown of notable Cubs that appear in their lists:
Fewest Line Drives
: Ronny Cedeno (6th worse – 16%)
Fewest Ground Balls
: Alfonso Soriano (3rd – 29%)
Most Ground Balls
: Matt Murton (3rd – 58%), Jacque Jones (4th – 56%), Juan Pierre(7th – 55%)
Most Runs Per Outfield Fly
: Jacque Jones(8th – .36)
Fewest Runs Per Outfield Fly
: Juan Pierre(5th - .05)
Fewest Line Drives
: Jason Marquis (9th - 17%)
Most Runs on Balls Not in Play
: Carlos Zambrano and Sean Marshall (9th - 7), Jason Marquis (3rd - 9)
What does that all mean? Well, when Jacque lifts the ball he does damage. Marquis, Marshall and Z killed themselves with their wildness (of course as we'll see, Z makes up for it in other areas) and Murton would do himself some good by putting the ball in the air a little more.
They also break out a chart on Soriano and the man is all about the flyball. His flyballs produced 35 runs above average, while his NIP (Balls N
lay in other words K's and BB's mostly) was -2, groundballs a 1 (his speed didn't help much there) and his line drives a minus 3. In other words, if the wind blows out, plus Great American Ballpark plus Minute Maid equals a good chance he'll do lots of damage next year.
Zambrano also had an interesting profile:
I'm not exactly sure if it's determined how much is luck versus skill on the batted balls, but Z has shown quite a pattern of being very difficult to hit. If he could just tone down the walk fest, he'll be worth every penny of whatever contract he gets next year (hopefully from us).
Last profile is for Greg Maddux:
Dodger: NIP (-3), GB (-4), LD (0), Fly(-2), Total: (-10)
Cub: NIP (-9), GB(-5), LD (12), Fly (-1), Total: (-3)
The dude moves to Dodger Stadium for two months and you'd think it would be an improvement in flyballs but it was line drives being caught that made him a better pitcher. So was it the defense or just plain luck that made him a better pitcher down the stretch? I suppose we'll never know.
Hit More Flyballs
Continuing on the Batted Balls tangent, there's a team chart. Out of all the Cubs batted balls, 47% were groundballs, 19% line drives and 34% flyballs. The averages are 44, 20 and 37 respectively. Their Total Runs vs AVG in those instances: NIP (-36), GB (23), LD (-7), FB (-25). It wasn't just the walks killing us (or lack thereof), we need to get the ball up in the air. Soriano over Pierre will certainly help in that case. If Floyd replaces Jones, that will help as well and just taking some at-bats from Murton won't hurt either. Derosa's numbers though are 49,23,29 (GB,LD,FB) which aren't going to help in this regard at all.
We Spent A Lot of Money to Suck
I know, we're breaking new ground here every day. Another article by Dave Studenmund called Net Win Shares Value 2006
looks at which teams and players got the most bang for the buck.
Basically using Win Shares and a little mathematical hocus pocus, who were really the most valuable players in terms of dollars and production.
No Cubs show up on the best or worst lists, but care to guess who's the top spot for each? No surprise that players not ready for arbitration would top the best of list and Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer are one and two. Joel Pineiro and Mark Mulder lead the worst of list. The Cubs naturally trail the pack as a team, no big shocker of course. Yanks actually are second worst cause they don't nearly get the production for what they pay.
There's an individual list of each player and I think you can find it on their site as well but here are the 5 most cost-effective Cubs in 2006:
The ones that cost us the most:
Where are Wood and Prior? They don't show up since the cutoff is at least 4 Win Shares meaing significant injury time gives you a free pass.
Barrett Needs to Work on His D
Oh really, you say? Each team has a stats page and they include a WP+PB/G stat for catchers. Barrett trails only the Royals John Buck with .581 per game, Buck at .590. Jose Molina of the Angels had a .701 in about 250 less innings than Barrett so include him if you wish. Barrett was also second worst in the league in throwing out runners only behind Piazza. Piazza though only allowed .238 WP+PB per game. Now a lot of that is a function of your staff, no doubt, Padres had one of the best in the league, Cubs and Royals some of the worst. But still, a very poor showing on the defensive end for Barrett and I don't find it comforting in the least that he seems to be regressing at this part of his game.
Dave Gassko takes a look at players who have a good chance at breaking out next year(using something called wOBA
as the measuring stick) and taking into account a combination of player's handedness (lefties more likely to break out), power, power/speed combo, patience at the plate, weight, age and performance (the worst you did last year the better). Again, a bunch of mathematical mumbo jumbo that I won't bore you with but he comes up with a percentage of how likely a player will have a breakout year. No one related to the Cubs shows up on the top ten list, although Ryan Church has a 42% chance according to Gassko's criteria. A second list of "above average in 2006" is included (players who had good seasons in 2006 but can be even better in 2007), Derrek Lee (23%) and Cliff Floyd(17%) show up, mostly due to their down seasons last year. The under 25 crowd gets their own list and Cedeno shows up at 26%, because it would be very hard to repeat his awfulness from last season.
The pitchers get their own list and component run average is used (sort of like FIP) and the elements factored in are pitcher's walk rate, home run rate, BABIP and performance. Angel Guzman is second on the list at 43% for 2007 Pitching Breakout Candidates as well as breakout candidates under 26. On the least likely to break out camp is Jason Marquis at 1%.
The Hardball Times Annual Rules
I'm wimping out on the last one, but let's say the wealth of information and stats found make this a must buy for any serious fan. Not only that but the writing is enjoyable, you really get a sense that these are baseball fans just having a great time writing about things they care and are curious about, no obvious hidden agenda or pompous attitudes. And it's more than just stats, there are historical pieces, a detailed look at Tommy John surgery, good old fashioned commentary by folks like Deadspin's Will Leitch and ESPN's Rob Neyer and well all kinds of fun stuff.