This is probably no more than a formality for 2009, but might as well go through the motions. Last year our wonderful readers voted Geovany Soto as the Cubs 2008 MVP, so let's see who we come up with this year (attempts to build suspense). You can vote in the post above, leave comments on this post though.
I recently purchased a copy of the Bill James Handbook 2009...I know, a little late to the party...but it does a great job of presenting information that isn't readily available, information I'll pass along as they become relevant throughout the season. I'm also going to get a subscription to BillJames.net to update everyone as the season progresses.
But thumbing through the book they have all kinds of stats on relievers and let's see if any of it will help Lou pick his closer on the year.
I harp a lot about BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and how it's a good indicator if a player is due for a slump or a rebound from year to year, and even within a season. The general guideline is that a player will generally settle within a range of .290-.320 on their BABIP, with the league average being .300 for a hitter and .290 for a pitcher. Now pitchers have much less control over their BABIP than hitters, that is unless they throw a knuckleball or particulary good change-up that is hard to get good contact on, but hitters actually can outperform or underperform that guideline quite significantly thanks to an ability to hit line drives, speed and a few other minor factors. That being said, they don't outperform it by that much. If you look at the 3-year leaderboard for BABIP on Fangraphs, only three players have topped the .360 mark (Jeter, Holliday and Chipper Jones with Ichiro just missing). Now those are some of the best hitters in the game and their career BABIP's are pretty high as well (except for Chipper who has a .328 career BABIP) and it's been shown that players regress more towards their own BABIP levels than the league averages. That all being said, when you see a player hitting anything over .340, you need to start worrying that it will fall back a bit unless they've been able to sustain it for a few seasons. On the flip side, if a guy is suddenly below .280 he's either had a really unlucky season or he's about to leave major league baseball (see Jones, Andruw).
I did the bulk of the research for this article with the idea this would be a preview on whom the Cubs should prefer as their new right fielder. Then the signing became imminent and eventually a reality, so I decided to turn this into an analysis of the newest Cub outfielder, Milton Bradley. You've probably already seen a lot of these numbers in one way or another, but why let the work go to waste?
Let's start with a look at their offensive numbers...in beautiful table form. Their ages are their 2009 baseball ages, in other words using the July 1st cutoff for their birthday. The 3-year WARP averages are a simple average, just taking the last three seasons and dividing by three, rather than weighting it by games played or anything like that. Considering it's a cumulative stat, I actually believe that's kosher. I went with 2009 Bill James projections, but you can find MARCEL or CHONE on their fangraphs pages. Bold indicates the leader in that category.
This is a couple of weeks old, but Chris Dial at Baseball Think Factory came out with a huge spreadsheet rating every player in the league on offense and defense with the appropriately named metric OPD (Offense Plus Defense). It does not take into account baserunning though, and be aware that players are compared to those who play the same position. He briefly explains the methodology in that link and a further description of the defense can be found here. I didn't spend a lot of time assessing the merits of his system, but it seems solid enough. It tells me Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer were the best players in their respective leagues last year and well that certainly passes the smell test, although by no means is it the ONE stat that will settle every argument from now until the end of days.
The full Google spreadsheet can be found at this link and I've listed the Cubs team ratings and individual players below. It would have been nice to put a ranking next to each player so I didn't have to count them out, which I'm not going to do for every player, but I'll let you know that Soto was 17th in the NL and DeRosa 18th. The numbers are runs relative to average, not replacement or wins, and of course, a positive number is above average, negative is below average.The general sabermetrician's rule of thumb is that 10-12 runs is good for a win.
I can say, with some fair amount of certainty, that very few Cubs fans that read this website have been witness to the outstanding level of play that our beloved Cubbies put up during the first half this season. .600 winning percentage, utter dominance at home, best run differential in the league, best starting staff in the NL, best offense in the NL, and top three in defense and overall pitching. And to all that, we just added an pitcher who could end up being our ace and are due to get back one of our best hitters, who has only played 53% of our games to date.
Gawk in amazement at our statistical dominance after the jump...
Anyone who has played fantasy baseball is familiar with the concept of trying to acquire players when they're slumping and trading players when they're on a hot streak. Let's take a look at the Cubs roster and see if we can spot any trends for the second half of the season. There are of course the traditional statistics such as ERA, wins and losses, WHIP, etc, but for the most part I'll be looking at some of the peripherals that are good indicators of what to truly expect from these guys. I'll begin with the starting rotation.
Carlos Zambrano - 8-3, 3.13 ERA, 5.76 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 1.89 K:BB, 0.59 HR/9, .297 BABIP
There are three areas of concern with Big Z. The 5.68 ERA he put up in June, the alarming decline in his strikeout rate and of course, the shoulder strain that put him on the disabled list. Yeah, he'll be back by Friday, but anytime a pitcher goes down you have to worry about re-injuring himself. You can try and chalk up June to just having a bad month and maybe his shoulder was acting up on him before he actually told anyone, but what you really have to be worried about his is the 5.76 K/9 rate he's sporting this year.
It seems to have been a conscious decision on his part to go less for the strikeout and gain some more control on his pitches. His walk rate has dramatically improved to go along with the decrease in his strikeout rate (3.05 BB/9 this year compared to 4.20 and 4.84 the last two seasons). And you can't argue with the success he's had for the most part this year, but there's not a lot of pitchers that can put up ERA's in the low three's with that low a strikeout rate...I mean, we're talking almost Jason Marquis territory here. His groundball to flyball ratio has improved as well with his new approach and I think he can still dial it up whenever he needs to, but I' d sure feel a lot more comfortable if he got that K/9 rate above six at least.