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Archive for June, 2009

 

About a month ago the Boston Red Sox decided to move Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lead-off spot.  Many people were taken aback, fantasy managers in particular, feeling that Ellsbury was a natural at this spot.  He was hitting around .300 and had over twenty stolen bases.  However, when you examine the numbers a bit deeper, you see that it makes perfect sense.  It is also a big reason why the Red Sox are 15-7 thus far in June.

While Ellsbury is second on the team in batting average and first in steals, sabremetrics has changed what constitutes an ideal lead-off hitter, and what goes into the creation of an ideal batting order.  In Baseball Between The Numbers, James Click (now with the Rays), dedicates a chapter to line-up construction, specifically protection and optimal batting order.  It is optimal batting order that I would like to focus on.  Using their Baseball Lineup Order Optimization Program, they discovered that the batting order that will deliver the most runs is one constructed in descending OBP.

This brings us back to the Red Sox.  Ellsbury’s .345 OBP ranks him only fifth on the team, so according to this theory, he is far from the best player to have batting lead-off.  J.D. Drew, the man that replaced him, ranks third with an OBP of .380.  Most people probably think that this is an odd decision as Drew’s .255 average and two stolen bases do not seem like prototypical lead-off material.  However, his high number of walks make him well-suited to the position.

Yankees Red Sox Baseball

Sorry Jacoby, that infamous stolen base is not going to help you hit lead-off for the Red Sox

However, there is still the issue of speed and stolen bases.  The fact is, teams are beginning to value speed less for stolen bases, and more for things like defence, infield singles, and turning singles into doubles, all of which increase expected runs more than a stolen base attempt.  While the Red Sox are still giving Ellsbury a lot of freedom on the base paths, a few stolen bases are not going to get him back into that lead-off spot.

Statistically speaking, this slight line-up change will probably only gain the Red Sox one victory over the course of the year.  But how many times has your favourite team missed a division title or wild-card spot by one game?  This little advantage is just one of the things that make the Red Sox the smartest team in baseball.

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During yesterday’s game between the Jays and Phillies, Jays manager Cito Gaston made what in my opinion are a couple of questionable decisions.

The first I will just mention in passing.  The Jays were down 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded.  Cito elected to remove OF Jose Bautista (.754 OPS) in favour of pinch hitter Russ Adams (.619 OPS).  Anyone who has followed the Jays over the last few years knows that he has one of the worst sticks in the league.  After predictably popping out to third base, he was also forced to enter the game in left field, where he has a grand total of 13 innings played in the majors.  Mind-boggling decision by Cito.

The point I want to focus on occurred in the bottom of the ninth, and is at the heart of the small ball debate.  I will preface this by saying that I am not a small ball fan, and would build my team with a couple of on-base machines and a couple of sluggers to drive them in.  I would always play for the big inning and would not give away precious outs with bunts or stolen bases.  However, like every game plan, there is an exception, and this is it.  The Jays got their first two batters on to begin the ninth inning (score is still 5-4 Phillies) against closer Brad Lidge, bringing Aaron Hill to the dish.  This situation begs for a bunt.  A successful bunt not only gives you two chances to win the game with a base hit, but also tie it with a sacrifice fly while keeping you out of the double play.

Instead, Hill swings away.  I know Hill leads the AL in total bases this year and already had two home runs that afternoon, but they were against soft-tossing lefty Jamie Moyer, not power closer Lidge.  The rest of the inning played out like this.  Hill pops out.  John MacDonald gets picked off at second and Vernon Wells grounds out.  The rally is dead and the game is over just like that.  Normally in a baseball game you never play for a run or two, but always play the numbers and go for the big inning.  However, in this situation the Jays only needed two runs to win the game.  Had Hill laid down a sacrifice bunt, the Phillies most likely would have walked Wells (who is terrible) and pitched to base-hit machine Scott Rolen (.333 batting average).  Even if he did not get the job done, they would still have an opportunity to win it with Adam Lind, who is third in the AL in total bases.           

I have a ton of respect for Cito as a manager, and his free-swinging ways really helped turn around the Jays after he replaced micro-manager John Gibbons.  However, there are certain situations where you have to break the mould and play according to the situation.  I hope I did not sound too much like Harold Reynolds there.

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Nothing too fancy with this post, just something I picked up watching the Yankees-Mets game tonight.  In the bottom of the 4th, Castillo hit a two-out RBI single to bring in Fernando Martinez, cutting the lead to 3-2.  This brought up to bat the pitcher, Livan Hernandez.  In this situation it is almost assured that your pitcher will make an out and you will start off the next inning fresh with the top of your order.

Castillo then proceeded to steal second base.  I do not know if he was sent or if he went on his own, but this is the type of thing that would drive me nuts.  There is virtually no upside to this play.  If he is successful in his attempt, he gets into scoring position for the pitcher (who owns a .111 batting average) with two outs.  Useless.  As you can probably guess, Hernandez did not get on base.  And that is the good scenario!  The worst case scenario is that Castillo is thrown out at second, forcing Hernandez to start off the next inning, meaning the top of the order will more than likely be starting with one out instead of none.

To make matters even worse, Castillo did not slide but just kind of fell onto second base, nearly coming off the bag and being tagged out by Robinson Cano.  He was obviously not in the game for this play, and that bone-headed move almost cost the Mets a valuable out.  Oh well, at least he did not lose the game by dropping a routine fly ball… this time.

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Yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals filled a huge hole in their team, sending one-time bright prospect Chris Perez and a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for versatile infielder Mark DeRosa.  This is a perfect trade for both teams.

In DeRosa, the Cardinals get a player who can play almost anywhere defensively, and has a solid bat.  With Troy Glaus on the DL, Khalil Greene struggling mightily and Skip Schumaker still learning defensively at second, this is a big boost to the Cardinals playoff hopes.  While DeRosa has struggled a bit at times this year, the big year he had with the Cubs last year bodes well for a return to the National League Central.  They are currently tied with the Brewers for the division lead while boasting the top run differential.  While it is difficult to imagine St. Louis competing with whoever comes out of the American League, this trade helps make the Cardinals a serious contender in the NL.   

DeRosa is also not a big hit financially for the Cards, as he is in the final year of a contract that will see him collect $5 million in 2009.  The Cardinals will be on the hook for a little more than half of that, and will most likely let him walk in the off-season.  With the team trimming payroll this past off-season and the economic future still up in the air, it is important for them to not make any multi-year commitments.

In Perez, the Cardinals lose a former 42nd overall pick who still has the potential to be a back-end reliever, but right now has only shown himself to be an average bullpen arm.  He flirted with the closer role early in the season, but blew his first and only save opportunity.  His ERA sits at 4.18, and he is being killed by a painful 5.82 BB/9.  This is far from an irreplaceable player for St. Louis.

Trading DeRosa was a no brainer for Cleveland.  They are currently toiling in dead last in the AL with a 31-35 record, eleven games behind division leader Detroit.  The season is a lost cause, and like last year with CC Sabathia, GM Mark Shapiro has shown that he is willing to unload his assets rather than lose them in the off-season.

While this was a smart trade by Cleveland, I am surprised they did receive more in return.  Only five and a half months ago, Cleveland gave up three pitching prospects to acquire DeRosa from the Cubs.  His value has not dropped that much even though his OPS has a bit, and there were several contenders interested in him.  I thought Shapiro would be able to have a bit more of a bidding war, but in the end he needed to get a trade done or risk losing DeRosa for nothing.

This was a smart trade on the part of both GM’s, and will go a long way in helping the Cardinals bring home the NL Central title.

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On Wednesday, Braves reliever Jeff Bennett unleashed his frustration on a door with his non-pitching hand (at least he was smart enough to use his left hand).  The end result: a break in his fifth metacarpal below the base of the pinky finger.  You might be thinking, hey that is not much of a story.  But it does not end there.

After seeing the bone protruding from his hand, Bennett shoves it back into place, and heads back out to pitch the seventh inning.  Only after his outing was over did he tell team trainers about his injury, and he is now on the disabled list.

Two things I would like to comment about with regards to this story.  First: grow up.  I am tired of pitcher’s losing it on inanimate objects, especially in front of the fans and TV cameras.  You are setting a terrible example for young baseball fans.  I do not know about you, but when I was young, if you threw your helmet, bat or glove, the next thing you slammed was your butt to the bench.  By losing your cool, you also show your frustration to your opponent.  Let me tell you teams love it when they get the opposing pitcher rattled.

However, the second part of this is a bit of a silver lining.  Most of the time players who rip apart the dugout show absolutely no remorse for their actions.  Bennett’s case is a bit different.  On Thursday he commented to the media:

I’m ashamed of myself.  This is a professional sport; you handle yourself in a professional manner. I didn’t do that.  I’m just hopeful that Bobby and Frank will give me another chance.

Nice Recovery Jeff

Nice Recovery Jeff

I do not know if he is saying this because he is a borderline major league pitcher and this could be his ticket out of the majors, or if he is generously remorseful for his actions.  Either way, thank you Jeff for showing a little class after your outburst, I am sure it was not easy to do.

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Great link on Deadspin today from Slate about how the angle of the center-field camera skews our perception of the strike zone. 

It seems so obvious that the best view for fans on TV is from straight-away center, yet only three teams use this angle.  The article proves the point by showing a video from a Red Sox-Braves game pitting the two camera angles side by side on a close ball call.  Even more telling is the comparison between the two angles on a slider from Mets lefty pitcher Pedro Feliciano. 

That is all from me, I will let the article do the rest of the talking.  Check it out.

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Former MLB All-Star and current MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds recently wrote an article on his blog in which he argued that the OPS statistic was overrated.  He is obviously an old-school mind who has not embraced the statistical revolution.  One of his arguments is that great power hitters on bad teams, like Adrian Gonzalez, have an inflated OPS because pitchers do not pitch to them, meaning they walk a lot in addition to their home runs.  He is also claims that they have a higher OBP than the rest of their teammates because they clog the bases; not sure how that one makes any sense. 

Obviously, I disagree tremendously with his point of view.  OPS is an excellent tracker of player performance, and helps predict how many runs a player or team will score over the course of a season.  It is much more accurate than archaic stats like batting average, RBI, and even home runs.  Let me put it this way.  If you had to assemble a historical team but were only allowed to base your selections on one statistic, what would that stat be?  A lot of people would argue VORP, or win shares (which would be difficult due to the lack of historical fielding statistics), and these would be valid, but I think I would go with OPS+.  I know it does not take defence into consideration, but like I said, if you want to be using guys like Babe Ruth, there are not going to be any effective defensive stats to monitor them anyways.

I decided to make a team based on OPS+, and OPS+ alone, to prove how ridiculous Reynolds point is.  A player can only play the position he actually played that year.  This is what my starting line-up would look like, arranged according to batting order.  I bet you can figure out who each player is based on the information given.OPS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are of course Roger Hornsby, Ted Williams (technically a left fielder but I lumped corner infielders into one group), Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, George Brett, and Johnny Bench.  As you can see, OPS is so overrated that my nine players include six first ballot Hall of Famers and the asterisked home run king.  I would hardly call a team that steals 124 bases a bunch of base-cloggers either.  The only player on the team that you could call a legitimate slowpoke on the basepaths is Ruth, and maybe Bench but he is a catcher.

If you were to use more traditional statistics like batting average and RBI, you would get a significantly different team.  I will not go through the list, but good players can fluke out and knock in 191 runs or hit .350.  It takes a lot more skill to have one of the best single season OPS.  To put that in perspective, three players (Bonds, Ruth and Williams) occupy the top eleven spots on this prestigious list, discounting the two guys from 19th century who played a much different game.   

You may not find this article overly informative, but I find looking up historical stats a pleasure, so it was a lot of fun to write.  I also like to critique individuals like Reynolds who are stuck in their ways and refuse to embrace the changes that are happening around them. 

As an aside, I think we should all take a moment to appreciate Joe Mauer.  Going through the list of all-time OPS+ seasons, I had to go all the way down to 413th to find the first catcher.  The next lowest position was Brett at 45th.  It is incredibly difficult for catchers to put up the kind of numbers that Mauer does, and he could be the guy that you tell your grandkids about just as much as Pujols. 

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