I should have known. This morning, I did some very rough work on the M’s outfield defense, and wished for a place that would keep team records of doubles and triples allowed, making comparisons easy. Well, Baseball Prospectus has them, labeled miscellaneous pitching statistics under their statistical reports. The lesson is either that I need to do better research or that they need a better site design. Or maybe both.
I’m not pretending this is perfect, as park effects definitely play a factor here, but I believe that we can get a general idea of how much of an impact outfield defense is having on a club by looking at the amount of doubles and triples a team is allowing. There is essentially no difference between a double and a triple for this purpose, so I’m lumping them together as extra base hits (and excluding home runs, since they obviously don’t matter for this purpose). Also, rather than going by innings pitched, I’m using batters faced as a denominator, since this accounts for the obvious difference between the opportunities for extra base hits in big innings versus 1-2-3 innings. BP’s reports go back three years, and after some fun sorting/subtotaling in excel, here are the results.
The league average saw 5.2 percent of all batters faced leading to a double or a triple. Oakland had the best mark, allowing only 4.0 percent to turn into two or three baggers, while Texas ran away with the competition for last, allowing 6.7 percent of all batters to end up in scoring position. The Mariners finished 4th at 4.6 percent, just ahead of Houston, but well behind the top three of Oakland, Arizona, and Atlanta. Interestingly, the top 5 in doubles/triples allowed finished with 102, 92, 88, 116, and 93 wins respectively. The five teams averaged 98 wins apiece and all of them made the playoffs. The world champion Diamondbacks finished 2nd in this category.
The league average saw 5.1 percent of all batters faced leading to a double or a triple. Anaheim led the way in the category, allowing 4.3 percent of all batters faced to reach second or third. Detroit finished last at 6.5 percent, while Texas continued to sabotage its pitching by coming in 29th at 5.9 percent. The Mariners were again above average, but slipped to 11th, as they allowed extra base knocks in 4.9 percent of all plate appearances. As for correlation with team wins, the top 5 in XBH allowed finished with 99, 92, 101, 99, and 67 wins respectively (Baltimore is the outlier there, betrayed by the second worst offense in the AL). The five averaged 91.6 wins per season, and four of the five made the playoffs. The world champion Angels finished 1st in this category.
The league average was again 5.2 percent, remaining consistent from year to year. Los Angeles led the majors with 3.86 percent, barely edging the Mariners at 3.88 percent. These marks last year represent the best performances of any team during the past three years, and with a significant margin from the 3rd best team (Oakland in 2001). Texas relcaimed their position in last place, allowing 6.0 percent of all hits to go for extra bases. The top five teams won 85, 93, 88, 96, and 84 games, with only two of the five making the playoffs. The world champion Marlins finished 19th in this category, breaking the trend of tremendous defensive outfields taking home the title.
Correlating the performance in XBH per batter faced to won-loss record was something of a toy, and I was surprised at how strong the correlation was, honestly. A better idea of how valuable it is would be to tie it to team runs allowed, which would factor out the offenses effect on wins/losses. The best would be to normalize the numbers for situational park effects (not applying a blanket run scoring park factor, which would do more harm than good). If anyone wants to take up either of these tasks, drop me a line and I’ll send the spreadsheet to save you some work.
Basically, here’s the bottom line. Outfield defense appears more important than almost anyone realizes. The difference between the best and worst teams is about 2 percent. Each team faces a litlte over 6000 batters per year, so that 2 percent multiplies out to an extra 120 (!) outs turning into doubles or triples over the course of the season. That is nearly one per game. It also seemingly correlates well with team performance. Teams that allow a lot of extra base hits give up a lot of runs, and teams that don’t, well, don’t. If we buy into the DIPS theory, even a little bit, we have to assume that a large percentage of the differences between team’s XBH/BFP rates is made up of the talents of their outfielders. If the Mariners outfield defense is even half as bad as it looks right now, well, strike another blow to optimism.
The Orioles designated Jack Cust for assignment this week, bringing the total organizations who have given up on him to three. His raw offensive numbers are pretty staggering, showing both patience and power, and he’s long been a favorite prospect of statistically-oriented folk and one of the lightning rod players showing the divide between the scouting and statistical communities. The old school types have focused on his awful defense, poor conditioning, bad work ethic, and high strikeout rates while writing him off. The stats guys have pointed to his OBP and SLG numbers all the way through the minors, proclaiming him a born hitter whose bat outweighs all other flaws. The cries have already begun for the M’s to claim Cust as the heir apparent to Edgar or Olerud and a power bat off the bench.
I say pass. Cust is the poster boy for the magic of park effects, having spent his entire minor league career in bandboxes that play like Coors Field. High Desert, El Paso, Tucson, and Colorado Springs have park factors that are off the charts. As a result, his translated numbers take quite a beating.
2001 raw line: .278/.419/.525
2001 translated line: .220/.351/.410
2002 raw line: .265/.409/.524
2002 translated line: .209/.341/.415
2003 raw line: .285/.424/.426
2003 translated line: .257/.387/.393
Realistically, he hasn’t been all that different from Dave Hansen as a hitter the past three years. His power is overstated by the parks he’s played in, and he hasn’t gotten better. A glanse through his comparable players list generated by BP’s PECOTA system doesn’t exactly invoke hall of fame talents; Paul Sorrento is his only present day comparison, and I think that’s about accurate. Cust has the chance to be a decent, above average hitter against right-handed pitching with absolutely nothing else to offer and a bad attitude. You can’t use him to pinch hit against tough lefties, which is when the M’s will need to pinch hit 90 percent of the time, and he’s at best a wash with Dave Hansen, who we’re already paying to be on the roster.
If he was a right-handed lefty masher, I’d say go for it. If he had any defensive value at all, maybe. If he could pinch run occasionally, you think about it. If you thought he had a future as something other than a DH, which is inherantly the easiest position in the game to fill, then it would be an option. But a slightly above average one dimensional slugger with nothing to contribute and a habit for wearing out his welcome who fills a position we don’t need help at? No thanks.
An 86 pitch complete game. As you can see by the post below, it wasn’t hard to see coming. Just an awful gameplan by the M’s entire line-up, and I’d be stunned if this wasn’t some kind of managerial edict aimed at “getting the bats alive”. Managers do stupid stuff all the time in an effort to kickstart offenses, but you’ll rarely find a strategy as idiotic as “swing at everything a Cy Young quality pitcher throws, allowing him to kill us for 9 innings instead of 7.” Unfortunately, this is the one that Melvin pulled out of his hat today, and as a result, Tim Hudson could have shut down the M’s for 12 or 13 innings today.
This isn’t to say I’m pinning the loss on Melvin. Tim Hudson is a great pitcher, a legitimate Cy Young candidate, who has a long history of bedeviling the M’s offense. A matchup of Hudson and Meche should go to the A’s more often than not, and the fact that the 9th inning mattered in this game is more than I was expecting. Losing this game isn’t that big of a deal-yes, 0-5 sucks, but it still isn’t worth worrying about-and a loss tomorrow still won’t send me panicking. The first six games have been against better teams running the front of their rotations at us. Realistically, anyone who expected the M’s to do much better than 2-3 or 3-2 against the competition we’ve faced likely has Howard Lincoln signing their paychecks.
The M’s lost by one to a better team with an all-star on the mound. No big deal. Yes, the offense still looks awful, but there are positives here. That’s two great starts for two inconsistent pitchers with Ben Davis behind the plate. Eddie Guardado pitched. Willie Bloomquist is proving himself to be an offensive hole the size of Mars, and will hopefully be given a long string of days off soon. Its all about the silver lining…
Apparently, Melvin and/or Molitor have ordered the M’s to swing at absolutely everything. A quick game log so far with total at-bat pitch count in parentheses:
Ichiro doubles on first pitch. (1)
Winn bunts at first pitch, fouls second pitch, lines out on second pitch. (3)
Boone grounds out on first pitch. (1)
Ibanez watches ball one, watches strike one, singles to center. (3)
Martinez singles on first pitch. (1)
Olerud swings at first two pitches, watches three balls, grounds out to first. (6)
Aurilia watches ball one, pops out to short. (2)
Davis flies out to left on first pitch. (1)
Bloomquist looks at strike one, swings at strike two, watches two balls, strikes out on fifth pitch. (5)
The first trip through the order took all of 20 pitches, 12 of which were swung at. Four at-bats ended in one pitch, and only two at-bats lasted more than three.
I know the M’s have been beaten up by Hudson in the past, but hacking at everything he throws isn’t going to change that. Keeping his pitch count down just serves to keep him in the game longer.
Once again, our readers rock. Avkash Patel, of the terrific The Raindrops blog that is focused on the Mets, directed me to the miscellaneous pitching section of ESPN’s player cards, where in the left hand corner, they have doubles and triples allowed for each pitcher. It is a relatively simple process to compile team numbers from there.
So, here are some raw numbers for you on the Mariners ability to prevent extra base hits (excluding homers) the past three seasons, when Mike Cameron was roaming center field and outfield defense was a strength of the ballclub. I tallied up the numbers for each pitcher who made at least 10 starts for the team that year. Adding in all the relievers would make this more accurate, but also more time consuming, and I’m not looking to come up with some earth-shattering revelation here. Using just the starters will get us 90 % of the accuracy.
Garcia: 239 innings, 52 extra base hits, 1 every 4.6 innings
Franklin: 78 IP, 13 XBH, 1 per 6 IP
Moyer: 210 IP, 37 XBH, 1 per 5.7 IP
Pineiro: 75 IP, 13 XBH, 1 per 5.8 IP
Abbott: 163 IP, 39 XBH, 1 per 4.2 IP
Sele: 215 IP, 44 XBH, 1 per 4.9 IP
Halama: 110 IP, 19 XBH, 1 per 5.8 IP
Totals: 1090 IP, 217 XBH, 1 every 5 innings
Garcia: 223 IP, 47 XBH, 1 per 4.7 IP
Franklin: 119 IP, 24 XBH, 1 per 5 IP
Moyer: 231 IP, 33 XBH, 1 per 7 IP
Pineiro: 194 IP, 40 XBH, 1 per 4.9 IP
Halama: 101 IP, 16 XBH, 1 per 6.3 IP
Baldwin: 150 IP, 45 XBH, 1 per 3.3 IP (Reason #1,413 that he sucked eggs)
Totals: 868 IP, 160 XBH, 1 every 5.4 innings
Garcia: 201 IP, 39 XBH, 1 per 5.2 IP
Franklin: 212 IP, 27 XBH, 1 per 7.9 IP
Meche: 186 IP, 30 XBH, 1 per 6.2 IP
Moyer: 215 IP, 40 XBH, 1 per 5.4 IP
Pineiro: 212 IP, 36 XBH, 1 per 5.9 IP
Totals: 1026 IP, 172 XBH, 1 every 6 innings
It is pretty obvious that last years outfield defense was the best we’ve seen and a huge reason for the success of the team’s pitching. As we’ve noted, Ryan Franklin’s success was due almost entirely to Cameron, Winn, and Ichiro and their defensive prowess.
While the sample is ridiculously small and means nothing right now, the team’s four starters have combined to allow 9 XBH’s in 22 innings so far this year, or one every 2.4 innings. Essentially, they’re out-sucking James Baldwin in allowing doubles and triples, and it is the main reason why the team ERA is almost 8.00. They’ll improve, but I can say with a lot of confidence that they won’t get near last year’s mark, and that will be the main factor in why the team ERA is significantly higher this year than it was last year.
Update: I should always make sure Jeff Sullivan hasn’t beaten me to the research before I post stuff like this. His work is up over at his blog. His numbers don’t follow the same line of thought as mine exactly, as mine are more focused on the outfield’s ability to prevent extra base knocks, and his is more aimed towards a pitchers tendancies towards giving up types of hits, but it is interesting in its own right. Check it out.
Some random comments on a Saturday morning.
1. I miss DMZ’s posts. Hurry back, Derek.
2. The Tigers, Devil Rays, and Reds are in first place, for those of you still insisting that we can draw inferences based on the first four games. The Tigers are undefeated. 0-4 starts aren’t any fun, but they don’t mean anything either.
3. Did someone order an anti-walk edict? Nine bases on balls in 144 at-bats against such notable command artists as Colon, Escobar, Washburn, and Redman? Wilson, Boone, Aurilia, and Bloomquist have combined for 57 at-bats and 0 walks.
4. 7.97 is the number of the day. It is both the team’s K/9IP ratio (excellent) and ERA (awful).
5. With all the access to numbers we have, why doesn’t anyone carry a breakdown of types of hits allowed by pitchers/teams? We’re told hits allowed and homers allowed, but apparently no one cares about doubles and triples allowed. I’d love to see a breakdown of how many doubles and triples the M’s opponents averaged per game last year. I have a feeling it would be about half of what they’ve allowed in the first four games this year.
6. If Quinton McCracken is good enough to start, why does he need to be pinch-hit for in the 6th inning by Jolbert Cabrera against the starting pitcher? This is a rhetorical question. He’s obviously not good enough to start.
7. Was there a more curious acquisition this offseason than Billy Beane trading for Damian Miller? And, if he was hoping for an improvement from last year’s .233/.310/.369 line, how frustrated is he right now after Miller’s 1 for 13 start, mostly coming against the vaunted Texas pitching staff?
8. I know not everyone is having the greatest luck with it, but I love MLB.tv.
9. Go M’s.