Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Johnny Cueto: Is He for Real?

You may or may not be aware that one "Johnny Cueto" of the Cincinnati Reds is currently leading the National League in ERA with 2.29. Yes, he is currently ahead of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Clay Kershaw. Is this career year of Cuetos an outlier, or do his underlying statistics back up his improvement? Let's have a look.

To start off, his K/9 has actually decreased in all 4 seasons he has been in the majors; from a high of 8.17 in '08 to a low of 6.13 in '09. This is not normally a good sign for a pitcher, but in Cueto's case his ERA and FIP have also decreased in each season. Still a concern, but maybe Cueto is actually trying to pitch more to contact this year as some have suggested. His BB/9 rate has hovered close to 3 for the last three seasons, so that looks to be a non-factor in his improvement. Cueto's HR/FB and BABIP in 2011 are both at career lows (.5 and .245) so it appears that at least some of his improvement this year is a result of better luck. His LOB% is virtually exactly the same as it was last season though at just north of 76%.

When you break it down further, Cueto has added a curveball to his repertoire this year, which he is throwing over 9% of the time. And while according to FanGraphs this pitch is slightly below average, he has had a huge spike in his fastball effectiveness, going from a below average pitch last season to a pitch 16.6 runs better than average this season. Cueto's fastball velocity is down slightly this year, so it appears that the improvement may be due to his addition of the curve, allowing him to better keep the hitters guessing. His slider has also taken a big jump up to 6.8 runs better than average this year. This change of pitch selection has lead to a substantial increase in GB% from 41.7% in 2010 to 53.6% this year. His FB% has in turn dropped by almost 10%, resulting in a huge increase in GB/FB ratio of 1.07 last year to 1.77 this year.

So seemingly in every area besides K/9, Cueto's numbers have improved in 2011. This is backed up by this FIP progression (ERA in parentheses):
2008 - 4.9 (4.81)
2009 - 4.69 (4.41)
2010 - 3.97 (3.63)
2011 - 3.51 (2.29)

In every season in the bigs Cueto has outperformed his FIP, so maybe there is something to his pitching that the numbers can't quantify. His FIP this year is 20th in the National League, so he's maybe not to elite status yet, but he's certainly an above average major league pitcher. His numbers may regress in 2012, or even more in the last month of the season, but who knows, maybe he's one of those pitchers who can continually outperform the advanced metrics.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Former All-Stars

I was intrigued when I discovered that this year's Boston Red Sox have 17 different former or current all-stars playing for them, the most of any team in baseball. This seemed like a high percentage of the team to me, so I started looking back at previous seasons totals. This got me wondering if the number of all-stars that are on any individual team has any correlation with that team's performance in a given season. To do this, I decided to go back to 2006 and find every team that had 15 or more current or former all-stars on it, and look at their season performance, and specifically whether or not they made they playoffs.  There were 28 such teams, for an average of 4.7 teams/season.

Year Tm  All-Stars Wins Losses Playoffs
2011 BOS  17 84 55 yes*
2011 NYY  16 85 53 yes*
2011 ATL  15 82 57 yes*
2010 BOS  18 89 73
2010 LAD  17 80 82
2010 NYY  17 95 67 yes
2010 ATL  16 91 71 yes
2010 PHI  15 97 65 yes
2009 BOS  21 95 67 yes
2009 LAD  19 95 67 yes
2009 CHW  15 79 83
2009 TEX  15 87 75
2008 BOS  18 95 67 yes
2008 LAD  18 84 78 yes
2008 NYY  17 89 73
2008 CHW  15 89 74 yes
2008 DET  15 74 88
2007 LAD  20 82 80
2007 BOS  18 96 66 yes
2007 NYM  17 88 74
2007 NYY  15 84 68 yes
2006 LAD  23 89 73 yes
2006 BOS  18 86 76
2006 PHI  17 85 77
2006 CHW  16 90 72
2006 NYM  15 97 65 yes
2006 NYY  15 97 65 yes
2006 SEA  15 78 84

Now obviously there are a lot of repeat teams in this list, as teams that don't have a lot of turnover are going to have largely the same number of all-stars in a string of consecutive years. The most prevalent team on the list is the Red Sox, who have at least 15 all-stars in all 6 seasons that I looked at. This is followed by both the Yankees and the Dodgers, who both have at least 15 in 5 of the 6 seasons.

The average win total for these teams (not including the 2011 teams) is 88.2 wins, well above league average, and within a few of a usual playoff spot. Of these 28 teams, 16 made the playoffs (I'm including the 2011 Red Sox, Yankees, and Braves as playoff teams) a 57% success rate. A pretty good result in a sport where only 26.7% of the teams make the playoffs in every season. This result shows that there is in fact a likely correlation between having a lot of all-stars on your team and making the playoffs. Most of the teams on this list are also teams with large payrolls, which allows them to stock up on veteran players, who have been around a few years and have a better chance to become an all-star than a rookie.

The three teams with the highest number of all-stars in a season are the 2007 Dodgers with 20, the 2009 Red Sox with 21, and the 2006 Dodgers with 23. The 2007 Dodgers went 82-80 and missed the playoffs, but both the 09 Red Sox and 06 Dodgers did make the playoffs, but failed to advance to the World Series.

Although a high percentage of these teams did make the playoffs, it should be noted that only one, the 2007 Red Sox with 18 all-stars, actually ended up winning the World Series.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vernon Wells and Alex Rios

Ahh, the fall of 2006. Things were looking good for the Blue Jays. They were coming off an 87-75 season, and had finally managed to finish ahead of Boston in the AL East. Vernon Wells was a key part of this result, having put together the best season of his career with a .303/.357/.542 line with 32 homeruns and 106 RBI. This was good for 6.7 WAR (B-R) (5.8 on FG), which was tied for 4th highest in the AL. The Blue Jays decided they had to lock him up long term and signed him to a 7 year deal worth 126 million, making him one of the highest paid players in baseball. At the time, Alex Rios was also coming off his best season in the majors, producing 3.4 WAR (3.6 on FG) in his third full-time season. Together it looked like the Blue Jays had their outfield all set up for the long term.

In 2007, however, things started to falter. Vernon Wells slumped through the year with a .245/.304/.402, producing only 1.9 WAR. Luckily for the Blue Jays though, Alex Rios improved upon the previous season's play and put up 4.5 WAR. This performance was good enough for the Blue Jays to extend him in April of 08 to a 7 year deal of his own, worth just under $70 million. Not on par with the deal Wells got, but still nothing to sneeze at.

Then in 2008, Wells couldn't seem to stay healthy, but was more effective in limited time, posting 2 WAR. His defense wasn't the same anymore, but he showed that he could still put up pretty good offensive numbers. Rios had a solid season as well, although his power dropped compared to '07. (Rios' season brings up a very interesting discrepancy between the WAR numbers on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. B-R has his WAR listed at 2.2, while FG has it at 5.6, the highest mark of his career. If I had to pick one that I feel is more accurate, I would lean more towards FG's, but I really don't think it should be that high. I think somewhere around 4 would be more accurate.)

2009 was where it really went bad for the two cornerstones of the Blue Jays outfield. Wells slumped his way through another unimpressive season, posting 0.3 WAR above replacement. By this time, his CF play was well below average, and possibly the worst in the majors. Rios meanwhile, was playing so poor that in August the Blue Jays allowed the White Sox to claim him off waivers outright. It was hard to imagine that they would allow the guy that they had signed to a 7 year deal only 18 months prior to leave without receiving anything in return, except when you look at his stats. At the time of the waiver claim, Rios had produced a grand total of -1.3 WAR and was one of the worst everyday players in baseball. Things were grim.

Wells and Rios both had a bit of a resurgence in 2010. Wells rediscovered his power stroke, and ended up posting an above average 4.4 WAR for the Blue Jays. Rios provided 3 WAR for the White Sox. It was looking like both players were turning their careers around. It turns out that Wells' productive season was really the best gift he could have ever gotten the Jays, as they were able to unload him and his bloated contract on the Angels in the off-season. Both keystones of the Jays' outfield were now gone.

This brings us to 2011. Both Rios and Wells are having atrocious seasons. They both rank in the bottom 10 everyday players in baseball according to WAR. (Using FG WAR) They have the two lowest OBP's in baseball. They also have the two lowest BABIP's of anyone in baseball. Bad luck could be playing a part in their decline, but if I had to go off my gut feeling, I would say that neither will ever produce more than 2 WAR in a season under their current contracts. The Blue Jays' franchise players have both turned into nearly the worst players in baseball. The good news for me as a Blue Jays fan is that they're doing it for someone else.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 25 Highest Paid Players and WAR

I found this list of MLB's 25 highest paid players in 2011* and decided to take a look at their WAR values for this season to determine which players are providing the best value for their salary so far, and which ones are just dead weight. I averaged out each players' WAR value from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, just to get a better overall look. Now obviously some of the players on this list have been injured this year, and I haven't taken this into account, but that's part of the gamble when you're signing a player to a huge contract.

Rank Player Team 2011 Salary B-R WAR FG WAR AVG WAR $/WAR
8 Roy Halladay Phillies $20,000,000 6.4 7.2 6.8 $2,941,176
21 Matt Holliday Cardinals $16,317,774 4.4 5.1 4.75 $3,435,321
19 Josh Beckett Red Sox $17,000,000 5.6 3.6 4.6 $3,695,652
8 Miguel Cabrera Tigers $20,000,000 5.1 4.8 4.95 $4,040,404
3 CC Sabathia Yankees $24,285,714 5.5 6.2 5.85 $4,151,404
11 Carlos Beltran Mets $19,325,436 3.1 3.6 3.35 $5,768,787
22 Michael Young Rangers $16,174,974 2.2 3.4 2.8 $5,776,776
12 Carlos Lee Astros $19,000,000 3.4 2.6 3 $6,333,333
7 Todd Helton Rockies $20,275,000 3 3 3 $6,758,333
4 Mark Teixeira Yankees $23,125,000 2.4 4 3.2 $7,226,563
23 Jake Peavy White Sox $16,000,000 0.9 2.6 1.75 $9,142,857
1 Alex Rodriguez Yankees $32,000,000 3 3.9 3.45 $9,275,362
15 Torii Hunter Angels $18,500,000 1.5 2.1 1.8 $10,277,778
23 Roy Oswalt Phillies $16,000,000 1.2 1.7 1.45 $11,034,483
8 Ryan Howard Phillies $20,000,000 2.2 1.3 1.75 $11,428,571
5 Joe Mauer Twins $23,000,000 1.3 1.3 1.3 $17,692,308
12 Alfonso Soriano Cubs $19,000,000 1 1.1 1.05 $18,095,238
14 Carlos Zambrano Cubs $18,875,000 0.8 1 0.9 $20,972,222
20 A.J. Burnett Yankees $16,500,000 0 1 0.5 $33,000,000
17 Jason Bay Mets $18,125,000 0.4 0.1 0.25 $72,500,000
6 Johan Santana Mets $21,644,707 0 0 0 NA
25 John Lackey Red Sox $15,950,000 -1 1 0 NA
18 Ichiro Suzuki Mariners $18,000,000 -0.6 -0.1 -0.35 ($51,428,571)
15 Barry Zito Giants $18,500,000 -0.4 -0.2 -0.3 ($61,666,667)
2 Vernon Wells Angels $26,187,500 -0.5 -0.1 -0.3 ($87,291,667)

So there you have it, of the top 25 highest payed players in the majors, Roy Halladay is providing the best value for his team in 2011 - providing 6.8 wins above replacement on a salary of $20 million. That works out to be just under $3 million/WAR. Coming in second, somewhat surprisingly, is Matt Holliday. It's hard to say how his contract will pan out by the end of 2016 when he's 36, but the Cards have got their money's worth in the first two years.

Completely unsurprisingly, the player providing the worst value for his salary is none other than Vernon Wells. He's getting the second most money in baseball this year, and he's cost his team 0.3 of a win. Do I need to mention again how amazing that trade was for the Blue Jays?

For teams as a whole, here's how the ones who have more than one player on the list average out:

Phillies - $56 million for 3 players - Halladay, Oswalt and Howard - for 10 total WAR - $5.6 million/WAR

Red Sox - $33 million for 2 players - Beckett and Lackey - for 4.6 total WAR (all from Beckett) - $7.2 million/WAR

Yankees - $95 million for 4 players - A-Rod, Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira - for 13 total WAR - $7.4 million/WAR

Mets - $59 million for 2 players - Beltran (I'm including all of Beltran's WAR for the Mets) and Santana (who's missed the whole year) - for a total of 3.6 WAR - $16.4 million/WAR

Cubs - $38 million for 2 players - Zambrano and Soriano - for 1.95 total WAR - $19.4 million/WAR

Angels - $45 million for 2 players - Wells and Hunter - for a total of 1.5 WAR - $29.8 million/WAR

Is it coincidence that the 3 highest ranked teams will make the playoffs this year, while the latter 3 will miss them? (I realize the Angels still have a chance to make it. I do not know how they are able to accomplish this while committing so much money to two horrible outfielders, but somehow they do.)


Stadium Park Factors

I've been thinking a lot about stadiums lately, and specifically how it seems like a lot of the newer stadiums are being built to favor pitchers. This strikes me as a strange phenomenon, because it seems to me that if one were to want more fans to come to a ballgame, it's a lot easier to entice them to come if the score has a better chance of being 6-4 than 2-0. Obviously teams can't completely control how their new park is going to play until it's built, but it seems self explanatory that a field with New Yankee Stadium dimensions is going to be more of a hitters park than one with the dimensions of Citi Field. I decided to take a look at the Park Factors of all 30 stadiums and compare that to how recently the stadium opened. If I was correct in my assumption, the more recent stadiums would mostly favor pitchers, in comparison to the older hitter-friendly confines of Fenway and Wrigley.

The park factors that I used are the multi-year park factors from Baseball-Reference. I decided to use just the hitters rating, although for most parks the pitchers rating is exactly the same.

The first thing I did was split the parks into 3 groups of 10 based on their opening date. This came up with 3 groups:

Group 1 - Fenway Park - Sun Life Stadium - 1912-1993 - average park factor of 100.2
Group 2 - Ballpark at Arlington - AT&T Park - 1994-2000 - average park factor of 100.3
Group 3 - Miller Park - Target Field - 2001-2010 - average park factor of 100

At first glance, not much of a difference between any of the 3 groupings. Each of the last two groupings has at least one very hitter friendly park though, with Coors Field at 118 in Group 2, and Yankee Stadium at 109 in Group 3. This method of grouping them didn't really come up with any conclusive results, so I decided to look at the parks a little differently.

I next split the stadiums into hitter friendly and pitcher friendly (with 100 being included in hitter friendly.) This came out with 17 pitcher friendly parks, and 13 hitter friendly parks. Of those 13 hitter friendly parks, the breakdown is as follows:

Group 1 - 6 teams
Group 2 - 3 teams
Group 3 - 4 teams

Pitcher friendly:

Group 1 - 4 teams
Group 2 - 7 teams
Group 3 - 6 teams

This shows that of the 10 most recently built parks, 6 are classified as pitcher friendly, so that's more than half, but still not as many as the 7 pitcher friendly parks that were built between 1994 and 2000. Still not really conclusive.

The next thing I did was split up the stadiums into only 2 groups, the 16 oldest, and the 14 newest. The reason I cut them into two uneven groups is because it seems that's what Bud Selig would want.  Not really, it's actually because the cut-off falls between Tropicana and Chase Field, which both opened in 1998. I put both of these into the older group, because it seemed like the thing to do.

In this case, the older group has an average park rating of 101.31. This is in comparison to 98.86 for the newer group. Finally a somewhat significant result. Of these newest 14, only 4 are considered hitter's parks (Yankees, Phillies, Reds, Brewers), while the other 10 favor the pitchers. This is in contrast to 9 hitter's parks and 7 pitcher's parks in the older group. So in this regard, it does appear that teams building new stadiums are leaning towards pitcher friendly parks. I don't think that this is what I would do if I was making the decision, but it seems to be trending in that direction. I'd like to take a look at attendance figures for hitter and pitcher friendly parks, but then you have a ton of other factors to consider, such as team performance and location. Perhaps someone with considerably more intelligence or free time will someday take a look at this. (Or perhaps they already have.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

David Price

David Price had, for all intents and purposes, a great year in 2010. He went 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA, good enough for a second place finish in Cy Young voting. At first glance, his 2011 season to date looks to be not as impressive. 12-11 with a 3.40 ERA this year, David Price's season hasn't gone quite as well as many hoped. When you dig a bit deeper into his stats though, this season takes on a different light. To start off, Price outperformed his FIP last year by a significant margin - 3.42 to 2.72, good for a .70 advantage. To compare, this year his FIP has actually decreased to 3.19, while his ERA increased to 3.40. This shows that Price perhaps benefited from better defense behind him or better luck in 2010 than he has this year.

A similar story occurs when looking at Price's peripheral stats. The most significant change is his decrease in BB/9 from 3.41 in 2010 to 2.22 in 2011. Price's H/9 has increased this year from 7.3 to 7.6, but his BABIP has also increased from .270 to .282 showing that it probably hasn't been solely his fault. Combined, Price's WHIP has decreased from 1.193 to 1.096, or about 1 baserunner/9 innings. The only stat that has really declined this year over last year for Price is his HR rate. He has allowed 3 more HR this year than he did in all of 2010, and his HR/FB rate jumped from 6.5 last year to 9.4 this year. This is likely due to some bad luck, or else his 2010 rate was unsustainably low.

A significant contributor to Price's poorer W/L record this year has been the decrease in run support by the Rays. Last year, Price received 5.3 runs of support/start, while this year that number has dropped to 4.01.

Price's WAR figures also back up the notion that Price is having a very comparable, or perhaps even better year in 2011 than in 2010. FanGraphs lists his WAR at 4.3 for 2011, the exact same figure as in 2010, although in 3 less starts and 18 less innings pitched. All told, Price should probably have a better W/L record this year than he does, but if you look past the basic stats, Price's year has still been very good.

In Defence of the Wild Card

It seems as though a lot has been written this year about Bud Selig and his decision to add an additional wild card team in each league. Many have decried that this will only further lessen the tension of pennant races. Most of these people seem to be neglecting to consider the whole picture though, by bringing up past pennant races in which the race came down to the final day of the season, such as 1993 when the Braves and Giants fought till the very end for the NL West crown. Adding an extra wild card team in each league may in some cases reduce September drama, such as last year in the NL West when the Padres and Giants both would have made the playoffs, but in other cases it would add additional drama. Just look at this year for example.

In the American League, the Division winners are basically all decided. The Angels could still catch Texas from 3.5 games back, but that's the only possible race. If an additional wild card team was added, suddenly you have the Tampa Bay Rays and LA Angels separated by only 1.5 games going into September. Adding an additional wild card team would in this case tighten up the playoff race going down the stretch.

Similarly in the NL, the closest race is in the West, where San Francisco is 5 games back of Arizona, and looks all but out of it. Add another wild card team, and suddenly San Francisco and St. Louis are only separated by .5 games and primed for an exciting September. Now obviously it's not going to work out this way every year. Some years the race for the #4 spot (current wildcard) in each League will be close, and it would make for a more exciting September if there were only one wild card spot. Other years, like 2011, the race for the #5 spot (additional wild card) will be closer and an additional playoff team will allow for a more thrilling final month. Picking and choosing certain years in the past where there was an exciting pennant race is a misleading way to convince people one way or another on expanded playoffs.

A lot of folks use 1993 as an example of how the wild card has ruined pennant races. Then there are cases like last year in the NL West that come along, and make you wonder what these people are complaining about. The same thing will happen with adding an additional wild card team. Just because there's one more team being added, doesn't mean that there aren't going to be exciting races. You can't just look at each year individually when thinking about playoff races. Some years there are going to be great races and some years there aren't. Adding another wild card team will do nothing to change this fact.