Dodgers Getting Worse?

August 27, 2009

In July, the LA Dodgers found themselves with the best record in the entire league, and were on top of the NL West by as many as 9 LA dodgers logogames. Then August’s 11-13 record came, and now the Blue Crew finds itself in the thick of a division race with the Rockies and Giants bearing down (Bobby Thompson anyone? Great MASH episode). With just a three-game lead on the division, there’s no doubt the home stretch is going to be nerve-wracking for Dodger fans, but is there reason to relax a little? Never…you’re Dodger fans.

Dodger pitching has been excellent all season, and their defense is playing much better than in past years according the Fangraphs’ UZR ratings. Interestingly, LA is actually allowing less runs per game in August than during the better part of its season. While their ERA is good, often times luck factors can make that a deceptive stat. Punching some numbers into my ERA predictor, Dodger fortunes have leveled out nicely this season, so there’s no reason to expect a relapse (barring the ever dangerous bad luck, of course). Since defense is not the culprit of a declining lead in the West, it must be during the other half of each inning that the Dodgers are losing it.

August has seen a slight decline in run scoring for Joe Torre’s sluggers, from 4.9 runs/game down to 4.5. Are players just not getting it done? Are they bored because they’ve gone out and done the same damn thing for 127 games? Not likely, seeing as they are in the thick of a playoff race, and their roster has a nice combination of experience and youth. So they’re a bunch of choke artists? Probably not. In fact they are on pace for more home runs in August than any other month this season.

The biggest difference in offensive statistics for August is their batting average on balls in play (BABIP). This is the batting average on everything that’s not a home run or a strike out, measuring the ability to reach base safely on balls that the defense could hypothetically make a play on. While BABIP tends to roam up and down randomly, it just about always returns to a team’s long-term average. August has brought the Dodger’s offense some bad luck in the form of a slightly low BABIP, and there’s no reason to expect it to stay that low.

Overall, even with a relatively poor offensive month, the Dodgers are still outscoring opponents by 1.2 runs per game in August, a figure that is actually better than their season run differential! So how are they losing? Some might blame poor clutch performance, arguing that the Dodgers are beating teams by a ton, then losing the close ones. While this is probably true, the culprit is not likely anything they have much control over. Studies have shown that clutch hitting is a myth, and I have done studies showing an extremely strong correlation between run differential and win-loss record. Basically the Dodgers should have been about 16-8, but poorly timed scoring led to their 11-13 record.

Couple Dodger players

Though arguing bad luck won’t change the team’s record now, Dodger fans rejoice in the fact that luck doesn’t accumulate. This means that your team is likely to win 60% of its games from here on out, taking the division by 5 games. Now that I’ve written this, there’s no doubt that Ethier and Loney will collide going for a ball in foul territory. There, now I’ve balanced out the karma.

New M’s Stats

August 13, 2009

Along the upper bar of this site you will see both “M’s Player Values” and “Other M’s Stats.” These are some less common stats that I have either created or taken from box scores this season. Check them out!

Mariners Wheeling and Dealing

July 31, 2009

The Mariners bartered with Pirates earlier this week, filling their need for both a shortstop and a back-end starter. The Ms acquired a veteran, all-star shortstop in Jack Wilson as well as pitcher, Ian Snell. They sent fill-in SS Ronny Cedeño as well as minor leaguers Jeff Clement, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic back over to Pittsburg. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they traded outfielder, Wladimir Balentien, for former Reds’ reliever, Robert Manuel.

Let’s start up the middle. The only apparent advantage –other than salary – to Cedeño over Wilson at short would be age. Cedeño is 26, and Wilson 31. While neither would be considered a great offensive force – or much of an offensive force at all – Wilson’s track record indicates that he is more valuable offensively, sporting a higher OPS while striking out less often. Though Wilson’s experience may be an explanation for better stats, he still outperformed Cedeño in first five years of their respective careers.

Cedeño may have the ability to be a great glove man, but it hasn’t shown itself yet. His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) as a shortstop, which measures all-around defensive ability, is negative, indicating that he is a below-average defender. Jack Wilson on the other hand has posted an average UZR of 5.6 per 150 games, a figure good enough to crack the top 8 among shortstops year in and year out.

The rest of the lot…

Ms Also Get

Ian Snell: At 27, Snell is entering the prime years for pitchers according to baseball stats guru, Bill James. Though his major league stats are nothing special, a 3.69 strikeout/walk ratio and less than 1 homer allowed per game in the minors indicate that the talent is there.

Robert Manuel: Young like Snell (26), Manuel still has growth potential ahead of him. He complements excellent control – just 1.5 walks per game – with a ridiculous K/BB ratio of 5.47 in the minors. He has always been a middle reliever, and is likely to stay that way.

Traded Away

Jeff Clement: Probably the biggest loss in the trade, I just recently wrote about how Clement might be ready for a permanent run in the majors. His AAA numbers are impressive, and in the National League he could be stashed at first without causing too much harm, while backing up Ryan Doumit at catcher for the Pirates.

Adcock/Lorin/Pribanic: All in their early 20s and all unproven.  Not one has played AA ball or higher, so it’s hard to tell now exactly what Seattle is losing, other than minors depth.

Wladimir Balentien: Balentien appeared to be a potential power hitter after two years in the Mariners’ minor league system, hitting 46 homers in less than two full seasons. However, that power hasn’t translated into home runs at Safeco, and his strikeout rates have remained up around 30%.

It seemed that Seattle was on the verge of throwing in the towel this season and trading some big guns (Washburn, Bedard) away for prospects. Then Bedard had two awful starts and went on the DL, and his trade value plummeted. While 20.5 hours still remain before the deadline, the Mariners have yet to trade away a big name for young talent, instead opting to trade away their own young pieces for current major leaguers. The next day could be interesting…

What is BABIP, anyway?

July 12, 2009

I wanted to take a little bit more time to talk about BABIP. Batting Average on Balls In Play. I realize that I use it a lot in my posts, and I sometimes forget to go back over what exactly it means. Whenever a ball is hit into the field of play (foul or fair) and becomes either an out or a hit, then it counts as a ball in play. The percent of these instances that result in a hit is then known as BABIP. The statistic can be applied similarly to both hitters and pitchers. A hitter’s BABIP represents his own batting average on balls in play, while a pitcher’s BABIP refers to the batting average that he gives up to opposing hitters on all balls in play.

There are two important observations about BABIP. Firstly, a batter has a fair amount of control over his own average on balls in play. His ability to place the ball, go the opposite way, reduce pop-ups, hit line drives and leg out infield hits all contribute to the percent of balls he hits into play that end up being hits. Take two all-time-great Mariner lefties, Ichiro Suzuki and Ken Griffey, Jr. Their BABIPs – 0.356 and 0.289, respectively – are like night and day, a product of two distinct hitting styles. Ichiro is more of a slap hitter who finds holes in the infield while Griffey’s beautiful swing often sent balls out toward and over the wall in the King Dome. Despite his career BABIP being almost 70 points higher than Griffey’s, it would be tough to argue that Ichiro has been more valuable to the Mariner franchise. Thus, BABIP itself doesn’t tell us much about the offensive production of a player; rather it can only tell us exactly what its definition is: how often a player turns balls in the field of play into hits.

That being said, occasionally a player will go through streaks where the ball just can’t seem to find a hole, and conversely when the ball seems to have a mind of its own, slipping through every seam in the infield and clipping the foul lines. Because BABIP is a function both of a little luck, and a player’s own hitting traits, it is important to recognize when a player’s BABIP is reflecting skill or fortune. Ichiro has been better than great at finding holes during his career, but this season his BABIP figure is up to 0.384. Though he has finished two seasons in his career with a BABIP north of 0.384, at age 35 it is not likely that he can keep this pace, and his average is likely to fall about 10 points. This is the best way that BABIP is used, to predict future rises and falls in batting average.

The second important observation about BABIP is that pitchers can’t seem to control it (see this post for an explanation). Over the course of a career and even a season, a pitcher will face every type of batter, from the Ichiros to the Griffeys, and therefore his BABIP tends to take on the league average, about 0.300.

Predictions can be made in the same way with pitchers as with hitters. If a pitcher has a 0.350 BABIP halfway through the season, for instance, it is very likely that it will drop as the year goes on, reducing the number of runs that he gives up.

So, that’s BABIP in a nutshell! I hope it helps…

And Another Thing…

July 7, 2009

As a quick follow up to my last post, I would like to add some interesting findings. The home run surge has coincided with the decline of stealing and sacrificing so closely that it’s nearly impossible to tell which came first. However, causation is easier to guess at. Teams are sacrificing and getting caught stealing about 35 less times per season than in the past, and they are seeing about 100 more at bats per season. This might explain a “power trip” of 3 or 4 more homers per year, but does nothing to explain the 45 homer jump we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Players are simply bigger and stronger, for whatever reason, and they hit more bombs. Since home runs are the most efficient means of scoring, this is primary culprit of the increase in run scoring that has occurred over the same couple decades. Likely it is this new-found power that is encouraging managers to pull back on the reigns, and not the other way around.

While I maintain that sacrificing and over-stealing are generally offense killers, this study is not able to show that…I’ll get to that next!

Making Baseball Fun

June 23, 2009

Here’s a visually-pleasing baseball site that was forwarded to me…there is some fun stuff here!


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