Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Who will win that big, gold trophy with all the flags around it?

By Mike Moritz

What happened in Tampa Bay? And how about Baltimore? And how about Houston? And what about Atlanta?

Jesus Fuck! The last night of the regular season solidified the fact that baseball is the craziest, most absurd and weirdest sport in the world.

But I'm not here to talk about any of those things. Sure, they were crazy, indeed. But I rather spend this time before the playoffs start to attack the blogosphere with some analyzing on who the best playoff team is.

But first, I have some explaining to do. In the book Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything you know about the Game is Wrong (a book that my friends and I refer to as "the bible"), there is a chapter called "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's Shit Work in the Playoffs?" This chapter explains what kind of teams are well equipped for the playoffs. Nate Silverman and Dayn Perry, the authors of this specific chapter, did a little research. I'll save you the time and only put a little segment of the chapter:
"After any number of permutations of the twenty-six variables in our database, we identified three factors that have the most fundamental and direct relationship with Playoff Success Points. The variables are as follows: 
  • Closer WXRL (Wins Expected over Replacement Level; in other words, WAR) 
  • Pitcher strikeout rate 
  •  FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average; in other words, UZR)
Striking batters out, catching the ball, and having a good closer wins championships. It makes a good deal of sense why each of these variables is so important in the postseason."

Okay, so while you that in mind, let me explain the thing about offence in the playoffs. Baseball Between the Numbers often uses a way of telling if something has some sort of correlation with something else. This system is on a scale of -1 to 1. When something is calculated and comes out to 1, that means that when something happens to X, something also happens to Y. When you get to -1, that means that there is an inverse relationship (so when something happens to X, something of the opposite variety happens to Y). When you come to a 0, that means that the two things have have no correlation. You can also get a decimal, for example, if you get .29, that means that there is relativity small correlation. Hopefully you get my rift.

So going back to what "the bible" proved, they found that runs scored in the regular season compared to the postseason has a correlation of 0, yes, straight up ZERO, in other words, no correlation. They also found that batting average, ISO, and walk rates for hitters have a .04, .01, .02 correlation, respectively, again, essentially ZERO correlation. And just to back up what the book explained in the quote that you read, I will now list the correlations between starting pitching WAR, closer WAR and defense UZR:

Strike out rate for starting pitchers: .14
WAR for closer: .22
Defense UZR: .16

So looking at these three numbers, they don't look to convincing because the highest correlation we have is .22, which is, as we know by now, a small correlation. They key here is that we must put them all together in order to get a well suited play off team. Well, if you know math, then you would know that .22+.16+.14=.52. So together, these factors have a .52 correlation with winning a championship, just like the book stated. (If you do not believe my numbers, find the book yourself and read the chapter, page 352.) The .52 correlation obviously is not going to be a 100% lock for the team to win the World Series because playoffs consist of such small sample sizes, and we know that sample sizes can be crazy enough to make Sam Fuld a legend. There is a difference between a good regular season team (2006 Yankees) and a good playoff team (2010 Giants) Basically, if you want the best chance at winning, your team should focus on those three things. We need to look no further than 2010's World Series champion San Fransico Giants.The Giants had an 8.57 K/9 from their starters in the regular season that were on the playoff roster. The closer, Brian Wilson, was clearly elite: 1.81 ERA, 2.19 FIP and 2.6 WAR in 74.2 innings. And the defense? Their 64.7 UZR led all of baseball last year.

Now let's put all these numbers to work. So what about this year? What team has the most suitable playoff squad of 2011?

So we will start in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks sport an MLB best 60.2 UZR. The starting rotation on the other hand, has a 6.39 K/9, which is far below the 7.13 K/9 MLB average. The closer J.J. Putz has a 1.7 WAR, that is the forth best among all playoff closers. The defense is there, for sure, but there is a huge flaw in the pitching with the strike outs and Putz isn't the best October closer, but merely average. They are not my team.

Next, we'll do the New York Yankees. The Yankees hold the 7th best UZR in baseball, with 22.9. It was just announced that Bartolo Colon will be left of the roster and A.J. Burnett will be in the bullpen. Not including Colon or Burnett, the Yankees rotation have a 6.95 K/9, again, below the 7.13 mark for the league. As for the closer, they obviously have Mariano, who by the way, has a 2.5 WAR which the best of all the postseason closers this year. Maybe the Yanks.

Next up: Texas Rangers. The Rangers have the 6th best UZR in baseball: 30.6. So that's good. Colby Lewis is probably going to be the odd man out on this one, sorry Colby. The Rangers starting pitching has a 7.2 K/9, a little better than average. Neftali Feliz , .9 WAR, is not the same pitcher he was last year; his strike outs dropped by almost 2 and his walk rate spike by almost 2. His BABIP was very low this year but his peripherals won't hold. He's risky. But I still think the Rangers are a good bet.

Next: Detroit Tigers. Detroit's defense is decent. UZR dislikes them enough for -2, 14th in baseball. The pitching on the other hand is great: 7.54 K/9. Jose Valverde led baseball in saves with 49 but has a 1 WAR, 6th best among playoff closers. I don't see the Tigers winning.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays. The UZR was 2nd best in the Bigs with 50.3. The Rays have announced that they will be leaving Jeff Nieman off of the ALDS roster and that Matt Moore will be starting Game 1 (Isn't baseball great like that?). I have used Moore's strike out numbers from the minors this year to be included in the K/9. With that said, the Rays have an 8.48 K/9 but again, since Moore's numbers were gaudy in the minors, you might have to take a little bit off of that number. Still amazing though.  Kyle Farnsworth has .9 WAR, the worst out of all of 'em. That's a problem, but the pitching is so incredible and the defense is so good that I can see them making a World Series appearance, for sure.

Next: Phillies. Bad defense; the UZR is -15.5 and is 22nd in baseball. But the pitching, o my: 8.17 K/9. Easily the best in October. And Ryan Madson has the third most WAR at 1.8. The pitching is so dominate that they actually have a good chance despite horrible defense.

Next: Brewers. So even though the Brewers have Prince Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt on the defense, they still managed to rack up 10.2 UZR, 11th in baseball. It looks like they are going to leave out Chris Narveson out of the rotation. And the rotation has a great 7.95 K/9. John Axford has the second most WAR of all postseason pitchers, 1.9. These guys seem to have a great chance; good defense, great pitching and a great closer.

Finally: the Cardinals. The defense is so bad, it's funny. 4th worst UZR (-30.8) in baseball. And the pitching is almost as bad, the 6.29 K/9 is the worst of all the playoff teams. And the closer? Jason Motte has been the closer of late so I'll go with him as the closer for the playoffs. His 1.6 WAR is 5th. There is no way the Cards are getting out of the first round and with all do respect, they are probably the worst playoff team this year. But hey, the playoffs are very crazy.

And in order to quantify exactly how good these teams are for the postseason, I came up with a simple math formula. I call this formula Playoff Quality by Correlation Weighted (or: PQCW). There are three different formulas because of the three different correlations but basically it's like this:

PQCW= average of correlation X stat

NOTE: You must perform this equation three times and use all three stats (K/9, Closer WAR, and UZR).You must then add up all three numbers for in order to get your final PQCW. The average correlation is .17. Think of this kind of like a point system.

I would like to say that this is probably completely wrong but I am just trying to get a sense of what each teams chances are in the postseason.

So let's find out who has the best PQCW.

Arizona: Pitching: .17 X 6.39= 1.09
              Closer: .17 X 1.7= .289
              Defense: .17 X 60.2=10.23
Total: 11.609. So Arizona's PQCW is 11.609.

Yankees: Pitching: .17 X 6.95= 1.18
               Closer: .17 X 2.5= .425
               Defense: .17 X 22.9= 3.89
Total PQCW: 2.73

Texas: 1.22
PQCW: 6.57

Tigers: 1.28
           .17 (.17 X 1)
PQCW: 1.11

Rays: 1.44
PQCW: 10.14

Phillies: 1.39
PQCW: -0.94

Brewers: 1.35
PQCW: 3.4

Cardinals: 1.07
PQCW: -3.86

 So there you have it. And yes, I do think that it is surprising that PQCW does not like the Phillies very much and loves the D-Backs but as I said before, this could be completely wrong.

The playoffs are a crazy time. Absurd things happen. You can't stop it but that is why baseball is such a crazy sport.

Personally, I predict the Phillies versus the Rays, a rematch of 2008 with the same result: Phillies win, only this time, I predict in seven games.


(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alex Gordon was not and is not a bust (especially not this year)

By Mike Moritz

After being drafted second overall in the 2005 draft, Alex Gordon started his first season in pro-ball in AA and in 576 PAs, he hit .325/.427/.588 with a .268 ISO, while also posting a 12.5% walk rate, 29 homers and stealing 22 bases.We should also note, and probably put more consideration into his .452 wOBA and 172 wRC+, both of which were outstanding. It could be deemed that he was just about destined for greatness. The fact that he was able to hit that well in his first year of minor league ball in AA was amazing! Now rewinding a little bit, before the 2006 season started, he was already ranked as the 19th best prospect in baseball as rated by Baseball America, and he hadn't even picked up a bat in pro-ball. Impressive right? And sure enough, after that monster season in AA, he earned the #2 prospect rating by Baseball America, behind only the then highly touted Daiskue Matsuzaka. Not only did Gordon earn a higher ranking as a prospect, he also earned himself a spot on the 25-man roster, skipping AAA entirely.

So here's what happened next: He turned in what seemed to be a disappointing offensive season as he hit .247/.314/.411 with an 88 wRC+, with only 15 homers as his walk rate basically cut in half, down to 6.8%. On the other hand, he had a pretty nice .164 ISO and 36 doubles. But nontheless, it all added up to -8.1 RC. But UZR did like him enough for an 8.7. He turned in 2.1 WAR. His BABIP was .303. His LD/FB/GB slash line was 19.5%/43.6%/36.9%. So he had a little more pure power (FB%) and seemed to be a good pure hitter (LD%). So maybe he got a little unlucky. Let's say his BABIP should have been something like .325ish. So his average should have been around .272, his OBP should have been around .339 and etc. So the fact that he was able to post a 2.1 WAR in his rookie season despite not living up to offensive expectations at all is okay. He just got a little BABIP'd, nothing you can do about it.

Now, the next year, he started to put it together. He hit .260/.351/.432, .172 ISO, 106 wRC+. He hit 16 homers and 35 doubles but this time, his walk rate spiked back up to near his minor league levels: 11.6%. His batted-ball-slash-line was 21%/47.6%/31.4%. So he showed improved pure hitting ability and increased pure power, something that should have led to a break out year the next season.

Instead, Gordon got shot down by injuries in 2009. He missed 79 games, if my sources are correct, to a hip injury which, I believe, required surgery. He ended up only getting 189 PAs, a point in which the vast majority of statistics are not stabilized. So that was sort of a lost season for him.

And then, in 2010, he started the year on the DL. He came back after his rehab assignment and the Royals sent him back down after he was hitting .194 but in only 37 PAs. This is where the Royals started to  mess with Gordon. Fans thought he was a bust. In 321 PAs in AAA, he, predictably, hit the shit off the ball: .315/.442/.577, just to keep it short. He was re-called in July and hit just .215/.315/.355 with a .140 ISO in 281 PAs, which added up to be -.4 WAR. Now, most conventional baseball fans don't know what WAR is, so all the Royals fans were just saying straight up that Gordon was a bust.

But if you know advanced stats well and you were into them since Gordon got called up for the first time back in 2007, then you might have noticed that after his injury plagued 2009 season, his batted rates went back to normal, more specifically his line drive rate. It rose back up from 14.3% in 2009 all the way back to 23.2% in 2010. So he was BABIP'd to death in 2010 in those 281 PAs, so be it. As I said before, you can't do anything about BABIP. It can be a harmful thing, it really can. But people should have also taken note of his growth as a pure hitter. As what happens to most great hitters who have multiple tools (in this case, I'm referring to hitting for average and hitting for power), Gordon started to hit more ground balls and less fly balls  while also keeping his line drive rate up, which shows an improved set of hit-placement-skills, or the ability to place balls in certain spots, whether it be in the air, on the ground and to left or right field, or going back up the middle. Again, the reason that we did not see the results was because of the Holy BABIP.

So sure enough, Gordon has put it together this year at age 27, right at his prime. And yes, he been able to maintain the ability to keep hitting ground balls while also squaring up the ball for a home run now and then. His batted-ball-slash-line this year has been 21.8%/39.9%/38.4%, very good. So his stats for 2011, you ask? Well....305/.378/.505, .383 wOBA, 141 wRC+, .200 ISO, 30.6 RC, 7.9 UZR (keep in mind he made a position change before this year to left field from third base). He also has 41 doubles (which ties him for second in baseball) and 19 homers. He has 6 WAR this year. Sure his walk rate has gone down a bit (9.5%, still above average) and his O-Swing% has jumped, but based on his past performances with base on balls, I think he bring that walk rate back up, hopefully. And sure, his .365 BABIP is pretty high and due to regress, I wouldn't expect to regress all that much based on his batted ball this year and through his career.

Do I think that Gordon will be the 6.5 WAR guy for the rest of his career that he's on pace for now this season? No. But he should be a 3.5-4.5 and maybe 5 WAR through his prime and once his BABIP returns to normal. Gordon has not been a bust, in fact, he's far from it, it's just taken him a while to find his groove/get healthy/the Royals to give another chance/for the BABIP Gods to be kind to him for once. Some players take a few years to live up to the hype, Gordon is one of them. His career path has been a little sketchy but his peripherals tell the truth. Royals fans, Alex Gordon is pretty legit.

(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com and baseballprospectus.com)