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7 Reasons Why the A’s Will Win the AL West in 2015

The A’s winning the West after a huge offseason makeover in 2015 might seem like an unlikely achievement, but here are seven reasons why this is not at all unachievable:


1. The New-Look Infield

In 2015 the Athletics will be throwing out a fresh face at each of the four starting infield positions. Here’s a quick look:

2014 2015
1B: Brandon Moss 1B: Ike Davis (Mets)
2B: Eric Sogard 2B: Ben Zobrist (Rays)
SS: Jed Lowrie SS: Marcus Semien (White Sox)
3B: Josh Donaldson 3B: Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays)

Especially from an Athletics fan’s perspective, the left side of this chart looks very nice. The names Moss and Donaldson are very important and dear to you; however, the right side of this chart is actually more productive overall. While Moss and Donaldson have the highest wOBA of the eight players at .351 and .339 respectively, Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard have the two lowest at .300 and .262 respectively. This averages out to be a wOBA of .313. The Average wOBA for 2015’s infield is .320.

You might be thinking that Lawrie does not compare to Donaldson, and you could be right. The fact of the matter is that Lawrie is a downgrade from Donaldson, but not by all that much, meanwhile, Zobrist is a huge upgrade from Sogard at 2B. And even Sogard is an upgrade from Punto as the UTIL infielder.

Other important categories that favor the 2015 infield are BB%, K%, FB%, Contact%, OPS, OBP, etc. Also, the new infield got quite a bit younger and faster.

The 2015 infield also has a higher average wRC+ at 104 in comparison to 2014’s 102.5. These aren’t huge differences, but the A’s are expecting better years from Lawrie, who was injured a lot in 2014, Davis, who hit 32 HR in 2012, and Semien, who hasn’t really had much of a chance in the majors yet. These moves were necessary, not only to save money, but because the 2014 team didn’t actually win the AL West. I’m now going to compare this new INF to a team that did win the West, the 2012 A’s.

The 2012 INF consisted of Josh Donaldson, Stephen Drew, Cliff Pennington and Brandon Moss. There were other guys in the mix earlier on in the season, i.e. Jemile Weeks, Brandon Inge, however, these were the guys that got it done down the home stretch.

2012 A’s INF WAR wOBA wRC+ 2015 A’s INF WAR wOBA wRC+
Brandon Moss 2.3 .402 160 Ike Davis 0.3 .324 108
Cliff Pennington 1.0 .263 65 Ben Zobrist 5.7 .333 119
Stephen Drew 0.0 .310 97 Marcus Semien 0.6 .301 88
Josh Donaldson 1.5 .300 90 Brett Lawrie 1.7 .320 101
2012 AVG 1.2 .319 103   2014 AVG 2.1 .320 104

These numbers are almost identical, however the 2015 team has a slight edge in every category. That is despite the fact that the A’s expect growth from the incoming players this season. Even after the significant losses of Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss the A’s infield is more than capable of pushing them toward another Western division title.


2. The Designated Hitter

The Athletics’ DH numbers from 2014 are not where you want them to be. Yes, Melvin will still use this spot as a “half-rest” day for players like Crisp, Reddick and Lawrie, but the newcomer Billy Butler will most likely fill the spot the majority of the time. Butler is a huge upgrade from the A’s team DH numbers last season in which Callaspo, Moss, Norris, Jaso, Vogt, Dunn, among countless others had at bats. Let’s take a look at the 2014 A’s DH numbers vs. Billy Butler’s 2014 numbers. (he also had a down season):

Player WAR wOBA wRC+
2014 Team DH -1.3 .284 82
Billy Butler -0.3 .311 97

This chart shows that Butler is a significant upgrade at the DH spot, as he will bring a lot more production to the middle of this lineup. I should also bring up his career numbers, which are a wOBA of .351 and wRC+ of 117. If Butler can get back to his career form, the A’s offense is looking at a huge boost, but even if he doesn’t and repeats his 2014 performance, the DH spot is still getting a nice upgrade.


3. The Rotation

The starting rotation for the A’s no longer consists of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel, but it is still a very strong group with huge potential. I’m going to compare the projected 2015 group to the 2012 and 2013 rotations that led the A’s to division titles.


Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Tommy Milone 190 6.49 1.71 1.14 3.74 1.28 2.8
Jarrod Parker 181.1 6.95 3.13 0.55 3.47 1.26 3.5
Bartolo Colon 111 5.38 1.36 1.00 3.43 1.21 2.4
Brandon McCarthy 82.1 5.92 1.95 0.81 3.24 1.25 1.8
A.J. Griffin 79.1 7.00 2.08 1.09 3.06 1.13 1.4
Team Average  / 6.35


0.92 3.39 1.23




Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
A.J Griffin 200 7.70 2.43 1.62 3.83 1.13 1.5
Jarrod Parker 197 6.12 2.88 1.14 3.97 1.22 1.3
Bartolo Colon 190.1 5.53 1.37 0.66 2.65 1.17 3.9
Tommy Milone 153.1 7.10 2.29 1.41 4.17 1.29 1.3
Dan Straily 152.1 7.33 3.37 0.95 3.96 1.24 1.4
Team Average  / 6.76 2.47 1.16 3.72 1.21 1.9


Projected 2015 (2014 STATS)

Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Sonny Gray 219 7.52 3.04 0.62 3.08 1.19 3.3
Scott Kazmir 190.1 7.75 2.36 0.76 3.55 1.16 3.3
Jesse Chavez 125.2 8.52 2.94 0.93 3.44 1.30 1.7
Jesse Hahn 70 8.36 3.73 0.51 2.96 1.13 0.8
Drew Pomeranz 52.1 8.6 3.44 0.86 2.58 1.13 0.7
Team Average  /







As you can see, the 2015 rotation wins four out of the six categories. They won the majority of the categories already, but this 2015 staff has the potential to be better than these numbers show. In past years, the A’s success had a lot to do with their strong pitching staff — this is a big reason why I believe they will win the west in 2015 — however, we need to take a look at the projected rotations of the four other teams in the division to see how the A’s compare to each of them.

Here are the five teams’ projected rotations for 2015:



Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Jered Weaver 213.1 7.13 2.74 1.14 3.59 1.21 1.5
C.J. Wilson 175.2 7.74 4.35 0.87 4.51 1.45 0.6
Garrett Richards 168.2 8.75 2.72 0.27 2.61 1.04 4.3
Matt Shoemaker 121.1 8.16 1.56 0.67 2.89 1.07 2.6
Andrew Heaney 24.2 5.84 2.55 2.19 6.93 1.50 -0.4
Team Average  / 7.52 2.78 1.03 4.11 1.25 1.7



Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Felix Hernandez 236 9.46 1.75 0.61 2.14 0.92 6.2
Hisashi Iwakuma 179 7.74 1.06 1.01 3.52 1.05 3.2
Roenis Elias 163.2 7.86 3.52 0.88 3.85 1.31 1.4
J.A. Happ 153 7.53 2.71 1.24 4.12 1.31 1.5
James Paxton 74 7.18 3.53 0.36 3.04 1.2 1.3
Team Average  / 7.95 2.51 0.82 3.33





Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Colby Lewis 170.1 7.03 2.54 1.32 5.18 1.52 1.6
Yu Darvish 144.1 11.35 3.06 0.81 3.06 1.26 4.1
Nick Tepesch 125.2 4.01 3.15 1.07 4.30 1.34 0.4
Derek Holland 34.1 6.29 1.05 0 1.31 1.02 1.3
Ross Detwiler   /   /   /   /   /   /   /
Team Average   / 7.17


.8 3.46 1.29 1.85



Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Colin McHugh 154.2 9.14 2.39 0.76 2.73 1.02 3.3
Dallas Keuchel 200 6.57 2.16 0.50 2.93 1.18 3.9
Scott Feldman 180.1 5.34 2.50 0.80 3.74 1.30 1.6
Brett Oberholtzer 143.2 5.89 1.75 0.75 4.39 1.38 2.4
Brad Peacock 122 7.97 4.57 1.48 4.50 1.52 -0.1
Team Average   / 6.98 2.67 0.86 3.59 1.28 2.2



Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP WAR
Sonny Gray 219 7.52 3.04 0.62 3.08 1.19 3.3
Scott Kazmir 190.1 7.75 2.36 0.76 3.55 1.16 3.3
Jesse Chavez 125.2 8.52 2.94 0.93 3.44 1.30 1.7
Jesse Hahn 70 8.36 3.73 0.51 2.96 1.13 0.8
Drew Pomeranz 52.1 8.6 3.44 0.86 2.58 1.13 0.7
Team Average   /





1.18 2.0

The Mariners and the Athletics both have really solid pitching staffs. The Mariners have arguably the best pitcher in the American League in Felix Hernandez. The Angels also have a good young ace in Garrett Richards, but he is coming off an injury; it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Sonny Gray proved that he is a true ace last season, going over 200 innings and pitching extremely well in big games. The numbers do give the A’s a slight edge; they won three of the six categories and the Mariners won two of them. King Felix, Iwakuma and the solid supporting cast are hard to bet against, but 1-5, the A’s have a better staff according to last year’s numbers.


4. Speedee Oil Change

Anytime manager Bob Melvin calls on the bullpen, the A’s should be confident. There are so many capable arms out there that it’s really not fair. Honestly, a starter could go four innings with a lead and that would be enough for this bullpen with Otero, Abad, Cook, O’Flaherty, Clippard and Doolittle in the mix. There are plenty of other options as well that might not get a shot because it’s already crowded with talent out there. The starters, however, are very capable of giving you six or seven innings consistently, which makes this bullpen even that much more deadly, allowing Melvin to create left-on-left matchups or vice versa. The fact of the matter is, if you can’t score, you can’t win. While the starting staff is very solid, getting to the bullpen might not be the opponent’s best option when facing the A’s. Another positive for the A’s has been their ability to fight their way back into ballgames the last few years. With a bullpen like this who can keep the deficit where it is, the probability of achieving a comeback is that much greater.

As shown by the Royals on the successful end and the Dodgers on the opposite end, the strength of your bullpen can make or break your season.

Let’s compare the A’s bullpen to the other teams in the division by highlighting the projected top six bullpen arms for each team:



Joe Smith 74.2 8.20 1.81 0.48 1.81 0.80 18 15
Huston Street 59.1 8.65 2.12 0.61 1.37 0.94 0 41
Mike Morin 59 8.24 2.90 0.46 2.90 1.19 9 0
Fernando Salas 58.2 9.36 2.15 0.77 3.38 1.09 8 0
Cory Rasmus 37.0 9.24 2.92 0.73 2.68 1.16 0 0
Vinnie Pestano 18.2 12.54 2.41 1.45 2.89 1.23 1 0
Team Average  / 9.37 2.39 0.75 2.51 1.07  /  /



Tom Wilhelmsen 75.1 8.12 2.7 0.72 2.03 1.00 8 1
Danny Farquhar 71 10.27 2.79 0.63 2.66 1.13 13 1
Dominic Leone 66.1 9.50 3.39 0.54 2.17 1.16 7 0
Fernando Rodney 66.1 10.31 3.80 0.41 2.85 1.34 0 48
Yoervis Medina 57 9.47 4.42 0.47 2.68 1.33 21 0
Charlie Furbush 42.1 10.84 1.91 0.85 3.61 1.16 20 1
Team Average  /




2.67 1.19  /  /



Robbie Ross 78.1 5.86 3.45 1.03 6.20 1.70 2 0
Shawn Tolleson 71.2 8.67 3.52 1.26 2.67 1.17 7 0
Roman Mendez 33 6.00 4.64 0.55 2.18 1.12 10 0
Neftali Feliz 31.2 5.97 3.13 1.42 1.99 0.98 0 13
Tanner Scheppers 23.0 6.65 3.91 2.35 9.00 1.78 1 0
Phil Klein 19 10.89 4.74 1.42 2.84 1.11 0 0
Team Average  / 7.34 3.90 1.34 4.15 1.31  /  /



Luke Gregerson 72.1 7.34 1.87 0.75 2.12 1.01 22 3
Pat Neshek 67.1 9.09 1.2 0.53 1.87 0.79 25 6
Josh Fields 54.2 11.52 2.80 0.33 4.45 1.23 8 4
Chad Qualls 51.1 7.54 0.88 0.88 3.33 1.15 2 19
Tony Sipp 50.2 11.19 3.02 0.89 3.38 0.89 11 4
Jake Buchanan 35.1 5.09 3.06 1.02 4.58 1.50 0 0
Team Average   / 8.63


0.73 3.29 1.10  /  /



Dan Otero 86.2 4.67 1.56 0.42 2.28 1.10 12 1
Tyler Clippard 70.1 10.49 2.94 0.64 2.18 1.00 40 1
Sean Doolittle 62.2 12.78 1.15 0.72 2.73 0.73 5 22
Fernando Abad 57.1 8.01 2.35 0.63 1.57 0.85 9 0
Ryan Cook 50 9.00 3.96 0.54 3.42 1.08 7 1
Eric O’Flaherty 20 6.75 1.80 1.35 2.25 0.95 3 1
Team Average   / 8.62 2.29 0.72



 /  /

The Mariners and Athletics each won two out of the five categories. The Athletics also came in second in two other categories. Although this chart shows the Mariners and the A’s as pretty evenly matched, the Mariners have a lot of aging players in their pen, so we cannot be sure if they will keep up the good numbers. The Astros got a lot better by adding Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but that still wasn’t enough to make them the best in the division, especially after the A’s went out and traded for the two time All-Star, Tyler Clippard. All of these teams except Texas have a very strong bullpen, so trying to come back from a deficit is going to be a tough feat in this division.

The A’s also have a lot of other options past these six players, probably more so than the other four teams, making injuries less of a factor for them.


5. Coco Crisp

When Coco Crisp is at the top of the lineup, the A’s are a better team. Over the past three seasons there’s no player who has had as much of an overall impact on this team than Coco. Whether it’s at the plate, in the field or in the clubhouse, Crisp’s impact is significant. Despite losing a lot of star players, the A’s will not take a step backward because they still have their most important piece in Crisp. If Crisp would have been traded away this offseason, I don’t believe the A’s would be ready to compete for the AL West title in 2015. There would be too long of an adjustment period, someone else would need to step up big time and fill his shoes. Luckily, the A’s don’t have to worry about that yet. Bottom line: the A’s need Coco Crisp.


6. Depth and Versatility

Having a deep roster is always important in a 162 game season. You will have players go on the DL, it is unavoidable. Being able to replace the injured players with capable major leaguers is key to a team’s success in the long run. Billy Beane has constructed a 40-man roster with tremendous depth, especially with pitching. The A’s have eight or nine guys capable of making the starting rotation, not to mention two others (Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin) due back this summer. There are upwards of ten players competing for a spot in the bullpen as well. It will be interesting to see who makes it on to the 25-man roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Triple-A Nashville has a stacked opening day roster. Having great options in the minor leagues is key for any team, and the A’s will definitely have that this season with Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin and Brad Mills, four starters likely to be starting in Triple-A. Also, RJ Alvarez, Eury De La Rosa and Evan Scriber, three above-average bullpen arms will likely be starting down there as well.

The A’s lineup is a very versatile group this season. Eric Sogard, A’s second baseman the last few seasons, has moved into a utility INF role; he plays excellent defense, and for a defensive replacement, he can handle the stick pretty well. Ben Zobrist is known for his ability to play all over the diamond with above-average defense, and also for getting the job done from both sides of the plate; his career wOBA is .344. Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld can play all three outfield positions with ease while providing speed off the bench in pinch running situations. Marcus Semien will likely be the everyday SS, but he can play all over the infield as well. Stephen Vogt will mostly catch, but he can play first base and corner outfield if the A’s need him to. The amount of options the A’s have, if injuries do occur, are limitless. It will be entertaining to see how Bob Melvin constructs his lineup card every day.


7. The Manager

Bob Melvin is the perfect manager for a team of misfits and players who have never played together previously. He will bring this group to play for each other, as a unit, one day at a time. Melvin is great at creating matchups that benefit the team and give them the best chance to succeed. The roster that has been assembled this season is perfect for just that. It is loaded with skilled, versatile players. Bob Melvin has done it before and he will do it again.

Collins Working the Lineup

Over the course of 162 games, there’s only so much influence a manager of any baseball team could have over their outcome. After 105 games the Mets actual record is 3 wins shy of their projected record of 53-52, making this a .500 team. Several factors contribute to this discrepancy like losing your ace pitcher to injury, scrambling for a closer to begin the season, developing a major league catcher, adapting to a new hitting coaches philosophy, and setting the most productive lineup possible just to name a few. What Terry Collins has done with this team to this point can only be admired, but help has arrived and changes must be made to maximize team production.

The move of Curtis Granderson from the cleanup to leadoff role proved to be successful as the team surged from June’s end through July. Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson’s slash line numbers are almost identical, batting average is the only big difference which Daniel Murphy leads Granderson by about.060 AVG points and make him a more ideal leadoff hitter. Curtis Granderson hit 6 home runs from the leadoff spot which minimized his RBI potential which essentially is the reason Sandy Alderson signed him. In moving Daniel Murphy into the leadoff spot, the Mets actually increase their leadoff OBP while putting Curtis Granderson into a role where his RBI opportunities increase dramatically.

Daniel Murphy’s SLG% is nearly that of Curtis Granderson with half as many HRs, meaning that Daniel Murphy is doing a better job of getting into scoring position than our current leadoff hitter. The only 2 reasons the Mets have kept Murphy out of the leadoff spot in the past were lack of speed on the basepaths and low OBP. Now Daniel leads our starting players in SB showing he has some speed and base running ability and his OBP is amongst the team leaders. David Wright being the best hitter on the team (despite struggles in 2014) deserves the 2nd spot in the order. His power has declined this season, however his OBP is still respectable and he should remain in a table-setting role followed by Granderson. Lucas Duda has earned his cleanup role as he’s hit over .280 in the past couple of months with at least 5 HRs per month. He is driving the ball to all fields and should be a key contributor to driving in runs once our table-setters do their jobs.

The top 4 lineup spots should be configured as follows:

1  2B Daniel Murphy        (.293/.340/.412) 28 2B, 7HR, 11SB

2  3B David Wright           (.278/.339/.401) 24 2B, 8HR, 5SB

3  RF Curtis Granderson  (.232/.339/.415) 18 2B, 15HR, 8SB

4  1B Lucas Duda               (.259/.356/.500) 22 2B, 18HR, 3SB

For the next spot in the lineup, this player has had a tale of 2 seasons. Travis d’Arnaud has adjusted quickly since his demotion to AAA on June 6th. Since being recalled on June 24th, d’Arnaud has a slash line of (.302/.337/.646). He has lengthened our lineup and has earned the spot of the 5 hitter.

5  C Travis d’Arnaud

Before June 6th demotion    (.180/.271/.320) 3 2B, 3HR

Since June 24th Promotion (.302/.337/.646) 7 2B, 4HR

Season Stats                            (.232/.298/.379) 10 2B, 7HR

Right after Travis d’Arnaud in the Mets order is when they begin to look thin offensively. Having early success in the season but struggling as of recent is Juan Lagares, the defensive wizard and minor league doubles machine. This kid showed an advanced approach to lead off the year and is capable of making the bottom of our order a productive one. He isn’t seeing the ball well like he was in the first half, but we need to remember he is in his first full season in the bigs and known primarily for his route to catch baseballs and cannon for an arm, any offense is a plus.

6  CF Juan Lagares (.271/.306/.375) 16 2B, 2HR, 2SB

7  RF Chris Young/Eric Young/Kirk Nieuwenhuis/Bobby Abreu/denDekker

Our right field position is a question mark. I’m not saying the Mets haven’t produced anything from the position, but they don’t have an everyday right fielder which is a need to be addressed in the off-season or via trade before Thursday’s deadline. Though not one player has stepped up and taken over this position, I still believe they have produced more than my “ideal” 8 hitter, Ruben Tejada. In every championship team there is that one scrappy player that is on the squad solely for defensive prowess. Through the course of the season I have seen many different Ruben Tejadas. I’ve seen the defensive shortstop, the slap hitter, the kid in way over his head, and the wanna-be slugger with warning track power. This player is undoubtedly our 8 hitter and those who look too dependently on his OBP must take into consideration how many times he has walked for the sole reason that the worst hitting pitching staff is just 4 pitches away.

Ruben has been intentionally walked 10 times, twice as much as any player on the Mets. Ruben Tejada hasn’t defended the way he has in the past which quieted his lack of offense. In a New York setting, he shouldn’t start and the Mets executives know that. Ruben is a bridge to the future, an inexpensive filler until we land in a position of contention where an offensive producer is necessary at the position. Until then we have a shortstop with a strong arm and instincts but lacks the speed to get too many balls up the middle or steal a base when we need him to. He has no power and is offensively irrelevant as his slash line below shows. A shortstop with any tools is an upgrade here.

8  SS Ruben Tejada (.226/.351/.281) 9 2B, 2HR, 1SB

“The Managers’ Favourite Stat”

In the June 26 Nats-Cubs broadcast, Washington announcers Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo had a conversation about how managers use statistics, and in particular how Matt Williams managed a 16-inning epic against Milwaukee.

“He was relying on batting average with runners in scoring position,” Santangelo said, “and to me that’s the best stat going.” They added that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny uses it, and Matheny told them that “it was a lot of managers’ favourite stat.”

Go ahead and freak out a little. But I’m curious. If you were judging hitters based on batting average with RISP, how different would your judgments be than if you judged them based on AVG, wOBA, or wRC+?

I can’t figure out how to insert a table, so here is a handy and also dandy chart for your surveyal, with helpful, pretty colors! You shall behold the 2013 leaders – minimum of 100 plate appearances, to include pinch-hitters who might pop up in a 16-inning game – for average, wOBA, wRC+, and BARISP. Hitters who appear in all 4 columns are colored peach, and hitters who appear in 3 of the 4 columns are colored blue. (Note: Hanley Ramirez should have been in the fourth column, too. Somehow the leaderboard I pulled left his name out.)

What do you notice? Well, yes, there is a lot more overlap between the first three columns than the last one. I might be counting wrong, but it looks like over half of the BARISP leaderboard does not appear in a single other column. (Many of them are Cardinals.) And yet, the truth is, almost all of the top 25 BARISP leaders were, in fact, good hitters in 2013. The three worst hitters on the list, by wRC+, are Michael Brantley (104), Manny Machado (101), and Brandon Phillips (91). That’s not a terrible bench. (On the other hand, Pete Kozma looms.)

The truth is, good hitters are good hitters. A manager relying on BARISP would not suddenly disregard Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera, or Paul Goldschmidt.

Who would lose the most from a reliance on BARISP instead of advanced stats? Arguably, the guys who appear in the wOBA and wRC+ columns, but not the BARISP one. There are 15 of those players, favored by advanced numbers but not by “the managers’ favourite”. Of those 15, 8 still have BARISPs above .280. Here are the bottom five:

5. Khris Davis, .250 (43 PA)
4. Shin-Soo Choo, .240 (144 PA)
3. Joe Mauer, .239 (113 PA)
2. Yasiel Puig, .234 (99 PA)
1. Jeff Baker, .162 (44 PA)

On my custom BARISP Snub Leaderboard, there are only a handful of players a real manager might pass over. (Who would bet against 2013 Joe Mauer?)

In other words, even though a true stathead might yelp in terror at the thought of his team’s manager using BARISP to select a hitter, the process does not actually yield many bad results. Good hitters will be good hitters, even if your measure is slightly faulty. Your coach might bench Yasiel Puig for Brandon Phillips, which obviously would be bad. It’s also unlikely. More likely might be benching Khris Davis for Michael Brantley, and would you truly be that offended?

On the other hand, Pete Kozma looms.

MLB’s New Replay System: A Breakdown of Plays So Far

Well well well, MLB has a new replay system set up for every game of this year. Some people – although I would say most – are not too fond of this new system, myself included. They would say that it slows down an already slow enough game, which is true. The way the system is structured allows managers to be exploitative by confirming with their bench to see whether or not it the call should be challenged. This part of the process is what really gets me. Granted I haven’t seen too many games this year but already I miss the arguments between managers/coaches and the umpires; they were fun and made the game pretty interesting (especially when the manager of the team playing against yours got ejected). Regardless, this post is not intended to analyse the dynamics between managers and umpires but rather look at how successful the replay system has been and to examine the tendencies of the challenges. Using the twitter account @MLBReplays I examined all of the calls challenged so far this season. While the sample size is arguably small it did take quite a long time to examine various angles from the 49 calls made (as of the morning of April 9th 2014). For each replay I collected the following information which I then organized into a spreadsheet: Read the rest of this entry »

The Worst Playoff Bunts from 2002-2012

I’m generally opposed to the sacrifice bunt, except in the rarest of circumstances. This less than optimal strategy is utilized even more in the playoffs. Derek Jeter, the all-time leader in playoff sacrifice bunts with 9, bunts almost twice as frequently in the playoffs as the regular season. That in itself should tell you that managers tend to go bunt-happy in the postseason since Jeter is a career .308/.374/.465 playoff hitter. I used Win Probability Added (WPA) and Run Expectancy (RE) in my calculations. For the record, the sum of Jeter’s sacrifices is -0.13 WPA and -1.88 RE. Anyways, here’s the list of the five worst playoff sacrifice bunts since 2002. Data is provided by Baseball Reference’s Play Index.

5. Daniel Descalso 2012, NLDS, Game 1. The Cardinals were losing to the Nationals 3-2 in the 8th when Descalso came to the plate with Adron Chambers on first and Tyler Clippard on the mound. Descalso laid down a bunt, sending Chambers to second. WPA: -0.04 RE: -0.19. Pete Kozma and Matt Carpenter would be retired, and the Nationals would go on to take Game 1. Descalso would hit two home runs in the series.

4. Eric Bruntlett 2004, NLCS, Game 6. Down 4-3 in the 9th, the Astros pinch-hitter faced Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen with Morgan Ensberg on first and no outs. Bruntlett had 4 home runs and a 111 wRC+ in 61 regular-season PA, but a go-ahead home run was not on manager Phil Garner’s mind. Bruntlett bunted Ensberg to second. WPA: -0.05 RE: -0.21. After Craig Biggio flew out, Jeff Bagwell would deliver a game-tying single, but the Cardinals would eventually win it in the 12th. Though I’m not a fan of judging decisions based on results rather than process, you could say that this decision “worked.”

3. Brad Ausmus 2005, WS, Game 4. The Astros were trailing 1-0 when Jason Lane led off the bottom of the 9th with a single off White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. The 36 year-old catcher had posted a .351 OBP in 2005, one of the best marks of his career. Nevertheless, he sacrificed on the first pitch he saw, moving Lane to second and decreasing the Astros’ chance of scoring. WPA: -0.05 RE: -0.21. Pinch hitters Chris Burke and Orlando Palmeiro would be retired, and the White Sox took game 4 on their way to winning the series.

2. Elvis Andrus, 2010 ALCS, Game 1. The Rangers shortstop came to the plate against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Rangers trailing 6-5 and Mitch Moreland on first with no outs. With the count at 1-2, Andrus got down a bunt, sending Moreland to second. WPA: -0.06 RE: -0.22. Rivera would strike out Michael Young and get Josh Hamilton to ground out, ending the game. This bunt is even worse than the numbers because of the 1-2 count on Andrus and the fact that there was little to no risk of grounding into a double play, as the speedy Andrus had just 6 GDP in almost 700 PA. I should add that noted lover of bunting Ron Washington was managing the Rangers, who have had the most sacrifice bunts in the AL during his tenure.

1. Danny Espinosa, 2012 NLDS, Game 1. The Nationals were trailing the Cardinals 2-1 in the top of the 8th. With Ian Desmond on first and Michael Morse on third and no outs, Espinosa came to the plate, facing Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs. Espinosa was 0-3 on the day with 3 strikeouts. He still had some pop though, as he had 17 home runs on the season. For whatever reason, on an 0-1 count, Espinosa tapped a bunt to Boggs, advancing Desmond to second. WPA: -0.09 RE: -0.44. The next hitter, Kurt Suzuki, would strike out. Fortunately for Espinosa and the Nationals, pinch hitter Tyler Moore would come through with a two-run single, and the Nationals would win the game 3-2.

The sacrifice bunt by a position player is almost universally a negative play, but even in the age when statistical information is readily available and most teams are employing an army of nerds, the tactic refuses to die. Perhaps it’s because “that’s the way the game was played” when many of these managers were players. Or maybe it’s the conservative nature of managers. The players usually get saddled with the blame if an opportunity with runners in scoring position is squandered after a sacrifice bunt. But if a player grounds into a double play when he could have bunted, the manager might be taking the heat. Whatever the case, expect managers to keep ordering the bunt come October.

Three More Albert Pujols Bunts

Mea culpa. After posting an in-depth look at Albert Pujolslone sacrifice bunt, readers both friendly and unfriendly pointed out to me that there is record of three more major-league Pujols bunt attempts, two for hits and one a squeeze (but no other known sacrifice attempts). The only satisfactory way to own up to my mistake is to follow up with a new essay asking: why did Pujols bunt those other times? Any errors in this new post are the responsibility of Session Lager the author.

Bunt No. 2: May 23, 2003

What was the bunt? Albert Pujols had a good day. He struck out in the first inning and then racked up five hits (two doubles), including one in the top of the tenth inning. It’s the 10th inning we’re looking at here.

With two outs and a runner on second base, J.D. Drew hit a triple to deep center field; the runner scored, giving the Cardinals a 9-8 lead. Next, Albert Pujols singled on a bunt to third base, scoring Drew and making the lead 10-8. The Pirates couldn’t recover in the bottom of the inning.

Was it a good idea? This was a squeeze play with two outs. In the tenth inning. Using a batter who had only bunted once before. On the other hand, the Cardinals already had the lead they needed. It was a daring mad-scientist gamble. The bunt had to be perfect.

Did it work? The bunt was perfect.

Bunt No. 3: July 27, 2003

What was the bunt? Only two months later and against the same Pirates, Pujols attempted to bunt for a hit and failed in the 8th inning. His Cardinals were losing 3-1, and there was one out and no runner on base.

Was it a good idea? Albert Pujols was facing Brian Boehringer (5.41 FIP, 4.33 BB/9, -0.7 WAR that season). He may have been emboldened by the memory of his recent success, but given how good Pujols was at not-bunting, and how bad Boehringer was at pitching, this attempt is only understandable if it was an attempt to take the enemy by surprise. Pujols bunted on 0-1; whether he showed bunt on the first pitch (a called strike) is lost to the sands of time.

Did it work? No, but in the next (9th) inning, with two outs, Pujols had a walk-off single to win the game.

Bunt No. 4: August 25, 2004

What was the bunt? It came on another good day: Pujols singled, doubled, and homered. And the single was a bunt to third base on a 1-0 count in the 8th.

Was it a good idea? See, this is the thing with bunt-for-hit attempts; without seeing the defense at work, and without understanding the state of play, all we have to go on is hindsight. John Riedling was another troubled pitcher, almost identical to Boehringer (5.24 FIP, 4.64 BB/9, -0.7 WAR that year); both also suffered from inflated home run rates. They were, presumably, easy pickings. And, indeed, Jim Edmonds brought Pujols home on a game-tying line drive over the fence.

Did it work? Yes.

Conclusions (Again)

What can we learn, aside from that the author needs to be a little more diligent? That Albert Pujols has done okay as a bunt artist. His first try, as a rookie, remains incomprehensible, but he then executed a flawless two-out squeeze play and went 1-for-2 in tries for a hit. I’m inclined to believe that the tries for hits represent opportunism, and that the lone sacrifice and the squeeze play represent Tony La Russa’s management philosophy at work. On my last post, reader Tim A wondered if that first bunt was La Russa simply testing Pujols’ ability to lay the ball down.

It’s still kind of weird that the then-best (or best non-Bonds) hitter in baseball tried a squeeze bunt on two outs. It’s definitely weird that a rookie with 20 homers would be called upon to bunt from the cleanup spot. But hey, we discovered a new wrinkle: Pujols is pretty good at yet another part of baseball. And in games in which Albert Pujols bunts, his team is 4-0.

Possible Teasers if I Decide to Write More of These at Some Point

According to the batted ball data (except where this data is incomplete, starred*), here are some more career bunt attempt totals: Adam Dunn 3, Manny Ramirez 2*, David Ortiz 11. In 2009 Jack Cust went 3-for-3 on bunt hit attempts. That same year, 3 successful bunt singles were laid down by Pablo Sandoval.

Albert Pujols Bunted Once

One time, Albert Pujols bunted.

If we include minor-league play, he’s bunted twice in his professional career. But in the major leagues, the major leagues where he’s played for 12.5 years and hit (as of July 10) 489 home runs, 523 doubles, and on average 1.198 hits per game, the major leagues where his career batting average is .321 and he hits twice as many doubles as double plays, Albert Pujols has bunted once.

It was in his rookie season, of course. But what exactly happened? Why did he bunt?

Theory #1: Pujols was an untested rookie.

Strike one. Albert Pujols bunted on June 16, 2001. When the baseballing world awoke that day, he was a rookie batting .354/.417/.654, with 20 home runs. He’d already been intentionally walked three times. (Compare to our latest Rookies of the Year: Mike Trout was intentionally walked four times in all of 2012; Bryce Harper, zero.) Pujols had 11 hits in the previous seven games, including four homers.

Now, this was only two and a half months of gameplay, a small track record. But if you’re savvy enough to realize that ten weeks is not enough time to assess a player’s quality, you’re probably also savvy enough to realize that this is not the type of player who should bunt.

Unless, of course, it’s a critical situation in the game.

Theory #2: Pujols was bunting at a time when the Cardinals really needed a bunt.

Strike two. Albert Pujols bunted in the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Cardinals ahead 6-3. In the top of the same inning, the White Sox had scored two runs, but St. Louis’ win probability was a healthy 96% when Pujols came to the plate. After he bunted, their odds of winning were still 96%.

Now, in some ways it was a textbook bunt situation. The Cardinals had two men on base. They also had zero outs. No outs and two on is a good time to bunt. But they also had a three-run lead in the seventh. And Albert Pujols was batting cleanup. He bunted.

Theory #3: Pujols was facing a pitcher against whom he might have trouble.

Strike three. The White Sox did bring in a new pitcher to face Albert Pujols, a thirty-year-old right-hander named Sean Lowe.

Now, Sean Lowe was pretty good against right-handed hitters. In 2001, righties hit .233 off him. They didn’t strike out much, but they didn’t walk much either, and they made unusually weak contact. We can suppose this because when lefties put balls into play against Lowe, their batting average was .308, but righties’ batting average on balls in play against Lowe was only .243.

On the other hand, the Sox didn’t trust Lowe that much. According to Baseball Reference, he was placed into low-leverage situations more than half the time in 2001. In 17 of his 34 relief appearances, the Sox were already losing–as they were on this day, losing by three runs with only six outs left. (That’s 17 of 34 in a year when the team had a winning record.)

Oh, and there’s another thing. Albert Pujols was killing right-handed pitching; when 2001 was over, his AVG/OBP/SLG against righties was .342/.408/.624.

No, the White Sox brought Sean Lowe into the game not as a magic bullet, but as something simpler: a Band-Aid. Ken Vining had allowed two runners to reach base without getting the inning’s first out. They simply needed somebody new.

Theory #4: Bonus Dan Szymborski theory: the element of surprise.

I asked Dan Szymborski why he might have Pujols bunt in a FanGraphs chat. His reply: “It may be a good surprise play if he’s confident he can get it down and the 3B is super deep or is Mark Reynolds.”

Strike four. Pujols bunted successfully on the second pitch; the first was a foul bunt attempt, terminating the element of surprise and any super-depth on the part of the defense. The third baseman was Joe Crede.

Theory #5: We’re out of theories.

Let’s set the scene, shall we?

The game is in St. Louis. As the fans sit down after their seventh-inning stretch, the Cardinals are winning 6-3. They’re six outs from victory, with odds of 95%, and their 2-3-4 hitters are due up. Chicago reliever Ken Vining starts the inning by walking third baseman Placido Polanco on four pitches. Next J.D. Drew hits a line drive single to right field on a 1-2 pitch, and Polanco advances to second.

This brings up cleanup-hitting right fielder Albert Pujols. The White Sox replace the flailing Ken Vining with Sean Lowe, a middle relief righty who induces weak contact. (Within a month, Vining will pitch his last major-league game.) The Cardinals have their best hitter at the plate: he’s a rookie, but he’s batting fourth, already has 20 homers, and sees two runners on base with no outs.

On the first pitch, Pujols bunts foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunts fair.

It works, technically. Polanco and Drew advance, and Bobby Bonilla steps up to the plate. This was the 38-year-old Bonilla’s final season, and at the time of this game, his triple slash was a pitiful .217/.321/.391. (It would get worse, but remember, this is who Pujols bunted in front of.) Bonilla has had four home runs all year, one of them the day previous.

Bobby Bonilla is issued the second-to-last intentional walk of his major league career. (Yes, there was another one; he drew three IBBs that year.)

This brings up left fielder Craig Paquette, staring down loaded bases. He delivers a two-run single, putting the Cardinals up 8-3. Sean Lowe gets Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny out to end the inning. The Cardinals win the ballgame by the same score, and in the ninth inning the last White Sox hitter to go down is a pinch-hitter making his major-league debut, named Aaron Rowand.

So Why Did Pujols Bunt?

Pujols tried to bunt twice, once hitting the ball foul. This suggests that it wasn’t Albert’s idea but his manager’s. If Pujols was the kind of player who liked to bunt spontaneously, he might have done it again by now.

Why did Tony La Russa have Pujols bunting? His team up by three runs, late in the game, two runners, no outs, best hitter at the plate. Perhaps he was overly concerned about Sean Lowe’s ability to get righties out, but there weren’t any outs and a double play would still leave a baserunner. Perhaps he recognized a classic bunting scenario, but Pujols was his best hitter and Bobby Bonilla, with a slugging percentage .263 lower, may have been his worst. Maybe he wanted to spring a surprise, but then came the foul bunt.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives don’t turn up any hits for “Pujols bunt.” One blog post about the bunt groundlessly speculates that Pujols was improvising. Googling “why did Pujols bunt” in quotation marks yields zero hits. And, looking at the evidence we have, there’s no rational explanation. I’ve hand-written Tony La Russa a letter asking about this, but that was over three months ago and there’s not much chance he writes back.

Aaron Rowand played for eleven seasons, was an All-Star, and won two World Series. His entire career has taken place since the last time Albert Pujols bunted. That’s interesting, but not surprising. What’s surprising is that the only time Pujols bunted, there was no reason for him to do so.

Albert Pujols bunted once. We may never know why.

Dusty Baker and Pitch Counts

Over the first week of my new blog, I’ve made a number of posts about Dusty Baker’s handling of Reds pitchers.  I suggested that I thought Baker has done a better job of managing the workload of his starting pitchers this year. In that same post, I noted how Reds pitchers exceeded 110 pitches only five times at that point this season, and that after each such occurrence the starter was given an extra day of rest before his next start.  The next day, he left Johnny Cueto in to throw 113 pitches in the fourth game of a twenty-day stretch with no off days.  I then speculated that having Cueto throw so many pitches might cost the Reds before the stretch was over. Cueto had to leave his next start early with a blister.  Then, of course, there is Homer Bailey.  Yesterday, Bailey left his start early, and I pointed out that Baker has not been as careful in his handling of Bailey -particularly last year – as he has been with the other two youngsters in the rotation: Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Today, Bailey went on the DL with shoulder soreness.  So, is Dusty managing the starters’ pitch counts better or not?

To help understand, I put together this chart (with data pulled from fangraphs).

The chart shows the percentage of team games in which the starter pitcher threw at least the number of pitches on the x-axis.  So, in 2009, Reds starters threw 80 or more pitches nearly 91% of the time. In 2010, the fewest pitcher a Reds starter had thrown in a game was 81 pitches.  (I pulled this data the day before Homer Bailey’s injury forced him out early.)  This chart makes clear that the 2010 Reds are not having as many low pitch count outings as the 2009 team.  Low pitch count outings are driven by the injury bug and by ineffectiveness.  The 2010 Reds have been generally healthy, Bailey’s injury notwithstanding.  Plus, the 2010 Reds are in contention and have been pitching relatively well of late, so it stands to reason that they’ve had relatively few ineffective outings.  It also doesn’t hurt that it is still early in the season before arms wear down.

While the factors mentioned above explain the low pitch count disparity between the 2009 and 2010 Reds, the manager makes a move in those cases out of necessity.  What is more interesting are the high pitch count games, where the manager determines the pitcher has done his day’s work.  Reds starters are being called on to throw between 103 and 113 pitches slightly less frequently than in 2009, but they are also throwing 118 pitches or more with greater regularity (albeit with a very small sample size).  So, is Dusty abusing his rotation?  It depends on where you draw the threshold for what constitutes overuse.

For comparison, let’s see how other teams are handling their starting rotation.  First, here are curves for each MLB team in 2009.

A few features jump out here.  First, Astros starters (blue x) managed to get to 80 pitches only 23% of the time.  That was considerably less than any other team.  Second, Nationals pitchers (pink triangles to the left) reached the magical 100 pitch mark only 24% of the time, while the Diamondbacks (royal blue to the right) reached it a league-high 59% of the time.  Finally, and most interesting of all, is that Tigers starters (maroon diamonds at the bottom right) were called on to throw more than 110 pitches with significantly greater frequency than any other team.  Maybe Rick Porcello isn’t striking anyone out because his arm is about to fall off.  :-)

So, is 2010 any different?

Boy, is it!  Pirates starters (green diamonds) have made it to 90 pitches just 53% of the time.  I had to look it up to make sure there wasn’t an error in my script.  It is, in fact, correct.  Other than Zack Duke and Paul Maholm, no one has been able to get to remotely deep into games with any consistency at all.  Also of note is that pitchers are generally having fewer low pitch count games in 2010 than in 2009.  This can be seen because the top half of the curve is generally to the right of the top half of the 2010 curve.  I assume this difference is because of the fatigue that shows up as a season wears on.  This trend even hold true in the high pitch count games, although it isn’t as clear from this chart.  In 2009, just four teams had starters throw more than 115 pitches in 10% of their games.  They were the Tigers (17%), Giants (12%), Royals (12%), and Reds (12%).  In 2010, there are 13 teams whose starters have thrown 115 or more pitches 10% of the time.  That group is led by the Rockies (19%), and includes the Giants (17%), Angels (16%), Astros (14%), Tigers (14%), Phillies (14%), Rangers (14%), Red Sox (14%), Brewers (12%), Dodgers (12%), Reds (12%), Cubs (11%), and Diamondbacks (11%).

By this measure, Dusty Baker is still working his starting rotation pretty hard but not any more than he did last year.  Maintaining the status quo is still better than much of the rest of the league at this point in the season though, so maybe we should cut him some slack and see how the season plays out.