Ten things I learned from the THT Team page

Hello. You may have noticed that things look a little different here at THT. First of all, we’ve joined a group called Fantasy Sports Ventures (FSV). FSV is an aggregated network of sports sites and blogs—they’ve enlisted a bunch of sports fantasy websites (including many of our friends, like Baseball Musings and Baseball Prospectus) in order to build purchasing power among advertisers.

THT isn’t a money-making venture, but we’ve got to pay the bills. Hopefully, FSV will help us do that. They’ve been a fine partner so far, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

In order to incorporate their logo and ads, we had to make some design changes to the site. THT hadn’t changed its basic look for four years, so a redesign was overdue. In our recent reader survey (975 replies, thank you), many folks thought we should freshen up the site. One person said that, on a scale of one to ten, our site graphics and design rated a five.

You know what? Five is pretty good. I’m glad people have high expectations for us, but THT is just a site in which a bunch of amateurs get together and write about their passion. We all want the site to look great, but a “five” is fine, considering we’re all doing this in our spare time. LOTS of spare time.

Anyway, this wasn’t a major overhaul. We changed our table structure so that all the columns now line up evenly, and we freshened up the navigation. I hope to make more changes later this year, but don’t hold your breath. If you see something you like or don’t like, please let me know.

Even though I’m not a web designer, I do have a passion for what I call “information display.” I love looking at publications and sites that display information in truly enlightening ways, because it’s so easy to do it poorly. Early in my career, I learned that it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can’t communicate them well, so I spent many years learning how to speak, write and display info in a way that got my point across. In my spare time, I applied those skills to baseball. Aaron Gleeman noticed my work and asked me to help with this new site he wanted to build called Hardball Times.

So I created the graphs and some of the stats that you see here, but I’m not a computer developer. Luckily, Bryan Donovan volunteered to help with our stats interface. Bryan has the same passion for information display that I do, and we now have what I consider to be the best stats interface on the web. We don’t have as much info as sites like Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, Yahoo or ESPN, but that’s the point.

THT isn’t an encyclopedia of baseball stats. Instead, we like to think we provide stats that quickly and insightfully tell you what you need to know. Too much information can overwhelm the story, particularly if it’s poorly displayed (and I’m not accusing any of our friends and competitors of poor information display. At least not right now…). But if you want an encyclopedia, go to their sites. If you want understanding, please consider ours.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I’m particularly proud of the THT Team page, which I update every morning (that spare-time thing again). I know it’s one of the least visited pages on our site, and I know most of our users would rather read our articles anyway. That’s okay. I get plenty of satisfaction out of just creating the page each morning and learning something from it myself.

In fact, here are 10 things I learned this morning (Wednesday, April 23, 2008).

The Diamondbacks are awesome
           W     L    RS    RA  RS-RA PWINS    VAR      Close
ARI       15     5   125    71    54    15      0       4 - 3

The first section on our Team page is a simple list, by league, of each team’s wins, losses, runs scored and runs allowed. As of this moment, the Diamondbacks lead the major leagues in most runs scored and fewest runs allowed. That’s in all of the majors, not just the National League. Over a full season, only six teams have led the majors in both categories (the last time was the Mariners in 2001; before them, you have to go back to the 1944 Cardinals). I’m not saying the Diamondbacks are going to lead the league in both categories at the end of the year. I’m just saying that they’ve dominated so far.

The other interesting thing is that the Diamondbacks are only 4-3 in close games, which are games decided by two runs or less. Last year, the Diamondbacks excelled in close games, going 47-29. Their record set off one of those endless debates about whether or not winning close games is a team “skill.” So far, the Dbacks have rendered the argument moot by crushing their opponents.

Over at the Book Blog, MGL has a post appropriately reminding us that early season results should have very little impact on how we view the team. In fact, he projects that the Diamondbacks will win 88 games. I’ll take the over on Arizona.

The Red Sox have been good but they’ve also been lucky
           W     L    RS    RA  RS-RA PWINS    VAR      Close
BOS       15     7   119   106    13    12      3       9 - 0

Here’s the same info for the Red Sox. As you can see, their win/loss record almost matches Arizona’s, but their run differential (difference between runs scored and allowed) is only 12 runs. So how have they performed so well? By going undefeated in close games. Thanks to this superb record, Boston is three wins better than their run differential would have you believe.

As a general rule, you would say that the Dbacks are more likely to keep up their pace than the Red Sox, because their record is based on the more solid foundation of run differential. This can be misleading, particularly early in the season, when several players may be playing over their heads. But it’s not a bad general rule.

The Cubs are smacking the ball
         R/G    PA  Outs    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS    GPA  P/PA   GB%   LD% BABIP  BA/RSP
CHN     6.30   842   536  .286  .371  .458   .829  .282  3.95   44%   19%  .317    .250

Another National League surprise is the record of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are 14-6, with a 38-run differential. In the THT Season Preview, we estimated they would score about 5.3 runs per game, which is pretty good, but so far they have overrun that estimate, scoring 6.3 runs a game. That’s the best in the majors.

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What’s been their secret? Well, you can find league averages for all of our stats on the Team page, and when you compare the Cubs to the league averages, you see that they’re clicking on all cylinders. Their hits are falling in (their .317 batting average on balls in play is the highest in the league) and they’re patient (more pitches per plate appearance than any other NL team). As a result, their OBP is 40 points above the league average, and they’re hitting the ball hard (slugging percentage 47 points above the league average).

However, they’re not hitting the ball particularly well with runners in scoring position. Their .250 BA/RSP is below average. Take heart, Cub fans: Their offense isn’t even clicking on all cylinders yet! Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

The Yankees aren’t
Team     R/G    PA  Outs    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS    GPA  P/PA   GB%   LD% BABIP  BA/RSP
NYA     4.48   791   539  .267  .336  .434   .770  .260  3.83   49%   17%  .290    .238

The THT Season Preview thought the Yankees would have the best offense in the majors this year, and they still may. But it’s not happening yet. The Yankees are hitting too many ground balls (that 49 percent is the second-most in the majors) and not enough line drives (17 percent is tied for the lowest in the majors). Amazingly, their batting average on balls in play is a respectable .290, only five points below average. But the net result is a thoroughly average BA and OBP, with a slugging percentage slightly above average.

Their bigger problem is that they’re batting .238 with runners in scoring position. They’re not delivering when it matters. This is a level of performance that can easily change. It will be interesting to watch.

The Mets are leaving runners on base
        R/G    ERA   FIP   DER   LD%   GB%  IF/Fly  K/G  BB/G  HR/G HR/Fly   SLG   LOB%
NYN     4.05  3.56  4.50  .727   19%   42%     8%   7.4   3.8   1.3   14%  .379     79%

So far, the Mets are competing in the National League East with a 10-9 record. Their offense has been slightly below average, but their pitching and fielding have been winning games. At THT, I think we have the best set of tables to separate out what’s happening with each team’s defense. As you can see, the Mets have only allowed 4.05 runs per game and 3.56 earned runs per game. A difference of 0.5 unearned runs is more than you’d usually expect, but we won’t use this figure to judge the team’s fielders. Let’s focus on the pitching for now.

The key figure for the Mets is their FIP, a measure of pure pitching effectiveness because it considers only strikeouts, walks and home runs. FIP is directly comparable to ERA; the Mets’ FIP is nearly half a run higher than their ERA. This would leave you to believe that their fielders are accounting for the fine record in keeping runs in check, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Their .727 DER is the second-best figure in the majors.

There’s a kicker, however. The Mets have stranded 79 percent of the baserunners who have reached against them. That’s the highest figure in the majors. In general, you expect a team with good pitching and fielding to leave more runners stranded, but 79 percent is probably not sustainable by even the best pitching. The Mets will almost certainly start to give up more runs because their LOB% will almost certainly decline.

Kansas City’s pitching has been even better than you think
        R/G    ERA   FIP   DER   LD%   GB%  IF/Fly  K/G  BB/G  HR/G HR/Fly   SLG   LOB%
KC      4.60  4.53  3.72  .675   20%   45%    20%   6.7   3.1   0.7    9%  .407     68%

The Royals have surprised a few people this year. You can’t credit their offense, which has been pretty bad; the credit should go to their pitching. In fact, their pitching has been even better than you might guess.

There are a few intriguing points on KC’s pitching line. First, they’ve allowed only four unearned runs all year, or 0.07 a game. You might credit their fielders for this, but that .675 DER should make you think twice. Unearned runs are probably just as much the result of pitching as fielding. (Someday, we should just get rid of the entire idea of unearned runs.)

Secondly, their FIP is actually lower than their ERA by 0.8 runs, which means their pitching has been even better than you might guess. This isn’t surprising, given the team DER, but their ERA is also pulled up by an LOB% that is slightly below the league average. The number I really like, however, is the infield fly rate of 20 percent. Twenty percent of the flies they’ve allowed haven’t left the infield—an infield fly is just about as good as a strikeout and an indication of pitching dominance. Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister are two of the league leaders in IF/Fly, and they just might be able to keep up a good pace in this category. On the down side, they may not be able to maintain that home run rate of only 9 percent.

The Padres fielding is fine
                                       Plus/Minus      Team      Infield     Outfield
         UER    TE    FE    SB   CS%   Pit    Fld   RZR   OOZ   RZR   OOZ   RZR     OOZ
SD        10     6     3    25   17%   -14     20  .864    62  .839    22  .898      40

The Padres aren’t exactly off to a sizzling start. Neither their offense or defense has been particularly good—and it’s the defensive results that have been most surprising. They’ve allowed 4.9 runs a game, which is a particularly high figure for pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Looking at their pitching stats, your first inclination would be to blame their fielders, because San Diego’s FIP (3.79) is more than a run lower than their ERA (4.90). That’s an extraordinary difference.

However, a closer look is warranted. Our plus/minus fielding stats are calculated by comparing the types of batted balls each team has allowed to the major league average and then assigning credit/blame for hits allowed based on the average ease (or difficulty) of fielding those balls. The Padres’ pitchers have allowed a lot of line drives: 23 percent, the highest figure in the majors. Fielders can’t really be expected to catch line drives, right? So the plus/minus figures show that the Padre fielders have actually turned 20 more plays into outs than expected (based on their batted balls). It’s the pitchers who get blamed—they are rated 14 runs below average.

In fact, the Padres’ DER is a fine .711, and their Revised Zone Rating is .864, some 30 points better than average. The Padres’ fielding is fine. The pitchers take some blame due to the line drives they’ve allowed, and both fielders and pitchers should take a hit for San Diego’s LOB% of 67 percent, the second-poorest in the majors.

Oy, the Pirates’ fielding
                                       Plus/Minus      Team      Infield     Outfield
         UER    TE    FE    SB   CS%   Pit    Fld   RZR   OOZ   RZR   OOZ   RZR     OOZ
PIT       11    10    14    16   20%     1    -27  .799    50  .745    22  .883      28

It’s close, but I’ll give the title of Worst Fielding Team so far to the Pirates (with apologies to the Giants). The Pirates have made 10 throwing errors and 14 fielding errors, they have caught only 20 percent of basestealers (not terrible, but below average), and their DER is a terrible .651 (yes, worst in the majors). A simple way to judge DER, by the way, is to turn it around into a figure that looks like batting average on balls in play. Yeah, .350.

As the plus/minus figures tell you, their pitchers are not to blame; Pirate fielders are 27 plays below average given the types of batted balls they’ve had to handle. And the Revised Zone Rating figures make it clear that both the infield and outfield are to blame. Their infield RZR is .745, vs. an NL average of .782, and their outfield RZR is .883, vs. an NL average of .907.

And that’s, um, eight things I’ve learned from our Team page.

We take a top-down approach to all of our statistics. In other words, we have purposely laid out our player stats so that they reflect the team stats. If you’re wondering which specific players are most responsible for the Pirates’ terrible fielding, you can look them up in our player fielding pages. You’ll find player stats that pretty much line up with the team stats.

So you can go top down—diagnose a team and then drill down into player specifics for each area—or bottom up—investigate players and find league averages for all their stats on the team pages. What goes down also comes up, and our stats are designed to complement each other. If you’re a blogger, please use these as a resource; you can find lots to write about in our stats. If you’re a regular old fan, well, go nuts.

Oops. That was only eight things I’ve learned. Still here? Okay, here are two bonus things I’ve learned recently. Nothing to do with the team pages.

Chone Figgins is probably on a new level

The Angels’ Chone Figgins is off to a hot start which, combined with his torrid second half last year and his consistently high line drive rate, makes me wonder if I should officially shed my skepticism and admit that he’s just a better batter than he used to be. For help, I turned to Sal Baxamusa and his day-by-day Marcels. Marcel projections represent our best guess at a player’s true talent level, and the day-by-day Marcels give us an opportunity to assess a player’s true talent based on what’s he’s done lately, within the context of the league and his career.

For example, here’s a little sparkline of Figgins’ GPA over the past two years (sparkline minimum is .240, maximum is .270):
Our measure of his true talent has risen from .252 two years ago to .262 today; in fact, just a year ago, it was only .245. Seems to me that 17 points is a significant increase, enough to say that Figgins has permanently upped his game.

Frank Thomas vs. Carlos Delgado

Dave Cameron must be a genius, because he had the exact same idea I had a few days ago, comparing Frank Thomas and Carlos Delgado. Actually, a lot of people probably had the same idea. But I won’t let that stop me. Instead, I’ll use the day-by-day Marcels to answer the question: What is each player’s true talent level at this time?

Here’s a graph of each player’s Marcel GPA over the past three years:


Three years ago, Delgado was the better hitter, but our best guess now is that Delgado is a .274 first baseman whereas Thomas continues to look like a .294 DH. And if Delgado is in the extreme decline phase of his career, then this Marcel overestimates his current true talent level. Of course, the irony is that Thomas was just released by the Blue Jays; Delgado continues to play a key role for the Mets.

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