Thursday, July 21, 2005

Why Do the Sox and Twins Win?

White Sox Team Batting - 260/321/408/719
KC Royals Team Batting - 262/320/401/721
Minnesota Team Batting - 266/332/404/736

Well, there is an easy and obvious answer: PITCHING. Chicago and Minnesota are first and second in the American League in team earned run average (3.62 & 3.65 respectively), while our beloved Royals are second to last at 5.25. Is that all there is to it? If that was the only answer, then why would Cleveland and their 3.81 ERA (4th in the A.L.) be mired at the .500 mark (how many people in KC would love to be 'mired' there by the way?). The Indians .745 OPS is actually higher than both that of Chicago and Minnesota.

Well, let's dig deeper. With the Twins it really is quite simple. First, their pitching is very good top to bottom. Imagine how good it would be if J.C. Romero was pitching up to form. Secondly, the Twins' team batting line with runners in scoring position is: 283/370/435/805 allowing them to score 8 more runs in 2 less games than the Royals. Not a big difference, save that their pitchers are giving up more than a run less per game.

Then there are the White Sox, a team I freely admit I completely disrepected at the start of this season. A team I have spent all season waiting for it to drop off the edge of the earth. A team that is going to make the playoffs. A TEAM THAT HAS SCORED 39 MORE RUNS THAN THE ROYALS IN TWO LESS GAMES.

Pitching aside, and I by no means intend to minimize the impact of great pitching, the Sox being ranked 6th in the league in runs scored while posting similar hitting numbers to the anemic Royals is worth delving into. Let's take a look at four A.L. Central teams with runners in scoring position (no idea why I have ignored the Tigers, I just have - plus they are pretty much just in the middle of the road on all stats, including won-loss, so there's no statistical 'coolness' about them):
Minnesota - 283/370/435/805
Kansas City - 271/338/402/740
Chicago - 262/335/403/738
Cleveland - 256/334/380/714

Other than the Twins' proficiency (discussed above) nothing special here with regard to the Sox. They essentially hit the same overall as they do with runners in scoring position. Okay, how about with runners on base period?
Minnesota - 295/370/439/808
Chicago - 283/341/447/778
Cleveland - 259/327/396/722
Kansas City - 257/316/389/704

Now, both Minnesota and Chicago are pretty good hitting teams with runners on base, which in turn means they are moving runners into scoring position more often than either the Indians or Royals do. The Sox also hit home runs at a far greater rate than KC (114-77), but conversely Chicago has 28 LESS doubles and 16 LESS triples than the Royals. No wonder chicks dig the long ball. Yet, Cleveland with just 9 less homers and 42 more doubles than Chicago still cannot score runs at near the rate of the Sox and have squandered a pretty decent team pitching year.

Other sources have tracked runners in scoring position hitting and there is very little trend year to year, with teams or players. Throughout history, even the great 'clutch hitters' performances with runners in scoring position have varied dramatically. My guess is that is a very narrow statistical slice - hence the variation. Yet, runners on base anywhere anytime happens far more often. What a team does with a runner on first and one out would logically have a great impact on scoring runs.

The White Sox go from a below average offensive unit in general to an above average team anytime runners get on base. Not to mention that they have also stolen 102 bases this year (at a 73% success ratio). That's 102 times a single turned into a double, while giving up an out to do that only once every other game.

Simply put, clutch hitting (like the Twins have this year) is nice, but timely hitting (like the Sox have) combined with speed and pitching would appear to be lethal to opponets. The Royals' are not a good offensive team (yet) and a horribly young pitching team, so you can understand their problems. A team like the Indians, however, have the pitching right now and the power bats, but simply do not translate their power into runs. Come 2007, it will be interesting to see if the Indians and Royals can become efficient ballclubs like the Twins and Sox of today.

SHAMELESS PLUG: For daily Royals opinions and news - check us out at Royals Authority.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Statisically Speaking What is Average?

Any reader to the blog or PLUG Royals Authority PLUG, or most any baseball orientated column has no doubt been inundated with many statistics. Foremost among those are the old reliable (if not very telling) batting average, Billy Beane's favorite on-base percentage, the manly slugging percentage, and my favorite OPS. Well, it dawned on me the other day that other than a general idea of what was a good number and a bad number, I really had never explored what was the league average.

To start with, the American League as a whole, posted these number for the 2004 season:
BA - .270
OBP - .333
SLG - .433
OPS - .766
So far, and not suprisingly, the numbers so far for 2005 are similar: 269/330/425/755
There is little differential league wide versus left handed pitching: 271/332/427/759
And, contrary to conventional belief, verus right handed pitching: 268/329/424/753

Okay, so the .760 range of OPS is average which is roughly what I always basically considered (actually 750 was always my mark - but I'm doing the writing so I get a break) and above .280 in batting average I have always considered decent. What I did find suprising was that the league average in on-base pct is just in the low .330s.

Now, if we stocked a team with 9 guys posting these numbers, would it go 81-81? Not with Darrel May pitching, but would it end up roughly in the middle of the back in the American League? Doubtful.

If you look at all the players who currently would qualify for the batting title in the American League 50 of the 74 are above .760 in OPS, or in other words better than average. Some teams viewed as being very good offensively have a large percentage above .760 (Baltimore 5-6, Boston 6-9, Texas 6-7). Some that are not very good offensively follow the trend also (Cleveland 3-8, Chicago 3-8, Oakland 1-4). Some defy logic (Minnesota 5-6, Seattle 3-7, Detroit 5-5). The Royals, our favorite offensivly challenged crew, actually have two of three eligible hitters above .760 (DeJesus and Brown) with Sweeney and Stairs above .760 but neither with enough at-bats to qualify.

All this really tells us is that a decent (or better) everyday player must hit above the league average. Less than 33% of regulars currently do not and I would wager that percentage will shrink as the season goes on (Sammy Sosa, Darrin Erstad and Aubrey Huff among others are just below the 760 line). Plus, if you are willing to include Texas and Detroit in the conversation, every team that currently has five or more eligible players above the league average is currently within striking range of the playoff race.

Finally, one final nugget. The league actually hits better across the board with runners in scoring position.
League Overall: 269/330/425/755
With RISP: 276/349/435/784

So, next time we say 'yeah, but he can really hit in the clutch' remember that actually most everyone does a little.