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August 7, 2007

Prospectus Hit and Run

Home Cooking and the Combo Platter

by Jay Jaffe

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Home Cooking

Our long national nightmare is nearly over. This past weekend saw two players reach home run milestones whose final, agonizing steps seemed to take as long and involve as much up-to-the-moment coverage as all those that preceded them. First, Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th on Saturday afternoon, snapping a nine-day homerless drought that at one point saw him go 0-for-21. A few hours later, Barry Bonds crushed his record-tying 755th; he'd gone seven days between homers, slumping to 2-for-18, albeit with six walks.

I come neither to bury Bonds nor to praise him, but given that the all-time home run list has seen enough shakeups since I wrote about it over three years ago, updating that older work will surely keep me down with OBC (Obligatory Barry Content). Along with Bonds tying Hank Aaron at 755, Sammy Sosa has become the fifth player to top 600, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rafael Palmeiro have cracked the top 10, and Frank Thomas and A-Rod have joined the 500 club.

The first bit of interest is that Bonds reached Aaron's mark despite having somewhat less help from his home parks. While Aaron totaled 385 homers at home and 370 on the road, Bonds hit 375 at home and 380 on the road. The gap in Bond's distribution has closed slightly in the past three years, and while intuitively one might think it has to do with him being rested more often on the road, he's actually gotten 36 more plate appearances in away games since the start of the 2004 season. So consider that myth debunked.

Among the top 27 home run hitters of all time—the 22 men in the 500 Club, plus the three active players likely to reach that plateau within the next year, and the two men who came up just shy—Bonds' ratio of home to road homers is the ninth-lowest. That's pretty ho-hum stuff. What's much more interesting is how the chart's latest interlopers have profited from their home parks. While nobody will ever catch Mel Ott when it comes to home field advantage, Thomas, Thome, and Palmeiro have all hit at least 20 percent more homers at home than on the road, with Sosa and Griffey enjoying about a 10 percent advantage, while A-Rod checks in at five percent. As a group, these players enjoy a seven percent advantage at home:

 


Player          Home HR Road HR   Ratio
Mel Ott            323   188      1.718
Frank Thomas       298   207      1.440
Ernie Banks        290   222      1.306
Jimmie Foxx        299   235      1.272
Jim Thome          273   218      1.252
Frank Robinson     321   265      1.211
Rafael Palmeiro    311   258      1.205
Sammy Sosa         317   287      1.105
Ken Griffey        308   281      1.096
Alex Rodriguez     256   244      1.049
Manny Ramirez      250   239      1.046
Hank Aaron         385   370      1.041
Lou Gehrig         251   242      1.037
Harmon Killebrew   291   282      1.032
Willie Mays        335   325      1.031
Willie McCovey     264   257      1.027
Gary Sheffield     242   236      1.025
Reggie Jackson     280   283       .989
Barry Bonds        375   380       .987
Mickey Mantle      266   270       .985
Eddie Murray       248   256       .969
Mark McGwire       285   298       .956
Fred McGriff       241   252       .956
Babe Ruth          347   367       .946
Mike Schmidt       265   283       .936
Ted Williams       248   273       .908
Eddie Mathews      237   275       .862

Turning to the next two lists, we get to see how things might have played out under a pair of scenarios. The "Home Doubled" list shows what the leaderboard might have looked like if each of these sluggers had enjoyed the perks of home in every park; we've simply doubled the home HR totals (2xHHR). The "Road Doubled" list (or 2xRHRR) puts things on more neutral ground. It ain't rocket science, but it's revealing nonetheless:

 


Player     2xHHR   Player     2xRHR
Aaron       770    Bonds       760
Bonds       750    Aaron       740
Ruth        694    Ruth        734
Mays        670    Mays        650
Ott         646    McGwire     596
Robinson    642    Sosa        574
Sosa        634    Jackson     566
Palmeiro    622    Schmidt     566
Griffey     616    Killebrew   564
Foxx        598    Griffey     562
Thomas      596    Mathews     550
Killebrew   582    Williams    546
Banks       580    Mantle      540
McGwire     570    Robinson    530
Jackson     560    Palmeiro    516
Thome       546    McCovey     514
Mantle      532    Murray      512
Schmidt     530    McGriff     504
McCovey     528    Rodriguez   488
Rodriguez   512    Gehrig      484
Gehrig      502    Ramirez     478
Ramirez     500    Sheffield   472
Williams    496    Foxx        470
Murray      496    Banks       444
Sheffield   484    Thome       436
McGriff     482    Thomas      414
Mathews     474    Ott         376

What stands out most about the Home Doubled list is how much bigger the 600 level might have been if all these sluggers had feasted on home cooking all of the time; a couple more Skydome shots by Thomas and we'd have 10, with Double X Jimmie Foxx just outside the ranks. The second thing to note is that at every rank but one, the Home Doubled total is higher than the Road Doubled one, by an average of 38 homers. The Road Doubled list shows Bonds as having left Aaron in the rearview mirror already, while maintaining a much more exclusive 600-homer level. It's just further confirmation that the reputations of these sluggers were considerably helped along by favorable conditions at home.

Tuning in to WXRL

In this column's debut, I introduced a team Support Neutral starter report full of all kinds of goodies. Today we'll look at its sibling, a team relief report, which includes Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted (WXRL) totals, Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) totals, reliever Fair Run Average (FRA), Leverage score, and the totals of inherited runners and inherited runners that have scored. Though we could spend an entire column slicing and dicing this data, instead we'll limit our discussion to the best bullpens according WXRL—the cumulative number of expected wins added by the bullpen based on runs allowed, innings pitched, and the base-out situations when a team's relievers enter and depart. We'll also bring FRA along for the ride, as it gives a true idea of the runs-per-nine impact of a team's bullpen:

 


AL     FRA    WXRL
BOS   3.24   11.96
MIN   4.03   10.05
SEA   3.92   10.01
TEX   3.87    8.99
CLE   4.31    7.86

NL     FRA    WXRL
SDN   3.29   11.31
ARI   4.24   10.97
LAN   3.99    9.37
WAS   3.87    9.37
NYN   3.89    8.79

No surprise to see the Red Sox topping the AL, as the Boston bullpen has been one of the team's major sources of strength. They lead the majors with a 3.24 FRA, and have allowed just 18.8 percent of inherited runners to score. The next lowest in the latter category is the Mariners at 22.2 percent, and the major league average is 30.7 percent. Not only is closer Jonathan Papelbon fourth in the AL at 3.976 WXRL, but lefty setup man Hideki Okajima has outdone him, ranking second at 4.215. The big drop-off from that duo to Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin at 36th and 37th in the league was significantly alleviated by last week's trade for Eric Gagne. Despite being limited to just four appearances over the season's first six weeks, he's 12th in the league at 2.709.

The Twins are no strangers to bullpen excellence; they topped the league in WXRL, ARP, and FRA last year. This year's model has Joe Nathan fifth in the AL at 3.818, submariner Pat Neshek sixth at 3.427, and Matt Guerrier 22nd at 1.771. The Mariners boast the AL overall leader in J.J. Putz (5.271), while Brandon Morrow, Sean Green and George Sherrill are all in the top 30. The Ranger bullpen has been something of a pleasant surprise given how awful their rotation has been; among AL teams, their 3.87 FRA is second only to Boston's and nearly three full runs per nine better than the rotation's frightful FRA. Gagne aside, Joaquin Benoit is eighth at 2.992, while Akinori Otsuka is 27th despite a lengthy stay on the DL. Rounding out the top five is the Indians, a team that's drawn a fair amount of criticism for the way their bullpen is built. Setup man Rafael Betancourt is third in the league at 4.016, while much-maligned closer Joe Borwski is 17th at 2.325 and Rafael Perez is 25th at 1.664. There's a considerable drop-off in the Tribe bullpen after that; in fact, the remainder is actually a hair below replacement level.

Over in the Senior Circuit, the rankings are all about the NL West, as the division's top three teams feature exceptional bullpens. The Pads are no strangers to this territory; they were second in this category last year after leading it in 2005. Trevor Hoffman is fifth in the league at 3.752, Heath Bell a surprising seventh at 2.913, and recently-traded Scott Linebrink was 24th before being shipped to Milwaukee. The Dodgers are in familiar territory as well, with Takashi Saito third at 4.306, Jonathan Broxton 13th at 2.458, and Joe Beimel 25th; all three were in the top 20 last year as well, with Saito third. The Diamondbacks are the new kids on this particular block, but there's no question they belong here. Three Snakes are in the top 10: Tony Pena is first at 4.380, Brandon Lyon sixth at 3.039, and closer Jose Valverde eighth at 2.825.

The Nationals are a team one wouldn't expect to find here; they're a big reason the club has already reached 50 wins, a total some observers thought might take them the entire season. While no Nats reliever is higher than closer Chad Cordero at 14th, Jesus Colome (17th) and Saul Rivera (18th) join him in the top 20, and Jon Rauch is 29th. Considering that Colome and Rivera are a pair of scrap-heapers who have done an impressive job, credit them, manager Manny Acta for employing them to good effect, and Jim Bowden for digging them up. Meanwhile, the Mets led the NL last year, and while they still boast Billy Wagner at #2 (4.379), theirs has become a real star-and-scrubs bullpen. The falloff from Wagner to Pedro Feliciano at 26th is steep; from Feliciano to a cluster that includes swingman Jorge Sosa (57th), Guillermo Mota (67th), demoted Joe Smith (70th) and long man Aaron Sele (75th), it's a freefall. No wonder Tom Glavine's chase for 300 wins got so adventurous.

The Combo Platter

Since they're built from the same win expectancy framework, we can combine the team SNLVAR and WXRL totals to get a win expectancy-based ranking of the pitching staffs:

 


Rk Team     SN   WXRL Total
 1. SDN   18.0  11.3   29.3
 2. BOS   16.0  12.0   28.0
 3. NYN   16.6   8.8   25.4
 4. ARI   14.3  11.0   25.3
 5. MIN   13.8  10.0   23.8
 6. LAN   13.7   9.4   23.1
 7. ANA   14.7   7.6   22.3
 8. ATL   15.0   7.1   22.1
 9. OAK   17.8   3.8   21.6
10. CLE   12.2   7.9   20.1
11. MIL   11.8   8.1   19.9
12. TOR   14.8   5.1   19.9
13. CHN   15.6   4.2   19.8
14. WAS   10.1   9.4   19.5
15. SEA    9.0  10.0   19.0
16. SFN   13.9   5.0   18.9
17. BAL   16.2   0.6   16.8
18. KCA    9.6   7.2   16.8
19. NYA   11.7   5.1   16.8
20. DET   11.4   4.4   15.8
21. CHA   13.8   1.9   15.7
22. HOU   10.5   5.0   15.5
23. PIT    9.4   5.0   14.4
24. SLN    5.7   7.4   13.1
25. PHI   10.0   2.2   12.2
26. COL   10.4   1.8   12.2
27. TEX    2.2   9.0   11.2
28. FLO    5.2   4.7    9.9
29. CIN    9.7  -0.2    9.5
30. TBA    6.5  -2.3    4.2

Clearly, being near the top of these rankings bodes well. The top 10 includes five of the six division leaders, with the sole holdout, the Brewers, ranked 11th. Three of the NL's top five Wild Card contenders, the Padres, Dodgers, and Braves, also make the top 10 (woe to the Phillies, who simply Don't Have the Pitching). Among the AL's top five Wild Card contenders, only the Twins enjoy such a favorable ranking, but they're just marginal threats at five games back.

Elsewhere among the contenders, you can see how lousy bullpens have hobbled the Tigers, Yankees, and Cubs, while mediocre rotations threaten to derail the Brewers and Mariners, the latter of whom actually has more wins generated by their bullpen than their rotation. That's an extremely rare phenomenon, as it turns out; going back to 1959, just 17 teams have managed such a feat over the course of a season, and four of those 17 did so in a schedule shortened by strike.

 


YEAR  TEAM  SN   WXRL   Diff.
2003  CIN   7.3  10.7   -3.4
1964  KC1   2.6   5.4   -2.8
1976  MIN   4.7   7.4   -2.7
2003  TEX   4.9   7.1   -2.2
1995  COL   8.3  10.5   -2.2
1995  SLN  10.5  12.5   -2.0
1964  BOS   3.8   5.8   -2.0
1982  SFN  10.6  12.3   -1.7
1990  DET   6.5   8.1   -1.6
2004  PHI  11.8  13.2   -1.4
1991  BAL   7.8   9.2   -1.4
1981  BOS   4.2   5.3   -1.1
2004  TEX  13.8  14.8   -1.0
1976  CLE  11.2  11.9   -0.7
1992  CLE   9.8  10.4   -0.6
1992  HOU  10.6  11.1   -0.5
1995  MIN   4.5   4.8   -0.3

Of this motley assortment, only the 1995 Rockies made the postseason, thanks to a bullpen that featured Curtis Leskanic (3.868, good for fifth in the NL), Darren Holmes (ninth at 3.309), Steve Reed (17th at 1.912), and Bruce Ruffin (25th at 1.606). The highest-ranked Rox starter was Kevin Ritz, coming at the 47th slot with just 2.2 SNLVAR; only Bill Swift (1.5) and Bryan Rekar (1.4) even managed more than 1.0. No wonder they didn't win the World Series.

If the Mariners can make the postseason under these conditions, it will be an amazing feat, but they're not the only ones who might leave their mark in this category. The Rangers currently have 6.8 more WXRL than SNLVAR, which would be the biggest such discrepancy of the past 50 years. If they finish with less than 2.6 SNLVAR, they'll also set a record. It won't pretty, but it will be history.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Top 11,  The Who,  Bell Road,  Aaron Sele,  Jim Murray,  Jimmie Foxx,  Top 10

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