August 7, 2007
Prospectus Hit and Run
Home Cooking and the Combo Platter
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
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.