June 11, 2008
Prospectus Hit and Run
The Combo Platter
Week in and week out, I make a lot of noise on the Hit List about how various teams rank in key categories within our customized sortable stats. With my attention focused elsewhere, it's been a while since I had the chance to delve more deeply into the rankings of some of my favorites in this space. Since it does seem like a nice day for a stroll...
Last year I introduced the Combo Platter, the combined win expectancy-based rankings of teams' starters (via SNLVAR) and relievers (via WXRL). For the uninitiated, SNLVAR (Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement) tracks a starting pitcher's cumulative win expectancy based on the runs allowed (earned and unearned), innings pitched, and the base-out situation when he leaves the game. It looks at a starter's performance independent of the run support he receives from his offense and the job done by the relievers who follow him. See Derek Jacques' recent Toolbox article for more on the subject. WXRL (Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted) does for relievers what SNLVAR does for starters, accounting for runs, innings, and the base-out situations when a reliever enters and departs.
Since the two figures are based on the same win-expectancy framework and expressed in the same currency, they can be combined. In Baseball Prospectus 2008, each pitcher's actual stat lines and PECOTAs include a category called SN/WX, which covers both without distinguishing where a pitcher does his work. Our sortables don't actually sum the two categories, but one can add them up in a spreadsheet in half the time it takes Jose Molina to run to first base if so desired. What I like about this report is that it shows which teams have both ends of their pitching staff in synch, and which are working at cross purposes. All stats through Monday:
Team IPs FRAs SNLVAR IPr FRAr WXRL Total ANA 406.0 4.05 7.9 166.0 4.25 5.8 13.7 OAK 383.2 3.99 8.2 184.1 3.29 5.1 13.3 CHA 403.1 3.92 8.2 169.0 3.20 4.6 12.8 TBA 375.1 4.54 7.3 190.1 3.45 5.4 12.7 TOR 423.0 3.89 9.4 173.0 3.49 2.8 12.2 CLE 394.2 4.04 9.4 171.1 5.03 1.7 11.1 BOS 394.1 4.21 7.4 188.2 4.60 2.4 9.8 BAL 361.2 4.88 5.3 199.1 3.79 3.5 8.8 MIN 364.0 5.58 2.9 210.2 4.35 4.3 7.2 KCA 379.2 5.18 3.5 186.0 4.07 3.2 6.7 NYA 344.0 5.38 3.2 223.0 3.95 3.5 6.7 SEA 365.0 5.45 3.5 197.2 4.52 0.4 3.9 DET 364.1 5.23 2.4 190.2 5.25 0.5 2.9 TEX 349.1 5.78 1.4 235.0 6.01 0.8 2.2
I've brought a few other friends along for the ride, namely the Innings Pitched and Fair Run Average splits between starters (IPs and FRAs) and relievers (IPr and FRAr) to go with the SNLVAR and WXRL totals. There are a million places to begin here, but we'll start at the top, where the AL West's usual suspects are battling it out for the lead. The two teams' rotations are about even, a surprise in and of itself. John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, second and sixth in last year's rankings in SNLVAR, have been limited to five starts between them (all Lackey's), but Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, who entered the year as the team's fifth and sixth starters, have ably picked up the slack; they rank sixth and tenth, respectively). Meanwhile, the A's have ably replaced the traded Dan Haren (fifth last year) with excellent performances from two pitchers acquired in that deal, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland (17th and 21st in the league, respectively). Having Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer both healthy of late hasn't hurt, either.
As for those two teams' bullpens, Oakland's unit has a Fair Run Average that's nearly a run lower than the Angels' relievers, yet they trail in WXRL by about 0.7 wins. Turning to their Adjusted Runs Prevented numbers (not pictured, but ranked here), the A's lead the Angels, 31.0 to 8.5, a massive difference concealed by moving from a run-expectancy-based framework--which doesn't account for the relative score of the game, so blowouts and tight contests are weighted equally--to a win-expectancy-based one. In other words, Oakland's bullpen successes haven't been particularly timely relative to those of the Angels.
Meanwhile, another interesting trend is taking shape in the AL East, where the Rays can legitimately claim the best pitching performance in the division. While you're lacing up your ice skates for a stroll around the Lake of Fire, note that their starters are neck-and-neck with Boston's thanks to the acquisition of Matt Garza and the continued development, high walk rate and all, of Edwin Jackson, who is 15th in the league in SNLVAR. Furthermore, their bullpen has bounced back from a grisly sub-replacement level showing last year to rank second in the league, with J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, and Troy Percival all in the top 20. Those relative no-names have combined to outperform Mariano Rivera and company as well as Jonathan Papelbon and friends.
Boston's bullpen has been a mixed bag in front of Papelbon, with Hideki Okajima still top-notch but Mike Timlin clearly on his last legs and Manny Delcarmen struggling to live up to expectations. They've gotten good work out of the rotation, including some particularly inspiring patchwork from Justin Masterson, who has accumulated 0.9 SNLVAR in four starts while filling in for Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yankees aren't working too well at either end, with a combined win expectancy that's tied with the Royals, never a good sign when it comes to a team's playoff aspirations. Their rotation is a disaster beyond Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and Darrell Rasner; those three have accumulated 3.8 SNLVAR, while the rest of the pack (including Andy Pettitte, Philip Hughes, and Ian Kennedy) has been a half-win below replacement level. Furthermore, the Yankee rotation is only a few whiskers ahead of the Rangers in terms of innings pitched per start at 5.375, about 0.4 innings per start behind the next team. That gap alone is the equivalent of 65 innings per year, the job description of one more quality reliever the Yanks don't have, and yet another illustration of why moving Joba Chamberlain to the rotation makes sense. The going has been slow so far for Chamberlain's conversion (6 2/3 innings in two starts) but once he builds up the stamina to go at least 100 pitches, he should be able to help the team get deeper into ballgames.
Moving further down the list, Larry King dot-dot-dot style: The White Sox are very strong in both areas, with four starters in the top 30, and Scott Linebrink making a surprisingly strong rebound to crack the AL top 10 in WXRL in support of Bobby Jenks. ... Every time I look, the Blue Jays' bullpen seems to have fallen further. On last Friday's Hit List--where I had to rewrite their entry following Jason Giambi's walk-off homer off of B.J. Ryan--they were first in ARP and sixth in WXRL, now they're fourth and ninth. ... The Indians' starters have done well in spite of some major setbacks, from C.C. Sabathia's ugly start to Fausto Carmona's wildness to Jake Westbrook's season-ending injury, but the bullpen is a shadow of what it was last year, as Joe Borowski's gotten hurt and Rafael Betancourt has crashed and burned. ... The Twins are one of two teams getting more value out of their bullpen than their rotation, though both units have taken their lumps, particularly with Francisco Liriano banished to the farm and Pat Neshek lost for the year. ... Baltimore has been respectable, and they should be even more so now that they've come to the conclusion that most of us reached three years ago: Steve Trachsel (-0.5 SNLVAR) is dead weight. ... The Royals owe half of their total to Zack Greinke (1.9 SNLVAR) and Joakim Soria (2.0 WXRL). ... Seattle had the league's third-best bullpen last year, but with individual WXRL leader J.J. Putz in the red since coming back from injury, they're the worst in the majors this year. ... Last week Armando Galarraga got squeezed out of a start to allow for the return of Dontrelle Willis. Now they probably wish they could clone him to cover for the absence of Jeremy Bonderman, their only other starter with an ERA below 5.00, as well. ... After a promising early-season showing, this year's Rangers rotation appears to be another in a long line of failures, and their bullpen, which ranked a respectable fourth last year, has fallen on hard times as well. The latter unit's -34.0 ARP is hell and gone from the rest of the pack.
Turning to the National League:
Team IPs FRAs SNLVAR IPr FRAr WXRL Total SDN 374.2 4.25 9.0 230.0 4.80 3.9 12.9 CHN 367.1 4.40 7.0 216.1 3.45 5.3 12.3 PHI 389.0 4.83 5.5 192.0 2.84 6.8 12.3 ATL 358.0 4.19 7.9 211.1 3.88 2.8 10.7 ARI 383.1 4.44 7.2 180.1 4.06 3.2 10.4 SLN 387.1 4.25 8.4 196.1 4.22 1.9 10.3 SFN 366.2 4.62 6.8 211.0 4.42 3.2 10.0 LAN 355.2 4.78 6.1 200.2 3.21 3.7 9.8 MIL 371.2 4.69 6.8 191.1 4.25 2.8 9.6 PIT 357.1 5.86 2.9 223.0 4.07 6.2 9.1 NYN 356.2 4.66 6.0 201.0 4.71 3.1 9.1 WAS 360.1 4.90 6.3 219.1 5.09 1.3 7.6 CIN 368.0 5.44 4.4 211.0 4.13 2.7 7.1 HOU 363.2 5.18 4.4 195.0 4.34 2.7 7.1 FLO 332.0 5.89 2.0 229.0 3.93 4.1 6.1 COL 360.1 5.81 2.5 208.2 4.38 2.4 4.9
If I told you that the Marlins were 28-37 and running fourth in the NL East while the Padres were 34-29 and a strong second in the NL West, that would make a lot of sense given the numbers above, but the truth is that those two teams' fates are reversed despite those pitching performances. The Padres' top ranking is particularly surprising given that both Jake Peavy and Chris Young are on the DL at the moment, but Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux have actually combined for 3.9 SNLVAR to that duo's 3.3, and the Pads have gotten solid-to-excellent fill-in work from Josh Banks, Shawn Estes, and Cha Seung Baek. Their bullpen is a bit of a different story. While Heath Bell has reprised last year's stellar showing and ranks third in the league in WXRL, Trevor Hoffman (4.70 ERA, 0.3 WXRL) may as well be wearing a sandwich board that declares, "The End is Nigh."
The Marlins, meanwhile, persist as contenders despite a rotation that's produced a 5.88 ERA and just 0.4 SNLVAR beyond Scott Olsen. Their starters are averaging just 5.27 innings per start, leaving their bullpen to carry the heaviest load of any team in the league (note that the Padres' one-inning lead in the category has everything to do with having played eight extra-inning games, including two totaling 40 innings). Renyel Pinto and Kevin Gregg have been stellar enough to crack the league's top 15 in WXRL, but Pinto's on a 99-inning pace, and only one other reliever, Doug Waechter (he of the career 5.62 ERA entering this year), has a WXRL above 0.1. Caveat emptor.
Aside from those two anomalies, the upper portion of this list makes sense, as the Cubs, Phillies, Braves, and Diamondbacks all rank among the top eight teams on the most recent Hit List. For the Cubs, Carlos Marmol's repeat performance as a dominating setup man has been key; his 3.2 WXRL is second in the league and higher even than Carlos Zambrano's SNLVAR (2.7), itself good for sixth. The Phillies' rotation is a bit shaky behind Cole Hamels, but they boast the league's best bullpen thanks to a resurgent Brad Lidge (a league-best 3.4 WXRL), Tom Gordon and Chad Durbin, the latter two of whom rank 11th and 25th, respectively.
The Braves are an enigma. On the one hand they have survived a slew of injuries--Mike Hampton, Chuck James, and Rafael Soriano, not to mention season-enders for John Smoltz and Peter Moylan--while doing a better than average job of preventing runs at both ends of the staff. Tim Hudson is fifth in the league at 2.7 SNLVAR, while the combo of Smoltz, Jorge Campillo, and Jeff Bennett has combined for 2.6 SNLVAR in 13 starts, one less than Hudson, and Jair Jurrjens is in the top 30 as well. On the other hand, as Joe Sheehan pointed out, the Braves are 3-17 in one-run games, some of which is attributable to the offense, some to bad timing on the bruised bullpen's part; they're fifth in ARP but just 11th in WXRL.
Rounding up the rest: The gap between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers atop the NL West has relatively little to do with pitching. Arizona's marquee duo of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren has been very good (4.9 combined SNLVAR), but the Dodgers' top two of Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley (3.6) has been no shame, and if Brad Penny (0.6 SNLVAR, 5.45 ERA) were pitching up to expectations, the two rotations would be in a dead heat. ... As good as the Cardinals rotation has been thus far, owies to Adam Wainwright and Todd Wellemeyer (5.0 combined SNLVAR) could really damage their hopes. The bullpen ranking is dragged down by Jason Isringhausen's -2.5 WXRL performance, worst in the majors. Only six pitchers have racked up lower WXRLs over the course of the season. ... That Tim Lincecum has been part of the league's top tandem in terms of SNLVAR isn't much of a surprise, but if you had Jonathan Sanchez as his dance partner instead of Matt Cain or Barry Zito, take a bow. After two years of shuttling between the minors and the majors and the bullpen and the rotation, Sanchez is 12th in the league at 2.2, while Lincecum is second at 3.1... That duo wins out over Edinson Volquez (4.0) and Aaron Harang (1.2), though the latter tandem has enough credit via their extracurricular relief duty to overtake them on a combined SN/WX basis. Note that the rest of the Reds' rotation is 0.8 wins below replacement level. ... While Eric Gagne (-0.7 WXRL) has been a disaster, Salomon Torres (2.0 WXRL) is ranked second in the league, and he's converted all six save opportunities since taking over the Brewers' closer duties. ... Forget the damage induced by Matt Morris. Last year Ian Snell and Tom Gorzellanny combined for 10.5 SNLVAR via 64 starts of 3.82 ERA ball; this year, they've got just 0.4 SNLVAR and an ERA of 6.18. ... As ugly as the Mets' season has been, one nice little development has been Duaner Sanchez's comeback. After missing a year and a half due to a shoulder injury sustained in an auto accident, he leads the team in WXRL (1.1). ... Whatever the Nationals' rotation is, it is never boring. Along with the successful retreading of Odalis Perez and Tim Redding, there's the happy little story of John Lannan. PECOTA saw him as a 23-year-old who wasn't ready to contribute (6.18 ERA, -0.5 SNLVAR), but he's put up a 3.47 ERA and is 13th in the league in SNLVAR. ... If you had the Astros at .500 despite Brian Moehler tying for the team SNLVAR lead and Roy Oswalt running fifth, you're a liar. ... One of the big questions for the Rockies coming into the year was whether youngsters Manny Corpas, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Franklin Morales could live up to their hot late-season performances last season. With that trio combining for -1.6 SN/WX--most of it belonging to the deposed closer, Corpas--and about five walks per nine, the early answer appears to be a resounding "No!"
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