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December 28, 2009

Baseball Therapy

2009 in Numbers

by Russell A. Carleton

We come to the end of 2009. At the end of a year, it's good to look back and ask yourself a few questions. Did I do the best I could with the year? Was I kind and compassionate to those around me? And, most importantly, what the heck happened? Wasn't it just January?

Here at BP, we like to play around with numbers to figure out what happened. The thing about numbers is that there are always stories hiding behind them. They aren't always interesting stories, but it's good to look back on those stories at the end of the year to figure out what lessons we can take away from this past year.

So I've tried to find the one number for each team that most clearly tells their 2009 story. I searched to find the 30 numbers to sum up 2009, one for each team. Now, I give to you the year in review.

72.9%: The save conversion rate of the bullpen for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, which is near Los Angeles (51-for-70), including an MLB-best 48 saves from Brian Fuentes. What was their rate from 2008, when they had that one guy who had all the saves? 74.5 percent. Wouldn't you know it, having a bunch of saves is more a mark that you were on a team that won a lot of games, but did so by close margins. By not being tempted by the allure of Francisco Rodriguez's 62 saves from 2008 and not spending the $13 million dollars that they would have had to pay to keep him, the Angels got Fuentes for $8 million and Bobby Abreu for $5 million. And the Mets went 72-90.

89: The number of times Darin Erstad entered the game for the Houston Astros as a pinch-hitter or as part of a double switch. Here's another set of numbers: .194/.268/.328. I'll give you a hint. Those numbers also belong to Darin Erstad.

8.6%: The percentage of time that an Oakland Athletics batter walked, good for 22nd in the majors. With that in mind, can we please stop making snide comments about how the A's are all about walks? Do you think that maybe in the seven years since Moneyball came out, Billy Beane and company might have figured out a few other things that they might look into?

9: The difference between the Blue Jays' actual number of wins in 2009 (75) and their Pythagorean expectation (84). This was the second straight year in which the Blue Jays had such a large spread between the two in the direction of under-performing. Conclusion: Pythagorean wins lose something in the exchange rate as you cross the border.

119: The number of home runs given up by Atlanta Braves pitching, best in baseball. The Braves also had the third-highest ground-ball induction rate of any team in baseball. Conclusion: ground balls don't fly over the fence.

4: The number of Milwaukee Brewers who started 20 games for the Brew Crew in 2009 and who also functioned below replacement level. Conclusion: the Brewers would have been better off with Yovani Gallardo and four guys from the waiver wire.

366: The number of career home runs that Albert Pujols has hit, hopefully on his way to hitting 800 or so. Surprisingly, 2009 was the year in which he won his first home-run title. Weird.

9.1: The 2009 VORP of now-former-Cubs right fielder Milton Bradley. All that drama for roughly one win above what they would have gotten with Willie Bloomquist. Have a nice day, Wrigleyville.

21: The age, in years, of Arizona's leader in OPS, Justin Upton. Upton's 899 mark gave Diamondbacks fans something to cheer about that didn't involve the numbers 4.0 (the total number of innings pitched by Brandon Webb, all on Opening Day), 223 (the number of times Mark Reynolds struck out), or 11,666,666 (the number of dollars paid to Eric Byrnes so that he could compete with Gary Matthews Jr. for the most superfluous player in baseball award).

4.1%: The percentage of Clayton Kershaw's fly balls given up that went for home runs, which masked the fact that he went from a 40 percent ground-ball pitcher in 2008 to a 30 percent ground-ball pitcher in 2009. Uh-oh.

699:The worst-in-MLB team OPS of the San Francisco Giants, including a downright ugly .309 team OBP. How on earth did this team win 88 games? Oh right, Lincecum and Cain and… well, it does rhyme.

383: The number of plate appearances made by Travis Hafner during the 2009 season. Hafner hit decently well during those plate appearances (.272/.355/.470), but the Indians surely hoped that Hafner (and seemingly everyone else on the team) would shake off his 2008 injuries and return to his 2006-07 form. He didn't shake off the injuries, or he did and the shaking hurt his shoulder.

1: In 2009, Ichiro Suzuki grounded into exactly one double play. It came during his April 15 season debut, and he was GIDP-free for the rest of the season. Not bad for a guy with a 55 percent ground-ball rate.

4.43: The Marlins' Ricky Nolasco's strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2009. And 2008. Another coincidence? His ground-ball rates in 2008 were 38.3 percent. In 2009 it was 38.8 percent. Sometimes you do everything right and it doesn't work.

24: The number of games in which the world's greatest enigmaTM Jeff Francoeur hit cleanup for the Mets after coming over in a mid-season trade. Francoeur, if you add in the five home runs he hit in Atlanta to the 10 he hit as a Met, would have led the Mets in that category. Things apparently weren't going so well this year at Citi Field.

4: The number of times that, upon reading the name of the top five relievers used by the Washington Nationals in 2009 (Mike MacDougal, Ron Villone, Jay Bergmann, Joe Beimel, Julian Tavarez) I muttered the words "He's still in baseball?"

73: The combined ages of the Orioles' starting outfield (Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis). These next few years should be interesting in Baltimore.

10.35 million: The number of dollars due to Adrian Gonzalez during the next season, assuming that the Padres (or whoever holds that contract) exercise the no-brainer option for 2011. That's the most interesting thing that there is to say about the Padres these days.

23: The number of times that Chase Utley attempted to steal a base in 2009. Coincidentally enough, it was also the number of times in which he was successful in stealing a base in 2009. (For some context, the next highest perfect stolen-base attempts total was Johnny Damon's 12.) You had no idea that he did that, in addition to being an outstanding hitter and playing an excellent second base. If Chase Utley cured cancer, he probably still wouldn't be recognized. And Ryan Howard would win the Nobel Prize for medicine for putting a Band-Aid on Jimmy Rollins' paper cut.

4: The number of players who were in the Pirates' Opening Day lineup who were still employed by the team at the end of the season (Ryan Doumit, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Paul Maholm). Five starters who appeared in the game (Nyjer Morgan, Freddie Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Jack Wilson) found their way onto other teams, as did pinch-hitter Eric Hinske and reliever John Grabow. The dismantling job was so complete that when Baseball Prospectus hosted an event at PNC Park late this season, I turned to my brother (who lives in Pittsburgh) during the game and asked him who the guys on the field were. He mumbled something about Andrew McCutcheon, but he had no idea either.

77.1%: The percentage of swings taken by a Texas Ranger which resulted in the bat hitting the ball, lowest in the majors. However, the Rangers did hit 224 home runs, tied for second in the majors. Swing real hard in case you hit it!

+104: The difference between Ben Zobrist's OPS in 2008 and 2009. At least Tampa Bay had that to be happy about. Now, about B.J. Upton

.385: The BABIP of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Remember what we all learned about DIPS, boys and girls.

0.45: For a little help on this one, I contacted Justin Inaz, proprietor of Basement Dwellers, a Cincinnati Reds and sabermetrics blog. He pointed out that the difference between the Cincinnati Reds' pitching staff's collective FIP and their actual ERA was high (second-highest in MLB, behind Seattle) due to the excellent defense played at the Great American Ballpark. What that means is that Reds fielders made Reds pitching look better than it really was-almost half a run better per nine innings.

47.3%: The ground-ball percentage yielded by the pitching staff of the Colorado Rockies, second highest in baseball. This suggests that someone in Colorado has figured out that the solution to the mile-high air is to make sure that the ball hits the inch-tall grass.

.297: I should probably be nice and do something related to Zach Greinke for my Royals number. But .297 was Mike Jacobs' on-base percentage. I can't think of a number that better sums up a team than that.

164: The number of days in which the Detroit Tigers were in first place in the AL Central, including all of the days between May 10 and October 4.

.392: Lost in all the (well deserved) hoopla that surrounded Joe Mauer's MVP-winning season was the continuing emergence of Denard Span, who posted a .392 OBP. Mauer and Justin Morneau may get all the press, but Span deserves a much bigger share of the baseball public's attention.

28,036: The attendance at US Cellular Field on July 23rd. Funny enough, all of my Chicago friends claim to have been there that day, even though most of my Chicago friends are Cubs fans. Other than Mark Buehrle's perfect game, did anything interesting really happen to the White Sox this year? B-Rock wearing his Sox jacket to throw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game?

27: When it comes down to it, a baseball season has a binary outcome, and the New York Yankees have clicked the "1" option 27 times now. Vaguely loathe them or outright hate them, in 2009, the Yankees were Champions of MLB.

Got a number that you think sums up your favorite team? Leave it in the comments. Happy New Year from Baseball Prospectus.

Russell A. Carleton, the writer formerly known as 'Pizza Cutter,' is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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

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