Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

This game gets curiouser and curiouser. Did you know…

These are not last year’s White Sox.

The World Series champion White Sox are first in the American League, with an 18-8 record, but this is a different team than last year’s.

  • Last year, the bullpen had a 3.23 ERA. This year, it’s 4.55.
  • Last year, the offense scored 4.6 runs a game. This year, it’s 5.7 runs a game.

The starters are still doing well, hanging a 4.07 ERA on the board vs. 3.75 last year. And the Sox are still winning the close games, though they’re not playing as many of them. Last year, they were 61-34 in close games; this year they’re 8-3.

With the bullpen struggling, how have they won the close games? They’ve returned to an old habit: hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Sox are batting .293 with runners in scoring position (RISP), the fourth-best figure in the majors. Last year, they only batted .259 with RISP, but in 2004 they batted .293 with RISP, and in 2003 they batted .281 in that situation. I wouldn’t bet on this clutch performance continuing, but it might.

What’s most interesting is how this year’s edition resembles the 2003 and 2004 teams more than last year’s champs, except that they’ve held on to their edge in starters. Gotta love starting pitching.

Lance Berkman has been the best “clutch” hitter so far this year.

I used to receive a lot of e-mails asking why our Runs Created totals differ from other RC counts. The answer is that we use the RC version Bill James created for Win Shares, and it includes the impact of batters hitting relatively better with RISP and hitting relatively more home runs with runners on base. So, to highlight this difference from other RC formulas, we created a stat called “clutch.” “Clutch” is the number of Runs Created as a result of relatively good (or bad) situational hitting.

Here’s a list of the top “clutch” hitters in the first month of the season.

Player          Team    RC     BA/RSP  Cltch
Berkman L.      HOU     30      .500    6.3
Dye J.          CHA     25      .478    5.7
Lopez J.        SEA     22      .400    4.8
Hernandez R.    BAL     23      .500    4.8
Crawford C.     TB      17      .417    4.6
Wilson C.       PIT     21      .333    4.5
Abreu B.        PHI     25      .421    4.4
Kennedy A.      LAA     17      .588    4.3
Giambi J.       NYA     30      .474    4.3
Thome J.        CHA     29      .563    4.2

Two White Sox are on this list, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome, but the list is led by one of the finest hitters of our time, Lance Berkman. And one of the most curious names on the list is Adam Kennedy, who is batting .588 with RISP.

Just because I can, I created a list of the 10 bottom dwellers on the “clutch” list:

Player          Team    RC   BA/RSP   Cltch
Hawpe B.        COL     19    .292    -5.5
Burrell P.      PHI     14    .200    -5.4
Encarnacion     STL      3    .071    -5.1
Dunn A.         CIN     19    .138    -5.0
Tejada M.       BAL     25    .324    -4.4
Nady X.         NYN     14    .158    -4.1
Wilson P.       HOU      5    .080    -4.0
Ordonez M.      DET     13    .214    -3.8
Eckstein D.     STL     16    .174    -3.7
Lee T.          TB       5    .000    -3.6

Remember, “clutch” is a relative statistic; the reason that Miguel Tejada and Brad Hawpe rank low is that their normal stats are so outrageously good. Also, note that one of last year’s NL leaders in “clutch,” David Eckstein, is a “laggard” this year, which shows how hard it is to remain consistently “clutch.”

Just ask the White Sox.

Fangraphs is now tracking WPA stats for all players.

Fangraphs, which has been generating Win Probability Totals graphs for every game, is now collating the Win Probability Added (WPA) totals for all players and listing them on the team pages.

I know David plans to develop a “WPA leaderboard” soon, but I thought I’d jump the gun and list the top 10 WPA leaders, based on a quick review of each team’s list. Remember that every 50 WPA points is a game above average.

Player           WPA
Pujols           323
Swisher          195
Carpenter        183
Chavez           171
D. Sanchez       157
Jeter            156
Ensberg          155
V. Martinez      151
Papelbon         150
Gomes            148

You could almost field an entire team from this list, with a starter (Chris Carpenter), setup man (Duaner Sanchez) and closer (Papelbon) on the mound, a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, third baseman (two, actually) and a couple of outfielders. Biggest surprise to me is the Mets’ Sanchez, who has given up no runs in 17 innings and pitched in some high-leverage situations.

Other totals of note include Barry Bonds (138, despite the low batting average), Lance Berkman (138 too), the Reds’ Todd Coffey (137!!) and Tampa Bay’s Ty Wigginton (130!!!!!).

If you’re a Yankee fan, you might enjoy the Sporting Brews’ bimonthly Yankee batter recap, which focuses on WPA stats. In the name of equal opportunity, here’s a report on the individual Red Sox’s WPA.

Those offseason relief deals aren’t looking too bad. Yet.

Papelbon can pitch, can’t he? If you clicked on the previous link, you saw that the kid leads the Red Sox in WPA by a comfortable margin. In 15 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 16 and walked two, and he’s allowed no home runs and no runs at all. Sanchez’s stats are similar, but not quite as good.

Still, while we marvel at the feats of Papelbon and Sanchez it’s worth remembering that Dustin Hermanson pitched all of April and May last year without giving up a run (over 21 innings) but he eventually lost his closing job due to an injury, and the poor guy hasn’t been on the mound this year at all. Relief fame is fleeting. Exhibit B: Eddie Guardado, Francisco Cordero and Brad Lidge, who have experienced a lot of success in the past, have all flamed out this year.

A lot of fans scoffed at some of the deals signed by relievers this past offseason, but most of those deals aren’t looking bad so far. Here’s a list of some of the most prominent offseason relief contracts, and each player’s WPA this year:

I know I’m forgetting a few key deals, but the teams listed above probably feel pretty good about their deals right now.

Tom Gordon is the most dominating pitcher.

I like to track another little stat I call “Dominance.” Dominance is simply the percentage of batters who either strike out or pop out to the infield. Because 99% of infield flies are caught for outs, they are nearly as automatic as strikeouts. Put them together, and you see how much pitchers have just overwhelmed batters. Here are the early 2006 leaders (minimum of ten innings pitched):

Player          Team     IP      ERA     DOM
Gordon T.       PHI     12.7    0.71     40%
Valverde J.     ARI     10.3    3.48     40%
Williamson S    CHN     11.7    3.86     40%
Julio J.        NYN     13.3    6.75     39%
Calero K.       OAK     10.0    1.80     38%
Papelbon J.     BOS     15.3    0.00     37%
Patterson J.    WAS     25.7    3.86     37%
Lidge B.        HOU     13.7    5.93     37%
Fuentes B.      COL     11.0    1.64     36%
Ramirez R.      COL     10.0    0.00     36%

Tom Gordon is at the top of this list, and there are a few other interesting leaders, too. Jorge Julio and Lidge have struggled this year, but their “dominance” gives their fans hope that they can improve significantly. There’s one starter on the list, John Patterson.

The Phillies have the worst “airball” fielding in the majors, by far.

Wasn’t Aaron Rowand supposed to help the Philly outfield defense? Didn’t Bobby Abreu win a Gold Glove last year? You’d never know if from this year’s fielding stats.

On the THT Team page, we keep track of how many “airballs” (line drives and fly balls) are caught by each team’s fielders. Line drives are caught by both infielders and outfielders, but outfielders are primarily responsible for flyballs and the Philly outfielders aren’t cutting it.

As of Wednesday, the Phillies had caught 23 fewer “airballs” than the average fielding team, much less than the second-worst team, Arizona (-15). It also doesn’t help that the Philly pitching staff has given up the most line drives in the majors (22% of all batted balls).

And the Tigers have the best infield defense in the majors.

While writing my weekly article for John Burnson’s Heater online magazine, I discovered that the Tigers have actually had the best infield defense in the majors this year. Like many people, I thought the Detroit team could surprise this year, but I didn’t know that the infield would be the most surprising aspect of the team.

Colorado Rocks!

There have been a lot of early-season surprises, but the Rockies must be the biggest surprises of all. As of yesterday, the Rox were 15-12 and in sole possession of first place. A broad look at their WPA totals tell the story:

Bullpen WPA        292
Batters WPA         50
Starters WPA      -192

The Rockie bullpen has been remarkable, the best in the majors in total WPA. And Coors Field, typically a hitter’s paradise, has been an average park this year, with a park factor of 1.00. It’s not the pitchers; it’s the hitters, who have scored 4.4 runs a game at home and 5.9 runs a game on the road.

An early-season quirk, to be sure.

The evolution of the baseball bat

Here’s a neat article about the evolution of the baseball bat from the beginning of baseball time. I particularly like the story of Pete Hillerich staying up all night to craft Pete Browning’s bat. Browning went three-for-three the next day, and a bat dynasty was born. The game was held, of course, in Louisville.

Aargh

Here’s a matrix of all the different spellings people use for “Aargh” when looking it up on Google. The numbers on the top are for the number of “g’s” in the spelling, the number on the left is for the number of “a’s.” Never know when this info will be useful.

Extra credit for reading until the end of the article: the Hmmm page.

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