Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

David Riske is now the highest-paid member of the White Sox’s bullpen.

When the White Sox traded Javy Lopez to the Red Sox for David Riske, the cost of Chicago’s bullpen rose about 45%. Riske only makes $1.8 million a year, but the Sox bullpen was the second-least expensive pen in the majors before the deal, with only $4.1 million in salary scheduled for Sox relievers.

The least expensive bullpen, of course, belongs to the Florida Marlins ($3.9M) and the most expensive, of course, is the Yankees’ ($23.9M), which got me to wondering, do teams get anything for their bullpen money? For an answer, I decided to graph some data (of course!) and came up with the following picture, which places bullpen salary against each bullpen’s ERA (note that I graphed ERA in reverse order, to show a positive relationship between salary and performance).

image

In general, yes, teams do get more for their bullpen dollars (see the rising line?) but the data sure isn’t very compelling. For you mathematical readers, the R squared is .11. My take from the graph is that spending money on your bullpen is a good way to make sure your relievers won’t be terrible, but it’s no guarantee that they will be great.

Anyway, the higher the dot is above the line, the more value each team is getting for its bullpen money, and the farther below the line, the less value it’s getting. So the best bullpen values so far are in Minnesota and San Diego. The worst are in Kansas City, Cleveland Cincinnati and Atlanta. The White Sox have been only a slightly above-average value and, with the addition of Riske, they may move closer to the line the rest of this season.

By the way, teams like the Mets, Blue Jays and Cubs were criticized last year for spending too much money on their bullpens but, judging from this graph, they seem to have made decent investments so far. I know that the Blue Jays are below the value line, but if you were to adjust their ERA for the league they play in, they would be about even.

But the Sox spend a lot more on their starters.

After drawing that graph, I started to wonder which teams spend relatively more on the bullpen vs. their starters. What I found is that the average team spends almost exactly twice as much on the rotation as they do on the bullpen. As you can imagine, however, there are big differences between teams. The Pirates actually spend more money on their bullpen than their rotation, while the White Sox spend 10 times as much on their rotation as their bullpen.

Here’s a graph showing the relative difference for each team:

image

These results are probably a reflection of both circumstance and overt strategy, though the White Sox’s strategy seems crystal clear. It’s the rotation, stupid!

Derek Jeter really is Mr. Clutch

The guys who wrote The Book (affectionately known as Tango, MGL and Dolphin) have started their own blog. They don’t call it The Blog. In fact, they don’t call it much of anything. Might I suggest The Book Blog?

The Book Blog will likely have more cutting-edge sabermetric research than any other free site currently running. For instance, in the latest entry, Tango has analyzed Fangraphs’ WPA stats to determine that Derek Jeter is having a terrific “clutch” year at bat, even better than David Ortiz’s 2005 (keeping in mind that we’re not yet at the halfway point of the season).

I’m one of those sabermetricians who feels Jeter is overrated by Yankee fans who consider him next to Godliness. But you have to give the guy his due; Derek Jeter is living up to his reputation this year.

By the way, recent research has shown that smart people choke. So here’s a quick personality test: which would you rather be if you could only be one: smart or clutch?

Beltran’s home/road splits

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece outlining how Calos Beltran has changed his batting approach this year. What I missed, as one commenter pointed out to me, is that Beltran is hitting much, much better on the road than at home.

At home, Beltran is batting .211/.350/.491 and on the road he’s batting .358/.446/.649. That is indeed a huge difference, but take a look at some of his underlying stats:

       BB/PA   K/AB  HR/AB   BABIP
Home    0.17   0.22   0.08   .188
Away    0.14   0.23   0.09   .392

Beltran is actually walking more and striking out less often at home, and hitting home run rates at about the same pace. The difference is 200 points in Batting Average on Balls in Play. Over the rest of the year, his home BABIP will increase and his road BABIP will decline. Exactly where they come out will probably determine what his season looks like in total.

Carlos Delgado and Jose Valentin also haven’t batted as well at home, as this post highlights.

Odd Couples

Super poster dackle2 at the Fanhome message board did some calculations and estimated that Ron Santo and Billy Williams probably played more games together than any other two teammates in history. Other teammates high on the list include George Brett/Frank White, Alan Trammell/Lou Whitaker, and Bill Mazeroski/Roberto Clemente.

Dackle added a second post that listed the historical pitching staffs that had the greatest future. To determine the list, he looked at all pitching staffs and calculated how many wins each pitcher would go on to accumulate in his career. Surprisingly, the early ’90′s Atlanta Braves weren’t first, the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers were. That staff included Bob Welch (204), Charlie Hough (177), Rick Sutcliffe (171), Dave Stewart (168), and Don Sutton (119).

Thank you, Dackle. Great stuff.

The Marlins are hot.

Is it just me, or have baseball teams been mighty streaky lately? In the AL Central, the Tigers, White Sox and Twins are all hot, Oakland was awesome before visiting Denver, and even the Mariners have been on a roll lately.

In the National League, most teams have been having the opposite experience, with the Diamondbacks and Braves in doldrums and several other teams close behind (Reds, Pirates, Cubs, etc.). And the Nationals continue to toy with their fans by putting together alternate hot and cold streaks.

I have a feeling that the schedule and interleague play are part of the explanation behind these hot and cold spells, but I’ve been particularly intrigued by the one National League team that seems to be bucking the trend, the Florida Marlins.

We all know the Marlins’ story. During the offseason, they decided to trade away all their old, expensive talent in exchange for cheap, young talent. Although the Fish took some heat for these deals, many of us thought the trades weren’t really all that bad, and that the Marlins would have a chance to compete again in a couple of years. We were wrong—the Marlins’ turnaround started a month ago.

Here is a graph of their 10-game averages in runs scored, runs allowed and wins (the yellow area highlights the number of wins for the 10 previous games). As you can see, the Marlins’ pitching has been awesome lately and their record has followed suit:

image

Take a look at the key stats for Marlin starters over the past 20 games (courtesy of Doug’s Stats):

                  W L     IP   H   SO  BB   ERA
Dontrelle Willis  3 0   31.2  34   14   5  2.56
Scott Olsen       4 0   27.2  19   22   5  1.95
Josh Johnson      2 2   25.2  27   23  13  1.75
Ricky Nolasco     2 2   25.0  29   22   5  3.24
Brian Moehler     3 1   24.0  30   12   8  5.25

The Marlins’ season turned around on May 22 when, after being swept by the Devil Rays, they returned home to play the hapless Cubs. On the 22nd, Nolasco beat the team that traded him, 9-1 (think the Cubs regret that deal?), and he hit a home run to boot.

Before facing the Cubbies, the Marlins were 11-31; since then, they’ve been 19-6.

Luck has also been a big factor. Prior to May 22, the Fish were 5-17 in close games (games decided by two runs or less) and they even lost four in a row after leading in the ninth (something previously accomplished by only the 2002 Devil Rays). Since then, Florida has been 8-2 in close games and the bullpen hasn’t blown a save opportunity in the last 20 games.

If the Marlins finish over .500, it will be one of the best stories of the year.

The National League has better infields, the American League better flychasers.

I’ve mentioned our league fielding stats before, something we track on the Hardball Times team page. We keep track of how often each team turns each type of batted balls into outs, and what we’ve found is that AL teams catch outfield flies more often (26 times more than the major league average) and the NL teams gobble up more groundballs for outs (43 times more often than the major league average).

Ballparks may play a hand in these results, because the only artificial turf stadiums are in the American League and turf speeds up ground balls. Setting that aside, however, the best outfields are Atlanta’s (+22) and Toronto’s (+21), while the worst are Houston’s (-30) and Philadelphia’s (-22). Best infields are Detroit’s (+52) and Houston’s (+49) and the worst are Tampa Bay’s (-39) and Cleveland’s (-24). The Tigers’ infield has been a critical ingredient to their success this year.

Who flubbed double plays most often last year.

In keeping with our fielding focus, John Dewan’s stat of the week recently ran a list of the teams that mishandled the most (and least) double plays last year. These were outright flubs, such as dropped balls, missed pivots or bad throws; plays that clearly should have been double plays but weren’t.

According to John, With or without an error involved, in 2005 missed double plays happened about 18 times a week! It’s probably not a coincidence that the World Champion White Sox were the best at avoiding this problem. The teams that missed the least double plays last year were the White Sox (just 7), Twins (10), Giants (10) and Cubs (10). The teams that made the most DP flubs were the Mariners (23), Rangers (23), and Blue Jays (21).

Uniwatch

I’ve been reading a lot of the Uniwatch blog lately. Uniwatch is dedicated to the aesthetics of what athletes wear, and it’s great fun to read. I never paid much attention to this sort of thing before, but lately I’ve learned…

- More and more catchers now have separate masks for home games and road games.
- A-Rod appears to be wearing vanity-branded batting gloves.
- The “high-pants look” has somehow gone from being considered old-school to being youth-associated
- The Wimbledon ballboys and ballgirls will wear blue this year instead of the traditional green (changing 30 years of tradition).

Check it out for yourself.

Humidor watch update

A few weeks ago, we noted that there appears to be a new Coors Field in Denver, one that pitchers actually find to their liking. Other analysts, such as Dan Fox of Baseball Prospectus, have observed the same trend and now, with the Rockies’ two consecutive shutouts of Oakland, everyone is noticing. One major league executive even thinks other teams may start using humidors.

Yes, the trend has continued, but it’s changed too. Last time we talked about this (May 11), we noted that decreased home runs were the main reason scoring appeared to be down at Coors. That profile has changed somewhat, however. Here are the relevant May stats, compared to current stats:

Park Factors           May     Now
Home Run Factor       0.85    1.04
Park-S Factor         1.07    1.00

The Park-S factor, which measures scoring on all plays except home runs, has declined to 1.00, though it’s consistently been around 1.07 the last five years. I think this is likely to be a less permanent change than the change we had seen in home run rates, and my guess is that the Coors Park Factor will increase somewhat the rest of the year as the Park-S factor increases.

On the other hand, who knows? Here’s a bit more of a breakdown: the Rockies have scored 159 runs at home, 163 on the road. They’ve hit 28 home runs at home, 40 on the road. The Rockie pitchers, meanwhile, have allowed 158 runs at home and 169 on the road and 32 home runs at home and 20 on the road. In other words, there’s a great big difference between Rockie batters and pitchers and we’re sure to see more change as the year progresses.

Jason Grimsley, you didn’t have to get caught.

Do you use HGH for that extra edge? Steroids? Other performance-enhancing drugs? Sure, you do. Well, I’ve got good news for you—you can now buy naturally clean urine on the Internet! The site even brags that the urine is pretested, safe and easy to use for any procedure. And, just in case you’re concerned someone is watching, you can even buy a kit with a fake penis (or, as they prefer to call it, a “Whizzinator”). That’s called the “Executive” version.

That’s eleven things learned this week, but I wish I hadn’t learned that last one. We’ll throw it in for free.

References & Resources
Thanks to Crawfish Boxes for the “smart people choke” link.

Update: I’ve been told I’m about a year late on the Whizzinator. Sorry about that, but now I’m upset that I could have been cheating all this time and didn’t know it!

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