Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Interleague play finished this past Sunday and the American League gave the National an old-fashioned whuppin’: 154-98. I’m not the biggest fan of interleague play, but I don’t hate it either, and it certainly does give me good material for this column. Such as…

Interleague Leaderboards

You can find normal leaderboards for the interleague games over at Major League Baseball’s website, but I thought you might like to see the leaders in some of THT’s more popular stats. Here’s a list of the top 10 batters, ranked by Runs Created. (You can find definitions of all THT stats in our glossary.)

Player        Team    RC    LD%   BABIP    GB%   IF/F   HR/F   BA/RSP  Cltch
Johjima K.    SEA     26    13%    .383    31%     7%    36%     .643   3.3
Mauer J.      MIN     22    30%    .547    43%     0%    10%     .688   2.7
Iguchi T.     CHA     21    25%    .395    46%     0%    42%     .563   5.1
Ibanez R.     SEA     19    15%    .319    44%    10%    40%     .385   1.0
Ramirez M.    BOS     19    24%    .395    40%    13%    51%     .471   2.3
Ordonez M.    DET     19    17%    .418    47%     5%    23%     .524   2.4
Crawford C.   TB      18    14%    .385    57%     0%    35%     .294    .9
Brown E.      KC      18    19%    .442    46%    16%    12%     .533   1.4
Cuddyer M.    MIN     17    19%    .327    49%    22%    17%     .464   3.8
Damon J.      NYA     17    16%    .317    48%    13%    10%     .462   2.5

The top-ranked National League batter, Freddy Sanchez, was only 12th overall.

Here’s a list of the top 10 pitchers, ranked by Pitching Runs Created:

Player       Team   PRC   ERA    FIP   DER   LD%   GB% IF/F  HR/F   LOB%   DOM
Liriano F.   MIN     36  1.80   2.91  .778   19%   53%   0%   20%    93%   34%
Harang A.    CIN     32  1.47   2.51  .694   24%   39%  12%    4%    89%   26%
Robertson N. DET     27  1.29   3.41  .738   19%   45%  12%    4%    88%   21%
Santana J.   MIN     27  0.82   2.51  .804   13%   43%  16%    5%    89%   28%
Bedard E.    BAL     27  1.29   1.81  .787   18%   51%   8%    0%    82%   33%
Byrd P.      CLE     25  1.67   3.34  .705   22%   27%  22%    5%    92%   23%
Buchholz T.  HOU     25  1.91   1.92  .800   27%   37%  17%    0%    67%   30%
Meche G.     SEA     24  1.84   3.40  .769   10%   53%  21%   13%    87%   27%
Garcia F.    CHA     22  2.10   4.39  .737   12%   48%   3%   10%    95%   13%
Willis D.    FLA     20  2.27   3.73  .667   23%   42%   0%    6%    85%   15%

A few National League pitchers made this list, including the number-two guy Aaron Harang. Still, American League players dominate both lists, and you’d have to conclude that either Kenji Johjima or Francisco Liriano were the Interleague MVP’s.

The American League has the better players in their prime.

Mitchel Lichtman (better known as MGL to many of us) is analyzing the difference between the two leagues in a series on The Hardball Times. The articles, which I highly recommend, focus on the talent difference between players who have switched leagues in recent years. But I’m also intrigued by another question: which league has developed better young talent?

I ask because the leading pitcher in interleague play was AL rookie Francisco Liriano (5-0, 1.80 ERA), while the leading batter was AL rookie Kenji Johjima (.446/.508/.929, with a .643 batting average with runners in scoring position). Okay, Johjima is actually 30 years old, but the second-best batter was Joe Mauer (.492/.551/.672, .688 with runners in scoring position) and he’s only 23. I wondered, has the American League developed better young talent than the National?

So I took all the stats from interleague play and grouped all performances by the player’s age. What I found surprised me, a little bit. Here are the number of Runs Created by batters of each league:

Age           AL      NL   %Diff
20-24        179     164      9%
25-29        525     433     21%
30-34        588     383     53%
35-39         83     121    -31%
40-44         11      17    -33%
45-49                  4   -100%
Total       1387    1122     24%

The quality of the NL performance was actually close to the AL among players who are younger than 25, and the NL has better old batters. The difference between the two leagues centers around players in their prime, particularly batters between the ages of 30 and 34, where the AL just overpowers the NL.

What’s striking is that you can see the same difference among pitchers, based on this table of the Pitching Runs Created by individual pitchers during interleague play:

Age           AL      NL   %Diff
20-24        290     318     -9%
25-29        610     478     28%
30-34        372     224     66%
35-39        128     130     -2%
40-44         41      30     40%
Total       1442    1180     22%

The AL got more out of their 40-year-old pitchers (thank you, Kenny Rogers), but otherwise pitchers followed the same pattern, only more so. In other words, this simple study indicates that the AL’s young players aren’t really better than the NL’s. The difference between the two leagues is primarily driven by players in their prime.

Maybe Alfonso Soriano just can’t hit AL pitching.

Alfonso Soriano has had a fine start for the Washington Nationals, much to the surprise of many of us who thought his performance would suffer at RFK Stadium. He’s already hit 26 home runs and had a terrific start this year. But did you notice how he batted against the American League in interleague play?

 G PA  AB R  H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  K SB  CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  GPA RC
17 78  66 9 12   3  0  3   8  11 16  5   1 .182 .299 .364 .662 .225  8

In two games since the end of interleague play, he’s hit .500 with two home runs. I wonder if the AL pitchers know something the NL pitchers don’t? (Caveat: not a detailed study! Just curiouser than some other things I’ve seen.)

National League designated hitters stink.

As you probably know, American League teams get to use the designated hitter in their home games, but not in NL stadiums (where pitchers have to bat). So again I wondered, did this make a difference in interleague play this year? To answer the question, here are the batting average and slugging stats for National League designated hitters each of the past five years:

 Year     BA   SLG
 2002   .228  .404
 2003   .293  .518
 2004   .244  .425
 2005   .252  .387
 2006   .245  .366

This year, NL DH’s had the worst slugging percentage of the past five years, part of the reason American League teams were 86-40 at home.

The Marlins have won more interleague games than any other NL team.

I’ve mentioned SABR member Frank Vaccaro’s work with team win-loss records before. Here’s the latest from Frank: a list of each team’s record in interleague play since the concept was first introduced 10 years ago (each team’s primary interleague opponent is listed in parentheses after the team’s record):

AL Teams:
NYa Yankees        103- 71  174     .592    (NYn  32-22)
OAKa A's           103- 73  176     .585    (SFn  30-27)
CHIa White Sox     100- 75  175     .571    (CHIn 29-25)
SEAa Mariners       98- 77  175     .560    (SDn  24-26)
MINa Twins          95- 79  174     .546    (MILn 22-18)
BOSa Red Sox        93- 82  175     .531    (ATLn 16-23)
CLEa Indians        93- 82  175     .531    (CINn 26-19)
LAa Angels          90- 86  176     .511    (LAn  30-26)
DETa Tigers         86- 89  175     .491    (ARZn  7-11)
TORa Blue Jays      83- 92  175     .474    (MONn 24-19)
TEXa Rangers        82- 94  176     .466    (HOUn 16-20)
KCa Royals          76- 99  175     .434    (STLn 16-23)
TBa Devil Rays      67- 93  160     .419    (FLAn 19-30)
BALa Orioles        73-102  175     .417    (PHIn 21-21)

NL Teams:
FLAn Marlins        96- 72  168     .571    (TBa  30-19)
ATLn Braves         91- 75  166     .548    (BOSa 23-16)
STLn Cardinals      77- 67  144     .535    (KCa  23-16)
SFn Giants          86- 75  161     .534    (OAKa 27-30)
WASn Senators       19- 17   36     .528    (TORa  3- 6)
HOUn Astros         78- 71  149     .523    (TEXa 20-16)
NYn Mets            83- 83  166     .500    (NYa  22-32)
LAn Dodgers         80- 81  161     .497    (LAa  26-30)
MONn Expos          69- 70  139     .496    (TORa 19-24)
CHIn Cubs           70- 75  145     .483    (CHIa 25-29)
PHIn Phillies       78- 91  169     .462    (BALa 21-21)
ARZn Diamondbacks   65- 77  142     .458    (TEXa  6-13)
MILn Brewers        64- 75  139     .460    (MINa 18-22)
SDn Padres          74- 87  161     .460    (SEAa 26-24)
COLn Rockies        66- 79  145     .455    (SEAa  9-13)
CINn Reds           61- 78  139     .439    (CLEa 19-26)
PITn Pirates        52- 84  136     .382    (CLEa 11-10)

Note: the Milwaukee Brewers’ line includes an 8-7 interleague record in 1997 as an AL team and the Washington totals include their records as the Expos.

Games really are longer than they used to be.

Ted Turocy, who works with the wonderful Retrosheet data, figured out the average length of nine-inning games for every year Retrosheet has the data. I thought you might like to see a graph of the results:

imageThe graph starts with 1941, because data for the years prior to 1941 is a bit sporadic. As you can see, the average nine-inning game lasted about two hours, on average, in the early 1940s. Over the next fifteen years, the average game added another half hour. From 1960 to 1980, the average lenght of a game remained about even (it actually declined a bit in the 1970s). Over the next 20 years, however, from 1980 to 2000, the average game added another half hour, making the total average length almost three hours in 2000.

The good news is that games have been getting shorter since 2000, but honestly, I can’t even conceive of baseball games lasting only two hours, on average. Those really were the good old days.

The difference between starting and relieving.

I don’t know if you caught Steve Treder’s outstanding article from earlier this week, but I’d like to point it out to you, just in case. Steve researched something that has fascinated me for a while: do relievers have an advantage over starters? The answer is yes, they do.

Steve looked at all pitchers who have both started and relieved in their careers, and found that the average pitcher’s strikeout rate increases 16% when he relieves instead of starting, and his ERA decreases .3 to .4 runs per game. This has been researched before—most notably, in The Book—but I had never seen so much detailed analysis before. In particular, Steve isolated those who have done worse (vs. those who have done better in relief), and found a number of additional circumstances that led to their relatively worse bullpen performance.

In other words, if you take a “pure” approach and ask how much more effective a pitcher is when moved to the bullpen, Steve’s analysis probably understates the case. In The Book, Tangotiger estimates that the true difference is closer to .8 runs a game.

I should have gone to Seattle.

For the past three years, I’ve wanted to go to the SABR conference, but reality always gets in the way. This year was no different, although Aaron’s summary of events may not be the best endorsement I’ve ever read. If I ever do go, I guarantee you that my recap will be a lot less interesting than Aaron’s.

Still, I read a couple of the presentations online and hope to read more soon. There’s an interesting table in David Smith’s presentation that shows the number of runs scored in each inning as a function of the lineup slot led off the inning:

1  0.55 
2  0.55 
3  0.53 
4  0.47 
5  0.43 
6  0.41 
7  0.40 
8  0.43 
9  0.48

In other words, the low point in scoring occurs when the number seven batter bats first (0.4 runs per inning) but when the eighth and ninth slots bat, runs scored per inning actually rise (obviously as a result of the top of the order coming to bat later in the inning). Here’s a link to the PDF file of David’s presentation.

What a “missed pitch” is worth.

Baseball Reference’s Sean Forman gave a presentation at SABR called Better Defense Through Bruising. In it, he counts the number of passed balls and wild pitches for all catchers since 1957. Among his interesting conclusions are:

  • Since 1957, the best catcher at “saving” missed pitches over his career has been Mike Piazza, with 151 pitches saved.
  • Brian Downing saved 34 missed pitches in 1975, the best season mark during this time period.
  • One missed pitch costs .27 runs, on average. A good catcher can save his staff four runs a year; a bad catcher can cost that many.
  • Over his career, Piazza has saved his team 41 runs over the average catcher, though that doesn’t offset the 131 runs he has cost his team (vs. average) in stolen bases.

I wish I had seen Sean’s presentation. Reading the slides was a bit difficult, sort of like reading the Powerpoint version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

Red Sox WPA throughout the season

imageI love what the Sox Watch Blog has been doing with their WPA stats all season long. They’ve tracked the WPA outcome of every game and created graphs of the WPA contributions of the Red Sox’s position players, starters and relievers.

Early in the season, the Red Sox’s starters (red line on the left) were carrying the load , but they started to fall behind in May, when the position players (blue line) and relievers (yellowish line) took over. The Sox’s most recent interleague surge has been led by the position players. This is great stuff. Don’t forget that you can find WPA stats for all teams and all games at Fangraphs.

If you’d like, you can click on the graph to see a larger version.

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