Ten things I didn’t know last week

How the Twins are doing it

The Twins are scoring 4.7 runs a game (0.3 runs better than the AL average) despite a woeful GPA of .242 (AL average is .250, which ain’t so great either). How are they doing it? Well, here’s a graph I first introduced four years ago. It kind of tells the story.

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This is a fairly effective graph of the offensive strengths of each team. The bottom axis shows how often teams get batters into scoring position, the side axis shows how well they bat with runners in scoring position, and the size of the circle shows how often they hit home runs. The Twins have not been hitting home runs, and they’ve been about average in getting runners in scoring position. But they’ve been hitting when it counts.

Can they keep it up? Maybe.

Miguel Cabrera’s batted ball profile

Miguel Cabrera has been a disappointment to Tiger fans so far. Some people say it takes a year to adjust to a new league, and that may be the case here. His batted ball profile shows that he’s controlling the plate as well as he used to, but his batted balls just aren’t the same. Line drives are down, ground balls are up and outfield flies aren’t being smacked over the fence.

                      Net Runs per Ball   Percent of Batted Balls  % of OF     % of PA
            BFP      OF      LD      GB     OF%     LD%     GB%      HR       K      BB
    2005     685    0.29    0.45    0.05     34%     24%     38%     18%     18%     10%
    2006     676    0.26    0.49    0.07     33%     24%     40%     16%     16%     14%
    2007     680    0.30    0.48    0.06     35%     21%     40%     19%     19%     12%
    2008     245    0.19    0.37    0.09     36%     16%     44%     13%     18%     12%

Here’s a quick overview of the table: “Net Runs Per Ball” is the number of runs Cabrera has created for each type of batted ball (outfield flies, line drives and ground balls), based on the number of singles, doubles, etc., he has hit for each type. The “Percent of Batted Balls” is a simple distribution of the percent of times he has hit each type. Next, you see how many home runs he’s hit per outfield fly. Finally, you get the percent of plate appearances in which he’s struck out or walked.

You can read more about these batted ball profiles in this article.

Chipper Jones’ batted ball profile

On the other hand, Chipper Jones‘s profile looks remarkably similar to previous years, except for two extraordinary differences: His strikeout rate is way down and his line drive rate is way up.

                     Net Runs per Ball    Percent of Batted Balls   % of OF    % of PA
            BFP      OF      LD      GB     OF%     LD%     GB%      HR       K      BB
    2005     432    0.28    0.41    0.02     34%     23%     42%     17%     13%     17%
    2006     477    0.30    0.45    0.07     39%     19%     41%     19%     15%     13%
    2007     600    0.35    0.43    0.06     36%     19%     44%     18%     13%     14%
    2008     246    0.32    0.43    0.07     32%     26%     41%     20%      9%     15%

David Pinto keeps a day-to-day graph of Chipper’s chances of batting .400 this year. So far, the trend is up.

The National League West is converging

Hey guys! Let’s meet at .500.

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How the Rockies aren’t doing it

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The Rockies are batting 80 points lower than the Twins with runners in scoring position. The chief culprit is third baseman Garrett Atkins, as you can see in this list of performance with runners in scoring position:

                       AB    H     BA
   Atkins, Garrett     67   13   .194
   Helton, Todd        52   15   .288
   Holliday, Matt T    50   13   .260
   Barmes, Clint       41   11   .268
   Spilborghs, Ryan    40   13   .325
   Hawpe, Brad B       38   10   .263
   Taveras, Willy      34    6   .176
   Tulowitzki, Troy    31    5   .161
   Torrealba, Yorvi    30    8   .267
   Iannetta, Chris     29    9   .310
   Baker, Jeff G       26    6   .231
   Quintanilla, Oma    24    4   .167
   Podsednik, Scott    21    6   .286
   Herrera, Jonatha    14    4   .286
   Nix, Jayson T       13    1   .077

The division of close games

There’s a great story brewing in Chicago, where both teams are in first place. The Cubs, in particular, have everyone excited with their winning ways. They’re on a real hot streak right now, doing everything just right. In fact, here’s a sparkline of their games this season (up is a win, down is a loss, red bars represent games decided by only one or two runs, horizontal bars represent home games):

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You can see their hot and (relatively) cold spells pretty well here. In particular, check out the home/road split: They’re 26-8 at home, 12-13 on the road. David Pinto looked into this phenomenon yesterday. But something else really intrigued me: For a strong team, they’ve played a lot of close games. In fact, it seems that most of their losses have been close ones. I did a little more research and found that the NL Central is seriously the division of close games.

Here’s a “treemap” of the number of close games in each division, ranging from 99 in the NL Central to 55 in the AL Central. Of course, the NL Central has one more team than any other division, but still. Big diff.

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The color represents how well each division has performed in close games, from .560 in the NL Central (dark green) to .430 in the NL West.

Is Manny being Manny?

Boy, Manny Ramirez has really bounced back this year, hasn’t he? Well, yes and no…

                     Net Runs per Ball    Percent of Batted Balls  % of OF     % of PA
            BFP      OF      LD      GB     OF%     LD%     GB%      HR       K      BB
    2005     650    0.42    0.35    0.00     36%     24%     37%     28%     18%     14%
    2006     558    0.38    0.42    0.04     40%     22%     36%     25%     18%     18%
    2007     569    0.22    0.44    0.00     39%     22%     38%     12%     16%     14%
    2008     247    0.36    0.37    0.06     36%     18%     42%     19%     20%     11%

The good news is that he’s smashing fly balls again (0.36 runs per outfield fly, back to his prior standards). But he’s hitting fewer line drives and more ground balls, and he’s striking out more and walking less. A mixed scenario, to be sure.

How that new ballpark in Washington is playing

These numbers are almost meaningless at this early stage of the game, but what the heck. Early indications are that the new Nationals Park in Washington D.C. is not the hitter’s nightmare that RFK was. Here are the “simple” park factors for runs and home runs the past few years:

             RF     HRF
    2005    0.87    0.77
    2006    0.94    0.86
    2007    0.87    0.68
    2008    1.09    0.96

So far this year, teams are scoring about 9 percent more frequently in Nationals Park than away, and home runs are flying out at almost the same clip at home and away.

And Comerica too

Meanwhile, one of the wackiest early-season park factor trends is occurring in Detroit. Five years ago, they moved in the left field fences because they were concerned that Comerica was too much of a pitcher’s park. That doesn’t appear to be an issue this year:

             RF     HRF
    2005    0.96    0.94
    2006    0.98    0.81
    2007    1.05    1.14
    2008    1.39    1.54

In fact, Comerica has been the best hitter’s park in the majors this year. I’m pretty sure this is a meaningless trend. Let’s wait and see.

What the heck has happened to Victor Martinez?

Remember Indian catcher Victor Martinez? The guy who regularly crushed American League pitching and even seemed to establish himself defensively last year? Well, the good news is that he has continued his top-notch catching, nabbing 42 percent of potential basestealers (the best figure in the league). But he has lost himself with the bat.

                     Net Runs per Ball     Percent of Batted Balls  % of OF    % of PA
             BFP      OF      LD      GB     OF%     LD%     GB%      HR       K      BB
    2005     622    0.18    0.43    0.05     29%     21%     48%     14%     13%     11%
    2006     652    0.24    0.37    0.01     32%     22%     44%     10%     12%     11%
    2007     645    0.22    0.44    0.01     36%     20%     42%     14%     12%     11%
    2008     188   -0.02    0.39    0.03     24%     25%     47%      0%     12%      7%

Yes, Martinez has actually plated negative runs with his outfield flies, a nearly impossible achievement. (Among batters with at least 130 plate appearances, only Braves’ outfielder Gregor Blanco has managed to post a negative outfield fly run value.) Reportedly, Martinez has been hamstrung by a hamstring injury. I hope that’s true. Otherwise, the guy has just lost it.

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