Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Here are the ten things that didn’t underestimate the fog in my brain. This week, anyway.

Offense is down in the American League. Or is pitching up?

This has been discussed many places, such as David Pinto’s recent post in Baseball Musings, so I thought I would pile on. So far this year, American League run scoring is equal to the National League’s — as of yesterday, both leagues were scoring 4.58 runs a game — which last occurred over a full year in 1974. I thought to myself, “Something must be learned!”

So I looked at this year’s THT stats and compared them to the same point in time last year. Here are a few things I found out:

  • Home runs are down. From 496 to 450 in the American League and 572 to 520 in the National.
  • Batting Average on Balls in Play is also down in the American League — from .303 to .292. It’s up a bit in the National, from .294 to .297.
  • As you can probably guess, the rate of line drives is down significantly, from .181 to .167 in the AL, and .187 to .176 in the NL. The flyball rate is about the same in both leagues, and the groundball rate has increased. More groundballs and less line drives mean more outs on batted balls.
  • Pitchers aren’t striking out as many batters, but their walk rate is down significantly. Total AL walks are down from 1,618 to 1,417, while they’re up slightly in the NL, from 1,797 to 1,819.

The key points, I think, are that American League pitchers are walking less batters, batters are hitting less line drives, and less flyballs are flying out of the ballpark.

The decline in offense comes down to a few key American League teams.

Here’s a graph of total runs scored by each team as of yesterday, compared to the same point in time in 2004. Teams above the line have improved their run-scoring rate, while those below the line have gotten worse:

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As you can see, the early-season run-decline culprits are the Indians, A’s, Royals, Angels and Tigers in the AL and the Astros and Rockies in the NL. The biggest offensive jumps belong to the Nationals, Devil Rays, Yankees and Mets.

Of the weaker AL teams, they each seem to have different issues:

  • The A’s home run totals are 50% of last year’s (down from 42 to 21) though their LD% is actually up.
  • The Royals’ LD% is down from a low .156 to an even lower .131.
  • The Indians’ extra base hit totals are actually up, but their BABIP is down from .326 to .255. Their LD% is not down as significantly, .182 to .163, but they were bound to come down from last year’s high BABIP rate.
  • The Tigers are down in most categories.

The one constant appears to be that the walk rate of all of these teams is down significantly.

Particularly teams in the American League Central.

Since walk rate appears to be key driver of the lower run scoring, let’s look at the same graph, only by Runs Allowed instead of Runs Scored. This time, the teams who have improved their pitching the most are below the line:

image

You may not be able to tell from the graph, but the average difference is larger for pitching than it is for offense, which could mean that the lower run scoring we’re witnessing is more the result of better pitching by a few key teams than worse batting by a few key teams.

The teams who have most improved their pitching in the National League are the Marlins, Braves and Brewers; in the American League you see the Tigers, Indians, White Sox and Twins. Notice something about the list of AL teams? They’re all American League Central teams.

Runs scored per game by AL Central teams are down from 5.34 in 2004 to 4.34 in 2005. Runs scored by the rest of the AL are only down from 4.95 to 4.71. Because most of the games up to this point have been within each division, it’s very tough to say more about the hitting vs. pitching dynamic. As these teams start to play teams in other divisions, however, things should become clearer.

There are some specific reasons Miguel Olivo isn’t hitting this year.

This is a little old, but David Cameron recently posted a great article regarding Miguel Olivo’s lost batting stroke. It’s a great piece of baseball research.

At the other end of the spectrum, Minor League Ball had a nice retrospective of Brian Roberts’ minor league career which asks the question we have all been asking, “Should we have seen this coming????”

You can also compare division standing graphs between 2004 and 2005.

There’s a new baseball graphs site in town called Pennant Races, and it’s dynamite. The site features an interactive graphing function that allows you to select teams from the two most recent years and compare their standings during the year graphically. For instance, check out the difference between Yankees’ and Cardinals’ starts last year and this year. I have a feeling the functionality of this site is only going to grow.

Craig Biggio has been hit by a pitch most often on Saturdays.

Plunk Biggio is a blog that is tracking Craig Biggio’s progress against the coveted title of “Most-Plunked Batter Ever.” This is a really fun site, and one of the best uses of a blog I have seen. The author has put in a lot of great facts, such as Biggio’s HBP by day of the week, or the fact that the Braves have plunked Biggio less than any other NL team.

Tony Pena resigned as manager of the Kansas City Royals exactly two years after Jeff Torborg was fired as manager of the Marlins.

The Marlins went on to win the World Series under Jack McKeon. Think there’s hope for Royal fans? Here’s another factoid for Royals’ fans: Mike Sweeney is on a pace to drive in 25% of his team’s runs, which over a full season would be a new major league record according to Dan Agonistes.

Meanwhile, the Stats guy has updated his ranking of managers, with Pena still bringing up the rear. And, if you didn’t catch JC’s study of the managers who most influence umpires, here’s a link to his great study. Don’t miss his follow-up, either.

The All-Money Team of Each Year.

Baseball author Jules Tygiel has compiled a list of the highest-paid players by position for every year since 1985. It might be fun to compare this list with the best performers each year. And speaking of all-something teams, Batter’s Box concluded their series of monthly All-Star teams with a review of May.

Bulk helps hitters more than pitchers

Nate Silver, of Baseball Prospectus, wrote a column last week in which he researched the impact of height and weight on batters and pitchers (subscription required).

The article was fascinating and well-researched. Among the many insights Nate found, I found this conclusion most interesting:

Between around 1984 and 1993, there was a sharp increase in BMI for both pitchers and position players. My guess is that this was the result of the underlying genetic trends described in the CDC study I linked to above–American teenagers were getting bigger and stronger–delayed and regulated by selection biases….

The bulkier hitters stuck–position player BMI peaked in 1994, and has held about steady since. But the bulkier pitchers didn’t. While pitcher BMIs also rose markedly throughout the 1984-1993 period, they began dropping again as of about 1998, creating a “body type” gap between pitchers and position players that hadn’t existed before. Pitchers are still getting taller, but they’re no longer getting bulkier–we’re getting more Mark Priors but fewer Jeff Judens.

Young kids can’t hit slow balls.

Nate missed this one. A Canadian research team found that “slow-moving objects appear to be stationary to a child,” which means that you’re not really helping your child by pitching the ball more slowly.

My parental guilt is killing me. I’ll try and make it up to my kids by buying them a Darth Vader lawn sprinkler.

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