Saturday, August 30, 2014

How Are The Tigers Not Beating The Royals?

At first glance, it looks like the Tigers should be running away from the Royals instead of chasing them. Detroit has a strong hitting team built around first baseman Miguel Cabrera, designated hitter Victor Martinez and the surprising J.D. Martinez.  Kansas City's only above average starter has been outfielder Alex Gordon. Both teams seem to have good starting rotations, but the Tigers starters are more dominant accumulating a lot more strikeouts and allowing fewer home runs.  Still, the Tigers trail the Royals by a half game in the AL Central Division

The Tigers lead the league with a .329 on-base percentage .424 slugging and .753 OPS.  That puts them at 73 batting runs or 7 wins above average.  Meanwhile, the Royals are ninth in the league with a .682 OPS which translates to 18 batting runs or 2 wins below average.  So, there are nine batting wins separating the Tigers and Royals.

The Tigers starting staff is second in the league with a 3.46 FIP while the Royals are ninth at 3.97.  Using the FanGraphs WAR statistic, the Tigers starting staff is five runs better than the Royals.  So, just looking at the two most influential components of the game - hitting and starting pitching - the Tigers are 14 wins better than the Royals.

If you've been following the Tigers all year though, you know their weaknesses.  First, their bullpen has struggled posting a 4.13 ERA which ranks 13th in the league.  In comparison, the Royals relievers have a 3.53 FIP.  Using the WAR statistic, the Royals bullpen is four wins better than the Tigers.

Another area where the Tigers have done poorly is fielding.  According to the Defensive Runs Saved statistic, the Tigers defensive has cost them 59 runs which is second worst in the majors.  The Royals, on the other hand, have saved their pitchers 32 runs.  That's an 89 run or nine-win difference between the two teams.

Finally, the Tigers base running other than speedy outfielder Rajai Davis and second baseman Ian Kinsler has been a problem.  They are 3 runs below average according to the FanGraphs Baserunning Runs statistic while the Royals stand at 9 runs above average.  So, the Royals are one win better than the Tigers in base running.

Combining relief pitching, fielding and base running, the Royals are 15 wins superior to the Tigers.  Thus, the Tigers 14-win advantage based on hitting and starting pitching is completely offset by the "smaller" facets of the game.

So, that's why we've got a pennant race rather than a run away.  


Friday, August 22, 2014

Using RE24 To Account For Situational Hitting

Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is adding runs with situational hitting
(Photo Credit: Bruce Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

Many fans grumble that statistics such as OPS and Batting Runs do not account for situational hitting.  For example, if Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera singles with a runners on second and third to drive home two runs, he gets the same credit as he would for a single with the bases empty.  Some will argue that this is not fair because he contributes more to his team in the former scenario than the latter.  In this post, I will re-introduce an under-utilized statistic which accounts for a hitter's performance in different circumstances. 

Traditional fans like to address situational hitting with the familiar Runs Batted In statistic, but that is a team dependent measure.  A player has more or less opportunity to drive in runs depending on who is batting in front of him.  Thus, a player gets acknowledged for driving home runs, but does not get penalized for failing to drive home runs.  So, the RBI count is not an adequate measure of situational hitting.

Other fans point to batting average with runners in scoring position, but that is based on a limited number of plate appearances.  It also doesn't consider the number of outs, the specific base runners (e.g. bases loaded versus second base only) or the type of hit (single, double, triple or home run).  Moreover, it ignores a player's performance when no runners are in scoring position.  

What we want is a statistic which gives a player credit for everything he does including situational hitting.  Batting Runs Above Average by the 24 Base/Out States (RE24) - found at FanGraphs - does just that.  The RE24 statistic is also sometimes referred to as "Value Added".  This metric will give a player credit for his singles, doubles, and all other events, and gives him extra credit for hits occurring with runners on base.  It even gives him points for a scenario which most other metrics ignore - moving a runner over with a ground out.  On the other hand, it subtracts extra points for hitting into double plays.

In past posts, I discussed just plain Batting Runs or Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA or RAA) which is an estimate of how many runs a player contributed to his team beyond what an average hitter would have contributed in his place.  The RE24 metric is similar to RAA except that it uses base/out states in the calculation.  An example of a base/out state is "runners at first and third and one out".  There are 24 possible base/out states and RE24 takes all of them into consideration. 

In the calculation of RAA, a double with the bases loaded and two outs counts the same (0.770 runs) as a double with the bases empty and no outs.  Conversely, RE24 counts the bases loaded double more than the bases empty double (2.544 versus 0.632) because it does more to increase the expected runs scored in the inning.

The RE24 metric for one at bat gives us the difference between run expectancy at the beginning and end of a play.  For example, suppose Cabrera bats with a runner on first and one out. In that situation, we would expect 0.556 runs to score by the end of the inning.  Assume that Cabrera then doubles, putting runners on second and third with one out. In that situation, we would expect 1.447 runs to score by the end of the inning. Therefore, Cabrera's double is worth 0.891 runs.

Summing RE24 over all of a batter’s plate appearances yields his season total RE24. For
example, Cabrera has a RE24 of 30.7 this year.  So, by that measure, he contributed about 31 runs above what an average batter would have been expected to contribute given the same opportunities. This is higher than his 27.7 RAA, which means that Cabrera has been especially good in situations with high run expectancy and has added more to his team’s runs total than RAA indicates.  We can estimate that he has contributed an extra 3 runs with his situational hitting.

Since situational hitting is largely (although not completely) random, RE24 is less predictive than RAA and should not generally be used as a measure of ability based on one year of data.  It does become more predictive over multiple years and may be a more representative measure of ability over a career than RAA. Regardless of what it says about talent though, it is a good alternative to RAA for looking at past performance. 

Table 1 below shows that Angels center fielder Mike Trout (46.7) and Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (37.5) rank first and second in RFE24.  Cabrera's RE24 is 12 runs higher than his RAA which tells us that he has been very good in situations with high run expectancy.  On the flip side, Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has a differential of -10.8 (24.2 on RE24 versus 35.0 on RAA) suggesting that he does not do as well in spots where he has a greater chance to contribute runs.  

Table 1: AL RE24 Leaders as of August 21, 2014
Name
Team
RE24

RAA
RE24-RAA
Mike Trout
Angels
46.7
37.8
8.9
Melky Cabrera
Blue Jays
37.5
25.5
12.0
Victor Martinez
Tigers
34.5
31.4
3.1
Michael Brantley
Indians
33.6
29.2
4.4
Jose Abreu
White Sox
33.2
34.9
-1.7
Robinson Cano
Mariners
31.7
25.0
6.7
David Ortiz
Red Sox
31.4
22.9
8.5
Miguel Cabrera
Tigers
30.7
27.7
3.0
Adrian Beltre
Rangers
26.8
24.8
2.0
Jose Bautista
Blue Jays
24.2
35.0
-10.8
Josh Donaldson
Athletics
23.1
16.9
6.2
Edwin Encarnacion
Blue Jays
21.6
28.6
-7.0
Kyle Seager
Mariners
21.0
18.4
2.6
Alex Gordon
Royals
20.6
17.6
3.0
Brandon Moss
Athletics
19.5
15.5
4.0
Conor Gillaspie
White Sox
17.9
12.9
5.0
Adam Eaton
White Sox
17.3
10.7
6.6
Lonnie Chisenhall
Indians
16.7
12.9
3.8
David Murphy
Indians
16.2
1.0
15.2
Jacoby Ellsbury
Yankees
14.7
6.2
8.5
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Table 2 shows that designated hitter Victor Martinez (34.5), Miguel Cabrera (30.7) and outfielder J.D. Martinez (15.5) are the only Tigers regulars with above average numbers for RE24.  Using RAA, all of the regulars other than the shortstops are above average.  

Additionaly, Victor Martinez (3.1) and Cabrera (+3.0) are the only hitters with positive RE24-RAA differentials.  So, most of the Tigers are not doing so well in plate appearances where there is high run expectancy.  Most notably, catcher Alex Avila has a differential of -9.5 and right fielder Hunter -9.1.

Table 1: RE24 for Tigers as of August 21, 2014
Name
RE24

RAA
RE24-RAA
Victor Martinez
34.5
31.4
3.1
Miguel Cabrera
30.7
27.7
3.0
J.D. Martinez
15.5
19.1
-3.6
Rajai Davis
-1.4
4.2
-5.6
Ian Kinsler
-1.9
4.4
-6.3
Austin Jackson
-2.3
3.6
-5.9
Eugenio Suarez
-3.1
-0.9
-2.2
Torii Hunter
-3.2
5.9
-9.1
Nick Castellanos
-3.6
0.8
-4.4
Alex Avila
-7.8
1.7
-9.5
Andrew Romine
-17.6
-10.2
-7.4
Data source: FanGraphs.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is The Tigers Offense Inconsistent?

How consistent has the Tigers offense been this year?
(Photo credit: Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports)

Throughout the year, Tigers fans have expressed a good deal of frustration with the Tigers offense.  If you look at the raw statistics, the Tigers lead the American League with a .754 OPS and are third with 4.6 runs per game.  So, what's the problem?  The claim is that the Tigers offense is "inconsistent".  I'm going to investigate that theory here.

One definition of inconsistent is that they mix good hitting months with poor hitting months.  Table 1 below shows that their offensive output was very similar from April through July scoring 4.5 runs per game in April, 4.7 in May, 4.7 in June and 4.8 in July.  They also ranked between second and fourth in the AL each month. The outlier is August where they have scored only 3.8 runs per game, good for only ninth in the league.  So, it's been a bad month so far, but they were pretty consistent the first four months.

Table 1: Tigers Runs Per Game By Month
Month
RPG
Rank
April
4.5
4
May
4.7
4
June
4.7
4
July
4.8
2
August
3.8
9
Data Source: BaseballProspectus.com

Another thought is that the Tigers have a good season average runs per game, but they have a disproportionate number of games where the offense goes completely flat.  As shown in Table 2 below, the average MLB team has scored either 0 or 1 runs in 19% of their games which is probably more than you thought.  The Tigers have been held to 0-1 runs only 15% of the time, so they have been shut down less than the average team.  Additionally, the Tigers have scored just 2-3 runs in 26% games compared to the MLB average of 29%.

The Tigers score more runs than an average team though, so it makes sense to compare them to the best hitting teams.  The run distributions for the eight highest scoring teams is included in Table 2.  Only the Angels have had fewer games of 0-1 runs (8%) with all the other teams falling between 15%-17%.  Moreover, only two teams - the Brewers (24%) and Blue Jays (25%) - have had fewer games of 2-3 runs.  Overall, the Tigers run distribution looks quite typical for a good hitting team.

Table 2: Distribution of Runs Per Game
Team
RPG
0-1
2-3
4-5
6+
MLB Avg
4.1
19%
29%
25%
27%

Oakland
4.8
15%
28%
22%
35%
Los Angeles (AL)
4.7
8%
32%
26%
33%
Colorado
4.7
17%
30%
18%
34%
Detroit
4.6
15%
26%
26%
33%
Toronto
4.5
17%
25%
25%
33%
Cleveland
4.3
16%
31%
24%
29%
Milwaukee
4.3
17%
24%
30%
30%
Baltimore
4.3
15%
32%
22%
32%
Data Source: BaseballProspectus.com

Based on the data above, it seems that the Tigers offense have been pretty consistent this season relative to other teams.  They are having a bad month though and that needs to be turned around quickly.

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