Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fantasy Baseball Preview

I was asked a while ago by FanDuel.com to participate in their 2014 fantasy Baseball preview. Part one is up today. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the Tigers Best Line-up?


 Where should Miguel Cabrera bat in the Tigers line-up?
(Photo credit: Hardball Talk)

Every fan has his own idea of the ideal line-up.  Traditionalists tend to like to have a speedster lead off, a bat-control guy hit second, the best hitter third and the best slugger (who is not also the best hitter) bat fourth.  Some just want the numbers one and two hitters to get on base a lot and don't care as much about speed. Others follow The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphins which claims that the best hitter should not bat third, bat rather first, second or fourth.  Still others toy with the idea of having the best hitter on the team lead off, the second best hitter bat second, etc. with the reasoning that the best hitters should get the most at bats.   

One thing I like to do before every season is check out the line-up tool at Baseball Musings.  Developed by analysts Cyril Morong, Ken Arneson and Ryan Armbrust, it estimates the number of runs a line-up would score based on every batter's on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging average (SLG).  Since getting on base (OBP) and advancing runners with hits (SLG) are the two most important elements of run scoring, their method makes some sense.

However, the line-up algorithm also has limitations.  Perhaps most importantly, it does not consider the speed of base runners.  It also does not address psychological factors such as batters feeling comfortable in certain spots.  What it does do is try to determine the best line-ups based purely on hitting which is a good place to start.

Using the Steamer projections, I plugged OBP and SLG for the nine Tigers starters into the line-up analyzer.  One possible line-up is shown in Table 1 below.  The line-up tool says that line-up would score 5.050 runs per game or 818 runs in 162 games.  If that sounds like a lot of runs, it's because we are assuming that all nine players are going to play 162 games which, of course, won't happen.  That's OK though.  The goal is just to compare different line-ups.

Table 1: Tigers Possible Line-up





The line-up tool considers every possible permutation of those nine batters and estimates that the best line-up would score 5.117 RPG or 829 runs, while the worst would score 4.856 RPG or 787 runs.  That is a difference of 42 runs which is not huge, but not insignificant either - an estimated four wins.

Table 2 shows that the top five line-ups have the same players in the top five spots of the order - Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez.  That is not surprising and manager Brad Ausmus will likely also have the same batters atop the order.  What is interesting is that Cabrera is second in each optimal line-up.  In fact, the thirty most productive line-ups have Cabrera batting second.   In theory, this makers sense because Cabrera would maximize his plate appearances, but still have many opportunuities to knock in runs batting second. 


Table 2: The Five Top Run-Producing Line-ups 

Runs per Game123456789
5.117 Jackson Cabrera Hunter Martinez Kinsler Dirks Avila Castellanos Iglesias
5.117 Jackson Cabrera Hunter Martinez Kinsler Castellanos Avila Dirks Iglesias
5.117 Jackson Cabrera Kinsler Martinez Hunter Dirks Avila Castellanos Iglesias
5.116 Jackson Cabrera Kinsler Martinez Hunter Castellanos Avila Dirks Iglesias
5.116 Martinez Cabrera Hunter Jackson Kinsler Dirks Avila Castellanos Iglesia


Table 3 looks at the worst line-ups.  Right away, you see a big problem - that Cabrera is batting ninth.  I think we can all agree that this would not be a good idea. As bad as those line-ups are, they would still produce only 5% fewer runs than the best line-ups.  We want those five percent though, so those line-ups are out.


Table 3: The Five Lowest Run-Producing Line-ups

Runs per Game123456789
4.856 Castellanos Iglesias Kinsler Dirks Avila Martinez Hunter Jackson Cabrera
4.856 Castellanos Iglesias Avila Dirks Kinsler Martinez Hunter Jackson Cabrera
4.856 Castellanos Iglesias Jackson Dirks Kinsler Martinez Hunter Avila Cabrera
4.857 Castellanos Iglesias Avila Dirks Hunter Martinez Kinsler Jackson Cabrera
4.857 Castellanos Iglesias Kinsler Dirks Jackson Martinez Hunter Avila Cabrera

Getting back to the best line-ups, The Book would agree that Cabrera, as best hitter, should not bat third, but rather first, second or fourth. The second best hitter - Martinez - should also bat in one of those spots. The line-up optimizer cooperates by putting Martinez clean up in the top four line-ups.  It wouldn't make much sense to have either of those lead-footed runners batting lead off, so second and fourth seems to be the way to go.  The next best hitter is either Jackson or Kinsler, so either one of them could leadoff.  So, I think any of the top four line-ups seems reasonable.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Many Runs Will the Tigers Pitching Staff Allow in 2014


 The Tigers are counting on left hander Drew Smyly to replace Doug Fister in the rotation in 2014
(Photo credit: Roger Dewitt)

Now that I have projected the Tigers runs scored total for 2014, the next step is to estimate how many runs they will give up.  Run prevention is more difficult to project because pitcher's arms are so fragile and their performance so volatile, but I'll do my best.

The Tigers allowed 624 runs in 2013, the second lowest total in the American League, despite having one of the most porous defensive teams in the league.  Their defense cost them an estimated 64 runs according to the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) statistic. They were able to overcome their fielding deficiencies thanks to excellent pitching as their 3.27 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was almost a half of a run better than any team in the league.

The addition of shortstop Jose Iglesias, subtractions of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta and move of Miguel Cabrera to first base should improve their infield defense.  They have a strikeout-heavy staff which relies less on defense than most teams, but sinker baller Rick Porcello is one pitcher who could benefit significantly.  On the negative side, they have lost right hander Doug Fister who was traded to the Nationals.  Southpaw Drew Smyly is ready to step into the rotation, but is unlikely to come close to matching Fister's 208 innings. 

Now for the projection.  First, I estimate the innings pitched in 2014 for their five current starters and key bullpen pieces (Table 1).  In order to forecast runs allowed, I used three-year averages on three measures from 2011-2013 all adjusted for projected innings this year:
  • Runs Allowed.
  • Base Runs - estimate of what runs allowed should have been based on base runners, total bases and home runs.
For example, Anibal Sanchez allowed an average of 78 runs per 190 innings (his projected 2014 total) from 2011-2013.  He also had 80 Base Runs and 73 FIP Runs.  The average of the three numbers above (78, 80, 73) is 77.  Since I expect more of the same from Sanchez, I'm estimating 77 runs allowed in 2013.

I project the rest of the pitchers similarly moving them up or down slightly from their three-year averages if I think they are going to get better or worse this year.  In particular, I'm guessing that Porcello will improve a little with better infield defense.  On the other hand, I think Smyly will be somewhat less effective pitching more innings as a starter this year.  Including 120 runs allowed in 200 innings for the "others" (just under 5.00 ERA), the aggregate is 640 runs allowed. 

My estimates of 760 runs scored and 640 allowed yields a differential of 120 or 12 wins above .500.  Thus, my early call for the season is a 93-69, which would match last year's record.  I'll check back again after things get sorted out more in spring training. 

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed for Tigers Pitching Staff in 2014



Three-year Average 2011-2013*

Pitcher
Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIP Runs
Comb
Proj RA
Justin Verlander
220
77
77
76
77
77
Max Scherzer
200
86
86
76
83
83
Anibal Sanchez
190
78
80
73
77
77
Rick Porcello
175
95
91
75
87
82
Drew Smyly
140
55
58
50
54
60
Joe Nathan
65
22
21
21
22
24
Bruce Rondon
50
20
24
18
21
21
Joba Chamberlain
50
24
28
26
26
26
Al Alburquerque
40
13
12
13
13
15
Luke Putkonen
40
16
19
17
17
17
Ian Krol
35
15
19
19
18
18
Phil Coke
35
20
19
14
18
20
Other
200
--
--
--

120
Total
1,440




640

*Adjusted for projected innings in 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Score in 2014?

 How many runs will Nick Castellanos add to the Tigers in 2014?
(Photo Credit: HardballTalk)

Earlier today, I decided it was time to predict the Tigers runs scored total for 2014.  So, I looked back at what I did last year and was surprised at how close I came to their actual run total.  I guessed that they would score 800 runs and they ended up scoring 796, so I was off by just four runs!  I'm not always that lucky, but it convinced me that I should use the same method this year.

The Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic at FanGraphs is useful for this kind of exercise because a team's wRC total usually falls fairly close to its run scored total.  The Tigers combined for 838 wRC in 2013 which was 5% more than their actual runs scored, which is a little more than most teams.  What does that tell us about the Tigers?  It suggests that they did not make the most out of their hits and walks and failed to scored as many runs as they should have.

One reason the Tigers undershot their wRC total was that they cost themselves an estimated 20 runs with base running compared to an average team.  Subtracting those 20 runs from 838 yields 818 which is within 3% of their actual run total.   Another factor was unusually poor production with the bases loaded as they batted just .267 (ninth in the AL) in those situations versus a league average of .271. 

Because wRC correlates closely with runs scored, it is also helpful in projecting future offensive production.   Table 1 below lists the Tigers most likely players in 2014 and their estimated plate appearances (PA).  In the next column  is the three-year average of wRC adjusted for expected PA.  For example, Cabrera had 424 wRC in 2,037 PA over 2011-2013 which comes out to .203 Runs Created Per PA.  Multiplying .208 times 675 PA (his projected PA for 2014) yields his three-year average of 140.

The final column of the table is my forecast for wRC in 2014.  In all cases, it is fairly close to the three-year average, but I make adjustments if I think a player will improve or regress this year.  I don't expect any players to get significantly better this year, but some probably won't do as well for various reasons.

I'm guessing that new second baseman Ian Kinsler will drop off some due to advancing age and a less friendly hitting environment in Comerica versus Arlington.  The lower totals for right fielder Torii Hunter and designated hitter Victor Martinez are also age related.

The biggest wildcard is rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos who has no track record in the majors.  I'm pegging him for 60 runs created which is close to what some projection systems such as Steamer are estimating.

Aggregating all the wRC yields 760 for the team. Remember though that they scored 42 fewer runs last year than they "created".  Will that happen again in 2014?  The subtraction of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta and additions of Kinsler and outfielder Rajai Davis should be enough to erase the 20-run base running deficit.  Additionally, the problem hitting with the bases loaded is probably a fluke that will straighten itself out. Based on that, I'll predict 760 runs in 2014 assuming no major changes or injuries before opening day,.

The 760 total would be 36 runs less than the 796 they a scored in 2013, but you have to expect that with the losses of Fielder and Peralta.  Base running will make up for some of the loss in power, but not all of it. They should still have a better than average offensive team though to go along with a fantastic starting rotation and improved defense. 
   
Table 1: Tigers Projected Runs in 2014

Player
PA
Runs Created
3-Yr Avg*
2014
Proj
Avila
425
58
55
Cabrera
675
141
140
Kinsler
650
87
75
Iglesias
500
52
50
Castellanos
450
--
60
Dirks
425
51
50
Jackson
625
80
80
Hunter
600
82
70
Martinez
575
81
75
Davis
325
31
30
Lombardozzi
275
24
25
Holaday
225
--
20
Kelly
200
17
15
Others
250
19
15
Base Running/DP


0
Totals
6,200

760
 
*Adjusted for Expected PA in 2014
 

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