The Bill James Handbook 2008 has been out for a couple months now, but after receiving my copy earlier this week, I whipped through it in two days. Here are some interesting tidbits contained therein:
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the state of the Yankee starters, and given that Joe Torre was the manager, the Yanks had a league-leading 522 relief appearances. No other team even topped 490.
- In Fielding Bible voting, Kevin Youkilis was ranked third at his position, Robinson Cano sixth, Dustin Pedroia eighth, Mike Lowell 10th, Coco Crisp fourth, Jason Varitek fifth and Chien-Ming Wang third. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui also received votes. No respect, then, for Julio Lugo, Manny Ramirez (what?!) and Jorge Posada.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the Plus/Minus Leaders (if a player makes a non-routine play, he gets a +, if he misses a routine play, he gets a -). John Dewan starts by noting that Ramirez and Jeter are the two worst defenders in baseball under this system, and that Ramirez has an excuse with the left-field wall.
- Over the past three years, Doug Mientkewicz (+31) is second only to Albert Pujols (+72), while J.D. Drew is among the top right fielders (+17) and Youk (+19) is ranked higher than Mark Teixeira (+15). Manny Ramirez (-109), Derek Jeter (-90), Johnny Damon (-15), and Bobby Abreu (-40) apparently aren’t very good in the field.
- Last year, Youkilis (+10), Cano (+17), Lowell (+7), Crisp (+22, tops in the AL), and Wang (+7) all were among the top 10 in the game at their positions. Jeter (-34, worst in the AL), Ramirez (-38, worst in the game), Melky Cabrera (-22) and Abreu (-12) were in the bottom five.
- A lot of interesting names among those in the bottom five: Nomar, Dan Uggla, David Eckstein, Hanley Ramirez, Raul Ibanez, Gary Matthews Jr. and Kenny Lofton.
Not to poke the bear (well, OK, to poke the bear): Varitek is considered among the top five defensive catchers in the game while Posada didn’t receive votes. Meanwhile, Varitek also threw out 23 percent of runners, to Posada’s 21.5 percent.
- That’s OK, though. Varitek was the worst in the game at advancing from first base to third on a single — he was 0-for-18.
- The Red Sox’ best baserunner? Unsurprisingly, Coco Crisp, +37 bases. The Yankees’? Perhaps surprisingly nowadays, Johnny Damon, +39. The worst? Jason Varitek (-23) and Robinson Cano (-10).
- Tim Wakefield, who has piled up a book’s worth of odd records and statistics by himself, had runners steal off him at an easy 84 percent rate. That’s eight caught in 49 attempts. San Diego’s Chris Young was the only other pitcher to hit 40. Still, it’s better than Greg Maddux’s simply awful 2-for-39 mark.
Why did the Red Sox dispatch the Angels and Rockies so easily in the ALDS and World Series? After all, LAA was the best team in baseball at manufacturing runs — 223 of them, as a matter of fact — and the Rockies were the best in the NL (211). But the Sox were the best in baseball at limiting manufactured runs — allowing only 87 all season. Pitching beats hitting. Every time.
- The Yankees, incidentally, were third in the AL in manufactured runs, but 10th in preventing them, which might help explain the recent struggles against the Angels.
Joe Torre led all AL managers in relief appearances used, long saves and quick hooks. Although he didn’t lead the league, he topped by four last season’s league-leading total of 109 relief outings on consecutive days. The question is how much was the pitching staff and how much was Torre?
- A lot of it can be the staff: In 2006, Terry Francona left pitchers in for 110+ pitches just 13 times. In 2007: 32 times. Much of that is thanks to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Torre’s only left pitchers in that long 19 times the past two years combined.
Fenway Park remains the easiest park to hit in — but the hardest park to hit one out of. It’s the No. 1 park in baseball for batting average, runs, hits and doubles. but it’s the No. 23 park for home runs.
- I would love to hear Edgar Renteria explain how Fenway Park this year produced 11 percent fewer infield errors than the league average this year. It’s probably just a fluke, as the three-year average remains well above 100.
- Yankee Stadium plays about average in every respect but home runs (15 percent higher), and that’s entirely because of the 132 park factor for lefties.
Mr. Clutch? Jason Varitek was fifth in the league with a .351 BA in late-close situations, just behind Alex Rodriguez.
Move over, Vlad. The best hitter in the AL on pitches outside the strike zone was Dustin Pedroia, with a .664 BPS (batting plus slugging).
David Ortiz was second in OPS vs. fastballs, second in OPS vs. curveballs and sixth in OPS vs. changeups. No one else cracked the Top 10 in all thre categories.
Evenly matched lineups? 2nd base OPS: Cano 2nd, Pedroia 3rd. 3rd base OPS: Rodriguez 1st, Lowell 2nd. LF OPS: Ramirez 2nd, Matsui 3rd. RF OPS: Abreu 7th, Drew 9th. Meanwhile the Yanks had the No. 1 OPS at shortstop while the Sox were unranked, and the Sox had the No. 1 at DH while the Yanks were unranked (presumably no one had enough playing time). The Yanks had the No. 10 spot in center; the Sox had the No. 3 spot at first.
You’d Never Guess in a Million Years Dept. Who from our two teams had the longest average home run distance? … … … J.D. Drew, 403 feet, ahead of Justin Morneau, Carlos Pena, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome.
Robinson Cano remains among the top young players in the AL — in the Top 10 among players under age 26 in AB per HR, OPS and RC/27. Pedroia gets into the latter two, but a home run hitter he isn’t.
Why do Sox-Yanks games last a long time? The fact that five of the top eight players in Lowest 1st Swing % belong to one of the clubs might have something to do with it (Abreu 2nd, Damon 3rd, Youkilis 4th, Pedroia 6th, Lowell 8th).
Another oddity: Tim Wakefield threw more pitches in the strike zone (53.3 percent) than Josh Beckett (53.0), but still finished sixth in Pitches Per Batter (3.60). In fact, the three most notorious ground-ball pitchers in the league — Wang, Carmona and Byrd — are all in the top four.
Cy Young argument redux: Josh Beckett was fourth in OPS against. Sabathia and Lackey didn’t make the Top 10. Beckett was third in Component ERA (ERA you should have based on your peripheral numbers). Sabathia and Lackey didn’t make the Top 10. Although he does finish fifth in Pitching Win Shares, behind both those pitchers, Carmona and Putz. Ah well. (Let it go, Paul)
Speaking of Beckett, the word after 2006 was that he used his fastball too much and his off-speed stuff too little. His success in 2007 seems to have borne out that theory. In 2006, Beckett was fifth in the AL with 68.2 percent of his pitches being fastballs. This year, he was out of the Top 10 (No. 10 was Kevin Millwood 62.7 percent). In 2006, he was fifth with 21 percent of his pitches being curveballs. This year, he was third, with 24.9 percent. The number of pitches he threw at 95 mph or better dropped from 1,072 (first place) to 809 (fifth place), but his average velocity remained steady (94.7-94.6, fourth both years).
- The result was that while Beckett remained third in the league in BPS/OPS off his curveball (last year they listed BPS, this year they listed OPS. A bit annoying if it isn’t a typo — or even if it is), he jumped from unranked in BPS off his fastball to No. 1 in OPS against the heater. That’s an amazing turnaround.
- Also, Hideki Okajima had the second-most unhittable changeup (to Gil Meche). Not bad for a pitch he started throwing in spring training.
- Not surprisingly, Tim Wakefield threw the most pitches les than 80 mph — 2,194. Second place was Kason Gabbard, with 908. Wakefield was the only pitcher to throw fastballs for fewer than 37 percent of his pitches. He threw a fastball 13.4 percent of the time.
Believe it or not, there is much more there. Pick yourselves up a copy!