Fun With Stats: Bill James Edition

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!

14 comments… add one
  • Informative post, Paul. Thanks.

    Hudson December 28, 2007, 6:16 pm
  • Paul, thanks again for putting this all together. For some reason, I forgot this year to get the handbook. This post reminds me why I have to go to the bookstore soon.
    That Cano fellow is pretty good, isn’t he?!

    Nick-YF December 28, 2007, 7:23 pm
  • Such fun… guess I know where a bit of my holiday $$ is going to. :)

    Jackie (SF) December 29, 2007, 12:35 am
  • I have a hard time understanding the defensive stats, especially Jeter being horrible and Cano being great. I see Jeter make so many outstanding plays (deep in the whole jumpthrow, over the shoulder basket catches, etc.) and while he had a bad year last year committing errors, it still doesn’t seem right.
    Likewise, while he has a very strong arm, I’ve never seen a second baseman boot more easy grounders than Cano.
    Am I biased? I don’t think so. I love Cano, and if I had to pick one or the other to be on the team for the next 8 years, I would pick Cano hands down (so long as my only concern was winning baseball games).

    AW YF December 29, 2007, 9:12 am
  • AW –
    It’s all about range. This year keep an eye on how many plays Jeter makes going toward second. You should be able to keep track on one hand. He goes back well (on popups) and comes in well (on the slow rollers). But I’ve become convinced that the “jump throw” is actually making up for his limited lateral movement. Consider that he can only do that going to the hole. There’s no equivalent up the middle and that’s why he suffers so greatly there. That said, Jetes handles the balls hit right at him.
    That’s the problem with Cano. He muffs his share of easy plays and so it gives a negative appearance. But his range is very good. He gets to many more balls than an average 2B, and he converts them into outs. That makes him a very good 2B. Combine that with his offense and salary and he’s perhaps the most valuable 2B in the game.

    Mike YF December 29, 2007, 9:25 am
  • Y’know, I just wonder, when it comes to Plus/Minus Leaders, where do they get their numbers?
    Because, while I am certain that Manny Ramirez is not an all-star for his defensive abilities, I find it hard to believe that Manny is a -109 the last three years. Manny does not cover a massive amount of ground defensively but his fielding numbers don’t reflect a -109. In fact Manny’s ’07 fielding compare favorably with Hideki Matsui’s ’07 numbers, who I always have considered a capable fielder, and let’s be clear, I would trust Matsui with a glove over Manny any day.
    Manny has always had a penchant for turning routine plays into an adventure, but (at a .990 ’07 percentage to Hideki’s .986) he does make the plays.
    Every once in a while he’ll break back on a ball that ends up dropping in front of him or he’ll pull up and field a ball on a hop that a speedier guy would have caught, but 109 times in three years? Unless the numbers are compiled in such a way that the green monster adds a ton to his minus total, I just don’t see Manny missing routine plays THAT often. In fact, Manny’s knowledge of the green monster has probably turned a fair number of doubles to singles and a few of them into outs. Manny might not have the strongest throwing arm but he is usually pretty accurate and he had a fair number of assists last year, much to the 8 runner’s chagrin.
    Lastly, while Manny does lack range, when he does have a ball within reach he usually catches it, even if he has to contort himself like something out of Cirque Du Soleil to do it (and that’s even when it should have been routine). He actually has pretty soft hands, having made only two errors last year, one less than Matsui, AND Manny has made SOME plus plays over the years.
    I think Manny has an undeserved reputation as a defender, but do I think Manny is a plus defender? I wish he were, but no, he isn’t. Is he a -36 every year for the last three?
    I don’t see it…

    Brian December 29, 2007, 10:01 am
  • And listen, if it’s all about range then Coco Crisp it seems to me, would be +100 this past year. Crisp flagged down countless drives that were routine for him but would have fallen in or required plus plays for almost everybody else, AND he made bunches of spectacular catches on balls that would still be rolling.

    Brian December 29, 2007, 10:19 am
  • Brian, for me fielding percentage for outfielders is close to meaningless. Maybe I’m underrating its significance, but I can’t think of dropped fly balls or misplayed grounders in the outfield being much of an issue among outfielders. Above all things then, I’d think that range is the biggest factor in determining the difference between good and bad outfielders, and to this end my eyes tell me that Manny is pretty awful (by the way, the same goes for Hideki Matsui). I must admit that I don’t understand the first thing about how defensive metrics are calculated. But if I were basing it on what I see, I’d assume that Manny and Derek are just very bad out at their positions.

    Nick-YF December 29, 2007, 10:52 am
  • Also, to add to Nick’s point, I’ve seen numerous plays where a fielder horribly misplays an easily catchable ball, but because the ball fell in cleanly, it’s ruled a hit. Fielding percentage is woefully inadequate in general because of the subjective nature of how an error is awarded, but especially in outfielders where you pretty much have to have the ball hit you in the head to be given an error.

    Paul SF December 29, 2007, 12:01 pm
  • One of the things I’m thankful for this year: Paul’s extensive statistical reviews.

    YF December 29, 2007, 12:11 pm
  • My guess is that maybe under this system, +/-, Manny has his share of missed plays (probably higher than average) but might make it up in lack of “good” plays? This might be correlated to zone, though I don’t know how that factors in Fenway..

    Lar December 30, 2007, 2:00 am
  • So I just couldn’t let it go…
    I don’t believe Manny Ramirez is the worst fielding outfielder in the game. My eyes told me different.
    But THEN I ran across this…
    “Dewan points out that Manny Ramirez had the worst plus/minus in all of MLB over the last three years (-109). “Does that make him baseball’s worst defender? Maybe, but there is a question because of the wall in Fenway Park. Are his numbers hurt by the wall? The answer is clearly yes. Balls that hit the wall might be catchable in other parks. It’s an adjustment we need to make but haven’t gotten around to as of yet, mostly because unique park configurations like Fenway are not as common elsewhere. Ramirez was below average in road games as well, though nowhere near as poor as his overall numbers would suggest.”
    If, as Dewan admits is the case, his stats are skewed because they don’t take the green monster into account, or for that matter the peculiarities of other parks, how reliable is the information?
    Overall the Plus/Minus Leaders might be a handy tool, but it is obvious to me and it ought to be obvious to anyone else that it is as yet a flawed tool.
    “Balls that hit the wall might be catchable in other parks.”
    Might be catchable? Yeah, and if a semi-truck runs you over, you might get killed.
    Ramirez was below average in road games as well, though nowhere near as poor as his overall numbers would suggest.”
    Uhhh, so let me get this straight, according to what Dewan’s numbers indicate, Manny Ramirez is LESS THAN, nowhere near as good a fielder at Fenway Park than he is on the road?
    Yeah… I don’t think so.
    So, I’ll re-iterate… “I think Manny has an undeserved reputation as a defender, but do I think Manny is a plus defender? I wish he were, but no, he isn’t. Is he a -36 every year for the last three?
    I don’t see it…”
    AND I might add, neither did anyone else.

    Brian December 30, 2007, 12:45 pm
  • Brian – please. The Green Monster HELPS Manny significantly – there is a very large amount of ground he does not need to cover. The easy popups that hit the Monster are not all that common – and counting them as ‘missed plays’ is a woefully inadequate way of making up for the amount of ground he doesn’t have to cover. If Ramirez played left field in Yankee stadium his severe lack of range would be easily present for all to see.

    AndrewYF December 31, 2007, 4:50 pm
  • Okay look, I freely admit Manny isn’t the best fielder.
    What I’m saying is, Manny is NOT the worst outfielder in ALL of baseball.
    Pat Burrell might wear the crown, but Manny, while he is far from a top shelf fielder, ISN’T the worst…
    In any case, my main point was that I did not see Manny being tagged with a -109 for the past three years, the worst in the majors, as being an accurate assessment.
    Andrew, didn’t you READ what I wrote?
    As I mentioned before the very people who created the Plus/Minus Leaders had this to say
    “Ramirez was below average in road games as well, though nowhere near as poor as his overall numbers would suggest.”
    So let me walk you through it…
    If, according to Plus/Minus Leaders stats, Manny isn’t just a POOR fielder, as he is on the road, in large parks where his lack of range hurts him; nor is he a VERY POOR fielder, as the overall numbers suggest (both home and road stats together), but in Fenway Park where, “The Green Monster HELPS Manny significantly”, and I might add, it is generally acknowledged that Manny has learned to play balls off the wall very effectively…at Fenway, according to Plus/Minus, Manny is not just a poor defender, not just very poor, but HORRIFIC, a cardboard Manny cutout might do better!
    So, according to their numbers you are dead WRONG, but wait… I agree with YOU!
    The wall does help Manny! So how can the Plus/Minus numbers show him as being so completely horrible at home where he has the advantage of the Green Monster?
    Because the numbers are WRONG!
    And, helpfully enough as I stated earlier John Dewan, the man who created the Plus/Minus Leaders, admits that to be the case in an interview.
    “…there is a question because of the wall in Fenway Park. Are his numbers (Manny’s) hurt by the wall? The answer is clearly yes.”
    So, -109, according to John Dewan, the man who created Plus/Minus, is not accurate.
    That’s what I was saying all along.
    AND while I might also agree that…
    “The easy popups that hit the Monster are not all that common”
    They do occur often enough AND, I have been re-watching the 2007 Red Sox season on (mostly condensed games) and it is actually amazing just how many ordinary fly balls bang off the wall and scoreboard for base hits.
    So, I’ll say it once more…
    Is Manny the worst fielder in MLB, is he a -109 over the last three years?
    I don’t see it.

    Brian January 1, 2008, 2:06 pm

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